God Doesn’t Make Junk

We live in a material world. I like it, a lot. Quite a few folks have felt the same way.

“You adorn the year with your bounty; your paths drip with fruitful rain.
“The meadows of the wilderness also drip; the hills are robed with joy.”
(Psalms 65:1213)

Some get overly impressed. Others apparently think it’s icky.

Earnest folks have celebrated and condemned it. Not necessarily the same folks, and probably not at the same time. Not usually. That’d be a problem by itself.

Plato thought about the reality we live in, artists have been inspired by it.

That’s given us a theory of forms, George Harrison’s “Living in the Material World” and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” albums, and the “Material World” 1990s sitcom.

Ideas

I think Plato gave my civilization quite a few good ideas.

And some that may look good on paper, not so much when applied. (October 16, 2016)

His Academy of Athens showed us what institutionalized education can do. That’s a topic or two by itself.

Two dozen centuries later, we’ve still got everything Plato wrote. Probably. And maybe a few “Plato” items he didn’t.

Scholars have seen to it that Plato’s documents get preserved. But the oldest copy we’ve still got was made more than a millennium after Plato died. There’s debate over what’s by Plato and what’s Platonic, but done by someone else.

I’d be surprised if folks are as familiar with George Harrison’s work in the early 4400s. And that’s another topic. Or maybe not so much.

Harrison’s credited with introducing the Beatles to the sitar and Hindu spiritual ideas. The good news, as I see it, is that he apparently looked at what folks who lived by Hindu ideas thought: not how upper-crust Westerners saw the ‘foreign’ ideas.

My understanding is that old-school Hinduism looks at life as a whole: wealth, desires, freedom, everything. Including what my culture calls ‘being spiritual.’ Integrating artha, kama and moksha — is yet another topic.

I think living as if what I believe matters makes sense. More than a recently-traditional Western attitude of keeping ‘real life’ and ‘being religious’ in airtight compartments.

Henry VIII’s and Aldous Huxley’s contributions didn’t help, I think. (October 28, 2016; August 14, 2016)

Plato’s Cave

Symbolism in Plato’s story about a cave is pretty obvious.

The cave is the world as we see it, ‘reality’ is outside, the wall and chains keeping prisoners from seeing reality are ignorance.

So far, so good.

I think there’s more to reality than what we can see, and that ignorance is no virtue. But I don’t think the visible world is an illusion.

My guess is that some folks realized there’s more to reality than what our senses show us long before Plato.

One of these days I’ll probably talk about Dualism: Mithraic, Gnostic, and otherwise. Not today. I’m running out of time, still a bit short on sleep, and that’s yet again another topic.

Basically, I think what our senses show us is a small fraction of physical reality. We’re developing new ‘windows’ into facets of this world. These reveal wonders that fascinate some, and apparently upset others.

Understanding

Folks have had trouble understanding our Lord since day one. I don’t think we ever will, not completely.

I certainly don’t. And I’m okay with that.

I follow the man who is God, who died and then stopped being dead: one person in the Trinity. Since I follow the Son, I follow the Trinity. They’re a package deal. Sort of.

Thoroughly understanding God isn’t possible. Wanting and trying to understand is a good idea. But God is infinite, eternal and the Almighty: “a mystery beyond words.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27, 155, 202, 230)

We’ve been passing along what we understand and what we can’t for two millennia now. (Catechism, 7495)

There’s been no shortage of folks ardently devoted to imaginative substitutes. Their alternatives have different names and unique details. But they fall into a few categories.

One of them is dualism: the idea that everything comes in two parts. Including good and bad. There’s a little truth to it. I see dualism as a particularly persistent and perturbing wrong idea. Maybe because I also see its appeal.

Dualism with Christian paint jobs says that our Lord isn’t, or isn’t quite, God and man. Books have been written about it. I’ll do what I can with a paragraph and move along.

I’ll grant that trying to understand how infinity and eternity can fit into a material being is frustrating. I can’t, but like I’ve said: God’s God, I’m not, and I’m okay with that. I’ll settle for believing and assuming that God can handle the details.

Being Human

I suspect some ardently-supported ideas started with a distaste for physical reality.

That may, I hope, come from distorted perceptions of what’s really real.

Angels are pure spirit, which makes them more powerful than material creatures.

But ‘powerful’ and ‘good’ aren’t the same thing. Satan’s a prime example that. (Catechism, 395)

Seeing immortal and unchanging spirit as ‘better’ in some senses doesn’t make what’s material and mutable bad. Just different. And temporary. I’m also okay with that.

Even if I wasn’t, I hope I’d have the sense to think God didn’t make a horrible mistake. The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God made everything: spiritual and material reality.

Genesis 1:27 says that we’re created “in the image of God.” We’re also male and female: a distinctly material quality.

The other creation account emphasizes the point, I think. Genesis 2:7 is pretty clear. We’re made from the stuff of this world and God’s breath: spirit.

Being body and soul, matter and spirit, isn’t a problem. The mess we’ve been in is — still another topic. (Catechism, 355379)

And God Said “Oops??”

