Wednesday, December 29, 2010

At Christmas with an eye toward Easter

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a baby, born, as everybody, do die. But, differently from everybody else, with him going toward death was thoroughly a gift of love.

Some time ago, in a class where I was teaching, I asked this question: is it possible to love without dying? Useless to say that my students were rather baffled. Why, if I die, how can I ever love? was the question stamped in all their eyes, that someone also tried to voice.

No, I stated, it's not possible. And I so explained myself:

Let's think about it, what do we really know about death? Or, for that matter, about birth. Should I say nothing? We actually don't remember our birth, so we have no direct experience and knowledge of what it is to be born. On the other side, we can't in any way imagine our death. However hard we try, "I" am always there imagining someone like "me" dead.

This disqualifies all those who think themselves rational by stating that after death there isn't anything. How do they know? I ask. But this is not the point I wanted to make.

The point is that death is like what mathematicians call an unknown. And though, we know that death is there in our future. This means that death is the future as unknown.

Ok, that is the point of your observation about birth and death. So what?

Think about it: any time we meet somebody new, we actually don't know what there is in store for us. How much more when we enter into a love relationship, dealing with persons in whom we came to see our good, with the hope that the same would be with them toward us. We can't know it, if we don't declare ourselves, but we can't be sure of what the answer would be. We have to face the unknown. Our life is at stake, and we might be afraid.

Now, back to that baby who was born to make of his life a gift of love. The witness of the Church, in an uninterrupted tradition of love, is that because of it the life he gave was not hold from him, but he received it back in its fullness.

With the Christmas celebrations, therefore, already eyeing toward Easter, we are told: don't be afraid to love. Life is stronger than death.

HP

Monday, December 27, 2010

Slaughtering Christians

At the Angelus, the Pope expressed his sorrow for the persecution of Christians throughout the world.

One of the Italian TV news granted some space to his speech, giving for example as evidence the slaughtering of 30 something Christians in Nigeria, reported as the nth incident of an intertribal conflict, the same that few years ago brought to the killing of 400 Christians.

This way the importance of the religious factor was belittled, not to say made irrelevant: it would be an epiphenomenon of the ethnic factor.

I ask, though, to the author of that report: if the religious factor is of no real import, why is it that over again the killing is done by Muslims tribesmen and not vice versa by Christian ones; or that it isn't at least a fifty-fifty?

I could have addressed the same question to the many sympathizers amidst the Western intelligentsia for the Muslim cause: why do they avoid taking into account such simple facts?

HP

Monday, December 20, 2010

A second Advent thought

It's time to ask ourselves: what is Christmas?

The answer is easy: Noel, i.e. a birthday.

Whose birthday? Well, the answer to this is a bit more complex: one man's and everybody's.

I'll try to explain what I mean.

What do we do at birthdays? Here it is easy again: we throw a party and bring gifts to the person whose birth day it is. Why? To say that we are glad that he or she was born. With the birth, we celebrate the joy it brought into our lives. No matter how much we care for that person, that remains ideally the truth.

Is that all? I could be asked. At Christmas we exchange gifts: does that mean that we don't do anything more than to celebrate each other's birth?

No, we do more, for the very fact that we do it in that same day, in spite of the fact that it isn't our birthday.

Many people today might think that it is just a convention, tied to old beliefs of our society that they don't hold anymore, and don't care to know about.

It's a pity. Because if they did, they could learn something about human nature that they prefer to ignore: i.e., that conventions have a reason.

If we bring gifts to each other, it is because we have been graced with gifts before. That's why not all birthdays are equal. Think of what is in a large family the birthday of a grandparent. I remember my mother's and my mother in law's eightieth birthday: it was a great family celebration – like saying: thank to you we are all here, alive and loving each other.

In the life of a state some personage's birthday might be remembered and celebrated even after his death: just think of Washington birthday.

So, if we all exchange gifts in that same day we still call noel, even though it isn't actually our birthday, it is because we celebrate, by doing it, the very capacity of finding joy in each other's existence. And we celebrate with it, whether we acknowledge it or not, the birth of someone, the one to whom we owe this capacity, for which we give therefore thanks.

He is born anew anytime that we love our neighbors, engendering in each other the joy of life.

Now is the time of his coming, to sing, at Christmas, the new born king.

HP

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A little Advent thought

When I want to talk about politics, I am pulled to talk about science. When I talk about science, I am pulled to talk about politics.

And, one way or another I always end by talking about theology.

Let's see why.

I was rather elated by the results of November 2 elections.

Of course, I could be said, you are a damn hothead conservative, with no understanding of the progressive agenda. In one word, you are democratophobic.

Well, I confess that I don't particularly like to days democrats. As so many other people. But do democrats ever stop asking why? See these interesting lines by a well known "conservative" author and commentator:

"I grew up in a Democratic household. The talk at the family dinner table in the early sixties, to the degree it touched on politics, concerned the minimum wage, 40-hour work week, overtime pay, civil rights, disability insurance, or bond money for school construction and teacher training. In other words, it was a sort of "level the playing field" to ensure equality of opportunity.

I don't recall discussions about the evils of American foreign policy, racial quotas, drug legalization, open borders and amnesty, the need for gay marriage, or abortion on demand. I do remember the national spokesmen whom we were supposed to admire — Pat Brown, Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey — did not look or act like John Edwards or John Kerry.

Now one can argue that the seeds of the present Democratic desire for an imposed equality of result, embraced by a Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi [not to speak, I add, of present POTUS], is but the logical evolution from the old Democratic square deal."

I say, definitely, no: there is no following from those old democrats to the new ones.

Why?

Because in the early sixties there was still a shared understanding of man's nature.

If this meaning of the word were known to my reader, I'd say that they all shared a "liberal" view of man, in the continental sense of the word, that, in stressing the primacy of the individual person, is of Christian origin.

Afterwards the current Anglo-American understanding of "liberalism", already strongly denounced by the blessed John Henry Newman during the Nineteenth Century, won the way: people are not for it individual persons, but just individuals of the homo sapiens sapiens species. It follows that whatever they otherwise think of themselves – we call it culture and religion – is nothing more than opinion, so that only the state can keep in check their individual or group egoisms.

Here we are at: opinion is opposed to science.

Assumed that we know what science is.

I was involved during the month of October, in a long spawn dialogue with another blogger, ended because at a certain point I dropped my arms in despair.

He claimed to be speaking for pure science, by making a primary appeal to biology and scientific method. I made the same claim, and my primary appeal went to mathematics and Einsteinian physics. By his way science leads to stark atheism, by my way it leads to see the world as an epiphany of God's glory.

