Saturday, October 31, 2009

Same old argument?

I keep running into the same argument. Simplified, it seems to run as follows:

Aristotle: I claim that P is true.
Boethius: I do not believe that P is true.
Aristotle: You must accept that P is true because you say you follow Catullus.
Catullus says P is true.
Boethius: I certainly accept the authority of Catullus,
but I deny that Catullus says that P is true.
Aristotle: Then you cannot truly follow Catullus.
Boethius: But I do follow Catullus, but not in the way that you do.
Aristotle: There is no other way to follow Catullus, for Catullus says Q.
Boethius: I do not believe that Catullus says Q.
Relabel "Catullus says Q" with P and go to the third line.

I doubt if there are arguments that always follow this interminably nesting form, though it seems to me that some theological arguments do indeed have that quality.

If the argument were to continue, would it ever converge? I suspect that it would if these two followers of Catullus finally hit some atomic statement at the heart of their fellowship with Catullus, an axiom upon which they both agreed, then they would have to work backwards through cycles in order to work out who was right.

This is unlikely to happen in theological discussion, because theology does not seem to be atomic, or if it is, the atoms of faith are not as accessible to argument. I've thought below on the nature of the difference between axioms (assumptions) and dogmata. Assumptions form the starting points of a rational theory; dogmata are statements of belief about reality. Axioms are not open to enquiry, dogmata are.

Thus it is unlikely that Aristotle's argument with Boethius will ever have a conclusion unless the doctrine of Catullus is axiomatic. If it's dogmatic, then there is precious little hope of any resolution. If there is only One True Catullus, then this argument cannot ever really hope to determine what he truly says, though Aristotle and Boethius will both still claim to follow the One True Catullus.

So how is the whole situation to be rectified?

Catullus knows!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Being Conscious of Consciousness?

I find Science absolutely fascinating and beautiful, and I enjoy how it challenges to make me think about my Faith.

I've found myself getting rather caught up in the study of consciousness lately. This seems a fascinating topic that does seem to upset some people because of the way it seems to reduce human beings to mere biological machines. There seem to be theories of consciousness that suggest that it is a by-product of the way our brains have evolved.

Some would suggest that the sense of self that we have is an illusion because of experiments that seem to be able to "transplant" the sensation of being oneself into another body.

Another fascinating experiment suggests that our brain actually makes a decision before we are consciously aware of it. Rather than having free-will, this experiment suggests we have free-won't in that the decision is made within other processes in the brain, but that the conscious self can veto that decision. This does rather go hand in hand with the old adage "you can't stop birds flying over your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair".

Scientists, on the whole, reject the idea of duality, namely that a human being is comprised of two separate species - body and mind. If the mind were something completely separate from the body, then how can it be associated with the body? How can the will of the mind be enforced upon the body?

The atheists love this idea that we are just biological machinery: our consciousness is entirely explicable, that our social constructs are largely memetic in propagation and that all religion is anti-scientific to disagree with it.

Well, one thing that Science has yet to realise is that the constant reduction of humanity to the level of machinery renders itself entirely devoid of meaning. If we are just biological machines then rationality and irrationality are both processes of the same mechanical processes. Science becomes just as memetic as Religion. It's just there and of no greater significance than what it deems as Irrationality.

Of course memetics itself is not exactly the most convincing theory going. If the concept of memes were true, then they cannot help us know whether the content of memes are true. So if ideas and beliefs are propagated via memes, then so is the idea that Science can observe all that there is. Memetics essentially nullifies any attempt to find out what is true or false. Also, memes seem to be utterly unobservable. Rather like D-brane theory, it seems to be utterly untestable.

I am not convinced by the rejection of duality, principally because I am not convinced that everything that exists is necessarily scientifically observable. But then, I am not entirely bothered by the possibility that my mind is made up of processes in the brain - I am merely a human being after all.

However, I believe in God, and further I believe God. St Augustine paints a picture of the fragility of humanity as beings of infinitesimal existence sandwiched between the nonexistent Past and Future. Likewise, these scientific findings could inspire us to see ourselves as paltry lumps of flesh. It is in God that we live and move and have our being. Indeed our being is hidden with Christ in God as St Paul tells us. We are fragile beings on a fragile world with a fragile existence. It is from God, and from Him alone that we obtain any real substance and a real identity beyond that which we can appear to measure. Our consciousness, thoughts, emotions may indeed prove to be to our existence as the stormy weather over the mountain, but it is God who shows us that we aren't the weather, but rather the mountain.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mission Accomplished?

I suppose as one who has been praying for and hoping for the reunion of Anglicanism and Rome that I ought to make a comment on the latest developments and the offer made by the Holy Father to Anglo-Catholics.

However, I refuse to make any knee-jerk reactions. If the Holy Father has taken time to consider the position and make the offer, then we should reply in kind and think carefully about what it entails so that we can be resolute and considered in whatever decision we make.

