Thursday, October 08, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Stanley Fish on Liberalism's Inability to Be Fair to Religions that Don't Mirror Its Presuppositions
'zealot', 'extremist' and even 'nut'.” - Stanley Fish in an interview with Ken Myers on Mars Hill Audio, Volume 97.
Monday, August 10, 2009
[I do not think it right to give Rousseau too much credit for movements which may have had plenty of life without him, but I think it is good to recognize the vast consequences ideas can have].
Friday, August 07, 2009
-Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book One, Chapter 26, 1 (p.90).
[It is interesting to read of this and consider its parallels with present times... Today as then there are those who deny the Virgin birth. What is the nature of their denial, the dynamic of it. Why do they deny this but accept say the resurrection and the creation of the world by God?
I can only remember talking to one person professing a kind of faith in Christ who denied the Virgin birth. Not that that means they don't abound. I really don't know. But the question I asked him was simply if he believed that God created the world on what basis did he not believe that God could bring about a Virgin birth or that even if He could, he did not? He had no answer. Perhaps others do?
Cerinthus thought he did. Obviously he went beyond what many today are comfortable with who might deny the Virgin birth. Their innovation is purely negative. They do not assert or posit multiple gods, including a flawed and wicked creator god.
The Virgin birth was one of the tenants rejected by Henry Emerson Fosdick. Gresham Machen and he had a famous debate in the 1920s in which Fosdick defended liberalism and Gresham defended orthodoxy. The time was very contentious. Machen's church defrocked him for his orthodoxy. Denial of the virgin birth and similar tenants have a long lineage in todays mainline churches.
There is an assertion of a kind of authority even in the mere denial of the doctrine. The implications are enormous for the nature of Christ, if one thinks about it. So those who do not think the denial of the virgin birth is important as a tenant of belief also, it would seem inescapably to follow, also are relinquishing a stance on the importance of Christ and Christology, or they are opening their Christology up to innovations such as the Gnostics felt at liberty to bring. It is absurd to say that denial of the virigin birth has no effect on Christology.
On the liberty of the Gnostics and their vieing for innovations, Irenaeus remarks a number of times. Here is an example:
"Already many offshoots of many heretical sects have been made from the ones we have mentioned, because many of these people, in fact all, wish to be teachers and to forsake the heresy in which they had been. They insist on teaching in a novel manner, composing from one teaching another tenet, and then another from that. They declare themselves inventors of any opinion which they may have patched together." -Irenaeus, Book 1, Chp, 28, 1 (p. 92-93).
Today the pathology (what the ancients called heresy) has not reached to that level in many of our circles, to be sure. Rather, at this stage, people want to be "nutured, not taught". People are feeling rather disaffected and disengaged from what is called "truth". They are not even sure she exists. It is only after refusal to love the truth repeatedly that strong delusion sets in. Churches are placating budding stages of pathological denial of the truth today and that is deadly.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
"Certainly nothing is commoner nowadays than to see people working from morn till night and the proceeding to fritter-away at card-tables, in cafes and in small-talk what time is left for living. Nevertheless there still exists towns and countries where people have now and then an inkling off something different. In general it doesn't change their lives. Still, they have had an intimation, and that's so much to the good. Oran, however, seems to be a town without intimations; in other words, completely modern. Hence I see no need to dwell on the manner of loving in our town. The men and women consume one another rapidly in what is called 'the act of love,' or else settle down to a mild habit of conjugality. We seldom find a mean between these extremes. That, too, is not exceptional. At Oran, as elsewhere, for lack of time and thinking, people have to love one another without knowing much about it."
-The Plague, pages 4-5.
Camus's lines to me are peculiarly powerful. Resting a quote from them is like taking something from its natural seemless environment. There is a brimming whole vitality like the Mediterranean coast's.
I have noticed the presence of German "higher criticism" in the Nazi "thought" and wonder about what degree of connection there was.
Here is Wikipedia on this subject:
"Theologian Adolf von Harnack - in agreement with the traditional account of Marcion as revisionist - discusses the reasons for his alterations to Luke. According to von Harnack, Marcion believed there could be only one true gospel, all others being fabrications by pro-Jewish elements, determined to sustain worship of Yahweh. Furthermore, he believed that the true gospel was given directly to Paul by Christ himself, but was later corrupted by those same elements, who also corrupted the Pauline epistles. He saw the attribution of this gospel to "Luke" as another fabrication. Marcion thus began what he saw as a restoration of the original gospel as given to Paul.
Von Harnack writes that:
For this task he did not appeal to a divine revelation, any special instruction, nor to a pneumatic assistance [...] From this it immediately follows that for his purifications of the text - and this is usually overlooked - he neither could claim nor did claim absolute certainty. "
[My question is how much was the scholarship on Marcion friendly to the raging anti-Semitism in Germany at the time Von Harnack was writing?]
