That’s So Second Millennium
Post Christian: The Galileo business in 250 words

Post Christian: The Galileo business in 250 words

August 29, 2019

I prepared these notes for an interview with Brigid Ayer on the Faith in Action Show for Catholic Radio Indy, but ended up using almost none of them. We talked instead about matters in the present day, and why Bill (also on the interview) and I started TSSM. The interview is planned to go up the third week of September, with the podcast version of the episode on their PodBean feed Monday the 16th and the radio broadcast later in the week.

The dominant proximate source for this was a blog post or two from the Vatican Observatory blog, which I cannot even find right now, due to a surplus of riches in their coverage of the subject. For your own purposes, there are also a million books. I loved Galileo's Daughter; I haven't yet gotten up the courage to tackle The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History.

Science, Church, Galileo.

The Galileo affair was a messy piece of work, which a number of people, bishops and cardinals included, inside the Church recognized at the time. Galileo himself remained a Catholic and endured his condemnation with irritation as an obvious miscarriage of justice and a misapplication of the Church's own teachings. At the time, his ideas were considered by a number of people to be heretical both because they contradicted simple-minded interpretations of certain passages in the Bible and because, essentially, they contradicted Aristotle.

Aristotle's philosophy is immensely insightful, and continues to be a viable means of interpreting reality, but not all of it equally. The Scholastics had fought a long campaign to integrate Aristotle into the fabric of Christian doctrine, and the result was a beautiful intellectual accomplishment, but it allowed Aristotle to take too much significance even in matters where his thinking is simply not that insightful or valuable. He took the geocentric universe for granted.

When Galileo set out to prove the geocentric model wrong, it was easy for people at that time of religious turmoil to condemn him. On one side, Catholics who were sensitive to the shrill Protestant shrieking about Scripture were not eager to be forced into reading the handful of passages that seem relevant to the issue poetically or figuratively. On the other, in attacking something that Aristotle taught, essential or not to his philosophical framework, Galileo could be read by others to be trying to overturn all of philosophy and theology along with it.

The condemnations of 1633 were never enforced all that rigidly, and during the 18th and 19th centuries the official proscriptions on his thought and writings were loosened. The popes since Leo XIII have piece by piece vindicated Galileo completely, culminating in two statements by John Paul II (in 1991 and 2000, as I recall, and also belonging on the reading list) that said the cardinals and popes in 1613-1633 had made mistakes and been wrong to treat Galileo the way that they did.

The condemnation of Galileo was never a matter of infallible magisterium. The magisterium of the Church is exercised in the matters of faith and morals, not astronomy or philosophy, and not even social science. Further, the trial of an individual is not the sort of place one would look for magisterial teaching. Some of the Ecumenical Councils were called to try heretics like Arius, and those are the very definition of magisterial teaching, but you only get an E.C. called to debate your writings if you have 1) a massive movement, hence your trial is not really about you, but about ideas wandering at large in society and 2) the issue you are leading people on about is actually squarely in the arena of the teachings of the faith.

Post Christian: Sides to Religion

Post Christian: Sides to Religion

June 6, 2019

My grandmother, Georgia (Joiner) Bredewater, was born on this day in 1921 in Texas.

Just a quick one today in the run-up to the big event at Notre Dame. I had the chance to be on the Pat Flynn Show (upcoming) and we talked about a variety of things. Pat has a very intellectual take on faith. As I was thinking through my life so far in preparation for that conversation, I was considering how it has taught me that there are multiple sides to religion and faith, and I realize that I am lagging behind where I could be on all of them.

You could divide these up any number of ways, but for today I will draw out four of them:

