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As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Times (UK) which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.

We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers – in some ways less so – but more open.

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. âPrivatelyâ because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

There’s long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: âtheirsâ and therefore best for âthemâ; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.

I don’t follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the âbig manâ and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

Anxiety – fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things – strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds – at the very moment of passing into the new – that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? âBecause it’s there,â he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It’s… well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary’s further explanation – that nobody else had climbed it – would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

By Matthew Parris and published in The Times on 12/27/08 and can be found here.

 

Feminism’s Self-Defeating About-Face on Porn

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Live Site News which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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“Pornography is the theory,” renowned feminist Robin Morgan once wrote, “rape is the practice.”

Indeed, feminists used to widely understand that pornography was, at its very best, dehumanizing and degrading, a product by men and for men that portrayed women only as objects of male desire. At its very worst, it was a gory celebration of the destruction of the feminine, with women being beaten, raped, humiliated, and otherwise assaulted for the perverse pleasures of misogynists who claimed that their woman-hating was a “fetish.”

Today, however, feminists are supposed to be “sex-positive,” which means they have to support pornography, because with over 80% of the male population viewing it, resistance is futile.

Those who oppose pornography are not anti-sex. They are simply wise enough to recognize that pornography is poison. When used as a substitute for love, it is the equivalent of giving salt water to a man dying of thirst—it will merely inflame the desire further without bringing any satisfaction.

I remember a debate on pornography in one of my first political science classes in university—out of the entire class, only myself and one other guy were opposed to pornography. Most of the guys sat quietly, trying to avoid contributing to the discussion, while a few of the girls were the most vociferous defenders of this filth—almost as if they had something to prove.

Pornography, our new sexual dogmas say, is harmless, if not beneficial. And when I asserted in a number of articles that pornography fuels rape culture, the backlash from guys who couldn’t stop looking at porn was quick and angry.

So I began contacting experts in the field, people who had studied the impact of pornography on men and women. The most revealing and chilling interview I conducted was with Dr. Mary Anne Layden, director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. I had cited her work on pornography and violence before, and wanted to see what sort of things her research had uncovered.

Why, I asked Dr. Layden, did you start researching the links between violence and pornography?

“When I started as a psychotherapist, just about thirty years ago, I started treating patients who were victims of sexual violence and felt a special call to the damage that sexual violence did to these patients,” she replied,

When I had been doing the work for about ten years, because I’m a little bit of a slow learner, it occurred to me that I had not treated one case of sexual violence that didn’t involve pornography… some were rape cases, some were incest cases, some were child molestation cases, some were sexual harassment cases – in all of these different kinds of cases, pornography showed up in every single one.

So I said there seems to be some connection here. Over time, I got interested in what is common in the perpetrators of sexual violence because I realized we were never going to solve the problem of sexual violence by treating victims who’ve been damaged by the problem and treating them one at a time and trying to put them back together. There weren’t enough therapists in the world. There were too many victims in the world. We couldn’t solve this by pulling them out of the river one at a time. We were going to have to go upstream and see who was pushing them in.

And as Dr. Layden discovered, it was the porn industry that was pushing people into the river. Men are not born rapists, she pointed out to me. But for some reason, many are increasingly justifying sexual violence. Why? Because pornography has turned the bodies of women and girls into a commodity. It is shaping the way men see women.

“It’s a product,” Dr. Layden said, her voice getting more emphatic.

This is a business and I think that a lot of pimps would stop doing this if there wasn’t any money involved, but it’s a business and as soon as you tell somebody it’s a product, as soon as you say this [is] something you buy, then this is something you can steal. Those two things are hooked. If you can buy it, you can steal it, and even better if you steal it because then you don’t pay for it. So the sexual exploitation industry, whether it’s strip clubs or prostitution or pornography, is where you buy it. Sexual violence is where you steal it – rape and child molestation and sexual harassment is where you steal it.

So these things are all seamlessly connected. There isn’t a way to draw a bright line of demarcation between rape and prostitution and pornography and child molestation. There are not bright lines of demarcation. The perpetrators are in a common set of beliefs, and when we look at the research we can see some of those common beliefs, so that we know that individuals who are exposed to pornographic media have beliefs such as [thinking that] rape victims like to be raped, they don’t suffer so much when they’re raped, ‘she got what she wanted’ when she was raped, women make false accusations of rape because it isn’t really rape, sex is really either good or great and there isn’t any other option other than good or great, no one is really traumatized by it.

All of these are part of the rape myth. People who use pornography accept the rape myth to a greater degree than others. So we have a sense that pornography is teaching them to think like a rapist and then triggering them to act like rapists.

