Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Currently reading...

Augustine's Confessions (abridged)

R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness that Comes Before

Christopher West's The Theology of the Body Explained

Joe Dever and John Grant's The Eclipse of the Kai

It's a bit onerous. I'm usually happiest reading one book at a time. Naturally, some of these books are going pret-ty slowly....

Friday, May 26, 2006

Do you have postmodern progressive colorblindness?

There's a simple test for literal colorblindness. A man (usually it's men) is shown a picture, usually a collection of dots, some of them green, the rest of them red (usually it's green and red). If he can see normally, he'll recognize that the green dots trace out some numeral, the red ones comprising the background. If he's color deficient, he'll see something else, probably just a uniform array of grayish dots.

Similar political tests are also possible. I present one below. I might have presented more, but I personally came across this one early in the week and don't feel like waiting to find or writing tests that distinguish other political antipodes.

Definition: Terrorism works to no small degree on the fear of uncertainty, of not knowing where or when or how a strike will take place.

Assertion: The United States is a terrorist state.

Crux of the argument: Compare the following two statements.
1. Hand over Osama bin Laden by the end of October or we will come get him.
2. We will destroy your civilization! You will not know which business, which school, which courthouse, which train station we will destroy next! Perhaps it will be a dirty bomb! Perhaps it will be anthrax! You do not know, so you will cower before us, and your civilization will fall!

In both cases, we have an ultimatum (#2's really an ultimatum; pretend I didn't leave out the conditional) that includes violence and regime change as the only alternative to compliance.

In the first case, we have a statement that implies or comes with expectable military goals, from a power that endeavors to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage and intends to help get a nation back on its feet, allowing large and recently repressed segments of its population to go out in public unchaperoned and unbeaten.

In the second case, we have a statement that threatens widespread, low-level, random destruction of civilly strategic but militarily unimportant targets, solely for the sake of keeping the population off balance and disrupting society as a whole. Rebuilding, if it is done at all, would result in something rather despotic, maintained by little more than brute force.

If the difference between these two positions is substantial and important, then you are not blind.

If you cannot see that a concrete deadline, an explicit warning, and the intent of causing minimal damage are different from the promise of explicitly random and widespread violence, then you need to cut back on the New York Times and MoveOn.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why I'm less than entertained by contemporary entertainment

I have a sister. When she was a teenager, she occasionally would bring home magazines like Seventeen and Teen. I wasn't exactly compelled to pick them up when she was done, but occasionally she'd point out an article, or a quiz, or something, that might make me chuckle.

When I was in college, I had a summer job where I basically went camping all the time. Sometimes I'd be staying alone or with small groups at rustic campsites with nothing but a tent or the promise of warm, dry weather for shelter, and other times I'd be staying at staffed camps that had interactive local history programs.

When I was visiting one of the latter camps, I was informed about a latrine that was supposed to have the best selection of reading material in the entire region. Since I do at times have to use a latrine or plumbed toilet, I thought I'd see what they had to offer.

In the reading rack, amongst other things, was a copy of Vogue. Never having read a bona fide women's magazine before, I thumbed through it.

I'm not sure it should be called disappointment or dismay, but I was mightily unimpressed to learn that American women everywhere were taking as a lifestyle standard a magazine that was no different from what American teenage girls everywhere were taking as a lifestyle standard, except for the fact that articles were about sex instead of prom and quizzes were about men instead of boys.

Yes, it sounded a little more sophisticated; add sex and career to a discussion on makeup and relationships and you've easily doubled its complexity, and even immature adults will develop or appear to develop more mature attitudes through observation and repetition. Children play house. College students drink and make merry with all the gluttony they can muster. In between, we have kids making biological jokes of increasing sophistication as they age (if we can speak of sophisticated jokes about poop or sex at all).

What I don't see much of these days is a graduation beyond obscene material in today's television shows and whatnot. I'm not talking about slapstick comedies or other gross-out shows like Blue Collar TV or America's Funniest whatever. Some of those shows, while crass, are not vulgar or prurient. I'm talking about the ones that pretend to be above it all, and so think they're not subject to the usual guidelines for good taste. After all, a documentary can discuss and display bodily functions, so why can't an entertainment program if it's equally frank and clinical?

For one thing, it's entertainment, so it's supposed to stir up subjective feelings rather than coldly convey knowledge. Whether these two can be safely divorced but remain in the same program is something I don't care to get into at this time.

Maybe they just can't; I was originally only going to answer "why not" with "I don't know, maybe it could, but it hasn't worked so far." Apparently Sex and the City, which seemed to focus on the prurient experiences and preferences of four urban women as much as it did on their careers, on their shoes, and on their actual fulfillment as human beings, appeals to someone. Apparently Grey's Anatomy, which has doctors getting more STDs than a college freshman and also focuses on how, in a nutshell, emotionally dysfunctional the physical relationships (to which I can only say "Duh!"), which the doctors are having with each other, always seem to do so.

