Sunday, October 30, 2011


I regret the lack of posts lately. As of last Thursday, I'm a full-time member of the workforce and have significantly less time to devote to quality writing as a result. Not to worry, though. I haven't given up. It's just a matter of figuring out how to work the writing into the new schedule. That being said, I will undoubtedly be forced to decrease the frequency with which new posts are published from (roughly) daily to, perhaps, several posts per week.

I hope you will all continue to support and participate in this little community of ideas by reading and commenting. As always, don't forget to send any ideas or suggestions to improve the blog to Fresh perspectives are always welcome. In the meantime, and feel free to check out some older content you may not have had time to read before by consulting the archive at the bottom of the sidebar.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Catharsis: Why We Care What Happens To Frodo

Is there a point to any of this? Or was Macbeth right?
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing," (V.5.19-28)
There is no doubt that, as Kant says in the Critique of Judgment, life seems "purposive," it seems to have meaning. In the question on Divine Providence in the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas quotes Holy Scripture as evidence that the universe has meaning: "[Divine Wisdom] reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly," (Wis. 8:1).

He goes on to explain that, because all agents undertake actions for a reason, and God is the agent in the creating and sustaining of all the exists, all that exists does so for the reason he intended it to. To put it another way, when I do something, I do it for a reason. Everything that ends up happening as a result of my action (everything that's under my control), then, happened for that reason. But everything that exists, God caused to be; therefore, everything that exists exists for the reason God created it.

We can know, then, using reason alone, apart from faith, that everything has a purpose. Unfortunately, we can't know what that purpose is. Why not? Because we don't know everything. Gandalf said it right, "Even the very wise cannot see all ends," (The Fellowship of the Ring, 74). Because we can't know how everything is connected, and because we can't know how everything will end up, in our own lives or at the end of time, we can't know why things happen the way they do.

Say I built a machine that turned peanuts into peanut butter. Now say you were a sentient peanut. As you went through the machine you would be able to learn a little bit about how the machine worked, but not everything. Also, as you went through the machine, you would have no idea where you were going to end up. Only once you got turned into peanut butter would you realize what it was all about.

In the Poetics, Aristotle called Literature "cathartic," meaning that the reading of Literature (or watching of plays or movies, or listening of music, etc.) purges frustrations pent up as a result of conflict and tension in the narrative. He also says that art imitates life and reality (the Greek is mimesis, as in English "mimic"). In other words, the emotions that we live through in microcosm in works of art be they literary, musical, architectural, or what have you) are the same emotions we live through in real life.

Literature gives us the opportunity to live a second life, to put ourselves in the characters' shoes and do what they did and see what they saw. This is why, as Joseph Campbell points out, protagonists must be relatable. They must be down-to-earth and believable like Luke Skywalker or Frodo or Clark Kent. Or a peasant carpenter from Nazareth, for that matter. Either that or they must be champions, larger than life heroes that can fight on behalf of us little guys and do the things we never could, like Achilles or Superman. Or Christ, the King of the Jews and God Incarnate.

Literature is cathartic because it also allows us to see the ending, to see the meaning behind everything that happens in this second life, to learn lessons about life and reality from the people and events we encounter in art. It's like getting to regret bad decisions and glory in good ones without having to actually make them. This is not to say that the purpose of Literature is to teach us lessons; it is to say that it does, as a result of what it is, potential reality, imagined and given form by an artist.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What's In Our Vaccines? - Part Four

Finally, after looking at tissues and viruses harvested from aborted babies, other bizarre human and animal parts, and potentially toxic levels of aluminum, the series on vaccine ingredients is drawing to a close. This last post deals with some of the shocking chemicals left over in various vaccines after the manufacturing process.

DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis): all three brands contain 100 micrograms of formaldehyde. The Tripedia brand contains approximately 0.3 micrograms of mercury and the Infranrix brand 100 micrograms of polysorbate 80.

Hepatits B: the Recombivax brand contains "a residual amount" of formaldehyde, to quote Dr. Sears' The Vaccine Book.

Rotavirus: The RotaTeq brand contains polysorbate 80.

Polio: the final version of the Polio vaccine solution is 0.02 percent formaldehyde and 0.5 percent 2-phenoxyethanol.

Varicella (Chicken Pox): the Varicella vaccine contains 500 micrograms MSG and "trace amounts" of something called EDTA.

Hepatitis A: the Vaqta brand contains formaldehyde while the Havrix brand is 0.5 percent 2-phenoxyethanol and contains 23 micrograms of polysorbate 20.

Flu: the various brands of the flu vaccine contain all kinds of things like octoxynol, polysorbate 80, mercury, and formaldehyde.

HPV (Human Papillomavirus): the Gardasil brand contains 50 micrograms of polysorbate 80.

While it's true the amounts of these chemicals we're talking about here are unimaginably small. Nevertheless, shouldn't it make sense to at least do some research into whether or not chemicals like mercury and formaldehyde might do some damage, even if its not that much? This is what Dr. Sears has to say on formaldehyde in particular:
"The Environmental Protectional Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and other agencies all list formaldehyde as a carcinogen and state that it can cause kidney damage and genetic damage. Most of the research on formaldehyde, however, deals with inhaled levels of the chemical. I could not find information on injected formaldehyde. Fortunately, the amount in each vaccine is minuscule," (209).
Basically, the consensus is that the amounts of these chemicals being used are so small that they're probably completely harmless. It seems to me there's an awful lot being wagered on that word "probably." Sure it's expensive, but we're talking about the health of every person.

What if they're wrong and the mercury in some flu vaccines isn't harmless? What if it causes some kind of chronic brain damage that takes 20 or 30 years to show up? What if we listened to the CDC and, not just 43 percent of the American population got a flu shot, but 100? Over a period of 20 or 30 years? Is it really too much to ask to, you know, do a study or two?

The bottom line for our family, I suppose, is to steer clear of these chemical ingredients in vaccines as much as possible. Prefer brands which contain no chemicals. Weigh the benefits against the risks for each particular immunization. Refuse combination vaccines and spread out the immunizations we do decide to give our children to, at least, limit their exposure to these chemicals in higher concentrations.

