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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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...to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her. If the concept of identification suggested that an individual experiences a work as a mirror in which he might recognize himself, the notion of relatability implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism.
To appreciate “King Lear”—or even “The Catcher in the Rye” or “The Fault in Our Stars”—only to the extent that the work functions as one’s mirror would make for a hopelessly reductive experience. But to reject any work because we feel that it does not reflect us in a shape that we can easily recognize—because it does not exempt us from the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy—is our own failure. It’s a failure that has been dispiritingly sanctioned by the rise of “relatable.” In creating a new word and embracing its self-involved implications, we have circumscribed our own critical capacities. That’s what sucks, not Shakespeare.
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A week after my admission to my friend, I was sitting at a wedding Mass listening to the reading of a prayer written by the bride and groom. It asked that “all called to the generosity of the single or celibate . . . might inspire [name of bride and groom] by their conformity to Christ, and always find in them fiercely devoted friends, and in their house a second home.”
The prayer moved me, in part because I’d been going through my own period of loneliness, but also because it reminded me that the movement for gay marriage is absolutely right to demand that the institution be made more inclusive. Where it goes wrong is in supposing this can be done by asserting a free-floating right to marriage, rather than by insisting on the duty of every marriage to become a place of welcome. We can’t and shouldn’t redesign marriage under the illusion that it can directly include everyone. We need more than one form of solidarity.
Despite my eccentric evolution on gay marriage, I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a certain fugitive solidarity with those whose paths differ from my own. A strange portion of the intellectual discovery and growth in friendship I’ve enjoyed these past years has come about not despite, but because of, the vexations of the gay marriage debate. Those with whom I disagree have helped me see how the strands of the Christian sexual ethic combine to form a great tapestry, the patterns of which would be much more obscure had they not prompted me to think through how sex intersects with Scripture, nature, culture. For this, I owe them a great debt. I hope that in the years to come I can do something to repay it.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Marriage & Family Philosophy Psychology Religion & Culture Sexuality --Civil Unions & Partnerships * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Theology: Scripture
Like many people, I trust Google to find me answers to everything from the mundane to the medical. Now, after a decade in which our increasing obsession with social media brought our computers out of the study and into the living-room, more of us are turning to the internet even when our question is emotional or irrational. The result: two decades after the birth of the web, our search histories have become a mirror to every aspect of our lives.
“Someone once said that what you look for is way more telling than information about yourself – this is something Google and other search engines understood a long time ago,” says Luciano Floridi, the Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the Oxford Internet Institute.
“Future generations will be able to trace our interests as a society just by looking at what we were looking for. Even if we don’t find the information, it doesn’t matter. Who we are, how we represent ourselves, how the world feeding back a mirror image of ourselves shapes our idea of ourselves – this is as old as philosophy, but today has a completely new twist. The online and offline are becoming more and more blurred, and that feeds back into our self-perception.” (If that sounds pseudy, then think of the example of a recruiter Googling someone who’s applied for a job: does the person on Twitter better represent who they really are, or the person on their best behaviour in the interview room?)
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Blogging & the Internet --Social Networking Health & Medicine Philosophy Psychology Religion & Culture Science & Technology * International News & Commentary England / UK
As Merrick shares, “What I found helpful is to read those people who are being discussed and try and understand what they’re saying,” for two reasons:
You become a better thinker by honing your argument.
You become a more generous, thoughtful thinker.
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'It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. None the less certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognising fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.'--Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue (1981), pp. 244-245
The sex into which we have been born (assuming that it is physiologically unambiguous) is given to us to be welcomed as a gift of God. The task of psychological maturity–for it is a moral task, and not merely an event which may or may not transpire–involves accepting this gift and learning to love it, even though we may have to acknowledge that it does not come to us without problems. Our task is to discern the possibilities for personal relationship which are given to us with this biological sex, and to seek to develop them in accordance with our individual vocations.--Oliver O'Donovan Begotten or Made?: Human Procreation and Medical Technique (Oxford: Oxford University Pres, 1984) which was found here.
Those for whom this task has been comparatively unproblematic (though I suppose that no human being alive has been without some sexual problems) are in no position to pronounce any judgment on those for whom accepting their sex has been a task so difficult that they have fled from it into denial. No one can say with any confidence what factors have made these pressures so severe.
Nevertheless, we cannot and must not conceive of physical sexuality as a mere raw material with which we can construct a form of psychosexual self-expression which is determined only by the free impulse of our spirits. Responsibility in sexual development implies a responsibility to nature–to the ordered good of the bodily form which we have been given. And that implies that we must make the necessary distinction between the good of the bodily form as such and the various problems that it poses to us personally in our individual experience. This is a comment that applies not only to this very striking and unusually distressing problem, but to a whole range of other sexual problems too.
Of course choice is good. I aspire to more of it and so do people who have enjoyed much less of it than I have. Offer me more choice, at least in theory, and I'll say Yes. I'll answer your loaded opinion poll and tell you I am in favour of this choice and that choice because who, in this culture, can be against more choice without being a heretic? But talk about choice on that day in the future when I am wholly dependent on the people around me, when my life is almost over and I have far more chance of pleasing others by getting out of their way quietly than of making much difference to my own situation, and my choice won't be about me, it will be about them. And those last days of life, surely, are precisely the moment when choices ought to be about the one approaching the end - and no one else.
How many Parliamentarians who will shortly debate the Falconer Bill on assisted suicide are people with wide enough life experience to empathise with those who see more choice as a threat and not a blessing? How many subscribers to the BMJ put themselves, day by day, into the shoes of people for whom consumer choice is someone else's luxury, even if their editor chooses to use his journalistic position to make a ruling on behalf of ethicists everywhere?
Some of them, to be sure - maybe many of them. Will they encourage the rest to dig deep into their imaginations, to empathise with people who are not articulate, who are used to being done unto, and who have lived on the receiving end of other's choices all their lives?
They are in Parliament to govern on behalf of all citizens. The weak. The poor. The vulnerable. The dying. The ones who don't want to be a nuisance. The ones who do not regard choice as an unalloyed good, as well as the people who are used to choosing. And the medical profession too - despite the sweeping assertions of the BMJ about the nature of ethics, are also in business for those people.
Will the Parliamentarians and the medics empathise beyond their own kind? I hope so. I do hope so.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Children Health & Medicine Law & Legal Issues Life Ethics Marriage & Family Philosophy Psychology Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary England / UK * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
This is a worthy challenge. If God’s creative activity is primarily a matter of redirecting nature from the outside to produce what could not otherwise have come into being, it is entirely fair to reject him as a Gnostic demiurge who makes the natural order as arbitrary as atheist neo-Darwinism makes consciousness. And neither the flaccidly emotive “god concept” of liberalism nor the mechanical and anthropomorphized semi-deity of literalism is immune.
The Christian response to Nagel demands a regrasping both of God as transcendent creator — hence unchangeable, impassible, simple, eternal, etc. — and as mysteriously incarnate. The latter is not just the logically necessary prelude to atonement and the solution for human sin but an essential part of God’s relation to his created order, which is fulfilled, not violated, by his entry into it.
A Christianity that properly understands both creation and Incarnation, and remembers itself as the greatest engine of scientific curiosity in human history, may be properly undaunted by evidence of evolution, and uncowed by atheistic bullyragging. Christ is the Truth. Accordingly, his revelation may bring us into deep concord with the veracities of the world he created and redeemed.
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To sum up: There is more to religion than accepting as literally true doctrines that are literally false. Humanists think the important achievements of religions at their best — fostering community, articulating and supporting values — should be preserved in fashioning a fully secular world. That secular world ought to emerge from a dialogue between humanism and refined religion, one in which religion isn’t thrown on the rubbish heap but quietly metamorphoses into something else.
I’m a humanist first and an atheist second. Because I’m more sympathetic to religion than the prominent new atheists, I label my position “soft atheism.” But perhaps I’m a more insidious foe than Dennett and Dawkins. For instead of ignoring important species of religion, I want to prepare the way for their gradual disappearance.
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What often passes for public discourse in contemporary society is really just a simulacrum, an imitation, of real “discourse” in the sense of a “reasoned exchange of ideas.” One realizes before long how much we are suffering from the current lack of that key ingredient within all older forms of liberal arts education: namely, logic.
Some people think of logic as the sort of things computers do—cold, calculating, and unemotional—and reject it for that reason. But computers in and of themselves aren’t “logical” at all any more than a train switching station is “logical” in and of itself. Computers (when they’re at their best) do what they’re told to do, no more, no less. Someone has to build whatever “logic” they have into them. Usually the sort of thing you can get into a computer is essentially mathematical—which is to say, if you can’t reduce the thing in question to some sort of mathematical equation, you can’t get it into the computer at all—and math, as we all know, is cold and calculating. Printed circuits are not “cold,” but they can under the right circumstances “calculate,” and they are absolutely unemotional.
Logic, on the other hand, is the glue that holds human discourse together. Logic is what keeps us “on track” in a conversation and helps us to keep checking back to make sure both of us are talking about the same thing in the same respect.
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I appreciate the spirit (if you will) of... [Barbara Ehrenreich's] argument, but I am very doubtful as to its application. The trouble is that in its current state, cognitive science has a great deal of difficulty explaining “what happens” when “those wires connect” for non-numinous experience, which is why mysterian views of consciousness remain so potent even among thinkers whose fundamental commitments are atheistic and materialistic. (I’m going to link to the internet’s sharpest far-left scold for a good recent polemic on this front.) That is to say, even in contexts where it’s very easy to identify the physical correlative to a given mental state, and to get the kind of basic repeatability that the scientific method requires — show someone an apple, ask them to describe it; tell them to bite into it, ask them to describe the taste; etc. — there is no kind of scientific or philosophical agreement on what is actually happening to produce the conscious experience of the color “red,” the conscious experience of the crisp McIntosh taste, etc. So if we can’t say how this ”normal” conscious experience works, even when we can easily identify the physical stimulii that produce it, it seems exponentially harder to scientifically investigate the invisible, maybe-they-exist and maybe-they-don’t stimulii — be they divine, alien, or panpsychic — that Ehrenreich hypothesizes might produce more exotic forms of conscious experience.
Especially since, by definition, the truly exotic is not likely to repeat itself for the convenience of a laboratory technician. There are kinds of numinous experience that can be technically investigated, in the limited sense that Ehrenreich (rightly) suggests is insufficient to understanding them — you can put a praying or meditating person in a brain scanner and see which areas of their brain seem to be involved in the journey into the mystic, you can look for ways to attempt to recreate those brain states, you can link similar experiences to medical conditions and hallucinogens, etc.
