Saturday 30 November 2013

Could there be a link?

There were two reports published this week on aspects of human sexuality in Britain.

One of them recorded the continuing drift towards a liberal permissive approach: the researchers reporting that both men and women were having more sexual partners on average, and so on.

The second was about the shocking levels of abuse of children by children.

John Humphrys on the Today programme raised the question, almost dismissing it as too silly to ask, as to whether there could be any link between the two sets of data.

The researcher being interviewed was equally dismissive of the idea, saying that her research (on adult attitudes and behaviours) was really reporting simple common sense things, like the easing of attitudes towards divorce, homosexual behaviour and so on.

I disagree.  I think there is a link.

Further, I think that fact that Humphrys and his interviewee dismissed the idea as almost risible is part of the problem.

The current ideology is that:
  • Consenting adults may do just as they please, and it is nobody else's business;
  • As long as no harm is done, people may pursue whatever sexual pleasures they wish;
And… err… that's it.

That is clearly pretty incoherent as a philosophy.

Neither of those assumptions stands up to scrutiny.  Both 'consent' and 'adult' are terms that could usefully be interrogated; as could the notion that consent is the only criterion for moral sexual behaviour.

But it is the second assumption that I think is the more dangerous.

As long as no harm is done…

But how do we judge? My thesis is that the second report, of children abusing children, shows that harm is being done.  It is being done because we have lost the foundational truths of human sexual behaviour: that it is ordered towards reproduction and faithful monogamous relationships between one man and one woman; that we find this difficult, and therefore virtues like modesty are important to cultivate, as are societal attitudes that approve of marriage and child-bearing, and disapprove of extra-marital sex.

Thus, on my understanding, any sexual behaviour outside married love, open to children, does harm.

Contraception, masturbation, pornography, adultery, fornication, and every other aberrant behaviour all contribute to a society in which our children will grow up so disturbed, confused and miseducated that they turn on each other.

Can I prove that? No.

I interpret the evidence according to my pre-existing beliefs.  But precisely the same is true of those who would argue that I am wrong.  Can they prove there is no link between the two sets of data?  No: but their pre-existing beliefs preclude that conclusion.

Mine are based on the wisdom of centuries and above all the teachings of Christ and his Church.  What theirs are based on is rather harder to discern, but their beliefs have no objective superiority to mine.

And whilst neither may be provable, ultimately, mine at least have a good predictive track record, unlike theirs.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Rowan Williams on C S Lewis

The fourth and final speaker at last Saturday's Lewis Lectures was Lord Williams of Oystermmouth, the Master of Magdalene (Cambridge) and one-time head of the Anglican Communion. His topic was C S Lewis and Fairy Tales for Adults.

I was not sure what to expect here: to be honest, I had been no fan of his as head of the Anglicans, but I had heard that he was a very good scholar. And so he proved to be.

He delivered an excellent lecture, both in terms of content and delivery. Given it was the final talk in a long afternoon (c.4.30 - 5..20, when we started at 1.30), it is a testament to his skill that he engaged us throughout.

He started by taking an observation from Lewis' Preface to Paradise Lost: how Adam's conversation differs from Satan's.  Adam's conversation is about everything; Satan's, ultimately, is always about himself.  Becoming too interested in ourselves (in a certain sense) is a moral hazard.  From this, he developed his thesis: that salutary literature and thought is always going to check the headlong career of self-absorption.

On the basis of that analysis, Fairy Tales perform well: they are a check on that tendency, relating to a world that is not ours. And that is part of their importance to the young.

Williams went on to refer to one of Lewis' essays (I think) with which I am not familiar (or don't remember), in which he describes three different ways of writing for the young.  A key point here was that to grow up is to able to see oneself afresh.

The Fairy Tale was contrasted with the School Story, particularly with regard to the types of longings they arouse, and how they deal with them. School Stories flatter the ego of the reader (of course, I could/should be the hero) and also leave the aroused desire finally unsatisfied (because I am not). Whereas Fairy Tales have a different dynamic: we don't aspire to be the heroes of them in the same way, as they are fantasy - quite removed from our reality. And they are intrinsically satisfying: they do not leave a legacy of unfulfilled desire in the same way.

