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.

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.

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.

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!

Episode 053 - Chris Baglow & Jay Martin: beyond faith & science… faith & everything

Episode 053 - Chris Baglow & Jay Martin: beyond faith & science… faith & everything

March 31, 2019

0:00 - The question of relativism vs. hyperrationalism

1:00 - God's love is not a "fact" but, say, hominid ancestry is

1:30 - Tapping into the belief in the rationality of science to bring back belief in reality in faith

2:30 - "Kicking in the back door of relativism"

4:00 - Linkages between theology, philosophy, and science: e.g. logical consistency

5:30 - Effects on the rest of schools that participate in the Science & Religion Initiative

6:30 - Encouragment to integrate, say, history, economics with faith as well

7:00 - Congregation for Sacred Doctrine 1977 "The Catholic School"

8:00 - Faith & literature, arts

9:30 - The true limits of dogma; need to understand how limited Catholic dogma really is, and how non-restrictive

13:00 - Teachers woefully overworked and underpaid, not given the ability to succeed

14:30 - Blessed to have excellent but also humble panelists & experts intending to listen to one another

19:00 - Story of the second & first editions of Baglow's textbook

CNAG: What’s Your Frequency?

CNAG: What’s Your Frequency?

March 29, 2019

A return to the idea of frequency dovetails with the influence of the images and other sensory inputs we allow into our minds that Patricia Bellm spoke about yesterday. It also converges with the topic of the NPR Invisibilia podcast episode Post, Shoot from earlier this month.

In that episode, the interviewer spoke with African-Americans, mostly high school age, in Wilmington, Delaware. It examined the situations created by their heavy use of social media, playing around with the imagery of gangster culture and engaging in diss wars with each other that remain confined to their social platforms... except when they don't, and someone gets shot.

I'm aware I am barred from speaking about anything going on in African-American culture beyond the barest facts. So I won't. I don't need to, in any case. I can cruise the streets of Milroy, Indiana, a rural community about as white as white can be, and see my young fellow German-Americans and Euromutts dressing themselves as if to try to fit into that style or listening to that music.

Patricia, how did she put it: "If you eat doughnuts, you will look like a doughnut. If you consume violent video games, you will become a violent person." The cautious scientist in me has to note that of course it's not that simple. Human beings are maddeningly complicated to evaluate and manage from the outside. [Reasonably apropos, and too good a quote to pass up: "Communism would be a wonderful system if only there were no people, and communism would be wonderful in Poland in particular if only there were no Poles."] We have a lot of influences, and no one cultural stimulus is going to dominate the outputs of our behavior except for a small minority of people.

Very few of the white kids watching the video for Trap Queen on YouTube are going to go out and cook up some crack or join a gang so as to have a rival gang with members to shoot. Does that mean that it doesn't have any influence? That would be more of that all-or-nothing thinking that helped our foremothers survive in life or death situations, but didn't help all that much in creating the philosophy or science that have allowed us not to be in life or death situations nearly so often. Of course it has some influence, and of course to tell exactly what nature and how much we are stuck with the uncertain means of statistical social science or the cumbersome ones of brain scanning, but we can look at ourselves and those closest to us and get some sense of the situation.

It should be too obvious to need stating, but once we are in the presence of a song or a movie or decide to start reading a book, we can't consciously choose what elements will influence us and leave the others behind. I'm kind of upset at American culture for feeding me enough stimuli, with no conscious cooperation on the part of myself, my parents, or my teachers, to imbibe the whole gospel (malispel?) of the sexual revolution and have it as an unwelcome part of my mental furnishings. I can't entirely shake the sense that burdened me so heavily as a teenager that if only I was doing what everyone else was supposedly doing (getting laid), I would be happy and my life would be worth living. It takes effort to keep it at bay, and used to take enormous effort that crippled me as far as the work of growing up and finding my vocation was concerned. I watch my diet of AC/DC or Crazy Town (remember th... no, of course not, never mind) or country music in general, because it's just not worth it making things harder on myself.

This all also comes back to the question I posed myself about knowingly filling my mind with fiction. If you're watching Scarface snort cocaine and shoot people, you're distancing yourself from reality. (I sure hope. There is help if part of that is your reality.) Add up enough distance, and it starts to make sense to call it dissociation.

