Friday, June 30, 2006

Moral Philosophy Quiz

Eliot at Claw of the Conciliator found this moral philosophy quiz.

Here's how I came out.

1. St. Augustine (100%)
2. Aquinas (96%)
3. Ockham (81%)
4. Spinoza (67%)
5. John Stuart Mill (63%)
6. Aristotle (58%)
7. Kant (56%)
8. Jeremy Bentham (50%)
9. Epicureans (47%)
10. Plato (47%)
11. Nel Noddings (41%)
12. Prescriptivism (40%)
13. Cynics (36%)
14. Jean-Paul Sartre (36%)
15. Ayn Rand (33%)
16. Stoics (29%)
17. Nietzsche (26%)
18. David Hume (20%)
19. Thomas Hobbes (3%)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Prayers for Mrs. Dillard

Steve Dillard is asking for prayers for his wife. She's been suffering from a stomach virus, exacerbated by Addison's Disease. It sounds like an ugly combination. So please keep Krista Dillard in your prayers.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Contemporary Culture and Catholic Sensibility

If you watched any of the current home-remodeling shows on cable, you've probably witnessed excesses of the "me" generation. These shows explore some of the lengths to which people go to create heavens of their havens or to turn their homes into "escapes." I had a chance to see one such home up close recently. What struck me is not only what the owner chose to accentuate, but she left out.

The interior was something else—mostly Tuscan with a few touches of Americana. The first floor had a large master suite off of the living room and an open kitchen with the latest brushed stainless steel appliances and all of the latest cooking whizbangery. There were two additional rooms on the first floor, which could've been small bedrooms fits for maybe one child each, but were an office and a hobby room. Above the garage and in the furthest corner of the house was a bonus room.

As I looked at a wall of photos of the owner in various locales (in front of the Eiffel Tower, with Mickey and Goofy, superimposed with the three stooges), I noticed off to the side in a rather simple built-in hutch some stereo equipment, a few games, and a photo of a young man in a tux—what appeared to be a rather recent senior photo—the owner's son, the only photo of a child in the entire house from what I can recall.

When I made my way back to my wife, she mentioned that the hostess's 17-year-old son was supposed to stop by, and the hostess truly wanted him to be there. I wondered what all of this was about... a divorced woman, with a single son, who had a single photo of him hidden in a corner of her home, and a wall of tribute to her own professional career. I can only guess that the son stayed in the bonus room when he visited.

One wall for herself. One picture of her son. I don't think I could get a clearer image of what's wrong with contemporary culture than this.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Fruits of Sola Fide

I'm reading Jaroslav Pelikan's Reformation of Church and Dogma, volume 4 of The Christian Tradition. I can empathize completely with Luther's disgust at the sale and abuse of indulgences, and it's clear to me that he started off with genuinely good intentions. However, where Luther begins and where others go with his thought, I can only see a tendency to give less and claim more, to water down the true Gospel and replace it with a wordly gospel.

I've been thinking about the role of works in justification and the problem with the concept of justification as a one-time investment of fiduciary faith as opposed to an act of God through grace and the participation of our own free will and aided by good works. For those of my friends and readers who have a better grasp of this subject, let me know if I've missed the target. I'm still working out these thoughts, and I'd much rather you steer me in the right direction than persist in error.

One pillar of Reformation doctrine is the concept sola fide or "faith only"—the idea that we are justified solely by the gratuitous gift of grace from God, which covers our sins and imputes righteousness to us, even though we are still sinners beneath God's cloak of righteousness. The sin is still present, but those who have fiduciary faith (absolute certainty of God's mercy due to Christ's redemptive death) are covered by God's grace. This diverges from Catholic thought, which posits that justification is God's grace working within us to sanctify our souls. In this way, the effects of grace are to make us truly just and holy and takes place over a lifetime. Sin is blotted out, not just covered or dismissed. In addition, our acts of pennance, prayers, corporal works of mercy, and what not are rewarded by God with additional grace. The grace that God gives is still a gift, as it is given on the basis of His promise to us and is worth far more than our meritorius acts actually warrant.

