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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Glad to be here!"

A Dialogue

Scene: The edge of the Lake of Fire after the passing of sentence on a lost soul, named Jake.

Characters: JAKE, a lost soul, and ERNIE an enforcement angel

ERNIE speaks first.

"Go on. Off to Hell with you."

"Wait! That looks a lot more unpleasant than I expected!"

"Of course. Hop in."

"Wait! Wait! Don't you think that this is terribly unfair?"

"Here we go again."

"I mean, don't you think that this goes against free will?"

"Go ahead."

"I mean, if God is sovergn over the human will, then there is no way I could have willed otherwise than I did in the course of my life."

"God is only holding you responsible for the deeds you did because you wanted to, so you are not being condemned for anything you didn't want to do."

"True but my wanting to sin was not something up to me. If I had wanted to be a saint and not a sinner, I couldn't have any control over that. Only God could."

"It was either God or blind luck. Since you could only do what you want, it's not like if God 'withheld His power' that you would thus be in control of your destiny."

"So you are a 'compatibilist' about free will then?"

"Of course. We are all good Reformed theologians up here. If free will means anything, it means being able to choose between actions. But actions are not mere states of affairs or events. They have an end or purpose which is essential to their character. Consequently, while choice is necessarily a condition of action, mere choice is not sufficient to account for directed or purpose determined feature of action since choice is simply the power to actualize or bring about one state of affairs rather than another. To account for the directed feature of action, will must also include inclination as well as choice. So free will must be about action, choice. and inclination. So one acts freely when they can choose the action they want. These are the necessary and sufficient conditions for free will. To choose to act apart from inclination is impossible, since what would result could not be an action. Further, a choice-making is a paradigm case of an unmoved mover, a something that cannot act unless first inacted. As such, it either is unexplained, a brute choice, or explained by a prior choice-making, or explained by a prior inclination. A brute choice would result in no action, as explained before, and this not be a meaningful expression of the human will. If you, per impossible, could have an infinite regress of choice-makings, it still would not be sufficient to account for the the thing to be explained, which is the human action, just like in the Aristotle's metaphysics. (You'll be passing Limbo on your way down so you can check with him personally.) So the explanation must terminate on something in motion and in the will which naturally is inclination. Just like in Aristotle's argument, the causal series terminates in a final cause. So a free act is an act that chooses according to the soul's inclination. In short, you are free if you can do what you want. That being the case, free will is comapatible with divine sovergnty since God can manage our freedom without interfereing with it by managing what we want. Now dive in!"

"Wait! Don't you see? Let's suppose that there is a sheriff of a small town full of good people who is very able and clever. The town is a very good town with good people so the sheriff doesn't have a lot to do. He wants to be remembered as a worthwhile sheriff but if something bad doesn't happen the town will never see his skills at putting away crime. He finally gets a great idea. He checks the local hospital to find out about all the new births of children that month. Then he begins a longterm program of cultivating evil in the hearts of the children so that most of them grow up to be criminals and he can demonstrate his concern for justice. He does this, not by coercing them by force, but rather by brilliantly managing their circumstances so that they cater to all their weakness and most base desires. He is very careful not to make them do anything they do not want to do but only managing according to what they want to do. He thus succeeds in his plan and the town realizies what a valuable sheriff he is. But do we really think that those kids are freely being criminals? Isn't this what God is doing according to you?"

"So you think that it's the apostle Paul who's the real monster in Romans 9 do you?"

"That's just a matter of an uncharitable interpretation. You see . . . ."

"Stop! We don't need to play that game. It's time for me to show you this. Here."

"What is it? It looks like an album for a certificate."

"Look inside it."

"It looks like a photo of a bunch of guys at a crawfish boil party all dressed in neon clothing."

"And who does that guy look like -- the one with the huge stogie between his teeth."

"Why that looks like the one who was on the throne in the room we just left!"

"That's right! And who does that guy off to the side look like?"

"Why it's . . . it's ME!"

"We all had a pretty good time then."

"I don't remember this. When was this taken?"

"At the Covenant of Redemption ratification party 'before' the creation of Heaven and Earth."

"I thought it was just the members of the Trinity. You mean all of us were pre-existent souls that were part of the consultation? I didn't see that anywhere in the Bible."

"Something like that. Only you were a lot less utilitarian then. You thought that justice was objective and intrinsic and worth pursuing for its own sake back then. The Bible only has stuff on a need to know basis and you really didn't need to know this. There was a 'time' when all souls existed in a state of perfect rectitude and with a perfectly clear frame of mind. The plan of God to create was presented before all of you while you were all competant to be ideal observers not blind to any relevant fact nor biased askew toward any judgement. It was shown that there was no coherent world plan possible that did not include lost sinners and that the one proposed was the best on the balance of considerations based on aspects of the character of God with respect to His justice, His love, His mercy, and so on. Everyone considered the various possible ways the world might go and the various roles they would play in each scheme, until one was selected that was the best solution. No one minded and everyone was excited about the best way of acheiving the highest aim. Once the decision was made to uninanimous acceptance, creation proceeded apace with each soul waiting to fuflfil its role during its turn on stage. Each soul was the advocate for its appearance on the earth. Of course, I'm not getting it exactly right but you get the idea."

"Funny, I don't remember this."

"Now that you have the album in your hands, something like recollection should be happening to you now."

"Yes . . . yes . . . I see what you mean. In one sense, I have existed from all eternity but not so in another sense."

"There you go."

"So you're saying that at a time when I was a competent observer of all the possible worlds that God might make, I concurred in choosing this one knowing that in it, I would be eternally lost among other things?"

"That was your original position. See for yourself. Turn the page there."

"It's a will and testiment! It says, 'Whereas I am in a condition of exceptionally sound and competent judgement and whereas I have been fully informed of the relevent facts and whereas I concur with the judgement that this world is among the best world for bringing about the glory of God to whom such glory properly belongs and to whom I conscientiously intend to glorify, I hereby freely volunteer to play the part assigned to me by the said chosen plan, even though such a plan includes my ultimate damnation. Kudos on all the good work and congratulations.' And that is my signature by my hand on the bottom!"

"Even so."

"So what you're really saying is that in the case of God rather than the sheriff, its possible to see the particular course of life as a kind of rational contracting under ideal conditons with God even if I can't actually control the circumstances of my life and their impact on my desires."

"That would be a bingo. Anything else?"

"Let me think. Nope. I got nothing."

"Fine. Now skip along. You're scheduled to magmafy the leathery hide of the demons of lust so that it melts off their bones and exposes their screaming little nerve endings."

"I thought it was supposed to be the other way around."

"Boy, you're 0 for 3, aren't you?"

Friday, October 20, 2006

Notes on Dilemmas of Faith

I was reading an article on line about the Bhagavad Gita which clearly saw the Gita as teaching nothing that could not be independently worked out by reason apart from it. That the doctrine is worked out for Arjuna by an avatar is only based on the fact that at the time, life was pretty messed up and that it is only in such times that God takes on human form. Revelation is merely hygenic not novel in the Gita. So basicly tha Gita is another classical statement of the perreniel philosophy. The article in commenting on this contrasted it with "orthodox Christianity" which teaches that beliefs are to be accepted because absurd and just because the Church teaches it.

This struck me as another example of the same false dilemma many atheists (and non-believers in the perrenial philosophy) often use to object to Christianity; either something is wholey established by reason or it is purely postivistic, having no rational bearing. As anyone who has looked at the judeo-christian tradition can attest, the judeo-christian tradition is neither. The contents of the judeo-christian tradition are not wholey derived from reason, but neither have the no rational bearing. The tradition has logical consistancy and some explanatory value with respect to the facts and is this open to criticism in the light or reason and learning. For some critics, granting the point makes little difference, however one would have thought the real bite of the dilemma. If the judeo-christian traditon is accessible to intellectual investigation and appreciation, in what sense is it necessarily arbitrary and anti-intellectual?

One might think that it must be because it unavoidably turns on accepting something on the basis of faith and testimony and that we could never reasonably accept anything as true on such a basis. Now it seems clear that accepting something on the basis of testimony and because one has decided to put one's faith in a witness could never produce belifs with the authority of pure or scientific reasoning. But the rationality of accepting faith is not theoretical rationality, is it? In fact, the decision to accept a belief based on the authority of a witness is a case like a moral dilemma. In a moral dilemma, one confronts at least a prima facie conflict of duites (or rights, or virtues, or values, or contracts etc.) such that it seems impossible to satisfy one obligation without violating another. In the case of moral dilemmas, the presumption is that the duties, where they apply, apply categorically. In a dilemma of faith, one is confronted with hypothetical duites (or . . . etc.) that do not actually conflict because which one applies depnds on whether the witness is speaking truly or not. However since we don't know whether to believe the witness of not we do not know if we would be actually upholding on duty or violating another one by believing in the witness and acting on that belief. But like a moral dilemma, a faith dilemma may only be apparent and there may be an option which is possible moral but not necessarily immoral if things turn out to be otherwise that attested to.

In the judeo-christian tradition, revelation is not merely hygenic in conserving forgotten truth but is intrusive and announces new states of affairs that would not have been known otherwise. Revelation is heraldic and kyregmatic and prophetic, not conservative. The question is whether to trust the prophets. They often come with insignia that testifies to their authority but these insignia presuppose priorly accepted prophecy and so on. Sometimes the prophets command us to do things that are prima facie morally wrong such as sacrifice our first born son, or wipe out an entire race, or stone homosexuals and adulterers, or tolerate slavery, or hold truths that are prima facie impossible to prove as true or coherent. Of course, if God the ideal observer truly requires these things then he sees the rational and moral grounds for doing so even if we don't but if the prophet is channeling a half-digested falafel, it would be rash to act on it.

Still as some hard cases of moral dilemmas prove to work out upon further clarification of concepts, further information, and/or creative alternatives, it seems possible that a faith dilemma could also be worked through and that a kind of certainty can be reached about the practical satisfactoriness of the decision either to believe and trust or not in alleged revelation. In the case of the judeo-christian tradition, or any particular expression of it, the fact that the claims it makes are open to further intellectual criticism is one of the factors that makes possible the rational assessment of a decision of trust. Further, just as there may be no straight forward calculus for settling moral dilemmas and thus a need for character and discernment to see through them, a similar demand on judgement is called for in the case of faith dilemmas. This also suggests a need for community social interaction in such decision making.

Reason can at least rebut scepticism about any of the foundations of the possibility of successful decision making in the case of faith dilemmas, even if it cannot always or ever refute such scepticism, whether that be scepticism about a theistic metaphysic that makes revelation possible, or scepticism about the possibility of a value judgement that is not fully explicable. Reason can play a role as we have noted in assessing the various candidates for being such a revelation. The decision to believe is something that speaks to the end of human flourishing or worth, scepticism about which may be rebuted by reason. And so it seems that rational decisions to trust are possible and that we even have the rational right to make them if they are and that this right is part of the body of rights that ought to be preserved in modern society by the state. So given the fresh spate of works by certain distinguished professors about belief in God as a delusion, the end of faith, and so on, we couldn't really imagine the force of such arguments as delegitimizing the full citizenship of religious believers qua being such.

