Metaphysics and Abortion

"The pro-life position has nothing to do with metaphysics."
That's Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry responding to this post by Matthew Yglesias in which Yglesias says that he doesn't accept "the erroneous metaphysics of the anti-abortion movement." I'm not sure what Yglesias means by the word "metaphysics," but Gobry clearly takes him to mean religious beliefs, and sets out to frame the anti-abortion argument in non-religious terms:
Whether life begins at conception isn’t a matter of religious faith, it’s a scientific question, and the answer isn’t very hard. Of course, you can choose to disbelieve it, just like you can choose to not to believe that CO2 molecules redirect infrared variations.

Now, science isn’t a moral guide. The fact that a fetus is a living human being doesn’t necessarily entail that it should receive legal protection. But again, resolving this issue requires no recourse to metaphysics.

It requires asking what are the criteria for qualifying as a person endowed with rights.

At first blush, it seems to me and many others that the entire project of the Enlightenment and modern Western civilization is premised on the idea that every single human being has certain inalienable rights. That these rights are not earned through accomplishment or inherited from forebears but that they are, well, universal, received simply by virtue of being human, and that it is incumbent on any just, or at least liberal, government to protect the rights of all human beings under its writ, not just the most visible.
Thing is, what Gobry's describing here is metaphysics (and ethics, of course). Asking from a philosophical standpoint what it means to be a human person is asking a metaphysical question. Because metaphysics studies being, philosophical inquiry into what it means to be human falls under metaphysics. Now it may be that Yglesias doesn't accept certain religious beliefs about the nascent human life, and that's why he rejects the arguments of pro-lifers; but it may also (or instead) be the case that Yglesias disagrees with the philosophical arguments that attribute personhood to the unborn human life. (VN)

Sartrean Tantrums

Though typically cheerful, when my five-year old son devolves into an arms-flailing fit of pouts and whines and screams, he ventures well beyond expressing dislike for the situation or the consequences or his parents: he goes full throttle into existential anti-metaphysics, angrily voicing his wish that nothing existed, not even God.  There's a price to pay for being the child of parents who have degrees in philosophy.  I do wonder what he'll be like as a teenager.

Profits before People

Richard A. Epstein of the Hoover Institute is reportedly an expert on constitutional law, intellectual property, and property rights, but he doesn't seem to understand the meaning of the preposition before. He chides the pope for advancing "a wickedly deformed foundation for social policy" because the pope had the gall to denounce people who put "profits before people." For reasons that elude me, Epstein seems to think that the pope has condemned profits. He then ludicrously implies that the pope sees the world in the abstract while he sees the real world, the world in which profits are passed on to real people. A quick search of the pope's own website would reveal to Epstein that the pope wasn't suggesting that profits should disappear or that investment capital should be made scarce by the public sector.

Besides, the pope, whose organization is run largely by the help of investment capital, knows perfectly well that profits can and do benefit people. When he says that "the economy cannot be measured by the maximum profit but by the common good," he's not at all condemning profit, but rather stating that profits should go toward the common good, which includes the benefit of people. Profits are made for people, not people for profits. Putting people before profits doesn't mean making profits scarce; before doesn't mean make go away. It means that people are more important than profits, that people should not be reduced to mere means in the pursuit of profits, that profits should not be greedily horded so that people are deprived of life's necessities and basic comforts. (VN)

Welfare as Armed Robbery

Kevin D. Williamson on welfare recipients and, if I've interpreted him correctly, government workers:
They will not willingly give up those checks, and there will always be a Barack Obama out there to profit by pretending that pillaging half of the country to bribe the other is a kind of moral crusade, rather than a lightly disguised form of armed robbery.
Pillaging! Bribing! Crusading! These sure as summer sunshine describe many a state throughout history, and yet, as metaphors for our welfare system, I just can't make sense of them.  I understand what Williamson means and why he depicts welfare as armed robbery, and I imagine he could, with no additional research needed, put before the court evidence of greed and envy being cleverly manipulated by sanctimonious-sounding politicians and motivating voters who aren't exactly hurting in our economy.

And yet...

