Thursday, May 28, 2009
I've puzzled often over why same-sex "marriage" (SSM) seems to be sweeping through the Western world and gaining support especially from young people. Why now? Why such apathy about defending something as fundamental to civilization as marriage? I understand the energy and anger of the homosexual activists who seek validation as persons for their "life styles." I understand the motivation of adults who wish to put their own gratification above family respsponsibility and so endorse a general permissiveness. But why do others so readily acquiesce in the demands of the extremists? Why has the response of so many been basically a shrug? And, in particular, why are younger Evangelicals more open to SSM than say abortion, an issue on which the Christian view is equally counter-cultural?
Here is the link that just occurred to me. A full 25% of people in the US (I assume as similar rate for Canada) under the age of 44 are children of divorce. The Wallerstein book is a longitudinal study of about 130 families over a 25 year period. The youngest at the time writing (late 90's) was 28 and the oldest was 44. This is the first study to look at the effects of divorce on children as they grow up (they were interviewed every 5 years) and in particular on their adult lives.
What the book found is that the point of greatest impact on the children of divorce is their early adulthood - the period in which they are seeking a marriage partner and marrying. Two myths challenged by Wallerstein are: 1) that children are happier if the divorce makes their parents happier and 2) that the point of greatest impact on children is at the time of the breakup.
With regard to the first myth:
"Children in postdivorce families do not, on the whole, look happier. National studies show that children from divorced and remarried families are two to three times more likely to be referred for psychological help at school than their peers from intact families. More of them end up in mental health clinics and hospital settings. There is earlier sexual activity, more children born out of wedlock, less marriage, and more divorce. Numerous studies show that adult children of divorce have more psychological problems than those raised in intact homes." (p. xxix)
With regard to the second myth:
"Contrary to what we have long thought, the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence. Rather, it rises in adulthood as serious romantic relationships move to center stage. When it comes time to choose a life mate and build a new family, the effects of divorce crescendo. A central finding to my research is that children identify not only with their mother and father as separate individuals but with the relationship between them. They carry the template of this relationship into adulthood and use it to seek the image of their new family. The absence of a good image negatively influences their search for love, intimacy, and commitment. Anxiety leads many into making bad choices in relationships, giving up hastily when problems arise, or avoiding relationships altogether." (p. xxv)
If Wallerstein's research is right, would it not make sense if the ambivalence that so many younger Evangelicals feel toward the defense of traditional marriage as a social issue is rooted in their general ambivalence toward marriage in general caused by their own personal life histories? If so, what are the implications of this fact for the future of marriage? Would not the issue perhaps better be framed as a loss of hope, than as rebelliousness?
I certainly do not sense a spirit of 60's rebelliousness in the students I teach. There is an almost pathetic longing for happiness - in whatever way people can find it. They are the opposite of utopians. They tend to be subdued emotionally, cautious in love, and strikingly lacking in conviction that people can change for the better. I see a streak of conservativism in these students, but not much optimism, self-confidence, or trust. These are just my observations.
I'd appreciate feedback, especially from those in their late teens to early thirties, about the possible link between a generation shaped by the experience of divorce and a tentativeness about defending traditional marriage as a social issue.
“It’s barbaric,” declared Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. “I’m extremely embarrassed to be associated with a governor-general of my country eating raw seal meat in that manner.”
If I were him I wouldn't worry. There is little chance that the Governor General would be interested in associating with him anyway. In fact, even most average Canadians would rather eat raw moose tail three meals a day than associate with him. He should consider himself officially disassociated from Canada as a whole.
Maybe he should move to Paris and protest the eating of frogs legs or cavair or something.
Robert George calls it a "terrible idea." He says of marriage:
“It’s a pre-political institution,” he said. “It exists even apart from religion, even apart from polities. It’s the coming together of a husband and wife, creating the institution of family in which children are nurtured.”
“The family is the original and best Department of Health, Education and Welfare,” he continued, saying that governments, economies and legal systems all rely on the family to produce “basically honest, decent law abiding people of goodwill – citizens – who can take their rightful place in society.”
“Family is built on marriage, and government--the state--has a profound interest in the integrity and well-being of marriage, and to write it off as if it were a purely a religiously significant action and not an institution and action that has a profound public significance, would be a terrible mistake,” George told CNSNews.com."
George is right. Marriage was not invented by Christianity; nor was it created by the State.
It was certainly improved and promoted by Christianity. Under Christian influence marriage was strengthened and given preferential status over rival ways of organizing human sexual relationships. And that is precisely what is being undone in the current process of institutionalizing the promiscuity ethic of the sexual revolution. Same-sex "marriage" is just the culmination of a four decade long process of increasing social acceptance of the separation of sex from procreation and family. Pre-marital sex, cohabitation, no-fault divorce and remarriage, and same-sex "marriage" are just points on a continuum and the direction is away from monogamy, parents raising their children together, and the family as the primary agent of socialization. The next logical point on the line is to do away with marriage altogether. After that, there will be the inevitable increase in State intervention to fill the gap created by the destruction of the family.
If you think that pro same-sex "marriage" activists (most of whom are not homosexuals) will be content to allow married heterosexual couples to have one privilege or one label that same-sex couples don't have, you do not understand the psychology of inferiority, which is driving this debate. For 20 centuries, our culture has tried to shame and blame people who refuse to be faithful to their marriage vows and raise their own children by sacrificial service. This has been done in order to preserve, defend and build up the institution of marriage in the belief that everyone benefits from this way of life. It has been done out of a shared social consensus that marriage is the best way to organize the raising of children.
In the last 40 years, there has been a rebellion against this social order and individuals have developed ideological justifications for the pursuit of their own personal pleasure and self-fulfillment instead of entering into permanent marriage covenants and submerging their own self-interest in the service of the next generation and society as a whole. This rebellion creates tremendous guilt feelings on the part of those who choose it and they are therefore determined to eradicate any trace of social preference for the older ethic. The family itself is a rebuke to individualism, hedonism and sex without reproduction.
What this is about is the reorganization of society in such a way as to ensure that selfish adults can pursue their "lifestyle options" without guilt. It is not a coincidence that the separation of sex from procreation and family is occurring at precisely the same moment as the refusal of an increasing number of people to reproduce themselves. About 20% of the baby boomer generation did not have children. Even allowing for those couples struggling with infertility, surely no further proof of the pathological condition of our society is required. When a society is too selfish to have children, it is on the brink of collapse.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
"While visiting Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, on Monday, Ms. Jean gutted and ate a piece of the bleeding, raw heart of a freshly slaughtered seal.
Ms. Jean then wiped her fingers and expressed dismay that anyone would characterize the Inuit seal hunt as inhumane.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament voted to ban seal products, a move that was seen by aboriginals and Atlantic Canadian fishermen as an attack on their trade.
Asked Tuesday whether her actions were a message to Europe, Ms. Jean replied, “Take from that what you will.”"
Wow! You tell them Governor General Jean! Preach it! Pass the seal meat! The hypocritical urbanites in Europe, who are persecuting Canada's native people and Newfoundlanders, are so alienated from nature that they likely do not even know that filet mignon actually comes from cute, floppy eared, peaceable cows, which are murdered by sadists and chopped up into bits to be eaten by savage - wait for it - Europeans!
The environmental movement has made money out of using the Canadian seal hunt to fuel faux outrage for years. They think animals are more important than humans and they froth at the mouth about a culture they do not understand. They wouldn't know humane hunting methods if they saw them because for such fanatics there is no such thing as a humane hunting method. They are pitiful, decadent, urbanites for whom sentimentality has replaced morality. If only she had eaten the heart of a human fetus, they would have had no problem with her.
Take from that what you will!
More reaction pro and con. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/governor-general-applauded-denounced-for-eating-raw-seal/article1153869/
More from The National Post: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=1632873
You can always count on The Toronto Star to give the crazies a platform. Here is PETA's take:
"PETA today likened Jean's sampling of seal heart to "taking part in the beating of women in the Middle East because it is part of local practice.""
What a horrible perversion to compare women to seals. Oh sure, some will claim that that is not what they said. So why is it that when these people reach for a metaphor to describe how outraged they are, they end up comparing the treatment of animals to the treatment of people? This is moral childishness and it is offensive coming from adults.
A Further Update: G-G Jean Speaks About Why She Did What She Did
Michelle Jean, our Governor-General, speaks about respecting the culture, the way of life and the people of the North and East of Canada. She is articulate and reasonable, unlike her shrill, one-note, extremist critics.
