Tuesday, December 10, 2019

I Mull Things Over

I'm not a sudden changer of routine. I'm open to suggestions, mind you, but "my people" know I don't do anything quickly. On the other hand, once I decide to do something, I do it.

I might even say, "That's a great idea! I should do that!" Still, it's gonna be 2 weeks, minimum, before I do it. I apologize for any inconvenience or frustration this may cause. The enduring circle of associates already knows, but others of you may not. I do try to show appreciation in that moment for the suggestion, but I'm not 16. The timeline is the timeline. It won't be shorter, unless my current plan or method is actively dangerous, or immoral, or something else of gravity.

I would like to think other people are like this, too, but I don't know. I could just be crazy.

I love parties, because I love people. But whoever those people are who actively enjoy planning things--more than the thing itself--obviously should see a doctor! Ha!

I did buy a kitchen tool last week or so, and I'm pretty excited about it. I got it from our friends at Amazon. Don't worry, Bryan. I chose the slowest shipping speed possible, so that whomever is driving the truck is free to use the bathroom when he has to. Also, no, I will not join Amazon Prime. I don't want to actively know I'm degrading human society, even if I can't resist mass market paperbacks sold for a nickel.

Consider this: I love baseball, and even though the MLB Radio package is easily the best deal in professional sports, ($20 annually, to hear every radio broadcast of every team) I thought about it for an entire year. It's not a crucial decision, I suppose, but money is money.

One thing I don't have to think over is giving my heart and my whole self to Jesus. The first time, and the next time. There's nothing to debate. If there are things in the way, that may slow us down, but I have no doubt it's the best decision you will ever make.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Who Is This Tim Keller Guy?

Just kidding. This guy is planted theologically in what was native soil for me, before I became Catholic. Which is not to say I know his work well. What I knew was filtered through my seminarian colleagues at the time. To be quite honest, I felt a twinge of annoyance at the time, because it seemed like his was the only voice for our times in our circles. It's easy to proclaim a guy overrated by default in those circumstances. That's not fair to Pastor Keller, and I know that.

On the other hand, do you notice these philosophers? I intend no disrespect. Let me state it another way: Do you notice who's not mentioned? Christianity already has resources in our Catholic philosophical tradition. Feel free to steal it, fellows. You can still disagree theologically with the Church, but your philosophy of knowledge--your epistemology--needs to be on firmer ground.

I remain shocked that philosophers trained today many times want to move away from realism. It's like reinventing the wheel, and replacing it with nothing. Keller may not intend to premise his philosophy on skepticism, but that's what a debate about "faith" used in two senses seems to imply. Christians can't win that fight on these terms. You can't get to divine faith via a probabalistic "leap" from human faith.

Let's come at it from another direction: If you truncate what can be known by reason--and if the two interlocutors agree that they can't know anything except by revelation--what will the avowed Christian do when his partner in dialogue denies that supernatural revelation has occurred? Neither partner will use an alleged source of knowledge they deny.

Put your Bible down for a minute, and start a conversation about the nature of reality. Talk about sufficiently credible witnesses. If Aquinas' "First Cause" is the anchor of a chain of caused causes, then there is a basis for reality itself. But we have to inhabit the same thought world. Dialogue begins with agreement; it continues with disputation; it ends with adjudication and revision in the language of shared terms.

One cannot actually debate without shared terms and definitions. I think Plantinga and Keller are attempting to ground faith in something apart from reason.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Whatever We're Calling "Conservatism" Right Now Is Literally Idiotic

Pick a side. It seems to be implied. The narrative seems to be that "The Left" hates Trump, and nothing he does is good. This seems like a fake right-wing framing, especially in the "conservative" media. I think it's for people that are culturally Republican, who may find him appealing, even in his more unsavory aspects. If his opponents can be shown to be "unhinged," one doesn't have to have a reasoned defense for one's support; one can say, "Well, I'm not like those people." It's the fruit of emotivism in action. You can't really consider the justice of a $7.85 minimum wage relative to say, $12 in isolation. All you care to know is that the same people who call for higher wages, and higher government spending also favor abortion-on-demand until the moment of birth. Well, that settles it.

