God’s Blessings on March 1, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the first day of March in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

The popularity of videos is an interesting subject, especially for someone who runs a youtube channel. Here are my last few with their views, from most recent to oldest:

Christian Asceticism: 87
Thoughts about Bishop Barron prayer: 132
Believing the Incomprehensible: 248
Why I Don’t Debate Atheists: 948
Just for Fun: A Debate Challenge from Deconverted Man: 491
Channel Update & Thoughts on Disagreement: 171
The Value of Debate: 171
To Err is Human: 214
What the Burden of Proof is: 179
The Burden of Proof Isn’t a Logical Fallacy: 375
Good and Evil are Asymmetric: 249
Discussing Social Media w/ Russell Newquist: 142
Logic Lesson for Atheists: 528
Why Atheists Can’t Logic: Answering Deflated Atheism: 1,527
The Burden of Proof: A Few Quick Thoughts: 293
Sci-Fi Author Brian Niemeier, A Conversation: 139
Chesterton’s Post: 183
Occam’s Razor: 459

(I should note that the way that youtube works is that there is a big bump in views in the first day or two for a video as subscribers notice it and it goes through whatever recommendation process is used for recommending new videos, then things tend to settle down to a steady state of getting a few new views most days. Thus a video with the same number of views as one which came out before it is more popular.)

So as you can see, it’s all over the place. There are some definite themes; things which are explicitly about atheism tend to do better than things which aren’t. In particular I find it interesting that Why I Don’t Debate Atheists is about 5.5 times more popular than The Value of Debate, despite being more recent, and despite it being basically just an application of The Value of Debate. I actually suggest watching The Value of Debate instead for a more positive take on it in the description of Why I Don’t Debate Atheists.

Now, in fairness, there is a three minute section in the beginning of Why I Don’t Debate Atheists in which I sarcastically summarize it as:

  1. I’m too scared to. If I ever heard an atheist say, “where’s your evidence” or “that’s not evidence” my faith would shatter.
  2. I’m too arrogant to. I already know everything.
  3. This makes me a bad Christian because Christians should always treat public blasphemy with the utmost respect.

I think a lot of Christians have been accused of all this many times, so I suspect that my sarcastic “executive summary” in the beginning was cathartic for more than just myself. So it might have gotten shared or recommended more often. Still, it’s interesting to consider what relationship the subject matter and title have on viewership. And I hope it should be obvious that I don’t blame anybody for watching only what they think is likely to be of direct interest to them and their lives; we all have very limited time and a great deal of things clamoring for our attention. Anyhow, it’s interesting to observe and consider.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 27, 2017

God’s blessings on this the twenty seventh day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

So, I’m clearly not very good at keeping up the daily blogging. I did get a video out over the weekend, though:

It’s some commentary on Bishop Barron’s video on prayer, which is much better:

Still, he didn’t say it, so it might be worth saying.

I also put up a few videos recently about a debate challenge which I got from Deconverted Man and why I don’t debate atheists. Both drew a fair number of comments from people who, shall we say, do not appear to be rocket surgeons. (I like mixing metaphors to spice things up.) The most noticeable sort are from people who can’t seem to get that I am not trying to debate anyone in those videos. The first is me making fun of a ridiculous debate challenge (which was absurdly specific about things which needed no specificity and absurdly under-specified in the things which did). Specifically, making fun of a debate challenge from a fellow who criticized a previous video of mine as being irrational. The other is an explanation of why I, personally, don’t debate atheists at this point in my life. Very explicitly so; I say that in the first minute. And yet I got comments from people critiquing it as if it were one side of a debate.

I also got a tweet from “Mr Oz Atheist” snarking,

Wouldn’t have thought it takes a video 32 minutes long to say ‘Because I have no valid arguments’

I’ve dealt with him before and he’s not exactly the sharpest light bulb in the picnic basket, if you know what I mean. But the really curious thing is that I then got a comment on my video:

Let me help you out and shorten your video. You don’t, because you can’t provide good evidence, just logical leaps and fallacies.

Now, I have no proof that he’s one of Mr. Oz Atheist’s followers, but the timing and the phrasing is suggestive. Which raises an interesting question, even if it didn’t happen in this particular case: why do people go to following links in order to leave comments on things they haven’t watched? Unless the comments are original thoughts derived from the title (and hence won’t be very original since most everyone sees the same possibilities in titles), they have to be just parroting whatever it was they read about the video. Why would a human being think that’s valuable? Is it that their Dear Leader’s thoughts are so wonderful they must be shared, and Dear Leader has too little time to leave comments on every video he comes across? Are they hoping that they’ll be noticed by Dear Leader and get praised? Is this purely a pack instinct to attack anything perceived as an enemy? There must be some explanation, but at present I’m at a loss to understand it.