The right to life is the most fundamental and important of all human rights and no other human rights are possible without it. There can be no feeding of the hungry, no clothing of the poor, no visiting of the prisoners and no offering a cup of cold water to those who are murdered before birth. No one can be truly concerned for the poor, the weak, the helpless, the elderly, the frail, the handicapped, the minority, the economically disadvantaged or the victims of discrimination who is not pro-life. It makes no sense to be anti-war or anti-capital punishment while being indifferent to the murder of the weakest and most helpless among us. All social justice issues begin with the issue of abortion.
Some would have us believe that abortion is “just another issue” to be horse-traded in the cut and thrust of party politics. But the fact is that abortion on demand is a central issue one for those who are advancing the agenda of the Culture of Death. It is nothing less than legalized private killing and is the key to many other anti-humanistic behaviors, principles and policies. Abortion is far from being a single, stand-alone issue. It reveals a mindset that is deeply pathological and it reflects a society that is altogether too passive, resigned, tired and apathetic when it comes to resisting evil. Abortion sets a precedent for taking other forms of human life.
1. Euthanasia - the next issue to debate after abortion on the list of those promoting the Culture of Death is euthanasia. If pre-born human life is of no value and not worth protecting, then the elderly and the sick are at great risk. Euthanasia presupposes that human life is no different from animal life and that what is acceptable and humane for animals must be acceptable for humans. The principle of the sanctity of human life is at stake. We need to remember that some people have just as great (or greater) financial incentives to kill their parents as they do to kill their preborn children.
2. Infanticide – Many people believe infanticide is “no big deal” but Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians, along with many others from all religions and no religious backgrounds, beg to differ. It is an issue of murder. No one can explain why it is all right to kill a baby one minute before birth, but not one minute after birth. Abortion on demand – which is the law in the US and Canada – is a certain prelude to infanticide. The Greco-Roman culture that early Christianity confronted (and converted) practiced infanticide by exposure. Christians would go out to the garbage heaps of Rome to save children. One could even argue that abortion is just a technologically advanced form of infanticide.
3. The Silent War Against Black People – More black babies are aborted than white ones – proportionately. Planned Parenthood often locates their abortion facilities near black inner city neighborhoods. The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was a eugenicist who favored limiting births among the “inferior races” and Planned Parenthood carries on her racist program of eugenics today. People of African descent in North America know that many white people wish they would just go away; abortion is one of the methods used to implement that wish.
4. The Silent War Against Girls - Abortion is legalized private killing and baby girls are more vulnerable than baby boys. For many social and financial reasons, parents often choose to abort a girl so they can try for a boy. In countries like China and India this practice is so wide-spread that it is now beginning to cause many social problems due to a shortage of women, but it is increasingly common in the West as well. No one can be a true Feminist who fails to oppose the killing of babies just because they are female.
5. The Silent War Against Handicapped People - About 90% of Down Syndrome babies are now killed before birth in the US. What is this but blatant, unjust discrimination against the handicapped? This is a very new phenomenon based on recently-developed pre-natal genetic testing. How can we as a society expect to nourish a respect for the handicapped among us if we allow this evil attitude to take root that killing one’s child just because he or she does not measure up to our standard of perfection is morally acceptable? The sympathy accorded parents who abort handicapped babies is appalling and parallels the sympathy accorded to Nazis who launched their euthanasia program against the handicapped in the 1930’s.
6. The Corruption of the Medical Profession – The introduction of legalized abortion into Western societies required that Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors for over two millennia had to be revised. Doctors renounced their oaths to “do no harm” and added killing to their job description. For centuries, doctors have been trusted precisely because they always refused to get involved in taking life, even when pressured by the state to become executioners, for example. As doctors become desensitized to killing, patient trust will decline and we all will be worse off as a result. This affects people who have no direct involvement in abortion, euthanasia or other culture of death practices.
7. The Corruption of the Law – Western law has gradually been reformed over centuries to prohibit the legalized private killing of individuals by other individuals in power over them. Once under Roman law the Patriarch of a household held the power of life and death over members of his household. This was abolished under Christianity. The same goes for the right of the White slaveholder to kill the slaves he owned. The same goes for the right of Lords under feudalism to kill those under their authority. At various times and in various ways, the Christian West abolished all right of private killing. But in the second half of the Twentieth century legalized private killing made a comeback as mothers gained the “right” to kill their children. Soon children will have the “right” to have their parents killed under euthanasia laws. The principle of the inviolable right to life as the foundational human life is being eroded.
8. Eugenics – Eugenics is a group of humans taking control of the future evolution of the human race to make is in their own image. For example, the eugenics movement of the early Twentieth century was widespread and powerful in all Western countries and one branch of it motivated Nazi campaigns of forced sterilization, killing of “useless eaters” and cruel medical experiments in the death camps. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a leader in this movement and sought to use sterilization, contraception and abortion to decrease the “breeding potential” of inferior races like African Americans. Eugenics is scientific racism combined with violence.
9. Cloning people for Spare Parts, i.e. So-called “Saviour Siblings” – This was recently legalized in the UK by the Labour Party. To bring human beings into the world just for the purpose of taking their organs out of them to transplant into another person is sick, evil and demonic. At this moment, the idea of aborting a fetus to harvest its organs or tissue to save a sibling is considered ethical by many people. Abortion is essential to people with this mindset. The novel Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, is about children raised for no purpose other than to have their organs harvested at the cost of their lives. It is unbearably sad and morally repulsive both at the same time. This is the “Brave New World” into which the Culture of Death leads and abortion is an absolutely necessary step on the road to get there.
10. The Choice Women Need - and deserve is not just the “choice” to kill their babies or be on their own raising them. The pro-abortion forces are not really pro-choice. If they were they would have better responses than just abortion and welfare for women in crisis pregnancies. They would support women who choose to carry and place for adoption. They would support women who choose to carry and raise the child. They would understand that most women want to bear the children they conceive, but find the deck stacked against them and abortion the expected thing to do. We should not let men off the hook and let it be simply the woman’s problem. Women deserve better.
11. Abortion on Demand Only Benefits Predatory Males - who are not prepared to take their responsibility as fathers. If we really cared about women and children we would demand that men take responsibility for their actions and we would stop treating women like sex objects for males who pervert sex into something selfish and superficial. The culture of abortion is great for men who want to pressure women into having sex and it is great for men who want to exit the scene once the natural result of sexual intercourse occurs. But it is not great for women or for children or for society as a whole.
12. Demographic Suicide – Almost 60 nations of the world currently are not reproducing themselves and world population is set to age rapidly and start declining during the 21st century. When a wealthy nation refuses to have enough babies even to maintain the population and thereby chooses to die out, one has to wonder what kind of despair lies behind such a collective decision. We need 2.3 babies per 1000 women per year and most of the Western world is currently between 1.3 and 1.7. But the root causes of a decision to commit demographic suicide are very important. The hedonism, materialism and individualism of Western culture, which the West has exported around the world, are pathological symptoms of a deeper spiritual malaise. People who are schooled to think primarily of their rights and entitlements are simply unable to commit to self-sacrifice and the common good. Abortion feeds the culture of entitlement and selfishness and the end result of the Culture of Death is the decision to die as a culture.
There are other reasons, but these are twelve of the most compelling ones to make the eradication of abortion from civilized societies the highest priority for the 21st century.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Hodgson clearly differentiates Liberal Christiainity from Evangelicalism and Conservative Protestantism, Postliberalism and Radical Orthodoxy, on the one hand, and from secularism and atheism, on the other. His view of the Roman Catholic Church is basically that nothing of note has happened in it since Vatican II.
His vision is that Liberal Christianity stands between Fundamentalism and Atheism as a mediating, correlational theology that strives to preserve a Christian witness in the midst of an evolving and changing society. He strives mightily to incorporate Liberation Theologies (Feminist, Black and Latin American) into Liberalism as legitimate expressions of Liberal Theology's central motif of freedom. In fact, it seems as if everything resolves into freedom for Hodgson. Jesus' message of the kingdom of God is about freedom. God is free. Human beings are free as they emerge from nature to become responsible subjects. Salvation is freedom. The future is freedom. If there is any such thing as sin, it can be defined as that which inhibits freedom. He writes:
"Emancipation from the various forms of evil inflicted by human beings on themselves and nature happens when persons become engaged in the coming of God's kingdom or baileia - a metaphor that is appropriately translated in today's context as God's 'freedom project,' meaning the process and place wherein God's freedom - the freedom of love, forgiveness, and grace - prevails in place of the normal arrangements of domination, retribution, and exchange." (67)
When Hodgson begins his brief narrative of the beginning of Liberal Theology, he begins with the Enlightenment and Kant, accepting the story the Enlightenment tells about itself at face value. He has little time for the patristic-medieval synthesis of theology that culminates in the thought of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. This tradition may be mined for resources, along with heterodox traditions, which may equally well contain nuggets that can be incorporated today into what he terms: "a liberal reconstruction of Christian faith for today." (30) Much of the book (chapter 2) is concerned with a reconstruction of theology along Hegelian lines.
