Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Yet Another Sex Article

I am getting very sick of "sex talk." Too much theory, not enough practice! St. Paul's admonition "let some things never be spoken of among you" provides a convenient excuse for opting out of the always mildly salacious discussions frequenting the topic.

I suppose such talk is necessary, after all, and I think the Touchstone article by R. V. Young, The Gay Invention is quite useful, concisely covering the linguistic and conceptual history of homosexuality.

A few extracts and commentary:

St. Thomas thus points out that while even simple fornication is “against properly human nature, of which the act of generation is ordered to the appropriate education of children,” sodomy is “against the nature of every animal” because it is not aimed at generation at all.

This finally makes the "against nature" description of such acts make sense. The rationale also applies both against a contracepted act of fornication and a contracepted marital act. Perhaps this means the contemporary adulation of homosexuality is linked on a very deep level to the wide acceptance of contraception, because even married people no longer aim at begetting children in the consumation of their married life. Elsewhere Thomas decribes self-abuse as a sin sometimes called the sin of effeminacy, further revealing a possible deep consistency behind the course the pornoculture is taking.

But in our consequentialist age, who wants to argue against distributing contraceptives to kiddies or the HIV positive because contracepted acts are inherently sodomitical and that unprotected fornication is a "less grave" mortal sin than the "protected" kind? I'd be tempted to make such an argument just to shock. However, the newly-found reverence for sodomy is better explained if one thinks that mainstream America has itself been practicing sodomy even in the marriage bed.

Lest one think this too radical, it has been reported that Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, advised Paul VI that the reasoning behind the condemnation of sodomy collapses upon declaring contraceptives compatible with Christian marriage.

Another conclusion: it seems a contracepted marital act cannot consumate a marriage.

A further point of interest from the article:

The first edition of the OED (1933) lists sporadic usages of “gender” for “sex” from the fourteenth through the nineteenth centuries, but notes that such usage is “now only jocular.” The second edition (1989) adds this to the entry: “In mod. (esp. feminist) use a euphemism for the sex of a human being, often intended to emphasize the social and cultural, as opposed to the biological, distinctions between the sexes.”

Though there is a way of thinking in merely biological categories that should be avoided, the flight from the biological is getting really ridiculous right now, especially with the advent of transhumanist nutjobs.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Peas in a Pod: The State and The Corporation

I have come across an interesting essay by anarcho-capitalist Roy Childs, Big Business and the Rise of American Statism. I skimmed halfway through until I hit pay dirt.

A few excerpts:

For the Marxists hold that there are fundamentally two opposing “interests” which clash in history: the capitalists and the workers. But what we have seen, essentially, is that the interests (using the word in a journalistic sense) of neither the capitalists nor the workers, so-called, were uniform or clear-cut. The interests of the larger capitalists seemed to coincide, as they saw it, and were clearly opposed to the interests of the smaller capitalists. (However, there were conflicts among the big capitalists, such as between the Morgan and Rockefeller interests during the 1900s, as illustrated in the regimes of Roosevelt and Taft.) The larger capitalists saw regulation as being in their interest, and competition as opposed to it; with the smaller businessmen, the situation was reversed.

[still happening today. See the USDA's upcoming requirement to license all livestock, no matter how small one's flock or herd.]


In this crucially important era, I have focused on one point: big business was a major source of American statism.


Big business, then, was behind the existence and curriculum of the public educational system, explicitly to teach young minds to submit and obey, to pay homage to the “corporate liberal” system which the politicians, a multitude of intellectuals and many big businessmen created.

In several ways, this piece dovetails with the distributist critique of the large corporation. Too much capitalism doesn't mean too many capitalists, but too few, and it's in the interests certain folk to make sure there are too few entrepreneurs. Reading the essay, I realized not only does regulation benefit the larger businesses, but they have enough clout to tailor the regulations to their existing business structure, further keeping their compliance costs down while maintaining the appearance of doing something.

I had already realized that public schooling can transfer vocational training costs from business to taxpayers, but Childs provides a few choice quotes from early twentieth-century corporate leaders who supported the move towards compulsory education.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Yet another ID vs. Darwinism Post

Last Sunday, an opinion piece on the current science education kerfuffle, Science and religion face off:
The two really aren't incompatible
, was printed in the Denver Post. I was going to send a snide and pithy letter to the editor about it, since snide and pithy letters are the only kind the editor prints, but fortunately the author is a member of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, which has a weblog called Prometheus. (One wonders about the propriety of defending the concordance of science and religion on a site named for a Titan who defied the will of Zeus to bring technology to man.)

