Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
Superfluous in Heaven
Even Sacred Music Is Mundane
Saturday, February 4, 2017 12:36 am
In the mid '80s, when I was a college boy, I regularly went to the record stores near campus. This was just before CDs and long before MP3s. You wanted music, you flipped through an alphabetized bin and found an LP. Anyhow, one day, while I was browsing for something new, a classical work of some sort started playing on the store stereo. It was beautiful and unfamiliar. I listened for quite a while. I finally asked the clerk what it was. He showed me the sleeve and I went to the proper bin. The LP was in stock. I bought it. 

It was the Third Symphony of Jean Sibelius, as performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, recorded in June 1984. I know these details because, even when I eventually got the CD, I got the exact same recording. I am reading the liner notes as I write.

Now, I am profoundly susceptible to music. My reactions are acute. Sometimes I am infatuated only; sometimes I am ceaselessly bound. Sibelius's Third is still beautiful to me. It raises and stirs, thirty years on.

Beauty is not precisely in the eye of the beholder. All beautiful things are imperfect and being imperfect are not perfectly beautiful. Besides, one who beholds is imperfect, too, and cannot apprehend beauty perfectly. It is all piecemeal. So it is not surprising that we disagree on what is beautiful. That said, beauty is not a matter of opinion. We are moved by a beautiful thing because we are sensing Beauty Itself. A truly beautiful thing partakes of God.

That is why a beautiful thing makes life good. Living on Earth is a rotten business. A beautiful thing consoles and compensates. When I listen to Sibelius's Third I am glad I have ears. I am reminded that misery is a privation, not an end. I am glad that I am still breathing.

And then I wonder: Would the Third even matter to me in the afterlife?

Assume I get to Heaven. Assume I am granted the Beatific Vision. Seeing God fully means apprehending Beauty at Its Source. No need for reflections or consolations. Sibelius's Third Symphony is of the Earth and would be superfluous in Heaven.

I can tell myself that, being in Heaven, my understanding would be under grace and I would not even miss the Third, nor think it sad that I don't need or want to listen to it. I would understand that even a great work is unnecessary when there is no misery to counteract. I wouldn't even feel a loss, since loss cannot exist in Heaven.

Even after the Resurrection, when we would all be restored to our bodies and again in some sort of material life, the grace of Heaven would persist. We won't need symphonies nor any example of artifacted beauty. Presumably they wouldn't even attract us since we would have no unsatisfied appetites.

And yet.

Will we stop loving each other because we are immersed in grace? Will we stop enjoying what can be enjoyed, whether it is our family or the sun or the moon or whatever might constitute the consummated universe?

Maybe the Third will be superfluous. Or maybe you can never have too much beauty, and we will listen with an even greater joy than before.

You Do Not Come Disassembled
A Thought About the Self
Friday, January 27, 2017 3:19 pm
The person who bristles at being labeled is being childish. You are not a special snowflake; you are always a member of some category. The only matter with a label is its accuracy.

Call me a Thomist and you would be right. More to the point, presume that my metaphysical ruminations hardly originate with me. I'm not trying to break ground, here; I'm sharing an understanding that I have acquired. 

So I am David. David is not a soul inhabiting a body. My body is not a vessel. There is no ghost in the machine. While my soul, having immaterial aspects due to its rational nature, can exist apart from its material aspects, a human soul without a body is incomplete. Truncated; crippled. My soul is the form of David and that form properly entails the material.

I am reducible to neither my body nor my soul.

There is a tendency these days to think of the mind as a computer plugged into a body. It seems a useful analogy, sometimes. The problem is that one starts to think of separated processes in the mind because that is how computers work. Most especially, one thinks that the "mind" is the conscious bit of oneself, the you, and the unconscious bits are just the "brain," all but independent of the true self.

However, much as you must stop thinking of the soul and body as independent, you must stop thinking of the mind and brain as independent. When you drive to work and are thinking the whole time about something else and yet you are stopping at traffic lights and making those familiar turns, it is not a drive-to-work brain-bound subroutine that is getting you there, but you.

There is only one actor. And that assertion is not semantic; it is metaphysical.

