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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bishop Conry's hypothetical syllogism

I don't mean to dwell on this guy and his situation but I had to wince when I saw this story about him in The Tablet today ... Bishop says church hierarchy had no idea of his affair with woman six years ago ...

The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, who this week said he was “relieved” that a relationship he had with a woman six years ago had come to light, said that the church authorities did not know about the affair. Bishop Kieran Conry said that if they had known, his fellow bishops would have done something. He told the Catholic Herald: “someone would have said something to me, someone would have taken me aside, and nobody did”.

Oh look, a hypothetical syllogism (If A, then B. Not B. Therefore not A) ...

1) If his fellow bishops had known of his affairs, then they would have done something about it

2) His fellow bishops didn't do anything about it

3) Therefore, his fellow bishops didn't know of his affairs

Another example ...

1) If God had wanted us to swim, then he would have given us fins

2) He didn't give us fins

3) Therefore, God did not want us to swim

The thing is that while hypothetical syllogisms seem logical, they aren't always an accurate portrayal of reality ... the assumption made is that if A is true, then B must also be true, but that isn't always so. Conry asks us to take for granted his assertion ... "if they [his fellow bishops] had known, his fellow bishops would have done something" .... but I don't see why we should believe this to be a fact. It seems quite possible that the other bishops did know about his affairs but declined to do anything about the situation.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The UK Catholic Church: liberals, conservatives

- source: The Times

I've been thinking about the Catholic church in the UK because of the recent story in the news of Bishop Kieran Conry retiring upon his affairs with women being made public.

Here in the US, the leadership of the Catholic church is conservative, so much so that one might think the USCCB is a wing of the Republican party. But it's different in the UK ... there the President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Vincent Nichols, is considered a liberal, as are many (most?) of the bishops. I say "considered" because he is nowhere near a liberal from my own liberal point of view (he opposed both gay civil partnerships and marriage equality) but of course "liberal" takes on a whole new meaning when you're within the Catholic establishment.

But anyway, the scandal about Conry is being treated in different ways by those who are liberal and those who are conservative (Conry is thought of as a liberal bishop). The comments to a post about him at Damian Thompson's conservative blog are mostly critical of Conry, while comments to a post about him at The Tablet (liberal, sort of) give Conry a pass.

It's kind of disturbing to see politics inform people's reactions to Conry's ethical failure.

Photos from the yard

Saturday, September 27, 2014


- Who knew there was a mystery series about Aristotle? :)

- Warning: This Post Will Change Your Brain

- From the UK ... Bishop Kieran Conry had affairs with two women, one of them married

- Obama to create world’s largest protected marine reserve in Pacific Ocean

- Does Santa Claus Exist? Choose your own adventure ...

Another 'ringer'

I had an earlier post about one of the women chosen by Cardinal Muller of the CDF and approved of by the pope to the International Theological Commission (Tracey Rowland) here. Today I saw a post by Thomas Reese SJ about one of the other women chosen for the commission - Sr. Prudence Allen. She's conservative and anti-feminist (Fr. Z loves her). Here's a bit of Fr. Reese's post ...

[...] In an April 30, 2010, interview with the National Review, "Nun Sense: Women in the Catholic Church," Sister Allen was asked what she thought of the Network sisters who supported passage of the Affordable Care Act at a time when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were opposing it.

"Were they representative of the Catholic Church?" asked Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review Online.

Her response:

"By comparing the statements of the Network religious sisters on health care with the statements of Cardinal George and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on health care, it is clear that there are fundamental contradictions between them. Thus, the Network religious sisters have separated themselves from the head, and therefore cannot be included in the meaning of “catholic.” Therefore, they are not representative of the Catholic Church" ...

When asked about having women involved as priests and in the hierarchy, she responded, "this question is wrongly framed within a political model of power struggles." Rather, she continued, "the Church is a communion in which all the baptized are called to holiness through complementary vocations."

:( Appointing these particular women to the ITC is a disingenuous co-opting of the genuine hope women have of finding equal treatment in the church.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Science and religion

[I]n the end, everybody – I speak as a minister of the Church of England – everybody has their own religion, whether they tell you or not. .... and it is good that they do, because as you experience things in life, you come to frame your own view of how it is that your goals are going to be shaped by your ideals, and whether or not there is something objective, over against you, which demands that you act morally and rightly and which offers you the promise perhaps of something like a personal relationship.

Here's another Keith Ward lecture from Gresham College - Pascal's Fire: Scientific faith and religious understanding ...

Pascal's Fire: Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding - Professor Keith Ward from Gresham College on Vimeo.

The church and a dead shark

There's a post at Pray Tell about a new study telling why people leave the church. The main reasons will surprise no one and they reflect all of my own disagreements with the church ...

1) Issues with Church doctrine, especially among highly educated respondents citing concerns with the Church’s stance on matters such as birth control, women’s ordination, divorce and homosexuality among others.

