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What is objectively beautiful?

24 Feb

What is objectively beautiful?

Beauty is, according to Aquinas, “that which, being contemplated, pleases”.  This, of course, is not a description of beauty as much as a criteria for beauty: it brings pleasure of itself.  Compare that to a nice steak; it brings pleasure because it fulfills my need for food in an ample and satisfying way.  But a sunset or a mountain does not.  Beauty is about what the effect they make upon me, not whether they meet a need.

IMAG0360Does this make beauty entirely subjective?  Yes and no.  It is subjective in the sense that some people find something beautiful while others do not find those things beautiful.  But this does not mean the concept of beauty is entirely subjective, that is, resides only within us and outside objects have no chance of displaying qualities that are beautiful in themselves.  In other words, we all seem to have some notion of an agreed upon criteria for objective beauty; we may, however, disagree on whether a particular thing meets those criteria.  But surely two people can disagree about whether a certain politician, for example, is honest or wise without concluding that honesty or wisdom are entirely subjective concepts.  If there were no objective meaning of those terms, it would be rather pointless to argue whether a certain person was, in fact, honest or wise.

In the same way, I think people confuse subjectivity of judgment regarding beauty with subjectivity of criteria.  Compounding the fact is that criteria may or may not be effable, that is, able to be put into words.  This does not make them subjective, but merely points out that our language is not equally capable of describing all different kinds of reality.

In any case, those who have thought through the issue have usually concluded that things which we find beautiful share at least some of the following characteristics:

  • Harmony
  • Proportion
  • Unity
  • Radiance
  • Meaning

Let me comment on two of these.

The idea of radiance is difficult to fully describe in words. Aquinas uses the word “brilliance”.  It is perhaps seen better than described.  Compare a vivid sunset to a plain dusk.

The idea behind the ‘meaning’ criteria is that beautiful things often, and sometimes on a subconscious level, point beyond themselves.  We see a high mountain and we think of majesty; we hear Bach’s Mass in B Minor and we think transcendence.  We read the passion narratives and we are wrapped in wonder, shame and thanks all at the same time.

For theistic philosophers, we should add one other characteristic.  This characteristic may fall under the category of meaning, but it is meaning of a particular kind.  Theists believe that this world, even in its fallen nature, reflects God (though, because of the fall, does so unevenly). Natural beauty, then, is like a shadow of God’s beauty. In a sense, God’s beauty emanates out to natural things through His act of creation.

Upper Echo Lakes

 
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Video of Love Song by Third Day

24 Feb

This last Sunday I was preaching through the book of Exodus, and came to the 15 chapters (see post below) dealing with the tabernacle and all its furnishings and procedures.  Rather than try to tackle this verse by verse, I preached on what I thought was the main point of the tabernacle: that God’s desire was always to be with His people.  He pitched his tent among their tents in their desert wanderings, and when they were settled in houses in the land, He too dwelt in a house (the Temple) among them.  And of course, Jesus fulfilled the symbolism and meaning of both the tabernacle and temple.

I created this video to accompany the sermon.  I hope some of you find it a blessing.

 

Outline Chart of the Book of Exodus

20 Feb

This is a chart of the main outline of the book of Exodus. It may be used freely and without restriction or acknowledgement. Click on the image for a better resolution.  Leave a comment (I will get an email) if you would like an editable version.

Outline of Exodus

 
 

Video: What Do I Know of Holy

13 Feb

This is a video I made to go with the song, What Do I Know of Holy (by Addison Road).

 

A. W. Tozer on Imagination

04 Feb

The Value of a Sanctified Imagination

A. W. Tozer – 1959

Beyond_ImaginationLike every other power belonging to us, the imagination may be either a blessing or a curse, depending altogether upon how it is used and how well it is disciplined.
We all have to some degree the power to imagine. This gift enables us to see meanings in material objects, to observe similarities between things which at first appear wholly unlike each other. It permits us to know that which the senses can never tell us, for by it we are able to see through sense impressions to the reality that lies behind things.

