Knowledge Happens

I've been out of academia for about seven years now, and I miss it terribly. Academia provides more than just a place for focused learning, though I love it for that reason alone; it is also a place where knowledge happens, where dialogue, study, inquiry, research, creativity and the like contribute to the production of knowledge. Academia is home to knowledge as an event. There knowledge isn't merely found; it happens.

Is the Bible a Perverse Book?

My post on what I called a perverse prayer on Facebook prompted some questions about the possibility of similar perversity found in Sacred Scripture. In another forum, I have faced accusations of heresy, sacrilege, blasphemy, and impiety for my adamant insistence that the wish to harm another is a perverse wish whether we find that wish in mostly harmless jokes or in the sacred pages of the Bible. I had and have no qualms about stating that we can find perversity in the writings of the sacred writers. Some statements in the scriptures express or point to ideas that are perverse, immature, or downright evil.

I find, for example, the following statement to be perverse, by which I mean that the idea (in this case an imperative) expressed by the statement is perverse: "Utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them; but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling." I find any and all imperatives to kill babies (among others) to be perverse and evil. Now this statement I quoted is contained in the Bible. In fact it is attributed to the Lord! Therefore, I am led logically to say that this statement contained in 1 Samuel is perverse, by which I mean that it is a perverse imperative, an imperative to commit an evil act. That the sacred writer makes God the speaker of this imperative certainly gives me food for thought, but it doesn’t make the conclusion not follow from the premises. If that imperative an imperative to do evil, and reason tells me that it is, and if that imperative is found in the Bible, then we find in the Bible an imperative to do evil.

Now what I am not saying is that Bible is a perverse book or that we worship a perverse God. I'm not saying that God didn't have a reason for having the statement in the Bible or that he didn't have a reason for having the imperative attributed to him. I'm not saying that the author of Samuel is acting perversely or in error in his task as a sacred writer. Nor am I saying that God is acting perversely or in error by having perverse statements in the Sacred Scriptures. I am not denying or undermining the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, though, of course, what I say speaks to how I understand inerrancy. I affirm that “the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation,” but my affirmation doesn’t preclude me from recognizing cultural and even barbaric cultural influences upon those same scriptures. The Bible chronicles salvation history, and there’s not a little perversity in that story. (VN)

A Brief Remark on Immigration Policy

To my mind, a sensible immigration policy is grounded in the principle of hospitality and effectively balances our obligations to the immigrant and our obligations to our fellow citizens. Immigration presents us with important economic and social challenges, and it would be a mistake to downplay its many consequences, positive and negative; nevertheless, it is also a mistake to treat illegal immigration as if it were a moral evil, to treat those who enter our country illegally as if they have broken a moral law. It may be a crime to cross a border, but it's generally not immoral. That our laws governing entry into the country are at best based on a prudential assessment of economic and social realities, and not on the moral law per se, a moderation, flexibility, and openness ought to govern our legislation and enforcement. I'm not calling for lawlessness, but a recognition that our immigration laws should be written not only for us, for our good, but for those who come invited and uninvited, for their good, with their interests and needs in mind. (VN)

Dietrich von Hildebrand Conference in Rome

Readers may be interested in an interdisciplinary Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project conference being held in Rome on May 27-29, 2010. The conference will explore von Hildebrand's philosophy of love and offer a critical reception of his work, The Nature of Love, recently translated into English. A student of Edmund Husserl, von Hildebrand wrote on matters including ethics, aesthetics, personalism, and phenomenology. His thinking marked my initial formal encounter with philosophy and sparked my interest in the discipline. While my philosophical wanderings have taken me away from his mode of thought, into poisonous swamps, some would say, I remain indebted to his work and grateful for my time studying his philosophy. Kudos to John Henry Crosby, Anthony Gualandri, and the others at the Legacy Project for their promotion of his work and for their efforts to bring von Hildebrand's thinking into dialogue with other philosophers and multiple disciplines. The conference is titled The Christian Personalism of Dietrich von Hildebrand: Exploring His Philosophy of Love. For more information, visit the conference website: www.hildebrandlegacy.org/rome.

