Monday, November 23, 2009

I can't wait for tomorrow! I'm gonna get to bed early, so it comes sooner!

PAUSE!! [still-frame of a churl, arrayed in pajamas, midway through a leap into his luxurious matted rushes] To an observer (moving at the same constant velocity as the churl--and I don't know why our subject is a twelfth century peasant) who stays up all night to check, morning does NOT come sooner. BUT, to the churl ... well, does it? It seems the moment he lays his dear unwashed cap onto the straw the rooster's cock-a-doodle and the movements of the livestock lying next to him wake him up: the new day has arrived!
What on earth is going on here? What absurd amnesia! To our observer, its as though the peasant had said, "In five minutes, the goodwife is going to bring me some hot cider 'n' brandy; I want it now, so I shall close my eyes and travel to the future" and closed his eyes for five minutes, opened them, and declared "Oh good, it worked! [In sooth, it hath surely worketh!]." What should our observer think? He sees one continuous person (body?) the whole time.
Does the sleeper experience the normal course of time, and then retro-actively experience the time-warp? How closely is my wakeful consciousness tied to my person? Without memory, my own actions might not seem to be 'mine' at least in the present. Consciousness seems very closely tied, for it is in wakefulness that I relate with other persons...I think. On the other hand, maybe this slumbering personhood is a deeper window into what a person is, or maybe the waking perception of time is too narrow.
I'm drifting now, because I actually am heading to bed, so I leave off this incoherent rambling in the hopes I may have sparked the interest of a mind better held together.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Just Try to Be Happy, Man…

I’ve had numerous conversations with people whose general outlook on life, ethics, meaning, and philosophy can be summed up with this statement: “Just try and be happy, man. If something makes you happy, it’s good. Don’t let people tell you otherwise. Don’t get hung up on ‘this is right’ or ‘this is wrong.’ Try not to take away from other people’s happiness in the process, either; that’s not cool.”

On the one hand, this simple (hippie) philosophy makes a lot of practical sense, even on a logical level. There are many ethical guidelines out there, and lot of them disagree. Epistemologically speaking, how can I ever know which guideline is real? And, for someone who hasn’t experienced the living Creator, there doesn’t seem to be a purpose for picking one specific guideline and living one’s life according to it. We all seek happiness, so just try to be happy – it’s as simple as that.

What is interesting about most people who subscribe to this philosophy is their lack of vision. They never truly ask the all-important question, “What will truly make me happy?” If Happiness is their mantra, you’d think they’d be more concerned with analyzing and exploring the nuances between different sorts of happiness, distinguishing between long-term and short-term happiness, etc.

It’s like a man who says, “I want my body to feel good.” If he doesn’t truly analyze the process by which his body will “feel good,” he’s a fool. If his body temporarily feels good when he eats a Big Mac, that doesn’t mean that it will feel good after a month of having 3 per day. In the same way, when most people seek Happiness, they seek very temporal modes of Happiness (or, what they mistake as Happiness: Pleasure, etc.).

In conversation with one such fellow not that long ago, I looked into his eyes and said, “Well, is how you live your life truly bringing making happy then?” The answer was stilted, but eventually a “no” was uttered. He asked me if I was, and I had to say “most of the time.” But, almost to a tee, every one of my non-happy moments and areas in my life are connected to either Sin or an inability to give over to God.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What Comes First: Catholicism or the Republican Party?

[This is an email to a parent that was a long time in coming. I thought it might amuse people who have similar parents. I also highly encourage any thoughts/problems people have with my basic argument or approach.

Here is the basic history: a) a preexisting, healthy argument about politic with the parent in question; b) an email sent to me by the parent in question that stated something very un-Catholic; c) my rebuttal, via words from JPII; d) an email back saying, (and this is a real quotation) “interesting but it sounds too much like socialism/Obama - don't you think?”

One of the things that frustrates me about certain Catholic Republicans is their willingness to suspend their Catholicism in order to support their political party – or at least not take a moment to actually see what the Church teaches on a subject. We despise, and rightfully so, the Democrats who suspend their Catholicism in light of their politics – and I do agree that suspending the pro-life stance of the Church is more reprehensible than the other issues most Catholic Republicans suspend. But it is still wrong, and it is still reprehensible.

To these people, if it sounds like socialism or Obama, it’s gotta be bad. I understand that people are Republican because it’s pro-life, but, wow, we need to remain Catholic before Republican. The problem is that people think they ARE being Catholic when they support all Republican ideals. OK, I ramble and rant. Here’s the email:]

Dear Parent –

You cannot reject something because “it sounds like Obama.” That’s not a reason at all. At the least, it’s very bad logic. It’s also very dangerous.

Don’t get me wrong: I disagree with a lot of what Obama stands for, promotes, etc. I’m not saying I want the country to be the kind he is leading us to become. However, that doesn’t mean I’m allowed to reject EVERYTHING he is pushing because of I don’t like a lot of his agenda – and I’m not allowed to jump on the other side of every issue.

Now, this might not make sense to most Americans – but it should make A LOT of sense to Catholic Christians. First and foremost, I am a Son of God: this implies that first and foremost I am a Catholic Christian (CC). All of my moral decisions, political beliefs, and social doctrines should be based on my Christianity and NOTHING else. What this means is that what you believe about capitalism, socialism, healthcare, and taxes should take their primary foundation in your Christianity. Anything short of this is hypocrisy. Anything short of this is relativism.

Most people don’t have a strong religious doctrine (or don’t know it) from which they can base their moral values: they kind of pick and choose. If we do that – i.e.” I like this Christian doctrine, but not this one, since its too close to those Marxist Dems” – then we are slipping into our own relativism. We have a responsibility to learn what the Church teaches about issues, to protect what She teaches, and to instruct others in Her teachings.

