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Philosophy

Can anyone honestly explain “privilege” to me?

Seems like the Trump victory has brought out all these fears that Trump is Hitler and that there’ll be some kind of terrible purge or something. I don’t understand what sort of powers some imagine the POTUS has.

One thing that’s popping up quite a bit in my Facebook and Twitter feeds is this notion of “privilege.” I usually see it in the context of ad hominem attacks. (e.g. “You have white privilege, so you cannot understand why this or that policy is racist, and are not allowed to have an opinion on it.”) I think we can all agree that that sort of ad hominem attack gets us nowhere.

But now I’m seeing it come up in otherwise heartfelt comments seeking understanding.

So, for the sake of understanding, can someone please explain what exactly this “privilege” is?

My current understanding is that “privilege” is the idea that a person of a certain sex, race, religion, whatever, naturally experiences more societal privileges, the idea being that these are unfair and must be counteracted.

If they’re not unfair and don’t need counteracting, I’m not sure what the point of the term is. Men can pee with more convenience, for instance, and are on average naturally physically stronger and thus more capable of being construction workers or joining the army. These are “inequalities”, but they don’t make one sex superior to another.

Are these sort of inequalities considered “privilege”? Are we supposed to do something about them?

Wikipedia makes it sound like a conspiracy theory:

According to Peggy McIntosh, whites in Western societies enjoy advantages that non-whites do not experience, as “an invisible package of unearned assets”. White privilege denotes both obvious and less obvious passive advantages that white people may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice.

If it’s “invisible” and “less obvious” and distinguished from “overt bias or prejudice”, then how can we ever know it exists? It’s like Freudian analysis, defined in such a way that it can never be disproven and everything can be analyzed through its lens.

Am I supposed to believe that I have some sort of natural privilege by virtue of being a white male? What “privilege” do you think I have? Are you assuming that I have suffered less and therefore owe you something that you don’t owe me also?

Because of course all humans suffer, and suffer differently depending on their circumstances, but so what? Is suffering supposed to be equally distributed? If you feel others are suffering less than you, shouldn’t you consider that a good thing?

If you are being treated unjustly, whether or not it’s because of your sex, skin color, religion, etc. isn’t that the real issue? Such behaviors are unjust precisely because all men and women are equal in terms of natural worth. But I’m not sure I understand how sexist or racist behaviors are the results of “privilege.” They’re the result of people being sexist or racist, aren’t they?

(Or am I to assume everyone is naturally sexist and racist even if it can’t be shown, because they just are?)

If you can’t point out specific behaviors because the effects of “privilege” are more shady and invisible, then how can you blame anyone for not quite buying into the notion?

I honestly fear people are making themselves more miserable by imagining society is just naturally against them by virtue of their sex or race or whatever, and then whenever they suffer something, they blame, even if only in part, the nefarious shady “privilege” of others. But if we can’t point to specifics, even if everyone understood and agreed with the notion of “privilege”, how would anything get better?

Regardless, isn’t the “remedy” for “privilege” to just do what you should be doing anyway, which is what Christ taught? :

Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

Treat everyone with love, kindness, and respect.

Writing fiction and the final cause

Aristotle was turned into stone by a wizard

If one asks why the heart pumps blood, one could answer in two ways:

A. The heart pumps blood because because the brain sends electrical signals to it that make its muscles contract. Or,

B. The heart pumps blood to deliver nutrients and oxygen to cells and to whisk away their waste.

In philosophy, Aristotle would say that an answer like A is the efficient explanation, a sort of cause-and-effect answer. These are the events that happened before that which we are seeking an explanation for, which we identify as its causes. (It tends to come naturally to us humans, and it seems easy enough to understand, but there’s something I find rather mysterious about it. After all, how could we program an AI robot to form such explanations? Can they only be formulated by observation and experience?)

An answer like B Aristotle would call the final explanation, the end toward which the action is directed.

Now suppose I want a cold soda. I must use my understanding of efficient explanations to create (or at least recall) a set of ordered actions I would take to get that soda. I get up, go to where we keep cups, put ice in it, etc., everything done for the desired end of drinking a cold soda. If something does not as planned, I must edit my set of ordered actions. Perhaps we are out of cups in the cupboard, and I must get one from the dishwasher. Or perhaps we are out of ice and I have to leave a can of soda in the fridge for a while, or drink it warm, or drink something else instead.

