Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I'm Going to San Diego

I've been a lot of places but never set foot in California, so, its about time. I will be at conference for the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies, presenting some of my work on love and post-structuralism. I am still cleaning that piece up--as I write this--and may post some of it for your curiosity. But, if I do not, I hope my all-too-absent-these-days colleges will help me out.

Before the end of the day I may try and put up some stuff to read while I'm gone, but no guarantees.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The New God Debate – Why bother?

Note: This is a work-in-progress I started this morning.

Over the course of the last couple centuries, the subject of the existence of God has periodically emerged as a popular discussion topic in the public marketplace of ideas. Recent books by Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens1 seem to indicate that now is just such a time – atheism is making another go at popularity and perhaps even some cultural acceptance in the generally born-again United States.

While the “Four Horsemen” (as the authors above have been dubbed) have participated in numerous debates during their respective book tours, the topic is also being taken up in the emerging online community, and battle lines have certainly been drawn. YouTube, once a place useful only for finding hilarious videos of chimpanzees riding Segways, now is the medium of choice for a growing number of video-bloggers, who record videos of themselves speaking into a webcams and taking on whatever topic they feel passionate about (or, often, simply rambling incoherently). YouTube allows not only text commenting on uploaded videos, but it also allows users to “respond” to videos with videos of their own, which seems, in some cases, to create a “discussion” not unlike a formal debate.

Young people (mostly in their early 20s, apparently) aren't just watching debates, they're joining in. This may be a counterbalance to the more stupefying general effects of “social networking” sites, even if it still represents only a tiny minority of Internet usage among 16- to 30-year-olds.

That's a question that can be left for social researchers for the moment. My interest at the moment is in the nature of the debate itself. In many cases, whether the topic is on the existence of God or the soundness of the theory of evolution by natural selection, believers will attempt to appeal – at least temporarily – to logic or science (or, at least what sounds like science). While this makes a certain amount of sense (there has to be at least some agreement on terminology), it remains confusing to me why believers would agree to join the debate to begin with – at least in many cases.

The exercise of proving the existence of God stretches back through the history of philosophy (which in itself may indicate a rather long history of nascent atheism, even in the time of Thomas Aquinas, whose “five proofs” in the Summa Theologica seem to be in answer to some skeptical objections to the existence of God). But why engage the debate? Why construct proofs? Holy books extol the use of faith, not reason, as a means to know God and his will. Having proof positive of either of those would tend to decrease the amount of faith – that is, belief without the support of evidence – required.

It's worth pointing out the distinctions between different understandings of the word “atheism,” of which there are at least two. The first is the strict etymology of the word, a-theist, or “not theist.” Problematically, the “ism” at the end creates the perception that is the second understanding of the word, that “atheism” is a dogmatic and religious set of beliefs. While this dogmatic version of atheism may indeed exist, it isn't the variety being championed by the likes of Harris or Dawkins, and it may be dismissed out of hand as childish religious anarchism or rebellion. Rather, the “new atheism” (and the old David Hume variety as well) is a rejection of the idea of dogma, by which I mean “rules for which there is no explanation given and which must be accepted on faith.” Thus, “dogmatic” atheism is just as repugnant to the first type of atheist as any religion.2

Douglas Adams, in his usual hilarious style, makes an interesting point in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, during a brief side discussion on the marvel of the Babel fish - a small fish that a person can place in his ear in order to understand any alien language:

Now it is such a bizarrely impossible coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful [as the Babel fish] could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the nonexistence of God. The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.” “But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.” “Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn't thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

What Adams was really illustrating here was the characteristic ridiculousness of logical debates over the existence of God, but the point about faith is important, too. Ultimately, religious belief is, by definition, unprovable. It's belief without evidence – that's why it's called faith.

This is one reason it's so strange to see fundamentalist Christians attempting to assume the auspices of science in proving their “Young Earth” creationism, which holds that the Earth (and universe) are about 6,000 years old and were created in six 24-hour days, as per a literal reading of the book of Genesis. I recently watched an interview of a Dr. Georgia Purdom, who apparently holds a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Ohio State University and now works as a “researcher” at the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. During the interview, Purdom said she was looking into the way that bacteria went from benign to “pathogenic,” since this “must have happened after the fall of Adam.”3

Could there be a more farcical parody of real scientific research? Since Dr. Purdom is willing to accept the literal truth of Genesis, what's there to puzzle out? Clearly, if bacteria had to be benign in Eden and now are “bad” because of Adam's sin, then God made it happen, right? Nobody needs a Ph.D. to make that assertion – it's a statement of faith! For some reason, though, the so-called “Young Earth” creationists feel the need to dress up their religious beliefs with the trappings of rational inquiry. But since their starting point is a statement of faith, their attempts at “science” are merely so much pretension – and not very convincing pretension at that. So why the insistence on a “Christian” science?

I'm guessing here, but it probably has to do with the fact that Christianity's explanatory power has necessarily diminished as humanity has gained a better natural understanding of the world and its workings. Science as an enterprise necessarily involves a threat to anyone who believes strongly that scriptures must contain the final answers to any questions that can be posed about the world. Since imprisoning and torturing troublesome scientists has gone out of vogue, a new strategy is required for fundamentalists – and today, that strategy seems to be writing off evolution by natural selection as merely another pseudo-religious belief system (hence the insistence on the term “Darwinism”) and restating their own beliefs in the language of science. This is what has led to trials like Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District, or the Texas Board of Education's vote to allow teachers to raise doubts about the validity of the theory of evolution in biology classrooms.

What's sad about this is that efforts to dress religious belief in the language and trappings of scientific inquiry always make the believers come off looking ridiculous – which in this case they certainly are. But they will presumably continue to quixotically use scientific language and engage in “debate,” perhaps only to validate their beliefs to themselves. To do this is to misunderstand the difference between the claims made by religion and those made by science. It's not bringing a knife to a gun fight – it's bringing a carrot to a gun fight so as to make a salad.

Interestingly enough, Christian thinkers as far back as St. Augustine have recommended against a dogmatic and literal reading of Genesis. Here is an oft-cited example, which Augustine penned in A.D. 408:

It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.4

I've found that intellectually honest Christians (who tend not to be fundamentalist) are much more comfortable with the idea of evolution, and instead are interested in discussing the nature of the beginning of the universe, which is a much more appropriate conversation to have. They realize that Darwin's evolutionary theory makes no claims about the beginnings or nature of the universe itself, and that answers to what Adams might have called the “ultimate questions” are to be sought elsewhere. This, however, is not a topic of biology, but of metaphysics and ontology. The existence of God may be controversial, but Darwin's On the Origin of Species is not.


1 Breaking the Spell, The End of Faith, The God Delusion, and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, respectively. Witness also the innumerable rebuttals to these works published in their wake, and my point is more or less made.

2 Indeed, some among the “new atheists” have sought to draw that distinction by discouraging the use of the word “atheist” and in some cases making their own suggestions. I count myself alongside Hitchens, who says he “cringes” at the label bright that Dennett and Dawkins have adopted (as in, “We are brights”). I think “rationalism” is probably a better term.

3 Watch the debate here.

4 The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, 1:19–20 [A.D. 408]. Later in the same text, Augustine goes on to say, “Seven days by our reckoning, after the model of the days of creation, make up a week. By the passage of such weeks time rolls on, and in these weeks one day is constituted by the course of the sun from its rising to its setting; but we must bear in mind that these days indeed recall the days of creation, but without in any way being really similar to them.” Writing more than a thousand years before Martin Luther was born, Augustine would be viewed by today's creationists as “too liberal.”

Monday, April 6, 2009

Capitalism and Property: Pragmatically Speaking

A lot of interest seemed to be generated by my experimental musings on socialism and capitalism, but I grew tired of the shoot-from-the-hip tone of that project and left it behind until I felt better about things. I am not sure whether this is what I've been waiting for, but, it is something (for me) to think about.

One of the basic principles of a free-market or capitalist (or call it whatever you like) stance is that freedom from big-government or a socialist state gives the human person the ability to flourish autonomously. And autonomy is key because we like to think that we are all self-possessed, that we own our own self and identity. One of the pragmatic effects of this principle of freedom is the ability to own private property.

I share this intuition in practice because my family rents a small apartment (one bedroom for my two sons, my wife, and I) and look forward to the day that we can buy a modest home of our own.

And this critique is something that socialists of all types are keenly aware of. Marx mentions it in his (and Engels') Manifesto and, overall, it seems to follow that if socialism removes private property and personal autonomy, then, there is something bankrupt about it.

