Friday, February 29, 2008

Weigel Summarizes Benedict on Islam, Enlightenment, Freedom

George Weigel's speech in Boulder last week was more momentous than I had expected it to be.

As Catholic News Agency reports, Weigel vigorously argued that Pope Benedict XVI has provided in his Regensberg lecture and other writings a "public grammar" for global understanding between Christianity, Western secularism and Islam. In arguments over religious freedom, secularism, Islam, and human rights, Weigel said the Pope has given the world political community “a grammar for addressing these questions, a genuinely transcultural grammar of rationality and irrationality.” He cited Pope Benedict's recommendation that Christianity's own crises and encounters involving religious freedom could be a starting point for Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Weigel's categorization of Pope Benedict's approach was rigorous, novel and, I thought, generally convincing.

However, his commentary sometimes seemed lacking. At one point Weigel described relations with Islam as a matter of reconciling the religion with "Enlightenment values" of religious freedom and human rights(he specifically excluded scientific positivism from consideration).

There seem to be deep problems in this framing of the program for religious reform. To my mind Weigel's clear contention that the path to world peace and reform lies in Muslims reconciliation with the Enlightenment is overly political. While the Pope's theological emphasis escapes merely political polemics, Weigel too quicky turns from theological controversy to Liberal political philosophy. While this makes Weigel's program appealing to Americans of various religious beliefs, I think this move both turns theology into a blunt political tool and whitewashes the ideologies of the Enlightenment.

As I observed in the post-lecture question period, the Enlightenment was not only the sweetness and illumination of religious freedom and human rights. Arguably, Islamic nations have in fact absorbed the most murderous aspects of the Enlightenment: nationalism, pan-racialism, Marxism, and so on, in methods if not necessarily in ideas. One could even argue that fundamentalism is an Enlightenment product in its quest to overturn existing tradition and authority in favor of some foundational period, as interpreted through the understanding of the individual believer.

Weigel thought this point about the influence of the West in Islam was a good one. Making sure to add that fascism had also influenced Islamic socieites, he said it was one of the "great tragedies of history" that the "worst of the West" was exported to the region. He further speculated on a great "What-If?" scenario: What if the United States had not accepted in acquiescence the Islamic revolution in Iran in favor of a liberal regime? (Weigel also called Ahmadinejad "possibly one of the most dangerous people on earth," though I tend to think Daniel Larison is correct in dismissing the man)

All praise must be selective, but Weigel's advocacy of "Enlightenment values" was perhaps more selective than consistency can bear. He took care to exclude scientific positivism from the list of worthy Enlightenment ideals, but like scientific inquiry, human rights and religious freedom are also tragically double-edged.

Rights-language often generates simplistic, fanatical politics. The same regime that composed the Declaration on the Rights of Man ended in the Terror and the first modern genocide. "Human rights" rhetoric is seen in some circles as American cant cynically used to justify control of other countries. The same rhetoric is appropriated by advocacy programs of which Weigel would not approve.

Let us note that even respect for religious freedom could unduly hinder nations' abilities to suppress Islamic radicals in the United States, Europe, and in the Muslim world.

Further, one can argue that even the beneficient aspects of the Enlightement spirit have demoralized Europe and rendered it more vulnerable to Islamic radicalism. If "Enlightenment values" really end in decadence after only two centuries of influence, a culture would have to be suicidal to embrace them willingly.

Weigel at one point underscored the Regensberg address' distinction between rationalist and voluntarist views of God. The former, more characteristic of Christian thought, sees God as a reasonable Being to be freely loved, while the latter view, prominent among Islamic radicals, sees God primarily as a willful Being to be obeyed.

Perhaps rationalist theology does engender religious freedom. But judging from the period of time it took to emerge in its present form, this freedom is likely an end result of other more foundational characteristics.

Other features of Western life that have produced religious liberty, such as reverent trust in providence or simple political prudence, could be the more fruitful habits in the development of religious freedom. These habits are, I think, far less obviously polemical topics than Liberal categories explicitly involving freedom, oppression, and slavery. As such, they are congenial to interreligious dialogue without eliminating controversy altogether.

While the concepts of providence and prudence are obviously shaped by the relative rationalism of the predominant theology, seriously examining them can clarify and shift that theology in a positive manner.