Incidentally, what is this odd obsession atheists have with valid arguments? There are valid arguments for everything. They’re the easiest things in the world to construct. Just take modus ponens:

p→q
p
∴ q

Where q is the conclusion you want and put anything at all for p. Here, with p being 2+2=5 and q being God exists:

If 2+2 = 5, then God exists.
2+2 = 5
Therefore, God exists.

It’s perfectly valid, as an argument. If the premises are true, the conclusion certainly follows from them. What it’s not is a sound argument. (A sound argument is a valid argument with true premises.) More colloquially, what it is not is a good argument.

Sometimes I’m tempted to thank these atheists for making atheism look so bad. But the thing is, all this idiocy doesn’t make me angry, it makes me sad. These poor creatures should be taken care of by people more able to think than they are; the strong should protect the weak. But these poor people have fallen into the clutches of atheists who are typically only a little bit smarter than they are and not really any better educated (as opposed to schooled) and they’re suffering from it. Pray for them with me, if you will.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 22, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the twenty second day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

My recent video where I made fun of the debate challenge I was given sparked a lot of comments. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s here:

Now, straight up, that was not a nice thing to do. This is making fun of Deconverted Man. But, it should be noted, niceness is not a virtue. To put it bluntly, Deconverted Man is an idiot who presumes to lecture people about how they’re wrong when he clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. This is something he should be corrected on, and equally importantly, since his errors are proclaimed publicly, it is right that he should be corrected publicly. The public good is disturbed when ignorance is proclaimed as knowledge and that goes unchecked.

I suspect that what makes me (and at least a few other people) uncomfortable with this is that it’s ungentlemanly. A gentleman never draws attention to the failings of another. It is unpleasant, and in polite society unnecessary. When someone is acting intolerably that is best handled by avoiding to invite them to your parties. But polite society is a fiction created by wealth in order to be an ornament (at best). This sort of thing pretends to Christian virtue because it can seem like the idea of not judging others, but it in fact is not that. This sort of politeness has no problem at all judging others; it’s concerned entirely with the enforcement of that judgment.

Now, here’s the problem. Me making fun of Deconverted Man is a bit like a young man beating up an aged grandmother. It’s not a fair fight. But that doesn’t mean that I should therefore let Deconverted Man get away with publicly proclaiming falsehoods. And with thick-skulled idiots like him, gentle criticism from somebody who is an out-group member (since I’m a “theist” and he’s an atheist) will have precisely no effect. Moreover, his idiocy is public. Subtlety does not work for most people. It’s very commonly liked because it’s gentle and doesn’t lead to bad feelings, except that it often does lead to misunderstandings and bad feelings anyway. But subtlety is, I suspect, far more often an act of cowardice than it is an act of love.

And a lot of people really dislike “drama”. That is, they dislike unpleasant feelings. And being around people who are not getting along generates a lot of unpleasant feelings. Which is fair. Human beings are not meant to live in very large groups; we’re much better off with small groups of people we’ve known for many, many years. We work much better in that sort of environment. I suspect that they should be honest with themselves that they just can’t handle the truth, though (which is fine; we are fallen creatures in a fallen world, and can’t handle everything we should—I can’t either).

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 16, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the seventeenth of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

Last night I did a hangout with Max of the Escaping Atheism project on YouTube, if you’re interested you can watch it here:

We spoke about the style of talking with Atheists (primarily what I call kakangelical atheists—atheists who want to spread the bad news), and how there are different styles and a place for Escaping Atheism’s blunt, combative style.

To give a brief summary of why, especially on the internet there are a lot of kakangelical atheists whose approach is to be very confident and very aggressive to believers, asserting in very forceful tones that they’re delusional idiots for believing in a magic sky fairy with no evidence! Etc. And I think that there is value to some people equally forcefully responding, “no, you’re the delusional idiot for thinking God is like a magic sky fairy, for asserting that there is no evidence in plain contradiction of simple fact, and for not having bothered to learn anything before spouting off about it.”

