Sunday, November 21, 2004

In the "Orwell Was Right" Department

Word comes from Ecumenical Insanity that Planned Parenthood doesn't like the Third Order Franciscans offering an abortion/contraception-free health plan to federal workers in Illinois. Now, as it turns out, according to OMB there are twelve other plans available in Illinois (not counting the nationwide plans such as Mail Carriers)so I don't think "choice" is really an issue.

This isn't PP's first foray into doublespeak-- I suspect most people have lost count by now. A quick glance at their website reveals these gems:

'Choose Life' Plates Unconstitutional: Planned Parenthood and ACLU Claim Victory for the First Amendment (preventing people from expressing their anti-abortion opinions is really a triumph for free speech and free exercise of religion)

FDA Corrupts Science with Ideology, Denies Women Essential Access to Plan B® Emergency Contraception (essential, at any rate, to embedding the practice of abortion in the culture)

Planned Parenthood Announces Return of Annual “Choice on Earth” Holiday Card (a striking act of tastelessness concerning a holiday about a birth)

and we mustn't forget statements like

Nation's Leading Reproductive Health Organization Criticizes Politically-Motivated Legislation Targeting The FDA and Early Medical Abortion Option (well, actually they are the nation's leading abortion provider)

I don't agree with the RC Church position on contraception. But I am man enough to tolerate RC men and women following the moral dictates of their church. Planned Parenthood likes to talk about extremism, but their "eye" fails when it meets a mirror.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Do Protestants Exist?

From time to time one sees statements, most typically from Eastern Orthodox respondents, as to what "Protestantism" holds. Now theoretically, I'm a Protestant, being an Episcopalian and all that. Well, you can find Anglicans who say that Anglicans aren't Protestant, and you can find others who'll claim that some Anglicans aren't Protestant. But at any rate, what's the "-ism" in "Protestantism"?

It's easy enough to find a common historical origin to protestant churches: their separation from the Roman Catholic Church. This implies but two "doctrines": that the claims of the RC church to infallible teaching are false, and that there is grace outside of the RC church. Other doctrines? Well, there is hardly any topic which does not elicit radical disagreement somewhere among some "protestants".

It's not hard to see the deeper meaning of statements as to what Protestants believe. These statements are about differentiation. Converts are particularly susceptible to making them because converts need differentiation badly; conversion, after all, involves ceasing to be of one's former group. But the urge to differentiate is at best dubious, because it tempts one to exaggerated generalizations, to the point of absurdity. There is no system in "Protestantism, not when one tries to put the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in the same bin with Wheaton College, Bob Jones University, and Episcopal Divinity School.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Law of the Stupidest Argument

Most internet discussion areas are subject, more or less, to The Law of the Stupidest Argument:

"In a discussion among strangers, the least thoughtful controversial position stated will dominate the argument."

This doesn't mean it will prevail, but subsequent discussion will tend to revolve around this position. And the actual merit of the "stupid" position is irrelevant; be it simple or simplistic, it will drive subtler and more complex positions out of the discussion.

Monday, November 01, 2004

We Kant Go On Like This

In this exchange about the epicopagans, Fr. Jake says:

"Where we differ is your assumption that you believe that 'absolute truth' can be perceived by a human being. It is your perception of the truth, as any first year philosophy student would tell you."

I'm going to object to this claim, because I think it is a rationalization of the real difference.

In looking at the differences and trying to prune away enough jargon to be able to explain it to my 11-year-old, I quickly come upon an obvious result: two straightforward statements about what the numinous is like-- and I don't need the word "numinous" to explain either of them. One side says that God has a specific nature which is adequately spelled out in the Bible, and that other deities aren't if fact really God, and that discriptions of God which disagree with the Bible are, well, wrong. To get the fundamentalist boogeyman out of here, I need to add that disclaimers about accuracy for transmission apply. I'm saying the bible is essentially accurate, not absolutely accurate.

The other side says that most religions, if not all, do describe the same divinity, but all are basically flawed because God doesn't really intervene directly in the world, is not really incarnate in a specific historic person, doesn't specify acts of worship, and doesn't have any specific name. And one can pretty much focus it all down to one question: Is the doctrine of the Virgin Birth true?

On the crucial level, there's no religious language at all. "Mary gave birth to a male child even though she had never had sex with anyone." In the ordinary sense that we judge statements of ordinary fact, this is such a statement. And it gets an ordinary answer from either side. Traditionalists say yes, pretty much everyone else says no. (Some people try to claim "it doesn't matter", but I've never found a case where this isn't either an excessively qualified "yes" or a baldly gutless "no".) From "yes", it's a short trip to "If Christ were not arisen, our faith would be in vain"; but the dissent is working from "Since Christ is not arisen,...." And furthermore, for the most part they will provide a baldly ordinary assertion that Mary was made pregnant by some ordinary human male.

In other words, I don't buy the assertion that the supposed change in paradigm is the cause of this. I think that it is the conclusion of it, because it is the resolution of the dissonance between skepticism about Catholic factual claims and commitment to a belief in the numinous.

And what's more, there's nothing novel here. One gets tired of talking about the Gnostics, but the parallels are obvious. The neo-whatever way of talking about sacred story, far from being more modern, is actually one of the oldest ways of talking about myth. Indeed, in the Graeco-Roman world it could be argued that everything we know about mythology is colored by this attitude towards it; it accounts for the decided comic-book quality of Greek myth as we have it.

And beyond that, the picture of traditionalists as unsophisticates is dubious to the point of misrepresentation. C.S.Lewis, for one, is someone whom I would count reasonably learned on the subject of reading mythological texts. And when I read Til We Have Faces I see many, many passages which address these issues.

The bottom line: "it's all perception anyway" is taking the same place in theological rationalization as "it's all relative" did for an earlier generation's capitulation to moral indifference. The first owes no more to Kant than the second does to Einstein.