Thursday, July 23, 2009

L'Engle and the Dehumanizing Effects of Victimhood

From Madeleine L'Engle's book Walking on Water:

Sin, that unpopular word again. The worse things get, the more we try to rationalize and alibi. When we do wrong we try to fool ourselves (and others) that it is because our actions and reactions have been coded into our genetic pattern at the moment of conception. Or our mothers didn't understand us. Or they understood us too well. Or it is the fault of society. Certainly it is never our fault, and therefore we have not sinned.
[By] such dirty devices, any shred of free will left in the human being is taken away. If I do wrong, I may do it unwittingly, thinking I am doing something for the best; but if it turns out to be wrong, I have done it, and I must bear the responsibility. It is not somebody else's or something else's fault. If it is, [then] I am less than human.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Pertinent Question

There is a story in the Gospels (I forget which) where Jesus heals a man that has been lingering next to a pool of water for some thirty years. The water was supposedly disturbed every once and a while when an angel came and touched it, and the first person to bath themselves in the water after it was disturbed would be healed of their ailments. The man in question was a paralytic, however, and had no one to take him to the pool. So he sat unmoved for around thirty years.
When Jesus found him, his first question He asked him was, "What do you want?" I believe it was John Eldridge who pointed out that this is an astounding question. It seemed that Jesus' first step in healing the man was to get him to reestablish what his desire was, his goal, his end game, for sitting near the pool. It is not unreasonable to assume that, after having sat still without success for around thirty years, that he had eventually forgotten what was the point of it all.
I believe that Jesus' question to the paralytic is highly pertinent to our current culture and society that has been terribly paralyzed by the grip of post-modernism. We would do well to ask people, both liberal and conservative, atheistic and spiritual, secular and religious, what it is exactly that they want. When faced with the tumultuous lot of faddist and trivial institutions, ideologies, parties, minority groups, voting blocks, revolutions, moralities, and philosophies that our current culture and society parades around like next year's fashion, perhaps the best question that we can put forth is, "What's the point?"
I recently read an article in the August edition of Chronicles, a monthly mag that I don't always agree with but I still heartily recommend, and found its author (Thomas Flemming, the mag's editor) implicitly agreeing with Chesterton's What's Wrong With the World, where Mr. Chesterton states in the first chapter that what is wrong is that "nobody knows what is right," i.e., no one has an ideal, an end game, a goal, a purpose that their energies are aiming for. As Mr. Flemming stresses, we would do well to ask "what's the good of" all the scared cows and beloved dogmas of the current trend-setters and socio-political philosophers.
Of course, if this question is posed, people on every side of multiple different fences will fire back with culturally approved buzz words like "growth" or "prosperity" or "equality" or "liberty" or "freedom" or whatnot. These words, however, do not solve the problem; they only push it further and reveal a peculiar ignorance (and subsequent arrogance) of our time, viz., that the things that those words signify are goods in and of themselves. Thus, if we ask someone, "What's the good of growth, etc?" they will probably have no answer, other than that those things are good, which they are not.
That last statement may seem odd (maybe even blasphemous), but it should be an obvious truth. Those things are not goods unto themselves; they are goods only in regards to their ability to secure another good. In other words, they are means, not ends. "Prosperity" and "liberty" are meant to achieve something other than themselves. What exactly is the identity of that "other" thing is up for debate; the point here is that no one even debates it precisely because they view the means as ends and thus can see nothing beyond them. The result is that we have a slew of methods, but no ideal to apply them to; we have more than enough tools, but nothing to build.
Growth, prosperity, etc. must have an ideal that sets their energy and movements within a proper context. Left to themselves, they hopelessly degrade into all manner of evils that have and will continue to plague mankind from one end of history to another. So "growth," left to itself, becomes greed. "Prosperity" becomes decadence and apathy. "Equality" becomes conformity and tyranny. "Liberty" becomes licence. "Freedom" becomes anarchy. Set outside of a clear-cut goal and guidelines, these things run wild, and cause massive damage after creating pleasure for a season.
The next time the gurus of the modern/post-modern dark ages, both inside and outside the Church, come to us whispering sweet nothings, it would be wise of us to check our itching ears at the door and instead ask them what exactly is going on? What's the point? What's the good of it? What's your goal, your aim, your ideal? "What do you want?" said Christ. We would do well to ask the same question. Even if the ideas presented to us (after much tiresome digging) are not at all what we would call ideal, at least then we have something with which to wrestle with and talk about. Until then, this society will continue to go nowhere at all as it has no ideal or goal, only pleasant feelings in the pit of their stomachs over wonderful soundbites and bumper-sticker slogans.