Only after being a CC am I American; and only after being American am I Republican or Democrat – and that is, only if I choose to label myself one of those. When we face an issue, we need to begin with the premise that we are CC, and that means finding out what the Church teaches about it; and this will mean sometimes taking what others may view as a “bad stance” or a “Dem stance” or a “liberal stance.” First off, a lot of these labels are created to manipulate people. Second, who cares? I know I do not. I am a CC first and foremost, and no one is going to make me embarrassed because of that.

I think some of what I’m saying may not be taking root; and I think a main reason is because people automatically take arguments and disregard them because of “where they’re coming from,” i.e. “I don’t exactly get what he’s saying, but it must be wrong since it seems to be promoting Obama.” I exhort you to read it as a Catholic Christian. Understand that I’ve put no political issues or views in this email. I’m simply talking about our duty as Catholic Christians. I’m not talking about idealism, liberalism, “free-mindedness,” etc.

And if you want to continue the argument – and I don’t mind that – please respond to what I wrote in bold. Don’t give me examples or other things Obama has done badly. I will probably agree with you on most of it. But where we disagree is in our underlying understanding of how our Catholicism should affect our politics: so let THIS be the center of our argumentation.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Moby Dick, Homoeroticism, and God

Earlier this summer, I finished Melville’s epic concerned with a bunch of men in tight-sailor outfits, women-less and bunk-mates for 3 years at the sea, desperately searching the 139.5 million square miles of ocean for one maniacal leviathan (a leviathan with the name of “Dick the sperm whale,” who spouts "white foam"), at the beck and call of one captain who, compensating for the lose of a leg (or is he compensating for something else?), wants nothing more than to “plunge” his “harpoon” into back of this creature. I’m really not sure WHERE people find the homoerotic subtexts. Crazy homophobes, in my opinion.

I was pretty surprised by a few aspects of the novel: the complete lack of characterization; the 40% of the novel used to painstakingly explain the physicality, physiognomy, and psychology of the whale; and the rather quick ending. Despite all of this --- and despite my longing to forever mock the novel I had finally actually read --- I ended up really appreciating, and liking, it.

One of the things I was looking for throughout my read was the significance of the white whale. Despite Melville protestations that “so ignorant are most landsmen … they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory," the book would be at the very best a “good fish tale” if there were not multiple layers of meaning to this text --- and there definitely are. What seemed to continually suit the questions I posed was the idea that Moby Dick was a literary representation of God.

By “God,” I mean the Enlightenment’s Deist God: the God Melville would be very familiar with. This is a non-personal, unspeaking creator: a God who is not necessarily involved in people’s day-to-day life, but who seems to be responsible for the way the world works, physical science, birth and death, deformities, etc.

At sea, many men lost their lives; others, like Ahab, lost limbs to the elements and whales themselves. There seems to be no reason or rhythm to who was killed, maimed, or left with widowed. Looking on with the Deist viewpoint, you could only point to or ask the inscrutable God as a possible answer. But none are sure whether or not this God, like Moby Dick, is intelligent, at least in a human sense. So often, Melville focuses on the maniacal-ness of the whale, his real attempts to destroy and maim, even if they are sporadic, nonsensical, and unrelated to people’s moral lives, i.e. people who were “bad” weren’t the only ones getting their legs eaten. Despite Melville’s continued attempts to define Moby as intending to wreck havoc, he is forced again and again to reflect on the very real possibility that this whale is not consciously evil or destructive: he is simply the most powerful whale in the ocean.

The questioning Deist (or the non-Deist) finds little answers to the evil found in the world: the physically deformed, the mentally ill, the widowed wife. Life, death, pain, suffering, and joy are distributed without explanation, preference, or reasonable cause. Is it that God is evil and maniacal, or is it that He doesn’t make sense to us humans? Is He inflicting pain on us in order to be malevolent, or is there no logical answer to His doings? According the Ahab and Melville, either answer demands the same response: the desire to rid the world of this Being in Ahab’s case; or, in Melville’s case, the literary exploiting of His maniacal/unreasoning-ness. The novel’s end says a lot about the possibility of either action, but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone.

Melville’s life and religious affiliation fit neatly within this reading. First, he was an alcoholic, enjoyed a poor and dysfunctional marriage, had one son commit suicide and another die in his lifetime, found a literary world turned away from him by the time he wrote his epic, and was incredibly close with penury throughout his entire life. If he was religiously affiliated at all, he attended some Unitarian services, but almost solely on account of his wife; he spoke disparagingly of such encounters. (Original Unitarianism was closely liked with Deism.)

Perhaps Moby was the conscious or unconscious manifestation of the sort of God Melville was most closely acquainted with --- the God Melville would have wanted to rebel against, if he believed in it, for the sake of his miserable life, marriage, monetary position, and offspring.

At another point, I want to connect Moby Dick with JPII’s Theology of the Body. That will be chapter 2…

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Brief (Marxist) Piece About Class Differences

I was recently talking with a young man who grew up in the upper-middle class. He was relating to me a conversation he had recently with a woman who grew up in the upper class. He was amazed by this woman’s ways of thinking, her attitudes of thought. She didn’t understand the reality of many things that had been and still were part of his life: saving up money for a car, not always having money to buy things, not getting everything you wanted for Christmas, picking a restaurant partially based on its price range, etc. Likewise, she lived in a world of other realities, where different things were normal: owning 2-3 homes, randomly or impulsively buying a $3 million yacht, BMWs as presents, etc. The young man from the upper-middle class was baffled, since this woman seriously “didn’t understand what real life was like. I mean, it’s not as if she’s snotty; she’s just so out of touch with reality.”

At that moment, it suddenly hit me: If there seemed an almost insurmountable reality difference between upper-middle class and upper class, then what about between upper-middle class and middle class? Or lower-middle class? Or lower class? As someone who grew up in (I think) middle or upper-middle class, how much is there about the life and reality of the lower class that I don’t understand? Now, I “think” I can understand it, like I can understand not always having the surety of enough money for dinner. But do I really understand it?

