Blog Archives

My 2020th Post, Legends of the Fall, and Blogging: What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

My 2000th blog post went up on 15 December.  Lots of things were going on, including taking care of a sick child, so I did nothing special for that occasion.  I have had in mind a post that I’ve wanted to do for some time, and since I didn’t do anything marking post 2000, I’ll make the post now as post 2020.  I used to like the old cartoon Sealab 2020 way back when, so that’s an interesting synch, anyway.  What the heck.

I had never thought to get into blogging.  Being of the tail end of the Baby Boom generation, I was well into my adulthood before the Internet started to become the phenomenon it is now.  I had had some experience with intranet BB’s and such in college, but not that much.  Even though I was a math major, at my university we still were doing things mostly the old fashioned way.  It wasn’t until the mid 90’s that I got an email address (long since defunct), and in the late 90’s that I started spending lots of time in cyberspace.

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The Disenchantment of the World, Part 3: The One God Triumphs

In Hoc Signo

We’ve looked at ancient pagan religion and the changes brought about by ethical monotheism, as manifested by Judaism.  It is still necessary to determine how the change from the former to the latter (at least in the form of Christianity) occurred.  Ancient pagan society was in many ways extremely tolerant and pluralistic, things we tend to value.  If these were its features, what were its bugs, that it was replaced?

It is important, first of all, to acknowledge that much of the process of conversion was accomplished not because of any inherent attractiveness of the new faith or real or perceived problems with the old, but for baser reasons.  As Christians increased in numbers, and especially after Constantine’s Edict of Milan decriminalized it, many converted for reasons of social advancement.  In short, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  Later, Theodosius I, with the Edict of Thessalonica, made Christianity (specifically its Nicene form) not only legal but official, the motivation for conversion became even greater.  In the latter days of the Roman Empire, the pressures to convert increased as pagan temples and schools were closed.  After this, in the Middle Ages, conversions were often proclaimed by fiat when the local tribal chieftain or king converted (e.g. Vladimir of Russia).

Despite all this, it is true that even before all of these other factors came into play, Christianity was spreading like wildfire in the early days of the Roman Empire, and doing so despite persecution and intolerance.  By the time of Constantine, the population was about ten per cent Christian–still a minority, but a relatively sizable one.  This indicates some appeal of Christianity, and some weakness in the old ways.  What were they?

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In Memory of Hiroshima

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The military doctrine of nuclear deterrence is regarded by a great number of countries as a prime obstacle to meaningful progress on nuclear disarmament. It exists as an elemental part of security force structures that hinder the development of our globalized and interdependent world. Moreover, it is used to justify the modernization of existing stockpiles of nuclear weapons, thus obstructing genuine nuclear disarmament… The logical course of action is clear: urgent and expedited progress leading to a global ban on nuclear weapons to accompany the global ban on other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons.” 

 ~Archbishop Francis Chullikat,
Permanent Observer of the Holy See,
in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty’s review process this spring

Courtesy of Pax Christi.  The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima–the first in human history–was sixty-nine years ago today.

How to Look at Religions

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This post is a sort of prelude to several I’m planning to put up over the next few days.  I want to look at certain aspects of “families” of religions, and types of religions in general, and to preface all that, I want to explore a few concepts here.  More specifically, I’m going to look at classifications of religions and I’m going to discuss perspectives on how certain tendencies or views of religions tend to play out, affect their believers, and so on.  In this regard, people often take one of two different and opposite perspectives, each of which, in my mind, is problematic.

First, the believer in a given faith may have objections to the attempts to study that faith in a sociological manner.  He may think that this denigrates the faith, reduces it to mere human affairs, and fails to see the action of the Divine within this faith.  For example, a historian might make the argument that the alienation and social changes felt by the populace during the early days of the Roman Empire were a large factor in the rise and rapid spread of Christianity.  A Christian might object to such a characterization on the grounds that it does not make allowance for God’s providence and action in revealing Himself and in ensuring the spread of His word according to His will.

On the other hand, a skeptic might balk at religious motivations in explaining the actions of people and the shape of cultures across the ages.  He might insist that religion is just a mask of the things that really motivate people; that is to say, greed, power, economics, politics, and so on.  Thus, such a skeptic might insist that the “real” reason for the missionary impulse in the Age of Exploration wasn’t to save souls but to gain control over the inhabitants of newly discovered areas that harbored vast riches which the  European powers wished to exploit.

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Some Postulates

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Not geometric postulates, though!  This is a sort of continuation of my last post in this series, as well as trying to articulate what I’m postulating, what I’m trying to avoid, and why.

First, as I said way back here (allow me the luxury of quoting myself without seeming a total egotist!):

Nasty things–evils–existed long before humans came on the scene.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, predators, disease, pestilence, cancer, and so on have been around for eons.  Thus, any system that posits their existence as coming after the Fall of Man is not going to work.  [E]vils or Evil can’t be blamed on Eve’s apple.

Without claiming to give knowledge from on high, I suggested a possible (and in my mind, not unreasonable) theory as to the origin of pre-human evil, here.

