Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Breaking News from the Vatican

There have been rumours for some time, but this looks like the clearest statement ever, making it almost a sure thing: the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship has pretty clearly stated that the Tridentine mass—the old Latin Mass—is on its way back. He would be, next to the Pope, the ruling authority on the matter. The only way this could not happen now is a Papal veto--very unlikely.

It looks as though the plan is to allow both the Tridentine and the New Mass (Novus Ordo) to be celebrated freely as preferred by each local parish and parish priest.

I think that's the best decision. Obviously, many Catholics have never been happy with the loss of the old Latin Mass, this becoming a stumbling block for their faith. If the church went completely back to the Tridentine rite, though, it would be traumatic now for a large number of people who have grown quite comfortable with the Novus Ordo.

There seems to me to be no reason why we cannot have two different Latin rites, just as the church embraces dozens of non-Latin rites. The mass is the mass.

Did God Procrastinate?

Dear Abbot:

Why did God wait so long for the Incarnation? Why couldn’t he have come in the Stone Age, and saved so many more?

Heaven Can’t Wait


Dear Heaven:

You could also argue that the incarnation should have happened later, when it could have been televised and blogged globally. “Why’d you choose such a backward time, and such a strange nation?” as lyrics in Jesus Christ Superstar ask.

First, I don’t think it matters when it happened, since the grace of the resurrection is eternal; it reaches backwards as well as forwards in time.

Second, it seems reasonable to suppose that some preparation was needed. Too much truth too soon can be too much for a child to accept; so too with all mankind. So it was probably necessary to work humanity through the revelations of the shamanic period, then form a covenant with one chosen nation, the Jews, then expand this to all comers.

Third, it could be said that Jesus’s death and resurrection occurred during a fairly brief window when the conditions were optimal to spread a covenant with the Jews to a covenant with all mankind. Specifically, Israel was a part of the Roman Empire from 37 BC (legally from 6 BC) to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Before that time, events in Israel would probably not have spread very far into neighbouring cultures. After that time, Judaism entered the diaspora; the handoff from the Old to the New Covenant would have been, at best, ambiguous, since many of the formal requisites for the first covenant were then no longer available anyway.

Spreading to the Roman Empire, given the subsequent development of world history, was probably more valuable than spreading to India or China—though the trade routes from Rome made it possible for the Nestorians to spread the gospel to those countries very soon in any case. It was Europeans, after all, successors to the Romans, who first sallied forth to make contact with the Americas, much of sub-Saharan Africa, and the people of Australia. If the message had gone first and most strongly to the Arabs, or the Chinese, or the Indians, it would have taken longer to become global.

So if you are going to incarnate, and ensure that the message reaches all mankind, God probably did it at the first available opportunity.

One might almost think it was all part of a plan.

Abbot

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

You'd Have to Know My Wife...

EJ:
Let me ask you this point blank: suppose you have a dream and you are sure your God is talking to you and He tells you to kill your own wife. Would you do it? See the dilema your delusion causes here? If you don't do it, it means you really don't believe in God. If you do do it, you are insane.

SR:
Good question, Jeff—and one I addressed here recently in the context of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism.

According to Christian teaching, God cannot and will not ask us to violate morality, because good and evil are absolutes, and he is all good; in the same way that he cannot and will not violate the rules of logic.

Therefore, if I had a dream in which “God” told me to kill my wife (assuming this was obviously immoral—not all killing is), then by that I would simply know that the dream was not from God.

In general, for Catholics, the rule is to be quite wary of such private revelations; to “test the spirits.” Because, of course, we believe in the existence of evil spirits as well as good ones, and evil spirits too can send dreams and visions.

Jesus's Tomb Found!

I am unlikely ever to see the documentary on “Jesus’s Tomb” that is getting so much media attention over the last few days. We don’t get Discovery Channel here. So I don’t necessarily know of all the evidence the documentary will produce.

But the media angle seems already to have fixed on the “crackpot theory” category for this babe.

And rightly so. As I understand it, the essence of the claim is that the documentary’s producer is pointing to a tomb discovered in 1980 that has ossuaries bearing the names “Jesus, son of Joseph,” “Maria,” "Mariamene,” and “Judah, son of Jesus.” And it is from about the time of Jesus.

All (except for Mariamene) were common names of that place and time. Nevertheless, Cameron, the producer, has gotten a statistician to estimate that the likelihood of these names appearing together is about 600 to one against.

Of course, to be impressed by this, you must first accept Cameron’s claim that “Mariamene” is another name for Mary Magdalene; otherwise the odds are meaningless. You have to accept his contention that the name on the relevant ossuary really is “Jesus” (i.e., Yeshua), as this reading is disputed by archaeologists. You also have to discount the argument that the presence of a “son of Jesus” ought perhaps to deduct from the likelihood that this is the ben Yusef family tomb, given that there is no historical record of Jesus having a son.

Let’s leave aside all that. Even so, is that 600-to-one figure impressive? Well, that means that, if you looked at 600 tombs of the time and place, you would have a better than even chance of finding one with these names.

And how many tombs have been excavated from that time and place?

Nine hundred.

And, of course, this one was not selected at random.

You could say I'm not impressed.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Strong Reasons for Not Believing in God

EJ:
Descart started with another false premise, that there was an evil genius who planted the idea of a god. Those who planted the delusion in his head actually believed that god existed, thus they were not evil geniuses.

SR:
I find this assertion of yours remarkable—that Descartes postulated an evil genius “who planted the idea of a god.” Because it is a flat assertion, and it is flatly untrue; as anyone who has read Descartes would know. It is not even a plausible misreading.

What does that say? 1. You have not read Descartes. 2. You are prepared to state as fact things about which you have no idea, and know you have no idea. Which is to say, you are prepared to dissemble in order to appear to have made a point in this argument.

Why would you do this? It seems folly. Particularly since you had every reason to believe I had myself read Descartes, and would know if you had guessed wrong in your claim.

You might want to explain why you did this; to me, it smacks of whistling past the graveyard. I assume you actually care about the subject of the argument, and are not just in this for ego. Yet you are more concerned with seeking to make me or a reader believe the given assertion, than with whether or not that assertion is actually true. It is as if you yourself felt that the point that God existed was already lost or probably lost; and your strategy was only to avoid the general realization of this for as long as possible.

Still completely irrational, of course, since if there is a God, there is no way to hide from him. But common human behaviour. It’s just as given in the story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, knowing God directly, must have known there was no chance of hiding from him. Yet, knowing they have done wrong, they nevertheless jump behind the bushes.

Those who seek to contest religion like to claim that belief in God and an afterlife could be simply “wish fulfillment.”

But this makes no sense at all. Granted that there are some people who indeed wish for the existence of a God and an afterlife—those, roughly, who “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Those enumerated in the Beatitudes. But, in the natural run of things, there will be far more people who must hope it is not so.

After all, consider the alternatives. If there is no God, we can believe we are called to no more than seeking our personal comfort and our personal wants. We are free to do whatever we choose. If there is a God, we must submit our will to his. We have a boss, even in our most intimate moments. Not something most people would naturally wish for.

Similarly, if there is no afterlife, all that happens when we die is that our consciousness ceases. Hardly a frightening concept. If there is an afterlife, there is every possibility that it could be worse than the present state—we might be born again as a carbuncle, or end up in hell, in fact.

If we have done wrong, and there is no God, we can hope to get away with it. If there is a God, we know we will eventually be punished. Obvious incentive for anyone who has ever sinned to avoid belief in God—and all of us have surely sinned.

If we have some advantage over our neighbour—in looks, in wealth, in intelligence, in the circumstances of our birth—and there is a God, we must expect to eventually lose this advantage, knowing we have not earned it. But if there is no God, we can hope to keep it.

And, ultimately, if there is a God, he is the centre of the universe—and we are not. He is God—and we are not.

All this is hard to accept. Even the devout speak of passing through a “dark night of the soul” in order to grapple with and accept it. Or of “dying to self,” or of having to be “born again.” Accepting it, in other words, is as difficult as dying.

Fear of these implications of belief, I suspect, is behind most if not all atheism. It explains why atheists tend to be militant about it, whereas in all logic, if God does not exist, it should not be of any consequence if the next person believes otherwise. Indeed, nothing at all ought to be of much consequence.

Among other things, this means that the psychological, if not the logical, onus is rather on those who deny God’s existence to prove their point. Because, psychologically, the case seems clear that wish fulfillment is more likely on their side. What is remarkable is that, despite all the emotional incentives not to believe, almost all mankind has believed in principle, up to the present time. That in itself is a sort of proof.

EJ:
People had the idea the Earth was flat because the bible states there are angels at the four corners of our planet.

SR:
Jeff, you really should study myth and metaphor to understand it, rather than dismissing it as merely something “untrue.” Aristotle says that the ability to understand myth and to use metaphor properly are the marks of genius. That being so—and for now I simply assert it is so—most of the best and finest thoughts of mankind are expressed in myth and metaphor. Miss these, and you are dining only on the intellectual world’s table scraps.

Let’s look at the image of the four cornered world, for example.

The four-cornered world, familiar in Greek and Chinese thought, and probably other cultures as well, is not a spatial description of the earth. It is a temporal description, expressed in spatial terms; a metaphor. The four corners are the two solstices and the two equinoxes, in the first instance; though this in turn is only a paradigm of the necessary progression between two contraries. The “winds” which come from these four corners are the winds of change: the four seasons, in the first instance.