Williams (and, if I recall correctly, Lewis) was quick to say that did not mean that Fairy Tales were morally better than School Stories; it was an observation about one of the differences between them. (Indeed from my understanding of Lewis, he would be more likely to have advocated the reading of both, rather than sticking to a diet of one kind or the other).

But Fairy Tale has the particular potential to make us see the spiritual and moral world anew; and that is  what Lewis often sought to do in his own writing, whether in The Screwtape Letters or the Narnia stories.

In this sense, Science Fiction (or some manifestations of it) is very close to the Fairy Tale.  Lewis' trilogy provides a device, particularly in Out of the Silent Planet, by which we can see the whole human race from the outside. (WIlliams also referred to Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos here, a book which I have not read, but now plan to buy).  Till We Have Faces is similarly about an individual, Orual, and her stories of herself, and the showing of faces she didn't know that she had...

One of the perspectives underpinning all of this is the realisation that what we do, think and want is a very small part of a very rich and complex environment, but our perspective risks making it seem quite otherwise.

Realistic fiction, on this view, always runs the risks attendant on our identifying too closely with the characters.  That is not to say that Lewis did not like it: he loved Tolstoy and George Eliot for example. But the risk is ever-present.

Williams also considered the very different anthropology of Tolkien, which he characterised as marked by the Norse sense of man confronting the universe; heroic in that sense. Lewis sympathises with that (cf his comment in The Weight of Glory that 'you have never met an ordinary person') but is also keenly aware of the danger of regarding oneself as heroic, as evidenced by those in The Great Divorce who think they are heroes.

A key difference between Tolkien and Lewis, in Williams' view, is that Lewis is aware of the ironic nature of human stories.  Our stories will always end up seeming ridiculous. Reepicheep exemplifies this: he is a hero, but not the kind of hero he aspires to be. We become better by not attending to ourselves and our concerns: sublime not knowing is where wisdom begins - and is fraught with possibilities of irony and comedy.

In summary, Fairy Tales are good for adults (particularly those who think that they have grown out of them) because they can reawaken perceptions we had once but have had trained out of us: to 'become like little children…'

Of all the four talks, perhaps this was the one that made me think most about Lewis' writing in a new way, and for that alone, I am very grateful.

Monday 25 November 2013

Michael Piret on C S Lewis

The third of Saturday's talks on Lewis was by Michael Piret. Piret is possibly the least well-known of the four speakers (for the previous two, see here and here. My account of the fourth, Lord Williams of Oystermouth [Rowan Williams] will follow).  Piret is the current Dean of Divinity at Magdalen (that is, the Chaplain) and his topic was Lewis the Bald - A Five Act Drama.

Both Mrs T and I assumed that was a typo on the programme, and was meant to be Lewis the Bold; but we were both mistaken.  For the really exciting thing we learned in this talk was that there is a previously unknown work by Lewis that exists only in manuscript in the archives of Magdalen College.

Apparently, for many years, the Vice President of the College has kept an official register. In former times (up until around 1920) this was in Latin, and was an official record of College business: who had been elected to fellowships, taken degrees and so forth. 

Then it was realised that this was simply duplicating what was readily available elsewhere, and was somewhat pointless. So a new custom arose, of writing it in English, and recording things of a more informal nature, which might be of interest to future readers.

There was a brief return to Latin, but from about 1925, the register is in English, and is a prose summary of various interesting bit of college news.

However, when he was Vice President, Lewis wrote a five act drama instead.  This play features real College characters, not very heavily disguised; however, only Lewis and two servants retain their real names.  Other characters are given names which amused Lewis for various reasons - and his successor as Vice President, has helpfully pencilled in the initials of all the real names of the dramatis personae.

I cannot give an account of the play here, as we were asked to turn off any recording devices, and I took that to mean that this part of the afternoon was confidential. I surmise that Magdalen intends to publish the work at some stage, and reasonably enough does not want anyone to steal their thunder.

However, it became very clear that Lewis was not a success in the role of Vice President. It was customary to elect the next most senior person who had not held the role to the job for a year, and then re-elect him for a further year.  Lewis was not re-elected. In later years, when asked to stand for a similar administrative role, he said that anyone who had worked with him in such a capacity would never want to do so again, as he was both 'meddlesome and forgetful.' Many memoirs of the time recall his failure to get details (times, places and purposes of meetings, for example) correct, and his lack of interest in the daily workings of the role, such as answering official correspondence (whereas he was punctilious with regard to unsolicited private correspondence, as his Letters testify).

