Total Pageviews

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Gnu bellows!

I was a guest on the Parker J Cole Show on WLUV in Detroit. I was asked to speak on the topic of truth. Listen to hear me recommend what I called the "Mulder and Scully" view of truth (It's really out there).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Alter Call of Cthulhu

I just saw a film version of HP Lovecraft's classic tale.  HP Lovecraft's vision of Horror as a feature of the human predicament in the cosmos is a combination of Edgar Allen Poe, Herbert Spencer, and Soren Kierkegaard.

This tale is simply the secularization narrative of the Enlightenment but with special attention given to humanity's denial of death. The only mercy for Lovecraft is the limits to science that allow us to avoid for awhile putting the various sciences together to yield the conclusion that the laws of the universe will eventually wipe away all of humanity and it's achievements. The Demi-Alien Cthulhu represents the ad hoc ness of mankind in natural history and it's meaninglessness. 

But Lovecraft is no Russell facing despair in a pretense of virtue, he sees this fact as intolerable to humans drawing them either to reverse the successes of science or using it without sanity, proving that there is no successful coping mechanism for final death. This made his approach to capturing cosmic and existential horror - a worldview of horror and an eschatological kingdom of horror - utterly fascinating compared to other horror takes. Lovecraft is preaching through parables. 

Ernest Becker considered this feature - the denial of death (in a study with that as a title) - to be the fundamental psychoanalytic dynamic. Neurotic functioning developed principally in the individual's degree of success in avoiding reflecting on the significance of his own death. His complement to Christianity was that it's Gospel made recognition of death a necessary condition for obtaining true happiness. 

The Christian worldview does so by agreeing with Lovecraft as much as it disagrees with him. The world does display causes of wonder that seem to transcend mere concatenations of particles that serve as signposts to the divine, humans in particular. But these divine features are at the mercy of the regular mechanisms of the machine of nature which produces storm and quake showing neither malice or pity. Pascal captures this by saying that man, though but a reed crushed by the universe, is still greater than the universe that crushes it because man is a reed which thinks. 

But Christianity explains this by saying that while the world is both beautiful and terrible, this is because the world is not mankind's normal home. The abnormality of man's relation to the world is further said to be accidental based on events in the archaic past, and reversible, based on events that take place in an eschatological new age. But the plausibility of these inaccessible events are groined in the accessible historical experiences of the original Israel which came into existence by prophetic revelation and miraculous intervention, and which recapitulated the same conditions that led to the distortion of all humanity. 

From her history we learn of an original covenant made with the original couple in a privileged place made for them, but which they broke and thus were condemned to this natural world. But also from the specific grants given to the families and rulers of Israel, we learn that God had promised humanity from the beginning that there would be hope based on God's future provision and thus to live by faith until then. This was also accomplished in accessible history in the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of one Jesus Christ according to the promises made to Israel and attested by eyewitnesses. Because all are invited to join with God in his free promises of mercy in a new covenant we may look forward to a day when the oddness of humanities cosmic location will be overcome. 

All this comes to the world like a signal from space from an alien race, but a much different one than the Thule Mythos, announcing the news that redemption is there if you want it. Good news is strange to a Lovecraft-like world. But that may not necessarily make it incredible. After all, even the point of Lovecraft's fiction is still a surmise but Christianity is reconstructable news from its sources. Even if we must be skeptics about whether Lovecraft or the historic church is right, we may still be confronted with meaningful option to believe and hope in the offered Christ. 

In this way, we understand how Christianity makes facing the existential threat a condition of happiness. Christ makes science with sanity possible in a Lovecraftian universe and Cthulhu turns out to be an accidental evangelist. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Internet is like the Ocean

The Ocean of the Internet

One thing about the history of mankind. Men have always been fascinated with the sea. They have dared to put their small skiffs only to see them capsized by a wave. They have learned to build bigger sturdier ships travel and fish on the ocean. And now ships can take passengers who don't know how to sail themselves. The ocean calls out to our sense of adventure. 

But while the sea is wonderful, it is also terrible. When you set out to sea, you are surrounded by the ocean and land seems far away. For awhile, it seems like the sea is our whole world. The ocean is choppy with waves coming from all directions and crash into each other as well as into you. Storms can suddenly appear, forcing you to batten down the hatches. Or you can become becalmed and slowly eat up your resources not knowing when the winds and waves will help you again. 

The sea is beautiful but also dangerous. One can find delicious fish to eat or use for perfume. But you could also run into a great shark or a giant squid and get thrown over and attacked. The sea is not useful generally for survival. You can't even drink the water. If you are thrown over or sinking, there's no one else to help you.  You can even become mystified by the compelling power of the ocean, even though you know better, and begin to act as if the whole world was covered by the sea since that is all you see and despair of ever finding land and home again. 

Not many of us get to sail the sea but today we have a way for everyone to have access to the experience of feeling like you're at sea - and that's called the internet. Moreover, in our society, everyone will be forced into the internet to meet basic needs for education and career. But kids will naturally and spontaneously seek out the internet. We might say kids today are born into the internet like fish, just as we were born into the world of television and telephones. 

But the internet is an immersive experience, flooding you with more data than you process. A recent figure I read said that the average kid's daily intake of information from the internet was equal to more than 8,100 song lyrics. But further this data is an incoherent mass of diverse opinions from all over the world without any principled arbitration. If someone had come up with a machine to download data directly into a young mind so that it is irresistibly led to skepticism and relativism, it's hard to imagine one that could be more effective than the internet. Also, the internet is wild. There is no regulation of it. You will be exposed to dangerous images and ideas and addictive pastimes sooner rather than later. The internet is like the sea. 

But one cannot simply forbid the attempt to explore the sea. But if you do, there are some things to keep in mind. 

(1) The most important skills for surviving and succeeding on the sea are learned on land. These include nautical skills but the also include deeper habits such as compassion, courage, and especially faith and hope. The sea is lawless and that is why it is especially attractive to people who are lawless. But in lawless places where we cannot appeal to an external law enforcer we can still be the dirt if people whose lives embody the law in our virtue and character. But character must be acquired in the laboratories of character - the home, the neighborhood, the church. Once those graces become second nature, they will serve you well in the great "out there". 

(2) While at sea, no one is guided by the sea. They know there is nothing solid about the sea. Instead, they look to the stars. The stars are fixed in their courses and provide a fixed map such that a sailor steer their course aright. When in the world of the internet, it is also important to have fixed reference points that are other than the internet. Such reference points are the great traditions and thinkers that have proven their reliability over time by already having faced and survived harsh experiences and questions. Many ideas have already proven themselves by this point and can serve to help you navigate the internet and sort the wheat from the chaff. 

Just as the sun is supreme among the stars, so is Scripture among the traditions. The Bible was not born yesterday and has survived and thrived even more severe tests than others, and over several fresh rounds, including the present moment, in its claim to be God's own Word. And even now, it is still speaking afresh into the present as anyone who will look may see. And the situation created by the internet reminds us yet again why there must be a norm of norms. The Bible is the sun around which all the other stars find their orbits. It will be a sure guide on the internet sea. 

(3) Finally, when things go wrong on the sea, the sea cannot repair them. Remember, if your boat springs a leak - and it will - the only things that will help you fix the leak are the things you bring on the boat with you. If that fails you can always fix the leak by removing and using another piece of the boat. Thus, your boat can stay afloat by repairing itself with itself. By the same token, if your beliefs are shaken by something on the internet, you can introduce a temporary ad hoc explanation that will serve until you can bring yourself back to shore for a substantial repair. The alternative is to be lost at sea. But as long as your beliefs were originally well founded (and the policy of "innocent until proven guilty" is appropriate here) then to be obstinate in belief in the face of apparent difficulties is a virtue rather than a fault. On the other hand, the policy of abandoning ship at the first sign of leaks is not prudent. This obstinacy is better understood as a mode of humility rather than pride. 

And so the internet is like the sea.  Don't forget to pray for those who become lost at sea, more and more every day. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Is "The Big Heat" a Noir?

Is "The Big Heat" a Noir?

After see "The Big Heat" on my tour of "All Things By Fritz Lang", I am curious to see what Thomas Hibbs might have said about it. Ostensibly, the film is a classic post-WWII era noir. It features Glenn Ford as detective and a family man who gets into trouble investigating the mysterious suicide of a syndicate sponsored police officer. Ford takes on the syndicate and the system but loses his wife, who dies in a car bomb explosion meant for him. 