This has absolutely no bearing on the question of whether the earth, as a spatial entity, is round or flat. If proof were needed, note that it is a Greek concept, and, as previously noted, the Greeks were perfectly aware that the earth was round. So was Shakespeare, who uses the image several times; as many poets have since.

EJ:
Guess you don't know the story of Colubus if you think only farmers believed his ship would fall off the world.

SR:
You are taken in yet again by an urban legend, Jeff. As I told you before, you have to go back, when possible, to primary sources. The legend that Columbus alone in his day supposed the earth was round can be dated back to a historical novel by Washington Irving in the nineteenth century. A historical novel: a product, like, ironically, much of what we "know" about Santa Claus, of Washington Irving’s imagination. It just made a better story. Like the Da Vinci Code today, too many credulous people took it and take it as fact.

From their surviving writings, it is actually clear that Clement, Origen, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Isodore, Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas—essentially all the early doctors of the church-- took it as proven that the Earth was a sphere. Note this in regard to the “four cornered earth” of the Book of Revelations as well: this was never taken by the Church as a physical description.

EJ:
An Italian philosopher, Giordano Bruno, was burned to death by the Catholic church because his idea of an infinite universe disputed the Church's dogma that we were at the center.

SR:
That, possibly, and/or the fact that he held that Christ was not God, that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the world, not of God, that the Devil will be saved, and so forth. And/or possibly the charges of personal misconduct, and/or, according to Frances Yates, because he was believed to be, and may have been, a spy for the Queen of England and the Protestants.

We will never know. We don’t know what he was convicted for; the court files were lost long ago.

One thing we can be certain he was not convicted for was for saying that the sun, and not the earth, was at the centre of the universe. That was not against Church doctrine.

EJ:
Re your post: First there's an obvious contradiction of natural vs. a God, which is supernatural, therefore, unnatural. Thus, in essence you and Aquinas are arguing that natural phenomena is unnatural.

SR:
Remember, “supernatural” is your word, not mine. You choose to define God as “supernatural,” and then insist because of this choice of word that he can by definition have nothing to do with nature. That's tautological.

But even though you’ve chosen the playing field, this still does not work. For it must follow, then, that a superpower can have no influence on mere powers. That a supermarket can have no influence on a market. That a superstructure can have no influence on a structure.

You are working from a false definition—of your own chosen term. “Super” means “above,” “greater than,” or indeed “in control of,” not “wholly apart from.”

EJ:
We exist because there is inevitablity in randomness. If you played Lotto 649 a million times, it would not be a question of IF you would win, but how many times.

[SR:
Side note: you’re wrong, there, strictly speaking. The chances of winning the main prize at Lotto 649 are surely less than one in a million.]

EJ:
Because matter is ever-changing in an infinite universe, it's inevitable the physical stuff that makes us who we are will reoccur.

Now, here's a shocking argument you might not have heard: WITHOUT the random interactions of the elements, we would not exist. If there was some set, interlocking pattern to the universe, the necessary conditions for our existence could become occluded, locked out. Because an infinity of time has preceded us, our existence proves no such occulsion is possible (otherwise it would have happened already, because it has had forever to do so, the forever that existed before us).

SR:
Jeff, you have just proved the opposite of what you think you have. As you say, if time is infinite, and all possibilities occur at random, it is inevitable that, at some time or another before the present (given an infinity of time), a situation must have occurred that would lock out, as you say, the future possibility of our existence. Hence, we would not exist.

Yet we do. Hence, the fact that we do proves either that time is not infinite, or events are not random, or both.

Indeed, it rather tends to the conclusion that events are not random, but directed towards our existence.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Aquinas’s Version of Aristotle’s Proof from Motion

It is certain, and evident to our sense, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is moved is moved by another, for nothing can be moved except as it is in potentiality to that towards which it is moved; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act or actuality. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be moved from a state of potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality... it is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is moved must be moved by another. If that by which it is moved must itself be moved, then this also needs to be moved by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and consequently, no other mover, seeing as subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are moved by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is moved by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at the first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.


This is straight from Aristotle. Note that by “motion,” Aristotle and Aquinas really mean something broader, including growth and diminution. All movement is initiated, according to Aristotle’s axiom, by some prior moving thing; motion cannot suddenly happen by itself “ex nihilo.” This means motion is either an infinite regression, or there is a first, unchanging changer or unmoved mover, responsible for setting the whole chain reaction off. An infinite regression is logically impossible; therefore there exists some unmoved mover.

This unmoved mover seems to me to correspond most directly to the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit.

It might be objected that sentient beings do, indeed, move themselves, at least in some respects. Aristotle counters this by claiming that, in such cases, one can isolate a part, already in motion, moving the whole, and this part does not initiate its own motion or change. So the unmoved mover must still be postulated. I expect this is true in a purely physical sense; you never see a living thing emerge from something completely without motion, growth, or diminution. And a living thing is constantly in motion, in some part.

I think Aristotle’s proof can be related directly to the more modern theory of inertia. A body in motion will stay in motion; a body at rest will stay at rest. “When no external force is acting, a body at rest remains at rest and a body in motion continues moving in a straight line with a uniform speed.”

Therefore, for any motion to exist now, there must have been some initial injection of motion into the cosmos, by some “external force.”

A Teleological Proof of God from St. Thomas Aquinas

We see that things that lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore, some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.


This one at first glance does not seem meaningful. Is it true, and obviously true, that things in nature act for an end? What would be the “best result” for a rock toppling from a hill? To avoid shattering into smaller pieces? And do rocks so falling do anything to avoid this?

But I think what St. Thomas is getting at in saying natural bodies act for an end is the idea we now call natural law: that natural bodies act in a broadly predictable way, roughly the same way every time. Drop a stone, and it will fall down, not up or sideways. Heat a solid, and it will turn liquid. This is, of course, what science is all about.

The fact that we can predict what will happen—better and better as our science improves—implies, means, that natural processes have an end, a goal.

Hence, they are directed by some intelligent being, since inanimate objects necessarily cannot choose their own goal or behaviour.

Conversely—so as not to assume the antecedent—if there were no goal to nature, one would expect the behaviour of natural objects to be random. This time the stone would fall down; the next time it would fall up, or stay in place. The solid, heated, would grow more solid, next time disappear, next time turn into a butterfly.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Another Logical Proof of God from St. Thomas Aquinas

Here’s a neat little throwaway proof from St. Thomas Aquinas, given almost in passing, but which I personally find rather compelling:

Furthermore, it is self-evident that truth exists, for whoever denies the existence of truth simultaneously concedes its existence. If truth does not exist, then it is true that truth does not exist; yet if something is true, then truth exists. God, however, is truth itself. "I am the way, the truth and the life" (Jn. 14:6). Therefore God's existence is self-evident.


This quashes relativism in a paragraph. If one says, as relativists do, “there is no truth,” one is immediately contradicting oneself—for the claim that there is no truth must itself be untrue.

Therefore, with certainty, truth exists. If we define God as truth, it follows that God necessarily exists.

St. Thomas Aquinas's Ontological Proof of the Existence of God

Proofs of the existence of God are almost as common as the sands upon the seashore. Every philosopher worth his salt in the Western tradition, beginning with the pre-Socratics, has at least one proof to offer. No one proof has persuaded all comers; all are disputed in some way. But cumulatively, the existence of God is probably in logical terms a stronger premise than almost any other we can propose. If we know anything, it is that God exists.

Here’s one example, as given by St. Thomas Aquinas:

Those things are said to be self-evident the truth of which is obvious once the meaning of the words is clear. For example, when we understand the meanings of the words "whole" and "part," we immediately realize that every whole is greater than its part. Once we understand the meaning of the word "God," however, it immediately follows that God exists. The word itself signifies "that being a greater than which cannot be signified." That which exists in fact and in the mind is greater than that which exists in the mind alone. Thus, since the moment we understand the meaning of the word "God" he exists in our minds, it follows that he must also exist in fact. Thus God's existence is self- evident.


This is basically St. Anselm’s proof—almost a thousand years old. For a time, it was generally felt that Kant had disproven it, but it is back in contention, as reformulated by Godel and Plantinga. The consensus among philosophers currently is apparently that it is sound, that nobody has found a fatal flaw.

It could be argued that "great" is not an entirely coherent concept; but no matter. The proof works as well if we substitute "important" or "real" or several other terms.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Things that Go Bump in the Night

EJ:
There is no evidence of demons whatsoever.

SR:
Jeff, nothing could be further from the truth. As Bishop Berkeley pointed out, in the case of spiritual entities, which is to say, mental objects, esse is percipi--to be perceived to be a mental object is to be one. Therefore, the very fact that you and I (or either you or I) can meaningfully use the term “demons” proves with perfect logical certainty that demons exist.

Perhaps you meant to ask, can demons affect human life? But here the answer is just as simple and certain: if anyone believes they are demonically possessed, they are, ipso facto, demonically possessed.

There is, of course, a further crucial question: is there an objective spiritual realm, i.e., one that exists independently of anyone’s (or any one mortal's) perception of it?

Dream Tickets

I'm just too much of a political junkie not to be already contemplating possible US presidential tickets for 2008. It's a banner year.


