That’s So Second Millennium
Episode 057 – The Best Thing Out There

Episode 057 – The Best Thing Out There

April 29, 2019

  Apologies for the sound quality today; Zencastr wasn’t working, so we recorded on Zoom, and even then there were problems with the audio especially in the latter half of the podcast.

  The question we take up at the beginning of the Easter season is this: Why has Western society gone to such pains to throw away the best thing going, intellectually and otherwise?

  In his ongoing podcast research, Paul has come across the Pat Flynn Show, and listened to some really good interviews with Fr. Robert Spitzer (a TSSM interviewee) and Ed Feser (whose talk at the 2018 Society of Catholic Scientists conference was the topic of one of our most popular episodes). Bob Spitzer’s interviews in particular were some of the most inspiring things I’ve encountered recently and really led me to propose this series of conversations with Bill about how Catholic Christianity is the best way of looking at the world.

  Of course, Western society has drifted hard away from its roots in classical Greek and Jewish/Christian heritage. Ireland is the most recent example of a society, one of the last to retain a semi-traditional cozy relationship between the Church and the state, now deciding to punish the Church for the crimes of the hypocritical members of its clergy by trying to erase its very history. Progressivism in general replaces traditional dogmas with dogmas-of-the-day, and the record up to this point has been pretty dismal.

  We spend some time discussing the roots of what the contemporary West seems to consider its greatest achievement, modern science, in the critical tradition of Scholasticism (knowledge of which was practically the first thing to go after the Reformation began the process of intellectually punishing the Church). We would do better to have a broader memory of the Scholastic tradition even among us Catholics...to recall that it was a movement in which Thomas Aquinas was embedded, rather than remembering only him. In our time as well we don’t need single hero figures, we need a community. The scientific community knows this very well.

  We go on to consider what this fraught term “dogma” really means. The Christian dogmas are really testimony, and they can’t change without repudiating the unrepeatable testimony of the events of salvation history. This is the context of the warnings at the end of the Apocalypse of John, “cursed be he who adds or takes away from the words of this book.” As Chesterton and many others have pointed out, these dogmas are not a straightjacket but a foundation and structural members that allow us to build both intellectual structures and actual human lives that don’t sink into the morass of changing human inventions. Admittedly there are many Christians, Catholics included, who seem to take comfort in the false idea that the Bible, or Tradition, provides us all the answers we could possibly want to know and there is no need or use in further growth. That is not the teaching of Jesus when he commented that the Spirit would [future] lead us to all truth.

  The high Middle Ages confronted the question of harmonizing Aristotle with Jesus Christ. This was both a creative and a logical process that led to great works of criticism and synthesis… excellent practice for the scientific process as we now know it.

  A reminder that the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference is approaching June 7-9. Registration is open through May 15.

Episode 056 - Darcia Narvaez on the (other) tragedy of the commons and moral/economic disengagement in civilized society

Episode 056 - Darcia Narvaez on the (other) tragedy of the commons and moral/economic disengagement in civilized society

April 22, 2019

Today we present the second half of the interview with Darcia Narvaez, social scientist at Notre Dame and a specialist in childhood inculturation, attachment, and bonding issues.

We start out this half of the interview with a discussion of what Karl Polyani called the "great transformation" of European society, involving the breakdown of the pre-modern order and its safeguards for a stable population by means of understandings about community use of land, perhaps resulting in the popularity of emigration to the New World by dispirited, dispossessed, and to some extent dangerous people.

Several times Darcia disparages "hierarchy," understood in its general sense of social stratification, which she or other who have influenced her theorize to have caused huge social catastrophes, including the corruption of the Christian Church by its integration into the late Roman state and the collapse of populations and cultures in the New World on contact with the colonizers from Europe. Late in the podcast I ask her explicitly whether there is any benefit to civilization... let us know in the comments on Facebook or Podbean what you think about the answer!

Darcia's claim is that humans are by nature more egalitarian than other animals. This goes right down to childrearing, where human children, born so completely needy, have an innate expectation that their requests for assistance will be met. She comments that there is a Native American word, "wetiko," that was used to describe an attitude thought of as akin to a sickness that characterized those who acted in an aggressive and exploitative way toward others. Whether or not premodern peoples were all more free of this, it's certainly a common feature of civilized peoples. The Old and New Testaments certainly testify to this, and the need to confront it with compassion and an egalitarian attitude. We discussed the specific example of the disease of the large organization, society, business, or government, in which those at the top are simply disconnected, both intellectually and morally, from those at the bottom.

We mentioned subsidiarity, and might have mentioned clericalism... the social science of these concepts will hopefully be fodder for future podcasts.

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.