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
[There is of course a vacuity to a one-sided approach that seeks only the new. It is just as bankrupt, if not more so, as binding one's thoughts to old custom because it is old. There is at least a fairly reliable presumption for the later that if a custom is old it has been able to stand the test of time and has some substance to it. But both courses can be a substitute for the love of the truth. To those who always seek what is new I ask where is eternity in their hearts? Is it no longer there?
Irenaeus is describing some of the characteristic behaviors as well as painstakingly describing the different doctrines of the Gnostics of his day (Perhaps he would not use the term Gnostic). He is depicting their psychology to an extent. It is not a flattering depiction but though Irenaeus is depicting in order to criticize and he does not think that their error could be graver, it is marvelous to see the kind of spirit Irenaeus embodies, the equanimity, and even humor with which he deals with those he regards as apostates and heretics who are innovating on the doctrines of the faith in a folly that destroys in them and their listeners the sublimity of the God initiated religion.
“They really deserve our pity, these men who by means of the alphabet and numbers so coldly and violently tear to pieces so great a religion, the greatness of the truly unexpressable Power, and the so great Economies of God... Really more impious than every impiety are these people who claim that the Maker of heaven and earth, who alone is the all-powerful God, above whom there is no other God, was emitted from degeneracy, which in turn was emitted from another degeneracy, so that according to them he is the emission of a third degeneracy. Such a doctrine we must really exhale from ourselves and execrate. We must, moreover, flee far from such people. And the more they boldly affirm and rejoice in their fictions, so much the more should we realize that they are under the influence of the Ogdoad [he is here using their teaching on a Ogdoad of Aeons as part of their theology of the origins of everything- Ogdoad I believe means eight] of wicked spirits.” -Bk 1, Chp. 16, 10-18 (p. 70).
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
“Yet Anders is not without serious competition from fellow Polish writers. The most imposing is the latter portion of The History of Polish Literature (1969) by Czeslaw Milosz, with its contentious opinions, occasional errors and imperious language. Milosz describes Wislawa Szymborska--who would receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996, sixteen years after Milosz was awarded it--as a poet who "often leans toward preciosity" and who "is probably at her best where her woman's sensibility outweighs her existential brand of rationalism." Though the Polish language has no definite or indefinite articles, summary judgments like these leave no doubt that Milosz understood what it meant to crown his History with The instead of A. “
While I like both Milosz and Szymborska, I think Milosz may be right about Symborska and Paloff's resort to support from award of the Nobel prize to Symborska is hardly a thoughtful reply. More to the point, the quote Paloff supplies does not serve to support his judgment of Milosz's history as “contentious” and “imperious”. And that snide insinuation about the title of Milosz's history. I suspect Paloff is guided merely by his apparent bias for a postmodern sensibility rather than an actual knowledge of Milosz's demeanor. Couldn't that simply have been the choice of Milosz's editor following publishing conventions of the time?
Paloff cites Jaroslav Anders, whose book he is reviewing, as saying: "Poetry as a 'witness of history,'" Anders writes, "was a constant motif of Milosz's essays as well as of many of his poems. In many cases, this view of literature as mentor and consoler was certainly true. But in time it inevitably led to a one-sided, reductive reading of some of Poland's most complex writers."
Here is the clincher from Paloff: “For the "certain way of reading" to which these essays bid farewell may have had its time and place, but it ultimately proved too orthodox, too programmatic in its vision of good and evil, to survive in a postglobalization, postmodern and--no use avoiding it--post-Communist world.”
Postmodern sensibility should rule is the take away lesson. I'd rather read Milosz. Here for instance is a charming excerpt from him I came across the other day:
“We learned so much, this you know well:
how, gradually, what could not be taken away
is taken. People, countrysides.
And the heart does not die when one thinks it should,
we smile, there is tea and bread on the table.
And only remorse that we did not love the poor ashes in Sachsenhausen
with absolute love, beyond human power...”
-from “Elegy for N.N.” from New and Collected Poems, 1993-2001, p. 267. The poem was written at Berkeley in 1963.
[Sometimes the presumed knowingness of the postmodern strikes me as impoverished and thin, a pitiable delusion, especially beside some the deep seeing eye of one like Milosz. Is appears a knowingness like that of the ancient Gnostics and sophists, inflated with imagination and thin on content and the bold weathering of reality].
The Gnostic reviling of creation.