Williamson notes that "more than 100 million Americans receive health-care benefits at public expense, either through entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Medicare or through benefit programs for government employees."  Okay, so taxpayers pay for the health-care benefits of some but not all of their fellow Americans.  Does this mean that the recipients of these benefits are using the state to rob the public?  Maybe in some cases that's what's going on in terms of motivation, but would it not be more accurate to say that these programs function as a means for the public to contribute to the common good of health-care?  What makes these programs robbery?  That taxpayers are forced under the law to pay for them? 

Unless all taxation that benefits only some of the public constitutes robbery, I'm at a loss here.  No, I'd still be at a loss.   

An Excuse to Post about Kate Winslet

She saved a 90-year old woman from a blazing luxury home after a destructive lightning strike.  The home belonged to Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson.  He told CBS News:  "My mother's 90 years old and, in order -- although she can walk -- in order to speed the process up, (Winslet) picked my mother up and carried her, carried her out of the house, and so Kate helped rescue my mother."

H/T: Mrs. Darwin

A PETA Scheme

Feministe's Jill on PETA's idiotic plan to start a porn site: "Definitely sounds like an effective way to get people to go vegan — associate animal cruelty with sexual arousal. I see absolutely no potential downsides."

Animals deserve better than PETA.  So do people, come to think of it.

The Logic of Unions

Ned Resnikoff explains:
When some union or another supports a policy that enriches its members at the expense of the broader public, there’s a tendency for organized labor’s critics to point to this as proof that unions are malevolent entities that must be destroyed.

But of course it’s not the job of the unions to represent everyone’s interests. They need only represent the interests of their workers. That these interests might occasionally run counter to broader considerations is no reason to blanketly condemn institutions that, on balance, do far more good than harm. Nor does acknowledging that the interests of unions will occasionally run counter to the public interest undermine the principled argument for more unionization. Unions are good and important because workers need the institutional resources to check employer domination. That doesn’t mean that workers will invariably hold the moral high ground in conflicts between labor and capital; it just means that they have a right to voice their concerns and not get steamrolled.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers as Pro-Choice

I can see why Tana Ganeva is alarmed at the ongoing and increasing conversion of crisis pregnancy centers into "limited-service" medical clinics. She summarizes:
So as one arm of the anti-choice movement tries to eviscerate the nationwide women's health services delivered by Planned Parenthood for decades, another is helping boost a version that offers severely limited services stacked with an anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-sex, aggressively Christian worldview.
Anti-abortion activists are attempting to take over an area of service currently administered largely by pro-choice organizations: women's health services. As defenders of choice typically consider the anti-choice movement to be at heart anti-women, the replacement of Planned Parenthood clinics with crisis pregnancy centers manifests a design cynical and perverse. Anti-women forces are seeking to dominate women's health. If I saw the issue from their perspective, I'd be alarmed as well.

My view, however, is that, provided they're done well, crisis pregnancy centers are precisely that on which pro-lifers should be focusing their attention and resources. Done well means of course that they operate honestly and are upfront about their social agendas. It also means that they should, where possible, offer prenatal care, financial assistance for maternity costs, and services and assistance to families after the child has left the womb. If these centers and clinics endeavor to persuade women to choose life, they should also provide the financial and other material support necessary for that choice to be made. This obviously requires funding, and so pro-lifers have a pretty huge financial responsibility toward those whose choices they strive to influence.

Stop Hitting Yourself!

H/T: Joe Carter

Losing Faith in the Free Market

My son starts Kindergarten on Monday.  We're very excited.  The school sent us a list of classroom supplies we're supposed to bring on his first day.  My wife obtained all of the items except one: colored construction paper of an unusual size.  She checked several stores and couldn't find any in stock, so we have what I hear is called a first world problem.

I spoke with some parents with children in the same independent school district, and they related their own difficulties in years past with finding this special construction paper.  We don't have a dearth of stores here. This city is consumerism central.  It's almost like one big mall.  For reasons I cannot fathom, the stores simply don't keep enough of this paper in stock.  I say unfathomable because people in this area are nothing if not capitalists, and yet, the city's sellers of construction paper seem incapable of realizing that 1) the ISD's requirement that parents purchase a specific product establishes a demand for that product and therefore 2) it's economically advantageous to increase supply of the product.  Like, double duh!