So fortunately I could post a fleshed-out list of my concerns with the piece on the thread Tom Yulsman on Religion and Science, which will hopefully receive a reply. I copy most of my comments below:

For what it's worth, I thought the piece was a bit weak. For one, it sometimes treated religion as the practice of engaging in warm and fuzzy thoughts about self and universe, and sometimes as simple deism, the former type of religion being compatible with anything, and the latter being, as pointed out, anathema to most monotheists.

For another, I don't think invoking Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria" is credible, since to my knowledge he treated no religion as having any teaching authority. Though at least he didn't engage in the village atheist polemics of Dawkins.

Finally, there is at least one point where science could hypothetically disprove Christianity, namely by finding the body of Jesus of Nazareth. As St. Paul declares, "And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins." (1 Cor 15:17) Certain Christians and atheists think there are more areas where such disproofs could happen, but that's at least the bare minimum arena of possible conflict.

I'm wondering what you make of the way evolution is taught. There is certainly a lot of sloppy teaching in the field. One of my anthropology classes at CU-Boulder engaged in Bonobo hagiography, depicting the oversexed apes as moral exemplars, while the professor habitually proclaimed his existential despair because he believed himself to be in a purposeless universe, and that Darwinism justified his unwelcomed hopelessness.

What's more, there's a certain philosophical anthropology at work in the presentation of evolution. For all its claims to have banished "telos," popular Darwinism treats genetic propagation as the highest good of mankind, and thus lust is portrayed as a positive good rather than a sin. It also tends to deny human agency and, following Darwin, any ontological difference between man and his fellow creatures.

Of course, fanboy that I am, I had to plug my former professor Edward T. Oakes' writings. I did neglect to mention that he's revising the draft of his book on evolutionary theory for Cambridge University Press.

Philosophers Ancient and Modern

The ancient schools of thought—Platonic, Aristotelian, Cynic, Stoic, Epicurean, and Skeptic—commonly drew a distinction between “philosophy,” meaning the moral and spiritual formation of the soul or person , and “discourse about philosophy,” understood as the investigation of the nature of things and the modes of our knowledge of them. This distinction is related to the more familiar categories of practical and speculative philosophy. But whereas late-modern, recent, and contemporary thought has invested greatest effort and talent in the pursuit of speculation—in the form of epistemology, metaphysics and the philosophies of language and logic—the ancients give priority to practice, and, within that, to the cultivation of wisdom and the development of what the Greeks called “untroubledness” (ataraxia).

Much more of the writing of antiquity, the middle ages, and the early modern period belongs to “philosophy” in the sense of the “practice of wisdom” than is now generally recognized. The French historian of philosophy, Pierre Hadot, has argued that the Western idea of spirituality, which we are apt to think of as entirely religious in source, may have originated not in the Desert Fathers of Christianity but in pre-existing philosophical traditions.

John Haldane, What Philosophy Can Do

2005 Gifford Lectures, Edinburgh

Note to aspiring philosophy majors: Don't go into academic philosophy under the impression that it still resembles the ancient conception of philosophy as a way of life. Modern philosophy departments implicitly deny the necessity of ethical training for good philosophy, rarely requiring that discipline of self which checks the libido dominandi, among other passions, from compromising one's intellectual inquiries.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Local Classical Music Scene

Enthused by an Indian Summer of weather and health, I made it down to an exquisite performance of Handel's Messiah, Dublin Version, last Friday at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Littleton. I had no idea of the quality of their music program. They have a choir and chamber orchestra, a baroque orchestra, and a Gregorian schola! In the desert of contemporary church music, they are an oasis of tradition and good talent.

Of related interest, Early Music Colorado

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

CU-Boulder Episcopal Chaplain Is Converting to Catholicism

James Cavanagh notes his decision and asks for prayers.

I never met any Episcopalians while at CU, so at most I perhaps only knew him through the annual anti-cult warning given to new students, which most of the chaplains endorsed.

When I first matriculated, CU's Catholic parish was a bit flaky, as are most campus parishes. It has become much more lively since the arrival of FOCUS.

(I am now informed that the Paulists are pulling out of the parish, which is a pity. It was there that I was reintroduced to the practice of confession, and for that I owe those priests something priceless.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Richard Sternberg on Darwinism and Catholic Theology

Via Our Father's Will Communications, I have come into possession of a recorded talk given by evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, an evolutionary biologist who has been at the center of an academic controversy that has fed into the renascent evolution education debates. See "Attacks on journal editor raise questions about academic freedom and intelligent design" and "Faith, Science and the Persecution of Richard Sternberg" for some background information.

