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# Wednesday, October 22, 2008
My most recent post on how I choose whom to vote for dived into a bit of depth on the two key principles that factor into my decisions in this important part of our lives as citizens in a democratic republic.  One of my colleagues said to me something like "it's just plain silly to vote on one issue."  Put another way, "life isn't the only issue, dude."  This is actually a common sentiment, especially by those who, for whatever reason, want to justify voting for candidates who support (usually) abortion as part of their platform.

And yes, it's true.  There are more issues to think about than life issues and abortion in particular.  No doubt about that.

Issues of Consequence


But to be a responsible voter, we have to think like adults--we have to weigh issues not only in number but also in importance, in consequence.  For instance, is a candidate's position on technology of more or less consequence than his position on education?  That's certainly debatable--there are many nuances and ways of tackling both of those, some of which would be a win-win.

On the other hand, when you compare the consequences of a candidate's position on abortion to even something as near and dear to our hearts as the state of the economy (our own personal savings), which seems to be capturing folks' imaginations these days thanks to current events, there is just no comparison.  I don't care if my life savings is wiped out.  My pecuniary situation must take second chair to protecting the lives of the millions who have been and will continue to be killed with the consent of the law. 

Today, there are very few issues that can claim the priority and consequence of abortion.  As explored in my last post, protection of life must come first.  It trumps economy; it trumps education; it trumps health care; it trumps foreign policy, and it even trumps social services.  If you don't have life, none of this matters.  It is plain, simple, straightforward logic.

If you vote for a candidate who supports abortion, you are consenting to and indirectly participating in the death of each and every baby who has its brains sucked out, who is mangled, chemically burned, poisoned, or killed in any one of the many diabolically creative ways they've figured out how to do take human life in a mother's womb.  I apologize if it offends sensibilities, but you need to make an informed decision and realize there is real, moral culpability involved in voting for candidates who support abortion.  Is your 401(k) worth more than these babies' lives? 

We can disagree on the propriety of the Iraq war (I have always opposed it but believe we are responsible to try to fix the mess we've made); we can disagree on the most effective means for social and economic stability; we can disagree on the  death penalty, and we can argue about the right way to fix the environment.  There are plenty of issues where good, honest folks can have good honest disagreements.  We have to think about all these, but we also have to weigh them proportionately. 

Religion or Science?


[If I could do side bars on the blog, this would go there.  So just imagine it being there.]  A lot of folks, including Senator Biden, seem to think that when life begins is a matter of faith.  It's not.  Life is not just a religious issue; it's about as biological and primordially human as it gets.  Human life begins at conception; this is scientific, not religious--if you don't interfere with a newly-conceived human being, he or she will develop into an adult human being.  It doesn't matter if they're self aware or not; they're still alive and have everything, genetically speaking, they'll have as adults.  You can't distinguish based on awareness--that's a slippery slope.  What about the severely mentally retarded or the senile?  What about newborns?  What level of self-awareness do you require?  What's the IQ score you have to have?  Who decides?

Our Current Choices


Obama has said that the first thing he'll do if elected is sign into law the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, which would have the effect of overturning all existing laws that limit abortion and making it harder for future limits to be created.  He has a strong, indisputable record supporting abortion, which is why NARAL and other pro-choice organizations are so keen on him.  When asked, he claims issues of life are "above his pay grade," but he has no reluctance to take actions based on this purported ignorance.

As George Weigel wrote recently in Newsweek, "Is John McCain a perfect pro-life candidate? Of course not. But Barack Obama is a perfect pro-life nightmare."  I really wish there were a party that embodied my perspectives completely, but that'll never happen.  I think that's true for pretty much everybody, so we just have to decide what's more important and vote along those lines.  For my part, I just can't see how anything is more important than protecting human life, and I can't deaden my conscience enough to vote for someone who has clearly deadened his own.  Life isn't the only issue, but it is the most important one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 11:42:12 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [7]  | 
# Sunday, April 20, 2008

I was just reading the sermon Pope Benedict gave today in the Bronx.  The following struck a cord:

The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. "In his will is our peace."

Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on "the mind of Christ" (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us!

I've thought about this seeming paradox on a few occasions--that real, radical freedom is found in truth and living in conformity to that truth. 

Loss of Freedom?
There's a common perception that morals, ethics, and religion in general limit our freedom--that we're sacrificing freedom for some greater good.  But we're not actually sacrificing freedom--we're still free to choose to think and act otherwise, however, we are using our freedom, choosing to live in accord with what we believe to be true.  It's a different way to think about it, one that puts it in the right perspective.  I think it is put in a negative perspective so often because we focus on the things we're not supposed to think or do instead of on what we are freely choosing--positively--to think and do.

The funny thing that I've found is that in choosing to align my beliefs and actions with Catholic doctrine, I feel far more at peace and far freer.  I think it is because if we're constantly struggling with the basic (but important!) questions of life, such as our origins, the existence of God and our relationship to the Divine, as well as our right relations with others, we never get off the ground, so to speak--we're always stuck in an infinite loop, wondering and (maybe) worrying, if we are conscientious. 

But if we settle all that, we're free to move on and explore new horizons.  Not only that, I think we are better equipped to explore those new horizons, because we are aligned with truth, with reality.

Mental & Conceptual Models
This reminds me of the idea in psychology of mental models and conceptual models.  My understanding, based on Donald Norman's The Design of Everyday Things (a.k.a., The Psychology of Everyday Things), is essentially that there is a conceptual model that designers create and use when they design and build things.  This is the actual and correct model.  Then there are mental models that users of the design form and use when perceiving and interacting with the design.

The trick in design is to sufficiently express the conceptual model (through a variety of design mechanisms like affordances, feedback, "knowledge in the world," etc.) so that users will form the correct mental model--one that closely aligns with the design's conceptual model.  The reason this is important is that it empowers the users to use the design effectively and not spend undue time and energy trying to figure it out, dealing with frustrations and inefficiencies that come from having a wrong mental model.  You could say that having the right mental model makes the users more peaceful and more free to explore other things because they don't have the frustrations and aren't wasting unnecessary time on it.

Applied Mental Models for Freedom and Happiness
Now map that to how we think and act as human beings.  Imagine that there is a correct conceptual model that specifies how best we human beings can think, act, and relate to others.  This model can be discovered through a variety of the Designer's mechanisms such as nature (e.g., affordances in biology), reason, experimentation (use & feedback both personal, scientific, and historical/anecdotal), and even revelation (documentation, as it were).  Now if we form the correct mental model, one that most closely aligns with the human conceptual model, it follows that we'll be more at peace (less frustrated), more efficient, more effective, and freer to explore other things.  In short, having the right mental model would give us the most radical freedom and happiness.

Wouldn't we be crazy not to use the human design in accordance with the right mental model, once we figure it out?  I think so.  For instance, once we figure out that our door key is inserted into the key slot in a particular way that gets us through the door in the least amount of time, we'd be silly--bordering on insane--to keep trying to use the key in ways that don't match that mental model.  We'd be wasting time, getting frustrated, and getting stuck outside!

No, once we discover the right mental model, the only sane thing to do is to keep using it unless someone comes along and demonstrates a model that seems to work better.  Doing this--adhering to this mental model--is not "blind faith," as many liken the faith of Christians (and others) to be.  On the contrary, adhering to a mental model that seems right  to you is pure sanity, absolute reason; doing anything else would be idiocy of the first degree.

Sharing Your Mental Model - The Right Thing to Do
It also follows that if you see someone standing outside a door, fumbling with a key, unable to figure out how to use it, that what else could you do but walk over, show, and explain the right mental model--the one that you've found is the most effective and least frustrating?  Would it be kind of you to just say "well, whatever that person believes is fine for them" and just leave them stuck and frustrated?  (I'd suggest not.)

So it is with those who share their faith, their mental model about life, the universe, and everything.  They think they've found the right mental model, the one that is most aligned with the ultimate human conceptual model, the one that if applied will provide the most peace, satisfaction, and happiness.  It is an act of kindness, an act of caring, indeed an act of love, to take the trouble to share such a mental model with others.  Correspondingly, it would be an act of meanness, selfishness, even perhaps of hatred, to not share it and try to help others to understand and use it.

So to those who think having faith is ignorant, blind adherence and loss of freedom, I'd suggest they reconsider.  Using the analogy illumined here, it seems clear that such faith is actually the opposite--it is wide-eyed, reasoned, experiential, and ultimately more radically free and more likely to provide lasting happiness (which is a goal I think any sane human being can agree upon, no?). 

Similarly, perhaps the most popular philosophical adage of our age--"what you believe is okay for you and what I believe is okay for me"--is not in actuality the most humane, reasoned, or livable approach.  On the contrary, it seems far more humane--even positively caring--to try to show each other why we think we have the right mental model.  It's something to consider, anyways.

Sunday, April 20, 2008 6:24:28 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, January 19, 2008

One of the questions that gets asked and re-asked over the generations is "how can a good, all-powerful God exist if there is so much evil in the world?"  There's even a specialized term that's been created for dealing with that question--theodicy.  Needless to say, as many times as it has been asked, there have been answers given.  For some, these answers are sufficient, but the fact that it keeps being asked indicates that for some the answers are not sufficient.

I'm not about to say I have found the answer to silence the question, and even if I had, very few people will ever read this. :)  But I do think the correct answer is what has been offered by others, which is that evil exists so that greater good may come of it.

This answer is hard to swallow when we can't see the greater good, when we're being brought face to face with great suffering and the terrible things that people do to others or even just the suffering of the poor, those afflicted by natural disasters, and those who suffer as a result of accidents.  I think some would argue even that "natural" death itself seems to be an evil.  It can be very hard to see the greater good because these things stand out in stark, ringing, painful contrast to what we think of as the good life we want for ourselves and hope for others.

What is Evil and From Whence?
Tied up in this question is the deeper question of "just what is evil, anyways?"  If I recall correctly, St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the great Christian philosophers and theologians, proposed that evil is the negation of good.  Depending on how you take it, this may be a good definition.  A friend of mine once suggested he thought that evil wasn't just the negation of good but that it was the twisting, or perversion, of good, but I can see that falling under St. Augustine's definition in that if you are twisting or perverting something, you are refusing it as it is and changing it into something it is not, which I think is essentially a negation.

On this question, I tend to hold with St. Augustine, as his definition seems to be a simple one that really does encompass the meaning of evil, and it reflects even our common understanding of evil--as inclusive of human suffering and death as well as the rejection of God, the ultimate good.  I do think that human suffering and death are, taken solely in themselves, evil, though not absolute or unconquerable evil.  I think that such evil can be overcome by good.

To reinforce that suffering and death are evil, apart from it seeming obvious common sense, we also see in divine revelation that we humans were not made for suffering and death.  God made us and our world and said "it is good."  Our sin, that is, our turning away from the God who is the source of our life and joy and our turning inwards on ourselves, introduced the possibility for death and suffering.  I think the curse of Adam is not so much an external punishment inflicted by a seemingly vengeful God than it is an affirmation and explication of the natural consequence of our willful separation from the source of all being and happiness.

The Transcendent Good that Overcomes Evil
But God foresaw this and, from the foundations of the universe, planned to redeem us from our turning away from our natural end, which was and is eternal sharing in God's goodness, his love, his joy, and his peace.  He planned to come down to us and become one of us, taking on our whole human nature, purifying it, restoring it, and further dignifying it by infusing his own complete divine perfection. 

He thus empowered us to turn back to him and to receive from him again that which was our natural end to begin with--that complete human participation in the perfect divine goodness.  By becoming human, taking on our whole humanity, he not only restored us to our status as "good" creatures of God, he adopted us as his children.  Through Jesus, the only, eternal Son of God--through his incarnation and sacrifice--we can now truly become children of God.

