Saturday, January 30, 2010

Junto pero sin palabras...

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"However gratifying it is in later life to express thoughts and feelings to a congenial person, there remains an unsatisfied longing for an understanding without words--ultimately for the earliest relation with the mother."

-- Melanie Klein, Our Adult World and Other Essays (London: Heinemann, 1963), p. 100 (as cited in Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols [London: Routledge, [1970] 1996], p. 52)

Put your hand in this post and it will be on mine. Forward it to others to do the same, and our hands will be in the same place, in an almost sacramental way. And this, without words.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why marry?

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Care of Fred Reed, whom I discovered only tonight: Why marry, he asks? And answers:

“As a young man full of dangerous steroids, your answer will probably be, ‘Ah, because her hair is like corn silk under an August moon; her lips are as rubies and her teeth, pearls; and her smile would make a dead man cry.’ This amounts to, ‘I’m horny,’ with elaborations.”

D'oh! But interesting!

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The story begins in the late 1970's, when I began writing and drawing a comic strip about a real-life St. Louis family that I knew as acquaintances. I turned them, in my strip, into a horrifically dysfunctional group of people, giving them bizarre and vulgar adventures in the rich St. Louis suburbs. The family consisted of a father named Homer, whom I made bald and stupid, a mother with a tall bee-hive hairdo, a spoiled brat son, an unahppy [sic] daughter, and later a baby girl.

As Arsenio would say, Things that make you say, "Hmmmmm."

Monday, January 25, 2010

A pope, a rabbi, and a reporter walk into a synagogue…

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In the past few weeks I've posted a few things about Christian-Jewish relations (1, 2, 3). Having stumbled upon in the same vein, I'd like to add to what I've already noted.

1) A theologian-pope sidelines theology (National Catholic Reporter, John L Allen Jr., 22 Jan., 2010):

…a striking paradox about the papacy of Benedict XVI … [is that he's] a true theologian-pope, yet a core element of his legacy will be to sideline theology as the focus of Catholicism's engagement with other religions. Another chapter was added to that legacy this week with the pontiff's Jan. 17 visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome, the first time a pope made the trip since John Paul II's groundbreaking visit in 1986.

Understandably, media attention was concentrated on debates over Pope Pius XII, the wartime pontiff whose alleged "silence" on the Holocaust is among the most polarizing issues in Catholic-Jewish relations. In late December, the Vatican announced that Benedict XVI had signed a decree of heroic virtue for Pius, moving him a step closer to sainthood.

On that score, the visit seemed to mark the birth of a new star in the Jewish world: Riccardo Pacifici, President of the Jewish Community in Rome, who had the rare opportunity to challenge the pope in public. "The silence of Pius XII on the Holocaust is still painful," Pacifici said in a speech welcoming Benedict to the synagogue.

Yet a focus on what wags call the "Pius Wars" overlooks what is arguably the far more consequential element of Benedict's remarks last Sunday. In effect, Benedict blew past the doctrinal substructure of Catholic-Jewish relations in order to propose a new platform for political and social action. …

All this amounts to an application of what Benedict has described as a shift from "inter-religious" to "inter-cultural" dialogue. … "Interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the term is not possible without [artificially] putting one's own faith into parentheses, while intercultural dialogue that develops the cultural consequences of the religious option … is both possible and urgent."

2) Making Sense of Benedict’s Jewish Policy (The Jewish Daily Forward, John Allen, Jr., 20 Jan. 2010):

By this stage, outsiders trying to make sense of Pope Benedict XVI’s approach to Jewish-Catholic relations might be forgiven for wondering if the pontiff suffers from an undiagnosed case of schizophrenia. …

Benedict’s top priority is internal, directed at the inner life of the Catholic Church. His aim is to restore a strong sense of traditional Catholic identity, in order to inoculate the church against infection by radical secularism.

As a result, when Benedict XVI says or does things that affect Judaism, the key is often to understand that he’s not really talking to Jews but to other Catholics.

Thus, Benedict’s decision to revive the old Latin Mass, including that infamous prayer for the conversion of Jews, was certainly not crafted as a statement about Judaism. Instead, Benedict sees the old Mass as a classic carrier of Catholic identity, an antidote to any tendency to secularize the church’s worship. Likewise, Benedict did not lift the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including one who believes the Nazis didn’t use gas chambers, to endorse their troubled history with antisemitism. Rather, he did so because the traditionalists act as a leaven in the church, fostering appreciation for the Catholic past — even if their ideas on some matters lie far from the pope’s own thinking.

The same point applies to Pius XII. In his own mind, Benedict is not honoring the “pope of silence,” but rather the last pope before the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), and hence a figure who represents continuity with Catholic tradition before the liberalizing currents unleashed by Vatican II.

One corollary of his concern with Catholic identity is that Benedict XVI, on his own terms, is strongly committed to good relations with Jews — as well as Muslims, and followers of other religions — because he sees them as natural allies in the struggle against secularism.

That insight helps explain what may otherwise seem an anomaly about Benedict’s January 17 speech at the Rome synagogue. This pope is, after all, an accomplished theologian, yet the doctrinal sections of the speech were largely repetitive, made up of quotations from Vatican II and John Paul II. The most original feature was instead Benedict’s notion of the Torah as the basis of a “great ethical code,” leading Jews and Christians into common efforts against forms of secularism that exclude religion from public life, and in favor of the right to life, the family, the poor, the environment and peace. That’s what Benedict means when he talks about a transition from “inter-religious” to “inter-cultural” dialogue, with the accent not on new theological breakthroughs but rather new alliances in the social, cultural and political spheres.

3) Much-maligned pontiff (, Dimitri Cavalli, 24 Jan., 2010):

… On April 4, 1933, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Vatican secretary of state, instructed the papal nuncio in Germany to see what he could do to oppose the Nazis' anti-Semitic policies.

On behalf of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli drafted an encyclical, entitled "Mit brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Anxiety"), that condemned Nazi doctrines and persecution of the Catholic Church. The encyclical was smuggled into Germany and read from Catholic pulpits on March 21, 1937.

Although many Vatican critics today dismiss the encyclical as a light slap on the wrist, the Germans saw it as a security threat. For example, on March 26, 1937, Hans Dieckhoff, an official in the German foreign ministry, wrote that the "encyclical contains attacks of the severest nature upon the German government, calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the state, and therefore signifies an attempt to endanger internal peace." …

After the death of Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli was elected pope, on March 2, 1939. The Nazis were displeased with the new pontiff, who took the name Pius XII. On March 4, Joseph Goebbels, the German propaganda minister, wrote in his diary: "Midday with the Fuehrer. He is considering whether we should abrogate the concordat with Rome in light of Pacelli's election as pope." …

After studying Pius XII's 1942 Christmas message, the Reich Central Security Office concluded: "In a manner never known before the pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order ... Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals."

