How Do We End a Culture War?

In June 1996 the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hundreds of locals were present in protest of the event, and rightly so. The KKK has, since its inception, been a force of racism and bigotry. One protestor present that day was 18 year-old Keshia Thomas.

During the protest someone announced over a megaphone that there was “a Klansman in the crowd” The man was quickly knocked to the ground and kicked and hit with placard sticks.

As people shouted, “Kill the Nazi,” Keshia Thomas, fearing that mob mentality had taken over, decided to act. Thomas threw herself on top of the man she had come to protest, protecting him from the blows.

When asked about her actions, Thomas said, “Someone had to step out of the pack and say, ‘this isn’t right’… I knew what it was like to be hurt. The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me… violence is violence – nobody deserves to be hurt, especially not for an idea.”

This photograph was named one of Life magazine’s “Pictures of the Year” for 1996

Now, contrast Keshia Thomas’ story to that of Bahar Mustafa, the diversity officer at Goldsmith’s University whose job it is to promote good relations and practices towards different minority groups. Mustafa’s job is currently under scrutiny after she tweeted “kill all white men”. She sought to justify her actions by arguing that this phrase and others that she’s used are a way to “reclaim” power for minorities and women. Mustafa seems to believe that such sayings are appropriate weapons against racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry, perhaps made all the more potent for their shock value and aggressiveness.

I offer these stories as examples of some of the ways we have come to confront the specter of racism. The first is a story of love, the second, of cultural warfare. I don’t know if Keshia Thomas is Christian but it certainly would come as no surprise because her actions exhibit precisely what all Christians are called to do. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us clear instructions on how to deal with our enemies saying, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” He continues, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Keshia Thomas had the opportunity to hurt someone she thought hated her, or even to stand by and watch as others did it but instead she protected him. She responded to hate with love and gave mercy for bigotry. In a political sphere entrenched in a culture war this is not the kind of response that most American politics, conservative or progressive, demands of us, but it is what Jesus demands of us and as Christians that’s something we should take far more seriously.

Mustafa said only BME (black and minority ethnic} women and non-binary people were allowed to attend an anti-racism event.

Mustafa’s confrontation of course represents another extreme. Like Thomas, Mustafa protests the evils of bigotry but hers is a justice without mercy in which hate is traded for hate and bigotry returned in response to bigotry. In contrast to the love Jesus demands we show our enemies, these tactics are meant to silence, shame and destroy. They are weapons of war that hurt the innocent and the guilty alike. Mustafa’s statement “kill all white men” is reminiscent of the Massacre of Beziers. In 1209, after the city had been taken by Christian crusaders there was the question of what to do with the enemy as the innocent of the city were mingled among them. One abbot allegedly said “kill them all and let God sort them out” which is precisely what happened. Mustafa’s flippant tweet shares the same sentiment that abbot expressed 800 years ago.

The metaphor of war in describing our cultural encounters is evident everywhere. Opponents on hot-topic issues like abortion and homosexuality are often portrayed as being at war with one another and one need merely turn on the TV to witness a constant barrage of angry epithets from both sides. Divisive language meant to garner support from one side and dehumanize the other are frequently employed: categorizations like “makers” and “takers” for example. Accusations of racism , sexism, freeloading, and even communist conspiracy abound. Any advantage that can be obtained to help your side or hurt theirs will be used. Like destroying a small business owner’s livelihood when they refuse to bake you a cake. In the culture wars there are only two kinds of people. There are the good guys and then there’s everyone else.

While the rhetoric of war may be an effective tactic in ginning up support for one’s cause, when it comes to overcoming bigotry and establishing ourselves as a peaceful and tolerant society such weapons are ultimately self-defeating. To realize such a society means giving up the win-at-all-costs, scorched-earth mentality; it means seeing our opponents, not as enemies to destroy, but as humans in need of love. The culture wars and a tolerant society are incompatible because to achieve such a society means being willing to sometimes back down from a fight, even lose, rather than demonize and scapegoat the enemy. It means turning the other cheek and walking a mile in another person’s shoes

Ultimately, we may not be meant to win the culture war but we are called to end it. Such a tremendous task can only be accomplished by an equally radical commitment to love as Jesus taught us. The division and hurt present in our nation today will not be healed by epithets or witty remarks but by genuine encounters with our “enemies” in which we say, “you are loved.”