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The Love of learning is the guide to life, Φιλοσοφία Βίου Κυβερνήτης, is the motto of Phi Beta Kappa and a part of history too often forgotten. It makes me think immediately of The Love of Learning and the Desire for God by Jean Leclercq, O.S.B., a wonderful book about the Cistercians. It also brings to mind the whole book of Proverbs--KSH.
The theism-atheism-agnosticism trio presumes that the real question is whether God exists. I’m suggesting that the real question is otherwise and that I don’t see my outlook in terms of that trio.
G.G.: So what is the real question?
H.W.: The real question is one’s relation to God, the role God plays in one’s life, the character of one’s spiritual life.
Let me explain. Religious life, at least as it is for me, does not involve anything like a well-defined, or even something on the way to becoming a well-defined, concept of God, a concept of the kind that a philosopher could live with. What is fundamental is no such thing, but rather the experience of God, for example in prayer or in life’s stunning moments. Prayer, when it works, yields an awe-infused sense of having made contact, or almost having done so. Having made contact, that is, concerning the things that matter most, whether the health and well-being of others, or of the community, or even my own; concerning justice and its frequent absence in our world; concerning my gratefulness to, or praise of, God. The experience of sharing commitments with a cosmic senior partner, sharing in the sense both of communicating and literally sharing, “dreaming in league with God,” as A.J. Heschel puts it, is both heady and heartening. Even when that partner remains undefined and untheorized.
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"The main reason for the state to be involved with marriage is children," says Prof David Paton, an industrial economics lecturer at the University of Nottingham and a supporter of the Coalition for Marriage, a group arguing that traditional marriage is beneficial to society and would be undermined by a definitional change. "It seems reasonable for the state to treat the one type of relationship from which children can directly result in a different way to others, and this is the basis for marriage laws," says Paton.
Not all marriages will result in children, he concedes, and also suggests that issues such as pension rules or inheritance may require the state to recognise alternative relationships in different ways.
But the same-sex marriage law is not about this, he says. "It's about changing the very definition of marriage to encompass other types of relationships that are inherently different. That is both unnecessary and carries the risk of weakening the legal structure designed to encourage the attachment of children to their natural mother and father."
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Culture-Watch Children Law & Legal Issues Marriage & Family Philosophy Religion & Culture Sexuality --Civil Unions & Partnerships * International News & Commentary England / UK * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Theology: Scripture
In the future, it seems, there will be only one “ism” — Individualism — and its rule will never end. As for religion, it shall decline; as for marriage, it shall be postponed; as for ideologies, they shall be rejected; as for patriotism, it shall be abandoned; as for strangers, they shall be distrusted. Only pot, selfies and Facebook will abide — and the greatest of these will probably be Facebook.
That’s the implication, at least, of what the polling industry keeps telling us about the rising American generation, the so-called millennials. (Full disclosure: I am not quite one of them, having entered the world in the penultimate year of Generation X.) A new Pew survey, the latest dispatch from the land of young adulthood, describes a generation that’s socially liberal on issues like immigration and marijuana and same-sex marriage, proudly independent of either political party, less likely to be married and religious than earlier generations, less likely to identify as patriotic and less likely — by a striking margin — to say that one’s fellow human beings can be trusted.
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A somewhat unusual document landed on my desk a few days ago, in page proofs, sent by Eerdmans, the major Evangelical publisher. It is a book about to be published, written by James K.A. Smith, a decidedly Protestant philosopher on the faculty of Calvin College—How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Taylor is the much celebrated Catholic philosopher, retired from McGill University, author of the massive book A Secular Age (2007). Smith is of a younger generation; I have read one of his books before—Thinking in Tongues (2010)—a feisty book billed as a Pentecostal contribution to Christian philosophy, in which Smith criticizes Christian philosophers for cutting the ground from under their own feet by accepting the naturalistic premises of secular philosophy—and then trying to find space for the supernatural that their faith must affirm. Smith (whose Pentecostal allegiance is apparently relatively new) instead suggests that Christian philosophy should from the first “think in tongues”—that is, base itself on the assumption that the world is indeed suffused with Spirit, is precisely what Christianity says that it is. I’m not interested in arguing whether that is a good philosophical method, but it is probably good pedagogy: “I won’t try to dissuade you from your view that we are in France; let me rather show you that we are in America”. (Whatever “tongues” Smith thinks in now, he is still listed as a professor of Reformed theology. So I was reminded of Karl Barth in his feistiest days. Barth once observed that he was completely uninterested in dialogue with Hindus or any people from other religions. He was asked, how then did he know that they were wrong. He replied: “I know it a priori”. This is not my style of thinking, but I must admit to a certain admiration for its Calvinist chutzpah! In the book mentioned here, Smith continues in the same vein, except that he now undergirds his argument with Taylor’s phenomenology of our supposedly secular age.
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Is God dead? Not in academia. As someone who teaches philosophy at Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford, Vince Vitale is well placed to know what the top scholarship says about God. Vince shows how in the fields of philosophy and sociology, God is very much alive. If you think intellectual objections undermine belief in God, Vince suggests that you may be unaware of the arguments at the highest level.
If you study any philosophical treatise of our present era you will with almost absolute certainty not encounter the concept, and much less the expression, “the truth of all things.” This is no mere accident. The generally prevailing philosophical thinking of our time has no room at all for this concept; it is, as it were, “not provided for.” It makes sense to speak of truth with regard to thoughts, ideas, statements, opinions—but not with regard to things. Our judgments regarding reality may be true (or false); but to label as “true” reality itself, the “things,” appears to be rather meaningless, mere nonsense. Things are real, not “true”!--Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989 E.T. of the 1981 original), pp. 95-96
Looking at the historical development of this situation, we find that there is much more to it than the simple fact of a certain concept or expression not being used; we find not merely the “neutral” absence, as it were, of a certain way of thinking. No, the nonuse and absence of the concept, “the truth of all things,” is rather the result of a long process of biased discrimination and suppression or, to use a less aggressive term: of elimination.
I don't suppose anyone today would say that the problem with our politicians is that they are too deeply immersed in humanistic learning. Even in Snow's time and in Britain, the picture was far more complicated than he let on. When Snow delivered his Rede Lecture, the prime minister of the United Kingdom was Harold Macmillan, an Old Etonian who read classics at Oxford (and received a first-class degree); Macmillan fit to a T Snow's picture of the "traditional culture," But by the time Snow died in 1980, the holder of that office was Margaret Thatcher, who often said that she was less proud of being the first female prime minister than of being the first with a science degree. I suspect that Snow, a lifelong member of the Labour Party, was not especially consoled by Thatcher's status as a chemist. Moreover, the P.M. who made Snow minister of technology and elevated him to the peerage was Harold Wilson, the most academically gifted of 20th-century British politicians, who read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Oxford and then became a lecturer in economic history there at the ripe old age of twenty-one. (Wilson's father was a chemist, though.) The arrows here point in many directions; they don't tell the coherent story that Snow would like them to tell. It is hard to discern what connects politicians' academic training with their political judgments.
Snow wanted to believe something like this: political decisions in the modern world often concern how to deploy science and technology, so people well-trained in science and technology will be better prepared to make those decisions. But that's a syllogism without a minor premise. And before we fill in that minor premise, we might reflect on one little story, which I offer, though it's a true story, as a kind of parable. At the height of the Red Scare in the 1950s, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had directed the American atomic bomb program during World War II, found himself under scrutiny for alleged Communist sympathies. He was interviewed at length, and at one point found himself reflecting on how he and his people had made their decisions. Oppenheimer said, "When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you've had your technical success. That's the way it was with the atomic bomb."
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Education History Philosophy Science & Technology * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary England / UK * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
In the autumn of 2012, a year after becoming president of Davidson College, Carol Quillen gave a lecture about the intimacy of relationships with the dead. A scholar of Italian humanism by training, she read Machiavelli’s account of his nighttime journeys into the "ancient courts of ancient men," where, among the authors of antiquity, he was "not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their kindness answer me; and for four hours of time I do not feel boredom, I forget every trouble, I do not dread poverty, I am not frightened by death; entirely I give myself over to them."
The lecture was part of Davidson’s undergraduate humanities curriculum, a program with its own long history that now struggles to compete for students’ attention. Quillen’s job is to make the classic American liberal-arts college prosperous and relevant in a time of accelerated expectation and high expense....
In her exploration of humanism, she told me, she discovered the "experience of revelation through reading the words of people from a distant, alien age." Quillen remains devoted to the close reading of canonical texts. "Life is short," she said, "and those guys were smart." Quillen has a talent for combining academic eloquence with candor and self-doubt.
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I’d advocate for an even bigger imaginative leap: one that acknowledges the wide spectrum of pleasures that books (and TV, movies, music, theater, what have you) can offer us and then — and here’s the radical part — doesn’t immediately insist that these pleasures must also be sorted into a moral hierarchy. (This pleasure: good; that pleasure: bad; this one: in the middle.) Can we instead envision a world in which the person struggling through (but enjoying!) “Remembrance of Things Past” and the person tearing through (and enjoying!) “Gone Girl” can coexist on the same strip of sand, beach chairs side by side, each feeling pleasure in her solitary rapt world and neither one needing to cloak that pleasure behind the brown-paper wrapper of guilt?
I’m not a libertarian, politically speaking — I’m Canadian, which puts me slightly to the left of Communist. But increasingly I find myself attracted to a notion I’ll call cultural libertarianism, which might be best summed up in that old saying “Whatever floats your boat.” Which is to say, I’m less and less inclined to drop the hammer on someone who’s sitting in the corner, contentedly reading Dan Brown. Does this mean I’m obliged to acknowledge and celebrate the artistry of Dan Brown? Of course not. For me, personally, Dan Brown doesn’t do it; he leaves my boat unfloated. If you’re interested, I’m happy to share my reasons. But I’m not going to suggest that your enjoyment of Dan Brown is somehow degraded or embarrassing or shameful. I’ve not only lost my fervor to wage a holy crusade against people who enjoy Dan Brown; I’ve lost my faith in the kind of critical crusaders who do.
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[David Bentley] Hart concentrates on the fundamental error of conceiving of God as some finite object in a universe of other objects: more powerful, yes, but falling within the same metaphysical order of being. As he says, the God of classical theism “is not merely one, in the way a finite object might be merely singular or unique, but is oneness as such, the one act of being and unity by which any finite thing exists and by which all things exist together.” In speaking about God, Hart uses the themes of being, consciousness, and bliss. But before turning to these topics, he points to the need to examine critically the “picture of the world,” the prevailing axiomatic cultural and intellectual assumptions, from which or through which much current discourse about God occurs.
