Category : Philosophy

(History Today) Eleanor Parker–Chaucer's Post-Truth World

‘Post-truth’ is a word of our times, at least according to Oxford Dictionaries, who declared it their word of 2016. Their definition said that ”˜post-truth’ refers to ”˜circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

The appearance of a new word tends to encourage the idea that the phenomenon itself is new: that it did not exist before there was a neologism to describe it. That is not the case here, even if ”˜post-truth’ is the current buzz-word; as historians know well, there has never been a time when public opinion was not shaped more powerfully by emotion and personal belief than by facts. What is different now, perhaps, is how rapidly false stories and fake news can circulate: social media allows the public as well as giant news organisations to be involved in spreading untrue or distorted tales. That is a formidable challenge for those who care about truth.

But even concern about the ease with which false stories can spread is far from new. At the end of the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote incisively on this subject in his poem The House of Fame. This poem describes a dream-vision in which Chaucer (carried by a comically talkative eagle) is borne up into the sky, taken to a castle standing midway between Heaven and Earth. This is the House of Fame, to which all words uttered in the world, spoken or written, find their way.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Language, Philosophy, Theology

(1st Things) Peter Hitchens: The Fantasy of Addiction

It was the triumph of the Christian religion that for many centuries it managed to become the unreasoning assumption of almost all, built into every spoken and written word, every song, and every building. It was the disaster of the Christian religion that it assumed this triumph would last forever and outlast everything, and so it was ill equipped to resist the challenge of a rival when it came, in this, the century of the self. The Christian religion had no idea that a new power, which I call selfism, would arise. And, having arisen, selfism has easily shouldered its rival aside. In free competition, how can a faith based upon self-restraint and patience compete with one that pardons, unconditionally and in advance, all the self-indulgences you can think of, and some you cannot? That is what the “addiction” argument is most fundamentally about, and why it is especially distressing to hear Christian voices accepting and promoting it, as if it were merciful to call a man a slave, and treat him as if he had no power to resist. The mass abandonment of cigarettes by a generation of educated people demonstrates that, given responsibility for their actions and blamed for their outcomes, huge numbers of people will give up a bad habit even if it is difficult. Where we have adopted the opposite attitude, and assured abusers that they are not answerable for their actions, we have seen other bad habits grow or remain as common as before. Heroin abuse has not been defeated, the abuse of prescription drugs grows all the time, and heavy drinking is a sad and spreading problem in Britain.

Most of the people who read what I have written here, if they even get to the end, will be angry with me for expressing their own secret doubts, one of the cruellest things you can do to any fellow creature. For we all prefer the easy, comforting falsehood to the awkward truth. But at the same time, we all know exactly what we are doing, and seek with ever-greater zeal to conceal it from ourselves. Has it not been so since the beginning? And has not the greatest danger always been that those charged with the duty of preaching the steep and rugged pathway persuade themselves that weakness is compassion, and that sin can be cured at a clinic, or soothed with a pill? And so falsehood flourishes in great power, like the green bay tree.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Alcohol/Drinking, Anthropology, Drugs/Drug Addiction, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Pastoral Theology, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(WSJ) Jennifer Grossman–Can You Love God and Ayn Rand?

Though her atheism never wavered, Rand’s feelings toward religion weren’t simplistic. She admired the brilliance and impact of historical religious thinkers like Aquinas and respected religious freedom, even drafting a speech for Barry Goldwater that included ample references to God. And one account, if true, suggests that Rand understood the powerful appeal of spirituality during times of grief.

Steve Mariotti””an education entrepreneur whose grandfather, Lowell B. Mason, had been Rand’s friend””spoke with Rand as she was grieving the loss of her husband, Frank O’Connor. Hoping to comfort her, Mr. Mariotti suggested that she would see Frank again in a spiritual sense. He told me in a recent interview that Rand replied, “I hope you are right. Maybe you are. . . . I will find out soon enough.” Mr. Mariotti jokingly responded to let him know, prompting a laugh that lifted her mood.

