Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Selflessness Makes No Sense to Selfish People

I’ve been contemplating the weaknesses of Satan lately. (See one of the last posts.) How is it that the Accuser did not see that the Crucifixion was to be his greatest downfall? Why is it that he played right into the plan of salvation by tempting Judas, by filling the hearts of certain of the Jewish elders with malice and spite, by filling the mind of Pilate with doubt and apathy? One answer I’ve been mulling over lately has been Satan’s inability to understand selflessness.

God’s eternal plan for our creation and salvation is based upon his nature of love, which is the epitome of selflessness. But real, true selflessness does not make sense, it does not compute, to selfish people. That Christ was willing to suffer and die for us – that this was in fact his purpose in coming to this earth – would not make sense to one blinded by the solipsistic nature of pure selfishness.

There are plenty of people who believe in selflessness, in a sort of altruism. I bet most if not all of these people believe in it because they have experienced loving someone selflessly or because they have been the objects of selfless love. But there is an abundance of people, mainly angry intellectuals, who claim that selfless love is impossible or purposeless. In an empirical, materialist world of “real” causes and “real” effects, true love falls outside of the realm of the real, and into the realm of myth and old wives’ tales.

And so Satan, unwittingly, played a large part in the salvation of each and every one of us. That must still really burn him up inside.

Why Can’t We All Have Been Born Like Mary?

Here’s a theological question for the Catholic thinker: If Mary was born without original sin, why can’t we all have? I understand why Mary was born this way, so that an unblemished vessel could carry our Lord. But if it was possible for God to allow Mary to be born this way, why can’t we all have?

I know I’ve had this conversation with people in the past (Pete Knob?), but I forget if we ever got anywhere.

I get both sides of the discussion: a) I get why we have fallen human nature and b) why Mary was born without original sin; but the two points together create tension, at least in my mind.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Perhaps Satan Still Thinks He Can Win…

As a lover and teacher of storytelling, I have run across the idea that there are only a limited number of plotlines – and so all stories are just elaborations or newer forms of the same stories. While I disagree with this on a conceptual level – i.e. that there are no new plotlines – I submit that there is sufficient evidence. In related terms, I think that the conflicts that drive stories, for a conflict-less story is not truly a story, are more recycled than plotlines.

A very prominent conflict is good vs. evil. I could write an entire essay on why this is the case, but let it suffice for now simply to say that I believe this is a result of the fact that we are the Church Militant, and our battles are against evil.

But the common method of portraying the good vs. evil conflict is by putting the two on common grounds as far as power or ability goes – or at least making it a possibility that evil could defeat good. I suppose many storytellers find the idea that good has already triumphed over evil as un-engaging or conflict-less. But the heart of the Christian message rests on the fact that Christ’s death has already won us our salvation. The conflict now is whether or not we will claim this victory, this salvation won by the blood of the Cross. In the words of U2, “Now the real battle has begun / To claim the victory Jesus won.” I’ve always liked that phrasing.

Inherent within this conversation is something I never thought about until lately: the weaknesses of the Evil One. Naturally, I think of Satan’s power, his cleverness, his ability and knowledge of me and my weaknesses. There is nothing wrong with this line of thinking, especially since it aids us in the battle to do good and to love. But what I’ve missed in all of this is that Satan does not have access to the fullness of Truth as I do. Satan’s ability and cunningness may surpass my own, but I can know things that he cannot. Separated from God forever, there is an eternal limit to his knowledge.

For example, as this is Lent, let me bring up the death of Christ. Satan was involved intricately in the details of the Crucifixion. He was the instigator of Judas, as the gospel tells us that “Satan entered Judas.” I think Satan thought he had a chance to win the battle on Calvary. From my perspective, this seems ridiculous; but Satan’s vision, although panoramic and piercing, is intrinsically limited. Through Satan’s most powerful attempt to keep man from God, he unwittingly aided in Christ’s most powerful act on earth, an act that insured man’s eternal access to God.