Capital Punishment – Blinded by Vengeance

Last week, I read a chilling article from The Atlantic titled The Cruel and Unusual Execution of Clayton Lockett. The author, Jeffrey Stern, in one of the best written I’ve ever read (on any topic), shares just how corrupt and unethical capital punishment is in this country. Corruption and ineptitude that led to prisoners being administered inadequate and untested cocktails of drugs by unqualified personnel, culminating in the torturous executions of multiple inmates.

Porch 1

In a post-holocaust world, Conservative politicians want to execute people in gas chambers.

The Supreme Court is currently ruling on a case involving the botched executions of three inmates in Oklahoma, including Clayton Lockett. Undeterred from their blood lust, Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma passed a law in April allowing for execution by gas chamber just in case the Supreme Court rules that lethal injections are unconstitutional. That’s right, in a post-holocaust world, Conservative politicians want to execute people in gas chambers. It should cause us serious alarm when the champions of capital punishment tend to be “pro-life” Christian Conservatives with 76% of Republicans favoring the death penalty for convicted murderers.

There is no adequate justification or defense of the death penalty in the United States today – especially if one is calling themselves a Christian. The reasons are numerous, not only in variety but in kind – ethical, theological, and economic arguments for the abolition of capital punishment are legion.

Pragmatically, it’s a fact that death row inmates cost states more than those serving life sentences, in some cases three times as much. Additionally, there’s no evidence that the death penalty actually deters crime. Furthermore, we are killing hundreds of innocent people because 4% of those on death row are likely innocent, this fact alone should be enough for to stop us from implementing the irrevocable punishment. And if these facts are convincing enough then we must consider that 3-7% of executions are botched with inmates screaming in agony as their given unreliable drugs prescribed, not by a doctor, but by the prison’s warden or attorney.

The sheer evil and stupidity of capital punishment is even more evident for Catholics living in the United States. Quoting Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Catechism states that while the teaching of the Church does not outright prohibit the death penalty, but only if there are no other means to protect innocent people from violent criminals. The Catechism continues:

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means…Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent” (CCC 2267).

In other words, the only way that a Catholic in the US can licitly support capital punishment, no matter how heinous the crime, is if it can be proved that there are no other means to protect society from the convicted criminal. Otherwise one would be contradicting the Catechism, St. John Paul II, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Porch 2

The death penalty, like abortion, is an issue where Catholics, along with other reasonable people, are blinded by self-interest.

The death penalty, like abortion, is an issue  where Catholics, along with other reasonable  people, are blinded by self-interest. In the case of  abortion we can’t see past the inconvenience of  having a baby and the restriction that pregnancy  puts on our sexual preferences and practices.  Likewise, we are blinded to the evil of capital  punishment by our desire for vengeance and the  “need” to see bad men suffer. Like the prophet  Jonah who lamented over God sparing the city of  Nineveh, we have such a desire to see the wicked  suffer that we make viewing areas for executions.

So, when confronted with a convicted murderer and terrorist like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, do we fall blindly into lockstep with the jury and all who wish to see Nineveh burn for it’s crimes? Or do we look on this man with the eyes of Christ?

Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”(Matthew 25:34-36)

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We are commanded to look at the incarcerated and see the face of Christ.

Our Lord explicitly identifies himself with the terrorist, thief, murderer, rapist – thus we are commanded to look at the incarcerated and see the face of Christ. How does a Christian respond to the evil of the Boston Marathon bombings? I think the Jesuit priest, Fr. James Martin, said it well in a recent Facebook post:

You don’t have to feel much pity for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I don’t. But that doesn’t mean that his life is not sacred. And the more I live as a Christian, the more I am convinced of this truth: every human life is utterly sacred.