So, who is right? Let's recognize it: what is science is a matter of opinion, not distinguishable therefore from culture and religion.

I know that people working in disciplines like biology as well as their sympathizers, holding a very definite opinion about what science is, will never grant it.

Neither do I think that opinion and science are the same thing, but, by qualifying as opinion the meaning of the word science, I ask to recognize that it is open to discussion.

Which leads me back to politics: i.e., to raise the question of what motivates people to hold the opinions they hold.

To clear things out, I have my good doubts that it could be our genes. In this case, given the difference of opinions concerning science, it should be proved the existence of a gene whose presence or absence would make us bend one way or another. But, should it be provable and proved the existence of such a genetic difference, it wouldn't prove anything, because it would remain to be argued why it is one bent or the other that deserves to be qualified as scientific. Neither it would work an appeal to evolution, to explain how we have become what we are by selecting certain ideas and rejecting others, because it doesn't overcome the fact that in this dispute nobody will accept to view himself, with the ideas he holds, as having been selected out rather than selected in. So we would be back to the starting point.

I look for it then in the cultural bias people show in connection with their sense of societal belonging. This means that I prefer to look at what people do, recurring in the evidence of all times and places, rather than letting some self declared scientist, with his naïve ideas about the ordinary life of men, instruct me about them.

We need a science of science, or, if you prefer, a political science. Conservatives might be naïve in the view they hold, but so are liberals, with all their apparent sophistication. I side with the first because their naïvité is richer than that of the others, whose sophistication consists in not allowing them to look at what people really do: their being always engaged in communication, for all kind of purposes, not last that of stating how things really are, so to instruct each other what to do about it

Science is the name for a claim, made for what one thinks to know. To grant this should enable us to dispute on the concept of science: otherwise there is no science but only the opposing claims, with each party convinced to be in the right while pitying the insipience of the other.

Old Aristotle indicated in the fourth century BC how to find the way out of such sterile opposition: like that, today, between conservatives, whose claim is in knowing the truth, and liberals, who thing there is no truth to be known.

To the skeptic – said Aristotle – I can't reply anything, as long as he remains in silence. But, if he just speaks, I can pin him down, finding him in contradiction with himself. Not so much because he says things that can't be true at once, but because what he says runs against what he does by saying it. Like in this classical example:

"The Cretan Epimenides said: all Cretans are liars." Question: true or false? If you say true, then it is false, if you say false, then it is true.

This means that the criterion for discussing claims is the logical consistency between what one says and what he does in the very act of saying it.

Of course, the skeptic has to speak. Unfortunately there are many ways of not speaking: not only by remaining silent, but also by the use made of language. The one made by today intellos strangely resembles such a contradictory speaking: more a sort of subtle violence on the listener than saying anything.

Funny business is logic, when it is applied to human affairs, like people talking to each other. But then it points to the way out of the dilemma: the truth to which I claim must be such, as in mathematics, to transcend you and me.

It must be theological.

Take all this as a little Advent thought.

HP

Friday, November 05, 2010

Mental and political sanity

Well, I am bound to say that the result of elections makes me, as patriot of a certain Europe present in America, happy.

As a friend of mine from Scituate Mass. wrote me: "it was a good night for America – but here in Massachusetts the results were dismal – we remain a backwater of extreme liberalism – fortunately the rest of the country (excluding California) seem to be heading on the right track toward political sanity."

The only reservation which, in the face of any victory of the party I favor, leaves me with a somewhat sour mouth is: it was a party victory.

I ask myself: shall we ever be able to move toward an overcoming of the creeping civil war that plagues Europe and America? My friend speaks of "political sanity", and I agree with him. But what way do we have to define what "sanity " is?

In these days I have been reading and writing about the Grammar of Assent of the blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. He indicates there a way toward an answer. Which can confirm us in our positions, with just the wish that the opposing party would take time to read him and to answer to what he says.

He distinguishes two kinds of assents we can give to statements: a notional one and a real one. Ha calls notional all kinds of assents which stay in the realm of generality, from simple acceptance of current opinions to scientific theories based on probability. Only real is the assent we give to the concrete, the individual instance that touches us intimately.

I remember, to illustrate what he means, an observation for an uncle of mine, great university professor of hydraulics. Speaking of another nephew of his, also professor in the same field, he said of him as of his generation of scientists: "They want to be scientific, and to study rivers build mathematical models based on statistics (i.e., on probability), expecting them to behave accordingly, feeling almost outraged if rivers dare not to conform to what they say. No, if you want to know about rivers, you must have spent many an hour with your feet in them."

Here you have it: mental sanity is not to take one's models for reality. The way to reach a firm, certain understanding of reality, is to avoid confusing them: to recognize that ordinary knowledge, more or less tamed in science, works as a law action, according to the logic of circumstantial evidence. Each item of evidence, however probable, is incapable of engendering certainty by itself. But if all evidence points consistently in the same direction, one can finally come to a sentence of how things are in the concrete case to be judged, being sure of it.

Taking one's models for reality means at the same time to misrepresent to oneself what one is really assenting to: i.e., the political motivations behind the preference for those models. Recognizing them is the first step toward political sanity.

Which is my great wish for the future. My daily prayer.

HP

Friday, October 29, 2010

A cry of liberation

I eagerly follow what is going on in the States from my Roman home place – the place, I mean, where is my home, but where I don't feel entirely at home. I side, in fact, with those people in the States who use the name Europe in a derogatory fashion, to mean a lost land. Luckily, beyond the Tiber river from where I stay, there is a man in white who gives me hope.

I follow, then, American things on internet, and on a little Italian opinion newspaper, Il Foglio, run by a man married to an Italian-American women, used to spend at least part of the year in New York. He had a very good correspondent there, capable of speaking of American things as from inside, but unfortunately he recently left, having received a better offer from another newspaper. His place has been taken from another guy whom I don't like: however well informed, he sounds like an external observer, in particular as an European observer, incapable as such of grasping what is peculiarly American.

I take as example an article published yesterday, by the title (I translate) "Clash of elites – the fake plain folks of Tea Party versus Obama the snob". Nothing wrong with it, save the general tone. Wherefrom did he get this image of the Tea Party folks as plain countrymen in flannel shirts over against the slick and haughty city men in Washington? Perhaps from an old movie with Gary Cooper, Cowboy and the lady?

