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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

SCOTUS postscript

After reading the story about a developer attempting to take Justice Souter's house, it occurred to me that this ruling could create a new problem.

Let's say the local board decides to go along with it and grants eminent domain.
Clearly, Justice Souter would want to fight that ruling, so he would take it to court.
No matter how that court ruled, it would go up the ladder to... where?

All the SCOTUS judges would have to recuse themselves. Souter can't rule on the taking of his own property - conflict of interest. And one could argue that all his co-workers on the court would also suffer from similar kinds of conflicts, either wanting to support their friend or wanting to take revenge on an imbecile. That leaves no one on the highest court.

Ah, the fun this could be!

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Taking

The German word for war is “der Krieg.” It comes from the verb “kriegen” which means, “to take.” For Germans, war means “the taking.” With the latest Supreme Court ruling, war has clearly broken out between the rich and everyone else. But one thing needs to be kept clearly in mind – the ruling is not a victory for rich persons per se, but for a particular kind of rich person: the corporation.

The war began in 1776, when America’s founding fathers fought not only the British, but the British corporations that ran much of the American economy. The Dutch West Indies Company ran New York, the Virginias and the Carolinas. The Boston Tea Party was not just an assault on taxation, it was also an assault on the East India Company. Few realize how hated the corporations were, nor do we now remember that Jefferson and Madison attempted to pass an eleventh amendment in the Bill of Rights barring the establishment of corporations. It narrowly went down to defeat.

But even as the founders attempted to extirpate hydra-headed corporations and political parties from public life, both returned, and with a vengeance. The re-emergence of both were assisted by the courts.
America’s founders built the United States Constitution on the idea of enumerated powers - whatever power is not explicitly given to the government is not within the power of the government. The “doctrine” of judicial review is not an enumerated power; thus, the power does not belong to the courts and never has.
An oligarchy is a government by the few, a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes. We are now ruled by an oligarchy. The process of building an oligarchy began ever so slowly with Madison v. Marbury (1804), the ruling in which the Supreme Court created out of nothing the idea that it alone decided what is and is not law.

However, since the courts refrained from exercising their new-found “ability” until decades after the founders were dead, neither the legislative nor the executive branches gave this sudden arrogation of authority much attention. By the time the power was first used in Dred Scott vs. Sanford (1857), the other two branches of government had long since lost the living vision of the constitution’s founders. Political parties and corporations had arisen, both in direct contravention to the original vision.

By 1886, the courts had colluded with the corporations to give corporations unprecedented power. As Thom Hartman describes in Supreme Court documents were falsified, corporations were made to appear full and proper legal persons with full constitutional rights. Whereas Marbury vs. Madison and the power of judicial review had rarely been used prior to this date, it began to appear everywhere afterward. “The government of the people, by the people and for the people” has, through judicial manipulation, became the government of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation, and the corporation is hungry.
Just as the corporation eventually used the courts to create itself a person, so the corporation has now used the courts to successfully create itself a branch of the local government. We lament the fact that real estate can now be taken at will by anyone who can bring more taxable profit from the land than is currently being made. No one notices that it need not stop there.

If real estate can be taken in this manner, why not virtual estates? The Supreme Court has functionally changed the test of what can be taken. Taking is no longer based on blight, but on possible future tax revenues. If one test can be changed, why not another? If local governments’ need for tax revenue is the key, then there is no particular reason to limit takings to physical property.

What if I own patent or copyright to an idea that a corporation could use to generate more revenue than I can? Doesn’t the local government have a right to the increased tax revenue? Isn’t it a vital public interest to keep local government functioning? Why couldn’t city officials take over this blighted area of commerce (my patent/copyright) and hand it to someone who can make better use of it in order to enrich city coffers?
Scoff if you like, but you cannot deny the facts. It isn’t about justice. It’s about the taking.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Science of Theology, Religion of Physics Part III

In the last essay, we saw why science cut ties with Christianity. Now we shall examine the details of what happened. In order to do this, we must have a understand how closely science mirrors faith.

