I set up the first open mic thread on this blog a couple of weeks ago now. The open mic thread is where you have the floor and can raise or discuss issues of your choice. There is no such thing as off-topic here. The comments of this thread are free for you to:
- Discuss things that you have been reading/listening to/watching recently
- Share interesting links
- Ask questions
- Put forward a position for more general discussion
- Tell us about yourself and your interests
- Publicize your blog, book, conference, etc.
- Draw our intention to worthy thinkers, charities, ministries, books, and events
- Post reviews
- Suggest topics for future posts
- Use as a bulletin board
My participation in the comments here will probably be fairly limited this time, but, as usual, I will be following them with interest. Over to you!
I am a single dad raising three kids, and I need a helpmeet. Please pray God delivers.
I will remember you and your kids in my prayers, Alex. Thanks for sharing this prayer request,
I am once again reminded, for the thousandth time, why I hate pop-neuroscience writing. Neuroscience/philosophy of mind is so conceptually confused it’s not even funny.
My comment was incomplete – what triggered this was seeing yet another piece of writing claiming that because we can view brain activity in real time in mice, some real advances towards understanding consciousness can now be made.
I was going to ask! I have a friend who does neuroscientific research on mice. I tend to run such claims past her before even considering taking them seriously. Of course, most neuroscientists don’t have any background in the philosophy of mind and consciousness (although my friend is rather more attuned to these things).
It’s good to be attuned to the philosophical side of things in neuroscience – there’s a great book out called ‘The Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience’ by P.M.S. Hackett (and another guy I don’t remember) that really critiques the conceptual confusions present in the brain sciences.
What grinds my gears is the use/misuse of causality-talk in brain sciences – mental causation, for example.
I basically ignore most pop neuroscience writing for this very reason…
I try to. Unfortunately, few things nowadays get as much attention as headlines proclaiming ‘Neuroscience shows X IS ALL AN ILLUSION’.
Oh, indeed. The perversity of society’s taste for that sort of thing mystifies me, though. Reminds me of Pascal:
Do they profess to have delighted us by telling us that they hold our soul to be only a little wind and smoke, especially by telling us this in a haughty and self-satisfied tone of voice? Is this a thing to say gaily? Is it not, on the contrary, a thing to say sadly, as the saddest thing in the world?
Would you endorse your son entering the US Military?
Well, I am a Brit, so no! 😉
If I were an American, though, I don’t think that I would be opposed to the idea in principle. I would definitely have reservations and concerns for his well-being both physically and ethically, but as I think that the military can and does do a lot of good in the world, I would be prepared to endorse his joining the military under the right conditions.
Final question: Do you think it’s okay for mature believers who are able to avoid depression, lust, and anger to engage in reading and watching dark works of fiction? I’m thinking of The Wire or House of Cards from the TV side and something like Stephen King from the book side.
Yes, I do, although obviously this doesn’t settle all of the issues of discernment that will be involved.
Apart from anything else, I believe that such works can encourage us to reflect upon deep themes of human nature. I’ve blogged on Breaking Bad here before, for instance. Scripture itself contains many dark passages of violence and brutality and also touches upon erotic themes. The way in which much modern fiction relishes and rejoices in such themes is not healthy, though.
I have been thinking about religion, purity and teleology. They seem to go together, but the logic behind that grouping is not immediately clear, and I don’t think anyone has really tried to link them up.
The following is based mainly on my reading of Jonathan Haidt, Alasdair MacIntyre, Mary Douglas, as well as my readings in the psychology of religion, including people like Stuart Guthrie and Bruce Charlton.
I’m going to take gay sex as my main example, as it provides the best illustration of exactly how religion, purity and teleology are linked.
Opposition to things like gay sex seems to be highly correlated with Jonathan Haidt’s purity foundation. Religion also seems to be highly correlated with the purity foundation. Hence, religion is highly correlated with opposition to gay sex. Yet, the primary moral arguments advanced against gay sex by most religious thinkers don’t directly refer to purity at all. Most religious moral argument* does not appeal directly to how “icky” or “noble” things are. This is a bit of a puzzle.
Purity is defined by Mary Douglas as something being out of place. We can use C.S. Lewis’ example of dirt being good clean dirt in the garden, but dirt dirt on the table.
In the cases of dirt, feces, vomit, mucus, rotten meat, a relatively simple and easy to understand version of purity is effect: these substances shouldn’t be near us because they cause us to be sick. They simply don’t belong in or near our bodies, at least when they are coming from outside.
Notwithstanding the notable addition of feces to the exchange of other bodily fluids, at least in some forms of gay sex, this doesn’t seem to be an adequate explanation for the strong dislike of male on male couplings. Normal sex involves the swapping of bodily fluids too, but we aren’t usually that disgusted by the thought of other male-female couples having sex. Furthermore, one doesn’t even necessarily have to mentally picture a gay couple having sex for the antipathy to be aroused.
In addition, this explains nothing about the link between purity and religion. Why should religion be so exercised about potential disease carrying excretions per se. For that, we need a different analysis.
Religion is the postulating of human-like agency in the non-human world. Of course, how this agency is interpreted is very different in all religious traditions, but nonetheless this is the common denominator in all religion. Reality has an inherently personal aspect to it.
The postulating of human-like agency in the non-human world quite naturally leads to the idea that things in the world have purposes. Teleology follows naturally from religion.
Teleology is the basis for any specifically religious morality.
Teleology posits that things have inherent purposes. When those things are used in ways that contradict their purposes, they can be said to be out of place. This means that they are impure. This is what links religion to purity.
Gay sex, or at least gay male sex, violates both the simple “avoid dirt, feces, vomit, mucus, rotten meat” version of purity and the teleological version of purity. Add the violation of purpose to the disgust naturally aroused by any exchange of bodily fluids to the high importance we humans place on sexual matters and it is not at all surprising why gay male sex has aroused such strong negative feelings.
Doing unsanitary things is usually bad. However, from a Christian perspective, the violation of our purpose is the more important of
A few thoughts on the relationship of purity to the other moral foundations:
1. All immoral actions posit to some degree, things being out of place, at least metaphorically. Hence, even violations of the the liberal moral foundations of harm and fairness will, to some degree, be taken as violations of the purity foundation as well. Similarly, contaminants that can be validated by science or by scientific sounding jargon, like pollution or ‘toxins’, will more easily be accepted as a legitimate part of the liberal moral system.
2. Both the purity foundation and the authority foundation share the idea that everything has it’s place. Since under our (apparently inherent) metaphoric way of thinking up will be tend to be classified as pure, higher classes of things and people will tend to be thought of as more pure.
2. Both the purity foundation and the loyalty foundation posit a barrier over which things should not cross. This makes it easy to portray the ingroup as pure and the outgroup as contaminating. This may have some basis in the, completely true, idea that outgroups may be carriers of strange diseases.
*As opposed to rhetoric.
Thanks for the thoughtful reflections!
There are a couple of other things going on within the realm of ‘purity’, I think. The first that comes to mind is the sanctity of ‘holy matrimony’. It isn’t so much what homosexual relations represent in and of themselves as what they represent relative to marriage. Marriage is closely connected with the image of God in Scripture. It is the joining together of the two halves of the human race in a manner that represents humanity in nuce, much as it did in Eden. It is a union that receives a particular blessing by God. Homosexual relations are seen as a sort of parodic violation of the honourable and undefiled marriage bed. It is seen as a distorted vision of humanity and falls into the category of the ‘monstrous’.
The second that comes to mind is the integrity of homosocial bonds. Just as the taboo on incest protects the integrity of family bonds, so the taboo on homosexual relations enables persons of the same sex to enjoy very close and intimate relations that are protected from sexualization. Where homosexual relations cease to be taboo, there is a blurring of the lines between sexual and non-sexual relations in one’s relationships with members of one’s own sex and the dynamics of such relationships start to shift.