Just as the young woman above could logically grasp the idea of saving up money to buy a car, her discussion of the matter revealed her inability to grasp the reality of it. And even if she could glimpse a semi-true understanding of it, she continued to live her life in her little “bubble.” This new, brief knowledge didn’t change the way she viewed economics, politics, etc. Her personal views of so many things --- almost all things (yes, I’m close to sounding Marxist here) --- are shaped by her material and economic setting.

I think this is true for all of us. I’m no Marxist, but I strongly hold that there are deep truths (truths with a small “t”) in certain aspects of its foundational philosophy. So much of the way we think and act, so much of our strongly held beliefs and values, are bound up in our material setting: and a major part of this setting is our class and economic standing.

I challenge myself to “walk in others’ shoes,” and not simply as a trite mind experience, but in a deep and powerful attempt to grasp the reality that is their own. Like we’ve said a lot, it’s not as if we can find an objective, outside perspective --- at least not anywhere besides the truth preached by Mother Church. But despite the shortcomings of our attempts, we can all look toward the common good as a way to break out of our subjective, material, cultural situations --- the common good as it applies to our family, friends, country, and world.

P.S. When it comes to our basic inability to see fully grasp each others’ realities, it is most often the poor that come out the worst, for the rich have the most economic, political, medical, martial, and legislative power. I think this is why good Marxist criticism often has a ring of social justice to it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thoughts on Music

[The following is part of an email to a friend. It was preceded by a discussion in which we disagreed. I thought I'd put it up here to see what others thought. As usual, any and all comments are appreciated. By the way, the email was titled "Sorry for the length..." You'll see why in a second.]


  1. IMPORTANT POINT: To say that some action, event, or thought universally detracts from everyone’s relationship with God is to say that action, event, or thought is sinful. This is what sin is: a rupturing of, in a minor or major way, one’s relationship with God.
  2. The Catholic Church, though Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magisterium, has declared certain actions, etc. as sinful.
    1. i.e. Choosing to murder someone, no matter the subjective or cultural situation, is always wrong, since it always ruptures a person’s relationship with God.
  3. However, when we begin to take other events, actions, or thoughts that the Church has not declared as sins, and to assign them the definition of sin, we are dealing with one of two things:
    1. actions that are specific to contemporary times, i.e. driving your car too fast or cyber bullying: the Counsel of Nicea could not deal with these; or
    2. subjectively creating new form of moralities. We are imposing ethical standards that are our own. At the very least, this is wrong; on another level, we are drifting from our Catholic faith; and on a different level, we are being bad evangelists.
  4. This is exactly what you are doing when you say that Metallica always affects in a negative way a person’s relationship with God.
    1. We could get angry or at least fed up, and rightfully so, at a Catholic who says, “Well, the Church says that’s a sin, but I don’t think so. It’s fine for me; it doesn’t adversely affect my relationship with God.” In quite the reverse form, but equally incorrect, you’re saying, “Well the Church doesn’t say it’s a sin, but I think so. The Church doesn’t say it adversely affects everyone’s relationship with God, but I think it does.” The first speaker is a cafeteria Catholic; the second is either egotistical or poorly informed; either way, he is not acting Christianly, just as the first man is not.
  5. Please note: What I wrote above does NOT mean I can’t say: “Most people are negatively affected by Metallica;” “As a parent, I don’t want my kids listening to Metallica;” “Let’s make a commitment not to listen to Metallica;” “If so-and-so asked me if he should give up listening to Metallica, I would say yes,” etc. I’m not saying I agree with all of these statements; I’m simply saying that my earlier statements aren’t contradictory to these.
  6. Final theological point: You may say, “Well, you say Metallica is usually not good for people, and I say it always is. Isn’t that close? Aren’t we almost saying the same thing?” No, and one of my most important points is this: Our different conclusions, while they look similar, have extremely different ethical foundations; and this is important to note. Your premises, stated or not, are:
    1. A genre of music or a specific band can be labeled as intrinsically wrong/evil
    2. (and this is more incorrect) We can use our opinions of things to create ethical boundaries not supplied us by Mother Church. This is wrong.


  1. I firmly believe that you hold your values about music on good faith; I also firmly believe that they are based on insufficient theological foundations, developed on account of your social background (growing up in the POH and having a conversion in and through the POH), and a few examples that aren’t good enough for a real survey, let alone a moral belief.
  2. The specific affectation of music is relative and cultural. This simply means that music’s affect on us will have greatly to do with our cultural, social, and chronological background (living in the 90’s as opposed to the 20’s).
  3. IMPORTANT ANALOGY/EXAMPLE: The Beatles: When the Beatles came out, people probably had your exact same argument: “Hey, I’m not exactly saying the Beatles are “intrinsically evil,” but they CAN’T have a positive or neutral affect on anyone --- and that’s a fact.” And guess what? There may have seemed legitimate reasons to hold to this argument: in their mind, everyone who listened to the Beatles and went to concerts did drugs, rebelled, left the Church, etc. The argument above seemed reasonable. And perhaps it may have been best to not let kids listen to the Beatles (although I’m not saying I definitely believe that). However, this same music does not have the same affect on us today. Do you see the point? It isn’t the BEATLES MUSIC that is or was evil, wrong, or HAD to affect people’s relationship with God in an adverse way. Instead, it was the affect the music had on kids of the 60’s. We wouldn’t say that the Beatles music MUST affect people adversely, even if it may have seemed that way. From a distance --- 40-50 years --- we can now see that it was the culture, the times, the society, etc. that had the poor affect. And yes, it had to do with the music --- I agree with that --- but it was the “way it affected the people then” that is important, good, or bad --- not the music itself. [If you don’t like the Beatles example, replace them with Simon and Garfunkle or the Beach Boys, for I’m sure people had the same argument against them.]
  4. Music does have positive and negative effects; it is extremely powerful. However, the way to deal with it in a Christian way is NOT to label groups or genres as evil simply because it looks like that or we really think it is or it’s a strongly held opinion; as I said before, this act is in essence UN-Catholic. We can’t make up morality.
  5. [PS: Music doesn’t fit into our Christian sense of sin --- not exactly at least. Why? Because sin comes in the form of an action, thought, or failure to act; and one of these three things ruptures our relationship with God; and it is this rupture that is evil. Therefore, music can’t be evil in and of itself. It is the act of listening to it that can be evil; and listening to it is evil only insofar as it ruptures our relationship with God.]


