ND Wilson Responds To Atheist Fortune Cookies

One way to evaluate the claims of atheism when it comes to the origins of the material universe is strict logical analysis. Bill Craig’s explanation of the kalaam cosmological argument is perfect for this. The problem with this is that Bill’s no fun. Enter ND Wilson. Sometimes a belly laugh is more effective than a syllogism. I think this is the case here, but you be the judge.

Imagine a world that is truly and intrinsically and explosively accidental. Explain time in that world, in the world with no narrative and no narrator. Why time? Why progression? Before hydrogen had its alleged and infamous cosmic hiccup, did something aphysical and philosophically flammable snafu first? Perhaps nirvanic nothingness is more unstable than we thought; after all, it would have to spontaneously generate progression and causation (as laws and/or authoritative patterns) before hyper-hydrogen could get flatulent and before that flatulence could begin seeking radically sophisticated order. (Sidenote: By nirvanic nothingness I mean nothingness – nothingness as in what your teeth see only less, nothingness as in take a glass and empty it, erase the glass, remove the table on which it sat, part the electrons in the air where it once was and step between them into the black coldness of space, and then remove the cold and the blackness, remove the ability of anything to take up space, remove space, remove causation, and while you’re at it, remove God.)

But we’re not done. We need an emptier grasp of this concept. Nothingness (no space, no time, no spirit): Grab a book about talking mice. Stare at the cover. Ready? Turn to page number -77. Right. Now set a bowl of fruit at its feet or pull the beating heart out of a slave on top of a ziggurat in its honor because that bit of nothing (all nothing is one in its noneness) invomitvented causation, space, time, you, me, and herpes. And if it could do that, there’s no telling what could come from its nonexistent bowels next. Nonexistence is the squirreliest of b$%^gods. Any nothing any nowhere could suddenly become any something any somewhere – and it could arrive with new laws for its new reality. Watch out for -77. It gave and it can taketh away.

Atheist Fortune Cookie: There is only the material world. Don’t ask me where hyper-hydrogen came from, but I am pretty sure it blew up because I am here (I think). The ‘laws’ of nature and reality and logic and morality are non-binding and are merely internal descriptions of the accidental explosion by another part of that same explosion and are likely to further explode or implode into something else as stuff continues to splatter around. You have no soul, and love and loyalty are chemical by-products of the accident and have no authority as the explosion neglected to accidentally create any. You have no purpose, no deeper meaning, and are no more valuable than any other mobile composting machine, engulfing and expelling until you are engulft and expelt. Also, as you have no soul, the concept of you it itself shaky, as your self-identity is simply the result of an arbitrary atomic boundary imagined by static electricity in spongey tissue inside a spherical bone that appears to be proud of any carbon-based meat that happens to be electronically connected to it. You’re not important. Your molecules prefer fragmenting to binding and will inevitably and absolutely fly apart. So suck on that, sucker of thatness. Also, you should be open to new opportunities of the month.

Atheists trapped in an exclusively physical philosophy must maintain that what we have dubbed Time is just one part of a physical entity (thus, wormholes and bad TV). Time is just another part of the shock wave perpetually spreading out from an explosion, ever impregnating nothing with something as the growing anti-crater we call a universe does its from-everlasting-to-everlasting belching.

My atheist friends: You aren’t taking this seriously.
Me: What was your first clue?
Mystic Docs and Post-Docs of the Most-Low Goo: You are petty, simplistic, and ignorant.
Me: Page number -77 made me that way. Accept me.

Death by Living, pgs. 102-105 (Just in case Janet Mefferd is reading this blog).

The Preestablished Harmony of Pop

adorno1

Theodor Adorno, a member of the Frankfurt school, analysed pop music from the perspective of Critical Theory in his 1941 essay “On Popular Music”. Among his many reflections on the subject (of varying worth), he considered the reason for the hold of popular music on the masses. Part of his answer was the following:

The frame of mind to which popular music originally appealed, on which it feeds, and which it perpetually reinforces, is simultaneously one of distraction and inattention. Listeners are distracted from the demands of reality by entertainment which does not demand attention either.