I think that this is where the judeo-christian argument for a secular public sphere meets the dictum for statecraft as soulcraft. The public square refuses on the one hand to promote any one religion over another but on the other hand it promotes and elevates the right to religious belief in a criticizable faith as a necessary feature of a modern rational democracy. Because its in the painful reflection that goes on in making such decisions that contributes to the development of virtue in citizens. The spread of this right concommittedly with the spread of democratic principles and institutions points to the prosperity of the impact of the judeo-christian tradition throughout the world, since only the judeo-christian tradition among all the religions (including Islam) makes the claim for the possibility of a more than hygenic but still non-superstitious revelation and thus formulates the right to religious belief in this specific sense. That is about as theocratic as we need to get.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Fairyland Diner RPG Character Helps

If anyone needs help in deciding how to design their character for either the Fairyland Diner Game (see title link) or any other of my AOB based games, I have the following supplemental helps. Sometimes you need a kickstart to think of what to do. The following basically generates some data points for your character which can be used to solve a narrative problem given the data. None of the information here alters the actual game mechanics but you can use it to decide how to interact in the game. The important value is to maintain a realistic consistency even though you're in Fairyland.

Characters have a temperament profile, native endowments, and background experience. In each of the following sets of four categories, distribute 10 points between the four so that none has less than 0 or more than 5. The higher the number, the greater the amount of that particular temperment, endowment, or experience in your background. The tables below suggest some reasonable expectations for someone with a high score (4 or 5) in each category.

5 - Amazingly High
4 - Substantially high
3 - Slightly High
2 - Average
1 - Low
0 - Very Low

You can select the exact amount for each category if there are certain conditions that you already have in mind or determine the results randomly. One way to do it randomly is to roll 10 dice, re-rolling those that come up as '5' or '6' and then assign 1 point for each dice that comes up the number that is the same as the number of each category. You can re-roll those that exceed 5 in one category also.

TEMPERAMENT: Distribute 10 points among the following.
(___) 1. Choleric - a high may be a natural organizer
(___) 2. Sanguine - a high may be a natural salesperson
(___) 3. Melancholic - a high may be a natural artist
(___) 4. Phlegmatic - a high may be a natural diplomat

ENDOWMENTS: Distribute 10 points among the following.
(___) 1. Athletic - a high may have elite physical skills
(___) 2. Intelligent - a high may have a natural aptitude for Magic
(___) 3. Charismatic - a high may be a natural leader
(___) 4. Family Nobility - a high may be well connected

EXPERIENCE: Distribute 10 points among the following.
(___) 1. Education - a high may have several magic spells or devices
(___) 2. Military - a high may have combat skills and equipment
(___) 3. Vocational - a high may have special skills and tools
(___) 4. Business - a high may have mangement or financial skills

Once you have generated your Character data, try to answer the following question in a way consistent with the information. Try to reconcile all the data with the answer as much as possible.

Question: Given all the background data on your character, how did he or she come to be working in a diner anyway?

There you have your background story and the essential identity of your character.

Peity as a Point of Contact

Here's a famous quote from CS Lewis (more or less) from the Screwtape Letters:

"There are two mistakes one can make regarding the Devil; one is to deny that He exists and the other is to have an unhealthy fascination with him."

It has struck me lately that this is a common feature in various aspects of religion according to the Scriptures. It is clear that the Bible does not deny the realm of the demonic but equally clear that it does not indulge in any speculation about it. A similar example is the biblical attitude toward prophecy and eschatology (as I understand it). The Bible does not deny the reality of historical prophecy but it also does not indulge in runaway apocalyticism. (For example it does not really support the kind of dispensational and millenial accounts like Dade, Scofield, or the Millerites.) Yet another example is miracles. The Bible refuses to indulge the demand for no miracles such as found among the Sadducees and the Greeks but also refuses to indulge all demands for miracles such those of the Pharisees and the "Jews". Something similar could be said about the charismatic gifts as well.

I also notice that this pattern is characteristic of the classical and Aristotelian account of virtue as the mean relative to a context and between two extremes. For example, courage is a virtue between the vices of cowardice and rashness. One extreme involves a deficiency of courage and the other an excess of it. In the present case, call the virtue in question "peity", that is the fear of the Lord. It looks like an apt word for the defect of peity is "impeity" or obstinate irreligiosity, and an apt word for the excess of peity is "fanaticism". To be clear we have to distinguish. How could it be possible that one could fear the Lord too much? The answer lies in the distinction between posessing the virtue of peity as a virtue as opposed to having the vice of an excess of peity. To say that you cannot fear the Lord enough is to say that you cannot possess the virtue of peity too much. This is the difference between fearing the Lord and being so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.

Further I note that this understanding of peity is not unique to the Biblical tradition but is similarly found in the religious traditions outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The appeal to Greek thought here already illustrates this but it is also commonly found among Hindus, Confucians, Buddhists, Taoists, and Zorasterians. (Islam is a special case since it obviously depends on the J-C tradition.) The sources of those religions exhibit a similar tendency to support the middle way between extremes in religious observance. They also provide their own examples of cases of healthy religion (such as the formulations of theistic scholasticism in Hinduism and the social ethical teachings of Confucius) versus cases of degenerating cultified expressions of the religion on the one hand (soccery among Taoists and the Kali cult of the thuggi in Hinduism) and jaded secular movements on the other hand (the elite intellectualist philosophes found in all religious traditions and the Theravada school in Buddhism).

It thus seems that the virtue of peity is of a piece with the nature of man as homo religious and that the phenomena points to a natural law of appropriate belief formation in all humanity which is part of the divine law written on the human heart, the universal religious a priori. This finds a ready explanation in the Christian perspective as the phenomenalogically palpable effect of general revelation and common grace restraining human sinfulness. Given the inescapable vagueness of the tension between common grace and depravity in any particular person, this may give us a sufficiently precise way of formulating the point of contact between the gospel and the heart of non-believers, viz., that we have a point of contact with the gospel to the extent of the manifestation of peity in the hearts or the culture of non-believers.

This allows for a differentiation between various non-believers that allows us to give a differentiated answer to the question of what the Christian attitude should be to non-Christians and their faiths. To the extent that the religion manifested among non-Christians is the vice of excessive peity, we hold that it is the work of Satan and that the gods thus identified and worshipped are demons in disguise. To the extent that a religion manifests a defect of peity, it is a case of the fool who says in his heart that there is no God and is satanic in virtue of being subject to Satan's deceptions. But in so far as it is an expression of the virtue of peity, then we can see it as a work of the Holy Spirit in his ministry of providing for all a general testimony of the truth of God, as a preparitia evangelica, and that it may even teach something about the truth of God to those who already trust in Christ.

An important aspect of this account is that we do not just conveniently define what is and what is not true peity by the degree of identity with the Christian message. The account assumes that the religion is already internally differentiated by its own lights into these three catagories and that we can recognize what is good in a religion as convivial with true peity in our religion independently. This also means that those aspects that Christianity would find to be satanic would also encounter a prior criticism from their own religion and thus that the starting point for the prior plausibility of Christian faith is in each religion's own self-criticism.

One important feature of this relation between religion at its best and Christain faith is that it is potentially recognizable that aspects of that religion and Christianity have some features similar to the relation of Biblical Judaism and Christianity, such as the relationship of substitution where something better has come along, as in the case of the replacement of passover for communion. A possible example of this is ancestor worship. Many eastern faiths for example Japan hold strongly to the veneration of ancestors. In this they express the belief in an afterlife in survival after death and that the state of the dead is one of personal consciousness and interaction. The practice fosters an attitude of continued respect and devotion for the dead and the past and is in many ways similar to the veneration of saints in Catholicism. But this is put aside for the superior promise of immediate recourse to God in evangelical faith, but this is a case of the good being eclipsed by the better. The substitution is reasonable and appreciable and is intelligble to the one considering making the substitution. In the absence of a theology of unque mediatorship which could only come by way of the recognition and acceptance of a special revelation, ancestor worship is a respectable good and can be an expression of true peity.

Finally, the virtue of peity has its mirror virtue. An example of a mirror virtue is the relation between magniminity and humility. Aristotle famously considered humility to be a vice and spoke of the virtue of being a great man. This at first seems to put Christianity which makes humility a supreme virtue out in the cold. But when we do an Aristotelian analysis of humility as a virtue and compare it with a similar analysis of magniminity we discover something interesting. If magniminity is a virtue it has a vice of excess and a vice of defect. The vice of defect of magniminity is something like self-depreciation while its vice of excess would certainly be pride, egotism, or hubris. If humility is a virtue, it also has a vice of excess and a vice of defect. Not enough would certainly be pride but what would too much be? Certainly it would be self-depreciation. In other words, humility as a virtue mirrors magniminity as a virtue, to have a defect in one is to have an excess in the other, just as in a mirror the reflection of my right hand is my reflection's left hand. So there is compatibility between them but also a tension between them. This illustrates the yin-yang character that exists in the unity of virtues.

In the case of peity then I think the mirror virtue is human excellence or the virtue of being pro-human. And in general I think that religious virtues (Love, Faith, Hope) mirror the humanistic virtues (Courage, Wisdom, Temperance). This means that the point of contact may be expressed in apparently humanistic ways. For example, we may express Neitzcheanism as too humanistic amd fundamentalism as not humanistic enough, while fundamentalism might also be characterized as too pious and Neitzcheanism as not pious enough. There is a Christian humanism as well as a Christian theism. In fact the argument need go no further than the great success Christian theology has had already in accommodating to Greek humanism. And so genuine Christian peity is "naturally" compatible with genuinely humanistic science.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Stephen C. Meyer Article added.

I discovered that the nefarious Dr. Meyer journal article, the one that caused such a dust up because the author argues for a specific thesis of Intelligent Design in it and another more nuetral scientist, Dr. Richard von Sternberg, published it in a Smithsonian hosted journal, which lead to reprisals against Dr. Sternberg. He has been vindicated for his role in this by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal agency.

You can now read the paper for yourself at the link. For a discussion on recent developments on the case, see here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Christian Study Center List

I nostalgically added a list of Christian Study centers, found on several campuses all over the country including some Ivy League schools. They represent the evangelical ideal of the wedding of thought and faith and the intergration of Christianity with academic fields into an intergrated worldview.

I say nostalgic because it represents a shattered dream of mine to be part of such a thing but which now seems remote. I have not been able to really survive in academia. It is interesting to me that my adjunct work has brought me closer to other professors who show a like minded compatibility with me who are not christians and yet with whom I can have excellent conversations to all of our satisfaction. If there is anything left of scholarly work its what I do with these colleagues.