  1. Below are three examples. Please note that my examples don’t PROVE my argument --- just as opposing examples don’t disprove me. They are here simply to show you that my rather abstract points above make some practical sense in the world.
  2. Example 1: Jimmy from Florida. Jimmy was a sophomore at FSU; he had had a deep conversation to Christ his freshmen year. When I met him, he was developing his prayer life, going to Mass daily, etc. I remember coming home from a Spirit Night with him in his car. He threw the radio on, blasting some pretty hard music. My initial instinct was to judge or question him, thinking in my mind, “Wow, I guess he isn’t too converted yet. In time, in time…” I was extremely convicted later that I had it wrong. At the moment in his personal walk with Christ, the music he was listening to was NOT rupturing his relationship with God, despite the fact that when I heard the specific kind of music I automatically thought of druggies, prostitutes, and Satanists. As Jimmy grew spiritually that year, he ended up telling me he felt convicted to not listen to as much music. As his relationship with God changed, so did his relationship with the world. He felt called to give up some of his music, but in the same way that Tom Appert said God might call him to give up classical music. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with either; there’s nothing universally negative about either. It’s about a person’s walk with Christ.
  3. Example 2: Miller. I lived with Miller for a year. Now Miller likes some heavy crap. Without ever putting the stuff on myself, I got a decent dose of stuff WAY heavier than Metallica. Do I think it was good for Miller? That’s irrelevant, and I hope you understand that. My point is elsewhere. For me, Metallica used to raise in me scenes of rebellion, drugs, sex, violence, etc. Now, quite frankly, a lot of it seems trite, silly, cute, twangy, and immature. It doesn’t hold those long held feelings like it used to. What’s my point? Once again, it’s how the music affects you that is important, and how it affects you has to do with every single person. If I run into a Metallica song on the radio, I don’t always leave it on; but at times I do. Do I listen to much of it? Hardly any. But that’s because I feel the Lord has called me to other things, in the same way that 5 years down the road He may ask me to give up some of the music I listen to now. But I can listen to a song on the radio and enjoy it; bottom line. It’s as if we that grew up and had conversions in and through the POH have some negative nostalgia about the sound of Metallica and like bands. But that’s not objective or universal; and it won’t always last.
  4. Example 3: My Mom. Unlike your family, we talked a lot of the YA rules out, a major one being music. My Mom always witnessed to us. She told us that she had a conversion and continued listening to Simon and Garfunkle (S&G). At one point, she realized that the music was making her sad, and her sadness was not a sadness that was bringing her towards God. Even before she met the POH, she gave up S&G. At that moment, the community’s rule made absolute sense. I can’t blame her one bit for thinking it was absolutely true. However, even before the POH revamped their teaching, my Mom came to her own, newer conclusion. She realized that S&G wasn’t wrong in itself; it wasn’t wrong for her to listen to it. Earlier, it probably helped her relationship with God to give it up entirely, but that was a specific moment. Now, she doesn’t listen to S&G all the time; I’m not even sure she has a CD. But she will ask us to turn it up if we’re listening to it; and she even has her favorite S&G song as a ringer. To her, the POH’s revamping, once again, made complete sense. It wasn’t extremely unreasonably for her to claim S&G was intrinsically wrong; but at the same time, she realized it had no theological foundation; last, she realized it didn’t completely make sense, at least once she was in a different situation and life-state.
  5. I share these examples with you to counter your examples. Remember, examples don’t prove anything; they simply help convince people that certain abstract principles make sense in practical life. I urge you to consider these examples whenever you consider the few you cling to so strongly.


  1. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. Sometimes I’m bitter in speech or writing. I don’t intend to be. This is simply a topic that I have thought and prayed on a lot. It got on my nerves that someone from the younger generation still wanted to label non-objective things with objective labels: “always wrong,” or “always harmful,” etc. I understand that some of the older generation will never be convinced; but I’m very disheartened if those of the younger generation can’t.
  2. Feel free to respond. However, if you do, please don’t simply counter with other examples. You really need to get at the heart of the theological battle at hand (see points 3-6).
  3. Please don’t take my next and last point as a snide criticism of the community. I have learned to love Christ through the POH. The POH has more men and women that love and live for God than I have ever seen. And I believe in the POH. It is my love for the POH that leads me to my last point.
  4. When it comes down to it, we need to learn from our mistakes. The community has in the past made very objective claims about non-objective things: “It’s wrong for a boy to wear shorts.” Music, while something that should always be discussed and monitored, still falls under this tendency of going outside of our ethical bounds for the sake of keeping the faith strong. However, at the end of the day, if you’re out of your ethical bounds, you’ve drifted from the faith.

In Christ,


PS At a different time, we can discuss why the POH’s teaching came about; there are plenty of cultural reasons for its inception and people’s cleaving to it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Simple Views of Living the Christian Life

The modern world wants us to see Christianity – and living the Christian life – as something it isn’t. I think that Christians often succumb to this pressure; I know I do. It is the power of an overwhelming force, for we don’t live in a Christian world. At a certain point, it is too much to constantly debunk the false definitions, even to ourselves; at a certain point, it is too hard to fight the undertow.

A common misconception of the Christian life that I find myself accepting too often is that Christianity is simply a set of rules and laws, a list of do’s and don’ts. When I want to see if I am living a “good, authentic Christian life,” I look to see if there is anything that I do that is contrary to God’s laws, or if there is anything I have omitted that is necessary to God’s laws. If “I’m good” according to this litmus test, I’m free to feel no guilt.

It isn’t as if this test is wrong or un-Christian; but it’s simply incomplete, like saying football is concerned with kicking. Yes, this is true – but it doesn’t catch a real sense of the sport.

The Christian life is about recognizing that everything in my life – career, time, money, relationships, etc – are all God’s, not mine. I cannot claim one as my own. Every single aspect of my life needs to be ordered towards giving glory to God. The earlier test makes the Christian life simply a set of rules: if I’m not breaking any of them, I’m good to go. But the Christian life IS life; everything needs to be ordered toward humbling myself before my creator, loving others, and bringing Christ to others.

Christianity as a set of laws is more than a small misconception easily fixed. First, it is an extremely hard thing to fix; reordering your entire life when you’re not used to it is necessarily difficult. But second, and more important, looking at the Christian life this way alienates us from the true life-giving source of Christianity and true peace. It deadens the vitality of the Christianity. It is hard enough to pass a way of life along to a child; it is nearly impossible to pass along a set of rules. And this is especially true when the rules aren’t attached to “good, ol’ Catholic guilt.”

I fall often to this lie. I know I need to a) pray and b) try not to sin too much, especially big sins. I don’t give the Christian life too much thought if I’m fulfilling those two rules. However, my job, marriage, friendships, relationships family members, exercise, leisure, relaxation, etc. all must point to the reality that Christ created me, saved me, is constantly working in my life today, and seeks to spend eternity with me in Heaven.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thoughts on Last Night’s Gay Marriage Discussion

Although our discussion spanned a variety of topics and avenues of thought, I believe we stayed focused on the original question posed: Can we sustain a non-religious argument against homosexual marriage?*

First, I felt that we came to the conclusion, no, we cannot. Now, when we discussed whether this was the case primarily because of the state of marriage in the US, or the interpretation of sexuality or gender roles, or some other reason, there was an absence of unanimity.

Second, I think we came to a different conclusion by saying we still have the responsibility to oppose homosexual marriage (Ratzinger).** [Is omission of direct action acceptable?]

These two points lead me to question what I think was on Mr. Porch Rat’s mind throughout the evening: Is there a dilemma, paradox, or real issue at hand here?

For myself, the evening opened up a multitude of discussible doors. I am sure my list is not exhaustive: 1) the relationship between Church and State, in the US and in general; 2) gender roles; 3) sexuality (this is a personal interest of mine); 4) homosexuality as inherently wrong and why – i.e. Why it is NOT the same (according to the Church) when someone is born with an attraction to the opposite sex as a person is born with an attraction to the same sex – and if this is ever provable, or can be put in an argument that non-religious can agree with; 5) our action or omission in the US’s debate over homosexual marriage; and 6) marriage.

I guess we need to decide (and by “we” I mean someone who hasn’t already led a discussion) whether or not to take one of the above discussions (or something related to them), or if we should go in a different direction – maybe back to something more “purely” philosophic? Someone needs to confidently step up and get the next topic going!

*Of course, we need to be aware of the fact that this question may not necessarily mean we cannot oppose homosexual marriage in a democratic state, since we are not asked to consciously reject our religious beliefs in the voting booth.

**I am still struggling with Ratzinger’s imperative. I understand it on one level – i.e. It blatantly defies Church teaching about the human person and human relationships, and as such, it needs to be opposed – but on a different level, I question it. Should we also be opposing contraception? Would Ratzinger say that?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Certainty versus Authenticity

I, like others, want to be certain of everything: certain that what I believe in is correct, certain that I can prove what I stake my life on, certain that I am doing the correct thing with my life; the list goes on. But what I have come to realize over the past year or so (not by my own discovery, but rather through the wisdom of others) is that what is important is not the level of certainty I have in what I do, who I am, or what I believe in, but rather the level of authenticity I live the life I have chosen freely.

Not to get too philosophic, Nietzschean, or simply depressing, but we cannot be certain of too much in this life. [I understand I am using the word “certain” in a pretty specific sort of way.] We can take our “wrecking ball of doubt” like Descartes (thanks, Floyd) to everything. We can stand in the wake of the wreckage and feel a sense of emptiness; or we can realize that this certainty we were searching for was never supposed to be there. Its absence is only depressing insofar as we assumed it was present. Aware of this, we can assume the responsibility of living our lives authentically – authentically attached to the way of life we have freely chosen.

To use a simple example, imagine a man who is working administration at a small trucking company. He could constantly ask himself whether or not he is in the right profession, whether or not he was created to be doing something else. It is not as if he is not good at his job, but this man is a questioner. Despite this man’s ponderings, he can never be certain that this job of his is the best use of his abilities. He has two choices: seek different employment and test himself, or, be fine with his uncertainty and work at his present job authentically – working to the best of his ability.

I need often to stop myself from desiring certainty. I need to be more concerned with living my life authentically. PS: Sometimes I nostalgically think that the searching and concerned atheist or agnostic is somehow more honest than a doubting Christian. However, this is not true. This atheist or agnostic is AS certain of his tenants of life as the doubting Christian. If we are beginning with the premise that nothing can be known certainly [back to my earlier use of “certain”], perhaps the only difference between the concerned atheist and the doubting Christian is the level of authenticity with which they live their respective lives.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Assumptions and the Human Person

Arguments can be very frustrating. This is especially true when someone disagrees so completely with, what seems like to us, such a logical, rational presentation of ideas. On certain levels, arguments and disagreements are entertaining and intellect-strengthening; but on the other hand, when we are dealing with morally or socially severe topics – abortion, war, etc. – it can be rather frustrating and depressing that someone can rationally maintain a conclusion that, to us, is both logically untenable and morally despicable. Although there are many reasons for this fact of argumentation, I believe a huge issue here is assumptions, presuppositions, or premises. We end at such different conclusions because we begin with such opposing assumptions. I know this is not new news, but I maintain that this is an important matter to keep in mind.

First, let me give an example: Two friends are arguing about the morality of acting on homosexual urges, etc: one is pro-gay, the other not so. Now, these two friends could argue and yell until they are blue in the face – and this is often the case – but they are fated to get nowhere unless they concede their beliefs in different assumptions. The pro-gay friend has most likely accepted the idea that pleasure is good, and sexual pleasure, as long as it is consensual and does not relieve anyone of his or her rights, is always a good. Conversely, the anti-gay friend may have accepted a different, opposing assumption: Sexuality is good – in fact, it is sacred. As with sacred things, sexuality needs to be practiced correctly. Further, there are immoral ways of engaging in sexual activity. Instead of arguing assumptions, these two friends will argue the non-procreative aspect of homosexuality, its positive or negative effect on society, the government’s role in the individual’s life, private versus public, religion versus secularism, etc. Although these arguments have their place, they do not get at the heart of the issue, which is opposing assumptions.

This is all to lead me to say that divergent and warring ideologies concerning almost anything – abortion, war, euthanasia, environmentalism, economics, history, sociology, psychology, etc., etc., etc. – often end at opposing conclusions because of their different assumptions concerning the human person. Here are some questions that I think should be asked of a person, idea, or theory before anything else: According to this person, theory, or idea, does the human person have intrinsic value? Is the human person simply material and matter – or is there something non-material? The questions go on (such as, Can one human person ever have an obligation to another human person?), but I think the first two are perhaps the most important.

Although a certain amount of this is common sense, it is important to return to it often. Also, concerning the human person, I think this should be our preeminent (or at least initial) concern when we judge ideas and theories. Christianity is a religion of personhood, for God is a God of personhood.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gay Marriage/Rights in the US

Although Harmon has refused to respond to my questions about the possible time, subject, and readings for the next philosophy group, I assume it will be in later June or early July; I also assume it will concern Gay Marriage/Rights in America. I hope Harmon or someone has at least two good texts to read and discuss.

I thought I would introduce the topic – or at least introduce it in the way that I personally find problematic and/or intriguing. The question in my mind runs as follows: 1) What reasons does the US have for limiting marriage or rights to gay couples other than religious reasons? 2) Should religious reasons such as these be enough to create laws in a country that has separated Church and State? Let me elaborate upon and clarify both questions briefly.

1) “Reasons” for disallowing gay marriage or rights cannot be personal, trivial, or nostalgic. For example, if you say gay marriage doesn’t continue the species, well, neither does the priesthood per se. Also, economic arguments, in my opinion, are not plausible enough. We don’t disallow things at a basic level because they may not be economically feasible in the long run. We need an important, strong, and sufficient reason for saying gay marriage should not be allowed.
2) I understand that separation of Church and State does not mean that the Church has no influence on the State; this is a hasty conclusion made by many anti-religious liberals. However, we should distinguish between two types of laws/rules/morals: A) laws like abortion that simply go against the dignity of the human person, and B) laws of specific religions that should NOT be set-up as federal laws, i.e. making it a law for Catholics to attend Church on Sunday. In my opinion, you should not have to appeal to religious tenants for any specific federal law.

As usual, I’ve probably made a certain amount of this too complicated, while hyperbolically simplifying everything else. This is where everyone else’s voices need to be heard. Speak to me peoples!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Notes From the Underground

I think it appropriate to have a post dedicated to our next reading, Dostoevsky's haunting but compelling Notes From the Underground. We can post any initial thoughts, questions, problems, or revelations prior to our meeting. It can be used as wanted or helpful.


This is a post for anyone desiring to make further comments or clarifications concerning Descartes' Meditations --- or to ask additional questions. Also, it may be neat if some people put into concrete words what they said last evening. Often language, especially in the form of reflection, helps us formulate solid thought and reasoning; it can also allow us to better remember what we said. To quote my annoying but smart boss, "Writing is the ultimate synthesizing activity or closure in that language helps us to make connections and reach conclusions."

By the way, I thought our conversation last evening was pretty darn cool.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Does God Have Free Will?

Although no one has been active in the blogosphere lately, I have still decided to post a new question. Perhaps this one will entertain more argumentation (although I still want a discussion concerning my last post on the other blog).

Does God have free will? Doesn't free will assume the possibility to make an alternate choice? If so, can God NOT love us?

As I'm writing this, the question feels very Thomistic. I'm sure The Philosopher has answer to my silly question...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Problems of Faith

[The thoughts present in this post germinated from my ponderings of the past responses and discussions. I was going to reply to the previous thread, but decided to make this an entire post by itself. Therefore, this can be read by itself; however, its intellectual predecessor is the thoughts of Porch Rat, Duct Cleaner, and Skrignov. It is rather lengthy and the beginning is confusing…but please, bear with me.]

My first statement will seem entirely contradictory, but hear me out: When it comes to PROBLEMS OF FAITH, I believe the issue is usually not a problem of faith, but instead a different problem. What is this different problem? There are countless answers, but I will draw on two, since they hit closest to home for me. First, OBEDIENCE AND PERSONAL STRUGGLES: truly believing in something means that we need to act according to a certain code of ethics --- and this code may not always be pleasant to our lazy, selfish selves. In fact, this may seem extremely difficult to us, especially if we’re struggling with something contrary to this code. Second problem: FORGETTING OUR CONVERSIONS or personal moments of spiritual connections --- personal moments of spiritual power and depth.

Let me first begin with the ostensible PROBLEMS OF FAITH. This may not be applicable to someone who grew up as an atheist. I am referring to those of us who say we want to believe, but struggle with skepticism, the inability to objectively grasp the idea of God, the inability to prove God, certain apparent weaknesses in theology, etc. I could go on and on. We often sit long and hard, arguing these points with others and ourselves. Now, it’s not to say that these dilemmas aren’t in fact dilemmas --- because they are. They are intellectually daunting questions: Can I love a God I cannot rationally grasp? Can I pray, even if I don’t understand the efficacy of prayer? How can I believe MY religion, when I am surrounded by thousands of religion? In what way can I justify my beliefs? These sorts of questions go on. There are real questions.

