That’s So Second Millennium
School vs. Life

School vs. Life

May 16, 2019
For all that it's an in-joke with myself, when Hidden Brain comes up in the queue, to mutter "Here to depress the hell out of you, I'm Shankar Vedantam," it has a great deal of insightful and important content. Take the most recent episode contrasting doing well on tests versus doing well at life. The episode starts with a note that GED recipients have been found to be just as good at tests as their peers with high school diplomas (I can only assume these studies control for a wide range of criteria) yet have much lower incomes, get fired, and are involved in divorces or the equivalent sort of messy breakup far more often. It goes on to discuss the very long term results of some interventions taken in Michigan, decades ago, with young children that revolved around teaching them the "soft" or "non-cognitive" (and I would quibble fiercely with that term) skills of persistence, cooperation, delaying gratification, etc. and that have proved to make not only those children's lives better, but their own children's as well.
 
I myself am another sort of "experiment" relevant to the question of what makes for success. I always did well in school, but I was ingesting the lesson from early in life that I would fail at real life afterward. I can't begin to go into all those details today, but there is an enormous role played by parents, family members, teachers, and other adults in the young child's life, pushing them one way or another. Our episodes with Darcia Narvaez scratched the surface of her enormous work on this topic. Fortunately, it is possible to learn new and better ways of coping with the world in adulthood, but it is devilish hard even to realize what the problem with one's life is in order to be able to confront it at all. It is then a long hard slog of rewriting habits. There are no fast fixes for a warped childhood.
Episode 058 – Let’s Act Like We’re on the Winning Side (Since We Are)

Episode 058 – Let’s Act Like We’re on the Winning Side (Since We Are)

May 6, 2019

This ended up being an emergency episode Paul recorded solo, since Zencastr ate all but a few minutes at the beginning of each recording. There seem to be serious problems with Zencastr since Paul’s MacBook died and he had to resurrect his Windows laptop.

 

The Big Bang; cosmology seems to require a beginning, uncaused cause

Problems of mind; intellect / qualia, possibility of free will.

There is no materialist explanation of human intellect, only assertions of dogma and crude shufflings of the feet.

 

Ongoing occurrence of miracles, Lourdes medical board, Fatima, Shroud of Turin; Bob Schuchts

There are far too many miracles and supernatural phenomena that defy materialist explanation: Eucharistic miracles, healings at Lourdes and elsewhere, Fatima, demonic possession…

The testimony of the first Christian disciples requires absolutely crazy explanations that themselves defy our best science even if we reject the idea that Jesus rose from the dead.

The continuing existence and expansion of the Church in the face of persecution is likewise historically unparalleled, save only for the continued existence of Judaism.

 

Second of all, it provides perspective and healing for human problems that nothing else does.

John Warner Wallace from Breakpoint podcast; LAPD homicide officer

What has God done in my life... we GET to that, we don't start there like Mormons

Christianity provides a shockingly direct answer to the question of evil: the transcendent, all-good God is Himself willing to experience it.

The Christian faith continues to spread in Africa and Asia in the face of continued persecution, whether of the violent or of the brainwashing variety. Why is that?

The attempts of Western society to escape Christianity have made us amazingly miserable amid all our material possessions and security. Why do we so halfheartedly turn away from these distractions?

The most characteristic failing of our age, I would argue, is addiction, and addiction has evoked a powerful response in the form of the Twelve Steps. Although these Steps are deliberately offered to everyone with no attempt made to proselytize them to any specific religion—indeed many recovering addicts refuse to identify themselves as religious—nevertheless, the principles of the Steps are completely and suspiciously consistent with Catholic Christianity.

The Catholic intellectual tradition has a tremendously formidable intellectual structure, the most robust philosophical realism, an enormous storehouse of moral philosophy and psychological insight, and a wealth of stories of human drama in the lives of both saints and sinners.

 

Why do we slave along as intellectual second or third-class citizens in the modern world? I was just looking at the want ads of literary agents and realized that they are all blithely “progressive” members of the stumbling, bumbling cultural vanguard. Our culture is shaped by stories forged out of this nihilistic experience of forgetting an entire civilization’s worth of wisdom.

 

We are looking to help out at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference this year, and are in talks about how we can do that. We’re really excited about working to create a greater sense of community among Catholic scientists!

Setting Myself Up To Fail

Setting Myself Up To Fail

May 2, 2019

I am scrambling this week to make preparations for TSSM to help cover the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference coming up June 7-9 at Notre Dame. I will just post a few thoughts.

I recall reading CS Lewis' autobiography many years ago and hating myself for not reading anywhere near as many good books as he did when he was young... hating myself because I knew that while I was probably more or less just as intelligent as he was, I could not force myself to spend my time well.

If you listen to the TSSM podcast much at all, you realize that Bill lets me talk for long whiles. I haven't exactly read nothing, and I haven't exactly thought nothing, but I oscillate between suspecting I have something valuable to say and fearing that I'm being judged for my ignorance. Ironically, when we hired a professional to evaluate our podcast strategy (Paired, Inc, good people to talk to if you're in the Indianapolis area), their first comment was that the content was too complex and abstruse for the average listener. To which I internally respond, "Perhaps I'm just good at sounding as if I know anything about what I'm saying."

