Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

And what kind of oppression is this Christian pastor concerned about?

You guessed it. While hundreds of Christians are murdered by Islamic fanatics in Nigeria, the religion editor of Huffington Post is exercized by the persecution of gay Nigerians by other -presumably Christian – Nigerians.

To continue with the piece by Raymond Ibrahim cited previously on the New York Times’ coverage of Boko Haram

Thus, from a purely demographic point of view, we may deduce that for every one man who gets exposed as a homosexual in the privacy of his own home, and killed for it, thousands of Christians expose themselves as infidels whenever they openly congregate and worship inside churches, as they do every Sunday, and get killed for it.

Based on numbers alone, then—assuming the NYT can agree that all human lives are equal, that the life of the Christian is equal in value to the life of the homosexual—the dramatically much bigger story has long been the relentless and genocidal jihad on Nigeria’s millions of Christians.

After a few days’ absence from the blog, this morning was a target-rich environment. As Raymond Ibrahim says:”The script must always prevail: reality be damned”. Islam=religion of peace; homophobia=evil.

I am beginning to like this Pope

Pope Francis is changing the subject. Good for him. The Church may be right on a number of issues on which modern society has strayed like lost sheep It will do no good to harp upon secondary- and tertiary-level doctrines until people recover the essential message, which is of God’s redeeming love for man. As Tolstoy said: “All that I ever learned, I learned through love”.

Or in the words of the man himself:

“I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.”

I liked Benedict too, for different reasons. I am just grateful that a succession of  heads of the world’s largest Church are actual believing Christians. Sometimes the light gets through the cracks. I wish I could be so sure about the Anglican Church.

Edward Feser, unleashed

Readers will be aware that the world of philosophers has been scandalized by Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, that the legions of materialists have been affronted by one of their school calmly asserting he sees no reason to think that Darwinian explanations for consciousness are in the least persuasive.

It gets better. Edward Feser, who is a young,  handsome professor of philosophy at the Pasadena City College in California, has thrown down the gauntlet to the Dawkins, Dennett,Hitchens, Harris crowd of reductive materialists, who maintain, roughly speaking, that there is no God, there is no soul, you are only matter and its motions, and if you have awareness, that is merely your neural network jiggling.

As I have long maintained, the problem with the materialist position is that they cannot explain awareness, attention, or whatever it is the characterizes mental life. This was the gist of Nagel’s dissent from reductve materialism in Mind and Cosmos, and for which crime the apes in the university zoo hurl shit at him.

Feser is a Roman Catholic, which means he supports the older  interpretation of reality we received from Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas to the effect that the mind can truly thoughpartly grasp reality, that it is not a brain in a vat like the people in the Matrix, that we can truly have objective knowledge, even if incomplete, and that knowledge is not all just sense impression filtered through our emotional inclinations.

The essence of Feser’s rejection of the modern school (modern since the time of René Descartes) is that these are matters of reason, not faith.

I cite from his book, The Last Superstition:

(at page 5)

“The suggestion that human reason can be accounted for in purely materialistic terms has, historically speaking, been regarded by most philosophers as a logical absurdity, a demonstrable falsehood. Within the western classical philosophiocal tradition, belief in the existence of God and the falsity of materialism has generally been thought to rest firmly and squarely on reason, not “faith”.”

His ambitions in his book The Last Superstition are large. He maintains that the ‘war between science and religion’ is really a war between two philosophical worldviews, and not at bottom a scientific or theological dispute at all. (p.12)

The conflict, then, is not over any actual results or discoveries of science, but rather over more fundamental philosophical questions of what sorts of results or discoveries will be allowed to count as “scientific” in the first place.

I look forward to reading more,and will keep you advised on developments. In the meantime, Feser’s blog discusses the Thomas Nagel controversy in entertaining detail.

I have not seen so entertaining a book of philosophical importance since Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae: large, loud, deeply learned, and an absolutely fearless assault on various contemporary idols.


Original Sin

If perceiving differences and acting against the different is the primary sin of man, then babies are all profound sinners.