It’s not that this will convince anyone that they’re wrong, but curiously it will sometimes convince people to go do some studying, not because they are inspired to better themselves, but because having done no studying they have no reply, and so may go do some studying just to procure some better rhetorical weapons. Along the way, they may end up learning something. That said, the real important part of this is that it neutralizes what amounts to bullying. Powerfully presented confidence is intimidating; to see it on both sides reduces its effect, giving space for reason to operate. This is especially important for the young; as I mentioned in the video that forceful approach shook me a lot when I was a teenager. Now that I’m getting close to forty I tend to just reply with equal confidence and move on, occasionally amused at the names I get called for doing what the other guy just did (that is, asserting that I was right and the other guy wrong). I don’t think I’ll ever understand thin-skinned people who lead with insults. Thick-skinned people who open with insults make sense to me, but how have the thin-skinned ones not learned to moderate their approach in pure self-defense?

Now, it might be brought up that one catches far more flies with a tablespoon of honey than with a gallon of vinegar. It’s a great saying, and in certain situations very true. I’m not sure of the literal fact behind the metaphor, though; I’ve seen a lot of dead flies in a bowl of apple cider vinegar which was accidentally left open. That being said, if you want to find people who responded with mild language in the face of blasphemy, I suggest you read something other than the bible. As the meme goes:

what-would-jesus-do-having-actually-read-the-bible

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 15, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the fifteenth day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

There are a lot of trials in being a parent, but I think that the hardest is sleep deprivation. At least for me, I find it very difficult to function when I’m underslept. There is an element, I think, in Christian psychology in the modern west where we expect that carrying our crosses will be glamorous. Well, not glamorous, exactly, but the sort of thing people would write stories about. We’re so soaked in fiction that we think about a great deal of life in terms of how it would be summarized in a story. And after all, Jesus carrying his cross was written about in a story. Surely, so our emotions sometimes go, our cross to carry will be similarly story-worthy.

But our crosses to bear are often things like, “sure, Child, I will walk you to the bathroom at 3am then tuck you back into bed; don’t worry, I’ll get back to sleep eventually” and dealing with the exhaustion and headaches the next day.

Some wag apparently said that there were enough putative fragments of the true cross of Christ to make a ship, whereas in reality there are something like four kilograms worth of fragments claimed to be from the true cross, but in any event one night of little rest is not like a splinter from one’s cross. For many of us, I think we carry our crosses one splinter at a time, and over the years they add up to a cross, so we don’t notice and it’s very easy to complain because we don’t think of them the right way.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 14, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the fourteenth day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I’m not feeling much today in terms of a subject to write about, but here’s a video I did recently on the subject of to err is human:

I look at the side of to err is human which holds that making mistakes is part of being human, and why that can’t be true. (I don’t object to the idea that we should be realistic about how all men make mistakes, and should be understanding of them when they do, and I don’t address the sense of contrast in the original, “to err is human to forgive divine”.)

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 13, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the thirteenth day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

There’s an interesting phenomena going on right now in the “skeptic community” which is very approximately the branch of the online atheist community who dislikes identity politics. An extremely brief summary of it is that some prominent members of the skeptic community gave paid endorsements to a company promoting an app/social media site called Candid. (I’m not being coy, by the way, I haven’t followed enough to know who they all are. I suspect it’s public knowledge, but it’s not relevant here.) A less prominent member of the community (going by the name Harmful Opinions) then called Candid into question as being, far from a dedicated to free speech, seeming to use an AI in order to police speech more stringently than it has been before. The truth of the accusations I don’t know; I’ve seen some evidence presented by Harmful Opinions in a video, but without tracking down original sources that’s not really different from ignorance. It’s not really relevant to me since I’ve never heard of the social media platform makes it sound like I’d never try it, so it’s just not relevant to my life.

What is relevant is that a rift in the skeptic community where prominent skeptics are being taken down a peg certainly seems like good news to those of us who are on the receiving end of their followers blind faith in the sufficiency of atheism as a worldview. And to be explicit, I believe that one part (not the whole) of the confidence that many slow-witted atheists have that atheism has all of the answers to life’s questions which are necessary to live a good life is because they see more intelligent, charismatic people like the prominent skeptics being (apparently) content living the atheist life and take their confidence from that.

So I think that there is a hopeful pleasure to be seen in this which can be distinguished from simple schadenfreude (“shameful joy”) at bad things happening one one’s enemies. I say to “one’s enemies” but they’re not really my enemies; if they’re anyone’s enemies they are the enemies of those they are leading astray. They’re not really doing anything to me. (Also I run far too small a channel for them to even know I exist, so none of them have ever mentioned me or anything like that.)