One big problem in the book is Hodgson's struggle to come to terms with the fact that postmodernism, which he finds difficult to refute, has claimed that modernity is passe, when Hodgson's understanding of Liberal Theology is rooted clearly in modernity. He tries to cope with this challenge by arguing that postmodernity has problems too and it is more in continuity with modernity than it tries to let on. His answer is that Hegel's thought is superior to that of the postmodernists. One senses at times that although he is struggling to keep up, history has passed Hodgson (and Liberalism) by.
Hodgson is clear that this reconstructed Liberal faith will differ from orthodoxy at key points:
1. God: He rejects the orthodox teaching on the relationship of God to creation. In orthodoxy, God is simultaneously transcendent (free) and immanent (involved). For Liberalism, God and the universe are interdependent in a panentheism. (44)
As for the doctrine of the Trinity, Hodgson says that "there are no preexisting persons in God but rather potentials for relationships that become actual when God creates the world." These relations, he adds, "should not be thought of mythologically as subsistent persons." That is a brief but efficient demolition job on the most doctrine that makes Christianity what it is.
2. Christ: He rejects the doctrine of Nicaea and the NT that Jesus is one in being with the Father, thus Divine and thus worthy of worship. Describing what he finds of value in Hegel, he writes: "Having a literal divine nature is not what makes Jesus to be the Christ but rather his function as revealer of divinity and mediator of reconciliation." (51) Jesus' prophetic life reveals to the eye of faith that God is present in Christ, but this is "God's speaking, doing, working in a human being." (51)
3. Salvation: Since Jesus is not God in the flesh in the sense of traditional orthodoxy, he is not the saviour of the world either in the sense of doing for us what we could never have done for ourselves to reconcile us to God. Above, I quoted a sentence that describes salvation as freedom. On that page, the next sentence goes on to say:
"Jesus, who employs this metaphor [the kingdom of God] centrally in his preaching, accomplishes emancipation or redemption not in place of us but with us and through us; he does not bring the kingdom on his own but gets us involved in the project. Of course it is God who is involved in our involvement and God's power that empowers our always fragile and unfinished efforts." (67-68)
In the context of inter-religious dialogue, Hodgson speaks casually of God becoming incarnate in "Jesus and other saviour figures," which makes it clear that his concept of "incarnation" is far from orthodoxy and means something more like: a person in whom God works to attain his purposes.
4. Church: Hodgson believes that the Church has a role to play in what he calls "the freedom project" but he is unsure of its long term future. When freedom is attained, will there be any need for the Church to continue? (60) He appears to have no sense of the Church having a primarily doxological function or any sense of the Church as the body of Christ. The function of the Church is reduced to human emancipation projects.
5. Authority: Hodgson approvingly quotes Gary Dorrien as saying that: "Christian theology can be genuinely Christian without bring based upon external authority." (9) He suggests only that this idea needs modification insofar as historical tradition is needed as the raw material upon which the critical reason does its work. There is no real challenge to the Enlightenment concept of the autonomous self (58) or modern critical reason. He writes:
"Liberalism has tended to mistrust external authority, believing that nothing can be taken as true simply because an external authority such as the Bible, the church, or the state says that it is so. Following the philosophical tradition from Descartes to Kant, liberalism has characteristically turned to the subject and internalized authority, assuming that humans are free and morally responsible beings." (59)
The Enlightenment emphasis on the autonomous self as the source of authority is not challenged, but rather embraced by Liberal Theology. Hodgson writes:
"Enlightenment ideas and values - critical rationality, personal freedom and rights, religious tolerance, democratic governance, equal justice - have been internalized by Christian and altered our perception of Christ." (57) [my bolding]
6. Epistemology and Ethics: Not surprisingly, this account of authority leads to a relativistic approach to ethics in which the good is evolving along with the world and an epistemology, which is fluid and corporate. The individual senses the flow of history and moves toward the emerging good and this is understood to be progress.
Analysis and Response:
One astonishing ommission from this book of 130 pages is that with all the dozens of references to freedom as the heart of Liberal Theology, he never once defines "freedom." In trying to figure out why that is I have come up with the folllowing answers: (1) maybe he thinks the definition is so obvious, it does not need to be stated, (2) maybe there is no settled definition; maybe the core of Liberal Theology is itself in constant flux or (3) maybe he does not want to be too self-critical on this point lest he uncover the inner contradiction of Liberal Theology. I tend to lean toward the third explanation as the deeper reason and the first as the superficial reason. Freedom in the Enlightenment is freedom from constraint, the freedom of the will to choose without anything pushing it or pulling it or deternmining it in any way. This unconstrained will, of course, is ultimately nihilistic. If nothing determines value, then one is a nihilist. I think this is a serious inner contradiction that has been hidden in modernity until Nietzsche and even now I think the implications of Nietzsche's thought has yet to be taken with the seriousness it deserves.
What can we say about this account of Liberal Theology? Well, from my perspective it validates J. G. Machen's contention made back in the 1930's at the height of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that Liberalism simply is not Christianity, but rather a rival religion. When everyone from Justin Martyr to John Calvin must be labeled a "Fundamentalist" you have stretched the word beyond its usefullness and what is termed "Fundamentalism" has become identical with historic, orthodox Christianity - true Christianity.
Liberal Theology is an attempt to re-found Christianity as a new religion based on the Enlightenment and there is a sense in this book that the author is apprehensive about whether or not Liberal Christianity has any future or if its future can in any meaningful sense be said to be continuous with its past. This is the dilemma of Liberalism and this uncertainty contrasts with the words of the prophet that: "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever." (Isa. 40:8)
Saturday, May 23, 2009
"Two days before President Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame, I was at the White House for one of the meetings that he spoke about. About twenty of us with differing views on abortion were brought in to find “common ground.” But the most important point that came from the meeting was perhaps a slip from an Obama aide.
It revealed that what many people believe -- including high-profile pro-life leaders who support Obama -- is sorely wrong.
Ask nearly anyone, “What is Obama’s goal on abortion?” They’ll answer, “Reduce the number of abortions.” A Notre Dame professor and priest insisted this in a television debate after Obama’s speech. The Vatican newspaper reported it. Rush Limbaugh led a spirited debate on his radio program the next day based on this premise.
But that’s not what his top official in charge of finding “common ground” says.
Melody Barnes, the Director of Domestic Policy Council and a former board member of Emily’s List, led the meeting. As the dialogue wound down, she asked for my input. I noted that there are three main ways the administration can reach its goals: by what it funds, its messages from the bully pulpit, and by what it restricts. It is universally agreed that the role of parents is crucial, so government should not deny parents the ability to be involved in vital decisions. The goals need to be clear; the amount of funding spent to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions is not a goal. The U.S. spends nearly $2 billion each year on contraception programs -- programs which began in the 1970s -- and they’ve clearly failed. We need to take an honest look at why they are not working.
Melody testily interrupted to state that she had to correct me. “It is not our goal to reduce the number of abortions.”
The room was silent.The goal, she insisted, is to “reduce the need for abortions.”
Well, this raises a lot of questions. If you reduce the need, doesn’t it follow that the number would be reduced? How do you quantify if you’ve reduced the “need”? Does Obama want to reduce the “need” but not the number of abortions? In that case, is he okay with “unneeded” abortions?" Read the rest here.
This was no slip; it is policy. During the run-up to the presidential election, Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, with others, made an effort to get the Democratic Party Platform changed to be more moderate on abortion. They thought that surely reducing the number of abortions would be sensible common ground. They were stonewalled and, although the Clinton era language of wanting abortion to be "safe, legal and rare" was removed, this was what replaced it:
"The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family
planning services and age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education
help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for
abortions." (p. 50)
Now the need for abortions could be reduced a lot without one single less abortion being performed. It is strictly up to the choice of the mother. The ideological position is firm: they are not in favor of legalized abortion just because some women feel forced into it, but because they believe it should be a "right" to kill an unborn child one does not want - period.
The Obama apologists insist that he wants to reduce the number of abortions and they may sincerely believe that; in fact they may have a serious need to believe it. For all I know, maybe even Obama in some corner of his mind believes it. But his party platform and the officials he appoints to key positions, and every policy decision he has made so far in his presidency all indicate that it is only the need that they want to reduce, not necessarily the actual number. He must be judged by action, not words. Talk is cheap.
Friday, May 22, 2009
"What was surprising, and ought to be disturbing to anyone who cares about religious freedom in these United States, was the president’s decision to insert himself into the ongoing Catholic debate over the boundaries of Catholic identity and the applicability of settled Catholic conviction in the public square. Obama did this by suggesting, not altogether subtly, who the real Catholics in America are."