Tonight let us pray for the victims of the Boston bombings, both living and dead; for those who mourn the dead and comfort those who were so terribly injured; and also, difficult as it may be, but as Jesus commands us when he asks us explicitly to pray for our enemies, for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

 

Linked sources and further reading:

  • The Cruel and Unusual Execution of Clayton Lockett
    – http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/06/execution-clayton-lockett/392069/
  • Lethal injection case exposes U.S. top court’s death penalty divide
    – http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/29/us-usa-court-deathpenalty-idUSKBN0NK1EP20150429
  • The Trouble with Oklahoma’s New Execution Technique
    – http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/04/oklahoma-death-penalty-gas-chamber-117156.html#.VVzh2vlVhHx
  • Americans’ Support for Death Penalty Stable
    – http://www.gallup.com/poll/178790/americans-support-death-penalty-stable.aspx
  • The slow death of the death penalty
    – http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21601270-america-falling-out-love-needle-slow-death-death-penalty
  • 1 In 25 Death Sentence Prisoners Is Likely Innocent, Study Finds
    – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/28/death-sentence-prisoners-_n_5229094.html
  • 7 Things You Should Know About The Death Penalty, Even If You Support It
    – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/15/death-penalty-boston-bomber_n_7294748.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000013
  • Evangelium vitae
    – http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae.html
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church
    – http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm
  • Having the wrong debate about the boston marathon bomber
    – http://www.catholicvote.org/having-the-wrong-debate-about-the-boston-marathon-bomber/
  • Death penalty / Capital punishment
    – http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/death-penalty-capital-punishment/
  • Fr. James Martin’s Facebook Page
    – https://www.facebook.com/FrJamesMartin
  • Killing Capital Punishment
    – https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/04/death-penalty-public-support-firing-squad/
  • Dzokhar Tsarnaev Gets the Death Penalty
    – http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/05/dzokhar-tsarnaev-death-penalty/393446/?utm_source=SFFB
  • There’s still no evidence that executions deter criminals
    – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/04/30/theres-still-no-evidence-that-executions-deter-criminals/

 

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and the Director of Religious Education in small town USA. He’s studied just enough Theology to get him into trouble. Click here to see his other posts for The Porch.

Has Science Conquered Philosophy?

There seems to be a consensus among certain academics that science is grounded in mathematics and that math is the “purest” of all disciplines, reliant on no other field than itself. There is math and there is applied math; it encompasses every other scientific discipline. This comic from XKCD sums it up nicely:

From this assumption it becomes easy to see how the dichotomy of religion versus science becomes so easily accepted by both sides of the debate. Anything that does not have mathematics as its foundation must therefore be unscientific. Religion and philosophy might make for nice personal beliefs that make us feel good about ourselves but they aren’t objective and they can’t tell us anything about the world that science couldn’t already explain.

Famed physicist Stephen Hawking elaborates:

Most of us don’t worry about these questions most of the time. But almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.

In fact, I argue the contrary. Science, including the science of mathematics, ultimately find their foundation in philosophy. Disciplines like logic and epistemology provide the basic building blocks upon which the scientific method and mathematical proofs are built.

Albert Einstein is a perfect example of how philosophy informs science. Einstein would often spend time simply thinking through problems, reflecting not merely on its empirical aspects but on concepts and the meaning behind the empirical evidence. As an article by PBS entitled Why Physics Needs Philosophy notes: “Einstein arrived at the theory of relativity by reflecting on conceptual problems rather than on empirical ones.” In other words, philosophy played a key role in developing the theory of relativity.

An excerpt from an interview with physicist George Ellis further elaborates:

Horgan: Krauss, Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson have been bashing philosophy as a waste of time. Do you agree?

Ellis: If they really believe this they should stop indulging in low-grade philosophy in their own writings. You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis. You can choose not to think about that basis: it will still be there as an unexamined foundation of what you do. The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined.

Actually philosophical speculations have led to a great deal of good science. Einstein’s musings on Mach’s principle played a key role in developing general relativity. Einstein’s debate with Bohr and the EPR paper have led to a great of deal of good physics testing the foundations of quantum physics. My own examination of the Copernican principle in cosmology has led to exploration of some great observational tests of spatial homogeneity that have turned an untested philosophical assumption into a testable – and indeed tested – scientific hypothesis. That’ s good science.

Physicist and quantum gravity expert Carlo Rovelli argues that this philosophical superficiality has actively harmed scientific advancement.