The embrace of a materialist and mechanistic view of the world, taking its inspiration in many ways from the rise of modern science, results in a loss of the sense of transcendence, of a reality beyond, or perhaps better, fundamentally other than, the world of sense experience. As Hart observes, “in the age of the mechanical philosophy, in which all of nature could be viewed as a boundless collection of brute events, God soon came to be seen as merely the largest brute event of all.”
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As John Milbank has pointed out, classical political liberalism in the shape of John Locke and David Hume has a pessimistic view of humans as self-interested, fearful and greedy, while the romantic liberalism of Rousseau takes the opposite view, seeing people as free and innocent but society as corrupting. British (and American) liberalism premised on Lockean pessimism is concerned with the balancing and checking of power, the Rousseau-an approach abolishes the problem of power by assuming, in the general will, that everyone has the same interests....
It is sometimes said that the story of politics since the fall of Margaret Thatcher is that the right won the economic argument and the left won the social argument. But in more recent times both of those victories seem tainted; reflecting the limits of the two liberalisms.
[In fact, most people]... are certainly not the free-floating individuals of liberal ideology. Rather they are rooted in communities and families, often experience change as loss and have a hierarchy of moral obligations. Too often the language of liberalism that dominates public debate ignores the real affinities of place and people. Those affinities are not obstacles to be overcome on the road to the good society; they are one of its foundation stones. People will always favour their own families and communities; it is the task of a realistic liberalism, a postliberal politics, to strive for a description of nation and community that is open enough to include people from many different backgrounds, without being so open as to become meaningless...
Read it all (Hat tip: The Browser)
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Philosophy Psychology Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Economy Politics in General * International News & Commentary England / UK * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
Behind every important study there are good data that made the analysis possible. And behind every bad study . . . well, read on. People often speak about “lying with statistics.” I would argue that some of the most egregious statistical mistakes involve lying with data; the statistical analysis is fine, but the data on which the calculations are performed are bogus or inappropriate. Here are some common examples of “garbage in, garbage out....”
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Near the end of my doctoral program in modern Western religion at Harvard University, I became convinced that the Internet was the most powerful platform available for global religious conversation. When I joined the team that was building Patheos.com, we had a vision for creating online a marketplace of religious ideas, attracting the world’s most talented writers to engage life’s most important questions. About five years later, we have four million unique visitors monthly and a vibrant multi-religious conversation that attracts a constantly growing number of participants from all religious (and nonreligious) backgrounds and all parts of the planet — and we are still only beginning to scratch the surface of what new media technologies built upon a global telecommunications infrastructure could mean for faith in the modern world.
In summary, then, the work of the technologist is meaningful from a Christian theological perspective for several reasons. It reflects the creative and constructive ingenuity of God, for we are created to be creators in the image of our Creator. The Jewish and Christian scriptures affirm the original goodness of the natural world, and technology can serve to repair the broken world and restore humankind’s capacity for stewardship. It helps us fulfill the creation mandate to subdue the earth and give it order. Technological development can be a form of neighborly love, as countless technologies — from the roofs above our heads to the vaccines that eliminate diseases to prosthetic limbs — serve directly to minimize human suffering and make the world more hospitable for human flourishing. From the perspective of the Christian theological tradition, the mental disciplines formed in the processes of technological innovation are infused with spiritual potential, cultivating the powers of attention and self-control that are intrinsic to prayer and obedience. And technologies can serve not only the interests of humankind generally but also the growth of the Body of Christ on earth. Thoughtful early adopters of emerging technologies have revitalized existing religious communities and planted more communities on fertile new soils.
We cannot travel from the garden to the heavenly city without crossing the tractor marks outside the walls.
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It is no surprise, then, that people whose belief systems are a muddle of Casey’s sweet-mystery-of-life passage and Modern Family bridle at the strict sexual morality of the monotheistic religions. This is exacerbated by traditional Christianity’s refusal either to conform to the spirit of the age or to go away and be quiet. The erosion of the state’s role in upholding public morality both foreshadowed and led to the cultural rejection of religion’s right to judge the morality or immorality of certain acts.
Evangelicals still loudly proclaim that one should “wait until marriage,” even if that command is largely honored in the breach. The Catholic Church has not relaxed its prohibition on contraception, even if many of its adherents ignore its teaching or even loudly oppose it. Both Evangelicals and Catholics (and those members of mainline churches who hold to traditionalist norms) grapple with the culture on multiple fronts—praying outside abortion clinics, attending the March for Life, objecting to FDA approval of abortifacients, decrying pornography, etc. In short, they have remained a thorn in the side of an ever-more-permissive culture for over forty years. (Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, and Islam also adhere to strict moral norms regarding sexual behavior, but attract less attention because of their status as minority religions.)
This cultural attitude has led to religious liberty’s current embattled position.
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This is what you call a good problem to have.
You may read about the conference there.
For all of my cockiness about non-belief when I was young, I had a sneaking suspicion that as I grew older and the prospect of Crossing the Rainbow Bridge grew ever closer, I would start moving back to belief. Better take out an insurance ticket just in case God exists, although if He exists and turns out to be a Jehovah’s Witness then all bets are off. At least I will have the compensation of seeing the Pope trying to dig himself out of an even deeper hole than mine. The funny thing, however, is that as I grow older (I am now in my seventies), if anything my feeling that non-belief is right for me grows ever stronger. I am sure that at least in part it is psychological. Having had one headmaster in this life, I don’t want another one in the next. But I think my feeling is also bound up with what my work on the books on atheism have taught me, together with the insights of Clifford about the morality of belief. I truly don’t know if there is anything more, but that is okay. What would not be okay, morally, would be pretending that there was something more even though I didn’t really think there was adequate evidence, or conversely pretending that there is nothing more, perhaps rather pathetically trying to win the approval of today’s very public atheists.
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show seven principal virtues.
The case in favour of four of them - the "pagan" or "aristocratic" or "political" virtues of courage, justice, temperance and prudence - was made by Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. In the early thirteenth century, St. Albert the Great summarized Cicero's claim that every virtuous act has all four: "For the knowledge required argues for prudence; the strength to act resolutely argues for courage; moderation argues for temperance; and correctness argues for justice." In sophisticated ruminations on the virtues until the eighteenth century, these four persisted - as, for example, in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments....
The other three virtues for a flourishing life, adding up to the principal seven, are faith, hope and love. These three so-called "theological" virtues are not until the nineteenth century regarded as political. Before the Romantics and their nationalism and socialism, they were thought of as achieving the salvation of an individual soul, as achieving the City of God, not a city of humans.
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Anyone seeking evidence of how the western mind is snapping shut and how insult is steadily replacing evidence and reason need only watch this instructive altercation on BBC TV’s Newsnight last night. Ostensibly a discussion about the efficacy or otherwise of drug courts, it fast descended into a row between actor and self-confessed former drug addict Matthew Perry and journalist Peter Hitchens over the nature of drug addiction itself.
Hitchens argued that addiction was not, as is almost universally assumed, a disease over which the sufferer has no control but a form of willed self-indulgence which drug users could end if they really wanted to do so enough. A controversial proposition, indeed, and surely one of which few have previously been made aware.
But Hitchens did not encounter scepticism and a reasoned counter-argument. Instead, an incredulous Perry scoffed at him as ‘Santa’ and frothed that his argument was crazy, ‘as ludicrous as saying Peter Pan was real’. All of this, however, merely served to highlight the fact that when asked for evidence to support his claim that addiction was an illness Perry could not do so, resorting instead to the lame response that ‘doctors say it is’, that he himself was proof of his own argument and that addiction was an ‘allergy of the body’ (eh?)
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I know, you forgot. But you need to come.
The Topic--Science, Faith and Apologetics: An Answer for the Hope That Is Within Us.
The Speakers--John Lennox, Alvin Plantinga, and Peter Kreeft to name just three.
The Location--Charleston is just fantastic, especially at this time of the year.
You can find the full schedule here and the speakers bios there.
Some years ago I got into a rather tense conversation with a couple of students in the office of the English department. We were talking about The Lord of the Rings, and I remarked that nothing like it could be written now, because our culture—for want of a better word, I must use the word "culture" to describe our mass habits, after the reality of culture has withered away—no longer possesses a vision of the world and of man that would sustain such a work. Tolkien himself could write his trilogy only because he was something of an anachronism, as he was steeped in the medieval epics—the sagas of Snorri Sturluson, the Finnish Kalevala, the Nibelungenlied, Beowulf, and so forth—and was a devout Catholic, seeing all things by the light of revelation and three thousand years of meditation upon the ways of God to man.
The students resisted. No youngster likes to hear that he lives in an age of decline and decrepitude. But over the years I've grown more convinced that my hunch was correct. Not only about the decrepitude—the palsy of the soul that mistakes cynicism for sophistication, and cold-hearted lust for love. Consider the ringing verse from Isaiah: "For my ways are not your ways, nor are my thoughts your thoughts, saith the Lord. For as high as the heavens are above the sea, so far are my ways from your ways, and my thoughts from your thoughts."
That's a verse that would set Homer himself to thinking. It expresses the vast distance between the divine and the human. But it is also addressed to man: it is a clarion call for man to set out on a journey to cross that distance, even as God reaches out to man in the events of human life. The sentiment on the part of the prophet is not despair but fear and wonder, and the appeal of an adventure in being itself.
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But there is a deeper reason for its decline. At least in Western Europe and North America, most of us now tend to conceive of reason and religion as belonging to distinct and even incompatible domains. Modern believers, irrespective of confession, pattern themselves after the Protestant model: religion has withdrawn into a space of privacy and irrationality where its truth must be accepted not on the basis of philosophical argument but on faith alone. Atheists and theists, even if they disagree about everything else, agree that God and Reason belong in different houses; their quarrel is about the legitimacy of each domain and their possible relations, not the separation between them. In the concluding pages of his book, [Carlos] Fraenkel offers the exceedingly curious suggestion that modern theorists of liberalism such as John Rawls still cleave to the interpretative principle of philosophical religion: Rawls held that religious citizens should be permitted to participate in liberal deliberation, provided that they translate their claims into the neutral language of public reason. Here Fraenkel pushes too far, since the translation proviso is meant to expose a non-religious rationality behind religions rather than a common religious core.