As Father Z puts it: "Who needs The Tudors? This was like watching Henry suborn the English Church away from the interference of Rome. . . As one person put it, 'America has a new pope!'"
If you think this is far-fetched, read Hans Kung's worshipful words about Obama expressing the wish that Obama were pope instead of Benedict XVI. For the Catholic Left, politics is everything and theology is a trivial matter. Yes, they really want to follow Obama rather than Benedict XVI. Obama represents a serious threat to the unity of the Church and an actual, heretical, false messiah-figure who is perfectly capable of leading many astray.
Here are two excerpts from the speech, which, I believe, sum up the essence of the Obama position and the Obama problem.
"As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called The Audacity of Hope. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that's not what was preventing him from voting for me.
What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website - an entry that said I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."
After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn't change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that - when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground."
"Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable."
Notice what Obama has done here. In response to a doctor who sounded like a likely convert - someone who just needed to be stroked a little in order to be reeled in - Obama changed some words. Not his position. He just took out some inflamatory rhetoric designed to demonize his opponents. But he did not change his position one iota. He does not want dialogue; he wants converts. His offer is that he will respect you and not call you names if you promise not to oppose what he is doing. And what he is doing is the bidding of the most extreme, pro-abortion groups in America.
In the second quote, he winks at his base just to let them know that he is not getting swayed by all the Catholic atmosphere at ND and giving up the fight. Oh, no, the differences are irreconcilable. In that case, what hope is there in dialogue? When Randall Terry says this, he is a narrow-minded, intolerant, violent fundamentalist. When President Obama says it, he is wise, conciliatory, realistic and nuanced. How must Fr. Jenkins have felt to have his plea for "dialogue" thrown back in his face? After all he risked in inviting Obama, now the President just says his views and those of the Catholic Church are "irreconcilable."
So the message is, given that the two views are irreconcilable, are you going to get with the program and stop insisting that abortion must be banned, in which case you can be regarded as "reasonable," "nuanced," "inclined to dialogue" and "realistic?" Or are you going to act as if the debate were still going on and as if there was still a possibility of change? Are you with me or with the evildoers, he might as well have said.
OK, Jon Shields has said it far more reasonably and calmly than I did. He deftly dissects Obama's contradictory statements on Roe v. Wade and asks for a philosophically coherent argument from a President who is, after all, a constitutional law professor. Read him and you may understand why people like me get so upset with Obama.
Christine Elliot, has said that the adoption of such a plank would be a gift to the Liberals. She obviously thinks the public would be against abolishing the HRC and that "human rights" is not something the Conservatives want to be perceived as running against. She favors the status quo, injustices and all.
That leaves Frank Klees, who I would have expected to be leading the charge on this one, on the sidelines. If Klees falls into line with Hillier and Hudak and if this issue actually get discussed in detail, it should ensure that the Party makes this a policy position going into the next election. As the National Post editors point out, the public needs more information on this issue and the proposals need to be clarified and fleshed out. People will reasonably ask what mechanism will replace the HRC's and clear answers need to be at hand.
I agree with the National Post, though, handled well this issue could serve the Conservatives well in the next election. With the NDP predictably defending bureaucratic political correctness and the Conservatives gaining support from the left for its defense of free speech, the Liberals may just find themselves squirming and eventually coming over to the point of view that the HRC's need weeding, if not pruning.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Atheist - these enemies of Christianity do not hide behind the cowardly "agnostic" label. They come right out with their own faith committment. Of course atheism is a faith commitment; you can't "prove" empirically that a non-empirical God exists. The reach of the scientific method is not that long. You can simply prove that there is no empirical God; to which Christians reply "We would never believe in a "god" that was simply reducible to the physical universe without remainder." But atheists are willing to make the leap of faith necessary to believe that "the cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, all there ever shall be," as Carl Sagan put it.
Delusions - Atheists fondly imagine (with John Lenon) that a world without religion would be a world of peace, love, tolerance and kindness all around. Right. Like Nazi Germany or China during the Cutural Revolution or Stalin's atheist utopia of "scientific socialism." Atheists are so extremely Pelagian that they, like Marxists, believe that evil comes from outside of humans, who are pure sweetness and light on the inside. For Marxists, evil comes from economic conditions. For the "New Atheists" evil comes from the imposition of religious ideas and institutions, although it is also true that Marxists are often Atheists and Atheists are often Marxists, as well. In that case religion is defined as that which prevents people from joining the Revolution.
Can a more shallow, less insightful, more psychologically improbable set of assumptions about human nature ever have been devised than this story designed to frighten small children and adults of doubtful intelligence? Hart has little difficulty showing that the origin of evil is within human beings themselves and that human beings will grasp anything at hand - be it religion or ideology or myth or whatever - to justify their murderous rage, greed and hate. Human beings are the problem. Now, by denying this fact, Atheism simply declines to address the real problem. Christianity, on the other hand, grasps the nettle. The wonder is not why Christian societies do not always live up to Christian ideals, but how on earth those high ideals came into existence in the first place? Hint: they didn't come from Atheism.
The Christian Revolution - Hart's method is historical. He is wise enough to realize that the real problem for people today is not an inability to accept the supernatural or a rigorous committment to scientific objectivity. The real problem is not science at all, which is a mistake people sometimes make just because Dawkins is a scientest. The real problem is that most modern people, even politicians, professors and other leaders in society, are abysmally ignorant of basic history, especially the history of Western civilization. The "New Atheists" prey on such ignorance with their vague, often unhistorical emotional stereotypes of Inquisitors, witch-hunts, wars of religion and crusades.
A Little Quiz (see ch. 7 for a discussion of these examples)
1. If I were to ask you when the high point of European witch-hunting was, (a) the Dark Ages or (b) the Enlightenment, what would your answer be? If you said (a),you would be wrong.
2. If I were to ask you whether it was (a) the State or (b) the Church that instituted the Spainish Inquisition, what would your answer be? If you said (b), you would be wrong.
3. If I were to ask you whether heresy became a capital crime during (a) the Dark Ages or (b) the late Medieval period, what would your answer be? If you said (a) you would be wrong.
The high point of magic was not the Dark Ages, but the period in which modern science got going, the Rennaissance through to the 17th century. The popular imagination is quite ready to believe the "New Atheist" revisionist mythology of a Europe held is the grip of darkness, superstition, and religion finally stumbling into the light of science and atheism. Hart aims some heavy blows in the direction of this rewriting of Western history.
Then, in the heart of the book, Hart discusses what he calls "the Christian Revolution," that is, the emergence of Christianity during the Roman Empire and its transformation of a tired, dreary, sad paganism into a dynamic culture of humanity, reason and light. In his final section, he looks at the implications of the old paganism triumphing over religion today and extinguishing the light of faith from Western culture. It is possible to have some idea of what the future will be like after Christianity because we have historical records of what it was like before Christianity. A low view of human life, a view of life as a permanent agonistic struggle to survive, an aristocratic ideal of the strong man - what once was is coming to pass once again.
Its Fashionable Enemies - Of course, there can be no doubt that the "New Atheists" are enemies of Christianity. But Hart's book is valuable in showing that they are also enemies of humanism, reason and humility. Hart can be harsh at times; but he is facing an enemy who is blindingly stupid, in addition to being smug, self-superior and condescending. Thus:
"One still has to wonder, however, at their thoughtless complacency: the doctrinaire materialism - which is, after all, a metaphysical theory of reality that is almost certainly logically impossible - and the equally doctrinaire secularism - which is, as even the least attentive among us might have noticed, a historical tradition so steeped in human blood that it can hardly be said to have proved its ethical superiority. . . Even in purely practical terms, to despise religion in the abstract is meaningless conceit. As a historical force religion has been neither simply good or simply evil but has merely reflected human nature in all its dimensions." (221)
This is a great book. As long as the finest minds are on the side of the Gospel, all the propaganda and rewriting of history will have a difficult time prevailing. As God wills.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Here is a good column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times on Dan Brown entitled "Dan Brown's America." He is right on in claiming that Dan Brown should be regarded as an evangelist for an anti-Christian religious position, rather than as a simple thriller writer/entertainer. He has a number of interesting links in his article as well.
The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons should be seen as an attempt to teach as well as to entertain and, as such, they constitute a reminder that the best teaching incorporates some features of entertainment. Think of the good accomplished by The Chronicles of Narnia: both good fun and great spiritual enlightenment.
Debunking Brown is necessary. But he will be defeated ultimately only by better Christian literature - better in every way, not merely less false in its teaching, but better as literature.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Here are some encouraging straws in the wind.