I’ll go with God’s assessment of reality: all of it, what we can see and are learning to observe; and what’s beyond.

“God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.”
(Genesis 1:31)

I like being a material and spiritual creature. I think the visible world is filled with marvels and wonders we’ve hardly begun to discover. And see nothing wrong with learning how this universe works.

That’s just as well, since we’re told that noticing beauty and order in this universe is a good idea. Learning its natural laws and using that knowledge wisely is part of our job. (Genesis 1:2627, 2:7; Catechism, 16, 341, 373, 1704, 17301731, 2293)

Noticing and studying the wonders and beauty surrounding us is part of what being human is. Or should be. Imagining that they’re gods doesn’t change that.

But it’s not a good idea. Putting anything where God should be in my heart and mind is a bad idea. (Catechism, 21122114)

Again, that doesn’t make the universe and natural wonders bad.

Experiencing joy in their beauty is a good thing. If we remember that God is “far more excellent:”

“Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;
“Instead either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.
“Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them.”
(Wisdom 13:13)

Accepting God’s work as “very good,” and God as “more excellent” than anything we can see makes sense. To me, anyway:

Posted in being Catholic | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Science and Religion

I’ve seen a few op-eds saying that science needn’t interfere with religious beliefs.

Some even said that science and religion, faith and reason, get along fine. Those were nearly always Catholic publications.

The one I saw this week was in Forbes, an American business magazine. That got my attention.


Seeking and Using Knowledge: an Ancient Tradition

Folks like Aristotle and Anaxagoras studied the natural world.

They were systematic about it, and tried to understand what it is and how it works. In that sense they were “scientists.”

But they weren’t “scientists” in today’s sense. More like natural philosophers.

“Science” is how the Latin word “scientia” sounds in my language.

Scientia means knowledge. Or it can express ideas like skill, expertness, awareness — depending on context.

Science, in that sense, predates the ancient Greeks by a very long time indeed.

So do practical uses of scientia. The earliest medical text I know of was written around the time Ahmose I ran Egypt.

It’s almost certainly copied from older texts. We’ve developed more effective medical technology since Egypt’s 18th dynasty, but haven’t found a better treatment for Dracunculiasis. (May 12, 2017)

Attitudes

Folks feeling edgy about studying nature isn’t new, either. It didn’t start with Christianity.

I could claim that Aristarchus was almost charged with impiety because he said the sun wasn’t divine.

That might have seemed “relevant” in my youth, or whatever’s the current term for ‘kinda now, kinda wow.’

A remarkable number of folks assume that religion, particularly Christianity, depends on ignorance.

A few Christians do too, although they probably don’t think of their alternative reality as “ignorance.” (October 29, 2017)

Being “relevant,” or “Bible believing,” or whatever, isn’t an option for me.

I might like fitting in with a well-defined clique. But I like truth more. Much more.

I’d have to ignore what I know about a botched translation of Plutarch’s “On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon.” (March 24, 2017)

Don’t get me wrong. I take the Bible, Sacred Scripture, very seriously. Also read it and think about it. That’s ‘being Catholic 101.’ Catechism 101133, actually.

Now, about that translation. Plutarch said that Cleanthes, who saw the sun as divine, jokingly told Aristarchus that he should be charged with impiety.

Gilles Ménage garbled Plutarch’s grammar, turning the joke into a flat-out accusation.

The Ménage translation went to press around 1600.

A Legend and Mr. Squibbs

Galileo’s and Bruno’s trials were fresh memories in the early 1600s. European politics were more volatile than usual.

Some folks seemed fearful of any new ideas. Others were arguably eager to embrace ideas because they were new. (June 2, 2017; March 17, 2017)

Imagination and selective memories inspired now-familiar tales of a legendary confrontation between scientists and the forces of ignorance and oppression.

It makes a good story. I think it’s about as reliable as some ‘based on actual events’ movies. (November 5, 2017)

Europeans recovered from the Thirty Years’ War, eventually.

The era gave us an enduring legacy of state-run religions, famines, plagues and witch hunts. Survivors had good reason for taking a long, hard look at old assumptions.

Enlightenment ideals — like a more egalitarian society and better-informed public — were, I think, reasonable. Some outcomes, not so much. (August 20, 2017; November 6, 2016)

I’ve never heard someone actually denounce “tampering with things man was not supposed to know,” as Mr. Squibbs put it. Not in those words.

But I’ve known a fair number who apparently had the attitude, or a close approximation.

Some were Christians, some weren’t, and all seemed badly rattled by what we’re learning.

I can understand that.

The ‘inevitability of progress’ idea was getting replaced by the currently-fashionable ‘we’re all gonna die’ outlook in my youth.

There’s something to be said for the old optimism, but I don’t think either attitude makes sense. (June 23, 2017; October 30, 2016)

We didn’t start calling a particular sort of natural philosophy “science” until a few centuries back.1

Calling them “scientists” is even newer, dating back to the 1830s. (March 31, 2017)

Albert: A Busy Friar


(From Chemical Heritage Foundation, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.
(1929 trading card.)