I find two effects of sola fide that have borne out in the current religious/secular climate. First, a lack of value in works eventually results in a "prosperity" gospel, one which suggest that worldly indicators of success suggest material rewards by God. Second, a lack of emphasis on the worth of penitential practices results in a degradation of the value of suffering and a focus on one's own redemption rather than pennance done in the service of others.

In the world of sola fide, while faith should bear out in one's life by producing good works, there is no value to those good works in regards to one's salvation. They're more proof of faith than anything else. However, in his discussions on temporal punishment (canonical penalties) and purgatorial penalties (part of his dispute with the Church on the matter of indulgences), Luther makes reference to the remission of canonical penalities (pardon from temporal penalities) by the pope. He claims that anyone who is truly repentant (that is, has perfect contrition) deserves the same pardon. If the pope, then, loses this ability to pardon those with perfect contrition (or perhaps never had it, as Thesis 26 suggests), only God remains to pardon those temporal penalties. Now, I don't know if Luther ever came to this conclusion in his own mind, but it doesn't take long for temporal penalties to become equated with righteous punishment through hardship and suffering and for prosperity to be acclaimed as someone's cloak of righteousness. As opposed to Luther's claim that an indulgence "makes the last to be first" (Thesis 64), what eventually becomes the case is that one's prosperity makes the last (those who strive for worldly things) to be first, while those who embrace poverty as their cross to bear with Christ become last in the world's eyes.

In addition to resulting in a "gospel of prosperity "(one that invests far too much emphasis on material goods in the here and now), it detracts from the traditional understanding of righteous suffering. If one's penitential acts are of no use or merit to the individual performing them, they're of no use to anyone else either. In a worldview that accepts predestination with no free will, positive reprobation*, and justification as a one-time event, it seems logical. But it isn't scriptural.

Christ tells us in the synoptic gospels that we must pick up our cross and follow Him (Mt 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). Matthew 10:38 suggests two things: first, that we must suffer with Him, and that through our suffering we become worthy of Him. Carrying the cross is about suffering with Christ, and to truly suffer with Him, we must suffer for the same purpose, ultimately for everyone's salvation. We do this in our lives by performing corporal works of mercy, by self-denial (Luke 9:23), and through penitential acts. These acts of pennance are taken on not only for our own repentance but for others as well (which is why we can earn an indulgence for someone else). In a worldview where predestination is due to God's omniscient foresight and His election of those based on the grace attained throughout one's life (both through one's own efforts and through the efforts of the communion of Saints), this is both reasonable and scriptural.

By dampening the Christian spirit for self-denial and redemptive suffering, we're simply allowing that many more to be reprobate. We're devaluing sacrifice and martyrdom. By taking up our cross and following to suffer in Christ's footseps, we play a part in God's redemptive plan, securing with Christ salvation for those predestined.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Monday, June 19, 2006

Happy Father's Day from TROGDOR!

My lovely wife susprised me with a perfectly appropriate Father's Day gift: Trogdor shirts from Homestar Runner.

Here's the t-shirt:


And here's the polo:


And if you don't know what TROGDOR is, see this.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Prayers for My Dad

My dad is in surgery today for a small prostate issue. Please keep him in your prayers.

**UPDATE: I'll have to seek Julie D's intercession more often. Doc is recovering nicely. He's 70 and swears that no man in his family has lived past that age. I'm banking on proving him wrong. Nonetheless, whenever these sorts of things come up, I always think it's safest to put the matter in God's hands.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism]

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A New Thing Comin'

It looks like the USCCB did the right thing. It would be interesting to see how everyone voted.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism]

Now for Something Completely Different

Steve at Speculative Catholic is giving away a concept for a parody: a musical based on the Council of Nicea using melodies from Hair.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Podcasting: Now I Understand

I was showing my wife Stephen Colbert's liturgical dance clip when I came upon this Ask a Ninja clip explaining podcasting.

It makes a whole lot more sense now.

