Monday, May 31, 2021

Capitalism to you: 1 thru 5, or 6 thru 10?

(From Edward Fesser blog...)

When people use or hear the word “capitalism,” some of the things they might bring to mind are:

1. The institution of private property, including private ownership of the basic means of production

2. Market competition

3. The existence of corporations as legal persons

4. Inequalities in wealth and income

5. An economic order primarily oriented to the private sector, with government acting at the margins and only where necessary

Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those things.  Indeed, some of them (such as private property and a government that respects subsidiarity) are required as a matter of natural law.   Eliminating all economic inequalities (as opposed to remedying poverty, which is a very different matter) is neither possible nor desirable.  The concept of the corporate person has long been recognized by, and regarded as salutary within, the natural law tradition (whatever one thinks about its instantiation in modern business corporations).  Socialism in the strict sense, which would centralize the most fundamental economic decision-making, is intrinsically evil.

On the other hand, other people using or hearing the term “capitalism” might have in mind things like:

6. A doctrinaire laissez-faire mentality that is reflexively hostile to all governmental economic intervention

7. The market as the dominant social institution, with an ethos of consumerism and commodification of everything as its sequel

8. Corporations so powerful that they are effectively unanswerable to government or public opinion

9. Doctrinaire minimalization or even elimination of social welfare institutions, even when there is no feasible private sector alternative

10. Globalization of a kind that entails dissolution of corporate and individual loyalties to the nation-state and local communities.

Now, all of these things are bad and should be opposed on natural law grounds.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative.  And what it illustrates is that it is unhelpful to talk about either embracing or rejecting capitalism full stop.  The term has too many connotations for that, and needs to be disambiguated.  Hence the sweeping claims often made by both sides in the debate over capitalism inevitably generate excessive heat while reducing light.  When people say “I support capitalism,” they often mean “I support 1-5” but their opponents hear them as saying “I support 6-10.”  And when people say “I oppose capitalism,” they often mean “I oppose 6-10,” but their opponents hear them as saying “I oppose 1-5.”  To a large extent, they talk past each other.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Hope, Anger, Politics, CS Lewis, Seneca, and Acid...

Some snippets gleaned from the March issue of First Things. For some time our political parties have made utter and complete enemies of the opposing party members. I do not belong to either party and neither party represents my ideas and beliefs. But I think the currently prevalent attitudes and pronouncements of politically active people, both politicians and citizens, are outside of the bounds of useful discourse and help nothing. Is there hope for out country to ever be a semi-united nation again? To that question the following clips from various columns in the aforementioned digest maybe have something to say:

"The virtue of hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage: anger with the way things are, and courage to change them for the better."

Hope is a choice we make in the face of suffering and disappointment. Georges Bernanos once described hope as “despair overcome”. Hope has a strength that comes of struggling with doubt and fear."

Like many Americans, I am angry at the way things are. Certainly, patriotism and respect for elected officials are important Christian duties. They’re especially vital in America, where the law, not ethnicity or religion or even language, is the glue that holds us together. Disregard for the law is uniquely toxic in our country."

(America was founded with no place for a king. The law, in the form of the Constitution, sits in the place of a throne for America, and all decisions must comply and fall under its guidance. Without this, America is not what it was founded to be.)

"Anger is the easy daughter. C. S. Lewis warned that the pleasure of anger lies in “the fact that one feels entirely righteous oneself only when one is angry. Then the other person is pure black, and you are pure white.” It’s hard to imagine a better description of the current condition of American politics. In the long run, that’s fatal to national community."

"If our leaders (of both parties) want national unity, then they cannot demonize and punish their opponents. They cannot turn their reverence for the Republic, the law, on and off like a spigot, according to their party’s current agenda. If our leaders want national healing, they need to respect and listen to people they disagree with and don’t like."

"Seneca concluded his essay On Anger with these words: “[Nothing is] great which is not at the same time calm.” Anger untempered by patience and prudence, anger fixed on revenge or vindication of the self, anger not directed to the common good, can only diminish and destroy. Absent love and the interior peace it brings, all of life is conflict, and our faith is empty. Absent love, speaking the truth is not merely useless; it becomes an instrument of self-righteousness and a weapon against others."

"(Two) key points about Augustine’s view of Christians and politics."

"First, Augustine never offers a political theory, for good reason. He doesn’t believe that human beings can know or create perfect justice in this world. Our judgment is always flawed by our sinfulness."

"Second, no political order, no matter how good, can ever constitute a just society. Errors in moral judgment can’t be avoided. Therefore, the Christian needs to be loyal to her nation and obedient to its legitimate rulers. But she also needs to cultivate a critical vigilance about both."

