Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Joys of Surfing the Blogosphere

has to include, for me at least, those pages that give summaries of multiple other pages. The first for me was Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor. I always look forward to scanning his summaries and highlights of so many other blogs. There's another that I look forward to these days: Required Reading from <Campaign Standard. It's a Readers Digest way of surfing, I guess. Here's the posting that inspired this thoughtlet:

          H e can be...: "


He can be infuriating, at times, but Andrew Sullivan's blog without Andrew Sullivan reminds me of something David Letterman once said about decaf coffee: 'It's like non-alcoholic Scotch. What is the point?' - Dylan of 'More Last than First'

why I envy Augustine...He is so faithful to so many that he met, e.g. Cicero. He never forgets what each one did for him, even if it wasn't enough. With me, a pallor falls on those that I once loved - as if they're all used up. - FPK of 'Reconnaissance of the Western Tradition'

One of the old signs of saintliness was always a genuine love for animals coupled with the ability to give them orders, to which even wild animals responded with love and respectful obedience. This reversal of the Fall and return to something like Eden is part of what we are called to do, as co-workers with the New Adam...We can’t separate ourselves from Creation, or pretend that we can treat ourselves like crap, ripping away our own human dignity and oppressing ourselves, and still be able to treat everything else with love and respect. Mystically, too, we are connected to the world. - Suburban Banshee of 'Aliens of this World' via Enbrethiliel

Dogs' lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you're going to lose a dog, and there's going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can't support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There's such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love, while always aware it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and for the mistakes we make because of those illusions. - from a Dean Koontz novel via 'Sancta Sanctis'

As it is the nature of a seed to grow into a fruitful plant, so it is the nature of a human to grow into a perfect child of God, and forcefully uprooting the weeds in our nature -- weeds, let us not forget, that we ourselves have nurtured -- may also uproot the good plants through which we are to be perfected. - Tom of Disputations

One of my favorite bloggers, Cecily, just got back from the Blogher conference in California. In giving her impressions of the conference she wrote about blogging and about the popular blog writer Dooce: 'I've read her blog for almost five years, and I've watched her become more private over that time, less willing to do what they called at BlogHer 'naked' blogging. Sure, she's been compensated for her blog, but she's lost a great deal too.I am a 'naked' blogger; when Heather said that she doesn't blog about 95% of her life, I thought, wow: I am the total opposite. I don't blog about more like 5%. I really do put it all out here.' This was interesting for me to read. I have just been thoroughly chastized (again ) in other parts of the blogosphere for speaking up when other bloggers 'blogged naked' and put some of their more controversial stuff out there. I've even read from some mommy bloggers that they consider their blogs to be their personal little spaces on the web, like pretty front porches. - Elena of 'My Domestic Church'

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to commentary on FOXNews about the [teenage] pregnancy pact…One expert in Gloucester truly connected some dots for me. She surmised that one of the big draws for these teenaged girls--young teenaged girls--was that maternity clothes had become so chic, so totally hip. Let me re-phrase that: high school freshmen and sophomores are eager to get pregnant because they know they'll look pretty darn cute in today's maternity fashions. - blogger at 'In the Heart of My Home'

all we need is hard work, fervent prayer, and rifles - Tagline of blogger at 'Zero Summer'

In 1987-88, Mary kept me Christian. Not Catholic, but Christian... I found myself drawn to the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where I saw such epithets as 'to Jesus through Mary' which puzzled me...I was wondering about Jesus and whether it all really happened. The one thing I couldn't get out of my head was the visit of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She appeared to Juan Diego to tell him: 'Am I not here, I who am your mother?'...The skeptic may dismiss a priori any miracles such as this one, but to one who is open and doesn't presume to turn away from anything that claims a reason beyond what can be observed in a laboratory - to one who doesn't set a limit on what can happen, then, Our Lady of Guadalupe doesn't easily reduce to formulas of power and shamanism. To me, it's clear that Our Lady of Guadalupe did appear to Juan Diego...Jesus suffers a thousand competing reductions in the common mentality: Jesus the revolutionary, Jesus the hippie, and the various Jesuses of South Park, the Simpsons, and Family Guy. With all these counterfeits, abstractions, and reductions jumping around, it can be difficult to see Jesus as a person. Mary changed that for me. Mary is the sign of Jesus's humanity. - Frederick of 'Deep Furrows'