 

Every advance made by mankind in any field began as an idea to which nothing for the time corresponded. The mind of the inventor simply took bits of familiar ideas and made out of them something which was not only wholly unfamiliar but which up to that time was altogether nonexistent. Thus we “create” things and by so doing prove ourselves to have been made in the image of the Creator. That fallen man has often used his creative powers in the service of evil does not invalidate our argument. Any talent may be used for evil as well as for good, but every talent comes from God nevertheless.

 

That the imagination is of great value in the service of God may be denied by some persons who have erroneously confused the word “imaginative” with the word “imaginary.”

 

The gospel of Jesus Christ has no truck with things imaginary. The most realistic book in the world is the Bible. God is real, men are real and so is sin and so are death and hell, toward which sin inevitably leads. The presence of God is not imaginary; neither is prayer the indulgence of a delightful fancy. The objects that engage the praying man’s attention, while not material, are nevertheless completely real; more certainly real, it will at last be admitted, than any earthly object.

 

The value of the cleansed imagination in the sphere of religion lies in its power to perceive in natural things shadows of things spiritual. It enables the reverent man to

 

“See the world in a grain of sand
And eternity in an hour.”

 

The weakness of the Pharisee in days of old was his lack of imagination, or what amounted to the same thing, his refusal to let it enter the field of religion. He saw the text with its carefully guarded theological definition and he saw nothing beyond.

 

“A primrose by the river’s brim

A yellow primrose was to him,

And It was nothing more.”

 

When Christ came with His blazing spiritual penetration and His fine moral sensitivity He appeared to the Pharisee to be a devotee of another kind of religion, which indeed He was if the world had only understood. He could see the soul of the text while the Pharisee could see only the body, and he could always prove Christ wrong by an appeal to the letter of the law or to an interpretation hallowed by tradition. The breach between them was too great to permit them to coexist; so the Pharisee, who was in a position to do it, had the young Seer put to death. So it has always been, and so I suppose it will always be till the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

 

The imagination, since it is a faculty of the natural mind, must necessarily suffer both from its intrinsic limitations and from an inherent bent toward evil. While the word as found in the King James Bible usually means not imagination at all, but merely the reasonings of sinful men, I yet do not write to excuse the unsanctified imagination. I well know that from such have flowed as from a polluted fountain streams of evil ideas which have throughout the years led to lawless and destructive conduct on the part of men. A purified and Spirit-controlled imagination is, however, quite another thing, and it is this I have in mind here. I long to see the imagination released from its prison and given to its proper place among the Sons of the new creation. What I am trying to describe here is the sacred gift of seeing, the ability to peer beyond the veil and gaze with astonished wonder upon the beauties and mysteries of things holy and eternal.

 

The stodgy pedestrian mind does no credit to Christianity. Let it dominate the church long enough and it will force her to take one of two directions: either toward liberalism, where she will find relief in a false freedom, or toward the world, where she will find an enjoyable but fatal pleasure.

 

But I wonder whether this is not all included in the words of our Lord as recorded in the Gospel of John “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (16:13, 14).

 

To possess a Spirit-indwelt mind is the Christian’s privilege under grace,
and this embraces all I have been trying to say here.

 

11 Signs You’re in a Really Sketchy Church

02 Jan

11. New member’s kit includes a bible, copy of Mein Kampf, and an Uzi.
10. The church staff consists of Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor and Chief Legal Counsel.
9. Pianist plays “Stairway to Heaven” during altar call.Jeez_its_by_RRHardGay
8. Ushers ask, “Snake-handling, or non-snake-handling?”
7. Youth Pastor announces a new ministry of spray-painting bible verses on city buildings; Calls it “evandalism”.
6. Communion wine and bread replaced with coke and “jeezits”.
5. Church cross replaced by dollar sign.
4. Baptistery has wave-maker and/or Jacuzzi jets installed.
3. Ushers take communion with offering plate in one hand, cattle prod in the other.
2. Worship Team has its own twerker.
1. Senior Pastor is married to the Ladies Trio.

 
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About Ferguson

03 Dec

I have not commented before today on any platform about the Ferguson case.  Mostly, I just wanted to listen.