In Irenaeus I am finding many unanticipated thing. He has a deep sense of the connection between doctrine and actions. Perspicuity in describing this system of doctrines, and a calm that is not associated with the use of the term “heresies”. Not only that, even a playfulness. He sees the imaginative nature of the manufacturing by the Gnostics of their doctrines and so he suggests tongue-in-cheek additions to their doctrines. He has a real sense of the wider community of Christians.
He describes some who teach that the spirit of the spiritual is incorruptable and that therefore they can do anything and it will not effect their eternal destiny. For instance, they even attend gladiatorial games and seduce other men's wives. This reminds me of Dostoevsky's remark that if there is no God than everything is permitted. Doctrines need not deny God to produce the same effect. Doctrines need not even be religiously rooted, to the average observer's eyes.
The speciousness of the treatments of Scripture...making it something that they merely attach their system to. An imperial system which is also deceptive. Imperial? Because it seeks to appropriate and convert to its own organization, merely giving lip service to the outward trappings of the religion that it is seeking to leech, to possess like a parasite on a host.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
A Case Where President George W. Bush Is More Articulate than President Obama (and especially President Clinton)
The differences between President Bush’s 2007 “Executive Order Expanding Approved Stem Cell Lines” and President Obama’s executive order overturning it are striking especially given the popular mischaracterization of both. Despite its demonization as a right-wing Christian rejection of modern science—if not of modernity as a whole—the language of Bush’s order manages to acknowledge the serious and profound ethical dilemmas that surround embryonic stem cell research and to clearly articulate both the scientific and moral principles that ground its conclusions. Thus, the order recognizes the great promise of biomedical innovation but also its potential conflict with “human life and human dignity,” making it “critical to establish moral and ethical boundaries to allow the Nation to move forward vigorously with medical research.” In fact, the entire document is a model of transparent political argument meant to broker some measure of civic compromise without sacrificing either clarity or conviction regarding moral principle. It even draws attention to the unique difficulties that present themselves to the federal government as a democratic body representing a constituency with diverse moral worldviews and therefore having a “duty to exercise responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds.”
In fact, the entire order is premised upon two forcefully stated moral principles and two empirically defensible definitions. President Bush objects to embryonic stem cell research on two grounds: first, that “the destruction of nascent life for research violates the principle that no life should be used as a mere means for achieving the medical benefit of another,” and second, that “human embryos and fetuses, as living members of the human species, are not raw materials to be exploited or commodities to be bought and sold.” One could argue that the former principle is characteristically Kantian and the latter Christian, but Bush also marshals scientific support for the classifications his moral principles rest upon. He provides a clear and scientifically defensible definition of the term “human embryo” and explains in plain prose what counts as “subjecting to harm a human embryo.” One can certainly take philosophical issue with the substance of the argument, but there can be no doubt that an articulate argument is proffered, that it carefully balances the benefits of science against its moral risks, and that the argument is premised upon scientifically defensible categorizations of human life. President Obama’s executive order never attempts to reject the interpretation of human life offered in the Bush order it overturns, assuming instead that its celebration of science is evidence enough of its scientific superiority.
Furthermore, President Bush’s order is a legitimately political one in two important ways. First, it resigns itself to an irresolvable contest of interests instead of attempting a merely cosmetic harmony through demagoguery. The position espoused in his executive order is meant to be a respectful and equitable compromise between opposed constituencies, and it recognizes the real limitations placed upon the federal government as an arbiter of a moral dispute between such profoundly divergent convictions. Secondly, a democratic and representative deference to a split in the will of the people doesn’t necessarily justify the abdication of any and all moral principle or require a comprehensive moral skepticism; Bush’s political compromise regarding the federal funding of stem cell research still draws an unequivocal moral line in the sand—there are certain kinds of research he won’t prohibit but refuses to assist, and then some (human cloning, for example) he simply will not countenance. The great virtue of Bush’s 2007 executive order is that it is appropriately political without being merely political; he captures the need for compromise but also eludes the danger of brokering merely an amoral compromise. It is correct to say, then, that Bush’s approach is Christian but not in the sense usually (and malignantly) understood—it is Christian in the sense that it espouses some universal moral truths, like the unique dignity of each human life, but also accepts that such recognition does not undercut the need for prudence in applying these truths to the theater of real political experience. In other words, it is Thomistic in a way philosophically consonant with the principles of the American founding and the tradition those principles subsequently birthed.