I'm half ready to start my own business selling construction paper for the few weeks before school begins. 

Some Texas Homeschooling

Late yesterday afternoon, while the wife was in the kitchen preparing dinner and I sat on the couch holding and making faces at our infant daughter, our soon-to-go-to-Kindergarten son came down the stairs carrying a toy revolver.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked, excited to see me home from work. 

"Rick Perry?" I ventured.

"No.  Who's Rick Perry?"

"He's the governor of Texas.  And he wants to be the President of the United States."

The boy pondered that for a second and answered, "No. I can't be Rick Perry.  He doesn't carry a gun."

Clearly I had some educating to do.

A Liturgical Imagination

After illustrating some ways in which language affects our relationship to time, space, objects, and color, Timothy Heines segues into the symbolic actions of the Catholic liturgy:
There is a reason why we celebrate this liturgy the way we do. As one of my mentors once wrote, the prayers of the mass are a tether of the imagination. We need to look at the symbolic actions of the liturgy as being ways of shaping and deepening our imagination far beyond language. One of the great things about the music and movement, the special language and rituals of our worship is that it will effect many people profoundly who may not be steeped in catechesis or theology. If you have ever celebrated a vibrant liturgy with special needs children, you know what I mean. Many of them have a more profound experience than the adults there. I HATE it when we explain rites when we do them because all we are doing is articulating the most basic level of meaning and in so doing are implying that the symbols are equivalencies, which they aren’t. There is so much more going on!
(Image: Jacopo Tintoretto's The Last Supper)

The Origin of Opinions

I faintly remember walking along a playground with a group of friends, debating, with as much firmness and conviction as children under the age of ten could muster, the worthiness of the newly released Nintendo Entertainment System compared to home computers like the Commodore 64. I argued that home computers were far superior to home gaming systems because computers could perform useful functions besides just having users play games. At the time I was convinced by my own argument, but thinking back on the scene now, it occurs to me that my argument against game consoles arose from the fact that I didn’t have one and, unknown to myself, really really wanted one. I would later get a NES, have distant worlds of fun with Link and Luigi and Donkey Kong, and realize I was an idiot.

I would like to say that now, over two-and-a-half decades later, the basis of my opinions has evolved from unconscious desires to something approaching principle and knowledge. I’d like to say that I’ve matured in how I come to form my opinions. However, as much as I would like to say these things, I’d wager a Playstation 3, if I had one, that a careful exploration into the origin of my opinions ends not so much at the premises of sound thought, but at the tell-tale signs of deep-seated emotions, prejudices, and desires.

Portland’s Pro-Life Hospitals

The Portland Tribune reports: "All 17 Portland-area hospitals have agreed to put what they call a 'hard stop' on elective induction and caesarian section births before 39 weeks, unless those inductions are medically necessary." Why? "Rates of elective inductions and C-sections have continued to rise even as a growing collection of data has made clear that the early births sometimes sacrifice the health of newborns, and add to overall health care spending."

Conor Friedersdorf explains why this new policy is surprising but welcome news: "In this undertaking, the participating hospitals will take a hit to their profits, make life less convenient for their doctors, and face greater difficulty efficiently allocating beds in the maternity ward. But they'll also turn out healthier patients."

My wife's three births were medically necessary inductions, but their necessity came from being well past the due dates. I showed this news story to her, and she wholeheartedly agreed with the hospitals' wisdom.

Good for them.


From "Tradition and the Individual Talent" by T.S. Eliot:
Some one said: "The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did." Precisely, and they are that which we know.