You know, the more I learn about medicine and the healthcare system in this country, the more I'm convinced that it's a very, very dangerous prospect to stay uninformed. I mean, nothing against doctors personally, but it's entirely too easy to put entirely too much faith in a system which does err. I don't blame the doctors. I blame us. Take charge of your own healthcare. We may have to see a doctor because he's a trained "expert," but, when it comes down to it, it's still a service industry, and we're still the customers.

You probably wouldn't buy a new car or house because an "expert" told you it was a good buy without doing your own research. Why would you follow the advice of a doctor or government agency without checking their work?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Red Letter Bibles Are Dumb

In 1901, Louis Klopsch published the first Bible in which those words "universally accepted as the utterances of our Lord and Saviour" were printed in red—the first "red letter Bible." They've been extremely popular ever since, especially amongst Protestants. Here's the problem with red letter bibles: nothing in the Bible is more or less important than anything else. It's all the Word of God, not just the stuff presented as quotations of Jesus.

Even though the Gospels are eyewitness accounts, and we believe the Apostles were given a special grace to be able to recall all of Jesus' teachings and recount them faithfully (cf. John 14:26), the Gospels aren't word-for-word, moment-by-moment, exact histories of what happened. The Gospels are history, yes, but the Apostles didn't conceive of history in the same way we do. I'm not suggesting that what they say happened didn't happen. I am saying that they're not, nor were they ever intended to be, perfectly factually accurate accounts with exact quotations.

To say that everything the Bible says is the Word of God and absolutely true is not to say that every part of it should be interpreted in the same way. Obviously the Gospels aren't the same kind of literature as 1 Corinthians or Revelation. Different books and sections of the Bible have to be interpreted in light of how they were intended to be read.

For example, when John says that angels in heaven are singing (cf. Rev. 5:8-13) he clearly doesn't mean that literally, because it's not possible. The angels are purely spiritual beings, they have no bodies. A being without vocal cords can't sing. What John is saying is something like: "the angels declare the glory of God and worship him." In order to get this idea across, he likens it to human songs of praise. In other words, it's a metaphor. It's still absolutely and undeniably true. But it's true metaphorically, not literally.

This principle must be extended out over the entirety of Scripture. The question is, How do we determine which parts should be interpreted in which way? Well, there are several answers. First, the Church, carrying on the Apostolic Witness to Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit is custodian to the truth of the Word of God, of which Scripture is the special, written testimony. Second, theologians determine how we must interpret particular passages of Scripture in light of what we know to be true about God and Christ. Third, bible scholars, archaeologists and the like are always coming up with new information about the people and times which produced Holy Scripture, giving us new insight into their culture and, as a result, literature.

To be sure, there are portions of Scripture which it's less crucial to read than others. Someone once suggested a new Christian read the New Testament twice before he ever read the Old Testament. Obviously, every last ceremonial precept in Leviticus and Deuteronomy don't need to be memorized to get the idea. Nevertheless, we ought not to treat the "words of Jesus" in the Gospels as exact quotations. Nor should we devalue the rest of Scripture as any less authoritative (when interpreted properly).

Monday, October 24, 2011

What's In Our Vaccines? - Part Three

When we started this series I said that we would begin with the most heinous and disgusting vaccine ingredients and work our way down to those that aren't really that bad. In the first post we saw that the Varicella (Chicken Pox) and Hepatitis A vaccines contain tissue from a little boy that was aborted in the '60s and that the virus in the Rubella vaccine was originally harvested from an aborted baby. In the second post we looked at the bizarre and potentially-harmful human and animal tissues present in several vaccines. This time we'll be looking at an ingredient which, while less horrifying, has the potential to cause the most harm: aluminum.

For some time now, many decades, it has been common practice to mix aluminum in with vaccines. Long story short, it helps them work better. Ordinarily, aluminum is just fine. To quote Dr. Sears' The Vaccine Book yet again: "Normally one wouldn't consider aluminum to be a problem. It's present everywhere in our environment. It's in food, water, air, and soil. It's also a main ingredient in over-the-counter antacids. Aluminum is thought to be harmless when swallowed because it isn't absorbed into the body," (193). But what about when it's injected?

Like any other chemical or mineral, our bodies are only capable of filtering out a certain amount. If our kidneys and liver can't keep up with the levels to which we're being subjected, a toxic concentration can build up and cause serious damage, and even death.

A study in 1997 in The New England Journal of Medicine "sought to prove that aluminum may be harmful to preemie babies. They turned out to be right. The infants who were given IV solutions with aluminum showed impaired neurologic and mental development at eighteen months, compared to the babies who were fed much lower amounts of aluminum," (197).

This study, along with several others, are responsible for making it so that IV medications containing aluminum now bear a label warning doctors to consider how much total aluminum patients are getting and whether it's likely their bodies can handle it. For some reason, though, vaccines are exempt from this precaution.

While the 1997 study dealt only with premature babies, who have limited kidney function and are therefore more susceptible to aluminum toxicity, it does prove that it is possible for aluminum to damage:
"What about larger, full-term babies with healthy kidneys? Using the 5 microgram per kilogram per day criterion from [an FDA study] as a minimum amount we know a healthy baby can handle, a twelve-pound, two month-old baby can safely get at least 30 micrograms of aluminum in one day. A twenty-two pound one-year-old can get at least 50 micrograms safely. Babies with healthy kidneys could probably handle a lot more, but it's usefyl to have a benchmark," (198).
If the American Academy of Pediatrics' Recommended Vaccine Schedule were followed, a 6-month old should receive a total of 1225 micrograms of aluminum if the brands containing the highest concentrations happen to be chosen. An average 6-month old baby boy could way as much as 21 pounds. Compare that to the FDA's benchmark minimum healthy aluminum intake for a baby his size of 48 micrograms and one starts to wonder if there might be a problem here.