The notion of distraction can be properly understood only within its social setting and not in self-subsistent terms of individual psychology. Distraction is bound to the present mode of production, to the rationalized and mechanized process of labor to which, directly or indirectly, masses are subject. This mode of production, which engenders fears and anxiety about unemployment, loss of income, war, has its “non-productive” correlate in entertainment; that is, relaxation which does not involve the effort of concentration at all. People want to have fun. A fully concentrated and conscious experience of art is possible only to those whose lives do not put such a strain on them that in their spare time they want relief from both boredom and effort simultaneously. The whole sphere of cheap commercial entertainment reflects this dual desire. It induces relaxation because it is patterned and pre-digested. Its being patterned and pre-digested serves within the psychological household of the masses to spare them the effort of that participation (even in listening or observation) without which there can be no receptivity to art. On the other hand, the stimuli they provide permit an escape from the boredom of mechanized labor.

The promoters of commercialized entertainment exonerate themselves by referring to the fact that they are giving the masses what they want. This is an ideology appropriate to commercial purposes: the less the mass discriminates, the greater the possibility of selling cultural commodities indiscriminately. Yet this ideology of vested interest cannot be dismissed so easily. It is not possible completely to deny that mass consciousness can be molded by the operative agencies only because the masses “want this stuff.”

But why do they want this stuff? In our present society the masses themselves are kneaded by the same mode of production as the arti-craft material foisted upon them. The customers of musical entertainment are themselves objects or, indeed, products of the same mechanisms which determine the production of popular music. Their spare time serves only to reproduce their working capacity. It is a means instead of an end. The power of the process of production extends over the time intervals which on the surface appear to be “free”. They want standardized goods and pseudo-individualization, because their leisure is an escape from work and at the same time is molded after those psychological attitudes to which their workaday world exclusively habituates them. Popular music is for the masses a perpetual bus man’s holiday. Thus, there is justification for speaking of a preestablished harmony today between production and consumption of popular music. The people clamor for what they are going to get anyhow.

David Oderberg on Consequentialism

If one listens very carefully to activists, politicians, and related characters in the media, one begins to hear a certain kind of ethical view beneath some policy recommendations. I’m not going to provide an example, so if the reader does not know what I’m talking about, or does not believe me, they may ignore my comments without further ado. But I know that I’ve heard these views, and so I want to briefly refer to one response to them.

The view affirms some human rights as inviolable, but then also appeals to a kind of consequentialist or utilitarian logic. Several varieties of this perspective appear in academic ethical philosophy, which the interested reader could track down if they please. At the moment, though, I only want to point out one response.

David Oderberg’s paper Why I am not a Consequentialist gives several lines of argumentation against consequentialism in general; I will not discuss them all. Helpfully, Oderberg highlights his most forceful argument:

I have given a number of fairly abstract reasons why consequentialism is on the face of it unintuitive and unmotivated. But I also think it is straight out false, and not only false but an evil and dangerous theory – a view I am not alone in holding. There are a number of ways in which I could defend the view, but I want to focus on one in particular, the one that has always seemed to me – at least ever since I stopped being a consequentialist – the most damaging. It is a very familiar objection, but no less persuasive for being well known. This is the charge that consequentialism allows, indeed requires, certain kinds of action that are obviously wrong and so not to be done. In particular, consequentialism permits and requires actions that are horrendous evils, as evil as anything can be. The typical example often given is of the judge who condemns an innocent man to death in order to satisfy a rioting mob that will murder hundreds of people if the judge lets the innocent man go free. Another is the doctor who kills patients for their organs so he can transplant those organs into many other patients who need them. In general, according to consequentialism, it is at least permitted, often obligatory, for a person to commit what looks to any sane observer like a blatant and serious violation of someone else’s rights, and hence to commit an act of grave injustice, in order to maximize value, or at least to do what he thinks is likely to maximize value. Now, for the non-consequentialist, no intuition his opponent can bring to bear in support of the consequentialist position on this matter is as strong as the intuition that such apparent injustices are indeed injustices, and so to be forbidden on all occasions, no matter what the consequences. According to Elizabeth Anscombe, even to entertain the supposition that the judge is allowed, let alone required, to condemn the innocent man to placate the angry mob is to show evidence of a morally corrupt mind. Someone who thinks the issue debatable, she says, is not someone with whom you should enter into debate