For reasons that I’ve elaborated on in this series, as well as in the previous post, I think it’s hard to maintain the idea of Original Sin as a discrete, specific transgression by a particular individual or couple at a particular time in history.  Therefore, theories of the Atonement that are based on the traditional concept of a literal Adam, Eve, and Fall must be reworked and overhauled, perhaps massively.  Summarizing this,

1.  The evils in the physical universe are not caused by the Fall of Man,

2.  which could not have occurred as a discrete act by a specific person or persons.

I think these are fairly sound postulates, though I want to discuss objections to number 2 in an upcoming post.  The following two postulates are more speculative and will be revisited, but I’ll state them simply for now:

3.  Man was originally good in intention (metaphysically or from a supra-temporal or aeviternal perspective), if not temporally and/or historically, and this original metaphysical goodness was marred, if not temporally and/or historically (lots here to unpack, but let it be for now).

4.  Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection brings atonement to humanity (though how this is done is not yet clear, assuming one rejects the literal Genesis story.  Once more, let it be for now).

This is where I’m starting from as I try to pick my way forward on the Fall and what that may or may not mean.

Update:  It is Lent, so I will repent of my sins against mathematics.  I used the word “postulate” very loosely.  In mathematics (my field) a postulate (or axiom) is the most basic point from which one builds a proof or argument.  Postulates are not proved because they cannot be proved–they’re self-evident.  For example, postulate number one illustrated above (the illustrations show Euclid’s Postulates) is that two points in a plane give a unique line.  If one understands what “point”, “plane”, and “line” mean, this postulate is self-evident; it must be true; it can’t not be true.  The points above are certainly not like this.  None of them are self-evident, and given what we know about the origins of the cosmos, 1 can be reasonably proved (remember, postulates can’t be proved).  It would have been better to call these points my starting points or my basic assumptions.  Oh, well.

I also realized that I should have added another basic assumption; but I discuss that in the next post in this series.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Colonial-era Weapons of The Patriot

I wrote the following essay a few years ago after seeing the Mel Gibson movie about the American Revolution, The Patriot.  Enjoy!

            The Patriot, as a Revolutionary War movie, mainly depicts black powder rifles and cannon in the battle scenes. However, two edged weapons that are prominent in the movie are the sabre, used especially by the evil British Col. Tavington, and the tomahawk, used by the hero Ben Martin. We know, in fact, that the crucial juncture in Martin’s decision to enter the war has arrived when he brings out his old tomahawk from storage. The final battle between him and Tavington, of course, is fought hand-to-hand with these weapons. Let’s take a look at these early American weapons.
            The sabre (or saber–both spellings are used) was the standard sidearm of the officer corps on both sides during the Colonial/Revolutionary era. The sabre is a curved, single-edged weapon about 2 1/2–3 feet long. It can be used for stabbing, to a limited extent, but is principally a slashing weapon. This makes it ideal for use from horseback, which is why it was mainly a weapon of cavalry and officers. Foot soldiers used mainly bayonets or knives (the precursors of the Bowie knife). The movie is very accurate in its portrayal of sabre use. The sabre was reserved until the charge. The idea was that both sides would line up on the battlefield and fire several rounds at each other in turn. When one side was confident that the foe was getting the worse of it, the general would command a charge. If all went well for the charging side, the enemy would break and run. Whether they did or not, bayonets and swords were used at this stage because the rifles and pistols of the era were impossible to reload on the run. Thus, like the Roman gladius or the modern service pistol, the sabre was used in the hand-to-hand phase of battle, which usually came near the end of the engagement.

Movie Night: Ancient Aliens Debunked

Taking aim at a History Channel series about ancient aliens.

Update:  It has come to my attention that Chris White, producer of this video, is a bit of a fundamentalist wacko.  In one of his videos–a religiously oriented one–he speaks of a “lack of people willing to be saved”.  I can’t support that theology or anything about it.  I will leave this video up since it does seem to make some valid points about the shoddiness of the History Channel series; but let the watcher beware, in regard to the source.

Omar Khayyám–the Movie!

 

From 1957, in the old-fashioned style of Hollywood sword-and-sandal (or turban) epics of the day.  Let’s say that its portrayal of our Patron is–loose–but it’s still fun in the way only big Technicolor epics can be.  Despite the lettering around the edges, it is in English, by the way!  Enjoy!

Right of First Knight: Or, Family Feudalism

Having watched the movie The War Lord, which is reviewed elsewhere in this site, I got me to thinking about the so-called “right of first night”.  This is a major plot element in the movie, as it also is in the movie Braveheart.  Also, as is less well known, it is one of the most controversial topics of Medieval history. I thought therefore that it would be of interest to discuss this issue in the context of its times and with reference to whether it is actually factual.

To begin with, I would first like to sketch the basic outlines of how feudal society works, in order to have the proper context for understanding the “right of first night”.   Most movies are abysmal in correctly portraying Medieval politics (an area in which The War Lord succeeds very well, incidentally) and show little or no understanding of feudalism.   Sadly, even most schools and history classes and many books and novels don’t do much better.  Thus, a little Feudalism 101 will not be a complete digression. Read the rest of this entry

Documentary on Omar Khayyám

A documentary about our remarkable patron.