Of course, there are all sorts of fun theological discussions to be had concerning the relationship between efficient and final explanations. Final explanations do not exist physically, after all; they are, by their nature, abstract, like thought itself. Perhaps one could say that they can only exist in a conscious being. Still, I could program an artificial neural network to teach itself to do some task, like read numbers. Upon studying the results, I may discover that some section of the network achieves some end needed for the final result. For instance, perhaps a part of the network recognizes the presence of a horizontal line. Now I could say that this portion of the network has the recognition of a horizontal line as its final cause, yet this portion of the network was not created by a coder, but is instead the byproduct of the efficient causes (the training of the network) put in place for the sake of some other final cause. In other words, though we as intelligent beings may recognize that something, like a portion of a neural network or a beating heart, appears to have a final cause, it does not imply that that system was necessarily created by an intelligent consciousness. It may be an emergent property. (Which isn’t to say that it isn’t part of another grander final cause (evolution can be part of a God plan), only that the recognition of a final cause is a conscious abstract act. Does that make sense?)

Anyway, I’ve recently been thinking about this stuff in terms of writing fiction, because an author naturally thinks about these things when plotting a story. Maybe not in a philosophical sense, but we give our characters goals, and we ourselves may have a certain climax or ending or theme in mind (final causes), and then we must order things together naturally so that one event leads to another (efficient causes) and the plot moves toward the ends we desire.

But when I plot out a story and work from an outline, there’s always a bit of joy lost in the writing process, and it can sometimes feel a chore; I know to what end everything is leading, and keeping it in mind so often can lead to boredom, and I find myself wanting to plot a new story rather than finish writing one.

On the other hand, whenever I try writing without an outline, I quickly write myself into corners, or I keep adding new plot lines and characters and the work becomes an unfocused mess.

So I’m searching for a happy medium. Is it possible to write without an outline and without knowing the final cause, yet being sure that the story will indeed come to a satisfying conclusion, as though I had been planning the climax all along? If so, how?

I think it is possible, but I’m not quite sure how to do it yet… (I suppose one could write backwards, but I think that comes with more problems than its worth.)

Diversity!

Diversity_Kittens

Over Christmas I got into a discussion about the modern ideas of “privilege” and “diversity”. If I’m talking to people I know, I can get a bit too enthusiastic in such discussions, so I’m not sure I explained my my understanding / viewpoint very well. So I’m going to sum them up here to get it off my chest.

My basic premise is that it is unjust discrimination to make decisions about who to hire or admit to a school or club or whatever based on race, religion, sex, background, etc., when such traits do not matter to the decision being made. (Sometimes they do matter. For example, if you’re hiring someone to do construction work, it is not unjust discrimination to hire a physically fit young man rather than a man with no arms. It is discrimination, but it is not unjust to hire a person who can do a job better than someone else in regards to the qualifications the job entails (assuming those qualifications are themselves just and not designed to justify unjust discrimination). Another example: it is not unjust discrimination to hire actors of various races to portray historic figures of the same race for a film or a play. It is not unjust discrimination to not hire a non-Christian to teach at a Christian school. It is not unjust discrimination to have a boys and girls locker room and bathroom, or boarding school, or scouts, or whatever. Etc, etc.)

As far as I can tell, the promotion of seeking “diversity” on campus or in a workplace leads to (whether intentionally or unintentionally) unjust discrimination. That is, it leads to hiring or admitting (or not) people based on traits that have nothing to do with how well they can perform the job.

Of course, one must first ask the question, “What is diversity?” Given a group of people, how exactly do you measure its diversity? I never really got a straight answer on this. In my view, every group is already diverse by virtue of being made up of different people. Every person has different life experiences and different points of view with which they can contribute to a group. To claim that swapping one person for another (based on some irrelevant trait) makes a given group “better” (by virtue of now being more “diverse”) seems rather judgmental to say the least. On what grounds can such a claim ever be made?

The next question is then, of course, “Of what value is diversity?” Granted, it’s hard to answer this question without answering the the question above. I don’t think I got a straight answer on this either, but it usually has something to do with different points of view offering considerations you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. What exactly these considerations might be, and how they might be measurably “better”, I have yet to understand.

