Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all being,
graciously let a ray of your light penetrate
the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness
in which I have been born,
an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding,
a retentive memory, and
the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact
in my explanations and the ability to express myself
with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning,
direct the progress,
and help in the completion.

I ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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Love, Sight, and Corporations

December 16, 2013

If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  -1 John 4:20

It is interesting that love is connected with sight in this Biblical passage.  Elsewhere in the New Testament, the Bible teaches that a human is much more than a physical, visible entity (2 Corinthians 5:4 refers to the body as a “tent”, and 1 Corinthians 6:19 refers to the body of a Christian as a “temple of the holy spirit.”).  Scripture also states that God created man in His “image,” specifically in Genesis 1:26-27: “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image’. . . [and] God created man in His own image.”  However, it is highly debatable (if not entirely unlikely) that the reference to “God’s image” has much to do with the physical appearance of human beings.

The thesis of this post is that the removal of the “sight” of a second party may actually hinder one’s propensity to love someone, and that that has consequences in our political and social lives.  This may seem obvious, but I am going to take it a step further than the obvious.

We know intuitively that a blind person must be able to love a person, so physical sight is not necessary to love someone.  But it is surely easier to avoid loving another person if one does not have to see that person.  If your community keeps homeless people relegated to a rough corner of town that you never visit, it is easier not to think of them or help them.  But if you have to face homeless people every day, your conscience is more likely to be bothered and perhaps spur you to do something to love the homeless, even if only donating to a local charity or giving a few bucks to a homeless person who appears to be in need.  On the other hand, one might choose to become callous toward the homeless, particularly with the aid of stereotypes and rationalizations such as “homeless people are lazy.”  Accordingly, it is said that if you cannot even love those who you see (and sight should make it easier to love someone), you cannot love God, whom you cannot see (because it is presumably harder to love God, who you cannot see).

But what if you owned a small private business in a neighborhood with homeless people?  I would imagine it would be even more difficult to resist a sense of sympathy to (and even responsibility for) the needs of those in the community.

Enter corporations.

Setting aside private companies, the “owners” of a publicly-traded corporation could be shareholders from all across the world.  If the corporation runs nation-wide chain retail stores or restaurants, the shareholder is far removed from the faces on the ground.  A corporation cannot truly love a person.  The corporation exists to provide profit to its shareholders.  Sure, a corporation can give money to a charitable cause, but it generally does so because it helps the corporation’s bottom line in the long run by building good will with consumers.  The private small business owner is in a much better position to help those with needs in the community because the private small business owner can actually “see” the faces of the need in a real way.

Furthermore, the private small business owner sees his or her employees and is more likely to treat them in a loving manner.  Grace and mercy cost a business owner no more than he or she is willing to voluntarily contribute.  The shareholders of a private corporation cannot see the employees and thus will not care about them.  The corporate hierarchy will provide little grace or mercy at the sacrifice of the company’s (and the shareholders’) bottom line.  Employees within a corporation can still exercise some grace and mercy, but with a much greater risk.  If an employee in a corporation shows mercy to a subordinate and it does not work out, the managerial employee loses his job, which is more than the comparatively negligible amount of profit lost by the corporation.

Now enter politicians.

Politicians, surviving largely on the backs of private corporations (this goes for Democrats as well as Republicans), answer these bottom-line focused entities rather than the rank and file individuals.  Moreover, federal government politicians are far removed from their constituents (often by thousands of miles).  If politicians need not look many of their constituents in the face for most of the year, it will be easier to forget to love them or serve their interests, just as people forget about the homeless in the bad areas of town that they never visit.

Is the link between “sight” and “love” a good reason to be suspicious of corporations and support local businesses?  Is it a good reason to prefer local to state or national government?

Diogenes of Synope

Diogenes of Synope was a funny Greek philosopher who used to wander the streets with a lantern in the daylight “in search of an honest man.”  He was something of a hippie, as he spurned riches, reputation, and even hygiene.  He also questioned patriotism and preferred to call himself a citizen of the world.

As I grow older, I find myself thinking more and more like Diogenes, at least insofar as I believe I could carry on a similar search for an honest man and never find one.  Honesty is more than telling the truth.  Honesty is the willingness to call a spade a spade, even when the full truth makes one look weak.

Lawyers might have a problem with this because they are paid to put the client’s “best case” before the court.  They are paid to keep some bad information secret through the attorney-client privilege, to ignore inconvenient facts, and to make the other side’s “best case” look preposterous, even if it is the more likely truth.  No doubt Diogenes would have a field day with lawyers.