Syncretism, Truth, and Catholic Faith

Matt Whyndham posted a question in my combox that I think needs more attention than I can give it in a combox response. I had noted my current struggle with martial arts practice in two posts, particularly when the practice seems to delve into quasi-spiritual disciplines or even simple meditation techniques.

Perhaps it's because I'm not a Christian, nor a very experienced Qi Gong-ist, but I don't understand the source of your conflict? That you obtain metaphysical sensation outside of your religion? Is that so bad?

I mentioned in my second post on Christianity and the Martial Arts the idea of syncretism. Many people these days find no problem with cobbling together together their own belief system from bits an pieces of other traditions. When I was agnostic, I felt pretty comfortable doing the same thing. The belief implicit in syncretism as it plays out in the modern world is that there is no single path to truth, that all belief systems are equally valid, and that religious belief is all about finding what "feels right to me." It's closely tied to relativism (truth as a relative reality only) and indifferentism (all belief systems are equally valid and lead to truth).

Syncretism is like taking puzzle pieces out of several boxes, each of which has its own distinct picture of reality, and trying to put them together to come up with an individualistic picture of reality. No matter how beautiful each of those separate pictures are, the syncretized picture is going to be distorted.

Metaphysics is geared toward understanding first principles, God, and Being. (I addressed this question back in September in the study questions for a class I was taking, "Philosophy for Theologians.") To pick and choose among various metaphysics is to accept contradictory and incompatible means to a single end.

If one also considers the differing ends toward which Buddhism and Taoism on the one hand lead and the one toward which Christian faith leads, one can see that they're incompatible. In the case of Buddhism, the aim is to free oneself of personal attachments in an effort to release oneself from the endless cycle of birth and death (Samsara) and to attain Nirvana. There is no God in the sense of a transcendent being to which Buddhists turn for this release. It's a personal path traversed at one's own will.

For Catholics and Christians, this is not the case. The aim in life is to know, love, and serve God. To do this, we cannot rely on our own abilities and strivings but must allow God's grace to work upon us. We must accept this gift of God's grace offered to us through the sacrifice of His Son. We must make our will subservient to His will. And while this life of existence to Buddhists is an illusion that ends with the attainment of Nirvana, for Catholics, this life is not only quite real (although material and transient), it is also our only chance to make a choice, to live for God or not. So anything that distracts us from our goal is an impediment.

Here's where a lot of non-Christians (at least the non-montheistic ones) get tripped up—the concept of God. If He were simply one of many gods immanent in the natural world (as is the belief with the gods of paganism) or simply one divine being of many amid this worldly allusion (as in Hinduism and Buddhism), it wouldn't matter so much. One god would have no more claim to us than another. But we see God as the transcendent Truth, the Creator, One whose very essence is Being itself. To Him we owe everything.

[Technorati tags: Karate, kung fu, martial arts, Christianity, Catholicism]

What the Church Owes to Africa

Mike Aquilina has another great post, this time on the debt that the Catholic Church owes to Africa. At this rate, I might simply need to build in a permanent RSS feed so his post titles will show up in my sidebar.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Essay? What essay?

Okay, yes, I'm avoiding my essay. I think I'm about two thirds done. Hard to tell with me. I'm a bit long winded/long of tooth/short on concision when I start writing academic stuff (as my committee discovered by page 115 of my master's thesis). Anyway, it's coming. Sometimes I have to stew to produce on topics that other people choose for me.

Fortunately, Mike Aquilina's newish blog is a perfect excuse for me to run off and find other things to do to avoid my own work. I've already mentioned it once in the last week, and I suspect I'll be pointing people his way frequently as he deals with a subject with which I'm becoming more enamored: patristics. I'm currently hamstrung by my complete ignorance of classical languages, but I hope to remedy that in the next few years.

I won't have a choice since it's a requirement for the program I'm currently in.