Thankfully, most of the risk can be avoided by ignoring the standard vaccine schedule. Dr. Sears presents an alternative schedule in which (assuming brands not containing aluminum are chosen when there is a choice) only one aluminum-containing vaccine is given at a time. The benefits to using Dr. Sears' alternative schedule are really astounding:

It limits the total number of vaccine doses given in one month to two in order to decrease the likelihood of side effects, increase the ease with which a particular vaccine can be shown to have caused a side effect if it does arise, and spread out the baby's exposure to potentially harmful chemicals and ingredients. "It starts out with the most important vaccines, the ones that prevent the diseases that are most threatening to infants," (239) and postpones administering the immunizations infants really don't need, but children do. It gives only one live-virus vaccine at a time "so that a baby's immune system can deal with each disease separately," and so on.

Because our family has opted out of several vaccines for various reasons, we're not faced with quite as many problems as a family attempting to squeeze in every possible vaccine would. Nevertheless, we'll still be following Dr. Sears' alternative schedule.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What's In Our Vaccines? - Part Two

Cow tissue extract? Monkey kidney cells? Human blood serum? Does that sound like stuff you would want to pay someone to inject into your child? Consider this excerpt from Dr. Sears' The Vaccine Book:
"In August 2002 and February 2003 a popular pediatric news publication, Infectious Diseases in Children, published reports from experts across the country who met to discuss this issue. Between 1955 and 1963, some of the monkey kidney cells used for the injected polio vaccine, the oral polio vaccine, and the adenovirus vaccine (used for the military...) were contaminated with SV-40 virus, which is known to cause several types of brain tumors, bone cancer, lumphoma, and mesothelioma cancer in animals. This virus has also been discovered in this same cancers in humans. The SV-40 viruses present in some human tumors today have been determined to be genetically identical to those in vaccines fifty years ago. Although the SV-40 virus is found in human tumors, it is not known if the virus causes the tumors or just happens to be living within the tumors. It is known, however, that the virus triggers these tumors in animals. It is estimated that almost 30 million people were injected with a vaccine containing this virus during that eight-year period. Statistical population studies have not shown that these 30 million people had any higher rates of these cancers than the general population. In 1980, 150 newborns were given a hepatitis A vaccine that also was contaminated with the SV-40 virus.
"Monkey kidney cells are still used to make the polio vaccine. Numerous other animals and human tissues are used in many vaccines. Now we know to test the monkeys to make sure they are free of SV-40 virus and other known viruses, so the polio vaccine today is safer. All animal and human tissues are carefully screened for all known infectious diseases. Some vaccine critics are still worried, however, that there may be other viruses or other infectious agents (called 'prions,' 'slow viruses,' or 'virus particles') that are much smaller than viruses and that we don't yet know how to screen for. Mad cow disease (a rare brain-wasting condition that can affect humans) is one such agent, and we didn't even know it existed until the 1980s. We'd been using cow tissues to make vaccines for decades before that. Were humans injected with that prion? Critics worry that we will discover such contamination in the future, just as the SV-40 virus contamination was found long after the fact," (191-192).
While there is no research or evidence to shore up these concerns, there is also no good evidence to debunk them.

Aside from the infectious agent argument, I worry about foreign human and animal DNA being introduced into my baby's immune system. What are the effects of doing such a thing? We don't know. All in all, though it may not be a very scientific argument, it's just weird and Dr. Frankenstein-ish to do such a thing, and I don't like it. The bottom line for me, then, is to avoid injecting my child with these alien tissues as much as possible.

The DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) vaccine comes in three brands: Daptacel, Tripedia, and Infanrix. Of these, Tripedia and Infanrix use cow tissue extract. Daptacel does not. As we will see in the next post, there are other controversial and potentially harmful ingredients in Daptacel, but, to my mind, Diphtheria and Pertussis (Whooping Cough) are such serious concerns in an infant that the benefits outweigh the risks. There is also a Tdap booster for teenagers and adults which avoids the cow extract: Adacel.

The Rotavirus vaccine (both RotaTeq and the new Rotarix brand) contains traces of the culture composed of monkey kidney cells in which the live virus was grown, and, in the case of RotaTeq, fetal cow blood as well. These being the only two versions of the Rotavirus vaccine available, if the vaccine is going to be administered, animal tissues can't be avoided. Also, even though Rotarix lacks the fetal cow blood, RotaTeq seems preferable to me as it should be more effective, theoretically, and has been around longer and, thus, put through its paces.

At the end of the day, though, a judgment call must be made as to whether or not to administer a Rotavirus vaccine period based on the likelihood of encountering the disease and the severity of its effects. Let's see what Dr. Sears has to say:
"Besides the flu, this is the most common of all the vaccine-preventable diseases right now. Since most children catch this illness during their first few years of life, it's not a question of will your child catch it, it's a matter of when will he catch it and how severe will it be. Getting this vaccine will decrease your child's chance of catching the disease. This can be a very serious disease in infants during the first year of life. The vaccine decreases the severity of the illness when it does strike," (69).
Even though our baby will be at a lower risk of catching the disease seeing as we plan to breastfeed and don't foresee a need for daycare, in my opinion the risk is just too high and we're going to have to bite the bullet when it comes to this particular vaccine.

The Polio vaccine (Ipol) contains monkey kidney cells, human blood proteins, and calf bloof serum. This is the only brand of the vaccine used in the United States. Again, then, a decision must be made as to the benefits of this particular vaccine. Polio has been effectively eradicated from the U.S. population. Seeing as we don't plan on taking our baby to live with tribal natives somewhere in Africa, the chance that she will catch polio "is very close to zero," (77). While it's true that there is some chance until the disease is actually extinct instead of merely effectively, in my view "herd immunity" should be enough here and we can safely skip the polio vaccine.

Though the MMR, Varicella (Chicken Pox), and Hepatitis A vaccines contain human and animal tissues as well, as we saw in the last post, these vaccines have already been ruled out for administration as a result of aborted human fetal tissue being used in their production.

The Flu vaccine comes in many different varieties, but all of them contain tissue from the chicken embryos used to grow the viruses. The bottom line for our family is that the risk of fatality from the flu is very, very low, even in infants and children. While unpleasant if contracted, the ingredients in the vaccine (including mercury) are too strange and the potential for side effects too high for it to be worth it in my book.