Of course, lawyers do not necessarily handle the truth in such ways when clients, judges, and juries are not around.  We lawyers have also usually been exposed at one point or another to the limitations of our knowledge.  As young lawyers researching a legal question, we learn that even though we might discover a law on the books that apparently resolves our legal question, there might be another law out there stating that the just-discovered statute does not apply in certain situations.  Since it is practically impossible to read every law out there to prove a negative (especially on the client’s dime), the lawyer must act with some degree of faith in his/her mentors, practice guide books, and even gut instinct.  That degree of uncertainty should keep the lawyer’s attitude in check.

When dealing with coworkers and clients, however, lawyers must appear confident in spite of the fact that they might be wrong (even embarrassingly so).  I can’t help but wonder if this bravado comes from society or if lawyers helped to contribute this approach to society, but it seems that virtually everyone in public life wants to focus on his or her argument, ignore or suppress all information counter to that argument, discredit all those who might question that argument, and reframe any opponent’s argument in a weaker way so that it is easier to overcome.  This is probably not the best way for a curious listener to arrive at the truth—listening to multiple myopic, self-serving viewpoints and trying to sort between them.

The thesis/antithesis model of reasoning, where one honestly and readily admits the most powerful arguments opposing one’s argument during discourse, is far superior for everyone’s sake if one is to hope that the truth triumphs even to one’s own detriment.  Sadly, we are usually not honest enough to hope that the truth prevails even though it crushes us.  We could join Diogenes’ search, knowing full well that no one is brave enough or righteous enough to always admit the truth and expose his own frailty.

What Do You Care?

August 30, 2013

So, why do you care about the behavior of others?  Where you are not concerned, why care about others having abortions, gay marriage, prayers in public school (or at high school football games in Texas), therapy for minors with unwanted same sex attraction, racial discrimination that does not harm you, laws in other states or countries, or anything else that would not affect your life specifically and personally?

Should any of us care about the plight of another so much that we would interfere with that person’s life (or the lives of those around them) through legal compulsion?  The answer seems to be “yes,” if we love justice, but who is this “we”?  Should “we” interfere with the behavior of others through our town’s local law, our state law, or our federal law, or leave law out of it and resort to other methods?  (One could “interfere” with the behavior of others without using law, via boycott or shunning.)  It seems more intuitively acceptable for us to interfere with or regulate the behavior in our own community based on our moral inclinations about the good of our community.  One’s interest in the behavior of the people in far away places seems more attenuated.

To push this point even further, should “we” as a society (small or large scale) interfere with other societies?  Can the people of Los Angeles decide they’ve had enough of the ridiculous laws in San Francisco and try to do something about it?  Yes, the people of Los Angeles lack jurisdiction to do anything about what happens in San Francisco, but the United States has no more jurisdiction over anything in the Middle East, yet there “we” are, interfering…

It strikes me that this is absolutely not a conservative or liberal question.  Conservatives will interfere with your ability to smoke pot.  Liberals will interfere with your ability to smoke a cigarette in a public restaurant.  Each will claim the high ground of “freedom” on one issue while claiming the high ground of “morality” on the other.  “Freedom” is just another buzz word like “equality” and “democracy” that people only invoke for convenience and sound bites, not because they are actually committed to those ideals.  It is the same with foreign policy.  Conservatives and liberals will walk the line between “respecting the sovereignty of other nations” and “taking a stand for the cause of justice” depending on the values or interests at stake in a policy decision.

So, do you care about the behavior of other people so much that you want to interfere societally?  Do you want to interfere with other societies (and do you want your own government to interfere in other societies for you)?  No doubt, there are numerous moral tragedies happening around the world right now and we are doing nothing about them.  Yet when discussing instances of interference in the past (like fighting the Nazis in WWII), people point to how evil the situation/government was to justify the U.S.’s behavior.  Wouldn’t that be like the people of Los Angeles pointing to how bad the laws of San Francisco are as justification for interference?  That doesn’t hold water unless we are going to distinguish between types of “bad” laws (whether a difference in kind or degree).  Certainly some silly laws that drive away small businesses in San Francisco would not justify usurping the authority of the San Francisco local government through force.

What kind of laws (if any) should invite the scrutiny and interference from other governments that have no jurisdiction?  What kind of behavior from other people in your community or neighboring communities invites your own scrutiny and legal interference?  Is there a difference between attempting to interfere (through force of law in matters in which you have no direct interest) with the behavior of your neighbor, or someone in a neighboring town, or someone in another state, or someone in another country?

If government A can usurp government B’s authority through force based on the bad laws of government B, can government B do the same to government A?  If government A is too strong for that, doesn’t that make government A a self-appointed “benevolent tyrant”?  What happens when government A turns bad and ignores its own unjust laws?  Would the citizens of the country of government A look kindly on the interference from the weaker government B?

America (and particularly the federal government in America) is government A.

