“If you’re not gone yet…”

The exact wording escapes me, but my eldest daughter wanted to tell me about the way she will do things when she’s a mama, and said something like:

“Papa, one day, when I’m a mama, if you’re not gone yet, I’m gonna hold my kids in a carrier just like this.”

The carrier, of course, is a baby carrier, that backpack looking thing which allows a parent to wear their child while pushing two other children in swings and keeping an eye on the fourth and fifth children climbing on the playground.  We were just returning from (or leaving for?) the playground when my daughter thought to say this.

It’s more or less ordinary, actually.  We’ve been very straightforward about death, not bringing it up very much, but talking about it honestly when it does come up.

Everyone dies.  We’ve had friends and family who have died, and you’ll know people who will die, too.  I have probably gone so far as to say that, in all likelihood, I will die before you (my child).  But when you die, you go to be with God.

Somehow it caught my ear, this time.  We weren’t already talking about death, and we didn’t proceed to talk about death, either.  It was just a casual comment, a context for understanding that this event was in the future, and it was perfectly natural for her to add that I may or may not be alive when this happened.  Of course, I hope I will be.

And it may be that, after one death or another, things aren’t so casual for her.  Maybe it will be a friend or a relative; maybe it will be a victim of senseless violence, or a martyr in a foreign land.  I think sometimes of the absolute tragedy of confirming that, yes, abortion is real.  Some babies are killed, then removed surgically from the womb.

Just imagine telling a child about that, when she has seen her mother’s belly grow, and she has seen an infant at one day old.

Now look at my original explanation.  If you are an atheist, you cannot say anything like, “Then you go to be with God.”  You must say, “And that’s it.”

But for Christians, there is the Resurrection.  It is the final note, the only true comfort for the mourning, the only way a child can speak with ease about death.  Death, in fact, has been overcome.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot swallow it.

Indeed, she spoke like one on a well-lit path, one unafraid of that which terrifies grown men.  What else can do this, but faith?  Who else can give such confidence, but God?

 

NB:  For a meditation on death, consider this.

All I know

Estelle Patrice was born at 8:19pm on Sunday, and a few hours later, landed in the NICU.

These are unsettling words for a parent.  I admit, they’re even a bit gratuitous here, because of their gravity in most other circumstances.

This is our fifth child, and Marcy delivered her through a water birth.  It was about as close to perfect as it could get, and I remarked during the labor that we had really perfected this whole process, going from the worst (Amelia’s labor and delivery) to the best (Estelle’s, which was at times almost sublime).

Let there be no mistake – it was still labor, and it was still excruciating.  The water simply provides some buoyancy to the experience, but does not change it in any fundamental way.  More can be said, but perhaps one pun is enough.

Now, I’ve seen four of these types before, and Estelle looked as good as any of them have.  She showed no signs of distress, had a great heart rate and was of a healthy weight.  We had her back in our room, and this was to be the shortest hospital stay of all our birthing experiences.

That’s when a nurse – “Nurse Jumpy” – commented on Estelle’s cheeks.  Namely, that they looked bruised.

Now, before anyone wants to disparage me for disparaging a nurse, please note two things:  One, not all nurses are perfect.  My grandmother was, my wife is, my aunt is, and heck, even my mother-in-law is.  Most are, it must be admitted; but not all.  Two:  At the risk of narrative power, I tell you that by the end, I will have to be ambivalent at best with respect to Nurse Jumpy.

So I think to myself, of course her cheeks look bruised.  They ARE bruised – she was born like 90 minutes ago.  All of my kids came out bruised.

Still, Nurse Jumpy wants to investigate this further, and while doing Stella’s assessments, she puts her on the oxygen sensor.  Her levels bob from the mid 80′s to low 90′s.

If you’re in the medical field, this probably seems like a no-brainer:  Her “sats” are too low, and they have to come up to 95+.  If you’re not:  “Sats” refers to the percentage of oxygen saturation in the blood.  100% is ideal, naturally.  Healthy starts at 95% and goes up.  It was told to me that the levels needed to be above 90%, at least, in order to allay concern.