Republican tickets:


Rudy Giuliani – Newt Gingrich. Gingrich would be the perfect attack dog in a campaign, a traditional role for second banana—incredibly articulate. Balances the ticket ideologically and reassures the Republican right. Balances the ticket geographically. Balances a Washington neophyte with someone with Congressional experience coming out his ears.

John McCain – Joe Liebermann. Good buddies, so McCain might be able to persuade Liebermann to run; balances the ticket geographically, and comes right up the middle, appealing to dissident Democrats and to independents. A “national unity” ticket to face the issue of the Iraq War.

Mitt Romney – Colin Powell. Powell would be a catch for anyone, and would be great to neutralize a Democratic ticket possibly including pseudo-African-American Barack Obama. He’s said no before, but who knows? Now, somewhat vindicated by events in Iraq, he might be interested. Would balance the ticket ideologically if Romney, as seems likely, runs from the right. Would give the ticket needed foreign policy experience. And would give a relatively young candidate some gravitas.

Jeb Bush should properly be a dream partner for any of these guys—with his great record as governor of Florida, the geographical balance he offers any of them, and his Hispanic-Catholic ties. But I’m betting his brother will remain relatively unpopular, killing his chances this time around.



Democratic tickets:


The best Democratic possibilities just don’t look as good; but this could reflect a bias on my part.

Hillary Clinton – Barack Obama would be a fine ticket. It would position Obama well for next time, or next-next time, so he is liable to agree. Not a good geographical balance though. Nor is it strong for ideological balance—it would have to work by rallying the base.

Hillary Clinton - Bill Richardson. New Mexico is a key state, and Richardson can probably deliver it. Balances the ticket geographically, and helps hold the Democratic client base among Hispanics. Richardson lends strength in foreign affairs.

Barack Obama – Nancy Pelosi. Obama, given his youth and inexperience, needs balance from a longtime party stalwart—like Lyndon Johnson for John Kennedy. Pelosi gives him this. Geographical balance of a sort. Weak on foreign affairs, though, should Iraq be the issue. Pelosi is unlikely to go for it unless it looks like a winning ticket, since it would mean giving up her seat.

John Edwards — Bill Richardson. Edwards is not of much value to anyone as a vice-presidential possibility. He’s probably not enough to make a difference to Clinton in the South or even in the Carolinas—he doesn’t have a strong “local boy” profile. And he doesn’t have enough congressional experience to balance Obama on this. But I feel he is appealing enough to have a good solid chance to be the presidential nominee. So who works for him as VP? Given that he needs someone with foreign policy experience, and strong government experience, I’d say it’s Bill Richardson. Again, this could deliver a key state, and help hold the Hispanics for the ticket.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Worth a Thousand



They say that after fifty, you are responsible for your own face.

What does this say about Al Gore?

Wanna Hug That Tree? Great. I Feel a Pinwheel Coming On

The conventional idea about the Native Indians of the Americas is that they were the original ecologists, tree huggers extraordinaire. Disney’s Pocahontas is perhaps the apotheosis of this notion in the popular mind; with its tiresomely didactic refrain:

“The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you'll never know
And you'll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon…”


And so on. All very romantic.

Indeed, that’s exactly what it is: the Romantic myth of the “noble savage.” It should be transparent—and obviously absurd--to any second-year English major.

The truth is that, like most cultures, the Native Americans had no concept comparable to the European idea of “nature.” Much less the Romantic view of it.

And, rather than hug trees, most Indians were more at home burning them down. The early Dutch chronicler Adriaen van der Donck reports the Iroquois setting fire to the woods every fall (Mann, p. 246). Of the New England Indians, Thomas Morton reports that they “set fire of the country in all places where they come” (1637) (Mann, p. 250).

This was largely in order to hunt. Thomas Jefferson, among others, has recorded the technique: “by firing the leaves fallen on the ground, which, gradually forcing animals to the center, they there slaughter them with arrows, darts, and other missiles.” (Mann, p. 250). Yum.

This, of course, is not a terribly eco-conscious way to hunt. You kill all the animals; you eat a few. Indeed, Plains Indians were systematic about this. Let one animal escape, and it might tell the others.

But tree-burning was also done for just plain fun. Lewis and Clark report a group of Indians in the Rockies entertaining them by setting alight fir trees, which apparently go off like Roman candles (Mann, p. 250).

You might want to try this at home.

Not just trees, either. Surveyor Peter Fidler, passing through Southern Alberta in 1792, records nothing but scorched earth for days on end (Mann, p. 251). John Palliser, six decades later, complains of the Indians’ “disastrous habit of setting the prairie on fire for the most trivial and worse than useless reasons.” (Mann, p. 252).

Ecologists, hell. These were a bunch of good old boys looking for a party.


Most of this info is from Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. NY: Knopf, 2006.

Monday, February 19, 2007

All the Atheist-Christian Ecumenical Dialogue that's Fit to Print

EJ:
All dictonaries use the word "omnipotent" to describe God. Omnipotence is supernatural (i.e not natural).

SR:
Fascinating that you should think so, since I’ve just cited both Oxford and Cambridge, and neither of them use the term. Your beliefs do seem to be unrelated to either logic or evidence.

EJ:
The list you gave of those who believed Jesus was the son of God came from tendentious scribes 100s of years after the crucifixion (I'm referring to when the bible was codified, I.e when events were embellished, invented or deleted, etc.) See Eusebius, Emperor Constantine's spin doctor, for example.

SR:
The books of the New Testament were probably all completed by 125 AD. We have a partial manuscript of John’s Gospel from that time, and there are reasons to believe John’s was the last gospel to be written. Mark, for example, seems to know nothing of the destruction of Jerusalem, which means that gospel almost certainly arrived at its present form before 79 AD. However, the books of the NT were not officially accepted as canonical until 393 AD.

You may well protest the weakness of our sources. But it is quite unrealistic to expect we would have anything better regarding the status of a given idea between 30 and 60 AD.

EJ:
I might have misspoke re the Arians. However, my point remains valid: the status of Jesus Christ was vociferously debated before the bible was codified.

SR:
Your claim was that the early Christians thought of Jesus as man, not God. Nobody seems to have twigged to this possibility.

EJ:
What are you talking about "religion is way ahead of me" when I said there was no heaven or hell, that eternal existence was a birthright to every living thing? Most Christians believe heaven and hell are real.

SR:
No, what you said was “Imagine when people realize death is not the end of existence regardless if they believe in a god or not.”

It seems I take better heed of what you write than you do. Should I?


EJ:
Re the soul: something that is nowhere does not exist. I say some "thing," not an idea or concept. The soul is a thing, something that floats around (supposedly).

SR:
Whoah! Several weirdnesses here. Souls do not “float around”: you are perhaps thinking of clouds or chicken feathers. To say that something that is nowhere does not exist is to arbitrarily define only physical things as existing. The distinction between a “thing” and an idea or concept is also unique to you: what do you suppose it can mean, then, when we say “He always says the first thing that comes into his head”?

If you insist that only physical things can be “things,” then your problem is probably very simply solved by understanding that, by this arbitrary definition, a soul is not a “thing.”


EJ:
Those who recover abilities after a brain injury are using other neurons to replace those that are damaged. No soul reqired.

SR:
If it isn’t the soul using those other neurons, who or what is doing it?

EJ:
Re JP2: You're being obstinate re the Pope's apology. The title of the article is, "Roman Catholics seeking forgiveness for 2000 years of sin and weakness," Reuters and AFP, Vatican City. The article quotes the Pope directly. You seem to think you know more than Reuters.

SR:
When I saw your title, above, I thought the problem might be that you had been referring all along not to the Church’s statement on the Holocaust, which came out in 1998, but to the Church’s call for reconciliation on the eve of the Millennium, a more general document, in 2000. After all, the Holocaust did not last 2,000 years.

But still no.

Here is the part of that latter statement that refers to the Jews:

IV. CONFESSION OF SINS AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL

A representative of the Roman Curia:
Let us pray that, in recalling the sufferings
endured by the people of Israel throughout history,
Christians will acknowledge the sins
committed by not a few of their number
against the people of the Covenant and the blessings,
and in this way will purify their hearts.

Silent prayer.

The Holy Father:
God of our fathers,
you chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring your Name to the Nations:
we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of yours to suffer,
and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen


The holocaust itself is not even mentioned. And “His exact words were ‘the Christian's lack of discernmet [sic]’"? Still no.

There is yet a third document, also issued on the eve of the Millennium, covering roughly the same subjects: “Memory and Reconciliation: the Church and the Faults of the Past.” A search of this document also turns up a blank for “lack” and “discernment.”

Here is the passage on the Holocaust:

The Shoah was certainly the result of the pagan ideology that was Nazism, animated by a merciless anti-Semitism that not only despised the faith of the Jewish people, but also denied their very human dignity. Nevertheless, “it may be asked whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts... Did Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and in particular to the persecuted Jews?”(85) There is no doubt that there were many Christians who risked their lives to save and to help their Jewish neighbors. It seems, however, also true that “alongside such courageous men and women, the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ’s followers.”(86) This fact constitutes a call to the consciences of all Christians today, so as to require “an act of repentance (teshuva),” (87) and to be a stimulus to increase efforts to be “transformed by renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2), as well as to keep a “moral and religious memory” of the injury inflicted on the Jews. In this area, much has already been done, but this should be confirmed and deepened.