Theoretical physics has not done great in the last decades. Why? Well, one of the reasons, I think, is that it got trapped in a wrong philosophy: the idea that you can make progress by guessing new theory and disregarding the qualitative content of previous theories.  This is the physics of the “why not?”  Why not studying this theory, or the other? Why not another dimension, another field, another universe?    Science has never advanced in this manner in the past.  Science does not advance by guessing. It advances by new data or by a deep investigation of the content and the apparent contradictions of previous empirically successful theories.  Quite remarkably, the best piece of physics done by the three people you mention is Hawking’s black-hole radiation, which is exactly this.  But most of current theoretical physics is not of this sort.  Why?  Largely because of the philosophical superficiality of the current bunch of scientists.

The “why not?” philosophy is readily observable today. The article Quantum Physics and the Abuse of Reason illustrates the rabbit hole many physicists have gone down based on their interpretation of a single experiment. The double slit experiment shows light behaving both like a wave and a particle, which is strange in itself, but weirder still the light’s behavior seems to change under observation. Unobserved the light behaves both like a wave and a particle but under observation the wave-function collapses. There are many theories attempting to explain this phenomenon. Some people believe that the double-slit experiment proves that the universe is not an external reality but that it is our conscious observation that determines the universe. Others believe in a “many-worlds” theory that states that “the wave-function never actually collapses, it only appears to collapse, because reality itself splits into two channels. Our consciousness only resides in one of these worlds at a time, so that’s why we can’t perceive or interact with these alternate realities. Because quantum events happen constantly, you end up with a practically infinite number of real universes, each with only a micro-change between the others.”

Some are willing to throw out classical mechanics based on an experiment we don’t fully understand. Other scientists are abandoning the idea of “falsifiability.” The concept refers to whether something is falsifiable or testable. For example, a universal generalization like “all roses are red” can’t be proven by any number of confirming observations but it can be falsified by observing a single rose of another color; it is therefore falsifiable. Falsifiability has long been the demarcation between science and non-science where the practice of declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is considered pseudoscience. We cannot declare true what is untestable. However, according to physicist Sean Carroll falsifiability is a philosophical concept with no place in modern physics. String theory is unfalsifiable in practice, at least for now, but Carroll believes that that shouldn’t deter us from accepting it as a legitimate theory on the same level or even preferable to testable alternatives. Why not?

Ellis explains why not:

This is a major step backwards to before the evidence-based scientific revolution initiated by Galileo and Newton.  The basic idea is that our speculative theories, extrapolating into the unknown and into untestable areas from well-tested areas of physics, are so good they have to be true. History proves that is the path to delusion: just because you have a good theory does not prove it is true. The other defence is that there is no other game in town. But there may not be any such game.

Scientists should strongly resist such an attack on the very foundations of its own success. Luckily it is a very small subset of scientists who are making this proposal.

To physicists like Ellis and Rovelli philosophy is far from dead and is in no danger of being outpaced by science. To the contrary, good science depends on good philosophy. Any attempt to push philosophy out of the realm of science will only be met with scientific disaster. A scientific community stripped of all philosophical tendency would be a stale, stagnant beast, resistant to truly novel ideas while accepting the latest fad theories with utter gullibility. Now that would be a shame.

Tolerance and Virtue

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Friday,  March 20, 2015

When Socrates spoke on the two principles of knowledge and ignorance, there is the notion that sound ethical behavior arises from knowledge and evil by the latter. Morality becomes centered on the progression towards knowledge.For Aristotle, this was the point of pure contemplation upon one’s existence. In order to produce a ethical modern society, we are encouraged to go out and learn about the cultures that compose our communities. This coincides with Augustine’s statement, which is also used by Aquinas, that “one cannot love what they do not know”. Yet, when confronted with ideas that one does not like, we are told to practice tolerance as a form of social virtue. The problem is the emphasis on tolerance does not work with the pursuit of knowledgable love. Rather, it does that opposite by acting as a censure in which we force ourselves to be ignorant of another.