The White House: Fictional Character Edition

If the White House was run by characters from a work of fiction, which fictional work would provide you with your ideal administration? I'd pick The Lord of the Rings. Here's my line-up: Aragorn as President, Gandalf as his senior advisor and Chief of Staff, Galadriel as VP, Faramir as Secretary of Defense, Arwin as Secretary of State, Samwise as Secretary of Agriculture, Eomer as Secretary of Transportation, Frodo as Attorney General, Eowyn as Secretary of Homeland Security, Gimli as Teasury Secretary. Treebeard heads the EPA. The concise Legolas would make a good press secretary. Merry and Pippin run HUD. The hobbits alone could clean up Washington with all their experience at scouring the Shire!

[Update]

A reader reminds me that I forgot Bilbo, who, he says, and I agree, would make a fine head of the Secret Service. I'm also thinking the Balrog would make a good press secretary on days when the White House faces a hostile press.

A Perverse Prayer on Facebook

A number of my friends on Facebook have posted the following on their status:
DEAR LORD, THIS YEAR YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTOR, PATRICK SWAYZIE. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTRESS, FARAH FAWCETT. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE SINGER, MICHAEL JACKSON. I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW, MY FAVORITE PRESIDENT IS BARACK OBAMA. AMEN.
The post, of course, is a joke, and I'm sure that none of my fellows on Facebook truly wish harm upon the President of the United States or are actually praying this prayer. Nevertheless, the post means something. It implies a wish that God would take the life of Barack Obama, and it implies this wish whether or not the poster actually shares the wish or expresses the wish in his or her prayer life. Indeed, to use the form of a prayer to joke about God bringing about someone's death qualifies as an example of using the Lord's name in vain. Furthermore, the joke disrespects the dead. I certainly wouldn't take kindly to someone using my deceased daughter in a joke that implied a wish for a person's death.

Schadenfreude

My son informs us that he wants a TV in his room. He's three. I don't usually laugh when people don't get what they want, but I sometimes make exceptions.

Because Megan Fox Wasn't in Firefly

Chief among my disappointments in the cancellation of Joss Whedon's show Firefly was that Whedon wasn't able to develop the villainous character Saffron, played charmingly and tantalizingly by the lovely Christina Hendricks. She appeared in only two episodes, but ruled the screen in both. Saffron would have made a fiery reoccurring character and perhaps an eventual regular member of the cast. Well, as far as I know, there's no plan to resurrect Firefly or make a sequel to the movie Serenity, but there may be a trace of justice in the world. After closing out of my email, I noticed and a headline about Megan Fox being beaten out for Esquire's "best-looking woman" feature. And who garnered the most votes? Why, Christina Hendricks! She's apparently a star in a television show I don't watch because I don't watch television, and I've no doubt her work in that show is stellar, but if the movement of the stars has anything to so with Hendricks's win, I've little doubt it's due to the universe balancing out the cosmic disorder caused by Firefly's cancellation. And who better to bring order than the actress who played the disorder-bringing Saffron! Now, if only Whedon can get his own network, I might start taking a less tragic view of the cosmos.

Checking and Balancing Power in the Church

Power wielded in the Church offers no fewer temptations and dangers than power wielded in the State, and, in some ways, those in the Church's political culture face unique, heightened temptations. Therefore, just as a system of checks and balances is needed in the secular state to keep secular power within legitimate limits, so too is such a system needed in the Church to prevent power from extending beyond the limits of legitimacy. Such a system would obviously look very different in the hierarchical structure of the Church than in the democratic structure of the United States; it would not have to imply a division of powers into three separate but equal branches, for instance. Indeed, the particular structure of the Church may make checking and balancing power more difficult, at least in theory, than arranging power through modern constitutions and social contracts. As the Church is not a democracy and isn't meant to be one, I'm not sure how such a system would be constructed; nevertheless, instituting measures to prevent the abuse and misuse of power remains a vital task before the Church, especially in the wake of the abuse scandal.

