Uncharted Territory

A difficulty both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage face when speculating about the consequences it will have for the institution of marriage and for society in general is the absence of concrete historical examples. While we can find many examples throughout history of homosexuality being tolerated or accepted by society, we find the examples of state-recognized same-sex marriage only in our contemporary world. We cannot really point to historical precedent to show what has happened in the past when states likes ours change the meaning of marriage to include the unions of same-sex couples. The past offers us little clear and concrete sense of what exactly will happen in the future. The mood of the country seems to be growing more and more accepting of same-sex unions, so our posterity may have clearer understanding of how recognizing same-sex marriage changes marriage and society. Then again, the debate might just turn to whether a set of alleged consequences were really caused by allowing same-sex marriage or were merely a correlation of the state’s recognition.

Swine Flu Testing in Frisco, Texas


Friends to this blog host, Diego and Vicky, receive testing for swine flu. This area of the country sees a fair amount of travel to Mexico. In our location, and given our daily life at a very large parish, it's prudent to investigate indicative symptoms. Fortunately, my friends tested negative for the illness.

Faramir's Wisdom

I want to see more people like Faramir in positions of power and leadership:
"I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo."
There are more important things than safety and security.

Personalism and Torture

Among the contributions of contemporary philosophy is the personalistic principle, which philosophers such as Martin Buber, Gabriel Marcel, and Karol Wojtyla have developed in their unique ways. This principle states that we may not treat a person as only the means to an end, as an instrument. We must treat the person as a “Thou,” not as an “It” or as a thing. This principle lies at the basis of all human freedoms.

Torture violates this principle in the most horrific way. The torturer does not merely give the tortured person incentives to motivate the will; he seeks to break the tortured person’s will by breaking the body and/or the mind. He seeks to control the person by making him into something less than a person. He works not with the person’s freedom, but against it.

We ascertain what constitutes torture not only by the severity of pain inflicted, but also by whether or not the interrogation respects the interrogated person’s freedom and personhood. For an interrogation technique to be just, it must work with the interrogated person’s freedom; it must not reduce him to an instrument, but respect him as a person. Motivating an interrogated person’s will with incentives isn’t necessarily evil, but breaking his will always is.

Baby Kicks and Dragon Slaying

That's life in the Cupp family.

Yesterday my wife placed my hand on her belly so that I could feel our daughter Vivian kick. Genece has sensed her movements for some time, but yesterday was the first time I've been able to feel her lively feet. Vivian suffers from anencephaly. Her life will be short, but we're determined to make the most of it and to give her the best life we can. For us, her condition accentuates the significance of every moment we share with her. We don't take a day for granted. Yesterday's kick may be the only kick of hers that I get to feel.

Our almost three-year-old son, meanwhile, has wholeheartedly embraced the role of resident dragon slayer. Inspired by Prince Phillip in Disney's Sleeping Beauty, our son constantly wields Sting, holds a dragon-marked shield, wears a red cowboy bandana as a royal cape, and dons a construction paper Prince Phillip hat. The sword and shield come with him in the car, as he moseys from room to room in search of dragons, and they're the first things he grabs following his bath. Yes, even before clothing. He could be cast in 300.

Images of Conflict

The picture to the left is of the philosopher Max Scheler. I'm told that the positioning of his fingers and thumb was meant to convey the conflicts within his own thought. Not sure if that's true, but a cool picture, in any case.

In a post about his seemingly conflicting political views, E.D. Kain offers us a wonderful image of progress and tradition dancing together in a "civilizational tango." The image appeals to me, for I as well have political views all over the dance floor: some on the right, some on the left, most of them usually in motion. Kain's image helps me see that conflicting opinions, whether held by one person or by many people in society, don't have to be at war. The pursuit of truth may be framed by our human limits and marked by irresolvable conflicts, but even so, it can still be something of elegance, harmony, grace, beauty, and order.

Torturing Christ

I find it disturbing that we’re actually debating the concept of torturing people, but what I really don’t get is the defense of torture by Christians. I say this not because Christians are better than others, but because, from the Christian standpoint, what we do to one another, even to the least among us and to the worst of sinners, we do to Christ. We show our love and respect for God in how we treat one another. A Christian who defends torturing a human person defends, in a sense, torturing Him in whose image and likeness we are all made.

A Fundamentalist Approach to Symbols

Darwin muses about a fundamentalist approach to interpreting fiction he notices among Catholic opponents of certain fantasy stories – and fantasy in general. He aptly calls it a “Secret Decoder Ring Christianity” approach. Darwin writes in the context of interpreting fantasy stories, but we can extend his analysis to interpreting literary symbols generally.