On my DVD their were interviews about the film with directors Michael Mann and Martin Scorsese, both famous for their contemporary noir pieces. Mann calls the film a classic noir and explains a little the nature of period noir as emerging from the bleakness of perspective that cane after the war. Mann mentions existentialism as also reflecting this despondency and he calls it a time when people abandoned the belief in moral absolutes - rightly he seems to think. The facade of human values seems to explode at the encroachment of the chaos that is human nature and which wipes away all pretension of the good. This seems depicted in the shocking scene where Ford is reading "The Three Little Kittens" to his daughter when the windows suddenly flash and an explosion is heard, indicating the death of the wife and mother. Our unwillingness to face the absurdity of existence is perhaps depicted by the daughter's belief through the rest of the film that mommy suddenly went away on a trip.  This analysis is especially poignant when you think of Lang who made films on the aftermath of both world wars which highlighted the demoralizing effects of both. 

However, Scorsese claims that the film, in spite of all the stark noir tropes, is not a noir. This is because it has a happy ending. Their is a eucatastrophic moment where things turn around for him. His corrupt associate cops repent of their corruption and make a new start by helping him. Strong friends show up to keep his daughter safe. And a woman sacrifices her own life in gratitude and resolves the situation in a way that he could not. Yet these events are not deux ex machinas. They flow from the same facts of human nature as the violence. What comes as a surprise to the main character follows a logical path of events perceivable to the viewer. Thus, the noir message is qualified and contradicted. It's not darkness all the way down. 

The difficulty that both auteurs have in classifying the film can be traced back to the analysis of the genre. It's true that both world wars had the impact of shattering the sunny view of human nature that the West had prior to that. That sunny optimism was the result of a combination or synthesis between secular humanistic progressivism and Mainline liberal Protestantism. In becoming liberal in both cases, both had abandoned the theistic realism of the Bible and of religious orthodoxy. The Biblical view is not that "God is in His heaven and all is right with the world. Rather, the world was created with boundaries between order and chaos. Man was created with the mission to expand the spheres of order onto chaos. But man failed and was dismissed into the boundary lands of order and chaos. Ever since, humanity has been given a choice to return to God or wander in darkness. But God on His part is patiently waiting and providing sunshine and rain and upholding the stability if natural laws and keeping humanity from ultimate distraction for the time being. But He won't be patient forever. Rather, there will be a day when God calls all accounts in. On that day, the halfway world will be destroyed and a new world free of chaos will be made for those who in their probation called upon God. 

On this picture there is chaos in the world but there are also moral absolutes. There remains reason to live with hope and patience even if the flood waters rise. That also applies to the violence inherent not just the system but also in human nature itself. The realism of the biblical view braces you for war, even world wars. But liberalism became attracted to the sweetness and reduced the value of religion to that removing the rest. But the world wars proved that approach inadequate. However, as a result, the baby got thrown out with the bath water. We were left with existential despair and relativism. 

But the biblical view holder need not kowtow to the existential demand for authenticity, since admitting chaos does not entail the denial of absolutes for her. Her view has not been proven false by war. Further, existentialism itself is inadequate because it unnecessarily enlarges the space for violence. People do discover life again. A good piece of evidence for this is that since WWII we've passed through a time of goodness so much so that the current culture has shifted back to pre-world war mainline progressivism as if those wars never happened. 

As for "The Big Hear", I suggest we call it "Orthodox Noir", a film that recognizes and faces the darkness but also the light. 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Return of Secularization Theory

Return of Secularization Theory:

A recent article at the Huffington Post by a neurophysiologist predicted that religion would disappear by around 2040 because of the progress of modern technology. He said that his conclusion was based on the hypothesis that religion was coping strategy to deal with existential threats to existence. Since modern science has successfully removed many such threats and seems likely to remove many more relatively soon, there seems no such remaining motivation to be religious and religion will soon cease. Such a hypothesis is a version of secularization theory - a theory that claims religion declines as material progress advances. Decades ago such theories seemed questionable because of contemporary counter examples like the USA being most modern but still most religious of western nations and the resurgence of faith in former Communist countries. But continuing developments have resuscitated such theories, such as the flight of millennials from churches and the progress of same sex marriage.   Even Peter Berger has changed his mind back to re-affirming secularization. 

Examining the existential threat theory, it clearly has plausibility. If we think of secularization in terms of William James account of "genuine belief options" from his essay "The Will to Believe", it seems that modernity has made religious faith no longer a forced belief option. If one has to choose between faith in a promise of heaven over a reasonably long and comfortable life provided by modern technology you may think it reasonable to suspend judgment until you get terminal cancer that they don't have a cure on the horizon for yet. Another thing that modernity may do is no longer make faith a live option due to prima facie incredibility. 

But neither of these really holds up as James might have understood it.  For the second, the limits of science are just as apparent as its accomplishments. At these limits, the scientist turns to philosophy, often without owning up to it, such as how to reconcile realism about science with the incompatibility of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, what existed before the universe existed, what is the relation between physics and Consciousness, etc. These seem not only unanswered but in principle unanswerable by science. Yet there must be facts a out such things that make philosophy the most rational approach available. 

As to the first, no intelligent person qua being intelligent for its own sake would or has been content with modernity's successes (Dostoevsky,  Kierkegaard, Kant).  Suppose one day science finally gives us a machine like the Matrix which holds out the promise of downloading the experience of a long pleasurable prosperous seeming life made to our specifications to whoever wants to be inserted into it. What would you think of one who would volunteer? You still wouldn't necessarily think their lives worthwhile or that they really had it made. You could still wonder if death is really the end or if there will be or should be an ultimate accounting. From the rational point of view, the choice to believe in some future existing Matrix or believe in another life in another perhaps more real world is still a forced option. What makes the option forced is the demand on the self that goes with rigorous commitment. Even without the dread of existential threat there still is the longing for existential meaning and justice and love, the pursuit of which makes the option still forced. 

So genuine belief options do not explain the secularizing influence of modernity by existential dread. The actual explanation has more to do with man's animal nature than his rational nature. Paul Vitz writes in "Faith of the Fatherless" about Freudian accounts of secularization. According to the doctrine of the Oedipal complex and repressed sexuality, the boy child goes through a phase of sexual attraction toward the mother while perceiving his father as a rival to be killed but his father's superior strength forces him to be resolved to the situation.  But the complex is never resolved. When the boy is big enough to be a credible threat to his father, the Oedipal urges return. 

It is possible to combine the Oedipal theory with Freud's projection theory to form a secularization hypothesis, where God is the cosmic father that imposes his sexual restraints on humanity by morally norming the orders of creation. While life is threatening the threat of God's judgment is compelling. But when life is brought under human control that sense if divine threat seems more and more remote. As science progresses, fear of God diminishes. 

Such an effect can and has been created without science. As the Apostle Paul makes clear, mankind had lost its fear of God before by forming the belief in idol magic, that they could manipulate the lesser deities through ritual and sacrifice that had more direct control over the forces of nature, thus giving them something like access to the control knobs of the universe. As a result, God gave them up to indulge the lusts if their flesh and experience the natural consequences of their behavior. 

The presence of existential dread has greater impact on the animal for which reason is only of instrumental value for the survival instinct. Such reason makes the dread "existential" but not really intellectual, where as the search for meaning is truly an intellectual passion. Secularization may be evidence that humans are more animal than spiritual. 

However, Vitz gives evidence that inadequate fathering vs adequate fathering is a strong predictor of atheism and theism respectively (for the most part). His evidence includes notable and articulate theists all through the early modern and contemporary period, showing that material prosperity need not quench faith. Compare this with Mary Eberstadt's new research showing the role dysfunctional families have played in facilitating secularization and visa versa. An effective family is also a shelter from existential dread but not one that inclines to unbelief but rather to faith. 

Family love and Fatherly bonding encourage humans to rise above instinct and lust to make choices based on either sufficient evidence or by recognizing genuine belief options where evidence fails to decide a question, to live as rational and transcendental beings. As for the future of religion, one could say with certainty that the natural law expectation all other things being equal religion will disappear by 2040. But this just begs the question of the truth of religion.  If God exists, he may preserve a people to Himself for all eternity. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Relativism, Tolerance, and The Socratic Fate

Had an interesting talk with a student on comparing short snippets from Sextus Empiricus and Lorraine Code. We suggested that skepticism is to the individual person what relativism is to society, a reversal of Plato's republic in one respect. Just as in the individual, the cultivation of suspended judgment through personal inquiry leads to the cessation of perplexity, so the cultivation of relativism through public education leads to social tolerance (apathy). There is an important sense in which we have not fallen all that far from pre-modern thought, except Socratic pre-modern thought.