When power is abused, loyalty to those in power can become a vice. In her most recent column, Peggy Noonan tells us about Cardinal Law's reaction to a piece she wrote in 2002 responding to the abuse scandal: "We don't need friends of the church turning on the church at such a difficult time," she quotes him as saying. "We need loyalty when the church is going through a tough time." I'd say we need a devotion to truth and justice when the Church is going through a tough time; these are, after all, among the things towards which the Church is meant to direct us. Loyalty has its place, of course, but not at the expense of truth and justice. And not at the expense of people. If anything, loyalty to the Church today means insisting that the Church tell the true story about and behind the abuse and not leave revelation to the media.

Telling the Church's Story

I'm more than old enough to remember the Church before the sickening abuse and cover-up scandals, but Catholics much younger than me know firsthand no such time. The Church's story they have experienced is a story marked by institutional sin, failure, and crime. They know it as a corrupt and scandalous institution. This dark time in the Church's history spans but part of my life, but it may span the entirety of theirs. Unless the Church authorities fully address the conditions that allowed for abuse to occur and, perhaps more importantly, the conditions that contributed to the systematic cases of cover-up, generations will go by before people inside and outside the Church cease to dig for answers and to narrate new stories. The Church presents itself to the world as the pillar and foundation of truth, as the moral authority in this fallen world, as the authoritative interpreter of the moral law. We should only expect that those inside and outside the Church will hold it to a high standard and jump all over it when its authorities undermine and let fall the truth through lies, authoritarianism, and lawlessness. As long as there is a hidden story to find, there will be those seeking to find that story and tell it. Therefore, the Church can reclaim its own narrative only by speaking the full truth of what happened, how it happened, who was involved and how, and, moreover, by taking responsibility for the actions that comprise its story.

Environmental Hermeneutics

I attended the annual North Texas Philosophical Association conference this past weekend and was treated to a number of diverse presentations. A few of them dealt with a new branch of philosophy called environmental hermeneutics, which, as the name suggests, applies the relatively new philosophy of hermeneutics to the relatively new environmental philosophy. If hermeneutics is the study of interpretation, environmental hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of the environment. David Utsler and Nathan Bell, building on the philosophies of Ricoeur and Gadamer, explored what it means to interpret environments (and whether we even can interpret environments), how interpreting the environment leads to self-interpretation, and how interpretation theory can contribute to environmental theory and practice. Irene Klaver, while not addressing hermeneutics per se, had much to say about motivating people to care for their environment by helping them see how the story of their environment constitutes their own personal story. As I understand it, there are only about a dozen scholars worldwide focusing on environmental hermeneutics, but I hope the field grows within he academic world and soon comes to offer much nourishing sustenance to society.

A Sign You're at a Philosophy Conference

Walking into the men's restroom, I hear, spoken loudly and enthusiastically from the women's restroom across the hallway, the word "Dasein." I attended the North Texas Philosophical Association conference at UNT this weekend, and the scene mentioned above really, truly, happened. It was awesome.

Unchecked Power

There’s no moral difference between the assassination of a U.S. citizen and the assassination of someone who is not a U.S. citizen – both are equally evil – yet news that President Obama has claimed the authority to assassinate U.S. citizens remains remarkable because it is an instance of the President of the United States claiming unchecked and unlimited power. Citizenship functions, or is supposed to function, as a check on the power of the State, but here we have current president swiping the check of citizenship aside so that he can go for the killing strike unhindered. Even President Bush didn’t claim such frightful power. Obama’s move takes us closer neither to peace nor to safety. (VN)

Vagrant Thought

Turns out hatred and fear are not virtues. I may have to rethink my politics.

Lamentation

My son, after vomiting his dinner onto the hallway at church, looks down and laments, "But I wanted that tuna casserole!"