"Hope feeds and grows on the experience of love, the will to persist in that love, and the letting go of anger, no matter how vicious or lunatic the times. Nations rise and fall. Ours has no special immunity. But in the meantime, God and his love for us endure. Strong tremors are shaking our society. If you’re like me, you’re feeling knocked off balance, and you’re casting about for explanations."

"Those on the left spy resurgent racism, xenophobia, and other pathologies, which they assume are radicalizing a populist base."

"Those on the right worry about utopian dreams on the left, which fuel a new totalitarianism. By my lights, these lines of analysis can tend toward hysteria (“Fascism!” “Socialism!”) rather than understanding. They are ... not pathways toward a sure footing in this time of staggering and stumbling."

"(A wise person) once said “Lack of trust is the acid eating everything.” He was not referring to trust in God. He was pointing to the decline of trust in many once-stable authorities. Mistrust runs through public life as well. Trumpian loyalists denounce some Republican senators as “traitors.” They are denounced in turn by respectable conservatives as an emerging “extreme right” that is captive to conspiracy theories." The accusations fly and get more and more entrenched."

"We not only distrust one another. We also have lost confidence in institutions that in an earlier time easily won our loyalty. We should seek people and institutions we can trust. Unlike faith, this trust needs to be partial, not complete. No worldly institution backs up its promises with the certainty of God’s power and righteousness. We are not called to be chumps. Yet we must beware the acids of mistrust and counter them with gestures of loyalty."

(A complete and bitter mistrust of everything outside my own small realm of ideas and those that agree with me will "eat everything like acid")

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Pessimism of the West - Snippets from First Things column by R. R. Reno

Some sections I wanted to preserve from the Jan 2021 issue:

Western civilization exerts unprecedented influence. Science commands the intellectual loyalty of elites around the world. Western strands of Christianity have enjoyed extraordinary missionary success in Africa and Asia. Communism—a Western ideology—migrated to China, destroyed its Confucian culture, and over the past generation has evolved into a materialist and technocratic mentality far more indebted to Bentham than to Mencius. Globalization is an American-led project, and it has gone from strength to strength. Yet, at the apogee of the West’s cultural power, we are riddled with guilt and doubts.

...
China poses a threat, but as was the case with early-­twentieth-century Japan, which brought war to Asia in the 1930s and to the United States in 1941, Chinese power today arises from the great extent of its Westernization. The clearest sign of cultural triumph is when one’s adversaries adopt one’s weapons. My fear of Chinese dominance is not a fear of being under the thumb of an alien Confucian civilization. Rather, I see in twenty-first-century China a perverse version of the West: the promise of wealth and security in exchange for submission to ­technocratic control.

What, then, accounts for our gloom? To some degree, it arises from our investments in failed utopias. As the Christian vision of the final triumph of God’s justice and peace was secularized in the modern era, the West gave birth to many vain dreams of reason. Descartes epitomized the “begin afresh” mentality, one that imagined that with sufficient intelligence and goodwill we could demolish the flawed city we had inherited and rebuild it as an impeccable empire of reason. In this spirit, we proclaim that democracies don’t go to war with one another. Or that global trade brings peace. Or that scientific management can eliminate inequality, poverty, and every other social evil.

For a recent football game, the University of Minnesota replaced the players’ names on their jerseys with the words “End Racism.” It was but an instance of today’s desperate ambition. But the modern Western spirit of “eliminationism” is countermanded by reality. Man combines the noble with the base, the grandeur of transcendence with grave defects that can never be eliminated—short of eliminating mankind, which is what environmentalist radicals and population-growth fanatics propose. Nobody was more pessimistic about postwar prosperity in the West than the ardent Marxist. He saw the spread of prosperity as a curse, not a modest blessing. Its meager satisfactions induce false consciousness and delay the revolution that will eliminate all injustices—the only aim worth attaining.

The West is not Marxist, but all of us are affected by the secular utopianism to which Marx gave powerful expression. Why hasn’t the “spirit of progress” triumphed? Even if things get better, utopianism exercises such a powerful influence over our public imagination that we can see ourselves only in the dark light of present (and past) failures. That a single black man should be wrongfully killed by police is intolerable, and society explodes with outrage. That one woman in college should feel pressured to have sex is unacceptable, and we set aside due process. Anything short of perfection is cause for upheaval. We have always still farther to go.

Ironically, modern utopianisms, for all their idealism, are built on drab utilitarian foundations. This, too, contributes to our malaise. Noble acts inspire men. Warm rhetoric stirs hearts. Yet such appeals have no place in the empire of reason. Technocracy operates in accord with the predictable. As a result, the modern West tends to reduce human beings to congeries of interest. We tell ourselves that we are utility-maximizing machines—or, if we are sufficiently postmodern, power-hungry organisms bent on domination.

