This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Is Atheisim even Possible?

I was reflecting this morning, while cooking my breakfast, about whether atheism is truly possible, at least a philosophicly examined form. Frequent readers (if there are any) may recall that a bit more than a year ago, I reviewed Daniel C. Dennett's Breaking the Spell. At the time, I noted that Dr. Dennett believed in love as his ultimate human value. Dr. Dennett is also a philosopher, which translates into a lover of wisdom. I am sure he like beauty too.

Readers of my book, Musings from the Christian Left may recognize that in my chapter on "How Christians Understand God" I relate that in Thomistic thought, Truth is identified as the Word of God, the Son and Love is identified as Holy Spirit, Perfection a.k.a. Beauty, is the Father.

It seems that Dr. Dennett and I are not so far apart, at least on the level of ideals.

There may be some difference, or may not be, as to our understanding of the existence of Love. I believe Love is a personified entity - however, that entity exists outside of time, although She acts within time. Is Love just a meme to Dr. Dennett or does the idea have its own existence. Put another way, do the concepts of love, truth and beauty have some existence outside of their speaking? Spiritualists believe they do although it may be a distinction without a difference since we can only experience these concepts through our experience of the world, which is entirely in time and space and entirely using language.

What is love anyway? There are many definitions. Let me try this one on for size. Love is the desire for good for oneself or another. The more one extends love to others, the more loving one is. Dennett, Hitchens and Dawkins - the modern atheist writers who the Christian Right love to hate (although in their analysis, I fail to see how they really land any blows effectively on Dennett other than by association) seem to me to base their analysis on the premisis that organized religion is not good for people. In order to make that stand, of course, one must love people. To believe that it is bad or wrong for the purveyors of organized religion to lie to people for their own gain is to take a stand for both Truth, Love and Beauty. Even if they are not professing Christianity, they are ontologically Christian, meaning they are being what Jesus said is a good thing to be - loving toward others. In the parable of the disobedient and obedient sons, one son agreed to obey his father and did not, while one resisted but eventually obeyed - doing his father's work.

It's like that with atheists. Examining life is dangerous ground. Once love and life are examined it is hard not to adopt some type of alturism that has one "be" Christian, even if one does not profess it.

The only truly evil people are the sociopaths who do not examine the question, but act from purely selfish motives in all they do. These people are not atheists (some even are professed believers). They are pathological (or if you prefer, evil). You don't find these people in philosophy courses.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Letter to the Speaker

Madame Speaker,

Like you, I went to Catholic college (Loras College, 1984) and took Ethics Class (I was pre-law, so it was required). When we discussed protecting innocent life, we asked the professor about whether life began at conception. In context, he was hardly a Vatican II left-winger (the school was a minor seminary, so he could not be). What he said was that, because of twinning, life could not begin until 8 days after conception. Before that point, there is no uncertainty so it need not be protected under Aristotelean ethics. The principle is, if there is doubt, an individual must not act to put life at risk. (By the way, Genetics texts agree that Gastrulation, which occurs after implantation, is the real begining of life, as it is the first point where the genes of both parents control the development of the child - before that you can slice and dice a blastocyst to get multiple children and you can have a non-human to human hybrid grow and develop).

This principle may absolutely be extended to the question of birth control, but cannot be used on the abortion issue. Under Aristotelian ethics, where the higher rules the lower, ensoulment likely occurs at gastrulation as the soul guides the development of the body. As a Catholic and an individual (but not as Speaker) you must believe in the existence of a dualistic soul - which is why the Bishops are so hot on the issue, as if the soul is developmental (meaning its existence is tied to the development of the brain) then there is really no such thing as an immortal soul. This puts the whole question of religion at risk, so they cannot budge on the abortion question.
As Speaker, you have a different set of responsibilities - the development of sound law and public policy. I campaigned for Jim Moran to get you as Speaker, so I trust your judgment, including your judgement on morals. I would suspect that part of your well formed Catholic conscience includes protecting women from back alley and self-induced abortions. It likely also includes protecting the constitutional order - especially federal supremacy on civil rights law (which overturning Roe would put at risk).

As a mushy middle Catholic, who dislikes abortion, does not consider it a civil right or a boon to women BUT who also disagrees with the bad public policy of making abortion illegal or even giving civil rights to the unborn prior to the development of the lungs, I urge you to be up front in defending the pro-choice position, or rather attacking the pro-life position, rather than falling back on any moral doubt about the status of the fetus (there isn't one) or any desire not to impose your will on non-Catholics (as I elected Moran and by extension you to impose your will on such issues as tax policy and the war in Iraq).

I have more on this, including quite a bit on my blog at xianleft.blogspot.com.
Best wishes,
Mike