Fine, fine, harmony makes for bad drama. So does stupidity. The show Going to Extremes went off the air precisely because the main characters were intolerably angsty and whiny. Angst can be funny with the right wit behind the pen and with an actor with the right sensibilities, but usually it just looks like a Generation X high school melodrama. Maybe Going to Extremes was just badly timed, people having appreciated but tired of thirtysomething but not yet having recovered enough to appreciate, well, the stuff that's put out today.

I'm not saying we should sweep tawdry and sensitive stuff under the rug, pretend it's not there. If we learned one good thing from Free Love, it's that abject fear and superstition about the Physical is not the same thing as healthy respect for it, even if healthy respect requires some comprehension of the sacredness of the Physical, the special reservation with which it should be handled. Not that it absolves would-be factual shows from the same lurid ratings hooks. Important things do deserve to be treated frankly, if the only alternative is tentative vagueness, but it's not the same thing as being casual.

What I am saying is that we're not proving our enlightened maturity by just doing things we weren't allowed to do as children. "Hey, I'm an adult, it's time for me to put away childish things, like Not Smoking and Not Talking About Genitalia." So many of us, when we were young, tried so hard to seem mature beyond their years. How many actually grew up?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Criticism of the critique of The DaVinci Code:

  • Dan Brown put a "Facts" page at the beginning of the novel....

  • It's only fiction!

  • People bought into made up stories two thousand years ago, and they're going to do so today, too.

  • The male apostles covered it all up; there's no written evidence, just clues left in artwork

  • I like the unearthing of a woman-respecting strand in Christian history


  • The only thing that is true on that page is that Opus Dei has a building in New York.

  • Yes, it's fiction, but it doesn't stop people from believing it, and instructing the ignorant is a spiritual work of mercy. Whitley Strieber gets to couch alleged nonfiction in fiction, but at least he admits that he might just be psychotic.

  • If it's all fiction to you, why do you care that we care if people can keep their stories straight?

  • There's not even artistic evidence. You've got a youthful looking John, and what else? There's nothing at that English chapel from the end of the book. Where would be the sense in reading the canonical gospels and assuming they're strictly disinformation because of Dan Brown's bald assertions? It'd be like saying a crime suspect's claim to innocence is just what a guilty person would say, never mind that an innocent person would also claim to be innocent.

  • Yeah, and it goes all the way back, from Dan Brown writing a Sophie who spends more time getting schooled by old white men than saving the day, to the Gnostic gospels where Jesus spent so much time with Mary Magdalene because she was even less fit for heaven than the male apostles were. Equal-time lip service is not the same thing as equality.

It's just the old lies dressed up in old clothes that happen to have been dry-cleaned and pressed. You can't be free, free from the truth, by trying to live a lie. Look at the more radical branches of feminism: women cannot adequately self-actualize until they overcome what makes them women and they stop having kids, start taking traditionally male jobs, and so on (not that childless independent women are bad; they're just untraditional, although a woman specifically trying to become more masculine isn't what I'd call healthy), except when what makes a woman obviously different from a man--her primary sex characteristics--are what makes her special, which basically means the glorification of her primary sex characteristics all by themselves, instead of her self or her Inner Man.

Maybe learning not to be ashamed of part of what makes you unique is the first step in developing a healthy, holistic self image.

Note to self:

Try bringing the average sentence length down, and add some whimsy.

Readers are welcome to encourage, guide, and remind me.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Early Christian Cacophony

From Amy Welborn's combox:

Burge's Protestantism eeks out in this paragraph:

"Ehrman's more important effort appears in the companion volume, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (Oxford). Here Ehrman says that early Christianity witnessed remarkable theological chaos. Everything was in dispute: monotheism, Jesus' divinity, creation. Then, Ehrman says, in the second and third centuries, powerful clerics imposed their views on rivals, ending a golden age of diversity and tolerance. The vanquished rivals supposedly were reformed, suppressed, or forgotten. Other religions and other Christian voices, those outside the mainstream, were crushed. And it is only now, Ehrman says, with the discovery of their lost scriptures, that these long-silenced voices are being heard once again."

The emphasis is mine.

I think "Everything was in dispute" is overstating the case a bit. Some people did actually doubt Christ's divinity, for example, but I think most of the people of greatest historical significance--not just to us today, but the ones closest to the "Jesus Event" itself--were wrestling with problems that today we describe as Trinitarian in scope more than problems with describing the nature of Jesus.