The redemption of humanity through God's becoming man and atoning for our sin, in itself, is almost an infinite good.  As far as we humans are concerned, I think it is the most perfect good, and its goodness overcomes (is greater than) pretty much all evil throughout all human history, including the supreme evil of our turning away from our source of life and happiness, which is what got us into this mess in the first place.

By joining ourselves to the incarnate Son of God, we can come to share in this unspeakable goodness.  All suffering pales in consideration of this goodness, and in fact, we can take consolation in our own suffering by uniting it to the suffering of Christ.  In offering our suffering in such a way, we make that suffering a loving act, a gift, for our own sake and for that of our fellow human beings.

Through his overcoming of death by his own resurrection, he enables the rest of us humans to do likewise.  And that is why death, for a faithful Christian, is not an evil, but a good.  We know that we have eternal life through Christ.  We know that in death, we come to share more fully in the infinite perfect goodness of God.  This is why the Psalmist can say "precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints."

Now this is not to say that suffering isn't real by any means.  This is not to say that suffering and death are not evil.  They are.  Suffering and death is the natural state of humans separated from God; it is a consequence of our original turning away, which has created a real physical and spiritual corruption of the good human nature that we were created with.  Suffering and death are very real, and they are very painful.  When speaking of good overcoming them, we are not minimizing them; in fact, I'd say that the very reality of these is a stimulus to make us more aware of the incomparable goodness we receive from God through Christ.

Why Freedom?
Given all of this, the question remains, though, of why God would have allowed us to turn away from him in the first place.  Why grant us such freedom in the first place?  After all, we human parents restrict our children's freedom in order to protect them from hurting themselves.  Why didn't God keep us from hurting ourselves by turning away from him and entering into a state of suffering and death?

It is a fair question.  I think the answer is essentially the same--so that a greater good could come of it.  In this, I see two greater goods.  The first is the incarnation of God--God becoming human so that we humans could become more like God.1  This is why the original sin is known as the "happy fault" according to our ancient liturgy.2  Our original damaging of our nature occasioned God's joining himself to us and elevating our human nature, not just restoring us to our original state of human goodness but elevating us to be true children of God, more fully able to participate in his infinite goodness.

The other greater good is wrapped up in this:  Our freedom enables us to truly love.  Love, the free giving and sharing of ourselves with others, is the greatest act of good, and God desires for us to share in that goodness.  Without freedom, we cannot love; we can only mimic the act of loving.  We would be marionettes in God's great play.  In granting us freedom, however, God enables us to experience this supreme act of goodness, which is love--love of him and of others.

Eventually, we parents must let our children strike out on their own.  We must let them learn from their own mistakes and make their own decisions.  Only in doing so will they fully become their own selves, more fully human, and not an extension of us.  Loving parents will do what they can to protect their children, but they will also let their children develop into independent human beings.  Loving parents will teach their children the best path for them to walk in life, but they will also be there when their children choose to stray from that path and hurt themselves.

So it is with God.  In wanting us to be fully independent, to share fully in the goodness of love (that is, to become fully human), he grants us freedom, even freedom that we can use to harm ourselves.  He teaches us the right path to go.  First, in creating us, he imprinted upon our hearts a knowledge of the right path,3 then he reinforced and further illuminated this through his revelation of Himself--directly to Adam and Eve and later to Abraham, then through the Mosaic Law and the prophets, and finally in becoming human himself, teaching the Apostles, and through their writing and oral teaching, directing the Church with the Holy Spirit.  So he gives us freedom and shows us the best way to use it, but he also foresaw that we would not use our freedom wisely, so he planned from the beginning to pick us up and heal us from our fall, much like a loving parent treats the scraped knee or helps us recover from other, larger mistakes.4

So we see that God can be truly all powerful, perfectly and infinitely good and loving, and yet still allow evil to exist.  Evil exists both as a result of our freedom but also as an opportunity for good to abound, as a thing that spurs us on towards the good and to overcome with good.

The Ordinary Good That Overcomes Evil
Yet I realize that there are those who may be unable to perceive and appreciate the transcendent goodness of God in his creation, his giving us of our freedom, his revelation to us, and in his Incarnation and atonement that effects our redemption.5  Even so, for those, there is more to offer here.  I would suggest that even the ordinariness of human love, especially familial love, from a strictly proportional perspective, far outweighs all the evils in human history.  Think of it this way.  Almost every human being that has ever existed has experienced some, probably a lot, of just ordinary human love--love of parent, love of sibling, love of children, love of friends, and (for many) love of God. 

One could say that throughout our lives, the average human is surrounded by a swirling sea of human love that we never recognize because it is so ordinary and mundane.  It is not heroic.  It's just all those everyday experiences of kindness and sacrifice that are so small that, in themselves, they are not noticed.  But taken as an aggregate, I would suggest that these far outweigh the more shocking instances of evil in our history.

I would further suggest that especially when we see evil, some notable and notorious evil, the everyday human reaction is sympathy.  Think of 9/11, the tsunami, Katrina, earthquakes, floods, genocides, war.  For every great human evil, there seems to be a corresponding outpouring of ordinary human love.  In fact, it is often noted that such tragedies bring people together who would otherwise not be sharing with each other.

And so I think we should not wonder at the existence of evil.  Even in a purely human perspective, it seems to me that there is far more love in this world than evil and hate.  The fact that we seem to take more notice of evil strengthens this view because, as a rule, we humans tend to notice the out of the ordinary more than the ordinary. 

When you add on to all of this ordinary love the transcendent, infinite love and goodness that God has wrought in human history, all the evil pales all the more and we become truly thankful and at peace while enduring and witnessing evil because we know that there truly and actually is a greater good all around us every day, often increased in response to such evil, and we Christians have the firm hope of sharing in the eternal infinite goodness of God, leaving behind the evils of this present world and realizing the fullness of our human potential for good.  In light of all this, rather than wondering why evil exists, should we not be pondering why God created such a world in which love is so ordinary and yet so transcendent?

In pain, sorrow, and distress, suffering and death, let us not lose heart.  Let us cry out in our humanity with the Psalmist "O Lord my God, deliver me!", but also "I love the Lord, for he has heard the cry of my appeal."  For we know the trials of this life, however painful, are already answered through the work of Christ.  Let us not forget the ordinary love that surrounds us each day, and most of all, let us put our trust and hope in Him for "those who put their trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, that cannot be shaken, that stands firm forever."6 

--
Given on the Memorial of Blessed Andrew of Peschiera, O.P.

Notes
1. St. Athanasius put it this way: "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God," which is to say that we might become partakers of the divine nature.
2. From the Exultet, an Easter Vigil hymn of praise.
3. This is what we call "natural law," which is essentially an inherent human capability to know from reason what is the best way to live.
4. Let's not presume, though, that God models his actions on ours; it is the opposite.  We understand something about God's fatherhood through our limited understanding of what good fatherhood is here on earth.  But that's part of the beauty of God's revelation--he meets us where we are, teaches us through humans, through words, actions, and the image of God that we have received from him that has been perfected in Jesus Christ.  When we try to understand God's paternal love, we must keep in mind that we do not judge him by our understanding of paternal love but rather use paternal love as a means to better understand his actions in human history, including our own history.
5. It is worth noting, however, that given our presuppositions about God and his revelation and action in human history, we Christians can make a pretty good account of why evil exists.  A person's inability to appreciate it, which is understandable for those without faith, does not change the fact that we can make an account for why God allows evil to exist. 
6. From Psalm 116 and 125, respectively.

Saturday, January 19, 2008 3:17:21 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Sunday, December 30, 2007

"How many kids do they have??" asked the bemused co-worker upon hearing that someone is having a fifth child.  I am similarly bemused why so many people seem to feel negatively towards those with large families.  I guess that people may not really think about it or, if they do, maybe they really don't know why anyone living in the 21st century would want to have more than the popularly accepted family size of two, maybe three.  The best I can do is offer why my wife and I are choosing to have a large family.

You see, I did not grow up in a large family.  I have one brother and for most of my childhood, my mom was single.  Nor did any of my immediate family or even my friends have large families; I think the largest family had three kids.  I recall it as being a mostly happy childhood--I'm not complaining.  I only mention it to say I did not inherit or learn by example how or why to have a large family; it didn't come naturally. 

For my wife, Christiane, and I, it wasn't a decision to say "we want N number of kids" at some point or other.  Early on in our engagement, we did toss around the idea of four.  Christiane grew up in a family of six (that's four kids for those counting), my mom has three siblings, and so it seemed like a good number somewhere between two and some unthinkable number beyond four. :)

But as we progressed in our philosophical and spiritual journey, we became convinced that setting some artificial limit up front just didn't make sense.  Yes, we became Catholic in this time period, and yes, Catholicism has a rather radical teaching on this matter.  The essence of the Catholic perspective on children is that they are a blessing, a gift from God, and that we should remain truly open to these wonderful gifts.

Despite some Catholic caricatures, this does not equate to being irresponsible and just having as many children as you possibly can.  For example, the most recent authoritative Catholic teaching on the subject, Humanae Vitae, specifically speaks to the issue of responsible parenthood, saying that couples can decide to avoid conceiving "for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts."1  And in doing so, we're supposed to use the most effective, safe, mutually respectful, character-building, and morally commendable means when doing so--abstinence during fertility.2

There's obviously no one-size-fits-all family size. Some couples are infertile.  Some couples find the wherewithal to have a dozen or more children, even while relying on remarkably limited income.  In considering the question of how many children to have, there are a number of common concerns that need to be addressed.  Since this is a short piece, I can only touch on some of them, particularly those that seem to be the most common, and offer some positive reasons to have children.

What Do We Value?
For us, the question is not so much how many kids we should have.  I think the question is rather what do we really value in life?  Some time ago, Saturday Night Live had this series of crazy fake commercial where this couple were blatant cheapskates when it came to their children but would lavish luxury on themselves, advertising a fictitious online store for such parents--cheapkids.net.  It was ludicrous, but it is poignant.  I think this caricature speaks to those who, by their choice, remain infertile and yet enjoy a lavish or even just a very comfortable life as a married couple.  This satire portrayed a couple who at least had kids, even if they were cheap with them, but it seems to me that those who refuse children or limit them artificially and frivolously might want to ask themselves if they are denying life to potential human beings in order to live in relative luxury.  Are those things more valuable than human life?

Of course, I do not speak here of those who live in poverty or who truly would endanger the lives of their family by having more children.  I speak here of those who, like me, live in relative luxury compared to most of the humans in this world.  People who are not hardened have their guts wrenched by the poverty of many in this world (and rightly so), but there is another kind of poverty that goes unnoticed--the poverty of life, the poverty of being denied even the opportunity to exist solely so that another can live in ease and comfort.4 

From this consideration, it seems that the original perspective (of bemusement or even distaste or disgust at having many children) should be turned on its head.  The question becomes, instead, how can so many otherwise nice, well-meaning people deny so many more the chance to exist?  Perhaps folks should not respond with puzzlement or condescension to those who remain open to life but rather respond with admiration and respect.  We all know that kids, though they are indeed the most amazing and wonderful blessings we can naturally receive, are a handful to say the least, and so I think people should be a tad more reticent when criticizing those who have many.

Why Limit Family Size?
Are there good reasons for regulating birth?  Obviously.  Even beyond the grave economic reasons, I think there are others.  Perhaps there is real psychological concern for the mother or father.  Perhaps there is a physical or mental condition that a parent or child has that would make further growth of the family unwise.  Perhaps there is a real threat to the mother's health.  I'm not writing to address every conceivable circumstance; I'm writing to address popular notions concerning children that my wife and I have had to think about (and are often confronted with) in our own working out of how we live out what it means to be responsible parents wanting to live in the best way possible, trying to have the most perfect family we can.