Society is making an existential leap by gambling that inquiry and education based on it will always be able to maintain or recover the indifferent equilibrium of "tolerance", in as much proportion to the Socratic leap by gambling that absolute truth is out there and can be discovered. It must calculate the balance of value differently between risk of losing ultimate truth and final happiness by ignoring them and the exquisite unpleasantness of indefinitely prolonged perplexity and the humiliation of the surrender of intellectual self-sufficiency.

But tolerance won on these terms and based itself on the gamble for suspended judgment. If someone tries to argue in behalf of the Socratic spirit, the neo-skeptics will argue that the project of classical foundationalism proved a failure, denying any possibility of finding Truth even if it existed, and that since then science has made the prospect of Big T Truth even less likely. Still, would neo-skeptics consider seriously and sympathetically promoting the study of the grounds that call evolution and materialism into question or even the skeptical commitment to indifference itself. It turns out that commitment to indifference is taking a side after all. Consequently one group that cannot be tolerated are Socratic revivalists. 

But Socratic revivalists can tolerate skeptics since, for revivalists, tolerance is not contingent on a belief state but a practical virtue to be cultivated, an accepting of folks you disagree with even though you think you are right and they are wrong. The Socratic raw confidence in the intellect that starts with wonder rather than doubt and takes an innocent until proven guilty policy on the intellect is orthoganal to classical foundationalism which was adopted in the first place to oppose the Socratic approach. Also, the value of obtaining even a shadow of the Truth is so high that is able to compensate for the additional riskiness of the pursuit.

The Socratic approach remains a live option for human beings. But the Neo-skeptic cannot tolerate that Socratic for long and must eventually impose his relativism on all. Thus, even contemporary followers of Socrates may share his fate.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lincoln and Kennedy: The Ominous Parallels

Disturbing Parallels between Lincoln and Kennedy:

I was providentially privileged to see Spielberg's "Lincoln" just a couple of days before the Supreme Court declared DOMA. Keeping in mind Mr. Douthat's wise words about the misleading impressions one may form from such a necessarily partial and de-contextualized presentation and also the objections by historians that some of the key suppositions of the picture are historically false, still it is quite striking how up front and overt "Lincoln" was to his cabinet about his subversion of Constitutional process and his lies to congress. While we agree about the importance human rights and approve of the 13th Amendment, Lincoln's approach presumes absolute confidence in his own moral judgment, zero confidence in constitutional law and the democratic process, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get his desired result by any means necessary however moral or even however utilitarianist. Now we may reasonably agree that a person may find themselves to be justifiably in that sort of position. But certainly the prior probability against that being the case should make us marvel, particularly because we can easily imagine anyone putting such a spin on events to rationalize any oppressive measure. It also disturbs in that one could easily imagine the dizzying self-aggrandizing and narcissistic effect of having such a concept of oneself would provide an overpowering motive for artificially and unnecessarily creating such a scenario.

Apparently, Justice Kennedy found himself in a similar situation as his statement for the majority in ruling against the constitutionality of DOMA. This is apparent from the globalizing and simplistic categories he used. More specifically, it seems to be indicated by his disproportionate emphasis on states rights. It was disproportionate as Justice Scalia points out in his read statement for the dissenting minority because most of Kennedy's argument focuses on a crypto-appeal to constitutional due process with respect to states but then this gets rejected at the end since lack of precedent for same sex marriage in American tradition and history would permit different treatment of it by the federal government according to constitutional due process.

To further his case, then, Kennedy had to attribute to the states the power to impose a sacred dignity where none had been recognized before. This raises the question whether the purpose of law is to recognize or impose duties. It is usually supposed that it does both differentially, recognizing dignities to secure them and imposing certain stipulations in order to facilitate the former. But on Kennedy's view of state creation of value of gay marriage, it can only be by stipulation and imposition and not by recognition. If impositions could create dignities, then everything could be a dignity and thus nothing would be. But if the states (as in some but not others) are recognizing a dignity, it must by the presumed dignity of doing whatever you want to do - which would include selling yourself into slavery if you wanted and thus proves to be incoherent.

To avoid these extremes, then it must involve nuanced and qualified dignities and thus is not within the provenience of the judicial branch but rather the legislature. But it's here where we see zero confidence in the institutions of democracy and instead the imposition of a sovereign Justice to take matters into his own hands. This is especially clear in the rejection of a law passed by constitutional provisions. Neither due process nor federalism provides a basis for it.

So Kennedy shows a strong parallel to Spielberg's Lincoln - not surprising since the film production has sent clear signals that it still regards sections if the country as not entitled to appreciate the person represented in the film, and thus displaying it's political preferences overtly.

The real crux is that rather than being seen as an extraordinary political case, it is being seen as the very paradigm if normal politics. The logical conclusion of this is in the reduction to meaninglessness of our democratic institutions and their use as a foil for a political Caesarian elitism that alone holds the right to determine what is and isn't right for the masses. After all such a public has demonstrated it's unfitness to rule by refusing to grow up to maturity and instead entertaining their infantile selves with such things as "Star Wars", "Lord of the Rings", and "ET". (Oops!)

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Bigotry of Relativism

The end of the debate:

It appears yet again that we are supposed to think that the debates over the great philosophical and moral questions have been settled. This article on Virginia campaigns expresses on behalf of Cato a presumptive commitment to contractual relativism. Without my making any surmised about the real quality of the candidates in question - they really may be bigoted and insane - still the arguments given for this are extremely specious and question begging.

That racists, nationalists, and anti-Semites may appeal to the same language ("intrinsic ends", "natural law") as objectors to same sex marriage does not show that there is no legitimate applications for natural law theory. One can mistake (even deliberately culpably mistake) the meaning and application of natural law theory, especially since their is more than one interpretation of it (Aquinas, Hobbes, Grisez). That such disagreements are possible strongly supports the intelligibility and prima facie plausibility of the view. Comparisons with Nazis are not sufficient evidence especially given how natural law was used against state powers to protect the rights of South American native peoples against exploitation in the 18th century.

Also, while those cited may certainly show ignorance in formulating and justifying an etiology of homosexuality on a psychoanalytic approach, that project has been taken up by more learned and competent hands as anyone looking at the history of the debate over including homosexuality in the diagnostic manual and at the credentials of the members of NARTH can testify. The psychoanalytic case is as adequate here as anywhere else.

Even if one dumps etiology for the more empirically attested research and therapy approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, we find that they are indifferent to genetic as well as psychodynamic causes and basically place the decision to be a homosexual well within the clients own choice so there is no practical import to being "born homosexual". Homosexuality remains a moral choice of identity, and may be questioned on moral grounds.

The question is begged on both moral and psychological areas, but the position is still presented as settled true. But such great questions remain aporetic and everyone necessarily has a right to their own opinion, not just in private but also in public.

Psychologically, convictions are efficiently formed as a basis for action in virtue of the individual's own set of intuitions and plausibility structure. Even the skeptic of any moral prescription except keeping one's contract has a set of assumptions that she is making a studied effort to conserve through argument and practical reasoning. But all do this with different plausibility structures. While some fail the test of time and change, strongly alternative accounts remain. As such, anyone of them may be rationally held such that no one ought to be socially condemned for holding them. Rather the hope for progress in views lies in preserving the right to express them, as our enlightened Founders concluded.

And contrary to the counter-bombast here from Cato, the position that marriage and family is an institution of natural intrinsic ends that can be characterized as proper functioning is one those views. The defense of marriage is about preserving marriage in that sense while allowing people who disagree to see marriage as a brute social contract to act accordingly.

But just as human rights do not imply a right to join any group you want, just as no one has a right to serve in the military or be a leader of a Moslem Student Group if you are Jewish, homosexuals do not have a right to enter into bonds of traditional marriage. They may form the kinds of institutions or contracts their own views oblige them to.