Up until Pius XII's death in 1958, many Jewish organizations, newspapers and leaders lauded his efforts. To cite one of many examples, in his April 7, 1944, letter to the papal nuncio in Romania, Alexander Shafran, chief rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: "It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews ... The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance."

Caveat emptor…

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AP Enterprise: US buyers must beware in China (AP, 16 Jan., 2010)

China's latest quality controversy erupted this week after an investigation by The Associated Press found that 12 of 103 pieces of Chinese-made children's jewelry bought in U.S. stores contained at least 10 percent cadmium, some in the 80-90 percent range. Two others were found to have less than 10 percent in laboratory tests and the rest had none. …

American businessman Rick Goodwin, who has worked in China for 20 years, said the country has plenty of unscrupulous factories. But he said a major problem was foreign buyers who, because of greed, naivete or ignorance, approach China like it's just a discount shopping center. …

One thing that frequently happens in China is that factory owners will bid extremely low — even to the point where they have no profit — just to win an order. Once they've got the business, they search for ways to cut corners so they can widen their profit margin and recover what they lost with their lowball bid. They might switch to cheaper lead paint or buy inexpensive metal containing cadmium. This is called "quality fade."

It's too bad this article is so even-handed. Otherwise, it's just too tempting and too much fun to take what comes out of China as intentionally sub-par. Poison their children with defective toys! Kill their pets with noxious food! Undermine their work force with cheap labor! Sigh. I may not have been a Cold War baby, but I like to think of myself as a Cold War man.

Shame on them!

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Haiti Earthquake Survivors Turn To God (, 17 Jan., 2010)

"It has been a week for thanking God for protecting us. We are suffering a lot. Praying helps us," said evangelical worshiper Anne Pierre, 64, who lost her home but whose family is safe "thanks to God."

So many churches were damaged in Tuesday's quake which wrecked Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, that religious Haitians sheltering in tent cities were asking Catholic priests to hold masses at their makeshift camps.

Shameful, just shameful! To see religion once again deluding the poor masses in their time of need! Don't those savages know any better!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Coincidence Alert!

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As Francis Beckwith reminds us, January 22, 2010, is the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It dawned on me that this date is also the first anniversary of Barack Obama's first full day as POTUS. Given the controversy in the last election campaign surrounding Obama's vocal pro-choice position, I'm sure the chronological coincidence was noted by persons more historically knowledgeable than myself even as it took shape (e.g., cf. my recent post about MLK, Jr., and Planned Parenthood). I doubt I will ever forget that Obama was inaugurated on January 21, though not for the reasons just mentioned. The coincidence with Roe v. Wade only fortifies the memory.

While I'm normally oblivious-in-principle to political 'events' and other media 'happenings', I'm especially mindful of this date, because last year I was originally scheduled to fly back to Taiwan on January 21. Due, however, to a miscommunication between my travel agent and, well, me, and, uh, the airline company, I was delayed till the next day. So, instead of 'seeing' Obama inaugurated as I flew over from Jacksonville to Dulles, I got to watch it happen on the Internet... and then got to fly over the new President the next day. That's right, friends, I've only lived 24 hours in American borders under President Obama.

In any case, I came back to Taiwan last year on January 22, a Thursday, full of dreams about a certain future. The past year has been full--slap effing full!--of upheavals and, ahem, suprises, which have dramatically altered certain parts of my original "script." The best laids plans of mice and men, and all that. Nevertheless, God has been faithful and here I am; bloodied but not bowed, sobered and chastened but not without hope, biding my time but not wasting it. It is morbidly poignant to discover that, although I didn't know it, January 22 has always been an important date for me, insofar as pro-life advocacy has been a central value of mine for years. One might even be inclined to call it Providential. Indeed, in the past week I, a German major and a longtime Germanophile, posted about the actions of Pallottine fathers ("Raphael's Union") in Nazi Germany to save Jews during WWII. My standing interest in improving Jewish-Christian relations, as well as my hopes for a redemption of German culture from both the onus of "Nazi guilt" and the progressive paganisation-cum-secularisation in the country, have made the witness of those Pallotine fathers especially inspiring for me. Well, it turns out that St. Vincent Pallotti's feast day is none other than January 22. Again, eyes that can see might be inclined to see Providence at work, writing straight with crooked lines, as always.

Considering the author...

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...Mort Zuckerman's recent indictment of President Obama, one year into his presidency, is pretty startling (The Daily Beast, 19 Jan. 2010). He voted for Obama, so Zuckerman's blunt assertion, "He's Done Everything Wrong", is that much more of a zinger. According to the jaded Zuckerman, "This health-care plan is going to be a fiscal disaster for the country. Most of the country wanted to deal with costs, not expansion of coverage." Read the rest of his zinging editorial to see why Zuckerman is so disillusioned after so little time.

MLK, Jr. and Planned Parenthood...

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According to this CNA story (20 Jan. 2010), Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., accuses Planned Parenthood of lying about her uncle's true relationship with the organization. She asks rhetorically "whether a man who 'warned against the evils of infanticide in his Letter From A Birmingham Jail,' whose father was 'staunchly pro-life,' and who saw injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, could support 'abortion and killer chemicals called "safe" birth control[?]" Although MLK, Jr., did receive the Margaret Sanger Award from Planned Parenthood in 1966, Dr. Alveda King notes, "They lied to my uncle, Dr. King. How can the dream survive if we murder our children?"

A special irony in this misappropriation of Dr. King's legacy is that the founder of what has become Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was a staunch advocate of enforced sterilization and abortion for blacks and minorities. As she said, "We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population ... if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members." (Read this florilegium by Diane S. Dew for more juicy quotations by Sanger.) Also, this essay by Tanya Green aptly situates Sanger's misanthropic elitism in the larger ideological background of eugenics. Not that the saga has ended, for abortion is still a disproportionate (sadly self-inflicted) scourge on black communities, as Fr. Mark Tardiff notes in his letter to the editor (Asia News, 8 Nov. 2008):

Afro Americans are disproportionately targeted in abortion. Blacks make up 12% of the U.S. population, but 35% of all abortions are performed on black women. Afro Americans are the only minority in the U.S. which is declining in population. Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S. has 78% of all their clinics in minority neighborhoods. This distribution is consistent with the thinking of its founder Margaret Sander, an enthusiastic eugenicist, who wrote that "colored people are like human weeds and are to be exterminated." ... It is beyond tragic that the first Afro American elected as President of the United States is a man that Margaret Sanger would have approved of, rather than one that Martin Luther King would have approved of.