And you're done thinking. It must be nice.

Or maybe another group bears in mind the lessons real and imagined from largely 20th century experimentation with socialism and communism. Any advocacy for increased public spending of any kind smacks of "socialism" for these folks. They'll support any system of free exchange, as long as they're not poor, no matter how unjust. If I'm honest, I can barely tolerate conservative Catholic political thought now, because its brand of Catholic "fusionism" isn't terribly concerned with economic justice of any sort. And it comes to this: One can get away with almost any crime against the Earth, against immigrants and their families, Americans of color, the incarcerated, or neighbors in other lands, as long as one gets the sexual ethics right, as a "conservative" Catholic, or a politician seeking their support.

I grant that this may not be fair, or fair in every case. Yet I know that it names something real, something that militates against my comfort in abiding in former familiar ideological haunts.

Supposing I had been politically enculturated as a Democrat, I'd have a different set of complaints, especially regarding sexual ethics mentioned earlier. Perhaps there'd be other things as well I couldn't abide, as a doctrinaire Catholic.

I keep thinking about this pointed thought every time I see and hear Nancy Pelosi. You know, she says true things all the time. It's easier to notice when I haven't decided beforehand she's a person who is insane.

I had this pointed thought yesterday at Mass, of all places: If you dropped Bernie Sanders and his economic policies of today back into 1985, he's probably helping Speaker O'Neill with a budget proposal. Which is to say, he wouldn't be on the fringes of policy and political life. The Democrats have moved away from advocating for the poor, and lower middle class, to their shame.

In the end, it's easier to listen well when I don't have a "team," per se.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Yes, I Will Impose My Values On You

Because that's what governments do. That's what politics literally is: public morality. If we make choices about what "marriage" is, or we decide that the makeup of a family is a matter of taste, we necessarily disfavor those traditional views.

We also suffer the consequences of failing to appreciate those realities whilst being awash in misplaced sentimentality and false notions of "equality".

I suppose we'd always sought refuge in "freedom," believing that a healthy pluralism would make room for our views, too. What if that viewpoint neutrality was always a ruse, an illusion?

I hold Mr. David French in the highest esteem. His work to make America livable for all of us should never be forgotten. But maybe the biggest mistake is to believe that most people want to be reasonable.

Or perhaps the illusion was so plausible because most Americans and their neighbors around the world still benefited from the West's consensus about the nature of reality. It's true that Christianity is the beating heart of Western civilization. It's also true that it's not faith per se that makes it work.

Metaphysical realism is what made it work. Metaphysical realism asserts that it is possible to know reality though the use of reason. There is a coherence to reality as we know and can observe it.

When the West slid into philosophical skepticism--the assertion that we cannot know reality as reality through reason--we lost the consensus upon which everything prior had been based. It is perhaps amusing in a morbid way to hear an atheist rave in a Christian society; we treat them like a "crazy" uncle or aunt who drank too much at Thanksgiving. Setting aside faith or the lack of it for the moment, what are we supposed to do when people claim we can't be certain about anything?

Religion hasn't gone anywhere; it's just fractured, and more significantly divided between those systems that assume faith is in harmony with reason, and those that assume it is not. Escape from the world, versus transformation of it. Fideism--faith apart from reason--is ascendant. People aren't just fideistic about religion now; they're becoming fideistic about everything. Bring on the charismatic cult leaders and hucksters.

Somewhat amusing is the realization that the perception that an evil cabal is imposing itself on us, and that "the people" are fighting against them, depends entirely upon what the cabal is selling. (And whether you agree with it/them.)

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Some Implications Of Politics As Public Morality

Everyone has almost a practiced habit of lamenting the incivility of politics today, and that's not altogether wrong. The conversation is uncivil, often emotional, and illogical.

