Saturday, February 24, 2007

Body and Bride

The Anglican Scotist presents a theological argument for blessing same-sex unions:

1. Christ was resurrected in the flesh, and will exist in the world to come.
2. In the world to come, members of the Church will be resurrected, male and female, in the flesh.
3. In the world to come, the members of the Church will bear a new real, reciprocal relation to Christ; call it R.
4. Here below, marriage should be modeled on R.
5. R obtains between males: for instance, Christ and each blessed male.
6. As R obtains between males (from 5), and marriage is to be modeled on R (from 4), marriage may obtain between males.

The idea behind the argument is that it, unlike other arguments, is supposed to be "set out in the style of the Anglican right"; Bates argues that the only step at which the orthodox right can balk is (6). I don't think this is true; the most natural place for conservative Anglicans to balk is at (4). The Scriptural ground for it is Ephesians 5:21-33; but that passage says nothing about the relation members of the Church will bear in the world to come. Instead, it talks about the relation the Church itself bears now to Christ as its savior. R, as elaborated in 3, does indeed obtain between Christ and male saints; but we are nowhere told that R should be the model of marriage. There are, in fact, three interlocked analogues in the text: Christ/Church, husband/wife, self/body; by ignoring the third, the corporate dimension of the relation is lost. Nor does the move to the world to come salvage anything; the bride of the Lamb in Revelation 21 is not the citizens of the New Jerusalem but the spiritual city itself. So I don't think conservative Anglicans will have any serious problem denying the argument's soundness in good conscience.

Bates recognizes this possible line of reasoning, and tries to argue against this by denying that the Church is anything above and beyond its members; but it is clear that this simply is not an adequate response, because one could say my body is not anything above and beyond its members. It is a clear fallacy, however, to assume that because my body is not anything above and beyond its members that every relation between self and body is a relation between self and every particular body-part. It might be constituted by such relations; but it is not the same as them. For instance, the moon has a particular relation R to the earth, consisting in its orbit; but it does not follow that the moon orbits every particular part of the earth individually, but only that all the parts together form a whole that the moon orbits.

Now, there is a tradition, a venerable one, seeing the threefold analogy noted above as also analogous to the relation between God and the soul; but there is nothing making it definitive as a model of marriage. In fact, the reverse is true; this analogy is a metaphor based on the characterization of marriage we draw from the threefold analogy. This is why I think the protest about the asymmetry of R can't be so easily dismissed as Bates thinks it can; the problem is not that the argument denies the asymmetry of R, but that the asymmetry of R is massive, and the argument ignores this. The Church, as Body of Christ, has been made fit through His salvation to be the Bride of Christ; but the individual Christian is not the Body but a member, a cell or organ of the Body, and the relation between self and body is a far more intimate union than the relation between self and body part. For in a real and straightforward sense I am my body; my relation to my eye is not so straightforward. The reciprocity between myself and my body is so close that, while a distinction must be made that breaks identity and sometimes is very important, they can, in all situations save those that require high precision, be treated as equivalent. This is why corporate reciprocity provides a good sign or symbol of marriage. Not so with myself and my eye; and it would be utterly absurd to say that our model of marriage should be this relation between self and eye. Since the eye is part of the body, by simple synecdoche we can model the relation between self and eye on the relation between self and body; but there is a massive asymmetry in one that shows that we are, in fact, dealing with a figure of speech, however fruitful it may be, and not a close analogue.

Thus when Bates argues the following, it is clear that it is not an adequate response to 'the recalcitrant', as he calls them:

But even if some recalcitrant should hang on to a metaphysical view of the church as an entity unto itself with respect to R, the argument can still be run. Concede R, and change the argument to talk about S instead--that is, in virtue of entering into R with the uber-entity-church, Christ also enters into S with the members of the uber-entity-church, and marriage here below is meant to be modeled after S.

The recalcitrant will simply point out that understood this way we have Scriptural reason to hold that R is the model for marriage, not S. The 'recalcitrant' are in fact not committed to saying that the Church is an uber-entity; but whether they do or not, I suspect they will generally be tempted to regard this argument as a bit of sophistical misdirection.

So I don't think the argument works. However, even if we set this aside, I think the argument is a poor strategic move for the same reason the type of argument it is supposed to replace is a poor strategic move. That argument was as follows:

Arg. I
(1) Same-sex unions realizing the unitive end do so by God's love.
(2) Any realization of the unitive end effected by God's love is holy.
Therefore, (3) same-sex unions realizing the unitive end are holy.

Arg. II:
(1) Same-sex unions exhibiting effects of the Spirit are holy.
(2) There are same-sex unions exhibiting the effects of the Spirit.
Therefore, (3) There are holy same-sex unions.

Arg. III:
(1) The church is permitted to bless holy unions.
(2) Some same-sex unions are holy.
Therefore, (3) The church is permitted to bless some same-sex unions.