As one blogger put it...

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...who are Michelle Obama's fashion advisors and why do they hate her?

"What not to wear to a Medal of Honor award ceremony"

I'm not a fashion maven. By any means. But even I can see how… um, odd… the First Lady's attire is, even apart from the somber context. Lest I am accused of focusing on "image" and not "issues," keep in mind that a dress is an issue when it so flamboyantly sends the wrong message.

Louche life...

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This article, "How Pedophilia Lost Its Cool" (First Things, Dec. 2009), by Mary Eberdstadt, while a bit of a stomach-turner, is very illuminating.

So what happened to turn yesterday’s “intergenerational sex” into today’s bipartisan demands to hang Roman Polanski and related offenders high? Mainly, it appears, what happened was something unexpected and momentous: the Catholic priest scandals of the early years of this decade, which for two ­reasons have profoundly changed the ground rules of what can—and can’t—be said in public about the seduction and rape of the young.

It's grimly humorous to imagine certain social butterflies dropping their broadmindedness about boy-love like a hot potato once it came to light that, so to speak, "even the Catholics are into it!" Nothing makes something uncool faster than making something Catholic. In a totally different context, as just one example, look at how lectio divina has become popular among evangelical Christians once its was denuded of its "Catholic" character and commodified as a "classical" Christian practice. Latinism is very hip these days, in certain Christian circles, but Romanism is as scandalous as ever. Likewise, people instinctively realize that priestly pedophilia--as limited and as 'homogenic' as it in fact is--deeply violates the Catholic mission to care for the least of these and never to lead little ones into sin. Outside of Catholic pedophilia, however, as Eberstadt notes, pedophilia, marketed as a "minority," but not therefore "deviant," custom, is less easily seen for what it is, namely, a grievous sin.

If "consent" is all that divides sexual "perversion" from sexual "development," how can we really say a 13- or 14-year-old teenager is not a freely consenting sexual partner, especially if he or she has been coached for some time among his or her worldly betters to be "open" to his or her own internal "natural drives"? Today, in the more materially advanced countries, East and West, the average teenager has his own cellphone, own room, own email address, own blog, and, according to the conventional wisdom, his own "sexual orientation." If adolescence is precisely the time in which civilized societies should allow youth to "explore" their sexuality, how can such societies at the same time proscribe some "explorations" but not others? There are sophisticated ethical replies, I'm sure; but again, as Eberstadt writes, historically speaking, the reasoning behind such replies is often disturbingly fickle. Sexuality has gone from a sacred responsibility (or vocation), to a secular privilege (or play thing), to a radically individualistic right (and therefore, paradoxically, a kind of mundane religion). Perhaps we would see less of the damage wrought by the latter conception of sex if we brought ourselves back, or at least closer, to the former conception.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

By the manna of Sinai!

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As you may have seen, I recently posted two short pieces about Nazism, anti-Semitism, and Christianity (here and here). Now I stumble upon the Pope's recent address at the synagogue of Rome. Excerpt:

When he came among you for the first time, as a Christian and as Pope, my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II, almost 24 years ago, wanted to make a decisive contribution to strengthening the good relations between our two communities, so as to overcome every misconception and prejudice. My visit forms a part of the journey already begun, to confirm and deepen it. With sentiments of heartfelt appreciation, I come among you to express to you the esteem and the affection which the Bishop and the Church of Rome, as well as the entire Catholic Church, have towards this Community and all Jewish communities around the world.

It's rather short and well worth a read!

I was struck by...

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I saw this phrase recently at a friend's website: 有感而發 (yǒu gǎn ér fā) and I (heheh) ran it by Google, which directed me to a webpage about how to make sentences with the pattern. The following two examples seem clearest to me:



I take the structure to mean "to feel and realize," "to wake up to a poignant fact." Any tips on a more colloquial translation?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Intellectual degradation…

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Have a look at this nice, brief précis of James Hannam's God's Philosophers.

"The story we all learnt at school is that science was invented by the ancient Greeks but then languished until the Renaissance. Medieval people supposedly all thought that the Earth was flat while the Church allegedly banned human dissection and burnt scientists at the stake. … In reality, the medieval Church demanded that every student should study maths and science in the new universities. More people were exposed to these subjects than at any time in the past. … How did all the achievements of medieval science come to be forgotten? In short, they were incorporated into the celebrated work of Copernicus and Galileo, neither of whom saw any reason to give notice of their predecessors. Coupled with the general hostility towards medieval philosophy during the Renaissance, this served to obscure completely the achievements of Buridan, Bradwardine and their contemporaries."

Here's a link to many reviews of the book on Hannam's website. I've really wanted to get my hands (and eyes) on this book for a while, but, yikes, $30 for a used copy at Amazon?

I realize that Hannam considers Fr. Jaki's "extreme" claims (at least in The Savior of Science [LINK]) rather more apologetical than responsible history of science, but I'm also curious if he's read Jaki's Science and Creation [LINK], which is extremely thorough and well documented. Indeed, Savior is more like a lecture-series précis of Science and Creation, and therefore lacks some of the 'plodding' sobriety of the larger, earlier book. In any case, where Hannam's and Jaki's scholarship does agree, makes for more successful Duhemian dismantling of the still regnant anti-medievalism in our society. Hooray for the Middle Ages!

Nazi paganism and Christian charity…

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Not long ago I wrote about the pagan factors in German Nazism. Then a few days later I noticed an article at (15 Jan. 2010) about how Pope Pius XII had created a covert support network for Jews to escape Germany. According to Fr. Giancarlo Centioni (b. 1912), who had lived among German priests as a military chaplain from 1940 to 1945, his fellow Pallottine brethren from Hamburg established "Raphael's Union" to help Jews flee Germany. The fellowship was led by Fr. Josef Kentenich, who is best known as the founder of the Apostolic Movement of Schönstatt, but who was also eventually captured and imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp until the end of the War. In Rome, Fr. Anton Weber, with a direct link to Pius XII, headed the network's relief actions, which included giving travel passes and money––withdrawn and authorized from Pius XII's own secretariat––to Jewish families so they could leave Germany.

A related Zenit article (18 Sept. 2008) mentions how Garry L. Krupp, head of "Pave the Way," an independent foundation committed to promoting inter-religious dialogue, had been brought up to believe that Pius XII was an anti-Semite and a Nazi collaborator. Hence, he "was shocked" to learn, from primary documents and the oral testimony of still living witnesses, that the reality was completely different. Keep in mind that Pius XII not only was the Vatican's Secretary of State, posted in Germany, prior to becoming Pope––and hence had keen insights into the machinations of Hitler, which figured into his consistent criticisms of fascism––, but also succeeded Pius XI, the same Pope, as Jacques Maritain notes in "The Dispersion of Israel", who in 1937 officially condemned Nazi racism and in 1938 said, "Anti-Semitism is unacceptable. Spiritually, we are all Semites." (cf. "We Remember" at the Vatican website for documentation and this FAQ by Robert Lockwood for more information).