We often hear about the great sins of the West: ­colonialism, racism, genocide. This litany demoralizes us. But our sense that we are unfit to govern the world we dominate (as we nevertheless do, often without hesitation) stems above all from the low view of the human person encouraged by technocratic reason. We lack a vocabulary with which to articulate freedom’s heroic possibilities. Thus, the singular triumphs of the West seem unmerited, even perverse. We turn to the myth of the noble savage. Multiculturalism denigrates the West while championing anything it imagines unsullied by Western influences. The “non-Western” offers us our best hope for moral and spiritual survival.

John Paul II had a name for the pessimism of the West: the culture of death. It is manifest in the widespread acceptance of abortion, the death-dealing tool by which we prevent new life from interfering with what we take to be our “essential interests.” The same holds for euthanasia, which is often freely chosen to relieve us of life’s final burdens.

These are efforts to wring from life what we can get, rather than accepting life as a gift. The increasing childlessness of adult life in the West is less manifestly death-dealing, but it has a pervasive influence. In Norway, the number of women who had no children by age forty-five went from 9 percent in 1985 to 15 percent in 2017; for men, the percentage went from 14 to 25. To one degree or another, most countries in the West are trending toward childlessness, including the United States.

Children are the future. They are lines we cast forward in time. In children, we are drawn toward emotional investments in affairs beyond our limited years. The children in whom we place our hopes need not come from our loins. Parents have fundamental rights that must be given priority. That said, the public is rightly concerned with the welfare of children, which is why we quarrel over how to educate them. In a society charged with the current of new life, we are drawn beyond ourselves, giving birth to ideas, inventions, and endeavors that outstrip our ­immediate interests as we seek to provide the next generation with things we will not survive to enjoy.

Look around and count the absent children. In 2017, demographers reported the lowest birthrates on record for the U.S. The birth-dearth is unprecedented in human history; it is chosen, rather than imposed by disease and famine. In 2020, the diminished scope of our concerns led us to borrow money from the future to sustain our lockdowns, during which we have suspended the education of children, curtailed their play, and retarded their development so that eighty-year-olds will enjoy a marginally lower risk of dying. Long gone is the Christian horizon of life, which refuses death’s final and supreme claim. We imagine ourselves committed to ideals. Yet the culture of death empties ideals of their power. Frustrated by our inability to confect redemption on earth, humiliated by the disenchanting effects of technocratic reason, and increasingly childless, we’re reduced to the animal imperative of survival.

Is it any wonder that the West is haunted by our perceived inability to make the world more just, more sustainable, more at peace? Perhaps we are unworthy because we are impotent. We have inherited a vital civilization that has captured a great deal of the world’s imagination. But we are becoming, at best, its sterile custodians.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Why Would God Create People He Knows Will Go to Hell?

Why Would God Create People He Knows Will Go to Hell?
By Jimmy Akin

This is a common question, and many have tried to answer it online.

Most of the answers are unsatisfying. They tend to do one of two things:
 

- Say a lot of stuff that doesn’t really address the issue (e.g., discussing why anyone would go to hell and the possibility of salvation)
- Say it’s a mystery

Many of the answers you’ll find spend a lot of words on these two things (frankly, a painfully large number of words), but the first is irrelevant and the second is not very informative.

It’s true that, since God’s mind is infinite and ours are finite, we often can’t give definitive answers about his decisions, so an element of mystery remains.

However, we can often give partial answers—or at least make informed proposals. In other words, we often can do better than saying, “We just don’t know; it’s a mystery.”

I think we can do better in this case.

 

Keeping the Issue Focused

To avoid going off on tangents, let’s make the issue as focused as possible. Suppose there is a person—we’ll call him Bob—and the following is true:

    In his eternal perspective outside of time, God knows that—if he creates Bob—then Bob will freely choose to go to hell.

We’ll also assume that:

- In his eternal perspective outside of time, God could freely choose not to create Bob (i.e., God has free will).
-God is just.
-God is loving and thus does not want anyone to go to hell.

Given these things: Why would God create Bob? Let’s look at some possibilities . . .
 

Possibility #1: There Is a Competing Good

Even if people don’t want something, they may tolerate it for the sake of a competing good.

I may not want the pain of having to get an injection, but I may tolerate it in order to avoid getting a disease.

In the same way, God may not want Bob to go to hell, but he may tolerate it for the sake of some other good or set of goods.