Still no.

Your guess, having the Globe piece, is better than mine on where the Globe might have come up with its claims.

EJ:
What fired me up was his article that essentially said Christianity was superior to Islam.

SR:
Of course! With considerable respect towards Islam, I believe the same. Duh! It is why I’m a Christian and not a Muslim.

EJ:
I checkmated him when I proved all war is an example of group insanity.

SR:
Excellent non sequitor.

EJ:
Re children frightened by bogeymen, not adults. First, I think most adults are afraid of hell (those who believe it's a real place). Second, I agree, children are more susceptible to fear. This is why it's an egregreous abuse of power to brainwash them from the time they are born.

SR:
You forget, “brainwashing” is just a bogeyman. No such thing. No reason to fear it.

EJ:
Sounds to me you didn't take the Da Vinci Code seriously enough. YOU THINK MARY WAS A WHORE/! Man, are you in need of enlightenment.

SR:
Just checking, Jeff; it sounds almost as if you are suddenly confusing Mary Magdalene with the Virgin Mary.

If not, and you really find it unspeakably unenlightened to believe that some woman in the ancient world could have been a prostitute--do you extend the same blind faith to modern women?

I’m afraid that’s a touch naïve, Jeff.

EJ:
It was the 6th century when Pope Gregory degraded the only female disciple to a prostitute.

SR:
Jeff, you have never read the New Testament if you think Magdalene was Jesus’s only female disciple.

EJ:
Your own Catholic institution renounced the claim in 1969.

SR:
What happened in 1969 was a reform of the ecclesial calendar. As one element of that reform, the reading prescribed for Magdalene’s feast day was changed from that about the sinful woman who put oil on Jesus’s feet to that about Magdalene’s discovery of the resurrection.

This makes obvious sense. First, we cannot be sure that the first reading actually refers to Mary Magdalene, since she is not named. Second, the event of the resurrection was more important for salvation history.

But that’s it. To interpret that as “the Catholic Church renounces the claim that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute” is pure fantasy.

I don’t doubt that some news media may even have presented it this way; I remember at the time similarly silly news stories claiming the Church no longer recognized St. Christopher.

The moral here, Jeff, is that some people hate the Catholic Church enough that they will spread lies and misrepresentations if they think they can harm it by doing so.
This is good evidence that the Church is on the right path. If bad people hate you, that is a strong recommendation. “Blessed are you when they persecute you for my name’s sake.”

EJ:
Without a time machine we will never know the true relationship between Marry and Jesus. This is because Crusaders did such an excellent job burbing documants and murdering people who disagreed with thier dogma.

SR:
Man, I love conspiracy theories. And I suppose the absence of any documents showing Mary and Jesus were secret lovers is merely proof of how much was burned by the Crusaders?

I guess they also burned all the books recording that they burned the books. That’s obvious—any self-respecting conspiracy would have thought of that one.
So it must be true.

EJ:
However, enough is know to say with confidence that Marry was not a whore,

SR:
Good for you if you can really prove a negative. Please explain how you’ve done it.

…EJ:
No Steve, in an enlightened society NOBODY man nor woman, is someone else's property.

SR:
So you don’t see the marriage contract as binding? The part where we say “to have and to hold?” And when a lover says “I’m yours,” you see no meaning in that? I assure you, THEY do. If they are sincere in love.

EJ:
And the Commandment does not say, "A woman shall not covet thy neigbor's husband," because she has no rights to do so: it's the man who owns the property, not the woman.

SR:
Jeff, you’re getting really confused here. The whole point of the commandment is that you must NOT covet. Indeed, if there is any discrepancy in rights implied here, it is all to the advantage of the woman: presumably she can covet the husbands of others all she wants. It is up to the man to behave himself.

EJ:
You think the delusion of Santa and the insanity of Christmas is good for children? Just like the delusion of a god is good for adults, right?

Consider this: two children are well behaved, one because he wants lots of presents from Santa, the other because he simply thinks it's the right way to be.

Which child is more moral? Now apply the same principle to those who believe in a god.

SR:
This is an excellent question, Jeff; one many ponder. Put another way, isn’t it better to do good just because it is good, not for some fear of hell?

Sure it is; but, based on this insight, would you find it wise never to punish your child? After all, if he does what he should only because he is punished for it, is that real morality? And how can we contemplate having prisons? What’s the value of forcing people to do right, if their hearts are not in it?

So there is the obvious practical argument: whatever the effect on the bad child or bad adult, there is something to be said, morally, for protecting the victims from their possible actions.

But there is more. Justice is a good, and so just punishment is a moral good. Indeed, a truly moral person, one who “hungers and thirsts after righteousness,” should actually be horrified at the possibility of getting away without punishment for their sins. So heaven and hell are inevitable, in a just universe.

EJ:
Now consider this: enough money is wasted at Christmas on wrapping paper alone, to feed millions of starving children. Then there's the gluttony. North Americans are killing themselves by stuffing too much food in their faces: at Christmas time what do they typically do? Eat until they pass out! From a humanistic perspective, the Christian brainwashing of Christmas is inhumane on many levels.

SR:
Jeff, my wife is from the Philippines, and I have spent a lot of time there. The Philippines is a pretty poor country, but you know what keeps them going? Fiestas. All of Philippines life is organized around the fiestas. The same could be said of most poor countries: India, Latin America, and so on. You can almost see a one-to-one relationship: the biggest parties are in the poorest places. New Orleans, for the US; Rio de Janeiro; the huge gatherings at Varanasi in India.

It may not mean that much to those of us who are rich to have a day of pure gluttony, rest, and celebration every once in a while, but it means a whole lot to those who, most days, are barely getting by.

The money is not wasted. Man does not live by bread alone.

You send more money to the poorer countries, and you want to bet they’re going to spend a lot of it on fiestas. They know their needs.

I would agree that we who are, in world terms, rich, need fewer and smaller parties than the poor. That seems to happen quite naturally. Our Canadian Christmases are not as elaborate as they were a few generations ago. In Shakespeare’s time, an English Christmas went on for twelve days.

The Vampire Theory of Christianity

EJ:
Unlock your brain freeze for a moment and imagine some parents saying to their children, "We're going to a celibration tonight where Mommy and Daddy are going to drink the blood of a man who has been dead for thousands years."

Imagine the terror rational children would feel if their parents told them this.


SR:
You have that a bit wrong, Jeff. A Catholic does not believe Jesus is dead; it is not the blood of a dead man. And Catholics most often do not drink the blood, either—the tradition is to take the host alone.

But you have come upon a very important feature of Christianity that is too often missed: it is meant to shock. In the Bible, when Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, this is how his listeners respond:

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe." …

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.


This demand for “cannibalism” is far from the only shocking thing in Jesus’s teaching. Every one of the Proverbs has something to deeply offend a hearer of that time. In this case, recall that drinking even animal blood was and is a profound violation of kosher laws.

Why does Christianity do this? Because, directly contrary to common popular belief, Christianity opposes “blind faith.” It demands instead that we strip ourselves of all prejudices and preconceived notions; become “clever as serpents.” We need to become deeply cynical of the world, “in the world but not of it.” We need to always think for ourselves, and rely on reason at all times. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sin, firstly, as “an offense against reason” (para 1849).

Here, if we step beyond the emotional taboo against cannibalism, what is actually wrong with it? So long, that is, as it does not involve killing or even harming the person eaten? And is done by consent? “The spirit gives life,” as Jesus puts it; “the flesh counts for nothing.”

The traditional depiction of Mary Magdalene as a reformed prostitute is a milder example, but very much in this same spirit.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Madness in the Bible

EJ:
There is no consideration in the bible for those with mental illness. According to the ten commandments it is wrong to kill, you'll go to hell if you end someone's life. However, someone with Schizophrenia, say, is not resposible for his actions. Why? Because unlike the archaic belief found in the bible, diseases are not caused by demons, an ill soul or the like, but by fautly brain chemistry.

SR:
No, this is all backwards again. Both Jesus and the Ten Commandments state quite clearly that sin depends entirely on the motive, not on the action. As we just saw, the Ten Commandments say not just that it is wrong to steal or to commit adultery, but to _covet_ your neighbour’s house or wife. Jesus, similarly, says that a man who even curses his brother is as guilty as if he had killed him. Motive is all.

It follows that someone who kills while insane, and does not know what he is doing, is innocent of sin.

The Bible seems to represent at least some of what we would call mental illness as demonic possession: “having a demon.” And here again, the Bible makes plain that having a demon may be no fault of the afflicted. In several examples, occurring in three of the Gospels, young children, not responsible for their own actions, are represented as possessed. You might want to argue that the Biblical concept of mental illness is wrong, but it seems no less humane here than the current one.

There is an intriguing alternate possibility. Modern exorcists insist that demonic possession is in fact quite different from insanity or mental illness, and much less common. And the Bible too seems to make a distinction: Nebuchadnezzar, for example, goes mad, but nothing is said of a demon; David and Paul are accused of being mad, but not of being possessed. Others are possessed--by some physical illness--but not mad.

So it could be that demonic possession and madness are two different things. It is possible that there actually was very little or no madness as we understand it in New Testament times. Michel Foucault, the French philosopher-historian—not Catholic—argues that mental illness is basically an artifact of more modern times. That would explain, for example, how the rates of both depression and serious mental illnesses have quadrupled in the past few decades, or why nobody ever seemed to observe the symptoms of manic depression until the 19th century.