Can one leave to Providence the punishment of apostate believers, infidels, and political enemies? Is the expansion of God's religion prudently served by political coercion?

These are some of the questions that helped the West. Perhaps these are the questions that can help Islam.

God willing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ESCR Goes to Public School

The Rocky Mountain News discussed happenings at the posh Cherry Creek High School where students are, on their own time, raising money for a teacher's embryonic stem cell treatment. It is another sad example of the marginalization of the ethical objections to the research.

The closing quote comes from the paralyzed teacher, Ryan McLean, who teaches sophomore biology:

McLean has used the stem cell issue as a teaching lesson in her biology classes.

"One day I asked the kids, 'Do you know what a stem cell is?' she said. "In fact, in one class I had a kid say, 'Yeah, it's when you eat babies.' That really kind of struck me in an urgent way. So I decided to lecture on stem cells."

It is regrettable that the only ethical objection, if it indeed was an objection, was articulated by a student.

While Ms. McLean insists that students know they are free to disagree with her, can one seriously believe she can present the issue dispassionately? The pressures to conform must be high, which is why the student's words are so remarkable.

Perhaps her student was jokingly referring to the South Park episode where Christopher Reeves sucked stem cells from various fetuses.

Perhaps her anonymous student seriously believed eating fetuses was involved in ESCR treatment. Students say the darnedest things.

Or, perhaps, the student was making the most vivid objection he or she could make in the limited vocabulary of a teenager. While older critics, including myself, often use the rhetoric of "cannibalizing nascent human life," I'm not sure there's a more neutral, useful way to object. After all, some supporters of this research have no shame about accusing people of wanting cripples to stay in their wheelchairs.

Update: there is a possibility this teacher is patronizing a Third World quack. reports a local doctor's opinions:
However, Shroff's treatments and those of other doctors in countries like China and Mexico which are less regulated than the U.S. are often dismissed by the medical community here.

Dr. Daniel Lammertse is the medical director at Craig Hospital in Englewood. It is a national leader in spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation. Lammertse says he receives scores of inquiries each year from people who want his advice before they undergo treatments like the one offered by Shroff.

"I can understand the motivation to try and seek treatment to improve their health and their function. That does not mean that I support the treatments that they're seeking because quite frankly, most of those have no scientific validation and in fact, can be potentially harmful," said Lammertse.

Lammertse has a term for the kind of trip McLean is about to take: medical tourism. He says there are two constants he sees from patients after their trips.

"The majority of those patients will return and report to us that they've had some vague improvement in bodily functions, whether that be an improvement in balance or body awareness. I have yet to see any of those patients demonstrate objective positive change in their function that we can measure objectively, and I have seen more than one of them suffer," said Lammertse.

Some activists argue that ethical objections to ESCR funding let other countries' researchers jump ahead of the United States and force patients to go overseas for treatment. It would be quite a twist if by "other countries' doctors," they mean snake-oil salesmen.

Why Multiculturalism Emphasizes Race

The later chapters of Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club provide a suggestive history of the origins of multiculturalism. Rather than some creation of the late 20th century, the emphasis and indeed celebration of cultural distinctions began far earlier.

Influenced by the strict categories of so-called racial science, some American elites as far back as the 1910s emphasized the cultural differences of immigrants as a defense against the flattening effects of mass culture.

Menand quotes Randolph Bourne's July 1916 Atlantic Monthly essay "Trans-National America":
"Already we have far too much of this insipidity--masses of people who are cultural half-breeds, neither assimilated Anglo-Saxons nor nationals of another culture... Letting slip whatever native culture they had, they have substituted for it only the most rudimentary American--the American culture of the cheap newspaper, the "movies," popular song, the ubiquitous automobile.

Bourne's reference to "whatever native culture" immigrants possess is quite consumerist. It foreshadows present lovers of diversity who act as if diversity only means exotic food, clothing, and music.

Bourne also provides a very contemporary-sounding condemnation of the "imposition of values":
"If freedom means the right to do pretty much as one pleases... the immigrant has found freedom, and the ruling element has been singularly liberal in its treatment of the invading hordes. But if freedom means democratic cooperation in determining the ideals and purposes and industrial and social institutions of a country, then the immigrant has not been free, and the Anglo-Saxon element is guilty of just what every dominant race is guilty of in every European country: the imposition of its own culture upon the minority peoples.