This is also something which touches on the issue of “atheists can be just as moral as Christians” which comes up less these days than it did decades ago, I think, but it still comes up because it is true that a given atheist can be personally better than a given Christian. Which is to say that the best atheist is better than the worst Christian. But as it becoming ever clearer, that’s mostly a theoretical statement. The rate at which atheists are degenerating is startling to the point of being scary. Of course, they are degenerating in the sense of coming to believe that if God is dead all things are permitted, not that if God is dead, you can get away with everything. Which is to say that they are considering worse and worse things to be perfectly moral. So if you want to murder your child in the womb after a three day cocaine bender/orgy with married people, that’s your own business and doesn’t make you any less moral than anyone else.

What’s going to be really bad is the people who are raised this way, by the way. People who were raised with morals but then overthrew them still have most of the inhibitions of their youth, at least for a few decades and often for the rest of their life. People who were raised with the idea that they can do anything they want so long as everyone consents—whatever that means given that they also don’t believe free will exists—will act very differently. It’s not likely to be pretty. Be that as it may, there may be some effect of this for the intermediate people who still have some scruples against lying (does anyone consent to be lied to? But being hung up on telling the truth is a Christian hang-up; I suppose the usual atheist approach is to not think about it). Seeing that many of the prominent atheists they look up to as living a good atheist life are in fact willing to lie and sell out their followers for money may shake some people’s confidence that atheism is in fact a viable path to a good life. So I think that greeting this scandal in the skeptic community with glee is defensible on this ground.

Though I think it’s important for Christians to be careful here; this sort of thing can very easily turn into gossiping. But that does not mean that tarnishing the good name of a villain is wrong; to uphold the reputation of a liar is to be complicit with his lies. So while great care is warranted, I do think that there is a legitimate way of receiving this news with mixed pleasure. Of course, no sin can properly be the occasion of pleasure, so it cannot be a pure pleasure in hearing this, but that truth may finally be revealed to those who have been in darkness is worth celebrating.

(And if anyone wants to draw a false equivalence between this and misdeeds by priests or pastors, the key distinction is this: no one can actually convict the atheists of having done anything wrong on atheist principles. About the most you can convict them of doing is possibly acting sub-optimally from a species-benefit perspective. Or possibly being incompetent in their self-interest. When a priest does something immoral, he can be convicted by the Christian morality he himself acknowledges. In short, the key difference is that if the prominent skeptics acted badly, they cannot be charged with being hypocrites. Which is a far greater condemnation of them.)

If you can, say a prayer for all of the members of the skeptic community, prominent and anonymous alike. They sure as hell need it.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 7, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the seventh day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I got in a conversation about church hymns today. For anyone who doesn’t know, after the switch from Latin to the customary vernacular which happened in the 1960s, the Catholic Church in America was in great need of English language hymns, and the hymnal which was put together very quickly, well, sounds like it was. There are some really good songs in the hymnal—in the sense of both having beautiful music as well as having theological content in the words—but then there are also some songs whose inclusion is hard to understand apart from the poor judgment which goes along with desperation and lack of sleep. Or possibly very weird taste born of living in a very strange time, which the 1960s in America certainly seems to have been. I do think that people get too worked up over this; if the worst cross one has to bear is singing some bad hymns while getting to celebrate our salvation by eating the body and drinking the blood of God, one has very little to complain about. And I expect that better hymnals will be produced within a few decades; on the scale of a 2000 year old church that’s nearly the blink of an eye. Still, that’s not quite so fast by the standards of a human life, and while Marty Haugen wrote some competent melodies it seems that anything to which he wrote the words is a penance to sing. So, for anyone who’s suffered through the hymns of Marty Haugen and his similarly-talented contemporaries, take solace with me in this fun parody (no idea who to attribute it to):

Glory to God in the highest.

Time Chasers

One of my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is Time Chasers. It’s not my favorite—that’s Overdrawn at the Memory Bank—but it’s up there. I was recently reminded of the scene where Bob Evil (actual name: J.K. Robertson; President of Gencorp) quotes a clause in the contract his company has with Nick Miller (the main character) saying that if anything in the time transport project is deemed of value or a threat to national safety, the government will appoint a project supervisor, and that supervisor will have total control overriding any previous agreements established within the contract. Bob evil then goes on to say, with impressive defensiveness, “That’s a government law, not a Gencorp one.” As opposed to all those other Gencorp laws, I assume. I don’t think that was intentional self-parody; I think it really was an impressively fiction-based understanding of reality. If you like MST3K and haven’t seen this episode, I highly recommend it, it’s a huge amount of fun.

