Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I'm Not a Scientist, But...

This is darkly funny:

A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to "debate" on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.

This is the reason why Popular Science (which I don't read) is no longer allowing comments on their new articles; because the big mean "trolls and spammers" are confusing people with their "war on expertise."

Huh, you know, in my experience, genuine trolls are not usually very convincing; they tend to be more in the "swear, swear,out-of-context fact, CAPSLOCK SWEAR, dubious statistics, accusation of racism" department. Intelligent readers can usually pick them out.

No, I don't really buy the "trolls are skewering people's reactions" excuse. I think the above-quoted paragraph gives a much more honest glimpse into their thought process. Simply put, too many peons are questioning their scientific overlords and the overlords (excuse me; 'protectors') don't like it.

The sentence "Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again." is particularly illuminating. It's science. Everything is up for grabs! Science is supposed to be the pursuit of truth, wherever it may lead. The history of science is simply stiff with venerable theories and long-held consensueses  being overturned by mavericks who dared to question the establishment (Copernicus, Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, etc.). In fact, it's practically the definition of a great scientific achievement that it undermines the "bedrock scientific doctrine" of the time.

If more and more people are questioning the doctrines of Darwinian Evolution and Anthropomorphic Global Warming, maybe that means scientists should take a more critical view of those subjects instead of just blissfully going along with the established consensus. Maybe, instead of complaining about how persecuted they are, they should take a step back and ask themselves "okay, do the observed facts actually still support these theories and why?" Wouldn't that be both more apt to convince skeptics and more, well, scientific than just trying to shut out opposition?

That's the big difference between religious and scientific doctrine: religious doctrine is revealed, so the basic 'facts,' so to speak, never change: Scripture says what it says and no one has the authority to make it say anything different. Scientific doctrine is based entirely on observation, meaning that it only holds as long as the observed facts coincide with it. This makes them more bluntly demonstrable (i.e. you can observe water boiling at 100 degrees in a way you can't observe the Eucharist turning into the Body and Blood of Our Lord), but it also makes them more vulnerable to change (since the law "water always boils at 100 degrees" only holds good as long as no one observes it boiling at 80 degrees).

Scientific theories, especially comparatively recent ones like evolution and global warming, are always subject to change; every scientific theory is always one experiment away from obselescence. I would think that a magazine supposedly dedicated to the advancement of science would understand this.

Vivat Christus Rex!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Total Surrender or Why the Church is so Exclusive

“The Kingdom of God may be likened to a treasure buried in a field. And where a man discovers where it is buried he hides it again and for joy goes, sells all that he owns, and buys the field.” Matt. 13: 44-45