This kind of pluralism is founded on the presumption that there is greater resolution in the future, it gambles on the possibility of further enlightenment. This leaves all lines of communication open. But skepticism and relativism is necessarily committed in practice to work to support the claim that their is no ultimate truth whatever evidence may suggest otherwise. Thus, it constantly acts efficiently in the supposition that claims to intrinsic ends and such must need be self-preferential fictions and therefore bigotry. But the real bigotry is in the soft prejudice of moral skepticism as we can see here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Consciousness of God and Assurance of Salvation

The Consciousness of God as the basis for assurance of salvation.

Several authors report having had a strong sense of God as children or youth - much stronger than what they have now. I believe this is sufficient reason for thinking belief in God is rational as long as it has not been defeated by counter-argument or counter-evidence, based on a principle of charity toward our cognitive faculties of intuition and memory. We can't move forward accept by a raw prima facie confidence in our abilities.

But we might ask why our sense of deity seems to diminish as we get older. Surely, it has to do with becoming more learned and experienced. But I don't think that this is necessarily because we discover some truths along the way that force us to reject as false or improbable belief in God.

The Bible gives it's own suggestion here. When we are young, we are more innocent and naive and we do not yet have the judgment to implicate our own behavior with our own sense of the good. But as that naïveté fades and we see more and more how culpable we are in evil while at the same time establishing a greater track record of evil deeds, then we are not so delighted at the prospect of seeing God and so spend more time in self distraction. We get to the point were we would rather God didn't exist at all than dwell before His face. So we don't see God because we don't want to. Thus is explained by Paul in Romans 1. It is also illustrated by Adam and Eve in Gen, 2.

We do this in part because we are incapable of bringing about an alternative choice besides trying to avoid God. But if there were a way to own our sin before the face of God with no occasion to fear we might take it. I believe that if we were willing to admit out sins to God we would discover the truth of the biblical claim that he has been already seeking us. The outcome of the ordeal of facing God in the plagues, on the Flood, in the Fire depends on weather we oppose God stiff-necked or humble ourselves and be prepared to do what he says.

Of course, according to the history and prophecy in the Bible, God has already been making provision in His rescue plan in Christ to answer the question, "Where can I find a gracious God?".

According to the Gospel, Jesus has in Baptism taken the condemnation that was due to us so that we by our baptism are saved from condemnation. Because of Jesus death on the cross we who are united to Him by means of faith and baptism have died to sin with Him and were resurrected to new life in Him. Those who heed this news admit and turn from their sins and receive the baptism of Christ are saved. Thus without Shane they may behold God who makes discloses Himself in His revelation and creation with joy.

This suggests that our ability to perceive God in creation as we mature is a confirming feed back of genuine faith. As Jonathan Edwards saw, delighting in the beauty of God's holiness is proof that we genuinely trust Him.

Can we be assured of our salvation? According to Catholicism the only way to be assured that one us saved is to endure until the end. He who endures to the end will be saved so this us certainly sufficient. But is it necessary to be assured of ones standing before God?

It seems not since the gospel assures us that they are saved who trust in Christ. If I trust in Christ then I'm saved, right? The I just need to know that I am trusting. This suggests to many that assurance is of the essence of faith that saves.

The trouble with this conclusion is that both our experiences and those of saints in the Scriptures make clear both that a saved person can experience doubt of that fact and that one nay boast of confidence in salvation and be lost at the end. This discrepancy may be reconciled to our simple argument from faith to assurance by saying that assurance is of the essence of faith ideally considered. In experience, a person's faith may be subject to all kinds of difficulties such besetting sins, stress, resistance, and so on, which prevent faith from optimally functioning. Consequently, we are not entitled to think that just because a person has no sense of assurance that he must not really have faith.

This is consistent with the biblical exhortations to examine ourselves to see that we are I'm the faith and to strive to make our calling and election sure. We need to check to see if the complacency of sin has not sapped our energy in devotion and our zeal to obey the Lord. The Bible makes clear that those who our united to Christ will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the flesh. That is, they will put off selfishness and put on faith, hope, and love.

But this may lead us into another trap. The Bible makes clear that there would not be any fruit unless we have the Spirit. So exhibiting some fruit is sufficient to show that we have the Spirit even if there are still works of the flesh to be mortified. But we may fall into obsession with how much fruit and be tempted to make comparisons with others which are misleading and feed either pride or despair. There us no real criterion about what counts as sufficient progress at any time to warrant assurance. So we encourage Christians to keep moving forward. The problem is that self examination can be confused with introspection and lead to a death spiral.

But another evidence if faith can be discerned by a self examination that is focused outward rather than inward. As we grow in faith we become aware more and more of our sinfulness. But we also grow more and more in our delight of God in Christ. As we put our confidence in the sufficiency of the cross we may yet recover our sense of God speaking to us in His Word and in His creation. We may in adulthood recover our sense of deity. Rather than being a complicated comparison of fruits and works, this is a simple judgment with immediate feedback. By focusing on looking for the sense of God again we no longer dissect our conduct and are less tempted to become paralyzed in analysis. This form of seeking assurance involves forgetting ourselves. It also, encourages us to wait patiently for God to appear to us in our awareness.

This leads us to the following conclusion: eternal life is consciousness of God in grace and truth.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Transactional Analysis and the Sane Sex Marriage Debate

SSM and TA

Considering the frustration many defenders of traditional marriage are feeling about the state of play surrounding the debate over same sex marriage, as expressed by the pessimism by Maggie Gallagher for example, it might be useful to brush off an old tool from our cohort's collective past - namely Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis.

Just a brief non-professional review, Transactional Analysis (TA) was an empirical approach to transactions in a conversational exchange, with the aim of equipping participants with the means to identify and avoid conversations that defeated the aims of one or both participants, which Berne called "games". It was based on a Humean view of the self and a behaviorist view of conditioning.

For appropriate convenience, TA takes it that each person has at least three states of being, called "ego states". The first is the ego state which engages with the person's of what it was like for her development as a child, called the Child ego state (or Child for short). The second is the state that engages with a person's memories of being raised by parents and other authority figures, called the Parent ego state. Finally, there is the state that engages with the person's experiences in being a responsible agent, called the Adult ego state. We standardly are in the Adult ego state but may from time to time channel either the Patent or Child states. This can be done from an Adult standpoint that decides or permits it if the occasion is appropriate. But we can also revert to either state because of stress or anxiety or even be in either state chronicly. This indicates a problem in the situation or character of the person. Also, a person could operate in the Adult state to cover for business done in either Parent or Child state. Ego states can either become under-differentiated or blocked out if awareness.

Further, in conversation, one person's ego states can each individually try to engage with the different ego states of the other person. Which ego states in each person in a single exchange is part of the analysis of the transaction. Standardly, one person's Adult will try to address the other person's Adult. "Has the report come in yet?" sometimes though one person's Child will try to connect with the other person's Child or Parent. "Let's go get wasted!" "I can't remember where I put my file. Can you help me?". And so on.

On this analysis, there are two types of transactions: Complementary ones engage the same ego states in each person and in each exchange. The Adult to the Adult and back. Crossed transactions however are where one transaction comes from one ego state in one person but the response comes from a different one in another. One example is when the speaker's Adult asks the listener's Adult a question but the response comes from the listener's Child to the speaker's Parent.

One last bit on this head is that transactions can be ulterior. That is one person can exchange another person using the presentation of an Adult to another Adult while the real purpose is for the Child to speak to the other Child. "I am of the opinion that the Celtics will soundly defeat the Lakers this evening." this can also happen with other pairings of ego states.

This allows us to characterize the nature of a dysfunctional conversation or "game". A game is where one person in a conversation is engaging with another in a transaction that is both crossed and ulterior. An example of a game is the one TA users call "Yes But". Sam approaches Max with a problem. Max offers a suggestion. Sam replies by giving some reason the suggestion is not viable. Max tries again but gets another qualification. Too late does Max realize that Sam really does not want the problem solved but to reaffirm his excuse for not solving the problem. Max thought he was engaging with Sam's Adult but in reality it was Sam's Child that was trying to engage with Max's Parent. It is now up to Max to engage with Sam as a responsible person "Well, what will you do then?" or simply disengage and walk away from the futile game. We can imagine stronger versions of this pattern with higher stakes as well, which brings us back to our topic.