Joseph and John, as well, are bound to Mary in different ways. In her assent Mary was led by the angel immediately to the Lord, without the intervention of her husband's consent. Joseph, who is warned by the angel that he should not divorce Mary because she has conceived of the Holy Spirit, is bound directly to the human person, Mary, in order to become through this bond a servant of the incarnate Lord. John, however, is first claimed by the Lord for himself and only then brought together with Mary and given over to her. If Joseph attains to God and to holiness only through Mary, God draws John immediately into His friendship and binds him as the Lord's friend to the Mother of the Lord. - From 'The Handmaid of the Lord' via 'Deep Furrows'"

(Via Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

I know you think you understand what you heard me say … "I do not know, therefore I blog" William Vallicella explains why...

… but you don’t realize that what I said is not what I really meant. (lifted from Punctum Saliens)

Blogging is an interesting exercise. And part of it's potential benefit is that it can be therapeutic. The comparison can be made to something that happened at work. I had a conflict with a co-worker and was very angry afterwards. I decided to vent these feelings to the supervisor. In forcing myself to express my feelings and the facts in a reasonable, civil manner, I effectively changed the narrative that was raging in my head.

By the time I was done talking with the supervisor I saw the whole thing in a different light. I had handled the situation badly and then over-reacted to the resulting conflict. The act of changing the story to suit a neutral third-party helped me to see the bigger picture.

Blogging can serve that same purpose. We just have to remember that we are potentially addressing neutral third-parties who won't be favourably impressed with emotional ranting. The process of recasting our stories may help us to better understand the situations we are in.

But, why-oh-why, couldn't I have thought of this for a blog motto:

"Nescio ergo blogo"

"I do not know, therefore I blog"

William Vallicella explains why...
: "'Nescio ergo blogo'

'I do not know, therefore I blog'

William Vallicella explains why he is not ready to pack it in:

Blogging is an excellent tool for the assembly, preliminary refinement, and presentation of one’s thoughts on any topic that turns one’s crank. One e-jaculates them into the 'sphere, and on an auspicious day one snags a worthwile comment or stimulating e-mail response. Fellow"

(Via Lex Communis.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

What is Scholarship?

And how should it treat the Bible?

Should we call for biblical studies to be reformed?:

Rather a lot of people mistrust biblical scholars.  Other scholars look at them sideways.  Christians treat them with suspicion, because they so often appear on TV in the UK bashing the Christians.  Since few outside of Christianity are much interested in biblical studies, the curious effect is that the discipline in general is brought under suspicion of being biased against its subject matter.

It is, perhaps, a sensitive subject.  Those who raise it often find themselves being screamed at.  Cynics may feel that the discipline might incur less odium if it made more of an effort to be objective, and to steer clear of religious and political controversy, and there is probably truth in that, at least in the UK.  I’m not sure whether that is entirely fair, however.

But quite by accident today I saw this post which advertises a historical Jesus seminar.  I’d like to look at the abstract of the first paper, as an example of the sort of thing that makes me quite uneasy about biblical studies.  I don’t know who wrote that abstract, and I certainly don’t want to pillory the author who doubtless reflects the college he comes from.  But I have seen the same sort of attitude, expressed or insinuated more subtly, on a number of occasions.  Here’s the start:

‘‘How did Jesus cure?’ … It has become common in NT studies to avoid such questions by either declaring them inadmissible or providing supernaturalist explanations which would be unacceptable in any other discipline and are not usually considered appropriate when looking at comparable figures with reputations as healers in antiquity.’

The author is plainly not a Christian; but that’s fine.  He appeals to objective standards, and so is that.  But somehow this distills the essence of much of my unease.  To the author, the only objective way to study Christianity is on the basis that it is untrue.

Now one might have various things to say about this.  But this is not a value-neutral position!  It is, in fact, the intrusion of a prejudice as an axiom.

I must ask whether this is how we want to study any ancient text?  Do we define in advance that, in every important element, the text before us is wrong, and its authors mistaken, duped or dishonest?  I would feel deep unease at any study of any book that started on that foot.  We might draw that conclusion at the end of our studies; but hardly in advance.