It wasn't so that an American friend of mine spoke about them, describing them rather as "middle class, educated, concerned people". Things don't change if some of them are rich people, in the rank of hundreds of millions.

Does this make them an elite opposed to another elite? Even if it were so, it's not this that counts. What counts (I said it already, but repetita iuvant) is that we have here two ideas of America in competition. And, with them, two ideas of Europe.

One is that of the official Europe of today, utterly liberal, with no other notion of human relations than the one of which unsurpassed teacher remains Thomas Hobbes, who thought and taught that only the State, through the king as in his time, or through elected representatives as today, can restrain individual egoism, making norms for people to obey – to which we should add today its providing for the redistribution of riches. This Europe is no less hobbesian for its preoccupation of guaranteeing to all individuals the freest possible range for their whim (I don't say the greatest "freedom" or "liberty", which are too noble words). It's the Europe the present administration and Congress are trying to make the American people swallow.

There is though also the other Europe, that today seems to find its strongest representation in the America that refuses the europeanizing of the present administration. Hair of the Christian tradition, it knows that there is an inherent rule of justice in human relations, and it is therefore made of people who think to have no need for Government and Congress to teach them how to behave, people who actually see in them the responsibility for unleashing the egoism of human rights without duties that after they want to keep in check by correcting the economic evils of capitalism.

What the Italian observer does not notice is the appeal from the Tea Party folks to the Constitution, in which they see sanctioned their right to be left alone by Government and Congress. To pay less taxes, be free to enterprise and, why not, make money, is certainly a large part of their demand, but it is not the whole thing. To understand it, it is necessary to look at the name they gave themselves, taken from the first action of American rebellion to the British oppressor.

I might be wrong in my interpretation of what is now happening in America, but whatever the case be I see in it something archetypical: a cry of liberation for Europe.

HP

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dhimmitude

Hat tip: Rorate

The folks at Rorate Caeli called my attention to a piece by Sandro Magister, in which the words of a Lebanese bishop and Middle East Synod Father, spoken in criticism of Islam, were not included in the published version of his remarks.

A snippet of some of the redacted remarks:

The Koran gives the Muslim the right to judge Christians and to kill them for the Jihad (the holy war). It commands the imposition of religion through force, with the sword. The history of invasions bears witness to this.

For the full story, click here.

LD




Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quod Erat Demostrandum

The whole exchange I have been having in "comments" was born from a statement of mine, that I perceive very little science in our society, and that this is because of the disjunction of faith and reason.

The main objection I can be moved is: how can you say such a thing, considering that it is only our society that has achieved with science a knowledge that can be shared by everybody, just through reasoning on the evidence of experience, not bound by the impediment of faith?

Are we sure? But let's grant for a moment that such is the case, what we call "science" covers very little of our ordinarily life.

Nobody doubts that physics chemistry and biology are sciences, and some of their findings drip to the general public without any of the discussions that led to them or still surround them in the scientific world. Besides them, also psychology enjoys a little of their prestige, and some of its notions have equally dripped to the general public, however controversial they may still be in the scientific world. Still less can be said of the other human sciences, concerning the life of men in society and everything it has been passed over to us in fact of art, literature, and models of human excellence. All things considered outside the realm of science.

Thus, the greatest part of our ordinary life is left to the realm of sentiment and emotion, utterly out of any possibility of rational discourse, but just a question of taste.

However, to allow me a QED: there is very little science in our society, I would need to demonstrate that there can be more science than this. Which, unless we adopted a concept of science non in line with the one current in our mainstream culture, cannot be done.

That it can be done, because the current notion of science responds to an unreal concept of experience, and hence or reasoning, is the claim I make. And I already made, trying to explain in a previous post the true sense of "faith", based on the etymology of the word that brought it back to the context of human interchange that makes our common ordinary experience.

To this we need to pay attention.

*****

I was brought to do it in my youth by the disturbance caused to me by the alleged collision between the teaching of the Church and the findings of science. There seemed to be no way out: neither could be true at the same time. And though, I didn't want to give up either: I didn't want to hold to my faith making a sacrifice of reason, and I didn't want to give up faith to keep on reasoning.

The way out of the dilemma came from faith: I mean, by trust in those who had educated me, as being reasonable people, who must have had good reasons for what they taught me. This prompted me to study, i.e. to face the challenge coming from science. It was a dangerous path, because it could have led me to naught, with religion necessarily yielding to science.

I know, some would say that this wouldn't have been naught, but the real conquest. However, such was not the case. I discovered that where science seemed to go against Church teaching, it was because it was faulty, not really scientific. I want to be clear: it is not the teaching of the Church that decides what is really scientific, but reasoned reflection on the evidence represented by the witness of theories accredited as scientific.

This at the same time required a deepening in the understanding of Church teaching, to see why and how it agrees with what is really scientific in science. The trouble in our society is that usually we receive an infantile version of that teaching, together with the infantile versions of all the notions making up our knowledge of the world. Then, while we grow, we come to learn the scientific version of these notions, at least as physics chemistry and biology is concerned; but our notions of Church teaching remain infantile. So we come to compare a mature adult knowledge with an infantile one, and of course we find it ridiculous. I can't say of having found a critic of theological teachings coming from the world of the accredited sciences showing more than a raw knowledge of it, fettered to those infantile notions.

More in general, it is rare for someone who is an expert of his discipline, with a sophisticated knowledge of its procedures and findings, to have an equally sophisticated knowledge outside of it. For other specialized fields we can't but trust those who are qualified for their expertise in them, while, when it comes to the ordinary affairs of life we tend to rely just on ourselves, confiding in some kind of common sense.

For what I am concerned, are precisely the ordinary affairs of life that intrigue me: being what makes the realm of experience to which also experts of whatever discipline qualified as scientific resort.

We appeal thus to it for immediate common sense experience, but overlook the fact that whatever we perceive bear traces of all the ideas we have been exposed to since our early days, and with which we had to confront ourselves in our growth: such exposure and confrontation being then an integral part of experience, that bear traces therefore also of our trusts and mistrusts.

Do I need to add more? Well, an invitation, perhaps the hardest to accept in our culture: to watch at babies, and think that we have been like them. We see them learning to speak, and by this way to recognize people and things, and to identify themselves in relation to them, and so on and so forth. We know that we have been like them, but we can't absolutely remember it. A gap is there between what we observe babies do and our self-conscious adult experience, that nothing can bridge; nothing, except the stories we have been told as children to account for our coming to the world, that we can't but take on faith (of course, I am not speaking specifically of Christian faith, but I use the word in the generic anthropological meaning of the Latin fides).