Bates is quite right to point out that this fails as a strategic maneuver because of its detachment from Scripture; but there is more to it than that. As Bates interprets the argument, the key issue is whether there is evidence for II.2, which he thinks there is. Let it be conceded that there is such evidence. The conservative Anglican can still point out that a proponent of something recognized as vile -- for instance, pedophilia -- could run a parallel argument; and the problem with such an argument is not that there is no empirical evidence for the effects of the Spirit in pedophile unions, but that there an insuperable obstacle to believing I.1, namely, that pedophilia is immoral, and nothing immoral can 'realize the unitive end'. And if this is true then even if there were evidence that the effects of the Spirit were seen in pedophile unions, this of itself would be reason to think that either the evidence is merely misleading, or (at the very best assessment) the effects are exhibited in the union in spite of its vile character, not because it's holy but because the Spirit's grace is capable of bringing good even from the vilest things. Thus, while the argument may be a great place for someone who believes that same-sex unions can be moral to start building a theology of same-sex unions, it's a horrible argument for persuading someone who believes that Scripture requires us to hold that same-sex unions are immoral.

Bates's argument suffers from the same strategic flaw. While it's an improvement in recognizing that grounding in Scripture is necessary, any conservative Anglican who takes a long pause to think the matter through will simply come to dismiss it as yet another attempt to turn Scripture into a wax nose through vague equivocations and evasions. The dispute really does have to take place in the venue of "obscure and nearly unique Greek terms, historical contexts of temple prostitutes and boy toys," because these are relevant to determining whether same-sex unions really must be regarded in light of Scripture as immoral. This is not good news, I think; because there really are serious reasons for both sides to try to get away from these topics of dispute in order to find some way to handle the dispute that doesn't require slogging through all this mess and muddle. For one thing, it has become more and more clear that these topics begin eating up time and resources like crazy -- time and resources that both sides would greatly prefer to spend elsewhere, if only the dispute could be resolved. But I don't think there's good news for Anglicans here; the only possible strategies that I can see are slogging through these details, ignoring the matter entirely, or fracturing into separate groups. The first is likely to be heated and interminable; the second likely to be impossible given the moral views of both sides; the third is obviously a last resort. So, in any case, thinks this non-Anglican.

(Incidentally, in an aside at the end, Bates brings up the old claim that Aquinas holds that the female is a defective male. In fact, it is Aristotle as received in the Latin who holds that the female is a defective male; Aquinas on the contrary argues that the only thing this can reasonably mean is the Aristotelian view that males result from the semen, as the 'male' principle, overpowering the female principle and that females result from a defect in such power, as a result of which the female principle wins. He denies it any more significance than this. There definitely are important points at which one can say that Aquinas's reasoning is incomplete because he uncritically takes a male perspective; but this is not one of them.)

Natural Right to Do Wrong?

Jonathan Rowe argues that the Founding Fathers, and Jefferson in particular had a theory of natural rights in which we had a natural right to do wrong. It's an interesting argument, but not, I think, convincing. Jefferson is generally fairly clear that (1) questions of natural right have to be determined by moral sense and reason; and (2) natural rights are the objects of the formation of society and law. Given either point, little sense can be made of a natural right to do wrong. Rowe gives the following passage from the Notes on the State of Virginia:

[O]ur rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

But this doesn't imply that we have a natural right to do wrong. Rather, it implies something very different: that we have natural rights of conscience -- in this particular case, worshipping according to conscience -- and these are inalienable; because they are inalienable, government can't interfere with the exercise of such rights at all unless such exercise is injurious to other people. In other words, it does not support the claim that we have a natural right to do wrong, but that because we have natural rights there is a necessary limit on the jurisdiction of government to limit certain kinds of action, regardless of whether they are wrong or not; some acts are such that we are answerable only to God. That's not the same kind of argument.

So it seems to me that Rowe's argument requires a controvertible assumption about how natural rights are distinguished. One way of thinking of natural rights is to consider them to be general ends or objects that must be protected. Thus, for instance, I have a natural right of liberty in matters of speech; and by typing this I am exercising that right. However, one could one might always try to individuate natural rights much more finely than this; in which case you get strange results. For instance, since to exercise my natural right of liberty in matters of speech in this particular way that I am doing, I have to have a natural right to the precise means. Thus, one would say, I have a natural right to press the N key, and a natural right to press the A key, and a natural right to press the T key, and so forth, and, moreover, I have a natural right to write 'natural' and a natural right to write 'right', and so on through all the letters and words of all possible languages. But this is very peculiar, because of course I don't have a 'natural right to press an M key'; the existence of M keys at all is both contingent and incidental to my own existence. Such 'natural rights' would trivialize the very notion of a natural right. What we do have natural rights for are more general types of action for which pressing such-and-such keys is in a particular set of circumstances a necessary means. This does not imply that the pressing of keys generally is a natural right.

So the objects of rights cannot be regarded as arbitrarily fine. In which case, we can't say immediately that anyone has a natural right to worship false gods, without an argument that this worship is either not contingent or not incidental to my existence; only that (for instance) people have a natural right to something more general, and the protection of this requires the protection of people exercising that right regardless of whether they do so rightly or wrongly. That is, a natural right can lead to our having a civil right to do something wrong, in the sense that because of the natural right we must at times be protected from government interference even in doing wrong. But civil rights and natural rights should not be confused. It's possible that Jefferson holds a stronger view; but the above passage does not show it; and given other things that Jefferson holds (like the two points above), any stronger view would seem to require us to say that he's being inconsistent.