Tolerance is defined primarily as accepting the existence of traits and practices that one does not approve of. But what is happening in order to allow communication between two individuals tolerating the other? In the theoretical scenario of an African-American citizen conversing with a racially biased individual, is it just these two simply accepting, as a present reality, the conflicting differences between the two? I say no, as, especially in situations of race and prejudice, the conscious awareness of these traits cannot be simply accepted. If communication is possible, it is only because these negative characteristics are pushed into the background. We know they are there, but we choose to not let them immediately dictate the current situation. As such, one is never fully addressing another as they are in their totality.

This is important in terms of the inability for tolerance to fully resolve the problems of social communication. This can be seen explicitly in the growing circular arguments of “You are not tolerant” followed by “You are not tolerant of my intolerance”. What is happening here is not a rhetorical means of evading tolerance, but a showing of tolerances own limitation. Tolerance, as a permanent means of creating peace, becomes obstructed by its own intolerance towards the intolerant. Within any social relationship, there is this initial moment of tolerance in which one differs their attention away from traits they do not like. But, in the growth of knowledge and communication with that individual, there arises this point in which tolerance of these characteristics is no longer possible. There is this process by which those who promote tolerance must become intolerant of another’s refusal to be tolerant. In dialogues concerning sexuality for instance, there is this necessary moment in which the conservative and liberal can no longer tolerate the other.

What should not be concluded from this is intolerance being the more lasting method of communication. It does not follow that the limitations of tolerance should lead to an opposite unlimited intolerance. Intolerance is just as limited as it focuses on changing perspectives of individual characteristics. What truly elevates relationships within society is the application of the virtue. With specific differences in mind, the general definition of the virtues are that they are dispositions/attitudes towards life that allow for one to be a good person. To understand its relationship to tolerance and intolerance, virtue acts as a mediator between when to reasonably be tolerant or intolerant. The mediating principle of virtue is important as it clarifies my view of tolerance: it is inherently pragmatic. It is important, but its importance should be understood within the confines of pragmatism. Virtues provide a means of elevating relationships outside of a tolerance/intolerance dynamic. In lifting one up towards goodness, there is an ethical condition that goes beyond needing to tolerate.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. He finally remembered that he has his own blog https://musingconvert.wordpress.com/

Catholicism and the University: The Analogy of Catholicism

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Saturday,  March 14, 2015

Laurentius_de_Voltolina-439x353

In the City of God, Augustine presented the world as being divided between two groups: the City of God and the City of Men. The rift between these demonstrate the clear “otherness” each city displays towards the other. As Christopher Dawson relates in his Dynamics of World History, the two cities have served as a metanarrative for the medieval world’s inconclusive attitude towards Church and State. This rift appears again within the current spheres of the secular and the religious insomuch as each are credited with their own autonomy. Tensions arise when either of these institutions seek to assert themselves upon the other. One particular focal point of this tension can be found in the Catholic university. How does it identify itself when the secular and religious compose its student demographic? Has it not become a sort of unitive point in which both cities have been interwoven with each other? It is my view that this conflict arises from the burden poorly handled by those assuming the catholic identity. Moving from the whole to the particular, an answer to this dilemma can be found in harkening back to the very understanding of this identity: Catholic.

The philosophical stance by which the Church identifies the nature of the world is the analogia entis. Proponents of the stance can trace their origin to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and his Aristotelian stance in the 12th century. As clarified by Erich Przywara, the analogy of being stipulates that the transcendent is “in-beyond” the nature of creation; the transcendent is outside of the world while also remaining immanent to what it does . There remains no radical ontological separation between the created and uncreated within the analogia entis. What is presented is a unity of what are two very distinct philosophical stances: The Platonic and the Aristotelian.

The founders of these two schools held two very different views of the world. Plato viewed truth and reality as entirely pertaining to the transcendent in which the created domain is an image of these transcendent forms. To unify the multitude of forms, Plotinus proposed that these forms are in the mind of God and united within his one Being. Aristotle differed by asserting that these divine ideas are immanent to the created world, while proposing that the divine is indifferent to the operations of the created world. There is no personal God by which the world refers to. Rather, there is merely many beings united in an act of existence with their reality fully within them. Man need not work to ascend a divine ladder, but focus on contemplating themselves and the idea that is within them; God contemplates himself, while creation works to contemplate itself amid its own changing. This difference between the two schools is seen in Aristotle’s rejection of Plato’s assertion that the arts can be inspired by a divine agency.