President Obama’s executive order, by way of contrast, makes no mention of any controversy at all but rather prefers to tout the “broad agreement in the scientific community that the research should be supported by federal funds,” ignoring the more pressing question of whether this is essentially a question of scientific expertise in the first place. He does note that his order removes “barriers to responsible scientific research,” thereby indicating a distinction between that and the irresponsible variety; however, there is no attempt to address what counts as either. Obama never articulates any moral principle other than the absolute sovereignty of scientific activity. He makes it unambiguously clear in his memorandum on scientific integrity that the real issue is that the “public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.” Obama fails not only to identify a genuine moral predicament worth mentioning but also any real participatory role for the public to exercise its consent. As he sees it, the public’s job is to accept passively the wisdom of technocratic experts.
In his remarks delivered to the press, President Obama does discuss the moral “concerns” of many “thoughtful and decent people” and the corresponding need to maintain the kind of “difficult and delicate balance” such concerns warrant. Yet despite the directive to “respect their point of view,” he marginalizes such dissent by claiming that the “majority of Americans...have come to a consensus” and that the “proper course has become clear”—a polite way of saying that these “thoughtful” dissenters are simply wrong and nearly everyone knows it. In fact, Obama implies less than subtly that the time for “discussion, debate, and reflection” has really passed and that there is nothing left but “a false choice between sound science and moral values.” For those who still cling to their now fully discredited religious reservations, Obama assures them that he offers this dismissal of their views as a “person of faith” himself. Likewise, for those who still insist there is any moral uncertainty, he comforts them with the simplistic platitude that the only relevant moral imperative is our “work to ease human suffering.” Obama’s rhetorical gestures towards the opposition are transparently perfunctory: he is so insistent on avoiding any political compromise whatsoever that he actually neglects even to mention that the research progress encouraged by his predecessor may have made it possible to sidestep the moral controversy. While much of President Bush’s 2007 order was devoted to the exciting discoveries being made for “less morally problematic alternatives” to embryos as a source of stem cells, Obama fails to mention these alternatives, or to mention that his new executive order also revokes Bush’s encouragement for exploring them, opting instead to support “promising research of all kinds,” problematic and otherwise.
In contrast to his predecessor’s circumspect effort to strike the right balance between scientific progress and political restraint, President Obama attempts to render them mutually exclusive: he wants scientists to operate free of the “manipulation and coercion” that are constitutive of any “political agenda.” To ensure that “scientific data is never distorted” and that “scientific decisions are based on facts, not ideology,” Obama effectively denies that there are any political judgments that cannot be settled by scientific investigation. For Obama, “responsibly conducted science” means science unobstructed by political intrusion, free even from the democratic will of the people. Science trumps politics entirely, or, to be more precise, simply absorbs it; any reference to values or interests that cannot be legitimated by scientific analysis is branded as ideology, whether or not supported by popular consent. Obama goes as far as to suggest that the political aggrandizement of America as a nation is inseparable from its stewardship of technological innovation. He not only wants to “advance the cause of science in America” but also hopes for “America to lead the world in the discoveries it may one day yield.” To update John Winthrop’s famous line, we shall be as a laboratory upon a hill."
-from Ivan Kenneally's excellent article "Technocracy and Populism" in New Atlantis Spring 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
"When, in the year 390, Saint Ambrose excommunicated the Christian Theodosius for his massacre in Thessalonika, he was holding Caesar accountable to the ethics of the Church". A more correct view seems to be the following:
"The history of the relations between the church and the state in the Middle Ages is a history of a long dispute waged with wavering fortune on either side. Extravagant claims on one side called forth equally extravagant claims on the other. The Eraastianism of post-Reformation settlements was the answer to earlier imperiousness on the other side" (p. 34, American Babylon, 2009, Richard John Neuhaus).
“...Sayers would have agreed that the housing meltdown was, at base, a moral failure. The belief that it was not merely reasonable, but virtuous, to want that which you could not afford would have struck her as preposterous as well as sinful...Moreover, Sayers would have identified envy as the sin at the heart of left-wing critiques of capitalism. "If avarice is the sin of the Haves against the Have-Nots," Sayers reminded her audience, "Envy is the sin of the Have-Nots against the Haves," and therefore "can always find support among those who are just and generous-minded." We are as familiar as Sayers with these plausible plaints, but Sayers recognized in envy a deeper and more subtle evil, in which the spirit of vindictiveness masquerades as righteous indignation. ”
“...Her address to the Council Sayers entitled "The Other Six Deadly Sins," in which she berated the churches’ concentration on lust. Sayers took avarice and held it to the light, with results that must have been unpleasant to the more reflective audience members. "The Church says covetousness is a deadly sin—but does she really think so? Is she ready to found welfare societies to deal with financial immorality as she does with sexual immorality," Sayers mused, rhetorically asking "does the Church arrange services, with bright congregational singing, for total abstainers from usury?"