When we listen to the responses given to the arguments against same sex marriage, we discover that a good batch of them really are not arguments but put offs. None of these engage with the debate but instead make unilluminating appeals to relativism and emotionalism or anecdotal evidence. Or they are debate stoppers that make false claims like "the opponent has not shown why we should think he us right" or "has not given evidence for any harmful effect of gay marriage" or "No one understands their gobble-de-gook" and so on. Meanwhile we see the pro-marriage side offering an analysis of the rationality and grounds for the morality of the view, it relation to jurisprudence and the laws of the land and court precedents, evidence from history and social science, as well as biology and medicine. The have also grounded their arguments on humanitarian grounds and even on aesthetic grounds (and even erotic grounds).

When we listen to the debates however it's clear that the tactic is not to engage with argument but rather to rely on a certain condition that is pervasive in the culture. When critics make appeals to emotion (what does love have to do with reason?) or when they use the tactics of just reading passages from pro-marriage books to highlight their strange sounding nomenclature to turn off listeners, they are counting on a reaction rather than a response.

If we look at a debate as a set of transactions, not just between the debaters but between each debater and the audience, and between factions among the audience, we can see that there is a very large and very intense game of "Yes But". Call it "Sez You!" or something like that. The game involves emotionally sandbagging the opponent and deflecting his argument.

Of course, this analysis does not fit everything. Many are engaging with the debate with arguments and this included Epicurian, utilitarian, and libertarian arguments. Thus analysis also does not imply that defenders of traditional marriage are above playing games. Nor does this analysis say why this game is being played and why people are counting on crossed transactions to accomplish political purpose in such an undemocratic way.

But having this as a tool of analysis should provide some ready comfort to defenders of traditional marriage. It gives them insight into what's going on and makes sense of how the situation makes them stressed (and thus decreases that stress). It also helps the audience they are trying to reach. If they also see that what they are doing is an empty game it will tend to make them not want to play along and a real conversation can take place. It will also show how such tactics illegitimately serve one party rather than another and coerce that party to engage more responsibly in order to foster a better image of itself. Finally, it will give proponents of traditional marriage a much brighter and hopeful prospect that comes with the "Aha!" of seeing through the source of their perplexity and how flimsy it is. Is "Sez You" and adequate basis of a social policy?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Oshira and Aliens

National Review considers the likelihood of whether Republicans will add same sex marriage to the platform. It looks inevitable since support for gay marriage has spiked pronouncedly. Those holding out against are among the very old, the very religious and the very uneducated. The GOP is likely to accept gay marriage if implemented according to the principles of federalism, separation of powers, and protection of religious expression such as exemplified by Maryland's question 6.

What difference education makes may require the specific type of pedagogy. I just saw Nagima Oshima's "Realm of the Senses" (Japan, 1976) an explicitly erotic but arguably non-pornographic tragic romance based on a true story from 1936 about a couple who had a relationship outside of social customs that became so obsessed sexually that the man was accidentally killed by the woman. The woman was caught by the police with man's severed genitalia in her possession.

The reason the film is not considered pornography is that, though the sex was very very explicit, it was not presented in a way that made the characters into objects of arousal for the viewer. Instead of objectifying the sexuality, the director shows the characters attending to each other as persons so as to bring out the audiences empathy. The point is to show the humanity of sex without arousing the audience.

Nonetheless the movie focused on the sex and though the couple is not homosexual, the couple's adventures lead to the breaking of several taboos either openly or by suggestion (such as child molestation, incest, and necrophilia). The film is still never shown in Japan, in spite of it's having it's own "pink" culture, because of the implied criticisms of Japanese culture. (I'm getting this from the notes and interviews in the Criterion Collection DvD packet.)

The point is that by empathizing with the couple, you no longer see the occasion to condemn them as obscene, in spite of the taboo breaking. What you see is a couple marginalized by society for wanting to express their sexual love for each other but unable to realize their pure sexual expression and thus led to death. The idea is very similar to western romanticism.

When I see this, I think of Thomas Nagel's paper on sexual perversion. Without taking a natural law perspective, Nagel still asks what could make sense of sex being perverted unless there was some norm that perversion departs from. The only candidate suggested by him is in the psychology of arousal. To make a longer story shorter, one is aroused by the other person, not just his or her body. More specifically one is aroused by that person's own state of being aroused and coupling happens when each is aroused by the other's being aroused by the first. And so on. This is normal sexuality for Nagel. A shoe fetish would thus be a perversion since the "other" could not be aroused. However, many normally offered candidates for perversion such homosexuality, pedophilia, and incest would not count as perverse on this view. But for Nagel sexual normality or perversity is a non-moral distinction. This is also the conclusion of Oshima. Full explicitness proves that there is no "obscenity" in the legal sense. We are supposed to think there is really none in the moral sense also. This is directly in opposition to the biblical view, illustrated by Noah's curse on Ham for revealing Noah's nakedness. For Oshima the hidden is the obscene. For the Bible, the revealed is.

Another example comes from Andrea Peyser, conservative columnist for the New York Post. She wrote (from my memory) some years ago about attending her daughter's lesbian wedding. There was nothing about the ceremony that was explicit to any greater degree than kissing the bride(s). Again, like the film and Nagel's arguments, the observer is left ambivalent with empathy toward the person's involved. As a result, according to Peyser, looking at the happiness on her daughter's face, she no longer saw any point in opposing gay marriage.

So the kind of education that unlearns the taboos against gay marriage is directly related to the emphasis on diversity as a pedagogical goal of education. It is simply by coming to know many gay friends that one becomes ambivalent to gay marriage and thus accepts it.

Yet there remains a civil point to opposing gay marriage even if there is no longer a political point for doing so, even granting the above. Admit that gay love or incest or pedophilia or good old fornication and adultery need not be the sort that objectifies the other, and that erotic love even requires the recognition that the other is a person, an autonomous rational agent that is also a sexual being with an amorphous capacity to experience sexual pleasure. Erotic love then is devotion to pleasure through devotion to the other's experience and expression of sexual pleasure. It is pleasure in the pleasure of the other which is obtained in the service to the other. This pleasure becomes larger and more secure with the addition of several other others and thus tends to be polyamorous. Erotic love thus us a candidate for one's telos and as shared teloi are the basis of bonds between people, this can potentially be the source of tight relations and an ethic of sexual care and sexual reciprocity.

However, such a community fails to make sense of all the features of family life and on particular it fails to make sense of having and raising children. It also fails to thus make sense of growing and developing a society beyond the community both geographically and in time. Thus it precludes other important purposes open to persons, many if which are arguably more important than sexual gratification, which fails to measure up to expected utility calculation in many cases. Also sexual gratification is a short term end in itself. The only way one might conceive of fulfilling such a telos is by maximizing the number and quality of orgasms. But it is also true that, due to the dependence on the human busy and it's energy, sexual gratification is a scarce quantity. Eventually the body loses it's ability to produce sexual experiences that can compete with it's earlier experiences. In short, even though sexual gratification is a possible good to rational agents, it is too narrow a good to make the focus of a relationship. You might try to adapt society to accommodate to such an ideal, but the result will look like Logan's Run or Brave New World.

Like the real life case that is the basis of Oshira's story, there is currently a case being tried now in the US prosecuting a beautiful young woman for killing her boyfriend. He was a Mormon who led a pure lifestyle until he met this woman who introduced him to "benefits". But as time went on, anytime he wanted to leave and go back to his former way life, she would up the anti on her sexual favors to more erotic services. Finally, when tried to make decisive break and return to his church, she feared fir the loss of her sexual relationship and killed him. Although she had no prior history of sociopathic behavior, toward the end, her approach to him, became sociopath-like through manipulation and objectification. What may have started as Nagel like case of arousal may have through sexual obsession become more like a classic case of objectification. The exclusive narrowness of erotic love may tend to and logically entail such obsession. (Having no other purpose to make sense of.)

For all these reasons, while there is a kind of reciprocity in erotic love, we cannot will to universalize erotic love as a sole end. In the film, the two adulterers hold a faux marriage in a brothel which clearly has no significance except as symbol of the erotic devotion to one another. But a real marriage supposes a covenant to each other for all time which has a broad scope beyond sexual cherishing. Traditional marriage has the complete well being of each partner, their commonwealth, their children, and their society in view. But we could not will such a thing for the sake of erotic love.

One reply will be that such relationships do not have such a narrow scope, as the phrase "friends with benefits" suggests. As friends or partners we do not just look to the sexual desires of the other but care for the other in toto. But neither erotic love nor friendship is the basis for marriage. We need to have an ethic of care as well as duties to one another anyway and the state has laws and rights that already cover this. Friends can become brothers by trading saki cups without the public recognition. This is because friendship is also a private affair that does not necessarily take society into its scope.