This being so, it may also be that in these modern times cases of demonic possession are commonly misunderstood as madness; while these are in fact two different problems.

Was the New Testament view less advanced than our present view? Here’s one interesting fact: today, all forms of serious mental illness are considered essentially incurable. But in the Bible, we have many examples of cures, and even of madness getting better on its own.

Empirically, therefore, the New Testament view seems more correct: it worked better.

And here’s another interesting possibility: if someone today chose to do as John the Baptist did, to throw off his clothes, put on animal skins, and go off to the wilderness to live on bugs, how would he be looked upon? Probably declared insane and locked up. But John was typical of the prophets in his odd lifestyle.

So we may be simply silencing all our prophets today as “mentally ill.”

Even if they really have nothing to say, this is hardly as humane as hearing them out. And letting them follow their voices.

And imagine the consequences if they do.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Christos Tyrranos?

The discussion between Jeff Harmsen and me is still, in my opinion, raising interesting points. However, I think I’ll subdivide the latest batch to make it a bit more accessible to others.

This is on the issue of tyrants using religion to get their way:


EJ:
Re tyrants: take away religious delusions and many would be powerless. For example, how would they recruit suicide bombers without the notion of black eyed virgins?

SR:
An interesting question arises: what particular tyrants are you thinking of? What great tyrants of history have recruited suicide bombers? The only “tyrant” you have actually cited is George Bush. Leaving aside whether that is an accurate description, is he really using suicide bombers?

“Suicide bombing” is not really a completely new phenomenon; the Japanese used it in WWII, at least one member of the Ukrainian resistance did it against the Nazis, and the Tamil Tigers used it against Rajiv Gandhi. But suicide bombing is mostly associated with modern Islamism. What tyrant is controlling them? Islamism in some form is currently in power in only one country, Iran. But the suicide bombers have not been Iranians, but Iraqis, Saudis, Brits, Yemenis, Palestinians—people over whom the government of Iran, even if tyrannical, have no direct control. They also tend to be from a different branch of Islam, Sunnis, over whom the Ayatollahs of Iran have no religious or moral authority.

No—to the extent that the “suicide bombers” are under anyone’s control, it is figures like Osama Bin Laden who are inspiring the movement. Now, OBL may be a very bad man, but he is not a tyrant. A tyrant is someone holding political power in some jurisdiction: “an absolute ruler unrestrained by law or constitution b: a usurper of sovereignty 2 a: a ruler who exercises absolute power oppressively or brutally” (Webster’s).

EJ:
(These young men, by the way, are sex starved so that the idea of a harem in heaven is especially appealing.)

SR:
You are making a few more false assumptions here. Many suicide bombers are women; many more are married men.

Setting aside the detail of the virgins, it does seem logical that a promise of paradise might be a lure to someone to kill themselves. The problem here is that Islam offers no such promise. Note the term: “suicide bombing.” In Islamic teachings, suicides go straight to hell. Let alone what happens to the murderers of civilians, women and children who have not taken up arms against them. Few Muslim clerics will endorse the notion that suicide bombers are exempt from these basic commandments.

So religion, and the promise of paradise, does not seem to be a real factor. Those devout enough to care would be devout enough to know it is at best a highly dubious thesis that blowing themselves up will get them into paradise.

Can’t blame religion. Islamism is something else.

EJ:
At the very least, without religious delusions tyrants are seen for what they are. George Bush for example, would never have been voted in without the Bible belt's support.

SR:
You have this bezactly ackwards. As noted, tyrants are those who seek to rule unrestrained by law or constitution. It automatically follows that they want religion out of the way: it is an independent source of authority, and it can be used to restrain their actions. Hitler, as noted, sought to control and suppress the churches. Lenin, Stalin and Mao were aggressively atheist. Mao’s Red Guards tried systematically to destroy all traces of religion. Pol Pot sought to shatter every statue of Buddha in Cambodia, and to kill every monk. Kim Il-Sung outlawed all religion and killed every priest and nun. Robespierre closed all the churches and declared a compulsory state religion of reason and the “Supreme Being.” Saddam’s regime was militantly secular and suppressed the Muslim clergy (he also, interestingly, offered money to suicide bombers). Milosevic’s was atheist. Name another tyrant, and we’ll have a look; but it all seems pretty consistent.

Conversely, tyrants who have not suppressed religion often live to regret it. It was largely the Catholic Church that brought down Marcos, and the Communist regime in Poland (arguably having repercussions throughout Eastern Europe). South Africa’s oppressive apartheid regime was brought down in good part by Bishop Tutu and his Anglican Church; Jim Crow in the US by Rev. Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In ancient Israel, this was the role of the prophets. In pre-modern Korea and China, tyrants were regularly overthrown by the opposition of the Confucian religious establishment. Knowing this, the current Chinese government is going far out of its way to suppress the Falun Gong.

Another consideration is that, if the citizenry believe in things like eternal life, this weakens the tyrant’s ability to make threats. His obvious power is to execute, torture, or bribe. None of these inducements work so well when one believes in a life after death or in a final moral reckoning.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Vampire Theory of Bullying

I was recently discussing with a teacher of my acquaintance the folly of current “zero-tolerance” policies towards fighting among kids. He insisted these were warranted as a way to prevent bullying.

He was making two assumptions, taken as truisms in the social sciences. Both are wrong:

1. Bullying is violence, and violence is bullying.
2. If you bully someone, they too will become a bully.

Going along in parallel with this, among educators and social workers, are the following two assumed axioms:

1. Child abuse is violence (or sex), and all violence is child abuse.
2. If you abuse a child, he or she will grow up to abuse.

Based on these premises, schools no longer allow children to roughhouse; and, increasingly, governments no longer allow parents to spank their kids.

It is my strong belief that these ideas are completely wrong. They are a prime example of how the social sciences do more harm than good.

Watch baby animals at play, of any species—you will see them fighting each other. It’s a natural part of learning. Which we are now denying our children. Heaven knows what the long-term effects might be.

And just imagine a bully who knows that, if he starts a fight, and the school authorities find out, he and his victim will be punished equally. Excellent: now the mere threat of violence will probably get him anything he wants. Moreover, if he actually resorts to violence, his victim will not dare report it.

Imagine now someone who was abused throughout their childhood. And instead of being given sympathy and help, the social scientists brand him or her a potential abuser, blaming them for the crime they suffered from. It is as if one blamed Hitler on the Jews.

It is virtually impossible to get reliable data out of the social sciences. Any human being is infinitely smarter than any experimental design created by any social scientist, and can easily bamboozle it. I can imagine where the data “proving” that bullies themselves are victims of violence comes from: social scientists probably asked bullies why they bully. Any spoiled child knows enough to deflect blame, and this is the simplest, most obvious strategy available: to claim someone else, anybody else, does the same. It was also Hitler’s argument in Mein Kampf.

So how are we to know the truth? Given the choice between social science experiments and the wisdom of ages, I would give a strong presumption in favour of the wisdom of ages.

The I Ching advises, “through oppression, one learns to lessen rancour.” This is the opposite of the social science claim.

Jesus says, in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…” If the social science claim is true, that of Jesus is false.

And of course, everyone knows that the Old Testament advises beating your child with a rod: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”

So, in sum, to believe the social science claim, we must believe that all our ancestors quite independently came to the same wrong firm conclusion. This is unlikely.

We can also look at history. History, unlike a social science survey, is readily visible to all; we can more easily judge the strength of the evidence and conclusions.

So let’s look at nations that have been bullies or abusers of others: say, Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, the Boers of South Africa, the whites of the US Jim Crow South. Have they been historically abused? All would, like any bully, claim they had been: Germany by Versailles, Russia by capitalists, the Boers by the British, the American Southerners by “carpetbaggers.” But were they?

Germany, for example, was hit hard by Versailles; but largely because it had grown used to being Europe’s wunderkind. Spoiled, used to getting what it wanted up to 1914, it had unexpectedly been thwarted in its will. By contrast, its two chief allies, Austria and the Ottoman Empire, were completely dismembered. Did this inspire them to rise up in WWII? No, and no. And Germany’s two chief allies in WWII, Italy and Japan, were victors in WWI. Their beef was that they did not get as much new territory as they felt they deserved from Versailles.

Stalin’s Russia? Russia had long been an imperial power, used to dominating lesser races. It suffered a setback in losing to Germany in WWI. Spoiled, used to getting what it wanted, then thwarted.

The Boers? They may have been roughly treated by the British, but they were given self-government almost immediately. They were accustomed to viewing themselves as a master race, dominating the local African blacks, and were offended by their loss to the British.

The Jim Crow South? Southerners long saw themselves as aristocrats, the masters of the local black race. They were thwarted by their loss to the less civilized North. And, being used to being spoiled, they lashed out at whomever they could.

In Iraq, who is primarily responsible for the violence? The Sunnis. They are used to running the country. In a democracy, they cannot. Spoiled, then thwarted; not abused.
So too with the current Islamists generally: their ideology tells them their master doctrine should be ruling the world, and they remember an imperial past. Local Jews and Christians have always been tolerated subject nations. Spoiled, used to being masters and to having their way, then thwarted.