2) An overall lack of connection to the Church, especially in regards to liturgy and spiritual practice. Many respondents noted that they were “dissatisfied” or “lost interest in going to the Mass.”

3) Ongoing scandals in the Church.

4) A “perceived lack of Christian values at the level of Church, parish or priest.” Many surveyed cited unfriendly or unwelcoming experiences personally or among friends.

What's disturbing is the church's response to the chasm between how Catholics and the hierarchy feel about these issues .... instead of considering the possibility that Catholics have validly discerned the failure of these doctrines, the church is figuring out ways to "re-evangelize" us, starting with the upcoming synod for the family. It won't work. The problem is not that we don't *understand* the doctrines, it's that we believe they are *wrong*. The church will continue to die away because those who lead it would rather be infallible than listen to and learn from its own faithful.

I don't like Woody Allen anymore, but let me quote from one of his early movies ... "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Music for a leaky roof

It's raining today. A lot. Unfortunately, the guy who was putting the tarps on my leaky roof hasn't finished yet and has taken today off for safety reasons, so it's raining in my bedroom at the moment :( Here's the song I always think of when the roof leaks. I first heard it on an episode of The X-Files, Terms of Endearment, which featured Bruce Campbell as a demon from hell who was trying to father a human offspring a la Rosemary's Baby :) But anyway, the song ...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Liberal Christianity

Another lecture by Keith Ward. The text can be read here. I really need a break form all the depressingly conservative stuff going on in my own church right now ;)

Liberal Christianity - Professor Keith Ward from Gresham College on Vimeo.

Not up on the roof

For the first time since I started tarping the leaky roof in 2001, I have hired someone else to do it for me because of hurting my back. Strange to be inside and hear someone walking around on the roof above. Hope the feral kittens who've been spending a lot of time up there don't panic at his approach and throw themselves off :( Here are some photos I took in past years when I was up on the roof tarping ...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Five women and thirty men

In the news, Pope names five women to International Theological Commission. As John Allen comments in his post on this ...

[...] The initial news flash about the new 30-member lineup for the ITC is the increased number of women – five this time, as opposed to two during the last five-year term. Once you run all 30 names, however, the thing that truly jumps out is the preponderance of figures regarded by most Catholics in the know as fairly conservative .....

Sr. Prudence Allen, also from the United States, is a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich. She’s the kind of nun unapologetic about wearing the habit, and in 2010 she publicly criticized progressive Catholic sisters who broke with the bishops by supporting the Obama health care reform despite abortion-funding issues .... Tracey Rowland of Australia is close to both Pell and Fisher, and would be seen as among the leading intellectual lights of the “Evangelical Catholicism” movement to which Umbers referred. She writes frequently for publications with a conservative editorial bent, and is seen as an articulate defender of traditional Catholic doctrine.

The only one of the five women chosen by CDF head Ludwig Müller and approved by the pope that I've heard of before is Tracey Rowland and she is indeed very conservative. Thought of as part of the Radical Orthodoxy movement, she's a fan of B16 and a staff member at the John Paul II Institute of Marriage and Family (yes, Theology of the Body, women's "special" genius, "new" feminism, and complementarianism). I cam upon one of her articles online, Is Totalitarian Liberalism A Mutant Form of Christianity?, and it probably would give you an idea of her right leaning perspective.

I suppose it was too much to hope that someone like Elizabeth Johnson or Margaret Farley would have been picked.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Another Jesuit leaving

Jesuit leaves church after firings

In light of recent firings of gays and lesbians from Catholic institutions, Benjamin Brenkert has left the Catholic church after 10 years of pursuing priesthood in the Jesuit order. "I can't be a Jesuit priest because I can't be a member of the Catholic church right now," Brenkert told NCR. "I can't be an openly gay Jesuit discerning priesthood in the Catholic church if LGBT employees are being fired from Catholic institutions."

Brenkert said the last straw for him was when a food pantry worker was fired from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Kansas City, Mo., after her marriage to a woman was mentioned in a local newspaper article. Upon his decision to leave the church, Brenkert wrote an open letter to Pope Francis, explaining both why he was leaving the Jesuits, and what he wants the pope to do in order to save his vocation to the church .....

You can read the whole letter here - Open Letter to Pope Francis: Help Save My Vocation. It begins like this ...

Dear Pope Francis,

In your time as pope, your commitment to poverty has awakened the world to the evils of globalization, capitalism, and materialism. Many now understand poverty to be a structural sin and a social evil. Through your public statements you have sparked the interest of Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and atheists. The world looks to you as a shepherd, a man filled with the joy of the Gospel.

Yet, while you have focused on physical and material poverty, members of my community -- lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender and queer/questioning men, women and youth -- have been neglected. They remain on the frontiers, the margins, living spiritually poor lives. Some need the voice of cardinals like Walter Kasper to tell them that God loves them. Others know that God loves them, but church leadership rejects them as disordered and disoriented. Your prophetic question "Who am I to judge?" encourages people everywhere to have a nonjudgmental attitude toward members of the LGBTQ community, but being nonjudgmental is not enough, especially when Jesus tells us to be like the Good Samaritan and "go, do likewise." ....

I think what this Jesuit has done is admirable. I have to wonder, though, if Pope Francis will care. He did, after all, agree to the dismissal of another Jesuit, Fr. John Dear, from the Society of Jesus when I assume he could have instead refused (John Dear SJ is leaving the Jesuits and The Jesuits and John Dear). I hope I'm wrong and that the Pope does indeed tell the US Bishops to stop firing gay teachers!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bishop Blase Cupich

There's been much in the Catholic press about the appointment of Cardinal George's replacement in Chicago, Bishop Blase Cupich. Appointed by Pope Francis, this is seen as an indication by some of the Pope's wish to have a more moderate leadership in the US ... Pope Francis names Spokane bishop to Chicago, dashing conservative hopes

I would argue first that Cupich is *not* at all a liberal, and secondly, I would ask whether it really matters at the end of the day where Cupich stands.

First, an example of Cupich's conservatism is shown in his views of complementarianism and marriage equality. As bishop of Spokane he argued vigorously in 2012 against Referendum 74. Here's a bit of what he wrote in Some Reflections on Referendum 74 ...

[...] If there is anything we have come to appreciate and value more fully in this modern age, it is that men and women are not the same. That is true not only biologically, but on so many other levels. Men and women are not interchangeable. They each bring something of their difference to complement each other. In a marriage union, a mutual sharing of each other’s difference creates life, but it also nourishes that life in a family where sons and daughters learn about gender from the way it is lived by their mothers and fathers. The decision to unhinge marriage from its original grounding in our biological life should not be taken lightly for there are some things enacted law is not capable of changing. Thoughtful consideration should be given to the significant consequences such unhinging will mean for children, families, society and the common good .....

If marriage is only about relationships, why limit unions to two people? Why does the new law include the traditional prohibition of close kinship unions for both opposite and same sex couples? The threat of genetic disorders in children is not an issue for same sex couples. Is it not reasonable to assume that a closely related same sex couple will in time successfully challenge this prohibition as an unreasonable imposition? .... In the coming weeks I will provide through the Inland Register, and our websites ( and materials based on what we believe God has revealed to us about creation, the meaning and value of marriage and family, and the way we are called to live as Christ’s disciples.

Second, does it make a real difference to Catholics if their bishop holds certain views? Despite the arguments of Cupich and other Washington state bishops, referendum 74 was not only passed, but a group, Catholics for Marriage Equality, held a prayer vigil in support of the referendum ... Catholics defy bishops to pray for gay marriage ... and 63 ex-Catholic priests backed the referendum as well.

I couldn't even tell you the name of my own bishop, much less where he stands on important issues ... I think we can assume he disagrees with me about women's ordination, marriage equality, contraception, divorce, holding bishops accountable for covering up sex abuse because he would not have been made a bishop otherwise ... and his views would have no impact on my beliefs. It's not just me ... Pope Francis faces church divided over doctrine, global poll of Catholics finds. So, I guess I'm just bemused by the furor over Cupich's appointment.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Young Beautiful in a Hurry

Some music for Friday ...

The singer reminds me of another version of Captain Hook ;) ....

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scottish independence: it isn’t about nationalism

UPDATE: Scotland rejects independence with No vote set for victory ... ;(

Tomorrow the Scots will vote on whether Scotland should be independent of the UK or not. There have been mean-spirited assertions of nationalism against the independence movement. I find this criticism laughable given that those who are against Scottish independence support an empire upon which the sun once never set ...

More Than Scottish Pride: Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself.

Robert Bellarmine SJ and the Inquisition

Today is St Robert Bellarmine SJ Day. He's well liked but when I think of him, all I can think of is his position in the Roman Inquisition, which handled the trials of Copernicus, Galileo, and Giordano Bruno, among others ...

Clement VIII, set great store by him. He was made rector of the Roman College in 1592, examiner of bishops in 1598, and cardinal in 1599. Immediately after his appointment as Cardinal, Pope Clement made him a Cardinal Inquisitor, in which capacity he served as one of the judges at the trial of Giordano Bruno, and concurred in the decision which condemned Bruno to be burned at the stake as a heretic. - Wikipedia

There have been recent discussions about the church and Bruno ... an episode of Cosmos about the church's treatment of Bruno sparked a kind of backlash by those who believe the church wasn't really against science but murdered Bruno for his religious rather than scientific views. Here's one discussion of the issues ... Defending Giordano Bruno: A Response from the Co-Writer of “Cosmos”.

Bellarmine is, I think, considered reasonable about the scientific views he investigated ... he suggested disingenuous workarounds that would allow continued scientific study without a resulting auto-de-fé. In a letter, Bellarmine wrote about Galileo's ideas ...

that interpreting heliocentrism as physically real would be "a very dangerous thing, likely not only to irritate all scholastic philosophers and theologians, but also to harm the Holy Faith by rendering Holy Scripture as false." Moreover, while the topic was not inherently a matter of faith, the statements about it in Scripture were so by virtue of who said them—namely, the Holy Spirit. He conceded that if there were conclusive proof, "then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary; and say rather that we do not understand them, than that what is demonstrated is false."