After, Oderberg engages with responses to this point, including an academic example of the view I described above, in the person of Philip Pettit. Pettit argues that consequentialists should want to maximize dignity. Oderberg replies that this can be interpreted in two ways. One is that on closer inspection of Pettit’s work, it seems like he’s redefining dignity to presuppose consequentialism, and so falls foul to the various problems with consequentialism. The other is that Pettit is actually appealing to a non-consequentialist understanding of dignity, in which the right people have to respect is not grounded in how their being respected contributes to the maximization of social benefit. Oderberg replies that this approach will undermine Pettit’s project, since taking this view of dignity will contradict consequentialist principles, rendering Pettit’s system incoherent.

Oderberg’s penultimate paragraph describes the situation for all attempts to support this kind of mediating position between the idea of human rights and a consequentialist approach to ethics:

There is more that can be said about Pettit’s and other attempts to give a consequentialist defence of rights and justice. All such attempts will fail, simply because the structure of rights and justice and the structure of consequentialist thinking are contrary to each other. The only way the consequentialist can reconcile them is by reinterpreting rights and justice in terms that are explicitly or implicitly consequentialist. For the non-consequentialist, this would not merely be a case of begging the question, but of discarding at least some of the non-negotiable intuitions we have about rights and justice, such as the inherent and absolute injustice of knowingly condemning an innocent man to death. On the other hand, if the consequentialist wants to preserve such intuitions, he must incorporate into this theory principles that are themselves non-consequentialist. But if he does this, there is no logical stopping point short of abandoning consequentialism altogether.

The implication of Oderberg’s argument for ethics and politics, at minimum, would be that those who wish to coherently defend human rights need to seek support elsewhere. Something like Kantian deontologism, divine command ethics, or natural law ethics, would certainly do a better job (Oderberg chooses natural law ethics), though a further discussion would have to continue between those three possibilities (and others) in order to determine the ultimately correct system.

C.S. Lewis on Salvador Dali

Or something like that. Nearer to the end of That Hideous Strength, the final instalment in his space trilogy, Lewis describes a process designed by the villains to destroy any sense of objective value in the world. At the first stage of re-education, Lewis has the antagonists using architecture, interior design, and visual arts to begin the psychological corruption. I don’t recall off-hand if Lewis has commented elsewhere on modern art, but this passage certainly must be indirectly relaying his views on artists like Dali. And I think it probably lets us know what he would think of much contemporary “high art” and pop culture.

The room, at first, was an anti-climax. It appeared to be an empty committee room with a long table, eight or nine chairs, some pictures, and (oddly enough) a large step-ladder in one corner. There were no windows; it was lit by an electric light which produced, better than Mark had ever seen it produced before, the illusion of a cold, grey place out of doors. A man of trained sensibility would have seen at once that the room was ill proportioned, not grotesquely but sufficiently to produce dislike. Mark felt the effect without analysing the cause, and the effect grew as time passed. Sitting staring about him, he next noticed the door. The point of the arch was not in the centre; the thing was lopsided. Once again, the error was not gross. The thing was near enough to the true to deceive you for a moment and to go on teasing the mind after the deception had been unmasked. He turned and sat with his back to it … one mustn’t let it become an obsession. Then he noticed the spots on the ceiling; little round black spots at irregular intervals on the pale mustard-coloured surface. He determined that he would not fall into the trap of trying to count them. They would be hard to count, they were so irregularly placed. Or weren’t they? They suggested some kind of pattern. Their peculiar ugliness consisted in the fact that they kept on suggesting it and then frustrating expectation. He realised that this was another trap. He fixed his eyes on the table. He got up and began to walk about. He had a look at the pictures.