One argument may go like this: A school has a chess club, and all the club members are nerdy white males. Because of the club’s lack of racial diversity, a non-white and/or non-male student will not be inspired to join the club. I must interrupt the argument here, for I must naturally question whether the interest in the club should at all include anything other than an interest in chess itself. That is, of what importance is it that the club is made up of white males? Is it not racist and/or sexist to assume that one cannot join the club because one’s skin color or sex differs? Is it not unjustly prejudiced to assume the club members will not appreciate such a new member despite such differences? The argument then concludes that the club should actively seek to be “diverse” so that potential new members will not feel discouraged from joining. But, again, I fail to see the need for this, as my interruption explains: a potential new member should not be judging whether or not to join the club based on anything but his interest in chess. And, by extension, the chess club is not obligated to present itself in whatever manner that would make potential members feel welcome other than their devotion to chess itself (especially when this manner is ultimately measured in traits like skin color or sex).

In the real world, one may readily observe that there are clear correlations between one’s interests and traits like skin color, religious backgrounds, sex, age, geographic location, etc. Someone arguing for diversity may see these correlations as evidence of rampant unjust discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious.

On the contrary, it is completely natural and need not be counter-acted. (In fact, trying to counteract it is futile.) Your interests do not form in a vacuum. Of course your interests will be influenced by the people you grow up with and the culture you are exposed to. Why is this a bad thing? It does not imply that you can only be interested in certain things, assuming you are not judging the “diversity” of your interest area before pursuing it (that is, being prejudiced). And, again, it does not obligate anyone to switch interests or encourage interests in others for the sake of “diverse” representations among areas of interest.

As for “privilege”, the discussion never really got anywhere. I often find the term used as an ad hominem attack to end discussions without having to actually argue one’s case (as in, “Check your privilege!” = Your ideas need not be considered because your race, sex, religion, or whatever implies that you haven’t had to suffer like I have, therefore I don’t have to listen to you), or as a way of trying to justify unjust discrimination (as in, “I have suffered in some way you have not, therefore I’m entitled to something special and you are not”).

Of course it is true that there is unfairness in life. Some people are born with diseases and hardships, some people are born to wealth and influence. Different people with different backgrounds will have different life experiences. Some will have to struggle for decades so that their children may live a better life, while others will grow up in mansions. While we are obligated (by love, not law) to treat everyone equally (that is, without unjust discrimination, not without any discrimination at all, as explained earlier), we are not obligated to make everyone’s circumstances themselves equal. Circumstances, in and of themselves, are irrelevant, as I’ve blogged about before.

So fighting for special treatment (after comparing circumstances, real or imagined) makes no sense, and in fact only perpetuates any unjust discrimination one may seek to end. After all, if you’re not fighting for equality for everyone, then you’re not really fighting for equality at all.

Finally, there may of course be arguments about the distinctions to be made between “special” treatment and “equal” treatment, just as there may be arguments about the distinctions between “just” and “unjust” discrimination. But one has to be ready for such arguments; merely trying to sweep them under a rug with claims of “privilege” is hardly going to convince anyone not already considering themselves somehow “unprivileged”. (That is, when you make these discussions about “privilege”, you’re really just encouraging everyone to A) compare themselves to others and to B) think of themselves as somehow not “privileged”. After all, you get nothin’ extra for being “privileged”. And everyone can find something, so we just end up with the Suffering Olympics and all the prejudice, racism, sexism, etc. that come with them.)

So that’s my understanding of these issues; I hope you appreciate the privilege of reading them.

We’re not in Heaven yet…

I had a dream in which I was reading a book (and I very rarely read books in dreams). It was some guy’s autobiography. He wrote that he had met a spirit on his front lawn and that it “convinced me there was a God in Heaven who flicked all life into existence.” And then something I can’t remember. And then, “Every human soul is wise enough to remember that flick.”

One of the classic arguments for atheism. “If God exists, he must be evil to allow such suffering.”

Firstly, as I’ve blogged about before, the argument depends on a misunderstanding of the concept of God, separating God into two parts: some conscious entity who supposedly has magic powers to create the world and allow or disallow suffering as he sees fit, and an objective “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “evil”, that transcends God and which is then applied to God. And if God is judged to be “evil” by our standards, he can therefore not exist. Can you see the logical problem? The problem with negating God’s existence with an objective understanding of evil is that an objective understanding of evil can therefore not exist either. And if that doesn’t exist, you’ve lost your means by which to negate God’s existence.

In other words, your sense of “good” and “evil” is your sense God Himself. So judging God to be evil for allowing suffering does not negate his existence; rather, it reveals a paradox in your understanding of his will. The problem lies in our understanding. Why does God allow suffering, especially suffering that is not our fault? It seems so unjust! It is true enough that turning to atheism may seem to relieve the problem, but it hardly justifies it on a logical level.