The response with the dynamics of history have shown how the unity of these two schools have been a difficult and tumultuous road. From the Platonic/Neo-Platonic perspective, the secular and the Church in this world share the same status as images but distinct in that they reflect different eternal ideas. Plotinus further adds to this by making both of these ideas intermingled in the unity of God’s Being. For the Aristotelian view, both share existence but contain different principles within their very actions. Yet, in history, the actions of both are intermingled and confused which halts an immediate knowledge of pure difference. The Church works to be the form of the secular by making it part a divinely oriented society. Meanwhile, the secular perceives the Church as arising from the same social institutions that compose the secular.

This conflict proceeds from the Medieval struggle to distance the two. The monastic communities were able to succeed by separating themselves from the feudal system, while the Pope could not amid the Investiture crises. Medieval society was able to maintain two strictly different codes of law, but the practice of these laws differed in regards to bishops and popes who maintained both ecclesial and secular authority. Universities, especially within Aquinas own time, shared this struggle between whether the Church or the secular should lead it. Essentially, the struggle pertained to whether one community would restrict the ability for students and teachers to perform their duties. The ecclesiastical fear was that the secular would reduce the university to serving particular needs of the local bureaucracies. Concerns such as this are practically reversed today as the secular fears a limitation of knowledge by the Church; fears which have become justified following the implementation of the Codex of Errors. The Church’s response to modernity has hard-locked the identity of the Church from the secular; meanwhile, the secular’s antipathy towards the ancien regime has created an antithetical structure. Each has proceeded to police and monitor those among their ranks for issues of liberalism or conservatism. From where does the synthesis arise that resolves these two?

What needs to be recognized, regardless of the feud, is that there has never been a clear and definitive break within the shared intellectual history. Any such breaks within a system of thought has continued within that thought’s very history. To point out an example of this, the Church’s history brings with it the continued knowledge of its detractors. The heretic continues on through the historical data just as much as the orthodox. The Gnostics, Nomians, Antinomians, Ebionites, and Docetists are recorded within its earliest histories. Arius follows alongside Nicea, and Nestorius proceeds alongside Chalcedon. Modernity’s principles continue to be entirely accessible from the Church’s own writings in Vatican I. If this knowledge was to be confined to some punitive abyss, it should have been forgotten. Rather, the Church has become a nexus of knowledge in which its benefactors and detractors are united within the historical procession towards the divine. Secular history also contain this nexus as the “Age of Reason”, the Enlightenment, Modernity, and Postmodernity have also continue to appeal to the ancients. As Umberto Eco points out in his From the Tree to the Labyrinth, the Enlightenment, for all its assaults on the aforementioned ancien regime, still keeps the knowledge of its antithesis in its encyclopedic pool of knowledge.

The nexus not only provides a structure for a continuation of knowledge, but also points to a proper understanding of what it means to refer to one as “catholic”. In regards to its very etymology, when one is identified as being catholic, they are identified as “universal”. There never is, historically speaking, a pure mimesis of what is contrary to it, as the detractors are caught up in its very universality. The heretics and excommunicants are the Church’s excommunicants and heretics; they are still identified in regards to it and still compose its history. Duns Scotus speaks of language as the symbols by which the understandings of our minds are expressed to each other. As such, the word “catholic” is not some Derridean construct from rhetoric detached from the intellect. Catholic, much like “multiplicity” or “all”, are these singular expressions of understanding that contain all particulars within them. To use a Deleuzian phrase, it is the “One-All” term that unites the many within one understanding, definition, and identity. As such, there should never be a willingness to cast something out of this unity, especially within the Catholic university. Anything less would detract from this universality. If one is going to assert that transcendent principles are in-beyond all, it must assert that true universality of this phrase.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. He finally remembered that he has his own blog https://musingconvert.wordpress.com/

Modern Indulgences

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Saturday,  February 28, 2015

When reading about Reformation Europe, there is also that recourse to the practice of paid indulgences within the Church. The main point of this recourse is to discuss the issue with the notion of buying one’s way into heaven. While, as many apologists no doubt have said, the notion of buying one’s way into heaven is a overly reductionist explanation. Indulgences exist prior to the economical method of the Reformation era. But there is a fundamental question related to economically buying one’s way into a good ethical standing. The importance of such a question is evident when one looks at the socio-economical ethics that seems common in our business models today.