It should be clarified that I have no medical expertise and that the views expressed in this post are simply my own personal opinions formed on the basis of what I have learned about vaccines. While it seems to me to make sense to avoid animal and human tissues wherever possible by choosing a particular brand, as of right now this is only possible in the case of the important DTaP vaccine. It is up to new parents to decide whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to the Rotavirus, Polio, and Flu vaccines. The key, though, as always, is to stay informed.

Important Update To The First "What's In Our Vaccines?" Post

I've just come across new information regarding the ingredients of Merck's Rubella vaccine and updated the original "What's In Our Vaccines?" post accordingly.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What's In Our Vaccines? - Part One

When the wife and I found out we were expecting, it wasn't long before my mind was racing with all the things that had to be done. Suddenly, nine months seemed a lot shorter. One of the first things to do was read up on immunizations. I'd heard some pretty scary things and you've gotta know what you're getting into going in, 'cause they start pushing their product on you from day one. No joke, they administer the first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine at birth automatically. You have to tell them not to. And mean it.

So I bought Dr. Sears' The Vaccine Book. I highly recommend it. He just tells it like it is. All facts. When he expresses his own opinion he lets you know explicitly. Besides that, it's extremely easy to read and well organized. At any rate, come to find out, all those horrible things I'd heard are all true. Well, not quite all of them. Even still, I can be a pretty big cynic when it comes to doctors, but there's nothing that could have prepared me for some of it. I've decided to start with the most heinous, disgusting ingredients and progress on through the ones that aren't so bad.

Apparently, both the Varicella (Chicken Pox) and Hepatitis A vaccines involve growing the viruses in a culture composed of what they call "human diploid cells" and the serum (the liquid part) from the blood of a cow fetus, which is used to nourish the human cells. Residual amounts of both these substances are found in the final product that's actually administered. What they don't tell you is that "human diploid cells" is a fancy term for human cells that were harvested from the lungs of a 14-week old male fetus that was aborted in 1966 and were modified to grow in the lab.

While the Rubella vaccine doesn't actually contain aborted fetal tissue, the virus used "was originally taken from an infected aborted fetus in the 1960s," (Sears 87). Unfortunately, though the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines used to be available separately, Merck now only provides them in the combination M-M-R II and ProQuad, which combines them with the Varicella vaccine. As such, had I wanted to immunize my child for the measles and mumps I no longer can.

Certainly no one could be culpable for participating in this activity had they no knowledge of what the vaccines actually contained. But that's the whole problem. They don't want you to know.

Up next: Controversial human and animal tissues.

Decorating The Nursery, Bad Luck Or Not?

I'm a pretty superstitious guy. At least, most people would probably call it that. It's not really superstition. That is to say, if some old wives' tale or something obviously has no basis in reality whatsoever then I don't pay any attention. Like walking under a ladder or a black cat crossing your path.

There's no such thing as luck. I don't mean that everything happens for a reason or that we're all controlled by fate—quite the opposite. Aristotle explains that what we call luck is simply a chance convergence of two events. Whether this convergence works in our favor or not depends on whether we see it as good luck or bad luck: "Chance or fortune is called 'good' when the result is good, 'evil' when it is evil. The terms 'good fortune' and 'ill fortune' are used when either result is of considerable magnitude," (Physics II, 5).

But, what if by bad luck we mean that there is some kind of unseen causal connection between one thing and a bunch of bad things happening. In other words, what if breaking a mirror somehow, for unknown reasons, actually brings about undesirable events? Well, obviously that's not true. Like walking under a mirror, a black cat crossing your path, or spilling the salt, the odds that breaking a mirror will have any kind of severe impact on the events of your life are very slim. I mean, assuming it's not somebody else's very expensive mirror or something.

Here's the thing, though. What if some of those old wives' tales aren't made up? What if they're based on centuries upon centuries of accumulated empirical evidence? For example, it's supposedly bad luck to decorate a new baby's nursery before it arrives. Depending on who you ask, it can be bad luck to do it at all, or maybe just bad luck to finish it completely. Either way, what if this particular myth came about by a whole bunch of people observing the effects, one way or another, of a whole bunch of different couples choosing to either decorate or not decorate and drawing a conclusion. I'm tempted to consider that possibility. Just because we don't fully understand the causal relationship doesn't mean there's not one.

Obviously a big part of this has to do with the outcome of labor being really pretty uncertain until fairly recently. I can't imagine what it must be like to have to come home and take apart a fully-decorated nursery. I have another theory, though. I've heard a few people say that the first few weeks after a new baby arrives can be a little crazy. It must be hard to keep one's feet on the ground after such a huge change. I mean, it's got to be quite a shock to realize (especially given the half-committed nature of most marriages these days) that you're...not your own anymore. You're living for somebody else now. For ever.

Even aside from that, just the sheer practical changes that occur. The sleep deprivation. The constant worry. All of it. I bet any parent would tell you this was the most stressful period in their life. While not the whole story I'd bet this has a lot to do with the phenomenon of postpartum depression. It's just got to be hard to cope.

I wonder if being forced to go through the motions of putting a nursery together at the same time could be a mechanism for keeping new parents focused and occupied those few moments they don't have to be feeding, burping, changing, or lulling baby. I bet it's satisfying to get to see such a concrete manifestation and validation of one's nurturing ability. I bet it obliges everybody to keep close at first, maybe in the same bed, maybe baby in a bassinet next to it, to make it easy for the new parents to have some much-needed reassurance about his well-being through those first few nights. At the same time, I bet it gives them something to do besides stare at him, or worry about him—all in all, just serving to keep new parents sane.

That's my theory anyway. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

William Shatner's Queen Cover

In case you weren't aware, somebody convinced Shatner to do a spoken word cover album. And, because no cover album is complete these days without "Bohemian Rhapsody":

Apparently brought to by and for stoners. I wonder if this falls in the "laughing with" or "laughing at" category. Hard to tell.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is There Intelligent Life On Other Planets?