  • Intellectual faith. This is about thinking through the philosophical, scientific, theological, and historical issues surrounding a religion and its teachings and deciding whether it seems credible or not. This is how I approach a lot of life (at least on the conscious level!) and was definitely my way in to the Catholic faith in the first place. Catholic Christianity has a huge, well-lit, clearly signed set of intellectual entrances and a huge, expansive, richly decorated set of chambers where we can stand or sit or kneel and enjoy pondering the intellectual beauty of it all.
  • Emotional faith. Interestingly, despite all many emotional issues, I had a practice of emotional faith from the very beginning. I have always been attracted to music, and during the years of high school after my initial conversion at 14 I would cultivate this side of myself by singing and teaching myself to play the tunes of different hymns on my clarinet. In a way, as it says in Revelation, I have fallen away from my "first love" as embodied in and built up by these practices, and that hasn't helped me.
  • Community of faith. On the other hand, as a teenager I was really an island, like that Ethiopian in the Acts of the Apostles where Deacon Phillip is whisked into his presence just long enough to present some Biblical apologetics, baptize him, and then get whisked away again. I often wonder how that Ethiopian got on when he got home. Fortunately for me, I wound up at the Wash U CSC for four or five pretty happy years... then I went to grad school, and the emotional beating that that applied to me, followed by over a decade of moving every two years (or less), has left me pretty rootless again.
  • Meditation and contemplation. And yet, that time at grad school was not wasted in terms of faith either. It was at Notre Dame, for heaven's sake, and you will not find me among those people grousing about Notre Dame selling out its Catholic identity. There are plenty of rich veins of Catholicism there if you take a moment to find them. Somehow I was led to an education for ministry class for adults, and there I got my first real lessons in mental prayer. (We used Opening to God by Fr. Thomas Green, a book whose memory I still cherish.)
Post Christian: “Recovering Catholic”

Post Christian: “Recovering Catholic”

May 24, 2019

NB: I am not a "recovering Catholic." 

Funny comments

I got 99 problems, but being Catholic ain't one.

99 problems meme

99 problems other meme

Clearly I would rather just post memes today than write an actual blog post. Probably because this just leaves me so sad and frustrated. I have some ideas what some other people have gone through... people whom the Catholic Church, or rather some specific people in it, treated badly or at any rate failed to meet them with the help they needed and that Being Itself wanted them to have... but I know almost no one's specifics, and I cannot bloody FIX it all, or any of it for that matter.

I don't know what it's like for Catholicism to be, or seem like, The Problem instead of my companion from the very first step toward The Solution out of the liquid hog shit in the very lowest subbasement of my empty, tortured life. The very idea horrifies me. "Why can't they see that this or that or this other sin is clearly against the entire real teaching of the Church? Why can't they see that this teaching they disagree with is the exact opposite of arbitrary? Why...?" I have no words to express it all today.

There are definite ways in which things within the Catholic tradition have been put to work against me. (Protip: You anxious, depressive, compulsive types out there... don't try reading Cassian without a kind and loving spiritual director, or John of the Cross for that matter.) At this vantage point, in every one of those cases, I see those situations as the Devil quoting Scripture to me just like he did in the desert to Jesus; in some sense, as demonic possession. The demons love to pervert the holy, and have loved watching me hurt myself until I was incapable of virtue. But the solution to possession is not execution: it's exorcism. Exorcism demands faith, and faith is a response to grace. I was led to the Twelve Steps, and the heavy drape has been ripped back. I don't have to live that way; I don't have to discard the beautiful reality of the world I first glimpsed in Dante's allegory at fourteen. All I have to do is deliberately choose to hope. That is a heavy cross for me, but just light enough, sized just right, I suspect.

If you are one of those "recovering Catholics," obviously, my heart is filled with sorrow for whatever wounds you have suffered. If you want or need someone to pour it all out on, well, my email link is on the right (at thatssosecondmillennium.net).

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.
TSSM at SCS 2019

TSSM at SCS 2019

May 9, 2019

All I've got time to share with you this week is the exciting news that we will be providing coverage of the Society of Catholic Scientists conference happening at the University Notre Dame from June 7-9. We will be sharing interviews with Stephen Barr, the president of the SCS, about the Society and the conference in the coming weeks, along with more interviews hopefully to come with speakers and other people involved in putting things together. Bill and I are excited about this chance to help out a group that we think is doing such important things by bringing Catholic scientists together!

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.

Post Christian: World War I Museum

Post Christian: World War I Museum

April 24, 2019

Two weeks ago I went with some friends to Kansas City. I drove through Kansas City once in I-70 in 2016, but I had never stopped before. Turns out it's a wonderful place, and I really want to haul my brother and his family there sometime to catch a game at Kauffman Stadium, with all the attractions directed toward children, and eat a lot of barbeque and drink some Boulevard beer.