So, the church wasn't necessarily against science per se, and yes there were lots of Jesuit scientists ... the church was instead against anyone proposing views that the church didn't endorse.

However, the idea that this death-dealing thought-police methodology (the Inquisition) can be spun by some as positive because it wasn't inherently anti-science is just mind-boggling to me. And I can't admire anyone, whether they're a saint or not, who would judge a person worthy of burning at the stake, now matter what that person's beliefs were.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Müller on women

An interview with Cardinal Müller, who I find quite disturbing in his past stated beliefs about love and marriage. The interview begins like this ...

Naturally extroverted, he [Müller] half-jokingly begged that we not talk about women, but rather about Our Lady. Yet he still managed to steer the conversation back to our original topic, chatting about his relationship with women, and especially about the extraordinary affection he bore his mother.

Oh my :( It goes on to list his favorite female writers, none of whom are contemporary, and among them are Hildegard of Bingen and Edith Stein, both champions of extreme complementarianism. And then ...

Müller also found in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a number of women collaborators whose roles are anything but secondary. He does not hide his esteem for his secretary, Clothilde Mason, and other women colleagues, almost all of whom are married with families. He also says that in appointing women theologians to work at the Congregation, difficulties also arise, because, if they have a family, these women are not prepared to move to Rome. In addition, he alluded that the new International Theological Commission soon to be appointed by the Pope will include a larger number of women than the outgoing Commission: perhaps an increase from two to five or six.

Just to clarify, Pope Francis *told him* to add more women, and even with five or six women instead of just two, we're talking about a group of thirty theologians ... that's like one-sixth being women (if it indeed comes to pass).

With regard to female presence in the life of the Church — which he qualifies as quite different from male presence, even with regard to theological research — the Cardinal recalls a piece Bergoglio wrote on the Jesuits, in which the future Pope stressed that the difference between Catholics and Calvinists lies precisely in the ability of Catholics to take into consideration emotions too — and not solely the intellect — on the path that leads to God.

This is a striking reflection, especially today when Protestant denominations have opened the door for women to serve in ministerial roles, and therefore seem more “feminist” than the Catholic Church. In this respect, Müller emphasized that the presence of women should be recognized in its uniqueness and not as a mere imitation of the male role. For this reason he insists on the need to recall that the Church must primarily be a mother and not an institution; for an institution cannot be loved but a mother can. Moreover the family, the domestic church, is a primary model for the Church and women play a crucial role in it, albeit distinct from the male role.

Wow, he managed to insult both Protestants and women in one fell swoop. "Women as mothers" again .... where's Sigmund Freud when you need him?

The last question was the most pressing. It concerned the conflictual sequence of events concerning American sisters in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The Cardinal’s dealings with them have been complex as of late.

Complex? Yeah, that's how most would describe it, I'm sure ;) I won't bother to quote what he said about the nuns ... we all know it by heart now.

It's so depressing that this guy is head of the CDF but not surprising - I think his views of women and family life fit quite well with the pope's, more's the pity.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dualism and The Light Fantastic

The latest book I've read is The Light Fantastic, which follows the Cold Equations trilogy.

In that trilogy, Data (of Star Trek) was brought back to life, and in the book I've just read, he brings his daughter back to life. The title of the book refers to the fact that much of the story has to do with sentient holograms.

The story is really pretty good and brings in many disparate characters .... Data's daughter is kidnapped by the hologram Professor Moriarty of Sherlock Holmes fame, and Data seeks the help of lounge singer hologram Vic Fontaine and original Star Trek character Harry Mudd in getting her back.

An interesting thing about the story is that almost none of the characters are organic human beings but are androids or holograms, yet they have lives, families, hopes and dreams. just as organics do. It would probably make JPII spin in his grave at the idea that it's consciousness that matters, not the body it's occupying (Veritatis Splendor) ... but I think Keith Ward would approve :)

The Doctor saves the day

No, not *that* Doctor :) This funny version of La donna è mobile has been on my mind today. It's from an episode of Voyager in which the Doctor, a sentient hologram, is daydreaming about giving a performance of that song for the crew, only to be interrupted by a Vulcan succumbing to the madness of pon far. Naturally, the Doctor saves the day :) ...

"Can we know what Jesus was really like? "

What did the apostles believe? What does modern historical research reveal about Jesus? And thus begins another lecture by Keith Ward, Anglican priest and former Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University. I've not read this lecture - The beginnings: a Jewish Messianic sect - or seen the video before so it should be interesting :) ...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Triumph of Christendom

Watching a Gresham College lecture by Keith Ward. Here's the blurb ... Is the medieval church a child of the Roman Empire? Why did sin and atonement come to play so large a part in medieval theology? How did secular power change the church? ... and he says also that the talk is about Catholicism from the 10th to 14the century, original sin, atonement, purgatory and hell. You can read his lecture too here, but I like to watch the talks because they're usually a bit different, and have more jokes. After having listened to the talk, I like Eastern Orthodoxy much more than Catholicism on original sin, atonement, indulgences, and the hell! And Karl Rahner gets a mention too :) ...