A good scientist is a prophet if only because science was born from religious faith. Consider the two aspects of science: the content of observable experience and the power, that is, the logic, to properly consider true causes and true effects. A well-informed scientist can correctly predict the outcome of a scenario. He knows the properties of the objects in the event, he knows how these properties interact, he can thereby foresee the future.

Faith works in a very similar way. It has two aspects: the content of human experience and the power by which that experience is understood and believed. Like the scientist, the faith-filled prophet is able to foresee the future. The difference lies only in the way it is forseen.

Science and Religion

The scientist knows the qualities of interacting objects intimately and is thereby able to accurately describe the outcome of an interaction. The prophet has intimate knowledge of the qualities of the One who moves the objects. As a result, he is also able to accurately describe the outcome of an interaction. As Scripture tells us over and over, the false prophet, like the poor or uninformed scientist, is marked by his inability to accurately predict what will happen next. Similarly, the false prophet, like the poor scientist, is unable to read the signs of the times, he is unable to understand the significance of something that does not turn out as expected.

This is the basic difference between science and religion. Pure science means to study and elucidate the relationship between objects. Pure theology studies and elucidates the relationships between persons. Applied science attempts to coordinate the relationships between objects in order to benefit persons. Applied theology, also called religion, attempts to properly coordinate the relationships between persons.

Science determines the qualities of an object by intensive study of the object itself. Theology determines the qualities of the person by inviting the person to reveal himself. This is one of the principle differences between science and theology: objects can be revealed by external study, while persons are only self-revealed. No amount of study will fully reveal the qualities of a person - only the person’s own decision to reveal himself will do that.

Science can become confused with theology because the human person is a body-soul duality. That is, each person is at once an object, by virtue of his body, and a person, by virtue of his soul. As a result, the worldview that sees everything in terms of object relations has a tendency to ignore or not fully regard persons. Theology, on the other hand, has a tendency to ignore the object relations in preference to the interpersonal relations. Thus, it is bad science to look at a human being merely as an object, just as it is bad theology to look at a person merely as a soul.

Science is similar to Christian theology in aspect and method precisely because science grew out of that theology. Judeo-Christian belief is unique in saying that creation is good in itself, created out of nothing into goodness. By insisting on creation ex nihilo, the Judeo-Christian understanding insists that the existence of reality has an over-arching purpose. God brought reality into existence for a reason.

Luther as Buddha

Now, one corollary of this insistence of both the Creator and His Creation is the conclusion that evil does not have its own existence. God created everything good. He did not create evil. Since He is the source of all that exists, evil is an absence of good, not a presence of itself.

This distinction is important. Whereas the Hindu and the Buddhist insist that reality is an illusion, the Christian insists that reality exists, good exists and evil exists, but the last only in a negative fashion. For the Christian, evil is a deprivation, a distortion of the good – it does not have existence itself, rather, it is the absence of existence. To say that something is evil is to say that it has lost part of the existential qualities we would normally expect it to have. A thing is evil because it has, in a certain sense, fallen partly out of existence.

The corollary to this is quite stunning. Any theology that asserts the flesh is completely corrupted, full of nothing but evil, implicitly agrees with Eastern mysticism – the flesh is an illusion. America is a famously Protestant culture. The complete corruption of the flesh is a famously Protestant doctrine. The antagonism between Western science and Western religious faith is at its worst in Protestant cultures. This is the reason.

Protestant theology insists both on the total corruption of the flesh and reason as the whore of the devil. It has to. If Luther is right about the total corruption of the flesh, then the total uselessness of reason necessarily follows. All that evil reality leaves is intuition, which Protestants endorse as “blind faith.” Many theologians have attempted to make a correlation between the Christian Desert Fathers and Eastern mysticism, but seen in this light, the real correlation with Eastern mysticism can only be found in Lutheran theology and its offshoots.

But there is another point. Because Protestant theologies insist on the “alien righteousness” of God, it insists on treating God as object instead of subject. If God is object, if God is not person in the way we understand persons, then He should in principle be subject to scientific scrutiny.