More important, militant atheism doesn’t spring from the pages of Rand’s fiction. If she truly believed that religion was such a threat, where are the religious villains in her novels? Corrupt priests or hypocritical churchgoers are nowhere to be found. It’s possible to read “Atlas Shrugged,” “We the Living,” “The Fountainhead” and “Anthem,” cover-to-cover and have little idea what Rand thought about religion.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, History, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

(Boston Globe) Cornel West–Spiritual blackout in America: Election 2016

For over a century, the best response to Plato’s critique of democracy has been John Dewey’s claim that precious and fragile democratic experiments must put a premium on democratic statecraft (public accountability, protection of rights and liberties, as well as personal responsibility, embedded in a fair rule of law) and especially on democratic soulcraft (integrity, empathy, and a mature sense of history). For Plato, democratic regimes collapse owing to the slavish souls of citizens driven by hedonism and narcissism, mendacity and venality. Dewey replies that this kind of spiritual blackout can be overcome by robust democratic education and courageous exemplars grounded in the spread of critical intelligence, moral compassion, and historical humility. The 2016 election presents a dangerous question as to whether Dewey’s challenge to Plato’s critique can be met.

Yet Clinton is not a strong agent for Dewey’s response. There is no doubt that if she becomes the first woman president of the United States ”” though I prefer Jill Stein, of the Green Party ”” Clinton will be smart, even brilliant, in office. But like her predecessor, Barack Obama, she promotes the same neoliberal policies that increase inequality and racial polarization that will produce the next Trump. More important, she embraces Trump-like figures abroad, be they in Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Israel, or Syria ”” figures of ugly xenophobia and militaristic policies. The same self-righteous neoliberal soulcraft of smartness, dollars, and bombs lands us even deeper in our spiritual blackout. Instead we need a democratic soulcraft of wisdom, justice, and peace ”” the dreams of courageous freedom fighters like Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel, Edward Said, and Dorothy Day. These dreams now lie dormant at this bleak moment, but spiritual and democratic awakenings are afoot among the ripe ones, especially those in the younger generation.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(1st Things) Benjamin Myers–The Sentimentality Trap

Don’t get me wrong. I agree with Ted Kooser, who argues in his excellent Poetry Home Repair Manual that it is far better to risk being sentimental than it is to accept a dry, emotionless kind of poetry. I sometimes think, in fact, that the closer one gets to sentimentality without actually giving in to it, the better. Or to put that in terms more in tune with what I have been arguing, it is a great accomplishment in a poem to take content that is very close to a common emotional experience that can easily be sentimentalized but render it with a depth of feeling and attention to the particular that is entirely unsentimental.

I can immediately think of two great poems that do just that. The first is Robert Hayden’s classic “Those Winter Sundays,” a portrait of an emotionally distant father, but which starts

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

It ends, “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?” This poem could easily have focused on the coziness of the fire, or painted an unmixed and all-admiring portrait of the father. Alternately, it could have railed like a cardboard Sylvia Plath against the evils of patriarchy. But instead, Hayden took the tougher road of telling us about his particular father and their relationship, and in that particularity there is a power to impart universal truth about the complexity of family relationships, something no sentimental poem can achieve.

The other poem that springs to mind is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall.” The images are fresh and striking in their particularity: “Goldengrove unleaving” and “worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.” (The fantastic sound certainly doesn’t hurt either.)

Once the Christian reader has dined on poetic fare as rich as this, how could he be satisfied with the thin gruel of sentimentality or with the hard biscuit of the cynical? Once we have known the sacred touch of real love, two made one flesh, both gift from God and image of his love for us, how could we ever again be content with poetic pornography?