The practice of paid indulgences arose in the 15th-16th as the result of changing European society. Leonard Hoff’s insightful text The Analogical Turn: Rethinking Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa describes this change as the severing of the old medieval communitas <more specifically, the liturgical common space>. One contributor to this was the growing economic conditions within Christendom that lead to the development of a distinct merchant class. Within the Divine Economy <the many ways by which God draws his people to salvation>, the paid indulgences became a common occurrence to suit those within this merchant class. Indulgence practices would very over what was viewed to be the most appropriate method to the individual. Usually, what this would lead to would be fiscal payment by the rich, and physical labor (e.g. pilgrimages) for the poor.

"A Question to a Mintmaker" by Jeorg Breu Elder

“A Question to a Mintmaker” by Jeorg Breu Elder

From my experience, the furor over this between the Reformation era Catholics and modern day commentators differ. Nobility generally complained about what the money was being used for <with harsh critiques of the Papal States for using them to help with its prestige>. Among the peasants, the class distinction between them and the rich <merchants, priests, nobility> inspired more hostility as presented in texts such as Peasant’s Fire: The Drummer of Niklashausen by Richard Wunderli. Even within Luther’s Catholic early writings, the hostility was more drawn towards malpractice that always followed the paid method, not the indulgences themselves. The modern critique, on a more normative level, revolves around the notion of buying one’s way to heaven. While certainly influenced by the faith v works dichotomy of the Reformation, the view, at least among the secular, can be said to revolve around buying one’s ethical status. The question is, with current trends, have the moderns lost the validity of this critique?

Within the current economical mindset, consumption is rewarded by buying into charity with every purchase. For instance, when buying fast food, one is commonly asked to contribute money to St. Jude’s Hospital. Starbucks promotes assisting the countries they export from; Chick-fil-A found itself benefiting financially from the American culture war. The ethical and economic spheres are grounded together within our culture. While certainly one will say, “Well of course ethics and the economy are grounded together. An ethical economy is a healthy economy.” True. The point I wish to present is the relationship between one’s ethical status and the medium by which it is accomplished. To refer back to the Chick-fil-A example, the conservative Christian perceives his consumption as a means of holding back the domineering Liberal threat. The act of consumption has become the medium by which the Right is supporting its views of traditional marriage. What is derived from this is an ethical status derived from consumption not sacrifice. The money paid for fast food is not sacrificial, it is consumptive.

As a final note, there should be a brief reference to another critique which simply is the emphasis on heaven in indulgences. Perhaps, from a more atheistic perspective, paying for some fictional status in the afterlife is what makes indulgences unethical. Fair enough, but the notion of heaven is no purged from the atheistic model; it is rendered material or at least immanent. I do not believe the rise in volunteer work, ethical capitalist alternatives, and environmental care are the result of some self-masturbatory need to feel good. There is this sense of contributing to a better world. This is not a transcendent heaven, yes, but it is a better future than what it currently present. Regardless of the atheistic or the ethical critiques, upon looking at our society, we are throwing our money towards an ethics. We are indeed making a system of paying for the sins of our own system.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. Sooner or later he will work on his course material, but there are blog posts to write! 

Crusading One’s Way Into the Ground

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Wednesday,  February 11, 2015

Generally, when one hears a statement that is pedestrian, the best course of action is to regard it for what it is: a pedestrian statement. Obama’s remark really should just be passed a long and forgotten; but, this current political sphere has decided to elevate it to an absurd level. What has been unleashed is a sleuth of media releases concerning the “true history” of the Crusades. This post will not be counted amongst the Crusader apologists. What is presented to you, the esteemed reader, is a former-apologist’s recantations of his former charge. When I converted to Catholicism, there was this spirit of needing to solidify the ground by which I chose to stand. Years later, views have changed and information was re-analyzed. As such, this is a very brief counter to the ideological views that both the promoters and detractors learn by.