In fact, God is Bridegroom. Demanding that God should be subject to scientific scrutiny in order to know Him is much akin to demanding that every prospective spouse be subject to scientific scrutiny in order to determine if marriage should take place: it is exactly the wrong way to go about things. The objectification of God built into the very structure of Protestant theology is, perhaps, why Protestant Faith insists so strongly on the need for personal relationship with God. It is an explicit counter-weight to the insistence on God as alien.

The Right Path

Catholic Christianity takes a different tack. As the Church has always taught, as a very recent papal encyclical again demands, faith and reason are both necessary to personal relationship with God. Faith is not blind and it is never contrary to logic or the accurate perceptions of the senses. Faith is based on personal knowledge of personal relationships lived out in material reality.

If you and I were life-long friends who had been through every trial and tribulation for the last forty years, and you told me you would meet me on the corner of Fifth and Main tomorrow, then I would have forty years of evidence to support that statement. Those years of evidence tell me not only whether or not you will, in fact, be there, but it tells me what car you are likely to be driving and might possibly even tell me what you will be wearing when you get there. I have not yet met you on that corner, but I know what I will find when I get there. I have faith in you because I know you.

I have faith in God in precisely the same way. I have seen how He acts in my life, I have seen the witness of others throughout history. They gave me historical documents describing how He acts in their lives. I have millenia of lived experience to base my faith on. As a result, I have more faith in Him then I have in the sunrise tomorrow, for if the sun does not rise tomorrow, I know that lack is not for evil, but for my good. This is a level of faith that we can never derive from objects alone, but only from the self-revealed knowledge of the One who wields those objects.

Science is no longer acquainted with this understanding. Because Luther shares common ground with an Eastern world-view that is antithetical to the Christian statement “reality exists,” science, especially American science, has found it necessary to reject Christianity in toto. It can hardly do otherwise.

Protestants insist Catholic Faith is false. American science, insofar as it has been developed by Protestants, is predisposed to draw the same conclusion. Catholic Faith has always been foreign to American culture; Catholics have long been an immigrant, illiterate and very minority population whose ideas are rejected out of hand by Protestant worldviews. Thus, most American scientists know Christianity only through its Protestant variants. Since Protestant Christianity is opposed to the basic worldview required in order to do good research, that is, since it explicitly rejects reason and embraces the total corruption of reality, implying that the world is essentially an illusion, science is perfectly correct to reject it.

Unfortunately, by the only variants of Christianity it knows well, it thereby insists that it rejects all Christianity. In short, science throws the baby out with the bathwater. It has now largely rejected the very idea that brought it into existence.

Christianity is built on the understanding that reality has a purpose, that it is brought out of nothing into existence precisely so that God could take on flesh and walk among us in a way our senses can perceive and that He will return in that self-same literally sensible way.

In rejecting Christianity, modern science believes it must also reject purpose, for Christianity is the only world-view that insists reality has a purpose. By rejecting Christianity in toto, science simultaneously and explicitly embraces the idea that the interaction of objects within the universe does not display purpose. This creates a problem.

If objects and their interactions are purposeless, then science cannot exist, if only for the mundane reason that scientists are part of that reality, which means scientists have no purpose. In short, by denying Christianity, we deny that we can explain anything at all. We can only note the movement of purposeless objects, and wonder why we note them since we are nothing but purposeless objects. If the human soul is but a biochemical interaction, if there is no Prime Mover, then reality is indeed functionally an illusion. The Eastern mystics are right.

Here is the great irony. Christianity describes the reality that calls science into existence. By rejecting all of Christianity because of one mistaken variant, science thereby embraces the very Eastern mysticism that its philosophy most adamantly opposes. Unless it realizes its folly and returns to its Catholic roots, Western science will eventually become the means by which Western culture decomposes into Eastern mysticism and non-science. Science will self-destruct.