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Multiculturalism, pluralism, Philosophy, Poetry & Literature, Politics in General, Psychology, Theology

(Economist Erasmus Blog) Terry Eagleton presents an unusual challenge to the new atheism

Where the new atheists go wrong, Mr Eagleton says, is in failing to see the symbiotic relationship between the Western world, with all its technological and cultural prowess, and the advent of global jihadism. To back up that point, he might have been expected to focus on America’s cold-war role in south Asia, supporting holy war in Afghanistan and treating President Zia-ul-Haq, who took Pakistan down an Islamist path, as a strategic ally. Instead he chose an example a little further to the east:

In the earlier decades of the 20th century, the rolling back of liberal, secular and left-nationalist forces in the Muslim world by the West for its own imperial purposes (it supported the massacre of half a million leftists in Indonesia, for example) created a political vacuum in that vital geopolitical region into which Islamism was able to move.

In other words, to the new-atheist characterisation of militant Islam as “all their fault”, a new, gratuitous form of evil in the world which must simply be resisted rather than understood or analysed, Mr Eagleton counter-proposes something more like “it’s all our fault.” He is not, of course, the only leftist thinker to make that argument.

Mr Eagleton is eloquent when he elaborates on the enduring power of faith as a source of cohesion and inspiration in most human societies. But both he and his new-atheist adversaries can sometimes fall into the trap of bunching together different forms of religion. Religion can do (and mostly does) the commendable job of connecting people’s everyday lives and actions with great imperishable truths, without inspiring them to go out and kill themselves and other people. Indeed it can often be a powerful restraint on people’s impulse to engage in that sort of act. The discussion only becomes interesting when you acknowledge that religion can have diametrically opposing effects, in different circumstances, and ask why this is so.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Atheism, History, Islam, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology

Anthony Robinson on Yuval Levin's new Book:Can Americans get past the past?

In this worrisome and wearisome election year, Yuval Levin offers a gracefully written, big-picture analysis of American society and politics. Levin, editor of National Affairs and a conservative of the David Brooks type, challenges both Democrats and Re­publicans, whom he views as snared in nostalgia for bygone (and not to be recovered) eras.

Progressives long for the post”“World War II era of relative income equality, powerful national institutions, and a highly regulated economy. Conservatives yearn for the cultural conformity of the immediate postwar years and look to the 1980s as the political and economic model. “Our polarized parties are now exceptionally backward-looking,” writes Levin. “They are offering the public a choice of competing nostalgias, neither of which is well-suited to contending with contemporary American challenges.”

Levin’s essay is a work of political philosophy, but there is an implicit theological and moral critique in his analysis. Nostalgia-driven parties and the nation they would lead face the future with more fear than hope, more despair than faith. Levin implicates the Boomer generation, whose “self-image casts a giant shadow over our politics, and . . . means we are inclined to look backward to find our prime.” (Both presidential candidates, one might note, are Boomers.)

Read it all from Christian Century.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

A very important Lionel Shriver Op-ed in the NYT–"Now the role of oppressor has passed to the left"

When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, conservatives were the enforcers of conformity. It was the right that was suspicious, sniffing out Communists and scrutinizing public figures for signs of sedition.

Now the role of oppressor has passed to the left. In Australia, where I spoke, Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to do or say anything likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate,” providing alarming latitude in the restriction of free speech. It is Australia’s conservatives arguing for the amendment of this law.

As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts ”” by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship, and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy. There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy. The shrill tyranny of the left helps to push them toward Donald Trump.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Multiculturalism, pluralism, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–Are We on the Path to National Ruin?

Normally, nations pull together after tragedy, but a society plagued by dislocation and slipped off the rails of reality can go the other way. Rallies become gripped by an exaltation of tribal fervor. Before you know it, political life has spun out of control, dragging the country itself into a place both bizarre and unrecognizable.

This happened in Europe in the 1930s. We’re not close to that kind of descent in America today, but we’re closer than we’ve been. Let’s be honest: The crack of some abyss opened up for a moment by the end of last week.