Friday, September 12, 2014

When God Talks Back

I've been reading about the work of Stanford psychological anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann, in part because I saw one of her books, When God Talks Back, mentioned somewhere in my travels. You can read more about the book at the Patheos Book Club.

The book is about Evangelicals, but I was struck by how much her work correlates to Ignatian spirituality and the colloquy form of prayer.

Here is a lecture she gave on the book ....

She also has posts at The New York Times, like this one on CS Lewis ... C. S. Lewis, Evangelical Rock Star ... and this one about the boggle threshold ... Where Reason Ends and Faith Begins

Even more on Scottish independence

A really interesting article from National Geographic, with loks of pics too ... Why Scotland Might Break Away From the United Kingdom. And from a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, ... Let Scotland Go Free

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This week's movie rental was Captain America: The Winter Soldier ...

a 2014 American superhero film featuring the Marvel Comics character Captain America, produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It is the sequel to 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger and the ninth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, with a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who had also worked in The First Avenger. It stars Chris Evans as Captain America, leading an ensemble cast that includes Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, and Samuel L. Jackson. In the film, Captain America, the Black Widow, and Falcon join forces to uncover a conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D. while facing a mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier.

I read a lot of Marvel comics when I was a kid, and though Thor and Conan the Barbarian were my favorite comics, the movie version of Captain America has been my favorite character - Steve Rogers (Captain America) is such a kind, humble, brave, and idealistic person. An example from the film: here Nick Fury shows him Project Insight, a plan to target and kill thousands of potential terrorists before they have a chance to act (shades of Minority Report!). Steve's response is less than enthusiastic ...

See? Idealistic :) From Mother Jones ... "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" Is About Obama's Terror-Suspect Kill List, Say the Film's Directors.

The bad guy (or one of them) in the movie is an actor who plays the Mad Hatter in Once Upon a Time. Here he is as the Winter Soldier ...

And as the Hatter ...

Here's a review of the film from The Boston Globe ... Things get darker for ‘Captain America

And here's a trailer ...

Thomas Reese SJ on the upcoming synod

So the synod for the family ... the one for which the Vatican's surveys showed a majority of Catholics around the world disagreeing with the church's teachings on sex, contraception, divorce, and marriage equality ... the one the Vatican has decided will exist for the sole purpose of doubling down on those failed teachings rather than examining their worth ... it's going to have a few carefully chosen married couples along for the ride, some of whom run NFP groups for the church ... the phrase "stacking the deck" comes to mind, as well as the word "irrelevant" given that it's estimated that only 2 or 3% of Catholics ever even use NFP.

Thomas Reese SJ has a post about this - The makeup of Synod of Bishops on the family is disappointing . Here's a bit of it ...

The list of those attending the Synod of Bishops on the family is a disappointment to those hoping for reform of the Curia and for those who hope that the laity will be heard at the synod .... There are more laypeople among the 38 auditors, including 14 married couples, of whom two are from the United States. Many of the observers are employees of the Catholic church or heads of Catholic organizations, including natural family planning organizations.

For example, one couple from the United States is Jeffrey Heinzen, director of natural family planning in the diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and Alice Heinzen, member of the Natural Family Planning Advisory Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The other U.S. couple is Steve and Claudia Schultz, members of the International Catholic Engaged Encounter.

We will have to wait and see whether the auditors will represent to the bishops the views of lay Catholics, but it is hard to argue that they are representative of Catholics at large. Certainly any who think natural family planning is the church's great gift to the laity will not. And those who are church employees could fear losing their jobs if they spoke the truth. At the 1980 synod on the family, the lay participants were remarkable for how totally out of touch they were with the views of average Catholics. I fear this is a rerun .....

The synod will just be a PR device, I guess, to give an impression of progress in the very teeth of a denial of the reality of Catholics' lived lives.

Monday, September 08, 2014


- I'm reading more about Scottish independence, and also about the impending arrival of another British royal baby ... I guess that takes care of the heir and a spare concerns. I find it really hard to understand why anyone would want a monarchy for their country. Perhaps the Scots will do away with that .... Fate of the monarchy unclear in an independent Scotland

- Interview with Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch about his upcoming movie on Alan Turing, The Imitation Game

- Misogyny and the Catholic church by Thomas Fox at NCR

- How Movies Trick Your Brain Into Empathizing With Characters

- I don't belong to facebook, but wierdly, I seem to have read a lot of the same books as facebook people ;) ... The 100 Books Facebook Users Love. Here's the list, with the ones I've read bolded. Hmmm - why does Narnia show up multiple times? ....

1. Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling
2. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
3. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
4. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
5. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
6. The Holy Bible
7. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
8. The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
9. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
10. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
11. 1984 - George Orwell
12. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
13. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
14. The Stand - Stephen King
15. Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
16. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
17. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
18. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
10. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
20. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
21. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
22. The Giver - Lois Lowry
23. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
24. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
25. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
26. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
27. The Eye of the World - Robert Jordan
28. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
29. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
30. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
31. The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
32. Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
33. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
34. Animal Farm - George Orwell
35. The Book of Mormon
36. The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank
37. Dune - Frank Herbert
38. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
39. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
40. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
41. The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein
42. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
43. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
44. Lamb - Christopher Moore
45. Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut
46. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
47. Good Omens - Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
48. The Help - Kathryn Stockett
49. The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton
50. American Gods - Neil Gaiman
51. Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls
52. Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
53. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
54. Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder
55. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
56. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
57. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
60. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
61. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
62. Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
63. Night - Elie Wiesel
64. The Dark Tower Series - Stephen King
65. Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
66. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
67. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
68. The Art of War - Sun Tzu
69. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
70. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
71. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
72. The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
73. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
74. Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom
75. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
76. Watership Down - Richard Adams
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
78. Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein
79. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
80. A Song of Ice and Fire - George R. R. Martin
81. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
82. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White
83. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
84. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
85. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
86. The Shack - William P. Young
87. Watchmen - Alan Moore
88. Interview with the Vampire - Anne Rice
89. The Odyssey - Homer
90. The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende
91. The Stranger - Albert Camus
92. Call of the Wild - Jack London
93. The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom
94. Siddhartha - Herman Hesse
95. East of Eden - John Steinbeck
96. Matilda - Roald Dahl
97. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
98. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig
99. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
100. Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Science fiction and the two-in-one state solution

I can't help thinking of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as I read Star Trek: Titan: Absent Enemies (only $1.99 in kindle :). In this story, the crew of Titan, commanded by Admiral Will Riker, is sent on a peace mission to a planet with a small island land mass that is in contention between two different resident alien species. The armed conflict between the aliens has been going on without respite for many decades and numerous Starfleet peace missions over the years have had no effect, so when Riker and his team beam down to the planet, they don't have high hopes for making a difference, but they're surprised to find the hostilities ended and only one of the alien races extant. Eventually they discover what the remaining aliens don't yet know .... that the missing race has put its whole population out of phase.

"I wonder if you even realize what you have done here," the Vulcan said. "You've happened upon a way for two rival parties to share the same coveted geographical location at the same time. Blood has been shed by countless billions who could not find a way to coexist. But you have taken coexistence to a new level. Or, more precisely, to a new quantum state."

What does it mean to be out of phase? I'll shift from Star Trek to Stargate and let Samantha Carter explain ;) ...

MITCHELL: 'Out of phase' -- what does that mean?

CARTER: It means we may have shifted to an alternate dimension.

MITCHELL: And there are an infinite number of alternate dimensions.

CARTER: No, no, no. That's alternate realities.

MITCHELL: So when the other SG-1 showed up ...

CARTER: Completely different problem. You see, according to M theory that unites the other five Superstring theories there are several spatial dimensions. Eleven, actually, that exist in parallel to our physical realities. Now, these higher dimensions ...

Mitchell waves his hand to stop her.

MITCHELL: No, I'll take your word for it. That was alternate reality, this is alternate dimension. Hell, all I need is a good time travel adventure and I've scored the SG-1 trifecta. Now how's Jackson supposed to help us with this?

CARTER: Well, a similar thing happened to him a few years ago.

Mitchell tries to recall the mission as he sidesteps another officer.

MITCHELL: PX7 377, the crystal skull!

CARTER: You really did read every report from every mission we ever went on, didn't you?

MITCHELL: I was in that hospital a long time and they were all riveting.

Carter smiles.

CARTER: Anyway, Daniel was out of phase and no one could see him except for his grandfather, Nicholas Ballard.

MITCHELL: And because the same thing happened to Ballard in Belize, Jackson should be able to see us because we're all part of the same club.

CARTER: Right.

Mitchell clicks his fingers, pleased.

MITCHELL: Perfect.

Ouch - now my head hurts ;) I don't know how this will all work out in the book I'm reading, but it reminds me of another book, The City & the City by China Miéville. From Wikipedia ...

The City & the City takes place in the cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. These two cities actually occupy much of the same geographical space, but via the volition of their citizens (and the threat of the secret power known as Breach), they are perceived as two different cities. A denizen of one city must dutifully 'unsee' (that is, consciously erase from their mind or fade into the background) the denizens, buildings, and events taking place in the other city – even if they are an inch away. This separation is emphasised by the style of clothing, architecture, gait, and the way denizens of each city generally carry themselves. Residents of the cities are taught from childhood to recognise things belonging to the other city without actually seeing them. Ignoring the separation, even by accident, is called "breaching" – a terrible crime by the citizens of the two cities, even worse than murder.

