Two good articles

September 6, 2019 at 6:34 am (By Amba) (, )

about the promise hidden in American decline and fall.


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If you love someone, set them free

August 24, 2019 at 10:13 pm (By Amba) (, , )

Heavy fare for a summer Saturday night . . . but hey, freelancers don’t know from weekends or vacations.

This is Kierkegaard on free will. It’s actually very advanced Christian theology. I’m neither qualified nor motivated to debate its provenance, its truth, or its craziness. I just find it beautiful and thought-provoking.

“. . . goodness is to give oneself away completely, but in such a way that by omnipotently taking oneself back one makes the recipient independent. All finite power makes [a being] dependent . . .

“It is incomprehensible that omnipotence is not only able to create the most impressive of all things—the whole visible world—but is able to create the most fragile of all things—a being independent of that very omnipotence. Omnipotence, which can handle the world so toughly and with such a heavy hand, can also make itself so light that what it has brought into existence receives independence, Only a wretched and mundane dialectic of power holds that it is greater and greater in proportion to its ability to compel and to make dependent. No. Socrates had a sounder understanding; he knew that the art of power lies precisely in making another free. But in the relationship between man and man this can never be done . . . only omnipotence can truly succeed in this.”

~ Søren Kierkegaard

It’s just this to the nth power.



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“Replacing Self-Ownership with Self-Stewardship”

June 20, 2009 at 7:11 pm (By Amba) (, , , )

On his new blog, Strike the Root, Funky Dung is doing some really original thinking at the intersection of Catholicism and Libertarianism.  He doesn’t ever let himself stop and rest at a comfortable and convenient point; just when you think he’s come to a really pleasing synthesis, he challenges himself to move on.  (When I got to the sentence that is the title of this post, my heart started beating faster.)  He seems to be trying to figure out if a sort of “I-Thou libertarianism” is conceivable, one that goes far beyond utilitarian considerations and natural selfishness.  If there’s a problem with it, it’s the problem of idealism, of basing a political vision on humans at their best, which may be ennobling as an expectation but unwarranted as an assumption.  Very much worth reading, and responding to Funky’s invitation to contribute to an idea under construction.

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Is Religion Necessary? [UPDATED!]

May 2, 2009 at 7:13 pm (By Amba) (, )

As previously quoted, Nassim Nicholas Taleb seems to think so[bold = emphasis added]

[B]eyond the current mess, I see no way out of this ecological problem, except through that tacit, unexplainable, seasoned, thoughtful, and aged thing crystalized by traditions & religions —we can’t live without charts and we need to rely on the ones we’ve used for millennia. Le 21e siecle sera religieux, ou ne sera pas!

And so, in similar terms but more words, does Gagdad Bob:

So it seems that we must seek a proper balance between letter and spirit. Many people reject religion because of an early experience of too much letter, not enough spirit. But then they might get involved in some new age nonsense, which is all spirit and no letter. However, spirit itself, like any other energy, is neutral; if it isn’t guided by a nonlocal structure of unchanging truth, it can just as easily lead down as up. You can find yourself on a slippery slope that leads all the way down to a slippery dope such as Deepak Chopra, who embodies the paradox of pure “slime without substance.”

Put this way, organized religion itself is a “necessary evil,” as it were. While necessary, we must not confuse it with that to which it points, or else we are simply engaging in idolatry by another name.

*   *   *

[T]he other day, I was having a conversation with a friend who is a dyed-in-the-wool-over-his-own-eyes atheist — one of those people who is just completely tone deaf when it comes to religion. I mentioned how I had long since abandoned philosophy for theology, and he asked why — what do you get out of it?

Of course, I had no way to explain it in his earthly terms, i.e., to somehow fit it into his little world, which obviously excludes the realm of spirit. I mean, there is surely spirituality there, as there is in any normal person’s life, but he doesn’t see it as an autonomous realm, just a derivative one.

Oddly, this is obviously the real world in which humans live — it is the quintessentially human world — and yet, this type of person rejects the human world for a lower one, while still trying to maintain their humanness. I suppose this can work for a generation or two, but at some point, the thread that links us to our civilizational source will be snapped, and that will be the end. Then it will just be a matter of waiting for the Islamists to finish the job, as in Europe.