Pornography, like all other products, has done to the female body what economics always does to any product: If you commodify something, you cheapen it. It’s really that simple. But when your marketing strategy is inflaming lust and appealing to power by degrading women, there are devastating results. As Dr. Layden pointed out to me, we even stop seeing each other as human.

“When you cheapen sex and you cheapen women’s bodies, when you treat people like things there’s a consequence and one of the consequences is sexual violence but one the consequences is also relationship damage,” she pointed out.

There’s an interesting series of studies that actually highlights a bit of the phenomena of how this works. They were showing people just mildly sexualized pictures. They were men and women in swimsuits, men and women in their underwear, sort of relatively mild sexualized pictures and they showed them either upside right or upside down and looked at the processing in the brain, because it will display a phenomena of which part of your brain you’re using to process that picture that you see.

What we see with men, when people look at men, and look at them in their swimsuits or in their underwear, they’re using the part of their brain that processes humans and human faces but when we look at women in their swimsuits and their underwear we use the part of our brain that processes tools and objects and when you process a woman as a tool or an object you use. The rules that we use when we deal with tools or objects is if it’s not doing its job then throw it away, get another one.

So the feminists years ago said these men are treating women as sex objects and we thought that was a metaphor. It wasn’t a metaphor. It was an actual statement of reality, that they’re using the part of their brain which they use to process objects and things and there’s a consequence in the society when you start treating sex as a product and women as a thing.

Those who point these things out, of course, and those who oppose porn, are condemned as old-fashioned, prudish, and “anti-sex.” When I reminded Dr. Layden of this, she was decidedly unimpressed.

The desire for love is built into us. [One of my colleagues] said, ‘The real damage is that it threatens the loss of love in a world where only love brings happiness.’ That summarizes what we are doing, that everybody is hardwired to love and be loved. That’s what feeds our hungry heart, and we have a generation who are starved and have hungry hearts and yet they are eating the sexual junk food and becoming sexually obese because they’re so starved they would eat junk food if that’s all that’s available to them.

And so partly we need to have people talk about the glory of good sex, the wonderfulness of good sex, of how it bonds committed couples together and helps them keep their promises to each other, that there is a thing called good sexuality that is enhancing and enlivening and is love-based, but all of this sexual junk food that is out there is not it.

In short? Those who oppose pornography are not anti-sex. They are simply wise enough to recognize that pornography is poison. When used as a substitute for love, it is the equivalent of giving salt water to a man dying of thirst—it will merely inflame the desire further without bringing any satisfaction. To Dr. Mary Anne Layden, this is self-evident. And she intends to make sure as many other people as possible see it that way, too.

“If I said to people, ‘I want you to eat healthy food and don’t go to McDonald’s,’ they wouldn’t call me anti-food,” she said. “They would say you just want to promote healthy food and you don’t want people to go see that Supersize Me movie and find out if you eat McDonald’s every day for 30 days you’ll have a fatty liver. Well that’s what I want to do with sexuality. I want to promote healthy, loving, enhancing, soul-feeding sexuality, not sexual junk food.”

And the way to do that? With sky-high rates of porn addiction, is it possible? Dr. Layden has so many ideas that they come out in a rush.

“I think we’ve got to educate ourselves, we’ve got to tell the truth to others, you’ve got to speak truth to authority because once you know this stuff if you’re silent, silence is complicity,” she says.

We’ve got to go in to our schools and our libraries and say you’ve got to protect our children, we’ve got to say to our governments you’ve got to stop spreading permission-giving beliefs and that means don’t legalize prostitution. It tells men that it’s fine and more men will go to prostitutes. We’ve got to have laws against things that damage people; we’ve got to have outrage in this society when sexual violence is swept under the rug, when a professional athlete does it.

We’ve got to come together and have the journalists, the lawyers, the parents to get together as a mighty team and say this society is worth saving, our children are worth saving, sexuality is sacred. We’ve got to do it together and so it takes a concerted effort … When I hear people say we can’t put the genie back in the bottle I say fifty years ago 60% of the people in New York City smoked, today 18% in NYC smoke. Put the genie back in the bottle. We can do this one as well and it’s worth doing.

Like Dr. Mary Anne Layden, I am not anti-sex, although I don’t particularly object to being called old-fashioned. I am, however, very anti-porn—and that is because pornography is rapidly turning healthy, loving, and committed relationships into something “old-fashioned.” It is robbing the current generation of their ability to enjoy life-long and happy commitments. And as such, we have a responsibility to heed the call of Dr. Layden and so many other experts to fight the porn threat wherever it is found. Those who claim that pornography is harmless are, at the end of the day, woefully uneducated.

By: Jonathon Van Maren and published on Life Site News on January 26, 2015 and can be found here.

 

How conservatives out-intellectualized progressives

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Week which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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The vital center is imploding throughout the Western world. Liberal norms and institutions face a greater challenge than at any time since the end of the Second World War. And so defenders of the liberal order seek, often desperately, to remind themselves of what principles they stand for and the premises that underlie their deepest political and moral convictions.

That’s what I take Molly Worthen to be doing in her recent, admirable essay in The New York Times. Worthen writes as a liberal who admires the way the American right has built an infrastructure of programs and institutes where young conservatives receive instruction in the history of political philosophy from Aristotle and Xenophon on down to James Madison, Adam Smith, and beyond.

Worthen thinks liberals should do something similar:

Liberals have their own activist workshops and reading groups, but these rarely instruct students in an intellectual tradition, a centuries-long canon… [Great Books] are powerful tools for preparing the next generation of activists to succeed in the bewildering ideological landscape of the country that just elected Mr. Trump. [The New York Times]

Indeed. So why don’t liberals follow the lead of their conservative counterparts in reading classic texts?

Though Worthen never says so explicitly, the germ of an explanation can be found in her essay when she writes, somewhat defensively, that liberals “can’t afford to dismiss Great Books as tools of white supremacy.” And why would they be tempted to do that? Because most so-called liberals today aren’t liberals at all. They’re progressives — and progressivism is an ideology that has little if any interest in learning from the greatest books, ideas, and thinkers of the past. And that’s because, as the name implies, progressivism is a theory of historical progress. It doesn’t see itself as an ideological project with premises and goals that had to be established against alternative views. Rather, at any given moment it identifies itself with empiricism, pragmatism, and the supposedly neutral, incontestable examination of facts and data, which it marshals for the sake of building a future that is always self-evidently superior (in a moral sense) to everything that came before.

Whereas conservatives look to the past in search of wisdom, inclined as they are to presume that the greatest writers of past ages may well have been wiser than we are — and displayed greater understanding about morality and politics than we do — progressives tend to see that same past as a graveyard packed with justly dead ideas.

No wonder they don’t spend time reading Great Books.

Like a physicist who is too busy pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge to study the history of past errors and halting advances (now surpassed) within his own field, most progressives would rather continue their project of expanding the administrative-welfare state of which they consider themselves the rightful guardians (while stigmatizing its opponents) than turn back to examine the origins of and strongest case for their own most cherished ideas.

That’s why conservatives are much better placed than progressives to do the work of examining the intellectual foundations of the liberal political order. But that doesn’t mean liberals who are willing to distance themselves from progressive assumptions couldn’t follow Worthen’s advice and do something similar.

There are already tentative signs that some are doing just that. Liberal Bill Galston has recently gotten together with conservative Bill Kristol to encourage precisely this kind of rethinking and defense of liberal premises in the face of the populist challenge. Even more promising might be the efforts of classical liberal political theorist Jacob Levy and liberaltarian author Will Wilkinson, who will be pursuing their own similar projects through the libertarian Niskanen Center.

Maybe these efforts will even spawn the kind of Great Books programs for liberals that Worthen pines for. If they do, liberalism will be much the better for it — not least because it would be a sign that liberals had begun to separate themselves and their ideas from the powerful but pernicious ideology of progressivism.

By Damon Linker and originally published in The Week on December 6, 2016 and can be found here.

Is Belief in God Like Belief in Santa, Leprechauns, or Fairies? A Reflection

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one on Brian Nicholson’s Blog which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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No.

Can you imagine if I had left it at that? A one-word post on WordPress. Brother, I’d get comments “for dayz.” I’d also probably get some pretty strong retorts.

When it comes to topics related to the origins of the universe, many have come to conclude that there is Someone behind it all. In this post, I will compare belief in God to Santa Claus, fairies, and leprechauns, hoping to illuminate that the existence of a Creator is something far more worthy of conversation than these characters. The goal isn’t to prove that God exists. For that, see my equation below:

Just kidding.