The twin cities are composed of crosshatched, alter, and total areas. "Total" areas are entirely in one city, the city in which the observer currently resides. "Alter" areas are completely in the other city, and so must be completely avoided and ignored. Between these are areas of "crosshatch". These might be streets, parks or squares where denizens of both cities walk alongside one another, albeit "unseen." Areas that exist in both cities usually go under different names in each one. There is also Copula Hall, "one of the very few" buildings which exists in both cities under the same name. Rather than being cross-hatched, it essentially functions as a border. It is the only way in which one can legally and officially pass from one city to another. Passing through the border passage takes travellers, geographically (or "grosstopically"), to the exact place they started from – only in a different city.

From a physical standpoint, little differentiates the two cities, other than slight differences of architecture, vehicles and styles of dress which citizens and visitors are trained to recognise. Those who do not know about the separation might naturally view the two cities as one. Because of this, an extra power is needed to keep the separation in place: this organisation is known as Breach. When a 'breach' takes place (used here in the sense of 'breaching' the barrier between the two cities), Breach comes to take care of it. Members of the Breach organisation use their powers to take the breacher captive, and bring them to an unknown punishment. "Breachers", as they are called, disappear and are never seen again. Children and tourists, however, are treated more leniently: children may be forgiven for a small breach; if tourists breach, they are bundled out and banned from both cities forever.

Most breaches are taken care of by Breach immediately, but its surveillance capabilities are not absolute. Sometimes Breach must be specifically invoked to investigate a crime that seems to be a clear-cut case of breach, such as a smuggling operation that involves breaching to transport the smuggled goods from one city to the other. To invoke Breach, the police must present their evidence to an Oversight Committee composed of 42 members, 21 from each city. If the evidence presented is convincing enough, the Committee performs whatever other investigation into the matter it deems appropriate to resolve any remaining doubts its members have. If its investigation concludes to its satisfaction that a breach has taken place, then and only then will it invoke Breach. Invoking Breach is a last resort because it is an alien power to which some consider that Besźel and Ul Qoma surrender their sovereignty at their peril.

If only real life conflicts could be peacefully resolved in one of these ways.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

More on Scottish Independence

I'm still reading about the upcoming Scottish Independence vote - A majority of Scots approves of independence for the first time. I did learn about some of the pressing issues, like the opposition to keeping the Trident nuclear weapons programme in Scotland and worries about the welfare of the disabled, from listening to the most recent BBC debate about Scottish independence ....

Friday, September 05, 2014

From Doctor Who to Nero

- Nero and his mom

- Doctor Who neuroscience special: the brain of a Time Lord

- Parolin indicates reform might not be Synod's main focus and says family must be protected from dissolution ... great :(

- UK anti-semitic incidents peaked in July, Jewish charity says

- Eeek! Müller cozies up to the SSPX ... Müller’s first meeting with Fellay

- Judge Posner’s Gay Marriage Opinion Is a Witty, Deeply Moral Masterpiece

- Rethinking Nero. Hmmm - maybe Nero wasn't as bad as we'd previously thought? :) I had some college classes in Roman history and I still remember my teacher riding around the quad in a chariot on Earth Day :) but a lot of how I feel about Nero was formed by reading Claudius the God by Robert Graves ... Nero was Claudius' stepson.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

And some more music

I had this song in my head tonight from a scene in the movie Heat .....

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Theodicy: Job, Kant, and Angel

Reading Does the World Make Sense? A Philosophical Reading of the Book of Job by philosopher Susan Neiman at ABC Religion & Ethics. It deals with the problem of evil, a problem that is still the greatest impediment for me in believing that God is good and loves us, or sometimes, believing that he exists at all.

Most of the Christians I know have made peace with the problem of evil by averring that there *is* no problem ... they've decided either that evil isn't really that evil, or that God is not actually omnipotent. No one seems to decide God might not be good, I guess because that's a pit stop on the road to atheism, but it does seem to me that that's the conclusion of Job's story: God allows the torture of Job, the destruction of his property, and the murder of his children, all to win a bet. As Neiman writes ...

The opening premise is clearly outrageous: God makes a bet with the devil? God allows someone He Himself describes as a man of perfect integrity to be tortured as a means of proving a boast about His own power? And speaking of power, in the second round of torments, the Almighty behaves like a sulky child, complaining to Satan that "You made me torture him for no reason". This is the God who speaks out of the whirlwind with a force and majesty unequalled in the Bible?

Here's a bit from the beginning of the article ...

The experience of inexplicable suffering and basest injustice forces us to ask whether our lives have meaning .... Consider the classic statement of the problem of evil. It consists of three sentences which are impossible to maintain together:

1. God exists, and is omnipotent
2. God exists, and is benevolent
3. Evil exists


Before the eighteenth century, however, nearly every major thinker preferred to deny the evidence of his senses than deny the central theses of monotheism - that God exists, and is omnipotent and benevolent. Perhaps it would have seemed a denial of hope. The Book of Job is matchless because it is unwilling to make the problem easier by dropping any of these claims, and makes us feel the force of all of them.