It also seems to me that I am in a stronger position being an MA holder with some doctoral work at a school like Syracuse University, than a Ph.D. holder with that degree from many a state university, even though I won't get the "big" money adjunctng with just an MA.

It reminds me of the Ph.D. holder I once met working in a bookshop whose career was essentially housepainting because he never got tenure. I have to admit that part of the issue was wanting to live. During so much of the time I was in doctoral work, I was also suicidal. It didn't seem worthwhile to risk my life for an advanced degree. At least that still haunts me.

Thank you "Tall Skinny Kiwi"

. . . who commented on my emergent church post and who has an interesting blog (now added to the role). Check it out.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Comercial Quality Armitage RPG

With extreme humility and great mortification, I discovered that there is already available on line, an adaptation of the BESM game for the Armitage III setting. From the linked website:

"In 2001, Dan Grendell was contracted by Guardians of Orders to write a sourcebook about the Armitage III animes. Like many publishing projects, the book ended up not being printed. However, all is not lost, as fans of Armitage and the BESM game will be able to enjoy much of what would have been in the book here on the web."

The work at this site is substantially complete for the setting. There are character sheets for the main characters in both the OVA series and the Dual-Matrix movie. Also, the distinctive features and powers of the world are represented in the game additions. It would have been a professional package (it still is very professional) but is available on line.

The website also contains more detailed background to the original setting that you can use for the AOBG engine adapted setting that I posted here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Fairyland Diner, an RPG

"Fairyland Diner", a Shoujo Manga RPG

Sort of a cross between "Phantastes" and "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore", this RPG is a game setting for the
"All Outta Bubblegum" engine. Thanks and apologies to Michael Sullivan and Jeffrey Grant again. Apologies also to Gary Gygax for borrowing an idea from his Aerth campaign setting in his "Dangerous Journeys" game (I'm not worthy!).


Parallel to the mundane world of ordinary experience is the land of the Fae. Imagine a world that looks like the inverse of the Earth's surface, with land there being where the oceans are here and vica versa. In the area of the continent that corresponds to the Atlantic Ocean, in the place counterpart to where ancient Atlantis was, is the great Seelie court where all the noble Faerie races meet with the King and Queen of the Fae. The Glorious City is almost too magnificient for human eyes, but it does have its suburban parts that are more remote from the Castle. The City is efficiently defended and policed to keep the awful Fae of the unseelie races out.

In one of these suburbs is "Twinkle's Cafe", a comfortable, happy greasy spoon joint that mainly serves the neighborhood locals as well as distinguished fae that have business at the Castle and need a quick lunch. Most of the fare includes things like "Moonbeam Loaf" and "Morning Dew Tea", but you can also find your biscuits and gravy and philly cheese steak sandwich as well. It's a place where everybody knows you name and the name of your clan.

Things are normally quiet and pleasant at Twinkle's but the word has come down that there is a need for new stewards and servants to serve and dwell in courts of the King's officers. The need is so great that they are even looking in the humblest places of the City. The royal messenger has declared that one of the wait staff, floor managers, or cooks at Twinkle's will be included in this great promotion, but only one. The diner is allowed its own means of determining who the lucky individual will be. The winner will not only receive the job but will also be made fit for court service be recovering all of its lost Glamour.


All characters are employees of the diner as well as being a member of one of the fae races welcome in the great city. Essentially, all fae are the same. There differing characteristics are a result of different amounts of Glamour in each individual. Among the Seelie races at the diner are:

Faeries Proper: True faeries are of high demeanor and noble character. They are prismatic in appearance and seem to be outlined with a rainbow. A typical attitude of a high faerie would be to pick out another player character and work hard to assure that he or she is the one picked to go to the Castle. Faeries have 7-8 points of Glamour.

Pixies: Pixies are basicly good natured and social but they are addicted to fun and mischief (as well as to glitter). They will use almost anything as an excuse to tease and trick. Pixies seem childlike in appearance and have a pastel glow like the color of so many flowers. People are attracted to pixies but may come to regret it. Pixies have 5-6 points of Glamour.

Brownies: Brownies live closer to the earth than other fae and often appear in earth tones. They are easily irritated and cranky and will do anything to assure their privacy or space. Nothing matters more to a Brownie than his or her personal comfort and peace. Brownies have 3-4 points of Glamour.

Leprechauns: Leprechauns are kelly green and very homely looking. They are also extremely greedy and selfish and will do anything to get ahead. They can never be content with who or what they are. A typical Leprechaun attitude to the contest would be "Now is my big chance to blow this dump and these losers. Let's see what I can do to make sure that happens". Leprechuans have 1-2 points of Glamor.

Redcaps: Redcaps are colored blood red and are petrifying ugly. They are extremely vicious and will attack anyone just for the sake of causing misery. For this reason, Redcaps are considered an Unseelie race and are not tolerated within the City. Redcaps have 0 points of Glamour or less.

If a fae gets frustrated in anything significant to him or her, he or she loses Glamour. If a fae loses more Glamour than is allowed for his or her race, he or she transmogrifies into a fae of the race below it without losing his or her identity. If a fae receives more Glamour than is designated for his or her race, he or she transmogrifies into the next upper race. In each case the newly formed fae has all the features and motives of a member of that race.

There are also other enchanted creatures that might find their way into the diner -- Gryphons, Unicorns, Dwarves, Dyads, Satyrs, etc. They will also have some amount of Glamour that will also be reflected in their temperament or appearance (as determined by the Faereferee).

The Social Contract:

All players play faeries in the game except for one, who is the Faereferee. The Faereferee is responsible for creating and managing the the diner and its customers as well as making sure that the rules are applied fairly and that everyone is having fun. The Faereferee has read all the rules and designed all the encounters accordingly. He or she describes the setting and what happens during the story by answering players questions.

The rest of the players each manage the actions of one individual character that they design in the game setting. When they interact with the game environment the Faereferee acts as their eyes and ears. When they interact with other player characters, they talk and coordinate their actions in character.

There are also other characters in the game other than the player's characters. These are run by the Faereferee just as player character would. Non-player characters also have Glamour and Fairy Dust as designed for them by the Faereferee.

Designing a Player Character:

Each player character (the character that the player governs in the game) is a member of a faerie race according to his or her Glamour points. To design a character, a player starts with 5 Glamour points, 5 Faerie Dust points (see below), and 3 Building points. The player must spend all of his or her building points when designing the character. One building point may be spent to add 1 point to the character's total Glamour points or 2 points to the character's total Faerie Dust points. Once the points are spent and added, the results are complete. Then the player identifies his faerie's starting race according to the final amount of Glamour assigned.

After this, the player decides a name for his or her character (something with a flower, berry, or animal reference, but not necessarily confined to that), decides what job they have at the diner, (cook, wait staff, floor manager, cashier -- a person may wind up doing several jobs like in any earthly diner), and also some bit of back story about how the character wound up working in the diner or his our her upbringing to flesh the character out. Really good back stories should be rewarded with additional Fairy Dust points and/or other attributes, skills, equipment, or liabilities that are designed to effect the basic game mechanics and which also make sense according to the character's back story. It is the Faereferee's discretion but he or she should be open to the Player's input

Resolving Character Actions:

Everything that a faerie character does has a hint of magic to it, an air of something chimey and sparkly. When it comes to important actions, the player should describe his or her characters actions as something like an ordinary action with a magical twist (like pouring coffee from a levitating coffee pot or serving eggs that dance on the plate).

Actions that have some consequential outcomes for the character are resolved by rolling two regular dice and regarding sixes as zeros. (E.g. Rolling a "two" and a "three" equals five but rolling "four" and "six" just equals four. Rolling "double boxcars" is zero.) All important actions fall under two classifications; Mellowing Actions and Harshing Actions.

Basic Idea: Actions that are important enough to the game either narratively or strategicly are either the sort of thing a Californian might say "Dude! You're harshing my mellow!" about or not. Actions that meet with resistance by anyone directly involved even if the most passive-aggressive way are considered Harshing Actions for the purposes of the game. All other actions are considered Mellowing Actions as long as anyone involved is at least open to them or if no one else is directly involved.

A Mellowing Action is any act that does anybody any good, such as trying to persuade someone to do the right thing, serving a meal like home, healing an injury, etc. Roll two dice and if the result is equal to or less that the number of Glamour Points the character has, the mellowing action is successful. If the roll is greater than the number of Glamour points a character has, the result is unsuccessful and the player's character loses one point of Glamour.

A Harshing Action is any action that bothers or inhibits another character such as teasing, making mischief, insulting, tripping, or tricking, etc. Roll the two dice and if the result is equal to or less than the player character's number of Glamour Points, the attempt fails (the victem avoids the trick or is not phased by the insult). If the result is greater than the player character's Glamour points, the action is successful and the other player loses a point of Glamour.

Fairy Dust: Fairy dust is a residual and fungible form of Glamour. If a player wants to assure the odds of a successful outcome to an action, he or she can spend points of Fairy Dust before a roll. Each point of Fairy Dust spent is one point subtracted from the roll in the case of Mellowing Actions or one point added to Harshing Actions. Fairy Dust points must be spent before the roll of the dice and once used are not recovered. However Fairy Dust may be rewarded to players for good roleplaying or by finding a treasure of Fairy Dust, etc.

Winning and Losing:

Losing: If a faerie loses enough Glamour, he or she changes races accordingly. If a fae is reduced to becoming a Redcap, the city security will come for him or her and he or she will be dragged out of the city and the game.

Winning: The game ends when a player character is selected to serve in the Seelie Court. This could be either through the team effort of all the player characters or because they are the last one standing not turned into a Redcap. If there is more than one character left at the end of the game, the players must decide among themselves who won.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Finally: My political movement has mobilized!

It is always been dificult to admit that my sensibilities have been conservative, in religion, in philosophy, and in politics as well, especially in politics. This is very much due to the fact that I work in highly academic enviroments and politics is not a hill I care to die on. But it is also due to the fact that my prefered political persuasion has an intellectual pedigree that remains obscure and is often confused with backwardness. It would seem that a conservative view is just mere unenlightened dogmatism and this is substantiated by the fact that many people are conservative because they are unenlightened dogmatists.

But a good conservative will consider both the Socratic effort to come to terms with the ignorance that is obscured by cheap and inherited opinions and also the limits of standards of analyis, precision, and demonstration. A conservative may appear to be naive but this naivete is the result of reflection and conscientious choice, a higher order state of mind that is not mere naivete.

I would go into it further but I never had the ambition to make this much a political blog. However, I cannot ignore the fruity appeal of the new blog going on over at National Review Online, devoted to the phenomena of Granola Conservativism -- a version of politics where right wing values are combined with left wing sensibilities. (See link in title.)

