August 25, 2012

Culture of Belief

I have no difficulty with people who ardently believe — or who ardently deny, for that matter — propositions that are incapable of proof or for which evidence is either scant or absent; to wit, that God is (though perhaps in some manner rather different from how things are). But what makes me wonder sometimes about the human race is the capacity to cling to beliefs or denials about which there is more than enough actual evidence, and in some cases incontrovertible proof, to the contrary.

This seems to be a malady that is aggravated by the closing chapters of the current political season. One can easily witness people, who by all accounts appear to be rational, fervently espousing propositions that are little more than nonsense, plainly false, proven to be false, and yet clutched to the breast like a life-preserver in a flood. Whether it is birth certificates or climate change, the abiding power of money to trickle down as of its own accord, the omnicompetence of states to solve all human ills by the mere redistribution of said money, or the marvelous capacity of women’s bodies to fend off microscopic cells even if unable to fend off the body of their larger host — ideologies corrupt the ability to perceive evidence and reach rational conclusions.

My principal fear as we slouch toward the November elections is that the common sense of the vast number of the people will be eroded by the vast stupidity of a few of the people. And I begin to fear that there is more stupidity than I suspected. Or more who are simply lying. That's always a possibility, though I'd like to believe otherwise, as little comfort as I take from thinking more people are stupid than are liars.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The More Things Change

As England continues to debate the question of marriage equality, the Church of England, or at least a "spokesman" for it (according to press reports, summarized at Thinking Anglicans) continue to complain that such a change in the marriage law will necessitate changing the definition of marriage for everyone.

This is far from true. Marriage is an estate or manner of life, not a definition. What is changing is a matter of eligibility and capacity to marry, permitting couples who formerly were not able to marry to do so. Allowing same-sex couples to marry is a change, but not a change that will have significant effect upon anyone married at present, or on any future mixed-sex couples. The only conceivable change that might have any impact on a very small minority of people would be in changing the current English definitions of consummation and the grounds for adultery — which will only concern those seeking to nullify or terminate their marriages; in short, those trying to get out of the estate, not those who choose to remain in it. (And isn't it about time to recognize that same-sex sex is sex, and that a man married to a woman who has an erotic affair with another man is guilty of adultery rather than "unreasonable conduct?" Jesus, after all, noted that the eye and the mind could be instruments of adultery, so the more "dishonorable parts" ought to be capable of just as much, and perhaps more obvious, infidelity, regardless of how specifically employed.)

Think of two analogies in legal change: expanding the voting franchise to include women did not take the vote away from men. But lowering the speed limit affects all who drive. Marriage equality is clearly more like the former than the latter. It is a change, but not a change that need concern those who will be unaffected by it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 21, 2012

Thought for 08.21.12

God has written something of the Truth on every human heart, but none can read the text upon their own. So God has given us each other, so that we may read the truth upon each others’ hearts, and come to know God's Truth beyond ourselves.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
a word that came to me in a dream last night

August 8, 2012

Seen and Heard

Finally got around to watching Margarethe von Trotta’s film on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, which has been languishing in the hermitage of my Netflix queue for several liturgial seasons. I’m not sure what took me so long; perhaps I thought it would be a pious and tedious tract. On the contrary it is a rather entertaining portrait of an extraordinary woman — extraordinary in her own day, and likely any day up until the present, and perhaps even now.

The atmosphere captures the era well, though things do seem a bit tidier than they likely were. The several books that make their appearances look just a bit too much like modern books, but that is a minor point. Friedrich Barbarossa wearing what appears to be a dalmatic or tunicle in his rec room seemed a bit more odd. But such items were transient distractions. There is much wonderful music in the film, as would be expected. But one would have appreciated, in a film with this title, a bit more focus on the illuminations of the famed visions.

But the main attraction is the interaction of the characters — and anyone who thinks that politics is new to the church ought to check out the interplay of abbots, bishops, archbishops, popes, Margravines, and even the odd would-be-emperor, with whom good Hildegard has to deal as she stakes out a patch to live out her vision. She is not portrayed as a plaster saint — far from it — but as a brilliant, charismatic visionary, subject to the same human perils of particular friendship, and the attendant presence of the Green Eyed Monster who looms periodically and occasionally steps into the foreground. The human drama is set against a spiritual and ecclesiastical tug-og-war, and while low-key for the most part, it is quite compelling.

Performances are good without exception. Barbara Sukowa captures Hildegard’s ambiguities and ambitions well;  Heino Ferch is sympathetic as the priest / counselor to the sisters; Hannah Herzsprung serves well as the cause of much envy, and Lena Stolz as its victim and exponenet.

My score: 8 out of 10. Well worth seeing.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 7, 2012

A Fallacy That Will Not Die

Once again — how many times has this come up? — it is being asserted widely that the reason only mixed-sex couples can marry is that only they are “inherently” capable of procreation. This is not only false, but a fallacy.

First, though, let it be acknowledged that the state, and for what it is worth, many religions, do hold that procreation ought to take place within the context of marriage, thereby implicitly recognizing the sadly obvious fact that marriage is not essential to procreation. However, as soon as this is said, it also has to be recognized that the converse is equally true and obvious: that neither the state, nor most religions, require procreation of married couples. Some religious groups insist that couples at least attempt procreation, but the bearing of children is, for most states and most faiths, a positive outcome and not a requirement. Making the institution of marriage depend on what is essentially a contingency robs it of relation to what in fact constitutes the marriage, which is the mutual consent to life together.

In short, it is not the bearing of children that “makes” the marriage a marriage. As long ago as the 17th century, the eminent Scottish jurist James Dalrymple, the Viscount Stair, wrote in his Institutions of the Law of Scotland,

It is not the consent of Marriage as it relateth to the procreation of Children that is requisite; for it may consist, though the Woman be far beyond that date; but it is the consent, whereby ariseth that Conjugal Society, which may have the conjunction of Bodies as well as of Minds, as the general end of the Institution of Marriage, is the solace and satisfaction of Man. For the Lord saw that it was not fit for him to be alone, and therefore made a help meet for him: Yet though this capacity should never be actuat, as if persons, both capable, should after Marriage live together, and it should be known and acknowledged that they did abstain, yet were the Marriage valid, as to the Conjugal Rights on either part. (I.iv.6)

However, we then come to the fallacious belief that any given mixed-sex couple are somehow “inherently” capable of procreation, while same-sex couples never are. First of all, the obvious truth is that it takes two to dance the procreative tango — and both must be, individually as well as jointly, capable of procreation, in order for procreation to happen. The marriage of a couple consisting of one member of each sex does not have any "inherent" capacity to procreation, solely on the basis of their sex. Such a couple either has "actual" capacity for procreation or it doesn't.

So let me sketch this out in simpler terms. The “traditionalists” appear to be arguing thus:

a. Male and female are required for procreation
b. Marriage requires procreation, therefore
c. Marriage requires male and female.

I hope you can see the syllogism follows, but only if (b) is accepted as true. However, in fact its contrary is true. As it stands (b) is not acceptable to most states or faiths — any more than same-sex marriage is acceptable to most states and faiths. So those who frame the argument in this way are employing a premise they do not in fact accept to reach a conclusion they desire.

Let’s look at it another way:

a. A couple including a person of each sex, each of whom is capable of procreation has an inherent capacity to procreate as a couple.
a(1). This means that the inability of either or both members of the couple to procreate prevents the couple from procreation.
b. The inability to procreate is not grounds for forbidding marriage, or dissolving marriage.
b(1). This means that those who wish to prohibit same-sex marriage on the grounds of incapacity to procreate need to come up with a better argument.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG