Just Some Guy Thinking About Stuff

13 March 2013

Chesterton on Hoping for a Liberal Pope


     Anyhow, the New Religions are suited to the new world; and this is their most damning defect.  Each religion is produced by contemporary causes that can be clearly pointed out. Socialism is a reaction against Capitalism.  Spiritualism is a reaction against Materialism; it is also in its intensified form merely the trail of the tragedy of the Great War.  But there is a somewhat more subtle sense in which the very fitness of the new creeds makes them unfit; their very acceptability makes them inacceptable. Thus they all profess to be progressive because the peculiar boast of their peculiar period was progress; they claim to be democratic because our political system still rather pathetically claims to be democratic.  They rushed to a reconciliation with science, which was often only a premature surrender to science. They hastily divested themselves of anything considered dowdy or old-fashioned in the way of vesture or symbol. They claimed to have bright services and cheery sermons; the churches competed with the cinemas; the churches even became cinemas.  In its more moderate form the mood was merely one of praising natural pleasures, such as the enjoyment of nature and even the enjoyment of human nature. These are excellent things and this is an excellent liberty; and yet it has its limitations.
     We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong. In these current fashions it is not really a question of the religion allowing us liberty; but (at the best) of the liberty allowing us a religion.  These people merely take the modern mood, with much in it that is amiable and much that is anarchical and much that is merely dull and obvious, and then require any creed to be cut down to fit that mood. But the mood would exist even without the creed. They say they want a religion to be social, when they would be social without any religion.  They say they want a religion to be practical, when they would be practical without any religion. They say they want a religion acceptable to science, when they would accept the science even if they did not accept the religion. They say they want a religion like this because they are like this already.  They say they want it, when they mean that they could do without it.
     It is a very different matter when a religion, in the real sense of a binding thing, binds men to their morality when it is not identical with their mood. It is very different when some of the saints preached social reconciliation to fierce and raging factions who could hardly bear the sight of each others' faces. It was a very different thing when charity was preached to pagans who really did not believe in it; just as it is a very different thing now, when chastity is preached to new pagans who do not believe in it. It is in those cases that we get the real grapple of religion; and it is in those cases that we get the peculiar and solitary triumph of the Catholic faith.  It is not in merely being right when we are right, as in being cheerful or hopeful or humane. It is in having been right when we were wrong, and in the fact coming back upon us afterwards like a boomerang.
     —G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion (1926)

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18 March 2012

Competing Rights: Religious Liberty & Free Contraception


Recently, I had a conversation with two guys at work about the HHS mandate which would, by force of federal law, require employers to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs in their employees' insurance plans.  These things, the Catholic Church has always taught, are grave sins.  It would be gravely sinful for any Catholic to formally cooperate with their use, which would include, as the HHS mandates, paying for them.  The Catholic who knows Church teaching in this regard, yet abides by the mandate, places his soul in peril.  

I asked my co-workers to put their argument in a nutshell.  It was: "Catholics should not be able to force their religion on the rest of society."  In other words, the government has decided what would be a good health-care plan for everybody; and most of society is fine with it.  Catholics should not be able to throw a monkey-wrench into the whole system because of their eccentric and archaic beliefs...that the rest of society does not share.  On the face of it, I can sympathize.  For instance, there are some religions that eschew all kinds of medical intervention.  Their adherents have been in court for depriving their children access to basic medical care.  Perhaps they will object on religious grounds to paying for the medical care of their employees.  Should these religious people be allowed to throw a monkey-wrench into the whole system?  No; they shouldn't.   

The whole matter centers on freedom of religion and how far it goes.  The First Amendment reads: 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.     
"Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]."  Of course there are limits to this.  I'm no lawyer, but it seems obvious to me that the First Amendment does not protect your freedom to practice a religion that infringes on the rights of others.  For instance, per the example I cited earlier, parents' freedom of religion does not supersede a child's right to available medical care.  The question is, are Catholics, as my co-workers contend, infringing on the rights of others by refusing to comply with the HHS mandate?    

Women already have the right to contraception.  They are free to spend their money on it or find someone else to do so.  Catholics are in no way infringing on this right.  The right that Catholics are said to be infringing upon, is the right to free contraception--the right to have others be forced to pay for one's contraception.  Let's examine this so-called right.  On what is it based?  It's not based on what is medically necessary.  Contraception is not aimed at a medical problem.  Pregnancy is not an illness.  On the contrary, it is a healthy development.  If we recognize rights beyond necessary medical care, there are a great number of things that fall under this category that, unlike contraception, actually contribute to individual health.  Why not a right to free mattresses so we can get quality rest?  Why not a right to free gym memberships so we can have access to exercise equipment?  Why not a right to free diet pills and Weigh Watchers memberships for the obese?  Rationally, what reason is there for these things to be left to the responsibility of the individual citizen if contraception isn't?  