What might these be?

 

a) Free Will (and Love)

An answer that some propose is free will. In other words, God tolerates the decisions of some to go to hell because he wants to preserve their free will—which he does for the sake of genuine love.

Love is God’s most important priority (Matt. 22:37-40), and he wants people to be able to freely choose love. Programmed, robotic “love” would lack something and not be fully genuine. This means he must tolerate the possibility that they will misuse their freedom and reject love.

All that’s true, but it doesn’t really address our issue.

If our starting assumption is true—that God knows what Bob will freely choose if he creates him—then God could simply decide not to create him.

In that case, he could stop Bob from going to hell without seeming to violate his free will. Bob would simply never have existed.

The free will defense thus doesn’t seem to work if our starting assumption is true, so what other possibilities are there for a competing good that would lead God to tolerate Bob going to hell?

 

b) God’s Glory

Perhaps the most commonly proposed answer is God’s own glory. The idea here is that it brings glory to God to have illustrations of his character that actually exist.

Bob’s going to hell provides a concrete example of God’s justice in that God did give Bob the offer of salvation—and Bob freely rejected it. He’s thus an object lesson that illustrates certain aspects of God’s character and brings glory to God.

Many will find this answer unsatisfying. If a human being were willing to let someone go to hell simply for the sake of his own glory, we would say that human was a raging egomaniac.

Of course, God is not a human being. We have only finite value, but God has infinite value, so his glorification would be worth more—even infinitely more—than the glorification of a human.

This would make it more understandable how God might tolerate the loss of Bob’s soul.

 

c) Something Else

It’s also possible that there might be a different good for the sake of which God tolerates Bob’s loss.

The history of the world involves a complex tangle of the billions of interrelated choices people make, and you could propose that—in order to set up the free will decisions of some to go to heaven—God must tolerate the misuse of free will by others.

Thus, God might tolerate Bob’s misuse of free will for the sake of making it possible for others to use theirs properly.

Or, since the universe is vast and we know only a tiny part of it, there might be some other good—perhaps one that we haven’t even conceived of—that justifies God tolerating Bob’s misuse of free will.

While both of these suggestions are possible, they are both very speculative, which means many will find them unsatisfying.

So perhaps we can look at the issue from a different angle.

 

Possibility #2: God Isn’t Being Unjust

One of our starting assumptions is that God is just. In the present context, that means it isn’t unjust for God to tolerate Bob’s free decision to reject salvation.

(You could challenge the justness of anybody going to hell, but that’s a different discussion. Here, we’re assuming that it is just for God to allow people to go to hell.)

In this case, God has genuinely given Bob the offer of salvation, and he has freely chosen to reject it, so God is not being unjust by respecting his choice.

Bob cannot—and, if he’s thinking rationally, would not—accuse God of injustice. God has been fair with him.

Is this enough to resolve our dilemma?

It certainly helps to realize that God isn’t being unjust, but it doesn’t seem to fully resolve the matter.

Our starting assumptions didn’t simply involve God being just. They also involved God not wanting people to go to hell.

So, if we’re not appealing to a competing good that would lead God to tolerate Bob’s loss, why wouldn’t he act on his desire to keep Bob out of hell and simply not create him?

There doesn’t seem to be a good answer to this question. So, while realizing God isn’t being unjust helps, it provides an incomplete answer.

 

Possibility #3: God Is Actually Benefiting Bob

But perhaps God is being more than fair with Bob. Perhaps he is benefiting him by creating him, even though he will spend an infinite amount of time in hell.

Some have argued that it’s better to exist—even in hell—than not to exist at all.

If that’s the case, then God is actually being generous to Bob by creating him, despite his damnation.

And we would know what the competing good is that leads God to tolerate Bob’s misuse of free will: It’s Bob’s own existence.

If it’s better to exist in hell than not to exist at all then that’s why God chooses to create him. Bob will actually benefit!

Whether you find this solution plausible will depend on how bad you imagine hell to be and how great a good you suppose existence to be.

Based on some of the images in Scripture (e.g., hell as a lake of fire; Rev. 20:14-15), many have thought that it would be better not to exist than to go there.

However, the images that Scripture uses to describe the afterlife are accommodated to our present understanding, which is limited by our experience of this life, and they should be read with some caution.

It could turn out that, from the greater perspective the next life will offer, even the damned will see that it is better for them to exist in their current condition than not to exist at all.

Some, even in this life, have made this argument.

 

Possibility #4: God Doesn’t Create Bob

Suppose that it’s better not to exist than to spend eternity in hell. In that case, if there is no competing good that would lead God to create Bob, he might simply not create him.