This breakup of the old philosophical union between God and Reason is another name for the great disentanglement in the history of ideas that some theorists still call secularization. The breakup may strike us as irrevocable. But if Fraenkel is right, then the story of philosophical religion reveals a painful irony: the democratic sentiments that now inhibit us from distinguishing between non-philosophers and philosophers have also made it increasingly difficult for us to look past the literal contents of various religious traditions to a shared philosophical commitment within. Our own egalitarianism, in other words, is an obstruction to the kind of contextualist pluralism once upheld by the most subtle thinkers of the Abrahamic religions. The most zealous advocates for religion today are populists and literalists, and they have abandoned the principles of interpretation that made philosophical religion a possibility. Nathan’s is a lonely voice in the midst of war.
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ot faith? Peter Boghossian says get rid of it.
Boghossian is a philosophy instructor and author of a wildly popular new book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists,” that seeks to equip nonbelievers like him with the skills to convince believers to abandon their faith.
And while the book is sure to upset many religious people and even some atheists, it may signal a change in the way atheists engage believers. Unlike previous best-selling atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, Boghossian wants his readers to refrain from high-decible attacks against God and, instead, home in on faith.
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To unpack the contemporary conception and experience of risk, [Deborah] Lupton relies heavily on the work of Mary Douglas, not only her Risk and Blame: Essays in Cultural Theory and Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers (with Aaron Wildavsky), but Douglas’s earlier classic Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo....
One of Lupton’s most interesting chapters (8) is an excursion into the pleasures of risk. “Edgework” like sky-diving and rock-climbing and fight-clubbing bolsters a sense of masculinity for desk-chained men, and represents an effort to escape the control and predictability of modernity. Sexual transgression and shock have the same effect, producing not anxiety and fear but the carnivalesque exhilaration of breaking through settled boundaries. - See more at: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2013/11/14/risk/#sthash.qElp4YSO.dpuf
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But if they campaign for a reform that frees them, and "first-class minds" like them, to take drugs, they are also campaigning for a reform that frees everyone else. That means it frees - or withdraws protection from - the beaten and rejected child of a shattered home on the squalid estate, the school failure, the unemployable young man in the post-industrial desert, the young mother living on benefits and, eventually, her children. And they are campaigning, in effect, for more people to use drugs which can, quite capriciously and unpredictably, destroy their users' mental health. So for their own convenience and peace of mind, they are willing to condemn unknown numbers of others to possible disaster. This can hardly be called a selfless action.
Finally, we are not islands. If we risk destroying ourselves (as I believe we do if we use drugs) then we risk gravely wounding those who love us and care for us. For me this is a profound individual contract. It is one that will be understood most readily by the parents of adolescent children, children who have a sort of independence but often lack the experience to use it aright. If the law makes light of those parents' concerns, and refuses to support them, what argument can they use to dissuade their young from taking a path that might well lead to permanent self-destruction?
My case will I think be readily understood by the parents of children who are already destroying themselves with drugs of any kind.
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...the crisis in the humanities is no more reducible to low enrollments in the humanities at a subset of schools than the 2008 economic crisis was reducible to the risky behavior of a few financial firms. Rather, the devaluing of the humanities -- even if it is only at the "top" -- is a symptom and cause of a crisis in our public sphere: a cultural recession.
Like our current economic one, this recession has not meted out punishment fairly. The Great Recession did not herald the end of haute couture and multimillion-dollar condos -- even though consumer spending plummeted and the housing bubble burst. So too the cultural recession does not entail the end of our culture of letters and its institutions.
There still are, and will remain, elite institutions and publications, and hence kinds of discourse prerequisite for participation in various cultural and political spheres. And there are, and will remain, readers and writers willing and able to participate in them. But participation is no longer part and parcel of being an informed citizen. The requisite skills and a common knowledge base can no longer be taken for granted.
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Millibeth Currie, a nationally board-certified teacher who chairs the science department at Moultrie Middle School, was involved in the first phase of the standards review this go-round.
“Science is everywhere. It’s explaining our system of our universe that exists right now,” which means a student’s family background or philosophy or religion doesn’t even factor into the equation.
When religious concerns are raised, “I kind of neutralize it. There’s no way of being able to answer who’s right or who’s wrong” among different religions, she said. “The focus should be on discovering the commonalities in our universe.”
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Reader question from John Blaxland: Given how little we know about the universe, how can we possibly be sure there is no God?
There are all sorts of things we can't be sure of--we can't be sure there are no leprechauns and fairies. Science in the future is going to be revealing all sorts of things which we have no idea of at present, but it's extremely unlikely that it would happen to home in on an idea from a Bronze Age tribe in the desert.
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When you accumulate books there is always that one which you’ve meant to read for the longest time. For whatever reason, call it grace or luck, you pick it up one day and spend the rest of the week (month, year) kicking yourself for not reading it earlier.
I’m presently kicking myself for not picking up Albert Borgmann’s Crossing the Posmodern Divide before Monday....
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Sometimes faith is used as an alternative to reason, a way to designate (and sometimes denigrate) beliefs that are aren't based on arguments or evidence, or that aren't assessed critically. On this view, science and faith almost certainly conflict; science is all about arguments, evidence and critical assessment.
At the other extreme, faith can simply mean something like a guiding assumption or presupposition, and on this view, science does require faith. Science as an enterprise is based on the premise that we can generalize from our experience, or as "The Mathematician" put it, that induction works.
Somewhere in between these extremes are the more interesting possibilities. In , I discussed one proposal for how to think about faith, an idea from philosopher Lara Buchak: that faith involves committing to act as if some claim is true without first requiring the examination of further evidence that could bear on the claim....
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Jean Bethke was born on Jan. 6, 1941, in Timnath, Colo. (population 185), a farming town north of Denver. She was the oldest of five children of Paul and Helen Bethke, descendants of German immigrants from Russia, and grew up in nearby Fort Collins, Colo., where her father, a schoolteacher, principal and later school superintendent, had moved the family.
When Jean contracted polio, she and her mother moved to Denver for treatment. Her mother worked at the hospital to be nearby and helped Jean get back on her feet despite a prognosis that she would never walk again....
Dr. Elshtain said she took on [the task of her book “Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World”] for both intellectual and personal reasons. She wrote the book, she said, “because I have been provoked by much of what has been written and said about terrorism and our response to it; because September 11, 2001, reminded me of what it means to be an American citizen; because I come from a small people, Volga Germans, who would have been murdered or exiled had they remained in Russia rather than making the wrenching journey to America.”
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[Howard] Wettstein didn't return to religion by believing but by coming to stand in awe of God. How important is it to know what God is like when you love God? Is it possible to stand in awe of God without believing in God? Wettstein believes that it is: "In prayer … I have the sense of the presence of the divine, of making contact. But ask me about the party on the other end of the line and one of two things will happen: either I will beg to be excused for not having much to say, or else we will have a very long talk about how difficult a matter it is that is in question."
Over the course of the book it is plain that while Wettstein does not want to say much about God, he has a lot to say about this difficult matter of religion. And not being willing to say much about God is not the same as saying nothing about God. If anything, Wettstein's reluctance to make positive claims about God helpfully refocuses our attention, diverting it from metaphysical proofs to the practices of awe and worship. Wettstein's thinking is reminiscent of the spirit of historians and classicists who are haunted by the thought that we have not yet plumbed all the depths of the ancient world.
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The traditional view of creativity is that it is unstructured and doesn't follow rules or patterns. Would-be innovators are told to "think outside the box," "start with a problem and then brainstorm ideas for a solution," "go wild making analogies to things that have nothing to do with your product or service."
We advocate a radically different approach: thinking inside the proverbial box, not outside of it. People are at their most creative when they focus on the internal aspects of a situation or problem—and when they constrain their options rather than broaden them. By defining and then closing the boundaries of a particular creative challenge, most of us can be more consistently creative—and certainly more productive than we are when playing word-association games in front of flip charts or talking about grand abstractions at a company retreat.
Our method works by taking a product, concept, situation, service or process and breaking it into components or attributes. Using one of five techniques, innovators can manipulate the components to create new-to-the-world ideas that can then be put to valuable use.
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After France's first same-sex marriage, and a vote in the UK Parliament which puts England and Wales on course for gay weddings next summer, two US Supreme Court rulings expected soon could hasten the advance of same-sex marriage across the Atlantic. But some gay people remain opposed. Why?
"It's demonstrably not the same as heterosexual marriage - the religious and social significance of a gay wedding ceremony simply isn't the same."
Jonathan Soroff lives in liberal Massachusetts with his male partner, Sam. He doesn't fit the common stereotype of an opponent of gay marriage.
But like half of his friends, he does not believe that couples of the same gender should marry.
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Human Beings do not just make killer apps. We are killer apes. We are nasty, aggressive, violent, rapacious hominids, what John Gray calls in his widely read 2002 book, Straw Dogs, homo rapiens. But wait, it gets worse. We are a killer species with a metaphysical longing, ceaselessly trying to find some meaning to life, which invariably drives us into the arms of religion. Today’s metaphysics is called “liberal humanism,” with a quasi-religious faith in progress, the power of reason and the perfectibility of humankind. The quintessential contemporary liberal humanists are those Obamaists, with their grotesque endless conversations about engagement in the world and their conviction that history has two sides, right and wrong, and they are naturally on the right side of it.
Gray’s most acute loathing is for the idea of progress, which has been his target in a number of books, and which is continued in the rather uneventful first 80 pages or so of The Silence of Animals. He allows that progress in the realm of science is a fact. (And also a good: as Thomas De Quincey remarked, a quarter of human misery results from toothache, so the discovery of anesthetic dentistry is a fine thing.) But faith in progress, Gray argues, is a superstition we should do without. He cites, among others, Conrad on colonialism in the Congo and Koestler on Soviet Communism (the Cold War continues to cast a long shadow over Gray’s writing) as evidence of the sheer perniciousness of a belief in progress. He contends, contra Descartes, that human irrationality is the thing most evenly shared in the world. To deny reality in order to sustain faith in a delusion is properly human. For Gray, the liberal humanist’s assurance in the reality of progress is a barely secularized version of the Christian belief in Providence.
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We live in a relentlessly commercial culture, so it’s natural that many people would organize their lives in utilitarian and consequentialist terms. But it’s possible to get carried away with this kind of thinking — to have logic but no wisdom, to become a specialist without spirit.
Making yourself is different than producing a product or an external outcome, requiring different logic and different means. I’d think you would be more likely to cultivate a deep soul if you put yourself in the middle of the things that engaged you most seriously. If your profoundest interest is dying children in Africa or Bangladesh, it’s probably best to go to Africa or Bangladesh, not to Wall Street.