He has two excellent posts today. One concerns the revisionist histories of Jesus that everyone seems to be lapping up these days. The other is about a very cool new discovery in the Basque country. It's cool for two reasons. First, it shows that Christianity was apparently flourishing in this region (the Pyrenees) in the third century (that is 200-299 AD). Second, it's in Basque. The latter fact is important because these inscriptions are 800 years older than the earliest extant Basque language documents before this discovery. It's also very cool if you're into historical linguistics because it proves that Basque (an isolate language) had a written form as early as the third century. I don't know enough about the language, but I imagine this would have Basque linguists wetting their collective pants.

Okay, now that I've tainted this post...

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Friday, June 09, 2006

No bias in this media

My wife just moved into a new editing position, which required her to switch from a technical writer's style guide to the AP style manual. This manual is used by most American news media to guide writers and editors on matters of usage and convention. Different disciplines have different conventions, and the choices they make reveal a lot about their aims. Hence, you'll find that style guides for science journals tend to promote language and usage that enhances a sense of objectivity. Style guides for technical writers tend to promote simplicity and clarity. Essentially, a style guide reveals a discipline's agenda.

If you need evidence that the media is biased toward the liberal agenda, you can find it in the AP manual. Here's the usage guideline under "abortion":

Use "anti-abortion" instead of "pro-life" and "abortion rights" instead of "pro-abortion" or "pro-choice." Avoid "abortionist," which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions; use a term such as "abortion doctor" or "abortion practitioner."

Hmmm. Abortion doctor. Sounds like a bit of a oxymoron, no? Or abortion practitioner. They practice doing abortions. Some day they'll get them right.

Orwell demonstrated just how powerful the word is, how selectively eliminating those terms with a pejorative connotation or banning those with a positive connotation can shape people's impressions. Derrida knew this. The government knows this. The media knows this. When will the rest of us wake up and resist?

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, prolife, media bias]

Christian Faith and the Martial Arts - Part II

In part I of this series, I mentioned my past history with martial arts, at least in terms of my affiliations. I haven't really delved into what karate and kung fu meant for me or how they shaped my character.

Until I got involved with SKA, martial arts practice was all about being a bad ass, about having some mystical knowhow that allowed me to somehow fold the space-time continuum and to bend my leg in such an impossible way that it would kick somebody's ass all by itself while I was reclining and sipping a gin and tonic (or maybe a really good microbrew).

Okay, not exactly, but I did have a distorted view of what karate was about.

However, when I got involved with SKA, I got a whole new perspective. I was still agnostic at the time but heavily influenced by eastern mysticism. However, shotokan didn't dwell overly much in mystical aspects of martial arts. They occasionally gave a philosophical nod in the direction of Zen Buddhism, but even the terms you'd expect to carry a mystical aspect had more to do with the material. For example, "spirit" was not something apart from the body but the intensity with which one put oneself into the practice. Emptying oneself was simply clearing away distractions and focus. While certainly some Japanese arts contained a bit more mysticism (such as Aikido, with its Shinto practices), shotokan karate had very little. The practice was about working on one's own character, to dig deeply when needed, to focus single mindedly, and to put oneself fully into the moment.

When I started practicing kung fu, I had long gotten over my flirtation with Hinduism and Buddhism. I simply wanted to get back into training with a group. There is something about a group setting that forces you to buck up and take a more severe look at yourself. What's more, if you don't spar with people regularly, you lose your skills. So I jumped back into practice with both feet, got in with a good bunch of beginners, and headed down the shaolin path.

Shaolin-do has an immense wealth of material. I've explained it this way to people: shotokan is a book (almost literally for SKA shotokan, as nearly all techniques and forms are in Karate-Do Kyohan). Shaolin-do, on the other hand, is a library. I've already mentioned the numerous weapons we practice (and some have several forms). There also many styles within the overall practice: tiger, crane, bird, whirling hands, preying mantis, pa kua chang, chen tai chi, yang tai chi, hsing i, Hua fist, drunken fist, monkey, eagle claw, and so on. We learn a little bit of each at different levels. As we advance, we're exposed to more challenging material. We're also introduced to chi kung exercises and meditation.