I say that its appealing on a sentimental level. I prefer organic food self-reliant strategies, alternative medicine, small communities, folk and blues, and so on. I also do not accept the materialist, economis reductionist, and negative rights only posture of the core of the Republican party. And I am influenced by the culture of the sixties at my age. So its not suprising that I should like this so much.

But from what I've seen so far "Crunchy Conservatvism" is just the classic position of Aristotle, Burke, Weaver, and the Southern Agrarians, and so not really different. A possible exception with this is that apparently CCs are not so devoted to it as to become a kind of strong utopianism. They don't seem to be interested so far in adopting a rigid Distributivist model of economics which is both untenable and disasterous. This helps me to see CCs as something between traditional cultural conservatives and the neoconservatives who think that traditionalists are vapid. In that sense my own view is that there is a need for something like a mediation. Neocons have discovered something in showing how social science underscores the value of and provides a source for criticising social policy in a richer and more morally engaging sense than the mere economics of the hardcore libertarians. But even they may be too dismissive of ordinary sensibilities to appreciate the reasons for saving the appearances.

Crunchy Conservativism appears to not want to be another form of identity politics which is also attractive about it. The convergence of right and left folkways is other than expected and not something that had been aimed at. It certainly makes for an interesting discussion topic.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

This card should be in your Deck!

Thanks to Aaron Williams and Gallery. (Caution; Strong Language!)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Armitage RPG Encounter Deck

Here is a "supplement" to the Armitage RPG on this blog to help people who are stuck coming up with story ideas for the game. Typical encounters by characters in the Armitage universe are identified with indices on an ordinary deck of cards. Red suits identify situations friendly to the player characters and black suits hostile ones (unless otherwise stated). The GM simply draws a hand of cards and tries to work the offered elements into a good story line or to supplement her own storyline. She may repeat the process as necessary.

A -- Scientists/Technicians (among the few that knew or can reverse engineer technology)
2 -- Family members, co-workers, or friends.
3 -- Executive sponsers (heads of companies or agencies that want to use the Thirds)
4 -- Activists/Terrorists (Either pro-robot or anti-robot)
5 -- Police Detectives
6 -- Government Agents
7 -- Seconds, Security Robots, or other robots (neutral)
8 -- "Gadgets" (neutral)
9 -- Millitary Units (neutral)
10 -- Informants, Flunkies, or Goons
Red Picture cards -- Thirds
Black Picture Cards -- Assassin Robots
Jokers -- Cybernet Contacts

Social Contract Option: Have every player play both a character and be a GM. Each player sets up their humanity chips and describes their character according to the rules and prefered tweaks. Each player also is dealt a hand of four cards. One pre-agreed player starts by setting the stage and tries to incorporate one of the story elements in her hand by introducing that encounter to one or the other (or more than 0ne) player characters. She remains in control of telling the story until another player takes it from her by playing one of his cards and introducing that card's element into the story. One player maintains control of the story until another player takes over by playing a card from their hand and introducing that element. This can only happen in between action resolution checks. When a player runs out of cards, they draw a new hand. When the deck (or decks) are used up, reshuffle. Play may be competative (be the last Third standing) or cooperative (see how many player characters can reach their goals before becoming 'dead' or assassin robots).

Thursday, January 19, 2006

E-mails from a philosopher: Conclusion

Dear Gnu,

Once again I amazed at how your words are most appropriate to my current state. You are always one step ahead of me even as I feel as if I am giving you news.

Yesterday, for example, I had to grade papers and prepare a lesson, from the time I woke up and the time I went to class at 6pm. I taught till 9. When I was walking back from class to the library where Mr. Smith was picking me up, I noticed with shame that all day long I had not once thought of God or Jesus--it was almost like a day from a month ago. I felt terrible. I felt hurt too, in a strange way. (Maybe in a similar way as you would get hurst if your wife wandered away and had lunch on her own on your honeymoon vacation.) But then I was sorry for feeling like this; I thought "surely things must have happened today which are gifts from my Lord, but I need to get accustomed to acknowledging them as such." I thought of a number of things (individuation conditions make it hard to count) to be thankful for. I noticed that I should regularly do this. Your advice, the pointers you gave, the warnings, I am thankful for all of them.

I spoke with Mr. Smith; we do want to pick you up at 9:15 on Sunday and go to church with you. We will do that.

I noticed you did not say anything about my attempt to quit smoking. Maybe because you were skeptical of my over-zealous beginning. Well if that's so you were right. Soon after I wrote you my previous e-mail, in fact, I failed. My failure of course made me feel bad, but also it made me feel even more submissive; it helped me notice the limits imposed on my soul in virtue of being in this body. (I will be using the word "soul" in a Ramsified way; I don't think I must be committed to Cartesian Dualism.--Beside the point right now anyway.) So, I thought that maybe, even as my Lord attends to my soul because I trust in him and pray, there seems to be limits on how much He can attend to me, especially at this stage when I am only beginning to understand. (I don't think that this is a limitation of His powers, but rather a limitation of how much my soul can partake in Him at a given time.)

I also noticed that as I was trying to quit smoking, I was feeling a tad superior in some way, which of course was not right. How thin is the line between humility and letting go of your ego on the one hand, and succumbing into the thought that your ego is part of Him and that because of that you are privileged in some way, as if you deserve praise for it. To put simply, I seem to have fallen into the contradictory idea of being proud that my Lord may have bestowed grace upon me.

So as I was ackonwledging my guilt, I tried to take some lessons from it.

I must admit that it's very hard to feel guilty as one also acknowledges His power--that's something I need to study and try to figure out. I know it's a very old problem and I'm not in search of a philosophical solution; rather I need to figure out the right terms in which I can understand myself as a sinner while not doubting His power to help me not sin.

Maybe (just maybe--I'm not in a position to know this) the purpose of the whole not smoking episode was so that I taste the kind of emotion that comes along with trusting Jesus as my Lord and Savior, but also noticing how fallible I still would be even in that case.

So this is what I ended up thinking about my failure to stop smoking. I then also thought that there are practical reasons for why I should not try again to quit smoking just now. Accepting Christ as my Lord gives me joy of hope. I am not full of a sense of victory or anything like it. I see that this is only the beginning and that I have so much to chew on and struggle with. It may not be the best idea to have this learning period to overlap with a struggle against a physiological addiction when there are even more important (?) sinful habits I should intend to overcome.

The flip side is, addictions always come with a tendency to rationalize. So I would like to hear what you think about the thoughts I laid out above.

I can't wait for Sunday. See you at 9:15.

Love and God bless you,

Mrs. Smith

(This brought to an end to our online exchange and we have been continuing IRL ever since. Mr. and Mrs. Smith decided to visit our church and relatively shortly afterward, Mr. Smith also came to profess faith in Christ.)

E-mails from a philosopher: Part IV

Dearest Gnu,

I thought I was going to remain quiet longer, but I shouldn't, I need to now tell you that your prayers, and mine of course, have been answered. I have accepted Jesus into my life. I don't know the exact and proper words to describe this, but, in essence, I now believe, and it gives me joy and such strong hope.

As I read through Matthew before, my feelings were growing stronger and it all was making sense to me. I was trying to refrain myself, afraid that in such an important matter, a quick decision would necessarily amount to a hasty decision. Like you said though, it ended up being a matter of desire-fulfillment rather than decision. I'll tell you what happened.

Mr. Smith and I were watching TV. (What a lame beginning for such a beautiful story..?). In one very brief scene, one of the characters were inside a church. As soon as I looked at the altar, I wanted to be there, right then, right there, make the sign of the cross, and let my self be watched over by God from now on. (Three times before in my life, when I was at the church, I had felt the desire to make the sign of the cross, without even quite understanding what this means. Those were the beginnings of the strange process which, finally, brought me to ask for your guidance. But last night it was much clearer to me.) To mix lots of metaphors, I wanted to join, I wanted to give myself up. My desire was similar to, for example, having walked on hot sand at the beach, the bottom of your feet burning, you are filled with the anticipation of the coolness of the sea. You can't/won't resist, you will just go put your feet in the water. Knowing how it will feel you already feel some joy of anticipation, even as your feet are burning more and more. Such was my desire to no longer be without God.

Soon afterwards, I was reading the Bible again. At one point, "Thank You God, if there is God" I said. I immediately noticed that I felt no need for the antecendent anymore. I thanked Him again, and again. I felt it again. I felt Him. I had to close my eyes. Then between my eyelids my eyes caught my Dad’s picture, on my wall, which, since his death, has always made me sad. Then, I had another experience as of conversing with God. He told me that He took my dad to be at peace with him for he was so innocent and suffering needlessly. He told me that my dad is with him and at peace. I wanted to kiss His hands.

I had to pause once to smoke a cigarette. The thought occurred to me that I could, with the help of Jesus, quit right then, before I took a second drag. But I was also weak and I thought that it could also wait. "Why trouble myself with this right now?" I thought. Then I kept on thinking about the night's events. First I remembered how I used to not understand at all why Christians worship Jesus. I used to think that if I ever became a believer, I would believe in God and honour Jesus best I can but I would never ever worship a man. But last night while reading it was clear to me (as anything in these matters can ever be, to me) that Jesus is God in human form. God had come to us Himself -as a man of course, how else? How could anyone hear God’s voice but for it to sound like a man’s voice?- As soon as I thought this the words formed in my head: "I love Jesus and I want to follow him."

Then I began to dream of the days ahead of me as I follow Him. I got carried away, excited. I then thought that I was getting ahead of myself. For surely there had to be tests I would have to pass. I had never thought of tests before. I was scared. All of a sudden I knew (as much as I can) that the thought that had occurred to me about quitting to smoke with Jesus’ help was the beginning of a test. Not a test of strong will, but a test of whether I would trust Him to stand by me and help me resist temptation. At once I put out my cigarette which was almost finished anyway. I noticed how weak I was, sinning so very easily. I had thought it would be so hard to quit. But I later I noticed that that is the test--I ought not think that such a thing is hard, for with His help it is not. I only need to trust and not fear, like He said. I at once washed my mouth and prayed that I quit with His help and prayed that I would not stop trusting His power. I know that if I have a craving it is because I stopped trusting and I hope that in all my weakness Jesus will see through that I never stop trusting Him.

Then later last night I went to bed. I told Mr. Smith about it all. Then I slept through my first night as a believer. When I woke up, I was still full of joy and hope. It is now about 6:30 pm. I have been reading Luke today. I haven't smoked.

I will read like you advised.

You said "I hate even giving the impression of putting anybody under any kind of pressure..." That's not my impression at all. In your words I see a helping hand. I know that if God didn't want me to get that help I would not see that hand at all.

"...but I would feel remiss in my duties having come so far if I had not at least brought some basic outlines to you attention. But havng done that, I won't develop this further unless you want to do so. "I had only meant that I should be quiet myself, for some time, to think things through. As it turns, it was not going to take as long as I thought. (Such a thirst, over years and years...)

