Wednesday, March 26, 2003

The theologian Lonergan is an interesting fellow. In his book Method in Theology he tried to create a universal model for how human consciousness works. That's right, a universal model for how people experience being both aware and self-aware.

Naturally, he was a Jesuit.

He had two main objectives. The first was to come up with a simple, effective model of consciousness that could be used by any discipline. A fair number of people feel that he pulled it off - every years there are conferences where scholars present research based upon the Lonergan model for subjects as varied as sociology and genetics.

His second goal was to demonstrate that the very nature of consciousness draws Man toward God; that our very nature is evidence of the existence of God. Here's a (very) quick rundown of the basics of Lonergan:

There are 4 phases to human understanding;
1) Experiencing: we experience the world (touch a stone, smell a fragrance, etc.)
2) Thinking: we think about our experiences (this stone has protrusions)
3) Judging: we develop an opinion, or we judge something (this stone is rougher than the last stone I felt)
4) Deciding: we determine a course of action, et. al, based upon our judgement (I like smooth rocks more than rough rocks, so I will walk over there).

This is very simplified, naturally, but a good outline. How, you may ask, does this draw Man outside himself, let alone point toward God? Well, each phase of consciousness listed here makes an assumption. In experiencing, we assume that there is, indeed, an objective world to experience. Thinking assumes an objective (and, hence, eventually ultimate) truth; judging assumes the existence of value; and deciding implies an ultimate morality. And all of these things further imply a source, an ultimate from which objectivity springs.

This is closely related to St. Thomas Aquinas' "Prime Mover" concept. and this is purposeful, since Lonergan is a Thomist, or a theologian who bases his work on Thomas Aquinas. Since Lonergan begins with the human being and attempts to demonstrate how humans reach beyond themselves he is often called a Transcendental Thomist

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Let me tell you about my good friend Hjalmer. I met Hjalmer on what was supposed to be a weekend temp gig. I had a customer renege on a big consulting contract I was counting on for things like, say, groceries and was searching for anything. I get a call from a temp agency and tell me that about 15 temps are helping an interesting company move into their new digs and, me wanting cash, I could go, too. I did.

Well, they were moving into the old Cray Research building, a facility that I had once been physical security manager for. Knowing the layout of this vast, confusing complex was certainly a bonus. The manager in charge, Kim, was smart and wanted things done right with a 'no-bull' attitude I always love to see. And one of the techs was a tall, handsome guy named Hjalmer with the sort of sense of humor you only find in the very smart.

After the long weekend move was over, Kim asked me to stay the week. After the week was over she asked me to stay until the end of the month. And before that dead line came I was just asked to stay until a hiring freeze was over. I liked the company (both the corporation and my co-workers) so it was an easy choice.

Hjalmer and I had a great time fixing IT issues of all sorts, listening to the Cocteau Twins, and cracking feng shui jokes. We worked pretty hard, but good company makes for easy work.

In the end I was hired by another firm before their hiring freeze ended. Kim, Hjalmer, and I still stay in touch (my illness broke things up a bit, but that was universal). So drop by Hjalmer's blog, look around, and learn a little bit about a very smart, very funny man.

Oh, and if you get a chance, ask him about the country I made, once.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

I've been doing a lot of reading and research into theological methodolgy recently. Before you run shrieking into the night, let me assure you - I won't copy any Schleiermacher here. Ever. But as I read widely into the theology of the last 200 or so years, I am drawinng some interesting conclusions of my own. Let me wander for a minute; feel free to walk with me.

The influence of Protestant theology in the post-Reformation period was very wide ranging and had a broader societal impact than many realize. And in the Catholic response to the Reformation there was too much emphasis put upon maintaining the purity of ritual and loyalty and too little upon cultural "infiltration". As a result, a central conceit of Protestant theology became so entrenched culturally that it influenced Catholic theology for 200 years. Indeed, much of the theological work of Vatican II was aimed at reversing this trend, a trend that was most deeply ingrained in North America. With its waves of immigration and lack of traditional territorial and societal distance between Protestant and Catholic, it was relatively easy for this idea to seep into American culture in general.

And since I don't want to be coy, I'll come right out and say it - this error is the mental and emotional separation of religion from 'the real world'.

The origin of this error is Luther's hysterical insistence that works are worthless, that only inner faith is important in religious life. He based his edition of the Old Testament on the Hebrew Canon of the council of Jamnia rather than upon the Septuagint specifically to bolster his case against works. Indeed, his first version of the New Testament omitted the Book of James because it directly refutes this separation of works from faith (he replaced it after a hue and cry from his own supporters).