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Here is another surprising (for me) little meadow opening up in Calvin's prose, a familiar theme, one that should be familiar I think to every Christian: the face of Christ. It is hard for me to imagine a person truly looking into Christ's face in comprehension and yet thinking there might be others of equal value. I am forced by love to think of their minds as darkened.
The present intimacy with Christ cannot really be sectioned off. But I think there is a place for contemplation of the future and of the past within this present intimacy. The past in seeking to allow God to shape your life into a story worth telling, the future in memento mori, etc. both to clear up one's judgment and thereby clear up the capacity to see Christ.
Calvin's reflection from Scripture on the Christ's face as the very present pledge of salvation is hymned in a beautiful poem by John Donne, one of the peaks of the English language:
A HYMN TO GOD THE FATHER.
by John Donne
WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.
Monday, June 15, 2009
[A succinct formulation of a basic teaching of Christianity...The contemplation of all in God. “In a single feeling of love” - an inner disposition we learn from continual remembrance and communion. ..."the sight of whom would more often engender hate than love" sounds something of a misanthropic note. Perhaps I would feel more the same if for instance a close friend of my youth was burned at the stake for espousing views deemed heretical (as was Calvin's friend). Regardless if we commiserate with the starkness of Calvin's formulation and the hard sentiment, he rightly points the way to love the wellspring of love, that same one as natural human love, but deepened, clarified and revealed.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
What this and all my subsequent reflections must not be is a perishing into mere words, a kind of low mental rearranging of words, outside of the purview of life. Modern vogue ways of knowing seem largely to adopt an Enlightement division of knowledge and action and, as Hamann noted of Mendelssohn, tend to cut them into two dead halves. That is a splitting of prudence right down the middle in the name of knowledge.
I think implied in the quote is a view of wisdom which encompasses the soul and emotions. Right emotions in the face of things. But all this is rather convicting (and probably hard to follow). One can talk about virtue but actually trieing to live virtuously is, to one bent, monstrous. Beyond sorting through the facts and getting to controlling principles there is a deeper place in which virtue has its roots. It is that deeper face that provides the context for the virtuous principles. Otherwise, the abstract principles are just deadly. The touch of the Spirit of God provides the context out of which order may arise.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
“'Bible Religion' is both the recognized title and the best description of the English religion. It consists not in rites or in creeds, but mainly in having the Bible read in Church, in the family, in private. Now I am far indeed from undervaluing that mere knowledge of Scripture which is imparted to the population thus promiscuously. At least in England, it has to a certain point made up for great and grievous losses in its Christianity. The reiteration again and again, in fixed course in the public service, of the words of inspired teachers under both covenants, and that in grave majestic English, has in matter of fact been to our people a vast benefit. It has attuned their minds to religious thoughts; it has given them a high moral standard; it has served them in associating religion with compositions which, evenly humanly considered, are among the most sublime and beautiful ever written; especially, it has impressed upon them the series of Divine Providence, in behalf of man for his creation to his end, and, above all, the words, deeds, and sacred sufferings of Him in whom all the Providences of God centre.”
-John Henry Newman, The Grammar of Assent, Bk. 56-57.
[In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul instructs Timothy regarding the main tasks as a pastor he is to perform win Paul's absence: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” I have been thinking lately that these three things are still vital signs of a church's health.
Paul follows up: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 'Diligence in these matters' includes the three things he mentioned above, it seems. The quote from Newman stirs cultural memory of a time which is now largely past, but in which the “mere knowledge of Scripture” through “the Bible read in Church, in the family, in private” was a marked sign of Christianity in England. I know there are considerations and questions that deserve attention regarding what this meant in Paul's day. It might be suggested that as far as such public Scripture reading, it was called for by the high rates of illiteracy of the time. There is certainly a place for discussion about the formats that modern shapes of living call for in advancing this “mere knowledge of Scripture”, but a bottom line for a healthy church is that Christians should know and be taught to know the Scripture. Paul even ties up these labors of Timothy with salvation for him and his hearers.
Sometimes the classical liberal notion of the equality of religions is held forth in the old adage that the different religions are like a bunch of blind men in a room with an elephant who have never seen an elephant and who latch onto just part of the elephant and think it is the whole and dispute with each other that the dimensions of their part of the elephant are the correct one. The problem with this analogy, which is meant to suggest the folly of adhering to any one religion, is that it presupposes a bird's eye view, a superior vantage point. In order to see the folly of the blind men you have to presume to see the elephant whole (or the Brahmin spirit, or the Oversoul or whatever you call it). Rather than exposing the pride and folly of the religions it turns out to conceal a presumed superiority which may turn out to be the most acidic pride of all. And this vantage point becomes the effective religion, rather than any one of the religions.