There's not much more I can say about this talk, except that it was very enjoyable and well delivered - and that the prospect of a previously unknown work of Lewis' (albeit a fairly frivolous one about a fairly dull period in his life) is an exciting one: certainly the extracts to which we were treated were admirably entertaining.

New Pastoral Marriage Vows in Germany

Pastorally sensitive Catholics across the world have rejoiced at the new Pastorally Realistic wedding vows being proposed by the enlightened German bishops.

The new version goes: 'Do you X take Y here present to be your lawful wedded spouse?... For better, for richer, in health; till death (or divorce) do you part?'

These are truly vows for our times: so that nobody need feel any negative feelings (such as guilt) should they need to move on from their marriage and try again with someone else.

Hardliners, of course, are in uproar.  One said: 'It is not we, but Christ, who said: 'what God has joined together, let not man put asunder,' and likewise 'whoever leaves his wife and takes another commits adultery.'

But the German bishops know better.


We are not quite there yet, but the reasons for the exclusion of those who have attempted a second 'marriage' whilst still married to someone else are precisely the same.  Marriage is a true and irrevocable spiritual bond; when either party promises 'for better or for worse, for richer of for poorer, in sickness or in health, till death…' he or she is not making that promise to the other person, solely, but also to God, and to the whole community.

For better or for worse means, inter alia, even if my spouse turns out to be unreasonable, adulterous and ultimately deserts me.  That is the point of the vow.

Of course there are situations which are grossly unjust; where somebody is betrayed by a spouse and left abandoned. But that is part of what they promised at their wedding; and further there are many who work out their salvation in just such tragic situations by being faithful to their promise: and we can be sure that God will reward them fully.

But to suggest that those already married can contract new marriages while their spouse is still living is against the clear teaching of Scripture, of Tradition, and of the Magisterium; it is also against the interests of society and above all of children: let those who doubt look about them!

Sunday 24 November 2013

Walter Hooper on C S Lewis

The second lecture in the series on C S Lewis yesterday was delivered by Walter Hooper (for the first, and a little background, see here).  His topic was Memories of C S Lewis.

It is fair to say that Walter Hooper is a Lewis fan; in fact, he loved Lewis with great affection and devotion.  That came through every word of his talk.

He started by describing his first encounter with Lewis' writing (his Introduction to Letters to Young Churches) and the impact that had on him.  Then he got a friendly bookseller to send him everything that crossed his shelf by Lewis, and read them in the order they arrived; an eclectic order, but one which introduced him to the breadth of Lewis' thinking and writing.

He talked about taking Miracles with him into the army, and how it held his attention right through military training, being whipped out and read in bunkers and in the midst of learning to fire artillery, and so on.  What really struck him was how profoundly Lewis believed in the truths of the faith he was proclaiming.

He remarked that many people, reading the many genres in which Lewis wrote, seem to see him almost as different men; but Hooper's perspective, due in part to reading his books in such a random order, was that he was one man with many geniuses.  He also recalled meeting Bob Jones, the famous preacher, at that time, and asking him what he thought of Lewis. 'That man… that man smokes a pipe…; that man drinks liquor….; But I do believe he is a Christian.'

He then recalled his first meeting with Lewis: he had started to write an academic book on him ('fortunately, never finished…') and wrote to him.  He was invited to The Kilns, and remembers his surprise at Lewis' accent.  He had always read him in an American one (Hooper's accent is actually a lovely soft Southern lilt).

He arrived at tea time, and discovered Lewis to be a monumental tea-drinker. Eventually he needed the loo, but being American, asked for the bathroom. Lewis showed him to the bathroom (which was devoid of a lavatory) and gave him towels and soap, asking, as he left him there, if he had all he needed for a comfortable bath.  Hooper had to summon up his courage to descend to the drawing room, and explain what he really needed.  Lewis laughed uproariously and told him that would teach him not to use euphemisms.