If anyone would like, I can translate more of the article about Krupp, Pius XII, and Benedict XVI. The same content might be available somewhere in English, but I'm not going to look for it right now.


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(Forget it.)

I've officially decided to stop using my Chinese blog and just post some things in Chinese (Mandarin) here at FCA. This is easier for me from an administrative perspective and I think it will add a nice element to FCA.

So here's a little observation I made today. In Chinese toilet is náncè, and sometimes (on older doors, I believe) you will see "for males" (nányòng). I was struck today by how funny nányòng sounds if you don't know which characters it is: phonetically speaking, nányòng is the same as "hard to use" or "unenjoyable when used". So we might say that for women the náncè is especially nányòng! As we all know, a man's bathroom is considerably less pleasant to use than a woman's (why else do women spend so much time in there and men can shuffle out like bullets from a porcelain gun?). So the "for males" sign is not just a rule women must follow but actually a warning for their own good.
果然以下是個我今天想到的發明。在國語上toilet就是男廁然後有時候你會看到男用指出男廁(好像只是在比較舊的門上而已)。我今天才發現男用其實有個笑點,亦即你看不到它的發音是用哪個字。精確地說,男用跟難用聽起來都一樣耶。從這個巧合當中我們可以看得出來為什麼男廁特別對女生那麼難用! 我們大家都知道男廁比女廁難用(不然女生怎麼可以那麼久待在那兒裡麵但男生都像是被一支瓷槍射的子彈?)。結果從男用的通知碑當中我們可以看它不是放的因為要限製女生進來男廁的原因,其實是因為要為了她們的益處警告她們不進入那麼難用的地方!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Homework for the Day…

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I want you to try something. I think it will be worth your time.

Go to a mirror. Or place one before you. Preferably by yourself and in a fairly quiet setting.

Now just look at yourself.

Look in your eyes.

Do not pose or move.

And do not speak.

Just stand (or sit) there and look at yourself. For about 30 seconds. Or a minute.

After about a minute, ask yourself, out loud, this question: "Who am I?"

Now just look in your eyes again.

Say nothing.

Now repeat the question.

"Who am I?"

You will most likely feel the urge to answer, "I am a doctor." Or "I am a husband." Or "I am a teacher." "A student." "A cancer survivor." "A man." "A woman." "Handsome." "Short." "Tall." "Poor." "Angry." "Alone."

And the like.

But I want to suggest that such responses are off the mark. Or at least not deep enough. For all such answers are just terms other people might use to refer to you, to pick you out of a crowd. That's why such answers are no more profound than just saying your name. "John" or "Evelyn"––these are just terms, like doctor and poor and handsome, which help rational agents place you in a mental reference system.

So who are you?

Look at yourself again. Ask yourself again, "Who am I?"

You are not what you do. You are also not what you fail to do. Nor are you what people call you. Nor even what you call yourself.

Who am I?

The only answer I can find which resonates with the deepest strings of my being is this: I am loved.

My very essence is defined by my-being-loved.

Not by how well I love others. Nor how well I love myself. Nor how well I understand the world. Nor how well the world understands me.

All I am is that I am loved.

From eternity. Loved from a vantage point beyond my own capacities. And loved despite my own incapacities.

All the earlier answers you might have felt inclined to offer––a doctor, a husband, someone by the name of _____––are but contingent features of the way in which you are loved. They are no more the substance and ground of your being-loved than the swirls of icing on a cake are the ground and substance of that cake's being-given. You are not loved because you are a husband, and the like: you are a husband, and the like, because you are loved. You are not loved because you are angry, or happy, alone, and so on: you are any and all of those things because you are loved. Your biography––your literal and concrete curriculum vitae––is nothing less than the unique shape of how love has shaped your existence. Consider the words, curriculum vitae: the course of your life. The course of your life is in fact the life of love coursing through every inch of spacetime which you happen to enjoy. What we call "ordinary experience" is nothing less than the look-and-feel of love expressing itself to us. All that you 'are' and all that you 'have' and all that you 'do' is not the basis for feeling you are loved. Rather, your being loved is the substance of all your other feelings about 'having' and 'being' and 'doing'.

It goes without saying that I write these words as a Catholic. But this is not an apologetical post.

It is a homework assignment.

Which you are to write on a mirror and read on your own face.

Ask yourself, "Who am I?"

If your answer is not, "I am loved," why not? What evidence do you have to the contrary?

As far as I understand the Christian faith, the answer I propose for this homework assignment––that your be-ing is being-loved, that you-are is that you-are-loved––is simply another way of saying "the Gospel." For that is all the Church can offer the world: a relentless, restless refrain that "I am loved. You are loved. We are loved." The Church's "outer mission" is of course to make that fact as broadly known as possible. All her moral haranguing and lofty exhortations and practical services and labyrinthine piety are fundamentally just ways of removing obstructions to a global consciousness of being-loved. When the Church says, "You are sinning by ____," she is saying, "By ____ you are crimping the flow of love in your own life and, consequently, all other lives." This is why the Church is a Mother to her own and a Bitch to those outside her. The outer mission of the Church is a torch-bearing: and alas, the light of joy that torch-bearing brings also entails the smoke of penance which her enemies so revile.

While the Church's outer mission is torch-bearing, her "inner mission" of the Church––the obligation which the Grand Fact of our-being-by-being-loved places on her from within––is more like fire-eating. The Church's inner mission is to make her outer mission as compelling and as credible as possible. If the torch of the Gospel is waved aloft as salvation, the wary, being beckoned, must see the torch-bearer herself can brave the fire herself. The Church's inner mission is, then, to swallow the fire of Being-Loved so that she may become all-light within. Hence, just as there is no better argument against Christianity than Christians, so there is no better argument for the Gospel than those whose entire being is a self-giving fountain of being-loved. As Hans Urs von Balthsar said, "Love alone is credible."