God’s Blessings on February 7, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the seventh day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I got the video about the asymmetry between good and evil up, if you’re interested:

And my friend Eve Keneinan mentioned an interesting approach to describing this sort of asymmetry, which is that of truth. Truths cannot contradict each other, but falsehoods can contradict both truth and other falsehoods. It’s not precisely the same relationship, but it does describe a similar asymmetry.

Towards the end of my video I mentioned that it has implications on writing. I do think that this is another source for the idea that flawed characters are essential to good writing. Flaws in characters can’t help but remind us of goodness by contrast, since flaws are in a sense the shadows cast by virtues; they are in any event a painful reminder of where virtues are supposed to be. And this is, I think, another reason why I dislike the flawed character dictum; it would be much better to call to mind virtue by actually calling it to mind, rather than by using shadows which remind us of virtue. Of course, it’s more work, which is why it’s done less often. Also, I’m thinking of changing the thumbnail on the video to this:

thumbnail2

I’m curious whether it’s an improvement. It’s meant to be suggestive of the metaphor of evil like a shadow—a thing with a purely negative existence, not a positive existence. It’s by no means a perfect representation of the shadow metaphor since evil is the privation of good, not merely the absence of good. That is, it is the absence of good where there should be good. Hence why lying is evil, but staying silent when there is no need to talk is not evil. But, even though it’s definitely not perfect as an illustration, I do kind of like it aesthetically. And as a thumbnail rather than an illustration within the video, I think it wouldn’t be likely to confuse anyone. If you had a moment to tell me what you think in the comments, I’d be grateful for the feedback.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 30, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the thirtieth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

A life tip which is on my mind today for very practical reasons is that if one is out of sorts for whatever, but to take my example a lot of work to get done by a deadline which is not far off and a lack of sleep making it hard to get that work done. Now, one should always try to avoid making one’s problems someone else’s problems, and that extends very much to being out of sorts. If I’m having a bad day that should not mean that anyone else around me has a bad day because of it.

Alas, for people—like me—who are not perfect, keeping our troubles to ourselves doesn’t always happen, even though it should. (N.B. I’m not referring to keeping things bottled up, but rather keeping them from affecting one’s patience, tone of voice, charity, etc.) Because this sort of failure is something one can often predict, one should be on the lookout for it, and wherever it seems to be happening, it’s a good idea to tell the people affected about your stressors, so that they have context. I’m not talking about complaining at them, because that just makes their day worse. (Asterisk; if you know how to use self-deprecating humor to make complaining palatable, that can work, though it does take a lot of skill. That’s more something that should be plan B for if you catch yourself complaining that being plan A.) Rather, one should warn others not to take you too seriously right now because you are under stressors that make your actions and reactions atypical. Now, to be clear, this is not something that others owe one; it is asking for a specific type of charity. But it’s usually not a difficult charity to give, and if people are fore-warned they’re usually pretty indulgent if they don’t need to indulge you in this way too often. And one doesn’t have to be highly specific, something as general as, “I’m sorry, I’m just having a really bad day so please don’t take anything I say today too seriously? Thanks, and I’m sorry.” In my experience, people are very understanding of that sort of thing since we all have bad days where we could benefit from some charity applied to the things we say and how we say them.

Also very important on bad days: don’t forget to smile at people. Smiles which are unconscious reflexes are cute in babies, but really fairly private things in adults. Smiling at someone is primarily a form of communication, conveying:

  1. I mean you good, not harm
  2. I consider you a net positive in my life
  3. Things are, for the next few moments anyway, OK

Whether or not you feel these things to be true, if you know them to be true, you should smile at people to communicate those things to them. Feelings can be highly misleading, and in the same way that if the “gas tank is empty light” on your car has burned out you should still put fuel in the tank when the needle is on empty, you should communicate true things to people even if you don’t feel them. This will improve:

  1. their day
  2. everyone else’s day who comes in contact with them, including
  3. your day
  4. and at least as importantly, your honesty

Yes, your honesty. Honesty consists of giving people truth. There are lies of omission, and if your honesty is not “authentic” in the sense of being spontaneously done without thinking about it, all that means is that you need to build better habits. In the mean time, you’re supposed to use your rational control over yourself to act according to what you know to be true, and that includes what you communicate to other people. Because, unfortunately for our laziness, a neutral expression or an unhappy expression communicates things to, and often things which aren’t true. Being a social animal requires more work than being a hermit. That may be inconvenient, but it beats the alternative.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 29, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the twenty ninth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

Today’s a super busy day so I don’t really have time to write much. So I wanted to share a fun quote with you:

Marriage, n: the state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two. –Ambrose Bierce

Though I will say that my preferred metaphor for marriage is a two-person military unit. Two people bound together to accomplish great things under very harsh conditions. No metaphor is ever perfect, though.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 28, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the twenty eighth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I was reminded recently of the advice I’ve given to young people a few times on picking a career. At least when I was in school the vast array of possible choices meant that a lot of emphasis was placed on this, and it was generally suggested that one should figure out what one was most passionate about, and try to pursue that as a career. Obviously, what one was most passionate about that could be a career. Taking naps was right out. And many things require modification to be a career, such as painting landscapes of dogs might have to turn into painting portraits of people’s pets.