Some belonged to a school with which he was familiar. There was a portrait of a young woman who held her mouth wide open to reveal the fact that the inside of it was thickly overgrown with hair. It was very skilfully painted in the photographic manner so that you could feel that hair. There was a giant mantis playing a fiddle while being eaten by another mantis, and a man with corkscrews instead of arms bathing in a flat, sadly coloured sea beneath a summer sunset. But most of the pictures were not of this kind. Mark was a little surprised at the predominance of scriptural themes. It was only at the second or third glance that one discovered certain unaccountable details. Who was the person standing between the Christ and the Lazarus? And why were there so many beetles under the table in the Last Supper? What was the curious trick of lighting that made each picture look like something seen in delirium? When once these questions had been raised the apparent ordinariness of the pictures became like the ominous surface innocence at the beginning of certain dreams. Every fold of drapery, every piece of architecture, had a meaning one could not grasp but which withered the mind.

He understood the whole business now. Frost was not trying to make him insane; at least not in the sense Mark had hitherto given to the word “insanity”. To sit in the room was the first step towards what Frost called objectivity-the process whereby all specifically human reactions were killed in a man so that he might become fit for the fastidious society of the Macrobes [the fictional equivalent of demons]. Higher degrees in the asceticism of anti-nature would doubtless follow: the eating of abominable food, the dabbling in dirt and blood, the ritual performances of calculated obscenities. They were playing quite fair with him-offering him the same initiation through which they themselves had passed.

After an hour, this long high coffin of a room began to produce on Mark an effect which his instructor had probably not anticipated. As the desert first teaches men to love water, or as absence first reveals affection, there rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight. Something else-something he vaguely called the “Normal”- apparently existed. He had never thought about it before. But there it was-solid, massive, like something you could touch, or eat, or fall in love with. It was all mixed up with Jane and fried eggs and soap and sunlight and the rooks cawing at Cure Hardy. He was not thinking in moral terms at all; or else (what is much the same thing) he was having his first deeply moral experience.

On the themes of the book as a whole, there are some noteworthy comments from Steven Wedgeworth, Phillip Johnson, and George Orwell.

Not Good. But Safe.

southpark

I apologize to C. S. Lewis for inverting a Narnia quote, but I think this quite roundly captures what the Christian media complex is today – not good, but safe. One such example was already quoted by Andrew on our humble site. Michael Gungor has pointed out that “creative” is a word often used to describe certain Christian recording artists whereas creativity is often a given in most other musical subcultures. (In fact, it’s the inverse that will be brought to criticize certain acts – “derivative” – as if, even in the often highly controlled world of corporate pop and rock there is still a presumption that an artist should at least attempt to display some kind of creativity.)

The other, arguably more serious case, is one involving a big-name pastor plagiarizing a book. The pastor in question is the Reformed enfant terrible, Mark Driscoll, and while the (alleged) incidence of plagiarism is a wrong in and of itself, Carl Trueman has rightly pointed out that this is compounded by the Christian media complex essentially giving Driscoll a pass and going after radio host Janet Mefferd for having the temerity to ask a tough question of a popular Christian leader. Trueman’s article (which should be read in its entirety) makes it clear that this is not an isolated incident either:

“Some years ago (another time, another webpage), someone I know made thinly veiled criticisms of a powerful evangelical organization. The response was swift: First, he received a series of personal pleas from people at the organization, telling him to stop; then he later discovered that his boss had come under direct pressure from head office at the other organization to remove him. The truth of what he had said was not (as far as I am aware) challenged at any point. It was simply that his comments were very inconvenient from a public relations perspective. Thankfully, the boss sided with his writer, not with the external critics.”

Is the Christian media complex good? Increasingly the answer seems to be “no.” But, as long as you have celebrity status, it is safe.

Charles Taylor’s Apologetic

In Taylor’s recent essay A Catholic Modernity?, the philosopher presents what amounts to an argument against exclusive (i.e., secular) humanism. I’ll give a brief sketch of it here.