I want to be baptized.

I want to decide which church to join. Can I please come with you next time you go to your church? Even if I will end up joining a Catholic church, right now I want to go with you, if you don't mind.

Thank you for your wisdom, your love, your friendship, and your prayers. Thank you for your help. I can't wait to hear from you again. I am filled with so much joy; a celebration is going in me.

With much love,

Mrs. Smith

Mrs. Smith,

>Oh Wow! You just don't know how, even as I have struggled with doubts and problems here, that I have often prayed for you and all the other grad students that I have gotten to know that perhaps you and they might come to know that particular joy that you're feeling right now. How i have struggled to give no ground of offense to Christ and how I have chastened my self- for all my inconsistencies and foolish mistakes for fear of doing anything that would put a useless block in the way between you all and him. I have been grateful for finally being allowed to slip a word to some who have left us now and have kept my eyes pealed for some appropriate opportunity to say or do something to make known that good news to at least some of you. But no one could really understand how I felt about it until they felt what you are feeling, so I struggled to curb my enthusiasm.

>Welcome to the family of God. You have become a sister as well as a friend. At this point you are enjoying what we have come to call the "honeymoon" phase, a period when it seems that God grants an overflowing sense of Himself and the joy of Christ to encourage newChristians at the beginning of there Christian lives before they are challenged by all the difficulties that Christ warned us would come to pass. You have already experienced how this has powerfully effective implications for dealing with our own sinful or sin-tending behaviors. Among the best things to do during this time is to put all that new motivation to work in establishing habits that will assure continual spiritual growth in the future.

>Let my give you some things for starters so you can get started right away.

>PRAYER: Prayer is talking to God whether verbally, mentally, or just by projecting your most profound and inarticulate feelings into his care. Prayer includes praise and adoration of God, personal confession of sin and weakness before God, gratitude and thanksgiving to and for God, and supplication for self and intercession for others offered to God (Remember "ACTS" -- Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Prayer also involves an act of recumbancy, of wholly rolling your self on the "shoulders" of God as were, so even when you have nothing to say you maintain an attitude of focused dependence and contemplation. The Lord's prayer in the Sermon on the Mount is meant to be a model and guide to prayer. If you can. try to establish a regular time of prayer that works for you (2x, 3x, or so a day is suggested).

> BIBLE STUDY: Try to read the Bible some everyday making sure to include something from the New Testament and a psalm as you begin your Christian life. I guess I don't have to say much about careful reading to you, but read in a devotional spirit expecting to be strengthened, enlightened, nourished and refreshed. Don't be surprised if you aren't also confronted and convicted but be willing to be receptive to that. God will not condemn anymore like a judge, but He will chasten like a father. The upside of that is that he only reserves such chastening for His children and none of his children will be plucked from His hand. If you don't know what i am talking about -- don't worry, you will. Bible study will begin more and more to rule and direct your prayer life. Lex credendi, lex orendi; "As we believe, so we worship".

>CORPORATE WORSHIP: Go to regular worship were the congregation is relatively healthy and growing to maturity and go to worship, confess your sinfulness (No we don't sit in a circle and have each one state there individual faults in public -- but we confess together our general need for forgiveness for daily transgressions), praise through music and singing in community, listen to the exposition of Scripture as God's word to us for now, give thanks in prayer and offerings, observe and receive the sacraments as means of God's grace. Basically, God has made provisions for the worship of Himself through his word (A Socratic point - "How do we avoid presumption against the gods unless the gods tell us how to worship them?")

>FELLOWSHIP: Being in fellowship with Christians is more than just spending time together, it is also bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging, teaching, laughing and crying with, exhorting, admonishing, forgiving, etc. etc. one another (just to pick a handful of typical biblical exhortations) as members of the same family and kingdom. Try to make some time for Christian fellowship beyond church attendance. (There is a Christian graduate student fellowship on campus -- "Graduate Christian Fellowship" a branch of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at SU. There is also the Albrandi Christian (Catholic) Student center on Walnut.) Under this is also the discipline of reading good Christian literature. I suggest the book "Knowing God" by James Packer and "The Pursuit of Holiness" by AW Tozer for starters, but one need not be confines to works of the last century.

>RECEIVE THE SACRAMENTS: Baptism is the uniform day of the Christian when she receives the identifying outward mark of belonging to the Community of Christ and also the sure seal of of the promises of God. It is also, in connection to the word, a means of grace and an assurance of God's faithfulness to you. The Lord's Supper is a regular remembrance of Christ’s death. We operationalize our faith in the finished work of Christ and make it visible to our sense when we take the supper in a conscious spirit of trust and repentance. By God's convention, the accomplishment of Christ on the Cross is made real to ourselves as the elements are made visible to our senses. There is a warning attached to observance of this sacrament, namely God is not indifferent to a reckless observance of it. If there be other sacraments, I'll leave that for you to decide.

>"MORTIFICATION" (putting sin to death in yourself): Begin to deal with your sin, both as expressions of sinfulness and as particular sins. This is hard but we all struggle with this. The book of Romans deals with these issues most straight forwardly. You will probably notice that what happens is that you realize the profundity of your sin more and more -- its worse than you first thought. But this shows that the Holy Spirit is at work deepening your walk in new holiness. BEARING WITNESS: Be prepared to be a signpost for others to Christ, to share what has been shared with you as God gives you appropriate opportunity.

>For more on spiritual discipline, see Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline.

>Remember, that according to the book, you now have received the Holy Spirit of God and that God's Spirit dwells in you if in a temple. This is God's "down payment" on eternal life, and is the source of all encouragement and guidance and comfort. By His influence, you are being assured that you receive the truth in God's word correctly and effectively and by his presense you have security in your relationship with God. It is possible to grieve the Spirit through backsliding and to quench the Spirit through a lack of faith but He will not allow that for long and recall you to your first love again. You are welcome to come to my church. . . .

>My church is . . . conservative, but that does not man wearing that stately gown of yours. But my advice is that, if you can, you should defer to Mr. Smith as much as possible and encourage him to make an input and go with it. The reason is to encourage him even though he is yet not where you are that none the less he is still your helpmeet and husband. Faith can be a strong tonic and can lead to profound and severe difficulties within the family later, especially when children come along. People tend to underestimate the significance of religious differences, even between themselves. Mr. Smith should come to think that turning your heart to Christ has meant that your heart has turned to Mr. Smith even more, not less. I don't think I really need so much to tell you this but just as a reminder, surprise Mr. Smith with the amount of say he can have in your religious experience and see it as an opportunity to build new connections with each other. That may mean getting started in a Catholic Church . . . (Mr. Smith’s own family is Catholic, although at the time Mr. Smith was a skeptic. – The Gnu).

>Finally, though your joy would almost have you burst out at times, be circumspect in disclosing your new found faith to others, including to other Christians in the department. There is a terrible process that I went through when I first became a Christian and it has counterparts in the experience of others. I did not come from a Christian home and when my family found out I had excepted Christ, it was extremely hard for them to accept and it took along time. The difficulty surprised even themselves (No one expects this to happen to someone you know -- that happens to other people). They had to go through something like a Kubla-Ross series of stages (denial, anger, bargaining, grief, acceptance) and it took time. I had all kinds of awful things said to me and there was a lot of tension. Something similar happened to . . . (a) former professor of textual studies and queer theory at SU English department. She was a scholar-activist in the Syracuse Gay and Lesbian Community when in the course of doing research on the Promise Keeper movement, she came to know my then pastor and began a relationship to find out more about it. After spending a lot of quality time with our church, she gave up her lesbian lifestyle and become a Christian. This sent a shock wave through the English department who felt singularly betrayed as well as the gay community. Her department would speak of the "(professor’s name) Problem" at meetings even when she was attending. She finally found a better job and life leaving to teach at a small Christian liberal arts college.

>Your testimony will be a great encouragement to other Christians -- who will tend to want to "show you off" and make things unnecessarily more unpleasant (the Bob Dylan Effect) -- so be careful even telling them. Time is your friend here. Eventually if you go through some stress and tension it will pass into quiet blank stares eventually. I don't know how frightening it can be for a new born Christian grad student, but perhaps not as bad as an ex-queer feminist faculty member. You can talk to me if things get rough. I usually walk to church. Church starts at 9:30 on Sunday and we usually go out to eat afterwards. We're not home until about 2 or 3 o'clock but we can accomodate to your schedule. If you still would like to go (Maybe Mr. Smith will be curious enough to see how the religious nuts live and come also) you can pick me up at 9:15 at my place and I will give you directions to it. But let me know first by replying to this. Once again, your posts have been very encouraging to me and I am delighted that your are experiencing the joy of Christ. Praise the Lord! In Him, The Gnu

>The exchange concludes here.

E-mails from a philosopher: Part III

Dearest Gnu,

My paper on Russell is attached here (Note: I did not include her paper in this post – the Gnu). Throughout the paper I use abbreviations for several of Russell's writings. There is a list, at the end, before the References section, of what each abbreviation stands for. (This paper is probably the best thing I have written so far; yet it still is a draft. These days one of my projects is to read it through again, to revise it stylistically, and to shorten it. When that's done I'll turn it in as an area paper, and maybe submit it for publication at the same time.)

I think it is time for me to remain quiet for a while and keep on reading the Bible, and do the other things you advised. If you don't hear from me for a little while, I wouldn't want you to think that I am being lazy with my search. On the contary. I will write again later.

Oh, I should mention: Mr. Smith knows about my current situation, and he also knows that I have come to you for help. I don't tell him every detail of what goes on in my head or what you tell me, but I share some. I certainly don't tell him anything personal to you, and as to my personal side--I decide as I go. So, should you run into Mr. Smith in my absence, you can, if it comes up at all, comfortably speak about our correspondence (as far as I'm concerned). You probably wouldn't see the need to do it anyway, but I'm just mentioning this so you know that Mr. Smith knows that I correspond with you, that's all.

Like I said, I'll write again later. Meanwhile, peace be with you.


Mrs. Smith

> Mrs. Smith,

> Sounds real good to me. I'll just leave it in God's hands and in the hands of the Great Metaphysical Lottery. Some penultimate suggestions, you might want to read "God and the Philosophers" ed. Tom Morris and "Philosophers who Believe" ed. Kelly Clark. And also, you might want to look at some general sketches of essential Christian belief (Gospel presentations, tracts) that are aimed at the general public to see what such a thing might look like.

I hate even giving the impression of putting anybody under any kind of pressure but I would feel remiss in my duties having come so far if I had not at least brought some basic outlines to you attention. But having done that, I won't develop this further unless you want to do so. As John Calvin would say, "Good Luck!".

The Gnu

The exchange continues here

E-mails from a philosopher: Part II

Dearest Gnu,

Please do pray. I don't think anything you wrote was "bull". Furthermore, even though when I wrote to you I wasn't clear about what sort response I longed for, now I feel that your response is exactly what I longed for.