Here it is the intriguing thing on which to measure the adherence of our discourses to experience: we don't remember out birth; hence, on the other side, we can't imagine our death.

Instead, the mainstream Euro-American culture, settled in our world of adult speakers, by negating faith hides the existence of that gap.

I was led from here to the realization that the opposition we currently maintain between science and religion is faulty, because actually science and religion aren't but conceptual words with which we are used to classify human ideas and actions, whose definition finds no correspondence in what people do that we claim to classify with them.

*****

I tried to explain it already in a previous post by the analysis of the meaning of belief (whose connection with trust in fide I discussed before). What we call "religion" is for the people who hold it simply their understanding of reality, that which they are persuaded to know: in a word, we can call it equally their "belief" or their "science".

To say "science", in fact, means nothing else than a belief redoubled in reflection. If belief in fact means
the persuasion of the truth of something, science means to be persuaded that one's own persuasion constitutes truly knowledge. So we can equally say, in English, "I believe in evolution", or "I believe in creationism", even though one is ascribed to science, the other to religion (also staying to the sentence by a judge in Pittsburg based on faith in the scientific community).

You are not telling us anything new, I could be objected, but overlook that with science this redoubling of persuasions is sustained by reasons. Agreed, I answer, it remains however the question of which reasons are able to make a belief into science.

Reasoning means many interconnected things. One of them is counting. The other is accounting for things in a way that is public, repeatable and communicable. This, I am told, is what the "scientific method" does. But does it?

Of course it does it, I am told, because the "scientific method" takes us on the only common ground we have, that of "awake" sensory perception: it fills in this way the gap you spoke about, that, you say, makes faith unavoidable.

On this regard would have been right the thinkers, self-styled as logical positivists, who in the early decades of the 1900 asked that all statements be put to the test of sensory verification. They were wrong only in not realizing that actual verification is impossible, because it would require an overview of all possible cases of the same thing, which is impossible. The version of the "scientific method" that has gained the way is then that of Karl Popper, who required subjecting theories to a crucial test, but remarked that this cannot verify the right ones, but only show the falseness of those that don't pass it, so letting stand, at least for the time being, the one that passed it. Accordingly he defines scientific only those theories for which it can be envisaged a test of falsification: otherwise we would have to do with "metaphysics" or "religion".

The trouble with this theory of science is that it doesn't hold up to what it requires from any theory to be scientific. It is not just that it is actually falsified by all evidence of how people ordinarily act, and even of what scientist do; but, if it were to be denied the relevance of this evidence, I don't see to what test of falsification it could be put.

A test, in fact, has to be prepared and described in a way to make it communicable: this means that it implies a shared language, and a language already involves a vision of things. Even within the strict realm of accredited science, then, setting a test delimits the scope of things that can be found in it. Things get worse if we observe that the language thus involved isn't but an aspect of the ordinary language. By speaking we account publicly for our experience, setting our sensory perceptions into a contest of meaning. But languages are a multifold, each informing the capability of perceiving things and accounting for them of those who speak any given one.

This means that an explanation of what science is falls into the sphere of ordinary experience, not made of men who test theories with facts, but of man in conversation who compare their respective views of things. Methods can work in the routine of an activity, be that of science, but don't exempt from the intelligence that sparkles when, from such a comparison, comes the right idea of how to account for things.

It follows that the gap I spoke about cannot be bridged by the alleged "scientific method". Sensory perception doesn't put us in the immediacy of an adult experience that can overlook education: the education we watch babies undergo, with the required recognition of having undergone it ourselves.

Now I can make a claim of QED. There is very little science in our society, I say, because there are many disciplines that don't filter to the mainstream culture dominated by the authority of "science" based on an alleged "scientific method". Trough the study of language, storytelling, art, social institutions of all kind, etcetera, they are devoted to a reasoned account of the way an educated animal such as man tests received ideas in ordinary experience, applying to this a reasoning as sophisticated as that employed by the accredited sciences in their special field of research, but which is often lacking when their practitioners turn to it.

*****

I could close here, but I still deem convenient some further considerations.

The trouble with many "scientific" authors who have been able to reach the general public is that there is truth in what they found within their partial field of research, where it has an explanatory value for them of general import, because they take it as the whole.

Now, the whole of human knowledge concerned me, in dealing with the question of "faith" and "reason". Which is: what makes people able to reach an agreement in their understanding of things?

On this have more to say the old Plato and Aristotle then modern theoreticians of science. In their discourses on method these hide their advancing a claim of reason, which would put them in question with regard to others with similar claims, to state purely and simply that reason is on their side. Not so with Plato and Aristotle: when they first raised the question of what makes opinions or beliefs into science, their aim was precisely that of giving an answer to my question, by finding criteria to judge among different claims. They deserve therefore a privileged mention in the story of the differentiation of rationality which, with gains and losses, reaches all the way to Einstein and other contemporary authors outside of the physical sciences.

Discarded, for the reasons I showed, the alleged "scientific method" as a way of accounting for what is scientific, the validation moment cannot be kept separated in assessing science from its genetic moment, as it is claimed. Therefore history of science is not irrelevant to the understanding and evaluation of discourses with claim to be scientific, i.e. rationally and experientially well grounded. And history of science has to embrace, for the reasons I said, not just what has been accredited as such in the last four centuries, but what people thought of their world in any place and time.

This means that by telling a story we account for whatever we know of the world, be it the story of how at a certain pointy in history we discovered a previously unknown "scientific method". Now stories can only be validated by comparison with other stories, to see which better agrees with our experience of the world as educated animals, by taking into account both terms: our rootedness, as animals, in non human nature, and our participation, by education, to society.

Always men, like us, accounted by telling stories for the world they know. Always, therefore, they have been rational. With this difference: that the reasons, represented in the old exemplary stories we call "myths" by way of images, have been afterwards recognized in their more abstract forms, thanks to mathematics and logic. The meaning of these, therefore, cannot be referred simply to the selected experience of today science, but has to be tracked down in the more unified, ordinary experience accounted for by myth.

I give just a short example, without developing it, of the problems I am talking about.

I ask myself, and others: how does the theory of evolution squares with Einstein's theory of relativity? If I were to be asked in turn about the why of such question, I would answer that the theory of evolution involves a linear sequence of time, in which things get transformed one into the other; while Einstein's theory of relativity integrates time into space. Now, this involves not sequence but recurrence. So it evokes the pre-modern understanding of the world once upon a time couched in storytelling.