Taylor begins by asking the question:

…who can make more sense of the life all of us are living? If we are right, then human beings have an ineradicable bent to respond to something beyond life. Denying this stifles. But then, even for those who accept the metaphysical primacy of life, this outlook will itself seem imprisoning. 1

He continues by pointing out a feature of modern life that coheres with this perspective. He calls it the “immanent revolt”, or the revolt from within unbelief, and points to the most influential example of this position, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche, of course, rebelled against the idea that our highest goal is to preserve and increase life, to prevent suffering. He rejects this both metaphysically and practically. He rejects the egalitarianism underlying this whole affirmation of ordinary life. But his rebellion is, in a sense, also internal. Life itself can push to cruelty, to domination, to exclusion, and, indeed, does so in its moments of most exuberant affirmation.

So this move remains within the modern affirmation of life, in a sense. There is nothing higher than the movement of life itself (the Will to Power). But it chafes at the benevolence, the universalism, the harmony, the order. It wants to rehabilitate destruction and chaos, the infliction of suffering and exploitation, as part of the life to be affirmed. 2

This logic plays itself out in broader ways:

Of course, one of the fruits of this counterculture was Fascism–to which Nietzsche’s influence was not entirely foreign, however true and valid is Walter Kaufman’s refutation of the simple myth of Nietzsche as a proto-Nazi. But in spite of this, the fascination with death and violence recurs, for example, in the interest in Bataille, shared by Derrida and Foucault. James Miller’s book on Foucault shows the depth of this rebellion against “humanism” as a stifling, confining space to break out of. … I see these connections as another manifestation of our (human) inability to be content simply with an affirmation of life. 3

In addition to the danger expressed in Nietzsche, Taylor also describes several others, surrounding a general problem: how do we find the psychological resources to sustain the high ethic we liberal humanists have set for ourselves?

One way is to find our self-worth in helping others. But this is a fragile motivation:

However, philanthropy and solidarity driven by a lofty humanism, just as that which was driven often by high religious ideals, has a Janus face. On one side, in the abstract, one is inspired to act. On the other, faced with the immense disappointments of actual human performance and with the myriad ways in which real, concrete human beings fall short of, ignore, parody, and betray this magnificent potential, one experiences a growing sense of anger and futility. Are these people really worthy objects of all these efforts? Perhaps in the face of all this stupid recalcitrance, it would not be a betrayal of human worth, or one’s self-worth, to abandon them–or perhaps the best that can be done for them is to force them to shape up.

Before the reality of human shortcomings, philanthropy–the love of the human–can gradually come to be invested with contempt, hatred, aggression. The action is broken off, or worse, continues but is invested now with these new feelings, becoming progressively more coercive and inhumane. The history of despotic socialism (i.e., twentieth-century communism) is replete with this tragic turn, brilliantly foreseen by Dostoyevsky more than a hundred years ago… and then repeated again and again with a fatal regularity… . 4

Another way to motivate such action is by a sense of injustice. But this comes with its own problems:

We have seen it with Jacobins and Bolsheviks and today with the politically correct Left and the so-called Christian Right. We fight against injustices that cry out to heaven for vengeance. We are moved by a flaming indignation against these: racism, oppression, sexism, or leftist attacks on the family or Christian faith. This indignation comes to be fueled by a hatred for those who support and connive with these injustices, which, in turn, is fed by our sense of superiority that we are not like these instruments and accomplices of evil. Soon, we are blinded to the havoc we wreak around us. …

This humanism leaves us with our own high sense of self-worth to keep us from backsliding, a high notion of human worth to inspire us forward, and a flaming indignation against wrong and oppression to energize us. It cannot appreciate how problematic all of these are, how easily they can slide into something trivial, ugly, or downright dangerous and destructive.

A Nietzschean genealogist can have a field day here. Nothing gave Nietzsche greater satisfaction than showing how morality or spirituality is really powered by its direct opposite… [.] … it is clear that modern humanism is full of potential for such disconcerting reversals: from dedication to others to self-indulgent, feel-good responses, from a lofty sense of human dignity to control powered by contempt and hatred, from absolute freedom to absolute despotism, from a flaming desire to help the oppressed to an incandescent hatred for all those who stand in the way. 5

Taylor offers what he thinks the solution might be, and herein lies his apologetic:

So is there a way out?