I am currently in the position of having stopped being a disbeliever, but it's not a static position, for I feel that I have a direction of inquiry. I am glad to see that there is practical and intellectual advice you can give to someone in this position. I did not know that such an agnostic position could have value. "I see this as an intrinsic motivation, I desire for restored communion with the previously alienated God rather than seeking "fire insurance"." (I used to think that, if God exists, then someone in such a position would upset God almost as much as the position of someone who just disbelieves. Granted, you never wrote in terms of what makes God happy and what upsets him--I take it that these are not applicable predicates here. But I seem to digress...) What I was trying to say was that I am happy that there is some intrinsic value to the position I am in. To the extent that, even if merely remained in this position, I am at a better place than I was before. Like I said, though, my feeling is that this is not a static position, I feel a directedness. But appreciating the value of being this way takes off some pressure. "Oh my! There may be God, and if there is, then I should start believing as soon as possible." This pressure is uncalled for, as I undestand now. (It wasn't a constructive sort of pressure anyway.) But the curiosity remains, which is what is driving me to understand.

You said "This [the naturalist-externalist standpoint] seems to at least point us in the direction of questing for God even if we cannot yet simply believe in him. But whether or not one chooses to do so seems to depend on whether or not a person has certain values. (Another Humean point in my would-be Christian apologia.) Some people value a certain self-sufficency here rather than perhaps recognize humble dependence and frailty to humanity and such an attitude would stip such a search before it starts. Perhaps we may have residual attitudes of both kinds and the tension between them tracks with whether and how intensely we search for God. This is one place where the Christian concept of the Fall comes in, which is a picture of the moral deminsion of this whole thing. An important contrast between believers and non-believers is whether they have one certain set of attitudes or the opposing set. But these passions, affections, emotions, whatever, are part of the externalist story too. God could provide the set which points in the right direction and this seems to be what grace in part means. "I would not have sought you unless you already had found me." This emotional difference plus externalism may not be relativism but the only possible cure for it. "

I grew up as a member of the self-sufficient camp. All the while thinking that even if God exists, he cannot be mad at me, for I am a good person after all. I of course wasn't understanding that "being mad at people" is not quite the right predicate here after all. Whether I was doing the right thing is different from whether I was doing it for the right reasons. But I also always thought that being good to your parents because you are afraid of burning in hell cannot be as good as being good to your parents because that you believe that's the right thing to do. It's hard not to think so, and thinking so pschologically fosters one's self-sufficient perspective. However, there is a fallacy here. One's reasons for being good to one's parents is one thing, the causes of one's being good is another. Not the reasons but the causes of one's good behavior are relevant to the self-sufficiency vs. humility issue.

You know what it was that helped me understand the concept of grace after all? My reaction to Galen Strawson's "Basic Argument"--just to remind you, the one that goes "You do what you do because of the way you are in psychological respects. You are not responsible for the way you are. Therefore you are not responsible for what you do." Of course many students think that we would find ourselves in a state of anarchy if we all bought this argument. Well, their mistake is obvious. But what's interesting is to see what you're left with (in terms of morality) upon being exposed to this argument. I am copying from my handout for my students: "I am more aware now [upon being convinced by Strawson's argument] that if I want to act better than I usually do, I must try to do the things that would change my personality. I can’t expect myself to miraculously act out of character. I should rather try to change my personality. And if I succeed, I can’t get credit for it. If I fail, I shouldn’t blame myself. All in all, I am lucky that I turned out to be the kind of person I am rather than a worse one. I try to spread the luck by being a good influence on the way other people are. What’s wrong with this ethical outlook?"

So, I have moved to the humility camp already. One other major influence was Derek Parfit's work. I take him to have shown, once and for all, that any (non-dualist) relations (between earlier and later states of putatively enduring people) we see near and dear for our continued existence are duplicable relations in the sense that they can hold between two pairs of entities such as a now and each of b and c later. And since one earlier person cannot be identical with two later persons, the relations we see near and dear for our continued existence are the important relations even though they don't necessarily grant our continued existence. With continued existence off the table, he then shows how nice and comforting it actually can be to cherish the existence of future persons who merely happen to be causally and psychologically related to you as you are now. One step from here it to notice how unimportant you-as-you-are-now is (once its continued existence if off the table.) Next step--but this is where I take the liberty to read into Parfit : there is no categorical difference (such as the difference between self and non-self) between you-now's being the cause of happiness in some future entity which is psychologically continuous with you-now and you-now's being the cause of happiness in some future entity which is not so continuous with you. There is no terribly important reason for favoring to please a future entity which is continuous with you-now, rather than doing something to please some future entity which is continuous with your-neighbor-now.

I am not sure that either the Strawson-inspired or the Parfit-inspired humility is consistent with the Christian metaphysic of personhood. (Though I suspect they would be reconcilable) But I see that as beside the point right now. The main point it that there is already good reasons in favor of humility. At any rate, the self-sufficiency idea is already undermined. Moreeover, when combined, Parfitian and Strawsonian humility is very much in tune with the agnostic's prayer. (One interesting Parfitian result is that if there is God but people don't have souls, then the wish for salvation uttered by me-now can be granted by grace being given to some future entity which is not psychologically continuous with me-now. This of course, in the Parfitian-inspired view of happiness, must be a result me-now should equally welcome. The Parfitian's agnostic prayer is for entirely selfless desire for restored communion--not for oneself but for someone, whoever it is.-- It is interesting that you brought up that such prayer is not necessarily selfish.)

You said: "But if one sincerely and seriously prays that prayer and maintains the seeking attitude of which the prayer is a paradigm exhibition, one spins a certain pragmatic context between themselves and God, if he exists. One perhaps should not expect the kind of knock down evidence that one craves as a way of being able to assure oneself of the truth. But God may act in such a way in response to that prayer which by all appearances seems to be God responding to the seekers prayer. In such a case it would be to wrong God and resisit the good that God would do us to be overly suspicious of it are to suddenly impose impossible epistemic standards on the whole thing."

I am afraid this is exactly what I was doing at the church last Christmas. And I feel a certain amount of guilt for having done so. Except that since there is paranoia and schizophrenia in my close blood line, the question as to whether I was hallucinating the whole thing was pressing. (But then again, I read how Jesus was got angry at his disciples when they were very scared upon seeing Him walking on water.) But since I thought it through again, spoke with Mr. Smith, started reading the Bible, and finally today read your words, I feel a lot more open-minded.

"If we request something of God and it looks like he has answered we have already committed ourselves in our request to respond appropriately, I think. "

I understand, I am thankful for your making me notice this.

About how to approach the Scriptures. I have so far only read Matthew. I am continuing to read. It makes me very happy to now see that I was reading with the right attitude. Not with a view to refute, obviously not. Since my direction is not the direction of one who is trying to be skeptical but rather the opposite, reading the Bible with a pen of skeptical criticism in hand would have been irrational. At any rate it didn't occur to me to do so. I possess a concept of God which I seek to understand better, but that concept itself is consistent with the passages in the Bible (that I have read so far) which would be the obvious targets of a skeptic.

"There might be some clear principles here but the basic idea is that you may already be able to judge for yourself whether what you taste is good. This sort of use of reason though may be applied to all the great religious traditions of the world and I think that there is a sort of thing we might call religious rationality by means of which religions are comparable in some sense. "

This I find puzzling. Suppose that God exists but you don't know which religion describes Him and His rules best. It doesn't seem to be such a good idea to follow your own intuition. What seems to me to be not bad may be very bad in God's eye. To take a crude example, if I follow my intuition, I would probably end up choosing a religion according to which not all abortion is sin. Similarly for other aspects of conduct. But practically this is nothing but finding a religion which fits to your currect way of life and thought. However it is likely that in God's eyes my current ways of life and thought are in need of reform. I'm sure this is not a new puzzle; maybe you can help me. Mr. Smith pointed out the psychological predicament to have to follow your nose in this matter. I had basically asked him: suppose I believe. How do I decide whether to be Catholic or Protestant? Or which kind of Protestant? I understand the psychological predicament. But noticing that it is a predicament doesn't make it rational.

However, you wrote of "religious rationality". Probably, my problem, once again, stems from seeking certainty as we do in our non-religious studies. Probably, the externalist-naturalist line of reasoning should be helful here, combined with the thought that if I believe, that's only because God let me, and He would also be directing the way in which I follow my nose--steering me away from a sect that gives thumbs up to practices that He doesn't want me to perform even if my previous tendencies were to agree with those practices. Probably this is the answer to this puzzle. Am I right?

You wrote: "Obviously this is all very unsatisfying philosophically and evidentially, but it illustrates how I think that someone might be persuaded enough tomake a decision. There is such a thing as a moral certainty to faith even if there cannot be a philosophical certainty, a sense of knowing that your doing the right thing. The possibility remain open that someone will come up with a decisive argument or evidence that defeats such a faith, showing it to be false or incoherent. If so, that will be the end and a responsible believer will give up his belief. ... But still, the believer can only be dogmatic in certain contexts, he cannot claim absolute certainty and must at some level continue to be open to criticism. But in practical matters, a person cannot suspend judgment until the investigation is resolved.... But even though we can't be certain philosophically, I think that something like the above story shows we need not be the parochial fools that Socrates and Bertrand Russell are always chiding religious yokels for. Socrates knows nothing and neither do I if knowledge is internal). As someone with at least some philosophical sesnibilities, I regret having nothing more satisfying but it is clear to me that this is sufficient ..."

Ahh Bertie... I should show you my paper on his work about the existence of the external world. In essence he reinvents the method of logical constructions (formerly only used in philosophy of math and geometry) as an epistemological tool, through a principled use of which you can get something like-- "well at least I know these logical constructions, and if the external world exists, then since I can know these constructions thereby I know the external world." It seems like a big circle but it's not. It's a lot less agnostic than "we can't know whether there is an external world". It's not dogmatic acceptance of the existence of the external world either--the whole thing is built on sense-data only (almost only). The constructions are out of sense-data. But if the external world exists, then sense-data are not merely image-like entities and qualia and whatnot but rather particular properties of the things themselves. If there is no external world, then we haven't made a mistake, for what we assert is merely that we know the logical constructions. If there is an external world, then what we know happens to be the external world and not merely a representation of it. It's rather ingenious. I actually think it's the right sort of proof for this kind of inquiry. The resemblance between this and a religious proof is a bit tenuous of course, but the common idea is to notice what sort of proof is impossible for a certain subject of inquiry, and to hope to approximate. And that, Bertie would say, IS rational--in the philosophical sense. (So, if he were consistent, Bertie should have been the last person to be disrespectful of the religious rationality you mentioned. But he was never charitable when it came to other belief systems. ) So, I think that religuous rationality may be worked out rigorously. The key is to notice what form and amount of rigor should be the desideratum. (And you explained that very nicely in your message.) Once a reasonable postulate of this is made, then belief in God would cease to be seen as philosophically and evidentially unsatisfying. Besides, what you describe as "But in practical matters, a person cannot suspend judgment until the investigation is resolved" is just an instance of a rational principle of reflective equilibrium. (Which Russell himself championed but is not given credit for in the literature.) What do you think of this?