(As an incidental but related matter, Rowe claims here that Calvin says we have no right to revolt. This is a reasonable interpretation, if 'right to revolt' is taken to be a general right. However, it must not be confused with the claim that we never have a right to revolt in the sense that we never have a right to do something that might as a necessary means involve revolting; Calvin is quite clear in the Institutes, for instance, that magistrates may be overturned if there is a clear call from a higher authority. Calvin denies, in effect, that we have any general right to revolt; however, we do have not merely the right but the duty to do things that will in particular cases involve revolting against a particular authority under the auspices of a higher authority. Further, we have to be careful in interpreting Calvin, because it is clear in every place he discusses the matter that his chief worries are people who want to get rid of civil government entirely, i.e., certain Anabaptists, and many of the strongest-sounding things he says against revolt are clearly aimed at that particular group. Further, in the Institutes he also makes the distinction that will be used at length by Calvinist supporters of particular revolutions, between private subjects, who are to obey authorities, and magistrates, who are to protect the people; Calvin is quite clear that magistrates who are appointed to protect the people from tyranny have every right to oppose tyranny over those people, even by a higher authority. This is important because Rowe often argues that Calvin's view is inconsistent with the principles of the American revolution. However, the American revolution was not a popular uprising like a peasant revolt but a revolt of magistrates against higher magistrates; and that means that Calvin's principles can underwrite it if in so doing they were exercising a legitimate authority to protect the people.)

William Wilberforce on War

From a letter to Captain Bedford, November 5, 1803 (during the Napoleonic Wars):

It is much to be regretted that, from pride and other similar passions, nations are always forward to rush into wars, though the bulk of a people soon begin to repent of them and to wish for the termination of hostilities. Ministers of state, on the contrary, are really less prone to get into wars; but when a country is once plunged into them, they are drawn forward by their own schemes; they flatter themselves that they shall by this measure and that, weaken the power of the enemy; and forgetting that the expenditure of blood and treasure is always going on, they seldom are disposed to leave off till they are forced to it. Often also they are afraid lest a less honourable peace than the sanguine expectations of men led them to hope might be obtained, should disgrace their character, and fix on them an imputation of pusillanimity or weakness. They should remember more than they do, that it is the bulk of the people who suffer the evils of war, but that they reap little advantage from its most successful prosecution. How have I been drawn on! Surely if the contents of my letter could be seen it would be ordered to be burned on the quarter-deck. Yet if I mistake not, the friend to whom I write does not greatly disagree with me either in opinions or feelings.

Wilberforce & Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce, vol III, p. 140.

A Letter from John Wesley to William Wilberforce

Feb 24, 1791

My Dear Sir,

Unless the Divine power has raised you up to be as Athanasius contra mundum, I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise, in opposing that execrable villany which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils; but if God be for you who can be against you. Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh be not weary of well-doing. Go on in the name of God, and in the power of His might, till even American slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun, shall vanish away before it. That He who has guided you from your youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the prayer of,

Dear Sir,
Your affectionate servant,
John Wesley

Robert Isaac Wilberforce & Samuel Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce vol. I (London, John Murray: 1838), p. 297

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Lifelong Selfishness of a Nine-Year-Old Girl

This paragraph from Stuart Derbyshire's review of a biography of Mother Teresa of Calcutta has simply mystified me:

Nevertheless, readers who can get past the somewhat pompous and turgid start will find some striking information with quite uncomfortable implications for supporters of Mother Teresa. Her devotion to Jesus was a personal attempt to deal with grief, and her dedication to the poor of Calcutta part of her effort towards self-salvation. Similar to many celebrity figures, it was all about me, me, me. This puts her work into a whole new and rather less flattering light.

Perhaps it's the fact that I read and like George Eliot, and one of Eliot's major moral themes, one that arises again and again in her novels in one form or another, is that this is, in fact, exactly the sort of thing we should do to deal with grief: to dedicate ourselves to those who need our help. There's hardly any coherent sense in which this can be called a 'me, me, me' attitude. Perhaps it's less this than the obvious point that 'self-salvation' is hardly an ignoble end to aim at, although, like any other end, it requires the right means if it is to be obtained in the right way. And perhaps it's the fact that the grief in question is supposed to have been caused by the death of her father at age 9, and the attempt to cope with it is somehow supposed to cast a pall over the whole life of a woman who died at age 87; and what is more, it is supposed to show that a career of helping the poor that lasted half a century was really just a bit of selfishness. It seems an awfully large burden of blame to put on a nine-year-old girl, even granting that the interpretation of the data is right, and not just an exercise in biographical eisegesis. And one suspects it just might be such an exercise from the fact that Teresa's refusal to let reporters focus on any details of her own life, as opposed to the work being done to help those in need, is interpreted as a ruthless attempt to maintain her celebrity image.

A mystifying line of reasoning.


Today is the commemoration for St. Polycarp. From his letter to the Philippians:

Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good, defer it not, because "alms delivers from death." Be all of you subject one to another having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles," that ye may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But woe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! Teach, therefore, sobriety to all, and manifest it also in your own conduct.

Polycarp was an early convert who had heard the preaching of John and other apostles; he taught Irenaeus, who is one of our most important sources about his life. According to Irenaeus, Polycarp was directly appointed to be bishop of Smyrna by the apostles themselves. He was martyred in the middle of the second century, thus bringing to an end the age of the apostolic fathers who had personally known the apostles.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Two More Poem Drafts


Only a building,
yet the heart aches;
only brick and mortar--
but also memory of years
like long liturgies,
a sense of loss
from memory sprung,
and wistful wishes
released with a sigh
that better things
might someday come.