There is genuine difference of opinion among the educated on questions such as whether miracles happen.  Is it the place of scholarship to answer that?  If it is — which seems doubtful — is it right to do it, not by debate, but by means of subterfuge and insinuation?  It seems to me that the above sentence does just this. For instance, are we not invited to acquiesce in the belief that either we must hold that every ancient superstition was genuine, or else we must reject Christianity? Likewise does it not insinuate that Jesus is no different from any other healer in antiquity? Both of these might be discussed, although not here, but they can hardly be assumed, or treated as ‘objective’.  I feel that this sort of thing is rather common.

It is certainly quite possible that Christianity is not true.  Let us frankly admit this.  But is it the job of biblical studies to take a position that it is not, before starting work?

The real issue is how we do scholarship.  On any subject, I want to see the data gathered, conclusions drawn cautiously from it, and a general refusal to speculate or introduce extraneous political or religious opinions, on which people may well have differing opinions.

Let’s look at that paper in this light.  What data exists on ‘how Jesus cured’?  Jesus heals a leper; but neither Jesus nor the leper is available for interview. No archaeological evidence exists or indeed is conceivable.  We’re reliant solely on the accounts in the New Testament, perhaps leavened with a bit of patristic quotation from Celsus.

And what do these say?  Well, it hardly matters: because we have already decided that any testimony they give to supernatural events must be rejected without discussion, and every last source suggests that supernatural means are involved.  But if that is the case, surely we have nothing further to discuss, not based on data and deductions from it!  All the data gives one answer.

Disentangling some core of truth from a book that is (on this hypothesis) a complete and persistent set of lies must be impossible without some further external data.  All that is left is silence.  But we’re not offered silence; so we must be looking at unevidenced speculation which is contradicted by the only literary source.  Is that scholarship?   If it is, then I would treat scholarship as a fraud on the taxpayer and on the public.

But I think better of scholarship than this, despite my scientific training and the contempt for the humanities that Oxford instills.  This is merely bad scholarship, where a theory takes the place of the data, and prejudice substitutes for evidence.  Haven’t we all seen this habit, in all sorts of fields of scholarship?

I tend to wonder whether biblical studies, as a discipline, needs to be reformed.  After all, to whom — outside of the few in the field — is it currently convincing?  There is much genuine scholarship around in biblical studies.  One has only to look at NA27, or at Metzger on the Text of the NT, to see that at once.  But then there is stuff like this.

But if biblical studies should be reformed, how should it be carried out?  What measures will restore the confidence of the public in the discipline?  What measures would convince the academy at large that biblical studies is a genuine, objective discipline, and not merely an excuse for peddling religion (or, in fear of that accusation, its reverse)?

Or is it easier to scream at anyone who asks whether the emperor has any clothes?


(Via Thoughts on Antiquity.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Today We Celebrate

(1) "pornography and the objectification of women’s bodies"

(2) "divorce, abortion, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and venereal disease"

(3) "forced abortions in China to involuntary sterilizations in Peru"

(4) and plastic surgery and silicon breasts

All of which, at least indirectly, was predicted by Pope Paul VI on this day forty years in his notorious encyclical Humanae Vitae. We continue to ignore this prophet at our own peril:

The Anniversary of Humanae Vitae: "You know the story. Forty years ago —on July 25, 1968 a tired, grumpy, and celibate old man in Rome issued an encyclical called Humanae Vitae, solemnly declaring that birth control is bad, and half the world responded with a shrug. The other half responded with a sneer.
It’s hard to imagine a worse moment for Pope Paul [...]"

(Via FIRST THINGS: On the Square.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Philosophy in Action

In my recent Intro to Philosophy course, I got the impression that the professor found anencephalic babies to be a crucial issue; a sort of philosophical crowbar to separate students from their unreflective pro-life sentiments. In particular, he argued that if these babies were in fact fully human then all measures to preserve their lives must be taken. On that reasoning, these sub-human creatures would take up space in hospitals needed by real babies.

My counter-argument was that even fully adult human beings are not always entitled to absolutely every treatment possible. My counter-example was triage in hospital emergency rooms. Where facilities are limited, the medical staff may rightly decide to focus on those who have the most immediate needs and to give comfort measures only to those who are deemed to be beyond hope. By my argument, anencephalic babies may well fill that role, those who are dying and are given comfort measures only.