How about the Serbs in Yugoslavia: they had been the unquestioned dominant group; then their subject races sought independence. And it was the Serbs, not the Croats, Albanians, or Muslims, who first and most resorted to atrocities. Spoiled, then seeing their superiority challenged.

The Protestants in Northern Ireland—under Britain, able to view themselves as a privileged elite, with Catholics unable to vote or own land. Spoiled, then their superiority challenged. Or the Hutus of Rwanda, faced with a Tutsi demand to allow exiles to return—threatening their dominance.

Who’s left? Is there a single instance of the opposite, of being abused leading to a nation becoming abusive?

Let’s consider as a parallel the history of nations and peoples who, by popular consent, genuinely have experienced bullying by others: Ireland, Poland, the Jews, Armenia, Korea. Have any of these subsequently tried to bully someone else?

No; with the possible exception of the Jews of Israel. Some would argue that they are persecuting the Palestinian Arabs. But I think that is a hard case to make: yes, they wanted and took their land, but at least until the recent Intifadeh, Palestinian Arabs were also significantly wealthier than the Arabs of surrounding countries; and those within the borders of Israel proper had full civil liberties and a free vote, something other Arabs did not have.

Of course, those who are bullied, by definition, are the small and weak. It follows that a bullied country is unlikely any time soon after being kicked around to have the physical capacity to do much bullying of its own. So this may not really signify. Who knows? Given the clear choice, Ireland might be perfectly delighted to enslave the Isle of Man.

Irish and Jewish individuals have had the opportunity to influence policy in some strong and wealthy nations: Canada, the US, Australia. Have they tended to advocate national bullying? Did they, for example, notably support Jim Crow in the US? No; more the reverse. Kennedy, for example, was notable for breaking the ice on black civil rights.

Now let us consider famous individuals generally. This works, because we all have some insight into the life stories of people whose lives have been lived on the public record. If being bullied creates bullies, it should follow that Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for so many years, should have launched a bloodbath on assuming power in South Africa. Did it happen? No; and despite the fact that he had advocated violence before he was imprisoned.

Or how about Jomo Kenyatta, imprisoned for many years by the British as head of the Mau-Mau? Did he, formerly a violent man, seek revenge on assuming office? Dramatically, no; Kenya’s post-colonial transition was one of the most peaceful anywhere in Africa.

How about Kim Dae-Jung, within a hairsbreadth of being executed by the previous regime. Bloodbath? No. Vaclav Havel? No; he loudly advocated forgiveness and reconciliation towards all former Communist officials. Lech Walesa? Mahatma Gandhi, who spent seven years in prison under the British? Corazon Aquino, who saw her husband shot on his return from long years of exile? No, no, no.

Heck, one would almost think that, through oppression, one learns to lessen rancour, not to nurse it.

The advocates of the vampire theory of bullying argue that children learn what they are taught—so that, if they are bullied, they learn to bully.

But what children who are bullied or abused learn most powerfully is that it hurts a great deal; surely, if they start out with the same conscience God gave us all, through this they are being taught not to do it to others. Conversely, a child who is never punished unfairly may be less aware of how much it hurts.

Same principle as a small child putting his hand on an element, and getting burned. Does that encourage him to put his hand there again? Just the reverse. Does it suggest to him that others should put their hands there? Just the reverse.

Here in our compound in the Middle East, we have school buses taking the kids off to the various private schools every morning, and coming back every afternoon. There is a serious problem with bullying on those buses. The plan was to have parent volunteers ride shotgun to keep the kids in line. But all the volunteers soon quit: they would tell the children to behave, and the offenders would ignore them, or worse. If anyone then approached the parents of the offenders to complain, they said, “nobody is allowed to discipline my child.”

Now, let me tell you, by my grizzled beard, it was nothing like that when I went to school on a bus forty years ago. Without supervision.

And these are children from “good, stable” homes, in Canadian terms: the parents are all academics.

Something is awry. I tremble for my country, and for the world, when these kids grow up and take the reins of power.

And I thank the social scientists for it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Kyoto: A Modest Proposal

PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—has an interesting proposal regarding global warming. They point out that a huge percentage of the greenhouse gases emitted actually comes from domestic animal farts, which apparently release a truly dangerous level of methane into the surrounding air. This is a bigger consideration than, for example, the burning of fuels for transportation.

It follows that, if we all switched to a strict vegetarian diet, we could whip the whole global warming thing way before Kyoto could even begin devastating our economy. Indeed, if we could just reduce the hot air from Kyoto, that alone might make a significant difference.

Even better, it turns out that the average meat-eater in some unspeakable way emits 1.5 tons more carbon dioxide per year than a pure vegetarian.

It follows we could do even better if we also cut out beans—an insight Pythagoreans arrived at millennia ago.

Hey, come to think of it, let’s also just dive into all those rich carbon dioxide sinks and kill anything that moves.

Problem utterly solved.

Thanks, PETA.

Jeff and Me: The Unending Saga

EJ:
"Supernatural" is not my term but how God is defined in the Bible, dictionary, etc.

SR:
Really? Let’s test your hypothesis:

God:

Oxford: “The creator and supreme ruler of the universe.”

Webster’s: “1 capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality: as a : the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.”

From this exercise, I think we learn two things: 1. It’s just you; and 2. you tend to hold your opinions independently of either logic or evidence.

EJ:
You already admitted math is empirical when you classified a couple of apples as "two apples."

SR:
Empirical; Oxford: “based on observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.” Mathematics is pure logic (“reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity”), or nothing is. Although it can be applied to the empirical.

EJ:
The example you gave is easy to refute, for I don't accept a god whatsoever and exist in the physical world completely.

SR:
And if someone told you “I live in the 19th century court of Napoleon Bonaparte completely,” would that too be proof that it were so?
You are too uncritical in your thinking.

EJ:
Catholics don't take the Bible literally? That's news to me. I read about them standing up for myth as if it were history all the time in the paper.

SR:
I expect you are imagining the latter. You’d better cite a specific example if you want to demonstrate otherwise.

EJ:
But if you consider the good book as metaphorical, then great, you've evolved far beyond the average Christian.

SR:
The average Christian is a Catholic, making your statement untrue. But note, “metaphorical” is not one of the four senses in which the Bible is read. “Allegorical” is close; but it is only one of four. You seem to have simply replaced your old reductionism of seeing the Bible as only “literal” with a new one of seeing it as only “metaphorical.”

EJ:
Name one historical figure who thought Jesus was the son of God before Paul.

SR:
Peter, Nicodemus, John the Baptist, Longinus, Anna, Simeon … the list is long. Of course, the source for all this is the Bible. There are few other documents of any kind surviving from near that time.

EJ:
According to Norman Cantor in "Antiquity" Rabbi Saul (Paul) had a "vision" that Jesus was the "Lamb" mentioned in the Old Testament. This was how the whole concept started. (Meanwhile, Paul never even met the man!)

SR:
I’m not sure what Norman Cantor is actually maintaining, based on your description. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion. But without knowing exactly what it is, and the reasons he gives for it, it cannot be evaluated here. It is hard to imagine he has any special knowledge of the visions Paul had, outside what can be gleaned from the Bible. There are no other sources here.

EJ:
Re Christian sects that thought the deification of Christ was sacrilege, read up on the "Arians" (not to be confused with white supremacists).

SR:
You misunderstand Arian doctrine—which I have already cited. The Arians too believed Jesus was divine. However, they believed he was not co-equal with the Father.
Here’s how Wikipedia (not, granted, always a reliable source) summarizes Arianism: “Arius taught that God the Father and the Son did not exist together eternally. Further, Arius taught that the pre-incarnate Jesus was a divine being created by (and possibly inferior to) the Father at some point, before which the Son did not exist.”

EJ:
As for Exodus, see "The Bible Unearthed--There was no Exodus," (Finkelstein and Siberman).

SR:
Without seeing and being able to evaluate the arguments given, it is impossible to comment. But you do seem to have the title wrong. It is The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. It contains one chapter titled “Did the Exodus Happen?”

EJ:
Imagine when people realize death is not the end of existence regardless if they believe in a god or not.

SR:
Jeff, the religious are way ahead of you there.

EJ:
Tyrants will lose control over those they manipulate with the false threat of hell, false promise of a heaven.

SR:
That seems a non-sequitor: if everyone realizes there _is_ continued existence beyond death, it would seem your tyrants would have a field day, by your logic.

But tyrants hardly need to threaten their subjects with threats of what might happen after death: they can threaten them with immediate torture and execution, after all.

EJ:
If there was a soul, where does it go when people lose control of their thoughts and feelings after a head injury?

SR:
Nowhere, as it was in no specific place to begin with. It perhaps simply loses full contact with the brain or with the nervous system. If you believe the soul lives on after separation with the physical body, as Christians do, this explanation is almost automatic. Jim Brady, say, is still the same person after being shot in the head as he was before; he has simply lost control over his nervous system and is less able to communicate with us.

The soul of a mentally retarded person, in Christian teaching, is as complete as a soul as the soul of the greatest genius.

Conversely, if you believe that the brain is the whole ball game, that there is no separate entity involved, how do you explain documented cases of people with severe brain damage, or born with very little brain, who nevertheless seem to function normally? Obviously, there are two things here: the brain and how something else uses it. You can think if it as the difference between hardware and software, if you like.