No, I'm not assuming the "winners write the history" position, either. I was just saving it. (:

Let's look at the bold sentence, the one with "...ending a golden age of diversity and tolerance." Which alternate Earth did Ehrman study? Sure, there was "diversity," if you want to call the wide speculations of the Gnostics and other sects denounced from the beginning by the Apostles and other patristic figures a legitimate diversity, then for the sake of the argument I suppose you can, but it's this wedding of diversity to tolerance that catches my eye like a screen door hook latch.

There was little to no tolerance for, let alone acceptance of or respect of, heterodoxy in the early days. I think "respect" and "acceptance" might be closer to what contemporary progressives have in mind when they say "tolerance," which tends to have more of a reluctant quality, and reluctance is not something I'd expect to be a regular part of the practice of something that is supposed to be a good end in itself.

Well, I would, what with our tendency to backslide, but someone who disbelieved original sin might be less expectant.

My use of "denounced" three paragraphs up was not by accident or premisconception. (By the way, "premisconception" is a word now. Like a preconception, it's made prematurely, but like a misconception, it's inexcusably incorrect.) This repressive powerful cleric claptrap did not suddenly occur a hundred years after the Council of Jerusalem. Peter had words against this "diversity," and even more of Paul's are widely available today. The only thing that fits any Constantinian conspiracy is that the Church in the fourth century had temporal power to rely on as well as rhetoric and, most importantly, grace.

If there was a golden age at all, it wasn't when or because there existed a variety of belief as well as worship, all of which was happily accepted as being legitimate or as much within the margin of error of the decades-old Church documents as any other denomination's (if we can call Peter and Paul's sect a denomination) manifestation. Christ Himself said that parents and children would turn against each other because of Him.

Just because there was some variety, because there were fringe elements that were congruently documented by the fringe elements and by the core elements, does not mean that there was legitimate diversity or harmonious acceptance.

Legitimate diversity isn't just difference for difference's sake. Legitimate diversity is what keeps unity from becoming stale uniformity. Maybe a little gratuitous variety is all it takes to create a complementarity that becomes a dynamic unity, but some differences do contain inherent incompatibilities.

Try taking your American electronic devices to Europe to see if I'm wrong. There's nothing wrong with American electrical power standards, and nothing wrong with German electrical power standards, but they won't work together. It just doesn't happen. You can keep them in the same room and be safe as long as you're not trying to make one "tolerate" the other, but once you do, you get smoke and fire and maybe worse. If you bring an adaptor, bully for you, but the presence and function of an adaptor to unify American battery charges with European power outlets do not arise naturally from the juxtaposition of the two technologies.

Is this golden age of variety supposed to integrate with or compete with the single, global Gaia worship that men replaced with all those different pagan systems? Now there is a diversity of belief that contained nearly interchangeable parts, if I may paint with such broad strokes.

Of course, there was still religious conflict, but whatever.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Should we call it "Mercy Eugenics" or "Mercy Genocide?"

Via Amy Welborn:

UK euthanasia legislation fails to gain the support of the people it's intended to help.

I think it's telling that this kind of "help" is not wanted. Question is, is anyone listening?

I imagine something like the liver donation scene in Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life," only darker and more obnoxious:

"Hi, we're from the government, and we're here to help."
"No, actually, I'm fine."
"Of course not."
"What! Wait!"
"Oh, do relax. Here, Mr. Griffiths will just run upstairs and fill the tub, and after you get to know me a little I'll hold you down in it."
"Please come off it, sir. Your neighbor across the street, Mr. Foster, didn't complain."
"No--wha? He was only diabetic!"
"Yes! You may as well give up trying to roll yourself out of here; it won't work. Foster was much more mobile than you, and we ended up shivving him on the way home from the pub last Thursday."
"'E couldn't very well have complained, then, could he?"
"I don't think he would have."
"Right, and even if he did, it would have just shown he wasn't lucid enough to agree with you, wouldn't it?"
"Now you're getting it!"
"Yet somehow I still have a problem with this arrangement."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wool or plastic?

My brown scapular is plastic.

Well, it's actually brown wool, like the scapular traditionally is, but the two pieces are encased in plastic.

Apparently, some folks think that a "plastic scapular" is invalid. If they mean all plastic and no fabric, then I could understand, and if they meant a synthetic fabric instead of wool, then I might even be convinced.

I would hope that they would not think ill of a scapular with the same material configuration as mine, though. It does have the legitimate material, and for me at least, the sharp edges and corners of the casing are more painful when I lie down, roll over, or anything that requires sitting or standing, than the bare wool would be uncomfortable in an entire day of scratchiness.

Shouldn't this point appeal to some of the more reactionary types?