The Dragons

The dragons are restless today;
they stir up hurricane and whirlwind,
turning forests to ash with a puff,
melting stone to flowing rivers.

It must be mating day;
they're letting out low trumpet-calls,
gathering together and quarrelling,
doing aerial combat
and other things.

Once a century they congregate
to multiply;
it's a fruitful congregation,
but with all these steel-clad knights
who rescue stupid damsels
(the kind that can't even figure out
that damsels should avoid dragons)
and in the process kill the fire-breathers--
they'll soon be extinct.

Then no one will know what it's like
to live in a world with dragons;
for a dragon is a sublimity
men and women cannot imagine.

The Virtue of Faith

In Aquinas's commentary on Hebrews 11, Thomas has a nice way to pin down what the virtue of faith is, by distinguishing it from what it is not.

Because it is the substance of things hoped for, it is distinguished from faith or (as we might call it) belief in the ordinary sense. Ordinary belief is ordered to particular goods (whatever in the circumstances makes it good to believe); but the virtue of faith is ordered to our total and universal good, happiness.1

Because it is substance and evidence, it is distinguished from doubt, suspicion, and opinion. Those things do not involve firm adherence; the virtue of faith does.

Because it is evidence of things unseen, it is distinguished from knowledge and understanding, since what is known or understood in some sense is immediately apparent.

Therefore in the virtue of faith, intellect and will coincide in their object: Primary Truth and Ultimate Good recognized as one; understood in this way, it is a disposition or tendency toward complete happiness, total good; because this total good is not possessed, it tends toward it as hoped for and unseen. Thus, says Thomas, "faith is a habit of the mind by which eternal life is begun in us and that makes the intellect assent to things that it does not see."

1 Incidentally, this is also why people who try to claim that Thomas's view of faith is wholly a matter of intellect just don't know their Aquinas.

The Marcus Ross Case

There has recently been some discussion in the blogosphere about the case of Marcus Ross, who received a PhD in geosciences by defending a thesis about events 65 million years ago, even though he is very clear that he believes the earth is only 10000 years old. Most of the discussion is uninteresting, but Janet Stemwedel and Rob Knop have some thought-provoking posts on the subject. The posts are:

Intellectual honesty in science: the Marcus Ross case at "Adventures in Ethics and Science"
Science is Not Just a Game at "Galactic Interactions"
Knowledge, belief, and what counts as good science at "Adventures in Ethics and Science"

The comments are also interesting. One of the things Janet notes that seems exactly right is that how you view the case will be sharply affected by how open you are to an anti-realist interpretation of scientific theory. People who are strongly realist in inclination will tend find it easy to view Ross as a flat-out fraud; people who are strongly anti-realist in inclination will tend to have difficulty seeing that he did anything wrong at all. And, of course, there are all sorts of positions in between.

For my part, I take a Duhemian view of the whole situation: this is what you get when your view of science becomes too closely associated with the esprit geometrique, concerned with useful results, and loses sight of the esprit de finesse, concerned with understanding the world as it really is. As Duhem noted, scientific progress requires both inclinations of mind; too much emphasis on either one leads to aberrations.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Notes and Links

* The most recent edition of the Philosophers' Carnival is up at "This is the Name of This Blog."

* Hilarious: The Evangelism Linebacker.

* Currently reading Teresa Iglesias's Conscience and Our Culture (PDF), on Newman's conception of conscience.

* Mike Liccione continues discussing the Vincentian Canon. The context in which the Vincentian Canon arises is interesting: St. Vincent, asking how we can avoid the snares of heretics, says simply that we must go to Scripture and the Church (the latter being necessary to interpret the former rightly), and that within the Church itself we must hold only to what is believed everywhere, always, and by all. This rule we can observe by having due regard for universality (confess the faith that is confessed throughout the world), antiquity (keep to the interpretations that were clearly held by our holy predecessors), and consensus (adhere to the views that are agreed upon in general). And he gives examples: if a small group try to cut themselves off from the Church as a whole, hold to the general body (because of universality); if a radically new interpretation becomes widespread, hold to the basics that have always been held (because of antiquity); if your immediate predecessors are isolated from the rest of the Church, find out the decrees of the relevant general councils, or, if that is lacking, investigate what has always been the general view across the Christian world. He then gives more specific examples -- those who stuck to the general consensus against the Donatists, those who stuck to the views that had always been held against the Arians, Pope Stephen's stance against the repeating of baptism on the basis of antiquity. As I've said before, this seems to me to make quite clear that what's at issue is how we individuals can be in conformity with the Church's interpretation of Scripture, and not be misled by heretics, and takes the Church as a presupposed reference point. He certainly doesn't have in view someone trying to decide whether this is the true Church and that is a false Church; his concern is how we handle ourselves when controversies arise. Indeed, he says this fairly explicitly in the later chapters of the Commonitory: God allows heresy in order to try us, we acquit ourselves well in the trial by being catholic, universal, we are catholic by interpreting Scripture in conformity with the traditions of the universal Church and sticking to those things in that Church that exhibit universality, antiquity, and consensus.