HP

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Tale of Two Doctors

Briefly, my consideration for the Nobel Committee is this: if Dr. Edwards' in vitro technique is medicine, then so were the experiments of Dr. Mengele.

Just sayin'.

LD

Sunday, October 03, 2010

No such a thing as scientific method

I don't think it exists any such thing as a scientific method. Unless we mean by it the ordinary exercise of intelligence, wherever and whenever testified by men in their dealing with what concerns them. With this of course I don't say that doesn't exist science: either those which mostly go under this name (physics, chemistry, biology in all their scope), or others that encompass the aspects of experience (like the sense of beauty and goodness) from which those abstract.

Most of all I don't think that such a thing as a scientific method had its beginning (invented or discovered?) with Galileo Galilei.

I first find it introduced by 20th century philosophers of science: strange creatures, these, who in their love of science behave like voyeurs, who appreciate making love as something to look at rather than engage in, but, after having watched, turn to the lovers to instruct them on the best way to do it.

Why is it so, it needs to be seen.

Many people are convinced by them, including my present interlocutor; I think they are hacks, who understand very little of science, and still less of life. Where does this difference comes from? I could answer, being pretty sure to be misunderstood, that it is a question of faith: that aspect of experience that makes us trust some people rather than other, as better communicating to us a sense of human belonging that makes us feel attuned with humanity at large.

To be clear, and repeat myself because my interlocutor doesn't seem to get the point: there aren't people who live by reason and others who live by faith, or, to stress the thing still strongly, there aren't people who have faith and others who don't. All people have faith, in the sense I tried to explain in the last two posts, even the dear friend who is prompting me with questions; and all people have exercised and exercise their reason; so all people live by reason and faith.

Should I say that people make love without need to be instructed by voyeurs? But can only be instructed by lovers?

******

Back to the point: at the outset I could have equally said, instead of "I don't think", "I don't believe". As for all belief, even of my persuasion of the non existence of a scientific method could be asked on what is grounded. Excluded sheer faith, that doesn't exist, and granted that I trusted other people's teaching, the answer con only be: on reasons tested in reality.

I take, for a start, the second point: the attribution to Galilei of the paternity of the scientific method. This is a turning history of science into mythology: meaning, to find a cultural here to justify one's own positions. As a matter of fact the Galilei cultural hero of the promoters of the scientific method is just a caricature of the real Galilei.

I exemplify with bits of my conversation with Andrea.

To his opposing rationality and irrationality, I replied with mathematics:

Rational are the numbers we can divide; irrational are therefore the zero and the infinite, which cannot be devided; and yet algebra requires both: take zero and infinite away from it, and algebra collapses. So algebra embraces the rational and the irrational.

To which Andrea retorted:

Well the meaning of rationality in math hasn't much to do with that of rationality as intended when we mean the ability to exercise reason. In the first case rational means simply: capable of being expressed as a quotient of integers (or as a fraction if you prefer). Any parallelism between the two definitions is founded on mere assonance.

Strange conclusion, for one who just made an appeal to Galilei as the founder of science based on method. For Galilei in fact math was the language in which nature is written (by the creator), so, by way of it, it should be possible to reach an apodictic reading of how things are in nature. He appears therefore to be rather in agreement with to me, or better, I with him.

Totally opposite is the view of the power of science defended by my interlocutor according to the alleged scientific method:

Some of the truths that had been previously stated as absolute have fallen miserably under the progress of our ability to exercise reason, therefore we have an experimental proof about the need to be very careful with what we say is absolute at one point in time. The only so called absolute truths that have survived in the minds of some of us are those against which no confuting proof has yet emerged, most of the times unfortunately it is not because of the power or the essentiality they express but because of the generalness (and, allow me, sometimes vaporness) of their statement that makes them intrinsically unfalsifiable.

Very nice, very pretty, but it doesn't have anything to do with Galilei, nor with Newton, or for that matter with Einstein. This popperianism doesn't have anything to do with the practice of science, but a lot with politics.

The great question is: is it possible a science of politics?

HP

Saturday, October 02, 2010

“Apples” and “wheels”

Comparing faith and reason is like comparing apples and wheels. Thus said Andrea in the comment reported in the previous post. In the meantime our conversation has been going on in "comments", with me recalling that the name science (from Latin scientia, translating Greek episteme) expresses the philosophical concern already of Plato and Aristotle, and him retorting that the pre-Galilean use of the word doesn't have anything to do with the post-Galilean one, when it acquired a whole new meaning thanks to the discovery of "scientific method". So in his last comment Andrea returned to his, should I say rather desperate, conclusion that "the problem of bringing rationality and faith together" is a problem that "has currently no solution whatsoever".

Well, of course, I feel like saying, if we pretend to compare them forgetting that they actually are like "apples" and "wheels".

That they are so, was implicit in my erudite dissertation about faith, fides, pistis. To which I should add that in Catholic theology it was usual to distinguish between fides quae (creditur) and fides qua (creditur), in a sense somewhat equivalent to the two meanings of pistis on which I called attention: that of which one is persuaded, let's call it belief, and the personal relation by which that persuasion comes. Today we tend to equate faith essentially with the fides quae, i.e. with belief, a persuasion of some sort, to distinguish then between different kinds of beliefs according to the ground on which they rest: some would rest on the "irrational" ground of authority, others on the ground of reasoning methodically. But this would not be like comparing "apples" and "wheels", it would rather be like comparing "apples" and "pears", being both different kinds of fruits.

By the way, "resting on a solid ground" was the etymological meaning of the Greek word for science: episteme. So the question of science was whether we can reach such a ground in our knowledge of things, and how, by what "method". Whatever the answer given, it always implied an explicit or implicit reference to experience, with the demand addressed to an interlocutor to recognize himself in it. It already means, in terms of the so called scientific method, the demand to put our ideas to the test of experience. But…

Which experience? what actually makes an experience? This is the question underlying the conversation with Andrea. A scientific proposition must be such to account for experience. But experience is multifaceted, and consequently there are different levels of science, lower or higher according to the aspects of experience they are able to encompass.

This brings me back to faith and reason as "apples" and "wheels". They cannot be compared because they aren't just different kinds of beliefs, but are different aspects of our ordinary experience. Different, and though inseparable.

A "scientific method" that doesn't allow to account for both makes for a very poor science.