In his book, The Lotus and the Robot, Arthur Koestler points out that Hinduism is built around the concept of self-annihilation. As he puts it, India is a “culture of Thanatos.” It is no coincidence that Pope John Paul II described Western society as a “culture of death.” We need only look at Western fertility rates, contraception, abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality. We have already embraced Eastern self-annihilation. There is but one difference between us: the East pursues this annihilation through the self-manipulative techniques of yoga while the West pursues it through the techniques of science, the manipulation of others. In this case, it hardly matters - both roads lead to the same end.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Science of Theology, Religion of Physics: Part II

As was pointed out in the previous essay, neither Eastern mysticism nor any other religious worldview except Christianity was amenable to the development of science. While it is easy to identify isolated accomplishments in non-Christian cultures - individual Indians and Arabs made important discoveries in mathematics and medicine, for instance - each of these accomplishments was due primarily to the spark of an individually brilliant mind. Never do we see the in these cultures the detailed study of reality that the culture of Western Europe developed and accomplished.

India, Arabia, China - these civilizations did not lack the intellect for scientific work, they lacked the outlook for it. The outlook lacked because the worldviews that permeated their cultures insisted on points that science must explicitly deny. These cultures all insisted the world cannot be accurately perceived through the senses, that only intuition is a reliable guide. Science, on the other hand, insists the world can be accurately perceived both through the senses and through tools that extend the reach of those senses. Intuition is a fallible tool, the senses, as used through the tools that extend their reach, are infallible.

Thus, because Eastern mystics insist “...the world is not as you perceive through the senses. Reality can only be perceived through the intuition,” for such an Eastern mystic, it would not matter if tools to extend the senses were developed and used - the senses are still fooled. The study of reality that is science is, for such a worldview, simply a fool’s game.

Christianity sees things quite differently. Precisely because it insists that God made Himself sensible in the Incarnation, it necessarily insists that the material world does not and cannot lie. If it could lie, the Incarnation could be false. The Incarnation cannot be false, therefore reality cannot lie.

Only the Christian worldview insisted on the central importance of sensory perception to faith. As the Apostle John insisted, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the word of life. For the life was manifested: and we have seen and do bear witness and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father and hath appeared to us. That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you: that you also may have fellowship with us and our fellowship may be with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3). Note how emphatic John is on the importance of sensory perception to identifying truth: he heard, he saw, his hands handled. Sensory perception is even called the basis for Christian faith and fellowship. The phrase “reality exists” is an essentially Judeo-Christian religious phrase.

Unfortunately, the truth of this statement is lost because the meaning of one word has been lost. We no longer really understand what “faith” means. If asked for a definition of “faith,” many people today will quote St. Paul, “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). This seems to be distinctly at odds with science, in which evidence must be seen in order to constitute evidence. What few realize is how badly this phrase has been misunderstood. The Apostle did not mean to tell us that we should embrace faith blindly. Rather, he meant to tell us that faith is formed by facts.

The problem lies precisely in the fact that too many Christians emphasize the second half of the phrase at the expense of the first. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Hope is based in facts. Every time you order a hamburger at the local McDonald’s, you have made an act of faith. Consider: you entered the parking lot only because the sign said the people in the building served food. Once inside, you see a menu listing food items, tables for the consumption of food, napkins, forks, soda machines while the smell of cooking meat and frying potatoes wafts through the air. The man behind the counter asks what you would like to eat. The facts evince the possibility of food.

Do you know that you will be given edible food if you order? No, you don’t. Perhaps it is all an elaborate hoax. Or perhaps the cook is sick, the food tainted, or the last burger just sold to the previous customer and the counter person is yet unaware of the fact. But the facts give you hope, so you place your order. This is an act of faith – you haven’t yet seen the hamburger that will ultimately be given to you, but you have a lot of sensory evidence and previous experience upon which to base your hope. Your act of faith is based on the substance of hopeful facts, it is an act made on evidence as yet unseen. Your scientific hypothesis - they will give me food - is about to be tested against reality.

As we can see, faith is never blind. The idea that it is grows out of a serious misunderstanding, the embrace of a central principle of Eastern mysticism: “reason is the whore of the devil.” The phrase is from Martin Luther’s Table Talk. When taken in conjunction with Luther’s theory of total corruption, it constitutes an inelegant summary of the principle that reality is an illusion.