Ezra Levant's Opening Statement at the Alberta Human Rights Commission
The other parts of his 90 minute interrogation are here too; well-worth watching.
Rex Murphey on the Western Standard Cartoon Controversy (highly entertaining as well as completely right)
Tim Hudak, Ontario PC Leader Candidate Opposes HRC (2 of 4 leadership candidates so far)
The Globe and Mail Story
Ezra's Comments From His Blog
Review of Shakedown by the Winnipeg Free Press (the Free Press lives up to its name)
A good opinion piece in the May 19 The Globe and Mail by Tom Flanagan
Ezra's book, Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights, is currently at #4 on the Globe and Mail Canadian Bestseller List (hardcover). It is currently (May 19) sitting at #41 on the Amazon.ca bestseller list. At this rate Ezra might just make back the $100,000 he spent defending himself from the outrageous charges brought against him by the Alberta Human Rights Commission. I hope so. There probably will be more legal battles ahead.
1. Freedom of speech and of the press is a non-negotiatable, fundamental human right backed by 800 years of English common law, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
2. There should be no such thing as a "thought crime." The government has no business monitoring what free people think.
3. Freedom of speech means that we all will be offended sometimes by what we hear or read. It is actually everyone's duty to be offended from time to time in a democracy. It is the price we pay for freedom and part of living in a democratic society. Anyone who does not like it can lump it or move to a country that has no free speech.
4. The best way to handle racists and bigots is to argue with them, refute them, mock them and get public opinion against them. That is how democracies function. We don't need the police to interfere as long as we all do our public duty to speak out. That is why the last thing we need is a "chill" on free speech.
Monday, May 18, 2009
First of all, I would like to say that I don’t think we are as far apart as it might appear – and I don’t think Benedict is as far from Barth as it might appear. Benedict stands in a tradition shaped by Lubac and Balthasar, who surely learned much from Barth’s criticism of 19th Century Liberal Theology and his Christological concentration. Surely Benedict, like them, transcends the worst of Enlightenment rationalism. And everyone named in this post (including you and I) fancies himself an Augustinian of one sort of another.
As for First Things, it should be noted that that journal does not have a single position in the sense that one could convert to it – it is too eclectic for that. It brings together voices from Jewish, Catholic and Protestant traditions to converse in such a way that no one is forced to leave behind his own set of philosophical/theological presuppositions. I see it as being valuable especially insofar as it provides a place for dialogue between Paleo-conservatives (like me) and Neo-conservatives.
Secondly, to get to the substance of the issue, David, you say that you can’t agree with Benedict because you believe that “only the presence of the Holy Spirit (who is inseparable from the Word) can make Reason possible.” You also say:
“Only a Christian can know the meaning of, say, “power”, as only a Christian knows the power of God revealed most perfectly on the Cross of Jesus Christ. As such this “power”, power indistinguishable from servitude and sacrifice, renders our common uses of “power” to be meaningless, referring to nothing but the play of signifiers.”
I think I have read enough Barth and postliberal stuff to understand you here. But where I get confused is when you go on to say: “I recognize the Nietzschean story in scripture and tradition.” You elaborate as follows:
“When people talk about my book they wonder why I find Nietzsche "helpful" or how I'm trying to "beat" or "outnarrate" Nietzsche. The first thing to say is that when I read Nietzsche's depiction of knowledge (babel) and the self (Eden) qua salvation I say, "this is true!".”
So does that mean that Nietzsche has the Spirit? How can Nietzsche have a true vision of the human condition if what you say is true when you write: “Reason is butchered by sinfulness and only Grace can restore it. Nietzsche cannot see the world for what it is because he is not in relationship with and being conformed to Christ.”
My question is “does Nietzsche see the human condition clearly or not?” It seems to me you are trying to have your cake and eat it too. If Nietzsche can see sin clearly, but not redemption, that sounds pretty much like what Aquinas thought was often true of pagans. The Reformed traditon accounts for things like this with its notion of common grace. The light of natural reason is not pure darkness, but it isn’t sufficient to find our way out of the labyrinth of sin and error either. Salvation requires grace. I can’t imagine what part of this Benedict would have a problem with. All he wanted to do at Regensburg is to say that recognizing that this world has a rational structure should lead us to realize that it has a moral structure and this moral structure, to the extent Christians and Muslims can agree on it, might give us the basis for world peace instead of the clash of civilizations. He certainly was not envisioning Muslims getting saved by reason.
And if Nietzsche offers us so much good insight into the nature of original sin – and I fully agree with you that he does – then why not call that the kind of dialogue that Benedict XVI was envisioning in his Regensburg Lecture? I think you and I would both want to say to Nietzsche something like: “Yes, that is true as far as it goes, but you know God has provided a way of escape from the tyranny of biological drives and if we look at Jesus Christ – really gaze on his beauty and goodness – we will find forgiveness and liberation.”
Thirdly, you write: “So Nietzsche grounds the 'fact of relativism' in our biological nature and this, as an Augustinian Christian, fascinates me, why? Because Augustinian Christians do too.” But of course, the Holy Father is an Augustinian as well and I suspect that he would like your project with regard to Nietzsche. I don’t presume to speak for him, but as I read him and you and think about these issues, I don’t see any real conflict. It is a shame that he has never written the big book on sin that he wanted to do as his magnum opus.
The pope surely is well aware that, just because inter-faith dialogue on moral issues is possible, that does make it easy. Sin is a pain in the inter-faith dialogue rear end for sure. This may be why he has sought to shift the focus away from trying to find common ground on theology to trying to agree on a basic common morality (and I mean really basic – things like the right to life, the family as the natural unit of society and marriage).
Fourthly, when you talk about disordered desires as fundamental I am right there with you and want to endorse bringing eros into the discussion. But here, Benedict is way ahead of us. In Deus Caritas, after clarifying that love includes both agape and eros, he unites love of God and love of neighbor. Then, quoting St. Augustine, he writes: “If you see charity, you see the Trinity.” Nietzsche could not see charity in the Benedictine sense and therefore could not really see the Triune God. Yet he saw some truth – truth with which we have to engage.
The word is that you have "gone all First Things"! :) Now I'm a very traditional Catholic. I see the "old Roman Rite" as the peak of our liturgical expression and a student claimed recently that, liturgically at least, if I was any more to the right I'd fall off the edge. But I also have a deep suspicion of the faith in human nature and reason that grows exponentially in Roman Catholic thought after, and in response to, the Reformation. I believe that reasoning properly is only possible when we desire properly and we can only desire properly when we can see objects for what they are; that is, qua God and not qua us. Doesn't this require a God's eye view? Yes, and so only the presence of the Holy Spirit (who is inseparable from the Word) can make Reason possible. I honestly believe that Fides et Ratio, Veritatis Splendor and Benedict's own pronouncements at Regensburg fail to pay due respect to this. My problem with First Things is that they too, time and again fail to pay due respect to the impossible possibility that is human reason and meaningful utterance. By “meaningful utterance” I mean the possibility of connoting that which is. In modernity we tend to think of meaning as the capacity for the transmission of opinion. If words allow an other to apprehend what we perceive to be the case then, we seem to assume, they mean. For the pre-moderns, of course, meaning is the capacity of a thing to re-present, and participate in, that which is. “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” are meaningful words, they have power and authority because they represent that which actually (albeit mysteriously) is. Such meaning cannot be “worked out” by us. It must be given to us by God in revelation. Only a Christian can know the meaning of, say, “power”, as only a Christian knows the power of God revealed most perfectly on the Cross of Jesus Christ. As such this “power”, power indistinguishable from servitude and sacrifice, renders our common uses of “power” to be meaningless, referring to nothing but the play of signifiers. First Things, like the Holy Father and the RO people, often seem to think that we’re engaged in a common pursuit of wisdom and we must out-narrate competing discourses. But in so doing they are failing to see that the question of reason is a question of mission! Only Christ renders the world meaningful and reasonable. If the one reasonable thing is God and Man, finite and infinite, impassible and nailed to a cross, omnipotent and crucified, the only righteous man and a criminal, dead and the only really living thing then we must acknowledge that we are being, at best, disingenuous when we pretend that we are involved in enterprises that are collectively “rational”. This point is what separates me from his Holiness’ position and I hope, will take more coherent form in what follows. I hope to explain that I differ from him because, unlike Milbank and Benedict, I think that Nietzsche is right about human knowledge and nature and, because of this, I see the overcoming of this situation only in terms of the action of the triune life. They speak in terms of Reason and dialog when the only philosophically responsible position is to speak in terms of salvation and mission. Let me explain.