Here's where things have started to get a little difficult for me. I returned to the Church in 2002 and was confirmed (finally) in 2003. Prior to this, I didn't think much about the chi kung and meditation practices. Many of these practices have Taoist and Buddhist roots. (One form, i chin ching, is the set of exercises that Bodhidharma taught to the Shaolin monks before he could teach them to meditate properly. According to legend, this practice set the shaolin monks on their path of martial arts training.) In the first 18 months of practice, we learn basic meditation. These are really more like breathing exercises. We're not told to visualize anything or empty the mind but simply to focus on our breathing and allow the mind to be calm. This is referred to as the breath after birth.

However, as we progress, the meditation practices become more esoteric. The next step in meditation practice is the breath before birth. This practice does require visualization, and there's more emphasis on chi. I'm at the point in my practice where I'm supposed to be taking this class. (It's required for my next belt level, along with a number of other Taoist-based styles and techniques.) I have been asking myself whether I can really go any further down this path without falling into syncretism, and I've decided that here is where I need to stop.

I'm debating what this means for me. Do I go back to shotokan? Do I continue to practice the lower level shaolin material and content myself with the excellent physical conditioning it provides? Do I go find a jujiutsu group and learn some grappling? Or do I hang up the gi and find another way to stay in shape?

I still haven't answered that question. However, I do know that what I do needs to conform to my Christian life and my Catholic faith. The aspects of discipline and respect that I've gotten from karate and kung fu have been beneficial, and I doubt I would have become the person I am had I not gone down this path. The single-mindedness that martial arts require is much like that single-mindedness we require to turn our eyes to Christ and to want Him and heaven more than anything else. There's also an odd paradox in both realms. In martial arts practice, you find that your skills give you the will to walk away from conflict rather than engaging (or as some have said, "Judo gives you the skill to run with confidence"), to accept circumstances as they are. In our spiritual life, we ultimately cannot grasp what it is that we seek until we let go, stop trying to do it all ourselves, and let God take control of our destiny. We grasp when we finally decide not to cling.

[Technorati tags: Karate, kung fu, martial arts, Christianity, Catholicism]

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Christian Faith and the Martial Arts - Part I

Elliot the Claw and I have a number of things in common, one of which is our involvement with martial arts. I've been mulling over my own involvement in this practice for some time, or at least for the past four years. Prior to that time, I was still an agnostic.

I've practiced martail arts in some form of and on since I was about 10. Back then, it was judo, which is pretty much pure sport Japanese style. In high school, I practiced for a short time at the Mountain Home AFB Youth Center with an Isshin Ryu karate group. That was interesting enough—a derivative form of Okinawan karate, very linear, very focused on technique and sport. When I got to Gonzaga University, a bunch of us formed a group of MA enthusiasts from various styles. Gonzaga U. had a Gojo Ryu program.

When I left Gonzaga, I left MA practice for nine years. When I came back to practice, it was with an SKA (Ohshima) shotokan group at Boise State University. My girlfriend (now ex-wife) sparked my interest in the organization. Shotokan and shotokai karate are formulations of Okinawan karate taught on mainland Japan by Guichin Funakoshi. In Karate-Do Kyohan, Funakoshi traces the lineage back through the Okinawan Goro Ryu and Shorin Ryu to the Chinese martial arts taught to the Okinawans by Shaolin monks from China. (Shorin is actually the Okinawan and Japanese pronunciation of Shaolin.)

The style of shotokan I learned (Ohshima) is more closely aligned with shotokai karate than the sport shotokan styles that flourish around the world. The focus is on discipline, technique, spirit, and personal perfection. It's absolutely not focused on competition, and participation in open tournaments is discouraged. We learned no more than 18 forms, a handful of basics, and practiced very structured kumite. We also focused on intensity. What I found most lacking in other styles I've observed is the intensity that SKA shotokan provided.

After earning my shodan in that style (after 5 years), I drifted in and out of practice. I dropped in to spar now and then and continued to practice my forms. Otherwise, I wasn't involved. I found that my personal life became less disciplined, and I lost some of the intensity I loved about that style. I dabbled in aikido and kendo during that time, but those styles didn't engage me as much.