On leaving, he was invited to the Inklings meeting the following Monday at the Lamb and Flag (this was when Lewis had accepted the job at Cambridge, returning to Oxford for the weekend, and staying on on Mondays for this important commitment).  There, he said, Lewis did little talking, but threw things around for others to comment on: 'he brought out the best in you; you were your best in his company.  He was the cause of wit in other men.'

Hooper mentioned that he said to Lewis that he struggled to remember that Lewis had ever been married and Lewis responded: 'I've always been a bachelor at heart.' Hooper, understandably didn't feel that he should criticise Lewis' late wife, but Lewis pressed him on her views of Southern (US) Men, until he had to say he disagreed.  He felt dreadful, but Lewis was delighted.  He saw the purpose of conversation as being to argue towards truth, and loved rational opposition (though he hated to lose an argument).

His conversation was always bracing, it was always 'about something; arguing with Lewis was like entering a beauty contest. You had to be ready to be told you were ugly.'

In his work as Lewis' private secretary, Hooper came to find out about the Agape fund; for many years, Lewis had put all the money from his writing and broadcasting into this fund, and it was distributed anonymously to people in need, particularly to widows and orphans.

He was happy to talk about his own books if pressed, but only because they were a topic of mutual interest.  He took the same approach to discussing them as to discussing any other book. But Hooper learned, for example, that Puddleglum was modelled on Lewis' gardener.  For example, when Lewis was taking Joy (who was very ill) to Greece, this gardener said, as the taxi arrived to take them to the airport: "I just heard on the wireless: an airplane had just come down. Everybody on it was killed, Mr Jack. Every one of them: bodies burned beyond recognition. Every single one of them, Mr Jack. Good bye."

Hooper was so given to quoting Lewis, that between them the phrase 'As C S Lewis has said…' became something of a joke. If Lewis wanted a cup of tea, he might say: 'As C S Lewis has said, it is time for some tea. And as C S Lewis has said, you are going to make it.'

He also recalled a story about the young Jack.  When his father was planning a family holiday in France, in 1907 (so Lewis would have been about 8) Jack marched into his father's study: 'I have a prejudice against the French!' 'Why is that?' his father asked. 'If I knew why, it wouldn't be a prejudice!'  So his critical appreciation of language was evident from an early age. And as Hooper pointed out, it is hard to find a better definition of prejudice.

Listening to Walter Hooper for an hour was a great privilege.  His recollections were both entertaining and thought provoking, and I left feeling I understood Lewis just a little more; and glad that I had met someone who knew and loved him so well.

Alistair McGrath on C S Lewis

Yesterday, Mrs T and I were privileged to go to an afternoon of lectures on C S Lewis in Oxford.  The Lectures were in the Grove Auditorium, Magdalen; I was pleased to see inside, as this was built only recently, in a style known as Magdalen Vernacular.  I had previously admired it from outside, as sitting well with the College architecturally, and the inside was also good, including acoustically.

There were four lectures, each very different, and each very good.

The first was by Alistair McGrath, on the relationship between Lewis and Magdalen. In terms of this relationship, one of the key points he made was the importance to Lewis of the interdisciplinary nature of Oxford College life: how the Fellows of all disciplines would eat together every day, and get to know and understand something of each others' disciplines.  He cited as an example, the nobel-prize winning Peter Meadowar, who was a Fellow at the same time, and possible links in the thinking between the two.

Magdalen was also the place where Lewis learned and refined his skills as a lecturer: he resolved truly to engage with undergraduates, and to memorise his lectures as an aid to this.  These skills led not only to his drawing large crowds to his lectures (unlike, say, Tolkien, who apparently mumbled his way through his…) but were also foundational in securing his broadcasting career with the BBC, and his lecturing beyond academe (eg round the airbases of the country for the RAF during the War).

One of his other strengths developed at this time, presumably at least in part in the Magdalen SCR, was his ability to bring sharp minds together, and get the best out of all of them.  That was very much the ethos of the Inklings, the informal grouping of friends who met both in the Eagle and Child (and later the Lamb and Flag) and in Lewis' rooms in New Buildings to discuss their writing (among other things).

It was not all easy: after the War, Lewis was less happy at Oxford. He was criticised for writing popular rather than academic books (and Christian ones at that). He responded by producing several academic books that have stood the test of time: his Preface to Paradise Lost, the Allegory of Love, and his History of English Literature.