Interesting story:

There was once a famous Methodist evangelist named Peter Cartwright was known for his uncompromising preaching. However, one day Andrew Jackson the President of the United States came to worship there.

Cartwright was known for his plain speaking, and the church elders warned him not to offend the President.

But when Cartwright got up to speak, the first words out of his mouth were, “I understand that President Andrew Jackson is here this morning. I have been requested to be very guarded in my remarks. Let me say this: Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he doesn’t repent of his sin!”

The entire congregation gasped with shock.  How could this young preacher dare to offend the tough old general in public? they wondered.

After the service, everyone wondered how the President would respond to Cartwright.  When Andrew Jackson met the preacher at the door he looked at him in the eye and said, “Sir, If I had a regiment of men like you, I could conquer the world!”

I don’t know if this anecdote is precisely accurate, but I find it thought-provoking nonetheless.

How much respect should religious people give government leaders?  Is it a great thing when pastors or other leaders in the religious community stay politically neutral or treat politicians/issues with kid-gloves to avoid offending parishoners or the general public?  If all pastors took that approach, would the anti-slavery or civil rights movements have succeeded when they did?

We could take this a step further beyond the government.  Do private CEOs deserve a “pass” for the activities of their companies?  Is it a good thing or a bad thing when religious leaders make any effort to avoid offending parishoners?

This is not to say that religious leaders should abandon all tact and start casting out wild, speculative political accusations under the cover of an assertion like “I will not try to avoid offending people,” but perhaps we need more challenging, thought-provoking religious discourse even when it steps on the toes of political figures.

The Bellamy Salute

July 2, 2013

What a creepy and thought-provoking picture:

The “Bellamy Salute”

Yes, kids used to utter the Pledge of Allegiance with this Nazi-style salute.  Another blogger posits that the pledge was originally drafted by a socialist and was designed to propagandize children into pledging that they will follow their government.

For the record, I don’t think there’s any merit to the common objection to the phrase “under God” in the pledge, at least from a Constitutional standpoint.  As far as that objection goes, no one is forced to say the pledge (if a school punished a child for not saying it, that would be a problem), and if a parent objects then he/she should consider a number of options: teaching one’s child to abstain from saying the pledge, visiting a school board meeting to raise the issue, and/or seeking another school or an alternate educational arrangement.  If nobody else in your community cares about your complaint, your child is going to end up in an environment of such people and such worldviews regardless whether the pledge is spoken.  The pledge (and the phrase “under God”) is not the problem, it’s a symptom of a problem that will never go away.  Communities and schools always have unspoken worldviews and I see little in the Constitution that mandates that communities be prevented from expressing those worldviews through their public institutions (they are going to do so anyway, it’s unavoidable).

Anyway, back to my point: is pledging allegiance a good thing?  Isn’t that like writing a blank check to the government, promising to follow regardless of whatever evil thing it might do?  Sure, some of us would resist an evil governmental action, but for the regular duty-following folk, a lifetime of stating the pledge of allegiance may have fostered some problematic inner attitudes (such as intolerance for dissent against the government).

For you monotheists out there (Christians/Jews/Muslims), is the pledge a form of idolatry?    Should Christians, as “strangers in a foreign land,”  pledge allegiance to any government?

Classic Tolerance

June 23, 2013

An article by Greg Koukl provides some insight into the idea of “tolerance”:

“Egalitarian” was a new word for them. “Think equal,” I said. “Treat others as having equal standing in value or worth.” They knew what an elitist was, though, someone who thought he or she was better than others. “Right,” I said. “When you are elitist regarding ideas, you are acknowledging that some ideas are better than others; and they are. We don’t treat all ideas as if they have the same merit, lest we run into contradiction. Some ideas are good. Some are bad. Some are true. Some are false. Some are brilliant. Others are just plain foolish.”

The first principle, what might be called “civility,” is at the heart of the classical view of tolerance. It can be loosely equated with the word “respect.” Tolerance applies to how we treat people we disagree with, not how we treat ideas we think are false. We respect those who hold different beliefs from our own by treating such people courteously and allowing their views a place in the public discourse. We may strongly disagree with their ideas and vigorously contend against them in the public square, but we still show respect to their persons despite our differences. Classic tolerance requires that every person be treated courteously with the freedom to express his or her ideas without fear of reprisal no matter what the view, not that all views have equal worth, merit, or truth.

. . . The view that one person’s ideas are no better or truer than another’s is simply absurd and inescapably self-contradictory. To argue that some views are false, immoral, or just plain silly does not violate any meaningful definition or standard of tolerance.

In other words, to paraphrase philosopher Peter Kreeft, we should be egalitarian with respect to people and elitist with respect to ideas, but never vice-versa.