HP

To be continued, because many are the arguments of Andrea that deserve an answer.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Faith - trust

I was meditating other posts, while I found this objection by Andrea to my last one, that deserves a general answer of explanation:

The "faith" between disciple and teacher has nothing to do with religious faith. It should be called trust instead. The teacher gives the disciples the means to learn and walk by themselves, and this requires that the disciples trust the teacher initially. It is like that in any discipline, this is how we (and other animals ) learn. The scientific method is a framework to select ideas, once you learn it, by initially trusting that it works, you are free to apply it to any idea. The fact that the framework is, itself, and idea which survived a relatively long selection, to become the most trusted approach to formulate theories that describe (or better that model) reality, validates the initial trust, taking away the need to have "faith in the system". It might not be the definitive way to look at reality, better methods may show up in the future, if so, they will be evaluated accordingly and accepted, but so far the scientific method is unsurpassed.
Is the Pope trying to prove that the scientific method is a gift of a "teacher-God"? I hope not because that is a dangerous path to follow…
Paradoxically, applying the same logic I wouldn't be able to prove that atheism isn't.
Religion is an idea, reason a way to select ideas, science is a framework produced by reason, therefore comparing faith and reason is like comparing apples and wheels.


 

No, dear Andrea, I don't agree with you, on several regards.

First: the "faith" between disciple and teacher has everything to do with religious faith. I pray you to revert from English to Latin. English is a mixture of Latin (taken from the French of the Norman invaders of the 11th century) and of Anglo-Saxon, so it allows the use in different context of words that in the original had more or less the same meaning: such are faith, from fides, and trust.

Fides translates the New Testament Greek pistis. It is a word that might mean simply persuasion of the truth of something, in a sense close to the English belief, which would equate then what you call "religious faith" with any other such persuasion, unless we could specify what religious means. In the New Testament (where by the way the word religion doesn't exist, because it is again a Latin word taken by Roman pre-Christian use) such a specification is given by the use of the word to mean the fact of being persuaded by someone, whom, if you like, we trust as teacher.

Now, who is a teacher? Or better, what does a teacher do? I saw what you said, which I'd like to rephrase by saying that he is someone who teaches us something by enabling us to understand what it means. But there is more: he is one who, by so doing, introduces us to a world, or, vice versa, opens a world for us. So, for example, a Shakespearean teacher opens for us Shakespeare's world; a math teacher opens for us the world of mathematics; and so on with whatever example you like.

A religious teacher, I'd say, is someone who opens for us not a world, but the world. Having just said this, it came to my mind the fact that actually our parents do the same for us, so I try to specify better: a religious teacher is someone who in the course of our human and intellectual growth introduces us to the ultimate understanding of things (speaking in a bit more technical theological language, I could say that he introduces us to the eschata, the "last things"). All such teachers refer back, in Christianity, to Jesus Christ, the teacher par excellence, who introduces us to God, i.e. to the divine life of which he himself shares.

You can see here how faith-trust comes everywhere into play. In the original use, the Latin word stressed more than the Greek one the trust aspect: it meant the credit enjoyed by someone with someone else, so that one is made confident enough to participate in the world of the other. And notice then how the ordinary meaning of the word shades into a theological one.

Should I keep on going? I would recall first of all that for Christians Christ is the logos incarnate. Now, in Greek logos means at the same time "word" and "reason". It is not meant however reason conceived primarily in the modern fashion as a subjective faculty, but the reasons ("ratios" or proportions) that make of things a world, a cosmos, an ordinate whole, which the word discloses. By way of faith in Christ, therefore, men were given access to that understanding of the world which eventually developed into modern science.

This is what the Pope doesn't tire of reminding us since his Regensburg address.

What I myself humbly added in the previous post is that the science of science, which we call epistemology, cannot overlook, if it really wants to be scientific in the account it gives of the exercise of human understanding, of embracing in it also the faith-trust that ties disciple and teacher. Overlooking this, makes every discourse on scientific method a deception.

No one of the great most celebrated scientists – the like of Galilei, Newton, Einstein – ever arrived at their discoveries by following the procedures the so called scientific method prescribes. If he had followed them – observes Paul Feyerabend in his well known Against Method – Galilei would have never become "galileian", but he would have staid "Aristotelian". It doesn't exist any scientific method, as a peculiar way of selecting ideas: unless we mean by it the ordinary exercise of human understanding, that makes any man whatsoever test his ideas in reality.

One last thing. "Religion is an idea", you say. No, religion is a reality: the reality discovered by putting one's limited ideas to the test of the challenge represented by a true teacher. No less than Thomas Aquinas thought therefore that we can have a science of religion, and that such is theology.

I know the objection: he didn't mean by science the same thing as we do today. The trouble is that what we mean by science today is not quite clear. The same epistemologists who lay stress on method to decide what is science, cannot reach an agreement on it. So in the name of science we abdicate science.

Yours

HP

Friday, September 24, 2010

A reminder of hope

Benedict XVI reminded us of the necessary connection of faith and reason.

Joseph Ratzinger is today Pope because appointed by his fellow cardinals – should I add by inspiration of the Holy Spirit? – to defend the cause of Christian religion, as the coming together of faith and reason.

This joining of the two is for him – and for every true Christian – the sign of the truth of Christianity.

Their being so joined, though, doesn't make only the true religion, but also true science.

If you have doubts about it, please check with an interesting figure of scientist, epistemologist and social thinker died in 1976, the kind of which we wish we had more: Michael Polanyi.

He was a scientist (in the "hard sciences": physics and chemistry) who knew how to reflect on what he did, reaching conclusions different from the ones spread by philosophers fond of science, who spend their lives extolling it without ever engaging in it.

Science, he remarked, always develops out of a "tacit dimension", a prereflexive capacity of observation and understanding that guides the scientist in his research – like the language we speak without thinking about it, because we only pay attention to the things to say. It's a capacity unconceivable outside of the personal relationship between a disciple and a teacher: call it the faith prompted in the one by other, by which he is led to the use of his own reason.

Such is science, and I cannot deny that we have aplenty. Leaving out of recognition, though, the tacit dimension and the faith that goes with it, science turns against itself.

We are thus left with very little true science, capable of bringing people to agree in a common understanding of things. And with little true religion. Society turns then against itself in a creeping civil war. Like the one opposing the self-declared intellectual elite surrounding POTUS and the Tea Parties.

And yet, Benedict stays there as a reminder of hope.

HP

Saturday, September 18, 2010

In the name of a champion of freedom

In absence of the LD I do a bit of his informing job.

Benedict XVI ironically reminded the Brits of the value of their constitutional tradition by recalling one who in the course of it died as martyr of a higher cause: San Thomas More.