-Jon Vowell

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Trinity: Argument from Beauty

The following musings are the result of reading some of Jonathan Edward's thoughts on the nature of beauty, specifically an essay called "The Beauty of the World" and a piece called "Excellency" (which is a subset of an essay called "The Mind"). After reading these two selection and carefully dissecting them (quite an arduous task), I stumbled upon what seemed to be a small side argument for the existence of the Trinity. I'm not saying that the argument is gospel, but I did find it interesting, and I thought I might share it.

In summary, beauty (or "excellency") is a type of proportion, regularity, equality, and/or symmetry between individual elements of reality, while ugliness is the opposite of such (disproportion, irregularity, etc.). In other words, beauty is order and structure (which Edwards called "being"), while ugliness is disorder or chaos (which I'm calling "nothing"). In addition, the more an object increases in these qualities, the more pleasure it produces to the subject; conversely, the more it decreases in these qualities, the more pain it produces. Still with me? Good, let's move on then.
The reason pleasure and pain is produced is because the more and object increases in proportion, etc., the closer it gets to absolute order (which Edwards called "Being"), which is the highest and most excellent good; likewise, the more it decreases, the farther it gets from absolute order and the closer it gets to absolute disorder or chaos (which I'm calling "Nothing"), which is the lowest and most debased evil. In short, the imitation of the Good produces pleasure and the imitation of the Bad produces pain. Still got it? Great, let's keep going.
Now here is where the argument begins. Edwards calls this increase of proportion, etc., the "consent of being," i.e., beauty is consensual. This is because proportion, etc., necessarily requires two or more parties: a circle is "symmetrical" only after you divide it into two or more parts and compare the parts to each other. As Edwards put it, an aboslute whole (or a "singular") can only be beautiful/excellent by a "consent of its parts," i.e., because its oneness contains a "plurality." Thus, a "singular" without a plurality necessarily cannot be beautiful because beauty is contingent upon proportion, etc., which is contingent upon consent, which implies plurality. Therefore, beauty necessarily implies plurality. As Edwards put it, a singular "that is absolutely without any plurality cannot be excellency, for there can be no such thing as consent or agreement."
Perhaps you are beginning to see where the argument is going. If we admit that God is the Creator of all things, He is therefore necessarily the source of all things (i.e., all things come from Him). That means that whatever can be found in reality finds its absolute realization in Him. For example (and in regards to the argument), if we find beauty (proportion, etc.) in reality, then that necessarily means that beauty is in God as well (albeit, in an absolute sense, i.e., Beauty, or to use Edwards' term, "Being"). However, if beauty necessarily implies plurality, then that means that in order for God to be the source of beauty, He too must be a plurality; or, to phrase it another way, for God to be the source of beauty, His oneness must necessarily contain a plurality. Question: What do we call it when God's oneness contains a plurality?

A: The Trinity. I rest my case.

Caveat Emptor: This post is about how the nature of beauty could possibly give us reason to believe in the Trinity. This post does not presume to explain how this oneness/plurality dynamic works in detail within the Godhead. Thus, I don't need any of you nit-pickers out there getting hung up on my use of words like "divide," divided," and "parts." I am not making a comment on how the thing works; I'm simply stating what may be a reason to believe that the thing is real.
-Jon Vowell

A Nugget (food for thought)

Related to this post.

Rabid post-modern emergent Christianity and rabid militant atheism have this in common: both are prideful rebellion against God. The former's pride exalts man's experiential subjectivity above God, while the latter's exalts man's fallen and limited intellect. The former interprets God through their individualistic experiences, while the latter interprets through strictly naturalistic scientism. Neither one allows God to interpret Himself by His own revelations (viz., the Bible). Thus, they exalt themselves into God's position, which is the very essence of pride itself.

-Jon Vowell