Sternberg's talk, titled "The Theology of the Body and Evolution," is very anti-concordist. I think he overstates the case against Darwinian evolution a bit. Part of the difficulty is that Darwinism is incredibly bound up with village atheism and libertine culture. Sternberg seems uninterested in trying to purify the theory of these elements, though he has no problem with change over time. He does seem a bit more favorable to Intelligent Design than his impartial statements on his website let on, but because he never explains the intriguing school of "process structuralism" in his talk I still don't know exactly where he's coming from.

Sternberg isn't a sophomoric anti-Darwinist. He makes a good list of objections that any people with more concordant views of Darwinism must address. It's a good source for the "videtur quod" section in a Thomistic article.

My notes are a bit sloppy, for which I apologize.

According to Sternberg:

Darwinism is a rejection of created essence, the rebirth of epicurean philosophy.

Claims evolutionism believes in self-contained cosmos. Nature is a self-sufficient explanation...

Notes neo-Darwinian "anti-speciesism," but he claims we can't just dismiss this as metaphysical overreach. Rather, it is based on the axioms of Darwinism itself.
[Not mentioned: Darwin's rejection of any qualitative difference between mankind and his fellow animals]

He describes these axioms as follows:
-Genetic determinism. The organism is epiphenomenal. This concentration on the organism is, perhaps, a hint of what Sternberg's "process structuralism" focuses upon, but he doesn't expand on his eccentric philosophy of biology. [Sed Contra: if genetic determinism is inherent to the theory, and not just an assumption made for the sake of easy research, shouldn't old Newtonian physics, with its clockwork view of the universe, also pose some problems? I would also note Thomas Hobbes' committment to epicureanism, as well as Epicurean influence on classical physics and classical liberalism.]

-Likewise agency, consciousness, free will are illusions. Personality itself is epiphenominal. [Sed Contra: "By Darwinian standards I am a horrible mistake, a pathetic loser, not one iota less than if I were a card-carrying member of Queer Nation. But I am happy to be that way, and if my genes don’t like it, they can go jump in a lake." -Steven Pinker

-random mutation, natural selection only. There is no room for designer in this picture. Sternberg voices a low opinion of those who try to graft telos onto Darwinian theory.

He quotes Daniel Dennett, Peter Singer: species are "frozen accidents," the human race didn't "have to be..." speciesism... darwinism is universal acid... I do wish he had dealt with more cordial concilators rather than the village atheist brigade.

Gregor Mendel: Anti-Darwinist?
Sternberg claims an actual historical bias against Mendel, and that early evolutionists rejected genetics. He notes Mendel was testing Darwinian theory because he disagreed with it. Mendel's experiments led to his interpretation which is in favor of fixity of species. This is counter to strict Darwinism.

[Catholic Encyclopedia article on Mendel backs this up: Mendel was an anti-darwinian! My science textbooks seemed to have glossed over this fact. I know neo-Darwinism is an attempt to reconcile Darwinism with new genetic discoveries, but I didn't know it had to reinterpret Mendel to do so!]

He expands in q&a:

Darwin was in favor of blended inheiritance, that is, continuous gradual change over time. For Darwin, there are no jumps in nature. This, Sternberg claims, was for anti-theological reasons.

For Mendel, genetics is discrete quantum changes, jumps, and thus counter to evolution simpliciter. I suspect this might be a red herring, but I can't justify my suspicions at the moment.

It is known that Darwin was aware of Mendel, and had a copy of his genetic studies, but Darwin never opened this work. Sternberg claims Darwin had made note of Mendel's theory when it was described in another book, but alludes to some sort of bias and deliberate neglect of Mendel.

Prurient Darwinians' Interests
Evolutionary biology holds that reproduction is the highest good. Evolutionary psychology has recast everything about lust, polygamy, promiscuity, in very significant ways. Lust is a selected-for trait of biological fitness. Sternberg, I think, too readily accepts certain libertine Darwinists' confusion of lust with sexual desire. I suspect this can be recovered in some ways, as Edward T. Oakes did in his essay on Steven Pinker:
This is why in despotic societies, where one male enjoys all the power, women may genuinely prefer to share one wealthy husband than to have the undivided attention of a pauper. But far from being the defense of polygyny that it sounds like, Pinker’s observation leads to the corollary: that egalitarianism and monogamy go together as naturally as despotism does with polygyny. Although he doesn’t quite say so explicitly, Pinker certainly lends credence to the claim of conservatives that democracy and the monogamous nuclear family go together and cannot be sheared off from each other without damage to both.

Sternberg recalls discovering an evolutionary psychology essay on Bill Clinton, claiming he was compelled by genes, very exculpatory attitude. This leads to Sternberg's hilarious story:

"I had a colleague, and I think it was in '92 or '93, who one night knocked on my door around one or two in the morning, he had been thrown out of his house and I wanted to know what he had done, and his wife had thrown him out because he had had relations with a student. And she had found out about this. And so I of course was shocked and amazed and told him "What in the world was going through your mind?"