The whole ordeal is over, and I still say:  I’m about 95% sure that one or more of my other kids were “satting” below 90% when they were born.  It’s just that no one ever checked, and they came home, and they were fine.

Anyway, Nurse Jumpy wanted a second opinion, and a NICU nurse came over and noted the low sats.  She also thought it strange that Estelle should look so comfortable and be utterly free of distress, but nevertheless felt we should investigate the sats.

And that’s how we landed in the NICU.  Marcy was highly emotional about this, and rightly so.  She works in a PICU, and kids don’t land there for any old reason.  They either were sick and are sicker, or they looked healthy and got sicker.

There was a chest X-ray, there were antibiotics.  There was talk of cardiac issues and an Echo.  There were any number of guesses, and no answers.

For my part, I kept my mouth shut.  As I later told my mother:  I felt nothing but contempt over this, and had nothing nice to say, so I followed her instructions and said nothing at all.

I did wonder, couldn’t they just put Estelle on oxygen and see what happens?  There was no sense in which her condition was acute – what exactly was going to happen in the NICU that couldn’t be done in a nursery?  Moreover:  On one of my trips to see Stella in the NICU, I walked past a young man on the phone.  This is what he said -

“Yeah, she’s a little fighter.  (Pause)  Yeah, they’re saying it could be three months, just gotta wait and see.”

THAT is what the NICU is for, not for an otherwise healthy kid whose lungs are still transitioning to outside air.

Well, it turns out that the hospital simply had no other way to put Estelle on oxygen except in the NICU.   Given the medical, administrative, and business concerns involved in structuring a hospital, I decided this was not an issue anyone would look to me to correct.  (Fools!)

And so, on Day 2 of the whole ordeal, I expected Estelle to make great gains, reach a healthy O2 level, and get sent home promptly.  We could all agree, couldn’t we, that this NICU bed was going to be more urgently needed by some other kid?

But she didn’t make any gains.  In fact, between Days 2-3, she seemed to lose some ground.  She became congested, she had to be stepped back up on the oxygen tank, and she wasn’t feeding well.  As our nurse noted, one problem could quickly become 3-4 problems if something didn’t change.

Unfortunately for us, she had a more demanding patient, and so not much changed on Day 3.  It seemed Estelle’s situation was ideally formulated to fall through the cracks. * Marcy and I deliberated and disputed on the best way to handle this, with no clear direction.  What rays of hope we uncovered were quickly darkened and diminished.

 

Even in a situation like this, we are never about only one thing at a time.  And so, between this and whatever else I was about, I felt a peculiar impulse as I led my mom, who drove my two oldest daughters, to the hospital on Day 3.

It was first only a thought – drive into the guard rail, jump off a bridge.  The rest laid itself out quickly – jump where there is land, head first.  The life insurance will cover the hospital visit, and the house, and everything else will work itself out.  My absence would be felt, sure, but there were other good men who could be fathers out there, and plenty of family to step in.  And what was I, anyway?

The thought may be fairly common, in one form or another.  I have no idea how common – I have only clues to work with, not many people have confessed thinking through a spontaneous suicide.  Nor do I think there is any special virtue or honor owed to such an experience.  It is simply ugly, inviting of grave sin, and to be avoided at great cost.

It transformed from thought to impulse.  I speak metaphorically, if not literally – it was an impulse initiated in my brain, which failed to engage my body.  It simply passed through me, glided across the muscles that would have jerked the car off to the side, and did not take.**

 

Anyway, I give you an impression of my psychological state.  There is more, but this will do.

We had a lively visit with my parents and daughters, and after they left, Marcy and I discussed the situation again.  I expressed my distrust of the situation, of the governing protocols where – I felt – a common-sense medical professional would see things differently.  But I saw that all of this troubled her greatly, that it created unrelenting tension for her.  And we both simply wanted Estelle to be healthy and home.