Albert of Lauingen’s studies earned the admiration of scholars.

They also inspired tales of wizardry and dark arts. And a Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company Trading Card.

Albert was a natural philosopher, among other things. But he wasn’t a scientist. Nobody was in the 1200s.

Folks speaking my language often know Albert as Albertus Magnus.

Those of us who are Catholic recognize him as a Saint. He’s a patron of natural sciences and scientists.

Also medical technicians, philosophers, students, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Folks like him and St. Hildegard of Bingen helped lay groundwork for today’s sciences. (October 27, 2017)

I get the impression that Albertus Magnus kept busy. He was Dominican friar and served as a bishop for three years. He studied Aristotle when he wasn’t doing his own research, and was the first European to comment on most of Aistotle’s work.

That helped make Aristotle available to other European academics. Other scholars, including St. Thomas Aquinas, thought Aristotle’s ideas made sense. Some of them took another step, looking at how Aristotle got his ideas.

That, I think, was a very good idea.

Others got overly excited about the ancient philosopher’s ideas. Grabbing Aristotle’s conclusions, they took off running. Right off the ragged edge of reason.

God: Large and In Charge

Some folks in Medieval Europe were ignorant and superstitious.

The same is true today.

But we knew Earth is round in the Middle Ages. Those of us who pay attention, and think about what we see.

I’ve talked about that, the (real) dark ages, Leo XIII and truth before. (November 5, 2017; July 23, 2017; July 15, 2016)

One of many topics of the mid-1200s was whether or not we were on the only world. The question made sense at the time.

Telescopes wouldn’t be invented for another few centuries.

Observations and analysis refined Aristitole’s cosmology epicycles and the like, but not the basic ideas. Our moon’s cyclic phases and occasional eclipses were another matter.

Basically, Aristotle said Earth, the world we stand on, was at the bottom of an otherwise-perfect and unchanging reality. I’m oversimplifying the idea something frightful.

Given what folks knew in Aristotle’s day, it made sense. So did what Aristarchus said. But Aristotle was more famous in his day. His model was my civilization’s default assumption until a half-millennium back.

Agreeing with Aristotle made sense in the 13th century.

A few scholars had reasons for thinking maybe ‘one mutable world at the bottom’ wasn’t the only possible model, but precious little data and less proof.

Observations and analysis confirmed post-Ptolemaic Aristotelian models pretty well.

That wasn’t enough to stop academic debate. Still isn’t for that matter. And that was no problem.

Then Aristotle’s fans said other worlds couldn’t exist: because Aristotle said so.

That’s a problem. I’ve mentioned Proposition 27/219 of 1277 before. It’s been rescinded, but the principle still holds.

God decides how reality works. We don’t. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 268)

It’s not a new idea.

“Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done.”
(Psalms 115:3)

The way I see it, God is large and in charge. Part of my job is appreciating this universe. Not telling the Almighty how it should work.


Wonder How It Works? Ask!


(From Forbes, used w/o permission.)
(“The Earth at night, as viewed from the International Space Station….”
(Forbes))

Yes, Science Is For The Religious, Too
Ethan Siegel, Starts With a Bang contributor group, Forbes (January 9, 2018)

“If you want to figure out how the Universe works, you have to ask. Not by asking some authority figure, but by finding a way to ask the Universe itself: to theorize an idea and to test it, via thorough experiments, observations, and measurements. The ability to formulate an idea, to infer and calculate what the physical implications of that idea are, to gather data that tests those implications, and to then draw conclusions is the hallmark of scientific thinking.

“The scientific method insists on taking this steps in a rigorous, repeatable fashion, and teaches us the scientific answer to any question we’re clever enough to ask. Science is both the method of investigation and the full suite of knowledge we gain from asking such questions, with the joys and wonder of discovery open to everyone. Despite the widespread perception that science and religion conflict with each other, the overwhelming majority of people experience no such conflict. Anyone can learn how to investigate the world like a scientist, and a scientist can belong to any religion. Around the globe, this is exactly what the data shows….”

First off, I read this online. Subscribing to Forbes might be fun, but it’s beyond my budget. Far beyond.

I take the second-to-last sentence with a grain of salt.

I think the vast majority of folks can learn to ‘think like a scientist.’ If that means learning to see what’s fact and what’s not; and thinking about how facts fit together, not relying on what emotions they trigger.

Agreeing that a scientist can “belong to any religion” depends on how “religion” gets defined. The assertion makes sense, given what I’ve learned, if “religion” means one of the world’s more-or-less major belief groups.

I have no trouble imagining a scientist who grew up with and follows the beliefs and practices of, say, Islam.

Good grief, philosophers in Christian Europe learned by reading translations of work from what we call the Islamic Golden Age, about a thousand years back now.

I think Islam’s good times weren’t perfect. Neither were Europe’s Renaissance and other cultures’ high points.

I think we’re in one now, although it’ll probably take a few centuries for many to see it. Maybe a millennium or two.