* This speech by Tom Hayden is interesting, but not very coherent. This passage in particular is utterly confused:

But I want to challenge the stewardship notion that we were placed here, at some distant time in the past, to suddenly become stewards of nature, as if nature was doing badly on its own. The stewardship concept extracts us from, and places us above, the realm of nature. The scriptures place us in this role to underscore our special, sacred status above the lesser world of living things and ecosystems. As stewards, we become the plant managers for the absentee owner. If this preposterous idea was true, we would have been overthrown or fired from our administrative roles for malfeasance and neglect long ago.

This is a straightforward confusion about what stewards are, or can be. A steward of a household is not 'extracted from, and placed above' the realm of nature; a shop steward is not 'extracted from, and placed above' the union. The phrase "as if nature was doing badly on its own" is straightforwardly rhetorical rather than substantive, because no one who develops a theology of environmental stewardship claims that "nature was doing badly on its own"; and if they did, they could easily be corrected by pointing out that the same scriptures explicitly say otherwise, repeatedly, in the very same chapter. The analogy to management under absentee ownership is an interesting move, but radically implausible to anyone who actually reads up on how the concept of stewardship tends to be developed. That we are guilty of malfeasance and neglect is quite right, and is one thing that people who emphasize the concept of stewardship often underline; it's one of the reasons the concept is so powerful for the purpose of ethical discussion about the environment. Most of the rest of the speech is similar gobbledy-gook, which is unfortunate, because the intended points -- that creation is intrinsically good, that this is a more basic foundation for care of the environment than stewardship, and that environmental concern must be set in the context of a more encompassing sense of justice and reform -- are good ones that deserve better treatment.

* An interesting chemistry paper (PDF) on why odontolite, also called tooth-stone or bone turquoise, is turquoise-blue. Odontolite is the gem you get when you take mastodon ivory and heat it. The reason it turns blue has been a puzzle since the first known use of it by the Cistercians in the eighteenth century. I came across this paper while looking up more information after odontolite was mentioned in a recent post at "The Lion and the Cardinal."

* From the Sisters of the Holy Cross, I've discovered that Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, will be beatified this year. I'm sure it's exciting news for the Holy Cross congregations; they are currently undergoing a year of celebration. As someone educated at a Holy Cross school, I tip my hat to their good fortune.


Ash Wednesday begins the penitential season of Lent; it's a season of wrestling with oneself in order to improve one's moral and spiritual discipline. It has three parts: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One of the things I want to do around here for Lent is point out ways people can support various charities, whether by almsgiving or by participating in some sort of simple fundraising activity. (Let me know in the comments if you have any particular recommendations.)

Today the fundraising activity is GoodSearch. Search engine advertisements generate revenue; GoodSearch is basically a Yahoo! search engine with a twist: about fifty percent of the revenue generated by your search is directed toward the charity you select.

An example. Suppose I want to generate revenue for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. I go to the GoodSearch website, verify whether St. Jude is signed up to receive revenue from searches; it is. I select it, and then just use the search engine in the ordinary way. Part of the advertising revenue for the search is then directed to the St. Jude account. The amount is small, approximately a penny a search; but the point is that steady use by a large number of supporters will accumulate. (You can check how much a given charity has raised via searches; for instance, this year searches on GoodSearch have raised about $506 for St. Jude.) Plus, the amount of effort and inconvenience that you go through in order to raise money in this way is negligible; once you find a charity in the GoodSearch database that you like, you just use GoodSearch for your searches.

The primary drawbrack of the search engine is that there's no list of the 30000 charitable organizations participating, so you have to search individually. A small sample of interesting examples I've found of participating organizations that you might look into: Catholic Charities USA, Hebron House of Hospitality, The Hospitality House of Tulsa, Jewish Fund for Justice, The Holy Cross Institute at St. Edward's University, Sisters of the Holy Cross, Covenant House, Animal Welfare Institute. Of course, there are many more. Find one you like and stick with it for a while.

Keble on Ash Wednesday

"Yes—deep within and deeper yet
"The rankling shaft of conscience hide.
"Quick let the swelling eye forget
"The tears that in the heart abide.
"Calm be the voice, the aspect bold,
"No shuddering pass o’er lip or brow,
"For why should Innocence be told
"The pangs that guilty spirits bow?

"The loving eye that watches thine
"Close as the air that wraps thee round—
"Why in thy sorrow should it pine,
"Since never of thy sin it found?
"And wherefore should the heathen see
"What chains of darkness thee enslave,
"And mocking say, Lo, this is he
"Who own’d a God that could not save?"

Thus oft the mourner’s wayward heart
Tempts him to hide his grief and die,
Too feeble for Confession’s smart,
Too proud to bear a pitying eye;
How sweet, in that dark hour, to fall
On bosoms waiting to receive
Our sighs, and gently whisper all!
They love us—will not God forgive?

Else let us keep our fast within,
Till Heaven and we are quite alone,
Then let the grief, the shame, the sin,
Before the mercy-seat be thrown.
Between the porch and altar weep,
Unworthy of the holiest place,
Yet hoping near the shrine to keep
One lowly cell in sight of grace.
Nor fear lest sympathy should fail—
Hast thou not seen, in night-hours drear,
When racking thoughts the heart assail,
The glimmering stars by turns appear,

And from th’ eternal home above
With silent news of mercy steal?
So Angels pause on tasks of love,
To look where sorrowing sinners kneel

Or if no Angel pass that way,
He who in secret sees, perchance
May bid his won heart-warming ray
Toward thee stream with kindlier glance,
As when upon his drooping head
His Father’s light was pour’d from Heaven,
What time, unshelter’d and unfed,
Far in the wild His steps were driven.