Acceptance of the offer would give us the opportunities for greater dialogue and greater influence in the Roman Catholic Church. Our presence may help Rome to regain what she herself lost liturgically as a result of Vatican II. However, will acceptance of the offer stop us from being Anglicans? I'm worried about the wording of "former Anglicans". Cardinal Newman was always an Anglican and being a Roman Catholic did not stop him from thinking like an Anglican.

What would rejection of the offer mean? Would this be demonstrating that we prize our Anglican Identity higher than our desire for Unity, or would it be a necessary response to prevent absorption?

Personally, the first thing I would want to do is to greet this offer with honest gratitude and embrace the spirit of its generation. I would then like to look for ways and further dialogue to refine it in order to accept it wholeheartedly. This is not something that we should rush into with theological guns blazing, but rather sit back and thank God for the possibilities this opens up for us.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

E=mc2 III:The dutiful extremes of Mary and Martha


It's absolutely everywhere, not just in the English Church, but in politics, the workplace and daily life. We just have to look around us to find evidence of that apathy. The numbers of people voting in elections, both local and national, is decreasing leaving some very peculiar people in local government with some peculiar ideas and some rather worrying effects. In the workplace, no-one seems to want to do anything unless they can get something out of it. Indeed, many new managers are being taught the power of the phrase "What's in it for me? in their dealings with people.

And of course there's the Church. It seems that 90% of the work done in a parish is done by barely 10% of the parishioners.

I wonder if that's exactly how it seems. Can really it be that the same few folk have to do many, many jobs in order to support a largely apathetic and uninterested congregation who are happier to sit there and listen to the word of God. Or is it rather that any desire that members of the congregation have to help out in their parish is squeezed out by a few people who want to do all the jobs? So we have two extremes of Mary and Martha and neither is exactly what God would have us do.

The Extremal Marthas of this world believe they have a duty to work for the church. They are probably not explicitly Pelagian, but they can come dangerously close. They have a need to be needed and feel that they only have some worth if they can work their way into people's respect and affections. They therefore become possessive of what they do and the methods they use, leading to forgetfulness of why they are doing.

The Extremal Marys of this world believe that they should not interfere with the system but keep watching for the time to act and listening for the word, "Go!". This is all well and good because an action well-discerned and well-timed is often the bearer of much happiness. Yet there is a darker side to this: these Extremal Marys are affected strongly by those who have tried to become Marthas and found themselves hurt by the system in which they are working. The result is that Extremal Marys are affected by the cynicism of others and are given the impression that any effort that they make is wasted or will be unappreciated, or will cause them more pain that the effort is worth.

This seems to be the key issue -Pain, or rather fear of pain. We seem to be losing the generation that does. This is the generation that was brought up with a sense of duty, no matter how painful it was. We are now losing the generation of people who survived hardship due to the Second World War. We are two generations away from them now, and the middle generation has a very mixed sense of duty depending on how badly they were affected by the sixties - that diabolical decade!

This apathy is a sheer lack of faith, and I also perceive its cold clammy hand clutching at my own soul, as I believe that it does to everyone else. If we cannot trust that there is an existence which will make even the most agonising pain worthwhile, if we cannot trust God to take our pain and make it worthwhile, then what is the real quality of our belief? The pain is not God's wish for us, but is an inevitable consequence of being in this bizarre state of being saint and sinner simultaneously.

But sometimes we look at those who actually do all the work, and see what it does to them, turning the caring and available into one who has no further time to commit, haemorrhaging patience like a rusty sieve. We see the consequences of self-giving for whatever reason, and we think, "I don't want that to happen to me!" It happens to laymen, and it happens to the ordained man, and the moment someone says "I didn't want to disturb you; I know you're busy" that is the moment then we realise that our busyness has taken more from us than we ought to give.

At some point we have to sit down and realise that our will and God's Will are different and that where they are different is the source of the pain of this life. We can either seek a life that avoids pain and thus fail to do anything to contribute anything of any worth to our society or build on our personal and corporate relationship with God, or we can face the fear with trust in God and just do the job anyway.

Of course, this doesn't mean that we should seek to be masochists. Despite the clamour of the atheists, God is not an ogre or sadist, or sadomasochist as I've heard one anti-theist say. The situation with Mary and Martha seeks to educate us in this way. We listen to God and, if we listen carefully, we learn where we are indeed called to be. There is a time to be busy when God is not talking to us, but when He speaks, we must sit and listen.

When we are faced with a question of duty, then often our response is, "Why me?" but do we ever bother to sit down and answer the question, "why not me?"
We cannot always hide behind the idea that we are unskilled for the task, or potentially incompetent. We may not be suited to be a heart surgeon, but we may be suited for leading a house-group, becoming a Pastoral Assistant, or even a priest or a Religious. The only way we will be able find out is by putting ourselves into that position.

This is not at all easy, especially when we may be suffering from another malevolent social spirit - self-unknowledge which manifests itself as a disproportionate vision of who we are through self-aggrandisement or self-hatred. Again, the only way forward is forging that relationship with God and the Church.

It's all hard work, but it isn't so hard that we can't do it if that is truly what God wants us to do. The attempt will always be more rewarding than the refusal.