1. The Amorphic Mass of Mohammedans

Appeals to the great Muslim Other’s conquering hordes is a trend appearing on my Facebook feed as of late. The basic summary of this position is that the Crusades were launched against this coordinated Islamic horde that had conquered a lot of East Christian territory. This view is usually always accompanied by the map of the Umayyad Caliphate because “Look at all that conquest!”

ummayid

One point needs to be very clear: the Umayyad Caliphate was very short lived. The Islamic unity did not withstand the schism between the Sunni and Shiites which divided this caliphate. This is not what the Crusaders were fighting. The Crusader, specifically during the First Crusade, were primarily fighting the Sunni Seljuk Turks and the Sultanate of Rum in Anatolia. The Egyptian Caliphate at the time was Shiite <although this would change under Saladin who politically converted Egypt to Sunni>. The stories of pilgrims being slaughtered on their way to Jerusalem are true, but it must be remembered that this itself was not even coordinated. The Seljuk fought under the decentralized authority of military leaders who primarily gained wealth from plunder. The Levant, while still having Arabic leaders, was primarily a frontier of Turkish warbands. If anything, the Muslim leaders had very little control over what was happening and they too also suffered economically from this. The Crusaders were primarily fighting these warbands which would become progressively more centralized under Kilij Arslan against the Crusaders <who, for the record, was busy fighting other Turks before fighting the Crusaders>.

2. But the Crusades were ethical due to Just War theory!

constantinople

The Fall of Constantinople

Another defense centers primarily on the Church’s stance concerning Just War and what is needed for a just cause. The problem I have with relying heavily on the causa bellum argument is that the just war theory pertains to one thing: the initiation of a war. Just War theorists, in my honest opinion, continue to run into an issue that an initially just cause equates to an overarching value judgment of a war despite the incidence that occur within the war. In short: good cause means good war despite bad occurrences. This might have further underpinnings, especially among Catholic scholars, with the claim that effects are never greater than their cause. The initial issues that I have with this position is that it relies on the broadest denominator of judgment in order to discern value. Within the pursuit of knowledge and clarity, refinements are necessary in order to properly assess information. When studying the Crusades, there are instances of heroism but also instances of depravity. The Gesta Francorum presents pious figures such as Raymond de Toulouse, and horrendous acts such as the cannibalism of dead Islamic soldiers <which, to be fair, horrified the Crusaders as well>. The Fourth Crusade with the sack of Constantinople also appears as giant black mark on the Crusader record. Specifically with regards to Constantinople, the claim that good causes remain sound despite bad effects can be challenged. Just War theory acts as if the causes and effects of a particular situation are isolated enough to be adequately valued. Rather, the causes of wars themselves find themselves as effects of causes that led to them. The further split between East and West, the collapse of the Shiite Caliphates, the rise of the Sunnis, the recurring infighting in Christendom, et al emerge as effects that act as causes that lead to much greater events in history than that which triggered the Crusades. And what triggered the Crusades? According to Pope Urban II, the violence done to pilgrims and Eastern Christians by the Turks <who were not even affiliated with the Umayyid Caliphate…>.

3. For the Wealth!

To conclude this, a brief mention must be made about the secular responses to the Crusades. The general opinion of secular scholars is the Crusades were immersed within economic causes. The issue I have had with the economic interpretation is that it does not adequately match up to the data. Christendom, after the First Crusade especially, was generally plunged into economic ruin as debts would be made and the debtor would inexplicably die overseas. The time after a particular Crusade were generally violent pursuits to re-solidify an economy broken by war debts. Financially theories, in my opinion, are more applicable to the Reconquista of Spain as the Spanish territories were more valuable than the Levant. This is also true for the Albigensian Crusade which occurred in Toulouse, a crucial trade route between the Spanish and French kingdoms. If anything can be ascertained by the invalidity of a pure economic theory <in addition to the bellicose views of the apologists>, the Crusades covers a grey area of conflicting motives. The apologist may find shelter in the moral haziness, but the grey still does not shine with the light of grace.

Instead of a bilbiography, a very short recommended reading list:

Warriors of God by James Reston

God’s War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. He wishes people would take a deep breath and calm down before sending the painful controversy train onward….maybe chill with yoga and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.