As complicated and fascinating a question as this might be to anybody else, it seems to me that for a Christian, the answer is pretty cut and dry: an unequivocal and resounding "No."

In the second volume of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy Perelandra, he explains that the inhabitants of Venus (unlike those of Mars encountered by the protagonist Ransom in Out of the Silent Planet) are human because they were created after the Incarnation.

Lewis understands that it is by virtue of our reason that we share in God's Divine Nature in such a special way. We are animals through and through. But for the faculty of reason we would be nothing more. It is our reason by which we are made in the image of God.

Sometime around the Year of Our Lord 1, Jesus the Christ was born to a pure Virgin in a stable in Bethlehem. God became Man. Henceforth humanity itself has been intimately and personally bound up with the Trinitarian Godhead. The Second Person of the Trinity, the Word, the Logos, Reason himself, is human; therefore, all temporal, rational beings must be human.

I would go even further than Lewis, though. When Christ ascended into heaven 40 days after being raised from the dead, he re-entered the eternal sphere, taking his body and human nature with him. As a result, even though the Incarnation occurred in time, it is an eternal reality, and in fact the second person of the Trinity is now, has always been, and will always be the God-Man Jesus of Nazareth, body, Mother, and all.

This is, for instance, why many scriptural theologians believe Jesus appeared several times in the Old Testament. These appearances are called "Christophanies," which word stems from the Greek Christos and phanein, "to show." This is, of course, related to our words "phantasm" and "epiphany," which means "to show forth." I don't happen to agree with this hypothesis. Nevertheless, I admit that it is possible.

At any rate, the Incarnation and the Ascension make it impossible for intelligent life on other planets to exist. While some might find this disappointing, it really makes sense. If there were intelligent alien species we would have to consider whether or not they, too, were fallen, and, if so, how, seeing as the Incarnation applies to humanity only, how it would be God would redeem them. It's a whole thing.

That being said, there's no reason that we shouldn't find all manner of animal life scattered throughout the universe. It's only fitting as God seems to adore diversity. It gets even more interesting when you consider that they may not be fallen as the creatures here on earth are. (See my Ugly Creatures series).

Friday, October 14, 2011

Star Trek (2009) Review

So, some of you have very kindly requested that I continue posting about Star Trek. Well, the next couple of posts I planned on the subject were going to be reviews of the latest in the Trek film series, J.J. Abrams' fantastic 2009 installment.

Unfortunately, RedLetterMedia did all my work for me and there's very little to add. If I think of something, though, I'll post it. For now, enjoy their comprehensive and thought-provoking review that ends up dealing with some very important issues in film.

Further Proof That "The New 52" Was A Terrible Idea

I'm not the biggest Wonder Woman fan, but I know enough to know that giving Wonder Woman a dad is reeaaally dumb. Word is it's Zeus, and they're gonna turn it into like Sopranos on Mount Olympus with all the family drama or whatever. That's a fantastic idea, right?

First of all, this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the Classical gods. See, Modernity and post-Modernity look at them and see a collection of horribly childish, selfish, and cruel individuals. The thing is, though, the gods weren't just really powerful people. They were gods, of a different order entirely. We've talked before about how the gods were personifications of different aspects of Nature. Poseidon, for example, isn't cruel for doing his best to hinder Odysseus' journey home to his family; that's just the way he is. Poseidon is the Sea (among other things), and that's what the Sea does by nature: it's chaotic, wild; it cares nothing for the men that sail on it.

But the stupidest thing by far is Wonder Woman having a father. For those of you who don't know, Wonder Woman was born when her mother, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, yearned for a daughter. She modeled the form of a baby out of the wet clay on the sea shore and the gods granted her wish and imbued it with a soul.

Epic heroes aren't persons, primarily, they're principles. This is why nearly all heroes throughout history have some kind of a mysterious or supernatural origin. Wonder Woman represents, obviously, Womanhood. She is the ultimate Woman because her magical origin allowed her to be immune from any reliance on the masculine at all. See, even the other Amazons aren't entirely independent because, even if they are in every other way, if it weren't for a man, they wouldn't even exist. That's what makes Wonder Woman special, and the only one worthy to stand for her people as Champion of the Amazon, and, therefore, champion of all women.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I Told You So!

So, when Episode III came out and Lucas thrust some dude called "General Greivous" in everbody's face, I'm pretty sure the entire theater let out a collective "WTF?" After suffering through the rest of the movie, though, I sort of got what George was trying to do. Basically he was like a prototype Darth Vader, right? He's supposed to cast our minds forward to the "mechanical man" we all know is coming.

Here's the thing, though. I said it then, and I'll say it again. Darth Maul was far and away the best thing about the Prequels. Hands down. And we got to see him for a grand total of...maybe 10 minutes of screen time? I'll admit, a precursor to Darth Vader is kind of a neat idea. But why was it necessary to invent a brand new character nobody's ever heard of and make him, Surprise!, the main antagonist in the Clone Wars? The perfect opportunity was staring you right in the face.

We saw Darth Maul get severed in half. We didn't see him die. Why not bring him back with a mechanical lower half and lend some additional continuity to the Prequels themselves while you're at it? See, Episode I was so long before Episode II it kind of feels like part of a different series or something. If you bring Darth Maul back it ties them together better.

I'm telling you, you could have made his mechanical lower half with like less highly-developed technology so that he looked all janky and awesome. Hell, why not give him spider legs or something while you're at it? Make him even more of a badass. Not to mention, that brings a level of personality to the Clone Wars that was sorely lacking. Suddenly in addition to the abstract political nature of the fight, the Separatists' main general Darth Maul and one of the Republic's main generals Obi-Wan Kenobi have a serious score to settle.

Well, long story short. Somebody's finally listening to me. Not that I care anymore.