Three questions have swirled in my mind:

  1. Was the grand jury decision rightly decided?
  2. Why is this such a public spectacle?
  3. What should be done in the future?

Regarding the first of these: I did, in fact, think that the grand jury decision was rightly decided.  After all, the jury heard much more evidence than I can sift through.  However, after reading this article from the Gospel Coalition, I have changed my mind.  The article is the best explanation I have seen for the facts of the case, and explains why an indictment would have been just.  I urge you to read it.

Regarding the second question: One thing I have noticed is that white people like myself tend to focus on the more narrow issue of whether there should have been an indictment or not, while blacks are looking at the larger context of the events. This explains most of the disconnect I have seen.

Regarding that context, this figure is haunting: a black teenager is 21 times more likely to die at the hands of police than a white teenager. Please read that statement again. For my white friends, I would only ask this question: If teenagers of your race were 14 times more likely to die at the hands of police than those of another race, would you not sense a special frustration about cases like this?

Source: http://www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white

Discussing an issue without context can be a good way to ignore how that issue symbolizes the pain, frustration and fear of a whole group of people.  I don’t want to do that anymore.  Nor do I want to get distracted from this issue by focusing on tangential issues (like black on black crime) as if solving these things was mutually exclusive.  I want to honestly listen to those who are hurting and frustrated right now.

That leads to the third question: what do do?  Rioting is obviously counter-productive (as well as being evil in its own right).  Boycotts seem ineffective.  If we, as Christians, really believe that this issue is bigger than what happened that night in Ferguson, then what should we do?

I wish I had all the answers.  I am still struggling.  Here is where I am at:

  • Pray.  Prayer is not the resort of the weak; it is the weapon of those who really believe that the fight is bigger than they are. I am challenged by this question: How much time have I really spent praying for the families affected by this tragedy, and the larger issue it symbolizes.  Answer: Not much.  That will change.  How about you?
  • Listen.  Again, this seems weak.  But truly listening to someone else on the other side of an issue, without arguing or thinking of a response, is a rare gift, that changes both the giver and receiver.  Ideally, this would be face to face.  But listening through social media or reading articles from the perspective of others is helpful.
  • Repent.  I used to think I wasn’t racist.  And compared to my father, I am not.  But then it occurred to me one day: I am a complete sinner, and almost every type of sin is present in my life to some degree.  It would be passing strange if this one sin completely escaped my depravity.  As this study points out, we tend to have less empathy towards those of a different race; we tend to make sub-conscious value judgments about them.   How to avoid this?  Repentance and prayer.
 
 

Major Themes in the Gospel and Epistles of John

19 Nov

I prepared this chart for my class yesterday, and thought I would share it online.  A few notes:

  • Obviously more verses could be adduced for each theme; the ones chosen are representative, not exhaustive.
  • I struggled with whether the fourth and fifth themes should be formulated into one or not; ultimately I decided on two, but there is much overlap.

 

Theme

 John

1 John

Meaning

Incarnation

1:1-5, 14, 18; 8:58; 10:30; 17:5; 20:28-29 1:1-5 Jesus is the God-man; God in human flesh. Jesus existed before all things. Jesus is sent from heaven and returns to heaven. Jesus displays the invisible God.

Dualism

5:24; 8:23 1:5-7; 2:9-11, 15-17; 3:7-10; 5:19 There is a sharp, eternal difference between good and evil, God and Satan. Evil is real and opposed to God and His followers. Jesus’ followers are brought out of the world and into God’s family, out of darkness into the light, and out of death into life.

Eternal Life

3:16, 36; 6:40; 11:25-26 5:11-12 Salvation is eternal life, which refers to a quality of life more than duration.   Eternal life is “life of the age to come”. This is a gift that we receive by trusting in Jesus.

Family

1:12-13; 3:16; 14:1-4 3:1-3, 10 Placing our trust and life in Jesus makes us more than His servants or disciples (though we are those). We become His children, brothers, and spouse (though we must wait for the fullness of this). We are siblings to each other.