How does this relate to "frequency"? I'm going to go out on a limb here with my modest familiarity with the term "frequency" and my considerable experience with dissociation and say:

Theorem. If surrounding oneself with reminders and expectations of good things and affirming the good that has been placed within you is vibrating at a high frequency, while surrounding oneself with mediocrity and telling yourself you're a fraud and barely getting by is vibrating at a low frequency, then losing oneself in fantasy and living apart from reality is not to be vibrating at all... zero frequency.

Just like absolute zero, no living person is all the way down at zero frequency, but some of us are only at a few millikelvin.

Bonus Episode - Patricia Bellm: Marriage & canon law
Post Christian: Intellectual Triumphalism

Post Christian: Intellectual Triumphalism

February 2, 2019

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw a massive change in economics and intellectual culture, centered on Europe, but rapidly affecting the entire world.

A significant part of that massive change was the fact that it was centered on Europe, a point that I thought was well made by Donald Herreld in his Great Courses lectures on economic history. At no time in prior world history had Europe come to stand in such a position of dominance. By the end of the period, the European states--fractured and warring states, in no way unified in their goals--were unquestionably the military and scientific rulers of the planet. It had never been that way before. In prior centuries, India, China, the Muslim states, or pre-Muslim Persia and Egypt had been peers or obvious superiors to any European state, even unified Rome.

The effects of this on Christian thought should not be understated. In the early centuries, Christian thinkers were continuously occupied with apologetics, the laying out of arguments for the intellectual credibility of Christianity as opposed to the other philosophical traditions at large in the Mediterranean and wider world. Even after Constantine, pagan thought gave ground only slowly. Persian thought remained non-Christian, and Persia remained a political and intellectual rival to Rome, all the way up to the Muslim explosion of the seventh century.

In the medieval era, Christians were in constant tension with Muslims, intellectually as well as politically and in the most basic tenets of faith in God. Thomas Aquinas was hardly alone in dedicating considerable time to his Contra Gentiles, a set of arguments for an intellectual outlook fully consistent with orthodox, catholic Christianity as opposed to the intellectual traditions forged from ancient philosophy within the culture of the early centuries of Islam.

Yet by the thirteenth century, things were already changing. The Crusades marked the beginning of the military counterattack by Christendom against Muslim states, as uneven as that would be. Although the Turks remained dangerous foes into the seventeenth century, and came close in the sixteenth to wreaking tremendous havoc in the Mediterranean, they were no longer serious intellectual rivals of Italians, Spaniards, and Northern Europeans.

Precisely because there were no longer perceived to be serious intellectual rivals to European, Christian thinkers, I would propose that various ridiculous ideas reached the height of fashionability, and have left distorted schools of Christian thought in their wake down to the present. They did not start in the sixteenth or even fifteenth century, nor did they completely rule the scene even in that period, but they flourished and bore the largest share of their bad fruit then. I mean ideas like:

  • The Christian scriptures are to be taken as literally [read: simplistically] as possible.
  • God's will is entirely "sovereign" [read: arbitrary] and people are chosen for salvation or damnation essentially at random.
  • Human beings are entirely corrupt and hateful...
    • ...except for a very few people who actually respond to God's grace, or
    • ...entirely, and "salvation" is just a matter of God choosing to ignore this fact for certain people.
    • In any case, everyone outside the Christian Church is definitely a moral zero.
  • God is basically interested in the public statement of adherence to some doctrine of salvation through Jesus of Nazareth and not in human beings choosing to do good for one another.

I am certainly a Roman Catholic, and I look with horror back at many of the doctrines of the first Protestants, but it is most assuredly true that many Catholics at the time followed them or even led them down these very paths. I think that other Catholics felt driven to express themselves in similar language or else risk losing their audience.

In the centuries since, members of these same Christian societies began to be so scandalized by these ideas that they rebelled against Christianity--really, the distorted version of it where these ideas are so prominent, but in their minds, that was all Christianity was.

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.