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...all this elite pressure wouldn’t have worked even ten years ago, and certainly not twenty or thirty years ago. How could what then seemed a settled conviction about sexuality (or prejudice, if you wish) disappear so fast?
[ Brendan ] O’Neill has an answer, which seems to me correct. The non-elites proved susceptible to such pressures for a reason, he notes. “The fragility of society’s attachment to traditional marriage itself, to the virtue of commitment, has also been key to the formulation of the gay-marriage consensus. Indeed, it is the rubble upon which the gay-marriage edifice is built.”
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We are becoming a society in which “choice” and self-defined identities trump once-common values and traditional beliefs. But contrary to the rhetoric of its defenders, this shift is not a simple advance for freedom. The privileging of “choice” above all else in fact requires re-engineering the human person and society as a whole, and this will inevitably involve a great deal of coercion.
Wesley J. SmithThis shift, if it didn’t begin with Roe v. Wade, could be said to have been dramatically accelerated by it. Despite continuing opposition by over 50 percent of the American people, abortion is now universally available, in some places through the ninth month. Two states have legalized assisted suicide for the terminally ill—once strictly prohibited by the Hippocratic Oath. Now, some doctors actively collaborate in lethally overdosing their patients.
Advocacy for legalizing “after birth” abortion—e.g., infanticide—as a natural extension of the abortion right is growing more prominent, and not just among acolytes of Princeton’s Peter Singer. A Florida Planned Parenthood representative, opposing a bill that would require medical treatment for an infant who survives abortion, said the choice to care for the child should be a private one made between a mother and her doctor.
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[BOB] FAW: Now the former law school dean and distinguished legal scholar has written a most unusual book: “Baseball as a Road to God.” That’s right, baseball.
[John] SEXTON: The similarities between baseball and religion abound. The ballpark as cathedral; saints and sinners; the curses and blessings. But then what I’m arguing is beyond that surface level, there’s a fundamental similarity between baseball and religion which goes to the capacity of baseball to cause human beings, in a context they don’t think of as religious, to break the plane of ordinary existence into the plane of extraordinary existence.
FAW: John Sexton says that what happens here is more than just a game—that it reveals a dimension beyond the eyes and mind letting us, in his words, “see through to another, sacred space”—what John Sexton calls “the ineffable.”
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Donald Kagan is engaging in one last argument. For his "farewell lecture" here at Yale on Thursday afternoon, the 80-year-old scholar of ancient Greece—whose four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War inspired comparisons to Edward Gibbon's Roman history—uncorked a biting critique of American higher education.
Universities, he proposed, are failing students and hurting American democracy. Curricula are "individualized, unfocused and scattered." On campus, he said, "I find a kind of cultural void, an ignorance of the past, a sense of rootlessness and aimlessness." Rare are "faculty with atypical views," he charged. "Still rarer is an informed understanding of the traditions and institutions of our Western civilization and of our country and an appreciation of their special qualities and values." He counseled schools to adopt "a common core of studies" in the history, literature and philosophy "of our culture." By "our" he means Western....
Mr. Kagan offers another explanation. "You can't have a fight," he says one recent day at his office, "because you don't have two sides. The other side won."
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Like some of his previous books it is set around a dialogue between two characters. This time both characters are fully fictional and set in the year 1977. Libby Rawls is a young women that is a nominal Christian and a skeptic. The other is “Mother” an older mixed-race women who is willing to lead Libby along these steps of a Jacob’s Ladder. Each day they discuss a subject where the subjects build on each other leading to further truth. These two characters are also involved in his novel “An Ocean Full of Angels.”
This book takes a building block approach to understanding the faith and starts at what might seem to be an odd first step of “passion.” While common philosophical ideas are discussed it is also not standard apologetic fare and mostly deals with natural theology. The conversational dialogue mostly adds to the book and the back and forth between the two women helps to illustrate points. Some of the use of coincidences in the book are a bit heavy-handed at times. Also evident is Kreeft’s playful humor which was used at times and contributed to the banter between the two women.
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Life is difficult. It can knock you down. Sometimes, an entire nation gets knocked down.
First it was Boston. Some mad man (or men) lays waste to one of America's most hallowed sporting events — the Boston Marathon. Sidewalks that should have been covered with confetti were covered in blood.
Then it was the quintessential small Texas town of West[, Texas]...
Taken together, it was a bruising week for a nation wearied by war and nagged by chronic unemployment.
Yet Americans are people of faith....
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Somewhere behind Feser’s argument slouches the specter of what is often called “two-tier Thomism”: a philosophical sect notable in part for the particularly impermeable partitions it erects between nature and grace, or nature and supernature, or natural reason and revelation, or philosophy and theology (and so on). To its adherents, it is the solution to the contradictions of modernity. To those of a more “integralist” bent (like me), it is a neo-scholastic deformation of Christian metaphysics that, far from offering an alternative to secular reason, is one of its chief theological accomplices. It also produces an approach to moral philosophy that must ultimately fail.
Before completing that thought, however, it might help to rehearse just a few of the conceptual obstacles our age erects in the path of natural law theory. So:
First. Finality’s fortuity. Most traditional accounts of natural law require a picture of nature as governed by final causality: For every substance, there are logically prior ends—proximate, remote, or transcendent—that guide its existence and unite it to the greater totality of a single cosmic, physical, moral, social continuum embraced within the providential finality of the divine. They assume, then, that from the “is” of a thing legitimate conclusions regarding its “ought” can be discerned, because nature herself—through her evident forms—instructs us in the elements of moral fulfillment. In our age, however, final causality is a concept confined within an ever more beleaguered and porous intellectual redoubt. One can easily enough demonstrate the reality of finality within nature, but modern scientific culture refuses to view it as in any sense a cause rather than the accidental consequence of an immanent material process....
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It is more reasonable to me, as it is to any atheist, to believe in things that are in accord with what we know are natural laws, than to believe in things that contradict them....[but] unless you’re raised atheist, people become atheists just as I did, by thinking about the same things Augustine thought about. Certainly one of the first things I thought about as a maturing child was “Why is there polio? Why are there diseases?” If there is a good God why are there these things? The answer of the religious person is “God has a plan we don’t understand.” That wasn’t enough for me. There are people who don’t know anything about science. One of the reasons I recommend Richard Dawkins’s book, The God Delusion, is that basically he explains the relationship between science and atheism. But I don’t think people are really persuaded into atheism by books or by debates or anything like that. I think people become atheists because they think about the world around them. They start to search out books because they ask questions. In general, people don’t become atheists at a late age, in their 50s. All of the atheists I know became atheists fairly early on. They became atheists in their adolescence or in their 20s because these are the ages at which you’re maturing, your brain is maturing, and you’re beginning to ask questions. If religion doesn’t do it for you, if, in fact, religion, as it does for me, contradicts any rational idea of how to live, then you become an atheist, or whatever you want to call it – an agnostic, a freethinker.
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As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, "Truth"), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.
It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard's Christian journal, defending God's existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we'd argue into the wee hours; when apart, we'd take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible's contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like "It takes faith" could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn't do that.
And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories...
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This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship--be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles--is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
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Yummy Mummy, a little boutique on New York's Upper East Side, has suddenly become a health care provider/online superstore. The company has been hiring like crazy, and just opened an online call center and a warehouse in Illinois. Yummy Mummy even hired somebody to talk to customers' health insurance companies.
And new moms now seem more likely to splurge on fancy new breast pumps. Caroline Shany, a Yummy Mummy customer, spent her own money to buy a breast pump for her first baby. She may buy another one now because insurance will pick up the tab.
"Why not?" she says.
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For a man who has been dubbed by the US media the world’s first “moral rock star”, it was a modest showing – a mere 5,000 Indians had gathered to hear him. Compared with the 14,000 he had drawn to an open-air sports stadium in South Korea a few weeks before, or the 30m hits he has received for his online lectures in China alone, it was small chapattis. But the lecture, which Sandel staged as a kind of Socratic dialogue with his audience, held everyone spellbound.
Coming from solid middle class background and raised in Minnesota and Los Angeles, Sandel studied at Brandeis University and then got a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, where he discovered his passion for moral philosophy. He never looked back. He has taught at Harvard for most of his adult life and lives with his wife and two sons in Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside Boston.
The philosopher made his reputation in 1982 with his debut book, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, a powerful critique of John Rawls’s “veil of ignorance”....
Read it all (also another link there).
Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, told the Most Rev Justin Welby, that he would lead the Church of England amid an age of seemingly unprecedented selfishness – in a society obsessed with individualism and rights.
The New Archbishop was also formally charged with the task of providing “a voice for faith” in the face of attempts to marginalise religion.
The 57-year-old former oil executive’s election as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury was confirmed in a ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
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It was billed as the moral equivalent of an Ali v Foreman title fight. The world’s best known atheist arguing with the man who until a few weeks ago was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Last night, Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, took on Rowan Williams, the new master of Magdalene College, in a debate on religion at the Cambridge Union. And Williams emerged triumphant.
The motion for debate was big enough to attract the very best speakers to the Cambridge Union: Religion has no place in the 21st century.
But the key factor in persuading Professor Richard Dawkins to agree to take part in last night’s setpiece was something else – an admiration for his principal opponent.
“I normally turn down formal debates,” he said. “But the charming Rowan Williams was too good to miss.”
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You may find the preliminary video here (it lasts a little over 1 1/2 hours).
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury --Rowan Williams * Culture-Watch Education Philosophy Religion & Culture Science & Technology Young Adults * International News & Commentary England / UK * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Atheism * Theology
Many theologians and some scientists are now ready to proclaim that the nineteenth century "conflict between science and religion" is over and done with. But even if this is true, it is a truth known only to real theologians and real scientists-that is, to a few highly educated men. To the man in the street the conflict is still perfectly real, and in his mind it takes a form which the learned hardly dream of.--‘Horrid Red Things’ in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 68-69 (originally from the Church of England Newspaper, October 6, 1944, pp.1-2) [emphasis mine]
The ordinary man is not thinking of particular dogmas and particular scientific discoveries. What troubles him is an all-pervading difference of atmosphere between what he believes Christianity to be and that general picture of the universe which he has picked up from living in a scientific age. He gathers from the Creed that God has a "Son" (just as if God were a god, like Odin or Jupiter): that this Son "came down" (like a parachutist) from "Heaven," first to earth and later to some land of the dead situated beneath the earth's surface: that, still later, He ascended into the sky and took His seat in a decorated chair placed a little to the right of His Father's throne. The whole thing seems to imply a local and material heaven-a palace in the stratosphere-a flat earth and all the rest of those archaic misconceptions.