Before moving on considering the common reasons given to limit family size, it is worth noting that the decision to have children should flow from a lifelong commitment.5  Just like there are not so good reasons to limit family size, there are not so good reasons to have children.  Having babies seems to be a pastime for celebrities these days.  It should be obvious that getting more attention/publicity, trying to save a marriage, keeping up with the Joneses, extending the family tree, etc. are not so great reasons.  Children are human beings, having the full dignity of human beings, to be treated and loved as such; they are not accessories, trophies, or any other means to an end--they are end in themselves, and we should be just as careful about our motivations for having them as we are in our motivations for not having them.

Education
The most common concerns we hear are monetary, the top being about the rising cost of sending kids to college.  I, for one, did not get a dime from my mom to send me to college--she didn't have it to give.  I made good enough grades in school and fared well on the ACT, getting a decent scholarship to a private school, and then worked for and borrowed the rest.  I have known many others, many of them my friends, who have similar stories.

We all want the best for our children, but is the "best" sending them to a good college?  I think that a good, liberal arts education is deeply valuable in itself.  I have a degree in history and humanities, but I worked my way into software.  I am glad of my education even though its credentials don't mean a lot in my occupation; I value it more highly than had I spent the same effort on a technical degree. 

But a degree, even from a good university, only goes so far in life.  Ultimately, it comes down to an individual applying himself or herself with the talents and desires he or she has.  You can teach a child a good work ethic for free at home that will do more for them in the long run than any degree would.  And I'd suggest you can teach such an ethic more easily in large families where mutual help from all members is a necessity. 

You can teach a child to be a lifelong student, to enjoy learning and to think critically, for free at home, and that, too, goes further than any degree.  You can teach a child values of honesty, integrity, commitment, kindness, charity, compassion, and other virtues for free at home that simply are not taught at university, and these as well far exceed the long-term value of any degree.  And I'm not talking about home schooling; I'm simply talking about setting an example, teaching, and encouraging your children in addition to any regular, formal schooling.

I'm certainly not opposed to college or formal education in general, but its value has been way overemphasized in our culture.  The purveyors of formal education have much to gain from this, as do lenders and investment companies who help you invest to save for your child's education.  I think we need to be careful not to be blinded to the economic realities involved in all of the marketing about education and simply recognize formal education for the value it does have.  It shouldn't be the ultimate deciding factor and choice in parenting.6

There are affordable alternatives for higher education, and if it is important to the child, he or she can make an effort to realize such goals.  Furthermore, I have no doubt that a large majority of parents who at some point use this reasoning actually end up not saving or investing properly or find themselves in a situation later where the investment was truly needed for other reasons.  In short, I tend to think that a vague concern about "sending my kid to a good school" is not a viable reason to limit family size. 

Expense
Apart from higher education, there seems to be a general consensus that children "are expensive."  I'd like to suggest an alternative to this maxim.  Children can be expensive.  Just as with higher education, you can choose to spend more money than you need to on each child, but it is a choice, not a given.  And it is on this point, more than any other, that we see the rubber meet the road in terms of a challenge of values.

If we are given over to our contemporary culture, children are indeed expensive.  If each child needs his or her own expansive room, if each child needs new, brand-name clothes on a monthly basis, if each child needs more toys than he or she could possibly enjoy, if each child needs his or her own car, then yeah, they can be very expensive.  But lets not stop with the kids.  If mom and dad need a brand-new car every few years; if they have to have new clothes every month, new jewelry, new perfume, new golf clubs, new computer, Playstation, or Xbox games, if they need to go to plays or other high-culture events regularly, and if the family has to eat out every day, then definitely, a large family is "too expensive."

Put simply, if one is a purebred consumer, yeah, a large family costs too much.  Doesn't it speak volumes that our primary concern and objection about large families is economical?  Doesn't it drive to the very heart of the matter if that is the chief concern?  Ultimately, doesn't it say that we truly do value things, comfort, and luxury more than we value people?  In short, doesn't it imply that we're just plain selfish?

What's truly sad about this is that we are deceiving ourselves.  I can attest from experience that all of these things don't really last--the return on investment just isn't there.  In fact, all these things actually "increase our sorrow" because they increase our worries and consume our mental and physical energies (in working for, acquiring, securing, insuring, storing, moving, caring for, and maintaining them).  Not only do we tend to get bored with new things; they tend to have a net negative effect on our lives that we've become blind to.  No, we're not really blind--we recognize the deficit they produce, but like a dog returning to its vomit, we try to ladle on the salve of more things, which only exacerbates the problem.  We're blind to the remedy; we're not blind to the effects of the problem.

The Common Good
There is another common concern that is not economical (at least on the individual scale), and it seems to be less pronounced these days than it was for the previous generation--that of the concern about overpopulation.  For Christiane and I, this has always seemed to be more of an excuse than a reason.  It seems that an uncertain, future concern about one day overpopulating the world is not a compelling reason to overcome the more sure, immediate positive reasons to have children.  Even so, it is a common enough concern to warrant addressing. 

A good deacon friend of mine put it another way that gives this concern a bit more weight.  If everybody in the world decided to have ten children, what would that mean for the common good?  He suggested that we may just be lacking in imagination to think how we'd address such a situation, and maybe so--we humans tend to get pretty inventive when we need to.  No doubt we'd figure something out.  But I have to say I am not suggesting that everyone have ten children.  I don't think that would be responsible for many, perhaps most of us.   Being truly and actually open to children does not necessarily equate to having ten.

On the other hand, I tend to think the larger problem, as it is with most of these life issues, is our generally selfish culture.  We're so busy looking out for number one that we accumulate for ourselves far more than we need in order to have a good and happy life.  I'm not advocating socialism or any kind of enforced equal distribution of goods; I am advocating charity as a core cultural value.  If we, the human race, shared this core cultural value, I tend to think that concern about overpopulation would be a moot point.  And in any case, it remains that it seems to be a rather vague, unsubstantiated reason to limit family size.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving
It seems to me that people, especially children, are truly a gift that keeps on giving.  If we lavish our care on them, they tend to give back in equal, if not greater, measure.  That's the funny thing about authentic love.  It's like investing in a sure thing--you give and you'll get back, well-measured, shaken and packed down, and running over.  It may not even be the recipient giving back.  That's another odd thing about authentic love; it tends to be its own reward--there is joy in the act of loving itself.

We often think that children are just a big hassle.  In Stumbling on Happiness, the author suggests, based on subjective surveys, that children do not in fact make us happy, that it is, rather, a big, consensual lie that we tell each other.  It is claimed that the people interviewed said they were happier after their children grew up and out of the house than they were when they were in the house.  Despite the author's disclaimers, I think this really takes a shallow view of happiness and does not account for the deeper happiness that is satisfaction, which results from seeing effort come to fruition.  These parents experience, naturally, a certain happiness and lessening of difficulty at having reclaimed time for themselves once children are out of the house, but they also share in the abiding joy of having their children "all growed up"--their investment, as it were, has come to completeness.

The survey also does not, I think, account for the consideration that perception is a large part of reality.  Because our culture sells us a bill of superficial bull about what makes us happy (i.e., things, comfort, entertainment, and luxury), our perception is deeply skewed and we see children as detracting from our attainment of these things (taking us back the the monetary objections discussed above). 

Indeed, it makes perfect sense, and I've seen it in my own life, that when my children cause me the most "trouble" and frustration is when I am turned in on myself (being selfish in some way).  They are taking me away from what I want to do or they prevent me from getting something I want, so I perceive them as a nuisance.  Usually, though, when I am in the right frame of mind, I see their activity for what it is--exploring the world, learning to function according to all life's little rules, or maybe simply just wanting to spend time with you because they are infatuated with you.  This latter dies away as they age I suppose, but wouldn't you agree, if you're being honest with yourself, that a large bit of the friction between parents and kids comes in the first two?

The point is that it is generally those times that we are most frustrated that we are being the most selfish.  In other words, it is not that the kids are the problem--we selfish parents are the problem.  If we change our perspective (which takes practice, I can promise--I'm still working on it), and learn to not fight for our selfish impulses against our children but instead indulge in authentic love (self-giving) towards them, we will find one of the greatest joys in life--shared, familial love

Once Christiane and I recognized this, it seemed almost a no-brainer that we'd want to increase this joy as much as we can.  We saw that instead of thinking how few children can we have, we think how many children can we responsibly have?  This way of thinking is, we think, the best not only for us but especially for our family as a whole. 

When we are considering when to have our next child, we do try to be responsible.  We think about how this new person will fit in our home both logistically and socially, and we consider the psychological impact on the other members of the family.  In the end, we try our best to err on the side of openness and only choose to delay for what seem to be good, unselfish reasons.  We're not perfect by any means, but this seems to us to be a big step on the the path toward a more perfect family life.7 

--
Given on the Feast of the Holy Family in the Year of Our Lord 2007

Notes
1. At this point, my darling 1-year-old, Brendan Patrick Irenaeus, toddled over to me with one of my house shoes.  Thanks, Brendan!  My feet are freezing... now where's the other one?
2. Without digressing too much, let me briefly touch on this subject which is so awesomely opposed to our popular culture these days.  My wife and I practice what is called Natural Family Planning (NFP).  You can read about all the details elsewhere; let me just add my own personal testimony.3  For a brief time early in our marriage, we did use artificial birth control, but for the vast majority of our 8.5 years together, we've practiced NFP.  I can honestly say that you don't die by not doing it; you can be just as happy and fulfilled.  (And trust me, this is coming from a very red-blooded, American male, if you get my drift.)  

Based on our experience, I do feel that mutual abstinence does indeed build character, build mutual self respect for each other, increase understanding of the way God's made us, increase affection for each other, and help you appreciate even more the times when you don't abstain.  Plus, not using artificial birth control (or rather, being truly and actually, not just hypothetically, open to the creation of life) does enhance our relationship and our intimate time together.  In short, we find the practice of natural family planning to be a significant positive influence on our marriage.  And it does work!
3. Now John, my three-year-old son, is yanking at my arm and climbing on me (took a while to type this); ah, tickling is a good deterrent.. now the other two are attacking.. :)  Bridget, my six-year-old daughter, is dancing around and tweetling (best onomatopoeia I could come up with for it).
4. This touches, of course, on the sensitive topic of abortion (and indeed the desire to have few to no children is directly related to abortion), but that's not the focus here.  Here I'm speaking in a more generous sense of even those who would otherwise never consider abortion, and yet make the regular, conscious choice to refuse the potential life of another human being for less than serious reasons.
5.  This comes from the understanding of the true good and beauty of marriage discussed in "On the Good and 'Right' of Marriage."  See particularly the section entitled "The True Good."
6. Besides, we've all seen and heard stories of parents' painstaking planning being tossed to the wind by children who have other plans for their lives.  There's no guarantee that even those who save and have money for their children's education will see that money go to good use. 
7. And thus we see that the teaching of the Catholic Church (as is actually true of all Catholic doctrine when you truly understand it in all its beauty and truth) is a positive prescription on how to live the good life to its fullest, that is, how to have abundant life.  And I have to admit, we've inherited this from our Jewish siblings.  Scripture, especially the Psalms, regularly laud the blessing that children are, and it is not talking about them being a help on the farm, i.e., large families are not only good in agricultural societies!

Sunday, December 30, 2007 12:00:54 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Far be it from me to put words in Phil's mouth, but I hope that folks recognize that his post about favoring composition over inheritance is not specifically about that one best practice (the comments seem to indicate this is being missed).  It's pretty clear to me that the thrust of that post is around a philosophical approach that he thinks the ALT.NET community should make.