High thoughts were with Him in that hour,
Untold, unspeakable on earth—
And who can stay the soaring power
Of spirits wean’d from worldly mirth,
While far beyond the sound of praise
With upward eye they float serene,
And learn to bear their Saviour’s blaze
When Judgment shall undraw the screen.

From The Christian Year

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My Own Abolition Hymn

Still needs quite a bit of tweaking.

The Grace of Liberty

How complacent are we, Lord,
since you have made us free
and blessed us with your endless love
and gifts of liberty?

Shall I who stay in comfort here
without manacle or chain
give thanks that you have conquered fear
but ignore my brother's pain?

O Lord, your love can conquer all
and make the captive free;
make us all to hear your call
on every shore and sea!

Cast out the slavers, let them weep
in hell or penitence;
and all their victims gently keep
in hope and innocence.

Rise, O brothers, sisters, come,
and lift your voices high;
against oppressors beat the drum,
shout out a freedom-cry!

Let's speak a word and make a noise
that all our kin go free;
and Lord, free all, and freely give
the grace of liberty!

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Book Quiz

I saw this at Claw of the Conciliator. Books in bold I've read; italicized are books I might be interested in reading; books with crosses are on my shelves (or, since most of my books are currently boxed, in a box somewhere); books with asterisks I don't think I've heard of.

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. †Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. †To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. †The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. †The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. †The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. *Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. *A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. †Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. †Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. †Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. *Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. †Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. †Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. †The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. †Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. *The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. †The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. †Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. †The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. *Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. †Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. †Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. †1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. *The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. *The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. *I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. *The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. *The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. *The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. *Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. †Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. *She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. *The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. †Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. *The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. †Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. *Fifth Business (Robertson Davies)
66. *One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. †The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. *The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. *A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. *The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. *Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. *Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. †Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88.*The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89.*Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. *Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. *The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. *White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. *A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Hymns for Abolition II

Two from John Greenleaf Whittier.

O Holy Father, Just and True

O holy Father! just and true
Are all Thy works and words and ways,
And unto Thee alone are due
Thanksgiving and eternal praise!

As children of Thy gracious care,
We veil the eye, we bend the knee,
With broken words of praise and prayer,
Father and God, we come to Thee.

For Thou hast heard, O God of Right,
The sighing of the island slave;
And stretched for him the arm of might,
Not shortened that it could not save.

The laborer sits beneath his vine,
The shackled soul and hand are free;
Thanksgiving! for the work is Thine!
Praise! for the blessing is of Thee!

And oh, we feel Thy presence here,
Thy awful arm in judgment bare!
Thine eye hath seen the bondman's tear;
Thine ear hath heard the bondman's prayer.

Praise! for the pride of man is low,
The counsels of the wise are naught,
The fountains of repentance flow;
What hath our God in mercy wrought?

Speed on Thy work, Lord God of Hosts
And when the bondman's chain is riven,
And swells from all our guilty coasts
The anthem of the free to Heaven,

Oh, not to those whom Thou hast led,
As with Thy cloud and fire before,
But unto Thee, in fear and dread,
Be praise and glory evermore.

O Thou, Whose Presence Went Before

O Thou, whose presence went before
Our fathers in their weary way,
As with Thy chosen moved of yore
The fire by night, the cloud by day!

When from each temple of the free,
A nation's song ascends to Heaven,
Most Holy Father! unto Thee
May not our humble prayer be given?

Thy children all, though hue and form
Are varied in Thine own good will,
With Thy own holy breathings warm,
And fashioned in Thine image still.

We thank Thee, Father! hill and plain
Around us wave their fruits once more,
And clustered vine, and blossomed grain,
Are bending round each cottage door.

And peace is here; and hope and love
Are round us as a mantle thrown,
And unto Thee, supreme above,
The knee of prayer is bowed alone.

But oh, for those this day can bring,
As unto us, no joyful thrill;
For those who, under Freedom's wing,
Are bound in Slavery's fetters still:

For those to whom Thy written word
Of light and love is never given;
For those whose ears have never heard
The promise and the hope of heaven!

For broken heart, and clouded mind,
Whereon no human mercies fall;
Oh, be Thy gracious love inclined,
Who, as a Father, pitiest all!

And grant, O Father! that the time
Of Earth's deliverance may be near,
When every land and tongue and clime
The message of Thy love shall hear;

When, smitten as with fire from heaven,
The captive's chain shall sink in dust,
And to his fettered soul be given
The glorious freedom of the just.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Divine Command Accounts of Morality

By way of the Carnival of the Godless, I came across this excellent critique of divine command theories at "exapologist". The argument is that adequate accounts of morality have to meet two conditions:

The Non-Contingency Condition (NC): No moral obligation, R, is objectionably contingent.

The Accessibility Condition (AC): Necessarily, for any moral obligation, R, R is binding only if R is cognitively accessible in principle.

However, it appears that divine command theories tend to violate one or the other: that is, accounts that preserve NC violate AC, whereas accounts that preserve AC violate NC. I think this is a promising line of argument, and probably some version of it can be made to work.

