Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Beautiful BC

The youngest and I were driving the other day and she commented on how beautiful Vancouver (meaning the whole Fraser Valley, really) is. I replied to the effect that I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. This kind of platitudinous, self-congratulatory talk is commonplace here.

But still I get a twinge of mild envy when I see or hear something of the other beautiful places to live. And I confess that I'm more than a little envious when Albertus Minimus wrote about hearing the clip-clop sound outside his workplace. Sigh.

Animal Rights Activist

disrupts the great Mexican past-time:

Thanks to Catholic Light for the link.

Speaking (as distinct from Writing) the Truth in Love

Albertus Minimus has some kind words about my previous post on Usenet controversies.

The real need is for each of us (the observant Catholics, that is) to live the message of the Gospel in our lives. As St. Francis of Assisi is supposed to have said "Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary". My Usenet activities are an attempt to project a self that I wish were the real me. A knowledgeable, calm, logical and charitable Catholic.

It's easy to project knowledge in the impersonal forum of the Usenet because you have unlimited time to research and the wonders of Internet search engines to compensate for the limitations of your personal library. And you can be calm and charitable simply by practising reading the post a couple of times before posting. In some cases you can do better by waiting a day and then re-reading it before posting.

Wouldn't life be easier if we could do something similar in real life? Well, actually, we can.

Humility being a virtue, admitting that you don't know something is the best tonic for the know-it-all-itis that is a problem for some of us (mea maxima culpa!). Those who really want to know the truth (and which of us does to a virtuous degree?) will be patient enough to wait for the research necessary to answer.

Charity and Temperance are do-able too. Editing what we say before we speak is simple enough in theory. Practice, practice, practice is what we need. Keeping the voice level is also important and an area I have particular problems with. When an idea or issue I'm invested in is being controverted I get excited, my voice gets louder and shriller. It's not a pretty thing to witness the transformation, believe me. So sometimes, silence (as chosen by Albertus in his incident) can be the virtuous choice.

So what do we really need? Prayer and the Sacraments are what we need to keep central to our lives. Only then can Jesus transform us according to his loving plan. I'd better wind this sermonizing up. There's a severe penalty for Catholics who sermonize without the express permission of their Pastor. ;-)

And for courage and wisdom, I am encouraged by Father Shane Thorp's post about real sermons on an Unpleasant Topic.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Great Minds

think alike. My old boss would invariably add: and small minds seldom differ. Anyway, Father Roderick of CatholicInsider fame discusses briefly the issue of the historicity of Jesus on his Daily Breakfast podcast. His reference is due to the Italian court case where the village atheist has taken the parish priest to court for insisting that Jesus is a real historical person. It will interesting to see how the judge handles this.

Faith and Reason and Usenet

No, I'm not really going to say anything significant about that grand topic. Rather, something specific that falls under that rubric. I look at the Usenet when time permits, particularly Alt.Religion.Christian.Roman-Catholic (ARCR-C to the cognoscenti). Usenet, and this group especially, is not for the faint of heart or those sensitive to rude and salacious comments.

I'm not always sure its worthwhile scanning this group because it seems to attract some of the loopiest people. And they invariably have obnoxious and disrespectful ways of communicating their anti-Catholicism. But I remember my first year or two looking at the posts (lurking, as they say). And it's the lurkers that I worry about. If they don't see a Catholic respond to some the more rational criticisms, will they assume that there is no reasonable answer and begin to doubt the rational underpinnings of the faith.

So, once in a blue moon, I'll see a post that has the right combination: an issue I think I know something about and content that is wrong but that is seemingly plausible in its premises and conclusions. The latest was a response that suggested that Jesus was unknown to First Century historians and that modern thinkers have concluded that he was basically a myth.

This is a seriously misleading idea (supported, in this case, by lists of people that seemed to make it more plausible). So I googled the various names on each list (First Century "historians" who didn't know Jesus & modern intellectuals who say that he is a myth) and found, surprise, the whole enterprise was miscast. I sent a couple of follow-ups to point out the general flaws in reasoning and the specific reason the various names on the list did not support the conclusion reached by the poster.

Why bother? Because, while Faith is something quite different from Reason, it is not opposed to it or completely unrelated to it. Faith, while not rational in one sense, is certainly not unreasonable in the full sense of the term. And undermining the reasonableness of the Faith (by saying "Jesus is a myth" for example) is also undermining the Faith itself.