                Funny; whenever Jesus talks about “selling all that [we] own” we always assume He’s talking about material possessions.
                I think the biggest reason people leave the Church is because of this very reason: they don’t realize that “selling all that we own” means all that we own; it doesn’t just mean our possessions, it means our will, our talents, our hopes, our dreams, our families, our friends, and our country. In short, ‘all’ means everything. When we present ourselves before Jesus and ask to follow Him, there is nothing at all that we can reserve for ourselves; everything has to be up for grabs.
                In order to follow Jesus properly, to truly understand Him, He needs to be the center of our lives. And if He is the center of our lives, then He and He alone is non-negotiable.
                Whatever it is we cannot bear to be without is what is most important to us. If we were willing to deny or abandon Jesus for the sake of anything, than that thing, and not Jesus, is the center of our lives and we lie when we call ourselves Christians. I’m as romantic as the next guy (actually, I’m probably more romantic than the next guy), but if you honestly cannot live without your husband or wife or girlfriend or boyfriend, to the point that you would abandon your faith for their sakes, then something is wrong. That would mean that they, not Jesus, is the center of your life, and “he who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10: 37).
                Harsh, isn’t it? Yes, but it’s the only way that you can honestly be said to have a real relationship with Christ. Why is that? Well, remember that God is not just the supreme being, but He is Being itself; He is the source and summit of existence. Nothing exists except that He wills it to exist, and everything depends upon God for its existence.
                Jesus is God made manifest to men. Therefore, the relationship we must have with Jesus is the same relationship that all of existence has with God: total dependence. We need to align our will with reality, and the reality is that Jesus is the source and end of our existence. If our will is anything else, that is, if we prefer anything else to Jesus, then we are engaged in an illusion. And if we love a Jesus who is content to be secondary to something else in our lives, then I’m afraid we love something that doesn’t exist.
This isn’t because Jesus is jealous or petty, but because He knows that this is how things are. The relationship that Jesus has to us might be likened to the loving friend of a madman who is trying to recall him to reality. Some might say that it would be kinder to leave the man in his addled state, but the friend knows that the only way the man will truly be happy is if he can rejoin the real world.
In the same way, we have to follow Jesus as He actually is, not as we would like Him to be. If He tells us “leave this behind” it doesn’t do any good to say “I don’t see anything wrong with it!” Whether or not there is anything wrong with it is not the point; the point is that, whatever it may be, you have to be willing to abandon it for Christ’s sake. If you are not, then that means you care more for whatever that thing may be than for Jesus.
                Incidentally, it is this demand for total surrender that gives Christianity its reputation for exclusiveness. Yes, indeed the Kingdom of God is exclusive; Jesus is very clear on that subject. It is exclusive to people who actually want it, rather than just their own image of how it ought to be.
The Church is exclusive because reality is exclusive; it is what it is and you can either accept it or go mad. If someone says “I would like to enter the Church, but I can’t accept this particular teaching” then he can’t enter unless he relinquishes whatever is holding him back, just like the madman in my example can’t rejoin the world until he escapes his delusions. That isn’t the fault of the Church, which cannot be other than she is, but the fault of the man who prefers whatever it is to life in Christ.
There are two ways something can be inclusive. It can be inclusive by being open to all who are willing to enter it or by being open to all who want to enter it. And those are not the same thing. Virtually every overweight person in the country wants to get in shape; only a few are willing to. Many people want to be astronauts or famous writers or wealthy businessmen, but only some are willing to.
You see, ‘wanting’ to do something merely means that the desire to do it exists as a psychological reality in your brain. Being willing to do something means putting that desire into practice by taking the steps and making the sacrifices to make what you desire a reality. The man in Jesus’ parable could have easily said “I want this field with the treasure in it, and I know I ought to do something about it, but I just can’t afford it. Maybe next year I’ll have saved up enough…” and he would never have gotten that treasure.
Likewise, many people want to follow Jesus in the sense that they find His teachings attractive, they like the idea of Heaven, or they believe that He is who He says He is. But far fewer are willing to do so by laying all they have aside and actually making Him the center of their lives. It’s much easier to say “well, I think He just wants me to be nice to people” or “I think it’s more important that I love others than that I go to Church” or “I don’t think he cares what I do in my bedroom, provided I give to the poor” than to actually give our lives to Him. It’s much easier to go half-way; to make Jesus an ‘important’ part of our lives, but to keep Him at arm’s length.
It doesn’t work. Jesus will have all or nothing. He wants us to love others and to go to Church. He cares about our giving to the poor and what goes on in our bedroom. He wants your enter life to be centered around Him. He wants you to surrender everything.
And that’s precisely why I find people who demand that the Church, say, ordain women so obnoxious. There are no ‘rights’ in the Church; Jesus didn’t come to give us our rights, He came to save us from them. No one should be demanding anything from Jesus. He is the one who demands from us. We come to Him on His terms or not at all, and His terms are total and unconditional surrender. Things like that are as if the prodigal son came home and said “Father, I wish to beg your forgiveness, but only if you reimburse me for all the money I wasted.” Forgiving as the father was, I think he’d say “son, I think you need to spend a little more time feeding those pigs.”

"You are in no position to make demands!"
If we truly understand what Jesus has done for us and what He is offering us, then we won’t dare make any demands. We wouldn’t even consider getting upset that He doesn’t approve of our sex life, or that we can’t work in the same job anymore, or that we don’t get to perform a certain role in the Church. A drowning man doesn’t get to call out to his rescuers “sirs, I will come aboard, but only if I am given a suitable cabin!”
This doesn’t mean that this has to happen right away (trust me, it won’t). Jesus calls us how we are, and usually how we are is a very sorry state indeed. Typically, we’re in no position to totally surrender to Jesus when we first approach Him. The important thing isn’t that we become perfectly devoted to Jesus right away; it’s that we recognize that this is the end goal. This is what we are striving for. The important thing is that we understand what the score is. 
 But here’s the kicker: the man who sold all he had to buy that field didn’t lose everything. Instead, he became much richer than he had ever been, or would have ever been. So rich that he could buy back or replace everything he had sold. When he divested himself of everything he possessed, he knew that it wasn’t necessarily going to be for good; he was going to be able to get it back, or if not exactly what he had, then something better.
Just so, when we surrender everything to Jesus that doesn’t mean He’s going to just take it all and leave us to stew. Anything worthwhile He’ll give back, better than ever; anything unacceptable He’ll replace. That’s why I say the important thing is that we be willing to abandon everything apart from Jesus, because odds are we won’t have to. Just like Abraham had to prove his faith by being willing to sacrifice Isaac, but was stopped before he had to go through with it.
Jesus doesn’t mind us having temporal blessings. When Jairas pleaded for his daughter’s life, Jesus didn’t tell him that he shouldn’t care about whether his daughter is alive, but only about God’s will. Nor, when the blind men or the lepers sought cures did He dismiss them saying that they can be just as God-fearing as they are. He wants us to be happy, and He wants us to have blessings in this life. He just doesn’t want those blessings to take His place in our hearts. In short, He wants us to see things as they are.