Two things stand out from Phil's post in this respect: 1) don't appeal to authority, and 2) don't organize yourself around a set of technical principles (best practices), but rather organize yourself around the non-technical values of independent thinking and desire to improve.  I hope that everyone can agree that these latter two values are good ones that should indeed be encouraged.

That said, should a community like ALT.NET eschew forming a more formal consensus on technical best practices?  I tend to think not.  While independent, critical thinking is valuable, it is not the summit of perfection.  The summit of perfection, in the realm of ideas at least, is conformance with truth (what actually is versus what I think is), and independent thinking at odds with what is true is not only not valuable in itself, it can be downright detrimental. 

For instance, what if you independently and critically think that security and privacy are not important aspects of the online banking application you are tasked with building?  Is that kind of independent, critical thinking valuable in itself?  Or will it potentially lead to great harm?  Independent, critical thinking is valuable only in as much as it deepens one's understanding of and conformance to truth.

So I think that there is value in a community such as ALT.NET expending the effort to define principles through critical thinking and argumentation that it will hold up as ideals, i.e., things that seemed to be most in accord with the truth as we know it.  This is where things like patterns and best practices come into play; it is the shared, accumulated wisdom of the technical community.

Now what about the broader idea of eschewing appealing to authority?  Far be it from me to claim to be an authority in logic, but it seems to me that all appeals to authority are not invalid (the wikipedia article Phil links to discusses this to some degree but does not go far enough, in my estimation).  The valid reasons for appealing to authority are discussed at the bottom of that article: 1) not enough time and 2) concern at one's ability to make the other understand the reasoning underlying the truth being expressed.

In terms of logic, it is not a fallacy to appeal to an authority on a topic that is accepted by all those involved in an argument.  We're talking about presuppositions here, and without them, we'd never get anywhere in our search for truth.  If you always have to argue from first principles (if you even acknowledge those), you simply get stuck in a quagmire.  In terms of the topic at hand, if folks accept (as they generally do) that the GoF et al are authorities on the subject of OOD, then it is valid, logically speaking, to appeal to their authority to establish the principle that you should favor composition over inheritance.

The thing to watch out for in appeals to authority is 1) thinking that the authority is incapable of being wrong and 2) ensuring that the parties involved accept the authority.  With the latter, you simply cannot argue (or at least the argument won't carry weight) from authority if the authority is not accepted.  With the former, unless it is a presupposition shared by those involved that the authority is indeed infallible, you should keep in mind that even if you buy into the authority's credentials, it is still possible that the authority can be wrong.

So I would nuance what Phil says and say that if the ALT.NET community agrees that GoF is an authority, it is valid to appeal to them, while remaining open to criticism of the concepts involved (even those backed by an authority).  The authority adds logical weight; it does not impose absolute authority.

We just don't have time to argue everything from first principles.  Others who are generally acknowledged to be qualified have already taken the time to research, think about, and propose some good patterns and practices, and unless there is good reason to object, there is no need to rehash those.  Instead, I'd suggest that the community focus on spreading knowledge of these patterns and practices all the while refining them, functioning essentially as a group in the way that Phil recommends individuals function--thinking critically and always working to improve.  Doing this will help ensure that the community does not fall into a quagmire of unnecessary argumentation, and it will ensure that the patterns and practices that they agree upon can be continuously refined and enhanced as new technologies emerge and greater wisdom is gained over time. 

Further, it gives the group a purpose that has meaning.  After all, if the group's message is only "think for yourself and be all that you can be," there isn't much of substance to say after that.  On the other hand, because it is a technical community that espouses that philosophy, it should take that philosophy on itself (as a group, not just the individuals in it).  I would suggest this includes establishing greater consensus on best practices and patterns and then spreading the word about them to others.  Be better together. :)

You see, it is not about setting down an infallible manifesto and excluding those who disagree, which is I think more than anything what Phil is concerned about.  However, it also isn't about best practices just being true for you but not for me (best practices relativism?).  Put another way, I suggest ALT.NET should favor thoughtful adherence to best patterns and practices, not blind adherence.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007 9:56:00 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Tuesday, May 29, 2007

As a subscriber to First Things and Touchstone, I know that musings upon the compatibility or incompatibility of Christian faith with evolutionary theory are not in short supply.  Neither, of course, are the unceasing dialectics on the truth or falsity of evolution, including all the usual suspects and alternatives.  But this may come as a surprise to those who only follow these topics as flare ups occur in the national media--there are no assertions being made in these thoughtful magazines that Catholics, or any Christians, must adhere to literal creationism.

The authors writing for these magazines are well-known names in general (the Pope himself wrote a recent article, as well as Supreme Court Justice Scalia), and First Things in particular hosts some of the icons in the evolutionary debate.  These aren't oddball nobodies, and I only say that to quell any imaginations that the voices in these magazines are on the sidelines--these are people of note and, in many cases, authorities in the fields upon which they're opining.

The most recent discussions have been around the feasibility of the formal notion of "intelligent design," which as I understand it revolves around arguments against chance-based evolution due to irreducible complexity in organsims, such as the eye.  One may note in this that it is not an argument against all evolution, nor is it an argument for literal (seven literal days as in the biblical account) creationism.  I am not going to say much more on the details of the theory because I'm not qualified and would probably get it wrong anyways.  My point is simply that there are respectable Christian positions in the evolutionary debates that are not the oft-touted literalist creationism.

This came up recently for me at work.  We were brainstorming ideas for visualizing something, and the idea of evolution came into play, so I tossed out, half-joking, that we should show a fish crawling out of water and turning into a monkey or something like that.  Rather joltingly, a co-worker blurted out "hey, I thought you didn't believe in that," to which I, dumbfounded that my beliefs were brought up in that context but more annoyed at the misconception of my beliefs, just stared, smiled, and moved on.

Being busy like we are, I had to set it aside and just focus on what needed to be done, but now that I have the luxury to propound what I actually believe (in what I think is a proper medium and place for such exposition), let me say that Christian faith does not presuppose literal creationism.  In fact, it doesn't even preclude strict evolutionary theory, biologically speaking.

This message still seems newsworthy; the popular misconception of the Christian being the ostrich with his head in the sand in regards to evolution (and science in general) is still in force, as evidenced by my co-worker's remark.  This doesn't surprise me; I still recall reading the headline "Pope Says Evolution Compatible with Faith" back at university in 1996 (before I became Catholic myself).  It made an impression on me because I was in fact raised in the milieu that evolution is inimical to the faith, so there is definitely some truth to the stereotype.  Plus, the literal creationists tend to be the ones who make the most noise and controversy, which is likely why the stereotype exists and persists.  So I have to be patient and understanding with those who hold the stereotype, but I also want to do what I can to dispel it--to make some noise of my own.  Sadly, "Catholic Software Creator Says Evolution Compatible with Faith" doesn't promise to make much noise, but I can try.   

As this article mentions, Catholicism has long been reconciled to the possibility of an evolutionary biological mechanism in nature.  Despite the ever-popular sensationalizing of the Inquisition and the Church's treatment of Gallileo, Catholicism has a very positive view of reason and science.  Philosophy and learning have ever been a bulwark of Catholic (Christian) faith. 

For example,  St. Justin Martyr, an early second-century Christian (as in less than 100 years after the Christian Church was founded), championed the idea that there is truth and wisdom to be found in non-Christian learning.  He specifically builds on St. John the Apostle's (the disciple of Jesus and author of several New Testament books) description of Jesus as the "Word" (i.e., Logos, which is Greek for the faculty of reasoning) of God, the Word made flesh.  This passage has been the basis for much deep theological reflection over the milennia, and St. Justin is just one of the earliest examples of the friendship of Christian faith and reason.

One only has to lightly peruse a book on the Fathers of the Church, the discussions and resolutions of Church councils, or a handbook on medieval scholasticism to see that from its very origins and consistently throughout its 2000-year history, Christian faith has been deeply rational and embracingly friendly to learning.  The first universities were Catholic, and many of the greatest thinkers throughout Western history have been Catholic, including several of our current Supreme Court justices.

The exceptions to this friendship have occurred only when there is a perceived threat to the faith, and in those cases, it is not a fear of science per se but rather a sincere and generally well-founded concern for souls.  While I think it is true that this concern was misdirected and even abused at times, the point remains that it is not a general enmity for science or learning that animates those actions we see as negative but rather an overreaching of the pastoral impulse--to protect souls at all costs, even at the cost of the body or of freedom.  It is hard to understand the medieval mind on this point because our society today is different in very dramatic ways,  but that particular point is subject enough for multiple books (and numerous books have indeed been written, such as Characters of the Inquisition). 

The issue here is that even the sensationalist examples that are usually used to support the assertion that Christianity (and, in particular, the Catholic Church) are anti-rational, anti-science, and/or anti-learning are just not true.  In fact, they're patently false, at least for Catholicism.  There are some branches of Christianity, particularly the the Protestant fundamentalist ones, that may live up to the stereotype, but the vast majority of Christianity (in general) and Catholicism, specifically, embraces and has embraced learning that does not directly come from Divine Revelation.

The point at which we depart from a secular approach to learning is the point at which it becomes irreconcilable with Divine Revelation.  And it is, in fact, this point which is the crux when a Christian is bound to deny some scientific theory.  Evolution in particular has long been bound up with an underlying materialist philosophy, and it is this philosophy, rather than the biologicial theory of evolution, that a Christian should reject.  The essential problem of the materialist evolutionary philosophy is the underlying assertion that "this is all there is," i.e., that the material world is all there is, that there is no spiritual reality and, correspondingly, no Supreme Spiritual Being (God).

The popular view of evolution is imbued with this theory, and that is why there has been (and remains to be) so much debate between Christians and non-Christians around evolution (excepting, of course, the literal creationists, who object to anything but a literal interpretation of the creation account).  Those who believe in evolution are stereotypically also materialists because, theoretically, evolutionary processes free one from having to believe in a creator.  If we are, after all, just the product of chance mutations over millions of years, what need have we for a God to have created us?  This thinking extends into cosmology where the study of physics enables us to theorize about a universe that either always has been and/or continually recreates itself.  Freed from a physical or biological need for God, those who desire to reject Him now seemingly have a scientific basis to do so.

Historically, Christians have (and rightly so to some extent) seen these scientific theories as inimical to Christian faith.  The key lies in disentangling the materialist philosophy from the biological theory of evolution and from theories pertaining to the formation of the cosmos.  Inasmuch as a theory does not entail the rejection of Christian faith (which does include God's creation of the cosmos, including humans), Christians are free to believe it.

In the case of evolution, if you don't read the creation account strictly literally, it is conceivable that God could have created the world and in a manner that accords with the theory of evolution, i.e., using natural mechanisms that he built into the fabric of the universe.  The key moment of creation, inasmuch as man is concerned, comes with God's "breathing life" into us. 

It is in fact oddly believable that God did use evolution, allowing our human form to develop until the point at which he imbued us with spiritual life.  This would explain the seemingly sudden generation of civilization from what we think of as pre-history.  It could allow for the development of other physically similar, human-like species that ultimately died out.  The creation account certainly follows something of an evolutionary account from the creation of the cosmos, to the formation of the earth, to the growth of vegetation, to the animal life originating in the seas, then the air, then on land, and then ultimately humans whom he gave the "breath of life." He did not breathe on the other creatures that were also alive, so clearly the creationary moment for man was not the giving of physical life but of spiritual, and it is this that makes us different from the animals--our spiritual, God-like (we were made "in his image") nature.