And does atheism really relieve the problem? Does “banishing God” really make the suffering of the world any better? Now the suffering is OK because there is no grand entity to blame for it? If an atheist still holds that there exists, even if only in the mind, an ideal world in which there is no suffering, a sense of justice and a division between a moral right and wrong, an understanding that there is an objective difference between suffering and non-suffering, is he really an atheist? Or is he a theist who has lost hope and is angry at the God he blames for his suffering, and tries to relieve his guilt for that by calling himself an atheist?

But what about the suffering?

I’m afraid I don’t know why God allows all the suffering he does. I suspect we cannot know the reasons in this lifetime at all; it is something we may only be able to understand when we are able to see God face to face in Heaven. But it takes no more faith than a young child can conjure to believe that there is a reason, a good and perfect reason, and that it all works out for the good in the end. And even if I had no faith, this is the only logical conclusion there is, lest I abandon all sense of “good” and “evil” with God Himself.

I also suspect the reason has something to do with Free Will. The recognition that God allows suffering is at the very heart of faith; what faith would one need if there were no suffering? What faith would one need if we were all just born into Heaven? The entire point of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is that mankind is estranged from God; every son and daughter is estranged because their parents were estranged; that we are born estranged from God and that the life we live now was never what God ultimately intended for us; that there exists perfection (God) and that we don’t have it yet. The entire point of the story is a recognition that, hey, guess what? There’s suffering here, and we’re gonna feel it. And when you feel it, you can do two things: Turn to God, praying and hoping and striving and working to get back to his perfection. Or give up.

One thing you cannot logically do, however, is blame God for making you give up. That’s all on you.

Why does a child suffering from bone cancer stir the human heart? Why feel something for that child? As cheesy as it might sound, if you are having trouble believing in God, start there, with the feelings in your own heart. The easiest place to find God is in your natural desire to love. I do not mean your desire to love is evidence of God, I mean it is God Himself. The purity, perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, and forgiveness of God can all be found there, in your heart, in what you know as love. It is the portal to Heaven.

And it’s not just a one-way portal.

Build the kingdom

Maybe think about it this way: There is a kingdom in which there is no suffering. Some people left the kingdom in order to expand it, to build it in places it wasn’t before. Of course, outside of the kingdom there is suffering; it is painful to be outside of the kingdom. In this exile, the builders have children. The children, by nature of being born outside the kingdom, also experience suffering. But they were all also born with pieces of the kingdom, portals to bring the kingdom to where they are, and an assurance that they would never be disconnected from the kingdom (lest they knowingly cut that connection themselves).

Does it make any sense to blame the kingdom for the conditions experienced by the exiled children? “How dare the kingdom not already be here!”?

Individuation and the meaning of stories

From The Portable Jung by Carl Jung, pages 122-123:

Self-alienation in favour of the collective corresponds to a social-ideal; it even passes for social duty and virtue, although it can be misused for egotistical purposes.  Egoists are called “selfish,” but this, naturally, has nothing to do with the concept of “self” as I am using it here.  On the other hand, self-realization seems to stand in opposition to self-alienation.  This misunderstanding is quite general, because we do not sufficiently distinguish between individualism and individuation.  Individualism means deliberately stressing and giving prominence to some supposed peculiarity rather than to collective considerations and obligations.  But individuation means precisely the better and more complete fulfilment of the collective qualities of the human being, since adequate consideration of the peculiarity of the individual is more conducive to a better social performance than when the peculiarity is neglected or suppressed.  The idiosyncrasy of an individual is not to be understood as any strangeness in his unique combination, or gradual differentiation, of functions and faculties which in themselves are universal.  Every human face has a nose, two eyes, etc., but these universal factors are variable, and it is this variability which makes individual peculiarities possible.  Individuation, therefore, can only mean a process of psychological development that fulfils the individual qualities given; in other words, it is a process by which a man becomes the definite, unique being he in fact is.  In so doing he does not become “selfish” in the ordinary sense of the word, but is merely fulfilling the peculiarity of his nature, and this, as we have said, is vastly different from egotism or individualism.

Now in so far as the human individual, as a living unit, is composed of purely universal factors, he is wholly collective and therefore in no sense opposed to collectivity.  Hence the individualistic emphasis on one’s own peculiarity is a contradiction of this basic fact of the living being.  Individuation, on the other hand, aims at a living co-operation of all factors.  But since the universal factors always appear only in individual form, a full consideration of them will also produce an individual effect, and one which cannot be surpassed by anything else, least of all by individualism.

The aim of individuation is nothing less than to divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona on the one hand, and of the suggestive power of primordial images on the other.

From Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor by Joseph Campbell, page 91:

That mythological motif of the atonement with the father, which has come down through the Christian tradition and has been read chiefly in historical terms, is given the sense of an actual experience that anyone of us may have and must have if we are to break past ourselves.  It comes, however, in and through a personal relationship, for only in relationship to another can this experience, with its human costs, occur.

It is in human relationships that the operation takes place—the relationship of me to you, of you to another, of you to your job, of you to Earth—relationship is the field where the individual is in process.  In marriage, for example, when one sacrifices, one is not sacrificing to the other, one sacrifices rather to the relationship.  In the relationship both participate, so you are sacrificing an aspect of yourself in relation to another, and there is no psychological development outside the relationship.  That is what we have in the center.  It is the form of a cross.  Relationship and yielding.  Dark and light together.

Now from a book on screenwriting, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jeffrey Alan Schechter, page 44:

Your hero starts the film as an Orphan.  A crisis arises, throwing your hero’s world out of whack, and he or she leaves or is forced out of Orphan status and begins to wander in order to learn what is needed to answer the central question [of the story].  Around the midpoint of the story, your hero becomes a Warrior and fights with all of his or her might and cunning in order to answer the central question, even to the point of his or her near-death or the near-death of someone close.  And still it isn’t enough.  The central question remains unanswered.  What action is missing for your hero to take?  What more could he or she possibly do?

Sacrifice his or her own life, that’s what!

Your hero must be willing to die and not be reborn in order to answer the central question.  He or she must be willing to be a Martyr, to give up everything for a greater good.  Only by willingness to lose it all can your hero win it all.  Only by giving up what your hero thought he or she wanted can your hero be rewarded with what he or she needs.  Remember in Chapter 3 where we discussed what your hero is wrong about at the start of the story?  It is at this point where your hero must confront and overcome that wrongheadedness.

From another book on screenwriting, Save the Cat! Strikes Back by Blake Snyder, pages 62-63:

And that Dig-Deep-Down point, that “Use the Force, Luke!” beat, is what we’re all looking for whether we are writers of the story or the audience for it.  Yes, this way of looking at the ending of any story also works when the hero or heroes are “Defending the Castle” as seen in the finales of Saving Private Ryan, Shaun of the Dead, and Blazing Saddles—or in “Escaping the Castle” as seen in Alien, Free Willy, and Defiance.  Whether your team is on the offense or defense, the lessons of friendship, teamwork, selflessness, and nobility are the same, and the Dig-Deep-Down moment is key.  No matter what the permutation of your tale, it’s the dynamic we seek, for the need of any story boils down to being touched by powers unseen.

Special effects are fine, great set pieces are wonderful, funny jokes and unique characters are vital.  But if you take me to the divine in your story, I will tell all my friends about it.

That’s what storytelling is really about.

Finally, maybe even a Bible verse, eh?  Jesus speaking, from Matthew 10:39 (New American Bible):

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Go forth and meditate on all this!

Pope says shocking things about science!

I thought it was funny to see the Pope in the news for talking about science. (Google it and read a few articles if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

The notion of God-creation has always transcended any explanation of how it physically happened. That is, how it physically happened doesn’t matter. Looking to physical explanations misses the point of the belief; after all, without a conscious entity that intends for certain things to happen, nothing ever happens for a “reason to be fulfilled.” Creation is an inherently metaphysical thing.

This is an imperfect comparison, but let us say that there is a child playing with LEGOs. He builds a small house with the LEGO bricks. Where did the house come from? Did it come from the child’s mind, or from the LEGO bricks?

To answer that the house came from the child’s mind is not to deny that the house is made of LEGO bricks.

Of course, what’s really ridiculous is how the media likes to portray the Pope’s words as being anything special in the first place, as if there is some gap to fill between science and Catholicism in the first place, or as if the ideas of the big bang and evolution ever conflicted with anything in Catholic teaching at all, or as if previous popes haven’t said similar things.

I may have blogged about this before, but I think some of it stems from a misunderstanding of science especially. Science is often used as an excuse to reject anything religious (because them Christians is weird and them organized religins is the devil!) with the assumption that if something is “science”, it can be “proven” with some sort of materialistic evidence, which could be found in some science journal somewhere. Of course, this really isn’t “science” in the traditional sense; this is the Science! of the modern man, the Science! that saves us from being obligated to defend or argue for any sort of morality. Disagree with a religious person about anything, and never fear, because Science! is on your side!

