The Retortion of Social Construction

If the notion of the social construct is true, then the notion of the social construct is itself a social construct. It is without any basis in reality, so that there is no real reason we should notice it, or order our lives thereby.

The consequence is that when someone argues that, e.g., marriage is a social construct, so that we may change it if we like so that gays can marry, it can be argued with equivalent force that the notion that gays ought to be able to marry is likewise a social construct. We may therefore reject the notion of gay marriage, under the banner of social construction, and there will be no way that the moral nihilists can gainsay us. If there is no moral reality, so that no one has any basis in that reality for an argument against gay marriage, then by the same token no one has any basis in moral reality for an argument against the proscription of gay marriage – or anything else, whatsoever.

In general, it’s no good to argue from moral nominalism to any moral realism. You can’t get any ought from “there is no such thing really as an ought.” Thus to talk at all about what it is right or proper to do is implicitly to recognize the falsity of moral nominalism; if moral nominalism is true, then nothing is really right or wrong to do, and such talk is all just nonsense. Moral discourse of any sort at all implicitly agrees to the presupposition that moral discourse has something real to discuss.

The Enemy Speaks His Mind

Sometimes our Adversary hurls his mask on the ground and dances on it screaming with rage. In the video below you may see embodied the term toward which we ultimately tend, as things now stand, and so long as our current ideological tyrants continue to have their way. He’s Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, responding to the risible hashtag campaign against his gang’s kidnapping of 276 Christian girls.

To clear up any confusion about his plan, our Enemy makes it clear at 0.24 on the video: Kill Christians.

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Hope

One of the many reasons I posted so little here at the Orthosphere over the summer was that in the months leading up to the family vacation that began in mid-June I had been feeling more and more discouraged about the culture wars, and thus enervated. The handwriting was on the wall, the Persians at the gates of the City; and other watchmen on the web were doing a great job. What could I add, really, to the fight, especially given that it seemed foredoomed to go against us?

Sure, I was busier than at any time in recent memory with family and business affairs. But such business had not kept me from writing in many decades.

In retrospect, I just needed that vacation. I was tired. I know this because only a few days into the vacation I began to feel hope again.

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No Flood Needed This Time Around

Birth rates are plummeting globally, so that even in countries where fertility is above replacement, it soon won’t be. In 150 years or so, the only people around will be religious conservatives, because other sorts of people with looser morals aren’t reproducing (thanks to the Pill, and all its knock-on social and economic effects, noticed in this video).

We have to step back and realize that what is happening to man right now is a pervasive and radical winnowing, comparable almost to the Flood. It’s natural selection at work, weeding out liberalism from the gene pool, and via co-evolution from the meme pool.  Put another way, liberalism is a lethal intellectual mutation. Whether it takes 50 years, or 1,000, liberalism is doomed, because it is at war with reality. Not only is it not nice to fool Mother Nature, it can never, ever be done in the first place. The Logos of the world is not mocked, no matter how amusing our petty pranks at his expense seem to us.

Fortunately for those who are deleting their own ilk from the world’s future, this winnowing may not involve catastrophic war, plague, or economic collapse. The autophagy of liberalism need not destroy civilization in the process. Civilization, even the West, might just squeak through and prevail in the end, preserving some of the best bits of what it has so far achieved. We might get through this winnowing with very little pain and suffering: no mass death, just a series of successively smaller, successively more traditional generations, as liberals die off after long, entertaining, meaningless lives.

The True Myth is the Truth of All Myth

The world’s myths do not reveal a way to interpret the Gospels, but exactly the reverse: the Gospels reveal to us the way to interpret myth. – René Girard, 1996

Like so many other religions, Christianity worships a perfect man who died a sacrifice for his people and the world, and rose again to life. It’s a scandalous thought, perilous to Christian faith – until one remembers that the fact that so many other religions have shared important aspects of the form of Christianity does not mean that Christianity is false. For, that would be like thinking that the great diversity of animals means that there is no King of Beasts, no archetype of animality, or even no such thing as animation at all (this being analogous to the conclusion – or, rather, more often the unthinking presupposition – of those scholars of religion who are atheist).

The unicorn is mythical. The rhinoceros is not.

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I highly recommend the linked essay by Girard. It’s chock full of nourishing nuts.

Sloppy Reduction

That an event is composed entirely of transactions among subatomic particles does not mean that it is nothing but subatomic particles – does not mean that its character is exhaustively specified by the specification of the trajectories and interactions of those particles. If it did, there would be no discernible difference between, say, jumping off a bridge for the fun of it and jumping off a bridge to save a drowning child. If the jumps in question were nothing but subatomic particles moving about, then we would not be able to discern the different meanings of the two jumps; they would look absolutely identical to us in every respect, because, there being in fact no difference between them there would be no way to tell any difference between them.

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A Tale of Two Popes

My Catholic columns this month discuss a call for tradition by Pope Saint Pius X in his encyclical against modernism, and a call for–God knows what?–by soon-to-be-blessed Pope Paul VI in his speech closing the Second Vatican Council.