Contrast then with the kind of devotion Paul is speaking of here. He does not speak of Christianity as merely a culturally positive local place to plant yourself, one which is interchangeable with other faiths. He does not harbor a sense that it is bigoted and a fallacy to presume that Christianity has some special corner on the truth, some X marks the spot. Rather he says that these things mean salvation. Not fashion and fancy but life and death.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
“The 'concupiscence of the eyes' reaches its utmost destructive and extirpative power at the point where it has constructed for itself a world in its own image and likeness, where it has surrounded itself with the restlessness of a ceaseless film of meaningless objects for show and with a literally deafening noise of nothing more than impressions and sensations that roar in an uninterrupted chase around every window of the senses. Behind their papery facade of ostentation lies absolute nothingness, a 'world' of at most one day constructs that often become insipid after just one-quarter of an hour and are thrown out like a newspaper that has been read or a magazine that has been paged through; a world which, before the revealing gaze of a sound spirit uninfected by its contagion, shows itself to be like a metropolitan entertainment district in the harsh clarity of a winter morning: barren, bleak, and ghostly to the point of pushing one to despair.
Still, the destructive element of this disorder, born out of and shaped by illness, is found in the fact that this disorder obstructs the original power of man to perceive reality, that it renders a person unable not only to attain his own self but also to attain reality and truth.
If, therefore, a fraudulent world of this kind threatens to overrun and conceal the world of reality, then the cultivation of the natural desire to see assumes the character of a measure of self-preservation and self-defense. And then studiositas (diligence) means especially this: that a person resists the nearly inescapable temptation to indiscipline with all the power of self-protection, that he radically closes off the inner space of his life against the pressingly unruly pseudoreality of empty sights and sounds-in order that, through and only through this asceticism of perception, he might safeguard or recoup that which truly constitutes man's living existence: to perceive the reality of God and of creation and to shape himself and the world by the truth that discloses itself only in silence.”
-Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, Ignatius Press (1991), Trans. By Paul C. Duggan, p. 40-41.
-Insights on helping those with mental disorders from Mark Ragins as conveyed by Steve Lopez in The Soloist, p. 57. (Mark Ragins is the author of a book called A Road to Recovery which unfortunately is not available in any bookstores or on Amazon.com, at least not the big chain stores I checked at. )
Friday, June 05, 2009
-Mark Edmundson, "Against Readings"
It is crushingly obvious that the present dictatorship of relativism is profoundly motivated by the second fear. Aside from the natural sciences, we give students little more than training in critique. Loyal to our critical principles, we can barely squeak out the slenderest of affirmations. Fearful of living in dreams and falling under the sway of ideologies, we have committed ourselves to disenchantment.
I find myself recalling one of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. He urges us to remember that love is just sexual intercourse: “it is the friction of member and a convulsive expulsion of mere mucus.” We are to apply this method of critical thinking to all aspects of our lives in order to free ourselves from fanciful notions. “Where things make an impression which is very plausible,” he advises, “uncover their nakedness, see into their cheapness, strip off the profession on which they vaunt themselves.” The goal is simple: Humanize yourself by disabusing yourself of illusions.
No philosophy or faith worth its salt endorses a witting love of illusions. It’s the truth we want, not fantasies. Yet, there is something desperate and loveless in the triumph of suspicion. Love falls. As the urgent, searching bridge in the Song of Songs reminds us, love risks the dangers of deception and betrayal. We cannot fall into the embrace of truth by way of cool, dispassionate critique. If we fear that truth will elude us, then we must search and seek with reckless desire..."
-R.R. Reno, "Teaching in the Twenty-First Century"
-from "The Dismal Science vs. Community", by Mark T. Mitchell
Monday, March 23, 2009
Melody Barnes, the President ’s domestic policy advisor, wrote a column extolling the President ’s executive order and she takes up the same lines I find so onerous in President Obama’s speech, establishing it is a line the administration is choosing to follow. (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/03/12/ED6516CTN2.DTL ):
She writes: “The order will allow responsible researchers to conduct potentially life-saving work that could benefit millions of Americans who suffer from debilitating diseases. Just as importantly, the President 's executive order closes the book on an era that put politics first and science a distant second.
[The claim is directed primarily at President Bush’s embryonic stem cell policy, of course, and the claim is that the reservation he showed toward experimentation on live human embryos was politics before science. (I consider you might think that using the term “live human embryos” weights the argument but I think you have to given reasons why that should be bracketed).]