It's not based on what is fair.  Contraceptives are not necessary for health.  They are the tools of a lifestyle choice.  Women are free to embark on whatever sexual lifestyle they choose, but is it fair for their lifestyle choices to infringe upon the rights of others by making them pay for it?  If so, then on what rational grounds, should others not be required to pay for the gas in our cars, the heat in our homes, the clothes on our backs, and everything else that is more basic and necessary than contraception for any lifestyle choice?  

It's not based on the Constitution.  There is a right to bear arms, a right to free speech, a right to freedom of the press, a right against unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.--but not a right to free contraception.  

There is in the Constitution, however, a right to the free exercise of religion.  But it must be noted, that before we even bring Catholicism, the First Amendment, and freedom of religion into the picture, the right to free contraception breaks down.  It's not medically necessary; it's not constitutional; and it's not fair.  In the language of my co-workers' argument: women should not be able to force their lifestyle choices on the rest of society.  Once add the religious liberty element--the fact that the supposed right to free contraception infringes upon rights of Catholics to freely exercise their religion--and it's doubly undone.  Contrary to my co-workers' argument, Catholics aren't imposing their religion on anybody.  Catholics simply want to be left alone to practice their religion.  It is the government which is imposing itself on Catholicism by demanding that Catholic employers "formally cooperate" with what they regard to be evil by buying contraception for their employees.  

So there are two competing rights.  The rights of Catholics to religious freedom and the rights of women to free contraception.  My co-workers argue that Catholics are infringing upon the rights of women to free contraception, but it seems to me to be the other way about.  The HHS Mandate violates the religious liberty of Catholics by forcing them to formally cooperate with what they regard as evil.  How are Catholics infringing upon the rights of women?  Women have access to ubiquitous and cheap contraception.  However, this so-called right to free contraception...by what measure is that even a right?  It's certainly not in the Constitution; however, religious liberty is.  Why does the unconstitutional right to force others to finance one's sexual lifestyle take precedent over the First Amendment right to be left alone to practice one's religion?  I don't see how it can.  It doesn't matter how eccentric or silly one might regard the religious belief under question.  It does not infringe upon anybody else's freedoms and is, therefore, protected under the First Amendment.  Besides, liberalism is the self-proclaimed champion of choice and diversity.  Society calls upon Catholics to tolerate all kinds of choices, but what about the choice of Catholics to practice their religion without interference from others?  If that is not respected then what are we to make of the values of choice and diversity?  Are they real?  Or are they merely the rhetoric of those seeking to impose their choices upon the rest of us?     

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01 April 2010

The Good Who Wasn't There: Meaning, Morality, & Atheist Metaphysics

"You would not get out of your chair and walk across the room, if Nature had not her bag of illusions."
—Yeats

Under atheist metaphysics, there was no Creator, Designer, or even pantheistic personality such as Mother Nature to give the universe any kind of overarching purpose, design, direction, intent, or outcome.

Is there anything under atheist metaphysics that could have designed or directed the universe—any universe, its properties, its very existence—one way and not another?

If no, is there anything making said universe more than a matter of blind, random, mindless, purposeless chance?

If no, in such a universe, can there be anything of intrinsic value?

If no, then what are the moral and meaningful experiences, feelings, ideas, and habits fashioned in humans through natural selection about?

"Now, it is worthy of remark that [Thomism] is the only working philosophy. Of nearly all other philosophies it is strictly true that their followers work in spite of them, or do not work at all. No sceptics work sceptically; no fatalists work fatalistically; all without exception work on the principle that it is possible to assume what it is not possible to believe. No materialist who thinks his mind was made up for him, by mud and blood and heredity, has any hesitation in making up his mind. No sceptic who believes that truth is subjective has any hesitation about treating it as objective."
G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox

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27 March 2010

Who Caused God?

In a recent debate between atheist Dan Barker and Cardinal George Pell, Barker asserted that the retort, "Who caused God?" is a sufficient refutation of the cosmological argument. Does this even address the cosmological argument? The cosmological argument says that everything within the universe is a receiver of existence; it comes into being and, as such, has a cause. Even if the "chain" of cause and effect goes back infinitely, nothing along that chain would ever have existence if there wasn't something which first had existence to give--the Uncaused Cause of all things. A pertinent challenge to this argument might be that an Uncaused Cause is not necessary to explain the chain of cause and effect, or that if any being is uncaused, why not the universe? But to simply retort, "Who caused the Uncaused Cause?" seems to me to miss the matter entirely.