Now, leaving socialist apologies behind, I think it is important to ask the question, "How?" How is it that capitalism can provide private property to a person? In other words, under what conditions can this private ownership take place?

I would submit that, in order to for the capitalist principle of freedom to actually happen in the form of the ownership of private property (which is a subset of the idea of self-belonging, I think), at least these two things need to happen from the get-go, pragmatically speaking:

1. There needs to be property to be owned in the first place.
2. The person needs to be able to own that property in some reasonable way.

Now, if we accept those conditions, then, we must ask the question of, "Can?" Can capitalism provide those conditions to begin with? Or, we might ask the more cynical and leading question, "If not, then, what?" If capitalism cannot meet those conditions, then, what are we to think about it and do?

It might be possible for a capitalist utopia, that we create out of our heads, to meet those conditions with certain ideas about human nature and so on. But, in the present moment that is relevant to us, I find it very hard for capitalism to meet such conditions unless some kind of redistribution was to happen.

The reason I say this is that very few people actually own their stuff these days, much less their property--their home. For most, the reality of life is that a few people own lots of property that they may let us borrow for our houses, business, and so on.

Having said that, we might also reflect on the reality that nations (like the USA) also exist on credit these days. Both scenarios seem to deeply erode at the principle of freedom that enables the human person to own, and therefore have autonomy over, their property and, ultimately, their self.

By this analysis, one might argue that the freedom of the free market has produced much of the same, problematic ownership issues that a fascist communists states have (for more about that comparison, see my ongoing series on fascism and liberal society)

Here is the conundrum, as I see it: Capitalism in its principled form cannot exist in any relevant manner without some way to make it happen in pragmatic, daily affairs. Therefore, one might be well advised to keep the principle of freedom provided that we reject the notion of freedom to amass wealth and favor the notion of freedom to control one's desire for things--the kind of freedom a person who stays fit and healthy displays and a glutton does not--and from that begin to see the role of the government as the authority to make sure that people control themselves.

This means that when someone wants to come back for thirds and fourths (or eighteenths) at the buffet of capital, there would be a principled reason to restrict that. In doing so, we might find that people would live under conditions that would actually allow them to own property in real, practical affairs and, most importantly, to regain a sense of what means to exist as a human person, not a human resource.

In short, it seems to me that without the socialist principle of redistribution we cannot, in the present age, achieve the capitalist principle of freedom.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

On The Dangers of Liberal Society, pt. IV

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?
~ Gandhi
Here is another, shorter, argument: Namely, that since it does not really matter what name oppression takes, we might as well know about it. Now, this is all very unqualified when speaking in general. But, when we frame it in terms of the actual victims, I think we have a rather clear view of the matter. Now the hard part is distinguishing between victims. But, as Gandhi puts it, there are those who do not make it so complex to understand.

Friday, April 3, 2009

On The Dangers of Liberal Society, pt. III

In my previous post I asked the question: What does it mean to long for an end of liberalism and its desensitizing sense of freedom that traps our ability to live and, perhaps, to love at the height of our powers? In this post I would like to clarify what I mean in that question. At some point, I suppose, I will get around to answering it. But I'm in no rush.

Let me be as clear as I can about my project and this question: It is a cowardly and rather self-indulgent thing, to be sure. I mean, I have no intentions or courage to actually "desire" for an end of liberalism. Instead, I am, in one sense, just testing the limits of possibility for myself thinking this way about things.

At the same time, I think there is something else going on here. Pretending that it is the only thing going on will fuel my own self-righteousness on the matter. You see, the actual point of the matter is simply a question of meaning. In other words, I am not theorizing, hypothesizing, or, much less, making empirical claims about the world. All this question should do is to ask what it means to imagine that things are not as they seem.

Now, that is all a bit trite and makes this sound very esoteric, but, at least for me, it is not. All this question should do is the very same thing we tend to do when we encounter genuine novelty. There is nothing so novel to me as a new idea. When I come across one (usually in a book) I can't ask much else other than, "What does that mean?" or "What could that possibly be like?"

But, ideas are never really that new, they are merely new-to-me or new-to-us. So, we can glean intelligibility out of the meaning of a novel thing and toy around with whatever meaning we have, or think we have, and that's what it all about. One big game of hokey poky.

So, we need to know what is really grinding the axe of this question and this general notion of defending fascism and cautioning against liberalism. Here it is, as I see it. It is a myth that when given the opportunity people will live with less instead of more. "Plenty" seems to be a rather normative human desire elevated to the level of virtue. We desire to be full, not hungry. Yet, hunger (metaphorically speaking) keeps us, well... hungry. Restless. In love.

What I mean to say is that the political question at hand is more fundamentally a question of how to deal with what seems to be a reoccurring thing in human experience: cycles of oppression, revolution, and oppression. The second oppressor is usually dressed in the garments of a liberator, a populist, a democracy, ourselves or people like us, and so on. And, for that very reason, she is very hard to distinguish from the Gandhi's of the world. The first oppressor, however, is clearly who she really is and, while we may have good reason to fear her, at least we know when she is around.

Here is the virtue of fascism: honesty. That is not to say that fascists do not lie, indeed they do. But their lies are lies. In a liberal society it is hard work--and counterintutive work--to spot lies because they come on silver spoon covered with honey.

But, as I said in my first post: You get more bees... To continue my reliance on "as the saying goes" to make my argument, I am asking what it means to say: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Even if it means that we are required to take up Zarathustra's advice to love our enemies and hate our friends.

Glen Beck is a Copycat

During my morning musing of talk radio I heard that Glen Beck is going to be featuring fascism in his evening show tonight. He must have heard that I am writing about it here. Copycat.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An Ode to Pat Buchanan

Just in case my recent use of the GOP as a foil for bad social science research and my raving over the Solidarity Party in Spain (see below) makes anyone think I lost my fond memories of reading Edmund Burke and other great conservative minds, here is one who I find myself reading, disagreeing with, nodding my head, and hoping he keeps on going: Pat Buchanan.

Yes, he has said some things that really ring my ears like, "Ten years after NAFTA, Mexico's leading export to America is still--Mexicans. America is becoming Mexamerica," in his popular books like, Where the Right Went Wrong, but he also writes--in the very same book--things like, "The Bush Doctrine is a prescription for permanent war for permanent peace, though wars are the death of republics."

My point is this: We need more of his ilk in public discourse, not less. If you don't want to read his books, and since I would never recommend that you watch television, you may want to read him here, at his active blog and website.

Speaking of Political Parties, I May Have Found the One for Me...

I got this lead from Vox-Nova, and did some digging on my own, and I think that I may have found the first political party I would ever hit the street for. To bad it is in Spain.

I will continue to do my homework, but this may need to get imported over with the next shipment of rioja.

Here is a striking platform they have put quite straightfowardly: Rechazamos El Aborto Porque Somos de Izquierda (We Reject Abortion Because We Are of the Left). They also are vigorous admirers of John Paul II. In case you are not a Spanish reader, here is a representative of their abortion stance in English, the essay is entitled: Abortion, Euthanasia and Capitalism.

They are the Solidarity Party of Spain. I hope that this is the future of leftism. If so, then, sign me up.

I'll wait and see.

Bad Social Science: Exibit A

I am an online-registered Republican and Democrat (along with a few other parties: Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, Greens, Libertarians, Socialists and Chuck Norris), so, needless to say, I get a lot of mindless propaganda.

Now, at the heart of it they usually want money, but I was surprised in the latest mailing from my most frequent e-party, the GOP, when they wanted me to fill out a survey--and then give them some money. For the record, I have never given a cent of money to any party, but I was willing to try and give them some honest feedback. Unfortunately, their survey is a complete joke, but not entirely without its lessons: Namely, that most surveys in social science are smarter versions of this anyway, so, we should ignore or treat like the funnies page most "studies" and "findings" from our dear friends the social scientists.

Here is an edited (for space and format) version of the survey. If you want to see it for yourself, click here.

Part I. The Republican Party

1. Why did Republicans lose the White House and Congressional seats in the 2008 elections? Check all that apply.

- Iraq War
- Poor Economy
- Government's Response to Katrina
- Republican Scandals
- Republicans acted like Democrats
- President Bush's policies
- Liberal Media

2. What are the key strengths and beliefs of the Republican Party that we can build on? Check all that apply.

- Social Issues
- Family Values
- Ethics
- Free Markets
- National Security
- Fiscal Discipline
- Limited Government
- Personal Responsibility
- Pro-Life

3. What are the weaknesses of the Republican Party? Check all that apply.

- Bad Messaging
- Poor Response to Democrats
- Republicans who don't vote like Republicans
- Standing Up for Principles
- Need to Lead in Congress

4. What is the best way to encourage and register new voters in your community? Check all that apply.

- Door-to-Door visits
- Online Social Networking
- E-mail
- Personal Appearances by Republican Leaders in Your Area
- Radio Ads
- Interaction at Community Events
- Online Advertising

5. What technology would you like to see the RNC make better use of to grow our Party? Check all that apply.

- More Aggressive E-mail Campaigns
- More Aggressive Text Messages
- More Aggressive use of Twitter
- More Social Networking Sites like Facebook and MyGOP
- No Opinion

6. What can the Republican Party do to earn and maintain your trust?

Part II. Domestic and Social Issues

1. A recent national poll reported that nearly 25% of Americans want the government to pass more socialism. Do you agree or disagree?