You can of course be fired for this.

So I sat him down, offered him a beer and said, you know, let's talk this over. And I said "Don't you have any self-control?"

And he argued, made the perfectly good argument: "Look, you're an evolutionary biologist, I'm an evolutionary biologist, and you know this is an evolutionary drive, we're hard wired to copulate. Cut me some slack!"

So my next question was, "Did you use any form of contraception?"

And he said "Are you stupid? Of course I did!"

So here was this guy telling me that his actions were completely out of his control, that he just went through this act like a blind robot programmed by his genes, but yet this blind robot had the forethought to make sure there would be no consequences for his actions."

Future radically open-ended for evolutionary biology, some have spoken of creating different sexes, three, four of them. Sternberg correctly notes that Darwinism holds that "we are still evolving."

He claims that Catholics enamored of Darwinism are unknowingly suffering from cognitive dissonance. That few have addressed the advent of transhumanism certainly lends support to this thesis. However, Sternberg doesn't seem to have read Etienne Gilson's From Darwin to Aristotle and Back Again, which Edward Oakes tells me addresses some of the ontological problems provoked by Darwinian questions.

Sternberg didn't like the set-up of Dover ID design debate. He thinks it was outright young-earth creationism, and too explicitly theological.

He also alludes to dissenting evolutionary biologists being shut up for fear of professional retaliation and media attention in the eighties.

Sternberg notes the "ontological gap" between humans and other animals in Christian theology. Whether he thinks this can be proved "scientifically," he doesn't say.

He also bashes the habitual exaltation of the Bonobos' sex habits. Anybody who takes an anthro class will have come across bonobo hagiography.

He justly bashes the utilitarianism of human relationships in Darwinian thought. This is a very notable criticism. How many "how to catch a guy/gal" articles rely upon the latest sociobiological speculations for filler?

Concluding thoughts: I'm more annoyed at what Sternberg left out than at what he put in. I hold this to be a sign of quality.

Addendum 12/18/2006
Sternberg is in the news again. I will state here that the producer of this CD was receiving investigative calls from the National Center for Science Education in Fall, 2005 about this lecture. I presume this was done in order to dig up dirt on Sternberg.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Million Dollar Question

"How does the post-Sexual Revolution Democratic Party continue to draw enthusiastic support from the its strongest supporters in abortion-rights groups and university faculty lounges, while also seeking to reach out to the now politically incorrect elements of the old New Deal coalition? Can Democrats please traditional Catholics and Bible Belt populists with words, while pleasing activists on the left with deeds?"


This is closely related to Colorado's gubernatorial campaign which is still only getting under weigh. Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter, the only Democratic candidate currently in the running and a Catholic, has come out and said he would support very stringent limits on abortion were Roe v. Wade to be overturned. This has not endeared him to the party stalwarts, who are frantically searching for other options, but alienated "now politically incorrect elements" like me sure are pulling for him.

Don't Think Foolishly

Courtesy of Edward O. Wilson, something for the bonfire of the cliches:
The revolution in astronomy begun by Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543 proved that Earth is not the center of the universe, nor even the center of the solar system. The revolution begun by Darwin was even more humbling: it showed that humanity is not the center of creation, and not its purpose either.

This is incredibly typical space-filling cant. The heavenly bodies in pre-Copernican thought were believed to be composed of "quintessence," the Fifth Element, a substance far purer than puny little Earth with its sad admixture of the four other elements. In the great chain of being, angels are above mankind, not below. Moreover, in the popular imagery of Hell Satan is depicted as being at the center of the earth--and thus at the center of the Ptolmaic universe!

Christian imagery tends to depict man as an incredibly pathetic creature, a "nought" or a worm, dignified only by the grace of God in the Incarnation. "Galileo and Darwin knocked man off his pedestal!" is a ritualistic invocation of the ignoramuses who pride themselves on their false humility. Most ignorant of what they're most assured, indeed. That Wilson depicts man as a creature needing vast amounts of education, science, and technology, not to mention atheism, to become humble indicates a man who has never seriously practiced the hard art of self-examination.

Humorously enough, Wilson then goes on to deprecate people for blind faith. Physician, heal thyself.

How To Evangelize in Ten Words or Less?

The following was provoked by tonight's Theology on Tap lecture, in the form of a letter to our speaker Archbishop Chaput, but I put it here for anybody who wants to comment, since some of this may have been the wine talking:

Hello, Your Excellency!

I was at theology on tap and tried to bring this point up before the crowd, but alas I was the next in line when the last question was taken.