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22 January 2010

Charles Krauthammer on Peace


"Pacifism is a serious subject for sweet adolescents, or a way of life for certain eccentric sects; who, it must be noted, survive because they live among non-eccentric sects who reject pacifism and fight to keep those little sects alive and free. "
. . .

"The international community is a state of nature--a Hobbesian state of nature--with no universally recognized norms. Anarchy is kept in check not by a bureaucracy on the East River, not by some inchoate expression of world opinion, not by parchment promises adorned with disingenuous signatures--but by the will and the power of the great powers and, most importantly, in our time, by the one super power, namely, the United States.

"One highly revealing analysis of Obama foreign policy, relying on leaks from inside the White House, spoke about how Obama's approach to foreign policy owed much to his experience as a community organizer: the idea of listening, of understanding, or working cooperatively, and seeking common ends. This is all well and good, but a community organizer in Chicago operates within the rubric and under the protection of a very elaborate, very secure, highly regulated, and consensual domestic civil society. What holds civil society together is a supreme central authority, the sanctity of contracts, and the good will, civility, and decency of its individual members. The international arena lacks all of these things. What keeps it from degenerating into a war of all against all is not central authority, not the phony security of treaties, not the best good will among the more civilized nations--what stability we do have is owed to the overwhelming power and deterrent threat of a super power like the United States that defines international stability as a national interest. "

--Charles Krauthammer, The Age of Obama, Anno Domini 2 (The Margaret Thatcher Freedom Lecture) January 19, 2010.

30 December 2009

A meme is a meme is a meme.


For too long, I've been mulling over (and procrastinating) a response to a friend who wants to know how the lack of a deity effects her morals, specifically the values of care and respect. Some questions I'm pondering:

  • If there exists no deity and therefore nothing transcendent, then aren't we without any standard outside of evolutionary change by which we can judge evolutionary change?
  • Are care and respect "good" merely because a selected group of species on a solitary planet has the collective feeling that they are?
  • There was a time before natural selection did its work and we didn't have the collective feeling that care and respect were good. Were they then not?
  • If AGW wipes all life off earth (and ipso facto out of the universe), then will the goodness of care and respect have been erased? Presumably, future life forms will have their own collective feeling about ________; and even if that is in opposition to our current, collective feelings about care and respect, will their collective feeling be just as "good" as ours?
  • If our collective feeling that care and respect are good makes them good, then did our collective feeling that they weren't good make them not good? By what standard do we measure that, at one time the human race was further away, but now it is closer?
  • If there is no transcendent standard outside of evolutionary change, by which we can judge evolutionary change as "closer" or "further away" from some ideal, then aren't we just stuck calling "good" whatever evolutionary change we happen to be going through at the time?
  • On what basis does the particular collective feeling that care and respect are good warrant a thumbs up, while the collective feeling that religious piety is good, does not (as the new atheists would have it)?

17 November 2009

Short exchange with an atheist and a buddhist on FB

I have better morals than half the religious people out there, thank you very much.

Atheist voted "No" to the question "Do you believe atheists are immoral?" along with 38,969 other people.

Keith Rickert Jr.: Atheists can be moral, they just don't have a raison d'ĂȘtre for being so.

Buddhist: Because it's right is reason enough to do the right thing. you don't need some promise of reward or punishment to do the right thing.

Keith Rickert Jr.: Under atheist metaphysics, how is anything *right*? Morality assumes some kind of working definition of good and bad. Setting aside any objective definition of good or evil, all moral experiences attribute some kind of value to our choices. For whatever reason -- because it is more kind, non-violent, more tolerant, etc. -- one choice is seen to be better than another. But under atheistic metaphysics, how can anything be intrinsically better or worse than another? In a purely material and therefore godless universe, there can be no final design, direction, or purpose. No-one intended matter or the laws of physics to be the way they are; therefore, the universe and everything in it is just an affair of blind, purposeless chance from beginning to end. How can it be anything more than that? Many people who adamantly doubt the existence of any God or gods will freely project onto the universe some sort of Pantheistic Personality like "Mother Nature" in order to imagine some vague sort of intent or design or purpose or meaning being the goings-on in the universe. But if we're doubting God or gods, what basis is there for believing in such a personality or intent governing or even influencing nature? If the universe is purely material, godless (and mother-less) how can its goings-on--and indeed, it's very existence--consist of anything more than random chance, blind matter, and mindless forces (which are themselves the product of random chance)? In such a universe, what basis is there for believing that anything is better than anything else or that there is any inherent value in anything at all? When it comes to morality, all things, better or worse, come from the same source -- the universe and its laws. Atoms, in blind obedience to the laws of physics, produce in me some kind of personal standard of, let's say tolerance and non-violence. Yet, the very same kind of mechanistic process produces in me the urge to act contrary to that standard. Moreover that very same kind mechanistic process produces the beliefs and standards of Nazis, despotic dictators, serial killers, child molesters, wife-beaters, etc. On what basis do we judge one mechanistic process to be better -- on principle -- than another? What standard is there above the mechanistic processes by which we can judge one to be good and the other bad?