This cannot be a matter of guarantee, only of faith. But it is clear that Christian spirituality points to one. It can be described in two ways: either as a love or compassion that is unconditional–that is, not based on what you the recipient have made of yourself–or as one based on what you are most profoundly, a being in the image of God. They obviously amount to the same thing. In either case, the love is not conditional on the worth realized in you just as an individual or even in what is realizable in you alone. 6

If one were to put this answer biblically, one might say:

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Notes:

  1. Taylor, Dilemmas and Connections, 178.
  2. Dilemmas and Connections, 179.
  3. Dilemmas and Connections, 179.
  4. Dilemmas and Connections, 183.
  5. Dilemmas and Connections, 184-185.
  6. Dilemmas and Connections, 185.

What’s Wrong With Contemporary Christian Music?

In the interests of full disclosure, I will state up front that I like some CCM. But perhaps I shouldn’t, or perhaps I should like a lot less of it. Being an objectivist about beauty, I am willing to admit that my musical tastes may be malformed.

But what is it about CCM that makes it bad art, when it is bad art? Here’s part of one argument:

… It is easy for me to spot a Christian music radio station within about 3 seconds. Far before any Christian lingo is uttered to make it clear.

It’s weird. I’m always trying to figure out what it is that makes something sound like Christian music, because there’s definitely something… I’d love to get some of your thoughts about it. But for me (and I’m actually one of the better players of the game if I must say so myself), I find something very disingenuous about most Christian music. This is something I can simply feel at a gut level. If I hear a song, and I hear any sort of pretending or false emotion, that’s a good first indicator. I’m really not trying to throw mud here, I’m being honest at how I am good at this game. Christian music often has a sheen to it that other music doesn’t have. Some pop and country music has a similar sheen, but the Christian sheen is like a blander sheen somehow.

The vocals are always really hot in the mix because for Christian music, the words are the most important part. That’s kind of similar to country though as well, so you have to be careful there. Country has some of the same Nashville tones, players, and compression styles that Christian music has most of the time, but the twang is just a little deeper with the country side of things. There’s also a little more “humanness” or “soul” in Country to my ears.

The false emotion that I’m talking about might be familiar to some of you. There’s just something more believable about the whispery sexy voice that is singing about sex on the mainstream radio station than the voice that copies that style of singing while putting lyrics in about being in the arms of Jesus. And it’s really not even the style or the lyric that is the problem to me, it’s the fact that I don’t believe that the singer is feeling the kind of emotions in singing that lyric that would lead to that style of singing. It’s that same kind of creep out that you feel when somebody gives a really loud fake laugh. It’s just weird and uncomfortable feeling.

An example of this would be a song that somebody sent us recently of an older song of mine called “Wrap Me In Your Arms.” The lyric is a very intimate and soft sort of lyric. “Take me to that place where I can be with you, you can make me like you…etc” This person did a hardcore/screamo version of this song. Not just like getting a little loud, I mean full out death metal sounding, demon-voiced screaming. It was so freaking weird mostly because it seemed so disingenuous. You would never speak such gentle words to someone you loved by screaming in their face like you were possessed by Beelzebub. That’s an extreme example, but it’s very typical of the basic premise of most Christian music to me, which is–use whatever musical style you wish as a medium to communicate your message. It’s not about the art, it’s about the message. So use whatever tools and mediums you have at your fingertips to do so. If you want to reach emo kids, then sing emo music but with Jesus language. The problem with this is that emo music is not simply reducible to certain sounding tones and chords. There are emotions and attitudes of different genres of music that are the soul of the music. You can’t remove the anger from screamo and have it still be screamo. It’s the soul of that music, whether that soul is good or evil is not the point, simply that it is the soul. So when you remove the soul from music and transplant the body parts (chord changes, instrumentation, dress, lights, and everything but the soul…) and parade it around with some more “positive” lyrics posing as Christian music, then what you have is a musical zombie.

It looks like a human.. It eats like a human… It still walks and makes noise and resembles a human, but it’s not. It’s a zombie. It has no soul. It just uses it’s human body for its own purposes.

This is what I initially feel when I play the “Christian or secular” game. I look into its eyes, and I perceive whether the thing has a soul or not. And 9 times out of ten, I can do it very quickly and efficiently.