Multi-culturalism is simply old racial science plus egalitarianism. Thus, it often retains the view that race is essential and all else is accretion. In the words of Horace M. Kallen, "men may change their clothes, their politics, their wives, their religions, their philosophies, to a greater or lesser extent; they cannot change their grandfathers. Jews or Poles or Anglo-Saxons, in order to cease being Jews or Poles or Anglo-Saxons, would have to cease to be."

The belief that ethnicity is more enduring than marriage, philosophy, or religion seems to have endured to the present day. It is a correlate of a materialistic society that holds the human genome to be more real than the individual, even more real than God.

This supposition is why a certain poor excuse for an Irishman, who runs some sissy-named organization called the Shamrock Club, can object to Holy Week trumping St. Patrick's Day festivities. He was able to say, "Actually, you’re born Irish first, and then you’re baptized Catholic."
Horace Kallen would approve, though St. Patrick certainly wouldn't.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Priorities, Priorities

George Weigel, who will lecture in Boulder on tomorrow, Thursday, night, devotes his latest column to considering the problems facing the Jesuit order and its new superior Father Adolfo Nicolas.

In order, Weigel complains about Jesuit disobedience, citing a Boston College priest who advocates homosexual marriage. Fidelity of Jesuit colleges is another problem Weigel mentions. The largely homosexual decadence of certain California Jesuits also receives a drubbing.

Then, finally, Weigel laments "the tendency among some Jesuit theologians to minimize the unique salvific role of Christ."

Shouldn't the Christological concerns have come first?

The corruption in the Society of Jesus deserves plenty of critics, especially good critics.

But it is part of that very corruption to place theological errors at the periphery, to prefer debates about morality over truthful proclamations of Christ.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Professor criticized for advocating aborting the mentally retarded

An embryology professor who called for Down's Syndrome victims to be aborted is now having to defend himself in the public square.

According to the News-Observer story Abortion remark angers students, ominously subtitled "UNC Prof wary of Down's Syndrome," the professor read this passage from his lecture notes in an embryology class:

"In my opinion, the moral thing for older mothers to do is to have amniocentesis, as soon during pregnancy as is safe for the fetus, test whether placental cells have a third chromosome #21, and abort the fetus if it does. The brain is the last organ to become functional."

There is an obvious joke in that last sentence.

There is a more subtle disconnect in the professor's concern that the test be done "as soon as is safe for the fetus."

To their credit, some students reacted quite critically:

Frame's brother, John, 18, has Down syndrome, and Frame said she became "physically ill" at Harris' remarks. She didn't say anything during Monday's class. She was too angry, she said.

Sarah Truluck, who coordinates membership in the campus group Best Buddies, also was appalled to hear what Harris had said. Best Buddies pairs college students with intellectually disabled adults in the community.

"It is shocking to find that a university professor can be so ignorant of the issues at stake," Truluck said in a release. "We will continue to fight the stereotype that people with disabilities are somehow less than human, and encourage others to do the same."

The article discusses UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Albert Harris' reaction to the criticism:
Harris, 64, has taught embryology at UNC-CH for 35 years. He has made the statement about Down syndrome and abortion many times. He says it's the moral thing to do because of the effect on families. "I know somebody who had a child like this, and it ruined their life," he said.

"It is a relevant thing. It is a teaching moment," he said, sitting in his office after class. But this year's experience has him wondering how, or whether, he'd ever say it again. "I'm not advising anybody," he continued.

"I'm trying in the most effective way possible to indicate that this is something that one can hold different opinions on. And I think it would be kind of weaselly to say it's a secret what my opinion is. But maybe I should."

Then the professor admits to some very admirable, if confused, hypocrisy:

"If our child had been born with Down syndrome as we expected, we would have cherished her," Harris said.

Though he believes aborting a fetus with Down syndrome is the moral thing to do, "I don't necessarily do the moral thing," he said.

Talk about doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

I have to say this article surprised me. It is the first mainstream news story I've found that both discusses the targeting of Down's Syndrome children for eugenic abortion and reports opinions that this is a bad thing. I am encouraged that some students objected enough that the dispute received news coverage.