- Agree
- Disagree
- Undecided

2. Which do you believe creates more jobs for the American economy: Government Programs and Spending or The American Free Enterprise System?

- Government Programs and Spending
- The American Free Enterprise System
- Undecided

3. The Obama Administration has proposed spending as much as $1.5 trillion to bail out the banking industry. Do you agree or disagree with this proposal?

4. Do you oppose so-called "card-check" legislation, which eliminates secret ballot elections during unionization drives and puts workers at risk of intimidation by labor bosses?

5. Should Republicans unite to block new federal government bureaucracy and red tape that will crush future economic growth?

6. Should Republicans in Congress oppose the new wasteful government spending programs passed in the recent "stimulus" bill by the Pelosi-Reid Democrats designed to "spread the wealth"?

7. Do you agree that we must secure our borders to stop illegal immigration?

8. Should we do everything we can to block Democrats who are trying to shut down conservative talk radio with the so-called "fairness doctrine"?

9. Should we resist Barack Obama's proposal to spend billions of federal taxpayer dollars to pay "volunteers" who perform his chosen tasks?

10. Should Republicans unite in opposition to judicial nominees who bring a personal, left-wing agenda on social issues to their jobs as judges?
11. Should bureaucrats in Washington, DC be in charge of making your health care choices instead of you and your doctor?

Part III. Homeland Security and Defense Issues

1. If Barack Obama tries to gut the USA PATRIOT Act and other important laws that promote the safety and security of all Americans, should Republicans in Congress fight back?

2. Should we stop Democrat leaders from cutting funding from our intelligence agencies or bringing back Clinton-era restrictions on inter-agency communications?

3. Do you support the use of air strikes against any country that offers safe harbor or aid to individuals or organizations committed to further attacks on America?

4. Should Republicans unite in support of full funding for border and port security when Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid try to make cuts in these areas?

5. Do you think U.S. troops should have to serve under United Nations' commanders?

6. Do you agree that our top military priority should be fighting terrorists?

7. Should we fight military-cutting efforts in Congress, such as the proposal from liberal Barney Frank to slash the Pentagon budget by 25%?

8. Even though Barack Obama pledged to meet personally with the likes of Raul Castro, Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, should Republicans continue to focus on supporting democratic movements in oppressive states like Cuba, Venezuela and Iran?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Best Hits of William James: Varieties of Religious Experience, pt. V


“If we admit that evil is an essential part of our being and the key to the interpretation of our life, we load ourselves down with a difficulty that has always proved burdensome in philosophies of religion.” (p. 129)

“The philosophy of absolute idealism, so vigorously represented both in Scotland and America to-day, has to struggle with this difficulty quite as much as scholastic theism struggled in its time; and although it would be premature to say that there is no speculative issue whatever from the puzzle, it is perfectly fair to say that there is no clear or easy issue, and the only obvious escape from paradox here is to cut loose from the monistic assumption altogether, and allow the world to have existed from its origin in pluralistic form, as an aggregate or collection of higher and lower things and principles, rather than an absolute unitary fact.” (pp. 129 - 130)

“Does it not appear that one who lived more habitually on one side of the pain-threshold might need a different sort of religion from the one who habitually lived on the other?” (p. 133)

“Old age has the last word: the purely naturalistic look at life, however enthusiastically it may begin, is sure to end in sadness.” (p. 138)

“So we note here the neurotic constitution, of which I said so much in my first lecture making its active entrance on our scene, and destined to play a part in much that follows. Since these experiences of melancholy are in the first instance absolutely private and individual, I can now help myself out with personal documents. Painful indeed they will be to listen to, and there is almost an indecency in handling them in public. Yet they lie right in the middle of our path; and if we are to touch the psychology of religion at all seriously, we must be willing to be willing to forget conventionalities, and dive below the smooth and lying official conversational surface.” (p. 142)

“Conceive yourself, if possible, suddenly stripped of all the emotion with which your world now inspires you, and try to imagine it as it exists, purely by itself, without your favorable or unfavorable, hopeful or apprehensive comment. It will be almost impossible for you to realize such a condition of negativity and deadness. No one portion of the universe would then have importance beyond another; and the whole collection of its things and series of its events would be without significance, character, interest, or perspective… The passion of love is the most familiar and extreme example of this fact. If it comes, it comes; if it does not come, no process of reasoning can force it. Yet it transforms the value of the creature loved as utterly as the sunrise transforms Mont Blanc from a corpse-like grey to a rosy enchantment; and it sets the whole world to a new tune for the lover and gives a new issue to his life.” (pp. 147 - 148)

“So with fear, with indignation, jealousy, ambition, worship. If they are there, life changes. And whether they shall be there or not depends almost always upon non-logical, often on organic condition. And as the excited interest which these passions put into the world is our gift to the world, just so are the passions themselves gifts—gifts to us, from the sources sometimes low and sometimes high; but almost always non-logical and beyond our control.” (p. 148)

“How can the moribund old man reason back himself into the romance, the mystery, the imminence of great things with which our old earth tingled for him in the days when he was young and well? Gifts, either of the flesh or of the spirit; and the spirit bloweth where it listeth; and the world’s materials lend their surface passively to all the gifts alike, as the stage-setting receives indifferently whatever alternating colored lights may be shed upon it from the optical apparatus in the gallery.” (p. 148)

“It seems to me that we are bound to say that morbid-mindedness ranges over the wider scale of experience, and that its survey is the one that overlaps. The method of averting one’s attention from evil, and living simply in the light of good is splendid as long as it will work. It will work with many persons; it will work far more generally than most of us are ready to suppose; and within the sphere of its successful operation there is nothing to be said against it as a religious solution. But it breaks down impotently as soon as melancholy comes; and even though one be quite free from melancholy one’s self, there is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it refuses positively to account for are a genuine portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.” (p. 160)

“If you protest, my friend, wait until you arrive there yourself!” (p. 160)

“…the philosophic presumption should be that they have some rational significance, and that systematic healthy-mindedness, failing as it does to accord to sorrow, pain, and death any positive and active attention whatever, is formally less complete than systems that try at least to include these elements in their scope.” (pp. 161-162)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On The Dangers of Liberal Society, pt. II

In my first post in this series I argued that freedom or liberty--or whatever you would like to call the thing that I think we can all agree that we find in what is generally called "liberal society"--is not good on its own. In fact, it seems quite plausible that freedom can serve as an intoxicating sedative for human flourishing. I hate to use the rather stale analogy of the boiling a frog to death by slowly raising the temperature until he poached, but I think that it can apply here. To be clear, my point was this: Liberty need not be benevolent.

But this is not a surprising thing to say. What may strike us as a surprise is the implication that such an idea may have in the context of political authority. Could it be that, while fascism is never a moral thing to desire for its own sake, it offers us a unique opportunity to exist in the sober reality of the world as it is? In other words, I would contend that, while one need not make an outright case for fascism and offend those who in their own life have suffered at the hands of fascists, one can explore what is it about living in the midst of salient injustice and poignant illiberality that might cause the human person to flourish in a distinctly different way than the person who lives in apparent freedom.

This is the issue I would like to raise and while it may seem flamboyent or controversial, I actually think it is a rather normative thing to ponder. I mean, we rarely see movies that glory at the abilities of the human spirit to thrive in the midst of plenty. No, instead we like to see underdogs, slumdogs, and other caninesque things in our drama.

Now, this may seem overly simplistic, but, I wonder: Could it be that these cases are not extraordinary feats, but, instead, natural things that are proper to such dire conditions? What I mean to say is that instead of thinking about the heroism of the person who can rise out of oppression, what would it look like to think about that same event as something that the non-oppressed cannot do?

This reversal leaves the liberal societies and their (our) comforts behind as crutches that keep us from encountering the brute force of life and death, pain and suffering, and, of course, love. It turns an ironically tragic, but beautiful, light on the very places we long to escape from.