Vive Christus Rex!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fear of the Lord

"Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom," says the book of Sirach (1: 16). It also describes the Fear of the Lord as "honor, glory, gladness, and a crown of joy" (1: 11), yet these days we don't much like the idea of 'fearing the Lord.' We prefere "the love of the Lord" or some other such substitute.

"Are you a God fearing man?" Magneto asks thoughtfully. "Such a strange phrase. I've always thought of God as a teacher; a bringer of light, wisdom, and understanding."

I don't know what school Magneto went to, but I think most of us had at least some level of fear of our teachers (heck, he was taught by Nazi Kevin Bacon: how is that not scary?). Either we feared what they might do to us as punishment, or we respected them enough to fear disappointing them. If we felt neither, then either they weren't much of a teacher or we weren't much of a student.

Does not fear God; only plastics

And that's the thing; we fear things that we respect. We fear that which is greater than ourselves. And we especially fear that which we love.

Every great love is comprised, in part, of fear. To love something is to make ourselves vulnerable to that thing. We become not only vulnerable to grief should something happen to the thing or person we love, but also vulnerable to the one we loved himself. No one can hurt us quite as badly as one whom we love. The rebuke, rejection, or disappointment of a loved one is more cutting and painful than anything else in the world.

To love God means to fear Him; to fear His rebuke, His punishment, His justice more than we would have if we were merely cowed into service by the fear of holy smiting. The punishment of a ruler can be endured and even, in a sense, enjoyed as an act of defiance. But the punishment of a loved one, whose good opinion you value and whose approval you crave, that is a terrible thing indeed. That is something to fear.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, because the awareness that God is something to fear is the first step in realizing our true position relative to the Creator. It is where the fact that we are dependent beings becomes real to us. Only from that starting point, from the moment we realize that reality does not shift and alter to suit our needs and that there is something (or rather, someone) to whom we will be held accountable, will we be able to see things as they really are.

But there's another aspect to it; to fear the Lord, to be really in awe of this overwhelming power, justice, and love is to desire not to risk losing it for any reason whatever. That's why martyrs face death rather than renouncing the faith: because they fear the just rebuke of the Lord much more than they fear fire or racks. That's why a "God fearing man" is a good man: because he fears the rejection of God more than poverty, disgrace, slander, or any other evil that other men can inflict upon him.

The fact that Magneto does not fear God, and so has no limits to what he might do to acheive his ends, is precisely what makes him a villain. That is what drives all tyrants, fantatics, and even petty criminals; the fact that fear of God has been supplanted by fear of death, or poverty, or suffering, or disorder, or any other such evil. That it is better, if no alternative exists, to suffer all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than to dare risk the justice of God is the truth that silences all evil. Fear the Lord and you will fear nothing else.

The fear of the Lord is the first step in Faith, because it is the recognition of God's infinite superiority and, for lack of a better word, loveableness. We recognize that God is so far above us in terms of power, goodness, and beauty that we must fear Him, rather like how one of the first steps in loving our significant other is getting butterflies in the stomach (yes, 'butterflies in the stomach' is a faint echo of the fear of God). If our love of God doesn't contain fear of Him - if it doesn't even rise to the level of our 'love' for the cute girl who sits behind us in math class - it's not much of a love, is it? 

Vive Christus Rex!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Okay, This Has Got to be One of the Coolest Things Ever

Check this out: 

That's Sir Edmund Hillary (second from the left) and Neil Armstrong (far right) at the North Pole in 1985. The other two guys are Steve Forrest, first man to fly a balloon around the world, and Patrick Morrow, first man to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents (the Antarctica one must've been fun).