"If there isn’t any God, there isn’t any problem of evil. And if there is no God, then there is a problem of good! . . . . As Nietzsche pointed out, atheists who follow through on all the implications of their beliefs are nearly nonexistent. Most atheists do create an as if world. They act as if reason is connected to reality, at least for pragmatic purposes. They act as if, in a rough sort of way, things make sense. They act as if progress is the law of history. They act as if reason, justice, truth, compassion, solidarity, and love were more than mere breath expelled by lying lips. But they do not say how and why they believe that reason, justice compassion, and the rest are in some way better than irrationality, oppression, the big lie, ruthlessness, and cynicism. What metaphysical commitments justify these beliefs?"
—Michael Novak to daughter, Jana Novak in Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter’s Questions About God (New York: Pocket Books, 1998), 89, 97-98.


Buddhist: what you're talking about, Keith, is worshipping science instead of God. There can be fundamental principles of morality without believing in God. There is right and wrong either through enlightened self interest or through a morality that we have evolved over time that is part of who we are. To suggest that the ONLY reason to be a good person is because God wants you to isn't really morality at all. That's doing the right thing just because you expect a reward. I can list a number of reasons why being religious does not lead to living an ethical life if you want, but I think just mentioning 9/11 should be sufficient.

Keith Rickert Jr.: Your telling me what I'm talking about, Buddhist, yet there is nothing in my post that can be construed as the worship of science. And NEVER did I say that the only reason to be good is because God wants us to. What I did say, however, is that our feelings, intuitions, and impulses to moral goodness can only be ABOUT something real if they are rooted as their source in a God who is Goodness Itself. In the atheistic universe these feelings, intuitions, and impulses are not ABOUT anything beyond themselves. In fact, they are illusory because they aren't about moral goodness itself, but about survival value. "Goodness" is nature's way of dressing up survival value. Instead of God, there is Nature; who according to her one, supreme value of "survival value", tricks us into attributing "goodness" and "evil" to certain actions merely to keep the show going. As Yeats said to Chesterton, "You would not get out of your chair and walk across the room, if Nature had not her bag of illusions." But those things aren't REALLY good or bad, according to atheistic metaphysics. Nature just wants us to think and act like they are. On the other hand, if you want to believe in good for goodness sake (i.e. real morality), then God is logically necessary. THAT is what I'm saying Buddhist...nothing about punishment or reward or the worship of science. And I can list a number of reasons why being atheistic does not lead to living an ethical life if you want. I think just mentioning Stalin should be sufficient.

Buddhist: Can't there be a natural law of morality in the universe without the existence of a personal deity? Why does if HAVE to be rooted in a God in order to exist?

Keith Rickert Jr.: Where would values come from in a godless universe driven from beginning to end by blind, random chance?

Buddhist: You're making an assumption that the universe can't manifest a purpose on it's own. That it needs some higher being to make it anything other than random. (did I higher being than god give god a purpose to?) But, I can put that aside for the moment and just say that values come from enlightened self interest. If I put negativity into the world, I am making the world a slightly worse place for everyone, including myself. Therefore, I have every reason that I need to behave in as positive a way as I can. Or, to put it a more complicated way, I believe in Oneness. that is, all things in the Universe are parts of a whole, not nearly as separated as we perceive. From that perspective, I have every reason to be kind to others, since harming others would be no different than harming myself. For that reason, I have every reason to believe in practicing a moral life, without having said practice rooted in faith in a divine figure.

Keith Rickert Jr.:
If there is something higher than God, then God is not God. Enlightened self-interest is not being good for goodness sake: Empathy is not really empathy, but, ultimately self-interest; love is not really love, but, ultimately, self-interest; kindness is not really kindness, but, ultimately, self-interest; self-sacrifice is not really self-sacrifice, but, ultimately, self-interest. I believe in real love, kindness, empathy, gratitude, self-sacrifice; therefore I am not a naturalist or an atheist.