But marriage and family as traditionally conceived and practiced includes caring for the other even when they are no longer loved or befriended. They have to take you back when you come again. Marriage and family have to see if devotion can be rekindled. Free relations of friendship and erotic love are not so obliged. Not can we but we must will to universalize traditional marriage.

It is natural to be ambivalent about another's happiness at a time and to not want to do anything to harm it. But dedication to erotic love involves a self-deception by looking only to the present moment, not only for those in love but also for ambivalent spectators. We need to ask what it would be like if our devotion at the moment became the norm. Suppose Earth was invaded by a race of genderless aliens that were able to copulate with any and human at any age with perfect sentient recognition of each other's arousal and do so with perfect intensity on an asymptotically increasing scale in one continuous act. It would mean the end of the human race.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Polyamory and Happiness

The Love that calls for marriage.

I read a piece recently that argued polyamory as being superior to traditional marriage because it tended to result in better character in those participating in it. Traditional marriage breads jealousy and thus hostility and violence. This happens when a spouse has relations outside of marriage. But if this happens in polyamory, this doesn't happen since the point of polyamory is complete openness to experience sexually with others. In fact, instead of jealousy, the partner feels happiness in the other's success sexually. Rather than tending to violence, sex with other people tends to happiness in the case of the partner.

The problem with this view is that it overlooks the case where the partner does not have relations with anyone else. In the case of the polyamorous partner, she must be required to be sad for her dedicated partner for not succeeding with others but not only that she must at all times realize that she has no special claim to any of her partners' affections nor they to hers. Polyamory instills an imperative to be open to providing "benefits" with many partners. She's not even to be dedicated to certain sets of partners. Polyamory tends to a kind of ubiquity of relations to the point where e en friendship is irrelevant. But a traditional marriage understands that partners are partners because they have been chosen. Not only that but chosen with lifelong dedication. Marriage traditionally conceived is an exclusive covenant and promise. When one says "I do", one sets a precedent against predictable future discounting and this assures the partner that right now when and while one is right minded and whole hearted one dedicates to their partner for all of life. This is a kind of precious love. Conjugal family creation specifically calls for covenantal love and thus traditional marriage.

Polyamorous arrangements assume no effort will be made to prevent discounting the future and that everyone involved will simply follow the mood at the time. The aim is to avoid sabotaging the heat of the moment and to mitigate the need to sublimate the libido. In polyamorous agreements, persons volunteer to be mere means. This is not as readily seen as it is in the case of slavery or Old Mormon style polygamy where the man is a kind of king and his wives are like his retainers. In polyamory however you have a kind of original position where several people contract to exchange sexual benefits with each other in the future. This is to grant each other property in the other's bodies but only, though not necessarily exclusively, for pleasure.

So polyamory is only finding a happiness in another's increased utility, like when a friend wins at Lotto. It's not violent but also not much since the ends obtained come and go. But the anger that goes with infidelity is righteous indignation and need not be brute violence. On the other hand, there is no sense of dedicated love in polyamory and polyamory would resist and discourage such love by requiring infidelity to justify the lifestyle. Further, polyamory includes no provision for children. It would have to make special provisions if children are had or desired that would either compromise polyamory or compromise children. This could include sterilization or abortion, so polyamory is not necessarily without it's violence.

The oceanic pleasure of the experience machine of polyamory that constitutes it's "spirituality" is certainly spiritual in the original paganism of the human race. But in the spirituality of western theism the model of religion is marriage. God's people are a "chosen people", his prized possession, the apple of his eye. And he is a "jealous God". In paganism the people find useful deities, but God says, "You did not choose me. I chose you." God makes a covenant with his people and they are thus identified with each other. God's love is unconditional but still exclusive. This is the difference between Eros and Agape.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Recognizing French Gay Atheist Day Today

Here at the me, I an celebrating "French Gay (Touquivillian) Atheist Day", having a burger with French Gay Atheist Fries and so on. What could drive an Anglophillic Straight Theist to such festivities? It is to honor those gay atheists in France today who are marching with the opponents of the government's attempt to push gay marriage. Not only this, but their arguments are stunningly perspicuous and compelling moral reasons that put many Americans to shame for there lack of clarity. Such stunning moral perspicacity from such persons runs counter to the narrative about them in Christian circles. One could say that they are deeply beholden in theory and disposition to the excellent social reasoning in their Catholic backgrounds. But this in no way dims their excellent arguments.

Putting various reports together the argument they give can be compellingly and efficiently given.

(1) The rights of the child trump the rights to a child.
(2) Every child has a right to have both it's mother and father.
(3) Thus the state has a duty to see to it that the child has it's father and mother.
(4) Gay marriage will not see to it that the child has it's own father and mother even allowing for adoption.
(5) Thus, the state has no duty to support gay marriage over normal marriage.

I don't care to consider the whole argument now but I do want to look at parts of it. Clearly the notion of right in the first phrase of (1) and in (2) is that of a natural liberty right prior to state and legislation design. The "right" in the second phrase (1), in cases not involving the children that parents have by birthing them, refers to positive "rights" that are creatures of legislation, such as adopting. Also, (1) and (2) are synthetic a priori moral truths, given the properties of natural rights.

While this last bit will no doubt be challenged, I simply give my best sweeping "consult the literature" arm wave and move on. One interesting implication of natural rights of children is that they illustrate an implication of natural rights, namely that they imply duties not only contemporary with the person but before the person exists. If a person P has a natural right at a time T then others have the duty to secure P's rights not only at T but prior to T. If children have a natural right to a mother and father we need to secure that right insofar as we have anything to do with that outcome even before the child exists. Every child that is going to exist has the right.

If this is true of the natural right to a mother and father, it is also true of another natural right: the right to life. Children have a right to life that trumps the right to get or not get children. If a a child is going to exist we have the duty to protect that future life. This implies a prima facie duty to protect life from conception. If there is a conceptus there will be a child with a right to life. We can prevent the existence of a child with a right to life by terminating the embryo but this is exactly what is forbidden by the future child's right to life, the future child whose existence has been rendered disposed to happen by the existence of the conceptus.

Thus (1) is an axiom that makes clear the duties regarding marriage and childbirth, two of the many contended areas of social concerns. No doubt it has bearing of freedom of religious expression but we will leave that as an exercise. But we do owe French Gay Atheist marriage advocates and major debt. Happy French Gay Atheist day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Constrained View and Communication

Hot on the tail of the previous post: Bottom points out that up until The post-WWI period in America, there was a relationship between religion, politics, and economics as spheres of cultural life that provided the common language be means of which all could make sense of and appreciate rival points of view: denominational pluralism, commercial capitalism, and republican federalism. The picture focuses on these as they are in themselves but also jointly as a common culture. See the previous posted article.

As one looks at these components, it's clear that separately they each apply what Thomas Sowell called "The Constrained View" as opposed to "The Unconstrained View". So it's very plausible that the Constrained View is the jointly held perspective that holds it all together and provides the common presupposition to the language. Thus, the abstract idea [constrained/unconstrained] is the key to understanding.

Capitalism is rational given the constrained view given man's irrevocable selfishness. Socialism is rational given the unconstrained view since with direction human economy is capable of greater perfection. Similarly, republicanism is rational given the constrained view by instituting obstacles of review to curb the self-deceit of government. Statism is rational under the unconstrained view since there is nothing that needs an obstacle to check. Similarly, Protestantism is characterized by it's belief in the ubiquity of sin in human nature. Further, the need to allow a plurality of denominations allowed for checks and balances between them. This is the constrained view. Modernism was characterized by a therapeutic perfectionistic deism with a similar structure of competent elitism.

To the constrained view, humans are universally characterized as having weakness of will, always preferring the bird in the hand to the two in the bush, in spite of what of what the expected utilities are. It would be difficult to imagine how expected utility calculation would have evolved and how man would have survived this long if not conscience evolved along with it to impose painful penalties over time as the immediate price of doing what experience has taught as inexpedient, thus making moral formation possible. Even then, the goodness thus achieved is fragile as conscience can become numb. Fragility is also a feature of the measures humans take (religion, government, economy) to anticipate and check weakness of will.