On the other hand, there is a privilege inherent in telling everyone else to calm down. Personally, I get angry when real issues of justice are at stake. I don't want to sing Kumbaya, politically speaking, with those who don't recognize children in the womb as persons, or who think separating families at the border as a punitive measure to discourage illegal entry is acceptable. As a consequence, the memes telling us all to just "get along" are patronizing and stupid.

I know I find default libertarianism kind of stupid. A sort of dependence on the fact that large segments of the populace could and would find various instances of federal government conduct excessive, silly, or otherwise injurious to some notion of individual liberty has the curious effect of obscuring the fact that libertarianism is completely outside the pale of the Catholic philosophical tradition. If the public presentation of a philosophy is focused upon winning "converts" among the politically engaged in our country on all sides, the reality that libertarianism undermines political authority as such is hidden from view.

Pipe dreams about radically limited government don't sound too correct or reasonable to people who need the government, practically speaking.

What is political authority--that is, government--for? We need to have theoretical and philosophical conversations about that, before we have conversations about "the issues". Especially when "the issues" are nothing more than hooks for us to express our mutual disdain for the opposing "tribe."


Monday, November 25, 2019

Get In The Ark

I'll just come out with it: I think evangelical Protestant Christianity is becoming mainline and "liberal" Christianity. I think it's inevitable, and inherent in Protestantism. Within those communities, you will have reactionaries and progressives just shouting at each other. The progressives eventually win, until the lines are drawn again.

It's Sola Scriptura. You either end up a reactionary with a Church of one, or whole communities--deciding together as individuals, mind you--that this or that tenet is no longer binding. Some subgroup can form a new denomination, but the same process repeats. It has to be personal conduct, and usually sex, to cause the problem. With no natural law--or the rare bird that appeals to it, against his or her own hermeneutical process, you'll note--how much can those Scripture texts bear, without appeal to something else? It makes sense. Dogmatic things are pretty arcane; arguments are confined to specialists, experts, and nerds. The reactionary--or I'll just them the "conservative elements" in any discussion--always thinks that "the gospel itself is at stake," whether the issue is theological or ethical, because categorically speaking, everything belongs to supernaturally revealed truth. It's an argument from the Bible, because in terms of method, they have no other choice. Anyway, it mystifies me that so many people still believe that a well-trained, informed reading of the biblical text on any matter of consequence only leads in a "conservative" direction!

An astute person may appeal to some judgment of history, oddly pretending--or trying earnestly--to be a good Protestant, whilst appealing to the settled Christian witness of however many centuries, better known as the Catholic Church. Those clever Leithartian shell games only work for so long. We won't ever be as good at impersonating Catholic culture as Catholics are at creating the real thing, and I think we knew it.

It can't be an occasion for triumphalism, because the heart of Catholic security and boasting is a divine promise and protection. The Church stands here unmoved, in spite of all of us, because that's what Jesus said he would do. Many Christians have a great love for the Church as a notion, an idea, but because there is no visible Church in this Protestant paradigm, at best, we end up loving a thing we can't actually find, or rest in. It's a good desire, and truly from the Holy Spirit, but frustrated, until the believer changes his or her views about what the "Church" is. That's a scary thing to do.

I suppose it's also scary to contemplate changing one's views on all manner of things, in the prospect of going from Reformed and Protestant to Catholic. But for me personally, I only held the particular Reformed views I had because I thought they were given by Jesus Himself. I didn't spend hours and days and weeks wondering how various other communities arrived at their views. If I wanted to know, I'd ask. As a matter of sport, I guess, we could debate it, but I also knew that we hadn't begun to settle any of that, and we couldn't. What was unacceptable to me was the idea that none of it mattered in its particularity, that the divisions between us were matters of preference. I didn't believe that Jesus affirmed all positions the same, or that God Himself was indifferent.