John Glenn apparently had a prior engagement, and Tenzing Norgay was laughing too hard to accept.

If you need to ask why, you missed the point, but go here for the full story.
I could say something about the greatness of the human spirit, the glory of great acheivements, and how we always need pioneers, but really I think I'd just ruin the moment. Let's just bask in the pure awesome!

Vive Christus Rex!

On Avoiding Hypocrisy

No one wants to be a hypocrite. Jesus tended to reserve His harshest condemnations for that particular sin. Adulterers, prostitutes, thieves, and so on got quiet disappointment and admonitions not to do it anymore. Hypocrites got shouted and sneered at and told flat out that they were going to Hell (Jesus was "meek and humble of heart," but He wasn't 'nice' or 'tolerant' as we think of it; He was brutal in His honesty).

Here's the danger, though; hypocrisy is also the easiest thing to accuse someone of, because the truly sincere and integrated man is a very rare beast indeed. Almost all of us fall short of our own principles and find ourselves in the position to say "do as I say, not as I do" at some point. All of us, to some degree, are hypocrites. That's why we're warned not to pass judgment; because the standard by which we judge others will be used to judge us.

This warning against judgment makes the accusation "hypocrite!" a very dangerous one indeed. Because if he is a hypocrite, well, that probably makes me one as well, much as I like to fancy otherwise. St. Paul himself said "I do what would not," declaring himself a hypocrite of sorts; who, exactly, am I to be exempt form that label?

In order to escape the trap of hypocrisy, most people these days fly into the comfort of moral relativism. Relativsm, though, is false security at best. For one thing, most self-described relativists (and people who hold similar views without going the whole-hog) don't really mean that all morality is man-made and subjective; they mean "all the morality that I  personally object to is relative; the principles that I hold are non-negotiable." Thus you'll find the same people who sagely declare that its wrong to criticize someone else for their lifestyle flying into a rage at the least sign of 'intolerance.'

The other big problem with relativism is that, if you actually follow through on the principle, there's no point to it. The only reason to embrace moral relativism is to avoid hypocrisy, but a relativist has no reason to think hypocrisy immoral. Someone else, by his view, might just as well say that it is moral to be a hypocrite, and he would have no cause to object. Indeed, even if someone claims that morality is objective, the relativist can't deny it, because that's the other person's view, which is just as valid as his own. Relativism falls into the same, rather amusing, trap as Determinism and Randian Objectivism: the very fact that you're promoting it proves you don't really believe it.

So, how do you avoid hypocrisy? By humility. By continually recalling the fact that you are a sinner and asking God's pardon like the Publican in the parable (who I believe was praying to be forgiven for swipping the vessel with the pestle). By following Confucius's advice to examine yourself whenever you see someone doing wrong. In short, by minding your own damned business (that's not profanity, it's an adjective).

This doesn't mean, of course, that you should simply ignore the sins of others. We are our brothers' keepers, after all, and admonishing the sinner is a key work of mercy. What it does mean is that your first priority needs to be putting your own house in order; cultivating your own virtues and repenting for your own sins. It's the same as in external affairs: unless you see your neighbor needs help or they are actually interfering with you, what goes on in your neighbor's house is really none of your business. Busybodies and hypocrites often go hand in hand. There's a big difference between saying "I heard you lost your job; do you guys need any help?" and "you know, that boy of yours really needs to step up his game if he wants to make the cricket team."

Basically, what defines a hypocrite of the type Jesus despised is that they are too focused on the sins of others to notice their own. Their focus is out where it should be in and in where it should be out. They gloat over their own virtues and sneer at other people's vices. We Christians are supposed to work constantly on improving our virtues and forgive other people's vices. We are not called upon to have any opinion at all about ourselves, only to go on improving as best we can. Our eyes are supposed to be turned outward to God and neighbor and inward to where we still need improvement.

 The art of the Christian is to both humble himself and admonish others; to neither lose sight of his own sins nor leave others ignorant of theirs. It's a tricky balance, but then the tricky balances are the only ones worth bothering with, aren't they? No one gives a man credit for walking down the street; only for walking across Niagra Falls on a wire.

"And if you only walk where it is easy to walk, what reward is there in that? Do not pagans do the same?"

Vive Christus Rex!