Some differing views on Catholic apologetics

More recent Catholic critiques of Protestantism tend to favor a retorsive, logical approach: they equate Protestantism with Sola Scriptura and then argue that scripture never advances the doctrine. The argument needs to be supplemented, however, since at best it could only prove Protestantism false and not that Catholicism is true. The Catholics then usually argue for the positive value of  their sect by appealing to the idea of “Tradition”, which is either taken as a second pillar of authority along with scripture, or as containing scripture within itself (the claim being that the Apostles did more with their authority than just write and therefore handed over more authoritative things than just writings).

Tradition, however, is not all that clear of an idea, nor is it clear how one would go about separating the authoritative traditions from  others. Again, if texts can corrupt, traditions can corrupt even more so, which raises the possibility that Catholic traditions might be worse than simply non-authoritative – they might be positively evil or contrary to Apostolic intention.

An older Catholic critique approached the positive value of Catholicism from another angle. It did not speak of scripture as a mere part of the authoritative dispensation from the Apostles, but posited the authority of the Church as an arbiter that was necessary for scripture to speak with an authoritative voice. A dispute over scripture can only be meaningfully argued within a hermeneutical and exegetical context that allows for the disputants to resolve their dispute. Such set of hermeneutical rules can be compared to a referee in a game: he allows the disputes to be settled in a fair way so that cheating and mere appeals to brute force are ruled out.    Just as there is no meaning to “cheating” or “fair play” without a background context of rules and a referee, without a referee to arbitrate scriptural dispute, the dispute cannot be about truth.

Taken in this sense, the Church is not visualized as a keeper of tradition, as though it were adding to scripture a larger body of unwritten facts, but as an arbiter that sees its job as facilitating scripture in its proper work. It is the tangible reality that is allows for the meaningful expression of the tangible and supra-rational truths of scripture.

Religious experience as Christian apologetic

Mystical experience is fundamentally of transcendence

Therefore God, as known by mystical experience, is he who admits of nothing more transcendent.

But the Trinity alone admits of nothing more transcendent.

The development of religious/spiritual intuition

In most descriptions of religious or spiritual experience there is a disclaimer that the experience does not support any particular spiritual or religious system. Some even make the experience more general than theism or atheism.  One theist response to this would be to make the mystical experience itself the basis for a particular religious belief. William James, for example, takes the varieties and plurality of religious experience as an argument for polytheism, and he is followed in this by John Michael Greer. I think a better way to read the mystical experience – one that actually develops its mystical character – is that it can manifest the paradoxical character of the world whose fundamental existence is at once much more intrinsically valuable than appears in “normal” experience while at the same time deriving its whole value in its relation to another.

Say you see (don’t groan) the sunset or newborn or you fall in love (or whatever) and you suddenly see “there must be a God/something higher”. In this experience, the newborn becomes at once more real than anything in everyday experience, and yet is made more transparent than anything in everyday experience. It both bursts forward out of everydayness and yet becomes invisible and thus insubstantial. It is the masterpiece painting and, by the same reality, nothing but the frame.

The theological account of this is that it is an experience of transcendence, or, considered epistemically, of analogy. There is some intimation or suggestion of the mystical experience even in everyday judgments: sensation, for example, is both elevated far beyond its mere existence by intellection and yet, by the same act, made wholly instrumental and subordinate.

Forgive us our trespasses

Trespass, for us, enjoys a pretty narrow meaning: to steal onto another person’s land. Obviously, all sin can’t be understood as literally trespassing, but we could take it as the central image of sin, or the paradigm metaphor for it. So what account of sin would we get if we understood it in this way?

– Sin involves intruding on what was not one’s own. On this account, all moral objects or objects of the will are goods belonging to somebody (someone’s “land”) and sin consists in breaking into this sphere of another’s good.

– Sin is thus an attempt to possess a good that cannot be possessed – it is intrinsically alien to oneself, and we can only be “other” or outside of it. This has an obvious application in theft, murder, adultery, rape, and it extends in interesting ways to, say, fornication (to take what by right belongs only to a spouse) or lust/ coveting (to excite feelings that by right belong to another).

– Whatever can be an object of a good or evil will- which seems to be pretty much anything – is a good existing in relation to someone or some group. One thus finds another account of the convertibility of goodness and being. Said another way, we do not commit evil because there are evil things that we seek after, but only goods that are ordered to the care, use and enjoyment of others and not ourselves.