Because science must necessarily reject the idea that reality is an illusion, science must necessarily reject the idea of Protestant Christianity. The scientific worldview developed in Catholic Europe just before the Reformation. It is important to realize that Protestant Christian thought never made and has still not made, a complete break from its Catholic roots. Syncretist from the beginning, Protestant theology happily embraced simultaneously contradictory principles. Thus, it was able to simultaneously embrace scientific techniques while proclaiming a worldview that was actually at odds with what science insisted on – the centrality of the senses and of rationality to truth.

As a result, the sciences that grew on Protestant soils of Germany, England and America became increasingly out of step with the culture. Science insisted on rationality, Protestantism insisted “reason is the whore of the devil.” Science insisted on the importance of the senses, Protestantism insisted the sensory sacramental system was useless. The only point of contact was an elevation of literacy in both, but this emphasis merely exacerbated the disjunction between rational science and irrational Protestant religion. Mistaking the part (Protestantism) for the whole (Catholicism), science rejected Christianity whole and entire. As a result, it cut away its own rationale for being.

The next essay will examine exactly how this happened.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Science of Theology, the Religion of Physics

In the re-emerging debate over creationism, intelligent design and evolution, much has been made of the need to keep religious faith out of the classroom. If this were accomplished, it would, of course, be a great loss, for if religious faith is removed from the classroom, physics, chemistry, and biology will have to be dispensed with and the hard sciences will be completely lost to us. This is a point that is lost on most of the people in the debate.

Take, for instance, the foundational premise of physics: reality exists. As members of a Christian Western culture, we often have a hard time understanding how fully those two words represent a specific religious viewpoint. To assert that reality is not an illusion, but is, in fact, substantial is to take sides in a long-standing religious debate.

The Hebrew and Christian faith insists on independent physical reality. The Hindu, the Buddhist, the Taoist traditions, along with any number of similar religious traditions, hold precisely the opposite viewpoint. For these other faith traditions, reality is not only an illusion, but an obstacle to real peace. Christians say that in order to achieve peace, we must work for justice. Other religious traditions say that to achieve peace, we must recognize physical reality as an illusion, an artifact of the mind, a stumbling block that prevents our achieving total union with Nirvana or Moksha – Nothingness. For Christians, peace comes from a full transformation from our fallen selves into who we are. For others, peace comes from completely extinguishing who we are.

The idea that physical reality has an independent existence with laws that operate both upon it and upon me is a religious concept because it simultaneously insists we have the ability to know something outside of ourselves and insists there is something outside of ourselves to be known. After all, the very word “religion” is derived from “re-ligare” the Greek words for “tying back together.” For Christians, our investigation of physical reality is part of our task as persons. Through it, we begin to tie back together a reality that was irretrievably broken at some earlier point in time.

This is an important point, for investigation is only possible by means of a pre-existing purpose, and this purpose is the foundation of the statement “reality exists.” Let me explain. No one investigates a thing without having a purpose in mind. The purpose directs and forms the investigation. We investigate in order to establish “why.” But, where reality has no real existence, there is no “why.” Investigation is purposeless and therefore not undertaken. Thus, the statement “reality exists” assumes not only that the investigator exists, it also assumes that the thing to be investigated has a “why” associated with it. In short, “reality exists” assumes the existence of purpose in both the investigator and the thing to be investigated.

The search for a unified field theory is one example of such an assumption in action. The hard sciences exist only because an ordered reality pre-exists them. If the universe were formless chaos, there would be no underlying reality upon which logic could function, nor, arguably, would there be a way to demonstrate the existence of logic at all. Logic would be the illusion instead of the tool.

Physics tells us we can treat the particles that compose the universe as information packets. Physics does not point out the obvious: information exists only where purpose exists. Where reality is an illusion that repeats on an endlessly cyclic basis, there is no information to glean, no reality to tie together.

The Eastern faith traditions are, in this sense, not religions at all, for they carry no sense of the need to heal reality. Even the healing of the individual is accomplished only through personal self-annihilation, the removal of information (although they would call it the removal of illusion) from the equation. For them, the reality is simple: there is no equation.