However, Bob is only a representative of an entire class of people—those who misuse their free will and reject God’s offer of salvation.

In that case, it would seem that God would not create anybody that would reject his offer, in which case hell would be empty.

This idea has been explored by various figures down through Church history, including the recent theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), who discussed it in his book Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?

Von Balthasar frames his proposal carefully. Since the Church teaches that hell is a real possibility, he only proposes we may be able to hope (not assert) that hell is empty.

The difficulty for this view is found in various statements in the New Testament that appear to indicate some people actually are in hell (Matt. 7:13-14, 21-23, Luke 13:23-28).

(For a careful analysis of part of this issue, see Cardinal Avery Dulles’s insightful article The Population of Hell.)

 

Possibility #5: Reject the Starting Assumption

If the above possibilities are not fully satisfying, perhaps we should revisit our initial assumption concerning Bob, which was:

    In his eternal perspective outside of time, God knows that—if he creates Bob—then Bob will freely choose to go to hell.

This assumption holds that God knows what Bob would freely choose to do if he existed.

Does God have that kind of knowledge?

Historically, theologians have recognized that God has two types of knowledge:

-Knowledge of all possible things
-Knowledge of all actual things

Both of these kinds of knowledge cover everything past, present, and future.

If God creates Bob and makes him an actual thing, then God also knows what Bob’s actual choice is, which is to reject salvation.

However, suppose that God doesn’t create Bob. What does God know in that case?

By his knowledge of all possible things, God knows from his eternal perspective that it is possible for Bob to accept his offer of salvation. He also knows that it is possible for Bob to reject salvation.

But that doesn’t reveal which Bob does choose because Bob doesn’t exist and never makes the choice.

 

Middle Knowledge?

For God to know what Bob would choose if he were created, God would need an additional kind of knowledge that lets him know what people would freely choose if they are placed in certain circumstances (such as being created).

In the last 500 years, theologians have begun to explore this idea and have named this third kind of knowledge “middle knowledge,” since it seems part way between God’s knowledge of the possible and the actual.

In his book Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ludwig Ott holds that the Church has definitively taught that God knows all possible things and all actual things, and they are matters “of the Faith” (de fide) (pp. 40-42).

However, he lists middle knowledge as only the “common opinion” (sent. communis.) of theologians (pp. 42-43).

There are a passages of Scripture that one can appeal to in support of God having middle knowledge (e.g., 1 Sam. 23:1-13, Wis. 4:11, Matt. 11:21).

However, there are only a few such passages, and they can be read in ways that don’t require middle knowledge.

There also is an argument to be made against middle knowledge.

 

Omnipotence and Omniscience

Because God is all-powerful and all-knowing, one always should be hesitant to say there are things he “can’t” do or know, but there are limits to omnipotence and omniscience.

Omnipotence means that God can do everything that can be done—in other words, anything that is logically possible. However, it does not mean that God could make something that involves a logical contradiction, where the terms themselves conflict.

For example, God could not make a square circle or a four-sided triangle, because these involve contradictions in terms. They are just nonsense—a kind of word salad that has no real meaning.

Similarly, omniscience means that God knows everything that can be known. However, it does not mean that he knows logically impossible things.

For example, God does not know the shape of a square circle or the shape of a four-sided triangle.

What about Bob’s choice to go to hell?

 

To Be or Not To Be?

If Bob exists, then he freely makes the choice, and God knows it.

But if Bob is never created, then he would never make this free will decision, and God would have to know the outcome of a free will decision that is never made.

“The outcome of a free will decision that is never made” sounds a lot like “square circle” or “four-sided triangle.”

The essence of a free will decision is that it is really possible for a person to make one choice or another when the moment comes. But if the moment never comes, then there simply is no outcome, because the choice is never made.

There is thus a case to be made that “the outcome of a free will choice that is never made” involves a contradiction in terms.

In that case, God would not know Bob’s decision—unless he creates Bob.

 

The Free Will Defense Returns

If middle knowledge involves a logical contradiction, then God wouldn’t have it, and so he would not be able to foresee what Bob will freely choose and refrain from creating him.

To know what Bob will actually choose, God would need to create him.

And in that case, the free will defense that we discussed in Possibility #1 would work!

God would create Bob, see his decision to reject salvation, and the counterbalancing good that explains why God tolerates this is his desire to let Bob have free will so that he can make an authentic choice between love and non-love.

 

Mystery Remains

While “It’s just a mystery” isn’t a satisfying answer, it is true that we can’t always propose a single, definite answer to matters involving God.

However, while his mind is infinite and ours are only finite, we often can at least sketch the outlines of possible reasons he makes the decisions he does.