And of course some dreams are just very hard to follow, like being an astronaut or a professional novelist. In many cases, you have an only slightly better chance of these than of professionally winning the lottery.

But, still, those caveats aside, it was the general advice given, and it never struck me as good advice. It has, for a very long time, struck me as a much better idea to pick one’s second favorite thing and turn that into a career. All work done for pay involves compromise, because the person paying the money has a say in the work. If this is one’s favorite thing in life, those compromises are extraordinarily painful, and there is little one can do for solace. By contrast, compromising in one’s second favorite thing isn’t great, but it’s not too bad (assuming one is talking about things like aesthetic or prudential judgment and not morality), but one can always take solace in something one loves better. The compromises necessary to make such an activity something other people will pay for is also much easier to tolerate.

Good for thought, anyway.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 27, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the twenty seventh day of January, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I didn’t post a God’s Blessings post yesterday, but I did post an interview, so I’m going to call that a wash.

I recently came across a private discussion about the nature of forgiveness, and how my Christian friend was having to point out to a secular co-worker that forgiveness does not mean automatically pretending that nothing has happened, especially when there has been no repentance. Let’s call the people A and B, and stipulate that as co-workers B betrayed A’s trust and in fact stabbed him in the back on some occasion to A’s significant detriment. Let’s further stipulate that B does not admit to any wrongdoing, and has never apologized, repented of his wickedness, nor tried to make any sort of amends.

Now, I know what Christians mean when they say that they are not required to forgive in such a circumstance, but that’s technically incorrect. Christians are to forgive in all circumstances, because forgiveness just means that one does not cease loving a person. And as Bishop Barron puts it, love is to desire the good of the other as other. Which means that pouring out the infinite goodness of God which we ourselves are given, we give to others according to our ability to give and their ability to receive. That last part is key, and is the key to this whole problem.

Forgiveness means that we should not withhold any good from a man that we can give him, but it does not mean that we should give goods to a man who cannot receive them. In this case, a man who betrays trust is not trustworthy. Forgiving him means that if he needs help, one should help him. By all means A should (if practical) take a day off work to help B move his stuff from one apartment to another. If B is hungry, A should feed him. But there is absolutely nothing in the concept of forgiveness that means that A should trust B when there is no reason to believe that B is trustworthy and good reason to believe that B is not. Forgiveness means not holding grudges, it does not mean being unrealistic. Now, I should probably add that it is possible for people to reform, and for a man who was untrustworthy to become trustworthy. And forgiveness should be open to that possibility. But that does not in any sense mean that forgiveness should assume that such a thing has happened in default of evidence that it has, and still less in the face of evidence that it hasn’t.

And in fact, it is uncharitable to tempt a man who struggles with temptation. If B has a hard time keeping trust, it is uncharitable to place trust in him and thus expose him to the temptation to violate that trust. Telling secrets to a gossip is not only unwise, but it is unkind.

There are those who want to simply forget the past, of course, mostly because they had conflict and want it to magically disappear. That’s not forgiveness, that’s cowardice. Of course, cowardice will always try to disguise itself as something else; that’s part of the nature of cowardice. After all, you can’t expect cowardice to have the bravery to admit what it is.

In short, forgiveness means being willing to give what you can, even to a man who has hurt you. It does not mean being willing to give what you can’t.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 25, 2017

God’s blessing to you on this the twenty fifth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

So I missed yesterday, too. It’s not entirely my fault; I meant to write something in the evening but then fell asleep when I was putting my children to bed. It’s one of the hazards of parenthood, especially when tired. But at the same time I put it off because I didn’t have a subject I felt like writing about. But not because my mind was blank; I think I’m letting the times I wrote on a more important subject raise the threshold of what I consider fit for writing about, and the problem with that is that it’s not what the daily blog post is supposed to be about. I’d love for everything to be great, of course, and will certainly do the best I can, but when that means I’m not writing at least one post a day, this has certainly ventured into the territory of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good.