If there is no Jesus that we can know anything about, then there is no Person to put your Faith in. What you have left, if you insist that you still have faith, is belief in an idea or a set of ideas. And who will lay their life down for ideas that have no basis in fact? When the first Christians died they died for the Name. And that name is a real person named Jesus. Christians have a right to know that a reasonable reading of history shows us that he really existed and that we can know something about him without turning our brains off or making a (premature) leap of faith.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Life and Passion

Pro-Life demonstrations (our Annual Life Chain [scroll down to Oct 1st], for example), bring out the worst in people sometimes. I still remember picketing outside the abortion clinic in Vancouver and some guy yelling from a passing car: "Get a real job!". A combination of slow wit and great passion istm. So reading Peter Sean Bradley's comments at Lex Communis after looking at the pictures of the San Francisco March for Life brought back memories.

There's usually several middle fingers when we stand silently on the roadside holding our signs, mostly "Abortion Hurts Women" and "Abortion Kills Children". Hatred and incomprehension can be read into some of the expressions we see (and hear). The angry, abusive and occasionally violent are not the pro-lifers. But don't get me going about the silly, one-sided portrayals of pro-lifers on tv, especially my otherwise favourite, Law and Order.

So go look at the pictures and decide for yourself: what is all this controversy really about?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

God is Love

So says Scripture:

“He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.”
(1John 4:8, RSV)

And so says Benedict XVI: Deus Caritas Est. Pray, Read, Discuss.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Reason in the Balance

I've finished reading it. Philip Johnson's argument seems to be that Methodological Naturalism [herein MN] (assuming that causes and explanations for objects of scientific investigation must be purely natural (as distinct from supernatural). One of his primary evidences of the evil MN is that the well-known spokesmen (Dawkins, Suzuki and so on) are all philosophical naturalists also. That is, they believe that not only can Science not discover Supernatural Causes, but that they cannot exist at all.

I'm still not persuaded, however. A biologist who is ready to stop investigating because he's satisfied that the explanation for the phenomenon he's studying is "God did it" doesn't seem to be much of a biologist to me.

For the record, in case there was any doubt, I agree that Science cannot discover God. For the same reason it cannot pronounce him non-existent or make teleological claims: These issues belong to philosophy and theology, not Science. To say otherwise is to engage in scientism, which is bunk, thank you very much.

Reunification Match?

Daily Dirt Chess Blog reports a story out of Russia that FIDE is aiming for a September match between Topalov (FIDE champion) and Kramnik ("traditional" champion). I sure hope it's true.

Abortion Memories

I'm listening to a very powerful interview on the Catholic Exchange podcast (Jan 20, 2006) with Yvonne Florczak-Seeman of Love From Above Inc.. She had five abortions before the reality hit her and hard. Very moving. Give it a listen.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Unforgivable Sin

The Marcan version of this passage was read as part of today's Gospel:

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and
whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the
Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” —
for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
(Mark 3:28-30, RSV)

During my stint on the RCIA team one of my favourite themes was preparing the adults for their first Confession (Reconciliation, Penance). So I would admonish them: "You mustn't embarrass yourselves and the team by trying to confess the unforgivable sin. The priest will not be able to pronounce absolution". The concept that there was such a thing as an unforgivable sin would draw their attention, already anxious at the prospect of the confessional booth. It would then be an excuse to have them read from one of the three parallel passages about this teaching of Jesus.

The Fathers of the Church seemed to focussed on this sin being that of apostasy, that is, being baptized as a Christian then denying Jesus and the Faith. But I would take the respectable position that refusing the Holy Spirit, refusing God's forgiveness, is the unforgivable sin. And the example I would use was someone who robbed the bank of $10,000, went to confession to confess the sin, but refused to return the money. Loose theology, perhaps, but I think it helped them to think about what it was they were being asked to do in going to Confession.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Canadian Politics

Has anyone read this? Is the "Liberal" philosophy criticized there coming to an end? Or are we going to continue playing to multiple constituencies with taxpayer-funded largesse?

And Harper making noises about stifling abortion as a topic in Parliament seems like last minute playing to an assumed abortion-tolerant constituency that has to be appeased to get their vote. And this being the only party that tolerates pro-lifers and has a chance to elect MP's. It's not easy being Pro-life in Canada at times.