Blood was in the streets last week ”” victims of police violence in two cities and slain cops in another. America’s leadership crisis looked dire. The F.B.I. director’s statements reminded us that Hillary Clinton is willing to blatantly lie to preserve her career. Donald Trump, of course, lies continually and without compunction. It’s very easy to see this country on a nightmare trajectory….I’m betting the local is more powerful, that the healthy growth on the forest floor is more important than the rot in the canopy. But last week was a confidence shaker. There’s a cavity beneath what we thought was the floor of national life, and there are demons there.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Philosophy, Police/Fire, Politics in General, Psychology, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Sociology, Theology, Violence

Vital Food for Thought from Alisdair MacIntyre on Saint Benedict's Feast Day

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. None the less certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead””often not recognising fully what they were doing””was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another””doubtless very different””St. Benedict.”

–Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Terre Haute, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 3rd. ed., 2007), p. 263

Update: Peter Leithardt’s comments on this are also worth pondering:

“The turning point, he says, occurred with a renunciation of the “task of shoring up the Roman imperium,” which required “men and women of good will” to begin to distinguish between sustaining moral community and maintaining the empire. Roman civilization was no longer seen as synonymous with civilization itself. Mutatis muntandis, this is the intellectual and practical transformation that has to take place before we can begin to construct “local forms of community” for the flourishing of civility and intellectual life. We need to acknowledge that our task isn’t to shore up America, or the West, or whatever. If we promote local communities of virtue as a tactic for shoring up the imperium, we haven’t really grasped MacIntyre’s point, or the depth of the crisis he described.

That renunciation is as emotionally difficult as the project of forming local communities is practically difficult.”

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Marriage & Family, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Sociology, Theology

(1st Things) Sherif Girgis–Obergefell and the New Gnosticism

That conclusion suggests that the body doesn’t matter. When it comes to what fulfills us, we are not personal animals””mammalian thinkers, to put it starkly””who come in two basic forms that complete each other. We are subjects of desire and consent, who use bodily equipment for spiritual and emotional expression. Fittingly, then, has this new doctrine been called a New Gnosticism.

Beyond marriage, this doctrine entails that sex doesn’t matter, or that it matters only as an inner reality. Since I am not my body, I might have been born in the wrong one. Because the real me is internal, my sexual identity is just what I sense it to be. The same goes for other valuable aspects of my identity. My essence is what I say and feel that it is.

The doctrine is also individualistic. On the old view, you could know important things about me unmediated, by knowing something about my body or our shared nature. And our interdependence as persons was as inescapable as our physical incompleteness and need: as male and female, infants and infirm. But if the real me lies within, only I know what I am. You have to take my word for it; I can learn nothing about myself from our communion. And if I emerge only when autonomy does””if I come into the world already thinking and feeling and choosing””it’s easy to overlook our interdependence. I feel free to strike out on my own, and to satisfy my desires less encumbered by others’ needs.

But again, mere acceptance of this vision of the person isn’t enough to explain Obergefell. The Court did not simply allow new relationships; it required their recognition as marriages, as similar to opposite-sex bonds in every important way. In other words, it didn’t simply free people to live by the New Gnosticism. It required us, “the People,” to endorse this dogma, by forbidding us to enact distinctions that cut against it.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology

(W Post) Barton Swain–The left won the culture war. Will they be merciful?

More recently, Notre Dame historian George Marsden ”” a self-described “Augustinian Christian” and so something close to an evangelical, whatever that still means ”” has argued in his book “The Twilight of the American Enlightenment” that religious traditionalists and secularist liberals can avoid a great deal of acrimony by defenestrating the midcentury idea of a “neutral” public sphere and instead adopting what he and others have termed “principled pluralism.” More recently still, in his new book “The Fractured Republic,” the scholar and journalist Yuval Levin, a Jewish social conservative, has counseled both religious conservatives and secularist liberals that they can repair our dysfunctional politics by comprehending the implications of this one essential truth: that American society is no longer the consolidated unit it once was but a diffuse assortment of subcultures.

True, many religious social conservatives still think it’s their duty to take America back, their disposition expressed in the fierce eloquence of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). But many do not. Many have finally given up on the whole idea of a culture war or are willing to admit they lost it. They are determined only to remain who they are and to live as amiably and productively as they can in a culture that doesn’t look like them and doesn’t belong to them.