To set up where I’m coming from: Every time I call someone on the phone, I get a “hello” for an answer. Sometimes it’s a happy greeting, sometimes it’s a bored one. Sometimes I even get a computer, who tells me that my call is important as I listen to mind-numbing muzak in the background while waiting for someone to take my call. So imagine my surprise last week when I called up a wonderful Eastern Catholic woman I know, Anastasia Northrop, who answered the phone “Glory to Jesus Christ!”

Truly, I was caught short. First, because I had no set answer myself, not being in the habit of hearing praise of Our Lord over the phone. I suppose “Praise his holy name!” or “Amen!” would have been the right thing to say. Second, this woman’s enthusiasm seemed like that which one could have heard from the lips of a martyr being torn apart by lions.

What I wanted to ask you was: shouldn’t we all be in the habit of greeting all men with the name of Christ on our lips? Had you encouraged me, I fancied I would have challenged my fellow young Catholics to change their home answering machines and voice mailboxes to include the praise of Christ in their message. Indeed, I am hoping that I can habituate myself to answer the phone like the woman whose greeting so shook me, but I don’t want to be the only one, which is why I wanted to get the rest of the crowd to join me.

My inner conservative advises restraint, prudence, caution, but I suspect him of simply being afraid that Jesus will cause me inconvenience and embarrasment. If it was impossible for the apostles to remain silent after what they had seen and heard, why shouldn’t I be able to say just a few words to greet those people who call my own home? For fear I’ll look even crazier than I do already? For fear my using the Lord’s holy name will scare off people from the one who loves them?

There’s an odd custom in our culture where it seems only poor, plump middle-aged black ladies in their Sunday dresses are supposed to openly praise Jesus. Here’s an opportunity, I think, to “break the conventions, keep the comandments” as G.K. Chesterton advised.

I also think we have not done much to counteract the use of the Lord’s name in vain. If people say His name idly and publicly, in the course of the day using it as a curse word without hestating, why don’t Christians say his name with great piety and without such hesitation even more often—and especially in public? Every time I hear His name uttered in vain, I mutter to myself “have mercy on us!,” to try to turn it into a prayer. I’ve never gotten up the nerve to shout it as loudly as those who use his name in vain, though I should. Such action would utterly shatter my habits of privatizing faith, bringing Christ into the world in word as I try to bring Him in deed.

(As an aside, I wonder if I were to call up my own local parish, would I hear Christ praised, or another quotidian “Hello.”)

The comments on evangelization seemed to focus on education, education, education, formation, formation, formation. Though I’m well aware that many Catholics are woefully ignorant of their faith, having been in that position myself not more than eight years past, I think this focus on education as a panacea might be a minor idolatry of our time. At best, it’s misleading. The actions I propose are even simpler than taking a course of study or joining a group, and its habits could have far more impact. You don’t need a catechism class to answer the phone. Even a five year old can do that with the praise of Christ on his lips.

The word “goodbye,” I’m told, is a shortened form of “God be with you.” People can speak all they want about reviving a Catholic culture, but until we can recover the original Christian meaning and use of our own words, I don’t think any such culture will be fully alive and fully evangelistic.

“Open my mouth, O Lord, and my lips will proclaim your Praise.” Even in a weekday conversation, I hope.

So, what do you think? Should I try in this small way to overcome my reticience and linguistic contraception? Wouldn’t this be a form of evangelization we can engage in every day?

I might send a version of this off to the Denver Catholic Register, or perhaps even somebody who pays much-needed money, since I think it would be of vital interest to Catholics. Written letters are another opportunity for me to try to form this secularism-shattering habit, so after thanking you for reading, I conclude:

In Christ,

Kevin Jones

I add that I think this such practices are a good response to the motivational line "If being Christian were against the law, what would be the evidence against you?"

The Archbishop himself replies!

Dear Kevin,

I'm sorry you weren't able to speak last night. If you speak as well
as you write it would have been an articulate expression of your faith.

I don't know how to respond to your e-mail in a brief way without
oversimplifying, but this has to be brief because I'm leaving this morning
for the Bishops' Meeting in Washington, DC. Additionally, I'm not able
to give long responses to the multiple e-mails I receive.

I think there can be various approaches to what you suggest by people
who are firm believers. Some non-believers, and even some people who
are "mildly" Catholic, are irritated by what they perceive as excessive
evangelical external enthusiasm. So I think some people might want to
accommodate that by not wearing the name of Jesus on their sleeves in
such a public way as you suggest. They don't want to turn people off
before they have a chance to speak to them. At the same time, others are
impressed by this kind of external proclamation. Regardless, it's
important for us to wear Jesus not only exteriorly but deelpy in our
hearts. And if that really does happen, then we find ways of externalizing
our praise and adoration and to bring it up in conversation. But
whether it should be the first thing people encounter when they encounter us
is a matter of prudential judgment. And I think people can come down
on both sides of that.