CNAG: Frequency / Vibration

CNAG: Frequency / Vibration

January 23, 2019

Definitely the word that generates the most eye rolls per appearance. I have something of an allergy to physics metaphors that I didn't create myself; that's a character defect. There is also the chilling sense that I get that people like Jen Sincero and Danielle LaPorte and so forth in some sense think they're talking literally about the frequency of... something... vibrating: "enthusiasm vibrates at a higher frequency than..."

 

Unless and until you can show me the plot of frequency versus mood or attitude, tell me how many hertz are involved, and show me what is actually vibrating, I'mma go on considering it to be a metaphor.

 

Frequency is tied up with the law of attraction. Apparently you attract things by "raising your frequency" to match the thing, or type of thing, you want to have in your life. This raising of frequency is accomplished by setting expectations and taking external actions to reinforce them: changing how you dress, the decor on your walls, the way you eat, and the people you choose to spend time with (that last being the most difficult and the one where the fewest suggestions are given!).

 

Underneath the pseudo-scientific name of "frequency" I think there's a ton of insight lurking. It's so clear that different groups of people set very different expectations for one another. My neighbor down the road hangs out with a biker club on the weekends. That's his world. In that world it makes sense for him to spend several thousand dollars out of his near-minimum wages on a motorcycle. In my world that makes no sense whatever, and I think that Triumph motorcycle he has his eye on is surpassingly ugly. These are things that don't admit of right or wrong answers. I could choose (it would have been easier to start when I was 16) to go live with him in that world. I'd pick up the rules eventually. Maybe I'd enjoy it. I don't know, and never will.

 

Yet there are worlds I would have liked to explore, and maybe still will. In college I was very torn up about dancing. There is something so appealing to me about learning an "actual" dance, like swing or salsa or two-step, and that's true despite the fact that I am a complete outsider to that world. I made several efforts to cross over, but I was always so cripplingly self-conscious that I withdrew in defeat, not to make another attempt again for months. I still feel that longing to experience the music, move my body, cooperate with a partner in creating something elegant, no matter how ephemeral. I would have to "raise my frequency" and set some expectations in order to do that. I would have to center myself very squarely on the truth that it's acceptable for me to make mistakes and learn. Further, maybe I could put some Fred Astaire posters up, join a Meetup group, find a place and make myself go every Friday for three months or a year, and finally find myself on the other side. I think I'd enjoy it. I'd like to find out.

 

I see significant parallels between this concept of "frequency" and my attitude toward God. It was a shocking revelation when it finally hit me that I have been thinking about God's attitude toward me all wrong. I know that for myself I thought of God as permanently displeased with me, permanently expecting something of me despite the fact that I had no idea how to get it done, completely unwilling to help me, and permanently ready to condemn me for it. I realized that I thought of the whole Christian concept that nothing good happens without grace as hinging on whether a random and capricious God chooses to give you grace or not. I shudder when I think of all the Christian and Muslim groups that apparently think that believing God to be sovereign and free means that He is essentially random and unpredictable.

 

My mind's eye trails off over a vista of entire societies with crippling father issues...

 

In any case, that kind of voluntarism (if I may so use the term) I have concluded is inimical to a faith that works. A faith that works, I think, abides by this augmented version of the Second Step:

 

"Came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity, and would if He were sought."

 

Grace is not about whether God is willing to give it. He is. He has chosen to be consistent, if you will, has promised, and who are we to gainsay that promise? The choice is on my side, whether to "raise my frequency" and step out into the fog and trust that the grace I need will come, and that whatever failure I experience when I try to do the next right thing I see is just part of the plan and altogether acceptable to a loving God.

CNAG is the Catholic-New Age Glossary... not backed by Webster's or any other authority. These meditations are here on That's So Second Millennium because they are an attempt to find maximum harmony between different strands of psychology and spirituality as they are being explored and lived out in Western culture today. It flows from a respect for people's reasons for doing what they do and thinking what they think.

Why Do Westerners Really Think Science and Faith Are Opposed?

Why Do Westerners Really Think Science and Faith Are Opposed?

December 29, 2018

This is Paul. Welcome to the first regular blog post for That's So Second Millennium. For 2019 I'm going to be supplementing the podcast with a series of weekend blog posts.

Let's start out with this question: Can we hope to get a broad enough picture of why so many people in Western cultures think religion and science are unavoidably opposed to do justice to the reality?

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