Those who reject this Gospel––this good news of our true being––often ask for proof and evidence to support the Grand Claim. But to accept Proof of The Love rather than The Love itself is not to accept The Love at all. Likewise, to offer Proof of The Love rather than The Love itself is not to offer The Love. There is no more reassuring or convincing or coherent "account" or "demonstration" of the Gospel of Being-Loved than the existence of the Gospel itself. Its radical preposterousness––combined with its preposterous radicality––is its own authentication. The very idea! Indeed: the very idea! The very Idea of Being-Loved becoming Flesh like us! The Father the Composer; the Son the Lyric, the Song; the Spirit the Melody and the Medium in Love Plays. There is nothing else God would say to us––indeed, nothing else He can say to us––outside of the decisive Word spoken in the Incarnation. Those waiting for some other tune, some other performance of the alleged divine glory, are truly waiting in vain. The needle has touched down upon the surface of our world: the divine light has pierced our world and woven itself into the very structure of spacetime. The music is already playing: the only choice is to complain about its tempo or to join in and lose yourself in the Harmony. Jesus is not the 'instrument' of salvation: His cruciform Church is. While all of creation is a theophany, thrumming and humming with the tune of Love in Harmony with itself, the Church is the prime instrument by which God transmits His melody. The Cross of Christ is the 'pick' which constantly strums the fibers of the Church––fibers known as the faithful––and the light of His Resurrection are the stage lights so that we know where to look: forward, upward, not downward and backward. Sometimes, the best advice is the simplest: Shut up and dance.

What proof can be offered for the existence of the world which does not derive from the world itself? Likewise, what support can be lent to the Gospel which does not derive from the Gospel itself? None. To pronounce the Gospel is to demonstrate it, for pronouncing to everyone alike that "You are loved! We are loved!" is itself to saturate yourself and all of us that much more profoundly with being-loved. How would I know if someone secretly loved me? What proof could I have? Only two sources: one, others keep telling me so-and-so loves me and, two, I open my eyes and simply take stock of the countless tiny hints and clues and traces and whiffs of her presence about me.

Which brings me back to the question: "Who are you?" I mean the very same you in the mirror during this homework assignment.

Scan the room. Look at the books on the shelf. The flowers by the window. The drapes. The carpet. The shoes by the door. The dishes in the sink. Any of it and all of it. Each piece of existence is a piece of a puzzle held together by the same love which cut Being into distinct beings made for each other. Each and every item in your "phenomenological range" is an exhibit in the case for your innocence as a being-loved. We are not the judges of God's goodness: He is the judge of how transparent we are to our own being-loved. The "bad things" in our lives? God's love is deeper than them, and pervades even the hardest and darkest episodes in our curricula vitae. Insofar as evil is literally no-thing, we might best see "bad things" in life as the gaps between the puzzle pieces that make up our lives. Without those cuts, we would have no discrete pieces to call "moments" and "experiences" and "objects." In the trial of our lives, we are ultimately judged as either Open To Being-Loved or Closed Off in ourselves. Hell is not other people: it is no other people but the illusory idols we carve within ourselves from our own crumbling substance. Again, perhaps the best counsel is also the simplest: Shut up and laugh.

In any case, to return to the assignment itself, any concrete or transient answer you might propose––a doctor, a lawyer, a fighter, a writer, etc.––is itself just one of the countless clues and traces of God's love coursing through the course of your life. Open your eyes. What you see is an infinitely rich kaleidoscopic portrait of how God sees you and His love streams into your being like light through leaves in a forest. Open your eyes to opening your eyes. Having eyes to see––or not––your being-loved is itself a sign of your being-loved. Being able to answer, genuinely, this homework assignments question, "I am loved, and that's more than enough," is, as you know, proof that you are-loved. For those of you, however, who can't or won't answer like that, keep in mind that even that indecision––that freedom and pricked consciousness of just whether you might be-loved––is itself a gift of The Love trying to win you over. You have no proof you are not loved, so accept The Fact that you are.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One is the most gregarious number…

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One factors into every other natural number. Two is two ones, three is three ones, and so on. There cannot be any higher digits without one's unitary role in their sum. If three did not include three ones, it would not be three. If three were actually not three ones, but three "near-one" digits, then three would not equal three. As such, one is a transcendental for all natural numbers. The nature of all higher natural numbers transcendentally requires the existence of one. Now, does the analytic ubiquity of one in higher numbers negate the real substance of those numbers? Not at all. For three is truly three and not one. And so on.

My point is allegorical. Critical idealism argues that, since our cognitive structure figures into every perception we have, we have no objective perceptions. Our perceptions are always filtered and distorted by the role our own cognitive categories play in perception. We don't see the world as it really is: we see the-world-as-we-see-it. This leads some idealists to deny there is any such thing as the world as it is apart from our perception of it. For the very means by which we perceive the world also (transcendentally) generate the contours of the world as we think it is. The sky is not really blue, we are told; a blue sky is merely an effect in our brains based on the range of light frequency our eyes are evolved to perceive. Dogs see no blue sky since their eyes are different perceptual filters for the world. This line of reasoning, however, strikes me as naive as saying there isn't really an objective thing called 3, since 1 is a transcendental condition for its existence. Three needs one to be three but one cannot make three be three. Likewise, the perceived world needs perceivers to be perceived but the perceivers cannot make the world perceivable in the way it actually exists. Just as one is a necessary but not sufficient transcendental condition for natural numerality, so formally ordered cognition is a necessary but not sufficient factor for there being a perceivable world.

On the Descent of the Avatar…

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[What, you ask, does avatar mean in Sanskrit?]

Ross Douthat says of the pantheistic vision of the blockbuster Avatar:

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Let's toast to hopelessness…

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After noting that weekly church attendance in Europe is around 5%, compared to 35-40% in the U.S., [Carla] Berlinski writes [in Menace in Europe]:

“A poll conducted in 2002 found that while 61% of Americans had hope for the future, only 42% of the residents of the United Kingdom shared it. Only 29% of the French reported feeling hope, and only 15% of the Germans. These statistics suggest – to me, anyway – that without some transcendental common belief, hopelessness is a universal condition. I do not believe it is an accident that Americans are both more religious and more hopeful than Europeans, and more apt, as well, to believe that their country stands for something greater and more noble than themselves.”

… In Europe before the war, a great rabbi always made it a point of rising when a mentally or physically handicapped person entered the room. When his students asked why, he said that if God placed such a burden on an individual, he must have a very great spirit, and the rabbi rose to honor that spirit.

That’s an essential difference between the religious worldview (born of a neurological disorder?) and Maher’s perspective. The rabbi believes the mentally handicapped should be treated with respect. Maher thinks they’re sweet, loveable dogs.