In time, this shift in outlook may bring about a more peaceable public sphere. But that will depend on others ”” especially the adherents of an ascendant social progressivism ”” declining to take full advantage of their newfound cultural dominance. I see few signs of that, but I am hopeful all the same.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Inter-Faith Relations, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Sexuality, Theology

(Tel.) Christopher Howse–God is no thing, but he is in charge of things

of course, it is meant to be provoking: God Is No Thing ”“ the title of Rupert Shortt’s very condensed new book. “The Creator represented in orthodox teaching is not a thing, or any part of reality as we understand it,” he says.

It is true that, if you made a catalogue of all the things in the universe, God would not be listed, but he is certainly real, more real than any thing. He is, if you like, pure act, indeed, someone went as far as to say he is a verb rather than a noun. But what kind of reality does he have?

One word that is attached to the reality of God is transcendent ”“ he is like goodness and truth and life, only more so. But as Rupert Shortt, the religion editor at the TLS, reminds us, God is also, in the words of St Augustine of Hippo, closer to us than we are to ourselves. That closeness is sometimes called immanence, though it is nothing like the windy imaginings of Hegel, who need not come into this conversation.

Shortt wishes to make God’s lack of thinginess part of the Christian response to the New Atheism….

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Apologetics, Atheism, Books, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Barna) The End of Absolutes: America's New Moral Code

Christian morality is being ushered out of American social structures and off the cultural main stage, leaving a vacuum in its place””and the broader culture is attempting to fill the void. New research from Barna reveals growing concern about the moral condition of the nation, even as many American adults admit they are uncertain about how to determine right from wrong. So what do Americans believe? Is truth relative or absolute? And do Christians see truth and morality in radically different ways from the broader public, or are they equally influenced by the growing tide of secularism and religious skepticism?

A majority of American adults across age group, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and political ideology expresses concern about the nation’s moral condition””eight in 10 overall (80%). The proportion is closer to nine in 10 among Elders (89%) and Boomers (87%), while about three-quarters of Gen-Xers (75%) and Millennials (74%) report concern. Similarly, practicing Christians (90%) are more likely than adults of no faith (67%) or those who identify with a religious faith other than Christianity (72%) to say they are concerned about the moral condition of the nation. Though measurable differences exist between population segments, moral concern is widespread across the demographic board.

Much less widespread, however, is consensus on morality itself. What is it based on? Where does it come from? How can someone know what to do when making moral decisions? According to a majority of American adults (57%), knowing what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience. This view is much more prevalent among younger generations than among older adults.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Inter-Faith Relations, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Theology

(ABC Aus.) Dominic Erdozain–We need an awareness of the religious roots of the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment, as David Bebbington has shown, was a seminal influence on the rise of evangelicalism and its experiential, sensed-based spirituality. Pierre Bayle – prophet of conscience – was not only the darling of the philosophes in the eighteenth century: he played a vital role in the emergence of Continental Pietism. Voltaire, meanwhile, added to his scattering of liberal advocates a number of orthodox admirers. He would have enjoyed the phrase with which a nineteenth-century priest appraised his radioactive ministry: “Dieu, par une ruse diabolique, envoya Voltaire combattre son Eglise pour le regenerer” [God, by a religious ruse, sent Voltaire to his Church to regenerate her].

Finally, Spinoza – “the most impious, the most infamous, and at the same time the most subtle Atheist that Hell has vomited on the earth” – made good on his enduring claim that love is criticism, and criticism is love. Among his posthumous admirers was the Russian philosopher, Vladimir Soloviev, who credited Spinoza with his return to the Christian faith he lost as a teenager. A towering and ecumenical intellect, and perhaps the single greatest influence on the Russian religious renaissance of the twentieth century, Soloviev gracefully eludes the set-piece humour of secularization.

Ideas that savoured of blasphemy to a dualistic, Western mind were here taken as intended. Such examples may be multiplied. Together they confirm my view that modernity is a war of religious ideas, not a war on them. The secular other is a not-so-distant relative – possibly a friend.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Church History, History, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Secularism, Theology