-There is a logical contradiction in imputing sin to one who possesses all by right.

– We can visualize trespassing either by imagining ourselves as the ones trespassing, or by imagining ourselves as the ones trespassed against.

-To imagine oneself trespassing evokes the electric panic/thrill of knowing that you’re someplace you don’t belong. Perhaps one experiences the panic/thrill because they feel themselves pushed onto the land; perhaps because they are going on it with a juvenile desire for the thrill itself (Augustine’s pear tree) or perhaps (like Caesar trespassing across the Rubicon) they approach the trespass solemnly and/or with resignation. But in any case there is that electric awareness of the significance of what one is doing, at least initially (though it can dull with repetition).

-To imagine another trespassing upon oneself gives one the sharpest experience of the violation and defilement involved in sin. In the  sharpest experiences of violation (burglary, robbery, and especially rape) the violation often comes with a sense of defilement, even when this defilement is seems utterly irrational. This is the uncleanness of sin – one paradigm case is the sense of uncleanness one gets upon finding out that someone has broken into ones house.

-Why do we trespass? One partial account that can at least make sense of the violation and defilement just spoken of is that, in trespassing, we want to possess what is another because we can enjoy it without having to care about it. We want to enjoy what is another’s since in doing so we can have the pure enjoyment and they can look after the thing, or the system that makes the thing possible. On this account, sin consists not so much in a desire to possess something as a desire to possess something without having to love it, give what is due to it, or have any regard for the system that makes it possible. To the extent that we can universalize this, we can have a new sense of moral ignorance – it is a dis-regard for things, or an absence of the sort of concern that must come with enjoyment. On this account, the emphasis in moral action is not so much the couplet of right/duty as it is the couplet of enjoyment and concern/love.


Notes on philosophy so far as it’s not science

– Philosophers make no “progress” and resolve no disputes because we don’t want to. To be more precise about it, we’re attached to a good that makes such progress impossible. The disputes are all insights into the fundamental principles, i.e. the logically axiomatic / achetypes/ Platonic forms / intuitive, or whatever they are.  What would I do with a total and absolute refutation of, say, Kantianism (or whatever)? I would still want to teach and study Kant for the for the amount of illumination that comes from the refutation.

-If science acted like philosophy, physics textbooks would spend extensive amounts of time detailing the accounts of geocentrism, natural place, the four elements, the causative power of the moist and dry, etc. The reason science doesn’t do so is not merely because these ideas are false, but because their refutation does not throw light on the subject.

-What would a philosopher do in the world of far-distant conclusions, in a world where the first things are crowded out for the sake of progress? What thrill could a scientist find in another dialectical twist of possibility in his first principle or in all the new ways of looking at a first stage of inquiry which crowd out the ability to lose oneself in the facts?

-Philosophy is self-reflective. Less flatteringly, it continually folds back in on itself and likes to do so. Science reflects on itself only when forced to at gunpoint.

-Progress in learning can mean two things: one can either take the first things for granted, move on, and return to them only in moments of crisis or revolution (science), or to live perpetually in that place of revolution.

-I become more and more convinced that the difference between science and philosophy is one of temperament, in some finer-grained breakdown of the Meyers-Briggs “ST” and “NT” types.

-The distinction between a priori and a posteriori or the logical and the empiricallike the one between nature and nurture, has an initial plausibility that breaks down or becomes more or less qualified whenever one wants it to solve something of consequence.

-The abstract and possible can be seen as a mere denuding or evacuation of the concrete and factual, and the concrete can be seen as a mere instance of the abstract reality. Someone like William James, Hume, Nietzsche, Daniel Dennett etc. see things in the first way; someone like Plato, Descartes, Hegel, Alvin Plantinga  see things in the second way. 

-“But then those are extremes, and we need to find a middle way!” Maybe. But this still won’t overcome the limitations on time and the intrinsic fascination and interest with either the abstract/ possible/ fundamental or the concrete/factual/ progressive. Tot homines, quot sententiae. So many men, so many minds – and this is not to appeal to relativism but to difference of temperament and the necessity of learning being collective and social.


Philosophically, I’m a Christian because it is only in the Trinity that I find an adequate account of God’s transcendence: to transcend being requires transcending both one/self and other, the intentional and the existent, the absolute and the relative, the personal and the social, the abstract and the concrete.