The Top Ten Creatures I Can't Buy A Good God Created, Part Four

In Part One of this series, we saw that there is an ultimate standard of beauty, namely God, and many of the (so-called) creatures on this planet don't exactly conform to that standard. In Part Two, we looked at the group of animals I ranked at #10, what I called, "screwed up mammals." We talked about how Mankind and Nature have, since the beginning, been wedded to one another as husband and wife. When Man sinned, he brought punishment down upon not only himself, but also the natural world in which he lived. In Part Three, we looked at birds and reptiles, together making up group #9. We also saw how Satan (the Serpent) and his demons have been waging a war with God for the universe since before it was even made.

Well, coming in at #8...





and, of course, Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Lizard King.

That's right, dinosaurs. And yes, all of those are pictures from Jurassic Park. Tempted as I am to put them lower down on the list on account of their sheer size and ferocity, reptilian as they are, they're rightly included here, just below the other lizards.

Some of you are probably whining about me having included Brontosaurus. After all, it's a friendly plant-eater. Gentle giant and all. Here's the thing, he may not want to eat you, which is a plus. The downside is he'll squash you without even noticing, and that makes him not so great.

We talked last time about Tolkien's creation myth in The Silmarillion. In it, Melkor (his fallen angel) sings his own dissonant tune in contrast to the one of God's design being sung by the other angels and bringing about the creation of the universe. Later, as the angels are shaping the world, Melkor is present to march across the earth, knocking down mountains just as they are raised up, and filling up valleys just as they are hollowed out.

This idea is quite similar to Medieval Cosmology, which has the angels "moving the spheres." We Moderns  laugh at this idea. Before we do, though, we should think about what it was the Medievals really meant. Did they mean the angels literally caused the stars and planets to move across the sky? Yes, they did. But how did they go about this? Were the angels just supposed to be some kind of divine mechanism, actually pushing the planets around on their tracks? No. They were lords of their spheres, which for a Medieval meant they were their spheres. That is to say, their respective domains were intrinsically and essentially bound up in their very being.

We touched on this idea already when we spoke about the way in which the "dominion" of Mankind over creation has been traditionally understood. The Medievals saw the world as one big hierarchy, God at the top, the raw elements at the bottom, Mankind "a little lower than the angels," (Heb. 2:7). Now, we might conceive of this kind of system as being some kind of an arbitrary arrangement imposed on Creation by the Will of God. While it's true the Order in the world has its origin in God, it is not arbitrary. On the contrary, it comes about as a result of the very essences of things. From top to bottom, different beings participate more or less completely in God's own Being.

More than that, though, each being in the Grand Hierarchy, is actually dependent on the class of beings above him for his own existence. This is the sense in which Scripture refers to Man as the king of Creation. It is too easy today to see the effects that the neglect of this Divine calling can cause. This principle obviously extends to Man's political and social machinations as well, thus, Medieval Feudalism and social class system. As we have seen, Mankind was given this kind of hierarchical "dominion" over all the Earth. But what about the rest of Creation?

In Classical Mythology, Athena, for example, is not merely the Queen of Wisdom, she is Wisdom, Wisdom Incarnate, personified. The same is true of the other gods: Hephaestus is Craftsmanship; Aphrodite, Desire; Hera, Womanhood; Ares, Strife; and so on. The traditional view is that this is quite true in the angels. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his question on the angels' government of Creation quotes St. Gregory the Great as saying that "in this visible world, nothing takes place without the agency of the invisible creature." As Man's material body is caused to be and act by his immaterial soul, so the material world is caused to be and move by the immaterial world, which is the Angels, and God above all.

For example, we now know that planets move as a result of the gravitational force exerted on them by the Sun. This is unquestionably true. Is it impossible that there could be more going on with gravity than a lifeless force? Couldn't there be an angel, perhaps a Virtue, who is the supernatural, spiritual, divinely ordained, cause of this force in the material world--that member of God's Divine Order responsible for maintaining the operation of this cause throughout the universe? I would argue that this is not only possible, but, at the very least, probable. Let's call him Gravitas, and thank God for his continued ministrations.

Just as Melkor was present, from the beginning, to do his best to mar and corrupt the creation of Tolkien's God, so Satan was present from the beginning of our universe to inject his evil into it. As God's Creation was issuing into existence from his mind (at the Big Bang) through the mediation of the angels in their various "spheres" of influence, Satan worked to screw up as much as he could. How else could a universe have been produced which includes things like darkness and death? Contrariety itself?

A quick reminder, though, lest we stray into Mani's territory, that Satan too is a creature. There is no ultimate and universal principle of evil that coexists alongside God as universal good. Evil does not exist. It is the absence of existence. Satan didn't make anything; he merely corrupted what God created. As such, Satan is the ultimate evil, but only in that he is the least like God; he is still like God in part, because he exists.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Nature Of Art According To Flannery O'Connor

Catholic Phoenix has a wonderful article touching on the prevalence of bad art (or, really, non-art) amongst the religious. As the article points out, this is because the nature (and, as a result, purpose) of art is not to tell you something--to push an agenda. Neither is art meant to make you feel anything. Good art does these things, but they are not essential qualities, but side-effects.

The nature of art is to re-create reality and the world around us in microcosmic form. Tolkien called it "sub-creation," because artists mimic God's act of Creation by bestowing form and shape on their imaginal vision. It is art's realism which makes it cathartic, as Aristotle says in the Poetics. Because of its realism, its incarnation in miniature of the world in which we live, art makes us able to live a second life through the art we ingest. In doing so, we feel the feelings of that second life and learn its lessons, sometimes hoping we won't have to go through what the protagonist did, sometimes hoping we'll get to.