Politcally speaking, this would be fascism. What does it mean to long for this to happen? What does it mean to long for an end of liberalism and its desentitizing sense of freedom that traps our ability to live and, perhaps, to love at the height of our powers?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Social Science & Shameless Self-promotion

If you are interested in social science as it pertains to the general disputes over what constitutes legitimate scientific inquiry, then, you may want to read this recent essay review I co-authored from Education Review. It is a review of Bent Flyvjerg's book, Making Social Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How it can Succeed Again. My contributions are mostly critical, but the basic argument is a worthwhile one to think about, I think.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The things dad's (or, at least I) say...

-As said by me to my diaperless son this morning.

Best Hits of William James: Varieties of Religious Experience, pt. IV


“The systematic cultivation of healthy-mindedness as a religious attitude is therefore consonant with important currents in human nature, and is anything but absurd. In fact, we all do cultivate it more or less, even when our professed theology should in consistency forbid it. We divert our attention from disease and death as much as we can; and the slaughter-houses and indecencies without end in which our life is founded are huddled out of sight and never mentioned, so that the world we recognize officially in literature and in society is a poetic fiction far handsomer and cleaner and better than the world really is.” (p. 89)

“I believe the claims of the sectarian scientist are, to say the least, premature. The experiences which we have been studying during this hour (and a great many other kinds of religious experiences are like them) plainly show the universe to be a more many-sided affair than any sect, even the scientific, sect allows for.” (p. 120)

“What, in the end, are all our verifications but experiences that agree with more or less isolated systems of ideas (conceptual systems) that our minds have framed? But why in the name of common sense need we assume that only one such system of ideas can be true?” (p. 120)

“Science to all of us telegraphy, electric lighting, and diagnosis, and succeeds in preventing and curing a certain amount of disease. Religion in the shape of mind-cure gives to some of us serenity, moral poise, and happiness, and prevents certain forms of disease as well as science does, or even better in a certain class of persons. Evidently, then, the science and the religion are both of them genuine keys for unlocking the world’s treasure-house to him who can use either of them practically.” (p. 120)

“And why, after all, may not the worlds be so complex as to consist of many interpenetrating spheres of reality, which we can thus approach in alternation by using different conceptions and assuming different attitudes, just as mathematicians handle the same numerical and spatial facts by geometry, by analytical geometry, by algebra, by the calculus, or by quaternions, and each time comes out right? On this view religion and science, each verified in its own way from hour to hour and from life to life, would be co-eternal.” (p. 120)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Happy Elephant

Best Hits of William James: Varieties of Religious Experience, pt. III


"Nevertheless, if we look on man's whole mental life as it exists, on the life of men that lies in them apart from their learning and science, and that they inwardly and privately follow, we have to confess that the part of it of which rationalism can give an account is relatively superficial. It is the part that has the prestige undoubtedly, for it has loquacity, it can challenge you for proofs, and chop logic, and put you down with words. But it will fail to convince or convert you all the same, if your dumb intuitions are opposed to its conclusions. If you have intuitions at all, they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. Your whole subconscious life, your impulses, your faiths, your needs, your divinations, have prepared premises, of which your consciousness now feels the weight of the result; and something in you absolutely knows that that result must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it." (p. 72)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Best Hits of William James: Varieties of Religious Experience, pt. II


“Totals reactions are different from casual reactions, and total attitudes are different from usual or professional attitudes. To get at them you must go behind the foreground of existence and reach down to that curious sense of the whole residual cosmos as an everlasting presence, intimate or alien, terrible or amusing, lovable or odious, which in some degree everyone possesses.” (p. 35)

“There must be something solemn, serious, and tender about any attitude which we denominate religious. If glad, it must not grin or snicker; if sad, it must not scream or curse. It is precisely as being solemn experiences that I wish to interest you in religious experiences.” (p. 38)

“The divine shall mean for us only such a primal reality as the individual feels impelled to respond to solemnly and gravely, and neither by a curse nor jest.” (p. 39)

On The Dangers of Liberal Society, pt. I

I am re-posting an old note from my archive of Facebook notes to serve as a preface to some things I hope to write about in defense of fascism--yes, you read that right. But first things first.

The saying goes, "You get more bees with honey than vinegar." In other words, there is really nothing sweet about the honey other than being really good at trapping bees.

In a similar way, it might be plausible that other seemingly sweet, innocent, and good things can serve as "honey" for less than sweet, innocent, or good purposes. Anyone skilled at marketing or sales understands that the best way to peddle something is by being nice to people, making them feel cared for, and gaining their trust in as personal and authentic a way as possible. That way, people lose focus on the thing being sold.

Many times people remind me that the very fact that I am free to question and even dissent is proof that things are better than they seem. And, of course, this is a very reasonable thing to assert. The fact that I feel confident enough to show strong disagreement without repercussions is certainly a good thing. However, I wonder: Is it sweet or is it "sweet"? In other words, could it be the case that the hallmark "freedom" we supposedly enjoy in the US is largely a means of appeasement or even oppression?

I think this could, in many cases, be true. You see, when freedom serves as the sole idol, then, as long as things are not overly intrusive no one will complain. And, paradoxically, if intrusiveness is needed for more freedom, then, most will agree to it; and those who disagree will do so thinking they are already free enough. But these are all relative judgments about how "free" we assume to be, when, in fact, we may be quite indoctrinated.

For example, the idea of compulsory school attendance was considered a radical intrusion on American freedom from the revolutionary period to the last state (Mississippi) to ratify it in 1916. Now, even school choice advocates agree that school attendance is a perfectly normal--and good--thing to have.

This is not to digress on to the issue of schooling (frequently confused for education); rather, it is just one case in which there is historical proof that what we consider to be "freedom" is a rather elusive thing that, over time, erodes silently. As true freedom erodes, we find that we are peddled a different type of "freedom" that, many times, is used against those who assume to be free--us, you and me.

So, it seems (at least to me) that the greatest marketing icon of the US--"freedom"--might be one of the very things that oppresses us. It is much more effective to let people do things you don't want them to, and then remind them that they are "free," to suppress their ability to effectively protest or revolt, than to beat or kill them. Do not be mislead, whether violent or benevolent, oppression is oppression.

As the saying goes, "you get more peasants with freedom..."

Dear Rocco:

for saying that you can't read (see the comments section of Obama at Notre Dame). Quite the contrary, you are a splendid reader and, especially considering that you are the only non-contributing reader of this blog (apparently), I would be remiss to piss you off too much. I owe you a drink. In the meantime, please accept this tiny bouquet of cyber-flowers delivered by this cute little rodent.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Sober Moment in the Drunken Fray

I wanted to post about this when I read it but it has become even more poignant as I sit around embroiled, once again, in fighting my leftist friends over the severe shortcomings and dangers of Obama, and--simultaneously--reprimanding my rightist friends for being too simplistic. This is a royal hack of a characterization, to be sure, but such is the violence of quick-fire prose.

Nonetheless, I was sitting with my son this afternoon at the tire shop trying to keep track of his whereabouts and make it through some recent issues of Newsweek. While reading through the tiresome, haven't-I-read-this-a-million-times-already? pages of Newsweek, my mind wandered to a recent, tearful evening I spent with my favorite journal, First Things.

Their most recent edition, honoring the memory of Richard John Neuhaus, was one of the most genuine, sane, and sober things I have read in print to date. Now, anyone who knows me and my sense of politics knows that I slam First Things a lot and disagree with a great deal of their erudite founder's ideas. But, make no mistake, the outpouring from every side of the global political spectrum was moving, to say the least.

It reminded me of the days that I am told that public dialogue was fierce as ever, but still had sanity to spare. In the U.S., these were the days (or, so I am told) when the Civil Rights Act--that Neuhaus bravely marched in support of--was squared off between the political aisle on the basis of activism or gradualism from the coherent philosophies of conservatism (a la Goldwater) and liberalism (a la New Deal progeny and friends). Those days are gone. If anything, LBJ's nasty campaign killed what was left of it. But not everywhere, not for everyone.

I am quick to assert that any self-respecting leftist (or whatever) ought to engage with the serious and smart ideas that come from the coherent, self-proclaimed right. The problem is that next to Pat Buchanan (a man I respect but, more often than not, rabidly disagree with) sits Monica Crowley who fills in for Laura Ingram (the new guard of the Limbaugh and company types) from time to time. Now, the so-called liberals have their lion's hare of wackos too and, to their discredit, their discussions are worse than stale, more often than not they seem flat out rancid.