In a culture which is hostile toward public expressions of religion, I
think it's important that we be courageous and clear. But at the same
time I don't think it's necessary to be provocative. It's important to
strongly hold to our rights and to Christian freedom. At the same time
it's not necessary to shove that into the face of others in a way that
causes them to become even more hostile. The whole goal is conversion
to Jesus Christ and giving glory to His Name. What we should do is
work at that with all our heart and strength and not get committed to
particular forms that may not work under certain circumstances. To have
the gentleness of doves and the cleverness of serpents is what Jesus
called his apostles to.

I wouldn't want anything I say here to dampen your enthusiasm. so
please be enthusiastic; but also, if you go the direction you suggest, see
if it works, rather than become committed to it without reflection.

Thanks for your inspiration. I promise my prayers.

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

From the Pen of the Ever-Provocative Eugene McCarraher

...At the same time, the political economy of death is the precondition for the emergence of "choice" as the holy grail of our moral culture. It's neither coincidental nor unironical that the word so decisive in the legitimation of corporate hegemony is also pivotal to the defense of abortion. First, both abortion and corporate capitalism are justified in the liberal individualist language of self-ownership and autonomous will. Second, the language of choice obscures and even nullifies the moral substance of the choices made. And third, the alacrity with which "choice" is now invoked is, I suspect, an indication of how meaningless--and therefore how few--our choices have really become. Abortion becomes more conceivable as a practice, not only when sex is utterly divorced from pregnancy, but when the organization of work hampers or precludes the reproductive practices of sex, birth, and child-rearing. If we are going to combat abortion, then I would suggest that we appropriate and transform the language of choice, and argue that abortion is the hallmark of a culture that forces everything to pivot around the accumulation of capital. we must tie abortion to a political economy that controls our work, warps our practices of love, and compensates with the perverse but beguiling enchantments of commodified freedom.

Mammon's Deadly Grin (PDF!) via Holy Ghost Parishoner, linked below.

His essay full of lively rhetoric and not a few declamatory passages, McCarraher goes on to claim that capitalism emphasizes scarcity, and Christianity plenitude. Curiously enough, my political science professor Thad Tecza claimed that Liberalism's attitude was formed by the discovery of the abundance and possibilities Europeans perceived in the New World. This, Tecza thought, lead to deprecations of the poor as stupid, lazy, crazy, or evil.

Vivat Jesus!

The Grand Knight of Denver Council #503[oops, not really, he's actually former GK of an Aurora council), perhaps the best Knights of Columbus hall in Denver, has a weblog: Holy Ghost Parishoner.

This reminds me that I have neglected to link to my own council, whose activities my illness has forced me to neglect. So Spirit of Christ Council #12979 now has a position in my template.

A Cappadocian Gem

I just discovered that Saint Basil the Great wrote a letter to youths On Reading Greek Literature. Long before the Renaissance, in the midst of a persisting polytheistic idolatry, this fourth century bishop emphasized a certain nobility among the pagans and their literature. Though certainly not uncritical, St. Basil's thoughts should be known to every Christian classicist.

An excerpt:

Now to that other life of the Holy Scriptures lead the way, teaching us through mysteries. Yet so long as, by reason of your age, it is impossible for you to understand the depth of the meaning of these, in the meantime, by means of other analogies which are not entirely different, we give, as it were in shadows and reflections, a preliminary training to the eye of the soul, imitating those who perform their drills in military tactics, who after they have gained experience, by means of gymnastic exercises for the arms and dance-steps for the feet, enjoy when it comes to the combat the profit derived from what was done in sport. So we also must consider that a contest, the greatest of all contests, lies before us, for which we must do all things, and, in preparation for it, must strive to the best of our power, and must associate with poets and writers of prose and orators and with all men from whom there is any prospect of benefit with reference to the care of our soul. Therefore, just as dyers prepare by certain treatments whatever material is to receive the dye, and then apply the color, whether it be purple or some other hue, so we also in the same manner must first, if the glory of the good is to abide with us indelible for all time, be instructed by these outside means, and then shall understand the sacred and mystical teachings; and like those who have become accustomed to seeing the reflection of the sun in water, so we shall then direct our eyes to the light itself.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Pieces of Interest in the latest New Atlantis

Francis Bacon's God by Stephen A. McKnight. I had received a rather negative impression of Bacon. Perhaps Thomas Molnar's declamations against the perennial heresy of utopia had prejudiced me against him, or perhaps I had read Eric Voegelin describing him as gnostic. I definitely read Paul Rahe's quite Straussian depiction of the Baconian project as a clandestine effort to rework religion for secular benefit, the taming of the poets by the philosophers.