He was also (with Tolkien) on the losing side of an argument in the Faculty about including more modern English texts in the Literature syllabus.  I had not realised that English Language and Literature were such new disciplines at Oxford; indeed, that seems to be (at least in part) why Lewis went into the field: he had originally studied Classics but failed to find an appointment.  English was seen as the new growth area, so he studied for a degree in that too, eventually landing the new Fellowship in English Language and Literature at Magdalen.

It was in his rooms at Magdalen, of course, that he famously first discovered belief in God, and then a little later, in Christianity.

Alistair McGrath explained all this, and much more (such as Lewis' problem with games and typing: his thumbs), in an engaging and erudite way, and also took questions at the end, such as what was the problem between Betjeman and Lewis? and what accounts for Lewis' popularity in the USA? All in all, an excellent start to the afternoon.  He was followed by Walter Hooper, whose talk I will blog about in due course.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Memories of CS Lewis

I have been reading various pieces about C S Lewis, honouring the anniversary of his death, and thought I'd add my ha'porth.

I don't remember him myself, as I was only a babe when he died, and we never met; but my late mother attended his lectures in Oxford, and became good friends (as a result) with Charles Williams.

What she said about Lewis was firstly that you could always tell when he was lecturing (which he did in Magdalen Hall) because the pavement outside Magdalen would be four or five bikes deep for a hundred yards or so.  He was by all accounts an outstanding lecturer, and undergraduates loved to hear him.

Another thing she said was that he was an excellent teacher (which is not always the same thing). Infinitely patient with even the simplest question: and keen to lead any student on from a very basic question to a rich and profound understanding of the matter at hand.

There has been a lot of speculation about whether he would have converted to Catholicism had he lived longer.  Walter Hooper clearly believes that he would have done so, others believe he would not.  They cite what is sometimes referred to as his tribal Northern Irish protestantism that hated the Catholic Church.

My mother's view was different.  She said that whilst, as noted above, he was infinitely patient with even the most basic question, there was one exception.  That was when people asked whether he would convert to Catholicism.  That question he gave short shrift - but the drift of his answer was always the same: that he (and the Church of England) was part of the Catholic Church. Thus he saw no need to convert.

My own hunch, for what it's worth, is that as the CofE drifted inexorably away from its tradition he would have found that notion challenged, and that the ordination of women would have been the last straw and prompted him to convert (had he not done so previously). But that, of course, is mere speculation.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Dig deep for the Philippines

Those wanting to give to support people in the Philippines, but wanting to avoid CAFOD and other DEC organisations, due to their various problems (from a Catholic perspective),  do have some other options.  

One is to give directly to Caritas Manila, which you can do via their www site here

Another way is via Aid to the Church in Need.  

Sometimes people think that ACN is not an appropriate recipient in these instances, so I encourage you to read what they have to say:

Aid to the Church in Need is giving emergency help for those affected by the typhoon in the Philippines.

We are committed to providing €100,000 which is being channelled through the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. But we desperately need your help as requests for support come in.

Typhoon Haiyan has left more than 673,000 people displaced. The bishops tell us that your help will assist people affected in the areas of greatest need, providing food, clean water, shelter and basic medicine.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez who is coordinating the Bishops’ aid programme told us about people’s pressing needs following the disaster.  

Fr. Edwin said: “Of course the most important needs by the affected communities are food and water. There were reports of looting in the province of Leyte because people are so desperate. There were also reports that the number of dead is increasing.  We are trying to reach areas, which are not mentioned in the media, but we are receiving information from the ground, particularly from parishes from the affected dioceses.

“So many people are crying for help but the magnitude of the calamity is so huge that even the government finds it difficult to reach out all those who are affected by this strong Super-Typhoon.” 

You can donate to ACN here

Praying for the Dead

It is November, the month in which we traditionally pray especially for the Dead.

We should, of course, pray for them on a daily basis (just as we don't wait till May to pray to our Blesed Mother) but in her wisdom the Church recognises the value of having a particular time for especial prayer.

Purgatory, and the accompanying desire, need and duty to pray for the dead, are distinctively Catholic (though finding their roots in Jewish belief, as does so much of our Faith, particularly in the Second Book of Macchabees).