It would be called "impostor syndrome" if it were false, but I dunno if it's false.

Anyway, I take this two directions. One is to note the language that I used above: "I could not force myself to spend my time well." A therapist years back gave me a list of common thinking problems, one of which has stuck with me: "We think we can horsewhip ourselves into compliance." Yes. Yes, that's me. My father for years had this note pinned to a bulletin board: "The floggings will continue until morale improves." One of those Freudian slip, joking-not-joking sort of things. I learned the lesson well. No wonder I found ways to drug myself up with compulsive behaviors and dissociate with computer games or compulsive non-CS-Lewis-caliber reading on or off the internet, and things have only started to change since that priest in Chicago (may he be blessed in eternity) referred me to my first Twelve Step group. I was and continue to need the help of a Power greater than myself to get out of this trap.

The other direction is that I have come to think that podcasts are not a platform for expounding new ideas, however informally. They serve a really valuable purpose for me in that my stable of podcast subscriptions keeps reminding me of things that have tended to swim away from me in the past: I'm better off being Christian and Catholic than not. I have a future, and there are steps I can take to get there. I subscribe to a handful of podcasts that keep me at least a little bit conversant with what the progressive establishment is debating within itself. These podcasts also give me a loose connection to familiar voices, a step toward community (although definitely not by itself the real thing).

Realizing this, and having the chance to ponder the SCS' mission over the past few weeks, I have come to think that perhaps the most valuable thing we can do with this podcast is also to seek to enhance a sense of community among Catholic and Christian scientists. What we've been doing serves this purpose to a considerable extent, but it will provide us a valuable sense of focus going forward.

Episode 054 - TSSM Season 2

Episode 054 - TSSM Season 2

April 8, 2019

In this episode we roll out a new format for Season 2.

We recap Season 1 (April 2018 - March 2019) and the three focus areas of the podcast so far:

  • Discussion of the fundamentals of the question whether it's reasonable to believe in both science and the Catholic Christian faith, and some exploration of particular topics, like the role of geology in the interpretation of the book of Genesis.
  • Review and comments on the speakers at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference 2018.
  • Interviews with scientists and scholars living out their Christian faith, many of whom are actively trying to spread the truth that the presumed conflict between science and religion is false, born from shoddy understandings, strawman arguments, and reactions against hypocrisy. Three of these people (Patricia Bellm, Chris Baglow, and Jay Martin) do this work at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

We then go on to discuss our plans for coming episodes, turning to topics of religion, spirituality, and psychology (including topics like child development and addiction) where the intersection of faith and science allows us to build new solutions or give tremendous new life to old solutions to the problems of human life.

CNAG: Money

CNAG: Money

March 22, 2019

Money is a fascinating topic to take up in this connection because doing so illuminates some serious, jagged fractures within both of our contemporary political camps of “conservative” and “progressive” thought, and indeed, within our own minds.

“Whatever may be said in praise of poverty, the fact remains that it is not possible to live a really complete or successful life unless one is rich.” – Wallace Wattles

“Hello? How gross is that [quote]?! It offended me to my hippie core, until I understood what it was really saying and that, erm, you kind of can’t —not if you want to fully express yourself, anyway… you have to let a lot go because it will absolutely go up your nose if you’re still working on your issues around it being OK to make money.” – Jen Sincero, talking about that quote and the book containing it

“Money is not the root of all evil!” – Cathy Heller (if not an absolute quote, extremely close)

“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” – Paul of Tarsus, 1 Tm 6:9-11

Money, it’s a hit
Don’t give me that do-goody-good bullshit
” – Pink Floyd

Money. Wealth. It unites people as diverse in their political thinking and way of life as Oprah, the Koch brothers, George Soros, El Chapo, Vlad Putin… and hatred of it, renunciation of it, or contempt for those who have it (important distinctions, admittedly) unites Francis of Assisi, Karl Marx, Mother Theresa, and as Jen Sincero notes, your general hippie, hipster, and mousy academic type.

People want money. They want various of the things you can exchange money to obtain (food, housing, pretty objects, fast objects, sexual favors…). Unsurprisingly, given that, they want money for the mere fact of having money, or rather, the emotions related to security and power that possessing money provides.

As far as practical advice goes, the right attitude toward money and wealth seems to me to require a lot of work on that nagging issue I identified a while back: we’re either bored with the golden mean, or it’s too complicated for us to think about two things at once.

Of course, to get by in modern society and do much of anything to help people, we need money. On the other hand, we all experience the temptation to spend money irresponsibly. We spend money on things that will not help others even in the indirect (and completely real) sense that we need to help ourselves in order to help others. We spend money on things that are actually destructive: alcohol, strip clubs, access to crappy TV shows that we know are eating up our lives and giving nothing back, Lexus SUVs, a fifth set of power tools. We exalt this money thing to the position of Higher Power and guiding light for our lives, piling up ever more of that security and power far past any point of diminishing returns. We spend time thinking about and managing this money to the exclusion of living a real human life.