Why does this matter a hill of beans, ask you? Especially to the non-theologians and the non-religious in the audience? Simple - it has affected the way you think. Yes, you - the atheist anarcho-capitalist sitting at his PC. And the pagan war protestor at a mac. And almost everyone else in the industrialized West. Let me explain why.

The concept that faith alone, meaning only the interior spiritual life, matters at all to God means that works are useless on a spiritual plane. This demands that the world of spirituality is separate from the physical world, a sort of dual reality where God, morals, ethics, faith, and religion are 'over that way' and houses, jobs, cars, and checking accounts are 'over this way'. It is a mental and emotional compatmentalization of the spiritual and the physical, a separation of the sacred and the secular that you find in almost no other religion in history. And it has had serious implications to the culture and politics of the lands where it has held sway.

After World War II the Catholic Church was deeply concerned about several issues. One of the most troubling issues was the number of Catholics that had simply 'looked the other way' during the horrors of the Holocaust. Yes, many worked and even fought against the Holocaust including the Pope (I'll talk about the misinformation about the Church and the Holocaust some other time), so many that a significant number of the 12 million slaughtered by the Holocaust were Catholics, especially priests, monks, and nuns. (Think the Holocaust killed 6 million people? Nope - 12 million: 6 million Jews and another 6 million 'undesirables', mainly Gypsies, Slavs, Catholics, and homosexuals). Indeed, for a time Auschwitz was de facto the largest monastery in Europe.

So how could so many Catholics ignore or even abet such a terrible atrocity, even when it was to some extent aimed at Catholicism? They concluded that many Catholics thought of religion as 'other there', a small element of their lives restricted to Sunday Mass, Easter, and Ash Wednesday, while going to work, cleaning the dishes, and obeying the government were part of 'the real world' and never the twain shall meet. The researchers went on to conclude that this dualistic thinking was probably behind most of the acquiescence to the atrocities of fascism. The researchers went on to figure out how to make sure this stopped. During this phase of research and thelogical inquiry they used a great deal of the works of modern Transcendental Thomist theologians to address this serious problem, eventually resulting in Vatican II and its reforms aimed at reminding Catholics that religion is life.

How does this abtract concept affect me, you ask? What do the moral failings of European Catholics 60 years ago have to do with me, who would never do such a thing? More than you think. Along with this separation of the sacred from the secular came the concept that science and religion are incompatible, that they must conflict. This is a rather new idea. The two main forms of non-Euclidian geometry were developed by Catholic monks in the Middle Ages. The groundwork in heredity that is the foundation of genetic research was performed by a Catholic monk. The translation of the Greek and Roman classics into local languages were done by monls and priests who loved the ideas within them and wanted to preserve and share them. Indeed, until the last hundred years or so, virtually every college, university, and major library in the western world was founded by religious institutions interested in science. The first observatory still exists on the grounds of the Vatican where a pope had it made for the study of this new 'astronomy' gig.

But if this has nothing to do with God, what value is it to a religious person? Many who accepted the separation of the sacred from the secular said 'nothing'. This led to the long series of conflicts between religious believers and scientists that continue to this day, mainly over evolution. The Catholic Church, by the way, officially is of the position that evolution is not contrary to the faith, meaning that it has little if anything to do with religion, it doesn't say the bible, et. al., is wrong, etc. Another effect of this division is the distrust many 'rational' people have of faith and the complimentary distrust of 'rationality' by the faithful. Until this conceptual schizophrenia crept in, reason and faith were seen as complimentary to each other and incomplete alone.

In addition to placing religion apart from science, this idea also leads to the concept of morals and ethics being something from 'over there' that must be imposed 'over here'. Or even worse assigning morals and ethics to only the secular world. "Why worse?" you ask? Because once you do that you are almost forced to eventually conclude that there is no abolute moral or ethical code and, thus, no way to judge what is good and what is evil, or what is ethical and what is ethically corrupt. So either morals are part of a compartment divorced from the 'real world' or they are as individual as favorite brands of beer and just as influential in society.

Am I saying everyone must be Catholic to live an intergrated life? Nope. I am, of course, of the opinion that it is easier to live an integrated life as a Catholic, but it is not an iron-clad prerequisite.

