Metaphysics and more

Metaphysics

Kicking God’s Tires

I believe that there are great philosophical questions that are opaque to our questioning. The book of Job raises the specter of the “problem of evil” and leaves it wrapped in the mystery of God Himself. I have yet to hear anyone offer an answer to the question that satisfies. I believe that there is a “shame of ignorance” that accompanies the question, a dynamic that explains why it so often produces anger. This very shame, however, is the raw edge of our own nakedness, a point where our existence as creature meets the silence of the Creator.

In my own life, I have stood at that point many times. More than that, I have stood beside others as the questions raged in their hearts. I have listened while God was compared to a heartless beast and torturer, the most evil of all. And the silence abides. My ignorance and my speechlessness are, however, a true part of me. They represent much of the powerlessness of my creaturely existence. “You cannot make one hair white or black,” Christ reminds us. (Matt. 5:36)

We have all largely been formed in a culture of consumerism. It is not surprising, therefore, that we approach God as consumers. We want to “kick His tires,” discuss His program, find out what makes Him tick and why He does what He does. Ignorance is the bane of a consumer’s existence. God, however, is not a product for consumption. He is rightly approached in a relationship of “offering.” He gives to us, and we give to Him. It is a different mode of existence.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)

Mystical? Or mostly non-linear?

Orthodox theology is often described as “mystical.” I suspect that what is actually going on is that Orthodox theology is not “linear.” Rather, it is “everything at once.” This is actually how the world is. Things do not take place in a linear fashion, but together, and at once. History is not so polite as to “take turns,” waiting for one thing to lead to another. It is, undoubtedly the reason that all human plans fail in the end: we never “see coming” the train that hits us because we are too busy monitoring the linearity of our own expectations.

The Orthodox insight is that theology is “everything at once.” Although events may be described in a linear fashion, they are yet more fully understood when they are allowed to inform one another. The Annunciation is Pascha, if you have ears to hear. It is the descent of God into the depths of our humanity, in His self-emptying act of Incarnation. Orthodoxy struggles with this, often coining phrases such as “joyful sorrow” to describe the conjunction of God’s saving action in the world. St. Paul captures till somewhat in his statement that “all things work together for good.” It is not something that can be described in a linear fashion, but something that seeks to give voice to the full reality of God’s saving action. God has come among us not just some select people can go to heaven. He has come among us that He might “gather together in one all things in Christ Jesus.” That ingathering is everywhere, always, and at once.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The World as Grand Opera

Russian Conservative insight

[F]or Christian conservatives to want moral sobriety AND all the goodies that can be produced by liquid modernity is to want what never has been and probably never can be.

Paul Robinson, Russian Conservatism

What were the odds?

“0.0001 led to you, my love.”

Christ the Eternal Tao

I began reading a book by that name last night. I mention it so my non-Orthodox Christian friends, mistaking this for syncretism, will intensify their prayers for me (although they might want to consult St. Clive’s Abolition of Man before any anathema).

Wordplay

the shallows of modernity

Andrew Sullivan. I’m not even sure that those four words in that order are original, but it jumped out at me in context of the “mesmerizing” allure of “reactionaryism.”


As I wrote last week, the Ukraine war has exposed certain limits to populist thinking generally: Organized as it is around the internal failures of Western and American elites, the populist response to a clear external threat has been a kind of anticipatory opposition, a critique of elite mistakes not yet in evidence.

Ross Douthat (italics added).


Every year the N.C.A.A. tournament draws us in and then spits us back out, and every year we come back for more. But why?

Jane Coaston

Miscellany

One Craftsman

A specialist in finishes, he is a journeyman in the original, literal sense. He goes wherever the furniture is, traveling by car because the airlines do not allow the chemicals he carries. He is at the very top of his profession, a conservator of multimillion-dollar pieces of furniture, and he makes a lot of money. He is essentially a forensic chemist; he speaks of particular oils, shellacs, acetones, and methylated spirits. He is also a cultural historian…

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.

American exceptionalism at its worst

80% of cars sold in Europe have manual transmissions. Some car makers, including Audi, no longer offer manual transmissions in the U.S. market at all.

So why would anyone want one? Your car is less likely to get stolen, for one thing. Thieves prove as incapable of using a clutch as any other American. There have been multiple reports over the past year—in Cleveland, St. Louis, Detroit and Pleasantville, N.J.—of carjackers unable to drive away.

Faith Bottum, The Dying Art of Driving a Stick Shift

Splashes of reality

  • Whatever his or her claims of solidarity with the Third World, each American college graduate has had an education costing an amount five times greater than the median life income of half of humanity.
  • The largest institutions compete most fiercely for resources which are not listed in any inventory: the air, the ocean, silence, sunlight, and health.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

My pledge

I do not care that they have changed the dictionary. I will never use the word “literally” when I mean “figuratively” or “wow!”

BIPOC mothers, White birthing people

I am not making this up, and neither did Orwell:

The urgency of this moment is clear. Mortality rates of birthing people are too high, and babies born to Black and Puerto Rican mothers in this city are three times more likely to die in their first year of life than babies born to non-Hispanic White birthing people.