We don’t have a perfect civilization either. But we’re learning. And, I think, correcting some faults. I’m glad to see more recognition of folks like Ibn al-Haytham and Al-Kindi in my branch of Western Civilization. (October 6, 2017; September 29, 2017)

Imagining scientists who believe and practice Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism or Christianity isn’t hard, either.

Imagining a competent scientist who also follows the beliefs of a Christian outfit that demands rejecting science? Or at least the parts of reality they don’t like?

That might be possible, with great effort.

Folks of that ilk came up with “creation science” in the 1960s. What I’ve seen of it is imaginative and displays an admirable grasp of fun facts about this world.

I like that a whole lot more than the older distaste for physical realities.

Active rejection of what we’ve been learning in the several centuries? How physical reality works, how it all fits together? That strikes me as unreasonable. (July 23, 2017; March 31, 2017; December 16, 2016)

The Universe and Me


(From NASA/GSFC, via Forbes, used w/o permission.)
(“There is a large suite of scientific evidence that supports the picture of the expanding Universe and the Big Bang, but that does not necessitate a conflict between scientific conclusions and religious beliefs.”
(Forbes))

I was born during the Truman administration. Quite a bit’s happened since then.

A kindergarten teacher wisely let me spend available free time in a semicircular ‘book nook.’ There were, reconstructing images in my memory, maybe upwards of a dozen shelf feet of picture books there. Those were good times.

I’ve been — not so much an avid, as a nearly-constant — reader ever since. I’d read ingredients labels, textbooks, Agatha Christie mysteries, dictionaries. You get the idea.

Yeah, I’m one of those people.

We’ve learned a lot about how our brains work since Truman’s time.

Folks with non-standard neural circuitry often get caught early. (November 19, 2017; April 9, 2017; March 19, 2017)

I think efforts to prevent or cure people like me are well-intentioned. Usually. It might be a good idea, in some cases. (November 19, 2017)

That’s not what I was was talking about. Not quite. Where was I? Science, religion, Truman, breakfast cereal. Right. Belief and the Big Bang. Also Genesis and me.

Like I said, I was born during the Truman administration. Most science books I had access to in elementary and high school had been written quite a few years earlier.

That let me experience a sort of fast-forward look at current scientific knowledge from around 1900 to 1970. In a few years. I loved it, but I’m quite sure some wouldn’t. At all.

Let there be LIGHT

And that gets me to Genesis and the Big Bang.

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—
“and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—
“Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.”
(Genesis 1:13)

I take the Bible seriously. That’s ‘Catholicism 101,’ like I said earlier.

I think the Bible is true. That needs explaining, given more-or-less recent silliness.

Taking Sacred Scripture seriously and thinking that it’s true isn’t even close to imagining it was written by an American. Or a Jacobean scholar with a taste for slightly-antique prose.

Or even someone with today’s Western attitudes, and a whacking great chasm where poetry and metaphor should be.

Style and Assumptions

Oddly enough, I’ve yet to see someone say the Bible can’t be true since religious folks say Gods the author: and it shows no stylistic consistency.

Hardly surprising, considering it includes poetry and prose from many centuries. Millennia, counting oral traditions. I think God is the author. And that God decided that humans would do the actual writing.

That’s why the Bible looks like it was written by many different folks, living in different eras. It was. And God inspired the human writers. (Catechism, 105107, 109111)

Expecting a contemporary Western worldview from folks living just west of the Fertile Crescent after the Late Bronze Age Collapse isn’t reasonable.

Never mind oral traditions that were likely enough ancient when Abram lived in Ur. More than just “ancient,” and that’s another topic.

Neither is imagining that they’d know what we’ve learned about this wonder-filled universe in the last few decades. Or what we’ll be learning when the 42nd century rolls by.

The Big Bang and Beyond

I grew up in 20th century America, and have been paying attention.

I understand why saying that the Big Bang model “does not necessitate a conflict between scientific conclusions and religious beliefs” makes sense.

But I think it’s an understatement. From my viewpoint, anyway.

I can see the first chapter in Genesis as a wonderfully poetic description of what’s happened in this universe from the moment it began to “now.”

A scientist wouldn’t describe a point of infinite density and temperature as “without form and void.”

But a scientist didn’t write Genesis.

Besides, that sort of thing we can work out on our own. Have worked out. And we keep finding new puzzles.

Kvetchng because Genesis 1 talks about days instead of eons or eras is an option, but not a reasonable one.

I figure God’s viewpoint and mine aren’t quite the same. On the other hand, I think conforming my will to God’s is a good idea. Kairos, chronos, and all that will wait for another day.

Siegel has more to say. I do too.

Basically, I think his op-ed is worth reading. And not what I’ve gotten used to seeing. Particularly since he took the trouble to back up his opinions with facts. Nice touch.


Living in the Real World: Or Not

Being offended by Wiley Miller’s “Church of Danae” gags is an option, too.

So is calling upon those who hold dear their assumptions to mightily smite folks who like living in the real world.

But I don’t think it makes sense.