In an article entitled “Babies show inherent dislike for those who are different”, it was revealed that babies as young as nine months show preference for those who bring harm to people different from themselves – in this case, the difference concerned a taste for graham crackers over green beans, and vice versa.

Psychology professor and lead author Kiley Hamlin found infants who were as  young as nine months old favoured those who brought harm to people who were  different than themselves.

She said adults, similarly, tend to like people who harm individuals who are  different.

“We wanted to see if we could tell whether infants had that same kind of  judgement,” said Hamlin in an interview.

“It was shocking how robust the results were.”

Nothing surprises me about this. Tolerance is a virtue not because it is natural, but because it is an acquired habit of civilization. By contrast, those people who call themselevs “liberals” tend to believe that the natural state of man is acceptance, and only perverse educations make us racist, sexist, nationalist, tribalist, other-ist.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, looked at two  groups of infants aged nine months and 14 months and the food they preferred — green beans or graham crackers.

The infants watched a puppet show, with two puppets demonstrating a like for  green beans or graham crackers.

More puppets then joined the production, demonstrating nice, neutral or mean  behaviour towards the original two puppets.

The study showed that the babies later preferred the puppets who harmed the  puppet with the opposite food preferences.

One baby even gave a kiss to the harmful puppet.

The study said the desire to treat badly those with differences was more  widespread in the age group of 14-month-old infants, suggesting an increase in  bias with age.

Hamlin said almost all of the babies tested acted the same, which was an  unexpected result.

“(Babies) like nice puppets really strongly. That’s in line with our  intuition. Other studies have shown they like punishers if somebody was bad  before, but that’s also in line with our intuitions.

“If someone’s bad they might deserve punishment. This one is not in line with  our intuitions.”

Lady, it is not in line with your “intuitions” because you think people are naturally good, tolerant, accepting. They are not. They are naturally racist, tribalist, differentist, nationalist. They think people from the next valley are feckless swine, unless they have cousins over there, in which case they may know that some people in the next valley are okay, or not, on the basis of real knoweldge.

Man’s innate “differentism” is not something that is going to be fixed by talking about the problem differently, or by different social arrangements, though improvements are possible. Discriminations are at the core of existence. Every cell of my body is locked in a life and death struggle to determine what belongs in that cell and what does not. They all discriminate. I can only hope they discriminate in a way suitable to my survival. Likewise, every person discriminates, and has to for the organism to survive. One can only hope that discrimination takes place on bases suitable for the survival of civilization. That is the best we can do.


Pope Benedict’s resignation

This is a memorable moment. In fact it is quite historical. Benedict  XVI has resigned and has become Pope emeritus. In doing so he has   fundamentally redefined the Papacy. One way to characterize this, but  not necessarily the only way, is that he has destroyed, fragmented the pedestal of the Papacy.

To begin, he was above all a priest, with a black cassock, a theologian for  25 years, before he accepted a pastoral position. And eventually he  wore a red cassock. Through all his life sought the truth; no mean ambition. He central effort, beginning in the early sixties, was to re-centre the Church during Vatican II. The Church needed to be re-centered, aggiornamiento. His focus then and during his papacy was faith, based on revelation rather than dogma, which had been the   centre of the last several councils. This is a non-trivial ambition.

And while he is criticized for his particular understanding of the centre, nevertheless the centre was his ambition.

His particular devotion was to the Holy Spirit. He was particularly aware that reason is utterly compatible with faith. Indeed, one of his apparent wishes was that reason would be reintroduced into our thinking. In his dialogue with Habermas (e.g. Liberal Democracy: Culture Free? The Habermas-Ratzinger Debate and its Implications for Europe) this was his central argument. Some have suggested that he was trying to help liberalism to use reason. That it was compatible. His fundamental search was for the truth which he realized he could never attain because God is beyond our grasp. We live in a world, living owever only at its surface not in its depth. Only in eternity will this be revealed, will this open to us.

Loving must be undertaken, and to do so we have to take the risk,

Benedict took that risk.

His leaving is a prophetic act: he prayed, he analyzed in all liberty and concluded that “I do not have the necessary powers to fulfill this role.”

This is an act of free will (liberty), thus the Holy Spirit is there to support him in this act even as the Holy Spirit is in our free acts. The victory of freedom is wisdom. He acted as a priest that is he acted to nourish the people of the church, and not to be eaten by his calling, his role. He is now free to be a theologian. Free to be a priest. 


Zero Hour at the Vatican

For those of us not Roman Catholics, the Roman Church can be fascinating, if a little foreign. For believing Catholics, who conflate Christianity with the Roman Church, the recent announcement of retirement by Pope Benedict must seem like the end of the world as they have known it.

Here is a first-rate article, translated from German, on the events inside the Holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The pope from Bavaria has given up. Nevertheless, when he announced his resignation last Monday, hastily and almost casually mumbling the words as if he were saying a rosary, as if he were returning the keys to a rental car rather than the keys to St. Peter, there was still a sense of how deeply his move has shaken the Catholic empire.

Archbishop of Berlin Rainer Maria Woelki calls it a “demystification of the papal office.” Already, he says, the pope’s resignation has changed the church.

I wish the Roman Catholic church nothing but well; it is a bastion against a thousand foolish doctrines.

Protestant churches may come and go and the world will carry on without them, because they are self-organizing, and self-generating and by their own inner lights they do not need to be world-embracing institutions, but a catholic church pretends to embrace all of humanity, not just a nation, race or social class, in one institution. If it fails in its mission, the world stands ready to tear it apart, even as it tears itself apart. It has happened before, and recovered. Whether it will do so again, I would prefer not to see.

Deborah Gyapong blogs on this subject here and David Warren blogs here. I do not profess to understand or equal their faith, but I admire the lucidity of their commitment to Christ as they conceive Him.


Brilliant move, Benedict

The decision of the Pope to resign because he recognized his own declining capacities is important on many levels. It establishes that the office of Pope has performance criteria. It is not a role so deeply embodied in the office-holder that the only way to leave it is to die. Future generations will applaud this innovation.

Benedict has, at a stroke, modernized the office of Pope, by saying that the office-holder is subject to criteria of effectiveness, even if the only capable judge of that effectiveness is the office-holder himself.

Our Queen’s position on abdication is robustly medieval. The Queen’s Household  once stated that Elizabeth II believed her office was “not merely personal”, and that, for this reason, it was not in her capacity to abdicate. However admirable, and possibly wise, her view of her office is astonishing, when you think of it. Like that of Christ, or the Buddha, it is a status that cannot in the nature of things be given up.

One would have thought that the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which removed the Stuart Kings and replaced them with King William of Orange, had established that the office of British monarch was a “job” rather more than a sacred office. Yet our Queen entertains notions of her office more in keeping with Divine Right than any more modern   political mythologies.

Last year, the Queen celebrated 60 years on the throne and in the central speech of her jubilee she hammered home the point that kingship (or queenship) is not a matter of picking and choosing, but a spiritual responsibility: she ‘rededicated’ herself to the lifelong service of her people.

Statements of faith

Statements of faith are not intended to be statements about material reality.

Eric Voegelin writing to his friend Hans Schutz on January 1, 1953.

The proposition “God is almighty” combines a transcendent subject (one of which we have no innerwordly experience, only an expe­rience of faith) with an “idealized,” infinitized, innerwordly pred­icate.

The proposition is therefore meaningless if both the subject and the predicate are taken literally; it makes sense only if the predicate is added analogically to the extrapolated subject of the experience of faith.

What the men of the 18th-century Enlighten­ment held against Christian dogmatics (enlightened thinkers are repeating it today), namely, that theological statements–unlike statements concerning sense perception–are meaningless because they cannot be verified, is the very starting point of Christian the­ology.

Eric Voegelin was an Austrian Catholic classicist who fled Hitler -not without reason – during the Anschluss and who taught philosophy for many years in the United States.

If you are speaking of verifiable propositions, you are not speaking of transcendent religious experience,  and on this Dawkins, Hume, Voegelin, Aquinas and I would all be in agreement.