“Under the Bush administration's restrictions, the National Institutes of Health was allowed to fund human embryonic stem cell research on cell lines created before Aug. 9, 2001 and was prohibited from conducting research on cell lines created after that date. The August date was arbitrary, a function of the political calendar, and without any basis in science…. Instead, we will embrace the potential stem cell research offers, ensure this research is conducted responsibly and rely on scientists - not politicians - as we work to cure disease and ensure more Americans live longer, healthier, happier lives… The president's order lifts this restriction. From this time forward, decisions about federal funding of stem cell research will be based on scientific principles. In the Obama administration, the scientific community will be empowered, but not unaccountable. Scientists who wish to conduct stem cell research must do so in a responsible manner and the president Obama will not allow scientists to leave our shared values at the laboratory door. But unlike the past eight years, political ideology will no longer trump sound science. “
[Here she is taking the same line one can see in Obama’s speech (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/09/us/politics/09text-obama.html ). They both attempt to relegate the question of whether we should experiment on human embryos to science, but that is not properly a question that science can answer. She does refer to “our shared values” and says that experimentation on embryos should be done responsibly but this ignores or dodges the moral question of whether research on embryonic stem cells should be done at all (in the actual situation of current science and not in some abstraction). Ascribing to science moral questions suggests a superficiality to the professed honoring of science because rather than honoring and valuing the actual work that science does, it focuses on the veneer. The gains from science are allowed to induce a gold rush mentality in the bystander and as result they become enamored, not with science itself, but with the veneer, with the power and prestige that adheres to it. Consequently, rather than really knowing it and cherishing it, they idolize it and ascribe to it powers beyond its purview. And our whole society becomes accustomed to this so that we don’t bat an eye when we are told that we should relegate our moral decision-making to science technocrats and Mustapha Mond.
Writing in 2008, Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen observed the current tendency for conflation in this area which can be seem all over the press as well as in Obama’s speech:“It is critical to engage seriously with embryo ethics today. For it is not uncommon to hear embryo researchers and their supporters claim that only science should have a say in what science does, and that ethics, and religion, and politics have no business in the concerns of science. Such sentiments should sound familiar to anyone who has listened to proponents of such research defend the freedoms and even the imperatives of scientific research.” from Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. ]
It seems to me that much of the argument for embryonic stem cell research and much of the policy is guided by indiscriminate acceptance of what have becomes currently unquestioned commonplaces. The argument proceeds from assuming that IVF and abortion are not morally problematic. Here is one author, Hendrik Hertzberg, writing in The New Yorker arguing along this lines: “Stem cells for research are drawn from blastocysts—embryos that are a few days old, consist of several dozen cells, and are smaller by far than the pinhead on which theology’s angels dance. Infertility clinics create and freeze such embryos in the thousands every year, and the vast majority—more than ninety per cent—are never implanted in a woman’s womb. Whether these excess blastocysts are simply discarded, as the opponents of stem-cell research would apparently prefer, or whether a few hundred of them become the basis for a biomedical alchemy that could benefit millions, the amount of actual human suffering entailed would be the same: zero.” He raises two main points in that paragraph, as I see it, but I am focusing right now on the first. The argument goes that because IVF clinics produce embryos in the thousands every year they should be used and not wasted. But is it right and was it ever right to assist fertility by a method producing embryos which would be destroyed? A lot of the arguments I here are basically going with what has become commonplace, the moral landscape such as it is, not questioning its moral validity on its own merits. When IVF clinics were first coming into existence advocates such as Ellen Goodman dismissed the possibility of what has become the norm. In 1980 she wrote: “A fear of many protesting the opening of this clinic is that doctors will fertilize a myriad of eggs and discard the ‘extras’ and the abnormal, as if they were no more meaningful than a dish of caviar. But this fear seems largely unwarranted.” Years later, faced with the new norm, she simply changed her mind. This illustrates the slippery slope down which the respect for life has gone. Obama’s refusal to support protections for infants who escaped the womb during an abortion seems to me a new stage in the slippery slope, but not the last. As for the point that the embryos feel no pain, pain is hardly the mark of a person’s worth. If it were conceived to be possibly to the health advantage of someone or to a group of persons if a man were to be suddenly annihilated before he would even have a chance to blink, say with a nuclear laced shell or something like that, so that he had no chance to feel pain or awareness of his fate, the sacrifice of another for one’s own good would still be a lessening of the greatest good of the survivors, the good which encompasses more than physical well being. Also, those who follow this line of reason seem inevitably to end up sanctioning the pain and death of more developed human beings as well. People don’t want to fight any more about abortion. They are willing to yield truth for harmony with the social norm of the day and yield to its trajectory, whatever way it is going.