George Neumayer has the sad statistics of eugenic abortion:
Medical researchers estimate that 80 percent or more of babies now prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. (They estimate that since 1989 70 percent of Down-syndrome fetuses have been aborted.) A high percentage of fetuses with cystic fibrosis are aborted, as evident in Kaiser Permanente's admission to the New York Times that 95 percent of its patients in Northern California choose abortion after they find out through prenatal screening that their fetus will have the disease.

We generally pass over the "fetal deformity" exceptions often supported by pragmatic anti-abortion candidates. Let's remember exactly what that means.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Hopefulness of Grief

Dermot Quinn, speaking in the ISI lecture "Religion, and the Conservative Mind," considers how Russell Kirk could maintain hope while doubting the limitless capacities of mankind:
Human depravity bulks large in the Conservative Mind. The book exhibits a very Tory insistence on the reality of evil, the folly of schemes of social and personal perfectiblity, the inevitability of disappointment in a corrupt world.

Kirk thought of himself as a Christian Stoic. His best writing reflects a conviction that the most perduring of the permanent things is sorrow We would not be human without "the inescapable emotion of grief." Yet this is not as gloomy as it sounds.

Kirk used this grief to justify a politics not of dissent and despair, but of hope. After all, to recognize the fall from grace is to recognize grace itself as salvifically necessary. Awareness of human weakness is the beginning of wisdom.

Am I right in believing that contemporary hopemongers rarely show grief? At most, they muster compassion, which is not the same thing.

See also: Patrick Deneen's Hope against Hope

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Colorado Political Ad Exposes Too Much

In a time when producing Hallmark platitudes can qualify one for the presidency, it is fitting that Jared Polis, a millionaire who sold off an internet greeting card company at the height of the tech boom, is running for the Second Congressional District.

One of his advertisements is not something you want to see first thing in the morning.

In the ad, people walk around the city in hospital gowns, their backsides exposed but cloaked with a modest pixelation.

The actors are only partially covered. And the ad is about health coverage. Get it?

One man, fully nude and photographed from the front, rides an escalator into view as he chats on a cell phone.

I never knew nudist colonies had escalators.

This ad is noteworthy for all the wrong reasons.

Casual public nudity, especially in urban environments, is not reassuring for people. Our first impulse on seeing someone so partially clothed is to presume inebriation or mental illness.

As the ad is running in the winter months, viewers aren't even habituated to exposed flesh.

The surreal discomfort the ad produces overshadows Polis' call for mandatory nudity.

Er, universal health care, I mean.

But this "edgy" advertisement has an upside.

Every time I see it, I can say, "Look, Jared 'Naked Cheeks' Polis is at it again!"

The Law is a Wax Nose

Here's how the legal defenses of torture have been made:
Charting that progression is almost not worth doing anymore, so familiar are the various feints and steps. First, the administration breaks the law in secret. Then it denies breaking the law. Then it admits to the conduct but asserts that settled law is not in fact settled anymore because some lawyer was willing to unsettle it. Then the administration insists that the basis for unsettling the law is secret but that there are now two equally valid sides to the question. And then the administration gets Congress to rewrite the old law by insisting it prevents the president from thwarting terror attacks and warning that terrorists will strike tomorrow unless Congress ratifies the new law. Then it immunizes the law breakers from prosecution.
-Dahlia Lithwick, Anybody's Guess

The piece is marred at the end by that common secularist Tourette's Syndrome which cannot keep its mouth shut. Dahlia blasphemes God as casually as others defend torture. "That's not an imperial presidency. That's the kind of presidency Yahweh might establish."

Way to build bridges, Dahlia.

via Mark Shea

Sunday, February 10, 2008

In Defense of Canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury's seeming endorsement of Sharia has provoked much astonished criticism.

Austen Ivereigh at the newly-revived Godspy offers a contrary opinion:
But Dr. Williams’s speech is much more than just about Muslims and the law. What he is challenging is a Positivist, secularist notion of the law which seeks to make religious practice a purely private, individual matter. “The danger arises not only when there is an assumption on the religious side that membership of the community (belonging to the umma or the Church or whatever) is the only significant category, so that participation in other kinds of socio-political arrangement is a kind of betrayal,” he writes. “It also occurs when secular government assumes a monopoly in terms of defining public and political identity.”