The ordinary man is well aware that we should deny all the beliefs he attributes to us and interpret our creed in a different sense. But this by no means satisfies him. "No doubt," he thinks, "once those articles of belief are there, they can be allegorized or spiritualized away to any extent you please. But is it not plain that they would never have been there at all if the first generation of Christians had had any notion of what the real universe is like? A historian who has based his work on the misreading of a document may afterwards (when his mistake has been exposed) exercise great ingenuity in showing that his account of a certain battle can still be reconciled with what the document records. But the point is that none of these ingenious explanations would ever have come into existence if he had read his documents correctly at the outset. They are therefore really a waste of labor; it would be manlier of him to admit his mistake and begin all over again."
I think there are two things that Christians must do if they wish to convince this "ordinary" modern man. In the first place, they must make it quite clear that what will remain of the Creed after all their explanations and reinterpretations will still be something quite unambiguously supernatural, miraculous, and shocking. We may not believe in a flat earth and a sky palace. But we must insist from the beginning that we believe, as firmly as any savage or theosophist, in a spirit world which can, and does, invade the natural or phenomenal universe. For the plain man suspects that when we start explaining, we are going to explain away: that we have mythology for our ignorant hearers and are ready, when cornered by educated hearers, to reduce it to innocuous moral platitudes which no one ever dreamed of denying. And there are theologians who justify this suspicion. From them we must part company absolutely. If nothing remains except what could be equally well stated without Christian formulae, then the honest thing is to admit that Christianity is untrue and to begin over again without it.
The Holy Orthodox Christian Faith is unabashedly pro-life. The Lord Jesus Christ was recognized and worshipped in His mother’s womb while yet unborn by the Holy Forerunner who was also still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44); St. Basil the Great (4th Century), one of the universal teachers of the faith, dared to call murderers those who terminate the life of the fetus. The Church has consistently held that children developing in the womb should be afforded every protection given to those outside the womb. There is no moral, religious or scientific rationale which can justify making a distinction between the humanity of the newly-conceived and that of the newly-born.
Abortion on demand not only ends the life of a child, but also injures the mother of that child, often resulting in spiritual, psychological and physical harm. Christians should bring the comfort of the Gospel to women who have had abortions, that our loving God may heal them. The Orthodox Church calls on her children, and indeed all of society, to provide help to pregnant mothers who need assistance brining their children safely into the world and providing these children loving homes.
On the occasion of this sorrowful anniversary, and as we mourn the violence we all too often visit upon one another, as exemplified by the recent mass killings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut, we pray for an end to the violence of abortion. Surely the many ways in which we as a people diminish the reverence and respect for human life underlie much of this violence. The disrespect for human life in the womb is no small part of this. Let us offer to Almighty God our repentance for the evil of abortion on demand and extend our hearts and hands to embrace life.
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What were your favorite books as a child? Did you have a favorite character or hero?
I was a very un-literary child, which might reassure parents with kids who don’t read. Lego was my thing, as well as practical books like “See Inside a Nuclear Power Station.” It wasn’t till early adolescence that I saw the point of books and then it was the old stalwart, “The Catcher in the Rye,” that got me going. By 16, I was lost — often in the philosophy aisles, in a moody and melodramatic state. I was impressed by Kierkegaard’s claim that he was going to read only “writings by men who have been executed.”
What books had the greatest influence on you when you were a student?
The French essayist Roland Barthes was, and in many ways continues to be, my greatest influence.
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The Greek philosopher Socrates famously said that "the unexamined life is not worth living." Taking this as a starting point, Eric Metaxas thought it would be valuable to create a forum that might encourage busy and successful professionals in thinking about the bigger questions in life. Thus Socrates In The City: Conversations on the Examined Life was born.
Every month or so Socrates In The City sponsors an event in which people can begin a dialogue on "Life, God, and other small topics" by hearing a notable thinker and writer such as Dr. Francis Collins, Sir John Polkinghorne, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, N.T. Wright, Os Guinness, Peter Kreeft, or George Weigel. Topics have included "Making Sense Out of Suffering," "The Concept of Evil after 9-11," and "Can a Scientist Pray?" No question is too big—in fact, the bigger the better. These events are meant to be both thought-provoking and entertaining, because nowhere is it written that finding answers to life's biggest questions shouldn't be exciting and even, perhaps, fun.
Check it out.
The late Christian philosopher Arthur Holmes proclaimed confidently that "all truth is God's truth." Holmes's epigram came to mind as I was tallying up our judges' rankings, encountering one surprise after another. Would Christianity Today really bestow top honors on a Roman Catholic New York Times columnist? On a Roman Catholic Ivy League professor? Or on a satirical novel lampooning contemporary evangelical culture?
Well, why not? If God is indeed the Author of all truth, we needn't be too choosy about those earthly authors whose truth-telling we recognize. Yes, most of this year's honorees (take a bow, Tim Keller!) fit more or less comfortably in an evangelical milieu. (Fearless prediction: Richard Dawkins will never win a CT book award.) Still, it's nice to remember that, whatever the source, truth (to say nothing of goodness and beauty) is always a cause for rejoicing.
Now the envelopes, please. From an initial crop of 455 titles submitted by 68 publishers, we've selected 10 winners, and 9 notables, that offer insights into the people, events, and ideas that shape evangelical life, thought, and mission. Here they are, along with comments from the judges.
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Back in October I explained why I think it is that same-sex “marriage” (SSM) makes so much sense to so many people. It's because so many—not just SSM advocates—have bought into a distorted definition of marriage that goes something like this:
Marriage is the legally-recognized faithful, uniquely committed, loving, social, economic, and sexual union of two non-blood-related consenting adults of opposite sex….Marriage carries with it certain legal, economic, and social benefits, not least of which is the social approval accorded to the partners’ sexual relationship.Does that sound about right to you? I've done informal surveys among Christians, and I've found that even many SSM opponents see marriage that way. They had better look out. It's a view that's centered entirely in the couple: their feelings, their benefits, their satisfaction. It's all about the romantically loving pair.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Children Law & Legal Issues Marriage & Family Philosophy Psychology Religion & Culture Sexuality --Civil Unions & Partnerships * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Theology: Scripture
The book’s religious sensibility is thoroughly Gnostic, in a number of ways. It is, for one thing, simply saturated in imagery and concepts drawn from the Gnostic systems of late antiquity, and its narrative form—its incontinent mythopoeia, its rococo excesses, its figural syzygies and archons and aeons (or whatever one might call them)—has all the occult grotesquerie of authentic Gnostic myth. More to the point, its entire spiritual logic is one of “gnosis”: a saving wisdom vouchsafed through an entirely private revelation; a direct communication from a mysterious source that is also one’s own deepest ground, but from which one has become estranged; a truth attained not through the mediation of nature or culture, and certainly not through the moral “law,” but solely in the apocalyptic secrecy of the illuminated soul.
And yet, it is also almost wholly devoid of the special pathos that is the most enchanting, sympathetic, and human aspect of ancient Gnosticism: the desperate longing for escape, for final liberation, for a return to the God beyond. Jung’s scripture is, in the end, a gospel not of salvation, but of therapy—not of deliverance, but of conciliation—and in this sense it truly is a liber novus, a newer new testament, a “sacred” book of a kind that only our age could have produced.
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Ken Myers grew up in a conservative Christian household in Beltsville, Maryland, during the 1960s. When he was in tenth grade, two important things happened to him.
His high school music teacher introduced him to the music of Bach, taking eight months to teach Myers and the rest of the boys’ choir how to sing the motet Jesu, meine Freunde. And he fell upon a copy of the Saturday Review.
Saturday Review is pretty much forgotten today. (A number of people still remember Bach.) The magazine began in the 1920s and flourished in the postwar years. Its writers ranged widely over the arts, from music and literature to painting and drama, cultivating a readership of strivers—professional and college educated, if not brainy by nature—who were eager for self-improvement and a kind of intellectual diversion that was sophisticated and accessible. The magazine was edited by a windy polymath named Norman Cousins, a model of the kind of well-meaning and high-minded public intellectual they don’t seem to make anymore.
“Everyone else in high school was discovering recreational drugs,” Myers told me not long ago. “I was discovering Norman Cousins.”
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Aside from all the formal invention and satirical energy of Saunders’s fiction, the main thing about it, which tends not to get its due, is how much it makes you feel. I’ve loved Saunders’s work for years and spent a lot of hours with him over the past few months trying to understand how he’s able to do what he does, but it has been a real struggle to find an accurate way to express my emotional response to his stories. One thing is that you read them and you feel known, if that makes any sense. Or, possibly even woollier, you feel as if he understands humanity in a way that no one else quite does, and you’re comforted by it. Even if that comfort often comes in very strange packages, like say, a story in which a once-chaste aunt comes back from the dead to encourage her nephew, who works at a male-stripper restaurant (sort of like Hooters, except with guys, and sleazier), to start unzipping and showing his wares to the patrons, so he can make extra tips and help his family avert a tragic future that she has foretold.
Junot Díaz described the Saunders’s effect to me this way: “There’s no one who has a better eye for the absurd and dehumanizing parameters of our current culture of capital. But then the other side is how the cool rigor of his fiction is counterbalanced by this enormous compassion. Just how capacious his moral vision is sometimes gets lost, because few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Books Philosophy Psychology Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Buddhism * Theology Eschatology
One reason utilitarian ethical thinking proves so persistently attractive even to those who are reluctant to accept the conclusions it implies is that many of us have difficulty imagining what else ethical thinking could be. This is in part because ours is a culture that places more confidence in the application of theory than in the exercise of judgment, which is one reason utilitarianism has proved so curiously impervious to the reductio ad absurdum arguments that are most frequently used in attempts to refute it.
When Singer claims that we need a Copernican revolution in ethics, he is not casting himself in the role of Copernicus or Galileo. Camosy refers to those who share Singer’s views as “Singerites,” but this reinforces the misleading impression that Singer is the originator of those views. Singer is often described as the world’s most influential philosopher, and it is natural to assume that his prominence is a sign of fundamental originality.
Yet the opposite is closer to the truth. Singer’s writings on our duties to animals and the world’s poor, and his attack on the sanctity of life, could not have been as influential as they are if the reasoning with which he arrives at his conclusions were not already widely accepted, even if many of his conclusions are not.