Now, I'm not going to give a thoroughgoing defense of this idea. A good Thomist can do so (visit Edward Feser whenever you can). Rather, in this little blog post, I want only to prompt a shift in your thinking.

Do you recall that experiment that "proved" free will was an illusion? I recall that, eventually, the empirical facts were shown to be wrong; but accept that the experiment was empirically accurate in its results.

The "proof" was that when a subject picked up a cup, the brain fired off the muscle signals to pick up the cup before the subject consciously acted to pick up the cup. In other words, the decision to pick up the cup followed the movement to do so.

As you can see, the problem in this "proof" is the presumption that the conscious part of you is all of you; more subtly, that free will is implicated only in consciousness.

Or consider this. The free will in this case doesn't consist in the "decision" to pick up the cup; the free will was prior to that, when the subject decided to do what was asked of him. Picking up a cup does not require will as such. The subject knows how to pick up a cup. He is primed to act already. His muscles are in play even before he is consciously aware of what he is doing.

If the subject were instead told to stab someone, an if-then morality check — i.e., his conscience — kicks in. The muscle process is blocked. The consciousness is made aware, affirms the delay, and no stabbing occurs. And a well-formed conscience — that perennial check on "mindless" action — is the result of prior learning and training; of prior free will. Even the reflexive refusal to stab a man is ultimately the consequence of free will, whatever the milliseconds timing of this or that neuronal impulse.

Or consider this. Ultimately the mind is immaterial. The decision to act is made in an immaterial space. That a material detection of a "decision" should follow the material detection of a "movement" does not tell you what happened prior to both in the immaterial aspect of the mind.

Think about it.

Amid the Forests, Among the Stars
A Little Animism Might Help
Sunday, October 5, 2008 7:52 pm
When considering what has occupied thinkers until the modern age, it strikes me how unabashedly they ruminated on the non-material. For ancient and medieval thinkers, material things were not ultimate things, and truly ultimate things can and should be understood.

Modern materialists simply lack imagination. Maybe it is better to say that their imaginations cannot escape their machines and mathematics. Whatever strength of imagination they do have — to imagine, say, a warp in spacetime — they reject any concepts not reducible to the material.

Thus they are terribly hampered when it comes to thinking about the supernatural, let alone believing in God. Indeed, unlike the rest of us, they have no sense of the Divine. Perhaps they truly lack this sense. Rather than having plucked out their eyes, they were simply born blind. Either way, is it not amusing how they think themselves superior for being handicapped? It never occurs to them that they are in a minority not because they, as an elite, have transcended mankind, but because they are simply damaged. 

In any event, it seems that much of the difficulty in accepting God is rooted in an abandonment of philosophy. Natural science has progressively estranged itself from its parent. The modern materialist, at heart a scientist, no longer wonders about causes formal, efficient, and final. He simply doesn't wonder. They don't matter to him. He has, indeed, lost the very language to discuss them. All the terms and theories and modes and categories have been cast aside. And why? Because all of them were devised at first to explain the mundane: Why do things grow? Why do things fall? Why do things live? Why do things burn? Yet having explained the mundane with all his equations and having presumed there is an equation for everything, the materialist has no more need for philosophy.

Never mind Aristotle and Aquinas and their ilk. Consider animism. How is that things move? How is that some of them clearly move deliberately? Is there something that facilitates this animation of things? There is clearly a distinction between living and dead. Something enlivens. And is "living" restricted to beasts? Isn't the wind alive? Shouldn't it, too, have an animating spirit, as much as a mouse? Indeed, are any objects free of spirit? Is it not possible that all objects contain a spirit?

This is not an idiotic line of inquiry. It is reasonable. Just because we have since concluded that the wind has no spirit doesn't mean the evidence isn't there. What is unfortunate is that, having concluded via science that the wind is just an effect of the variously accelerated molecules in the atmosphere, the intuition at the core of animism has been lost. Did you know that the ancients even supposed that abstract emotions had spirits? Love was not only something experienced but something existent, an entity in possession of its own animating spirit. This is downright alien to modern thinking. It may be a refined animism far from the fields and forests, but it is still an animism.

Now, when we Christians say that God is Love, what are we saying, after all? We are saying that Love is an entity animated by a Spirit. Yet the materialist has so thoroughly discarded animistic thinking, he can't even suppose that Love might be more that just an affect of creatures. He can't imagine Love as Being. Sadly for him, so much of God is like that; and since he can't manage the tiniest bit of animistic thinking, he imagines God as only a kind of Spaghetti Monster. The materialist simply hasn't the philosophical disposition — the necessary cognitive tools — to transcend his inadequate notions of God.

Eternity With Love Handles
God's Gonna ResurrectThis?
Monday, August 1, 2005 1:54 am
It's right there in the Nicene Creed: "I expect the resurrection of the dead." On the final day we will each arise as Christ arose and be restored to our bodies, no matter how dispersed our flesh might be among the elements of the Earth. To be sure, on that day our bodies will be uncorrupted and imperishable, glorious bodies like the glorious body of Christ; but I've always wondered: What will those bodies look like? 

Christ looked like the Jesus at 33 — that is, the Jesus at the time of His death. If I died right now, would I be resurrected with a bald spot and love handles? Insofar as these things are a function of corruption, I suppose the answer would be no; but what, then, does that mean? Do I suddenly become the trim and virile, fit and vigorous man I am not? Do I become what I would have been, had I been born in Eden? I am sure that some theologians have pondered this; but I haven't read them. I don't think the Magisterium has an opinion, since the particular details of the general resurrection have not been given to the Church.

So if you don't mind, I will offer a little speculation.

An important clue, I think, is in the Eucharist. The glorious Body of Christ is there as the host; yet there are — obviously — no bodily attributes whatsoever. In other words, a resurrected and glorious body need not manifest itself in an expected way. The body is as real, distinct, and unique to each of us as are the reason, soul, and will. On the last day we will be given, again and truly, the bodies we had at death. But the notion that Heaven will be filled with infants, children, teenagers, and adults young and old seems absurd, somehow.

What will be returned to us, I think, is the substance of our bodies. In body we will be substantially as we were, just as a consecrated host is substantially the Body of Christ. Which is not to say we will be formless. We will surely have some form. Some default form, if you will. Yes, Christ can appear as 33-year-old man, just as Mary can appear as a very young woman, despite having raised a 33-year-old and lived long past his death; but what if they, and eventually we, default to something else? Say, to children? I'm not just being sentimental. I'm not getting all Hallmark on you. I'm serious. I suspect that in Heaven we will be children.

This hardly proves anything, but I'm especially guided by the following:
And Jesus, calling unto him a little child, set him in the midst of them. And said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matt. 18:2-3

And they brought to him young children, that he might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them that brought them. Whom when Jesus saw, he was much displeased and saith to them: Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall not enter into it. Mark 10:13-15
I know that Jesus was not being literal in these passages. His point, quite different from mine, was that we must be like little children if we expect to enter the Kingdom of God. Still, I find these words highly suggestive. It seems so right that Heaven would be filled not merely with childlike people but with actual children. Of such is the kingdom of God. And then there's this:
For in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married, but shall be as the angels of God in heaven. Matt. 22:30
It's not so surprising that there would be no marriage in Heaven. After all, what is marriage for? Apart from providing for the best upbringing of children, marriage contains and sanctifies the act that produces those children. Since no more people will be created — let alone born and raised — after the end of the world, marriage will have no purpose. Sex will have no purpose. There will be no sex in Heaven. Unless you're an angry jihadi, I think you'd agree.

Well, what sort of human is it, who has no need or capacity for sex? A child, of course. Yes indeed, I am only speculating, and perhaps ill-informedly; but I really think that on the last day we will be resurrected as children.

The Misanthrope's Epiphany
Stupid People and God
Sunday, June 13, 2004 5:43 am
You've got your dislikes, yes? For certain sorts of people, yes? Such people appear in a store or at an intersection and, despite every well-remembered admonition to be charitable, you all but fume at their repulsive stupidity. And, as always, you remember that God loves them; that, in fact, He died for them; and, looking upon them again and feeling an ill-natured disgust, you apprehend the greatest truth: Not that God loves sinners per se; but that He loves complete and utter morons. Such a love must be infinite indeed.
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