Divine Revelation is even less specific about the creation and nature of the universe, so many of the theories about the universe that cosmology proposes are acceptable--as long as the universe can ultimately be held to be a creation of God.  I think we could even say that a universe that keeps recreating itself in time could be synthesized with Christian faith because there is still room for God to have set this self re-creation in place.  Even an eternal universe could be conceived of as long as the quality of "eternal" is understood to mean existing as long as time has existed.  In other words, it is possible to conceive of God's eternal nature to be such that he existed prior to the creation of time, that he is "eternal" in the sense that he is outside of time so that temporal terminology and thinking doesn't apply (is absurd) when speaking of him apart from how he interacts with time as a created thing.  Thus in one sense of the word "eternal" (existing as long as time has existed and continuing to exist as long as time does) the universe could be eternal without denying that God created that concept and reality of "eternal" because he himself is "eternal" in the since that he exists outside of time.

The point is not so much to theorize about what is or is not the truth in terms of the creation of the universe and man but rather to illustrate how Christians can faithfully accept what science has to offer.  I should note that although Christian faith can be compatible with evolution and theories about the universe in general, we are under no compulsion to adhere to any of these particular scientific theories. 

I am often amazed at what seem to be boundless extrapolations (from the specifics of dinosaurs to evolution to the creation of the universe), but I am more amazed that popular society seems to accept them all without any critical thinking.  I for one remain non-committed to these theories; I retain the same healthy skepticism for them that many reserve for propositions about God. 

For me, God is much more real, more verifiable than the theory of evolution or the big bang, and I also happen to think that my relationship (or lack thereof) with God has a much greater potential impact on my personal happiness (and those around me).  Therefore, I think it is a far better use of my time to invest in my spiritual life than worrying about whether or not I share 97% of my genes with a chimp.  Seems logical and reasonable to me. :)

To wrap things up, Christian faith is not at enmity with reason or even with material science--it cannot be--because, as St. Justin Martyr highlighted, truth is truth and can be found outside of Divine Revelation in non-Christian philosophy and the material sciences.  Where there is truth, we should embrace it.  Where it seems to conflict with our faith, we should strive to understand how it does not.  Science, when understood correctly, can only serve to enhance our faith, for as our understanding of the amazing complexity and beauty of the material world increases, so should our amazement at and love for our Creator increase.   Our faith should complement and enhance our learning.  Like cocoa without sugar is bitter, so is learning without faith (Eccl. 1:18; a.k.a., "ignorance is bliss").  However, when we combine faith with our learning, we get something joyous, sweet, and delicious.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 9:43:01 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Sunday, December 31, 2006

I just read that my governor has signed into law a bill granting many of the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples who create a "civil union" together.  I suppose I should be happy that at least they're not calling it marriage.  At the same time, one has to wonder how such unions promise society the good that traditional marriage promises, but I tend to think the root of the problem is a misunderstanding of the full meaning of marriage.

As I see it, the chief good that marriage promises society is the promise of a desirable future, which is brought about by the bearing and rearing of children to become mature adults who contribute meaningfully to their society.  It goes without saying that homosexual couples cannot bear children, excepting those women who may choose to become artificially inseminated, but certainly male couples cannot bear children in any sense of the word. 

As for rearing, yes, through adoption, homosexual couples could indeed rear children, so there is something to be said for that.  But even so, it is at best an unestablished good.  It seems likely that the child raised by a homosexual couple will have at least some issues similar to other children who are raised without a mother or without a father (in addition to those generally experienced by adopted children).  Maybe in some individuals' conception ideal society, it wouldn't matter if a child were raised by homosexuals, but it remains the case today that it presents numerous challenges, emotionally and socially.  That said, the challenges such children may face might not be as bad as growing up in numerous foster homes or in orphanages, so I personally can't rule it out as a good for society. 

And in cases where artificial means are used to produce children (ignoring other ethical questions on that subject), there should surely be some concern for the child's desire to have and know his or her other "real" (biological) parent.  Despite our technologically arrogant objections to the contrary, it appears there really is something to biological parenthood, and so I think we need to be careful when obscuring it--we need to be mindful of the potential damage it will have on such children.  Personally, I don't see the good for the child or for society in such a situation.

In any case, it seems to me that such a situation, either the bearing of children through artificial means or adoption, are going the be the exception for homosexual couples, not the rule.  They are certainly not the almost inevitable outcome of such unions, as would be the case in heterosexual marriages.  Indeed, one would think that the likelihood of childbearing and rearing would be inversely proportionate between homo- and heterosexual couples, i.e., only a small percentage of homosexual couples would bear or rear children while only a small percentage of heterosexual couples would not bear or rear children.  And history has proven this to be true.

Of course one might argue that history, societies of the past, have not given homosexual unions a chance in this respect, but as homosexual advocates are all too eager to point out, homosexuality is not an invention of the modern age and even in society's where it is/was not frowned upon, it is/was quite rare for a homosexual couple to rear children.  And why should it be common after all?  The joining of male to male or female to female does not naturally result in children, and so it would indeed take an exceptional couple to reach beyond the natural fruit of such unions to desire and follow through with the upbringing of children.

The Misconceived Good

I said before, though, that I think there is a deeper problem in this question, one that reaches to a foundational lack of understanding of marriage between a man and a woman.  I am thinking here of the focus on love between two individuals as being the defining trait of marriage.  One need not look far to see manifestations of this belief--pick up any book or movie that involves a marriage, and you'll almost invariably see a love story that results in a culmination of marriage.

You won't find me naysaying love, certainly not love in marriage, but the issue here is the popular representation of the good of marriage, namely, that it is the culmination of a love story.  I dare say it is this conception of marriage that is the chief cause of many ills in our society.  I dare it because marriage is the foundation of family and family is the foundation of society.  If marriage is misunderstood then the glue that holds a family together becomes brittle and breaks, and when families break apart, society becomes undone at its very roots.  And so we have been and are proving here in the West.

So just what is the good of marriage if it isn't what our popular culture portrays it to be?  I have spoken already of the good that marriage promises society--chiefly the bearing and rearing of children, but to be sure, there is more good in marriage.  Indeed, love between the husband and wife is a great good as well, but it is more than the giddy love that drives love stories to their climax.  I would even go so far to say that the giddy love, that feeling of complete elation and enthrallment to passion that we humans sometimes feel towards one another, is not inherent to the essence of marriage.

Now I speak both from my own experience and that of others.  There was a time when I was "in love"--when my thoughts were filled with little else than those of my beloved, when my heart sang, my pulse raced, and the mere thought of her painted a goofy grin across my face.  Truly it is an awesome and wonderful experience to be so infatuated, better than any drug or food or even sex itself because it lasts longer and has no crashing at the end.  I would not deny anyone the joy of it, but I would and do deny that such feelings are essential to marriage.  I do because marriage is so much more than this and matters so much more than any passing infatuation.

The infatuation inevitably fades.  Surely, there are moments, glimpses, perhaps even real resurgences at times, those times when you again feel truly in love with your beloved, but they are rare, and I would say that their rarity makes them more treasured and enjoyable than if they were constant.  Like the beauty of the sun's rays piercing feathery clouds on a cool winter morning, they are wonderful and joyful, to be relished and remembered chiefly because they are fleeting, contrasted with the normal beauty of a clear blue day or a sparkling night.

The True Good

But there is something in that--the beauty, the good of marriage is also constant, also "normal" so that we often do not recognize it for what it is.  It is that regular pattern of day and night, the constancy of the sun rising and the moon waxing and waning.  It is the comfort of air to breathe and ground to walk upon; it is that calm pulsing of blood through vein that assures us we are alive, that our heart is still beating.  It is awakening to find your love snoring beside you, and opening the door in the evening with the knowledge that the home is not empty.  It is the joy of a shared meal, a walk through the trees, and the watching of a movie.  And it is in having an argument, feeling extreme anger, and knowing that it will pass and that the sun will rise again.

I think that this constancy that is known from a true and honest pledge--an oath taken in solemnity to love and to hold, in sickness and health, in passionate anger and in flights of infatuation till death parts us; it is this unquestionable knowledge of commitment to one another that is the chief and defining good of marriage.  It is this good--not infatuation, not sex, not even children--that is essential to marriage and is also its primary joy.  But it must be understood that this is an unbreakable, unquestionable lifetime commitment that no one, not even those who enter into it, can break. 

For if it could be broken, the good would be lost entirely and in fact would never exist.  What comfort could we have if the sun could choose not to rise, if the earth could choose to cease its rotation?  What true or lasting joy if the ground beneath us could whimsically disappear or the moon could alter its path and tumble to the earth?  It would be a life lived in constant anxiety, and any joy or happiness found would be a mask, a salve over an open wound of fear and uncertainty.  Such is a marriage where a pledge of lifelong commitment is conditional upon the whims and flights of passion to which we humans are subject.  If vows are taken lightly and divorce is always an option then marriage loses its supreme, primary, and defining good; in short, it becomes meaningless and has no real beauty, no real joy.

The Shared Benefit of the Good

It is upon such lifelong commitment that society must be built.  It is for this reason why meaningful marriage should be a prerequisite for bearing (or having sex for that matter) and raising children.  The foundation of family is unbreakable commitment, a commitment that starts and ends with the unbreakable union between two persons whence all other commitment and marital goods, such as that to bear and raise children, flow from.  This is why governments should grant special status to marriage and show preference for unions that naturally result in the bearing and raising of children. 

There is no "right" to marriage; there is only the granting of privileges to couples who have made an unbreakable commitment to each other and, preferably, to produce children who will one day do the same.  The purpose of government is to secure the common good, not the individual good, and insofar as a union between persons promotes the common good, as it generally and naturally does in the case of heterosexual marriage, the government should work to promote and secure it. 

Granted, a similar vow between persons of the same sex does in some ways promote the common good by increasing social stability and, e.g., reducing the financial burden for the treating of diseases spread through promiscuity (and even some will choose to raise and succeed in raising responsible citizens), so I am not opposed to some governmental preference for homosexual unions, but it must be in proportion to the good that those unions promise.  They have not historically proven to promote the common good nor do they naturally result in the perpetuation of good society, so how can they claim equality with heterosexual marriage in the eyes of the government?  The misguided sense of fairness that suggests that they should be equal needs to be weighed against what is truly right and just, i.e., granting privileges based upon historical and natural good with a view to protecting and promoting the common good.

This is not a matter of us versus them, and it is not even essentially a religious matter--it does not depend upon any revealed truth but is discernable from reason, experience, and history.  While I must object, both on a philosophical and a religious basis, to homosexual actions, I can see the value for society in providing privileges to homosexual unions that are in proportion to the good that they propose to society.  They just need to be in proportion to the good that typically come of such unions, not a blind extension of the privileges of one kind of union to another.

But I think the larger issue here--the reason that there is confusion about and advocacy of homosexual unions to have the same privileges as those of heterosexual--is due to our core misunderstanding of marriage itself.  A society and government that allows divorce on demand and does not provide concrete incentives for marriages to stay together--one that does not help couples to uphold their vows--cannot understand why such fickle unions based on whim should be granted any special status.  Indeed, if all marriage is is a transitory union based on passing infatuations, it should not be granted any special status.

A Better Approach

What we need to do to fix things is not further contribute to the demise of society through further dimunition and obscuring of the chief good of marriage by extending it to other forms of interpersonal union.  We need, rather, to work to reverse the damages done to marriage already.  We need to make divorce more difficult; we need to make it more undesirable.  We need to promote lifelong marriage and fidelity, and provide real incentives for it. 

We need to make marriage more difficult to get into, not because we want to be mean or ornery but because in making it overly accessible we have cheapened, demeaned, and diminished what it really is (or at least should be) and because we have simultaneously endangered our social stability and the future of our civilization.  It is sadly laughable that we have mandatory waiting periods to purchase firearms, but marriage can procured with no waiting period at all.  Failed marriages are at least as harmful to society as the misuse of firearms. 

Something like a waiting period for marriage would have both an instructional and a practical effect.  It would communicate the gravity of the commitment being entered into, and it would help ensure that both parties have sufficient time to discern if they feel they can make a lifelong commitment to each other.  When we were a wiser society, we even took it further to include external validation by publishing the "banns" of marriage to help ensure that there are not known reasons that a couple should not be married.

Debunking a Malicious Myth

We need a renaissance of understanding the beauty and value of commitment.  Too often our popular culture portrays it as something stagnant, dull, boring, and constrictive, in short, something to be avoided at all costs.  Yet it is strange that despite this popular mythos, we humans still gravitate toward it.  The stories of our day are often a clash of the supposedly free individuals (those who are avoiding marital commitment) with those who are entering into it.

The popular feeling and advice is to "enjoy your freedom while you have it" and, on a more vulgar note, to engage in debauchery and promiscuity while you can.  Yet oddly enough there seems to still be a latent and innate, although rationally inconsistent, recognition of the value of marriage.  These love stories that culminate in marriage still show that marriage is something to be desired over and above the alternative supposed complete freedom of the individual.

But this greater good of marriage--the good that drives the lovers in these love stories to marry despite the much-vaunted loss of freedom--remains unarticulated and, for that reason, looms smaller in the popular imagination.  Why should a love story culminate in marriage?  Surely it is not strictly literary convention.

No, I think that what I said before about the real good of marriage is intuitively recognized, even by those who cannot or refuse to articulate it.  In this sense, not much need be said to convince others of its value.  We intuitively understand the value of a lifelong commitment and the family that is built upon it, despite popular culture's ravings that it is not to be desired.  What we need, rather, is to be reminded of it, to have it be articulated more often, as I have tried to do in this essay.

And the interesting thing is that there truly is no conflict between freedom, rightly understood, and lifelong commitment.  Indeed, there is a greater freedom that comes from such commitment than is known without it.  If one is inclined to marry, one is in constant servitude to the drive to marry--to seek out a mate--until the mate is found and marriage is consummated.  It dominates the mind and heart.  This, too, is known intuitively and experientially and is also manifest in our popular culture's obsession with dating and love stories that culminate in marriage.  The mere fact that we can be infatuated speaks to it, and there is a word in our language--enthralled--that directly speaks to the servitude that we experience in seeking and finding a mate.

It is not in dating and being free to date that we are free, nor is it in being enslaved to our passions and the pursuit of sexual pleasure.  Here again our popular myths debunk themselves.  How much time, effort, and cost do we see being expended in such pursuits in our popular culture?  Is it not well-known that having a girlfriend, mistress, or, for that matter, prostitute is more costly than having a wife? 

It turns out that our intuition is right in the case of marriage.  It is better to marry than to burn with passion that can only be satisfied at great personal cost (and even danger).  It is better to have a partner in life than to be in the constant pursuit of that partner or in the pursuit of one of many goods that such a partner can provide.  Sex is just one of the many goods of marriage, and it turns out that when there is a more or less basic assurance that you can have it, you find there are many other worthwhile pursuits to expend your efforts on.

Marriage is the stem from which the flower of life blossoms; it is the beginning of freedom.  Once one is no longer consumed with the dating game, with the seeking of a partner, with the pursuit of sex, the mind and body are freed to engage in other pursuits.  The supposed freedom to pursue vague varieties of a single pleasure, which only shows one's slavery to that one pleasure, is exchanged for the real freedom to pursue all the real, many, and varied goods that this life offers.  And what's more, if one is careful about the choice of one's lifelong partner, you get to explore and enjoy those many wonders with someone you treasure for the rest of your life.

I would suggest that having and raising children, which is the natural result of the good of sex anyways, is a supreme good in marriage.  The blossoming and shaping of other lives that are utterly dependent upon you, the joys of re-experiencing the many wonders of life through their eyes, and the shared joy and love that comes from them are not to be paralleled with any other worldly pleasure.  Unlike many pleasures, the pleasure of love (and by this I mean charity, caring, and giving as well as affection) only grows when it is shared; the more children you have and the more love you give to them, the greater the joy of love becomes.

And while children are a great good and pleasure to be shared in marriage, they are just one of the many that come from the freedom and good of a lifelong commitment to another.  When the fear, anxiety, and loneliness are removed thanks to an unbreakable commitment to each other, one has far more freedom and far more joy than can be had without it.  Sure, we do sacrifice some liberties, but we do so for many more and for the greater peace, joy, and shared pleasure that comes with it.

This is the message that I think we need to remind each other of when faced with the false dualism of freedom versus marriage.  This is the message that will help others to understand the supreme good of marriage--that which flows from a sure, certain, and unbreakable commitment, that which we intuitively know.  With this understanding, the practical suggestions of helping each other to choose wisely when entering into this commitment and to help sustain each other in times of difficulty (rather than giving up and bowing out in divorce) do not seem so hard or imposing.  We see that we are working towards not only the greater common good but also towards the couple's good, the children's good, and indeed the individual's good. 

In short, we see that by taking such measures, we are showing our love for each other.  We are showing that we actually care, that we are not just a bunch of individuals cut off from each other, that we are neighbors, not strangers.  This is what a good and civilized society is all about, and it is clearly a far better society than the one we have been building by the unrestrained promotion of individual liberties.

Towards a Better Future

Those who understand what I'm saying here and are inclined to agree with it should take it upon themselves to spread the word.  We're never hesitant to talk about the latest great movie we've watched, and we should be far less hesitant to speak well of marriage given that it is a far greater good.  Given that we're a democratic society, it's just a matter of reminding enough people about the real good of marriage to get things changed for the positive, to start the long overdue repair work on marriage in our society. 

And given the regularity that the topic of homosexual union is in the news these days, there are ample opportunities to talk about it.  We need to redirect the question to its proper root.  We need to help people to understand what marriage is really all about, and then it will become far easier for others to understand our opposition to elevating homosexual unions to the level of marriage and granting them the same governmental privileges.  We need to show that it isn't about elitism; we're not hateful, selfish, or otherwise malicious.  In fact, we're pursuing the same thing--equitable privileges under law, where equitable means that the privileges are equitable with the promised benefit to the common good.

Another common opportunity to talk about marriage is when someone is getting married.  Inevitably, there are the comments like "run, don't walk," "enjoy your final days of freedom," and the like that echo what our popular culture thinks about marriage.  Instead of perpetuating that myth, we should try to debunk the myth and share the good.  Bachelor parties should be a celebration of the impending marriage, lauding the coming joys of marriage with the groom, not a chance to get one last debauch nor a dirge for the groom's supposedly lost freedom, and if we have any influence over them, we should push them in the direction of the good.

And of course, we need to be mindful of ourselves and our own marriages.  If we need to re-examine our commitment to our spouse and perhaps renew it, it's not too late.  If we got into marriage without due consideration, we should try at all costs to salvage it.  We already made the vows, whether or not we really meant them at the time, so it is a matter of making the intent real now.  It is not unheard of for long-married couples to renew their vows, and if that would be helpful, by all means we should do it.  Whatever it takes to get ourselves right and our commitment real, we should do in order to experience the chief good of marriage for ourselves.  Divorce is not an option except in extreme circumstances. 

If we're engaged or thinking about it, we need to examine ourselves and do our best to discern if the beloved is someone we can commit to for life.  If not, we have no business considering marriage.  And those of us with influence in such situations should help the couples to understand and discern the same.

Given our culture, and human nature itself, it is inevitable that discussions of love and marriage will arise, and whatever those are, if it seems appropriate, we should make an effort to raise awareness of and appreciation for the real goods, joys, and nature of marriage.  If we do what we can to shape the popular mythos around marriage, it will go far towards enabling us to create better societal structures, including laws, to improve and support marriage in our society, which will ultimately make a better society for us now, for our children, and for our children's children.

--
Given on the Feast of the Holy Family in the Year of Our Lord 2006
JMJ++

Sunday, December 31, 2006 7:12:44 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Thursday, November 2, 2006

Let me start by saying that I neither strongly adhere to nor dissent from the theory of evolution.  I figure God could easily have created a universe in which things evolve just as he could have done it in one instant and have things as they are now.

What I object to, however, is the use of science, in particular biology and genetics, to try to answer the big questions in life.  Science, biology, genetics--they're all good things that help us to understand the way things are, but they fall flat when they try to answer why humans are the way we are or, perhaps more importantly, how we should act.

There's a fairly common sentiment these days that we're just another animal.  The resultant moral implication is that we can and should just act like animals, just follow our animal instincts. 

The support for this comes from, in part, the study of our DNA (good science) and the study of primate DNA (also good science) with the observation being that hey, some really high percentage of our DNA is identical to that of apes.  Of course, the idea that we're closely related on the biological order to apes is nothing new; it's simply advances in genetics have recently (historically speaking) helped to confirm this.

In other words, you often hear (or at least I do) materialists, atheists, agnostics (i.e., non-theistic types) say things like "we're just a bunch of apes" or something along those lines.  And it seems to make sense; it has the ring of truth because science does indeed show that in many ways we're related. 

But, and it is this "but" that makes all the difference in the multiverse (or universe if you prefer), BUT we are NOT apes.  Take an ape into your home, raise him like a child, do everything you'd do if he were a human, and in the end, you still have an ape.  He is an animal not capable of higher (abstract) reasoning, that can't speak any human language, and if released into society would soon be caught and put in a zoo because he IS just an ape.  And these are just the natural characteristics--ignoring the spiritual.

Think of it this way.  What are the attributes of a triangle?  It is two-dimensional.  It is made up of straight lines.  It has corners.  Now consider a square; what are its attributes?  Is it not also two-dimensional?  Is it not also made up of straight lines and corners?  In virtually every way but one--the number of lines--triangles and squares are the same.  And yet they are NOT the same.  No sane person would say otherwise.  No matter that they are alike in many more ways than they are different--they are essentially different kinds of things.

So it is with humans and apes.  We have many similarities on the natural level, far more than differences.  But in the end, we are not apes, and only a fool or an insane or unthinking person can say that we are. 

So let's stop all this nonsense about humans being just another kind of ape.  And with the ending of such silliness, we must also end the silly suggestions that we can and should just follow our animal instincts.  No matter how alike we may be to other animals, in the end, it is our minds and souls that truly make us human and impose upon us a higher moral order, even if we like to pretend that God does not exist.

Thursday, November 2, 2006 8:21:52 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, July 19, 2006

While reading over the latest issue of Perspectives from the IASA, it struck me my current thinking about philosophy rings true for how I'm thinking about architecture, at least in one rather important aspect.  You see, in considering all of the various philosophical systems developed over human history, it strikes me that there is no one philosophy that suits all people, at least not realistically speaking.

Sure, as a devout Roman Catholic and amateur philosopher myself, I do think, ideally speaking, that Catholicism is the best philosophy for all human beings.  The problem is that, first, not all humans are philosophers.  Second, and vastly more importantly, all philosophers and non-philosophers alike are humans. 

As humans, we're made up of more than just plain ol' objective reasoning.  Indeed, I rather think that we are first and foremost a bundle of nerves and emotions, and only a few among us even try to tame that bundle into something resembling objective and rational thought.  Even those are still far and away subject to the non-rational whims of humanity, including prejudices, presuppositions, and all that other non-rational goo that makes us who we are.

This is why I say, realistically speaking, there is and can be no unifying philosophy that all humans can follow, as much as I might like for it to be otherwise.  I think this much has proven true in that neither by force nor by argument has any one philosophy been able to subdue humanity in all our history, despite attempts at it by both the very strong, the very intelligent, and the very persuasive among us.

If this is true, what is then the best thing that we can do?  Right now, it seems to me that perhaps the best thing that philosophers can do is to try to discover philosophies that are the best for persons with a given background, a given culture, and at a given time.  I don't think this is the same thing as relativism because, first, we can still talk about the best objective philosophy for all humans (even if all humans will never follow it), and second, we can talk about an objectively best philosophy for persons of similar backgrounds, cultures, and times.  We can still say that our philosophy is the best for humanity while realizing that perhaps the best for this person over here is another, given all the factors that have shaped him or her.

About now, my technical readers will be wondering when I'll get back to talking about architecture and how it relates to these ramblings, and, happily for them, here we are.  The most recent issue from the IASA has several articles purporting what it means to be an architect, how to become an architect, and how best to educate for architecture, among other things.  In reading these, I was struck (I should say again) that there doesn't seem to be one unifying idea of what it means to be a IT architect or how to become one.

Certainly, there are commonalities and core competencies, but I think that ultimately, the question of whether or not one can know if he is an IT architect (shall we say, the epistemology of IT architecture) and consequently whether or not you can tell someone else you are one, depends largely on the context of the question.  Just as there are many different industries, company sizes, and corporate cultures, so it seems there should be many different categories of architects to match. 

In an earlier blog post and article this year, I tried to throw out some ideas about what software architecture is and how we should be thinking about it.  I still think that the distinctions I was drawing are valid as are the key differentiators between software architects and developers, and incidentally, I'd suggest that the distinctions are also valid for the infrastructure side of IT.  It seems to me that the key defining aspect of an architect is the ability to tangle with both the business and the technology problems and effectively cut through that Gordian Knot, arriving at the best solution.

If so, then what makes a person an IT architect depends on the business at hand and the technology at hand, not on some presupposed host of experience with different businesses and architects.  The issue I take with Mr. Hubert in his "Becoming an IT Architect" (IASA Perspectives, Issue 4) is that it sounds as if one must have visited all his "stations" in order to know one is an architect.  While he starts out the article saying he is just recounting his particular journey, most of the article smacks of an attempt at generalizing his individual experience into objective truth, in much the same way that some philosophers have tried to draw out the best objective philosophy based on their own experiences and cultures.  In the end, such attempts invariably fall flat. 

Without digging into the specifics of the "stations" that I don't think are core to becoming an IT architect, let's stick to the central proposition at hand (which makes such a specific deconstruction unnecessary), namely that IT architecture at its essence is the previously described weaving of business and technology skill, with an admittedly stronger technical than business bent.  If that is the case, there is no one definition for what it means to be an IT architect, nor is there consequently any one path to become one.  With that in mind, reading Mr. Hubert's story is valuable in as much as one wants to know how to become a software architect at the kinds of companies, projects, and technologies that Mr. Hubert works with today, but it is only one story among many in the broader realm of IT architecture.

Rather than trying to establish some single architect certification that costs thousands of dollars and requires specific kinds of experience to achieve, we should think in terms of what it means to be an architect for a company of this size, with this (or these) primary technologies, this culture, and at this time in the company's life.  Only within that spectrum can we realistically determine the best definition of an IT architect, much like there may be a best philosophy for individuals within the spectrum of particular backgrounds, cultures, and times.

Does this mean we can't talk about skills (truths) that apply to all architects?  I don't think so.  The chief skill is what I've already mentioned (solving business problems with technology), but perhaps we could say that all architects need deep experience and/or training in a technology (or technologies).  Similarly, we could say that architects need training or experience in business in general (those concepts and skills that span different industries).  We might also say that they need training or experience in particular industries, at least one.  These individual truths combine to form something of an objectively best architect, but the specific best architect definition will vary depending on the context.

This kind of talk provides a broad framework for speaking about IT architecture as a profession while leaving room for the specific categories that could be specified to enable better classification of individuals to aid in both education and recruiting.  We already have some of these definitions loosely being developed with such terms as "solutions architect," "enterprise architect," and "infrastructure architect."  However, I feel that these may still be too broad to be able to sufficiently achieve an epistemology of IT architecture.  Maybe "enterprise" is the best one among them in that it historically does imply a large part of the context needed to have a meaningful category within IT architecture, but I tend to think that "solutions" and "infrastructure" are still too vague and lacking context. 

I don't propose to have the solution all worked out, but I do think that the key things, both in philosophy and software architecture, are to provide contextual trappings to determine the most meaningful solution to the problem at hand.  If that means speaking of a software architect for a local, small, family-owned brewery on the one hand, and an infrastructure architect for a multinational, Fortune 500, telecom company on the other, so be it.  But if we can generalize these sort of highly-contextual categorizations into something more usable for education and certification, all the better.  Granted, we won't have categories that sufficiently address every meaningful variation (as is the case with all taxonomies), but as long as we're working forward with the necessary framework of context, I think we'll get a lot closer than many of the current attempts that result in over generalization (and thus lose meaning as categories per se). 

In the meantime, I'd suggest that my assertion that the key distinction is in one's purpose (see the aforementioned article) is the best way to establish a basic epistemology of IT architecture.  I think it is certainly sufficient for individual knowledge and broad group identification, though clearly more needs to be worked out to assist in the development of training, education, and certification that will feed into trustworthy standards in the various categories of IT architecture.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 10:30:40 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Saturday, April 29, 2006

I just updated this site to the latest version of dasBlog.  Many, many thanks to Scott for helping me out with getting it (given that I am a total noob to CVS and, apparently, picked a bad time to start since SF was having issues).  Most notably (that I know of), this version incorporates using Feedburner, which I guess is the latest and greatest for distributing your feed and lowering bandwidth usage, though I'm sure there are some other goodies in there.

Anyhoo, let me know if you suddenly start running into any problems with my blog.  Have a good un!

Saturday, April 29, 2006 2:19:18 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Part of the common "wisdom" these days seems to be that religion and religious feeling are a bad thing.  Don't believe me?  When was the last time you heard someone say "I'm not religious about it"?  I'll wager that not much time has passed since you last heard a statement to that effect.  The speaker intends to say that he is not irrationally attached to the idea, equating, implicitly, irrationality and negativity with religious sentiment.  

I trust I need not rehash the bad rap that religion, particularly "organized religion," gets these days.  You can see it all over the media, in film, magazines, television, etc.  If an established religion is involved, particularly a Christian one such as Catholicism, the "organized" aspect of it is villified.  Religion is a byword in our society today.  Any attempt at its intrusion in public life is met with suspicion (at best) and often outright hostility.

And who are these who demonize religion?  Certainly there are the active atheists, but more often than not, it is your neighbor, or maybe even you.  After all, everybody knows that if you get "religious" about something, it is not going to end well, right?  I mean, everybody knows that lots of people have been killed and tortured for religious reasons, no?  Religion is a disease of the brain that prevents humans from thinking rationally, or so seems to be the presupposition these days.

So how about we just take a few seconds to think about history and religion?  Hmm.. we have the Crusades, the Inquisition, the 30-Years War (and other bloodiness surrounding the Reformation), and.. and.. hmmm.. Dang, I've flat run out of stock examples of how religion is so terrible.  Sure, there are the odd one-offs here and there you hear about, but this is pretty much the stuff of it that so permeates our consciousness today.  Strangely (or not so strangely), these are the same stock arguments that have been bandied about since the so-called Enlightenment.  Let's take a closer look.

The Crusades.  What can we say about them?  A lot, actually.  A lot more than the squishy tale of romance and vacuous "spiritual" comraderie displayed in the "Kingdom of Heaven."  In fact, I recommend a good and, more importantly, short book on them by the accomplished historian Thomas Madden.  In fact, you can read a short summary article treating the same topic here.  Read it, you might be surprised.

The Inquisition.  The mere word strikes disgust and fear into your heart, right?  Well, before you go swallowing mythology hook, line, and sinker, you should check out this article by Thomas Madden and, if you have more time, maybe take a gander at this book, Characters of the Inquisition, by William Thomas Walsh.  Brief summary: The Inquisition was a good thing for its time.  You don't even have to be Catholic to think so, if you'll just look into the facts and how it was a civilizing and taming influence in otherwise extremely brutal times.

The Reformation and ensuing atrocities such as the 30-Years War.  Now for these, I'd actually grant that there's a lot of bad stuff being perpetrated in the name of religion.  But the key phrase is "in the name of religion."  I won't argue against a lot of really, really bad things being done in the name of religion, but, uh, that don't make religion bad, it makes it abused.  I'd actually argue that the reason religion has gotten such a bad rap in all that is a direct result of the destabilizing and modernizing effect that the so-called Reformation had on Western society.  I'd further suggest that the only reason such atrocities have taken place in the name of religion in the four to five hundred years leading up to the 20th century is precisely because Western man was unlearning religion, particularly Catholic, Christian religion. 

The Reformation gave a carte blanche to European powers and principalities to do whatever they darn well pleased, without having to worry about the checks and balance of religious corrective exercised through the Catholic Church (as in, e.g., the Inquisition, interdicts, excommunications, etc.).  The more freed from any answer to a "higher power" that the rulers became, the more brutal and bloody things became.  This is not to say that bad things were not done by Catholic rulers as well during (and before) this time, but, like the Crusades, these were first and foremost defensive postures, reacting (and overreacting) to the new threat that Protestantized monarchs posed.  And of course, Catholics were fighting amongst themselves long before this for reasons having nothing to do with religion (they shared the same one, after all); this isn't to claim that churching culture makes men perfect but rather that unchurching culture makes them far worse or at least far more susceptible to being bad.

But if you think all the mess of the Reformation is bad, consider the absolute bloodiness of the French Revolution.  Under the guise of folks like Robespierre (whom I had the "opportunity" to do a paper on in school), these "supremely rational" people unleashed an unholy terror on their own countrymen, bathing the country in blood in the name of reason.  Yes, that's right; the French Reformation was all about "enlightenment" and "reason."  And lets not stop there.  Who was the French emperor of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that stomped all over the European continent?  Was it a religious fanatic that spilled the blood of countless thousands in the name of Enlightenment goals like public education?  No, it was a self-appointed dictator of the Enlightened world, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Did it stop there?  No, as world leaders became more and more distant and divorced from Christian rule, things progressively got worse.  Witness the many continuing continental wars of the 19th century with nothing more than national and empirical ambition as its goal.  Witness the explosion of the British Empire that ruthlessly subjugated more peoples across the world than history had yet seen for nothing more than financial gain.

Oh and now we move on to the worst record in human history in terms of how humans have treated other humans.  The 20th century saw more bloodshed than all previous centuries combined, or so I've heard.  Was it in the name of religion?  No, rather, it was in the name of secular, materialistic philosophies such as facism and communism.  We see the blatant attempt at exterminating an entire race of people, along with anyone else not meeting an atheistic conception of the perfect man as well as those who would stand up for the targets of extermination (namely, members of organized Christian religions).  Let's also not forget the bequeathment of that philosophy that so many rational, liberal, academic people coddled--communism.  Far more have been killed in the name of that philosophy than Hitler ever dreamed of (well, maybe he did dream of it).  Both of these philosophies are completely divorced of Christian religious power. 

Now, who is it that is seen as probably the most influential person in bringing communism to an end?  Many say it was John Paul the Great.  In many documentaries and commentaries following his death, none especially Catholic in name or nature, I heard of his unwavering resistence to communism and the dramatic role he played in its fall. 

And so we see the true nature of religion:  arguably the most organized religion in world history has consistently tried to act as a check to the powers of this world, reminding them of their duties to mankind and trying to enforce those duties when it could.  The worst periods of violence in human history were made possible by the utter elimination of this religious power, the only power that strives to act in the name of something higher than itself, the only power that truly believes (and has a basis for believing) that we, as humans, have distinct and undeniable dignity and rights that flow from an Absolute Source.

So the next time you're tempted to diss religion, think on these things.  The next time you are tempted to laugh or cheer when somebody takes a pot shot at organized religion, think again.  Religion, if one approaches history with an open mind, has a track record of an undeniably positive effect on human nature, both on the individual and in public life.  The facts are there folks if you're willing to see them.  As Jesus said, "he who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 1:51:34 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Monday, April 24, 2006

Not long ago, I polled subscribers as to what they're interested in.  There seemed to be a fairly even divide between what I'll roughly call Technical posts and Non-Technical posts.  In fact, my goal with this blog is to be a blend of those two general categories.  At the same time, as much as it hurts to admit it, I know that some folks really don't care about my opinions on non-technical matters.  So it struck me (some time ago, actually; I've just been lazy) to create two general categories using the creative taxonomy of Technical and Non-Technical. 

Why?  This is because dasBlog (and most other blog systems, I imagine) allow you to subscribe to category-based RSS feeds as well as view posts by category.  So from this day forward, in addition to the more specific categories, I'll be marking all posts as either Technical or Non-Technical.  If all you care about is one or the other, you can just subscribe to one or the other and never be bothered with the stuff you don't care about.

You can view/subscribe to the feeds using the feed icon next to each category in the list (of categories).  Here are direct links as well:

Technical

Non-Technical

I hope this helps!

Monday, April 24, 2006 10:28:33 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Friday, November 4, 2005

What the greatest computer ever to be built could not determine (the question for the answer to life, the universe, and everything) is now clear:

What is the revision number of the final release build for the Microsoft .NET Framework Version 2.0?

Friday, November 4, 2005 5:08:51 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Saturday, September 10, 2005

I was recently reminded of the paradox of the relativist, which is the insistent assertion that there is no objective truth, that is, truth that applies equally to everyone.  The paradox, to be painfully evident, is that one cannot say, on the one hand, that there is no objective truth while, on the other hand, claiming the objective truth that there is no objective truth. 

One could come up with any number of pithy sayings to this effect, but to say it right out may be more productive: relativism has no rational or moral grounds on which to stand and judge other ideologies.  It is self-defeating.  Essentially, it is an irrational plea against reason and truth; it is an abandonment of reason in favor of such conflicting impulses as practicality, compassion, selfishness, and humility.

Don't mistake me.  I am not saying that relativists are inherently evil or even that they're any worse, humanly speaking, from the average exclusivist.  There are plenty of good people who adhere to this philosophy, some of which are my own friends and family members.  Most people do not critically think about their philosophy—they just go with the flow. 

And the flow these days is with relativism, as is supremely evident in the mass media and just as evident in the conversation of everyday folks.  There is the implicit assumption that we cannot “judge” others’ way of approaching life (that is to say others’ philosophy), that what may be true and best for me is not true for others.  To say otherwise garners almost immediate anathema or, at the very least, shock and awe.

At the same time, I wouldn’t say that there aren’t any opportunists that use relativism for nefarious purposes.  Surely there are.  And surely there are those who, when relativism is challenged, shy away for less than laudable reasons.  After all, if I can’t tell you that what you think or how you act is not good, you can’t tell me either.  Thus, each of us gives the other a moral carte blanche to do what we will as long as we don’t hinder each other in our pursuit of pleasure.

But truly, I’d say almost any philosophy can be abused; however, abusus non tollit usum—the abuse of a thing does not nullify its proper use.  The real question for the thinking person is whether or not relativism is the best approach to life, even when it is at its best, even when it is held for praiseworthy reasons. 

This question should be applied to any philosophy, including Christianity and other religions.  How often do we hear so-called arguments against religion that ultimately boil down to abuse of it?  The answer, simply put, is almost all the time; it is rare to hear a rational argument against religion that does not hang on its abuse.  But I will not fall prey to that temptation in this essay; I will consider what is good in relativism and show how its good is not peculiar to it and how it is essentially flawed. 

Relativism is expressed in so many superficially beneficent ways as, for example, wanting to legalize same-sex marriages, wanting to exterminate any apparent endorsement of particular religions, not wanting to "judge" anyone, etc.  At its heart is a seemingly ultra-rational principle, i.e., "I might be wrong."  As an example, in response to a previous post of mine, a reader expressed concern that I might actually hold to something I consider to be objectively true; he said “the definitive tends to make me uneasy, so from my perspective, your certainty increases my uncertainty.”

I think most people who hold to relativism do so out of good will and humility to believe they might be wrong and to avoid “judging” another.  I would also wager that its popularity today is chiefly due to human history that involves people who injure and kill those who disagree with them.  Humanity has a very bad record when it comes to dealing with those that disagree with it.  And that is, while a compelling non-rational motivation, still based in the logical fallacy of abusus non tollit usum.

This historical facts—the abuse of humans at the hands of other humans—are rather an argument against relativism.  Relativism implicitly assumes that humans are innately good; otherwise, it would not follow to believe that what another believes is ipso facto good for them.  Our history shows quite unabashedly that humans are anything but innately good; it is patently clear that our nature is to be selfish at the cost of others.  So we cannot presume that another’s philosophy is okay, and once we acknowledge this, we are forced to judge others’ philosophies (and our own) to endeavor to find what is a good philosophy for us all.  And thus relativism falls flat.

Ultimately, relativism is a self-defeating philosophy that no rational person should cling to.  Any attempt to rationally think about it and apply it causes innumerable contradictions, and the goods that make relativism so popular today, i.e., good will, charity, compassion, and humility, are goods that are promoted by other more consistent philosophies.  Indeed, there are perfectly good exclusivist philosophies that do not require the extermination of all who disagree.  Christianity, despite claims to the contrary, is one of these.

One can happily and reasonably believe in the existence of a personal God, that Jesus is who he is reported to be, that the Church is who she claims to be, and in all the consequent doctrine without being forced to believe that one must force that faith on others.  It is certainly true that some have believed that force should be used to convert others, but they are far and away a minority in Christian history.  And especially today, that belief is virtually non-existent. 

Nor is it necessary to believe that all who are not active church members are damned to hell.  Of course, this is contested by some fundamentalists today, but they are still a very small minority.  Unfortunately, this is the view that logically leads to the idea that force is acceptable because, after all, if one believes another is damned if he doesn't believe as you do, that person loses his human dignity and can therefore be treated as less than human, either to be exterminated or forcibly converted.  But the Christian Gospel is anything but that. 

Quite the contrary, one can have all the aforementioned virtues implicit in relativism, while still maintaining a rational ground to stand on.  Good will is at the heart of the Gospel.  At the Nativity of Christ, the angels proclaimed the message of peace on earth and good will to men (or to men of good will, depending on your translation).  Charity is the chief virtue of Christianity—St. Paul wrote that even if we have all the wonders of heaven and its virtues, without charity, they are empty.  Compassion is the central motivating factor in the Incarnation and ministry of Jesus, and we are called to share with Jesus in his passion (his suffering) as well as the suffering of the least of us (the poor).  Humility is also a virtue implicit in Christianity—we are all fallen human beings in need of God’s grace and all the good that we have comes from God, including our talents and abilities.

So you see that Christianity has all that commends relativism without requiring one to believe what is patently false and irrational—that what someone else believes is inherently good for them and that their beliefs are just as good as your own.

I am convinced that we must believe in something to give meaning to our lives.  This is not a desperate, irrational cry but a stark reality, for if we do not believe in something, we are merely automatons driven by our nature, no different than any other animal, plant, or protozoa.  And if we believe in something, we must believe it is better than believing in something else (or nothing) because if we did not think so, would we not believe in the something else that we considered to be better?

Truly, it seems clear that by choosing to believe in one thing over another, we are implicitly asserting that we believe it to be superior to another belief.  And if that is the case, why not say so?  Why should we falsely and irrationally claim something to the contrary?  Can we not say so without being arrogant?  I think we can.

Whether or not we are arrogant is not a matter of being exclusivist but rather in how one approaches interaction with others.  Surely we all recognize when one athlete is better than another, and often, athletes know this just as well as we do.  But that does not make them arrogant.  Demonstrating their abilities does not make them arrogant.  No, arrogance is a matter of attitude, in sports, in the workplace, and at the table of philosophical dialogue.

You can believe that your philosophy is better than mine.  In fact, you can believe that your philosophy is the best for the entire human race.  You can do this without being arrogant.  You can even attempt to demonstrate how your beliefs are best without being arrogant.  What makes you arrogant is how you do this.

Would it be arrogant for me to try to force my belief on you?  I think so.  Would it be arrogant for me to dismiss your beliefs?  Yes.  Would it be arrogant for me to make snide remarks and jokes about what you believe?  I tend to think so.  There are all kinds of ways that we can be arrogant, and in doing so, we can easily kill any productive dialogue.  But simply adhering to a set of beliefs and believing that they are the best for everyone is not arrogant.  It is logical.

So what say we stop patronizing each other and try to convince each other again that what we believe is best?  How about we quit stifling valuable, productive, and enriching dialogue?  Let’s be honest with each other and ourselves and see that we truly do believe in what we believe, and that what we believe is worth believing more than the alternatives.  But let’s also remember to do so in a spirit of good will, charity, compassion, and humility.

Saturday, September 10, 2005 3:39:02 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Friday, May 6, 2005
Why pirating music, software, movies, and other seeming victimless crimes are not okay.
Friday, May 6, 2005 2:51:10 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [26]  | 
# Thursday, March 10, 2005

I've been asked numerous times what “dotNetTemplar” is and/or do I know the history of the Knights Templar.  The answer to the latter is yes, probably a little better than most, as it falls within one of my areas of expertise.  And I did, in fact, choose dotNetTemplar with the Knights Templar in mind, as the Latin motto and icon on this site might suggest.

For those of you who don't know, the Knights Templar were the first military order, founded during the time of the Crusades.  For a brief overview, you can read this article.  The primary reason the order appeals to me is that they were the first group to successfully blend a patently secular occupation (soldiering) with a religious vocation.  Their motto, “not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,” is what I think all of us who strive for excellence in this world should have as our motto.

So I adopted their motto as my own.  I, too, work in a secular occupation, and I try to do my best at it.  Yet I am a man of faith and believe that all the good that we have--our talents, belongings, intelligence, strength, etc.--is a gift from God.  I believe that without God, the source of all being, I would be and do nothing, so everything good that I am and do is thanks to God; therefore, he deserves to be honored for it.

Hence I try in my life (though I'm not by any stretch of the imagination perfect at it) to blend my faith into my secular activities, whether it be through keeping reminders of my faith near me, sharing my faith with others as seems appropriate, or simply doing what's right as much as I can by, for example, not pirating software, not lying, not cheating, giving to the homeless guy on the street who asks for money regardless of what I think he'll do with it, etc.  And by working towards this blend, I hope to in some ways--ways that I truly hope are not ostentatious--glorify God in my everyday life.

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini Tuo da gloriam.

+dotNetTemplar+

Thursday, March 10, 2005 9:27:36 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Sunday, November 28, 2004
Thoughts on the justness of the death penalty.
Sunday, November 28, 2004 7:57:40 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [4]  | 
# Monday, November 22, 2004
I do my best to offer a reasoned discussion of the issues surrounding the abortion debate.
Monday, November 22, 2004 1:29:54 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [4]  | 

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The opinions expressed herein are solely my own personal opinions, founded or unfounded, rational or not, and you can quote me on that.

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