While I did go overboard in Nietzsche and Theology it should already be somewhat clear “Why Barth?”. But why Nietzsche? Nietzsche alone combines the worst of continental relativism and anglo-American biological positivism. The former is based in the latter. Because we are oriented by our drives toward self assertion we experience the world through selfish lenses. I mean this biologically. Right now I can see my one year old daughter Chora in the corner of my eye playing near the window. I note her green shirt but she's ill-defined. She's carrying something in her hand, it could be a block or it could be a peeled apple, I can't see it. Now if she was carrying a big sharp knife - I'd see it clear as day! Our brains are processing vast amounts of information right now, sounds are reaching your ears unheard, little aches and sensations going unnoted. But if our brain decides that such sounds are important, a baby's cry, an ache which indicates an illness, our brain will bring these to the forefront of our minds. Our basic sensory experience of the world, let alone our filtering of this data into concepts and beliefs, are determined by our biological drives.
So Nietzsche grounds the 'fact of relativism' in our biological nature and this, as an Augustinian Christian, fascinates me, why? Because Augustinian Christians do too.
Milbank et al respond to this Nietzschean vision and I'm with them 100% about modernity. But Barth is preferable to Milbank for me as a respondent to Nietzsche and especially his two step-children - postmodern relativism and biological positivism. Why? Well, the first reason is the "Qua" question. The Nietzschean story qua... what? For Milbank it's the Nietzschean account qua a different, possibly more coherent and certainly more beautiful story. Ok. For Barth though it's the Nietzschean account qua salvation. Salvation is the concept which frames the enquiry in Barth and this resonated far more with me. For Milbank the Nietzschean account is a story competing with other stories within the narratival carnival that connotes the now and the question for Milbank is "how can this story be out-narrated"?. From the Barthian perspective the question, to me, seems to be "do I recognize this Nietzschean self?" and if so, "what does God have to say to this through the man Jesus Christ?". This is the important question.
I recognize the Nietzschean story in scripture and tradition. Babel, as Derrida knew well, said all that Derrida was to say about the state of our signs and the impossibility for communicating using them. This impossibility is based on a biological state that is inaugurated with our fallenness. We do not do what we want to do, it is sin that dwells within us that orients us. It forces us to see the world in terms of our own utilitarian necessities. If you strike me adrenaline courses through me causing me to take flight or fight, I am not biologically oriented to turn the other cheek. And with such hormones and neurotransmitters screaming though my cells how can I see you as someone to be loved as am I intended by God to love you?
I can only love you if I can somehow see you as you are, loved by God and because of this having dignity. Your dignity is not based on your intelligence, sentience or your capacity to survive unaided outside the womb. Your dignity is not about who you are in ways I can discern, it’s about God’s love for you which is not based on things I can discern or things that affect me or “my body”. In modernity though we actually prohibit such an understanding! Rather, from Kant on, my perspective on you will be determined by how you are qua me, the very mode of thinking which is, in nuce, the epistemology of our fallenness. The self marked by original sin Kant affirms as the epistemologically normative self - bracket das ding in sich as things can only be understood qua me. Our fallenness becomes epistemologically normative in modernity! And so yes, I agree with Milbank and Benedict that we must outnarrate this. But we didn’t “start” to view objects qua me in modernity. In modernity we simply gave up the hope of viewing them any other way. But beating modernity will not overcome the problem that we do, innately, view objects through our own “selfish” neurological lenses. And so beating modernity will not solve the problem. If it would then we should view the problem, as Milbank and Benedict tend to, in terms of reason and dialog. But only transforming the self can solve the problem and therefore we must see things in terms of salvation and mission!
When people talk about my book they wonder why I find Nietzsche "helpful" or how I'm trying to "beat" or "outnarrate" Nietzsche. The first thing to say is that when I read Nietzsche's depiction of knowledge (babel) and the self (Eden) qua salvation I say, "this is true!". Not ‘helpful’ or ‘rhetorically useful’ or any other category we've used in academia in the last 50 years, but "true" as in, "the case". Nietzsche's concept of the human person and human capacity to know and the relationship of our signs to that which is, is, well, true.
But only true of the human being without the Word, without Wisdom, without the Triune God calling out to it and weaving us into relationship with Him.
Benedict talks about "Reason", but I'm with Gene Rogers and Bruce Marshall and others, Aquinas himself cannot envision the self seeing the real as it is without the presence of the Holy Spirit (who is not separable from the Word). Reason is butchered by sinfulness and only Grace can restore it. Nietzsche cannot see the world for what it is because he is not in relationship with and being conformed to Christ.
And so what my book hopes to do is say, “yes” to Nietzsche. Milbank and Benedict say, “no”. But Nietzsche is right. Our biological nature makes experiencing and thinking outside of selfish categories impossible. Only through a re-orientation of this biological reality through relationship with Christ by the presence of the Holy Spirit can this be altered. Let me say again, the question of “Reason” is most honestly understood as a question of mission. Our reasoning is contextual, only if our context is life in the triune God can we perceive, desire and reason coherently. If when Benedict says ‘dialog’ he really means mission, then I agree with him. If not then I think that we must all re-read Nietzsche and ask ourselves - do I recognize this account of the self? Because if it’s true we can only be converted, not convinced.
What my book most lacks is an account of desire. How desire without the activity of the Spirit cannot be other than lust, lust for persons, for objects, as lust cannot be avoided if we look at things qua ourselves. As Kantian modernity refuses to speak of knowing except by understanding all objects qua ourselves then it forces lust as the only possible form of desire in modernity. Any other form of desire becomes epistemologically impermissible!
Only the Spirit can cause us to look at objects in the world qua God and therefore qua their own intrinsic dignity and so our desire can begin to be re-ordered. Once this is in place then we can reason about the objects in the world having begun to experience them as they are. Without the agency of the Spirt whose word is the Word (the Spirit has no other word to speak) perceiving, desiring and reasoning is illicit and doomed to affirm only the world of which Derrida and Dawkins speak. Speaking about this as a problem of dialog and reason and not a problem of mission and salvation is a misconstrual of the reality of the situation and this is why I’m not entirely with Milbank and the Holy Father in this matter.
 You see, I am indebted, at least rhetorically, to Milbank.
 I agree that De Lubac, to some extent, and certainly Von Balthasar could have been useful for this. Barth though is perfect. Nietzsche offers “Dionysius versus the Crucified” and Barth concurs. The “truth” of the world is the survival of the fittest for Nietzsche and for an ever increasing number of our young people. Barth’s doctrine of the Royal Man is so clear about what he calls, teasing Nietzsche, “the transvaluation of all values” where the last are first and the first are last where the poor He hath filled up and the rich He hath sent away empty. This radical juxtaposition appealed to me greatly. The radically and beauty of the Christian vision was made clearer in Barth in dialog with Nietzsche than it would have been if de Lubac or Von Balthasar had been the dialog partners.
 Which I know in Christ as being that which I am called to do, that which I am intended to do.
 For there is no other
Saturday, May 16, 2009
I wanted to go this year, but could not due to circumstances beyond my control. But I'm definitely planning to go next year. Every Evangelical in Southern Ontario should consider going. We need to witness to our faith and call our nation to stop the bloodshed and moral wickedness that is taking so many innocent lives and destroying our national character.
A new poll shows that for the first time since 1995 more Americans are pro-life than pro-choice. Only 49% of women think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. See the details on the Pew website. So much for pro-abortion feminists speaking for all women.
We Evangelicals need to fly the flag on this issue. No other issue is so important as this one in so many different ways. I'll be posting on why abortion is so important soon.
In the inside cover to the volume, Radical Orthodoxy, ed. by Milbank, Pickstock and Ward, we read that RO is characterized by four claims, the third of which is that "All thought which brackets out God is ultimately nihilistic." If we can agree with this proposition, the question I think that arises next is whether or not "God" here must be understood with the help of a philosophy of being, such as was developed by the Fathers in dialogue with Greek philosophy and which came to a climax in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. Or can we avoid nihilism with a "God without being"?
Here is how I think Deane's book is furthers this debate. It suggests that Milbank's way of dealing with the challenge posed by N. is insufficient - not wrong, just incomplete - and this, in my opinion, it shows the necessity of some sort of a philosophy of being in order to overcome N., who is the quintessential philosopher of modernity. Why is this so? N. brings together two streams of modernity that are often not thought together: the political/ethical emphasis on the will and the scientific emphasis on biological drives in the truely modern view of the self. N. combines liberal politics and technological reason and grounds both in the will-to-power.