But becoming a child of the Catholic Church in the proper sense involves reckoning with her authority. At any point, I may have suspected that the Catholic profession concerning the Eucharist, for example, was correct, but I did not and would not have simply adjusted how I read the Scriptures. Somehow I knew that the Protestant paradigm was different, because the view of the Church was different. I somehow understood that agreeing wholly with the Catholic Church is distinct from being under her authority. In the Protestant paradigm, this distinction evaporates, because a good Protestant submits [to his church authority] because he agrees, and for no other reason. In the Catholic mind, it's almost reversed: I agree because I submit. The Church is itself an object of faith. That's why the question of struggling with this or that Catholic dogma still sounds odd in my ears. I might have had a difficulty arising from a lack of theological training, but if I understand that the Church that Christ founded is commanding me to believe something, and therefore, that Jesus is commanding me to believe something, I simply believe it. It doesn't matter that I believed something else before; once I didn't think Jesus said a particular thing as something I should believe, I abandoned it. I personally invite Ross Douthat to read this paragraph as many times as necessary. Ahem.

The Protestant defense against the charges of heresy was and is that its innovations were acceptable variations on a theme. Yet it's quite easy to declare something an acceptable variation once one has rejected the authority that declared otherwise! As a side note, it makes sense that the idea of schism--separating from the Church--would collapse into heresy. The best Protestants can do as individuals is say they believe something to be heresy. The other option is to accept whatever it is an acceptable variation, within the "Church." "I happen to think X, that Y is an error, but I won't question someone's salvation, etc." Presto! Something that once might have been worth dying for is now a matter of liberty. Frankly, we're at the point where we should ask if everything is a matter of liberty. And when a Christian realizes that Christianity in faith and conduct is not a matter of taste, he has to find the theme, the thread of truth, and ultimately, the Church.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America promulgates the faith and morals expected of everyone under its authority. They wouldn't say it like that; they would even dare to say that they have the whole truth alone. In any case, once you start asking, "What is the mechanism by which this body protects and promulgates the faith?" it's a Catholic question, because there is no mechanism; an absolute protection would be a charism, or gift, of infallibility. The formal sufficiency of Scripture inherent in the principle of Sola Scriptura is inevitably an assertion of ecclesial fallibility. This is a great assertion when one wants to throw off the yoke of the Catholic Church; it's a cruel nightmare when you want other people to listen and submit to you.

In short, the Christian witness is diluted, because so many children of God the Father, adopted into His family by the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, are separated from the Church, the Catholic Church.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Farewell, And Thanks

The professor that taught my two favorite classes during my undergraduate days--L. Marvin Overby--taught his last undergraduate classes for Mizzou today. I have very fond memories of those 2 courses: Congress and Legislative Policy/Politics, and Politics of the American South. It was a memorable experience. I'm not sure he knew he was my favorite, because quite honestly, he scared the crap out of me at the time. It was like something out of a movie: the scary professor who'd shut you down if you weren't prepared, like an edgy, off-color John Keating. I can't really explain what that was like, except to say this: I never missed a lecture, and I never wanted to. This dude is a throwback to the days when a university and the exchange of knowledge was for its own sake. It was good, because it was the truth, and no matter how indirect, it's for the good of others. He's good at playing the roguish cynic, but really, some pretty high ideals are lurking behind the presentation. I'll never be anything close to a leftist, but Overby planted the seeds of the destruction of my arrogant pseudo-libertarianism of the time. And somehow, he did it without expressing any overt opinions.

Every time I see Senator Schumer (D-NY) I remember Overby, and I have to smile. I was complaining about the senator holding up some Bush judicial appointments (those were the days) before one class in some pretty harsh terms, and Overby said, "Hey, Schumer is a good man who does well for his constituents." I'm not sure why this stuck out to me, but it did. I don't think I've been angry at Schumer since.