The speech is fascinating and should be read. Paul VI appears to have been a man with considerable intellectual and spiritual gifts who was unable to take seriously how perverse, obstinate, cruddy, stupid, and downright evil people can be. The problems he saw all around him didn’t make sense, so they must all be a big mistake that would dissolve if we only showed sufficient intelligence and good will so the mistake could be cleared up. That’s how he seemed to come out, even though as an intellectual matter his account of the modern world in the speech was quite astute, as a Catholic he should have remembered that superstrength measures were needed to overcome the world, and in any event he was obviously aware of problems with the Council itself. (Otherwise why talk of its “real and deep intentions” and “authentic manifestations”?)

Reading him reminds me that we’ve had a run of pontiffs who were major figures even though they might not always be perfect or make the right decision. The run seems to have come to an end, and the uninspiring day-to-day reality of the post-Vatican II Church has caught up with us at all levels. That’s no fun, but I can’t say we deserve better.

On other fronts, I have a shorter piece at the Catholic World Report weblog about why the Church should keep making natural law arguments on sexual matters even though nobody can make sense of them (they present essential aspects of the Christian view of reality). There’s also a longer piece at the International Journal of Architectural Research on the architectural theorist Christoper Alexander.

Cardinal Kasper’s mercy

St. Paul, picking up on several of Jesus’ allegories, acknowledges in his epistle to the Ephesians that marriage is a type of the Church — that is, that marriage, while real in itself, also symbolically alludes to or foreshadows some greater reality. He thus admonishes wives to be subordinate to their husbands, as the Church is to Christ, and husbands to love their wives, as Christ loves the Church.

Yet the Church, we know too, is made up of sinners, and our sins are acts of adultery — literally, of infidelity — against our Lord and the covenant he has made with us. We are always cheating on him, rebelling against him, hiding from him, spurning, mocking, casting longing glances to the world, the flesh, and the Devil. And is our Lord not a faithful lover? Does he not continue to withstand our abuses and admonish us to be and do better? Is he not always wooing us?

I suppose we should be glad, then, that the Father is not so merciful as Cardinal Kasper, that he would spare his only-begotten Son the difficulty of our continued company.

“There are none left!”

Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Ignace Joseph III Younan: “We declare, with great distress, that our bishopric in Mosul has been completely burned down: manuscripts, libraries, etc. But they have already announced that all Christians must convert to Islam or else they will be executed. It is a terrible thing! And this puts the international community to shame!”

Vatican Radio Correspondent Sergio Cenofanti: “Are there still Christians in Mosul?”

Younan: “There are none left! There are none left!”

As if our boys in Kiev weren’t bad enough, our boys in Iraq are worse still, and have taken to marking the homes and businesses of Christians with an Arabic “N” (for “Nazarene”) in anticipation of subsequent murder and pillage. The displacement of this nearly two-millennia old population of Christians is now nearly complete.

The Moribund Orthosphere

Bruce Charlton recently noticed that things have been quiet around here lately, and wondered whether it might not be due to an insuperable incoherence in the notion of the “mere Christianity” to which this site has generally been committed as a de minimis condition of true – that is to say, godly – civilization.

It isn’t. Not for me, anyway. There’s a much simpler explanation. For me as for bonald, there has lately been much to write about and almost no time to write. I’ve had little alternative this summer so far but to focus all my energies on my business and my family (for reasons that are all both urgent and happy). There have concomitantly been some interesting developments in my spiritual life, related to the beginnings of my immersion in Roman Catholic spirituality, that have disinclined me to write for the last couple of months – not just here at the Orthosphere, but in my correspondence, and even in my private journal. These developments – not so much a correction as an elaboration, amplification and implementation of the Christian spirituality I had learned as an Anglican – strike me as salutary, but I don’t quite understand them yet. Indeed, with the ground shifting somewhat under my feet, all my understandings, in every department (such as they are), are likewise shifting. This gentle seismic motion is generating a torrent of grist for my intellectual mill – too much, so far, for me to get much of a handle on any of it. So it seems somewhat too early to write about it. But the shift is pervasive, and that means it has been tricky to approach writing about anything at all.

Nevertheless, I feel that I am now ready to begin again. Which will be a relief, because I have about 80 posts waiting to be set down.

The Orthosphere is in no sense coordinated. We don’t vet each other’s posts, and there is no plan about who will post what when. We just write what we feel like writing. I doubt therefore that the late quiet around here is due to any cause other than the happenstance that from time to time opens a moment of uncanny silence even in a room full of people happily chatting away with each other. Such silences are meaningless in themselves. But I find them strangely refreshing, as reminding everyone involved that all our discourse supervenes upon a wider world of far more powerful and urgent currents, with altogether other, bigger, wilder concerns, that nevertheless graciously stoops to admit and support our little engagements with each other.

I suppose that means that such “happenstantial” silences are not in fact altogether meaningless, even vis-à-vis the details of the conversations they punctuate. Silence, after all, is not noise.

In any event, they pass too quickly away, and the subsequent renewal of conversation seems then even more vivacious than before.

So I will not be surprised if things get a bit busier around here in the coming weeks. Or if they don’t. Conversation here at the Orthosphere is like weather. Sometimes there is a lot of it, and sometimes there isn’t.

None of this, of course, is to say that Bruce is wrong in his skepticism about the viability of mere Christianity. I’m of several minds about that myself.