I don't think it's quite in shape yet, though, in part because I think the argument against command accounts, which forms the backbone of the argument that divine command theories preserving AC violate NC, is not quite sophisticated enough to handle all divine command accounts. A key element of the argument is the following scenario:

For consider a possible world, W, in which there exists a community of five people: a man (call him ‘Zed’), and four children, none of which is older than ten years old. Suppose further that this community has no practice of commanding. Finally, suppose that Zed regularly sodomizes these children. Since, by hypothesis, this community has no practice of commanding, command formulations of DCT entail that none of Zed’s acts are morally wrong. But, surely, moral wrongness supervenes on at least some acts in W. But then moral wrongness doesn’t require the existence of a community practice of commanding as a part of its supervenience base. And if not, then command formulations of DCT are false.

This is actually fairly similar to an argument found in Catherine Trotter Cockburn in her attack on Warburton's divine command theory -- well, similar in function, since Cockburn's example didn't involved pedophile sodomy, but just a man trapped in a pit in a society of atheists. (I quote part of that argument here.) But there are some similarities in how the example is used.

The problem there, as here, is that it's actually not wholly clear whether this is a problem for a divine command theorist like Warburton, because part of Warburton's argument is that what we call 'morality' is actually a complex of things -- a threefold cord -- and that when we talk about something being 'morally wrong' an adequate account of what we mean has to take into account all three parts of this complex. Warburton could perfectly well agree that there's moral wrong in Zed's case; what he will deny is that Zed has violated any obligations. Zed's action can be wrong in the sense that it's the wrong sort of action to commit if you are considering all the consequences of your actions and want to avoid detrimental ones as much as possible. The damage he does to the children is imprudent, and could return on him someday. Further, Zed's action can be wrong in the sense that it's disgusting and distasteful, and doesn't fit with our notions of what a civilized person does. So it's wrong in the sense that it's bad sense and bad taste. What Warburton will deny is that there can be anything more to it in the absence of the expressed will of a superior; Zed's not violating any obligations because no one has obligated him. Thus, Warburton will say, you can have moral wrongness, i.e., wrongness relevant to morals, in the absence of such a command; but if you condemn someone on the basis of it, your condemnation of it only differs in degree from a condemnation based purely on prudential calculation and/or aesthetic taste, and even the union of the two can't yield the normative force we attribute to obligations. (It certainly is utterly stupid and utterly distasteful to murder someone, but that, Warburton would say, does not constitute an obligation not to murder. It just means that murder is senseless and icky.)

So there are divine command theorists who can escape the dilemma, at least as far as the post lays it out. Since the dilemma laid out there is only a 'quick and dirty' one, there's the possibility that a more developed version can close the loopholes. Cockburn argues that Warburton is wrong about his claim that rational appropriateness can't constitute an obligation, and while it's an uneven argument, it's promising as well. Perhaps a combination and development of the two would do the trick.

Aphorisms on Religious Polemics

Some religious polemicists are Rigid Wise: they know the truth and, rather than teach it, they will beat people over the head with it. They are like monkeys trying to figure out the use of a book; unable to read the pages, they use it to crack nuts.

They who use the books of the Church Fathers to beat people with shall receive their due recompense. They who use Scripture as a club shall find it turned against them as a sword.

Some religious polemicists are both Rigid Wise and Rigid Righteous: not only do they beat people over the head, they pat themselves on the back for it. They do not merely use the book to crack nuts; they count as enemies those who do not use books in the same way. Such people are like the first kind; but their mischief has been squared. They open their mouths and spew forth a plague of unclean spirits like frogs.

Were this world filled with Rigid Wise and Rigid Righteous alone, it would be bad enough; but there is a third kind of religious polemicist, whose mischief is taken to an even higher dimension. They are Narcissists.

Narcissists will speak of Christ in order to expound their profound understanding of Christ; they will speak of the Trinity in order to expound their profound understanding of the Trinity; they will speak of the Church in order to expound their profound understanding of the Church. Never will they speak of these things for their own sake. Christ, Trinity, Church, all the mysteries and glories of creation and redemption, are for the Narcissists only the occasion for speaking of their own Twelve Labors. They have no interest in bringing others to truth; they say the name of truth, but the Truth does not know them; they speak the words of truth, but their words are corpses that spill off their tongues, lacking the breath of God.

The first group is a line; the second is a square; the third a cube or worse. But the Saint who attacks error is a point, for he sticks to the point, and he does not diffuse his fervor out in all directions from it.

The angel of the Lord walked through the Cities of the Plains, the lands of religious polemic, and not even ten just men could be found; only the family of Lot kept the sacred laws of hospitality. And this was their righteousness: that they did not treat the strangers as means for their own satisfaction, but accepted what sacrifice was needed to receive the strangers as guests, terrible though the sacrifice might be. The Saint receives the stranger as a guest, not as a mind to rape; and for it he is spared.

Aquinas on Christ's Passion and Forgiveness of Sins

In the Orthodox liturgical calendar, today is Forgiveness Sunday, which fittingly follows last week's Judgment Sunday. So I thought I'd put up what Thomas Aquinas says about Christ's passion and forgiveness of sins. The standard caveats apply -- it's all rough. The Latin is here. The Dominican Fathers translation is here.