So, if I have to sit in a serious discussion on public affairs, give me the likes of a Neuhaus any day--conservative warts and all. It is a shame that he will only live on in his voluminous writings from here on out. And, even worse, there don't seem to be many replacements easily found--on either side--in the druken fray that is public discourse in the U.S. It is my hope, however, that the virtues of catholic (that's for you Ian) dialogue could bring us some smarties out of the ranks of the public Church to help things out.

To put it another way: I pray for the day that dialogue will happen somewhere, anywhere, in a way that is elevated from the simple--and all to convenient for the status quo--rubrics of U.S. political identity.

Best Hits of William James: Varieties of Religious Experience, pt. I

For my anxious readers out there who desire more than this blog seems to be offering these days I will be posting a few "best hits" of the opening chapters to William James' seminal text, Varieties of Religious Experience. Enjoy!


“It seems a natural thing for us to listen whilst the Europeans talk. The contrary habit, of talking whilst the Europeans listen, we have not yet acquired; and in him who first makes the adventure it begets a certain sense of apology being due for so presumptuous an act.” (p. 3)

“If the inquiry be psychological, not religious institutions, but rather religious feelings and religious impulses must be its subject, and I must confine myself to those more developed subjective phenomena recorded in literature produced by articulate and fully conscious men, in works of piety and autobiography.” (p. 4)

“We must make search rather for the original experiences which were the pattern-setters to all this mass of suggested feeling and imitated conduct. These experiences we can only find in individuals for whom religion exists not as dull habit, but as an acute fever [madness] rather.” (p. 8)

“But any object that is infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. ‘ I am no such thing,’ it would say; I am MYSELF, MYSELF alone.” (p. 10)

“Modern psychology, finding definite psycho-physical connections to hold good, assumes as a convenient hypothesis that the dependence of mental states upon bodily conditions must be thoroughgoing and complete… But now, I ask you, how can such an existential account of facts of mental history decide in one way or another upon their spiritual significance?... Scientific theories are organically conditioned just as much as religious emotions are; and if we only knew the facts intimately enough, we should doubtless see ‘the liver’ determining the dicta of the sturdy atheist as decisively as it does those of the Methodist under conviction anxious about his soul.” (p. 15)

“To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind, then, in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite illogical and arbitrary, unless one has already worked out in advance some psycho-physical theory connecting spiritual values in general with determinate sorts of psychological change. Otherwise none of our thoughts and feelings, not even out scientific doctrines, not even our dis-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of truth, for every one of them without exception flows from the state of its possessor’s body at the time.” (pp. 15-16)

“By their fruits ye shall know them, not by their roots.” (p. 20)

“To understand a thing rightly we need to see it both out of its environment and in it, and to have acquaintance with the whole range of its variations.” (p. 23)

“Few of us are not in any way infirm, or even diseased; and our very infirmities help us unexpectedly. In the psychopathic temperament we have the emotionality which is the sine qua non of moral perception; we have the intensity and tendency to emphasis which are the essence of practical moral vigor; and we have the love of metaphysics and mysticism which carry one’s interests beyond the surface of the sensible world.” (p. 26)

“What, then, is more natural than that this temperament should introduce one to regions of religious truth, to corners of the universe, which your robust Philistine type of nervous system, forever offering its biceps to be felt, thumping its breast, and thanking Heaven that it hasn’t a single morbid fiber in its composition, would be sure to hide forever from its self-satisfied possessors?” (p. 26)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame: Why not?

This seems to be a spicy issue in the Catholic blogosphere (e.g. this one from Vox-Nova and this one from Pro-Ecclesia) so, I'll take the bait.

Here is the main problem, as I see it: Commencement addresses in the U.S. have become mired in the politics of the modern academy and the propagandist relations of academia to the bought-and-paid-for dynamics of Washington.

If this were simply a public lecture, then, there would be little room for outrage. After all, dissenting views and rigorous debate ought to be a hallmark of any healthy university. However, this in one of "those" lectures, or should I say, after-the-fact stump speeches.

I feel that commencement addresses by presidents and other politicians, CEOs and other executives, and TV personalities, ought to removed altogether. But, certain politicians, execs, and TV personas may also have a contribution to offers to the academy. And, this may (and I give a very shaky 'may') be the case with this president.

One of the oddest things to me about Obama's campaign was the omission of his decorated academic career. If his speech were limited to an academic discussion of whatever subject is his expertise, then, that would be wonderful. But, sadly, I highly doubt that. He will be there as "Mr. President."

In that case, I think it is the wrong choice to make. I know for a fact that inviting G.W. to say anything at a University is an academic abomination. This is a different case, but, still, nonetheless, it seems like a bad idea to me. Notice, that the brand of ideas the person brings has very little to do with my evaluation of what is appropriate at a university. Much less a catholic university. As far as I'm concerned, any university that is not catholic, isn't really a university to begin with.

One major factor I chose to leave out of this discussion is the implication of giving someone an honorary degree. I still cannot get the bad taste out of my mouth from puking after witnessing Raymond Arroyo get an honorary degree while selling his book on Mother Angelica in his speech at my undergraduate commencement ceremony. Yuk.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Where's the Magic?

I am a very cranky person. Too often, I rant about love. There is something amiss about this. So I figured that I need to try and make some sense of my general discontent, especially since it seems to render impotent whatever constructive things I want to say. When I think about it I guess I am suspicious of the superstitious nature of most forms of human belief. The magical sense we give to things we like a lot or that we cannot imagine ourselves to be able to live without. Now, I am a romantic and a believer in God, faith, mystical reality, and other things most confuse with magic. However, the difference between the magical and the mystical--the sacred mysterious--is mostly dispositional, as I see.

Magic renders itself so intelligible that it is not really magical in any mythical sense, it is real. So real that we can possess it as an object, as a thing. The mystical, on the other hand, never quite becomes intelligible to the point of comprehension, much less possession. Like questions of physical, biological, or chemical fundamentals, explanatory power is very, very limited. We run out of intelligibility and begin to guess and wonder and pray. The magic of things we want to be true so badly that we distort them to our own image is nothing really. Nothing other than lesser images of ourselves. And magic wrecks havoc on our language. We say all kinds of silly things like this or that could change the world or do this or that intuitively good thing.

The fact of the matter, it seems to me, is that there is no magic, there is no fancy trick that renders things intelligible to the point that we no longer need to wonder and pray. Mystery is not magical, it is simply the real that sits outside the horizon of human understanding and keeps us trying to reach that unreachable horizon, until we find our rest...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama on Education

One of the most difficult political identities to understand comes from views on education. Today, Obama signaled a rather conservative (merit pay) and liberal (federalized mandate) direction for education reform (read it here). He stated that, under this administration, we would treat "teachers like the professionals they are while also holding them more accountable."

This makes sense at one level. More responsibility, more pay, more accountability. But, truth be told, "accountability" means more standards to pass and more tests to teach to. If anything this proposal will only exacerbate the problems of No Child Left Behind.

If Obama wants to reform education, then, he may want to think about re-envisioning the very thing itself. That is, be sober enough to realize that this student is not a person, not a homo-sapien. This is a resource-person, a homo-economicus, whose sole value is in her ability to collect information and use it in the ways deemed worthy by that other tyrant: science.

Schooling has never--and I mean never--been intended to educate at the federal policy level. It is well understood that such a thing is not the purpose of schooling. However, many teachers try their best in spite of it and succeed. Succeed in executing the art of teaching, the art of teaching human persons to be artists themselves in whatever they do.

The failure of reforms today and the ones to come, lie in this basic conflation: teaching and education as a science, or, to put it another way, science as science. Science is not a science, it too is an art, and the same goes for the rest, I think.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Selling '68

First of all, I am sorry about my recent hiatus, but I am in the middle of preparing for my general exams and program approval, among other things. Hopefully my comittee of writers will follow Bill's good example and help me out very soon (hint, hint). I just wanted to pop in to vent a bit and get your reactions.

I am writing a book review in my apartment lounge with a PBS fundraising marathon of 60's music running in the backround. Over and over they sell this as "the music of '68" or "the music of the death of JFK, King, and so on..." and it really bothers me. I mean, I wasn't alive then and I am not naive enough to think they care (although I do expect better from PBS even though I shouldn't), but everything is for sale. And that sucks.

What doesn't suck is my new bike. I just got it this weekend. It is a deep green, 1969, Hercules, three speed, British Roadster (made in Nottingham). I am sure I will be the most stylish biker on my way to the office tomorrow morning.