Apparently Rahe's view derives from the first major twentieth century study of Bacon, Howard B. White's Peace among the Willows, and McKnight delivers significant evidence against this opinion. Bacon's scientific project, it seems, was a fundamentally Christian one. Though one could at first sight catalogue Bacon's friendly attitude towards the hidden knowledge of the ancients as semi-gnostic, his deprecatory attitude towards impure forms of Christianity indicates a more typical Protestant complaint about ecclesial corruption. The wise man of Bensalem, knowing the secrets of the ancients, emphasizes that his people's study is "motivated by piety," holding that "the ability to discover useful information is dependent on reverence and charity."

Try saying that in a contemporary academic department. It's a nice contrast to certain depictions of him which present him as a simple iconoclast dedicated to tearing down what had come before for being idols of the tribe.

Also of interest, a reflection on the greatest myth of the scientific age after Prometheus, good old Frankenstein:

Why does he[Dr. Frankenstein] go on to claim: “No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs”? Hitherto, every father has had to share the glory of human creation with a mother, whose role in bringing the child into existence was at least as great, if not greater. One can see Shelley thinking as a woman in this passage, and calling into question the masculine pride of the scientific creator. Frankenstein acts out a kind of male fantasy—to skip over any natural means of reproduction, to be solely responsible for the creation of his offspring, and thus to be able to claim its total gratitude. In her deepest insight into scientific creativity, Shelley sees its link to a will to power, and a desire to go beyond all conventional and natural limits on human aspiration.

The Scientist and the Poet, Paul A. Cantor

Death Before the Fall?

Speculative Catholic cites some thoughts of Edward T. Oakes on prelapsarian immortality, thoughts I had forgotten or overlooked.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Michael Henry Against Natural Rights

Voegelin diagnosed what he regarded as the Gnostic nature of modernity in the seventeenth-century Puritan "lust for massively possessive experience," an un-Christian libido dominandi for achieving existential security by drawing transcendence into immanence to transform all experience into proofs of divine election. Thomas Hobbes's remedy for the destructive conflicts stirred up by the Puritan drive to possess certainty was an immanently salvific Gnostic civil theology that effectively rejected transcendence and permitted all citizens to have a relationship with the divine only through obedience to the terrifying Absolute Sovereign, the intracosmic "mortal god," who dictated the form of "Christian" worship compulsory for the whole society and prophylactically sealed off the "Christian Commonwealth" against intrusions by transcendence. Because for Hobbes "there was no public truth except the laws of peace and concord in a society," he constructed civil theology as a "peace" in which soulless human beings attain worldly salvation from the imminent fall into non-being through death in the state of nature by suppressing not only the Puritan appropriation of transcendence but also the spiritually ordering power of amor Dei. The enjoyment of the "natural right" to physical self-preservation in a cosmos devoid of divine presence is the substitute for the soul's quest for immortality through participation in divine transcendence.


Although Arkes makes a strong case for a morally objective understanding of natural rights, there is an even stronger hedonist and relativist interpretation of natural rights that eviscerates the philosophically substantial meaning of human liberty and makes the understanding of freedom in terms of rights rather problematic. Since the civil theology has been reduced to an entirely secularized and immanent version of the Puritan sense of mission, if the public philosophy means that liberty is the possession of rights determined by the citizens' preferences then order is merely the absence of chaos but has no positive content or meaning. It certainly does not involve the participation in a higher truth that is essential for the life of the soul. It is, in fact, little more than the Hobbesian view that society exists simply to maximize earthly gratifications.

In other words, Arkes fails to see that positivism is not an error exogenous to natural rights but is a congenital disorder of the very notion of natural rights. Thus, Arkes's rational, objective interpretation of natural rights is not the whole story because the modern idea of natural rights is heavily contaminated by the secular devotion to progress in the individual's ability to pursue self-interest, which is, in metaphysical terms, a devotion to nothingness. This subordinates the common good to the protection of individual natural rights and the laws become an articulation, not of what actions are right or wrong in themselves or serve to promote the common good, but merely of what rules serve the private individual desires of the majority.

Civil Theology in the Gnostic Age, Michael Henry, Modern Age

Eve Tushnet takes on "Basically Good People"

Miscellaneous Links

Some things cleaned from my bookmarks, yet worthy of record:

On the Uses of Liberal Education As Lite Entertainment For Bored College Students

David L. Schindler on The Problem of Mechanism

A muslim book review of Alisdair MacIntyre's Whose Justice? Which Rationality?