I think this idea of Satan’s weaknesses and limited knowledge has relevance beyond Calvary. In our own struggles against sin, we can use this model to equip and reassure us. Just as Satan’s attempt to keep man from God achieved the polar opposite effect, the challenges he presents us with can be our most compelling road to Christ and sanctification. In our temptation to impatience, we can learn patience; in our temptation to impurity, we can learn purity. When the Devil was most active in the landscape of the world’s destiny, we were given the gift of eternal life. Likewise, when we feel that the devil is most active in our life, we should expect the greatest things to happen. I often equate moments in my life when I feel the presence of temptation to a distance from Christ; but nearly the opposite is true.

The problem arises when we do not sense the Devil at work – when the Devil’s work is too subtle for our languid spiritual sense, or when the Devil does not even need to act in our lives, when our destruction is wrecked by our own hands. This is when we should be worried. When we’re tempted often and powerfully, this is when we should recognize both that the Devil feels the need to tempt us (a good sign), and that Christ works all things to the good for those who love Him.

So on one level we are smarter than Satan. Perhaps he even still thinks he has a chance to win the ultimate battle against Christ, a battle that is over. We have access, even if we don’t always use it, to the fullness of Truth – and Satan does not. Perhaps Satan is as ridiculous as the Hollywood and the other pop storytellers that still think Evil has a shot against Good.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Universal Healthcare?

Any thoughts on the Big Bill?

Friday, March 12, 2010

More on Camus

I like your initial thoughts, but let's keep going.

Does Camus succeed in his argument? I've been thinking about it, and, while I like his writing and his points alot, I'm not sure his argument is actually viable. What do you think?

He starts with Descartes' doubt and its foundation (I cannot doubt that I think), and then moves to the certainty of absurdist doubt (life is absurd, so there's no meaning to life, yet I can't kill myself to escape, and can't place myself above or below others, so I can't kill anyone else either).

"The absurdist view, translated into action, is inconceivable. It is equally inconceivable when translated into expression. Simply by being expressed, it gives a minimum of coherence to incoherence, and introduces consequence, where, according to its own tenets, there is none. Speaking itself is restorative. The only coherent attitude based on non-signification would be silence - if silence, in its turn, were not significant. The absurd, in its purest form, attempts to remain dumb. If it finds its voice, it is because it has become complacent."

Camus offers then a system based directly on rebellion or revolt, and indirectly on the dignity which is to be protected.

But can we really prefer Camus' system over pure amoral nihilism? I don't really see how, once you first admit to Descartes' doubt, you can really get values. Are we to accept Camus as being more "authentic"? Why value authenticity? He restrains us from suicide on the grounds that we are not permitted to act (thereby choosing values) and then from murder on the grounds that our doubt is not worth more than anyone else's. But then a reaction to indignity can be a value by which to act? How can I choose to rebel? Or maybe rebellion as a involuntary reaction is what he means, and in this reaction we see the one break in the silence of the universe? But if this be the case, why wasn't the phenomenon of our questioning enough to begin with?

It seems to me that when you get down to it, the rebel rebels to stop something that is wrong. And either the rebel is right, or the nihilist is right and the rebel can't rebel.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Initial Thoughts on Camus’ “The Rebel”


The first four or five times I sat down to really read and consider Camus’ “The Rebel,” I only got to the third page or so, being interrupted by something or another. Last night, when I finally read it slowly, letting it sink it as I took some notes, I was glad I had read and reread the beginning quite often. I feel I understood the essay’s content, as well as Camus’ intent. I would like to finish the book, but I am pretty sure I know where he’s going.

Motivations to the Essay/Book

I would like to begin a brief initial reflection on Camus by diving first into what I consider the impetus to the essay. Camus, in life, was an outspoken critic of all forms of oppression; in this, he sided with the rebel and revolutions, to a certain extent. But he was presented with the moral dilemma of finding a reasonable justification for rooting for the rebel – a reasonable justification for his disgust with oppression. Without the sacred, religion, or tradition, for Camus categorically rejects these, the “normal” or conventional justifications for human dignity, worth, and value are missing. For Camus, we aren’t made in the image and likeness of God; nor is there an omniscient being who hands out a rulebook.