Monday, March 2, 2009

The Wisdom of Conversion

“At the same time I warn them that to have the mirror of the external world placed before them is of little significance unless the mirror of the mind is cleansed and polished. Therefore, O child of God, awaken yourself first to the remorseful sting of conscience before you raise your eyes to those rays of wisdom that are reflected in its mirrors. Otherwise it might happen that the very act of looking on these rays might cause you to fall into an even more treacherous pit of darkness.”
– St. Bonaventure, Itinerarium Mentis in Deum

Aristotle once said, “All men desire to know.” Whether this is true or not is of little consequence for me. That people desire to know, simply generally speaking, is enough to begin with. For it is clear that in all cases, from the moment of our birth to the inevitable moment of our death, we are engaged with the world and this engagement requires a certain understanding and a certain meaningful grasp of the world around us. The mind is, from start to finish, thrown out upon and among the objects of the world and the persons we encounter in the world; and all the hopes and longings of the human heart are acted out amidst this maelstrom of the exterior world.

If, then, we cannot avoid a certain attempt to understand the world, at least in order to survive in it, and more importantly to flourish in it, then one can admit that knowledge holds a certain importance as something of a universal goal among all persons. Knowledge, however, is one thing. Wisdom, something else entirely. Wisdom is concerned not with an understanding of the facts of the world, not an understanding of what this particular object before me happens to be or how it might be used, and it is also not the possessing of a particular theory of the world and how it works. Wisdom penetrates deeper than this. And this is why so many of the most knowledgeable people in the world can nevertheless fail utterly in wisdom. Wisdom, and the pursuit of wisdom, is something different entirely from the pursuit of knowledge, however much a certain knowledge might be necessary for wisdom to be born.

What makes wisdom different, one might ask? For one thing, knowledge implies nothing about how we live our lives. It implies no action at all. It simply implies a certain resonance of our concepts with the world. Wisdom, on the other hand, supplies the meaning and direction of how we live in the world. Wisdom, above all else, is concerned with life and with action. Knowledge, merely with the static character of having certain facts readily available. Thus, knowledge without wisdom is meaningless. Without wisdom, all we have are lifeless facts and our lives are lived out with the same aimlessness of a ship without its rudder.

Those who would live out a life of meaningfulness, a life of direction, must be seekers and lovers of wisdom. These are those we once might have called philosophers, the first to be called lovers of wisdom. But, those lovers of wisdom are perhaps long dead; philosophers today, and in fact for many generations, have made themselves men of science and nothing more, intellectuals of the worst variety in all their hypocrisy. But if the philosophers as philosophers have nothing to say about wisdom, then how is wisdom to be achieved at all? Where are we to turn for it and to whom are we to go?

The world is the always already given fundament of all knowledge and we are always left with the world before us. It makes sense that we should start there. But, as I have said, wisdom is not a matter of knowing the world. Our knowledge is already operative to the extent that the world appears clearly. But the mind on its own cannot peer around the indistinctness in which the world appears because all knowledge is first and foremost structured by the way in which we live out our lives. That is to say, when we desire to live out our lives in a particular way, we tend to interpret the world according to those desires. Thus, the man who longs for power and wealth interprets the meaning of the world in terms of what will furnish these ends. If, however, we are to attain wisdom, if we are to grasp meaning, to acquire the direction in life which only wisdom can give, then we are faced with a fundamental task.

The world can only be given in its ultimate meaningfulness when, as Bonaventure says, the mind is disposed to reflect it most clearly, or one might say, when the mind is sufficiently free from its vicious desires and expectations for the world to see the world itself and how the individual is called to live. In short, wisdom cannot be attained by the vicious individual. Wisdom will always elude the man and woman of hatred, of egoism, of resentment. To the extent that one seeks to be wise, one must also seek to be good. But, this implies an alteration in the very direction of one’s life; it involves a dynamic movement in which both straightforward viciousness as well as contented mediocrity must be abandoned altogether. Total conversion is the only road to wisdom. It is only on the road to perfection, with the burning desire for total conversion of heart that the mind is itself perfected and disposed for wisdom, a wisdom which goes beyond knowledge and which provides a direction for life and seizes upon a meaning which gives life its sense.

We have entered into the season of Lent. The time in which we go out into the deserts of the spirit in search of the wisdom of the children of God through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; the time in which we become men and women of authentic and intense desire, when we become desirous of wisdom itself. May you all have a very blessed and fruitful season of Lent, that the mystery of Easter might complete you in wisdom, faith, and perfection. God bless you all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Some More Poetry I Wrote

Tell Me Something About Myself

If you dare to look, then, take a peek.
I know its dark and clouded.
What can you say without mistake?

When you say the things you speak,
Make them clear, not shrouded.
Don't hold back for my sake.

Tell me something... something bleak.
I know the space is crowded.
Pile me up like leaves to a rake.

Tell me something all too weak.
Something altogether confounded.
Just be sure its fake.


Words come cheap,
And speeches come cheaper.
But, when they make you weep,
They mean something deeper.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Psychoanalytic Critique of Cults in the Catholic Church: Part IV

Mexico. I never understood this move as a "community" initiative, it was more of a family decision. In fact, the entire web of relations we had there seemed somewhat different and removed from Bread of Life. Ohio and the community over there was only referred to distantly and, for me, it had always been distant to a certain degree. But I wished it wasn't. As far as daily life went, nothing changed significantly from the previous ways of living according to the norms of the "Cultural Approach." In fact, things got a bit more rigorous. Living in daily proximity to the others set a frequent list of engagements and meetings. The most frequent one was 6:30 am daily Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan. After Mass, everyone would go through their routine prayers which involved certain postures of standing sitting and kneeling. I never knew them exactly, but I tried to mimic them as best I could. In Mexico we were meeting with the local charismatic community, Palabra de Dios, and seemed to be poised to integrate our movement with their social network. Their big meetings were different. The people were very secular looking. The men wore jeans and cowboy boots and the women wore make-up. I couldn't help but notice that these women were astoundingly attractive. Especially the one that played the tambourine and smelled like roses. One of the men there had an "Ovation" guitar and I was sure that it must be the nicest guitar I'd ever seen. These people provided us with a house in a quaint Mexican neighborhood. They helped us get settled and came over frequently for meetings and gatherings. There were some men working on the house next door and they seemed very amused by my still-developing Spanish. My sister and I went to the school where one of the women from the Mexican community taught, and we sat-in to listen to classes. I loved learning Spanish and meeting all these new people. Sometimes I worried about my sister. Mr. Herman had a house in Pharr, Texas where we would have important meetings, none more important than a visit from the Bishop of the Mexican Diocese of Matamoros. It went well, I was told. My dad was very important in all of this--crucially important. His fluency in the language and culture made me soon realize that he was being underappreciated by Mr. Herman. When the Hermans moved to a house in Mexico where we would have morning meetings with pan dulce and hard boiled eggs, I started to sense a beginning tension between my Dad and Mr. Herman. With those first intuitions I left my idolatry of Mr. Herman behind and began to see him a stifling disciplinarian. But there were really fun people too. Keith was one of the single guys who always got into trouble for things and he became my new idol. But, with time, we became very distant from the "community" way of doing thing. At the same time, we still lived according to most of the basic norms of community life. Many of them were being integrated with the new movement for family renewal that was starting at all these meetings. When Grandpa Rocha got sick, I remember hearing that Mr. Herman recommended that my Dad send him to a home or something. When we moved in with them I left the community behind. I no longer had any desire to be in it, not even remotely. My Grandpa was the most fascinating person I had ever met. He had taught me math when I was doing my make-up lessons during second grade and now he helped me with my times tables. He could tell me stories of growing up on the rancho all day long. My dream went from being a community coordinator to being a vaquero like my Grandpa. Grandpa never quite understood the life-style we adopted from the community and, when he started feeling better after his knee surgery, he started speaking up about it. Especially about the food. I agreed with him. I began to resent the community and the movement, especially Mr. Herman and his peons like Ms. Murphy. When Mr. Herman's son would get into trouble and I'd hear about it, I would smile. I was still devoted to my Dad's work though. We would go to Weslaco on Thursdays and help Fr. O'Malley give the Life in the Spirit Seminar there. I was the photographer. Eventually I became the music minister. The best part was going to Wendy's afterward. When we went back to Mexico, I took some joy in the movement but for my own reasons. When I was told that I would not be allowed to play music because I was called for the drama team, I was convinced that these people were nuts. I started to outright hate them. My memory began to transform my one-time allegiance to them in Ohio into painful memories of spankings, rules, and a cold relationship to my family--especially my parents. We had a "formula" for everything given to us by order of Mr. Herman and the inner circle, Servants of the Cross. I began to find it all so formalized and stale. When we visited our relatives in Colorado, we were told that they lived shallow lives aimed at pleasure and entertainment, which were empty. What I found to be amazing was how they treated each other, it was so warm and so natural and fun! I wanted that. I wanted the world. Even if it was bad; I wanted it anyway. I didn't care if it was "for the Lord" or not. And that made me feel sneeky, guilty and free all at once.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Lenten Reflection on Love & Fasting

For those of you who, like me, have been surprised by the proximity of Ash Wednesday, here are some thoughts of mine on the season. For those of you wo0ndering when I will finish my series on Cults, this is an afterword of sorts to the still-incomplete series.