Episode 055 - Darcia Narvaez on socialization and isolation

Episode 055 - Darcia Narvaez on socialization and isolation

April 15, 2019

Find Darcia's writings and resources across the internet:

Faculty website

Author website

Resource Page at Psychology Today

Topics we discussed in this podcast:

The human need for socialization from the very beginning, and ways that goes awry in contemporary society.

Things we can do to learn some of these lessons later in life:

  • Self-calming via breathing, meditation, prayer. (Does our contemporary culture of outrage stem from a lack of the ability to calm ourselves that we are meant to learn starting in infancy?)
  • Build a social network. We were meant to have interaction with an extended family that spans all age ranges for proper socialization. It's not too late to play with children, talk to the elderly, interact with people at other stages of life.
  • Learn new languages and interact with people in different cultures. What are their reasons for doing the things that they do?
  • Spend time with nature.
  • Practice going outside yourself, defusing rigid thinking and attachment to "it has to be done this way." Intelligence is a measure of flexibility as much as anything.

Bill asked about social media and our tendency to seek out those who already agree with us. Darcia noted that we need guidance on how to socialize. Up through age 30 or so, it's natural for human beings to get that kind of guidance from others. Unfortunately we get that guidance through TV and video games now.

As usual, this was the first half of our interview. More discussion and more questions than we could possibly answer next time!

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.

Episode 051 - Patricia Bellm: Responsibility and control in science and engineering

Episode 051 - Patricia Bellm: Responsibility and control in science and engineering

March 18, 2019

What do we want to do in this podcast?

Goals for the year

Values of experience, e.g. Mexico: solar ovens from recycled materials

Credit consulting, etc., for exploited women in Mexico

The little estate in Mexico

Back to credit cards & exploitation of ignorance

Responsibility of those to whom much is given

Bringing it around to science

Career and sacrifice and little deaths

Chris, the handicapped man at the ND Center for Social Justice

The ethics of "fixing" or preventing Chris from being the way he is

The lack of philosophic background and the intellectual amnesia of contemporary science

Philosophy of science and the disappointment of 20th century physics, but the culture goes on unaware

Science, fundamentally cannot replace faith

...this is where Patricia makes that claim that science is about control

Ethics of changing human beings, other elements of creation

Bill poses the relativism question again

Patricia responds that "you can control science"

Everyone confronts the same Reality, and we cannot control it, but we prefer the illusion that we can

Bonus Episode - Patricia Bellm: Miguel from Mexico

Bonus Episode - Patricia Bellm: Miguel from Mexico

March 16, 2019

The blind man who could see more than his neighbors... asking Patricia about German reunification

The industries that used up his sight

Episode 046 - Daniel Hinshaw and the frontier between medicine and faith

Episode 046 - Daniel Hinshaw and the frontier between medicine and faith

February 11, 2019

I started off this part of the interview by asking Daniel about his own journey through life and faith. His early love was history, despite having a father who was also a doctor and an academic. His interests only turned to medicine after a time in Peru and exposure to brutal poverty, and then like many of us, he drifted into an academic career. Later in life he has been able to return to that original motivation.

Daniel and his wife were brought up in the Seventh Day Adventist faith, and still greatly respects the grounding in charitable work and the Bible he received then. Eventually he and his wife got the Newman bug and had to go deep into history and join one of the apostolic churches; they joined an Eastern Orthodox church.

In that context, Daniel laments the drift of the modern hospice movement away from Christian spiritual roots and into a secular, palliative mindset, and the broader question of what is missing from the often uttered or thought statement, "if it's legal, it must be moral."

"We confuse technological prowess with being deeper and more thoughtful."

An interesting consequence of our medical progress is that we now face a future where, for the first time, across the world, most people will die of conditions derived from aging rather than contagious diseases, accidents, childbirth, etc.

We discuss a bit the golden mean to be found, steering clear of euthanasia on the one hand, and of resorting to excessive means to stay alive in the face of a fatal illness.

Bonus Episode - Nicolaus Steno

Bonus Episode - Nicolaus Steno

December 5, 2018
We talked about Steno quite a bit over the past several months. Briefly, he was a brilliant observational scientist. Brought up in Lutheran Denmark amid the violence of the seventeenth century, he wandered Europe and won fame as possibly the foremost observational scientist of his day, first in anatomy as a tremendously skilled dissectionist and then, via the bridge of biological fossils, as one of the most important precursor figures of what would become geology in the following two centuries. He laid down, if one can forgive the pun, the laws of geological chronology or stratigraphy (superposition, original horizontality, and inclusion) and even the most basic law of crystallography, the law of constant interfacial angles.
 
But Steno placed more importance on his faith. He spent time in both Catholic and Protestant countries and eventually decided to become Catholic. By the end of his life he had forsaken science for the Catholic priesthood, been ordained a bishop, and spent a long lonely time attempting to convince Protestants in Northern Europe to return to the Catholic faith of their ancestors. He lived an austere life that probably killed him relatively young, much as is said of Fr. Michael McGivney of the Knights of Columbus or the African American priest of the same era, Augustus Tolton.
 