I have long thought that one of the best expressions of Purgatory is in Blessed John Henry Newman's Dream of Gerontius.  Here the soul, on meeting God face to face responds: 'Take me away!' He recognises that he is unworthy - unable even - to stay in the Divine Presence in his present state and needs to undergo painful transformation; and of course longs to do so.

Elgar set this to music in the most wonderful fashion: first the orchestra suggests the final approach to the Throne, and then the awful moment of standing in the Presence of God.  Then Gerontius responds.

Take me away, and in the lowest deep
There let me be, 
And there in hope the lone night-watches keep,
Told out for me.
There, motionless and happy in my pain,
Lone, not forlorn,—
There will I sing my sad perpetual strain,
Until the morn.
There will I sing, and soothe my stricken breast,
Which ne'er can cease
To throb, and pine, and languish, till possest
Of its Sole Peace.
There will I sing my absent Lord and Love:—
Take me away,
That sooner I may rise, and go above,
And see Him in the truth of everlasting day.

The full text of The Dream of Gerontius is here; if you have never read the original source for the hymn Praise to the Holiest, you are in for a treat, including many verses you will never have seen.

Oh, and on that subject, Elgar does something very wonderful with that, too… (it starts about 1 minute in; don't skip to there, though, as the build up is well worth listening to as well).

(Never let it be said I only like ancient music, with words in Latin!)

Sunday 10 November 2013

Determined to be free...

I listened to a fascinating edition of In Our Time the other day, on Free Will.  It was first broadcast some time ago, I think but I subscribe to the Podcast, and listened to it on a journey just recently.

It seemed to me that the academics discussing it got themselves into something of a bind; particularly when trying to distinguish between fatalism and determinism.  The argument seemed to be that if you were fatalistic, it didn't matter what he did Oedipus was always going to end up killing his father and marrying his mother; whereas, in a deterministic world, his behaviours (over which he had no choice) were always going to lead to that outcome.  I found that a very nice (in the more technical sense) distinction.

In fact, as one of them pointed out, a thorough-going determinism, lets even Hitler off the hook: if he has no free will, then he cannot be blamed for his actions, as they were the result of everything else, and ultimately were determined at (or before) the time of the Big Bang.

Such a thought naturally repels us: it means that anything and everything we do is devoid of any moral content; that it is equally irrational to be grateful or angry in response to someone else's behaviour (as they were bound to behave in that way); that education, training, formation - and indeed planning or even discussing such issues is pointless (though we will still do those things if it is already determined that we will) and so on.

But the fact that it repels us is not, ipso facto, proof that it is wrong (though I will argue later that it is an indicator).

Likewise, the fact that we experience 'making decisions' does not mean that we do actually do so. There are well-documented cases of our being deluded about what we are actually doing; and in this instance, there are some fascinating experiments that demonstrate that a subject's motor-neurones are activated towards a course of action before the pre-frontal cortex is activated to make the relevant decision…  However, my view is that such experiments could equally demonstrate that we don't understand the brain (and still less the mind) as well as we think we do, as that we do not in fact decide in some sense that is meaningful.

In fact, the whole business is very complicated.  If one reflects on what one does, one can see that there is a whole spectrum. At one end are the autonomic processes (such as maintaining a heart beat, breathing) that we do not will at all. Moving along a bit are deep-rooted responses, some instinctive and some habitual, which may or may not seem mutable, such as the fight or flight response; then there are more superficial habits, which operate if we don't over-ride them, but which are relatively easy to over-ride, such as biting one's nails, or smiling on seeing a friend; and then there are the consciously willed decisions, such as making a cup of coffee, or deciding one has spent long enough on the internet and engaging with one's family.

Under determinism, these are a priori believed to be equally non-voluntary; the notion of choice is an illusion, and though we may think we are choosing, in fact we are always going to do whatever we end up doing.

But that, I think, is an example of physics over-stepping the mark and getting into metaphysics.

The fundamental point is that if we are to claim that we cannot prove free will (despite it being a universal experience, and being the basis on which civilisation is organised, and indeed being an illusion [if such it be] that is both necessary and impossible to shed), we can equally make the same claim about absolutely anything else - including the scientific method, or indeed our own perception of reality.