Here is the text:

Mr Speaker,

Thank you for your words of welcome on behalf of this distinguished gathering. As I address you, I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall, a building of unique significance in the civil and political history of the people of these islands. Allow me also to express my esteem for the Parliament which has existed on this site for centuries and which has had such a profound influence on the development of participative government among the nations, especially in the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world at large. Your common law tradition serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world, and your particular vision of the respective rights and duties of the state and the individual, and of the separation of powers, remains an inspiration to many across the globe.

As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose "good servant" he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

This country's Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation's political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual's rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More's trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as "every economic decision has a moral consequence" (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament's particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This "corrective" role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today. And it finds expression in the fields of concern in which your Government has been engaged with the Holy See. In the area of peace, there have been exchanges regarding the elaboration of an international arms trade treaty; regarding human rights, the Holy See and the United Kingdom have welcomed the spread of democracy, especially in the last sixty-five years; in the field of development, there has been collaboration on debt relief, fair trade and financing for development, particularly through the International Finance Facility, the International Immunization Bond, and the Advanced Market Commitment. The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all.

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed "too big to fail". Surely the integral human development of the world's peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world's attention, that is truly "too big to fail".

This overview of recent cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See illustrates well how much progress has been made, in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share. I hope and pray that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with this Parliament's historic practice of invoking the Spirit's guidance upon those who seek to improve the conditions of all mankind. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed. The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.

Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!

A new gracious woman

The LD has been absent from this page, not because engaged by his job to follow the trip of the Pope in Great Britain, but for a greater reason:

his wife just had a baby girl.

What a joy!

I would have liked to enlarge on this, by spending a few words to see what it is that makes for joy in birth. Hard task!

Perhaps I can summarize it thus: the renewal of life experimented as grace, that makes us wanting to laugh, as Abraham did when the angel announced to him the conception of Isaac.

Add to this that we are speaking of the entrance in the world of a little woman: what more gracious than that!?

HP

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Expendable lives

Ok, we are not at war with Islam, but it just happens that Islam is at war with us.

Not from now, but since fourteen centuries. Here again it would suffice some knowledge of history. First half of the Byzantine empire was lost to the conquering onslaught of the Arabs; centuries later the remaining part of the empire collapsed under the Turkish pressure; still in the eighteenth century the Turks were besieging Vienna. Do I need to continue?

Does this authorize us to want to burn the Qur'an. Well, no. Why to provoke in vain? But that is not the question. What I ask is whether we can criticize the Qur'an. Here is at stake one of the basic tenets of our civilization. And I am afraid that the answer come close to a blunt no!

Burning the Qur'an would be a drastic show of criticism. But even milder signs of it arise angry masses in the Muslim world. Think of what happened after the Pope's Regensburg address.

Spontaneous uprisings? Allow me to doubt it strongly. I don't think that the average Pakistani or Indian Muslim attacking Christian churches follow the western press, or television or internet. But there is a planned war run by way of the media, to provoke terror and psychological subjugation. So Europe to a large extent, and to a lesser extent the USA, already live in a state of semi dhimmitude, because of the fear to speak out.

The trouble is that while here we are concerned with not rubbing Muslims the wrong way (if we don't want to endanger our or other Christians' lives), Christian lives are considered expendable in large parts of the Muslim world. Any non Muslim life is considered expendable.

Ok, this is the best I can do for now.

HP

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cardinal blunders

A few facts everybody should know about the history of the Church.

There are two basic dogmas of Christianity, meaning teachings to be accepted if one wants to belong to the Church.

The first one was proclaimed in the year 325 in Nicaea, where was held the first ecumenical council. It declares that God is one substance in three persons.

The second one was proclaimed in the council held in Calcedonia more than hundred years later, in 451. It declares that Christ is utterly human and utterly divine, one person with a double nature.

I could be legitimately asked what do they mean. Especially the first in fact is hard to understand. But it is not to expound about them that I recalled the two dogmas. I could even try do to it, but it would take some room. I keep satisfied therefore with suggesting to have a look at Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity, or, more simply, to read the first part of Benedict XVI' encyclical Deus caritas est. There one could discover the basic import the teaching of the Church has on our understanding of man.

Notice: I didn't say "on our religious understanding", but simply on our "understanding of man". If anyone didn't get it, this means that it isn't as if we had a religion, which could differ, side by side with an identical self-understanding.

Now, here it is the trouble that plagues us today: those two basic dogmas were explicitly rejected by Muhammad in the Qur'an.

They are not stated as such in other traditions, with no previous notion of Christianity. So Christianity, in its effort at catholicity, could tray to show how the truth of its teaching was already inchoative in them. But what to do when they are explicitly rejected?

I can't but marvel when I hear a cardinal of the Holy Catholic Church, the archbishop of Milan, express his concern about the right of Muslims to have a place of cult, therefore soliciting the public authorities to let them build a mosque. What kind of message does he give this way to his flock? A flock, by the way, in need of reinforcement, with church attendance dwindling. It is so perhaps also because of the contradictory message it is given: on one side the affirmation of the truth of the Church teaching, on the other the reduction of this teaching to a religion among other, that people have a right to practice.

If there is such a right, it belongs to the secular authorities to guarantee it, while defining the conditions for it. It is no concern of a cardinal, who otherwise can look, by defending it, to be granting the superiority of the State as creator of a public space in which also the Church finds her rights.

I marvel less when I hear POTUS state, to calm the waters agitated by the threat of reverend Jones to burn the Qur'an, that the enemy is not Islam, but Bin Laden (what about Achmadinejad and so many other Islamic tyrants?). He is speaking the language of diplomacy. For what concerns the truth of the statement, however, my comment would be, in scholastic style, sic et non. But about this to a next post.

HP

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Clayton from the Weight of Glory offers this:

The Angelus Awards - a student film festival sponsored and organized by a Catholic non-profit in the ehart of the entertainment industry: if Clayton says it's worth a gander, then it is!

LD

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Some obvious things

I hoped to find some further lines of meditation tying my staying on the beach with the bible studies I am doing at the moment. That's why I ended a previous post with a "possibly to be continued". But strength failed me. UPDATE: I FIXED THE LINK - LD

I wanted to tell you about the beach, the strange effect the resort where I go has on me, of a kind of gynaeceum, peopled mainly by half naked women with their children, where men were just admitted but didn't quite belong. Whether this has some larger meaning for the understanding of our society, I am not quite sure. For me, it was a reminder that, however we might mingle in all public places, so that women are now present in all the activities previously reserved to men, privately they are different from us.