In this case, I haven’t settled on a final answer to the question we began by posing, so mystery remains.

But we have fleshed out possible reasons that shed light on this question.

Which solution you find most likely will depend on your views of various matters, but at least we can have the assurance that there are solutions.

And that God is just. And that he really does offer us salvation.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Halloween: Everything You Think You Know About it is Probably Wrong

 (Taken from Mark Shea's annual Halloween post at Stumbling Toward Heaven)

Every year, somebody stoops down to instruct us ignorant Catholics about the real origins of Halloween.

According to that pop history, it was originally a pagan feast and then the Christians baptised it.

Depending on who you talk to, this proves that a) Christianity is really just warmed over Druidry (according to neo-pagans) or b) the Catholic Church is an evil pagan cult that drove Real Bible-believing Christians underground with their devil-worshiping ways (according to Protestant Fundamentalists).

Thing is, none of that is real.

Sure the ancient Celts of the British Isles had a little festival on 31 October called Samhain.

And it was about as important as Arbor Day. But the feast of All Saints or “All Hallows” had nothing to do with it.

In fact, All Saints was founded by Roman Christians way down in Italy for a practical logistical purpose: the 7th Century Italian Church was swimming in martyrs and saints and every feast day was a day off from work.

Solution: celebrate them all at once and get Italy back to work. So that’s what the pope did–on May 13.

It wasn’t for another century that All Saints got moved to November 1. And that was because it was the dedication day of All Saints Chapel at St Peter’s in Rome (not Britain or Ireland).

Indeed, it was not until a century after this that Pope Gregory IV commanded All Saints to be observed everywhere and not just in Rome.

And so this emphatically Italian holy day (finally!) spread to Ireland.

But here’s the thing: Ireland had already been thoroughly Christian (due to St Patrick) for three centuries by then.

So where does the Day of the Dead vibe come from?

Thereby hangs a tale. You see, about a century and a half later, the jumpingest joint in the Church was the monastery at Cluny (way over in southern France — not Ireland).

And the abbot there added a celebration of All Souls on November 2, which spread like wildfire, resulting in back-to-back feasts for all those in heaven and purgatory.

“Well, hey!” the superstitious Irish fretted, “What are the damned? Chopped liver? What if they get ticked about being stiffed?”

So it became an Irish folk custom to bang pots and pans on All Hallows Eve to mollify the damned.

The Church was not keen on this, but whaddayagonnadoo?

The Irish (alone) keep this up until the 14th and 15th centuries, when the colossal death toll of the bubonic plague gets most Europeans pretty focused on the afterlife, All Souls Day, and customs like the danse macabre, when the French would dress up in costume representing everybody from the pope and the king down to the fishmonger and have a fun time dancing their way to the grave.

Then came two other events: the Reformation and the discovery of the New World.

The Reformation made Catholics the persecuted enemies of the English and the New World made it possible for those persecuted minorities to mix and mingle among English colonists.

So the French and Irish Catholics started hanging out together and marrying each other in 17th-century America. Creepy Irish folk customs about mollifying the damned and creepy French masquerades went together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Protestants brought something to the mix as well: Guy Fawkes Night. Guy Fawkes was the English equivalent of the bogeyman or George Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984.

He was executed in 1605 on the charge of being a Catholic Osama bin Laden and trying to blow up Parliament.

Instead of 15 Minute Hates, the crown settled on the wonderfully unifying device of Guy Fawkes Night on November 5, with all the fun of lighting bonfires, running around on a chilly fall night, and partying while an effigy of Guy Fawkes was hanged or burnt so that all Good English Protestants could thank God they were not like those Catholic vermin everybody hated.

And for extra special fun, in England and America in the 18th century, Protestants would put on masks and visit local Catholic houses in the dead of night demanding beer and cakes for their celebration — or else.

When they said “trick or treat!” they meant it.

This got amalgamated to the All Saints/All Souls partying of the Irish and French and by the mid-1800s, a largely made-in-the-USA Halloween was a fixture of American culture.

In short, Halloween is, in fact, as ancient, pagan, mystical, and druidic as “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

And where it is most ancient, it is least pagan — and most deeply Catholic–which is why (in non-COVID times) it is a Holy Day of Obligation. Meanwhile, in Europe, until American cultural trends started cramming our customs down their throats, Halloween has never been a thing. Indeed, the irony is that Halloween has only recently started to drift across the Atlantic to the supposed land of its birth.

Europeans tend to see it, not as a resurgence of pre-Christian pagan roots, but as something recent and ersatz–like saying the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland is an authentic account of 17th century seamanship.