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In an essay in The Times’ Sunday Book Review this week the writer Paul Elie asks the intriguing question: Has fiction lost its faith? As we are gathered here today, let us consider one of the most oddly faithful of all fiction writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky. More specifically, I’d like focus pretty intensely on what some consider to be the key moment in his greatest novel — arguably one of the greatest of all time — “The Brothers Karamazov.” (Elie himself notes the 1880 masterpiece as an example of the truly faith-engaged fiction of yore.) I speak in particular of the “Grand Inquisitor” scene, a sort of fiction within a fiction that draws on something powerful from the New Testament — Jesus’s refusal of Satan’s three temptations — and in doing so digs at the meaning of faith, freedom, happiness and the diabolic satisfaction of our desires.
Read it all. Be warned--this is not short and it is not light bed-time reading; it is, however, well worth the time--KSH.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Philosophy Poetry & Literature Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary Europe Russia * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology Theodicy
As a Christian and career scientist, I see the episode as an opportunity for both Republicans and evangelicals to establish a more coherent policy on evolution, creation and science, for two reasons.
First, the age of the Earth and the rejection of evolution aren't core Christian beliefs. Neither appears in the Nicene or Apostle's Creed. Nor did Jesus teach them. Historical Christianity has not focused on how God created the universe, but on how God saves humanity through Jesus' death and resurrection.
Currently, a debate is unfolding in theological seminaries and conferences about the correct interpretation of the Bible's Genesis account of creation. Echoing thinkers like St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Mark Noll and Pope John Paul II, many of the conservative theologians in the debate believe that a serious reading of Genesis can be compatible with the scientific account of our origins.
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One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life. When we center our lives on the idol, we become dependent on it. If our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic. We do not say, ‘What a shame, how difficult,’ but rather ‘This is the end! There’s no hope!’
This may be a reason why so many people now respond to U.S. political trends in such an extreme way. When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country. They become agitated and fearful for the future. They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel. When their political leaders are out of power, they experience a death. They believe that if their policies and people are not in power, everything will fall apart. They refuse to admit how much agreement they actually have with the other party, and instead focus on the points of disagreement. The points of contention overshadow everything else, and a poisonous environment is created.
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The latest numbers suggest that an amazingly high percentage of women today—18.8 percent—complete their childbearing years having had no children. Another 18.5 percent of women finish having had only one child. Together, that’s nearly 40 percent of Americans who go their entire lives having either one child or no children at all.
And it's a big change in behavior from the recent past. There have always been people who lived without having children—either by happenstance or by choice. But for all of American history, the numbers of this cohort were fairly small. In 1970, for instance, just about 8 percent of women completed their childbearing years with no children. (And only about 11 percent of women finished with only one child.) Over the next 40 years, those numbers rose almost without interruption. (The numbers ticked backward only once, in 2002.) This dramatic increase in childlessness—the number more than doubled—took place in just two generations and came at a time when medical advances were drastically improving the odds of infertile couples conceiving.
So what happened?
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The United States has extra-protection from this because it’s not a pure or direct democracy, but a constitutional republic, based upon the rule of law. Yet the recent attack against religious liberty shows that America is not immune from the danger; and it isn’t the first time the nation has lost its footing. Writing about the 1830’s, historian John B. McMaster wrote:
The decade covered by the ‘thirties’ is unique in our history. Fifty years of life at high pressure had brought the people to a state of excitement, of lawlessness, of mob-rule, such as had never before existed. Intolerance, turbulence, riot became the order of the day. Differences of opinion ceased to be respected. Appeals were made not to reason but to force; reforms, ideals, institutions that were not liked were attacked and put down by violence; and one of the least liked and first to be assaulted was the Church of Rome.We recovered from that delirium, and—God willing—can recover from today’s serious troubles, too, whoever wins on Tuesday. But in order to do so, Christians need to be a leaven on America’s democratic enterprise, and not shrink from our role in the public square.
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It seems to me that Niebuhr's appeal to many nonreligious people was because he treated idolatry as the root of the injustice they felt was so wrong and had to be opposed. Niebuhr did not require them to make a theological commitment in order to be more coherently opposed to injustice. He did not require them to first affirm "the God of Justice" (Isaiah 30:18) in order to then appreciate how injustice is not only an assault on humans, but it is an assault on truth itself.
What Niebuhr did try to persuade them was that their opposition to injustice would be more coherent if they understood that the injustice they opposed is not just the result of human error at the epistemological level, but that it is the result of human deceit at the ontological level - substituting a false god for the true God, even if they could now only affirm the possibility that there is such a God. And to affirm what is clearly a desirable possibility is the essence of hope. Hence Niebuhr gave their moral instinct a deeper and more hopeful intentionality.
So when Stanley Hauerwas criticizes Niebuhr for promulgating "an ethic for everyone," I think Niebuhr would have taken that criticism as a compliment, for an ethic for everyone is precisely what ethics must be in order to have a voice in an idolatrous world. Clearly, Niebuhr would have liked for his nonreligious hearers to move into a position of faith in the God of the Bible, but he did not present that move as some sort of logical necessity. He knew full well that no one can be argued into faith, yet they can be argued into opposition against idolatrous injustice.
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Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating The Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer's development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates,and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man's own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the "present state of the question". To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. But thanks be to our Father and the Historical Point of View, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignorant mechanic who holds that "history is bunk..."--Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape (Screwtape Letters, Chapter 27)[emphasis mine]
...religiously speaking, there are only three possible responses: you can continue to believe in a God who knows in advance the number of our days; you can sharply limit your conception of God’s power, by positing a deity who does not know in advance what we will do, or who cannot control what we will do; or you can scrap the whole idea of divinity. The problem with the first position is that most believers, as Richard Mourdock did not do, run away from the dread implications of their own beliefs; and the problem with the second position is that it is not clear why such a limited deity would be worth worshipping. So cut Richard Mourdock some slack. He’s more honest than most of his evangelical peers; and his naïve honesty at least helpfully illuminates a horrid abyss.
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On one side, then, we have Lewis as conflicted evangelical bully. On the other, there is the figure that the Episcopal Church in the United States celebrates as "holy C.S. Lewis" (with a feast day on 22 November). In the concomitant hagiography, his connection with Mrs Moore and his odd late marriage (famously sentimentalised in the 1993 film Shadowlands) are either silently elided or eirenically glossed; beer and tobacco fade into mere period colour.
Unsurprisingly, the man himself was more complex than either approach fully allows. Lewis was a supremely bookish man, but also a loud man, and like many loud men annoyed as many as he entertained; that aside, there were formidable, and almost wholly anonymous, practical charities (he gave away most of his income); unquantifiably great personal influence (without Lewis, Tolkien's imaginative writing would probably have remained unpublished); and a dogged effort to live a Christian life. One non-believing acquaintance described him, after his death, as "a very good man, to whom goodness did not come easily...."
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It is a fact that few people become atheists either in foxholes or philosophy class. But having seen the minor outcry against criticism of the New Atheist position by their adherents, I have come to the conclusion that Ruse and Berlinerblau are right: the new atheism is a danger to American intellectual life, to the serious study of important questions, and to the atheist tradition itself.
I have reasons for saying this. Mostly, they have nothing to do with the canonical status of a few books and speakers who draw, like Jesus, multitudes of hungry listeners. At this level, emotion comes into play, celebrity and authority come into play. Perhaps even faith comes into play. The bright scarlet A of proud atheism as a symbol of nonbelief and denial becomes an icon in its own right: The not-the-cross and not-the-crescent. And again, as we reach beyond not believing into symbolism and the authority of speakers who can deliver you from the dark superstitions of religion, without having to die on a cross, we have come a long way from simply not believing. That is what Professors Ruse and Berlinerblau have been saying....
But the real disaster of the new atheism is one I am experiencing as a college teacher. Almost three decades back I faced opposition from students who denied that history had anything to teach them about their strong emotional commitment to a belief system or faith. Today I am often confronted with students who feel just the same way–except they are atheists, or rather many of them have adopted the name and the logo.
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4) Sexual desire, sexual intention, and sexual action must be distinguished, whether for psychological or moral or legal purposes, and each may be well ordered or disordered.
5) Well-ordered sexual intentions have in view goods both of body and of soul, goods that are at once personal and societal.
6) Consideration of these goods ought to respect the conjugal nature and reproductive potential of the most fundamental sexual act.
7) Consideration of these goods ought to respect the highest human good, which is enjoyment of God and of one another in God.
8) All human persons are constitutionally ordered to this highest good and as such are deserving of respect regardless of their desires, intentions, or actions.
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Suppose there had not been a single riot in response to the now infamous video “The Innocence of Muslims,” Not a single car burned, not a single embassy breached, not a single human being physically hurt. Would the makers of this risible little clip have done anything wrong? If so, to whom, and why?
These questions are now at the center of an international debate. President Obama himself touched on the issue in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, in which he directly addressed the violent reaction in the Muslim world to the “crude and disgusting video.” But does philosophy have anything to say to the view that many people have that there is something about this kind of speech itself — not just its harm to public order or its adding of insult to the injury of imperialism and war — that should not be uttered or produced?
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The reason given by Christiane Taubira, France’s justice minister: ”Who is to say that a heterosexual couple will bring a child up better than a homosexual couple, that they will guarantee the best conditions for the child's development?” She then reassured critics of the proposed law, “What is certain is that the interest of the child is a major preoccupation for the government.”
If the law goes through, then all references to “mother” and “father” will be erased from the civil code and replaced with the more abstract, cover-all, cover-anything term “parents.”
Let’s focus on that shift to abstraction. It’s more important than you might think, because, as France is now demonstrating, he (or she) who controls the language controls the fundamentally human ability to speak about reality.
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Perhaps it is understandable angry Muslims in the Middle East or Africa would demonstrate outside American diplomatic missions against the apparent circulation of a YouTube video mocking the Prophet Muhammad by a person based in the US. There is no such excuse for Australian Muslims.
Citizens and residents of Australia know we live in a democratic society in which the government does not, and mostly cannot, engage in acts of political and religious censorship. That's why Americans have not been able to get the cheap film deleted from the web. And that's why footage of beheadings of non-believers by Islamist extremists remain on the web.
Some Muslim leaders in Australia have condemned Saturday's violent demonstration in which several members of the NSW Police were injured. Others have not. Whatever the response of Muslims, the incident provides yet more evidence that multiculturalism - after a promising start - has failed. If some Australian Muslims do not understand how democracy works, it's time for a rethink.