Anyway, this friend asked me what I “get out of theology,” and I tried to answer. I pointed out that, first of all, the whole thing is an ongoing surprise to me, and that it is not even as if I chose it; rather, it has chosen me. I said that it was like entering this huge, magnificent intellectual cathedral that was perfectly adapted to the human psyche. . . .

*    *    *

As you know, Mrs G has converted to Catholicism. Not only that, but quite a few of my readers have either returned to Christianity or undergone formal conversion, and for that I am humbled and eternally grateful. But what about you, Bob? What are you? And what are you waiting for?

I am not a Christian, in the commonly understood sense of the term. I have to acknowledge that up front. Now, some of you are no doubt thinking to yourself, “Ha ha. Yes you are. Stop kidding yourself. You just haven’t realized it yet.” I won’t argue with that, but please indulge me. The point I would like to make is that, while not Christian per se, I am surely on a Christian adventure. An extraordinarily deep one, I might add. It has been ongoing for the past, I don’t know, eight or nine years, and just keeps getting more compelling.

In a way, I feel like the earliest Christians, who, after all, were not “Christians.” Rather, they were simply people having a Christian experience that later came to be known as “Christianity.” In fact, I’m thinking of calling it that myself. But the point is, this is what makes these early writings all the more compelling. No one was telling them the “correct” way to think. They did not “believe” in religion, but were undergoing religion.

And yet, I hold back. Why?

*    *    *

[W]hat you are seeing is a purely spontaneous production chronicling the encounter between me and Christian truth, which I believe, in a certain way, gives it more weight than it might have if I were simply reciting dogma as an “insider.” While some of what I say might sound dogmatic or authoritarian, I must again emphasize that I am not in my right mind when I’m saying it. Rather, I not only try to write about what I know, but what I don’t know. That is, I try to “write beyond myself,” so to spook, so that I am as genuinely surprised as anyone else at what comes out. Boo!

It is very important to me that I reach people who aren’t religious, but still have an impulse to be — especially people with the “Jesus willies.” I think that I would be less convincing if I were simply coming from a Christian perspective. In other words, perhaps I can be analogous to the disinterested scientist who explains how global warming or reductionistic Darwinism are bogus. People get enough of the normal evangelizing, and, as often as not, it backfires. But when a disinterested person with no vested interest is doing the selling, it may be more effective.

What I hear both these provocative minds saying is that at least for now and the foreseeable future, we don’t have any adequate alternative to traditional religion to keep us on track, connected to our nonmaterial source of raison d’être and perspective and guidance.  So even though we may have outgrown the cosmology, we still need the counsel and the consolation.  Break the old vessels, spill the wine.

It’s a funny feeling, though.  Whatever-it-is spoke to humanity in childlike terms humanity could understand.  Now that science has shattered the medium, what happens to the message?  And how do we accept that we’re growing up intellectually faster than we are emotionally?

UPDATE:  We’re not the only ones talking about just this, just now.  Stanley Fish writes in the NY Times (and gets 655, count ’em, high-level comments to date):

In the opening sentence of the last chapter of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” the British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. “What other symbolic form,” he queries, “has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?”

Eagleton acknowledges that the links forged are not always benign — many terrible things have been done in religion’s name — but at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions . . .

In a phrase I suspect is destined to be oft quoted, Eagleton says, “[B]elieving that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world . . . is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.”

Read the whole thing.  This is shaping up to a verdict, or a consensus:  we could shed religion now, but we’d better choose not to.  It’s strange to make a conscious choice to believe the no longer believable (the Biblical cosmos is to the actual cosmos we are discovering as a small child’s drawing is to the Sistine ceiling); maybe related to what Jack Whelan of After the Future calls “second naiveté.”

We cannot live as the ancestors lived, but the rationalist prejudices of the moderns caused much that our premodern ancestors valued to be discredited and lost. Our job now is to retrieve the lost gifts, and to adapt it to our life now lived in circumstances unimaginable to the premoderns. [ . . .]

We no longer can maintain a “first naivete”, which is the state of the believer before critical consciousness. We must search out what has been forgotten or lost with a second naivete, which is the attitude toward the superrational that is childlike in its receptivity, but, because we must travel lightly, shrewd in its judgments about what is necessary and what superfluous.

Read that whole thing, too.

(P.S. Agnosticism — admitting we don’t know shit — still seems more honest and more reverent to my temperament.  But like Cal in the comments, I’m not sorry to be surrounded by people who aren’t like me.  Being in the gaseous state myself, I’m glad some people are solid.)

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