I might be offended by Non Sequitur’s take on Danae’s religion. If I thought it was attacking my faith.

As it is, I think real analogs to Danae and Captain Eddie, another Non Sequitur character, have a funny side. Not the people who cherish such beliefs. What they believe, and how they express it.

I suspect the ‘back to the days of yore’ fringes of American beliefs encourage more easily-found headlines. These two, from 2015, were near the top of my recent ‘science religion opinion’ Google search:

  • “Why Religion and Science are Mutually Incompatible”
  • “Science & Religion: A Centuries-old War Rages On”

Next, how I see autopsies and movies.

Skittish About Science and Autopsies

Quite a few folks are squeamish about autopsies. That’s understandable, I think. But I know they can be useful.

Elizabeth, our youngest child, died shortly before birth.2 After medicos were sure my wife would survive, a doctor asked me if we wanted an autopsy.

I wondered if it was likely to yield practical information. That seemed like the only reason for asking. And a good reason.

It’s not why the doctor asked. Seems some parents are concerned about details I think are irrelevant when someone’s dead. That’s yet another topic, for another day.

I said no. An autopsy seemed like an unnecessary complication. Religious scruples or superstitious fear had nothing to do with the decision. I’m pretty sure about that.

I could understand a recently-bereaved father feeling that an autopsy would offend God. But I wouldn’t agree.

Autopsies are legal these days, and not particularly controversial.

That could change, if we dig up and reanimate old-fashioned values. I don’t think it’d be a good idea.

Textbooks often said autopsies were illegal in Europe because Europeans were Christian. That was back in my ‘good old days.’ I don’t miss them.

There’s a little truth in it.

Many Europeans saw themselves as Christian. It wasn’t all that long ago that they were flat-out illegal in parts of “Christian” Europe. (June 16, 2017; March 31, 2017)

Autopsies, I mean. Not Europeans. Pronoun trouble.

I see the attitude more as Europe’s adoption of Roman imperial law and custom.3

The Church of Danae, Autopsies and Togas

Greco-Roman culture and beliefs didn’t allow autopsies.

That’s why Galenus studied monkeys. (July 15, 2016)

Squeamishness and ancient attitudes may help explain the lasting popularity of Shelley’s “Frankenstein” tale.

Mary, not Percy. It was Victor, actually, and I’m rambling again. (August 5, 2016)

Seeing aversion to autopsies as a plot by progress-hating clerics, feeding on the ignorance of a superstitious rabble might make a good story. But it’d fail fact checks. (October 30, 2016; July 15, 2016)

The European branch of Western civilization inherited much of the ancient Roman set of values and scruples, which had thoroughly pagan roots long before our Lord arrived.

Old Roman values aren’t particularly bad, but let’s get a grip: the Roman Senate did not write the Decalogue. I don’t have to wear a toga to be a Christian.

Studying the natural world is okay. Including our bodies. Worshiping nature would be idolatry, and a bad idea. (Catechism, 282283, 21122114)

Folks who understand what the Catholic Church says realize we can study nature without fear of offending ‘the spirits.’ We should, anyway.

Christianity’s attitude toward reason and the study of nature allows autopsies and makes other scientific research possible. The Catholic version, anyway.

On the other hand, mad scientists make such nifty heroes, antiheroes and villains.

Fiction: Like Frankenstein and Lovecraft’s Tales


(From Cornhill Publishing Company’s 1922 reprint of “Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein…”, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Frankenstein’s do-it-yourself project, from a 1922 reprint of M. W. Shelley’s tale.)

I’ve enjoyed the occasional ‘mad scientist’ tale.

Their real-life counterparts are, happily, few and far between. And anything but entertaining. (November 11, 2016; October 16, 2016)

One of these days I may read Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” I understand that it’s more substantial than the seemingly-endless succession of ‘Frankenstein’ movies. Which wouldn’t take much, I’ll grant.

I have read Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” We’ve learned quite a bit since 1886, so the Stevenson’s fictional science seems more fictional than it would have at the time.

But I think it’s still a good story, and suffers from an image issue similar to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Like I said, I enjoy some ‘mad scientist’ tales. I think they can be useful cautionary tales, making ideas like ‘consider risks before acting’ memorable.

But I see them mostly as entertainment. Which I think is okay, in moderation. I’ve talked about enjoying life, Ecclesiastes, and the Epic of Gilgamesh before. (October 8, 2017; November 11, 2016)

Expecting a science education from watching the likes of “The Devil Bat” isn’t reasonable. Not that someone’s likely to assume that’s the case.

Assuming that ignorance is a virtue isn’t particularly sensible either.

On the other hand, finding folks who act as if they agree with a Lovecraftian assumption about ignorance isn’t hard. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” says it’s the only defense we have against cosmic horrors.

I like some Lovecraft tales, don’t agree with his philosophy, and that’s yet again another topic. Topics. (March 31, 2017; December 16, 2016)

Movies and Attitudes

I doubt more than a few, if any, folks would think “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” represented state-of-the art medical science of the late 1950s and early 60s.