As this discussion should demonstrate, it is no more possible to remove religion from the classroom than it is to remove religion from public discourse. If we would say “reality exists,” we have injected religion into the classroom. If we say “reality is an illusion,” we have avoided injecting religion into the classroom, but only by virtue of having denied the need for a classroom at all.

The next essay will discuss how science has reached the absurd position of denying its own reality.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Suffer the Children

As the family disintegrates, Western culture has proven itself unequal to the task of keeping up with the change. We have no model for a non-family based society, and our responses to the reality are becoming increasingly incoherent.

Take Jacques Chirac, for example. The president of France tried to convince French voters that the EU constitution was worthwhile by arguing, “[it is] about your future and that of your children, of the future of France and the future of Europe. On Sunday, everyone will have a share of the destiny of France in its hands.”

It was one of the sillier things he could have said. The French have a population growth rate of 1.85, one of the lowest rates of child-bearing in recorded French history. Chirac was appealing to an electorate that didn’t exist: parents. He lost the referendum.

We could write this off as the fate of the French if not for a recent story on San Francisco. It has become an essentially child-free city: only 14.5% of the city’s population is 18 or younger. The city is busily building programs for children who don’t exist. It may not be politically correct to mention the facts, but homosexual sex is functionally sterile. This is apparently only beginning to dawn on the city’s ruling elite and the news media.

Certainly the prime-time networks are unfamiliar with family life, as are the people who tout the prime-time shows. “ ‘Desperate Housewives’ made good on its pledge to solve the posthumous mystery of Mary Alice as its smash first season concluded on Wisteria Lane, the ABC show's mythical but all-too-recognizable slice of suburbia.” So said CNN, but most real parents are at a loss to figure out what is recognizably suburban about any of it. Most suburbanites do not have bodies buried in the back yard, nor stay-at-home moms, nor yard boys to have adulterous flings with.

But this kind of senility isn’t unique to secular atheists either. Christian organizations are attempting to organize boycotts of Carl Jr.’s and Hardees based on the family-unfriendliness of its Paris Hilton commercials. It has not yet occurred to anyone that the burger chain’s number-crunchers may have written off the family market. Indeed, as the American fertility rate hovers just below replacement level, held that high only by Hispanic and black fertility rates, appeals to do something “for the children” are going to fall on increasingly deaf ears. You can’t appeal for support to families that don’t exist.

So where have all the children gone? Well, even as children disappear from cities and suburbs, faux children rise to take their place. Recent screenings of Star Wars were preceded by trailers advertising Spiderman, Batman, the X-men and the Fantastic Four. Advertisers have long known that the adolescent segment is the best market segment, if only because immature people are easily separated from the money they carry. Because commerce is interested in maintaining immaturity for as long as possible, we have become a comic book nation.

And this is not just a cute phrase. As has been pointed out, “[a recent] National Endowment for the Arts survey found a dramatic decrease in Americans who read literature (novels, plays, poetry, short stories), with more than half - HALF! - of Americans not reading for pleasure. The survey found an overall decline of 10 percentage points in literary readers from 1982 to 2002, a loss of 20 million potential readers…. it was particularly dramatic among those 18 to 24 years old. Among this group, the decline was 55 percent greater than that of the total adult population. At the current rate of loss among the young, literary reading will virtually disappear in 50 years, the NEA warns.”

The irony is enormous. We don’t have children because we want to indulge ourselves. Our culture encourages this perpetual adolescence because it allows business to strip our money from us more efficiently. Precisely because we keep people immature for as long as we can, we do not raise families. Thus the supply of real children dwindles, resulting in an ever-more desperate attempt to lengthen the period of immaturity among the population that remains.

As I pointed out in an essay several months ago, abortion is self-limiting if only because it kills its own future customers. In this respect, the free enterprise system resonates with the abortion culture. By encouraging immaturity among its audience, commerce kills tomorrow’s market in its insatiable quest for today’s market share.

There are limits to how long this childishness can continue.