Union with God

14:1-4; 17:20-26 2:24-25; 3:24; 4:15 The circle of Trinitarian love has been expanded to include the followers of Jesus; they now have a mystical and hidden union with God; One day that union will be full and visible.

Love Ethics

13:34-35; 15:12 3:11-20; 4:7-21 The Father showed his love for us by sending Jesus; Jesus shows His love for us by coming to die for us. If we really are followers of Jesus, we will do what He did: love. Love is an action that meets the deepest needs of others by giving.
 
 

Nine Incredible Valentine’s Gifts you can buy on Amazon

12 Feb

Men, you know the drill: every year you have to search your brain for another valentine’s gift – one that is useful, thoughtful, and not too expensive. Preferably, it should also be something you can order online, since actually hitting the mall just drives you crazy.

Listed below are actual gifts you can order from Amazon.com for your wonderful wife.  I have tried hard to be creative in making this list.  This is for two reasons.  First, your wife knows that lingerie is really a gift to yourself and is tired of the candy and flowers.  Secondly, chances are good (REAL good) that you did not give her one of these gifts last year; this is important, because even if you don’t remember, she will.

With that in mind, here is my helpful resource to make her smile on that special day!

(by the way, if you click on the links to the Amazon pages, be sure to check out the comments on these)

 

Ninja Grappling Hook Every woman needs a hobby, preferably one that gets her out of the house for a while.  Why not encourage her nascent ninja-skillz with this baby?   Be sure to point out that it is  test rated for over 800 pounds.  You could also combine this gift with the Ninja Wrist Band & Death Spikes if you really want to go for “Husband of the Year”.

 

Squirrel Underpants Few things in life are more annoying than looking out your front window to see squirrels cavorting nekked as they day they were born! Well, no more! You can protect the innocent eyes of your wife and children with genuine whitey-tighties for the bushy-tailed folk.   Also available for female squirrels (though I’m not sure how to tell the difference).

 

A Quart of Wolf Urine. Lets face it: the quality of the wolf urine available at Walmart is a bit sketchy.  And milking the wolves yourself is so cumbersome. Your mate will love have  a quart of the genuine, top-shelf stuff all to herself. Not only delicious, this product acts as a “lure”, drawing any nearby wolves who might catch its scent.  Tired of the dog, cat, or neighborhood children?  Now you have nature’s answer.

 

Tank! What woman doesn’t want to not only keep up with-the Jones and their hulking suv, but completely obliterate them?  Her dream is your reality with this baby!  The seller promises to contact you soon after you place the order, so you can customize weaponry, armor, and stereo options.  Don’t let her leave home without it!

 

Farting Piggy Bank Let’s face it, guys.  Getting the wifey to save money instead of spending it can be a dicey proposition.  That’s why we need the Farting Piggy Bank.  Women just LOVE flatulence humor, and she won’t be able to resist popping the quarter between the cheeks to hear the bank rip one off.  In fact, she’ll probably save her change all week (instead of wasting it at Starbucks) just so she can have her friends over Friday night for a rip-roaring party.

 

One Pound of Replicated Fat.  Okay, so the old girl has put on a little weight.  And, despite the fact that a few extra pounds look good on you, you wouldn’t mind if she lost a bit.  But how to tell her? There is no better way than giving her an almost exactly replica of what a pound of her fat actually looks like.  What a motivator!  Better yet, you could buy one of these for every pound she is overweight, and line them up on the kitchen counter (and remove them as she sheds the weight).  Believe me, she will thank you for this one.

 

Woman With PMS” Police Tape Her admiration of  your thoughtfulness and taste will no know bounds when she opens this one up.  Now she can mark off her own “Do Not Disturb” area anywhere in the house.  Better yet, you can mark off whatever room she’s in whenever she gets crabby.

 

Uranium Ore Men, do you want your wife buying her radioactive metals from some wacko Libyans in the mall parking lot?  Do ya???  I didn’t think so.  Instead, pick it up right from Amazon, and soon she will be glowing with gratitude.