On Christianists and Christianism

Responding to criticisms from Alan Jacobs, Andrew Sullivan clarifies what he means by "Christianism" and answers whether he considers Martin Luther King, Jr. to have been a Christianist:
Christianism, in my definition, is the fusion of politics and religion for the advancement of political goals. And in that core sense, yes, King was a left-wing Christianist. He used the Bible to make his case, and fought to remove liberties from his fellow citizens in order to expand liberty for all in the name of God. I think it's possible that Christianism can lead to good results. How can one appreciate a man like Wilberforce without it? But it can equally lead to bad results: slavery, Prohibition, the subjugation of women, the persecution of gays, etc. All these were buttressed and perpetuated by Christianist power-politics for centuries. The question is: does this fusion of politics and religion, overall, help or hurt our polity?
Beth Haile at Catholic Moral Theology asks if Sullivan would consider some official statements made by Catholic bishops as examples of Christianism. She then surmises:
Maybe what Sullivan meant to say was that the social mission of the Church should trump political ideology, and there I think he would be right. When labels like “Republican” or “Democrat” or “conservative” or “liberal” are more important than the words of scripture or the tradition of the Church, we clearly have a problem. Maybe what Sullivan really has a problem with is not the fusion of religion and politics to advance the goals of politics, but rather the fusion of religion and politics to advance the narrow goals of a particular political party. If this is what Sullivan means by “Christianism,” he has identified a real problem indeed.
I don't think that's it. The fusion of Christianism, if I understand the term correctly, is a fusion in which the only things fused together are politics and religion. A fusion of politics, religion, and philosophy, in which the advancement of political goals had both religious and philosophical support, would not, strictly speaking, result in Christianism. I'm a Christianist if my only basis for opposing torture and working to outlaw it is my Christianity. However, if I also have a non-religious moral basis in support of my attempts to outlaw torture, then I am not acting as a Christianist. (VN)

Memory, Narrative, and Disconnected Knowledge

Alex Knapp writes:
I think it’s a bad idea to treat knowledge as trivia that you can always “look up later.” When you do that, you miss patterns and connections. It’s those connections that lead to creativity and wisdom. This is not to dismiss that convenience of internet research. But the speed of research is a supplementary tool to education – it can’t replace it.

Gaining knowledge is hard work — harder than tapping keys on a smartphone. But it’s worth it.
Exactly.  And I say this not only because I don't have a smartphone.  It's especially true because much of our knowledge takes the form of a narrative.  Historical knowledge obviously takes the shape of a story, a whole of connected (plotted) parts, but even scientific knowledge can have narrative shape, such as when the scientist tells us how the cosmos functions, what happened to the dinosaurs, how life came to be on earth, or how the spitting spider hunts for prey. 

The narrative then plays a significant role in our memory.  We typically remember complex stories better than masses of disconnected trivia because the story puts own knowledge into an intelligible whole in which each parts has an intelligible place.  Google, as excellent as it is, doesn't do that for us.

Why Footprints?

"When asked why there was only one set of footprints, Jesus replied, 'The Sand People always ride single file to hide their numbers.'"

via Andrew Hackman

Ebert on Evangelization

Well, the conversion of others in general:
Your religion is a matter between you and the god of your definition. The eagerness to convert outsiders strikes me as one of the aspects of a cult. I believe the low emphasis placed on conversion by Jews is admirable. If you want to become a Jew, you go to them. I believe religions should convert by attraction, not promotion. Respect for other beliefs, or the lack of beliefs, should be at the heart of religions.
This sounds nice, but it fails to account for the belief many religious people have that the tenets of their religion are universally true and meant for everybody. Religion is not merely a matter between an individual and the god of his or her definition: many religions don't even work that way. Religions can also be also about community, shared ritual, and the ultimate destiny of humanity. If you believe your religion speaks to matters of eternal life and death, you'd seem pretty duty-bound to share your religion with outsiders.

Rather than avoid promotion, I say share your religious beliefs in a spirit of hospitality and with an ear open to the possibility that what you share may not be what you believe it to be, namely true. Devotion to the truth should have nothing to fear from criticism, evidence, and argument. I want to hear what the believers of other faiths and religions have to say. I desire the company and counsel of agnostics and atheists. And I want to share what I believe to be true. Let's dialogue. (VN)


From "The Art of Fiction" by Henry James:
It appears to me that no one can ever have made a serious artistic attempt without becoming conscious of an immense increase—a kind of revelation—of freedom. One perceives in that case—by the light of a heavenly ray—that the province of art is all life, all feeling, all observation, all vision. As Mr. Besant so justly intimates, it is all experience.

Why Be A Religious Feminist?