The Wikipedia entry captures this well:

One of Voegelin’s main points in his later work is that a sense of order is conveyed by the experience of transcendence. This transcendence can never be fully defined nor described, though it may be conveyed in symbols. A particular sense of transcendent order serves as a basis for a particular political order. It is in this way that a philosophy of politics becomes a philosophy of consciousness. Insights may become fossilised as dogma. The main aim of the political philosopher is to remain open to the truth of order, and convey this to others.

His New Science of Politics and Science, Politics and Gnosticism will re-organize and inform your thinking about politics and history. They are strongly reccommended to people who try to think about political movements. They will enable you to perceive phenomena like Hitler, Robespierre, Lenin, Rousseau, Baboeuf, Trotsky, and Arun Smith in their proper light.

Knowledge and belief

Mark Mercer, Chairman of the philosophy department at St. Mary’s University, lets us all know how superior he feels to the religious impulse today in today’s Ottawa Citizen.

He tells us that religion is horrid because:

First, because a person can have no good reason of evidence or argument for holding a religious belief, a person cannot hold religious beliefs except on faith, that is, in violation of his or her standards of belief worthiness. Religion is horrid, then, because it depends on and encourages self-deception, wishful believing, and contempt for evidence.

Immediately, one can see there are two errors in this statement. The first is his assumption of error on the part of those who believe in unprovable propositions, such as, there is a God. He states: Because – by his definition – “a person can have no good reason of evidence or argument for holding a religious belief”,  there can be no good argument for holding a belief except on faith. This is the assertion of precisely what he needs to prove, it seems to me. Petitio principi – begging the question – is to assume the truth of what one argues.

Second, faith is not a violation of belief-worthiness. It is an essential element of belief-worthiness. If I did not have to believe something, faith would be superfluous. Faith and belief in this sense are the same things.

Consider this:

I do not believe in the law of gravity. I do not have to. I know it. If I jump off a window, I know that gravity will draw me down to the earth at an increasing rate.

Believing in the law of gravity is superfluous.

If, by contrast, I believe you will show up at lunch today despite the fact you had to drive a hundred miles to get to town, then the use of the word believe is appropriate. I do not know that you will show  up; I believe you will based on my knowledge of your character and history with me.

Belief is different from knowledge; they are different acts or states. I amtempted to add that belief is an act of the soul, knowledge of the mind. But since, on materialist grounds, we have no souls, that is an argument for another place.

Maybe saints know God. For the rest of us, belief will have to suffice. Any God whose existence could be proven to the satisfaction of materialist doctrinaires would be unworthy of belief.

Second, religion involves, perhaps necessarily involves, self-abasement. In worshipping something, a person assumes an attitude of inferiority to the object of worship — not just inferiority of talents, but inferiority in worth, inferiority as a person.

If a transcendent divine power governs this universe, it would be no diminishment of my ego to acknowledge its superiority to me. I am not diminished, I am enhanced, and this has always been a well spring of religion: to partake in something greater than ourselves by acknowledging its greatness.

Third, religion involves the attitude that all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds. (This must be the best possible world, as it is God’s handiwork.) Thus, everything happens for a reason, including suffering and sorrow, and is ultimately justified by its reason. But to take this attitude (again, against the evidence one has) is to be contemptuous of actual suffering and sorrow.

Not all religions take this attitide, but leave that aside. Volumes could be written about the problem of evil. The Book of Job is a good start. Of all the things one might say about the problem of evil, one of the stupidest I have ever heard is that believers are compelled to be contemptuous of actual suffering and sorrow. They are as mystified as anyone else, but they are not contemptuous. Perhaps our professor friend is attributing to believers what he feels himself.

Much of reductive materialist philosophy partakes of this sophomoric superiority to the concerns and feelings of ordinary humans, including the religious impulse, but so much also partakes of this second-rate thinking dressed up as deep thought. Christmas brings them out, like zombies from the grave.

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

is very Masonic, in case you are interested in that sort of thing. Note, in the third paragraph:

to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Science, virtue and religion are best fostered when all of them are fostered. The dependence of man on the Divine Being is not just a form of speech; they believed it.

Read more.

George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted’ for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.