But now we have reached scoping were many think science and technology have made all this unnecessary. Humans even as we find them are plastic and it only takes competent social engineering be the best and brightest to shape that clay to an ever more optimal society. We can now transcend our cultural evolution. This is the unconstrained vision. This also includes seeing through conventional morality now that it need not apply to the brave new humans we might develop. The religious function need no longer be based on the arbitrary stories that percolate out of ancient history. Religion is just movement psychology that can be fulfilled by taking up the crusades that the experts pick out to suit the greater purpose of improved social functioning such as global warming, non-smoking, gay marriage, euthanasia, and so on.

But according to the constrained view, this grossly underestimates human weakness and without factoring this in is bound at the end of the day to be an elaborate social self-delusion of the most Machiavellian sort. But if checks and balances remain there's hope that human will can keep in line with the rest of human nature to promote human happiness for more humans. So one of the most important checks is the lionizing of the sine qua nons of human happiness in the form of a regime of human liberty rights and corresponding perfect duties. This includes the freedom of religious expression.

So in America, the constrained view has finally been displaced from the central position it had in the National Mind and the unconstrained view has become the new center of thought.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Does Jesus Need Forgiveness?

Does Jesus need to be forgiven?

Morrisey, lead singer of the alternative group "the Smiths" and outspoken homosexual and gay activist, sings to Jesus that he has forgiven Jesus, no doubt for being a moral monster fir making the unreasonable and thus malicious claim that there is something worthy of damnation about the homosexual lifestyle. This shows that Morrisey is the better person. But one could understand if one should rather tell Jesus to go to Hell himself for such an inhuman and arbitrary opinion. Morrisey is thus being more gracious than need be and more than perhaps most of us would care to be, the true embodiment of grace in thus conversation. Meanwhile, Jesus has proven to be a failure as a moral teacher and psychologically unstable for his homophobia. At best, Jesus is a figure that failed to perfectly rise above his own time and place in the ancient past and thus his life is best unregarded by us today. The same could be said of Jesus' book, the Bible, to which Jesus gladly submits as authoritatively teaching right and wrong, including on issues like the condemnation of homosexuality and approval of ritual blood sacrifice. It's fine as a quaint artifact but it's continued use in public ceremonies such as swearing an oath of presidential office can no longer by tolerated as a custom but rejected lest we imply any condoning if it as a moral guide to justice.

Even the presuppositions of Jesus and the Bible are positively obstructive. Even in the recent past we may have had to tolerate religious customs and bizarre comments about science and public policy by yahoos claiming only the authority of the Bible on their side and just from their numbers and previous status as citizens. But we are now at the point where we can simply push all this nonsense away and build more sound culture based on proper science and pragmatic policy. We should not be ashamed to openly legislate against this but rather be ashamed that we let the moral monsters of the Judeo-Christian tradition survive another day.

This speech characterizes the point of view of our society and our mission field in the West as Christians. We no longer live in the early 20th century where there was still a residual tissue in the language and customs of society - and thus in the conceptual schemes of most citizens - that made sense of the Christian faith even for those who didn't hold it. Even while many did not believe the gospel of Christ, one could briefly explain the Gospel in it's traditioned terms and it would still get across. A program like Billy Graham's crusade ministry was possible and appreciable.

But this us no longer true. Today our society is highly educated. College study is widely distributed and includes acquiring the skills of critical thinking and the hermeneutic of suspicion. What it does not include is an appreciation of classical liberal learning and the western tradition but rather the deconstruction of all traditions to a scheme of competing interests.

As the opening paragraphs show this has had the two-fold result of losing all touch with Christian literacy and with it a commensurability with the conceptual scheme of the gospel. Critical ideas such "God", "sin", "reconciliation", "repentance", etc. no longer hold the sane meaning for Christians and today's non-Christians. On top of this, there is in the non-Christian point of view a prima facie case that becoming acquainted with the Christian conceptual scheme is foolish and immoral. The program is now to eliminate the Christian view once and for all with confident belief that at any point we can ourselves create our own conceptual scheme whenever we need to through quilting a new one.

The situation of the church today has gone back to that of the apostle Paul in the Hellenistic world having to start from scratch and using concepts available from the culture of Athens to make his points and help the gospel make sense to the Greek world. Francis Schaeffer wrote concerning apologetics that while it had the negative function of defending the faith, it also had the positive function of communicating the faith. This us all the more true today. Even if one were to argue that argument and evidence could never be the sort to demonstrate or compel assent to Christ and his truth claims, it would still be necessary to give a reasonable account of faith if only to communicate it in a way that makes lucid the meaning and plausibility of the gospel. Our approach must reckon with both the analytic acumen and sense of justified resistance to the gospel of today's non-Christian.

I don't intend to answer the question about whether Jesus should be forgiven but rather point to a way to find the answer and motivate taking that way.

Starting with the later, while the emphasis on the present and the alleged ability to construct a conceptual scheme de novo blocks any argument for becoming literate in the Judeo-Christian tradition from the obvious fact that the Christian scheme has influenced Western thought until recently, one still has to confront the false claim self-sufficiency in evaluating such a product. Like doctors, writers who edit themselves have fools for clients.

To really appreciate the value of your scheme construction, you cannot keep bootstrapping on your own perspective alone. You need to be able to get a view of your thinking from a point of view outside of your thinking. But since the new technology is bringing about a global scheme building operation, there is no "other" point of view to be found contemporary to yours that is other in a sufficiently radical sense. The only alternative is to revisit the past and enter sympathetically into what were once the viable traditions and try to understand them as moral points of view, thus appreciating the moral shock they would have about the modern world. This would be necessary to avoid self-deception through self-absorption.

This would open the prospect of reconsidering the Christian worldview on spite of it's features that offend modern moral sensibilities. The fact is that Christians like any other holders of great traditions gave gone through the exercise of setting up a dialogue between traditional and then contemporary thought as well as between western and eastern thought and thus have continued until and including now, avoiding the extremes of isolated fundamentalism and capitulating "liberalism". They are following the example set by Paul in Athens.

Some reply that one of the features of modern global conceptual scheme formation is that diversity of points of view is not denied but radically emphasized. We are all other to each other and to ourselves moment by moment. Now either thus claim is genuine in which case the Christian tradition should be considered seriously and appreciatively just like any other point of view or this is just a protocol statement that uniformly defines and applies to the global contemporary scheme and still requires a genuinely outside stance to critique it. Conclusion: while not necessarily imposing a personal obligation on the individual reader to consider the Christian way of thinking, it does argue that the project of considering the Christian worldview should be taken up by some in behalf of all, and that anyone of good will ought to agree that rejecting the consideration of Christianity by eliminating it is wrong whether it's Dennett's way or Barzum's.

But I have another reason that non-Christians should not refuse to consider the Christian worldview and learn to appreciate it as a conceptual scheme with it's own moral point of view, and that is the case for Christ and the Bible as original sources of authority. If Jesus is God, then obedience is the only reasonable response and we need to reconstruct our views accordingly. Of course, it must be God as morally perfect in himself alone that could make us change our moral views with reasonable contentedness and so this claim that Jesus is God must be explained and defended. but this is what apologetics does - which is what I attempt to do in this book:

I won't develop the point further here but I expect that anyone who takes up my project seriously will discover that it's Morrisey that needs forgiveness and not Jesus

Apologetics ministry has become necessary in the 21st century. Apologetics and evangelism have become one in a West where Christianity has become a second language.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

TITF now available at Kingdom Bookstore Online.

You can check out my little survey of the case for Christianity at Theocentric Publishing Group's online retail page "Kingdom Bookstore". And for less than the retail price.

Truth In The Flesh

Monday, January 07, 2013

Dangerous Games for Boys

The other night, I had a great time playing a home-brewed pick-up Role-Playing Game with my good friends' two boyfull boys who have just started school who are full of energy, imagination, and derring-do. We actually started this game awhile ago and they had been aching to continue it.

The "game" is not in itself "complete" or well-defined and I have mostly been relying on my experience with such games to make snap situational judgments about how to conduct things. For those who don't know in a role-playing game, players take the role of characters in a fictional setting and determine the actions of the characters as the fiction proceeds, deciding for them what their aims in the fictional world are. The world fiction is conducted by a referee, called the Game Master or GM. The GM provides the world setting, reports the results of the players' characters actions in their environment, and sees to it that such interactions are fairly determined according to a set of rules agreed to by both players and GM. You might say the GM is the author of everything except the players characters. In this case, I am the GM and there was no mastered rule set. The kids are trusting me and I am winging it. But the most important responsibility of a GM is to see to it that his customers have a worthy time.