Should I give you a biblical quote for this remainder, i.e. that when "God created man in his image", "male and female he created him"?

Why to inconvenience in this way the Bible for something so obvious? If not because we need to be reminded of the obvious, of what is so obvious that we don't even see it anymore?

In the meantime the LD overcame me with the burning issue of the mosque at Ground Zero, so drawing me back to the facts of the day. Away from the beach, but not from the Bible.

Are there other obvious things of which we should be reminded by reading the Bible? Plenty, but one in particular: that the Bible is not a "religious" book – at least not in the sense in which we have become accustomed to use the word religion: meaning that everybody has his own theological world view, and that doesn't impinge in the way we live in society as good citizens.

Actually the Bible deals precisely with this question: how to be "good citizens", i.e. a people capable of living in peace and justice under a Good Sovereign.

It speaks, in its own terms, of the kingdom of God, in which everybody finds in the end his own immortal life.

It's here that problems with Muslims arise: also the Quran speaks of the same thing. But it gives a very different image of what this requires. Different, and in many ways incompatible with the one indicated by the Bible.

An example: the Bible says "you shall not kill", without qualifications. The Quran apparently says the same thing. Only apparently though, because the interdiction of murder ends by being qualified and restricted just to the people who recognize the truth of the Quran itself, i.e. to other Muslims. All other people, in fact, being equally called to do it, are turned by their failure to recognize it into renegades, whose life is not worthy a dime, therefore to be killed or subjugated.

The LD asked whether Muslims can be good Americans. Well, I say yes, if they turn Christians. I don't mean with this that they should all convert, but that they should recognize the universal dignity of all men, therefore all equally to be respected in their life. Which, being contrary to the teaching of the Quran, would be already a kind of conversion.

HP

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Of Mosques and Men IV: what's in a name?

The following remarks are a revised and expanded version of ealier ones written in reply to a combox query.

As revised and expanded, they stand alone as a post, and are offered in the spirit of further clarification.

The first thing that makes me suspicious in this whole affair is the proponents' apparent insensitivity.

Suppose proponents are sincere in their expressions of desire to aid in healing, reconciliation, dialogue promotion, etc., and that their choice of "Cordoba House" as a name for their project is a simple case of innocent cultural tone-deafness (I am thinking of some of those great HSBC ads): why not agree then to move a few blocks further away, as soon as the concern has been voiced?

Quite apart from the proponents' intentions, the building of an Islamic "cultural center" (by the way, the distinction between a "mosque" and a "cultural center" is silly on its face: mosques are cultural centers - akin to the ancient Greek agora or the Medieval cathedral and quite different from the 20th century Christian worship house) on such a scale, so close to the site of the 9/11 attacks, is an affront (to the victims, and to everyone who was touched by the atrocity).

In any case, the name of the proposed cultural center is Cordoba House (or Park51, a project of the Cordoba Initiative). The FAQ Page of the Cordoba Initiative offers the following explanation:

The name Cordoba was chosen carefully to reflect a period of time during which Islam played a monumental role in the enrichment of human civilization and knowledge. A thousand years ago Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted and created a prosperous center of intellectual, spiritual, cultural and commercial life in Cordoba, Spain.

This gloss of the historical record strikes me as particularly unfortunate.

Cordoba was a city in which Christians and Jews lived in dhimmitude, i.e., as "protected" groups segregated from what we might call or recognize as political life, the life of the larger community. To invoke Cordoba is to invoke Muslim rule.

Muslim rule means something very specific: it is essentially theocratic and exclusivist.

There is, in other words, no distinction between the temporal and the spiritual - no 'separation of Church and state', as it were - by which I mean to say not that there are no separate institutions in Muslim majority nations, but that the distinction is lacking in theory or in principle.

God's revelation through Mohammad, "The Seal of the Prophets" has been given to the whole world: Islam has been proclaimed and exists de iure over the whole planet; the task of Muslims is to bring every living person into the ummah, the "community of believers" in which the rule of Islam is realized in fact.

We are used in the West to talk unproblematically about "moderate" Muslims and "moderate" Islam. Commentators like Victor Davis Hanson and Thomas Friedman have both written to the effect that the Islamic world needs its own "Enlightenment" - as though it were a simple matter of fathoming notions of equality, democracy and free inquiry (without realizing that the Enlightenment forms of these were really perversions of the classical notions, and directly tending toward the present Western ills of radical secularism, legal positivism, technocracy, but let us grant for the sake of argument that an Islamic "Enlightenment" would be a good thing) - and unthinkable that the intellectual and spiritual elements of such a cultural revolution might be lacking.

Still, any individual might, in the words of an American Farmer (roughly), leave behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, and receive new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He might, in a word, become an American, by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater.

Then, he would count himself among such as Lincoln described:

We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

Any Muslim immigrant might see himself in the place of Lincoln's Europeans, and feel the electric cord in him, and be an American.

Whether Islam can find the intellectual and spiritual wherewithal to embrace the theoretical distinction of spiritual and temporal spheres, and so find a way to conceive itself otherwise than in irreducible opposition to Western civilization, is another matter entirely.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Of Mosques and Men III - some clarifications

More than a few correspondents have asked me to answer, point-blank, whether I support the proposed mosque construction near ground zero in New York.

Here is my reply: no, I do not support the mosque proposal.

I actually think it is ill-conceived and in poor taste, at best.

Frankly, I am rather more than a little offended at the idea.

My earlier remarks (which may be found here and here) apparently gave the impression that I am in favor of the construction.

The unfortunate phrase was, "Let [Muslims] come to lower Manhattan and prove [they can be good citizens] (- and yes, this is something all of us have to prove in America, in each generation)."

His scriptis, I do not find Rauf's idea offensive as such - offensive is the idea of executing the project in such proximity to Ground Zero, and on such a scale.

I am at pains to clarify that, despite my doubts about Islam's compatibility with Western civilization, I cannot as a Catholic (whose ancestors faced and overcame similar and comparably virulent public conviction of their religion's basic, irreducible and insuperable incompatibility with the American way of life) begrudge Muslims in America the chance to prove me wrong.

There are also several questions outstanding, such as:
  1. Is Rauf, a Sufi, really representative of mainstream Muslim thinking?
  2. Is Rauf, a Sufi, an effective dialogoue partner within the Muslim world, itself?
Just a couple.

There are several dozen others where those came from.

LD