We went to the jazz museum and the Negro Leagues museum, as well as the World War I museum. When we asked why it was in Kansas City of all places, the answer was that no one else had one, so they figured why not. Given Kansas City's location, an enormous number of soldiers passed through by rail on their way to and coming back from Europe, an enormous fraction of the total number from the West, so there's at least that much connection. In any case Kansas City dedicated a prominent hilltop to this museum. It has an enormous pillar that you can ride up to get the most elevated view of the city (aside from aircraft).

With Darcia Narvaez' words about egalitarianism in my mind, I reflected (as I have often done in the past) on the absolute madness of World War I. Understanding how it started seems easy to me, but I cannot imagine how the war continued through the end of 1915, let alone ground on for three additional years. The question of why the leaders of the countries involved kept ordering their men to fight I set aside for today; the question I am interested in is why the common soldiers and civilians did not revolt years earlier than they did. What gave them such durable loyalty to the aristocratic and oligarchic governments that sent them to such fruitless slaughter?

Based on what I know of ancient and medieval Europe, I find the men of World War I far more ready to acquiesce to authority than their forebears. Can you really read the history of the Hundred Years' War, the Wars of the Roses, or the whole sorry tale of the Holy Roman Empire and its "rights of private warfare" and imagine that those states could ever have forced their subjects to such extremes? How long would any army of Crusaders have stayed in those trenches, with nothing better than the War Ministry's authority to compel them?

There are far too many reasons to discuss in a blog post, but I want to bring up one axis before I close. The states of Europe of the early 20th century were fired by nationalism, tribalism writ large. I have heard that although many, many aspects of human culture are mutable, one unshakable aspect of sociology is our tendency to identify in-groups and out-groups, to designate some human beings as our enemies and in essence to deny them humanity. Europe of the Middle Ages had their national identifications, but their local identity was in many cases stronger and more important, and they also had the overarching sense of brotherhood in a common faith, family, and indeed in the most visceral Christian image, they had an awareness of themselves as one body in Jesus of Nazareth. They betrayed this understanding regularly, but they balked at the kind of slaughter that makes World War I stand out as a satanic spectacle in the history of our species.

Post Christian - What Are Churches For?

Post Christian - What Are Churches For?

April 19, 2019

Photo by LeLaisserPasserA38 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78064310

I was minding my own business, trying to do a little work on my aunt's laptop while mine is in the shop, when I noticed this Washington Post article about 1) massive donations to repair Notre Dame de Paris after its roof caught fire on Monday, taking the 19th century spire with it, and 2) criticisms of the hyper-wealthy people who will open their checkbooks to replace a European landmark but not whatever other social causes the critics think most important.

My first thought on seeing the fire was simply, "How does this still happen?" Fires have of course consumed any number of cathedrals, palaces, temples, city halls, fortresses, and other buildings of note over the centuries, but we have an awful lot of fire suppressant and monitoring technologies these days. Repair work of some kind was already going on as shown by the scaffolding over the roof prior to the fire.

The article drew out a second line of thought that had been lurking in the back of my mind. France is of course the birthplace of modern Western secularism, the country where the hypocrisy of the Catholic Christian establishment yielded directly to the raging adolescent fury of revolution. It is where the modern pattern of punishing Christianity for the sins of the hierarchy and political establishment by pretending it never had any intellectual foundation was first constructed.

It's a mercy, in that environment, that so much of France's medieval legacy survived in the form of art and architecture. In a way it's good that the French opinion of their own culture is so staggeringly high. Yet these churches are so empty. When I visited France in 1998, I was deeply saddened by this. I wandered through many of these churches in Paris, Saint-Malo, Tours, and Amboise. The churches whose names you might recognize are kept up as museums; there are many, less famous, that are falling into decay even within towns like Amboise. The sprinkling of priests and faithful is spread across the remaining churches exceedingly thinly.

It all makes me feel a little better about our situation here in the United States. Still, when my local parish was holding its campaigns to rebuild the 19th century church and 1920s school building, I kept thinking, "I am glad that we can be this generous to repair roofs and redo tuckpointing... how about we put out this effort to fill these buildings with new people hearing the Good News about how Jesus can actually be in their lives after we rebuild them?"