However, what I’m claiming is that we are often deluding ourselves by pretending that these are the things that are keeping us from growing closer to God. “How can I love a God I don’t know exists?” we ask ourselves. “How can I pray everyday if I can’t intellectually grasp the idea of prayer?” Is it really these intellectual debates that keep us from God; or the fact that we struggle to maintain a prayer-life? Is it truly our intellect that keeps us from God; or the fact that we struggle with personal sins? Hiding behind our vast and clever skepticism, our sins don’t seem as bad. “Since I can’t even intellectually accept the idea of God, how can I apply a specific sort of morality to my life?”

In this way, our minds are unconsciously using our intellects to allow us to wallow in mediocrity. As Kierkegaard said, “It is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey.”

Although it is OK to bring things to an intellectual level, what we leave behind in this sort of thinking is any experiential knowledge that refuses intellectualization: such as any type of personal moment of conversion or spiritual depth. We are using a lens to view a subject; but this lens cannot see the very things that make many of us true Christians. It’s alright to argue these things logically, but logic falls very short.

Christians do not believe in Christianity because they logically proved their religion. We believe it because Christ came down to Earth. We believe it because Christ came into our lives. On a certain level, these sort of experiences refuse intellectualization. We don’t believe in God because we can intellectually justify it; we believe because something happened personally in our lives --- something spiritual and powerful.

When struggling with questions and problems of faith, it has helped me to step back from my philosophy, skepticism, and egotistical intellect. From a distance, I ask myself these questions: What is causing my questioning? Is it a laziness, or a desire to remain mediocre? Is it an area of personal problems or sin? Let me recognize these as the issue and disregard rationality for a moment.

Then I tell myself to remember that faith is not about proof. It is about a personal experience and a personal relationship. If Christianity were about proofs and rationality, it would have died long ago. My intellect is not why I believed in the first place, so why should it be something that stops me from believing now?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Viewing Insolvability as a Sign of Meaninglessness

A current theme in my philosophical meanderings is the insolvability of certain questions. My question is thus: If a question/discussion cannot be answered, should that be a sign that it is meaningless to us? Now, I don’t mean meaningless in an ultimate sense, but simply in the sense that we shouldn’t spend our time wondering about things that can’t be answered.

Or perhaps insolvability means we’re approaching the issue through the wrong lens, with the wrong questions, with the wrong end in mind.

Some may say, “Of course: if a question can’t be answered, it isn’t worth it.” However, I think we often spend out time asking these sorts of questions. We let them occupy our time and consume our thought, sometimes without knowing they are insolvable. Or perhaps we let ourselves ignore their insolvability for psychological reasons.

I ramble…I shall stop.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

There once was a race of spinorox that existed on a planet in a galaxy not so close to our own. Unreasoning beings, these spinorox developed a different skill or ability; they called it rajamiho. They worshipped the skill of rajamiho, slaughtering animals to its name. They thought themselves clever, brilliant, and omniscient because of their skill. “All must be ordered according to the rajamiho,” they said, “or else it does not exist.” They weren’t clever according to our standards, but they were geniuses according to their rajamiho.

According to their rajamiho, the universe was roughly shaped like a yo-yo, the purpose of existence was discontent, and obesity was praised. Also, there was no possibility of the eixtence of other living beings in the universe. This is true --- according to their rajamiho.

After 2 million years of existence, the spinorox became extinct. Their rajamiho is gone now too.
Pleasure is not found in a full stomach. Pleasure is found in satiating a hungry stomach.

Pleasure is not found in peace – only boredom. Pleasure is found in conquering in order to achieve peace.

It is the struggle we long for, the battle we seek. It is not the END we desire, but the MEANS: the process by which we achieve our will.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Beyond Nihilism

My dear Basil of Baker Street, how are you? I am pleased to see that you have maintained a wonderful and optimistic view of human existence, in spite of the resounding amount of evidential substantiation to the contrary. It demonstrates your sprightly nature; and I daresay, a bit of your naïveté, but a naïveté of a sort that we can’t help but be captivated by – like a touching, heroic moment at the end of a war movie, a moment that traps our emotions and minds into somehow feeling that all of the destruction and death was worth it somehow. Of course, we may detect the falseness of the situation, but from our plush leather couches and piping hot cups of chi tea, we are willing to smile despite the spurious nature of our smiles.

Communion? Unity? I had hoped you were a better reader of history, literature, and philosophy. It seems painfully apparent that the history of the existence of humanity has long since exposed man’s ultimate isolation in the world. The random thrown-ness of our existence [it is amazing how much power we give to the world ‘existence,’ as if in attaching great and nearly supernatural meaning to its definition, we are replacing the deep pettiness of mankind’s existence with significance simply through semantics] is painfully observable through the reading of history, literature, and philosophy.

Since Descartes’ sincere but counterfeit trumpeting of a new Certainty, we have never been truly Certain of anything since. I may be giving Rene a bit too much credit; and I am sure that many thinkers had come to this conclusion much before the disastrous Frenchmen. But the fact remains: As soon as we fully face the ultimate subjectivity of our existence, any belief in some ‘supernatural’ or ‘non-material’ connection between individuals appears as it is: hollow and shallow.

Our experience of the past and present, the rise and fall of civilizations, genocide, murder, death, and much, much more: it all points a lot more clearly and steadily to a basic disunity between peoples --- not any sort of unity. Even basic science does not show us a world of connect and unity; it shows us a world of brutal randomness, entropy, and un-meaning. An anxious desire to see a communion is understandable, but at the very least flawed. To arrive at this conclusion, so much must be ignored, reinterpreted, or labeled as mystery.