The objective is to critically compare these characters of fantasy and folklore, and see if they bare any resemblance to the existence of a deity. So, let’s get this party started! Jeeves, turn on my mix-tape…

If you believe in God without evidence, then I can assert that leprechauns and Santa exist without evidence.Various YouTube Commenters Since Pre-Extinction of the Dodo Bird

The problem here, of course, are we having good reason to think those things don’t exist, and not comparably having good reasons to think God does not. It’s not simply that we don’t have evidence for Santa, but we have positive reasons to think Santa does not exist. We know there’s no workshop at the North Pole, there aren’t Santa sightings around the holiday season, and the milk and cookies are obviously eaten by the parents… I mean, come on, do your kids really expect that Santa ALSO went gluten-free around the same time you did?

Negative Claims

But, we can’t prove that things don’t exist, right? There are definitely examples where we can prove negative statements. For example, we know Leonardo DaVinci is no longer alive. We know George Bush isn’t the President anymore. We can certainly prove these negative claims. Even if we couldn’t prove that God does not exist, which I don’t believe is the case; this certainly doesn’t mean that He does. It just means making a claim about His non-existence is also making a knowledge claim, that of which requires justification. So at the very least, one should be agnostic.

Another problem with drawing these false analogies is that God, if He exists, is beyond the natural, or is supernatural. That’s why we can’t observe Him in nature or put Him in a test tube. But moral values and mathematics are also not observable in nature, in yet we see their effects all the same. Things like leprechauns, if they existed, would be a part of the natural world, and would certainly be making their appearance known if they wanted to. So, just because God cannot be tested scientifically does not mean it’s worthless to talk about His existence. To stubbornly assert science as the only route to truth is self-refuting, because:

Can the statement, “you should only believe what can be scientifically proven,” itself be scientifically proven?

Here we see that there are other methods of discerning truth that are valid, as science is. For example, we all accept moral truths as real, but we can’t prove that those exist by scientific means. Mathematical truths and logic are valid ways of discerning truth, but these are beyond the realm of scientific inquiry as well.

On the contrary, leprechauns, Santa, and fairies are all purportedly within our spatial-temporal realm, frolicking with Chips Ahoy!, delivering presents, stealing your credit card, and forever trying to increase the value of ye olde pot of gold with Rosland Capital. Someone might say, “what if we simply define Santa or Paul Bunyun as existing outside the universe?” Well, at that point we really cease to be talking about Santa or Mr. Bunyun at all. If we make Santa an immaterial, all-powerful mind existing outside our universe, it really becomes just another name for God. This is much like the debate Dr. William Lane Craig had with Dr. Lewis Wolpert, where Wolpert said, “I think a computer did it!” (talking about creating the universe). But a computer is a device comprised of matter, and needs time to operate, so if we just rob it of all the attributes that make it a computer and just define it a space-less and timeless computer, we are really just re-naming God.

In the case of a Creator, we aren’t peering into telescopes looking for some bearded man resembling the renaissance images of God The Father. We are looking for the effects of God… things like, say, the existence of a finite universe, the remarkable fine-tuning of the universe for things like stars, chemistry, and us. We may also consider the potential reliability of miracle claims, such as the resurrection of Jesus- something that has raised many an eyebrow for a long time. Even the skeptic scholar Paula Fredriksen admits, “they must’ve seen something,” talking about Jesus’ disciples.

For more on the fine-tuning argument, please click here https://briannicholsonblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/first-blog-post/

By contrast we do not see the effects of these mystical creatures. So we can reasonably say they don’t exist.

What’s probably the bigger issue is that God is not detectable like other things in our world are, and this is where I feel the larger disagreement stems from. Let’s take a look at the objection Carl Sagan presented in his book, “A Demon-Haunted World,” where Sagan compares God to an invisible, undetectable dragon in someone’s garage.

“Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?”

I’m not sure who was going around saying God could decisively be found in a garage, but this point seems to be missing what I mentioned earlier. We aren’t looking for God within space and time, but signs of something from beyond the universe, signs that there may have been an Agent involved in bringing the cosmos to life. In Sagan’s case, the person should really be asking why there is a reality for a garage to exist in in the first place. That’s where at least the possibility of God comes into play. Things like the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the logically incoherent idea of an infinite series of past events, and the surprising fact that there is something rather than nothing, are just a few reasons that we shouldn’t dismiss God’s existence a priori. This doesn’t mean He does exist, but certainly this topic that has engaged philosophers and scientists for millennia is worth discussing.

In future posts I will talk more about problems with an infinite regress and Leibniz’ Contingency Argument. But for now, I hope we can see that the existence of God certainly deserves a place at the podium.

You can find the above blog post here.

Why Sex is Making us Morally Stupid

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Mustard Seed Faith which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

Mustard Seed Faith

C.S. Lewis, writing on June 3, 1956 to a man who asked him about masturbation, offered the following striking and relevant advice:

For me the evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his…

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