Anyway, if you are Catholic don’t let anybody talk you out of celebrating All Saints and All Souls Days with bogus “history” of their supposed “pagan origins”.

And have a fun time tonight!)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Without a "mind" there is no music...

Before man came to blow it right
The wind once blew itself untaught,
And did its loudest day and night
In any rough place where it caught.

Man came to tell it what was wrong:
It hadn't found the place to blow,
It blew to hard, the aim was song,
And listen, how it ought to go.

He took a little in his mouth,
And held it long enough for north
To be converted into south,
And then by measure blew it forth.

By measure, it was word and note,
The wind the wind had meant to be,
A little  through the lips and throat.
The aim was song, the wind could see.

R.Frost, The aim was song

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Is "GOD" one of "the gods", and is disbelieving in either the same disbelief?

(Quoted from Marc Barnes)

It seems apparent to me that, if the atheist wishes to disprove or otherwise snub his empirically verifiable nose at the idea of God, he ought to be sure that he knows what the word “God” refers to. David Bentley Hart makes this one of the central propositions of his book “The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss,” where he contends that “the more scrutiny one accords [the God Debate] the more evident it becomes that often the contending parties are not even talking about the same thing; and I would go as far as to say that on most occasions none of them is talking about God in any sense at all.”

There is a tendency, for instance, for atheists to believe that God is a god. The best example of this is in the following, oft-heard “arguments” — and I use the term in the haziest possible sense — against the existence of God: ”We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further,” or that tragic, near-mystical exercise in atheistic coyness — “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

The problem with believing that the God of philosophical tradition is just another type of powerful, supernatural being — akin to Zeus — is that He is not, and no theist can be a theist within his own tradition and maintain otherwise. The successful dismissal of God-as-all-other-gods has all the nonsensical weight of dismissing the existence of a buffalo considered as a planet. The gods are contingent beings. They all have stories of their own creation — something else is always responsible for their existence. They are always popping out of someone else’s head or, if you have the misfortune of being Aphrodite, from Uranus’ detached and far-flung genitals. They are explained by some prior cause.

This is not God. God, if we are going to talk about the same thing, cannot be considered as a contingent being. God, considered properly, is the source of his own existence. He is absolute, which is infinitely, qualitatively different than the contingency of “all other gods,” as it is from all other beings. The Christian has every right to agree with the atheist who refuses to believe in God with the same vigor by which he refuses to believe in Zeus, a fairy or a flying spaghetti monster. For any fairies or noodly phantasmagoria — if they do exist — would not contain the source of their own existence.

Not understanding that this is what Christians actually mean when they say “God” is the primary reason why any one lends any credence to the that pervasive and Reddit-friendly “argument,” that “If God created all things, who created God?” The question only makes sense if we are speaking of a god, a very powerful, but nevertheless contingent being, a being who does not contain the source of his own existence and must be held in being by some other cause. Why then, does the theist posit the existence of an absolute God? Why believe in God and not god?

The average atheistic minded homo sapien – and the average Christian who doesn’t know better — seems to think that theists are proving the existence of a “god who started it all.” The argument goes like this: Every effect has a cause, and every moving thing is set in motion by some other thing, and thus there must be something which sets the first mechanical movement in motion, and — lest we become caught in infinite regress — this thing must be Uncaused, Unmoved, in short, Absolute. If all things are contingent, the first cause cannot itself be contingent, or else nothing would ever have come into existence. If all that ever existed was always contingent upon something else for its existence, nothing would ever exist. Therefore, from the fact of contingent existence, we may reasonably posit an absolute source of existence.

Now I’ll grant that this argument has more than enough weight to give the atheist pause.  After all, the only alternative to positing a first cause is positing some form of infinite regress. And atheists have, with wonderful gusto. The universe always existed, it is but one of an infinitely repeating cycle of universes, an infinite repetition of a Big Bang and Big Crunch, cycling through a wormhole, etc. If the theist questions the reasonable grounds for these theories, atheists generally point to the fact that, whatever poverty of evidence these theories suffer, they suffer no more than the theory of God.

It seems that we are at an impasse. The theist looks at the contingency of all things and posits an absolute which gives all contingent things a starting point — an Unmoved Mover. The atheist looks at the same and posits an infinite universe. Neither position seems to be rustling up any unopposable proof of its truth anytime soon. The theist may rightly ask how, if particular events are caused by an infinite number of prior events, any would ever happen. The atheist may rightly ask why an absolute one which all contingent things have their source has to be “God” in any meaningful sense.