I went back to MA practice in 2000 at a shoalin-do school. Two things attracted me to this school. First, we learned a lot of weapons: sai, broad sword, straight sword, double-ended staff (bo and jo), single-ended staff, kwan-tao, nunchaku, tiger hook sword, and spear. (I love spear.) Second, I like the people. I've encountered many jerks in the MA world, and usually the jerkiest is the instructor. Not so with Master J*. Master J is one of the most humble, decent martial artists I know. He does well in his business because he treats each of his students with respect. He also knows his subject very well. I also like the people at the shaolin centers. I still practice there as a nidan (second-degree black belt).

Lately (that is, since my reversion) my concern has turned toward the mysticism involved in martial arts. I'll address that in part II.

*UPDATED: Clearly not my instructor's name. I don't think it's necessary or relevant to my discussion here, so I've removed it.

*UPDATED II: Silly spelling errors and a little more generalizing.

[Technorati tags: Karate, kung fu, martial arts, Christianity, Catholicism]

The Way of the Fathers

I might as well join in with the love fest and point everyone (all 14 of you) to Mike Aquilina's blog, The Way of the Fathers. I started following it a few weeks ago and started seeing raves everywhere else I looked. So now I'm joining in with the waving ravers.

I've poked around on Mike's site over the last few weeks, and it's a trove of Patristics info. For me, that's pretty handy since I'm currently taking a grad. course in Church history. Aisde from the utility of the information he has, I like is his presentation. Numerous blogs have already mentioned this particular story on early youth ministry.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More nonsense on the date today (6/6/06)

Apparently, the MSM is all over the date today because of the association with the number of the Beast (666 or 616). My favorite internet historian is on the case.

My favorite?

Marginal glosses in the oldest extant fragments of John's Apocalypse indicate that, while anyone without the mark of the Beast won't be able to "buy or sell," they might be able to search Froogle for bargains.

Edward Cook has a more technical discussion on the numerology involved and whether the value is 666 or 616. Either way, it's the same guy (read Nero).

Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History

My Life as a Catholic Jerk


The new Compendium is here! The new Compendium is here!

Okay, I know I'm a little slow at responding, but when the Compendium of the Catechism Catholic Church came out, I was in the process of moving and a little cash poor. Then I had to pay for the summer semester at Holy Apostles and buy my books. One complaint I have about the International Catholic University program is that many of the books are rare and durn near impossible to get. So I waited until those bills were paid off before ordering two copies of the Compendium.

Did I mention that the new Compendium is here?

Anyway, I noticed that the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has been noted in the Idaho Catholic Register, but I have yet to see mention of the other. So I'll just have to find time to write a review I guess. I sometimes get the impression that items of importance to moral formation get less publicity in our diocesan paper than items of importance to social doctrine.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Fulton J. Sheen: The Study of World Religions

Moneybags has a post on Fulton J. Sheen's discussion of world religions. It's a particularly interesting show as it points out common errors of reasoning that people make when comparing Christianity to other religions, contemporary and ancient.

- Resemblances imply Imitations (which is a form of anecdotal evidence or false analogy)

- Primitive causes Original (post hoc, ergo propter hoc, which means "after this, therefore because of this")

Absp. Fulton Sheen had some excellent programs. I try to listen to him and Fr. John Corapi everyday on Relevant Radio. Occasionaly, I stick around and listen to Dr. Ray Guarendi (a funny guy with some great practical advice on raising kids).

Friday, June 02, 2006

Diverse Commentary on The Da Vinci Code

Amazingly, it all seems to say the same thing: Do people really believe this crap?

Mike S. Adams has found a new use for The Da Vinci Code: it helps identify annoying conspiracy theorists when you're in an airport. James Lileks also has an amusing bleat about the book. The there's Anthony Lane at The New Yorker who gives DVC a good fisking. And finally, there's the very helpful clarification by Holy Office.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]