But the ‘beware tampering with nature’ attitude that I see in the Sterling Productions movie is pretty common.

There’s a little wisdom in it. We’ll be cleaning up the mess from Industrial Revolution blunders for a long time.

Assuming that God gave us brains and we offend an irritable Almighty by using them? That doesn’t make more sense. Not to me.

The version of Christianity some folks have seems to have more in common with old-school beliefs, where tiptoeing around capricious spirits made sense. I’ve talked about that before. (November 5, 2017)

Also blaming Mother Nature for disasters, Edward II and the Little Ice Age, Ecclesiastes, Heraclitus and a defunct Packard factory. (November 17, 2017; September 10, 2017; August 4, 2017)

Had enough? If not, there’s more:


1 Origins of science and scientists:

2 I’d rather not go through that again. But I see no point in being miserable. Trouble happens, life doesn’t come with guarantees, and I’m looking ahead:

3 Remembering some of the ‘good old days:’

Posted in science news | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“Imagine All the People”

Someone’s ‘Tweet’ about sin and how someone else responded showed up in my Twitter feed Sunday. I noticed an unusually goofy item in my Google news feed that evening.

Instead of expressing outrage and (self?)-righteous indignation over either or both, I made a few notes and went on with my day.

That’s no great virtue on my part. I’m no fan of emotional outbursts. I like them even less when I’m the one melting down. Avoiding that sort of eruption is much easier now. I talked about that yesterday. (January 7, 2018)

But I haven’t talked about what I believe, how it affects what I write, and where I get most of my news. Not recently. Not much at all, about news and me.

Loathsome Insects, Fire, Hell, and Me

Jonathan Edwards inspired centuries of preachers and righteous writers with his ‘Angry God’ sermon.

“…every unconverted Man properly belongs to Hell….”
“…The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you….”
“…you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God….”
(“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” pp. 6, 9, 15, 18; Jonathan Edwards (July 8, 1741) (via Digital Commons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln))

It was effective rhetoric in 1741. It still is for a few folks.

Not me. I’m pretty sure others have pretty much had it with J. Edwards wannabes. My emotional response to tirades like that is closer to what Twain said. (March 5, 2017)

“I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell – you see, I have friends in both places.

“When I think of the number of disagreeable people that I know who have gone to a better world, I am sure hell won’t be so bad at all.”
(Mark Twain, p.377 of Evan Esar, “20,000 quips & quotes” (1968))

“[H]eaven for climate, Hell for society.”
(Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Speech to the Acorn Society (1901); via Wikiquote.org)

“I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then I’ll go to Hell.”
(Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), via Bartlett’s Quotations, 16th ed.)

My emotional response is one thing. It’s not necessarily what I think.

I think sin is a bad idea and I shouldn’t do it, but I do not think God has anger management issues.

I’ve occasionally felt like God was using me for target practice to blow off steam.

That’s partly because no human could fully understand God, even under ideal conditions. (March 5, 2017)

We don’t live in ideal circumstances. Haven’t since the first of us made a really bad decision. It’s not that God made a defective creature, or that we’re now rotten to the core. We’re still basically good, just wounded. (July 23, 2017; April 23, 2017; November 6, 2016)

One reason that I don’t rant about ‘those sinners over there’ is that I’m one of them. That needs explaining.

Sin! Sinners! Oh! Those Wretched Sinners!

Sin is what happens when I don’t love God and my neighbor, or don’t see everyone as my neighbor. Everyone. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2537; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1706, 1776, 1825, 18491851, 1955)

It’s an offense against reason, truth and God. (Catechism, 18491850)

I don’t do what I know is good for me, and avoid what’s bad. Not consistently.

Whenever I decide to do something that hurts me or someone else, I offend reason and truth; and God. That’s a sin, so I’m a sinner. (Catechism, 18491850)

That’s one reason I’m not highly motivated to lambast wretched sinners. I’ve got a slew of psychological and psychiatric problems already, and don’t want more. Then there are theological and relational concerns, and my long-term goals, that’s another topic. Topics.

I was going somewhere with this. Let’s see. Twitter, news, Jonathan Edwards: got it!

“The Drunkard’s Progress,” Fabulous Fifties, and 2018

Nathaniel Currier’s 1846 “The Drunkard’s Progress” was popular. At least for folks who sympathized with America’s temperance movement. In the 1840s.

I’ve talked about that, Carrie Nation, “Reefer Madness,” and getting a grip before. (July 10, 2016)

What was effective social commentary — or propaganda, and that’s yet another topic — in the 1840s doesn’t, I think, have the same impact in the early 21st century.

Wailing and wringing my hands in anguish over the decline and fall of the America that was is an option. A daft one, I think.

We didn’t have a perfect society in the 1840s. We didn’t in the 1950s, and we don’t now.

We have, however, tried to correct some faults. And succeeded, in some cases. Not perfectly, but we’re still working on the issues.

I talk about that a lot. (October 30, 2017; September 25, 2016)

That brings me to a well-intentioned ‘Tweet.’