–– in Don Feder's "Bill Maher –– The Village Atheist Meets the Village Idiot"

This gets at what Bertus was getting at.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Another day of firsts…

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Last weekend I enjoyed a number of "firsts" in Taiwan and yesterday I am happy to say I added a few more to the list. I was invited by my employer to attend a wedding last night in Changhua 章化. (The xijiu 禧酒 was actually in Xianxi 線西 {pink block in top left}, a coastal city just north of Lugang 鹿港 {burnt orange block in top left}.) I have been to "xi jiu" before, so I was not exactly ecstatic about the idea, but I was certainly happy to get a free dinner and do a little brown-nosing while I was at it. Over the course of the night three things stuck out for me as "firsts."

First, I did not see a single bottle of Gaoliang 高梁酒 (sorghum). There was (Prime Blue) whisky, red wine, and the perfunctory juice bottles, but strangely enough, no sorghum. For me that was like going to a football game in the States and not seeing any Coors or Bud.

Second, I finally partook of the fabled "shark fin soup" so beloved by the Chinaman and sometimes so loathed by the Round Eye. It was actually very good. I'm a big fan of seafood, and Xianxi being so close to the ocean meant pretty much every dish was seafood. Thumbs up.

Last, it was the first fun wedding party I have been to in Taiwan. Those I've previously attended are very stuffy and cheesy. Lots of talking on the stage, with no one really listening, and then it's over. But last night was different for a few reasons. First of all, it was outside, under a giant breadloaf-shaped awning, which are common in Taiwan (for sheltering dinners, funerals, religious ceremonies, etc.), and the weather was superb. I think I could also get a whiff of the ocean, which always lifts my spirits. Second, there was a flashing stage at the opening of the canopy, which is also pretty common, but the entertainment for the evening was a very good saxophonist, with another two songs performed by my boss's son on the sax, and then a good trumpeter (with one of the most impressive mullets I've ever seen and a golden Afro wig!). And all that is just good taste.

So, here's to a second round of firsts!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Read this…

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This is a sort of "guide" to James Ross's "argument from non-physical formality" against physicalism. It includes numerous objections and my answers to them, as well as some general thoughts on Ross's argument in contemporary philosophical work. It's a rough draft so I might tweak it now and then.

Eye know, eye know...

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Look, I know I'm just a big white guy living in a small Asian country, but do I really need to have Western eyes to see that driving forklifts, large and small, on the road with all the other vehicles is just a bad idea? Or that willfully not looking either way when crossing the street is just bad form? Or that smoking while delivering big metal tanks of compressed gas on motorcycles is just asking for trouble? Having been here over half a decade, I guess I do. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

That's the way...

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It went down like this: I deployed one of my trusty carrots in a kindergarten class this morning--a rubber balloon--, only this time I inflated it and taped it on the wall over the board. The idea being that any kid whose name made it into the balloon drawn on the board could get that very balloon. Kids are very concrete so having the prize almost literally floating over their heads helps them focus. Anyway, we played our games and drilled our vocabulary, and I gave stickers to the winning team. And then the Large Ethical Conundrum walked in the room.

Or rather, up to the board. It was the usual rush of small hands vying to "help teacher" with his supplies and books and the like, plus the usual flutter of big hands batting away the small hands so teacher could get his things himself. And then three of the little ones started pointing up and chanting, "Buh-lun! Buh-lun!" I had not named the prize winner and giving it now to anyone was just an act of desperation so I could get out of the room and they could have lunch. I looked from one face to the next, trying to break the stare of six small almond eyes looking at the buh-lun by looking through me. The default winner--a bit of a teacher's pet, but worthy of the name--is Belinda. And yet Elmo had done so well after a brief sour-puss spell. Then again, giving the balloon to Carrie this time might be the trick to motivate her out of mediocrity. Who? Whom?! I reached for the balloon to give it to Elmo, and then a very funny thing happened.

The balloon popped! The tape tore a small hole in it as I pulled it from the wall and the next instant it was a cold tatters on the floor. The six almond eyes were at a loss, as were the three small mouths below them. I braced myself for a bout of crossed arms and pouting lips, but then another funny thing happened: I laughed. And I laughed some more. And then the three little mouths broke into small laughter with me. And in their laughter I heard deep wisdom.

Only moments before they had pinned their hopes (the next five minutes' worth, at least) on getting that balloon. Then, in the very act of its coming to them, it burst! Gone! Over! What a loss! And yet they saw me laughing. Somehow it reminded, or assured, them that in fact it's not such a big loss after all. For the fun of seeing a balloon pop in teacher's hand somehow outweighed the satisfaction of getting that balloon for the day.

How many times do we live with our eyes on a balloon floating just up ahead--and then it pops, and "our life is ruined"? On the other hand, how often do we simply "shut u and laugh" when our little balloons burst before our eyes? I submit that there is a direct correlation between how we weigh those two questions on a daily basis and how happy we are on a daily basis. As Jacques Maritain notes in an essay on Human Immortality, on the one hand we realize that nothing is more precious than even a single human life, but on the other hand we live recklessly with our own lives to seize risk after risk. Why are we so cavalier with what we know is such a priceless treasure? For no less pellucid a reason, says Maritain, than that we know we are immortal: death is an episode, not a terminus. On the one hand, we sense the immense value of a human life because it is an immortal principle of unique personhood. On the other hand, we are consistently reckless and pioneering with the immense value of our lives because they are immortal principles of unique personhood. Balloons pop. Get over it. Now laugh! Be wise like foolish children: go for the balloon and say Thank You when you get it and laugh all the way home when you lose it. Otherwise, you are just a balloon, fragile and hollow, ready to burst at any moment; or, filled with laughter, ever-filling with the breath of life.

Strange as it may seem, we are born more "tangled up in blue" than we will ever be later in life. Life is a progressive unraveling of the genetic, cultural, psychological, and spiritual ball of yarn which went into weaving of on the loom of Providence. Despite its apparent immaturity and powerlessness, a newborn child is an inconceivably dense knot of potential, and its maturation is a regimented process of fundamental decomplexification by way of modalized complexification––a steady trimming of brilliant but ever-lost loose ends and a not-always-so-steady healing of hard knots deep within. We become more complex in increasingly narrow ways so that we may be simpler in a fundamental way. The infinitely complex potential of what an infant could write gradually refines into what the infant must learn to write (a native language), and then more finely into a unique penmanship, and finally into a strikingly unique "voice" which every writer must find (even though every adult of course has one). To be a human-knot is not to be not-a-human but to be too-much-of-a-human in a single body so small. As the Daodejing (or, The Book of the Way of Power) says,

"含德之厚,比於赤子。… 骨弱筋柔而握固。未知牝牡之合而全作,精之至也。終日號而不嗄,和之至也。
(The impunity of things fraught with the “power” May be likened to that of an infant. … Its bones are soft, its sinews weak; but its grip is strong. Not yet to have known the union of male and female, but to be completely formed, Means that the vital force is at its height; To be able to scream all day without getting hoarse Means that the harmony is at its perfection.)"