For we cannot get outside ourselves sufficiently to be able to prove empirically that we do exist and are not the febrile imaginings of some other being: a being whose imagination is so potent, that the creatures it imagines believe themselves to exist.  Likewise, we cannot prove empirically that the physical phenomena we observe bear any relation to an external reality, and are not the projections of a deranged mind.  Nor can we prove, empirically, that empirical proof is the only or most secure way to knowledge.

To put it in the positive, we can only think if we make some assumptions - such as that the process of thought has some validity; and even that we do, in fact, exist.

Once we do that, we can certainly tease out the implications of such assumptions, and test them to ensure that they are coherent and render a plausible account of whatever we are engaging with.  But to imagine that we can proceed 'scientifically' with no assumptions at all is simply deluded. 

The question that then arises is what assumptions we choose to make: and I am determined to choose to assume that I have free will...

Saturday 2 November 2013

All Soul's Day

Today is All Soul's Day.

Today - and for the whole of November - do not forget about indulgences. It is a great act of charity to speed souls through Purgatory, and I hope and pray people will do the same for me in due course.
All indulgences are subject to the usual conditions  (sacramental confession, holy Communion and prayers for the Holy Father's intentions).
Indulgenced Acts for the Holy Souls (h/t Catholic Culture)
A partial indulgence can be obtained by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed, even if the prayer is only mental. One can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a cemetery each day between November 1 and November 8. These indulgences are applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.
A plenary indulgence, again applicable only the Souls in Purgatory, is also granted when the faithful piously visit a church or a public oratory on November 2. In visiting the church or oratory, it is required that one Our Father and the Creed be recited.
A partial indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, can be obtained when the Eternal Rest (Requiem aeternam) is prayed. This can be prayed all year, but especially during the month of November.

This is the Introit for the Mass for the Dead in the Extraordinary Form.

Friday 1 November 2013

It's not working: let's do more of the same...

I was interested to read this article on anti-bullying programmes at MercatorNet.  I don't know enough about the background and the research to come to an informed view, but the thesis resonated with me.  As did Izzy Kalman's interesting analysis… done some years ago, about why anti-bullying programmes might not have the desired results.

To take the second point first, Kalman suggests that actions have consequences; and frequently they have unintended consequences, which undermine the outcomes intended by those taking the actions.  This is classic open systems stuff, about which I have blogged more than once (follow the label).

But the article caught my attention because of the phenomenon of research demonstrating that something isn't working - and the researchers concluding that we should therefore do more of it, to get the intended result.

That isn't necessarily an incorrect conclusion, but it is certainly open to question. Consider a drug such as aspirin: if one tablet doesn't stop a headache, a second tablet may be advisable; but not another twenty.  We really need to understand a little more about why it is not working to discover whether an increased dosage is the right solution.

But this finding and conclusion is of course identical with those relating to sex education for children.  And I suspect there is something else going on here.  

I am not, for a moment, impugning the academic integrity of the researchers; but I do think that Lewis' observation, which I have quoted before, comes into play:

It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.

So it seems to me that the researchers, understandably enough, start with a philosophical assumption in favour of education.

However, when interrogated, that assumption reveals its flaws. For the assumption at root is that bad behaviour (in this case bullying; in the other, sexual irresponsibility) is caused by ignorance. 

However, we know that ignorance is only one of the causes of sin. Therefore to seek to address all sinful behaviour by education alone is a flawed strategy.

I would go further, and say that in some arenas (certainly sexuality, and quite possibly bullying) education - in the form that is meant here, at any rate, is more likely to exacerbate the problem than to solve it. 

What is really needed on the supernatural level is grace; and on the natural level, character, which is formed by the practice of the virtues. Of course education has a role there too, but in a rather different sense.

All Saints' Day

Today is one of the great Feasts of the Church's year: the feast of All Saints.

We honour all those who have achieved their heavenly goal, known and particularly unknown; and we ask for their intercession as we, the Church militant, struggle on.

Here is Victoria's wonderful setting of O Quam Gloriosum Est:

O quam gloriosum est regnum,
in quo cum Christo gaudent omnes Sancti!
Amicti stolis albis,
sequuntur Agnum, quocumque ierit.

Oh, how glorious is the kingdom
in which all the saints rejoice with Christ!
Clad in robes of white,
they follow the Lamb wherever he may go.