EJ:
Don't trust the Globe and Mail? Do you really think a right wing paper would make stuff up about the Pope? The article I have quoted JP2 directly from his proclimation.

SR:
We have already established, by reference to the original document, that the quote you thought was from this document was not. What either of us thinks of the Globe is now irrelevant.

Though I do think your description of the Globe & Mail as “right wing” is bizarre. After all, Conrad Black launched the National Post as a right wing alternative to the Globe.

EJ:
Religon does have ways to force dogma onto its followers. We've already discussed how they terrify followers with the notion of eternal burning, we've already discussed sick rituals, like pretending to drink blood.

SR:
You have remarkably little respect for your fellow human beings if you believe this is something too difficult for them to sort out on their own. Small children may be effectively frightened by bogeymen, but not adults.

And even so, your priorities are wildly misplaced. Before you object to religion on this basis, you must, logically, first have it out with governments, families, schools, businesses, TV advertisements, video games, doctors, the Internet, and so forth.

EJ:
Re misogyny in Catholsism: Marry Magdalene, remember her? She was likely Jesus' # 1 disciple. What did Pope Gregory do? Turned her into a whore!

SR:
Sounds to me as though you have been reading some fiction here—perhaps The Da Vinci Code? – and taken it, to use your word, “literally.”

Jesus’s # 1 disciple was Peter; or perhaps his mother Mary. And Pope Gregory had nothing to do with “turning Mary Magdalene into a whore.” That she was probably a prostitute is deduced from the New Testament.

First, the name “Magdalene.” It might refer to a place, “Magdala”; but in the NT, Mary is from Bethany. That leaves the second possibility: that it is a Talmudic expression referring to an adulteress.

Second, the NT always identifies Mary Magdalene as a woman from whom Jesus has “cast out seven demons.” That does sound like a bit of a checkered past, wouldn’t you say? She is also traditionally identified with the woman who washes Jesus’s feet, of whom it is said she “had lived a sinful life in that town.” So much so that onlookers were shocked to see Jesus prepared to sit with her.

And the point of all this is obvious: Christianity is about the forgiveness of sins.
Let me also point out that it is highly sexist to interpret any criticism against an individual woman as referring to all women.

And it is also sexist to see the notion that Magdalene was a prostitute as oppressive to women, but not the notion that St. Matthew was a tax collector and a publican, or that St. Paul persecuted and killed the early Christians, or that St. Peter denied Christ, as oppressive to men.

EJ:
It's true the church threw women a bone by giving Mother Mary status (although many Christian sects believe it's sacrilege to worship her).

SR:
You have that wrong as well. All Christians consider it sacrilege to worship her.

EJ:
All a woman has to do to live up to the Madonna is have children without having (enjoying) sex! Not much of an impossible standard!

SR:
That, and still remain a virgin. Oh yes, and be born without sin, never sin, and ascend bodily into heaven. And accept probably death in order to do the will of God. And, as a widow, see her only son unjustly killed as a criminal.

Not a challenge for most of us, I’m sure.

EJ:
Almost all the major heroes in the bible are men. Women tend do be depicted as underhanded or subserviant (do I really need to give examples?).

SR:
You are thinking, no doubt, first and foremost, of Eve. There does indeed seem to be a belief, in the Bible, that women are ultimately less morally steady by nature than men.

But this perception seems to be universal: the Greeks thought evil came into the world through Pandora. The Gilgamesh epic blames Isis. The Gnostics blamed Sophia. The Korean creation story blames a female tiger who did not have the patience to become a human woman. The Italian saying, “la donna e mobile,” reflects the same belief: women are unsteady.

There are, of course, two possibilities: one, that all cultures everywhere are independently prejudiced against women, and have uncannily come up randomly with the same specific prejudice. Two, that women really are less morally steady by nature than men.

If you find this latter possibility unacceptable, compare some of the claims that modern feminists make against men: that they are more violent, less “nurturing,” less communicative, less sensitive, and so forth.

In any case, it does not start with the Bible.

EJ:
Consider the Commandment "Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife...: women are treated as man's property, like his man servant and barn animals.

SR:
A wife is indeed a man’s property, just as a husband is a woman’s; and in the same sense that one’s own body is one’s property. As this commandment is addressed to a man (Moses), it is not odd that the wife alone is cited.

But note the previous and separate commandment, “thou shalt not commit adultery.” This makes the marital bond something separate from and more important than the ownership of property generally.

While we’re on the Ten Commandments, note also “honour your father and your mother.” Male and female here are treated as equal, equally honourable and honoured. If ancient Israel were really a “patriarchy,” the greater honour would be specified for one’s father.

EJ:
Again, your scapegoating of society at large for the inequality of woman does not cut it. Where do you think it came from? The bible!

SR:
“Scapegoating of society at large?” That comes close to being a contradiction in terms.

But if what you say is true, it should follow that woman’s estate is clearly higher in societies where the Bible is not the basis of the social order.

In, say, Muslim lands. Or in Japan, or China, or Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, or India.
So what are all those feminists always on about? They seem to hate the social order in those countries.

EJ:
A woman who believes in Christianity is like a Jew who worships Nazism. During various crusades, tens of thousands of innocent women were tortured and killed to annihilate the notion of woman as divine, equal to man.

SR:
And where in the Middle East at the time of the Crusades were these cults of the divine woman found? And if woman is both divine and equal to man, does that mean man is divine as well?

Sounds like the promise of Eden. The serpent’s promise, I mean. Hard to fault Christianity if it dissented.

EJ:
Re your King of Spain analogy: it only works if you are not actually the said King. Humanists place humanity above all else. This is what it is to be humane: I.e compassionate, rational, without bias, believes in equality, etc.

SR:
You forgot a few: brilliant, incorruptible, invincibly good looking, and regular at brushing, for example.

EJ:
Steve, you were soothsaying when you spoke of the Dutchman who was the basis for Santa Clause. You know full well this is not what children believe in when they are duped; they believe in a supernatural entity that flies around the sky in a sled

SR:
You still have that wrong, Jeff. Saint Nicholas was not Dutch; he was a Greek from Asia Minor. Can he still influence events on earth? Surely, if you believe in the Christian doctrine of saints.

The deception is the claim that he is responsible for the presents under the tree.
But I think this is justifiable. For the parents, it is good moral discipline: Christians are supposed to do their good works in secret. For the children, it protects them from being spoiled.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Blind Faith

My good friend Jeff Harmsen, a true believer always, has recently written to me, “Global warming has been caused by man. See Al Gore's movie and you will know for certain.”

I’m not so sure. I like the headline in today’s Drudge Report: “Hearing on Warming of Planet Cancelled Because of Ice Storm.”

This site disputes the orthodox position on Global Warming and the Kyoto Accord.

For my part, I feel the Kyoto Accord is a bridge too far. For it to make sense, we would really have to answer all of the following questions in the affirmative:

1. Is there a long-term global warming trend?

2. If so, is it, on balance, a bad thing?

3. Is it caused by “greenhouse gases”?

4. Is man’s contribution to greenhouse gases significant?

5. Will the Kyoto Accord, if fully implemented and if it works as planned, make a significant difference here?

6. Is it likely to be fully implemented and to work as planned?

7. Is it the best way available to approach the problem?

8. Does a cost-benefit analysis suggest the improvement is worth the probable cost?


The best available answers to these question, in turn, seem to be:

1. We don’t know. We cannot predict the weather 12 days in advance. We have no reason to believe we can predict the climate 50 or 100 years hence.

2. We don’t know; probably a wash. For Canada, it looks as though it would be mostly good.

3. We don’t know. Sunspot activity and cosmic radiation are two other possible explanations. A graph at Friends of Science makes sunspot activity look far more likely as a suspect.

4. No. It is about 0.28%.

5. No. At best, a difference of about 0.06 degrees in half a century.

6. No. India and China are exempt; the US has not signed. Even assuming all other signatories meet their obligations, this may simply mean that CO2-emissions-heavy industries move to the US, India, and China in the face of restrictions in signatory countries. Same amount of CO2; just a big redistribution of wealth. And are other signatories meeting their obligations? Japan is not; Russia is not; Europe is or is not, depending on whose figures you accept.

7. Unclear. There are other approaches advocated: reforestation, greening of deserts, trapping CO2 in the oceans, re-legalizing fluorocarbons, and so on. Many seem either cheaper or of greater benefit to mankind.

8. No. Swedish scientist Bjorn Lomborg has estimated that the cost of Kyoto is about what it would take to provide safe drinking water to the world’s entire population. What is our priority here?

N ot a clear yes in the bunch.

Put it all together, and the general faith in the Kyoto Accord looks to me a lot like an example of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds, to quote the title of a famous book on the phenomenon.

It is, in ther purest and most correct sense of the term, a leap of faith.

But faith, ultimately, in what? The general perfidy of human existence, I suppose.

Odd that some will call that "humanism."

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

The National Post recently features a series of articles arguing that environmentalism has become something like a religion.

I agree; as it happens, I had written somethnig to this effect a few years ago. I've dug a draft out of my files:



Everybody wants to protect the environment; it is inconceivable to oppose such a thing. It is a “motherhood” issue—Mother Nature, that is. So the Social Affairs Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter last October calling on Christian communities to “reflect on the meaning of water in our lives, the need to preserve it and safeguard its purity, and …to redefine how it is shared.” Catholics are to “tithe time, treasure and talent to environmental causes”; even to “insist on government action to ban bulk exports of water… and guarantee that water utilities remain public, rather than private entities.” (1)

But wait a minute. Is this Christianity? Or is the world too much with us? Aren’t these quite material concerns? Why are we asked to share--but not Canada’s water resources with foreigners?