But the physical sciences never actually prove anything to be completely correct, nor do they somehow auto-generate any explanations for anything. Rather, we humans come up with explanations based on observations and predictions, and science gives us a means by which to disprove the explanation, so that we can form a more accurate explanation. That’s what science mainly is: a method by which to disprove explanations.

So firstly, science depends on the metaphysical; it makes no sense trying use it to reject the metaphysical. And secondly, there’s no “gap” between science and theology. Theology doesn’t make “scientific” claims in the first place, anymore than someone saying “I love you” to someone else is ever meant as a scientific hypothesis.

On hoping for changes in church teachings

Perhaps I will begin a blog dedicated entirely to religion and religion-related material. I obviously have an interest in it.

From this blog post (from a sci-fi writer whose work I admire):

[In regards to the LDS Church:]

I can remember being very happy when, in 1978, President Kimball received revelation from God that that time had come to extend the priesthood to all worthy males regardless of race.

This is the main thing I reject; the notion that God would change His mind about something. “This is what’s appropriate. OK, now this is appropriate instead. OK, now this is allowed.” If God is Truth, and if Truth by it’s very nature is eternal (objective beyond even time and space), then the appropriateness of certain behavior, the morality of behavior (or at least the intentions behind those behaviors), cannot change. Our human understanding of it can grow or diminish (we can be wrong about it), but Truth itself doesn’t change. And we do our best to understand Truth as it truly is; we strive to know Truth; we strive to know God.

In the modern world, where laws of a nation can be changed with votes, people sometimes confuse the teachings of a church (like, say, the Catholic Church) for arbitrary decisions made by leaders based on their personal likes and dislikes. In this way, church teachings are sometimes misunderstood to be like voted-upon laws that can be changed over time.

But if that were the case, the teachings wouldn’t be objective, and couldn’t be understood to be manifestations of Truth. Instead, they’d be arbitrary opinions. Not a problem if we all agree on them, but when we don’t, oh no, what do we do?

If leaders of the Catholic Church decided to strip away certain teachings from the Catechism claiming they now “understood things differently” or had some divine revelations, Catholics everywhere would not say, “Oh, OK, if you say so!” Perhaps some would, but only those who understood such teachings to be arbitrary in the first place. Others would be scratching their head, fearing demonic forces at work, and would abandon the clearly compromised leaders.

It is like if a math professor one day came into class and announced that he had realized that 2 plus 2 actually equals 5. If you actually understood his prior teaching that 2 plus 2 equals 4, wouldn’t you naturally fear that your professor had gone mad? You would not accept the new teaching as a revelation that Math itself had somehow changed in the night. You know it’s wrong because you understand why 2 plus 2 equals 4.

(You could get into the paradox of omnipotence. “If God can do anything, why can’t He change His mind?” You might as well ask: “If God can do anything, can He not be Himself?” or “If God can do anything, can He be illogical?” The answer is: No. The question assumes a misunderstanding of omnipotence in the context of describing God.)

The implication of this sort of mind-changing truth-revelation is that you get church members who actively hope for a change in teaching. And why shouldn’t they? It’s like having a parent who changes his mind about whether or not you can eat ice-cream for dinner. How could it not be valid to hope for something you understand to be at least possible?

But is that at all spiritually healthy for a family of believers?

And if you submit yourself to an authority figure, why the heck would you hope for him to change his mind about something? Isn’t that basically the same thing as, you know, not actually submitting to that authority?

I don’t at all understand how these “revelations” work in the Mormon Church, but any authority that can be understood to change its mind is not objective, and therefore not Truth, and therefore not God.

We must become saints

Author John C. Wright has written a long essay called Restless Heart of Darkness. He writes in the first part:

At the risk of giving away the surprise ending (which, honestly, I suppose is not a surprise to anyone but me) I realized why it is that the current mainstream modern thought, despite its illogical and pointless nature, is so persistent, nay, so desperate.

I realized why they never admit they are wrong no matter how obvious the error, nor can they compromise, nor hold a rational discussion, nor a polite one, nor can they restrain themselves. They can neither win nor surrender.

I realized why their hearts were so restless. It is obvious once one sees it.

The essay has four parts: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four. It is a long read, but should be of interest to anyone who, like me, finds himself constantly growing confused and angry with the direction of the modern world. (And it’s not just a matter of blaming a younger generation; I’m twenty-eight, still a bit too young to do that. But it won’t be long!)