I resigned myself simply to accept the situation, to let the doctors and nurses do what they would, and to let Marcy work from the outside of a system she knew so well on the inside.  It was maddening, but I suppressed my anger.

On my drive home to get supplies for Marcy, I sought God.  I reflected on the prospect of Stella getting worse as a direct result of a situation I was sure she didn’t belong in.  I thought, too, of the texture of my spirit, of what could instigate the impulse to jump off a bridge, of what else I had been wrestling with in life.  I wondered whether Stella might really get worse – was it inevitable now? – and, God forbid, whether there really was some mysterious and foreboding illness which no one could see coming.

God had given her, He could take her away.  I felt no indignation about this, only sadness that it might occur.

So, I did what a father is supposed to do when there is nothing left he can do:  I begged for her life.  If you had been in the car, you would have looked to see with whom I was speaking.  I was cognizant of the ability to speak directly to God, and so I did.

You have to remember how silly the prideful me would have felt.  This prayer was unnecessary.  It’s not that I wouldn’t do it, it’s that I didn’t have to – there was no problem!  Yet from Nurse Jumpy’s obvious observation to here, there suddenly was a problem with no end in sight.

And think further with me:  If there is a God, and He was to answer this prayer, to hear my plea and grant it to me, what would that look like?  Would I – should I? – expect to see an angel descending from Heaven, taking Stella into its arms, and kissing her clean?  Should I expect to return to the hospital and have a vision of the Virgin Mary holding Stella in the rocking chair at her bedside, assuring me that all would be well?

But I arrived at home, and received a message that Stella’s congestion had cleared, and she was eating well again.  And again on Day 4, that she was off oxygen several hours ahead of schedule, and ready to come home shortly after that.  And a picture came of her sleeping face with cheeks reddened where the tape had held the oxygen tubes.

And I finally arrived to pick her up, almost a full day earlier than expected, with no wires or tubes attached, and her eyes open.  It was exactly the scene I had originally expected, just two days later than I originally expected.

Did she really need to be in the NICU, or would she have recovered on her own?  For all I know, it could have been either.

Was she headed for worse, and then God heard my prayer and answered?  All I know is that the prognosis was bleak and aimless, and then suddenly she recovered.  Shall I argue with God that He has not provided sufficient evidence of His intervention?

I am not that foolish.  All I know is that every time I pray like that, He answers.

 

 

*I’m reminded of the time I was choking on a multivitamin in West Virginia, and in the process of gagging, I found a position which allowed me to breathe, even as the vitamin was stuck in my throat.  When the ambulance arrived, my friend asked if they could help me.  They said no, unless I would resume a natural position and allow the pill to block my airway again; then they could perform the Heimlich maneuver.  Bent over and resisting my gag reflex, I could not believe how stupid an idea this was.

**The enemy does not play nice, he does not wait for you to catch your breath or to pull on your armor.  He is a seducer, not a lover.  He is a tempter, not a redeemer.  But Lewis was right:  The strength of a temptation is seen by the one who resists it, not by the one who gives in.

When you notice Satan stalking you, when you hear his footfalls behind you – resist, and pray.  And best not to let your guard down.

My most grievous fault

Priest & People:
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,

And, striking their breast, they say:

through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;

Then they continue:

therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

 

They strike their breast

and first, a tremble.

Then the fault lines appear.

Then the ego is shattered.

The soul is ready for grace.

The Cause of the Unborn – Prolegomena

In an interview with Antonio Spardaro, SJ, Pope Francis addressed the question of “irregular or somewhat complex” situations, in which some Christians “live with open wounds.”  His answer was (in)famously reported as a rebuke to those Christians who are “obsessed” with the issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception.

Among those amplifying this version of events, I found none who had actually read the excerpt, let alone the whole interview.  Here’s what Francis said:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

It would be unseemly to obsess even about this – as Francis says, we ought to emphasize the essentials – but one might note:  the Holy Father is not saying that we can not or should not talk about these issues.  He is not even downplaying them as issues Christians should be passionate about (contra NARAL, et al).

Rather, by implication, he is saying the whole discussion is a bit warped.  That many, on both sides, have emphasized abortion as a single issue, and not as a reality which is treated comprehensively by a right ordering of one’s principles.  Any organization focused on a single issue is missing the point even as they try to make it.  Francis simply acknowledges that Catholics, by their faith, ought to know better.

Indeed, the well-catechized Catholic rests upon an expansive understanding of moral issues, which confidently takes up the cause of the unborn among many others.  One thinks of euthanasia, and the death penalty, and war, and sex, and poverty quite readily for their strong, tensile connections to the unborn.

It’s even more impressive than that:  One realizes, when he examines the moral edifice of the Church, that the significance of all moral issues is brought to bear on each moral issue.  Failing to do otherwise is like drawing a human face with only one eye, or spanning a river then cutting the rope bridge anyplace along the way.  Something is missing, and it turns out to be integral to the whole.

When you have a complete human face, you realize the entire beauty of that face is somehow embedded even in a single eye; when you have a complete web, you realize the strength of the whole web lies at every point.  Even the furthest flung end is lending strength to it.

Such is context.  So let us begin:  I aim, primarily, to give you a sense of that moral edifice which guides and supports the Church’s teaching on the unborn.  I hope, furthermore, that you will be persuaded of its truth, elegance, and breadth.

At bottom, I plead – I beg you – to spare the life of the most vulnerable.

On “What Sucks about the Catholic Church”

http://www.thecordialcatholic.com/sucks-catholic-church/

Saw this posted by a priest friend, then by a 2 year old convert friend for whom I had a small role in her journey to the Church.  Let’s get into it.

First – and this is truly most important – one must remember what the Catholic Church claims to be.  The Church claims to be the bearer of the Truth, the vessel of God’s grace through the Sacraments, and the communion of God’s pilgrim people on Earth.

The Church aims to shepherd you into eternal life, not (necessarily) to make you feel happy and fulfilled in this life.  I’m not aware that anyone does guarantee such a thing.  Moreover, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  You can’t be totally fulfilled in this life.

This is critical, because the temptation – aided and abetted by the very well-meaning Protestant ministries which are legion on this point – is to think we can have Heaven on earth, somehow manifest it here and now.

We really, really can’t.  Anyway, visually, that would look like a pulling down of the sky upon the earth, and if the dinosaurs teach us anything, it’s that the Cosmos should stay “up there.”

Second – there is no serious Catholic who is surprised to hear that there are flaws in the Church Militant.  If you wake up tomorrow and you find there are no flaws – blessed are you, for you have died and gone to Heaven!

The author, to his credit, answers his own lament:

I’ve come to an ultimate conclusion though, and it’s one that many Protestant converts before me have come to as well. The Church is us. As a Protestant convert to Catholicism I bring certain gifts, talents, and insights. If there’s a need for better catechesis in my parish my role isn’t to lament the church’s failure, it’s to start a Bible study. If RCIA sometimes seems like a chore for those leading it then maybe I need to volunteer next year. If not enough laypeople are devoted to keeping the church open during Eucharistic Adoration than maybe I can help arrange a schedule. Do you see what I mean?

The default attitude for us Protestant converts needs to shift—my attitude needs to shift—from seeing what sucks about the Catholic Church to doing something about it. After all, when Jesus gave his most difficult teaching on the Eucharist—his very own blood and body given to His Church—He asked his closest disciples, “Are you going to leave, too?”

St. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

See that?

You and I, we’re the ones at fault.  We’re to blame for these complaints and thousands more.  The Church that you can see is made up of 1.5 billion of us.

Something “sucks” about the Catholic Church?  It’s us.

 UPDATE:  I should have added – see how I suck? – what the author obviously implies.  That is:  If you can bless the Church, if you can create community or better educate catechumens or minister to the poor?  Do it.  That’s why you’re Catholic – because works matter.

Objective Morality – 7

So it is the careful distinction of moral ontology and moral epistemology which answers some of the more common objections to objective morality.  To wit:

There is no such thing as objective morality.  On the other hand, we should really put an end to [morally objectionable behavior of the day].

We see here that one cannot deny the existence of a moral standard, then meaningfully apply that non-existent standard to whatever he feels strongly about.  It is utter nonsense.  Moral ontology must be real for moral epistemology to mean anything.

Evolution explains all of our moral proclivities.  We are simply driven to survival, and whatever promotes human well-being is good.

But why is human survival good?  What if humans never existed, then what would be good?  This is a claim to definitive moral epistemology without having the corresponding moral ontology to support it.  It is a house without a foundation.

Our present case follows the movement from moral epistemology (eg. specific moral judgements we make) to moral ontology (i.e. the existence of some Good by which we make our judgements).  If we agree that there are true moral judgements we can make, then what is the standard by which we make them?

Now this standard must be an objective reality, or else it becomes a relative one.  If relative, then we are back to square one – our moral judgements aren’t what we think they are.  What is good might depend on your geography, your place in history, whether you are standing on your head or on your two feet.  It is famously asked – Is rape wrong on Andromeda?

Well, is it?

So the Good is an objective reality.  It must also be true outside, or beyond, time and space.  That is, the Good is not a physical object, is not subject to any physical laws.

If it were, then our moral judgements are subject to change; the most heinous crime today could be morally acceptable tomorrow.  If the Good could decay, like a physical object, the greatest act of goodness today may be evil tomorrow.  This is not how we think of our moral judgements.

Thus, the Good is objective and immaterial.  What sorts of “things” could qualify as the Good?

We have Plato’s “form of the Good,” which is the greatest form in the world of forms.  Our world of physical objects, Plato says, is patterned off the world of forms.  And like our meditation so far, Plato envisions the form of the Good as something analogous to light; so that, in view of the Good, we see everything else clearly.

If that sounds abstract, that’s because it is.  Finding candidates for “the Good” requires a turn to the abstract.

What else would qualify?

Aristotle carried this penultimate reality further – if not exactly in a moral capacity – and gave us the Unmoved Mover, a being necessarily outside of the physical world who was unchanging and eternal.  Christianity, born monotheistic, married these Greek concepts and attributed them to God.

So, not simply a standard, an abstraction of the Good, but the Lord Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.  God qualifies as the Good.

There may yet be some other candidate for the good, but anyone nominating must keep her eyes on the qualifications.

Objective Morality – 6

In the last post, we examined a claim against atheists concerning morality and found that it rested on a confusion between ontology and epistemology.  These terms may not roll off the tongue, but they can help us get where we’re going.

Let us speak a bit more plainly, though.  This claim of the Christian is not only confused, but dismissive.  Lacking any intellectual gravity, it seems to be more of a social compulsion (“Believer good, atheist bad.”) than a true challenge.*

Not to be outdone, our third atheist from a few posts back suffers the same kind of confusion.  Here is one who thinks that science answers all questions about morality, and who stands rather self-satisfied while his interlocutor waits for an answer.

Let’s first formulate a claim which captures this confusion.  It goes something like this:

Science, specifically evolution, perfectly explains human morality.  We know what is good because evolution has selected for behaviors which promote the good.  

And, if pushed:  The good is whatever promotes human well-being and causes the least amount of harm.

Now, like we did with our Christian’s rookie mistake, let us trim the fat and examine what remains.  Bear in mind the difference between ontology and epistemology.

The question is, what is the Good?  We are asking this atheist, “What is the ground of human morality, the basis for moral ontology?”

The closest we get to a direct answer is a description of what is good:  That which promotes human well-being and causes least harm.  This sounds eminently reasonable…but that’s it.

Look again:  What makes this a ground for morality?  It is clearly not – it is more an observation, a summary, rather than a reality upon which all of our morality is based.**

Moreover, the atheist usually pitches this as a reasonable idea, one which we could expect him to come up with.  And if he can do that while lacking a belief in God, well then there’s no reason we need God after all!