But this first mover  (considered as so many atheists consider it, as an absolute “start” of all things (which, as readers have pointed out, is not how, say, Aquinas or anyone in the theistic tradition would consider it)) is still not God. Every single being in the entire Cosmos has some prior cause, and every single being has some other motion, event, or source that “takes responsibility” for its existence, and this is all well-worn and obvious, but things are not just contingent in their origin. Things are contingent in their current existence. Hart describes this fact well:

    If one considers the terms of one’s own existence, for instance, one sees that there is no sense in which one is ever self-existent; one is dependent on an incalculable number of ever greater and ever smaller finite conditions, some of which are temporal, and some of which are definitely not, and all of which are dependent on yet further conditions. One is composed of parts, and those of smaller parts, and so on down to the subatomic level, which itself is a realm of contingently subsistent realities that flicker in and out of actuality, that have no ontological ground in themselves, and that are all embraced within a quantum field that contains no more of an essential rationale for its own existence than does any other physical reality. One also belongs to a wider world, upon all of whose physical systems one is also dependent in every moment, while that world  is itself dependent upon an immense range of greater physical realities, and upon abstract mathematical and logical laws, and upon the whole contingent history of our quite unnecessary universe…In short, all finite things are always, in the present, being sustained in existence by conditions which they cannot have supplied for themselves, and that together compose a universe that, as a physical reality, lacks the obviously supernatural power to exist on its own. Nowhere in any of that is a source of existence as such.

All things, in their present existence, are contingent upon innumerable, equally contingent realities for the fact of their sustained existence. I — right here, right now, typing these words — do not hold myself in being. The infinite regress that results from a proposed contingent universe that does not rest on any absolute — this is the same regress we are shot into when we consider, not just the origin of things, but the present existence of any single leaf, electron or baby. It is because of this fact, this poverty, this contingency that pervades our every moment, not just our physical origins, that the idea of God, and not a god, takes hold in the intellect. Hart makes this point clear:

    One will not understand this line of reasoning properly, however, unless one recognizes that it is not concerned with the question of the temporal origins of the universe; it would make no difference to the argument whatsoever if it should turn out that the universe existed forever and will go on existing eternally, without beginning or end, or that it belongs to some beginningless and endless succession of universes….It might be worthwhile to invoke and old Western scholastic distinction between those causal relations that are “accidental (per accidens) and those that are “essential” or “intrinsic” (per se). The former are principally physical relations (in the broadest sense): transitions of energy, movements of mass, acts of generation or destruction, and so on. In an extended series of such relations, the consequences of a particular thing can continue indefinitely after that thing has disappeared, because all causes in the series are ontologically extrinsic to their effects. The classic example is that of a causal relation between a man and his grandson: by the time the latter is sired the former may have been dead for decades; the first act of begetting was not the direct cause of the second. The relation is one of antecedent physical history, not of immediate ontological dependency, and so the being of the grandson does not directly depend on the being of his grandfather. An example on a grander scale might be Roger Penrose’s postulate of an infinite sequence of universes that always meet at conformal past and future boundaries: even this beginningless and endless cosmogonic cycle would add up to only a causal sequence per accidens… Even if this kind of eternal chain of events and substances really were to exist, it would remain the case that, inasmuch as none of the links in that chain could be the source of its own existence, this entire series od causes and effects would be a contingent reality and would still have to sustained in a “vertical”–a per se or ontological–causality; and this second kind of of causal chain most definitely cannot have an infinite number of links. The ultimate source of existence cannot be some item or event that has long since passed away, like a venerable ancestor or even the Big Bang itself–either of which is just another contingent physical entity or occurrence–but must be a constant wellspring at work even now…The cause of being is not some mechanical first instance of physical eventuality that, having discharged its part, may depart the stage; rather, it is the unconditioned reality underlying all conditioned things in every instant.

A rejection of an absolute first “starting point” is not a rejection of God. It is, if anything, a rejection of the God of Deism, an uninvolved Absolute Domino in a cosmic line of dominoes. The God of theistic tradition, that which we mean by the word “God,” is posited by a reflection on the total contingency of all things, by the fact that no one holds the source of their own current-moment existence, any more than they do the source of their origins. A proposed absolute that results from this reflection would have to be an absolute that is an ever-present source of being, giving existence at every moment, an absolute in which all things live, move and have their being, utterly present in every single contingent thing, at every moment.

This is what the Christian tradition means by “God,” and it is not a claim done away with by the position of an infinite repetition of contingent causes, a repetition that requires a here-and-now source of being as much as it does a temporal origin. To do away with a contingent god is to do away with paganism and several sects of fundamentalism. To do away with a mere mover is to do away with Deism. To do away with the theistic tradition, one needs to confront God.