I quote the essay’s conclusion here (with a few typos fixed), which I found to be the best part. (Yes, I’m blatantly giving away the surprise ending.) It was something I needed to read at the exact moment I did, as if it were answering my thoughts:

Despair is the key. It explains nearly everything that is so puzzling about the madness of modern life, the pack of self-contradictory dogmas that make up the default assumptions of the Dark Ages in which we live.

They have nothing else. No wonder they are bitter. No wonder they are irrational. No wonder they lie like dogs. No wonder they boast. No wonder they are full of envy and malice. No wonder they kill babies in the womb and fete socialist dictators and mass murderers. No wonder they love death. No wonder they admire, protect and love Islamic terrorists. No wonder they admire, protect, and love sexual perversion.

It is because they have nothing else. They live in a world of darkness, without hope, with nothing but their seven great friends to sustain them: pride, which they call self esteem; envy, which they call social justice; wrath, which they call activism and protest; sloth, which they call enlightenment; gluttony, which they call health food and legalization of recreational drugs; greed, which they call fairness in taxation; lust, which they call sexual liberation.

The modern age is suffering from spiritual and philosophical starvation in the midst of what should be the greatest feast of mind and spirit imaginable. Someone has told them offal was food and food was poison, and so they gnaw on foul things which cannot satisfy them, which make their hungers grow. They are dying of thirst, and someone offers them seawater to drink.

Let us now and forever eschew anger and indignation at these creatures. They are like blind kittens who cling and claw and scratch the hands that come to feed and comfort. No man should be angered at a blind scratch.

Neither should we do them the honor of assuming theirs is a philosophy, political or otherwise, or a coherent worldview, or anything that can be discussed or debated. It is a dream, a delirium, a vision, a nightmare.

Surely was can answer, or at least fend off, any questions they might have concerning our vision, which is brighter and better and sane and whole and true, because more often than not, it is a frivolous reason, a matter of mere emotion, which prevents them from seeing this light. Their eyes are closed, their reason is dark. Reason is of limited use to them, who have no faith in reason.

Beauty is the key to lure them into opening their eyes. I mean not merely the physical beauty in song and architecture and story telling where Christendom has no lack and has no peers; I mean also the beauty of virtue, of charity, of sympathy, of humanity, of heroism, of martyrdom.

Did not the sheer mind-boggling beauty of Mother Teresa of Calcutta attract more skeptics to our banners than did the sneering sarcastic ugliness of Christopher Hitchens attract to his?

They are lost in the dark. That is the truth that stabbed my soul like lightning. They wander in their jerky motions from one idle fashion and meaningless fancy to the next not because they are bored, but because they are desperate, because they are starving.

To cure them we must love them. That is what I saw.

To cure them, we must be a light to them.

We must actually live up to the difficult, nay, the impossible task of becoming saints, as humble and glorious as stars in the host of heaven.

We must first cure ourselves.

Catholicism and homosexuality

And now a more serious post. The religious blog Deus Nobiscum recently finished posting a series of short articles worth reading. They do a nice job of explaining my beliefs on this subject. (They’re short. It doesn’t take long.)

Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 1: Equal Persons
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 2: Unequal Acts Part 1
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 3: Unequal Acts Part 2
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 4: The Call to Chastity
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 5: The Rugged Cross
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 6: Love, Not Hate Part 1
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 7: Love, Not Hate Part 2

They are written more concisely and with more grace than I would’ve ever been able to manage. This subject continues to be a touchy one among some of my good friends. It can be a very difficult thing to discuss. I know it is often sentimentalized by TV and Hollywood to be a struggle to be oneself and find love in the midst of oppressive institutions, outdated ideologies, and naive or downright prejudiced individuals. I can only hope my friends can give my understanding of this subject a little more credit than all that.

At the very least, even if you don’t agree with it, you owe it to yourself to not be afraid of or offended by people who understand and speak about sexual morality (and the spirituality behind it) and its related issues in this way. When I, or a Catholic priest for that matter, mentions these things, it is not an effort to shame dissenters. It is an honest (and, in my opinion, very beautiful) understanding of sexual nature. There is nothing to fear about it.

God bless!

Following your selfish dreams

From this interesting article:

For all the chatter about the formulaic sameness of Hollywood movies, no genre in recent years has been more thematically rigid than the computer-animated children’s movie. These films have been infected with what might be called the magic-feather syndrome. As with the titular character in Walt Disney’s 1943 animated feature Dumbo, these movies revolve around anthropomorphized outcasts who must overcome the restrictions of their societies or even species to realize their impossible dreams.