Obviously something is askance here, even if one cannot immediately put her finger on it.  But here it is:  He is still dealing in epistemology.  This is not an ontological statement at all, and we can demonstrate this straight away.

We may ask, “Why is that good?”

After all, why is human well-being objectively good?  Perhaps it only seems good to us, since we are driven to survive and perpetuate the species.  It is an effective mode of behavior if we want to achieve survival – but now we are only talking about wants, not objective realities.

Why not prefer the good of ants, and work toward the elimination of human beings for their benefit?  Why not prefer lifelessness, and work toward the destruction of our planet for that end?

No, we have not reached the ground yet, even after we have dealt with Science and evolution.  But you will know you have landed when you ask why a thing is good, and the thing you are asking about is the Good.

 

*As in other posts, I’ll suggest again that the more modest claim would be stronger.  Rather than saying, “Atheists cannot be moral people,” one might say, “Atheism tends to confuse a person’s moral epistemology” or, the claim we’ll be examining, “Atheism provides no ground for objective morality.”

**Not only that, but this stance suffers some absurd results.  A classic example is that such a stance justifies the killing of an innocent little girl, if somehow, by her death, millions of people are made a little bit happier.

Religion must be in Politics

Not that this hasn’t been touched on before, but let’s go for it again:

Religion must be in politics.

Let’s start by acknowledging two facts.  First, that religion has persisted throughout human history.  Second, that laws are essentially morally based, and religion has always been about morality.

Now, why might a person want to excise religion from politics?

Reasons that leap to mind include:  Bias against religion, frustration at the influence of religion in politics, or else some legitimate case against the role of religion in politics.  The third, of course, assumes the first two are illegitimate.  Mere bigotry in the first case, sour grapes in the second.

What legitimate reason might there be, to disallow religion to influence politics?  Or else, on what good and high ground ought religious people to surrender their political influence?

I honestly cannot imagine any, except that some religion were to become so powerful yet so contrary to nature that it would actually be harmful to the populace.  However, history shows that this is more often the role of ideology than religion; in either case, dominion over that society does not last forever.

Much as I believe in representing my opponents in the best possible light, let us not do all of their work for them.  Rather, what is the positive case?  Why should religion be in politics?

Because it cannot be otherwise.

Consider, first of all, what governance is:  The provision of due rights and liberties, at the cost of civic duty and fealty to the state.  Politics, then, is simply the form that governance takes, including the rise and fall of those in power.

What is religion?  I might begin to define it as a system of belief regarding the foundation of reality.*  For our present purposes, this includes the notion of value and the way we determine whether a thing is good or ill.

Now, what is a right except that to which a person is entitled?

Is a person entitled to freedom of speech?  To security of his person?  To financial support no matter what his contribution to society has been?

We don’t need to answer these questions here.  We have only to note that, to answer them, one needs to have some concept of the value of a human being (call this “dignity”), and what means provide for the satisfaction of that dignity.  In other words, if we do not satisfy the dignity of our human citizens, we fail as a government.

How would you, dear reader, begin to answer this question?  What is the value of a human being?  What is human dignity?  How do we satisfy the demands of that dignity?

These are metaphysical questions.  There is no experiment which gives us the results we need to answer such questions.  As such, they make contact with the foundation of reality, which we have, historically, struggled to comprehend.

One does not have to be religious in order to venture a guess.  Be assured, however, that religion most certainly does offer answers to such questions, and always has.

Religion is not some foreign object, not some inhuman influence within human affairs.  It is a collective, enduring, thorough-going human endeavor.  Subject it to criticism if you like – if you will likewise endure scrutiny yourself – but do not disqualify it out-of-hand, lest you expose your barbarism.

Are your answers better than those of a religion?  Demonstrate it.  Otherwise, do not begrudge a person’s sincerely held beliefs.  Are yours objectively conclusive?  Can it be that only a fool denies what you assert?

Expel religion at your peril, then, for you will likely expel the religious as well.  Imagine, in an exercise belying your own foolishness, that they are no good anyhow.