 

And, since it’s Amazon, we must end with a book:

Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and also Robbing God of Priesthood Children!! [Paperback]

Don’t let an ungrammatical title in all caps stop you from purchasing this pearl of wisdom for your wife.  It will remind her of what her true purpose in life is: creating as many priesthood-children as physically possible.

 
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The Twelve Thank You Notes of Christmas

18 Dec

(Note: this is not original, but I do not know the author)

Dec 25

My dearest darling Edward,

What a wonderful surprise has just greeted me! That sweet partridge, in that lovely little pear-tree; what an enchanting, romantic, poetic present! Bless you, and thank you.

Your deeply loving Emily

 

Dec 26

Beloved Edward,

The two turtle-doves arrived this morning, and are cooing away in the pear-tree as I write. I’m so touched and grateful!

With undying love, as always, Emily

 

Dec 27

My darling Edward,

You do think of the most original presents! Who ever thought of sending anybody three French hens? Do they really come all the way from France? It’s a pity we have no chicken coops, but I expect we’ll find some. Anyway, thank you so much; they’re lovely.

Your devoted Emily

 

Dec 28

Dearest Edward,

What a surprise! Four calling birds arrived this morning. They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly–they make telephoning almost impossible–but I expect they’ll calm down when they get used to their new home. Anyway, I’m very grateful, of course I am.

Love from Emily

 

Dec 29

Dearest Edward,

The mailman has just delivered five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly! A really lovely present! Lovelier, in a way, than birds, which do take rather a lot of looking after. The four that arrived yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I’m afraid none of us got much sleep last night. Mother says she wants to use the rings to “wring” their necks. Mother has such a sense of humor. This time she’s only joking, I think, but I do know what she means. Still, I love the rings.

Bless you, Emily

 

Dec 30

Dear Edward,

Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door this morning, it certainly wasn’t six socking great geese laying eggs all over the porch. Frankly, I rather hoped that you had stopped sending me birds. We have no room for them, and they’ve already ruined the croquet lawn. I know you meant well, but let’s call a halt, shall we?

Love, Emily

 

Dec 31

Edward,

I thought I said NO MORE BIRDS. This morning I woke up to find no more than seven swans, all trying to get into our tiny goldfish pond. I’d rather not think what’s happened to the goldfish. The whole house seems to be full of birds, to say nothing of what they leave behind them, so please, please, stop!

Your Emily

 

Jan 1

Frankly, I prefer the birds. What am I to do with eight milkmaids? And their cows! Is this some kind of a joke? If so, I’m afraid I don’t find it very amusing.

Emily

 

Jan 2

Look here, Edward,

This has gone far enough. You say you’re sending me nine ladies dancing. All I can say is, judging from the way they dance, they’re certainly not ladies. The village just isn’t accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless viragos, with nothing on but their lipstick, cavorting round the green, and it’s Mother and I who get the blame. If you value our friendship, which I do (less and less), kindly stop this ridiculous behavior at once!

Emily

 

Jan 3

As I write this letter, ten disgusting old men are prancing up and down all over what used to be the garden, before the geese and the swans and the cows got at it. And several of them, I have just noticed, are taking inexcusable liberties with the milkmaids. Meanwhile the neighbors are trying to have us evicted. I shall never speak to you again.

Emily

 

Jan 4

This is the last straw! You know I detest bagpipes! The place has now become something between a menagerie and a madhouse, and a man from the council has just declared it unfit for habitation. At least Mother has been spared this last outrage; they took her away yesterday afternoon in an ambulance. I hope you’re satisfied.

 

Jan 5

Sir,

Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you that with the arrival on her premises at 7:30 this morning of the entire percussion section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and several of their friends, she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent you importuning her further. I am making arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock.

I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

G. Creep

Attorney at law

 
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A Dog, A Christmas Tree, and the Mystery of God

02 Dec

Yesterday we loaded the kids and dogs into the trusty minivan and headed to the Christmas tree farm.  It’s a family tradition, of course, and a good time was had by all. Especially the dogs.  They enjoyed running through the trees, meeting new people and sniffing other dog’s butts.  It’s what they do.