I listened to two podcasts by Bishop Robert Barron and John Stonestreet of the Colson Center about the fire and how it has been discussed in the media. They commented that today's secular culture wants to focus on Notre Dame de Paris as simply a landmark, an icon of French culture, a pretty building from a long time ago. The desire seems to be to strip this structure of its builders' purpose: to construct a memorial to the transcendent human being whose death we commemorate today, and all the truths that come to us after recognizing him. A memorial place in which the True God, the Being upon which all reality is constructed and the Creator that constructed it, could be worshipped in that man's name.

To be fair, I think the culture of modern media does this to almost everything. We live in such a shallow time. When we confront memorials of centuries past, whether buildings like Notre Dame or books or works of art, we would do better to consider for a while why their makers did what they did and whether human beings with a different outlook on life have something to teach us, or to remind us.

Post Christian: Money

Post Christian: Money

April 11, 2019

Picking up some loose ends from the CNAG post of the same title. I remember the sense of brimming over with things to say when time and a change of focus from the personal to the social and political brought that post to a close, but very little has come back to me in the weeks since.

The core, in any case, and the reason why it calls for a Post Christian post, is the point that the Christian Church risks its integrity by the very fact of being a social institution possessing property and money. Reality dictates that even the persecuted Church has a certain quantity of resources (one thinks of the treasure that his persecutors thought to extract from St. Lawrence) but the legal and above all the official Church tends to accrue tremendous wealth. This wealth contrasts sharply and painfully with the life and teaching of its Founder, who commented that in his wanderings he owned no home (one thinks of the tent that long housed the Ark of the Covenant) and that it was easier for a camel to pass a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter heaven.

This contrast has motivated Christians to take action to restore the integrity, at least in their own personal lives, since before the time of Constantine. Antony went out into the desert, surely not the first Christian hermit but a supremely influential one. Francis, the little poor man, attracted legions of followers seeking authentic discipleship to Jesus, and war was waged for decades and centuries between those who tried to live as other religious did and those who tried to get as close as they could to the theoretical ideal of complete lack of property. The Reformation and the anticlerical Revolutions of the latter half of the second millennium stripped the Catholic Church and its religious orders particularly of their influence, position in society, and much of their wealth.

It seems to me that we are living in the last, dying days of the institutional Church (and Pope Benedict has gone on record in some of his books as thinking much the same). I hope that's the case, because there is something better waiting for us if we get more serious about taking the pieces of the Church we have been given and assembling them, brick by brick at the local level, into something more nourishing and authentic, more concerned for the poor and the needy (which includes not being satisfied with simply handing them material goods to get them through in a state of dependency).

Post Christian: Ideals and Means

Post Christian: Ideals and Means

April 2, 2019

It's fascinating to me how well progressivism is explained by two aspirations:

  • Trying to be more Christian, which is to say more kind, enlightened, truthful, and focused on what really matters in life, than Christians. (A common lie that progressives tell themselves is that Christians really aren't concerned about these things... they are of course aided and abetted by the large quantity of half- or quarter-hearted Christians out there.)
  • Trying to do this really impossible thing without any recourse to a God that actually loves them or has any particular purpose for the world.

In reality, of course, something has to give, and that something is either the ideals or the means.

If the means break down, then the progressive is forced to give up on straight secularism and goes searching for some kind of enlightenment... possibly a form of post-Protestant Christianity (or post-Reform Judaism) that they can have on their own terms, or some kind of imported spirituality that can likewise be sampled cafeteria-style to get around whatever it might be in their life that they're not willing to let go: some sexual practice they insist is not only okay, but mandatory, or some pain they suffered at the hands of institutional Christians that they intend never to forgive the church or Church for allowing, etc. Still, this seems to me to be by far the better path. Part of the truth and the power that God gives to humanity, whether or not they know the name and the mission of Jesus of Nazareth, is better than none of it.

If the ideals break down, they seldom break down all the way. Unfortunately, the easiest thing to do is to sneer at other people, the rich and powerful but also the wife-beater-wearing Trump voters, for doing destructive things while making excuses for themselves. They continue to drive their SUVs an hour each way to work so they can live in their 3,000 square foot house in a neighborhood where they feel "safe," i.e., away from black folks. They may post something on social media about how horrible it was that so-and-so molested or sexually harassed people, while continuing to sabotage their own relationships via pornography, masturbation, or just generally refusing to confront their fear to engage in honest intimacy with friends or sexual partners or spouses or children.