Some Of My Favorite Things

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Papal Foot-Washing, Take 2

Pope's making history again - washing the feet of a woman and a Muslim.

What does this signify?

The washing of feet is an optional rite that is rooted in two different traditions:
a) the “Mandatum Pauperam,” or washing of the feet of poor people, and
b) the “Mandatum Fratrum,” the washing of the feet of “the brothers.” (e.g., the woman who washes Jesus' feet with her tears)

When the rite was folded into the Mass in 1955, women weren't allowed in the sanctuary, so the rite of foot washing took on a third meaning: Jesus' washing of apostle's feet at the Last Supper. That is, it was now associated with the ordination of priests.

Pope Francis is dispensing with the new, third meaning and emphasizing the first two.

For Christians, a brother or sister is a baptized person, so when he washes a Christian's feet, his washing the feet of a brother or sister.

But in Christian theology, the poorest of the poor is the person who hasn't heard or accepted the Gospel. Muslims aren't baptized, that is, they haven't accepted the Gospel. So, when he washes the feet of a Muslim, he's washing the feet of the poorest persons.

Muslims might respond in one of two ways:
a) Some Muslims see this in terms of a Christian serving a Muslim. Since Muslims consider non-Muslims second-class citizens, a Christian who acts like a servant towards a Muslim is acting in a perfectly appropriate way. He is acting like a dhimmi, as he should.

b) Other Muslims see Christian acts of physical charity as a serious threat. When a Christian feeds, clothes, or otherwise physically cares for a Muslim, this "perturbs the mentality of a good Muslim" because it tends to make the Muslim think that Christianity may be true. Physical acts of charity lead the Muslim away from Islam. Christian charity is such a serious threat that in 2010  there was a “fatwa promulgated by 7,300 Moroccan Muslim doctors who recently declared that Christian charity ought to be considered religious terrorism.” 

What Christians call charity, Muslims call terrorism. Worse, not only is this an act of physical charity, some Muslims may be aware that this act can be seen as denigrating Muslims, casting them as the theologically poorest of the poor, unfamiliar with the ways of God. Even though it is intended as an act of service, it could be taken as a theological insult. In fact, given that Muslim nurses find the simple act of washing hands to be an offense against modesty, it could be taken as an insult in more than one way

The Pope is certainly aware of this element.

By returning to the traditional meaning of the washing of the feet, what Francis is doing is very seriously engaging the Muslim world, and he's taking a significant risk to do so.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Alternatives to Obamacare

Here are some alternatives to Murderer-Care

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Observing the Seder

Some Catholics like to practice a Seder meal at some point prior to or during Holy Week. The Seder meal is only a pale shadow of the richness of the Catholic Mass. While it is understandable that the study of the Seder meal can bring a greater appreciation of the Mass, it is kind of silly.

First, how do you decide which traditional Jewish seder you want to look at? They aren't the same. For instance, the Ashkenazi have lamb at their Seders, the Sephardic and Mizrhaic Jews do not. Why the difference? Because the Ashkenazi say the lack of the Temple does not limit their ability to sacrifice the Passover lamb, while the other sects insist that no Passover lamb can be properly sacrificed anywhere but at the non-existent Temple.

Even if you decide on the tradition you want, what Seder ritual should you use? This is no small argument. I once had a discussion with a parish employee who insisted that the parish only use a Seder ritual which was acceptable to a(n Ashkenazi) rabbi. When I pointed out the absurdity of having a Jew tell a Catholic what kind of ritual could be carried out on parish property, she replied, "Well, how would you like it if someone did a parody of the Catholic Mass?"

I replied, "That happens every day. It's called Anglicanism."

The question of the Temple is important in another respect. Most parish Seder aficionados insist on having the Ashkenazi lamb at their Seder. Yet, even though they want the Seder and the lamb, the same people almost never also insist on ritually killing the lamb by slitting its throat in front of an observant audience. Why not? If you're going to do the Seder, why not do the whole thing? 

Bring the kids in, especially the young ones! We like teaching them about the Eucharist by handing out Hawaiian bread and grape juice, why not help them gain an appreciation for Christ's sacrifice by slitting a lamb's throat and skinning it right in front of them as well? I promise they would never forget the lesson.

And if we're going to sacrifice lambs for the Seder, why stop there? Why not perform ritual animal holocausts on a regular basis at the parish church to commemorate the major Jewish feast days? So many Catholic feast days are built on the foundation of Jewish feasts that we should not overlook the opportunities the liturgical calendar affords.