According to the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, a symbol is “any structure of signification in which a direct, primary, literal meaning designates, in addition, another meaning which is indirect, secondary, and figurative and which can be apprehended only through the first.” Interpretation, for Ricoeur, consists in deciphering and unfolding the levels of meaning implied in the literary meaning.

A fundamentalist approach to symbols insists that the literal meaning of an image should have a fixed figurative meaning. In Catholic circles, this approach is advocated by Michael O’Brien, who argues, for example, that dragons and serpents should represent evil as they have traditionally done in the West. When an otherwise reliable Christian writer uses a snake as an image of good, thus going against the traditional symbolism, O’Brien calls this departure a “curious slip” and a “reminder that no writer has a perfect vision, and even the best should be read with a vigilant eye.”

This approach to symbols fails to account for the polysemic nature of symbols. A symbol or image may have multiple and even contrary meanings. And that’s okay! In his play “The Tempest,” Shakespeare uses the image of water to signify life and death, baptism and destruction, peace and violence, movement and exile, recovery and loss. Symbols by their function allow for a surplus of meaning.

The notion that serpents represent villainy arose not from some command from God or Nature, but rather in history because authors, looking at the literal aspects of a serpent, chose to use the image in this way and, over time, developed a tradition.

An author today might have designs on taming children’s instinctive reaction to the image of the horrible, as O'Brien fears, but he might also be opening an image to new possible meanings, meanings that stay true to the literal meaning of the symbol.

Merci

Thank you all for the comforting words and prayers. They have been a blessing to us.

My Son's Loaded Statement

When I first proposed the idea of growing out my hair, my boss objected, saying I'd look like a wet rat. I managed to change his mind by showing him pictures of my long hair during my university days. I didn't really look like a wet rat.

This past Friday, my wife gave me more than the usual trim. She purposefully but regretfully sliced off a foot-long pony-tail. As my wife worked, my almost three-year-old son, who probably doesn't remember me with shorter hair, excitedly ran around the room, evading the fallen hair, fascinated by the sudden changes in my appearance.

As the haircut neared completion, he proclaimed, "Daddy, you're a boy now!"

Beyond Culture War Pacifism

E.D. Kain writes:
I suppose part of where I am coming from is that when it comes to our little manufactured wars - terror, drug, or culture - I am a devout pacifist. I will not fight them, because they almost inevitably lead to more pain, more chaos, and in the end, devastating defeat.
I share his assessment of where the culture wars lead and the need to abandon them, but I object to labeling one opposed to the culture wars as a pacifist. The description gives too much legitimacy to the idea of the culture wars. The culture wars are founded on a framework for interpreting others of differing culture positions, a framework that reduces others to enemies and is (dis)ordered toward their defeat. That defeat never comes with any finality. Not in a pluralistic and democratic society.

The label “culture war pacifist” defines an opponent of the culture wars within the culture war framework, but that framework itself has to be forsaken in order to end the culture wars.

Update: E.D. Kain responds to my objection. My answer follows in the comments.

Vivian Marie

We learned yesterday morning that the baby my wife Genece carries in her womb has a fatal condition known as anencephaly. Parts of our daughter’s skull and brain have not formed and will not do so. She is still alive, kicking and squirming, especially after my wife eats sugary foods, but her life will be very short. If she lives until term and through the delivery, she will be with us for only a few hours, perhaps a day or two. My wife is due in September, so we may have a long road ahead of us as we prepare simultaneously for our daughter’s birth, baptism, and burial. I admit a part of me wants this to be over sooner rather than later, but I also desire, hope, to hold my daughter, to listen to her newborn cries, to hold my wife as she nurses our hungry child, and to share as family those few precious moments of her life before we must say goodbye.

Read more about Vivian's life here.

Song for a Holy Week

Missy Higgins - Forgive Me

Making Up Truth

A reader commenting in the previous thread claimed that postmodernism understands truth as being made up by the subject. Another reader responded to this briefly, but suggested that I tackle the idea in a new post.

I obey my readers.

The notion that postmodernists think truth is created by the subject is understandable, partially correct, but also very misleading. Postmodernists, for example, do not hold that the equation "2+2=4" is true just because we say it's true.

In general, postmodern philosophy studies thinking, in particular the limitations and the creativity of our thinking. Postmodern philosophers analyze the ways in which our thinking fails to correspond to what we're thinking about and the ways in which our thinking creatively affects these objects of our thought. What postmodernists say about truth should generally be understood in this context. Postmodernists tend to emphasize the relationship between truth and the subject because thinking is precisely that relationship. Many times a reader of postmodernism interprets what the postmodernist says as if she were making claims or denials about metaphysical or moral truth, when in fact she is making claims about metaphysical and moral thinking or about the objects of such thought.