But here is a different take on that experience:

Brazilian Anencephalic Baby: Shatters Pro-Abortion Myths

After a year and a half of life, smiles, cries when mother is away, responds to sounds.

Though he would still be the object of God's love if he couldn't do even that."

(Via Catholic and Enjoying It!.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Reading the Tea Leaves

Parsing statements from foreign leaders can be a frustrating endeavour. Prime Minister Maliki's seeming endorsement of Obama's plan for withdrawal may be just such a case. Opponents of continued American and International troops continuing presence there have been quick to seize on these statements; even the redoubtable Mark Shea.

There are arguments to be made and considered. I will not endorse any particular conclusion. But please note an Iraqi's take on this. And note the following also:

Required Reading: "

4) From the Washington Post, ‘Behind Maliki’s Games’ by Max Boot

The always excellent Boot deconstructs Nouri al-Maliki’s series of statements from the last week. Long story short? If the left wants to be intellectually honest, it might not want to make too much of this momentary propaganda coup:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, 'Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.'

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be 'only a matter of months' before his security forces could 'take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.'

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn't happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, 'Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn't want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.' When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as 'lukewarm.'

In January 2007, with the surge just starting, Maliki predicted 'that within three to six months our need for the American troops will dramatically go down.' In April 2007, when most of Baghdad was still out of control, the prime minister said that Iraqi forces would assume control of security in every province by the end of the year.

Watching Anderson Cooper a couple of nights ago as he breathlessly reported on Maliki’s comments from Friday (and hilariously referred to them as ‘breaking news’ more than 72 hours after they were uttered), I couldn’t help but be struck how Cooper and his reporters treated Maliki as some sort of omniscient figure who always knows best. That clearly hasn’t been the case.

That said, I feel the need to reiterate what I wrote yesterday. Victory in Iraq is within reach, and John McCain has to show an appropriate eagerness for seizing the victory that he midwifed. To date, McCain hasn’t done so, although on a conference call yesterday his surrogates did belatedly show a more appropriate enthusiasm for ending the war. The American public wants this war won, and then it wants the war ended. The public does not want it fought endlessly. McCain’s resolve is admirable – his resolve made victory possible. But the campaign has to focus on what lies ahead, specifically the road to victory and then the road home. Promising an indefinite slog doesn’t square with the facts on the ground, and the McCain campaign has to be cognizant of that fact.

(Via Campaign Standard.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pet Peeves

We all have them, of course. One of mine is exercised every Sunday: clapping at Mass. In particular, the seemingly obligatory applause after the Recessional Hymn for the Choir. This is not entertainment, folks. They are supposed to be helping us to praise God and to experience God's Presence in the Eucharist more fully. Why does this generation feel comfortable clapping at Mass? Do the hardy hand-shakes at the Rite of Peace have anything to do with it?

Hold the Applause: Confessions of a Conflicted Clapper: "

Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.  

The above words were penned…


(Via Catholic Exchange.)

Monday, July 21, 2008


Perhaps this isn't the subject you'd be looking for after a month-long break from blogging. But it has been a subject that has been on my mind since my visit with the family in June.

My oldest sister and I had several long talks, which we hadn't done since our childhood in the sixties. I reminisced about how Mom and Dad (Requiescant in Pacem) used to view solving conflicts.

This brought us to a childhood query I had made about brushing my teeth. I asked Mom if I should wet the toothbrush first and then apply the toothpaste or vice versa. She took one view, I don't remember which now. Since she didn't actually give me a reason why this was correct, I decided to ask Dad. He gave the opposite answer, again with no compelling reason for it.

This puzzled me no end, simpleton that I was. I tried to get one or both of them to give me reasons for their different answers. This only made each of them annoyed and all the more assertive about the correctness of their position.

And, I believe, this is because they were raised to see all conflicts as win/lose contests. This is also known as zero-sum games. The object of getting me to agree with them was to avoid a loss to the other parent. Reason was only a tool for rationalizing one's position. If it worked, great. If it didn't, ignore it. But winning was everything and the loser was a zero.

This is a seriously defective way to frame all conflict. I do admit some conflict is effectively a win/lose situation. But much of it isn't. We need to keep this is mind when our blood pressure and the decibels start rising.

And, by the way, ever since our childhood, we both wet the toothbrush before and after applying the toothpaste.