Christianity warns us about all of that early and often. What we then seem to have done, here in the West, is bend part of ourselves back too far in the other direction and try to carry on with an unrealistic set of expectations about not being one of those bad rich people, yet wanting all the things that money can buy. If we want to be Mother Theresa, yet also drive Jen Sincero’s Audi, then yeah, we’re going to come into conflict with ourselves.

At this point, of course, the net widens…

CNAG is the Catholic-New Age Glossary… not backed by Webster’s or any other authority. These reflections are written by Paul, and they here on That’s So Second Millennium because they are an attempt to find the points ofharmony between different strands of psychology and spirituality as they are being explored and lived out in Western culture today.

Post Christian: The God of Your Understanding

Post Christian: The God of Your Understanding

February 23, 2019

The modern world has generated no end of addicts: those of us who come to recognize ourselves to be unable to stop some kind of compulsive, destructive behavior no matter what we do, what books we read, or what promises we make to ourselves or others. It seems most likely that this was always the case, and whether it is worse in the modern world or not is an interesting question to ponder but an impossible one to answer. In any case, in the twentieth century a remarkably countercultural movement began with a few handfuls of drunks in the eastern United States: the phenomenon of Twelve Step programs. I say countercultural because the Twelve Steps put God quite squarely before the addict as his or her only hope of transitioning away from the lifestyle of active addiction:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

In the early twentieth century, this was quite contrary to the trend of psychology at the time, enamored of Freud and Jung and their ideas of occult but certainly not divine forces at work in the human mind, and about to embark on the dehumanizing experiment of behaviorism. The Alcoholics Anonymous book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions opens its commentary on Step 2 with the following summary bleat from the atheists and agnostics with which the world was already replete in the 1930s:

THE moment they read Step Two, most A.A. newcomers are confronted with a dilemma, sometimes a serious one. How often have we heard them cry out, “Look what you people have done to us! You have convinced us that we are alcoholics and that our lives are unmanageable. Having reduced us to a state of absolute helplessness, you now declare that none but a Higher Power can remove our obsession. Some of us won’t believe in God, others can’t, and still others who do believe that God exists have no faith whatever He will perform this miracle. Yes, you’ve got us over the barrel, all right—but where do we go from here?”

In order to "be all things to all men, to save at least some," it was not at all surprising that Alcoholics Anonymous chose to make the bar to entry as small as possible. Hence those phrases in Step 3 and Step 11, "God as we understood Him." In extreme circumstances, from atheists absolutely ready to die on their hills, "God" could and can be reduced to "Group of Drunks [who are somehow getting sober]" who are, to be sure, a Higher Power than the individual addict coming to a Twelve Step group admitting total human bankruptcy.

Inevitably, people have become doctrinaire about the very non-doctrinaire-ness of the Twelve Steps. I don't know to what degree Twelve Step programs have played into the modern phenomenon of saying "I'm spiritual but not religious," but the Venn diagram of recovering addicts and people with that motto has a lot of overlap. People in Twelve Step programs can sometimes even speak as though it's a positive command from the Steps to freeze in whatever state of spiritual and religious belief they first took the Steps in.

Obviously, I disagree.

Now, I have it easy, or at least it seems to me that I have it easy. As a practicing Catholic, I have always seen the Steps as basically a distillation of Catholic spirituality honed and sharpened for my particular state as an addict. Fourth and Fifth Step? Hey, I have admitted all my humiliating secrets before. The Ninth Step was more intimidating than all the penances I have ever been issued in all the confessionals I have ever entered, but it was still an extension of something with which I was familiar and, in fact, a step toward perfection of them that I had always longed for without always being able to name it. I sometimes now joke with my sponsor when I attend a penance service that I'm going to a "Tenth Step workshop."

What's really interesting is that the phrase, "God as we understood Him" does not come up until the Third Step. I don't think that's a coincidence. The biggest foulup in my whole spiritual works was the fact that I was in perpetual conflict between thinking God loved me and thinking God was perpetually angry at me, disappointed with me, waiting for me to make a mistake, and ready to pounce on me and ram me into the ground.

The Second Step is there, in my case, to correct that situation and resolve that conflict. God loves me, knows my limitations, made me with limitations, and always intended for me to run off of His grace.

With my understanding of God thus rectified, it's then safe for me to take the Third Step and commit myself to this Being who loves me and wants the best for me.

And I rather think that the Second Step is there to serve a similar purpose for everyone. Further, if you work the Twelfth Step and "practice these principles in all our affairs," that Second Step spirit keeps working in you.

Like so many things in life, it's an iterative process. Life is multiaxial, and progress on one axis depends on progress along other axes. A bit of reshaping my understanding of God is necessary for me to act on that understanding and work the next Steps. Once I've worked the Steps, though, and get in touch with God, I'll find that God is telling me more about Himself and also about myself. Resting and pondering those new and deeper truths then lets me commit myself to something better and work that for a time, when I will be ready for still more insight.

The Post Christian meditations address the larger question, "Why do people believe science and the Catholic, Christian faith are mutually contradictory?" by considering the background reasons why people in the modern West desire to punish the faith of their ancestors and deny it credibility, apart from any cogent reasons to reject its actual dogmas and teachings.