Behold:  It is the religious who often survive in continuity, and who go on to establish new societies and remake old ones.

 

*Usually in a specific narrative form.  An ideology might take a narrative form, but the characters are often generalized or symbolic.  A religion concerns specific characters, taken to have acted within human history, and heeds the consequences of that story on the human race.

Best of all possible worlds

I would like to adopt and institute the practice of writing a Christmas reflection.  Some years, it might be a story.  At any rate, it seems appropriate for one who likes to write, just as many people enjoy baking especially for the holidays.

Philosophers nowadays will sometimes frame an argument in terms of “possible worlds.”  One reason for this is because it helps distinguish between what is logically possible and what is physically possible.

For example, it is physically impossible – in our Universe – that humans could survive on the surface of Mars unprotected.  But is it logically impossible?

Well, we could imagine another Universe – a possible world – where human beings could breathe carbon dioxide and oxygen, and they could tolerate higher levels of radiation, extreme temperatures…and so on.  None of this is logically impossible.  There are no logical contradictions here, so there could be a world where all of this is possible.

This plays well to Multiverse theorists, who capture the imagination with the notion of infinite worlds where – literally! – everything that could happen does happen in one Universe or another.  Think of it:  In some other Universe, you stopped reading one paragraph ago.  In another Universe, you didn’t even open the link.  In still another Universe, you wrote this post.

As thrilling as those alternative Universes must be, there is no evidence that reality is composed this way.  Nevertheless, as a philosophical tool, the notion of possible worlds can be very useful, even to Christians.

Here is another use of possible worlds:  They help us understand the difference between contingent and necessary beings.

Let’s see – the device you are now viewing, which relays this post to you.  That exact device.  That device did not have to exist.  In point of fact, it did not exist for billions of years, and it will likely be junked and destroyed, ceasing to exist for the remaining trillions of years in the life of our Universe.

The device is obviously contingent – it depends on some other being for its existence.  We can easily imagine a Universe where this device did not exist.  (In fact, it was this very Universe, 100 years ago).

Necessary beings – if there are more than one – are entirely different.  They necessarily exist.  An example (if a matter of significant debate) is God.

When you think about it, the classic, historical, traditional understanding of God is that He must exist, that He can’t fail to exist, that He just is existence itself.  He is a necessary being, perhaps the only necessary being.

Ok.  Let that settle in.

Now – God could have made any world, any of the possible worlds which philosophers dream of but cannot themselves create.  He had, perhaps, an infinite number of worlds to choose from.

And He made this one.

Then, He who – literally! – cannot die, cannot fail to exist, took the form of a contingent being.  He became flesh and dwelt among us.  He made Himself vulnerable to death, to annihilation, to the outer darkness.

Behold, the philosopher’s mind collapses!  For, how can it be?  How can a necessary being humble Himself and make Himself vulnerable to non-existence?  How can He, who exists in any possible world, actually enter our world as one of us?  And why would He do such a thing?

This is the Incarnation.  This is Christmas.

Granite and God

If you’re not already a fan of www.houzz.com, I highly recommend it.  The pictures are often gorgeous, and the things people do with architecture and decor really are amazing.  (It can sometimes be approached as a challenge by the DIY types).

Well, Houzz led me to this site by way of an article on kitchen upgrades, and so I took in what information could find.  I’m not keen on granite, so the idea that its favor is fading intrigues me.  (Nanotech countertops?!  The future is now).

And good heavens, don’t forget the comments.  A debate broke out over the existence of God!

Granted:  It takes a little over 30 comments to get to God, and up until then, the comments were largely relevant to the article.  I was enjoying the back and forth, as I know nothing about geology.  There are even some fun electron jokes thrown in for good measure.

Now, it would seem “Faith Priest” said something worthy of being censored; though the content is lost, we get an idea from “guru dogg” that it was incendiary, possibly explosive.

“When you see a warhead missile detonating above your city, how will your state of mind react to the state of burning flesh? When your eyes melt in your sockets, how loud will you call out to God?”