This of course goes a long way towards the defense of all unborn humans. We have no way of knowing what amazing potential we are depriving ourselves of by "flushing" away an inconvenient fetus that puts a kink (!) in our own comfort. We know the temptation of regressing to our infantile knot-state when we say things like we "just want to curl up" and sleep. By contrast, we know the challenge of being Homo erectus sapiens precisely in having to stand straight and having to untangle irrationality into rational life-lines. The Daodejing goes on,

(If the heart makes calls upon the life-breath, rigidity follows. Whatever has a time of vigour also has a time of decay. Such things are against Tao, And whatever is against Tao is soon destroyed.)"

An obstetrician was once asked by a colleague about a difficult case. "The mother has syphillis, the family is destitute, and her current pregnancy will be the sixth child they have to raise. What do you recommend?" Without a pause, the obstetrician said, "Abort it." Nearly as quickly his colleague replied, "Well, you would have just aborted Beethoven." Abortion is a dominant way in our age by which the knotted may protect themselves, and therefore works against the great life project of unknotting ourselves so we may be limpid strings to be strummed in the universal harmony. Abortion is a hallowed "technique" by which the reigning generation may tighten themselves around themselves, instead of unraveling some of their life-thread for the good of a new, uniquely vital knot woven by them. It is nothing less than how "the heart makes a call upon the life-breath," whereupon, being against the Way, rigidity and decay follow.

Prayer is the way we untangle out life-knot so that we may be refilled with that Breath on a regular basis. A sealed balloon can only lose whatever air it has, slowly or in a sudden rupture. Paradoxically, only a balloon that is wide open––that literally can't keep itself together––can be refilled. I think this "ties into" St. Augustine's description of sin as a curvatus in se––an inward curvature on oneself. Like an intractable knot, those of us most "complete" in and of ourselves are also those least open to the fresh air others––and the great Other––might blow into us. It is precisely by letting go of our little "love-me knots" that we both face the perpetual risk of leaking and withering in our own power and enjoy the privilege of being filled anew in ever-novel ways.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Being, good...

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Being is intrinsically good. We all know this. This is what we see in a purring cat: it is most content when it can simply be itself, within itself. This is also why, analogically, we say a well tuned engine "purrs": it is being able to be itself, to be an engine without constraint. And while happiness is not a warm gun, a warm gun is happy in its own way, for it is radiating the fullness of its being as a firing weapon. Why else do so many people find guns so alluring? Such a small clump of matter can generate such a dramatic change in the face of being. It is the same goodness of being that we see in a sleeping baby: it does nothing, can do nothing, but is superior to us precisely in its immersion in sheer being. All this and more is good just because it is.

What does this mean? It means that being--existence--is not morally neutral. The world is and therefore the world is good: finality is coterminous with existence. We will to live because the goodness of being animates the deepest levels of our appetitive being. As St. Thomas says, a donkey cannot desire to be a tiger, since this would mean the destruction of what it is in itself. (Cf. the outrage of the cat and the donkey in Shrek 3 when they are transmogrified into each other's body.) All things, just in virtue of being, desire to continue in being: and this is a form of desire at all levels of being. We sense, in turn, that anything which is more completely "being" than ourselves, is somehow also morally better--more desirable--than ourselves.

Alas, under the guise of sickness, death, fear, loss, disillusionment, and so on, our own shallowness and progressive diminution of being is all too apparent. As such, we leap from one being to another in a vain attempt to tap into the source of Being Itself. Only by relinquishing all specific beings, however, can we hope to swim in the sea of Being Itself (just as a man can only hope to survive at sea by casting his trinkets into the water so he can stay afloat). As St. Jerome puts it, "Christum nudum nudus sequitur" (Follow a naked Christ naked). Once we "intuit" Being as such, we have only two choices: either a retreat to fragmentary idols of being or an act of total adoration and thanks to Being Itself for giving us a share of itself. If "the intuition of Being" (Maritain, Gilson, et al.) does not issue in gratitude, it is not a genuine intuition of Being as the source and medium of all good. Further, if the emergence of gratitude in the face of Being cannot terminate in giving thanks to a Giver, it is the hollowest gratitude, and not worthy of the name, at which point non-being becomes more desirable than being. As Chesterton (nodding to Dante Gabriel Rosetti) said, "The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank. ... All goods look better when they look like gifts." As such, a love of being in the act of being itself without a love for the Being Who is the Act of Being itself, is the greatest metaphysical and ethical travesty man can bring upon himself.

All beings are, then, ontotropic: all things seek to maintain their own thingness and to increase it, if, that is, they possess an immanent principle of growth and motion. Just as plants lean towards the light and stretch their roots towards moisture, so finite beings naturally lean towards greater being and stretch their inner capacities towards that which activates them. None of this need be "conscious", but in the case of humans, it is quite often a conscious, intellectual drive. This is why, unlike non-intellectual animals, humans can desire to become tigers, or dolphins, or etc. It is by abstracting the intentional form of what-a-dolphin-is that we can "transplant" ourselves, in an intentional mode, into that form of being, while still preserving the subsistent vitality of our own Self as intellectual beings. Because the intellect becomes what it conceives, we in fact become dolphins and tigers by the mutual bond of intentional being in ourselves and in those creatures. All that prevents us from actually crossing that bridge to dolphinhood is, first, our lack of adequate metaphysical power to actualize such a potency by overcoming, second, the material limitations of our formal nature. We can conceive of "being made of cheese" but we can't bring it about since cheese is simply not an adequate material for existentiating the human form; neither is the human form an adequate metaphysical principle for raising cheese to sufficiently complex levels of formal order that it can existentiate the human form.

In any case, to return to the human ontotropism: its parallels with plants' phototropism is less than merely coincidental, for the Source of Being Himself is also the Light of Lights. It is only by shining in His Light that we are actual beings. Otherwise, we are overshadowed as mere potential essences in their super-actual light of His own sovereign Donation of Being. Indeed, possibility is only coherent if some principle of choice is integral to Being itself, a coherence sheer naturalism cannot provide, since all that is, on naturalism, necessarily is, and the possible becomes totally vacuous in contrast to the eternally-necessarily actual. Nature being devoid of any will and wisdom, benevolent or otherwise, cannot not be of its own actual character, which includes all sub-entities within it.