This game was built around my iPod, using the "Pocket Oracle" app. This app is like a "Magic 8 Ball" that you design yourself. The "ball in the Ball" is actually a dodecahedron - a twenty sided die. I designed the die using an imperfect FUDGE ladder, named from a famous open sourced RPG system. It looked like this.

1. Excellent!
2. Very Great!
3. Great.
4. Very Good
5. Very Good
6. Good
7. Good
8. Very Fair
9. Very Fair
10. Fair
11. Fair
12. Barely Fair
13. Barely Fair
14. Mediocre
15. Mediocre
16. Barely Mediocre
17. Barely Mediocre
18. Poor!
19. Barely Poor!
20. Terrible!

Whenever a charter attempts to do something that is important and risky, the player (or GM if the character is not controlled by a player) "rolls" (shakes the iPod in this case) and the resulting word tells how the Player's character did. The GM then adds detail to this result to apply it to the specific situation the character was in. So if a character is disarming a trap and rolls "Terrible" not only dies he fail to disarm it but he sets it and all the nearby traps off. This roll can be modified if the GM or player thinks they face an unusual challenge or difficulty. If there is, the GM adds or subtracts a "level" to the roll result. When adding or subtracting levels, jeep the modifier (very, barely, or none) and change the value to next one up or down. So to level up very fair you get very good. To level down very fair you still get very mediocre even though that's not on the die.

The modifiers really come into play in contests. If two people are arm wrestling for example, both roll and the highest roll wins. If one rolls "good" and the other rolls "very good" the second player wins. Contests may involve different types of actions. If one character is trying to sneak around a guard, he must pit his sneak attempt roll against the guard's alertness roll. If it's greater then the sneak attempt is successful. In contests, the description of results is determined not by the winning roll but by the degree of difference. "Fair" is the base from which you calculate and keep the modifier. So if the winner rolls "very good" and the loser rolls "good" the winner's result is "very fair". If the winner rolls "good" and the loser's roll is "barely mediocre" the winner's result is "great". If the winner rolls "barely mediocre" and the loser rolls "terrible", the winner's result is "barely great".

Combat is a special case of a contest roll. Before combat can begin it must be determined if one character surprises another. This is a contest like the sneak-guard case above. If a player fails an alertness contest, his character is surprised and cannot attack or defend in the first round. His opponent gets a free uncontested hit role which may be modified by the circumstances (magical weapons or dwarven craft armor, etc.).

After surprises are resolved all characters are aware of the combat. Each contestant rolls once and combat turns are determined from highest to lowest. This is the initiative contest and us based on the characters natural agility, training, and encumbrance. Significant factors here can modify the roll.

Once combat turns are assigned, on each Player's turn, he can have his character move (change his location, ready a weapon, load a weapon, change his position, ready a spell, etc) or attack one opponent with one weapon if the opponent is in range of the weapon. In face to face melees the character must be next to his opponent.

If the character the character attacks with a melee weapon (sword, hammer, mace, roundhouse kick) the opponent may if he us able defend from the blow (parry with his own weapon, block with his shield, or dodge out of the way) if he can. If be can't, then the attack is an uncontested modifiable roll. If he can, it's a contested roll. If the attacker is successful use the quality of results to determine damage. If not, nothing happens. If the attacker does really badly (poor or terrible) he could lose or break his weapon or hurt himself.

If the attacker hits, he does damage according to the level of success.

Fair - Fatigue damage
Good - Equipment or stunning damage
Great - Stunning or wounding damage
Excellent -wounding or fatal damage

Fatigue damage simply means you are getting tired. All damage does fatiguing damage but fair damage only fatigues. If you sustain enough fatigue you will not be able to stand up. You may want to retreat before then. Equipment damage means that the defender's equipment was able to absorb much of the blow depending on the defense used (weapon in parrying, shield in blocking, armor in dodging). This cannot last though. Equipment becomes weaker sustaining blows and eventually either breaks or fails to protect the defender. When equipment fails the results shift up fir each level as the table shows. Stunning damage dazed the opponent off his balance. Enough will knock him unconscious. Wounding damage draws blood and could lead to the loss of a limb. Final lethal blows effect vital areas of the body and could be fatal. Damage is described and recorded on the player's Character notes. Damage nay be healed through rest, equipment repair, first aid, and magical healing.

A long range weapon such as a crossbow, throwing axe, or flintlock is an uncontested roll (unless the target is aware of the shootist) open to modification based on skill, range, coverage of the target, and the target's armor.

I won't say much about magic except that spells have to be ready before combat only by wizards or others with the constitution, training and immediate required components for the spell. In combat, a wizard must take several rounds to get ready to cast a spell. When he does, the roll is a contested roll against his opponent's natural magic resistance. If the roll is successful, the wizard makes a distinct roll for the effect of the magic. If the wizard makes a poor or terrible result, the wizard makes an effect roll and applies it to himself or his party.

In all of this, the results are determined "according to the draw of the narrative". There are no real numerical calculations and some times dice results are massaged a bit fir the sake of plausibility and fun. It's all at the GMs discretion but the players will be the final judge with their feet.

For this adventure, I had the boys tap into their picture of fantasy helped along by seeing TLOTR movies. I asked then to pick a race (dwarf, human, elf) and a medieval fantasy class (knight, wizard, thief) and tell a story about how someone of their race came to be in their class. I have found that if a person can come up with plausible answers to biographical puzzles then they have a clearer grasp of their character concept to predict what their character will do in novel situations. I had them write their stories down on sheets and keep them to update as the story progressed. That, plus the descriptive aspect of the die used, made it natural for them to imagine how things went.

That night, the boy's dwarven knights had discovered an old abandoned castle (it mysteriously and gradually appeared as the sun set on a cliff by the seashore) and had discovered the remains of an open air market inside it's outer Bailey. Searching, the found a map to the layout of the castle and discovered a secret passage to the interior.

Their first encounter in this passage was with a the ghost of of the former Prince of the castle, whom they defeated and dissipated in a battle but not before they hot some useful information from him. It turns out that his loss of the prince's father and the condition of the castle was the work of an evil wizard.

They then discovered a well stocked armory and replaced their worn equipment. Then one discovered a specially crafted dwarven war-hammer (roll twice and take best roll when attacking). The other didn't find anything at first but (after pleading with "uncle GM" with sincere outcries), he eventually found a cool matched set of throwing daggers.

They eventually found another stretch of secret passage that went up several stairs. After a good trap detect roll, they noticed that there were holes in the wall on each side of the stairs. But these holes were at the level of the head of a normal human, not a dwarf. One decided to brave a few of the stairs to see how the traps worked. Getting an excellent result, he climbed the entire flight of stars and set off the spear traps. At each set of holes, a spear automatically thrust out of one hole and into the opposite hole but too high to harm the keen dwarf.

His partner was not quite so fortunate. At one point, a spear thrust out of a hole in one if the stairs (not noticed by check for traps attempt). He dodged the spear but it caught the inside of his new shield from the armory and pinned it to the ceiling. disappointed, he retained his old wood shield to replace it.

The door at the top of the stairs turned out to be a secret passage into the main throne room. They had been warned by the ghost that the throne had been cursed but did not know how. It turned out there were four thrones at the other end of the great room from the main entrance doors.

They decided to inspect the main entrance for jewels or other things. But this put them in a position to see that they were not alone in the throne room. Hidden from their earlier vantage point, up amid the tops if the columns, was the castle guardian, a giant crawfish (or a really, really, really large lobster - we had crawfish for dinner, which the boys were both disgusted and fascinated by). The crawfish had noticed them before they saw him and was on the way down to the floor to engage them. (So no surprise.)

Each knight engaged one of the claws (each treated as an individual fighter) and won their initiative. One managed to get in some stunning damage (no real distinction to be made between equipment and bodily damage - a crawfish's armor is its body). The other missed and both were bracing for the monster's attack when the dad cane in and announced bed time.

The boys ran all around and went to bed with visions and tactics for defeating a giant crawfish. "It's like Lord of the Rings!" (with crawfish). Wait until they discover it's breath weapon!

The great thing about GMing with kids is that you don't need to worry about being short of ideas. Their excitement and imagination produces a virtual fountain of ideas. I just had to listen to the boys to pick out my adventure. It made for a great pick-up experience.