What I am saying is that we cannot continue to consider morals, ethics, and spirituality to be separate from everyday life. Humans are inherently moral beings with a yearning for the spiritual and divorcing the two concepts results in a state almost schizophrenic in the turmoil it can bring to a person. We must realize that there is an absolute truth that can be known, there are indeed actions that are inherently immoral and unethical and that results will never justify their use as means. And we must understand that the spirit and the body are one thing, not separate; that our spiritual life is our physical life and vice versa.


Let me leave you with an image, an image that raised a lot of questions in my mind when I first read it. The leadership of the Nazi party loved opera. Shortly after the meeting that formalized the Final Solution for the extermination of European Jewry it is reported that those same Nazis attended an opera. And it is further reported that they all cried during the death scene. How is it possible to plan the systemized slaughter of millions of innocent men, women, and children as part of your job and then cry at the death of a fictional character?

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Well, I've decided that the time to move is damn early in the game. I figure that any confusion will be exacerbated by waiting, so here I go. I'm moving to blogspot because I'm a lazy cuss who'd rather type ideas than html. Assuming any ideas ever come my way, that is.

THis post has been deleted

OK, a little more background on good ol' Deep Thought before we get to today's discussion of things Deep and Meaningful.

I spent almost 8 years in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Specialist. Specifically a specialist in the Middle East. And I spent my time in a tactical batalion, mening I wasn't in an office, I was on the front digging foxholes and toting a rifle. I just spent my evenings code-breaking rather than swapping lies about by ability to metabolize liquor. I pulled a stint at the NSA and was part of a team attached to the French during the ground assault phase of Desert Storm.

Now 13 years later the Army is back at it. People who know my background sometimes ask me what's going to happen. I tell them there are four scenarios I keep in my head. To wit;

1) Saddam is virtually abandoned in the terror induced by the coming of the American Military Juggernaught. U.S. forces sweep in to swiftly surrendering conscripted soldiers and little old ladies waving the red, white & blue (never mind where they got 'em). A democratic regime is put into place, the damage is quickly cleaned up, and Iraq becomes both a beacon of stable democracy and a staunch American ally for 2 generations a la Germany and japan post-WWII. Their successful transition hastens the pace of reforms in neighboring Iran which soon becomes a true democracy. Together they stabilize the entire Middle East with a burgeoning economy and stable governments. Iraq even solve the Palestinian problem by accepting many refugees as citizens, financing the construction of new Palestinian settlements on the West Bank, and brokering a 4 way peace with Israel, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.

2) A desparate Iraqi military, defending their families against an infidel invader, fight to the last man. The news is filled with months of bloody urban combat interspersed with little old lady suicide bombers, chemical and biological booby traps, and intense use of dirty radioactive waste weapons. Wave after wave of terrorist attacks wash over an increasingly battered America causing our hopes to vanish as the American dead at home and abroad stack up like cordwood. The ecological disaster in the Persian Gulf threatens the lives of millions and a substantial fraction of the world's oil reserves are burned, spilled, or made radioactive. The soaring price of crude combined with military fiasco crash the world's economy (starting with the US) for a decade.

3) Something in the middle, but closer to #2.

4) Something in the middle, but closer to #1.

My guess? based on the data I have, #4. Some units will fight hard and some cities will hold out, but in general the Iraqi military will crumble in the face of the unmatched American army. Some terrorist attacks will occur, but mainly overseas and with a relatively limited economic effect.

These are just guesses, so don't count on it. Only time will tell. And any 'analyst, expert, or consultant' who tells you he knows exactly what will happen is fooling himself - predicting the future is hard whether you are an intelligence analyst or the weatherman.

Today is my 11th anniversary. Last night my in-laws watched the boys while Jen and I went to dinner. Not having the kids with us was very strange. Its easy to forget how constant their presence is until they aren't underfoot! Jen had a filet mignon and I had the prime rib; we split a bottle of champagne. Afterwards we went to the bookstore and got a book on unix (for her) and theology (for me).

Yep, if you look up 'square' it has a picture of us.

Its been a very interesting two days. Jen and I met just days before the first Gulf War when I was ready to deploy. I was still in the Army when we got married and I have a few friends that are still in. We talked a great deal about the current political climate, but we need more data (the sort we don't get as civilians) to make a solid determination fo what's 'really' happening.

And, naturally, we've talked about the miracle of 11 years of marriage.

Eleven years! That's crazy talk. It seems like we were married just a few days ago....