On the one hand, there are numerous philosophers and thinkers that perceive in the rejection of the sacred and tradition the death of all transcendental or objective values; in light of Nietzsche’s “God is dead,” there is no ethics, for there is no right or wrong. Camus rejects these thinkers. Now, what is almost seems like Camus does is pulls a fast one; I initially scoffed at his logic because I thought it followed like such: a) I reject the non-human answers of the sacred, tradition, and religion; b) I don’t like the normal logical result of this line of thinking – i.e. there is no ethics; there is no value – so c) it can’t be true, as if one can simply will something out of truth.

But I don’t think that’s what Camus does; and that’s why I like the essay. I think his syllogism (the entire essay is really a work of logic) follows more like this: a) both the oppressed and viewers of oppression have “gut reactions” against oppression; b) although we can’t rely on non-human answers such as the sacred and tradition, c) nihilists’ answer that nothing has meaning also doesn’t explain point A; d) therefore, it is within this feeling itself, within the act of rebellion against oppression, that we can prove human life has value and dignity – and then a lot more comes from that last point. Camus begins with a simple emotion that leads to action, for this act of rebellion is a human, experiential proof, to get to human dignity, without appealing to a priori metaphysics. I think it’s neat, even if deeply flawed.

A More Specific Look at the Essay

Since Camus’ work in this essay is essentially a work in logic, I find it easy to relate the major points. Of course, his reasoning behind each point is missing from this; but that’s why the essay is longer than this next set of points: a) observation: the act of rebellion is a recognition that I, as a human being, have value; b) observation: the true rebel is willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of this value; c) from B: the act of rebellion is a recognition that all human life has value, not just my individual life. This is how we get to his ending, “I rebel – therefore we exist.”

Who Camus is Rejecting

Although he makes a few jabs at religion, he doesn’t take much of the essay to argue against it. He simply calls religious answers non-human. Who he is specifically arguing against is Max Scheler. I guess Scheler called all humanitarian feelings or ideals essentially “fake” in that they are founded on a desire to avoid loving humans in a specific fashion. I am reminded of one of the characters from Brothers K who looks for guidance from Fr. Zossima. He tells the mystic that, while he is coming more and more in love with mankind, he is becoming more and more annoyed at specific human beings. Scheler seems to represent the cynical atheist, who sees no justifiable reason one human being would truly care for another. It is either founded on lies – i.e. religion, etc. – or it isn’t really real – i.e. humanitarian ideals are founded more on hate than love. To disprove this line of thinking, Camus takes time to reveal the difference between his idea of rebellion and Scheler’s idea of resentment. I guess we could throw Nietzsche’s resentemente in there, too.

Speaking of Nietzsche, Camus also indirectly disapproves of his nihilism. It almost seems as if Camus is attempting to turn the tide of atheism from the statements of “nothing matter,” “nothing has value,” etc. to a more positive realization that we can still find value through human means and answers.

Implications / Where I Think Camus is Going / Limit to Rebellion

The last few pages of the essay begin what I think will be an important point going forward in the book. While Camus praises rebellion, and while he was involved in actively rebelling and fighting against oppression, he disapproves of many historical rebellions. Once again, it can almost look as if he’s emotionally responding to the response of “Well, a lot of rebellion is awful and not even better than what it fought against” by saying, “Well, those rebellions weren’t good.” But there’s so much more here. In his actual proof for rebellion lies the limit to rebellion. If rebellion presents us with an awareness that life has value, and not just our own, then it follows that true rebellion does not lead to taking away other people’s rights, nor does it lead to a replacement or reflection of the previous tyranny. In this, Camus is knocking communism for sure; but all rebellion that doesn’t accept as its foremost duty to protect the value of life that its very inception proved is tossed aside as false or incomplete.

Final Punch Line

Basically Camus wants to get to an ethics of right and wrong without religion or tradition. He thinks rebellion gets us there via its experiential proof that all human life has value.