Kitsch, propaganda, sentimentalist tripe is incapable of causing this, truly profound, experience to happen because it seeks actively to bring it about. In the end it only manages to shoot itself in the foot. True art is unconscious of the message it will put forward or experience to which it will give rise. True art simply seeks to tell a story, and the rest follows naturally.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Temperaments And Personality Types, Part Four: Modernity

As we saw in the last post and the post on the Middle Ages' perspective, Humorism and the traditional view of the temperaments had become a part of the European consciousness. Modernity started out no different. To quote again from David Keirsey's Please Understand Me II:
"When William Harvey discovered the circulation of blood in 1628, he argued that blood was simply the most sovereign of the four humors, and he came to look on the Sanguine temperament with special favor. And philosophers of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, Bruno in Italy, Hume in Scotland, Voltaire and Rousseau in France, Kant in Germany, took the idea of four humors as a matter of course, as part of the air they breathed.
"19th-century novelists, from Jane Austen and the Brontës to George Eliot and Tolstoy, had these four patterns of human attitude and action clearly in mind when they framed their characters. In War and Peace, for example, Tolstoy divides the members of a lodge of Freemasons into what he described as 'four classes' of character: some looking for social 'connections' and opportunities, some interested in the lodge's 'external form and ceremony,' some seeking a 'fully understood path for themselves,' and some occupied exclusively with 'the scientific secrets of the order.'
"Even some early 20th-century writers demonstrated detailed knowledge of the roots of temperament and character theory. D.H. Lawrence not only saw human nature as organized around 'four poles of dynamic consciousness,' but he actually described a ruddy, sanguine character in his novel Sons and Lovers (1913) as Paracelsus' Salamander," (24-25).
As medicine progressed, though, the rupture the Modern Age sought to establish between it and the traditions of the past affected even Humorism, and it came to be disregarded as a legitimate scientific theory. While a staunch supporter of the central role of tradition in all things, this was, of course, a good thing, as the advances in the physical sciences and anatomy have proven that Humorism, strictly speaking, is false.

Since Galen in AD 190, the medicinal and psychological elements in the traditional theory had remained wedded to one another. It was the balance of the bodily fluids which caused the differences in behavior and personality. As such, when medicine disproved the existence of the humors, it assumed it had also disproved the existence of the temperaments. In essence, they threw the baby out with the bath water:
"In the behavioral sciences what had been the prevailing current of thought for centuries—that temperament determines character—gradually decreased to a tiny trickle in the latter part of the 19th century, owing mainly to the ideas of two men, Sigmund Freud and Ivan Pavlov. Freud reduced mankind to mere animal, nothing more than a creature of blind instinct. Similarly, Pavlov reduced mankind, not to animal, but to machine, its actions nothing more than mechanical response to environmental stimulation. And the 20th century was nearly swept away by these two new theories," (Ibid. 25).
There were some, however, who developed theories of behavior along similar lines to the personalogical elements of Ancient thought. Erich Adickes, working in 1905 without knowledge of the traditional temperaments, "said that mankind could be divided into four 'world views'—Innovative, Traditional, Doctrinaire, and Skeptical," (Ibid.). Adickes' "Innovatives" clearly correspond to Plato's creative and productive Artisans; his "Traditionals" to Plato's duty-, history-, and rule-obsessed Guardians; his "Dogmatics" or "Doctrinaires" to Plato's ethical and harmony-oriented Idealists; and his "Skeptics" or "Agnostics" to Plato's intellectual, theory-minded Rationals.

Not long after Adickes' work, Eduard Spränger "wrote of four 'value attitudes' which distinguish one personality from another—Artistic, Economic, Religious, and Theoretic," (Ibid.) Spränger, like Aristotle before him, was driving at people's motivations, what they seek out and admire. Obviously Artisans value the "aesthetic;" the "economic" is synonymous with the Guardians' "property," as is the "religious" with Idealists' "morality" and the "theoretic" with "rationality."

A few years later Ernst Kretschmer took a slightly different approach and "proposed that both normal and abnormal behavior can be understood in terms of four 'character styles' similar to those of Adickes and Spränger—Hypomanic, Depressive, Hyperesthetic, and Anesthetic," (Ibid.) These four are more obviously correlated to Galen's Temperaments than Plato's, "hypomanic" meaning emotional and excitable, "depression" recalling melancholy, "hyperesthetic" meaning passionate and ambitious, and "anesthetic" meaning generally emotionless and self-content.
"Rudolph Dreikurs, a disciple of Alfred Adler, pointed out in 1947 what he called four 'mistaken goals' which different kinds of people pursue when their self-esteem declines too far for safety—Retaliation, Service, Recognition, and Power. Also in 1947 Eric Fromm, looking at both negative and positive sides of personality, as did Kretschmer, attributed four different 'orientations' to the four styles—Exploitative, Hoarding, Receptive, and Marketing," (Ibid.)
This last group of four "orientations" may seem out of place, but if we consider "exploitation" in terms of a person who sets out to experience as much as possible, seeking sensation, then it starts to sound an awful lot like Aristotle's Hedonics. Likewise, "hoarding" can be thought of as property-acquisition and "reception" as submission of oneself in favor of harmony. According to Fromm, a "marketer" is a person who knows very little of emotion and social matters and so focuses more on a theoretical and strategic understanding of them and less on actually experiencing them, much like a "logical" and "calculating" Rational would do.

We can now add the following additions to the chart:

Next up: Carl Jung reinvents the wheel.

Forever Lazy

It's official. Somebody finally figured out that the Snuggie is just a backward robe and makes no freaking sense. We all saw it coming...

Why not just make fleece footie pajama in adult sizes?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Imprecision Of Language

A friend of mine recently pointed out her frustration with the rampant overuse of hyperbole in contemporary speech: "Man, that's awesome!" and the like. Really? Does the iPhone 4S really inspire awe? Maybe it does.

Hyperbole is a legitimate rhetorical and literary device used to draw attention to the way one perceives something as opposed to the way it really is. Of course, hyperbole is never meant to be taken literally, and, as such, critiques like the one above are a bit harsh. Thing is, when you use a device meant to draw special attention to something every other sentence, it stops being special and you undermine your whole purpose in using it.