Political Psychology

Why do political parties spend so much money on the roadside signs that do no more than tell you the candidates name and party affiliation in party colours? Over and over and over. What is the thinking behind these signs?

Are they trying to influence the undecided who enter the polling booth without a clue how to vote, hoping the recognition of their candidates name will spur the politically active but otherwise totally ignorant to vote for theirs? The party affiliation is on the ballot so it can't be that.

I'm beginning to think it's more about group psychology: "Rah! rah! Our side is going to win!" Sort of like the pep rallies in high school, only much more involved and expensive. But it seems an awful lot of effort and money to "rally the troops". For example, who says to himself "My side didn't put up as many signs and the other parties, so I'm disheartened and won't bother to vote"?

Worse yet, how many voters decide based on how many signs they see: "Gee the Conservatives have way more banners (or bigger ones or prettier ones) so I'm going to vote for them"? Is that constituency large enough to justify the expenditure, at least in close ridings? Are these the critical voters who decide the really close elections?

I'd better stop thinking about these signs; it's starting to worry me.

The Real Jesus

My friend is feeling down and doesn't want to talk right now. Separated from his wife by death after fifty years of marriage, that's perfectly understandable. Though I confess I'm a little worried about him alone in that house with all those memories.

But what prompted this post was Mark Shea making comment on the latest Real Jesus. My friend made a couple of references to him (the Real Jesus, not Mark Shea) in our meandering conversations. Given that he rejects the New Testament as history (because it involves miracles) I'm puzzled at his mild attachment to the idea that there is a Real Jesus, the memory of whom has been corrupted by Christians. Maybe it's the Bertrand Russell quote about Jesus being bloodthirsty and judgemental (from, I think, Why I am not a Christian).

Anyway, what Mark Shea says here certainly rings true with me:

One good rule of thumb whenever one encounters a "real Jesus" who is radically at odds with the picture offered by the ordinary Tradition, Scripture and magisterial teaching of the Church is to examine the dominant fixations of one's own age and see how much of a Rorschach ink blot test that new "real Jesus" is. Oddly enough, when liberal Protestantism went gaga for the Social Gospel a hundred years ago, the Real Jesus looked very much like a Social Gospel Protestant a la Albert Schweitzer. When the world went nuts for Marxism, a new Real Jesus suddenly appeared on the scene as the First Marxist preaching the Sermon on the Barricades to the Oppressed Proletariat. Nazism was fond of discovering a Real Jesus who was "really" an Aryan eager to condemn Judaism and not beholden to his Jewish ancestry. Ironic postmodernity sees an ironic postmodern Jesus, feminism sees a feminist Jesus and New Age "prophets" see Real Jesus who offer the same sort of pantheistic tapioca they offer. Of the making of "real Jesuses" there is no end.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sun Run

Our Team is registered for the Sun Run. This is just about the time to start training. The thirteen week program is a gradual one, leading up to a beginners level for running 10 k. I've got the weekend off, so I'll write more then.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Equal Time

has now been mandated for all Canadian blogs by the CRTC, so here goes:

Thanks to Jimmy Akin for the heads up.

Pope Saint Zachary

My first impression of his brief but oh-so-impressive biography is that we are so different. But that's a good thing. Patron saints function on multiple levels in the Catholic universe. And one of them is to inspire us to be better in areas we are weak in.

He was a fighter, but not in the "Rocky" mould; rather in the Pope John Paul the Great way. He faced down the Lombard king, at least twice. He scolded the Byzantine Emperor for iconoclastic tendencies. He purchased slaves to save them from being sold to the Saracens in Africa (the sack of Rome by them from Sicily was still about a century away). As the old Catholic Encyclopedia says: "...in a troubled era Zachary proved himself to be an excellent, capable, vigourous, and charitable successor of Peter."

So I will pray to this saint in the coming year for the gift of perseverance in good works, especially in relation to this blog.

And so, thank you to A Catholic Life.

Patron Saint

In a mysterious process known only to God and a few of HIs Chosen, I have been assigned a Patron Saint for this year: Saint Zachary. Research will follow. First I have to get the girls going so I get some brunch in me.

Family Time

Given that I'm working most Sundays, as are my daughters, our customary Sunday brunches have gone by the wayside. So now we're adapting and going when circumstances permit. Today is such a day.