Personal Sin

I thought the Tweet’s basic idea made sense: that sin isn’t a strictly private matter.

I also think folks who thoroughly understand Catholic beliefs would understand. But I sympathize, a bit, with the person who disagreed.

Sin is a personal thing. But what I do will affect others. So sin is a social matter, too. (Catechism, 18461869, particularly 18681869)

That’s a colossal over-simplification, and the bit from the Catechism isn’t much more than an introduction to the ideas. It’s all I’ll say about it today, though.

Make that ‘almost all.’

One of my frustratingly-durable sins is gluttony. (June 18, 2017)

I could say that it only affects me, but that would mean ignoring how the resulting health issues affect my family. Among other things.

Imagine

John Lennon’s “Imagine” has been a highlight of New York City’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square:

“…Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace….”
John Lennon, “Imagine” (1971)
(posted oldielyrics.com)

I wasn’t a Catholic in 1971, and wouldn’t be for decades.

But I was a Christian and took my faith seriously. I still am, and I still do.

At the time I thought the “and no religion too” idea was wrong.

But I sympathized a bit with folks who felt that way. Particularly since I thought imagining “all the people living life in peace” made sense. I still do.

That didn’t change when I became a Catholic.

“…The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”
(“To the United Nations Organization,”1 Pope St. John Paul II (October 5, 1995))

I don’t, thankfully, run into quite as much of the malignant virtue1 permeating ‘Christian’ radio in my youth, or the ‘be like me or be damned’ attitude.

Some Christians still act as if they thought God agreed with them: instead of trying to agree with God. I hope they mean well, for their sake if nothing else. I strongly suspect they’re not so much numerous as noisy.

The ‘sin isn’t private’ thing on Twitter wasn’t malignant, but my guess is that the person who responded had gone through experiences not unlike mine. He (maybe she) said, in effect, ‘what you believe means nothing to me.’

And that is about as good a reason as any too not expound on the wretched sinfulness of something I think is a bad idea. That goes quintuple for ranting against someone whose life isn’t just like mine.

Even if I imagined that what I wrote would be read exclusively by folks with my ethnic, social, and cultural background — Holy Willie isn’t a good role model. (February 12, 2017; December 4, 2016)

I live in a world where too many folks have endured malignant virtue, sometimes worse than what I experienced. That sort of thing leaves an enduring mark.

That’s why I think saying why I believe what I do makes sense.

Just as important, I try to say it in a way that will make sense to folks who, like me, are living in 2018. Not in some rose-colored version of an earlier era.

And Now, the News

I check my Google news feed regularly, at least once a day. I ran into that ‘hit and run’ entry yesterday.

I tell myself that I’m keeping an eye out for something to write about, and seeing what nonsense may show up in my other feeds. That’s partly true, but I figure part of it’s simple curiosity.

That ‘Hit-and-run driver’ item showed up in Google news > U.S. > More Articles. The link got me to an item in The Sacramento Bee. The picture of President Trump may have come from an unrelated video on the newspaper’s website. I don’t know.

I’ve noticed that a great many ‘bad news’ items lead with a snapshot of the president: the sort tabloid photographers were getting by sneaking up on celebrities and yelling. Sometimes America’s chief executive is more-or-less involved in the issue.

If you’re bracing yourself for a diatribe against, or panegyric for, the current President: relax. I am reasonably certain that no president is or has been a Nazi, fascist, white supremacist, or the antichrist. (November 8, 2016)

I’d think English-language news media’s continuing meltdown over the current officeholder was funny.

If so many folks weren’t apparently taking what the news says seriously.

Me? I think an American president affects America’s politics and economics. And has some influence over world affairs. But I don’t think the president is solely responsible for climate change, or humanity’s last hope for survival.

Which reminds me, about ‘making America great again:’ I wasn’t aware that America ever stopped being great.

What my country has been a great example of keeps shifting, and we’re far from perfect. But on the whole I think we’re okay.

I take news, particularly political news, seriously: as a reflection of the mores of a particular subset of my civilization’s population. Also as a useful signal that something’s happening that I can check into.

I started recognizing emotional triggers used to grab and hold attention in the 1970s. A couple decades in marketing gave me opportunities to learn more.

That’s why I took my wife’s advice: stopped watching television news entirely, and do little more than scan headlines from most news outlets. Like I said, they’re a useful tool. But not the sort of thing I think is trustworthy.

I am pretty sure folks who write news — traditional, alternative, and satirical — believe what they write, or think their satire is based on reality. I’m inclined to think the satirists live a bit closer to the real world than many, and that’s yet again another topic.

I lean heavily on science news from BBC, since I like their style. And greatly appreciate their apparent willingness to check a few facts before publishing.

I do my own research, anyway. It’s fun, and I don’t assume BBC News never makes mistakes. Besides, they’ve got a distinct viewpoint that’s not mine.

Citizenship

Even if I wasn’t incurably curious, I’d find ways to stay more-or-less-current with (real) issues.