Buddhist: And you feel like you absolutely could not believe in real love or kindness without first believing in God? If doing what God says is right is the motivation, isn't that self interest too?

Atheist: hahahaha come on guys, I know it's a touchy topic, but a Buddhist and Catholic aren't going to be able to agree.

Keith Rickert Jr.: "and you feel like you absolutely could not believe in real love or kindness without first believing in God?" NOPE. Not it at all. I FIRST believe in real love and kindness and then search for the metaphysics that would logically make them possible. I STILL have never said ANYTHING about doing "what God says". Ashleigh: Maybe, but healthy, respectful debate is good for everyone.

Buddhist: and you feel like there is nothing that could logically make them possible other than a personal deity?

Keith Rickert Jr: I don't feel that way, I have reasoned my way to that position. Tell me, in a Godless universe, what would make possible good for goodness sake, as opposed to good for some other sake?

Atheist: Cavemen didn't know God, but when their babies came out they loved them! If they didn't the species wouldn't have made it. Debate is fine, this one is just never going to end.

Keith Rickert JrAnd eventually those cavemen became men and asked, "If love is real, in what is it rooted?" Are you going back to the fallacy that you have to know God to be moral? I can be moral w/o recognizing the metaphysical roots of morality, just like I can eat food w/o knowing where it comes from or how it gives my body nourishment. Actually, 99 percent of all who have ever lived have believed in some form of a deity...so it is probable that cavemen believed in God. As far as the debate ending, it doesn't have to. How long has mankind had this debate? I'm not arrogant enough to think I'm going to have the last word. But I believe that if beliefs aren't worth defending, they're not worth having. Plus, I always learn something each time I debate.

Buddhist: we just have a fundamental difference of opinion. You think that real goodness requires a deity to exist and I think that real goodness can exist on it's own without a need for an explanation. It just is.

15 June 2009

Atheist's Faith in Love

During Eucharistic adoration today, I was daydreaming about the atheist view of love as I heard it from the Atheist Experience television show and podcast. I supposed it would be called a reductionist view, i.e. love is just biology—chemicals, instincts, and the like which Mother Nature has put into us to keep the game going. Yet, according to these atheists, love is still meaningful. I beg to differ. When I experience love, it seems to me to be about something...something real...and its being about something real is precisely what gives it its meaning. Once you say, "Oh, that's just atoms arranging themselves this way and that in obedience to the laws of physics so as to give me this epiphenomenal experience."—all meaning is eviscerated. I regard this atheist/materialistic definition of love is an a priori definition that corrupts the data instead of explaining it. The only definition into which the data fits, I think, is the definition of love as ultimately transcendent. Atheists who believe that love (or anything else) is meaningful are trying to have their cake and eat it too—the joys of transcendent realities with a philosophy that can't account for them. What struck me today, was how this puts them on par with their view of weak-minded religious believers whose beliefs arise from emotions and are about something that's not really there.

11 June 2009

(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Be a Moral Absolutist!)

"Modern 'broadmindedness' has a quality that can only be called sneakish; it endeavors to win without giving itself away, even after it has won. It desires to be victorious without betraying even the name of the victor. For all sane men have intellectual doctrines and fighting theories; and if they will not put them on the table, it can only be because they wish to have the advantage of a fighting theory which cannot be fought." -G.K. Chesterton, "Rabelaisian Regrets"

The Left loves euphemisms and one of its favorite is 'tolerance'. 'Tolerance' is code for moral relativism. Those who congratulate themselves for being tolerant are really congratulating themselves for being moral relativists. Those who are scorned as intolerant are really being scorned for being moral absolutists.

There's a reason why the left employs the words 'tolerance' and 'intolerance' instead of 'relativism' and 'absolutism'. Doing so affords them the pretense of moral superiority, which is much easier to foist on the American public than intellectual superority. The Left domineers the opposition by calling it names, because they cannot convince it by giving it arguments. Because they have no arguments. It is precisely because their views are so hollow, that they must push them in the public sphere through the demagoguery of 'political correctness'.

The stripping of Carrie Prejean of her crown is nothing but the discrimination against someone for being a moral absolutist, for merely holding a different metaphysical view when it comes to human morality (a view which happens to be backed up by all the major religions of the world and virtually all of human history). This should put to the lie the idea that we can build a society on unchecked individualism in lieu of the common good.

Prejean was not on a soapbox. Her desire was to keep her opinions to herself, but she was cornered, at which time she courageously stated her belief in the most humble and benign manner possible. Is this how we treat people in America who, when asked to do so, respectfully declare what they believe? I hope this puts to the lie that Liberals are liberal.

"In real life, people who are most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all." -G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

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