Man’s persistent desire to find himself as not alone in a meaningless world is simply a confirmation that he increasingly feels the pressure and anxiety of life without meaning. This battle between objectivity and subjectivity finds its place as the foremost intellectual [although this may not be the correct word] battle of the last few centuries. But it must be read for what it is: man simply desiring – and desiring quite impractically and emotionally – to prove something beyond his own feeble consciousness. Perhaps this desire is evolutional: we had based our place at the top of the hierarchal chain of existence by disclaiming our random thrown-ness. Being forced to disagree with our prior reckoning, we have been squirming in our seats for centuries, looking for a reason to RE-prove our connection to the rest humanity and nature. The fallacy is obvious: assuming what we desire to prove, and therefore proving it. Any intellectual structure used to explain man’s existence as something beyond meaningless solitude is more an attestation to our deep anxiety about solipsism than anything else.

But the battle is always the same. Fight or squirm as we may, we always end like Camus’ Stranger: “To be honest, I knew that there was no difference between dying at their years old and dying at seventy because, naturally, in both cases, other men and women will live on, for thousands of years at that.... It was still I who was dying, whether it was today or twenty years from now.” The last few centuries of true thought have come to the same solipsistic conclusion. The rest of the pattern has as its basis an anxious, irrational desire to disprove what we experience by any means necessary.

Is this nihilism? It would seem that way, if we believe the true battle is between meaning and non-meaning, between solipsism and communion, or between the supernatural and the material. But what a shallow battle we are fighting here; what use is there in this? The fighters are all the same: the naïve and young idealists, the cantankerous nihilists, the anxious religious, and the smug atheists. But is this the battle we should be fighting? Should not we, like Nietzsche, step beyond nihilism? Should not we, like Nagel, question why things should have meaning in the first place? Then, like the phoenix from the fire, we shall rise and begin thinking truly.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Updike’s Passing

Mr. John Updike passed away today. Besides being a tremendously talented writer and an interesting person, I ran across this lifetime achievement award of his: “In November 2008 the editors of Literary Review magazine awarded Updike Britain's Bad Sex in Fiction lifetime achievement award, which celebrates ‘crude, tasteless or ridiculous sexual passages in modern literature.’”

Incarnation without the need for Salvation? Which of us is the heretic?

I decided to open a post solely dedicated to our discussion of the Incarnation in order organize our conversation, and to make it easier for others to understand the argument at hand.

The question is as follows: Would Christ has become Man and came down to earth – i.e. the Incarnation – if Man had not sinned; if there were no need for Salvation?

Basil has boldly presented the possibility of saying “yes” to this question. He, I believe, thinks that the Incarnation was bound up in God’s plan for us from the beginning, and is not contingent upon man’s sin. The Incarnation is the best (as far as we can imagine) example and fulfillment of God’s desire to commune and be with Man; as such, it is at the heart of Basil’s Communion Theology. [I apologize if I stated any opinion of Basil improperly.]

I, on the other hand, disagree. Since the CCC states, “Taking up St. John's expression, ‘The Word became flesh,’ the Church calls ‘Incarnation’ the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it,” I see the Incarnation as being contingent upon Man’s need for salvation. There are other reasons discussed for the Incarnation in the CCC, but this seems the prominent one – and the one bound up in the definition of the Incarnation itself. On top of that, Man’s fall (sin) separated us from a direct connection to God. Sin is/caused this separation. I conclude that pre-Fall there was a direct connection between God and Man; but pre-Fall is also pre-Incarnation. Therefore, there was no need for the Incarnation pre-Fall.

One (or both!) of us are preaching heresy. Let this post be a place for us to a) point fingers and say who is the heretic, using our own ideas and use of theology/philosophy; and b) post any hint of what the Church preaches on this subject.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Scratch an Altruist: Watch a Hypocrite Bleed

Can there be such a thing as a Christian altruist? How can a Christian make a purely selfless act? You may say, “By offering to give up his life for someone else, etc.” However, belief in the afterlife and God make this (at least indirectly) selfish, since the Christian knows that this act will result in eternal salvation.

It would seem that the only selfless act a Christian can make is one that helps another and defies his religious beliefs. In this way, there is nothing at all to be gained on a personal level.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Proofs, God, and Ebner

Basil’s comments to Skrignov invited me to contemplate the idea (and futility?) of proofs, especially the modern/contemporary concept of them. In doing so, I re-ran across a great quotation by Ferdinand Ebner. You can find the quotation below. The ending punch line is “One can prove the existence of a person only through dialogue, not through thought or speculation.”

I believe this fits complexly within Basil's theme of relationships and humans' nature of society. Enjoy.

PS The bold and italics are mine.

“Ebner finds in mathematics and the natural sciences that rely on mathematics an expression of self-isolation. Mathematical thinking in rooted, in his opinion, in the isolation of the self. The view apparently derives from the fact that the exact natural sciences seek to dominate the world and to relate to it as though it were made up of dead matter. Yet this isolation even penetrates metaphysics, philosophy, and theology. According to Ebner (and here he is a faithful follower of Kierkegaard) a proof of the existence of God is impossible. Every proof occurs outside conversation and dialogue and within the solitude of ‘I.’ Moreover, such a proof, removed from the actuality of life, would only demonstrate the existence of some object, and God is by His nature ‘Thou,’ not an object. He is the ‘Thou’ of man. God has a personal existence, and his relationship to man is personal.
“One can prove the existence of a person only through dialogue, not through thought or speculation.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Epistemology: Is It Worth It?

How much does the fact that nothing empirical can be proven beyond a doubt (Hume) affect belief, faith, and how we view epistemology? At times, it doesn’t seem to matter to me that I cannot prove the existence of anything outside of my own consciousness (if even this). However, at other moments, this matters significantly. When I realize that every fact in my pool of knowledge – every argument I believe in, every belief, value, and idea that I hold – these rest not on the shoulders of giants, but instead on a precipice of nothingness (Heidegger), I falter. Perhaps it is the existentialists who have taught me to feel very alive at these sorts of moments – to experience intensely the existence that may not have been. Despite this shocking aliveness, these ideas have the uncanny ability to unsettle me.