The funny thing is, a couple of months ago one of my major worries was to figure out how to reconcile my professional standards of belief-forming with the seemingly looser standards of religious faith. (I should emphasize "seemingly".) I was wondering, for example, how Dean Zimmerman can reconcile his religious side with his philosopher side. Mr. Smith was thinking that you can't-- all you can do is to bracket one of the sides when you are focusing on the other. That seems hypocritical, and I understand that's a sin itself. So I wasn't satisfied with this answer. But just when I was writing this I noticed how reconciliation may be possible. So your response had an additional good consequence on my thinking --one which you most likely didn't intend. (How ironic would it be if you found my previous paragraph helpful!)

I am grateful for all the advice here. If I can say so, I sure hope that you'll remove the adjective "failed" from your future letters to me, for your words in this letter are not of the sort to be uttered by someone who has failed but rather someone who is at the very least in the process of succeeding. (I would like to think so, especially since I consider you a mentor to me in my search.)

With love and in hopes of peace,

Mrs. Smith

My dear Mrs. Smith,

Please forgive my melancholy moments. I'll try to mitigate the "fail" language in the future but it seems to be an intransigent aspect of my personality that is always besetting, especially when i am about something that I care a lot about or think is very important -- like this exchange.

I am really fine with the Strawson and Parfit stuff. I think that it is important to allow that folks in the Bible were not metaphysicians and wrote mainly in terms of folk psychology and folk metaphysics and folk epistemology without raising deeper questions. And I think that it is important to be aware of this when translating between biblical stories as in some sense or another being instances of ordinary discourse and theoretical reflections on all this. God is not exclusively interested in dealing only with those few with the gifts for theoretical thought and is 'happy' to accommodate to folk conceptions to reach widely -- and thus divine accommodation finds folk conceptions to be sufficient for communicating. Calvin is singled out especially for his thoughts on this -- God 'lisps' to us as a parent does to a toddler with more limited capacity to speak in such a way that accommodates to the child but is sufficient to carry out the parents good purposes for it. It may be a kind of economy of means that God "does not bother" to produce elaborate theoretical schemes to appeal to the brilliant. And one may perhaps discern a kind of brilliance in all this simplicity behind what is meant to be effective for all.

Further, you might want to pick up Pascal's Pensees on both this theme and the problem with "religious rationality" that you mentioned. Mr. Smith has got it about the following your nose problem. It is possible and in some sense likely that as I am aware that my passions may influence my thinking it may be that my passions so corrupt even my religious intuitions. We thus get a skepticism based on our resistance to the views the intuitions support. Christian tradition introduces the limiting notion of common grace here. Suppose such fatal corruption where really to have full sway what a mess! It must be that such corruption is under restraint - mankind is prevented from being as bad as it can be. In fact, we see that humanity is capable of doing great things and exhibiting substantial moral character outside of the church (in fact, it seems to me that some non-Christians are more "holy" than some Christians). But this general restraint gets labeled "common grace" that benevolence of God toward all humanity that will not allow evil dispositions to be unrestrained. This makes a religious rationality basically possible but not inevitable. It becomes a desideratum of religious rationality as to how well different religions handle this problem. It turns out as I recall that the great world religious traditions have something to say about it.

Pascal illustrates this in his own work and spends a great deal of time clarifying this as a desideratum. Man is a puzzle because he exhibits greatness and smallness, both dignity and depravity. People exhibit the greatness in their capacity to think but the universe may still crush them. Man is a reed, but a thinking reed. Also, man exhibits graet marvels of character and integrity but also even in the same person great monstrosity and inequity. Man is a chimera; who can account for it. According to Pascal, Christianity accounts for it particularly well; "created in God's image but fallen". You might want to look at Tom Morris' study on Pascal "Making Sense of it All", Grand Rapids : Eerdmans).

I am actually really keen on your Bertie paper. I didn't expect Russell to make that sort of argument but it seems to be in the classic vein of philosophy, see my post about "Natural Theology as Mythology" which is a meditation on Plato's Meno. I do like it very much -- I'll certainly buy that or something like it and I will look into it some more. Maybe you can send me your paper.

As far as Catholic/Protestant stuff goes, I learned an important lesson while in seminary watching other people behave in religious controversy. My observation was that the level of histrionic vitriol in overt conversation was inversely proportional to the relative importance of the question -- as if the relative shallowness of the issue permitted one to sport more drama in debate. This tends to be less visible as the questions get more and more important. I think that in spite of the apparent and dramatic looking differences between various expressions of the church there is a universal unity in the following sense. Christianity embraces several distinctive views but these fall into a hierarchy of concerns such that the greater the importance of the doctrine the greater degree of consensus among the churches and there is a meta-consensus about the ranking of the most important questions. Consequently the things that unite us are more important than what divides us. I think there is such a thing as "Mere Christianity", a basic consensus of the most important beliefs that represent the framework from within which all other concerns are assessed. I would rather urge that. I am not concerned that you become a Presbyterian even though I am.

It's a pleasure to save you. ( I mean, serve you.)

The Gnu

(The exchange continues here.)

E-mails from a philosopher: Part I

Hello Gnu,

I was hoping to see you today, but you haven't called us and we haven't gone out anyway... I'm not even sure Eric is celebrating his birthday.

Never give out your blog address in a bar, even if it is a relatively quiet bar, and even if it is a relatively well-lit bar and you're asked to check the web address on a written format. First I looked at . (Get it? Gnu - New)That was in Italian. I know you're not a Catholic, so I quickly ditched the hypothesis that you were writing your blog in Vaticanese.

Then I was at , which is, mind you, maintained by a philosophy major. A new one, I gather, since he was only (but only) writing about how much he missed his family but that it was very cool since he got to meet with another new chic and "click with her" right away. Good for him, the stupid bastard. For several reasons I knew that wasn't you.

Finally I typed "wildebeast wardrobe" in google. It said "Did you mean "wildebeest's wardrobe" ?" --or something like this, and there I was.

I only took a quick tour around at this time. I was trying to find a bit I could grasp without having to discover back references. And I did. I read the piece about Christians having to be ready to give a rational defense of their faith when asked. I thoroughly find it reasonable when you say "This wouldn't show that we did not have a reason to believe, just that we cannot give a reason. It would not mean that we are being unreasonable in our belief in Christ or that the only motives we have are practical ones, or that our belief must be merely hypothetical. The fact that we cannot express our reasoning in terms of an formal argument that must needs find universal acceptance in all its assumptions and premises, does not mean that we do not have an argument in the sense of having a process that rationally guides our thought to the conclusion that Christianity is true."

Here's a question, though. Consider someone (and this is me--but more on this later) who has been receiving prima facie direct evidence of God's existence. Direct because she has experiences as of having a conversation with God. Prima facie, because, well, she could be wishful-thinking, projecting, imagining things, going crazy, or whatnot. And these conversation experiences only happen when she's in a Christian, and incidentally, a Catholic church. Moreover, three years in a row, when Christmas comes and she hears carols like "what child is this" or "o come all ye faithful" (but not "jingle bells" or the like) she is taken over with immense joy coupled with the strange feeling that she has been wrong all this time. (Not necessarily that she has been acting immoraly; rather that she has had the wrong beliefs. I think this is important.)

Is this person in a similar position as the devout, you think? That is, does she have reason but is unable to give reason? Suppose the answer is "yes". That is, the evidence she has, prima facie as it is, is reason for her to believe that Christianity is true. I can only accept this part if we are to understand "having reason" in an externalist sense. (I think your use of "rational processes" in the above paragraph is a sign that you too are endorsing the externalist sense here.) The evidence she has (as I laid out above) is of course reason in an internalist's sense too, but if we go for the internalist conception of having reasons, then we won't be able to univocally say "she has has reason but she is unable to show that she has reason" --the interalist conception doesn't allow this.

Okay, step one then: In the externalist sense, she has a reason to believe Christianity, but she isn't able to give reasons.

Furthermore, she is at a junction, trying to figure out whether to adopt Christianity or not. Can she rationally adopt Christianity, on the basis of the evidence she has? The answer seems easy doesn't it? Yes she can, since we're working on the assumption that she has reason to do so. Fine, but can she tell herself that it is rational to do so? No! We have already accepted that she doesn't have the ability to give reasons; she can't give reasons to herself either! (Crappy, eh?) How on earth can someone justify to oneself that Christianity is true when what I described above is all the evidence one has?

There has been times when I demanded for more evidence. I understand it was obnoxious of me to do so, but I don't think it's immoral. (Also, I would think that if God is just, he would not judge someone strictly by the rules in the book while the person is in good faith trying to figure out whether to accept the book. Maybe me thinking this is even more obnoxious. Anyway...)

I'm not claiming that there is any paradox here. In fact, I got the answer already. Last Christmas in church, my "correspondence" provided the answer. (I guess not completely, since I still use quotation marks around the word 'correspondence'.) I had experiences as of Him saying "What more do you want? I sent two mercenaries [she means 'missionaries' ;) - TG.] to you in Istanbul (whom you managed to puzzle with your 'divine foreknowledge and blameworthiness' argument), I spoke to you twice in Istanbul when you were in St.Antoine Cathedral, I helped you come over here where you got married to someone who has Catholic upbringing, and you became daughter-in-law to a woman who plays music at my church. I spoke to you last Christmas and this time. When you mentioned these feelings to Mr. Smith, he gave you the Bible to read. What more do you need?" I said "I have no clue what to do next, for I still cannot believe." "Just read." "I will, but what if I loose these feelings after I leave the church? What if I become as skeptical as I was before?" "You know better than to ask that. Just read. You know (better than most) that you can read something without having the slightest the intention or expectation to be convinced by it. Just read."

So it seems that one answer to the puzzle should go along the lines of saying "She cannot tell herself that it is rational to go ahead and believe Christianity. But she can (and maybe she epistemically-ought to) tell herself that at this point it is most rational to read the Bible."

And I will. But I had to speak to someone about this, to someone who believes. Do you think I have a chance? Well, it's not fair to ask you that, you cannot say no and remain faithful yourself. But say something please. Just tell me what you think.

You know, for a long time I've been meaning to tell you this. But I never found the right circumstances. I guess it was very serendipituous that you mentioned your blog last night. (Here we go again...)

Hope to see you soon,

Mrs. Smith

The Gnu's Reply:

Dear Mrs. Smith,

First, I few things.

One, I deeply respect that you shared this with me and I will be very circumspect with this. I have a good track record with keeping confidences.