Just a thought experiment, roll with me…

What if, in the American Civil War era, it was the North that insisted upon permitting slavery whereas the South opposed slavery?  So, in that vein, let’s say that the northern states began to seek to impose pro-slavery or slavery-compromising legislation upon the southern states through the federal government and supreme court, and then the southern states seceded from the United States on the grounds that they would not permit the northern states to impose their unjust pro-slavery national laws upon them.  The southern states create a confederacy which will protect each state’s ability to outlaw slavery (or not) and no other state will be able to impose legalized slavery upon them.

First question: in this situation, would you prefer that the confederates (southerners) win the civil war rather than the union northerners?  In other words, would you root for the pro-slavery north or the anti-slavery south?

Second question: if we took away the issue of slavery altogether, would you prefer confederacy or our current federal government?  What’s better, each state left to decide its own fate, or a national government deciding once for all?

Now, in this hypothetical, keep in mind that if you said you prefer a strong federal government, someone listening might call you a “racist” for supporting a form of government that once supported slavery.

Just a thought…

It’s election season, and I feel accosted by bad political arguments from all sides through television and the internet.  I offer this as a public service announcement, a guide for spotting typical bad arguments (largely copied from Wikipedia’s list of fallacies):

Relevance Fallacies

Red herring – irrelevant argument given in response to another argument to draw attention away from the subject of argument.

Ad hominem – attacking the arguer instead of the argument.

Poisoning the well – a type of ad hominem where adverse information about a target is presented with the intention of discrediting everything that the target person says.

Appeal to emotion – where an argument is made due to the manipulation of emotions, rather than the use of valid reasoning.

Appeal to spite – a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made through exploiting people’s bitterness or spite towards an opposing party.

Appeal to fear – a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made by increasing fear and prejudice towards the opposing side.

Appeal to pity – an argument attempts to induce pity to sway opponents.

Appeal to accomplishment – where an assertion is deemed true or false based on the accomplishments of the proposer.

Appeal to motive – where a premise is dismissed by calling into question the motives of its proposer.

Appeal to wealth/poverty – supporting or refuting a conclusion because the arguer is wealthy or poor.

Appeal to novelty – where a proposal is claimed to be superior or better solely because it is new or modern.

Chronological snobbery – where a thesis is deemed incorrect because it was commonly held when something else, clearly false, was also commonly held.

Straw man – an argument based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.

Mob appeal – where a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because many people believe it to be so.

 

Admit it, we’ve all made these arguments and we’ve all been duped by them at various times.  The important thing is to try to avoid it.

Subsection (a): “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”

Subsection (b) provides an exception for abortion consented to by the mother.

Some observations:

1.  Murder only applies to killing a human, not an animal or non-human.

2.  If a man walks up to a woman and, say, cuts off her arm (or any other bodily “tissue”) but it does not result in her death, it is not murder.

3.  A man who walks up to an unsuspecting pregnant woman and punches her in the stomach, intentionally killing her unborn child but not killing the mother, has committed murder under the statute, even if she had planned on getting an abortion.  It is not merely a tort or the crime of assault and battery; it is murder.

4.  If the man punches a woman who is not pregnant in the stomach, it is not murder, and if he punches a pregnant woman in the stomach but it does not kill the fetus, it is not murder.

5.  If the pregnant woman punches herself in the stomach and kills her fetus, or if she asks a man to punch her in the stomach to intentionally cause the death of the fetus, it is not murder.

So, killing an animal or cutting off a human appendage is not murder, and killing a human being is murder.  Killing a fetus is also murder, except when a pregnant woman decides for whatever reason that her fetus belongs with the categories of “animal” or “human appendage” rather than “human being”.

As written, subsection (b) of section 187 is logically consistent with subsection (a) because subsection (a) expressly does not apply if subsection (b) applies.  However, can the exception philosophically be reconciled with the rule?  On what basis may a fetus be deemed the equivalent of a human being based on the intent of another person?  Can a person truly decide and declare, based on any reason or no reason at all (i.e. randomly), whether another person is in fact a person or the equivalent of a person worthy of legal protection?  Does it make sense that it’s murder to kill someone else’s fetus, even if that person planned on getting an abortion anyway?  When would that fetus transfer from “human being” back to discardable tissue?  When mom makes up or changes her mind (unless someone else decides for her without her consent)?

It’s one thing to attempt to justify legal abortions on the ground that an unborn child is not a legal person or the equivalent thereof.  But wouldn’t that mean section 187 is incoherent?  Would one prefer, in the name of consistency, to rewrite section 187 to honor the argument that unborn persons are not in fact persons, thereby recasting and/or reducing the criminal sanction against a man who walks up to a random pregnant woman and punches her in the stomach, causing an abortion?  Is a “wanted child” more worthy of personhood and legal protection against killing than an “unwanted child”?  Why?