As we brought the tree into the house, I began to wonder if our dogs wondered.  Did they, I mean, find anything unusual in the whole state of affairs?  After all, think about it from their perspective:

Dog diary, 11/30/13.  Today my owners put us in the big white thing that they get into in the mornings. It’s like a small house in there.  After a while they opened the doors, and the whole world was changed.  Our house and yard were gone.  A field of trees had replaced them somehow.  And a lot of other people and dogs appeared.  The owner and the family looked and pointed at a bunch of the trees.  I think they were deciding which one would taste best.  Then the owner cut down the tree and threw it on top of the big white thing.  Then we all had to get back inside the big white thing again.  When we got out, the people and trees were gone.  I’ll never get used to that magic, by the way.  Our house and yard appeared again.  Then the owner took the tree inside the house.  That’s right: inside the house.  They put it in some kind of bowl with water in it.  Usually when they put something into a bowl of water they make the water hot somehow and then eat what was in the bowl.  So I guess that is what is going on here.  I still can’t figure out why they put a bunch of shiny things on it, though. I guess it makes it taste better.

Update: they still haven’t eaten the tree.  I’m so confused.

Our actions must seem confusing indeed to the dogs, at least if they ever stopped to think about such things.  Even if they could speak our language, how could we ever communicate ideas of beauty, religion, and tradition to them?  They simply have no categories to even think about such things.  Our ways and thoughts and actions are simply on a different plane than theirs

Why, then, do we think it so odd that we do not understand God’s ways?  Why do those of us who believe in God find it so maddening that He does not do things the way we would expect, or the way we would like?  Surely the gap between an infinite, eternal Creator and finite, time-bound creatures dwarfs any gap between any two creatures.  We stand with the animals on one side of the “infinite qualitative distinction”.  God alone stand upon the other.  This thought should give us great pause before we charge God with being unnecessarily hidden and mysterious in His ways.

This thought should also give pause to non-believers, at least to those too quick to argue that if there is a God He must make sense to us and our rationality.  In fact, if there is a God there is very good reason to expect that much about Him will be beyond our rationality.  That is not to say belief in Him is not rational; rather it is to recognize that human rationality is not coterminous with rationality itself.

I wish sometimes I could explain myself to the dogs.  I wonder if God feels the same way.

 

 

Church Wars

01 Dec

 
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The Name of God

02 Oct

I found a great video addressing how we the name of God (Yahweh) should be pronounced.  The issues are technical, but the teaching of the issues is about as clear as one can make them.

 

 
 

Against Military Action in Syria

06 Sep

This week the President expressed his desire for military intervention in Syria, subject to Congress’ approval.  Many have asked variations of the question, “is this a good idea?”; but the question that seems mostly unaddressed is more basic: “Is this idea just?”

The concept of “the just war” was developed by the church (and others) over a period of several centuries.  It acknowledges both the desire for peace and the reality of human aggression.  And it seeks to determine when it is right and just in engage in war, and when it is not.

But it is not only Christians who should ask this question.  Immoral societal actions corrupt and corrode that society.  And certainly most of us would not want our country engaged in killing (and perhaps being killed) if we were not convinced it was just.  To be civilized means more than seeking to uphold justice, but it cannot mean less.

The just war doctrine lists several criteria for evaluating a proposed war (and make no mistake, cruise missiles and strategic bombing are still acts of war).  For a war to be justified, it needs to follow all of these guidelines, to the extent mandated by common sense. They are these:

  1. War should be the last resort, after all other non-violent options are exhausted.
  2. The war can only be conducted by a proper authority; vigilante justice is a contradiction in terms.
  3. The war must be for a just cause.  This is usually defined as self-defense, or for the protection of other innocent lives. The damage the war seeks to prevent must be “lasting, grave and certain.” Material, financial and power gains are excluded.
  4. The war must have a probability of success. It is immoral to waste lives on a futile or hopeless cause.
  5. The war must be fought in order to establish peace; that is, the peace after the war must be better than whatever peace existed before the war.
  6. Related to the above, the use of war must not produce evils and disorders greater than the evil it seeks to eliminate.
  7. The violence of the war must be proportional to injury it seeks to redress.
  8. The plans and weapons of war must discriminate between combatants and civilians. Civilians are never a permissible target of war, and every effort should be employed to avoid killing them.