Huh?  I, for one, really want to know what Faith Priest said.  No matter, there’s still some fine material ahead.  “Bubbawubba Gump” says,

Holy bat sh*t crazy, Batman! @guru, you have spent way too much time in a dark room dreaming of what god will do to everyone and you should see a psychiatrist. If the bombs drop they will definitely be sent by some psycho who believes God wants him to destroy the world, not by someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife.”

So, Gump starts off in the land of humor and proportional response, then takes a sharp turn toward Dawkinsville, where any instance of evil is “definitely” the the fault of religion.  Because only religious people perpetrate evil.

“Geri” tries to bring the conversation to the abstract:

Without God, I am the sole authority and measure of my own good. There is no objective measure of good unless it is in comparison it to the infinite goodness, God Himself.”

Geri is actually getting ahead of me in the series on objective morality, but you can guess I agree with his/her point.  Not that the combox following an article on countertop surfaces is the best place to plant one’s flag.

Not one to let a reasonable point be made, “jfahle3″ retorts:

“See, caveperson, I don’t believe in an invisible sky giant. Fortunately for you, I don’t need an invisible sky giant to tell me not to steal from you, I just know it’s not right to steal from you.”

Let’s see – presuming superiority by name-calling, grossly misrepresenting what is meant by God, and failing to comprehend the point he/she is criticizing.  Here is the New Atheist trifecta!*

Something is missing, though.  “SwoodTN” goes for the knock-out with a left hook nobody saw coming…

Interesting article about granite. You know what is really interesting about granite? It can be found on every continent on earth and has the distinction of being carbon dated as earth’s oldest rock. Scientists say it formed over millions of years as the earth’s surface cooled. But if you look at granite under a spectron microscope, you will see radio halos trapped inside.”

Unless you’ve read Internet comboxes before, then you totally saw it coming.  Here is the “But how do you explain this?” angle, which takes a narrow set of facts and interprets them in an apparently straightforward way, with the conclusion that God did it.  Frankly, the jargon is beyond me, but the rhetoric is par for the course.

“Prism” replies with the obligatory, jargon-for-jargon rebuttal:

“(2) Granites that have been appropriately age-dated (using K-Ar, U-Pb, Rb-Sr isotope dating, e.g.) range from billions to less than a million years old. Felsic magma may be cooling deep in the earth (forming new granite) even as we speak (basic earth processes continue to operate as always), but younger intrusive rocks are not yet exposed at the surface for study.
And (3) re: radio halos in granite – not even close to true. See http://paleo.cc/ce/halos.htm”

When you’re numbering your points 40 comments deep in an article about kitchen upgrades, you might be wasting your time.  It might be easier to say, “That’s interesting,” and point out that a mysterious occurrence in geology – if it is actually mysterious – does not tell us much about the existence of God, the ground of all reality.

Only two more, because they are more down to earth (or, up to the surface?).  “Stevo” says:

So called scientific TRUTHS are only theories that are constantly amended as more facts are discovered. Christianity is belief in proven facts about Jesus that only requires faith.”

I think I get what Stevo is saying, but his intellectual opponents on dishwashers.reviewed.com are not even going to try.  Remember, Christian brothers and sisters – when in doubt, be modest in your claims.  If you have no doubt, be even more modest.

We finish with “PlacidAir,” who replies,

There are no “proven facts” about Jesus — that’s why it’s called ‘faith’.

I strain myself here to understand what PlacidAir is saying, though as a disposition, I do endorse modesty (see above).  Is PlacidAir saying that we have not proven that Jesus existed, for instance?  The simple existence of Jesus of Nazareth is as close to certain as it can be – doubting it gets you the label of “Myther,” which is about the same level as the “FlatEarther“.

There probably is some grand take-away here, but I’ve relayed this combox debate simply because I found it amusing.  I hope it lightens your day.

 

*As always, the New Atheist is to be contrasted with the serious, non-militant atheist.  They may be distinguished by the following measure:  The latter can be reasoned with.