Bring cows, sheep, lamb, doves! Wring doves' necks, slice throats, let the blood flow freely! Let them see what Temple Judaism really looked like! Then everyone will have a greater appreciation for the crucifixion.

Performing a Seder meal in order to appreciate the Mass is a lot like buying and playing with a Matchbox Hotwheels car so that you can better drive and appreciate a 2014 Toyota Camry. It just makes sense, right?

So, while you're sharpening your knives for the parish Seder, think on these things.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On Salvation for All

Many people argue that there are human persons in hell, or that some subset of human persons MUST end up in hell. Part of their argument invariably involves an invocation of private revelation.

"What about the vision of Fatima!?!?" is a common wail.

Well, let's think about Fatima for a moment.

On July 13, 1919, the Blessed Virgin Mary herself taught the three visionaries this prayer:
O my Jesus, 
forgive us our sins, 
save us from the fire of hell,
*lead all souls to heaven,*
especially those who are in most need of Thy mercy.
Now, think about that. 

Is prayer ever useless? Obviously not. 

Would Mary ever insist we pray for something that is useless? Again, obviously not. 

God doesn't have us do useless things. 

So, if human souls were in hell, why would Mary ask us to pray in 1917 that all souls be led to heaven? There is no way to get out of hell - that's de fide. Yet we are asked to pray that all souls be led to heaven. 

Now, prayer is a timeless act. It's effects can ripple backward in time as well as forward in time. Therefore, it must be possible for us to have theological hope, rooted in God's own divine mercy, that all human persons be saved. Hell would still exist, and would still be occupied by the fallen angels. It would not be empty. There would simply be no human persons in it.

If we didn't have the theological right to hope for this - indeed, the duty to hope for this - then Mary would never have taught us this prayer and asked us to pray it. And this hope cannot just be a natural hope, for no one can have a natural hope for heaven. If our entire basis to hope for heaven lay only in our human nature, then we are all doomed to hell. The only way we can attain heaven is through God's own gift of supernatural grace. That is why our hope for heaven, whether it be for ourselves or someone else, must always be a supernatural hope, for only God's supernatural grace can accomplish this end. To say we can only pray this prayer with a natural hope is to say that Catholics are allowed to be Pelagians, which is absurd. 

So, Fatima has a certain tension within it. On one hand, we have the visionaries seeing people falling towards hell, on the other, we have Mary teaching them to pray that all souls end up in heaven.

Conclusion The only conclusion we can reach is this: the souls the visionaries saw moving towards hell, even at the moment of their death. even those who died in the past, can be saved for heaven at the moment of their death by our (future) prayers and sacrifices before God's throne. The timeless nature of prayer is also about the only thing that would explain why none of the nasty events Mary described at Fatima actually happened: Russia would eventually be properly consecrated at some future point, so none of the described disasters actually took place. 

If anyone wishes to stand on Fatima in order to demonstrate that not all human beings are saved, s/he stands on a very weak reed indeed, for in the very same visionary event, the Blessed Virgin Mary commands us to pray a prayer that assumes all human beings can, in fact, be saved. Since Mary did teach this prayer and command we pray it, we can correctly conclude no human being is yet in hell, and we can also conclude that it is our duty to hope every human being attains heaven. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Bankrupt Philosophy

As I was researching for a class lecture, I ran into the map below. It shows the amount of "homophobia" in the world, according to Gallup's international survey from 2012:
As I studied it, the map reminded me of something I had seen somewhere else.
Hmmmm.... what was it?
Ah, yes! It was this:

The color scheme is switched around (red is always bad, of course, while green is good), but as you can see, the map is pretty close to identical.  Wherever the national debt is high, homosexual activity is very much encouraged. Wherever national debt is low, homosexuality is very much discouraged.

In fact, I even ran a scatterplot to check the correlation, using the same trick the Atlantic article used, doing a log of the currency values in order to increase the r-squared value. Lo! and behold! The r-squared value came in at a very respectable 50.3% correlation.

So then I checked within the United States and I found these maps. The first presents the areas that permit homosexual unions:

The second shows the areas with high state and local debts:

As you can see, while the match in America isn't perfect, there's quite a bit of overlap. Generally speaking, where debt is high, homosexual "rights" are powerful. Where debt is low, homosexual "rights" tends not to be powerful.