In N's philosophy, man in the Christian sense of "person" dies and the human race splits in two to become the overman and the last men. In modern genetic engineering we see the scientific possibility of humans taking control of evolution and splitting the genetic ties that make the human race one. The result could be a series of social classes determined genetically as in Huxley's Brave New World or simply the evolution of a slave race and a master race. With the advent of genetic engineering, N's vision of the overman and the last men becomes feasible technologically. The question we need to be asking is "Do sufficient resources exist in the dominant liberalism of the West that could enable a firm "No" to such a course of action?" The difficulty in answering this question reveals the extent to which the West has become Nietzschean and its glaring lack of such resources. This situation (in my view) makes the discovery of a renewed philosophy of being not a luxury for Medieval hobbists or a pipe dream of pious traditionalists, but an absolute necessity for the survival of human persons.
Deane begins by rejecting the strategy of responding to N. by re-articulating "a modernist anthropology by seeking that which is universal in human experience to ground a notion of self, thought and text and that core concept of the modern 'humanity.'" (77) Such an anthropology cannot be grounded in evolution, which can only throw up a barbaric and amoral social Darwinism. "Maximizing our potential for genetic replication" is not a basis for ethics and love, but for a radical individualism as the basis for violence. Both the laudable and the cruel are interchangeable within the context of our biological constitution, which means that evolution cannot be the basis for liberal ethics.
Deane opts instead for Radical Orthodoxy of Milbank and David Bentley Hart as a better approach than liberal modernity. (78) They both construe the self in pre-modern terms and reject the fundamental presuppositions of modernity. They both advocate an ontology of peace, rather than an ontology of violence. However, Deane argues that it is necessary to defeat N. in a different manner than these two theologians try to do.
First, in what may seem to be a surprising opening move, Deane says that Milbank rejects the truth of N. too completely. He says that Milbank's approach "risks repeating the problems of pre-modern theology in failing to see the radical juxtaposition between humanity and the humaniuty offered to us through the one human whom God uniquely intended, Jesus Christ" and therefore "risks failing to take the reality of natural human sinfulness seriously enough." (79) It is on Christological grounds that he challenges Milbank and his concern leads him to distinguish between fallen man as described by N's Darwinian will-to-power and man in Christ as described in this book by Barth's Christological anthropology. (The last 3 chapters of the book, with which I am not as concerned, deal with a Barthian Christological anthropology as an answer to N.)
So what Deane is suggesting here is that N. must be taken seriously as describing what man outside of Christ, man under the conditions of the Fall, man in sin, really looks like from an empirical and philosophical perspective. The strength of N's philosophy is that it is rooted and grounded in the observations of modern science, especially in the Neo-Darwinism celebrated in the work of Richard Dawkins and co., who view DNA in strictly materialistic and amoral terms. Deane's point, which I take to be unassailable, is that this is what science done from an atheistic set of presuppositions ends up looking like. This means that N's philosophy, including the will-to-power, is rooted in empirical reality, rather than in philosophical assumptions, except at the point of the very first presuppositions regarding God and the nature of reality. Neither the Neo-Nietzscheans, (Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, Levinas), whom Milbank treats as a group along with N., nor the RO, like Milbank and Hart, reckon with the truth claims of N. when he claims that his philosophy is right, not because he has told a better story but because it is rooted in empirically verifiable reality.
Now, I do not believe it is actually rooted in empirically verifiable reality and I think this is the point at which N. must be challenged if he is not to triumph. But this is a question that Milbank and Hart do not take up and, (I can't believe I'm saying this) Deane and Barth do not really get to terms with either! Why? Milbank and Hart don't get to grips with N's truth claims because they opt for trying to tell a better, more convincing story than N., on the assumption that no one can prove that any story is true by means of science. Deane critiques their atttempt for being insufficiently Christological, which gets us half way there, but not all the way. What seems to me to be still missing is the claim that Christian theology describes reality better than the version of modern science that begins with atheism as its presupposition.
This is precisely the claim that Pope Benedict XVI made in his Regensburg Lecture. Modern science is comprised of a Platonic (Cartesian) element plus an experimental method. The Platonic element, the Pope points out, “is the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently.” (Par. #40) By applying mathematical description to reality and combining it with the experimental method, modern science advances by means of verification and falsification. Every new technological advance is further proof that the world is rationally ordered, not random chaos. So science bears within itself a question to which it has no answer: why is reality structured in such a way that it can be described mathematically and why are our minds able to grasp this structure? Atheistic science has no answer, but Christianity with its account of the Logos does. This is just a hasty sketch of Benedict's argument that science naturally arises out of Christianity and needs Christianity to be itself.
So I agree with Deane that the answer is Christology, but not merely the Christological description of man under sin and as reconciled, but the Christology of creation in which we understand the Logos as the source of order and structure in the universe. Only this doctrine can ultimately defeat N's will-to-power philosophy.
Friday, May 15, 2009
A story on Life Site News says:
"In 1998, the American Psychological Association (APA) published a brochure titled "Answers to Your Questions about Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality."This particular document was ostensibly published to provide definitive answers about homosexuality. However, few of the assertions made in the brochure could find any basis in psychological science. Clearly a document anchored more in activism than in empiricism, the brochure was simply a demonstration of how far APA had strayed from science, and how much it had capitulated to activism.
The newest APA brochure, which appears to be an update of the older one, is titled, "Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality."Though both brochures have strong activist overtones (both were created with "editorial assistance from the APA Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns"), the newer document is more reflective of science and more consistent with the ethicality of psychological care. Consider the following statement from the first document:
"There is considerable recent evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person's sexuality."
That statement was omitted from the current document and replaced with the following:
"There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles..."
The article then comments:
Although there is no mention of the research that influenced this new position statement, it is clear that efforts to "prove" that homosexuality is simply a biological fait accompli have failed. The activist researchers themselves have reluctantly reached that conclusion. There is no gay gene. There is no simple biological pathway to homosexuality. Byne and Parsons, and Friedman and Downey, were correct: a bio-psycho-social model best fits the data.
"On the question of whether or not therapy can change sexual orientation, the former document offered a resounding "no." However, the current document is much more nuanced and contains the following statement: "To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective."
Clearly, there is some moderating of the extreme and unsubstantiated position expressed before, which could easily have led the uninformed lay person to think that a) homosexuality is biologically based and b) unchangeable. Both of these points are now in question.
On the NARTH website, we find one more interesting tidbit.
"In APA's new document, there is a greater emphasis on ethicality. The pamphlet includes this key statement:
"Mental health organizations call on their members to respect a person's [client's] right to self-determination."
Certainly, client self-determination is one of the cornerstones of any form of psychological care. And any attempt to ban psychological care for those unhappy with their homosexual attractions would be a direct violation of enormous magnitude of APA's own Code of Ethics -- one which neither the federal/state governments nor the American public would respond to favorably."
Homosexual activist groups have, in the past, protested all suggestions that some homosexuals, if they want to, can change. This will make it harder for them to fight the option of therapy for those wishing to change. It will also help legitimize those therapists who work with homosexuals who wish to change and may open the possiblity of publishing research in this area. The story ends by saying:
"The APA should be commended for its greater reliance on science and ethicality in this document. Perhaps now is the time for the association to abide by its commitment that accompanied then-APA President Nicholas Cummings' proposal to remove homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1974: "a proscription that appropriate and needed research would be conducted to substantiate these decisions." None, however, was ever conducted.
Such research should include a study of the efficacy of psychological care for those unhappy with unwanted homosexual attractions, as well as for its counterpart--gay-affirmative therapy for those who wish to claim a gay identity."
To begin, Deane explores the difficulty that we all have in taking N. seriously enough. He should neither be dismissed (because of his wide influence) nor should he be "pacified violently" by assimilating his thought to categories that academic philosophy and theology cannot conceive of abandoning, but which N. himself rejects. He rejects the law of non-contradiction, the notion of truth and the idea of a "self" which exists in a static sense independently of the texts and about which the texts can inform us. Deane's strategy is to use the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett as containing certain ideas about the self that illustrate certain of N's concepts of the self. All of these writers operate much more within the boundaries of Western philosophy and cannot be said to follow N's epistemology all the way, but they do have similarities in their views of the self that can shed light on N's position.
Deane writes: "They also serve to highlight a strand of Nietzshean thought that I am keen to expose, a progression toward a mechanistic, behaviourist and often reductionist analysis of the self." (46) Deane elaborates on N's view in a footnote: "The self is understood entirely mechanically by N. as a collectivity of biological processes. These processes determine the behaviour of the organism, although in a very different way from the form of behaviourism associated with Skinner. . . It is also reductionist to the point of being a concept of self wholly in terms of one basic principle 'The world is will-to-power and nothing else besides. And you are will-to-power and nothing else besides.'"
