Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I enjoy singing good Christmas carols about as much as I enjoy singing anything. With a bit of sentimentality, many of them communicate powerfully about that most transformative of events, God’s entry into human history, in human flesh no less.

But Tipsy’s URL is “intellectualoid” for a reason. As my amateur community chorus prepares for Lessons and Carols, the distinct flavor of Adam Lay Ybounden, a Middle English Christmas Carol – especially verses 3 and 4 – jumped out at me.

Adam lay ybounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter,
Thought he not too long.

And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took.
As clerkes finden,
Written in their book.

Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne had never our ladie,
Abeen heav’ne queen.

Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we moun singen.
Deo gracias!

There’s a common belief (not dogma, I don’t believe; how could a counterfactual become a dogma?) that “our ladie” would have “abeen heav’ne queen” even if the apple “ne had been taken.” I think that belief may be a bit more common in the Christian east than in the west, but it’s present both places. An opposite view is hymned in the carol:

The third verse suggests the subsequent redemption of man by the birth of Jesus Christ by Mary, who was to become the Queen of Heaven as a result,[6]and thus the song concludes on a positive note hinting at Thomas Aquinas‘ concept of the “felix culpa” (blessed fault).[5] Paul Morris suggests that the text’s evocation of Genesis implies a “fall upwards.[7]

It’s not a question to which it’s easy to find western and eastern answers counterposed on the web, so let me just echo an unauthoritative source, Batteddy of Combox:

that Christ would have become incarnate whether man sinned or not, and that this was the whole point of creation, and the occasion for the envy and pride of the devil.

Anything that offends the devil is good by me. I hope he’s mightily offended by our new bishop, enthroned today.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Evidence never demands a verdict

I recently became aware of an upcoming event on a university campus. It was described thus (paraphrased to eliminate identifying references):

The Symposium is the single largest annual outreach event in our community.  This year, we’re hosting a debate on whether faith in God is reasonable.  Next day we’ll have over a dozen professors giving 30+ talks on matters relevant to faith and academics, science, comparative religions, suffering, etc. from a Christian point of view.  Thousands will be in attendance.

(Italics added) I question the efficacy of this approach. Evidence never demands a verdict.

* * * * *

A few years ago, a young man – with several years’ history of schizophrenia and abuse of a prescription drug – went to his parents’ house at night, knocked on the door, and when it opened, systematically began pumping his father full of bullets, following dad as he fled across the road and calmly reloading.

Before you judge him for his drug abuse, you need to realize that “self-medication” is pandemic among people with serious mental illness. They take medicine to try to feel better even if those prescriptions aren’t prescribed and aren’t remotely appropriate for what’s ailing them.

For years his family had struggled to keep him in reality. There were interventions and hospitalizations. Still, he retreated into a private world with cassette tapes of some backwoods evangelist who had caught his fancy. The family, devastated by the tragedy, nevertheless agreed that their son/brother was insane. The evidence of his insanity before and after the shooting was overwhelming.

The state, correctly, perceived that it had a most difficult burden, whatever the law said about “burdens of proof,” of proving the defendant sane when he killed his father. So they hired the best Sophist money could buy, who flew in from the coast and put on a dog and pony show for a full week of court time. The gist of his testimony was that despite years of insanity behind him and years of insanity before him, the young man was stone cold sane when he committed the insane act on his father, toward whom he bore no ill will until he became mentally ill. “Trust me. I’m a Sophist.”

The jury, presumably not wanting this young man to show up on their doorsteps with pizza delivery in a few years after some psychiatrist declared his schizophrenia control “good enough,” endorsed the opinions of the Sophist.

The young man sits in prison, where he’ll become an old man, the world spared at least one pyscho pizza deliveryman.

Evidence never demands a verdict.

* * * * *

The evidence for God’s existence is ample.

  • The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day to day utters speech, and night to night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. (Psalm 19:1-3)
  • Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. (Romans 1:19-22)
  • The fool hath said in his heart, “there is no God.” (Psalm 53:1)

I cite those verses not as syllogistic proof, or as an appeal to authority, but as the testimony of people who recognized God where they saw Him. I see Him, too, on all but the very darkest days of my life.

I don’t claim the proof is overwhelming. For various reasons, some can’t see, or won’t admit they see, the evidence. The former may be like color-blindness, or loss of the sense of smell.

The latter may just not want God showing up at the door and knocking. Some bring the Sophists in to reassure themselves. “Man, Bill Maher has, like, so nailed this god myth once and for all! Him and Penn Jillette!”

Evidence never demands a verdict.

* * * * *

The Symposium, I suspect, will convince few who aren’t already convinced. If it convinces anyone else, it will convince them merely of the god of the deists, the grand watchmaker who built it (or evolved it) all wound up.

I’m sure the sponsors want, shall we say, more than reluctant deists for their efforts.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Live and Let Live

One of the lamest tropes in our political discourse (not known to lack for vacuity) is “imposing morality.”

The light isn’t always very good at the border, but there is a border between mala prohibita and mala in se. Positive law forbidding mala in se are necessarily impositions of morality when viewed by those who greatly crave something malum in se.

I have tended toward liberalism in the sense of allowing certain mala in se to occur lawfully so long as all competent participants agreed. One needn’t think this is all about sex, either (although that’s an area where the law has retreated pretty dramatically during my lifetime, with the Supreme Court finally striking down laws in holdout states). Boxing and other contact martial arts involve consenting to the battering of one’s body by another, which is certainly wrong without consent.

But just how much do I want government to micromanage? How badly is society harmed if a few outliers want to do this particular bad thing? How, short of police state tactics, would a ban on such-and-such mala in se be enforced?

But there are increasing signs that I’ve committed the grave strategic error of unilateral disarmament, and that there is a party that wants to impose its transvalued values (evil is the new good, good the new evil) by requiring me and others to participate, not just tolerate, their proclivities.

A current example is the employer contraception (and abortifacient, be it remembered) mandate.  It’s not enough that Catholics who consider “artificial contraception” malum in se not be allowed to prohibit it by law. They (and Protestants, who may oppose only the abortifacient part) must, as the price of working in their own business as an employer, be forced to pay 100% of it for employees. Life-saving drugs and treatment come with a co-pay; chemical sterility is “on the house.”

That’s aggressive imposition of (im)morality by the government. I don’t look for the Culture Wars to end until “live and let live” becomes a two-way street, and I’m seeing no signs of that happening.

* * * * *

On a somewhat related topic.

As soon as you allow something as vague as Big Brother protecting your feelings, anything and everything can be punished …

In every genuinely diverse community I’ve ever lived in, freedom of speech had to be the rule . . .  I find it deeply ironic that on college campuses diversity is used as an argument against unbridled freedom of speech.

Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) on How Free Speech Died on Campus.

Perhaps Lukianoff’s characterizations are a bit exaggerated. Both sides in the Culture Wars have their anecdotal horror stories. I don’t have the time or the sociology chops to measure whether the sorts of examples Lukianoff cites in this Wall Street Journal piece are the exception or the rule.

But I’ve followed FIRE for several years now, and I sure as heck am glad it exists. It’s sort of the new ACLU of free speech on campus.

The pairing of (1) “something as vague as Big Brother protecting your feelings” and (2) diversity being used as a argument to limit free speech seems to me to be akin to the motivation for Human Relations Ordinances that add sexual orientation as a protected class.

Maybe things are different elsewhere, but I sat through every minute of every public meeting on our local Human Relations Ordinance amendments, listening for evidence of economically significant discrimination. Not only did I not hear it, I heard credible evidence of not even one isolated incident that would fall within the Ordinance. To my knowledge, no complaint of discrimination based on sexual orientation has yet been sustained locally, and very few have been lodged at all. I haven’t tried to follow execution as carefully as I followed implementation, but I was involved in establishing that Human Relations Commissions must operate under Open Door laws, and the press should be covering them to the extent their activities are newsworthy.

What motivates college administrators to act so viciously? “It’s both self-interest and ideological commitment,” Mr. Lukianoff says. On the ideological front, “it’s almost like you flip a switch, and these administrators, who talk so much about treating every student with dignity and compassion, suddenly come to see one student as a caricature of societal evil.”

My feelings are hurt, but my status as “a caricature of societal evil” is not a protected class. It’s okay, therefore, to impose the new morality on me.

Yes, I’m aware of development gurus like Richard Florida arguing that it’s important to get ahead of the curve by signaling tolerance to attract creative types. That doesn’t really change my analysis, because it’s still big brother protecting feelings, even if there’s a business development motivation behind (or façade in front of) it.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.