The obvious recent example in the UK is one he cites earlier in the lecture. The Government refused to allow Catholic adoption agencies to opt out of anti-discrimination legislation which made it illegal for an agency to refuse to consider a gay couple as potential adopters. The refusal means that those adoption agencies will be forced to close or continue as privately-funded ventures. In this, highly secularist interpretation of the equality before the law principle, a body of believers who maintain, in accordance with their religious principles, that the best place for an adopted child is with a mother and a father, are precluded from offering a public service. The privatization of religion follows, and believers are herded ever more into ghettos. That has long been the experience of continental Europe, and Britain, with a long pluralist tradition in which religious and secular can both operate in the public square as equals, is fast moving now in that direction.

Dr. Williams has issued a clarion call for a vital principle in democratic law, which is that our social relations are not constituted by a single or exclusive mode of belonging.

Matera's concern is exemplified in some of the reactions to Canterbury's lecture, such as the response of Minette Marin who writes:
a lot of what is written on this confusing subject suggests “the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody”. He went on: “That principle is an important pillar of our social identity as a western liberal democracy.” How true.

However, he continued: “It’s a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties, which shape and dictate how they behave in society, and the law needs to take some account of that.”

Stuff like this is bad for the blood pressure, but I listened on. “An approach to law which simply said there is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said . . . I think that’s a bit of a danger.”

"What danger? And to whom?" Minette Marrin asks. She should note that "one law for everybody" would disestablish the Church of England and abolish the Monarchy. Arguably, that secular egalitarianism has eroded historical England far more thoroughly than any recent Muslim immigration threatens to do.

Many of Canterbury's critics, zeroing in on the Sharia passage, apparently have mistaken his attack on totalizing Secularism for an attack on Christian England. The kind words for Sharia should never have been delivered in such a public manner, especially for a senior clergyman already facing tensions with his church's African Christians. But does Peter Hitchens realize Archbishop Williams' stand against an utterly consistent secularism could be the only position that would preserve Christian freedoms in England?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Proposing Teepees

Ross Douthat links to a melancholy Atlantic piece from a single middle-aged woman who in her singleton loneliness wishes she had "settled" instead of being too selective in her choice of mate.

One commenter writes:
The real problem with arguments like this is that it assumes that monogamy is the only possible long-term option, and then it's a question of either settling or being lonely.

I have a feeling a lot of people might find a lot more happiness in non-monogamous arrangements where different people fulfill different needs.

Recall the last lines of Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! where the dull-witted hero, fresh from saving the world from a Martian attack, addresses the survivors on the steps of the U.S. Capitol:
So I guess, like, now we just have to start over and start rebuilding everything, like our houses, and...

...But I was thinking maybe instead of houses, we could live in teepees, 'cause...'s better in a lot of ways.

When one feels that Bonobo sexual habits are a model for societal reform, one might as well propose living in teepees too.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Pope/La Sapienza Controversy Fueled by Wikipedia

It just keeps getting worse for the protesters who shut down the papal visit to La Sapienza in Rome. They did not only quote out of context Pope Benedict's analysis of diffident contemporary philosophy. No, they quoted out of context a factually erroneous Wikipedia excerpt of the Pope's analysis of diffident contemporary philosophy.

Catholic News Agency summarizes:
L’ Osservatore [Romano] maintained that if any of the professors had checked the facts before signing the letter, “they would have realized that the author took the quote from a discourse by Ratzinger that is found under the title ‘Papa Benedetto XVI’ at, the online encyclopedia that is edited by internet users and that no man of science would use as an exclusive source for his research, unless he checked the veracity of the content.”

“That Wikipedia in all likelihood is the source of the quote is evident by the fact that the letter from the 67 professors makes reference to a speech by Cardinal Ratzinger on March 15, 1990 in Parma. The speech was given, but it took place in Rome, at La Sapienza University on exactly that day,” L’ Osservatore continued. “The surprising thing is that whoever took the quote from Feyerabend could not have read the rest of the entry in Wikipedia, as he would have realized that the meaning of Ratzinger’s statement is exactly the opposite of what the 67 claimed the Pope was saying.”

That the original remarks took place at the same university, but were attributed to another venue, is simply embarrassing.

That Wikipedia was considered authoritative by these would-be intellectuals is downright mortifying.

"All I need to know about Pope Benedict I learned from a drunken reading of Wikipedia" seems an apt summation of the superficiality of La Sapienza activists.