One day, in the legislative policy/politics class, Overby was lecturing on the so-called "Matthew Effect," (see Matthew 25:29) in context, the idea that our system grants significant and actually useful amounts of power with fairly small shifts in electoral outcome. I had demonstrated some facility with the Scriptures in a class full of probable heathen, and he got around to saying--after a digression into the Puritans--"Mr. Kettinger, why don't you give the class a brief outline of Calvinism?" I tried to demur, because Reformed election isn't the sunniest topic to talk about, and he wouldn't let me! So there we were, discussing theology in a politics class. I hope people were uncomfortable, in a way. Young adults are so specialized today; they don't read things you don't make them read, and even then. I'd like to think he liked me, because I'm one of those people who absorbs information because it's there. The day I stuck up for Calvinism, after class, as I recall, he mentioned that his sister was a Methodist minister. An odd contrast, that. But that was another small lesson: However he'd chosen to live, we don't treat religion as trivial or unimportant. I appreciated that.

I enjoyed his class so much, I told my advisor Donna Hanly, (RIP) that he was the best lecturer I'd ever heard. Donna replied, "You're about the 150th person to tell me that."

So now he's off to Penn State University, and they are fortunate. Hopefully the bigger and better will include some undergraduate teaching again. People who can instruct and inspire aren't so easy to find.

Thanks, Professor Overby.

Serious Films Are Pretentious And Boring

I don't mean to say they don't have a place. They do. Drama is good. And sometimes a longer running time is just necessary. But I think Serious Films are like beer or kale: we're all pretending to like them, because nobody wants to break first. It's like a game of chicken, over dumb things.

Wes Anderson makes weird movies. They're comedic, in a sense. You're not allowed to laugh like at a comedy show. You chuckle awkwardly, and salute the irony. It's some kind of surrealism, but let's be honest: if you met these characters, you'd call the cops, or some doctors.

The longer a movie goes, the more Serious it is. It can't win an Oscar, unless someone is black, brown, and/or gay, unless a white person learns a lesson. In which case, the underrepresented characters will be utterly ignored in terms of development.

Under no circumstances will a Serious Film be popular with ordinary people. If a film is popular with ordinary people, it must be simply bad. Any heartfelt emotion is simply maudlin, because it's not an Approved Story with Approved People.

No one is allowed to be happy in a Serious Film, unless a character or characters is breaking Oppressive Rules. Oppressive Rules are anything that people agreed on as obviously true 30 years ago.

A Serious Film gets bonus points if some character previously a Rule Follower commits adultery on an exotic vacation, and/or stops being a Christian, especially in favor of something that sounds vaguely spiritual, but which allows them to do what they wanted to do.

The music in a Serious Film must either be sad and classical to reflect the Seriousness, or it must be indie rock that only 500 people have ever listened to. The indie rock reflects the youthfulness and righteous correctness of some Rule Breakers that are about do something stupid.

Speaking of that, "coming of age" means sex. Every single time. Young people having sex (or genital contact, let's say) whilst breaking Oppressive Rules. If the 1950s are portrayed, the hero will be breaking Oppressive Rules, and encouraging others to do so. If somehow the hero does not openly subvert all social convention, the hero must be a persecuted homosexual.

If any happy, normal, intact family with children is portrayed positively, and the parents do not die, the parents in a Serious Film will lead the children into breaking Oppressive Rules, probably in regard to sexuality.

If the central hero in a Serious Film cannot endure the Oppressive Rules, and cannot quietly subvert them, the hero will commit suicide. This must never be portrayed negatively. If the other characters struggle with the new reality, they must either curse the Oppressive Rules, or come to terms with it, along with their friends, by celebrating the dead person's life. Also, they must recommit themselves to breaking Oppressive Rules in honor of their dead comrade.

Far and away the prototype Serious Film of my generation is Dead Poets Society. Though I oddly love this film, it is the most pretentious, preachy, incorrect film I've seen. It was pretty popular with ordinary people, I guess. Oh, well. I can't be right about everything.

In 2002, it was decided that Dead Poets Society would be re-made with young women. It was not in strict terms a reboot, so you may have seen it under the title, "Mona Lisa Smile." In addition to being preachy and false, it lacked the mesmerizing acting of the original, so it added the additional sin of being soul-crushingly boring.

All this has only gotten worse.