In my opinion, the military action proposed in Syria does not, at this point, meet the criteria of a just war.  These are my reasons.

First, I don’t believe all non-military options have been exhausted.  We have not sought to work with the U. N. or with our allies to seek economic sanctions, technology sanctions, or other disincentives to chemical attacks.  I am not saying these would work. I am saying they have not been tried.

Second, related to the third criterion, I am not yet certain that the Syrian government is the perpetuator of the attack. I think it is probable, but has not yet been proven. The U. S. government cannot, after the last war, just say, “trust us.”

Third, I am not convinced the attacks would bring about a better peace, or avoid more evils than it eliminated.  If the action is strong enough to serve as a legitimate deterrent to further chemical warfare, it would also be strong enough to weaken the Assad regime and (relatively) strengthen the rebels who oppose it.  But some rather hard-core Islamic factions make up this rebellion.   As one of the writers at The Atlantic put it, “we would be serving as Al Qaeda’s air force”.  If the Assad regime is destroyed, there is a distinct possibility that the new Syria could become a sponsor of terrorism; the new government almost certainly be less tolerant of Syria’s Christian minority. In addition, military action forceful enough to make a difference also risks escalating the conflict to other countries.  The Assad regime has allies both in the middle east, as well as outside it (especially Russia). If we have learned anything over the past 50 years of U. S. intervention, it is that wars are much easier to plunge into than to pull out of.

For these reasons, military action at this time would be unjust.  This is why both the Pope and the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East have asked the U. S. not to intervene at this time. The question about whether (apart from its justice) it would also be a good idea in a practical sense, I leave to others to argue.

 

 
 

The Ten Greatest American Orators

28 Aug

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous speech, “I have a Dream”.  This set me to wondering where MLK sits in the Pantheon of American orators.  So here is my list.  It is only my opinion; as a public speaker and a student of rhetoric, it is based on more than simple personal preference, I hope, but should not be mistaken as the opinion of an expert.

I have selected those Americans who were not only eloquent, but great.  That is, they were not just word-smiths, but made a profound impact on American thought or culture, at least partly because of their words. Furthermore, in the spirit of America, I am going to adopt a sports metaphor: a basketball all-star team (with starters and reserves).

The reserves first:

  • Patrick Henry
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Jonathon Edwards
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Susan B. Anthony

 

The starters:

  • William Jennings Bryan
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Martin Luther King
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt

 

Ranking the starters

In the fifth spot, I would put Franklin Delano Roosevelt

In the fourth spot, I would put Theodore Roosevelt.

Third spot goes to William Jennings Bryan

Runner up goes to Abraham Lincoln

Top prize to Martin Luther King

 

Rationale: 

TR and FDR both had some amazing speeches, and greatly influenced public policy through their rhetoric.  I put TR above FDR because his speeches were more authentically his, that is, I don’t think he used a speech-writer very much.  Bryan gets a nod above these two giants for three reasons: his mastery of the English language, his masterful use of metaphors (as in the cross of gold) and the fact that he had to influence by rhetoric alone, without the power and prestige of the presidency (which also affects my marks on MLK).  As to Lincoln, I wouldn’t have much to argue with someone who listed him as first.  He had the most difficult and delicate task, that of galvanizing union effort without demonizing the south.  And his Gettysburg address masterfully re-interpreted American history, even as it hallowed the dead.

But no speech I have seen compares to the absolute mastery of “I have a Dream”.  MLK is also faced with a delicate rhetorical challenge: to show the justice of the black cause, to rally the spirits of his supporters of this cause, and to call white Americans to join it.  He masterfully applies the allusions of the ancient Isaiah to the civil rights struggle, and skillfully weaves black oratorical style with the best forms of more traditional American oratory.  The speech is exactly as long as it should be.  This speech changed the country, and I regard it as the finest example of great oratory in our countries history.

You can see a video analysis of the speech here.

 

 
 
 
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