I am impressed that L'Osservatore Romano had staff or sources who tracked down the origins of this petty academic error. The Wikipedia origins of the information likely were discovered in a minor web search. However, that the web search was even made indicates someone at the paper has a good sense of how to extend a story in the Internet Age. These days, even a minor discrepancy of fact can grow into a newsworthy backstory.

Rocco Palmo and John Allen write of a revolution at the newspaper, its leadership taking the paper in a more journalistic and relevance-seeking direction. This story especially is a sign L'Osservatore Romano is wise to the ways of the world.

The Renaissance: Myth?

Australian mathematics professor James Franklin assails the Renaissance Myth. An admirer of the renaissance that birthed the High Middle Ages that died in the Black Death, Franklin argues the reputation of the 15th to 16th century Renaissance is inflated. Comparing the period to both the Middle Ages and the early Modern period, he condemns the Renaissance for its negligible scientific discoveries and technological advances of the time(Copernicus excepted), lack of philosophical genius, relatively poor literary output, and its slavish devotion to the ancients.

The impact of the discovery of the New World and the newly-invented printing press, Franklin dismisses. "Both of these have been the occasion of innumerable effusions of a priorist theorising, to the effect that they opened new vistas of thought, led to the spread of radical ideas, confuted scholastic dogmas and so on. As usual, evidence that any of this happened is rarely seen," he writes. He compares the moon landing and the introduction of television as events analogous to these supposed paradigmatic moments. Both caused a splash but rarely elevated the people of the times.

Franklin argues that the undeniable excellence of Renaissance art is in part responsible for the period's reputation. The ease of observing such great art led people incorrectly and lazily to project that excellence onto the whole era.(The comments on Leonardo da Vinci's non-artistic endeavors are particularly iconoclastic.)

"The Renaissance Myth," Franklin thinks, is also the creation of anti-clerical polemicists, bad education, and Petrarch's self-aggrandizing writings.

Franklin's essay merits a deeper response, though I have to my regret forgotten most of Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence and whatever else I've read on the period. The romantic epics of Orlando comprise one set of Renaissance masterworks that Franklin overlooks. Though they are not popular even among the learned today, they enjoyed a great reputation mere decades ago.

Further, the Jesuit system of education was inspired by those universities whose 16th-century state Franklin disdains as dull and slavish. These scholars who produced so many brilliant thinkers apparently found much valuable not just in the content the Renaissance preserved, but in the era's system itself.

However, some of Franklin's criticisms surely hit their target. There really is a schoolboyish naivety in the writing of, say, Pico della Mirandola. Renaissance servility toward Aristotle and other ancient aristocratic thinkers, I wager, helped dampen the dignity of both productive labor and experimental inquiry.

Franklin also seems to have Michael Flynn's admiration for medieval science, which is a good thing. He recounts one telling anecdote about the scientific work of Pope John XXI:
Until 1300 the most actively cultivated science was geometrical optics, the leading researchers in which were associated with the Papal court of John XXI in the 1270s. The Pope was himself the author of a book on the subject (besides writing best-sellers on logic and medicine), and in fact died in the pursuit of science when the roof of his laboratory collapsed.

However, what struck me most about Franklin's critique was his attack on the early Renaissance's obsession with enumerating all aesthetic relations:
This habit of thought was peculiarly destructive of rational thinking, since on the one hand enormous imaginative effort was expended in drawing ever more striking parallels between things, but on the other hand it was essential to the exercise to pretend that these parallels were not just figments of the imagination, but were edifying just because the things compared really did mirror one another. It is not too far-fetched, I think, to compare this with Marxism. The tendency of Marxist thought when faced with, say, a scientific result, is to relate the ideology of bourgeois science to the historical consciousness of scientists and their community. Aside from the question of the truth of this, the overall effect is to divert attention from the original fact. The same is true of allegory. The facts about a thing and its actual relations with other things will be missed if the mind contemplating it is trained to look immediately for ingenious ways of seeing the thing as a sign of something else. The construction of allegorical similarities replaced the search for causal connections.

This is a good caution complementing my foray into C.S. Peirce's semiotics. Too much concern for the logic of signs and relations obscures the fact that their logic is neither scientific nor entirely philosophic, but artistic. While good poetry and rhetoric, for instance, can rely on and encourage close observation of reality, imagination is their native domain.