Dr. Michelle E. Morse, New York City’s chief medical officer (italics added for any slack-jawed readers) via Nellie Bowles

In a related vein, the World Health Organization, in the course of calling for abortion on demand for all nine months, world-wide, came up with this agnostic gem:

laws preventing abortion at any point during pregnancy risk violating the rights of ‘women, girls or other pregnant persons …’.

Via Wesley J. Smith. At least women and girls preceded the newly-obligatory “pregnant persons.”

Politics

As if on cue …

I mentioned last time that I had not voted for Indiana Senator Mike Braun. The GOP primary field the year he was elected consisted entirely of guys trying to outdo one another in Trumpiness, so I wouldn’t have voted for his primary opponents, either.

Since last time, he has astonishingly confirmed my judgment by suggesting that the Supreme Court should not have struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia (but should have left it to the states to repeal them — thanks for that small bone, Senator).

This sort of thing is a risk of sending a faux-populist businessman to Congress: a reflex that the Supreme Court should stay out of social issues unleavened by appreciation for the gravaman of the civil war amendments.

Well if you don’t like America, why don’t you move to _?

True colors: January 6 insurrectionist granted asylum in Belarus.

What is a woman?

It’s odd that none of the GOP Senators baiting Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson about her inability to define “woman” have offered her their definition to see if she agrees.

No, it’s really not odd. The questions are not made in entirely good faith nor entirely bad faith. Neither was her answer. Nobody covered themselves in glory on this one.

(A workable definition is “adult female human”, but then I looked that up.)

“Parks”

The houses are all in their respective income pods, the shopping is miles away from the houses, and the schools are separate from both the shopping and the dwellings. Work takes place in the office park—the word park being a semantic gimmick to persuade zoning boards that a bunch of concrete and glass boxes set among parking lots amounts to a rewarding environment—and manufacturing takes place in the industrial park—ditto. This has some interesting, and rather grave, ramifications.

James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere

Who are the real imperialists?

In an interview with Mandiner several weeks ago, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was asked what he thought the main characteristics could be of a Chinese-led international order. While those characteristics are as yet unclear, he said, “one thing is for sure: the Anglo-Saxons want the world to recognise their position as morally right. For them it’s not enough to accept the reality of power; they also need you to accept the things that they think are right. The Chinese have no such need.”

Gladden Pappin.

Hawley, Cruz and others dispel a notion

Although their roles as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are political rather than legal, Senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) got to play lawyers on TV at the Jackson confirmation hearings. And their performances won’t help dispel the notion that you don’t want Harvard and Yale Law grads as your advocates in the courtroom.

David Lat

Fact-checking the fact-checkers

[W]hen it really counts, the fact-checker’s role is not to investigate the truth but to uphold the credibility of official sources and their preferred narratives.

Jacob Siegel, ‌Invasion of the Fact-Checkers


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Imagine there’s no sovereignty

To us moderns, the secular is fundamental. Even when religion is considered a universal sociological category, we almost always first translate it into something secular, such as its function: it synthesizes diverse perspectives and experiences, it knits people together, it makes the world coherent, it assuages the fear of death, it provides legitimacy for power, it constructs social roles, and so on. In this way, we are perhaps willing to accept that every society has a religion, but only if we first reduce religion to yet another aspect of the fundamental secular, to yet another ideology or worldview.

I contend that the Middle Ages were neither religious nor secular because the religious and the secular are two features of a single construction: the modern, Western social architecture of “Church” and “State,” “private” and “public,” “individual” and “market,” and so on. The societies of the Middle Ages had a different architecture based on different assumptions and different concepts, ultimately on a different vision of the cosmos.

One of the central arguments of this book is that we should abandon the use of “religion” and “secular” “Church” and “State” understood in their modern senses in our attempts to understand the Middle Ages, in this case the thirteenth century. This is not because the terms have no meaning—in our world they have a great deal of meaning. Rather, it is because one cannot get too far along in building a thick description of the thirteenth century before concluding that everything was religious or, if one is inclined to come at it from the other direction, before concluding that everything was secular.

Peter Berger has written, “By secularization we mean the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols.” The problem, however, is that institutions and symbols are recognizable as religious only from the vantage point of the secular. This means secularization might be just as legitimately understood as being the process by which sectors of society and culture were construed as religious institutions and symbols. In other words, secularization is the process through which the “religious” as we conceive of it was created. Along these lines, Brent Nongbri has accurately remarked that we call religious “anything that sufficiently resembles modern Protestant Christianity,” and when Charles Taylor states that the British were more religious in 1900 than ever before, we might consider him to be, in a sense, defining the term “religious.”

[T]hirteenth-century France was built as a “most Christian kingdom,” a term that the papacy frequently used in reference to it. I do not mean that the kingdom of France was a State with a Christian ideology. I mean that it was Christian, fundamentally. There was no State lurking beneath the kingdom’s religious trappings. There was no State at all, but a Christian kingdom. In this kingdom, neither the “secular” nor the “religious” existed. Neither did “sovereignty.” I do not mean that the religious was everywhere and that the secular had not yet emerged from under it. I mean they did not exist at all … The people of thirteenth-century France, however, were not trying to figure out how to build a “Sovereign State” and they were not trying to disentangle the “secular” from the “religious.” They had never heard of these things. Their world made sense, and it was a world that did not contain these concepts. This is the world that I am after.

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