Shoshie at Feministe asks the question and states her reasons.

Conscience and Contraception

In the wake of the recent HHS regulations concerning women's preventive services, and in the amidst the outcry over the allegedly much-too-narrow religious exemptions, Matthew Archbold of Creative Minority Report accuses the Catholic Health Association’s Sister Carol Keehan of being pleased that the Obama administration is requiring health insurance companies to cover contraception without a co-pay.

I’m going to assume that Archbold just egregiously misread the Catholic Health Association’s letter of response to the new requirements because the letter itself clearly says that the association “is very concerned about the inadequacy of the conscience protections with respect to the coverage of contraception.” Rather, the CHA is pleased—nay, “delighted”—that “health insurance coverage must include critical screening services without any cost-sharing.”

Archbold’s primary complaint, however, regards Sr. Keehan’s claim that the administration “does not intend to include abortifacient drugs as covered contraception,” a statement that puts her at odds once again with pro-life groups and the USCCB. Archbold calls her claim a “shocking and disgusting untruth.” Perhaps because the allegedly offending drug, ella, was approved by the FDA without being classified as an abortifacient, Sr. Keehan chose not pick a fight with the administration over its classification when publicly expressing concern about the new regulations. Presumably she wants to persuade the HHS to broaden the religious exemptions. Or perhaps she agrees with the FDA.  In any case, she certainly provoked pro-lifers with her statement. And the banners have risen!

I imagine the outcry over conscience protections and the heated infighting among Catholics strikes most of our society as not a little crazy. After all, despite the official teachings, most Catholics use contraception and see nothing wrong with their doing so. The immorality of contraception makes no sense to our contemporary culture. People don’t buy the religious arguments against its use; nor are they persuaded by non-religious arguments, such as those premised on the biological purpose of the sexual organs constituting some kind of absolute moral norm.

Moreover, we generally uphold contraception as a right, something worthy of public support and funding, even if some fringe crazies find it morally objectionable. And don’t we all pretty much have to support something with our tax dollars we find objectionable? Seriously, what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that some Catholics not unreasonably want to practice their faith freely and without being forced by the government to cooperate materially with something their religion has always deemed immoral.

Frankly, whether the Catholic Church’s position on contraception is right on the money or just plain nutty, the HHS is acting rather stupidly by so clearly infringing on religious liberty. It fuels the notion that the Obama administration doesn’t care about protecting people of faith, and it’s likely to provoke a long-term backlash. Issuing the regulations but with stronger and broader religious exemptions may not have pleased all Catholics or others morally opposed to contraception, but it would have stifled complaints about the infringement upon religious liberty.

Besides, would the proposed benefits of the new regulations have suffered much as a result? (VN)

Does Relativism Allow for Normative Terms?

Credible sources have forever told me that The New York Times is a bastion of liberalism, but now all of a sudden I’m confused because here’s Paul Boghossian on the Times website arguing against moral relativism and for the quest for moral absolutes.

I follow much of his argument, but he loses me with this:
What’s essential to “right” and “wrong” is that they are normative terms, terms that are used to say how things ought to be, in contrast with how things actually are. But what relativistic cousin of “right” and “wrong” could play anything like such a normative role?

Most moral relativists say that moral right and wrong are to be relativized to a community’s “moral code.” According to some such codes, eating beef is permissible; according to others, it is an abomination and must never be allowed. The relativist proposal is that we must never talk simply about what’s right or wrong, but only about what’s “right or wrong relative to a particular moral code.”

The trouble is that while “Eating beef is wrong” is clearly a normative statement, “Eating beef is wrong relative to the moral code of the Hindus” is just a descriptive remark that carries no normative import whatsoever. It’s just a way of characterizing what is claimed by a particular moral code, that of the Hindus. We can see this from the fact that anyone, regardless of their views about eating beef, can agree that eating beef is wrong relative to the moral code of the Hindus.
True, when the moral relativist says that Action X is wrong relative to Moral Code Y, the relativist is describing rather than stating a norm. However, when those who subscribe to Moral Code Y say that those who also follow this moral code ought not do X, they are making normative statement, even if the norm only applies to those who follow the code. The code described by the relativist may not be universally normative, but it can still establish a norm, a standard of right and wrong and a sense of how things ought to be for those who follow the code. The relativist position, as I understand it, is that there are no universal moral norms, not that there are no kinds of norms whatsoever.