This particular situation is, I think, symptomatic of a larger and more serious problem, namely, rampant carelessness with language. Consider this quote from The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson:
"It is often said that what most immediately sets English apart from other languages is the richness of its vocabulary. Webster's Third New International Dictionary lists 450,000 words, and the revised Oxford English Dictionary has 615,000, but that is only part of the total. Technical and scientific terms would add millions more. Altogether, about 200,000 English words are in common use, more than in German (184,000) and far more than in French (a mere 100,000). The richness of the English vocabulary, and the wealth of available synonyms, means that English speakers can often draw shades of distinction unavailable to non-English speakers. The French, for instance, cannot distinguish between house and home, between mind and brain, between man and gentleman, between 'I wrote' and 'I have written.' The Spanish cannot differentiate between a chairman and a president, and the Italians have no equivalent of wishful thinking. In Russia there are no native words for efficiency, challenge, engagement ring, have fun, or take care.... English, as Charlton Laird has noted, is the only language that has, or needs, books of synonyms like Roget's Thesaurus. 'Most speakers of other languages are not aware that such books exist,'" (13-14).
This is one of the reasons why I believe Shakespeare could only have happened in English. But, to whom much is given, much is required. As a native English speaker, one has no excuse for imprecision. If I'm having an interesting experience, in all likelihood the perfect word to describe it exists. It's nobody's fault but my own that I don't know it.

Words represent things. Nouns represent substances, all kinds: general, specific, proper, common, abstract, concrete, collective, and so on. Verbs represent actions like walking, driving, talking, and writing. Verbs also represent passions, or received actions like being talked to or being carried. Adjectives represent qualities; adverbs represent the manners in which actions can happen; and prepositions represent relationships.

All of this is to say that words have their foundation in the real world. Things exist in the world around us. We know these things through our senses. When we speak about them, we're relating this conceptual knowledge to other people, and we do so according to the conventions of our language and culture in order that we will be understood. The transitive property dictates, then, that when, via language, we communicate our conceptual knowledge of the world to others, we're also communicating the natures of the things in the world which gave rise to our own knowledge of them.

Some would make the argument that, in the end, what we say doesn't really matter that much as long as we communicate ourselves. While it's true that our language must abide by certain conventions in order for us to be understood, it is not only our impressions of the world that we are attempting to communicate. When we utter a word, we are transmitting knowledge of the forms in things.

Imprecision in and carelessness with language is, then, carelessness with our knowledge of things, and the things themselves. To deny the importance of choosing one's words carefully is to deny the real connection between our words, our mind, and the world. In other words, we should all mean what we say, and say what we mean.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why "CE" And "BCE" Make No Sense

In the year AD 525, a monk named Dionysius Exiguus calculated a set of tables laying out several of the future dates of Easter. The dates on previous such tables were notated in the customary manner, anno Diocletiani, or "in the year of Diocletian," counting forward from the first date of that Roman Emperor's reign.

Though many Christians had begun to use anno martyrum, or "in the year of the martyrs," as a result of Diocletian having ordered the last major Christian persecution, Dionysius thought it less than desirable to reckon years on a Christian calendar in reference to such a man. As such, he invented a new system, anno Domini, or "in the year of the Lord," counting forward from the date of Christ's Incarnation and providing an explicit conversion from Years of Diocletian to Years of Our Lord.

The practice became widespread in Europe when, in 731, the Venerable Bede used it in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, gradually gaining more and more traction over the succeeding centuries. We now know that Dionysius' calculations were somewhat mistaken and Christ was most likely born a year or two before 1 BC. Nevertheless, the Gregorian calendar, using such a system, has proved so accurate and become so standard, that no one dare change it.

Until now. The BBC is the latest in a string of respected institutions and publishers to reject AD and BC in favor of the "religiously neutral" CE and BCE ("Common Era" and "Before the Common Era").

But wait, because the reckoning of years from the traditional date of Christ's birth is so universal, it would be all but impossible to attempt to force an actual change in the system of dating. Instead, to try and avoid an explicit reference to Christ, they just changed the terminology. The thing is, though, they're still counting from Jesus' birth; they're just trying to pretend they aren't.

My thinking is, if you're really going to try to entirely excise religion from the public sphere, you should do it right. Devise a completely new dating system and impose it on everyone carte blanche. Maybe they'll react the way the French did when the revolutionaries tried the same thing, maybe they won't. Don't know if you don't try.

Is it really so offensive, though? Yes, it refers to Christ, but it's not like putting AD or BC before a date means you think he's God like we do or came back from the dead. They're not even religious terms anymore. They've been so utterly and completely absorbed into Western culture that the majority of people don't even know what they stand for.

Just relax. You won the battle for academia, and you're winning the battle for the West. You don't have to rub it in.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Magic in Disney's The Lion King

The review of The Lion King over at Decent Films Guide is surprisingly scathing. Along with Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King is so beloved of so many that it takes guts to point out a flaw. While I agree with many of the points in that review, I would give The Lion King a higher grade, and encourage my own kids to watch it, for one simple reason: magic.

No, not "Disney magic," though there is that, I mean Rafiki the Baboon Witch Doctor's magic. "Whaaat?" you're probably saying. "How can a Christian possibly support a movie which suggests the validity of such primitive and satanic practices?" Some of you may remember that when The Lion King was originally released, many Evangelical Christians reacted strongly for that very reason. Disney was in the hands of Satan, pushing, at the very least superstition, and at the worst witchcraft on our children. Of course, the problem only got worse with Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

We should remember that The Lion King is a story. Stories live in their own worlds. They must abide by the rules of the world they create in order to remain realistic. It would be kind of a strange thing if the first thing we saw at the beginning of the movie was infant Simba being taken to the local parish church for lions to be baptized. In a way, though, by analogy, that's exactly what happens in the opening scene—within the bounds of the pre-Christian world that The Lion King inhabits. Young Simba is annoited with oil on his forehead, presented to the priest in the form of Rafiki, and "baptized" in the light of the Sun for the whole kingdom to see.

It's magical, and rightly so. It is too easy to forget in our day and age what every other culture throughout history other than ours has known without a doubt, that the world is alive and teeming with supernatural activity we usually cannot see. Religion, in all its forms, paganism and Christianity alike, is merely an attempt to get a handle on that invisible, supernatural reality that shapes our lives without us knowing how or why. Of course, Christianity rises above all other attempts because it alone reveals the truth of God completely in Christ. Nevertheless, I appreciate a movie that illustrates the prevalence of the supernatural influences on the world in which we live. That's a lesson I wouldn't trade for anything.
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