Some (progressively developing) principles of teleology

1.) Teleology makes the intentional order prior to the physical order. It makes the causal order prior to the temporal one.

2.) Teleology is involves denying that the arrow from cause to effect is necessarily the same direction as the arrow from earlier to later. It goes further and says that, at the fundamental causal level of physical things, these arrows point in opposite directions.

3.) When we say that the arrows “point in opposite directions” we do not mean that the intentional arrow is an inverted time, but that it need not be temporal at all.

4.) All teleology, even intrinsic, reduces to the activity of intellect and will.  Thus, the entirety of the physical/existent order is the mirror image of a free choice and free choices. I call it “mirror image” because the temporal order is unfolding in the reverse of the fundamental causal order; what is first in intention is last in existence and the beginning of the existent is the last in intention.  

5.) The physical order is not given as a basis which the intentional acts on or inserts itself into or shines down upon, but an order that arises where the an intentional order leaves off, and thus unfolds in a reverse or mirror order to its intentional principle. With respect to something relatively intentional (i.e. an agent that is partly intentional, partly existent) the physical order is relatively caused and posterior; with respect to what is absolutely intentional (i.e. an agent with no distinction between his intentional and existential being) the physical order is absolutely posterior and caused.

6.) In making the existent a mirror of the intentional, we do not advance idealism, as though to deny the reality of the existent (!) At the same time, the being of the existent is its intelligibility, that is, its generative idea. The contribution of the intentional is precisely to make the physical real.  

7.) Mystical experience reveals the balance between the intentional and physical so far as it is an experience wherein the physical is suffused with meaning. To be suffused with meaning both shows a deep and abiding value to the physical, and at the same time makes the physical entirely relative to the reality it manifests and signifies. In this sort of mystical experience, the physical is both really glorified in its own existence and yet emptied of an existence-for-itself.  Such a state is no more contradictory than having conscious experience while unconscious (i.e. dreaming).

Notes on free-will and determinism, action vs. interaction (III)

– My (scientific) account of the flight of a baseball will be the same regardless of it being thrown or shot in a batting cage. To replace the baseball with a neuron makes no difference.

-Physics puts a filter on experience that makes it indifferent to the distinction between the mechanical and the volitional.


-“Physics observes no distinction between the mechanical and volitional, therefore all is mechanical”.  Put like this, we have just as much reason to call all volitional; we make the error of the fish-size and the net we use; the mechanical is essentially instrumental and therefore incapable of being totalized, etc..

-The mechanical is interactive, but every interaction is of a moved mover. Pan-mechanism is the same as resting the world on turtles.

-“Determinism” is simply fixity to an end. In the epistemic order, this is “certitude” or “being sure”.

-“But the stream of causality and the totality of space time can’t be changed, and all your free actions are expressions in space-time”. True, this forces me into something weird and radical, but completely foreseeable from the doctrine of spirit and immaterial existence.  The action of spirit does not enter into the physical order by intervening on an already determined physical order. If it is true that the physical has been determined from all eternity, then my action – even my choice now – has been determining that causal stream from all eternity.

So there, I said it.

-If the soul is non-physical, why object to it being causative at all points in time? It’s the physical that’s in time.

-The finitude of my spirit is that, relative to the totality of physical being,  it cannot determine the physical streams of causality in every way, though it does have some power of determination. To visualize, I control only a thread in the loaf of space-time. But it is a thread that is causally prior to the big  bang.

So there, I said it again. Spirit makes one a god.

-To visualize the spirit intervening on the physical as already determined is (a.) to see spirit as a physical reality (b.) to make the physical ontologically prior to the spiritual. But this is the same as to deny that spirit exists at all.

-If there is spirit, it cannot be sub-ordinate to the spacio-temporal order. This simply makes the physical into a transcendent god. Here again, this is the same as to deny spirit altogether.

-Physics is not the study of the real but of the tangible as quantitative. It is a story of the universe told by an ideal nerve ending that knows calculus.

-Forces are “blind” because science is blind, in the same way that a clam or the nerve endings in the finger are blind.

-Humans can touch like eagles see. Everything else has fur, feathers, hide, scales, exoskeletons, etc.



The use of media scapegoats

We use video media to make scapegoats that allow us to effortlessly gain power over things that are above us. I have two in mind: Hitler and the saint.