Homosexual "rights" seems to be, quite literally, a bankrupt philosophy, or rather, the philosophy of the bankrupt.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Just So Stories

Rudyard Kipling wrote a series of stories for children about animals - how the leopard got its spots, how the elephant got a long trunk, etc. - that he titled "Just So Stories". The little volume became so popular that the title became a byword. If you create a "just so" story, you create a story that matches many of the known facts but is, in all other aspects, completely fabricated. It just sounds so nice that it must be true.
Le Gros Clark knew that genuine fossil discoveries ignite brighter sparks of controversy than any cranial con job ever could. given limited evidence about long-gone populations of our predecessors, researchers devise competing evolutionary scenarios that are often difficult to disprove and that can easily accommodate whatever ancient bones turn up next. (Science News, Fossil Sparks, Nov 3, 2007, Vol. 172, p 280, 1st column).
Science News is not a hotbed of Intelligent Design theory or of Creationism. It is very much wedded to evolutionary theory. But, among friends, it explicitly admits the facts: evolution is not a theory, but a bunch of contradictory theories, each one hard to distinguish from a "just so" story.

I'm not a fan of creationism, but it is admissions like this which make it hard for me to get enthusiastic about macro-evolution.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Thorin Oakenshield's Boat

The boys (12, 10 and 8) and I saw the second part of Peter Jackson's Hobbit series. My sons were mystified by what they considered a major plot flaw: what could Thorin Oakenshield possibly have used as a boat on the river of molten gold?

After all, it would have to have a lower specific gravity than gold (to float), a higher melting point (to avoid disintegration) and a low heat transfer rate (so Thorin wouldn't be grilled like a hotdog while riding it).

After much research, the eldest discovered the answer.

According to Peter Jackson, Tolkien's dwarves not only discovered mithril, they also discovered how to make aerogels.

Anti-Christian Marketing Bonanza

Scorcese proved it with The Last Temptation of Christ. Dan Brown proved it with The Da Vinci Code. Now the producers of Noah have demonstrated it.

If you want to make a LOT of money on a story, write something that is so outrageously provocative, so incredibly over-the-top in its anti-Christian themes that Christians can't help themselves. The Christian community knee-jerks and express outrage against it, thus giving you reams and reams of free publicity.

Everyone will go to see what the issue is.
You walk to the bank and deposit your winnings.
It's a very safe bet.

Sure, you can make money with family-friendly, Christian-friendly movies, but it isn't nearly as much fun.

Why We Embrace Contraception and Abortion

There are some interesting factoids from the world of science that may have some bearing on why people so happily embrace homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
Why would a sterile male cricket mate with an infertile female? On the surface, this behaviour makes no sense: sex takes energy and effort, and there’s nothing in it for either of these partners. Neither one can foster the next generation. 
Shelley Adamo from Dalhousie University has the answer. Her team have shown that one particular insect virus can sterilise crickets, but also change their behaviour so they continue to mate with each other. By doing so, they pass the virus on to uninfected hosts.
And there's this from Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene:
One of the best-known segregation distorters is the so-called t gene in mice. When a mouse has two t genes it either dies young or is sterile. t is therefore said to be 'lethal' in the homozygous state. If a male mouse has only one t gene it will be a normal, healthy mouse except in one remarkable respect. If you examine such a male's sperms you will find that up to 95% of them contain the t gene, only 5% the normal allele. This is obviously a gross distortion of the 50% ratio we expect. Whenever, in a wild population, a t allele happens to arise by mutation, it immediately spreads like a brushfire... before long the whole local population is likely to be driven extinct. There is some evidence that wild populations of mice have, in the past, gone extinct through epidemics of t genes.
Also, we have the explanation of the Bruce effect from the same tome - male mice secrete a chemical whose smell can cause female mice to abort her current pregnancy so the new male mouse can successfully mate with her. There is also the reverse Whitten effect: female mice synchronize menstrual cycles based on olfactory cues.

We already know that people infected with Toxoplasmosis gondii display measurably different mental behaviour compared to those who do not. T. gondii victims have six times the rate of automobile accidents as non-infected people. Given the love women traditionally have for cats, this may explain why women are stereotypically described as worse drivers than men. Men infected with the organism tend to engage in more risk-taking behaviour. Schizophrenics are twice as likely to be infected as the general population.

So, is it possible that some gene, bacteria or virus or combination is part of the reason so many people seem to have gone insane and begun embracing homosexuality, contraception and abortion in the last century?

I am certain no one has investigated possible links.
There could be a medical discovery waiting to be made!