All things are intelligible in the Light of God as it shines on that which He makes a substantial medium for receiving the light in the first place. The more a being is open to that light, the more it will (ontotropically) swell in that light. By contrast, beings who decrease in their initial quantum and mode of being, will lose more and more ontological "surface area", whereby they will only diminish even more. It is precisely this cycle which clarifies much of the riddle of evil. For the divine wrath is not a positive infliction imposed on sinful beings, but is rather a negative superposition of light upon what should be a medium for its reflection. Evil is nothing--a lacuna in being--and so we can imagine "the evil within us" as holes and tears in the fabric of our being. As these holes grow, they let more of the Light pass through, and we become that much darker. The punishment we feel--the absence of the warmth of Divine Light--is but the negative superposition of Light which is meant for us, but which can find no surface to illuminate. Evil is nothing and its punishment is its own vacuity. Evil is literally invisible to God, since it is literally that-which-is-not, that which cannot be seen in the Divine Light. Insofar as it cannot be seen ("Adam, where are you hiding?"), it cannot be healed.

Nazi paganism...

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It is no secret that Nazism drew upon centuries of Christian anti-Semitism in its campaign against Jewry. What is less known, and less discussed, is how rooted in Germanic paganism Nazism was. As Jacques Maritain says in his essay "Christian Humanism", "A Nazi people were led away from Nazi paganism only by a crushing defeat of Nazism in its undertakings of world conquest" (A Maritain Reader, Image Books (1966), p. 224). (It is also too little known how Nazism, and fascism generally, collaborated with Middle Eastern leaders in their unprecedented anti-Semitic efforts, but that is a topic for another post.) It is a canard that "Hitler was a Catholic," since in fact by his aspirations began to take serious shape in the 1920s he had renounced the Catholic hierarchy as dull to the signs of the times, and had found his true spiritual sustenance in Nietzschean Germanism and Germanic paganism generally. A literal case of spurning the Blood of the Lamb for das Blut des deutschen Volkes!

I mention this not to excuse the role of historical Christian anti-Semitism in the Nazi period, but to emphasize the fact that, like all great historical moments, it was a spiritual phenomenon. It is legitimate--though I would say not completely correct--for Daniel Goldhagen and Thomas Bernhard, et al., to say that "ordinary Germans" were extraordinary (and willing) Nazis, as long as their willingness is understood as a function of a larger spiritual attachment with which they grew up and by which they were hypnotized. Insofar as "Christian anti-Semitism" is a contradiction in terms, and thus a perversion rather than a perfection of the Christian ethos, the "Christian" roots of Nazism must be taken as political exploitations of defects in the culture at the time. By contrast, the logic of die Endlösung als die Auslöschung was endemic to the evolutionist, theosophical blood-madness of Nazi paganism.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A day of firsts…

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It's been a while since I got out of Taichung, but on the first day of the new year, I joined some coworkers for a day trip to Tainan (Taiwan's former capital). After a few hours in Tainan, we drove to Guanziling to enjoy some hot springs (as well as one nippy 13˚C pool!). Afterward we drove down to a grilled chicken restaurant for dinner. It was a day of a few "firsts" for me here, even after six years in Taiwan.

First, I had for the first time some "mala" jerky. "Mala" is the Szechuan (Sichuan) flavor you might know: tingly, sweet, spicy, and numbing, in waves.

Second, I had a kind of plum Fruit Roll Up which I had never seen before. It included not simply the smallest plastic yellow spoon, but the smallest spoon I've ever seen, full stop. (Asia: little, yellow, different.)

Third, I saw a machine that makes flat steamed rice cakes, and it was interesting not just because the (Korean) cakes tasted a bit like Parmesan cheese, but also because of how the machine operated. Two thick steel cylinders clamped shut with grains of rice inside and a few seconds later they sprang open, with a small booming sound, and a rice cake shot out a few inches to land on the vendors table so he could bag a half dozen at a time as they stacked up.

Fourth, I encountered a Chinese character that no one in our group could read, but which I was able to track down later that night online. Nothing like obscure local flavor!

Fifth, while it was not the first time I bought a bokken, it was the first time I saw an all-black, uncurved bokken, with a braided hilt, to boot. It was only $NT250, so I decided to get it, whereupon I became a white shogun strolling among the other tourists with a bokken slung in my belt. As some readers of FCA might know, while I am hardly a serious student of any single art, I have a soft spot for martial arts, especially judo, taiji, and gongfu. For the past couple years I have made bokken drills a part of my fitness regiment. I also like using plain sledge hammer handles for drills. Bokken drills are deceptively challenging, for two reasons. First, the sword is light enough that––as with all martial arts––the exertion lies in the will, in the amount of effort you put into each movement. Second, when the motions are properly executed, they use many muscles and muscle groups in unison, which does wonders both for strengthening tendons and ligaments and for building "core strength" (i.e., in those too easily neglected "inner" muscles around the hips and spine).

Sixth, it was the first time I recall dabbing myself with mud as part of a hot spring experience. As one coworker told me, "It make you become black!"

Seventh, yes, ladies and gentlemen, the first day of 2010 was also the first time I have eaten fried insects. And not just little ants ensconced in batter or small larvae so brittle as to resemble rice, but I mean full Asian giant hornet pupae with heads, legs, and eyes (虎頭蜂蛹). As soon as I saw the dish, I knew it was a matter of eating one of them as quickly and as thoughtlessly as possible or I wouldn't eat any of them once critical reason set in. Even as nearly all my Taiwanese co-eaters announced their refusal and distaste, I pinned one pupa in my chopsticks and pitched it in my mouth. Chew, chew, chew––and I won't delude you by saying "It tastes like chicken." Actually, Asian giant hornet pupae taste rather buttery, which was the hardest thing to get over in the first moments; the texture was not upsetting. Even so, their "tail end" is substantial enough that you can definitely tell when you're biting into that end versus the "head parts." (Ever chew vitamin E caplets?) Only I and our bus driver were willing to eat them, so I ended up eating dozens of them, as well as nearly all the peanuts and scallion rings on the plate. I can't say I regret it, but I also don't expect to order (or to be able to order) the same dish anytime soon.

Eighth, it was the first time I was able to watch the first two-thirds of 2012 three times in one day. Gotta love short bus trips and long movies!

Ninth, it was the first time the thought crystallized in my mind that, regardless how popular and successful Korean entertainment is these days (in Asia, at least), I find the Korean sense of entertainment extremely grim, sadistic, and crude. I know this can't hold for all Korean TV and cinema, but from what I have heard and see, the Korean sense of "humor" invariably involves biting, slapping, pushing, arguing, cursing, weeping, and heavy drinking––sort of like The Three Stooges as directed by Quentin Tarantino.

To get a clearer picture of some of my "firsts," you can see some of the photos I took yesterday at my Flickr Photostream. May you have a happy new year in the Risen Light that makes all things new!