We proceed to the first in this way. It seems that we are not freed from sin by the passion of Christ. For to free from sin is proper to God according to Isaiah XLIII, 'I am He who blots out your iniquities for my sake.' But Christ does not suffer insofar as He is God, but insofar as He is man. Therefore the passion of Christ did not free us from sin.

Further, the corporeal does not act on the spiritual. But the passion of Christ is corporeal, whereas sin is in the soul, which is a spiritual creature. Therefore the passion of Christ could not cleanse us from sin.

Further, no one can be freed from sin that they have not yet committed, but will be committed afterward. Since, therefore, many sins have been committed after the passion of Christ, and are committed daily, it seems that we are not freed from sin through the passion of Christ.

Further, when a sufficient cause is posited, nothing else is required to induce the effect. But other things are required for remission of sins, like baptism and penance. Therefore it seems that the passion of Christ is not a sufficient cause of the remission of sins.

Further, Proverbs X says, "Charity covers all sins"; and XV says, "Through mercy and faith sins are purged." But there are many other things in which we have faith, and which provoke charity. Therefore the passion of Christ is not the proper cause of remission of sins.

But on the other hand is what Apoc. I says: "He loved us, and washed away our sins in his blood."

I reply that it must be said that the passion of Christ is the proper cause of remission of sins, in three ways.

First, by way of provoking charity. Because, as the apostle says, Rom. V, "God commends his charity in us, in that, when we were enemies, Christ died for us. But it is through charity that we procure pardon of sins, as is said in Luke VII, "Many sins are forgiven her because she has loved much."

Second, the passion of Christ causes remission of sins by way of redemption. For since he is our head, through his passion, which he endured through charity and obedience, he freed us, as his members, from sin, as it were by the price of his passion; just as if a man were through some meritorious work of his hand to redeem himself from sins committed by his feet. For just as the natural body is one, constituted of many diverse members, so the whole Church, which is the mystical body of Christ, counted as one person with its head, who is Christ.

Third, by way of efficacy, inasmuch as the flesh, according to which Christ endured the passion, is the instrument of the divinity, so that his passions and actions work as having a divine power for expelling sin.

To the first, then, it must be said that, although Christ did not suffer insofar as He was God, nonetheless his flesh is the instrument of the divinity. And from this his passion has a sort of divine power for expelling sin, as was said.

To the second it must be said that the passion of Christ, although it is corporeal, nonetheless derives a sort of spiritual power from the divinity, to which the flesh is united as an instrument. According to this power Christ's passion is the cause of the remission of sins.

To the third it must be said that Christ causally freed us from sins by his passion; that is. by instituting the cause of our liberation, from which all sins, whether past or present or future, could be remitted, as if a doctor were to make a medicine by which all diseases could be cured, even in the future.

To the fourth it must be said that, as Christ's passion came before, as a sort of universal cause for the remission of sins, as was said, it is necessary for it to be applied to singular [cases] for the deletion of each one's own sins. But this is done by baptism and penance and the other sacraments, which have power from the passion of Christ, as is shown below.

To the fifth it must be said that Christ's passion is applied even by faith to to producing of its fruits, as is said in Rom. III, "Whom God has proposed to be a propitiator through faith in His blood." But faith through which we are cleansed from sin is not an unformed faith, which is able to be even with sin, but is a faith given form by charity, that the passion of Christ may be applied to us not only with regard to the intellect, but also with regard to the affect. And even in this way sins are diminished only through the power of Christ's passion.

Hymns for Abolition I

The Battle Hymn of the Republic
(sung to the tune of John Brown's Body)

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on."

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Prayer of the Abolitionist (a.k.a. The Abolitionist Hymn)
(sung to the tune of the Old One Hundredth)

We ask not that the slave should lie,
As lies his master, at his ease,
Beneath a silken canopy,
Or in the shade of blooming trees.

We mourn not that the man should toil;
'T is nature's need — 't is God's decree;
But, let the hand that tills the soil,
Be, like the wind that fans it, free.

We ask not 'eye for eye' — that all,
Who forge the chain and ply the whip,
Should feel their torture — that the thrall
Should wield the scourge of mastership —

We only ask, O God, that they,
Who bind a brother, may relent:
But, Great Avenger, we do pray
That the wrong-doer may repent.

Amazing Grace

In North America today it's Amazing Grace Sunday, which kicks off the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the passage of the Slave Trade Act (47 Geo III Sess. 1 c. 36). There are about 5600 churches in the U.S. and Canada, of many different denominations, participating in special services today to mark the occasion. The Act was passed on February 23, 1807, largely although not exclusively through the work of William Wilberforce. There's a movie about Wilberforce coming out the 23rd and a website has been set up to encourage modern abolition efforts. You can read excerpts from Wilberforce's 1789 abolition speech.

Amazing Grace Sunday is in March for the United Kingdom. The city of Hull is leading a Wilberforce 2007 celebration and anti-slavery campaign.

This year July 30 is the memorial for Wilberforce in the Anglican liturgical calendar; usually it is the 29th (the anniversary of his death), but this year it falls on a Sunday, so the memorial is moved. The collect used for his Feast is appropriate:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your Church the never-failing gift of love, that, following the example of your servant William Wilberforce, we may have grace to defend the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Expect plenty of events related to Wilberforce and abolition between now and then.