I would like to talk further about the view of science. Instead of understanding science as the investigation of material causality, definitions such as its being “methodological naturalism” or “methodological atheism” betray a desire to convert science into a total worldview. C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man focuses in on this aspect of modernity which postmodernity has inherited, the inability to think with clarity and articulateness about the moral, the inability to acknowledge the moral and the sublime without occlusions. This is illustrated by attempts to subsume questions of morality under science which is incapable of answering those questions. The President and Melody Barnes’ statements provide good examples of this conflation. As philosopher Charles Taylor puts it, the moral sources are occulted. They are necessarily occluded and covered over because they are supposed to fit within science, or science mythologized (my words, not his) and close inspection of science reveals the contradiction. Nevertheless, moral language is still used, often with stridency, but its connection with a truth and reality in which science is suppose to be the one, true, supreme authority providing all the answers cannot bare inspection and demands occulting.
This has consequences. It is not enough to say you don’t believe an embryo is a human. I think Peter Singer recognizes the kind of nihilistic abyss suggested for morals by the assumption that science encompasses all. Since he holds the assumption, instead of arguing that unborn babies are not human, he begins to elaborate arguments for periods of say 28 days after birth for parents to decide whether to keep or kill the infants. Science can provide no rationale for valuing humans.
What science actually tells us is that embryos are human:“…Moore and Persaud write that the initial totipotent cell that is the result of fertilization ‘marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual (italics added).’ William Larsen writes that male and female sex cells ‘unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual.’ Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Muller state that ‘a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte (italics added).’
All these embryologists and developmental biologists, who are collectively responsible for the standard textbooks in their fields, agree in marking fertilization… as the beginning of a human individual.” (from Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, by Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen).
What science tells you is that the embryo is a living human. What it doesn’t tell you is the worth of the human. Social norms through history have divided the worth of humans into different categories of value. For instance, the Dred-Scott decision in the US created the legal fiction “that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants-- whether or not they were slaves—were not legal persons and could never be citizens of the United States” (from Wikipedia entry for Dred Scott v. Sandford). Another example of such a division of peoples worth is the caste system in India, which falls hardest on the ‘untouchables’. These are unjust doctrines and legal fictions that issue in injustices. The Gospel is different because “in Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor freeman, but all are one in Christ Jesus”. It is different because Jesus would not bruise a broken reed. It is different because Jesus identified with the discarded and the least and taught his followers to do the same.
Adult stem cells have more demonstrated potential than embryonic stem cells already, and both have been experimented on for some time now throughout the world. One entirely avoids the moral problem of experimenting on the human and commodifying the contents of women’s bodies, especially poor women, and procedures that pose danger to those women. It also makes the point of the bodies possible rejection of the embryos moot because adult stem cells come from the same person. Nevertheless, it is not as if the playing field is now leveled between ESC and Adult Stem Cell Research. President Obama rescinded the Presidential order encouraging research into alternatives to embryonic stem cell research. I find the logic in Wesley Smith’s statement regarding this (from the article I cited above) convincing: (from http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/016/263fnapt.asp) “The big news in biotechnology in 2007-08--proving the wisdom of the Bush policy--was the development of a technique known as "cell reprogramming," in which ordinary human skin and other cells are transformed into "induced pluripotent stem cells" (IPSC). This achievement and subsequent advances in research were deemed so impressive and important that the journal Science named the development of the IPSC as the scientific "breakthrough of the year" for 2008.
As criticism of Obama's betrayal of alternative sources has slowly bubbled up in cyberspace, some have claimed that he "had" to rescind the order because it contained a clause describing embryos as human life. Here is the offending text from the Bush 2007 executive order: Section 2 (d) human embryos and fetuses, as living members of the human species, are not raw materials to be exploited or commodities to be bought and sold;But that clause is not only accurate biology--human embryos and fetuses are not Martian, after all--but also reflects federal law. Besides, if telling the biological truth in an executive order so seared the delicate Obama sensibility, he could have reissued the alternatives-funding order omitting the biological facts about nascent human life--and then publicized it as an example of a bridge across the cultural divide that he has promised to erect.
I can think of only two reasons for this unwarranted revocation: vindictiveness against all things "Bush" or considered by the left to be "pro-life"; or a desire to get the public to view unborn human life as morally akin to a crop ripe for the harvest so as to open the door to funding destructive embryo and human cloning research--actions advocated, not coincidentally, by the New York Times in the immediate wake of Obama's stem-cell executive order. Wait, there's a third potential reason: both of the above.
President Obama's silent revocation of alternative-methods funding as a special project of the federal government betrayed the concerted attempts made over the last eight years to find a common way forward in one of the most ethically contentious areas of biotechnological research. So much for bridging the country's cultural and political divides. So much for transparency in governance. So much for taking the politics out of science.”
[Ultimately Obama injected a lot more politics and ideology into the issue than he claimed or thought, it appears, and that he believes it makes it all the worse.]