What Deane does in this chapter is to show that N's influence on contemporary thought is not limited to the post-structuralists (eg. Derrida), which has been well-documented, but extends to a different trajectory found in the work of Dawkins and Dennett. N. broke from the Kantian tradition into which Schophenhauer was still was locked. Schopenhauer tried to have both a Kantian transcendental subject as the condition of experience and also a materialist understanding of the human being. Deane explains:
"The perennial problem in enquiries into the self since Kant is thus initiated as 'when the knower tries to turn itself inwards, in order to know itself, it looks into a total darkness, falls into a complete void." (51) If there is no substantial "I" then how can we talk of knowledge as the relationship between the empirical data and the subject's a priori categories? When Kantianism is considered from the perspective of a thorough-going materialistic philosophy, the result is a loss of how to conceive knowledge or even consciousness. Schopenhauer, like Plato, Descartes and Kant, sees the self as the conscious subject of the intellect and gives the will primacy over the intellect, since even our cognitive functions are merely manifestations of the will. Schopenhauer's reluctance to give up either Kantianism or materialism leaves his philosophy in contradiction, but although N. is not bothered by contradiction in principle, he nevertheless resolves this one by rejecting the philosophy of consciousness including Kant's transcendental a priori. N. abandons the subject-object distinction and understands the self in completely physiological terms. N. writes:
"In the case of an animal it is possible to trace all its drives to the will-to-power, likewise all the function of an organic life to this one source.' (Will to Power, 619 as quoted by Deane, 56)
N. understands truth as the adjustment of the world for utilitarian ends but it is a utilitarianism without a telos and therefore reducible to physiological explanation. Whereas Kant strove to reconcile virtue and happiness, N. sees that as a sickness akin to the pathology of Christianity. To fight one's instincts is depravity for N.
(As as aside, I've never understood the widespread practice of handing out contraceptives to children in Jr. High and then having sex ed. classes consisting of nothing more than how to utilize the technology. But it does make perfect sense from a Nietzschean point of view.)
Anyway, back to Deane. Unlike Schopenhauer, aesthetic judgment for N. is also nothing but a manifestation of the will-to-power. All knowledge is interpretation for N. and the deepest instincts of self-preservation and self-aggrandisement are the deepest source of all cognitive actions and moral values.
Deane hews frustratingly to N's own way of thinking (frustration because it is so hard to follow) in saying that for N. the concept of the will-to-power is not stable. It has various meanings, often contradictory. The contradiction is between N's contention that the will-to-power is metaphysical truth, i.e. the truth about how things are, and N's contention that there is no truth. He says there is no moral order, yet says that the only morality worth caring about is being true to our own will-to-power. (58) What N. is saying is that all truth and goodness is nothing but will.
At this point, if David Bentley Hart were listening in, he would say that N. sounds like a good liberal at this point because modern Western liberalism reduces all questions of value to simple will. Choice itself is good - not the choice to do the Good (as in Aristotle) or the choice to obey God's Law (as in Aquinas) but just choice: the sheer self-assertion of the individual for its own sake. And, he would say that both liberals and N. are nihilists. This raises the question of whether N. is the great philosopher of modern liberalism and whether Kant (the Great Delayer) and other modern philosophers who tried to retain morality after giving up God were anything more than roadblocks on the highway to N. This seems to be how N. saw himself, i.e. as the logical outcome of the fundamental choice of modernity to reject Christianity.
But back to Deane. Deane shows how for N. the will-to-power is actually identical with the self. (59) But we already said that the will-to-power is not stable; what does this mean for the self? Obviously, the self is not a stable entity either. It is for N. simply the organism's self-assertion in whatever form that takes (and there is no telos determininig what form it either will take or should take.) Then Deane, in an attempt to shed light on what N. means turns to the work of Richard Dawkins, who understands the genetic functioning of an organism (its DNA) in such a way as to shed light on N's understanding of the will-to-power. Deane sees Dawkins' work as part of the post Niezschean ontologies of violence. (59) Deane writes:
"Like N's will-to-power, Dawkins writes of the Selfish Gene as a force which comprises the self and yet transcends it. Unlike his forebear Darwin he does not see its functioning as teleological. N. scorns Darwin's inability to break free of the teleological way of speaking inherited from his Christian past, saying "Species do not grow more perfect!" (60)
Deane sees three similarities between N. and D. (1) N's will-to-power/D's DNA do not seek the preservation and perfection of an organism, but simply more power. (2) Both view consciousness as "surface phenomena" but not the real motivator of organisms. (3) Both place the behaviour of organisms (including humans) beyond morality. For both N. and D. there is no morality in nature, no progress and no way to differentiate "better" organisms from "worse" ones. Things just are the way they are and the way they are is that they constantly strive to become more and assert their will-to-power as much as possible, even at the cost of their lives. As D. puts it: ". . . this is not a recipe for happiness. As long as DNA is passed on, it does not matter who or what gets hurt in the process." (65) Deane summarizes:
"We can see then that for both N. and D. the guiding principle of life is a biological functioning which orientates each embodiment of it to 'an uncoordinated scramble for selfish gain. Such functioning transcends morality . . . DNA neither knows or cares. DNA just is.'" (65)
In passing, I note the grammatical from "DNA just is" as similar to what Christians say God says about Himself "I Am That I Am." To be is the most fundamental characteristic of God. Both Christianity and materialism speak of their starting points using the verb "to be."
In the rest of the chapter, Deane discusses Dennett in order to show that N. rejects all dualisms and teaches that the body is the self. The self does not inhabit the body or hover above the body; it is the manifestation of the physiological drives animating the body. Deane brilliantly shows how the roots of N's anthropology are in Descartes. He writes: "Descartes represents that philosophical evolution which grounds the facticity of being in the facticity of each being's self consciousness." (67) This is the shift from the philosophy of being to the philosophy of mind, from ontology to epistemology. From now on the self is the beginning point of discussions of reality, not God. What happens when we begin with the human mind (self) rather than with God? The short answer is that we eventually get a Kant and then after that we eventually get a N. Deane comments:
"To understand the nature and functioning of the self within Cartesian anthropology is to understand the nature and functioning of the self which is not identifiable with an isness which binds this self to the whole through participation in being itself. Rather this self is pursued through an understanding of it vis-a-vis the processes which orientate it, the cognitive functionings of a self-conscious mind." (67-8)
This means that the analogia entis is now grounded in the human mind, not in God's being and the human creature created and held in being by God. Once Kant has reduced the mind (self) to an a priori transcendental condition, about which nothing can be known or said, it falls to N. to dismiss what Ryle called "the ghost in the machine." If man is the will-to-power, then we have an agonistic and violent ontology and we also have no "man" left in the sense of a person. All we have is instinct and assertion - the will. Deane says: "The self articulated in the thought of Descartes and Kant as a series of perceptions unified in a single mind is rejected by N. So too is the "I" identified with the will which seeks to preserve the life of its embodiment. " (70) What is left is the "subject as multiplicity," (Will to Power, 490, Deane, 70), (what I can imagine David Bentley Hart might well term "the pagan, polytheistic self.")
To those who jumped me over my post on Rowan Williams, this is what is at stake in liberalism - the reduction of the self to nothing but the will-to-power. I did not call RW a liberal, exactly for I think the jury is still out. He may yet disavow what I see him as teetering on the edge of avering. But he certainly is taking a post-modern, Nietzschean, liberal approach to trying to reconcile pro and contra homosexuality positions in one church - if that is really what he is doing. As I say, the more straight-forwardly cyncial view sees him as just keeping the Communion safe for liberalism until the conservative tire of the game and force the issue.
It is interesting that homosexuality involves a very strong manifestation of the sex drive even to the point of the self-destruction of the organism. Studies show that the male who embraces the promiscuious homosexual lifestyle on offer in every large city today lives on average 8-20 years less than others. What does it say about a lifestyle that leads to premature death? For N. the will-to-power has no purpose concerning the welfare of the organism; it just is. The question Deane's study raises is what we should make of a behaviour (which the Bible calls sin) that destroys its subject? Are we entitled to see this as a manifestation of the drive to sin in all of us that theologians traditionally have understood to be the result of our fallenness? Is it not merely an extreme example of the will-to-power that we all struggle with? Confronted with the same data as N. should not the Christian theologian see the will-to-power as sin to be repented of and turned away from, rather than as the life instinct to be celebrated? And what do we make of pleasant, middle-aged professors at Oxford and Tufts cheerfully writing books to inform the general public that "science" has now discovered that will-to-power/DNA is everything and that morality is just a epiphenomenon of biological drives? Has not something fundamental gone off the rails in modern philosophy and science? Is it not time to revist the philosophy of being and the Christian doctrine of the Triune God in search of a context in which the human person can be and find peace, rather than being reduced to nothing more than the will driven by instinct, i.e. a DNA machine?