Poetry and rhetoric rest on the careful organization, invention, and manipulation of signs. Letting the sign overshadow the thing signified is a precursor to, if not a practice of, falsehood and idolatry.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Thomas Aquinas on Free Love

Aelianus excerpts a passage of St. Thomas Aquinas on the liberality of monogamous marriage while writing in Ex Laodicea's comments:
Friendship consists in a certain equality. Although therefore it is not lawful for a women to have many husbands, because this is contrary to the certainty of offspring; were it lawful for a man to have many wives: the friendship of a wife for her husband would not be freely bestowed, but servile as it were. And this argument is confirmed by experience for where the men have many wives the women are treated like slaves.

(English translation being abridged, my translation follows)

Moreover, intense friendship is not directed towards many, as is laid out in the Philosopher's Ethics VII. If therefore a wife has only one husband, but the man has many wives, there will not be a friendship of equality between both parties. Therefore it would not be a friendship of freedom, but in a certain way one of slavery.

Still more, just as it is said that marriage is to be ordered according to what coincides with good habits. It is however against good habits that one man should have many wives because discord in the domestic family follows from this situation, as experience shows. Therefore it is not fitting that one man should have many wives.

Summa Contra Gentiles III:124

For the Latinists, the original:
Amicitia in quadam aequalitate consistit. Si igitur mulieri non licet habere plures viros, quia hoc est contra certitudinem prolis; liceret autem viro habere plures uxores: non esset liberalis amicitia uxoris ad virum, sed quasi servilis. Et haec etiam ratio experimento comprobatur: quia apud viros habentes plures uxores, uxores quasi ancillariter habentur.

Praeterea. Amicitia intensa non habetur ad multos: ut patet per philosophum in VIII Ethicorum. Si igitur uxor habet unum virum tantum, vir autem habet plures uxores, non erit aequalis amicitia ex utraque parte. Non igitur erit amicitia liberalis, sed quodammodo servilis.

Amplius. Sicut dictum est, matrimonium in hominibus oportet ordinari secundum quod competit ad bonos mores. Est autem contra bonos mores quod unus habeat plures uxores: quia ex hoc sequitur discordia in domestica familia, ut experimento patet. Non est igitur conveniens quod unus homo habeat plures uxores.
Summa Contra Gentiles, III.124

Thomas' contrast between freedom and servility in marriage is an attack on extreme patriarchy, and doubtless is one among many reasons feminism could have emerged in Christian societies.

The perpetually obtuse Richard Dawkins has argued that sexual fidelity is bad because it produces jealousy. He's obviously never witnessed the machinations of a polygamous society where a few powerful men collect women. There, many men are left wifeless and despondent while the women are set at odds with one another, competing for their husband's attention for themselves and their children.

Dawkins' casual assumption that egalitarianism shall triumph in a promiscuous climate can only be attributed to naivety or blindness. A celibate 13th-century monk who once chased off a prostitute with a glowing iron poker was wiser than he.

The Ex Laodicea post in which Thomas Aquinas was cited also links to a sad essay from a struggling man who was duped by gay ideology into believing male homosexuals were actually interested in monogamy. The essay's title could describe plenty of scribbling class deviancy: The Books were a Front for the Porn

Not Scottish: Klan Crossburnings

It is commonly accepted that the Ku Klux Klan's crossburnings derive from an old Scottish practice of burning a cross as a call to arms.

The Straight Dope examines this factoid. It decides that if the practice's Scottish origins were direct, then the cross should have been St. Andrew's saltire:
Knowing a good idea when he saw one, William J. Simmons, the founder of the Klan in its second incarnation (1915-1944), cobbled together a cross and burned it at a meeting of the newly-established Knights of the Ku Klux Klan on Thanksgiving night, 1915, on Stone Mountain near Atlanta. Flaming crosses have been a Klan trademark ever since.

Just one problem. The fiery cross of Scottish legend wasn't the upright Roman cross commonly used by the Klan. Rather it was the X-shaped cross of St. Andrew. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and an X-shaped cross probably also was a lot easier to make a signal bonfire out of. But nobody ever said the Klan's big attraction was its meticulous sense of detail.

Remember, Kluxers were the Star Wars nerds of the 1920s, only violent and politically competent.

(link via Kathy Shaidle)