In part I was motivated by a recent podcast from Heart Mind & Strength that talked about how parents sometimes assume that older children simply "need their space". But, in fact, what Dr. Popcak argued, is that they need family interactions (that everyone enjoys) as venues for opening up and talking with their parents. A possible side effect of parents "pulling back" is depression. And talking to people who love you is a surely good for treating that.

And what do we all enjoy: eating. So much for losing weight after Christmas.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Battle Rages On

For those who haven't had enough of the (Neo-)Darwinism versus ID debate, there's a vigourous discussion going on at Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It.

I Have the Power!

Boy that used to annoy me back in the eighties when my oldest would watch that cartoon ("He-Man?"). But, having installed all my new Accordance modules, I'm a little overwhelmed. This is definitely powerful stuff.

Now I have to find a good focus for using all this power for good and not for evil.

Monday, January 09, 2006

There's my Future

You Should Get a PhD in Liberal Arts (like political science, literature, or philosophy)

You're a great thinker and a true philosopher.
You'd make a talented professor or writer.

Thanks to Cor ad Cor Loquitur.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


is a significant subject for philosophy and life. In discussing issues with my friend, I'm forced to think about how much certitude we have about the things we believe. Certitude as distinct from certainty.

These are relatively arbitrary distinctions. I'm trying to see the difference between the feeling of being certain from the intellectual virtue of correctly identifying what one can and should assign certitude to. We have all had the experience of feeling absolutely certain about something, only to discover that it is false or, at least, seriously deficient. I'm assuming the ideal philosopher doesn't assert certitude, or at least an inappropriate degree of it, where it is wrong to do so.

And challenging someone who is experiencing overwhelming certainty is a delicate task. Your purpose, in the abstract, is help both you and your interlocutor to find the truth and, in the process, do so with an appropriate degree of certitude.

The proximate issue is his (as I see it) infatuation with anti-Catholic propaganda. There's enough material to cause the ├╝ber-Catholic Pope to apologize for. So you don't need to dredge up marginal, dubious or speculative crap to make your point.

He has left me with a collection of papers relating to Hypatia. His theme seems to be: Cyril of Alexandria ordered the murder of Hypatia; the Church then declared him a saint; therefore the Church approves of murder most foul; and, furthermore, we should reject the Church as a teacher.

There's plenty more where that came from. But how to evaluate his confidence in this story without simply shifting to and fro? The Wikipedia article I linked to above seems sober enough for a reference point. No contemporary witness (ok, there was only one on this incident) charges Cyril with the murder. This witness is, furthermore, deeply disapproving of the murder and, by implication, of Cyril's perceived role in it. The trouble is, He doesn't actually specify what that role might have been, if any.

The charge that Cyril ordered the murder comes more than a century later from Damascius, according to the old Catholic Encyclopedia. How does a critical thinker evaluate this charge?

My friend rejects the First Century documents (forming most or all of the New Testament) as unreliable witnesses to the "Real Jesus" because they are based on hearsay and oral traditions. But on that basis how can he believe or assert anything about anyone in history? Certainly a late charge against Cyril that could not possibly be eye-witness testimony would be rejected on that basis. I'm more moderate in my expectations of what and how we should expect to learn from history. I would argue ignorance and uncertainty about the charge against Cyril until new, better evidence or arguments are brought forward.

But where does his certainty come from? And how to help him analyse and evaluate it?

And we haven't even gotten into the issue of what the relationship between Cyril's sainthood and his possible approval of murder were. Was he made a saint because of the murder of Hypatia or inspite of it? What evidence is there to evaluate for the critical thinker?

Oh well, lots to ponder. I'll read his papers and then give him a call. We should have a fine time arguing, uh, I mean discussing Hypatia and whatever else he comes up with. At least he is passionate about ideas. That I consider a potential virtue, once combined with critical thinking skills and some sound first principles.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Football on Monday

Because its a holiday for all those Monday to Friday types (you know who you are) I guess they felt free to schedule a number of bowl games today. I'm listening to the Capital One Bowl (go Badgers) while waiting for the start of the Fiesta Bowl. I'll have to take the youngest to work and then start myself before it ends. Oh well.

In order to retroactively justify my extravagant purchase of Accordance modules (Anchor Bible Dictionary, new 6.9 Premier Library and the Atlas) I'll try to do some Scripture meditations in the coming year.

And with that uplifting thought, Happy New Year to all.