It’s probably no coincidence that the supremacy of the magic-feather syndrome in children’s movies overlaps with the so-called “cult of self-esteem.” The restless protagonists of these films never have to wake up to the reality that crop-dusters simply can’t fly faster than sleek racing aircraft. Instead, it’s the naysaying authority figures who need to be enlightened about the importance of never giving up on your dreams, no matter how irrational, improbable, or disruptive to the larger community. As Jean Twenge, the controversial cultural critic of America’s supposed narcissism epidemic, argues in her bestselling book Generation Me, younger generations “simply take it for granted that we should all feel good about ourselves, we are all special, and we all deserve to follow our dreams.”

First, I will diverge into the idea of “comparative success”. That is, success as defined by comparing oneself to others.

I get annoyed with the Disney channel and some of Nickelodeon’s teen-oriented shows, in which being a famous pop-singer and/or trendy-dressing dancer is something that is idolized. I know they may seem like harmless frivolous silly entertainment on the surface, but I think they actually actively harm our culture (like much of television, for that matter) by glorifying, subtly or unsubtly, performance art talent and popularity. That is, the more talented and popular you are, the more you are worth as a person, so it is a good and worthy thing to dream of that sort of success, to dream of being not just a pop singer or a fashion designer, but of becoming a famous one.

The most famous antithesis to this teen-idol market is a cartoon show targeted at a younger crowd, but shares a large number of older fans as well. It is Spongebob Squarepants, an ever-ready nerdy optimist who takes insane amounts of pride in flipping burgers, blowing bubbles, and catching jellyfish, remaining blissfully oblivious to the ways in which he could never gain fame in his own society by just doing what he loves. And while his burger-flipping pride is something we have an easier time laughing at than relating to, it is not presented as something to be ridiculed in and of itself, but celebrated. That’s not only what makes it funny, that’s what makes it inviting to audiences. That is, if a viewer can even slightly relate to a bit of Spongebob’s over-passionate nerdiness for something ridiculous, he is welcomed to it in good company, not made to feel a clownish outcast. (Compare this to the nerdiness presented in The Big Bang Theory, in which audiences are called to laugh at references to nerdy things, but these nerdy things are never celebrated in their own right; audiences still need their trendy dirty humor.) I daresay grown men who go into cartoon production for a living have a much different outlook on their art than producers looking to profit from teenagers idolizing each other’s voices and looks and fame.

It equally annoys me when contestants on talent competition shows like American Idol or The Voice claim that they want to win so that they can be an inspiration for others. Oh, how noble of you! Oh, wait. You want to encourage other people to desire fame and money? Oh, thanks, that’s great, just what the world needs!

Of course, it’s not just pop culture in which this sort of comparative definition of success reigns. It’s just perhaps the most visible and the most obviously vain in pop culture. But it thrives in businesses, academics, politics, the arts, etc. It’s all over the place. You don’t know how well you’re doing what you’re doing, or how you should feel about it, until you compare yourself with others.

Anyway, the reason I diverge into comparative success is because that’s the sort of success these animated film characters dream about. The “Follow your dreams!” message isn’t bad in and of itself, it’s just vague, and allows for a variety of narcissistic interpretations, dreaming of being somehow quantifiably better than others, as in winning a race, and not allowing for the mere following of the dream to bring any joy.

That’s what equally bothers me about the Charlie Brown example given in the article. (I’ve never seen the Charlie Brown film mentioned, so I speak here only based on what I read about it in the article.) The entire point of Charlie Brown wanting to succeed at something is just as narcissistic as the modern-day dreaming characters. His tragic results provide a nice contrast to the modern characters’ easy success, but why couldn’t he learn to do something just for the sake of itself? His tragedy wasn’t that his success rate was more realistic, but that he took no pride or gratification in what he was capable of to begin with. The entire point of “trying again” is not to force yourself with gritted teeth through the frustration of the trial so that you can one day achieve your goal. Trying again is (at least ideally) a natural consequence of your love for something. It should be FUN to try again. And when it is, failure is only a minor disappointment.

On a side note, I like how the article points out the trope of having some supporting character be nonsupporting of the hero’s desires. I can understand the dramatic need for the hero’s desires to be rebuked at the beginning of a story, but I wish writers would come up with more creative ways of having characters do it, instead of just, “Oh, I just hate dreamers! Your desires are arbitrarily wrong! I pointlessly have no faith in you!” I’d love to see a supporting character offer a real argument, perhaps pointing out the hero’s selfishness.