None of this is to say that moral relativism is a tenable position.  And maybe I’m missing why a relativist cannot posit a moral norm that is only conditionally binding. (VN)

Eddard Stark’s Ethics of Honor

“Have you no shred of honor?”

Ned Stark asks this question to the ever-plotting Lord Petyr Baelish toward the end of A Game of Thrones. The question exposes the Lord of Winterfell’s two biggest failings: 1) he fails time and again to realize that those around him (deceitful schemers he inexplicably trusts) have less care for honor than the Wall has warmth, and 2) his guiding ethical philosophy, so to speak, is as morally insufficient as it is simplistic. I wish to focus on this second weakness.

No one can say that Eddard Stark isn’t principled and doesn’t endeavor (most of the time) to stay true to his principles. He’s an honorable man, truly, but his overall moral outlook makes for bad moral thought. How so? Consider his conversation with Baelish in which the quote above appears (spoilers to follow).

King Robert lies wounded, near death, and has entrusted the kingdom to Ned, having named him Protector of the Realm. Ned is to run the affairs of the kingdom until Joffrey comes of age, but there’s a hitch. What Ned knows, but Robert doesn’t, is that none of Robert’s children are actually his. Ned can’t bear to add this news to the dying king’s burden, so unbeknownst to the king, he asks for Baelish’s help in transitioning the crown over to Stannis, Robert’s brother, who “by rights” should get the throne.

“So it would seem,” Baelish says to Ned’s assessment of the situation, “unless…” Baelish concedes the right, but suggests that Ned take the power himself, make peace with the Lannisters, and arrange a few marriages that will further unite the kingdom. Ned will have none of this: “There is no seeming to this. Stannis is the heir. Nothing can change that.”

For Ned, the matter is simple. Stannis has the rightful claim; therefore, he should get the crown. To suggest otherwise is to propose treason and dishonor. There’s nothing to discuss. Baelish however, duplicitous and dishonorable as he is, actually puts forward a moral argument for his plan and against Ned’s: putting Stannis on the throne would mean war and social upheaval. Robert’s brother will undoubtedly have the Lannisters’ heads on spikes, prompting Casterly Rock to rise. Those who once sided with King Aerys will have good cause to fear Stannis’ taste for vengeance. “Seat Stannis on the Iron Throne and I promise you, the realm will bleed.”

Ned Stark is unmoved: “It is not a choice. Stannis is the heir.” He dismisses Baelish’s reasoning, but he doesn’t have an answer for it. In Ned’s thinking, it really does not matter, morally speaking, if bloodshed results from giving Stannis the kingdom. What’s best for Westeros and its inhabitants doesn’t enter into his moral calculus. Consequences don’t matter. The most he can come up with is repugnance at the role the Lannister’s played in the assassination attempt against his young son Bran.

Ned’s “ethics” of honor falls short because he doesn’t have a basis for judging what is worthy of honor. He wishes to honor the law governing the transition of the crown—at least now that Robert is king—but his honor gives him no cause to consider how honoring the law may dishonor the people ruled by whoever sits on the Iron Throne. It’s not as though he weighs competing goods and makes a choice between them: he denies there’s even a choice! “It is not a choice. Stannis is the heir.” Ned offers Baelish no moral argument for this assertion because he has none. There’s nothing to argue. The course is clear; the Others take the consequences.

Whether Ned’s conclusion is better or worse than the plan of action proposed by Baelish is not my issue: my problem with Ned is that he’s all principle and no prudence. For all his honor, he lacks phronesis. Only when the lives of his daughters are threatened does he make a choice and commit what he considers to be treason, publicly naming Joffrey the true king. He betrays his honor, but perhaps his honor was worthy of betrayal. It would have been more honorable for him to at least consider the lives of those endangered by a King Stannis before he set about bringing Stannis to power.