Near the end of the article she discusses God's answer to Job's question of why he has so punished a good person ...

So let's now turn to the "Voice from the Whirlwind." At first glance, God's seems to be completely beside the point. "Where were you when I planned the earth?" is no answer to the question Job asked, for God's power was never at issue. Job questions His justice, not his omnipotence; and God's response seems to be merely a detailed description of His power. Even worse than begging the question, God's speech seems to be not only an assertion of power, but an assertion so brutal it amounts to absolute tyranny.

Neiman goes through a number of explanations of what God's answer means, but she ends up with something that really struck me. Call it absurd, but I think her explanation, which accesses Kant, could be summed up in a few lines from Angel ... Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh, and cruel. But that's why there's us - champions. Doesn't matter where we come from, what we've done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world is as it should be, to show it what it can be.

But here's what she wrote ...

I begin by accepting Kant's own claim that Job's friends represent the voice of pure reason, untainted by experience. The claims they assert are reasonable ones: the universe is ordered, its Creator is just. The problem with these claims is not their content but the fact that they are uttered without a bit of concern for experience: they are repeated blindly, dogmatically, refusing to look at the world as it is. Indeed, Kant goes so far as to accuse the friends of dishonesty: they are not speaking the truth, but speaking the words they believe God wants to hear - just in case He might be eavesdropping.

The look at reality is provided by the Voice from the Whirlwind, whose speech is simply description - glorious description, to be sure, but description all the same, of the way the world really is. The lack of moral categories, of a defence of just that universal justice which seemed to be called for, is what can make that speech seem inadequate.

If the Voice from the Whirlwind is meant to stand for the sheer assertion of reality, and the friends represent the claims of reason, what is the voice of Job? He is, in this picture, nothing other than the claim that the two ought to be brought together. Knowledge may depend on the recognition that the world does not exhibit the moral categories we demand, but justice depends on the recognition that it should. Here we would have to assume that God is not omnipotent, for His Creation as it stands is not final. Righteous people, like Job, are needed to make it whole. Abandoning traditional claims of divine omnipotence will be problematic for many, but that may be what facing reality requires.

As Kant would later put it, two things fill the mind with awe and wonder the more often and more steadily we look upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. They are both awesome and wonderful, but entirely separate - the one stands for a cosmos described by the Voice from the Whirlwind, a cosmos so vast and impersonal that it strikes down our self-conceit and makes us feel, as Job put it, that we are but dust. Yet the moral law within me, which Job so beautifully upholds in his darkest hours - he may wish he had never been born, but he never once wishes he had behaved anything less than righteously - that moral law reveals our power to step in and change a piece of the world if it seems to be gone wrong.

So, we're back to God not being omnipotent, and thus not responsible for all the suffering in the world. I just find this very hard to believe.

For those who want to know more about Kant's religious views, see this Keith Ward video lecture.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Me and Neil deGrasse Tyson on the film Gravity

This week's movie from the library was Gravity ...

a 2013 science fiction thriller film. It was directed, co-written, co-produced and co-edited by Alfonso Cuarón, and stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts. The film depicts the mid-orbit destruction of their space shuttle and their subsequent attempt to return to Earth.

First, the visual effects are really amazing. I love seeing realistic portrayals of stuff that is near impossible, from a park stocked with dinosaurs to depictions of the future, so I did appreciate the outer space special effects.

But on the downside, much has been made in reviews of the movie's theme. Many have seen that theme as religious, and you can read reviews by Fr; Robert Barron and by those at Thinking Faith on this.

To me, however, it didn't seem religious but more like a really well constructed driver's training film. Whatever could go wrong did go wrong, with the actors going from one splendid looking catastrophe to the next, barely (and sometimes not) surviving. It had elements of nihilism: the female astronaut told of her little girl's meaningless death (this is always worse, I guess, than a "meaningful" death), and her fellow astronaut saved her life only to lose his own as a result. And I also found it spiritually manipulative: we're given glimpses of a religious icon, a statue of Buddha, mentions of prayer and the afterlife, mentions of how beautiful the Ganges river looks from space, and a last minute save via a ghost, all against a backdrop of terrible adversity as beautiful music ebbs and flows. Sigh - it was like The Tree of Life in space :(

When the surviving character, despite her depression over her daughter's death and her co-astronaut's death, realizes she has the will to survive in spades, the music gets especially "moving" ... I think that's when I turned the sound off ;) ... and as she finally drags herself out of the lake and onto shore like Earth's evolving proto-creatures crawling up from the slime, I decided this was an existential film in which the character,s as well as the viewers, were free to take what was intrinsically meaningless and give it value.

For those like me who were not so enamored of the movie, here's Neil deGrasse Tyson telling you about all the things wrong with it :) ...