Dallas Willard on the Nature of Feelings

Dallas Willard wisely instructs his readers on the nature of feelings:

Much of the great power of feelings over life derives not just from the fact that they touch us, move us, but from the fact that they creep over into other areas of our life; they pervade, they change the overall tone of our life and our world. They spread like an unstable dye or a viral form or a yeast. They may take over all else in us, even that to which they have no relevance. Things and people around us then look different, take on a distinctive tone or meaning. And that can even determine the tendency and outcome of our life as a whole.

This explains why it is so hard to reason with some people. Their very mind has been taken over by one or more feelings and is made to defend and serve those feelings at all costs. It is a fearful condition from which some people never escape. We have noted how thoughts generate feelings. If we allow certain negative thoughts to obsess us, then their associate feelings can enslave and blind us—that is, take over our ability to think and perceive. …

Beyond the individual level, poisonous emotions and sensations often take over entire social groups, blinding them and impelling them on terrible courses of destruction. This is nearly always what has happened in cases where repression of ethnic groups or genocide occurs. Thus, to the onlooker the participants (the Nazis, and so on) seem to be deaf, blind, and insane – which, in a sense, they are. They, too, are imprisoned.

Feelings can be successfully “reasoned with,” can be corrected by reality, only in those (whether oneself or others) who have the habit and are given the grace of listening to reason when they are expressing violent feelings or are in the grip of them. A feeling of sufficient strength may blot out all else and will invariably do so in one who has not trained himself or herself, or been trained, to identify, to be critical of, and to have some distance from his or her own feelings. Combined with a sense of righteousness, strong feeling becomes impervious to fact and reason. …

Abandonment to feeling, allowing oneself to be “carried away” by feeling, is actually sought by many, and on a regular basis. That is a testimony to our epidemic deadness of soul. People want to feel, and to feel strongly, and in the very nature of life they need to do so

The opposite of peace is really not war, but deadness. The “dead soul” is one waiting to explode or fall apart, and one that will seek out trouble for reasons it cannot understand. In its desolate life away from God, there is no drama to provide constructive feeling tones that would keep life from being a burden. Such persons really have no hope. This is the key to those “lives of quiet desperation” Thoreau attributed to “most men.” Feeling will then be sought for its own sake, and satisfaction in feeling alone always in turn demands stronger feeling. It cannot limit itself. [Renovation of the Heart, 124-125]

Sausage

SAUSAGE

Cold weather, more links:

American religion, whatever its formal sectarian designation, tends to be decidedly Protestant.” Kwame Anthony Appiah gives an very interesting talk on rights and culture in a cosmopolitan age.

A secular parent wishes his children knew some Bible stories.

Once again, faux Christian outrage rears its head. Please read this, everyone.

I don’t know if any of our readers are map geeks, but just in case: what if US state boundaries conformed to watersheds?

Born Under Tyranny

Kim Jong Il

I was watching some old videos of Christopher Hitchens debate various Christians (I’m sure Ian approves) and something struck me about one of his arguments about religion. Hitchens makes the claim that those who believe in God must believe that everyone is born under a sort of tyranny where everyone has to obey this divine ruler and the various capricious laws set down by the ruler. It occurred to me though that there is no way in which we cannot look at our lives as anything but being under some kind of totalitarian dictatorship. I cringe at echoing sulking teenagers everywhere, but they do have something right, they did not ask to be born, none of us did. We are brought here against our will to serve out our time. It’s hard to isolate this sentiment from the angry, emotional teenager, but I think we can say the same thing with a sort of stoic shrug. All manner of forces are governing our lives, from the base-level physical, chemical, biological to the social, political, historical forces that are all there whether or not there is something that we might call God behind them or karma or an impersonal material universe. Conversely I have seen both theists and atheists suggest that life is a gift (and both argue that as such it somehow bolsters their respective claims). That life may seem like an imposition does not require a God either.

A final note: I think might invite less scorn in the comment section if I point out that I am not saying that my life or life in general is- or should feel- this way, only that we can argue that we are under a celestial dictatorship either way. We are still here not so much against our will but rather without any consideration of it – for who among us wills ourselves into living –  for our appointed time, until death.