Second, in the following, I refer to God as "he" according to my tradition. I don't think that God is male or female. Its just a convenience. If it helps to think of God as She, go ahead.

Third, I agree with your analysis and I have agreed with similar analysis for years and a lot of my own philosophical reflections have been focused around trying to think of at least helpful things to say to intellectuals both inside of your (and still in many respects my) situation and outside of it. I have to admit that I have never found anything that has been able to satisfy me all the way down and maybe such a thing is impossible. Let me put together some thoughts, which if they work for you, that's good but if not just drop them.

One thing, and this is in part in appropriation of criticisms of internalism, I have a radical comment to make that helped me deal with some of this. Even though God is omnipotent, theologians have not taken that to mean that God can do what is logically impossible like make a world with round squares in it. And I suspect that this also applies to Russell-like demands for evidence for theism. It could be (and "could bes" are sufficient for my needs here) that humans instantiate a natural kind that simply cannot receive absolutely non-question begging evidence for anything. It is not logically possible for God to meet such evidential demands because to do so for creatures like us is contradictory. God is not guilty for not doing what he logically cannot do. Why make beings of such a kind in the first place? On the one hand, there may be good reasons that we cannot see but given the purported greatness of God's wisdom, our not being able to see is not a defeater. We are understandably not in a good epistemic position to see. But on the other hand, having the ability to have internally available non-question-begging evidence for anything, under closer examination, may turn out to be a divine attribute anyway -- if anyone has it, that one must be divinely perfect. There are plausible Leibnizian reasons for why God does not create other Gods like himself. So none of us are God II.

Given that God cannot provide for such a demand of evidence, and given that a good God may want his objects of care to be able to know him, it seems that we should expect this would be provided for by nature in an externalist way. This seems consistent with some features of our experience. Even Hume claims that "custom" continues to see the world around us as an artifact of divine design even while being aware of objections to the conclusiveness of design arguments and his experience seems to be at one with the great majority of members of our species. If there are no other conclusive objections to the coherence of the possibility of God existing and providing knowledge of himself this way (and to be honest, while I have never found a conclusive demonstration of this I have also not found a conclusive objection to it either in all my searching) then such a possibility might be and probably should be taken seriously.

This seems to at least point us in the direction of questing for God even if we cannot yet simply believe in him. But whether or not one chooses to do so seems to depend on whether or not a person has certain values. (Another Humean point in my would-be Christian apologia.) Some people value a certain self-sufficiency here rather than perhaps recognize humble dependence and frailty to humanity and such an attitude would stop such a search before it starts. Perhaps we may have residual attitudes of both kinds and the tension between them tracks with whether and how intensely we search for God. This is one place where the Christian concept of the Fall comes in, which is a picture of the moral dimension of this whole thing. An important contrast between believers and non-believers is whether they have one certain set of attitudes or the opposing set. But these passions, affections, emotions, whatever, are part of the externalist story too. God could provide the set which points in the right direction and this seems to be what grace in part means. "I would not have sought you unless you already had found me." This emotional difference plus externalism may not be relativism but the only possible cure for it.

At any rate, if one has any sincere desires to seek and has no reason not to seek, it seems that someone is rational enough to pray the agnostic's prayer "Dear God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul". I see this as an intrinsic motivation, I desire for restored communion with the previously alienated God rather than seeking "fire insurance". The image of Hell could well be a mental picture for the intrinsic self-defeating suffering of abiding divine alienation. It is not necessarily a selfish motivation that per hypothesis would alienate God even more. But as we are often a mixed bag of motives full of conflicts and contradictions and have plenty in us to stand in the way of being reconciled to God, the important thing is not an absence of perfect rectitude but the presence of some genuine desire for communion. As long as we are dreaming and dreaming that God is good, let's dream that he is benevolent and gracious too.

But if one sincerely and seriously prays that prayer and maintains the seeking attitude of which the prayer is a paradigm exhibition, one spins a certain pragmatic context between themselves and God, if he exists. One perhaps should not expect the kind of knock down evidence that one craves as a way of being able to assure oneself of the truth. But God may act in such a way in response to that prayer which by all appearances seems to be God responding to the seekers prayer. In such a case it would be to wrong God and resist the good that God would do us to be overly suspicious of it or to suddenly impose impossible epistemic standards on the whole thing. The case is analogous with other minds. We may doubt they exist due to lack of a convincing argument but we still are appropriately offended when they don't keep their promises to us. If we request something of God and it looks like he has answered we have already committed ourselves in our request to respond appropriately, I think.

Of course, it may be that God has already provided the answers to such requests somewhere at sometime. And here is where I think Mark's advice comes in. The Scriptures are a putative account of God's dealings with humanity stemming from a particular point of entry into world history. There are other such accounts and we may have to look at them all or at least some of the main alternatives. But sticking with the Bible as an example of how we might approach this, on the one hand we see that it is first of all a kind of historical report with an essential positivistic dimension to it. There are some historical standards being observed even if they are not as precise or demanding as our modern critical views, but the intention is certainly to get things more or less right. But it is not history in any disinterested or neutral sense. But the presuppositions of the account are at least very similar to the set of presuppositions I have tried to sketch on independent grounds, namely the possibility that God exists and makes himself to disclosed to humankind not by offering assumption transcending evidence but by providing such "evidence" that would indicate some kind of personal assurance that he cares and has done something in humanities behalf, sort of like the handshake that seals the deal. The reader will have to be open to the possibility that God "interacts" with history and not assume automatically that such a thing is impossible in order to test the assumption that God might have heard and responded in an appropriate way. If one is willing to consider the possibility of God, one must be open to certain other possibilities

Here I think the standards of judgment are more like the standards of evidence one finds in a courtroom jury trial-- these are not philosophical standards but they are appropriate for the occasion. There might be some clear principles here but the basic idea is that you may already be able to judge for yourself whether what you taste is good. This sort of use of reason though may be applied to all the great religious traditions of the world and I think that there is a sort of thing we might call religious rationality by means of which religions are comparable in some sense.

When I first became a Christian, I was home alone listening to Billy Graham as a teenager. He gave a brief and plain presentation of the basic message of the New Testament Church. I was struck by several features. One, that the New Testament diagnosis of the human condition as "sinful", as severe as it truly is, had made better sense of my life than anything else; it was the only view that took my personal case with sufficient seriousness. Two, the provision of atonement for the guilt of sin had to be a divinely initiated provision of something divine like to satisfy the retribution due toward me in order to make possible the renewal of fellowship with God again. Three, the necessity of having to appropriate that gift by faith seemed logical with all the constraints involved especially that new life had to be all of God and none of me, the hand that merely receives is the only appropriate device to use to return to God. The whole story struck me as having a certain genius to it that would be hard for a set of humans to come up with merely on their own and not merely because of the intellectual hurdles but also the demands it makes on a person's character just to attend to such matters; this also encouraged me to think that God was at work in all of this. Finally, when I surrendered my life to God by praying with Graham on TV, I had a powerful experience of release and relief but was even more important about it was that along with that experience I underwent a powerful change of attitude -- "Lord, you have given so much to me, what can I do for you?". (Also, something freaky happened to the house cat right then but I don't make that a part of my case.)

Obviously this is all very unsatisfying philosophically and evidentially, but it illustrates how I think that someone might be persuaded enough to make a decision. There is such a thing as a moral certainty to faith even if there cannot be a philosophical certainty, a sense of knowing that your doing the right thing. The possibility remains open that someone will come up with a decisive argument or evidence that defeats such a faith, showing it to be false or incoherent. If so, that will be the end and a responsible believer will give up his belief. In fact, it seems that the biblical account encourages such testing as an aspect of trusting God itself. But until such a falsification comes along, I am obliged not to give up the belief that I have willfully contracted myself to even in the case of apparent difficulties in believing -- such obstinacy under the conditions is a virtue -- we must be willing to trust God and not leave at the first sign (or perhaps the second or third sign) of smoke. But still, the believer can only be dogmatic in certain contexts, he cannot claim absolute certainty and must at some level continue to be open to criticism. But in practical matters, a person cannot suspend judgment until the investigation is resolved ("art is long, life is short"), and one of the most important tests can only be done by being existentially committed to a faith anyway.
But even though we can't be certain philosophically, I think that something like the above story shows we need not be the parochial fools that Socrates and Bertrand Russell are always chiding religious yokels for. Socrates knows nothing and neither do I (if knowledge is internal). As someone with at least some philosophical sensibilities, I regret having nothing more satisfying but it is clear to me that this is sufficient and that one of my exercises toward holiness is to at some level be content with that although I admit I have had a hard time doing it. Such is the simplicity and difficulty of believing. Faith is ultimately a choice.

Of course, I cannot say whether you have a chance, but to speak pastorally (and I am a failed pastor as well as a failed apologist) the way to go about this is to examine yourself along the following lines, by the light of the Ten Commandments and the example of the life of Jesus as you see him in the gospels. Do you notice in yourself a certain recalcitrance toward obedience and selfless love either toward others or God as the Sovereign Good? It is better to not face this question in the abstract but to think about concrete examples either in the parables or stories in the life of Jesus and also in your own case. Do you find a sense that what is called sin is also "sinful" to you such that it seems that you abhor what God abhors at any point even should you find that in yourself. Is there a certain sense in which you are even able to acquiesce in God's judgments even if they should apply on you?

Further, in examining Christ, do you find in him that excellence of character you long for in yourself? Does the account of the significance of the cross seem to you to be an adequate solution? Would you be willing to appropriate such a solution for yourself perhaps as even the necessary solution in your case? In the face of the possibility of such grace, would be willing and even find some delight in turning away at least in resolution if you cannot in immediately do so in action from those besetting behaviors that you see to be sinful and to turn to holy character of God as to a great pleasure? Would you thus be willing to accept Jesus as your Christ and King and be his disciple in the Kingdom that he came to establish by his death? These are the sort of questions to ask. If you you find that the answer to them is in accord with acceptance of Jesus as Lord, there is no choice but only the need to act on your desires. Turn from sin and trust in Him. Repent and receive the good news and you will have the life of God in you.

But if this is not true as yet and you still would wish to consider it, the answer is that you are better off putting yourself "in the way of grace" then not. Try reading the Bible and soliciting prayers. Pray the agnostic's prayer hopefully. Go to places where Christians meet and hear the exposition of Scripture. Don't give any money or take any sacraments until you are assured that you desire to believe, since these are both privileges of believers only and God is not indifferent about them. Go where the Spirit of God is visible through the obedience of the people of God and be expectant. I don't have any prescriptions about how long or other practical questions, either you will meet God or eventually feel the whole thing to be pointless. This assumes that you have or are concurrently investigating other alternatives. That's okay.

And if you want, I will pray that you find the truth your looking for. If what I say is so much bull, I of course understand and simply ask that you ignore this post.

In Him, The Gnu

The exchange continues here.