I was listening to Bishop Barron's Word on Fire podcast last night about Cardinal Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua, and I remarked on the similarities between Steno, Newman, Tolton, and other figures of the last few centuries like Isaac Hecker of the Paulists and for that matter even GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. These were intelligent men whose virtue and love for others could not be denied, and yet it is easy to look at the aftermath of their lives and conclude that they failed. Was there something they should have done differently? Perhaps it was just that too few people joined them. Perhaps their contributions are still waiting to be gathered up into a new synthesis of faith. There is a great deal more I'd like to say on that subject, but it will have to wait to another day.
Episode 023 - Clericalism, Sex Abuse, Addiction, and Hope

Episode 023 - Clericalism, Sex Abuse, Addiction, and Hope

September 3, 2018

Discussion notes:

We start to discuss what everyone in the Catholic Church has been discussing for over a month now, which is the new storm of revelations about sexual abuse of children, youths, and seminarians by priests and bishops.

Parallels between modern day and the 17th century. Nicolaus Steno (the subject of our last podcast) lived in a tumultuous time, and many of his contemporary churchmen, Protestant and Catholic both, do not cut an inspiring figure on the stage of history. Steno tried to live a better life, but it's easy to see his heroic efforts as useless and even a bit misguided. He likely wore himself to death conforming to an ideal that was not quite what Jesus of Nazareth said or intended. (You can say that about many priests in the history of the Church; Michael McGivney and Augustine Tolton are arguably analogous figures here in America.)

Why are we bringing this up on this podcast? The purpose of the podcast is to explore whether faith and reason are compatible. Since both Bill and I believe that the Catholic faith is both reasonable and true, we have and haven't made a secret of the fact that there is an apologetic (in the technical sense of "Christian apologetics") aspect of what we're doing here.

Clerical scandals such as the one that we're facing now are an impetus to some people to reject the Catholic faith as, analogously, the misbehavior of leading members of other faiths, political, and philosophical movements can lead others to reject those as well. We feel it worth while to take one podcast to examine whether that makes sense rationally as well as emotionally.

The collapse of cultural Catholicism in perhaps its last bastion, Ireland...more on this later.

Bill: "All creation is crying out for a new day of change..."

Why I find the 17th century so depressing...a focus on external statements of faith rather than conversion of heart. The massive hypocrisy of Christians fighting war after war against other Christians, whether in the name of their own religious doctrine or, even more so as the century wore on, simply using that as a cover for their own petty political goals.

The conflict between faith and science depends on a lack of intellectual humility. It's a difficult human weakness to overcome (difficult, not impossible) to actually take the observations and reasoning of others seriously and let it influence one's own thinking, rather than just bulling ahead and believing what one prefers to believe.

Paul's followup:

Why clerical scandal is not intrinsically a logical argument against faith. Why nevertheless it is certainly a problem in an indirect sense: if these men can't or won't live up to the standards of Christianity, how can others?

The long decay of the medieval model of the Church, with bishops as wealthy, powerful political figures. The intrinsic tension between this model and the New Testament, recognized throughout the centuries. The ease with which prelates in such a scheme can get caught up in contemporary intellectual currents. The 20th century myth that sexual activity (and a great many other things, like consumer goods and hour long automobile commutes) is a necessity like eating or sleeping. The temptation to enter the priesthood for cultural reasons and to be an authority figure in one's community.

Problems on both the "liberal / progressive" side of modern culture and "conservative" side. Liberal: to reject the testimony of history and wave about in the current of contemporary opinion. Conservative: to adopt a conformist attitude that's primarily about not doing things proscribed by an older culture and one's contemporary conservative subculture. Both attitudes lack strength. One gives in to the noise in the broader culture; the other, being cut off from the real God of love and action, can find itself lacking the ability to live up to the negative goals of celibacy or sexual exclusivity.

What do WE do about it all?
    Is there a way to volunteer to help the victims in your diocese? Are you in, or should you get into, a position to help change the way the institutions of the Church--or any other church or organization you are part of and care about--work so that this sort of thing is avoided in the future?
    If not, or if a frank discernment of your life situation pushes you in a different direction, what else can you do to "look after widows and orphans in their need" (James 1, reading from last Sunday)? What in your life is most important that you're not doing? What do you need to weed out in order to focus on that?

    I myself recognize that in the tension between 1) my work: my consulting, my writing, my scholarship and 2) my private life, which is in desperate need of focus and effort to make it more livable and worthy of Jesus Christ, I think I am also badly in need of 3) finding additional ways to serve others. Where do I do that and how?
    
    If YOU happen to be a victim of sexual or physical abuse, please report it and please find help. You have been wounded, and there are places where you can find healing.