RE: homosocial bonds, I recently had a conversation with a celibate gay friend wherein he explained his frustrations surrounding this very thing. He described his strong desire to share in what he perceived as “normal” heterosexual male-male intimacy and his frustration that he has had to pass through a conscious sexual evaluation of every close male friend he has ever had. He also discussed the difficulties of his friendships with heterosexual married men, in that his tendency is to feel a closer platonic bond with the wife in most couples, but that his physical sex precludes that sort of depth of relationship with the wife on a few levels: Such a relationship would create tension with the husband in the couple, even if the husband is aware of his sexual orientation, and it opens the door for the wife in the couple to have a sort of emotional affair with the gay friend, which is further complicated by the fact that her heterosexuality does not preclude the possibility of being drawn to the gay friend both emotionally *and* physically.
So yes, at least in my friend’s case, it seems to rather severely complicate things.
See also this open letter from McSweeney’s, which seems to not want to acknowledge that these kinds of complications could ever exist: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-open-letter-to-straight-men.
Reading through some entries Ed Feser’s blog again reminds me of why so many people take offense at classical theism: the terminology and the way classical theists phrase things seems almost calculated to alienate people.
For example, Ed Feser can say something like “God loves us in the sense that he wills our good.” Well, who wants to worship that? A being who cannot feel love is inherently less than us. The proper response is I think to point out that God feels love for use intensely, in a way that makes our own feelings nothing but a pale analogy, but that his love is always what he has sovereignly chosen, and that it never contradicts or overwhelms his reason. In fact, if we believe in divine simplicity, his emotions are his reason. I suspect that there are few classical theists who would ultimately deny any of this, but they always seem to find a way to phrase things in the most creepy and bloodless manner possible.
Or Feser can say something like “Classical theism makes God intelligible.” Now, having thought about the arguments, I now know what that means: God can understand God. But what that sounds like to someone coming fresh to the jargon is that Thomist philosophy has given God a proper dissecting, and now we know all that is important about him.
Derek Rishmawy shows how it should be done.
Why project our experience of ‘feeling love’ as we do onto God, such that, if God doesn’t feel love in the same way we do, He is less than us?
I fail to see why anyone would (or should) love and worship a God who was all will and reason. As I said, bloodless and creepy.
I’m not really sure what that has to do with my question…
Well, Israel does claim her husband’s love–the flame of the Lord–is strong as death and his jealousy (cf Ex 34:14) fierce as the grave; and that not even the waters of the Flood can drown his love. The imagery there is of extremely passionate love.
Read Chauvet’s The Sacraments: The WOrd of God at the Mercy of the Body. Along with Zizioulas’s Being as Communion, I think some of their concepts–particularly Chauvet’s notion of sacraments as part of a larger symbolic structure of Christianity and Zizioulas’s linkage of person, eucharist and church can provide potential foundations for a more robust believers’ church ecclesiology. i need to read Miroslav Volf’s After Our Likeness, as he interacts with Zizioulas intensively. My frustration with the shallowness of much Reformed Baptist ecclesiology and scarmanetal theology remains; I love many Christian traditions, but am growing weary of perpetually needing to draw on those outside my own for theological sustenance in this area.
My response to this article in your Delicious feed.
So what if liberal Protestants kept their open-minded, tolerant theology, but started being strict about it – kicking people out for not showing up, or for not volunteering enough?
1. The question you have to ask is: what is your community about? You can’t have a community be about community. If you want a strong religious community it has to primarily be about religion. People have to come for religious reasons. It has to be strict about religion.
Religion is about personality, and by extension purpose, in the non-human parts of world. This means that religious people tend to have a teleological morality, one based primarily on purpose rather than subjective happiness and suffering. That often means a morality that is focused on purity and sexual issues. So, religious intuitions lead to teleological ethics, which means that the core of people attracted to religious organizations will dedicated to teleological ethics. People devoted to more liberal morality (harm and fairness) will tend to be more secular and less likely to be a part of a religious institution. So, a conservative morality is the natural morality for a religious organization to rally round and be strict about.
A further problem is that the religious intuition –> teleology arrow of causation, also works in reverse. So, enforcing a morality that says purpose in nature is non-existent or unimportant tends to (obviously) weaken one’s sense of purpose in nature, which in turn weakens ones sense of personality in the world, i.e. your religious sense. Weakening your religious sense obviously means weakening your reasons for being involved in a specifically religious institution.
Is it any wonder that progressive churches are in decline? They have no specifically religious morality.
