Archive for January, 2005

To expand a bit more on the question raised by f in the comments: what does the phrase "culture of death" really mean? Is it anything more than a partisan catch-phrase used by the pro-life movement?

I really ought to get out my copy of Evangelium Vitae, or find an online copy and link to it, and quote from JPII. But I have some other things I need to do tonight, so will limit myself to a couple of comments:

I think there are two main aspects to the cultural tendency we’re talking about here. One is in fact the increasing willingness to take innocent ife for utilitarian reasons: abortion and euthanasia. War and capital punishment obviously have some relevance here, too, but are not exactly the same thing, in that these at least in principle distinguish the innocent from the guilty, whereas guilt and innocence in their ordinary senses have no place in the thinking that justifies abortion. No need to belabor those; I think most people understand the moral issues involved there.

The other is more subtle and has to do with a increasingly widespread belief, which is pushed with evangelical fervor by some people, maybe most egregiously by that Singer fellow at one of the Ivy League schools–Princeton, I think: the belief, mentioned in the previous post, that human life is nothing special, no different from any other form of life. This can be seen, with reason, as a kind of death wish, a desire to have done with the moral and spiritual burdens we all carry by pronouncing them meaningless, mere illusions generated by the activity of our brains. Personally I think this is nonsense, but it can be argued very plausibly on purely intellectual grounds (like so many other dead-end skepticisms, e.g. Hume’s).

If there is in fact no such thing as the human, except perhaps in an elemental biological sense, then there is no reason to go to any particular trouble to save human lives that are unproductive or troublesome, and no reason not to–for instance–develop ways of manufacturing humans suited for specific tasks. It would be no more an ethical problem than breeding bloodhounds or bird dogs. I have heard such ideas propounded with an obscene enthusiasm.

The death of the human is the death of the moral.

Maclin Horton

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As I prayed the Magnificat last night, I thought of the intellectuals mentioned below.

He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

Could there be a better description of the state of many of our brightest minds, busily sawing off the metaphysical limbs upon which they sit, painting themselves into metaphysical corners?

Why not assume that consciousness does not play a role in human behavior?

I always want to ask people who raise what they obviously believe to be bold questions such as this one: why assume anything? Why assume that you actually exist? Why assume life is better than death?

Many years ago I ran across the phrase "a weariness with the striving to be men," and it has stuck with me. A commentor in our first post below asks what is meant by the phrase "culture of death." Well, one thing it means is the spirit which believes there is at bottom no such thing as human life.

A weariness with the striving to be men…

Maclin Horton

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Some contemporary gnostics

Very interesting NYT article about the answers of a number of "scientists, futurists, and other creative thinkers" to the question "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" Many of the answers involve elaborate speculations about the nature and evolution of life and consciousness. What really strikes me about these is the confidence of the speaker in the ability of human intellect to get to the bottom of all this–most are things which the speaker fully expects to be proved eventually. There really is an air of gnosticism about the discussion, with a few of the participants sounding more than slightly enchanted with their own intellectual powers and a little disdainful of those who are not as bright. And a strong sense of the inevitable march of progress away from the ignorance of the past, a sense that the speakers expect some kind of power to attend the acquisition of this very esoteric knowledge.

In short: smart people, little wisdom. But there is one Christian in the bunch, and the unprovable belief of the first guy quoted, a psychologist, is that people can be relied on to make irrational choices. Nice caveat for the rest.

The NYT piece is only a sample of the survey, which can be found in its entirety at www.edge.org. The answers get rather tedious–here’s one I picked at random: "Until proven otherwise, why not assume that consciousness does not play a role in human behavior?" Yeah, that’ll get us on down the road to the bright-n-shiny future.

I wonder how one gets to be a "futurist".

Maclin Horton

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Welcome to the Caelum et Terra blog, where I hope some of the editors and writers of that late magazine will gather to continue the discussion we started there. I’ve consulted Daniel Nichols (the editor), Julianne Wiley, and a couple of other people who all agreed that it was a nice idea, but none of us wanted to invest the time and money (little enough of that required, of course, but still an inhibitor). As of now I am using the basic TypePad service, which allows only one author, so I will be the one actually posting material, but I hope and expect to hear from the others regularly, and all contributions will be plainly attributed. And naturally I would like to see a vigorous trade in comments.

What was C&T about? During the six or so years it was published, from roughly 1990 till 1996, I don’t know that even the founding editors could have given a clear or at least a simple answer to that question. To put it as broadly as possible, though, I think we all agreed in our desire to think about and to lay the groundwork for a culture rooted in the Christian faith. Being Catholics, and very conscious of what we believe to be very significant differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, we believed that these theological differences would play out rather differently in culture, and it was this Catholic thing that we wanted to explore. Yet we intended to be open to other traditions, and although we lamented the eclipse of hard-won Catholic wisdom we tried not to indulge in a too-sentimental view of a Catholic past that was of course, like the Catholic present and the Catholic future, never what it should have been.

Let me just free-associate for a moment: our vision was (and is) mystical, contemplative, distributist, agrarian, sacramental, ecumenical, aesthetic, traditionalist, and progressive. Note the last two: there are significant political differences among us, but we all believe that the Catholic faith is simultaneously the most conservative and the most revolutionary force on earth. And we agree that there really is a culture of death growing in the world, and that Christianity naturally tends toward the development of a culture of life.

That will be enough for now. The blog page is live but empty at the moment, and I need to put something out there. You can find out more about the magazine here, where a number of essays from it are archived.

As I learn more about the options available in TypePad, I expect to modify the design of this page. Please email me with any opinions as to readability (or leave them in the comments). I have serious doubts about this light type on dark background, but most of the other templates were worse (C&T somehow is not meant to be viewed in pastels). Comments are open.

Maclin Horton

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