Being a good citizen means, among other things, balancing individual and community needs and respecting others. (Catechism, 19051912)

It means thinking — not supporting a party or candidate just because if feels good or ‘we’ve always done it.’ Family or cultural traditions sometimes should change. (October 1, 2016; September 25, 2016; October 1, 2016; July 24, 2016)

This is another election year, so I expect the usual hysteria will intensify.

I could join in the frenzy, I’m an very emotional man. But I don’t think that’s be a good idea. And that’s — you guessed it, another topic.

I think these posts are related. Your experience may vary:


1 I ran into “malignant virtue” in a Sayers mystery. It’s the earliest instance of the phrase I’ve found:

“There are times, Charles, when even the unimaginative decency of my brother and the malignant virtue of his wife appear to me admirable.”
(Lord Peter Wimsey, in “Murder Must Advertise,” Dorothy L. Sayers (1933))

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“Do Not be Afraid”

4th Sunday of Advent:

(Advent?? This post is late.)


4th Sunday of Advent, 2017

By Deacon Lawrence N. Kaas December 24, 2017

Good! Now try to imagine yourself describing the scene in which the Angel Gabriel seeks and speaks to Mary as one that could be played out spectacularly on film or a TV program, it would begin with the panoramic vision or an overall view of the world that solemnly zooms in and spotlights in one tiny little place. We could imagine the overview from the film score to the mission behind Google Earth which imagines a slowly moving in from the vastness of space, to this planet and then the middle where it looks like a couple of lakes are connected by a river. Eventually the focus comes down to a particular part of the Earth and the sea and the River disappears. All we see is a dusty, little town and finally one young girl, presumably going about her daily business.

That’s how Luke introduces the story of the Angel’s encounter with Mary. It begins in heaven, the Angels’ abode with God. Then, reminding us of the history of the land of Israel, Luke focuses not only on Jerusalem, the great city of the Temple, but on the backwater town of Nazareth in Galilee. Passing by any and everybody considered to be important, Luke then highlights one young girl.

As Emily Dickinson would say, she’s a nobody. Barely more than a child, she’s nobody’s wife and nobody’s mother. But God’s Angel lands in front of her. There, in the middle of nowhere, the Angel addresses the young girl, a social nobody. The Angel asked her to agree to God’s plan to change everything. This is the mystery we are invited to contemplate as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas.

As we hear the closing words of his letter to the Romans today, Paul explains that the mystery of Christ has been revealed to bring the entire world to the obedience of faith. In order to understand that, we need to know what obedience meant in Paul’s vocabulary. Obedience is a word for listening. It implies listening so carefully, so attentively and so openly, that the listeners are prepared to be changed by what they hear. Getting people to listen is ultimately the only way to bring about change. The rule of Law may be imposed on people. But if they don’t internalize the law, if you don’t choose it as a good way to act, it is only as effective as the penalties for infractions that are painful and unavoidable. Paul believed that the mystery of Christ was so mysterious , so exciting and so life-giving that it would bring people to obedience — if only they would listen to it with their hearts.

Mary listened to the Angel. She allowed her heart to be vulnerable to God’s grace, which is another way of saying she was obedient. She wasn’t passive, but she clearly explained why the plan seemed impossible — she was a nobody, only betrothed, not yet even a real wife. But she was simple enough, open enough, to hear that God’s plan was bigger than her expectations or even her imagination. When the Holy Spirit is allowed on the scene, nothing is impossible.

This year we have the shortest Advent season possible. Our last week of Advent can begin no earlier than the first anticipated mass on Saturday afternoon, and it will end with the first mass of Christmas eve on Sunday afternoon. This “week” of 24 hours or less seems to be a trick of liturgical time. Perhaps it is also a reminder that God doesn’t wear a watch or carry a day-planner. God’s time is different from ours as God’s thoughts are bigger than our imaginations. Only God would dream up a plan to save the world by starting with a young Mary of Nazareth. Only God would keep turning to us, hoping for obedience.

The Angel said to Mary, “The Lord is with you.” The Angel also said, “don’t be afraid.” The message that God is with us can be very troubling. If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to God’s presence, everything can change and that’s not always comforting.

The message we are invited to ponder today during this 24 hour final week of Advent, is that the creator of the universe wants to be with us. When we are invited to ponder all that could be, the Angel reminds us “nothing will be impossible for God.” The mystery of Christmas that we celebrate with lights and crib scenes, gifts and shared food, is not just a historical commemoration. Luke wants us to listen for Gabriel’s wings approaching our town. The Angels will tell us “do not be afraid.” Heaven is hoping we will respond with the obedience of faith.

Listen! Can you begin to hear the angels sing, peace on earth and good will to all people.

I love you all as brothers and sisters of Christ, Merry Christmas!

So! You all be Good, by Holy, preach the Gospel always and if necessary use Words!


(‘Thank you’ to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here — Brian H. Gill.)


This is two weeks late. I talked about my more-than-usually-interesting Christmas season earlier today.

Posts that aren’t completely unrelated to this one, and one that probably is:

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