In my recent meditations of the meaning of Love, I am offered a fresh and better way to focus on fasting than I am used to. I would like to share some of those thoughts with you.

Sure, I have read and heard a lot about love, but the idea that love cannot be reduced to its components (the classic divide between agape and eros) and is, perhaps, most properly understood as both things at once makes sense to me in a very synthetic, universal and new way. What I mean to say is that the enlightening relationship of agape and eros is something I must ponder and contemplate more and more to begin to comprehend—with heart and mind—the meaning of Love.

Too many times I suffer from reductionism, thinking that goodness, truth, or even God can be reduced into a concentrate that is exclusive, homogenous, and comfortable. I am reminded of the need to be who I am: an image of Love—imagus Dei. I am further reminded that as much as I may look to my self-constructed images of who God is and who I am, I must only to look to Love in order to simultaneously see who He truly is and who I truly am.

One way the Judeo-Christian tradition gives us to accomplish this mysterious end is through fasting. Yet, too many times I reduce fasting much like I can tend to reduce God and love. To not eat seems to serve the purpose of denying myself to become more soulful and less bodily. Francis of Assisi admitted a similar reductionism; before he died he offered his “Brother Body” a heartfelt apology for having ignored and mistreated him.

Like the mutual enlightenment of eros and agape is crucial to understand what love is, so too my body and soul must enlighten each other to gain understanding of who I am. In other words, when I fast it cannot not be a deprivation of my body for the sake of my soul or the simple converse, instead, it should lead to an enlightenment of both realities of human existence in the Light of Christ that “enlightens all men.”

The Light of Christ certainly does not enlighten the spiritual souls or physical bodies of humanity exclusively, it does not pick or choose one or the other; this Light enlightens the person as person holistically—body and soul. So, I ask myself, how can I fast in a way that enlightens my body and my soul? How can real hunger and pain—real sacrifice and suffering—bring Light to my body when my stomach hurts? Moreover, how could the beating, tearing, and puncturing of the Flesh of Christ pierced on the Cross bring glory to His Body?

I am challenged to reframe the purpose of fasting. I had become accustomed to think that I should want to neglect my bodily hunger and desire (eros) for food so that I could eventually push my erotic sense of physical vitality aside and become more spiritually alive—more soulfully vital. It seemed like: less food for my body, more holiness for my soul. But, too often it can become less food for my body and more fuel for my ego to perceive my own will-driven holiness.

If Love is more than its parts and if we are more than a duality of body and soul, flesh and spirit, then, the vitality and love I seek for my spirit should not be at the expense of my body’s desire (eros). This redefines fasting! To not eat is not to push my body aside; it is an embrace of a higher and deeper—holier—sense of spiritual and physical vitality.

No wonder Christ says in Mathew: “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.” Surely Jesus wasn’t asking me to be unauthentic or dishonest; this teaching tells me to be look happy in suffering and pain because I am happy and nonetheless hungry or suffering. To put it another way, we are called to “rejoice in the Lord always.” And this joy is real. When we unite ourselves to the cross we find ourselves more alive and more vital, not the other way around.

This discipline frees us to rejoice and to love without restraint and without regard for ones’ self. This is fitting since the New Commandment was to “love one another, even as I have loved you...” And in this love we are known to be disciples. This is the sign of the true disciple: Love. And this love is not of our own making or design; it is grace, the primordial gift of perfect Love.

This love is the parental affection of the Father and the mad eros of the Son who died, rose, and gave us the ever-present gift of the Holy Spirit. So too, like love and the Trinitarian God, fasting cannot be purely soulful at the expense of the body—I must resist reductionisms and oversimplifications. In looking at “Him who they have pierced” I am called anew to fast and suffer to experience a deeper vitality—a holier vita (life). This helps reframe my approach to fasting, but most of all it helps me love. I hope that it brings Love to your mind, heart, intellect, will, body and soul in some way too.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Buying a Degree

I never read spam but this was just too creepy not to read:
To buy a degree is quite easy these days. Nevertheless most students just sit around in their usually boring local University classes, wasting money. Why would you do that? These days buying a degree is a matter of personal motivation. But why should you buy a degree? The main reason is the fact that buying a degree on1ine is going to save you time, a lot of time. Usually you have to verify your life experience and you instantly qualify. Even though that is not the main cause why people are buying life experience degree.

The actual reason why people buy a life experience degree is because they can not go to a institution in their surrounding area that offers the diploma program they are heading for: For example, if you live near a College which only offers renowned marketing degree, then this doesn't help you a bit if you're looking for a marketing degree. To attend classes you might have to travel long distances. Then it might be that the degree that you want is only offered by a institution which costs a fortune. So you have to leave your place, look for accommodation in the University's place and do all the other stuff involved costing you tons of cheeze.

If you buy a degree by verifying your life experience or work experience, you can find the right degree for you without ever having to leave your workplace and instead get all the documents like the diploma certificate with the University's legal verification and official seal certifying the degree chosen, the transcript, a cover letter, copies of the College's or University's official certificate of accreditation, the institutions postal prospectus approval and a few important things more.

Having a University degree is very important these days, and as always in life you should only stick with something you want.

Beware choosing to be something just because it was the only good degree your local institution offered. After all, you are only going to be good at your job if you like to do it. Thus, you have to get a degree that means something to
you. This used to be a task that could take you years.

Buying a degree is nothing harmful. It's a win-win situation for the Colleges involved as well as for you, getting the degree you dreamed of.Give us a call if you are interested to buy a degree from an University!
This speaks volumes about the state of (mis)education in our world today. Sad.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Story of Occor the Monster

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a monster named Occor. Occor was the nicest and prettiest thing to be found in the entire forest. Everyday he would weave through the trees greeting whatever animals he met. Often, creatures of all kinds would come out to say hello as they heard him approaching. You see, as he would make his way through the forest, songbirds would strike a pleasant tune and Occor would hum a simple melody. This soft, harmonious greeting would often end disagreements and bickering and is even said to have opened hearts to true love. For this reason, Occor never had to work to find food or drink; he just wandered and found everything he needed as he went. As the seasons changed, Occor met different friends who were always happy to share what they had with him. As they saw it, it was worth the joy he brought with him. After all, Occor was the nicest and prettiest thing to be found in the entire forest.

One day a frog told Occor that beneath the water of ponds and lakes, and sometime even streams, there were other kinds of things that he might want to meet too. These fish-things could be quite nice to watch and to play with. Occor decided that he must meet these fish so, naturally, he waded into the first pond he came to. When he put his monster eyes into the water and looked for fish all he could see were water-grasses and rocks. No fish. He tried again and again until he was very tired. So, he walked back to the shore and began to walk into the woods when he noticed something strange. Silence. There were no birds singing. When he saw a squirrel on a nearby tree, it threw a branch at him instead of the usual "hello" and offering of something to eat. Things went on like this for the rest of the day. By nighttime Occur was tired and hungry and cold – and wet. For the first time, Occur was sad. He cried and wondered what this thing to be sad was. The raindrops coming out of his eyes mystified him. He wondered why things had changed. Then, he realized that until he went into the pond things were the same. So, he went back to the pond to try and find the past. But it wasn’t there.

As the moonless night hid his despair, Occur stood on the bank of the pond, paralyzed by fear. It was like his lungs had shrunken and his mind weighed a thousand tons. He had never been afraid before and, like his tears, his fear mystified him. When he tried to speak, nothing came out but sterile huffs of breath. Even his vision seemed different, the darkness haunted his feeble sight and the stillness became lonely and void.

Slowly, Occur began to gain mobility in his limbs and mind and he decided to sit down. When he sat, the waxy blades of grass that poked his seat reminded him of something: the past. Yet, still, he could not find it. It was not there as anything but a distant and cold memory. "It must be gone forever", he muttered. So, he decided to get up and venture into the woods to see what they had in store.