2. Conservatives are just more comfortable about cracking the whip. For a community to last, it has to be primarily based on love, on some positive purpose, but on occasion it will have to punish free riders and those who would subvert the organization.
3. If progressives were to actually get serious about kicking out people who didn’t tow the line on their progressive morality, they’d end up kicking out the most religious and committed people in their organizations. More than half the money for the progressive Anglican diocese comes from two conservative Evangelical congregations. The progressives have to tolerate them.
Frank the Hippie Pope
Wow, does this article from your Delicious ever have an insane amount of spin. What’s a bit shocking is that it comes from the usually quite good William Saletan.
For example, the Plantinga quote, which referred to changing attitudes among the general public, was used to say that there has been a change in attitudes among theologically conservative churchgoers.
Now people who are used to be theological conservatives do change their mind on this issue, but they also usually leave the church, or at least become much less attached to it. That’s always been the problem with liberal religion. Dump teleology and your half way to dumping God.
I suspect we’re going to see a lot of these articles about how the most vibrant religious communities will embrace (monogamous) gay sex Real Soon Now. Just like there have been articles for 30 years now on how Evangelicals are just on the cusp of switching to the Democrats.
Part of this too is a way for people who don’t want to persecute Christians over gay issues to give themselves cover. “Those Evangelicals are coming around anyway.”
There were a number of things about that article that made me raise an eyebrow. The (supposedly) positive ‘slippery slope’ that it presents isn’t very convincing. Theological conservatives aren’t going to change their minds on this issue without jettisoning much that makes them theologically conservative in the first place. There is also much room for conservative positions to be moderated, without them being fundamentally changed. My position has definitely moderated on a number of fronts on these issues over the last few years, but, if anything, my commitment to the deeper principles that creates the key divisions has significantly strengthened.
Leithart comments on the piece here.
Leithart is wrong. There will not be significant pressure from within the Evangelical world. I have no doubt we will lose some Evangelical institutions over this issue, but they will become as moribund as the mainline are now.
Acceptance of gay sex, even monogamous, is strong evidence that you’ve already made a significant shift towards a mechanistic, non-teleological view of the world. Since teleology and God are strongly linked, that means your faith in God has already been weakened significantly. Even worse, the causality also goes the other way: strong inculcation of a utilitiarian based morality trains you not to see purpose in the world, and hence not to see God there. It is a deeply poisonous mix for any religious institution, or religious individual and no institution that accepts it will ever thrive.
What will happen:
1. Some Evangelical churches and other institutions will affirm monogamous gay sex. They will also go into rapid decline.
2. A lot of borderline believers will leave the church over this. Most of them will neither move to affirming Evangelical churches nor join the mainline.
1. The record for liberal churches is horrifically awful. Liberals simply can’t hold institutions together. They a. don’t have the loyalty, and b. don’t have the comfort with authority necessary to build strong institutions on their own. I’d point to this Rachel Held Evans post where a liberal congregation in the Missionary Alliance collapsed for absolutely no good reason. At the prospect of separate existence from their denomination, they just . . . gave up.
2. The idea that churches are going to affirm gay sex while holding absolutely firm on all key doctrines, like the trinity et al., is risible. The kind of hermeunetic you need to get to affirmation of gay sex leaves the door wide open to all kinds of wild interpretations on absolutely everything and there is no principled way to object to them.
Leithart uncritically adopts Saletan’s misreading of C. Plantinga.
More interesting is Evangelical movement towards acceptance of some form of theistic evolution. In some ways acceptance of gay sex is very is comparable to acceptance of theistic evolution.
1. Evolution is also associated, with some reason, with a mechanistic view of the world. As such, acceptance of evolution can be evidence of shift away from a personal and teleological view of the world towards a more mechanistic view. Even I as someone who accepts theistic evolution am a bit suspicious of others who do so. It isn’t surprising that most liberal Evangelicals affirm some form of theistic evolution.
2. On the other hand, the evidence for evolution is so strong that even some quite conservative people, like Tim Keller, have been cautiously affirming, and some surprising others, like John Piper, have wavered a little bit. Hence, I do suspect that theistic evolution is well on its way to becoming an acceptable option for Evangelicals, even if it may never reach majority status among the common believer.
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