(Cross-posted at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen)

Religious Certainty Is Overrated

Someone close to me recently expressed some concern about a post I’d written a while back explaining how I currently understand (misunderstand?) my religious faith. The point of concern was my abandonment of certainty and of any interest in attaining it. If I’m less than certain in my religious faith, is my faith then weak or in question? In forsaking any certainty, do I risk forsaking my faith?

At the risk of sounding coy, I must confess the answer to these questions is possibly. Anyhow, I have two reasons for why I have no religious certainty and why I don’t think such certainty is really possible.

First, the basis of my religious knowledge—my knowledge of revealed truths—is the say-so of self-defined religious authorities—authorities who claim, without proof or conclusive evidence, that they speak for God. I believe them to be divinely inspired, at times, but neither they nor I can prove this for certain.

Second, what I call my religious faith may be something other than religious faith, either in part or in total. John Caputo explains why in his book Against Ethics:
The acting subject is something acted upon even in its very acting, for the acting subject is itself a function of the anonymous, presubjective forces by which it is traversed—by language, the unconscious, by the weight and momentum of its own past, of the collective past to which it belongs, by the biochemistry and neurophysiology of which it is constituted, and by numberless (because anonymous) other forces. When the subject acts, we cannot be sure what acts, i.e., what is happening, because the individual subject is an irreducible complex of other events.
I cannot dismiss the possibility that my faith isn’t something otherwise than a response to a revealing God. It’s possible that what I call my faith experiences are the result of digestion, bodily chemistry, neurosis, the fear of death, or the desire for meaning. Because I do not know myself with certainty, I cannot know my faith with certainty. I cannot say for sure what it is.

I’m not in the least bothered by my uncertainty. It’s not as though certainty is one of the virtues, theological or otherwise. I seem to get along, faith-wise, just fine without it. (VN)

A Fantasy Bubble

Writing at The Atlantic, E.D. Kain considers whether we're in a fantasy bubble, whether it will soon burst, and whether that's even a disconcerting prospect.  His conclusion:
The fantasy bubble may still be a long ways from bursting, but I wouldn't expect it to last forever. For fantasy fans, this shouldn't be too demoralizing. Too much magic has always ruined good fantasy, after all.
Agreed. I'm close to finishing A Clash of Kings, the second book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, and I'm very impressed with how minimal he maintains the presence of magic.  It's there, but lurking; and because magic only rarely makes an appearance, its entrance on the stage thunders with sound and fury, signifying everything. I'm pleased to see the series reach a larger audience through its adaptation on HBO, but fantasy will continue on just fine even after it's no longer big business.

Fantasy Series and Redundancy

My sister-in-law Alyssa upon hearing about the length of A Song of Ice and Fire:
I guess not all the awesomest books come in trilogies; lately people seem to take after C.S. Lewis and do it in sevens. Which is awesome. Just don't pull an R.A. Salvatore and publish it in like, twenties. It gets really redundant. We get it, Drizzt overthrows the Drow prejudice in the Surface World and kicks a lot of ass. It's only cool for the first seven or eight books.

The Jedi Suck

Don’t get me wrong. I like the Jedi. But the more I’ve casually watched the movies as my son regularly absorbs their mythology, the clearer it’s become to me that Lucas exposes their philosophy as fundamentally inadequate to overcome the most important trials of life. For all their supposed wisdom, the Jedi practice a way of life that’s about as holistic as the pulled-off ears of a gundark.  Even with all their ancient traditions and stores of knowledge, they’re utterly unprepared for the rise of Sidious and for the interior turmoil of their Chosen One. 

It’s Luke Skywalker, who’s given only a taste of Jedi training, who sees the path to defeating Vader.  Sensing lingering goodness in his father, Luke learns that both Yoda’s warning that the Dark Side will forever dominate one’s destiny and Kenobi’s association of killing Vader with the return of the Jedi are just plain wrong.  Luke’s quest to save his father by guiding him back to the good side is a course of action inconceivable to the wise Jedi; it never would have occurred to them.  When Luke raises the possibility, Kenobi talks about Vader being more machine than man, as if that’s relevant.    

When the Jedi specters of Kenobi and Yoda appeared to Luke at the end of the series, he should have mouthed “I told you so, losers” before rejoining the celebration with Leia. (VN)