Randian Clinical Psychology

Friday, November 04, 2005

Interview Excerpt, Mary B. Jones, 5/13/93

KJ: How did you feel when FDR died?

MJ: I didn't feel so bad at all. I felt it was about time for him to die. Did Truman replace him?

KJ: Yeah, he did.

MJ: Oh, good. My dad knew him.

KJ: Really?

MJ: Yes, he did. He went to KSU with him. Now, I don't want you to put this down, but he thought Truman was a sissy! But he wasn't a sissy as president. He said what he said and meant it.

An Approximation of a Shadow of a Book Review


David Foster Wallace

DFW was my first introduction to contemporary literary fiction, so I owe him. His nigh-omniscient lexicon and quirky--dare I say, postmodern?--manipulation of literary styles and tropes endeared him to my wide-eyed late teen mind, and his themes on the isolation and emptiness of American life appealed to my loner tendencies. Having finished up his latest collection, I find that his stories which avoid resolution are the most disappointing, while those which aspire to halfway complete the narrative are far more appealing.

My favorites in this collection:

The Soul is Not a Smithy, a man reflects on a childhood incident when a substitute teacher suffers a mental breakdown in front of an elementary school class, intermingled with the narrator's description of the daydream which completely distracted him from the teacher's panicked mind.

Incarnations of Burned Children, a tragic, very short story that pierces straight to the heart.

Another Pioneer, a second-hand discussion of a story involving a preternaturally gifted child in a primitive village whose omniscience eventually destroys his home once he hits puberty.

Good Old Neon, an incredibly successful man, aghast at his own fraudulence yet also the (putative) cliches we repeat to ourselves to get through the day, describes his manipulative actions towards his fellow men which lead up to his suicide.

Here's a particularly striking stream-of-thought passage from his less successful story "Mister Squishy" about a focus-group facilitator who is trying to live with his awareness of his utter ordinariness:

Or maybe that even the mere possibility of expressing any of this childish heartbreak to someone else seemed impossible except in the context of the mystery of true marriage, meaning not just a ceremony and financial merger but a true communion of souls, and Schmidt now lately felt he was coming to understand why the Church all through his childhood catechism and pre-Con referred to it as the Holy Sacrament of Marriage, for it seemed every bit as miraculous and transrational and remote from the possibilities of actual lived life as the crucifixion and resurrection and transubstantiation did, which is to say it appeared not as a goal to expect ever to really reach or achieve but as a kind of navigational star, as in the sky, something high and untouchable and miraculously beautiful in the sort of distant way that reminded you always of how ordinary and unbeautiful and incapable of miracles you your own self were, which was another reason why Schmidt had stopped looking at the sky or going out at night or even usually ever opening the lightproof curtains of his condominium's picture window when he got home at night and instead sat with his satellite TV's channel-changer in his left hand switching rapidly from channel to channel out of fear that something better was going to come on suddenly on another of the cable provider's 220 regular and premium channels and that he was about to miss it, spending three nightly hours this way before it was time to stare with drumming heart at the telephone that wholly unbeknownst to her had Darlene Lilley's home number on Speed dial...
"Every effort was made to encourage the children at the public schools to "think for themselves." When they should have been whipped and taught Greek paradigms, they were set arguing about birth control and nationalization. Their crude little opinions were treated with respect. Preachers in the school chapel week after week entrusted the future to their hands. It is hardly surprising that they were Bolshevik at 18 and bored at 20."

-Evelyn Waugh, via Domenico Bettinelli

Thursday, November 03, 2005

All your Hip are Belong to Us

With leisure-time activities of consuming redefined as “rebellion,” two of late-capitalism’s great problems could easily be met: obsolescence found a new and more convincing language, and citizens could symbolically resolve the contradiction between their role as consumers and their role as producers. The countercult style has become a permanent fixture on the American scene, impervious to the angriest assaults of cultural and political cons., because it so conveniently and efficiently transforms the myriad petty tyrannies of econ. Life—all the complaints about conformity, oppression, bureaucracy, meaninglessness, and the disappearance of individualism that became virtually a natl obsession during the ‘50s—into rationales for consuming. No longer would Americans buy to fit in or to impress the Joneses, but to demonstrate that they were wise to the game, to express their revulstion with the artifice and conformity of consumerism. The enthusiastic discovery of the countercult by the branches of Amer. Business studied here marked the consolidation of a new species of hip consumerism, a cultural perpetual motion machine in which disgust with the falseness, shoddiness, and everyday oppressions of consumer society could be enlisted to drive the ever-accellerating wheels of consumption.”

-Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool