Kreeft – “Sexual Reconnection”

Sexual Reconnection by Peter Kreeft

Interesting Kreeft lecture. Nothing new that he hasn’t said before, but standard Kreeft, nonetheless: enlightening and entertaining.

One thing that I wish he would have talked more about how our scientific knowledge about human sexuality changes our attitudes about sex. Specifically, Kreeft addresses the idea of contraceptives and critiques it’s ideological background of being “liberated” from babies and families (note: that’s a cliffs’ cliffs notes summary). But, if I know my wife’s monthly cycle and choose to have sex only on specific times that I know will not produce a baby, does that reflect the same underlying ideology? The motivation seems the same, only the method differs.

I know I’ll get a response from someone. 😛

The Not-So-Platonist Neoplatonists

I’ve been reading Remes book Neoplatonism and have found it to be, though difficult, a great introduction to Neoplatonism. Very highly recommended! Anyways, in chapter 3 she discusses the Neoplatonist view of nature and the sensible universe. If you’re familiar with conservative Evangelicalism or have spent anytime in those circles, you would know that there is a pop-antagonism against anything that smacks of Platonism. Often, as some of my earlier posts have noted (here, here, and here), the Early Church is singled out as an example of the detrimental effects of “Platonism.” Normally, this critique centers around the platonic understanding of creation and its relation to evil, which brings me back to Remes. As the standard account of “Platonism” goes as explained by some Evangelicals, matter and creation are “inherently evil.” But, is that an accurate portrayal of Platonism? Remes concludes her section on the subject of evil with this paragraph:

In all these approaches, evil undermines the goodness of the generation emanating from the One, but it has no ultimate power over it, nor is its existence independent of it. Even though evil marks especially the material and sensible existence, it should be remembered that Neoplatonism regards the sensible existence as a mainly positive one: a realm that displays the beauty of the higher principles. Plotinus attacks vehemently, for instance, Gnostic dualism: this world, although deficient, is not unqualifiedly or even predominantly evil but an image of a beautifully ordered intelligible realm. Bodies are beautiful houses and instruments of souls, not anything inherently evil (Enn. I.4.16.21-30, II.9.4-5). Even though matter is often described as a source of deformation and vice, it is unlimited and formless, and thereby without any beautiful organization or proportion, rather than being positively evil. It is not another source of existence alongside the One, but rather, generated by the One, even though furthest removed from its goodness.

-Pauliina Remes, Neoplatonism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 97.

The point: if you’re going to critique Platonism (and there are places where it needs to be critiqued), make sure you are actually critiquing Platonism. We (i.e., Christians) are people of action––strawmen do not become us.

Shocking Disappointment

The more I read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, the more I realize how much his thinking has already influenced me by way of American culture. It’s shocking to be reading someone with whom you know you shouldn’t agree (i.e., Utilitarianism), only to find yourself giving the occasional “Amen!” (that’s the disappointment).

It also made me realize that Christians today need to read Mill’s essay if for no other reason than to be confronted with the fact that the ideas and philosophies which they take for granted aren’t necessarily “from the Bible” as they have been deceived into believing.

On the Necessity of Contrary Opinions

Let us suppose, therefore, that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never thinks of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people to exercise such coercion, either by themselves or by their government. The power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no more title to it than the worst. It is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in opposition to it. If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justifiable in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

-John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty” in The Basic Writings of John Stuart Mill: On Liberty, The Subjection of Women & Utilitarianism (New York: The Modern Library, 2002), 18-19.

Despite my distaste for utilitarianism, I actually found this quote of Mill’s to be on point and particularly relevant for America today where the plea for “toleration” in turn becomes the oppressor of minority views.

There Is No Christianity without Miracles

So that, upon the whole, we may conclude, that the Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by an reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.

-Davide Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 186.

C. S. Lewis Uses Hume

Reading through Hume’s “Of Miracles” in An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, I suddenly realized that C. S. Lewis adopts the same logic in his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Hume’s line goes as follows:

If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

-David Hume,  An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 174.

Those familiar with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe should immediately think of this scene:

“How do you know,” he asked, “that your sister’s story is not true?”

“Ooh, but–” began Susan, and then stopped. Anyone could see form the old man’s face that he was perfectly serious. Then Susan pulled herself together and said, “But Edmund said they had only been pretending.”

“That is a point,” said the Professor, “which certainly deserves consideration; very careful consideration. For instance–if you will excuse me for asking the question–does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?”

“That’s just the funny thing about it, sir,” said Peter. “Up till now, I’d have said Lucy every time.”

“And what do you think, my dear?” said the Professor turning to Susan.

“Well,” said Susan, “in general, I’d say the same as Peter, but this couldn’t be true–all this about the wood and the Faun.”

“That is more than I know,” said the Professor, “and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a  very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed.”

“We were afraid it mightn’t even be lying,” said Susan; “we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy.”

“Madness, you mean?” said the Professor quite coolly. “Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.”

“But then,” said Susan, and stopped. She had never dreamed that a grown-up would talk like the Professor and didn’t know what to think.

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

-C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: HarperTrophy, 1978), 47-48.

Surprised by the Intolerant Locke

Reading Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration has been an interesting experience. At times I find myself agreeing with him, though probably because his thinking was so influential upon Jefferson, et al. and has been embedded into my thinking since I was a child that I find it to be common sense. At other times, I find him extremely frustrating, especially when he confines religion only to the “inward” person. Yet, Locke has surprised me. Not in what he says, but in how his thinking explains the American experience; my own experience.

Some may wonder why America has always struggled with Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Atheists. Indeed, growing up, it seemed nonsense that the Puritans and Pilgrims would travel to American to escape religious persecution, and yet in turn offer no religious liberty to anyone else. This was mostly resolved by the time of the Constitution amongst various Protestant denominations. However, with the emigration of Irish Catholics, there was a severe reaction to all things Catholicism (note: PBS recently did a series called God in America which deals with this and other questions about the American religious experience and is worth checking out). Well, reading Locke has answered this (i.e., Catholicism) and other questions (i.e., Muslims and Atheists).

The reason why Locke offers no toleration for Catholics and Muslims is conflict of interest. They (according to Locke) have allegiances elsewhere that threaten the public good (note: keep in mind Locke’s Social Contract view of government). The reason why he doesn’t tolerate Atheists is not as clear to me. It would be reasonable, then, to quote him:

Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God. Promises, Covenants, and Oaths, which are the Bonds of Humane Society, can have no hold upon an Atheist. The taking away of God, tho but even in thought, dissolves all. Besides also, those that by their Atheism undermine and destroy all Religion, can have no pretence of Religion whereupon to challenge the Privilege of a Toleration. As for other Practical Opinions, tho not absolutely free from all Error, if they do not tend to establish Domination over others, or Civil Impunity to the Church in which they are taught, there can be no Reason why they should not be tolerated.

-John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1983), 51.

It seems that he is afraid that 1) there is no divine threat by which they (i.e., Atheists) can be persuaded to follow through on their oaths and 2) because it is not a religion per se, it does not fall under the jurisdiction of those things which ought to be tolerated. This second point is still unclear to me (and I feel my explanation is lacking), so any thoughts are welcomed.

Nonetheless, the point is this: seeing as it is generally agreed that Locke had a formative influence upon American ideology, then might not his (political) intolerance of Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Atheists explain why those three groups have struggled in their birthing experiences into the American political scene? Granted, this is all rather speculative, but it seems to tentatively explain the evidence.