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Aristotle’s reflection on the political life and his preference for the republic as a form of government help us to understand the foundational importance of the rule of law. Commenting on Aristotle’s reasons for favoring a republican form of government, combining good features of both oligarchy and democracy, Monsignor Robert Sokolowski, renowned professor of the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., underlines the essential relationship between a stable political life and the respect for the norm of law. He writes:
In a republic, a large middle class – middle in both an economic and an ethical sense – is established between the rich and the poor, and the laws and not men rule, and they do so for the benefit of the whole city, not for any particular part. To live this way is a great human accomplishment. It is a truly exalted exercise of reason for citizens to allow the laws to rule, to have the strength of reason and character to subordinate themselves to the law, which they allow to rule for the benefit of the whole. Not all people have the civic habits and public vision to let the laws and not their own partisan interests rule over the whole; not all people are immediately capable of being citizens...
The stability of any society or government depends upon the education of the people in the civic virtues which respect the rule of law for the good of all.
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“Today we are often in a situation in which we have to defend Catholic teaching within a cultural framework which is not of our creation and indeed may be hostile to our thought. This is especially the case when a culture becomes dominated by individualism. It is very difficult, for example, to defend the Catholic understanding of marriage and sexuality in a culture of individualism, when sexuality involves by its very nature the concept of mutuality and self giving. If we end up simply defending, there is the danger that we will end up being trapped within the categories of someone else’s culture and only present a negative vision of our teaching.
It is important at times to be against, but there is the more fundamental task of illustrating the real nature of our teaching. If sexuality is seen only in terms of individual rights, then any expression of sexuality, unless it is patently exploitative, will be acceptable. In today’s society we have to be able to illustrate the values of a vision of society which springs from our faith, but we have to be able to do so through rational argument”.
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Hebrew scripture is a "message in a bottle," says Yoram Hazony, and in The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, he tries to decipher that message. Hazony's new book makes the case for a different reading of the ancient texts — and argues that the Hebrew Bible is a work of philosophy in narrative form.
Hazony says the five books of Moses — which Christians speak of as the Old Testament — should not be thought of as discrete narrative but, rather, considered together with the books of Judges, Samuel and Kings. All of those books form a history of Israel, from the creation story to the dissolution and dismemberment of a decadent monarchy. It is a cautionary tale, an epic that advocates wariness of great imperial powers and individualism in the face of authority.
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Some claim that palliative care, combined with psychological and spiritual support, can address all the problems of all dying patients. This ignores a clinical reality, in which some patients, despite the best palliative care, still have bad deaths, with some resorting to dreadful journeys to Dignitas to end their suffering. International experience also confirms that palliative care and assisted dying are not either/or options. For the last ten years, assisted dying has been legal in Oregon under the Death with Dignity Act. Of the 50 states of the USA, Oregon has amongst the best palliative care and nearly 90 per cent of those seeking assisted dying do so from within those services.
The claims that assisted dying would inhibit the development of palliative care services, and would break down trust between doctors and patients, are unsupported by international evidence. So, too, are nightmare scenarios conjured by opponents in which decriminalisation of assisted dying places us on a slippery slope that would lead to the involuntary euthanasia of people who do not want to die. The Dutch experience, frequently misrepresented by those against assisted dying, has shown how liberalisation of the law has the reverse effect. Rates of non-voluntary euthanasia (i.e. doctors actively ending patients’ lives without having been asked by them to do so) have decreased. The present clinical, ethical and legal fudge in the UK, where some patients’ deaths are hastened with no regulatory framework, is more dangerous.
Even more absurd is the claim that to accede to someone’s request for assisted dying is to devalue human life....
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A column on the Obama-Romney race by political and social commentator David Brooks in the August 20 New York Times bore the caption “Guide for the Perplexed.” Brooks was trying to give some helpful counsel to undecided voters trying to make up their minds, and either he or the editors of the column thought this would make a good title. If it came from Brooks, I have no doubt that, a man of cultivation, he was aware that it is also the name of a greatly influential, late 12th-century work of Jewish religious philosophy by Maimonides or Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, widely known among Jews by his acronym of “Rambam.” If it came from the editors of the columns page, I’m not so sure.
I say this because, lately, “guides for the perplexed” have been popping up everywhere, like mushrooms after a rain. Recently, the British Daily Telegraph published an article on “Cancer Cure: A Guide for the Perplexed.” August’s Jewish World Review has a contribution called “A Parenting Guide for the Perplexed.” This past June, The New Yorker ran a piece on the euro crisis, titled “The Spanish Bailout: A Guide for the Perplexed.” Last January, American film historian David Bordwell reviewed the movie version of John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” under the title “Tinker Tailor: A Guide for the Perplexed.” Among books appearing in the past several years, you can find “Christian Bioethics: A Guide for the Perplexed,” “China Energy: A Guide for the Perplexed,” “Egypt and Islamic Sharia: A Guide for the Perplexed” and “A Guide for the Perplexed: Translations of All Non-English Phrases in Patrick O’Brian’s Sea-Tales.”
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What even a translator of genius can never give us, however, is the original author’s true likeness. Even the best translation is a darkened mirror, in which one glimpses only a partial figure moving among shadows. At times the mirror becomes very obscure indeed, at others delightfully bright; but at no time can any translator permit us to meet the artist face to face.
The problems of translation have been in my thoughts a great deal lately, for a variety of reasons. The most trivial of these is that I have been dipping into foreign versions of some of my own books, as well as I can, and sighing at the frequent accidental deformations of meaning. It is not that I feel myself greatly aggrieved by the mistakes I find; the texts in question are not exactly deathless masterpieces to be dithered over reverentially by their poor translators. I have, however, begun to wonder whether such distortions of meaning are not inevitable.
If nothing else, seeing what has become of my own words at the other end of the linguistic alembic has begun to make me doubt the profit in the whole enterprise of translation, even as I grant the necessity of that enterprise.
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Many people are Christians because of the work of C.S. Lewis. With wit and wisdom, Lewis imaginatively exploded the hollow pretensions of the secular. Moreover, he helped many see, for the first time, the world in the light of fact that "it had really happened once."
It is, therefore, not easy to criticize Lewis when he has such a devoted following. Yet I must write critically of Lewis because here I want to examine his views concerning violence and war. I am a pacifist. Lewis was anything but a pacifist. I want to show that his arguments against pacifism are inadequate, but I also that he provides imaginative resources for Christians to imagine a very different form of Christian nonviolence, a form unknown to Lewis, with which I hope he might have had some sympathy.
Before turning to Lewis's arguments against pacifism, I think it important to set the context for his more formal reflections on war by calling attention to Lewis's experience of war.
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The idea behind the veil of ignorance is relatively simple: to force us to think outside of our parochial personal concerns in order that we consider others. What Rawls saw clearly is that it is not easy for us to put ourselves in the position of others. We tend to think about others always from our own personal vantage; we tend to equate another person’s predicament with our own. Imagining what it must be like to be poor, for instance, we import presumptions about available resources, talents and opportunities — encouraging, say, the homeless to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to just get a job, any job, as if getting a job is as simple as filling out an application. Meanwhile, we give little thought to how challenging this can be for those who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabling conditions. What Rawls also saw clearly was that other classic principles of justice, like the golden rule or mutual benevolence, are subject to distortion precisely because we tend to do this.
Nowadays, the veil of ignorance is challenged by a powerful but ancient contender: the veil of opulence. While no serious political philosopher actually defends such a device — the term is my own — the veil of opulence runs thick in our political discourse. Where the veil of ignorance offers a test for fairness from an impersonal, universal point of view — “What system would I want if I had no idea who I was going to be, or what talents and resources I was going to have?” — the veil of opulence offers a test for fairness from the first-person, partial point of view: “What system would I want if I were so-and-so?” These two doctrines of fairness — the universal view and the first-person view — are both compelling in their own way, but only one of them offers moral clarity impartial enough to guide our policy decisions.
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The shooting at a Sikh Temple in the Wisconsin town of Oak Creek last Sunday revealed an ugly side to America’s pluralistic society. In a country of immigrants, there are still people who hate or fear those they see as “outsiders,” and when those people have access to semi-automatic weapons, they can put their fear and hatred into action.
The shooter, a former US Army soldier named Wade Michael Page, was a white supremacist, and before he was gunned down by a police officer, Page managed to kill six of the temple’s worshipers and to wound another police officer.
The incident is being treated as a domestic terror incident, with Page’s embrace of the “racial holy war” rhetoric of the far right making this more than just another case of American mass murder. But the shock of the event also hit many Americans at another level. Here, the terrorist was white, and a former US soldier. His victims were Asian. The terrorist’s ideology, white supremacy, was every bit as hateful and destructive as the religious holy war (jihad) of the men who hijacked the planes on Sept. 11....
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Faith, in the Christian life, has nothing to do with a subjective belief that does not admit rational justification (not even Kierkegaard quite said that), because faith begins not with the subject of faith but its object—the Trinitarian life of God. It consists not of assent to some proposition but the entrustment of one’s being to God’s providence. Faith does not originate in the individual believer’s own efforts, but is rather a gift of grace to the believer, usually received in baptism, as one means among many of participating in God’s own life.
Far from posing a threat to one’s faith, knowledge reinforces it: the more reason one has to believe in God’s providence, the more readily the believer entrusts himself to God. Faith likewise facilitates a more intimate knowledge of the plans God has set in store for the believer. As recent scholarship has demonstrated, “faith” in the Bible is often better rendered “faithfulness”; one has faith, therefore, less by belief than by piety. Faith is—at least in the order of time—primarily performative and only secondarily reflective. Recall St. Irenaeus’ dictum: “to believe in God is to do his will.”
The naive concept of faith as blind assent arose from an equally naive and philosophically disreputable theory of knowledge, according to which one knows a thing best by detaching oneself from its use and setting aside personal biases in order to form an idea that corresponds to the thing.
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Wherever I turn, the popular media, scientists and even fellow philosophers are telling me that I’m a machine or a beast. My ethics can be illuminated by the behavior of termites. My brain is a sloppy computer with a flicker of consciousness and the illusion of free will. I’m anything but human.
While it would take more time and space than I have here to refute these views, I’d like to suggest why I stubbornly continue to believe that I’m a human being — something more than other animals, and essentially more than any computer.
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Chris Mulherin, featured here on Eureka Street TV, similarly has a foot in both camps; an Anglican clergyman with a substantial academic background studying and lecturing in science and the philosophy of science.
He is now doing his doctorate on the relationship between scientific and theological ways of knowing. He argues they are different but complementary ways of understanding, and summarises the difference by saying that while science deals with mechanics, religion deals with meaning....
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