Care for the environment is implicit from the moment God charged Adam to tend his garden. The Holy Father observes, “If you look at the world with a pure heart, you too will see the face of God” (2). That’s what science is about: reading God's “signs and characters in the Book of Nature,” as some of its early advocates put it (3). But note: barring a tree or two, Adam’s job was not to leave nature alone, but to tend and complete it. Christianity begins in a garden; it ends in the celestial city, New Jerusalem.

Is the modern ecology movement on this path? In getting Christianity on board with current thinking, are we missing legitimate objections? Environmentalism seems, in the end, a distinctly different cosmology, in some ways hostile to Christian values.

Husbanding resources is good Christianity; but the modern ecology movement wants more. It wants wilderness.


The Wilding of Canada

Canada currently plans fifteen new national parks. The “Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area” is typical. It is not for humans--not accessible to them. It is to “preserve the area in its natural state” (4). A park is urged for the southeast corner of BC--because it has no road in (5). Fully 94% of current Parks Canada lands are tagged “wilderness,” with human activities “kept to a minimum.” Most of the rest is “special preservation” and “natural environment”: combined total: 99.42%. Humans may freely visit about 0.58% of our national parkland. The rest is for … ?

When John A. Macdonald's government founded our park system, with Banff Hot Springs in 1885, the point was the new railroad leading up to it. It was “worth a million,” W.C. Van Horne declared--for tourism. He built a stately hotel for the influx; Sir John predicted “the greatest and most successful health resort on the continent.”

The world's first national park, Yellowstone, was established just 13 years earlier. Its superintendent, Nathaniel Langford, planned “to render it accessible to the people of all lands“ (6).

They were for humankind. Ecologists now invert this: the CCCB speaks of a “preferential option for the earth.”

An important milestone was the 1964 passage by the US Congress of the Wilderness Act. This established a mandate to protect “wilderness,” defined as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.... Retaining its primeval character and influence... which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”

An Eden imagined before the fall. An Eden without an Adam, nor an Eve. Just lots of serpents. Canada's Wildlife Act (1973), our rough parallel, is explicitly for the benefit of flora and fauna.

But even granted that this is right, benefit in what sense? Realistically, the life of an animal in the wild is nasty, pestilent, brutish, and short. Better for individual animals if we hand land over to settled farms, to Adam’s stewardship. Better for animals collectively, too: a managed farm should support more creatures than a wilderness can.

So the point is apparently not to promote the welfare of flora and fauna generally, either, but specific, “endangered,” species—necessarily against the interests of other species? A kind of leafy affirmative action, if you will.

But if the goal is “biodiversity,” even this is best done by a zoo or wildlife park: stocked with variety, managed, enjoyed by Adam’s lads. In “wildernesses,” the number of species is instead artificially limited. The Lake Superior park bans not just man, but all “exotic species.” Parks Canada has contemplated exterminating all non-native species in the Banff wilderness (7). This sounds like like eco-ethnic cleansing.

Okay; then is the goal protection of animal “habitats” or “ecosystems”? Consider: animal habitats are not destroyed; they are altered, becoming suitable for other species. Why is one habitat better than another, if not to provide for more species, or provide better for one?

Perhaps there is a benefit for science? You’ve heard this one, I expect: preserve these wild spaces, and science might find some valuable new medicine or industrial product.

But medicines are more likely to be found by seeking medicines. Nor are they likely to be happened upon, by humans, where humans are banned.

If you think about it, humans have been part of nature for millenia. A “natural” area without them is profoundly artificial, profoundly unnatural. What is the value in it? Does it outweigh other human needs? And need we repeat the experiment endlessly? There is now more land under “preservation” in Canada and world-wide than under the plough. Why not preserve some land too in the absence of mosquitoes, cabbage worms, or crabgrass? For either is equally “natural.”

Some ecologists, of course, claim, we are preserving the land for future generations.

But no, that was the old idea. That was Macdonald’s idea. That was the Banff plan. If human use “damages” land, that will be just as true in seven or seventy-seven generations as it is now. Future generations can go fish. Or rather, can't.

The CCCB letter argues we are preserving resources for the poor. Yet it is the poor who lose most by conservation, as with a ban on water exports to water-poor areas. Those with connections, leisure and income to hire float planes, get in. The poor in their Sunday station wagons are kept out. The old landed gentry similarly protected trout ponds and deer parks from poaching by the unwashed: it seems of a piece.

The World Wildlife Fund, ecology’s flagship, was co-founded by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, and long headed by the Duke of Edinburgh. There is a direct line of descent here.


But if none of the practical arguments for wilderness quite make sense, what is it all about?


Nature Worship

John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, called wildernesses “divine,” and considered visiting the High Sierras “worship” (8). Aldo Leopold, founder of the first “wilderness area” in the US, now the Gila National Forest (1924), meant to “tear down the Christian ethic that man had dominion over all living things and replace it with the 'land ethic'” (9). (This involved, literally, extending civil rights to soils) (10).

So there is something at least quasi-religious here. For example, Greenpeace’s original flagship, “Rainbow Warrior,” their Web site explains, is named from a Cree Indian legend. “It described a time when humanity's greed has made the Earth sick. At that time, a tribe of people known as the Warriors of the Rainbow would rise up to defend her” (11).

Moving; and there is some Christian precedent for the view that nature is fallen through the actions of man. But this is a moral and a poetic appeal; it is nonsense scientifically to speak of the Earth as “sick” or “well.” We’re really speaking here of cosmic good and evil. Of a religious cosmology.

David Suzuki’s The Sacred Balance (1998) seems its complete expression. Note that title. We are speaking of the sacred.

Kim Cuddington has traced this idea of a mystical balance in nature in the ecology movement to as early as 1887. She calls it a “powerful force in ecology,” which “lies at the centre of many environmentalist positions” (12).

It is not science. “Nature”--from the etymology, “that which is born,” in other words, that which changes—knows balance or equilibrium no better than crisis. Nature progresses from big bang through chemical chain reactions and exploding suns, to multiple births, deaths, mutations and extinctions. “Natural balance” is a pious romantic metaphor (13).

Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution, observed:

Some species exclude all others in particular tracts. Where is the balance? When the locust devastates vast regions and causes the death of animals and man, what is the meaning of saying the balance is preserved? (14)

This myth of “cosmic balance” seems a kind of fancied earthly eternity. Too much of ecology seems, accordingly, a literalistic attempt merely to stop change. A bulleted list of Greenpeace’s current goals promises to “Stop... Protect... Save ... Stop... Say no... Stop... Eliminate....” There is, surely, a certain innate conservatism here; a fear of change as such.

Suzuki and others even explicitly venerate a new god: Gaia, “the whole living entity of earth, which controls the proportions of oxygen, carbon dioxide, salt in the oceans and surface temperatures,” and “may rid the earth of species if they disturb this balance” (15).

Scary stuff. Mother Nature seems, to these ecologists, no longer a folk metaphor, like Santa Claus, but a real and an angry goddess, hating change and demanding sacrifice.

It is to this being, in the end, that our lands and first fruits are being offered up: wilderness as shrine, as holy of holies.

This smells of the culture of death: to deep ecologists, there are too many humans.

We Christians believe in the conservation (and perfection) of nature. But I would rather plant a garden in the howling wilderness, than worship the howling wilderness.


Notes:


(1) “Christian Ecological Imperative,” a pastoral letter from the Social Affairs Commission, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, October 4, 2003.

(2) Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day, Denver, August 14, 1993, Part II, no. 5-6.

(3) Florentinus de Valentia, Rosa Florens contra F. G. Menapius, 1617, 1618, paraphrased in Frances B. Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, London: Routledge, 1972, p. 97.

(4) “Ontario Agrees to Protect Lake Superior,” National Post, Sept. 3, 2003.

(5) “A Call to Green More Land,” Report, February 3, 2003.

(6) David A. Clary, The Place Where Hell Bubbled Up. Washington:Office of Publications, US Department of the Interior, 1972, p. 44.

(7) Sylvia LeRoy and Barry Cooper, Off-Limits: How Radical Environmentalists are Shutting Down Canada's National Parks, Fraser Institute: Vancouver, 2000.

(8) Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1967, p. 126.

(9) Deborah E. Hare, “The People and Philosophy Behind Our National Parks: A Biographical Curriculum Unit,” Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1990/3/90.03.03.x.html, September 5, 2003.

(10) Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, New York, NY: Oxford U. Press, 1966. Cf. Michael Soulé and Reed Noss, "Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation," Wild Earth 8, no. 3 (Fall 1998), p. 20.

(11) http://www.greenpeace.org/international_en/aboutus/, September 13, 2003.

(12) Kim Cuddington, “The 'Balance of Nature' Metaphor in Population Ecology: Theory or Paradigm?” Biology and Philosophy 16: 463-479, p. 3, p. 4.

(13) Cuddington, op cit.

(14) quoted in F. N. Egerton, “Changing Concepts of Balance of Nature,” Quarterly Review of Biology 48: 322-350, 1973.

(15) Suzuki, op cit.