The SaintAn adoring admirer once approached Mother Teresa and praised her as a saint. Teresa’s response was blunt and very striking: you want me to be a saint so you don’t have to be. She had enough experience to know what she was talking about – namely, though we need models for imitation, these models too easily become scapegoats that we use to avoid the actual work of trying to be good persons. Paradoxically, the very thing that was supposed to be a guide to lead us forward becomes a reason not to move forward at all – we make the saint into some other that has the job of being good for the rest of us. We use media to make this scapegoat by making a holy celebrity (the way some Catholics do with their popes). To explain the logical progression of this we need to start with the idea of a celebrity.

Celebrities are famous persons, and fame has two elements. On the one hand, fame belongs to those who are somehow better than us: more beautiful, dashing, skilled, popular, successful, etc. On the other hand, fame is formally the opinion of others, or in the case of celebrities (who are our “others”), the opinion of us. We create a celebrity from the formless component of beauty or skill or success, and so they are more exalted than us while we are tacitly more exalted then them – they could not even exist without us. This is why the celebrity is both unapproachable (think of that electric hush of recognition when you see one) and yet our property (which is why celebrities universally complain that people approach them as though they have known them forever.) Celebrities both live a glamorous, idealized, Olympian existence that we could not ever imagine being a part of, and at the same time we make ourselves entitled to know every detail of their personal lives.  Note that we don’t just feel entitled to know about them, we are entitled to know about them – everyone has a right to know the details about something he has created. A celebrity is therefore a means by which we control forces and powers greater than ourselves. In the case of the celebrity-saint, this control is exercised through group identification – we specify him as the member of our group who will be holy for us “so that we don’t have to be”. Said another way, we become holy because that “other” makes our group holy without us having to do anything. We put the celebrity saint in distinctive dress, performing heroic (that is dramatic) acts of holiness, communicating in oracular soundbites fit for italic epigrams and bumper stickers, and in front of adoring crowds while at the same time being persecuted by the attacks of some out-group. They sanctify the group (that is, us) while we get to go on living just as we have.

Hitler: Whatever else an American student knows, he knows that Hitler is evil (as Alan Bloom noticed in Closing). No one knows where exactly this credal formulation comes from, but all students infallibly learn it before high school. But this is the mirror image of the celebrity-saint scapegoat and is accomplished by exactly the same means. Hitler is made to be the ultimate out-group: he is racist, but we are not; he is genocidal, but we are not; he is a man in a strange country ranting in a strange language in front of frenzied crowds, but we live in our own country, speaking a familiar language, making our decisions without dramatic ranting in front of frenzied crowds.  Hitler’s evil makes us infallibly good – all we have to do is think that all races are good, and we become good (since we aren’t Hitler). We can even consider these races in the abstract without having to think of concrete persons, much less love them. Just as the presence of the saint makes us holy by group membership without having to change anything about our lives,  Hitler makes us holy by presence in a group we exclude from ourselves without having to change anything about our lives.

Again, we make Hitler a scapegoat by taking him as a celebrity media figure. He (i.e. evil) becomes essentially an other existing on the far side of a television screen, in a distant and long-conquered regime, advancing opinions that we already don’t believe. In fact, since the vast majority of those who revile Hitler don’t speak German, they can only hear him babbling dramatic gibberish whose content they can supply for themselves (it is, of course, “hate”). By scapegoating Hitler we thus conquer evil and have no need to wonder if any policy, person, action or ideal we sympathize with is actually evil.

(The visual media, in fact, turn evil into Hitler by their very structure. In a visual medium, evil must be dramatically visual, i.e. it must have a sort of mastermind cleverness (by which it dominates all the elements on “the screen”) and dramatic visual cruelty. The technological infrastructure of the Third Reich, along with is film-recorded sadism, made Hitler an irresistible object for our desire to make an evil scapegoat through visual media. No other person is so well-suited to our desire to conquer evil by scapegoating.)

Acting without interacting (II)

Even in the physical world, actions are not always interactions. If I tug a drowning man out of the water, I interact with him, but if I throw him a floater, he interacts with it but not with me. In both cases I act on the one downing, but not always by interacting.

We can generalize both sorts of actions by saying they involve locality, i.e. a successive action in space-time, which propagates between its terms at a rate < c. We might then go on to argue whether there are non-local causes. If we find some, these show yet another way to understand action without interaction (sc. so far as the thing acts on something distant without having to interact with the medium).

These cases, being physical, obviously aren’t the same as metaphysical action without interaction, but they do show a way to detangle action from interaction.

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