The sun was rising. As rays of light began to pierce the canopy of branches and leaves, Occur's sadness and fear became something different. He was free. He needed no one. He would no longer hold on to that distant past of others and their feeble offerings. He would make his own way in the world. Never again would he seek out new things. Never again would he be betrayed. "From now on, I will be a monster", he said proudly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

More from VN: Deem on Chaput on the Pitfalls of Partisanship

Mr. Deem, who goes by Policratus, has posted an interesting piece from Archbishop Chaput on the dangers of entrusting issues of moral import to a particular political party of choice. Here is my own quick and dirty summary:

If you want to fight poverty, then, don't expect the Democrats to feed the hungry and if you want to advance life, then, don't put your trust in the Republicans to love every human person unconditionally. Both of them are deeply invested in these things, and more, not getting done. It is the tragic, sick cycle they feed on.

I do, however, have my reservations about Chaput's argument. His analogy between rape and abuse and the Civil Rights Act seems to be very similar to the kind of bickering that transpires between the trenches of political aisle warfare. And its a bad analogy because it does not exclude broader reform from happening in an ongoing way--very similar to the theological idea of conversion as a way of life. All in all, I like that he has the insight to step away from polemics but I dislike his inability to see his own polar attitude on these things.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Psychoanalytic Critique of Cults in the Catholic Church: Part III

"Who is this king of glory? The LORD of hosts is the king of glory." (Psalm 24:10)
"For the Lord" meant to be against the world and its list of dysfunctions. These worldly things became more and more numerous as time went on. I knew that there were some cases where we didn't observe all the worldly things as problematic, but I wished we did. The more radical a life "for the Lord" was, the more things it had rejected. I wished that Mom and Dad would take away our bed mattresses so we could be like the really radical members and sleep on a wooden plank of a bed. I always envied the people who lived in Akron and wished we could move there to do all the things during the week I heard about from the other kids. The kids had a private and secret sect of conduct and, even though I didn't really approve of it, it was fascinating. The older boys would send down the line stories and tales of bad things they had done and when no one was around they would shock us younger ones with their antics. Most of these antics were using bad words and spitting, but sometimes they talked about girls too. That made me feel really uncomfortable. The world became clearer to me as I grew. I began to see the difference between an "ordinary" person or Catholic and the truly dangerous ones. I suspected people who were not charismatic and especially those who dressed suspiciously. I was not shy. I would boldly correct someone from the world. I was confused when my Mom told me to not tell the goat lady that using the Lord's name in vain was a sin. I was getting better at guitar. Even Dad was noticing this. I could strum better than him already. He always played things in that other way the Spanish songs went. Living "for the Lord" meant that we had to be different and at school this was hard. I never made that many friends; but it didn't make me sad. I understood why and I liked it that way. I never felt like a victim. As I grew in prayer I learned the zenith of approval could be found in public worship. Especially if, during the time of prophesy or spontaneous singing, I could think of something poetic or deep to say. I made the adults so proud when I did this. And I knew it must be "for the Lord". This affirmation led me to believe that "the Lord" could be found in the approval of community. In a certain way, I secretly wanted to be even more radical than my parents were. Sometimes I wondered if we were being radical enough. I burned with passion for these things. Now, I was in trouble plenty and got into my own share of mischief, but there was no doubt in anyone's mind that I was fully committed to "the Lord". I had a personal relationship with Him. I did my daily prayer in mimicry of the adults. But when I read the Bible, I read it in earnest. I poured over it seriously and intensely. I loved to read. I loved to read big book, adult books. Sometimes I would peruse my Dad's collection of books and read the back of the cover. I learned how to read the descriptions and the table of contents and pretty much get a good gist of what the whole book was about. I learned about how important defending the faith and the tenets of the Charismatic Renewal (like praying in tongues) was and how important countercultural ways of living were too. I always clustered these authors together with my Bible reading and the things from the community. Mr. Herman and others went to Honduras and I slowly forgot about him for the most part. But by now my parents were deeply involved in the community and other subgroups like Couples for Christ. For me, it was all part of the same thing. We were to go to visit Grandma and Grandpa for a while during the second semester of my second grade year and we would be doing something with Mr. Hermann there. Little did I know that we would go to Mexico City in a train and decide to move to Mexico by the next school year.

So far I have rambled between the late 80's and early 90's. What strikes me most about thinking about this as it happened it how very pleasant it was to me then. Also, I am struck with how many skills I use today (in my musical and academic work) were begun at that time. My greatest regret, however, is that my "Lord" was not God. My God was not infinite or limitless or mysterious. He was so understood and codified that I never looked twice at one of my favorite Psalms: Psalm 24. I never really wondered who "the Lord" was. Skepticism or questioning were clear tools of the devil--really, they were. Intellectual explanations or even Catholic interpretations were just excuses for giving in the the world. I was sure who the Lord was and how to live for Him. The details were in whether I would be radical enough.

This is one of the reasons that, while I look fondly on this part of my life in so many ways, I see such an approach as cultish. The sign of a cult is not in some straightforwardly evil plan, instead, it is in the incredible narrowness of that plan. Narrowness at the time was good thing. There could be no room for the world in our lives. But, as I re-read the Cultural Approach today, I see it rooted in a certain insecurity. "The Lord" is nothing more than an image of the angst of Mr. Herman and his followers. But this angst is not a true property of the Lord of Psalm 24. That Lord is God. And this God is not a mere placeholder for our own radical proposals. This God is infinite, mysterious, and catholic (universal). This does not do away with real things, but it also saturates them with more than they can contain. It humbles them and us in the process.

This is the hallmark of a cult: hubris. As a religious organization it is the ultimately the arrogance of idolatry. To belief that one can so neatly and tyrannically give meaning to the person or the family is a pure act of selfish pride. It is to create God using our own finite ideas. With it comes a different god, one fashioned in the image of something altogether different. Discipline and threats of expulsion into the wretched world--or, to put it another way, fear tactics--preserve this god, this idol.

However, when we ask "Who is the Lord?" in humility we are not threatened--we are loved.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Psychoanalytic Critique of Cults in the Catholic Church: Part II

When I entered the room I knew there was something very special about this dinner we were invited to. I was wearing a striped shirt. Everyone else was dressed up in ties and white shirts with faded navy blue pants. I wished I could dress like they did. We went through the night of Lord's Day and soon began to return for whole weekends. We were welcomed and everyone was very nice to us and soon I began to want to help Mom and Dad with the changes we were learning. I loved the big meeting--especially the music. I had never heard such a big sound before and the songs were new and exciting. Some of them were sung in parts, women and men, and others had sign language that the women did. Everyone was so happy, the women glowed and the men were all so serious but positive and friendly. Soon we began to have the kinds of prayer meetings I had only seen at Church or people's houses in our own house. They all began with music, soon a guitar stand would sit next to the dinner table. I worked to learn to play the faster tempo music and also began to learn some Spanish songs from the Spanish prayer meetings at Church. My siblings seemed to not quite get it, but I knew that I wanted everything that this new life from Akron had to offer. I was no older than six or seven years old. You see, I had seen it all before. I mean, I was no stranger to the raising hands during worship or the other things that other people would have found strange. I had always loved to go to prayer meetings and when they were in our home, when I was "asleep" I would try to listen in. But until now things at home were never this serious or this organized--this official. But the seriousness made it seem more important and soon I jumped into the process by trying to grow in prayer and reading the Bible and writing my own songs. I would consult with my sister to see how they sounded and she would always give me feedback that mostly said that I sounding like I was howling. But I knew that these changes were "for the Lord". With time I began to understand the urgency of this movement and began to revere the leader, Mr. Herman. He had written a book! I was so impressed by that. I had never known anyone who had written a book. This book, A Cultural Approach to Christianity, laid out every aspect of the Christian life. It explained what was wrong with the world today and how to fight it by living a radical Christian life. And it went into grave detail to put everything in its place. From how to dress, eat, behave, worship, and more, it was clear--painfully clear. The pain was all the spanking. One of the biggest changes were generous helpings of corporal punishment for violations of the precepts of the cultural approach. Now I knew that we weren't doing all of them, but I wanted to. I hoped that we could become Servants of the Cross someday. They wore special patches on their oxford shirts and sometimes wore a brown colored pants instead of blue. My brother was really young but he was not deterred by any of this. He would do anything to break rules and even when I tried to warn him, he would willingly disobey and pay for it. But, he had to learn somehow. I struggled the most with the food. It was so gross. The first time I took a step back was when I felt that I couldn't physically eat the dense peanut-butter and jelly sandwich and was ordered by one of the leaders to be spanked by my parents--and they did. That moment was the first time I felt an intuition of injustice. But, on the whole, I was committed to seeing our family grow in this new lifestyle. When Dad quit his job at Church--where a lukewarm priest had taken over--and devoted all of his time to the charism of the community, family renewal, I was proud. When we were to move to Mexico to help Mr. Herman start a new mission, I was excited. It was "for the Lord".