Incidentally, while it’s a great sentiment that one shouldn’t do that, I really don’t like how imprecise the saying is.  In a truly strict sense, Hell consists in letting the good become the enemy of the perfect. In that sense, therefore, the perfect should always be the enemy of the good. And I mention this because I’ve seen people use the phrase “don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good” to mean preferring mediocre solutions to spending more effort on better solutions. More fully specified, the saying would be, “don’t let an unattainable level of quality stop one from achieving an achievable level of quality”. Less catchy, but it can’t be the slogan of hell, so that’s a plus.

In other news, I put out a video yesterday in which I answered a rhetorical question posed by Deflating Atheism in one of his videos:

I’ve used the idea of answering a rhetorical question in some of my novels. I don’t do it much myself, but I really like it in fiction because it’s a nice reversal of expectations. I have done it in real life, though, like when I was speaking with an acquaintance who said, rhetorically, “You can’t have everything. If you did, where would you put it.” I immediately answered, “Right where it is, since you’d own that too, wouldn’t you?” Now, his saying did speak to a real truth; that while human greed is infinite the human capacity for enjoyment is finite and so greed is pointless. But my reversal does speak to a real truth too, which is that if you owned everything you’d have a fundamentally different relationship to it than a man who owns only one house. Since you owned everything you wouldn’t need to change anything; and there’s the hint that you might as well let the people currently using your stuff go on using it because this way at least they’ll take care of it rather than letting it fall apart. It touches on a mistake atheists make, though not very directly, and only abstractly; but a universal relationship is not a particular relationship multiplied out. It’s a fundamentally different kind of relationship.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 19, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the nineteenth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I recently read Brian Niemeier’s free short story, Izcacus. It was an interesting read, both while I was reading it and afterwards. It’s a good use of fifteen minutes. Unfortunately short stories lend themselves to short reviews, because (when well written) they’re so tightly written that talking about them gives away too much information. At least I have that problem. Russell Newquist would probably find a way around it, as he’s very good at writing reviews, I’ve noticed.

But I am going to talk about Izcacus, so this is your warning that there will be spoilers. If you don’t like spoilers, stop reading here (until you’ve gone and read the story, at which point please come back).

 

Or here, that would work too.

 

Even here, really. But that’s it. The next paragraph will have spoilers in it, so stop reading now if you haven’t read it and don’t want to encounter spoilers.

 

I should begin by saying that I went in knowing that Izcacus was written as an attempt to bridge the gap between religious vampires and scientific vampires. So I didn’t some at it with perfectly fresh eyes, as it were. That will naturally color my thoughts on the story, but probably it has a bigger impact on my reaction to it than my considered thoughts about it.

The first thing I find interesting about Izcacus is that it uses what my friend Michael referred to as epistolary narration. That is, several characters narrate the story in the form of emails, letters, blog posts, journal entries, and most interestingly letters to a dead brother. It’s by no means an unheard of device, but it’s not overly common, and as Michael reminded me, it is also the narrative device in Dracula, by Bram Stoker. I doubt that coincidence is accidental, though I haven’t asked Brian about it. He uses the device well and avoids its weakness—it can easily become very confusing to have multiple narrators—while taking advantage of its strength. In particular, it allows a lot of character development in few words, since the voice of the character tells you a lot about them. Not merely the words they choose or their commentary, but also what they choose to talk about and what they leave out. Editorial decisions tell you as much about a person as creative decisions, if they tell it to you more subtly.

Second is that one of the problems that every horror author is faced with in the modern world is that horror and modern technology don’t blend well. I don’t mean that they can’t, but a person with a cell phone can—in normal circumstances—call for help so that they won’t feel alone. Of course, that doesn’t always do much. (There was a news story a while back about a russian teenager who called her mother on the phone while a bear was eating her. She died before any help could arrive. More locally, there was a hunter who shot himself with a crossbow and called 911 but was dead before they arrived. If a broadhead cuts a major blood vessel, you can bleed to death in as little as about 45 seconds. I’ve seen a deer pass out in about 20 seconds.) But there is still a big difference in mood between knowing that help is on its way and won’t arrive in time versus not even being able to call for help. By setting the story on a remote mountain without cell service, and further where they had to trespass russian law to even be, this problem was solved very neatly. There are plenty of very remote places in the world and if you haven’t told anyone that you’re going there, no one will ever come looking for you there. (One reason why the Pennsylvania hunter safety course emphasizes telling people where you are going hunting and when you will be back, every single time.) Structurally, I really like this.

The mood is done well about isolation and danger and so on, but in general I’m far more interested in structure than mood—possibly because I have a very powerful and active imagination and can imagine the mood for myself even if it is not described, but my philosophical side rebels against plot holes. Pleasantly, there are no plot holes in Izcacus, which I appreciated. And the structure is very interesting indeed when we come to the central point of the story: vampirism. Izcacus, we find out, means “blood-drinker” in the local dialect, and the mountain climbers eventually find a cave with some old but suspiciously fresh corpses. And here is where Brian marries religious with scientific vampires. Vampirism is a form of demonic possession, but possession requires the cooperation of the possessed. And so the demons have created a virus—which walks the line between living and inanimate—as a means of entering healthy hosts. The virus acts in its natural fashion to weaken the host; by putting them in extremes of pain and weakness, the host becomes more willing to accept the possession which will rid them of the pain. And as the story (or rather, one of its characters) noted, after death the body becomes merely material. This is a very interesting take on vampirism, adding some very interesting technical detail to the mechanism of becoming a vampire. It’s not as blood-centric as vampirism traditionally is, and in fact one weakness of the story is that it isn’t made very clear why the vampires are called blood-drinkers at all. No one is exsanguinated that I can recall, and any wound seems to suffice for entrance of the virus. Granted, one of the characters was bitten on the neck, but another seemed to be infected by a cut on her shoulder. And this is somewhat inherent in the nature of blood-born viruses. If saliva will work for transmission, blood-to-blood contact will as well. (As will semen-to-blood transmission, but fortunately Izcacus is not that sort of story.) So while it’s an interesting step forward for the mechanics of vampirism, it seems to come somewhat at the expense of some of the (recent) traditional lore of vampirism. (Update: Brian clarified what I misunderstood.)

(That is not in itself bad, of course; I gather one staple of horror is re-interpreting older horror stories so as to create fresh lore; essentially producing a sense of realism by treating previous fiction as existing but inaccurate. Horror is not one of the genres I normally seek out, so I’m not very familiar with its conventions—or perhaps I should say its unconventions. And if you want to take that as a semi-punning reference to the undead, I’m powerless to stop you. But if you do, please feel a deep and lasting sense of shame because of it. That’s not really a pun.)

But, what it sacrifices in traditional vampire lore, it makes up for in the reason why anyone is going near the wretched things in the first place. My two favorite vampire stories are Dracula (by Bram Stoker) and Interview with the Vampire (the movie; I’ve never read the book, which a good friend has told me isn’t as good; the screenplay for the movie was written by Ann Rice who wrote the book, so it is plausible that her second try was better than her first). In both cases the vampires can pass as living men and come into human society on their own, though in Dracula he does at first lure Jonathan Harker to his castle in Transylvania by engaging his legal services. But it is really Harker’s legal services which are required, there, he isn’t interested in Harker as food (at least not for himself). In Izcacus the vampires are not nearly so able to pass in human society, so the humans must come to them. This is in line with other stories (most of which I haven’t seen or read) where the humans venture into the vampire’s territory. I think that there the lure is some sort of treasure, whether real or actual, but while greedy protagonists make for relatively pity-free vampire chow, they don’t make for sympathetic protagonists. In Izcacus there are really two motives which drive the characters; a noble motive which drives all but one of them, and a far more sinister motive which drives her. The official reason for this clandestine meeting is to recover the bodies of people who had died trying to summit Izcacus, while the hidden reason is to recover samples of the disease which was the reason the Russians sealed off access to Izcacus in the first place. Thus it is the backers of terrorism who are funding the expedition in the hope of retrieving such a virulent virus to be used as a bio-terrorism weapon (thinking of it only as deadly, and not as diabolical). I find that very satisfying because instead of a pedestrian tale like greed going wrong (who doesn’t know greed will go wrong?), it’s the much more richly symbolic tale of the problem with making deals with the devil. As Chesterton noted, the devil is a gentleman and doesn’t keep his word. The devil may promise power, but has no interest in delivering on it. I’m told there’s a line in one of the tellings of Faust where after selling his soul for knowledge, mephistopheles tells faust he doesn’t have that knowledge to give, whereupon Faust is indignant that he had been lied to. As I understand it, Mephistopheles basically said, “I’m a devil, what did you expect?” It’s one of the reasons why I’m so fond of the short form of the baptismal vows in the Catholic rite of baptism. “Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?” It’s a terrible idea to expect the devil to keep his promises; it’s more his style to bite the hand he’s shaking.

Glory to God in the highest.