Wherefore, though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor.
In Mirror, Mirror: Religion Gets Explained, But Science …, we hear a pretty typical account of religion from scientific quarters:
A number of authors … have suggested that the human proclivity for acquiring and transmitting supernatural agent concepts is an incidental byproduct of cognitive mechanisms genetically adapted for other purposes. … have argued that religions are cultural systems that exploit such byproducts to adaptive effect.
In other words, religion is like a leech or a parasite, growing on human capabilities that have evolved to give us advantage in the world. And, scientists would be quick to add, there is no longer any evolutionary advantage for believing such nonsense.
There are a variety of angles from which that idea can be critqued, but Larry Gilman, the author of the aforementioned article, points out naivete about science itself by its practitioners:
But science, too, is “an incidental byproduct of cognitive mechanisms genetically adapted for other purposes,” as well as a “cultural system that exploits such byproducts to adaptive effect.” We didn’t evolve to do calculus, chemistry, and cognitive psychology; our ancestors evolved brains with a huge amount of built-in flexibility, and we have since found some remarkable uses for them. Science is a “cultural system” not in the sense that its narratives are arbitrary, but as a thing that exists only because human beings have figured out together how to do it, and whose standards, terms, and practices we have knocked together in social settings such as laboratories, journals, and universities.
There’s some more good insights in the article, including what this does and doesn’t mean for the truth of both science and religion.
Today marked the happy arrival of Contents Magazine, billing itself as “a new magazine at the intersection of content strategy, online publishing, and new-school editorial work.” A quick look at who’s behind it reveals that this is going to be good.
They came roaring out of the gate with Mandy Brown’s Babies and the Bathwater, which looks at how the shifts in technology have left the practice of publishing playing serious catch-up. Thinking about the interplay between technology, writing, and publishing has been a consistent topic for me lately, so I appreciated an insight like this:
[W]e can no longer think of publishing as a broadcast medium. It isn’t, not anymore. The web requires that we listen and converse as much as (if not more than) we ship. In fact, we cannot assume that publishing of any kind is a distinct activity from belonging to a community. Part of the job of a publisher today is to facilitate discussion—and that means being a part of it. It means that we publish for people, not to them.
Go read the rest for more like that.
In the end, only love (of which faith is a particular form) can achieve the well-nigh impossible goal of seeing a situation as it really is, shorn of both the brittle enchantments of romance and the disheveled fantasies of desire. Clinical, cold-eyed realism of this kind demands all manner of virtues—openness to being wrong, selflessness, humility, generosity of spirit, hard labor, tenacity, a readiness to collaborate, conscientious judgment, and the like; and for Aquinas, all virtues have their source in love. Love is the ultimate form of soberly disenchanted realism, which is why it is the twin of truth. The two also have in common the fact that they are both usually unpleasant. Radicals tend to suspect that the truth is generally a lot less palatable than those in power would have us believe, and we have seen already just where love is likely to land you for the New Testament. In one sense of the word, dispassionateness would spell the death of knowledge, though not in another sense. Without some kind of desire or attraction we would not be roused to the labor of knowledge in the first place; but to know truly, we must also seek to surmount the snares and ruses of desire as best we can. We must try not to disfigure what we strive to know through fantasy, or reduce the object of knowledge to a narcissistic image of ourselves.
Here’s another (long) quote from Stanley Hauerwas, this time from his book A Community of Character:
The Kantian-inspired attempt to make justice integral to the alleged rational and universal requirement to respect all persons as ends in themselves is a noble endeavor. Indeed, such a vision, I suspect, draws its inspiration from the Christian hope of the realization of a kingdom where peace and not war will characterize the relation between peoples and nations. But for Christians such a kingdom remains an eschatological hope that cannot be made present by heightening the status of human rationality. From the Christian perspective, Kant’s account of the universal requirements of reason is a secularized version of Christian hope. Kant sought to make Christian hope into a necessary condition for rational living, but in the process hope is trivialized, for if the kingdom can be based on or come from within humankind, then there is no reason to hope. Kant’s hope is one that no longer knows how to be patient in the face of the dividedness of the world and in desperation seeks peace by making God’s Kingdom a human possibility. Yet peace, Christians believe, cannot be founded on false accounts of our rational powers but depends on our learning to acknowledge God’s lordship over all life. The Christian commitment to peace is based not on the inherent value of life, but on the conviction that war cannot be consistent with the Kingdom we have only begun to experience through the work of Christ and his continuing power in the church.
It must be admitted that to stake one’s life on such a view is indeed dangerous. For there are many who claim their convictions to be true and assume that those who do not hold similar beliefs should be forced to do so. They are even willing to kill in defense of what they hold dear. To abandon the attempt to develop a “universal” ethic, as I have done, therefore appears as an act of despair, as we are left at the mercy of our enemies.
The Christian, however, does not claim that the world is safe but only that it is under God’s lordship. Christian confidence in God’s lordship provides the church with the power to exist amid the diversity of this world, trusting that the truth “will out” without resorting to coercion and violence for self-protection or to secure adherents. Therefore the non-resistant character of Christian community, which is often sadly absent, is a crucial mark of the power of the Christian story to form a people in a manner appropriate to the character of God’s providential rule of the world.
Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character, 100-1.
Stanley Hauerwas recently wrote Never enough: Why greed is still so deadly, in which he describes how greed is inscribed into our economic system. This sounds all too familiar:
[I]n his book The Seven Deadly Sins Today, Henry Fairlie has given an account of how greed grips our lives – an account that echoes the suggestion in the book of James that there is a connection between greed and war…
Fairlie suggests that we are a people harassed by greed just to the extent our greed leads us to engage in unsatisfying modes of work so that we may buy things that we have been harassed into believing will satisfy us. We complain of the increased tempo of our life, but that is a reflection of the economic system we have created.
This is the same insanity that George Carlin so perfectly skewers: