In Which We Get Hit

We’ve had an inordinate number of hits over the last week or so generated by the following search topics.

1. Lincoln Memorial

2. Daniel Johns Vegan

3. Jew Car (What the eightch?!)

We wonder why you are searching these things.

In Which “Beauty” Is Meaningless

Using the term “beautiful” to signify that which is artistically or aesthetically pleasing/skillful/Good robs the term of all meaning if we also simultaneously attempt to reject the absolutizing of Greek philosophical ideals or the trite prettiness of kitsch.
For some reason we conservative Christians insist on using a term which, if we are to avoid these ditches, must be qualified extensively with each use because we reject every common or historical use. Using “beauty” as a meta-term is fundamentally inaccurate and causes nothing but confusion and missapprehension at best.
At worst, we follow the term into the assumptions of one of the previous historical uses, (usually some Christian syncretist bastardization of the ancient Greek philosophy).

To put it another way: Using “beauty” as a standard for art creates a number of problems in praxis, usually stemming from one of the following forms of confusion:

– If we use “beauty” in an historically, lexically legitimate manner, we end up with a myopic and unsatisfying, if not downright dishonest, art; for ultimately we are (as often as not) calling evil good and good evil (Not all “good” things are “beautiful”, nor all “beautiful” things “good”).

– If we recognize these flaws in the traditional use of the term, yet insist on using the term anyway, we are forced to qualify the word to the point of uselessness. For instance, “beautiful” can not really include, as one of its aspects, “ugly”. However, a well-crafted allusive object can (and usually does) include both.

Ironically, the conservative insistence on the use of “Beauty” as a standard for artistic and aesthetic judgments perpetuates our inability to come up with any sort of useful response to the current “whatever is right in my own eyes” artistic climate. That’s because, in many ways, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. And that is only a problem if Beauty has become an idol.

In Which Absolute Power does not Corrupt Absolutely

I hear this phrase “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely” all the time, and while I’ve never been comfortable with it (just seems too pat a response), today I realized what it is about the adage that bothers me.

The assumption inherent in the statement is that there is a “corrupting force” outside of man’s heart, thus implying that the solution is also in an external, political, socio-economic system. But democracy, republicanism, communism, and absolute monarchies, while they each have their strengths and weaknesses, cannot fix (and do not address) the fundamental flaw in every political system: Men are involved.

There is no God-ordained system of government that will magically guard against corruption. And no system, however cleverly devised, can long survive without Godly men (hows that for pat).

In Which the Boogie-Man is clouding the Issue

As we continue the important discussion of how we ought to care for the other creatures on this planet, I have found that many Christians have difficulty with any discussion of the “rights”, “feelings”, “personalities”, and certainly “sanctification” of animals. The imputation of personality and especially rationality to animals gets many conservative Christians in a funk. I remember watching footage of Coco the gorilla talking to her trainer and others in sign language, and hearing derisive laughter from my companions, deriding the ape’s performance as a “hoax” (manufactured, no doubt, by the same sort of folks who created the Heidelberg and Piltdown men). And of course, their fears of this presentation being Evolutionary propaganda were realized as a voice-over recited the same tired dogma we’ve been indoctrinated with since Darwin’s The Descent of Man and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. I have heard people (students of mine, actually) argue that dinosaurs are all a massive hoax: each one is a fake, a grand conspiracy of god-hating archaeologists hell-bent on pushing their evolutionary propaganda. And given the defensive position Christians find themselves in nowadays, this attitude is understandable (if muddleheaded).

But you don’t have to reject the event in order to reject the interpretive conclusion. I personally see no need to deny the veracity of many of these fossilized findings. Monsters fit quite well into my understanding of history, thank you (as does the discovery of demon-bones, incidentally…another topic for another time, perhaps).

Christians have assumed, along with the secular humanists, that intelligence or rationality is essentially what makes us human. Thus (the evolutionary thought process goes), “lower” life-forms, particularly those “closer” to us on ye olde evolutionary tree, ought to exhibit some kind of proto-intelligence, a “simpler” rationality overshadowed (of course) to one degree or another by “instinct”. Christians react typically in a bass-ackwards fashion, accepting the ‘reasoning’ (no pun intended) of the argument and then vigorously trying to deny the existence of the evidence.

But the whole thing is a red herring. “Rationality” is neither here nor there when talking about what makes us human, and defining ourselves this way creates any number of embarrassing quandaries.

Not that it is idiotic to think this way. Indeed, Christians who define themselves in terms of their rationality are historically in good company: However, when put to a practical test, this theory is found wanting. This was illustrated most tragically in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. As the conquistadors raped, pillaged, and burned their way through the Americas, exploiting and wantonly torturing the peoples they found there, many people at home were outraged at the cruelly covetous atrocities being committed under the guise of Crown and Church. Most notable among those who spoke out against the evil exploitation of the natives were Bartolome de Las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria. These courageous gentlemen stood up in defense of the weak and oppressed, for which I commend them without qualification. That having been said, the philosophical foundation upon which they both based their objections (Vitoria especially) centered around a fallacious understanding of the concept of dominum.

Dominum is, for our purposes, the right of a being to dominion over his person and property. The argument during the age of exploration was, of course, over what conditions are necessary for a being to have dominum. Accepted at the time was “rationality”. This being the case, the conquistadors argued that the natives of the Americas were sub-intelligent, irrational, insane, etc., with Vitoria and Co. arguing manfully for the contrary position.

The problem here is that counter-examples are too readily apparent. Aside from wondering what constitutes “rationality” (is cannibalism “rational”?), there are too many types of persons for whom the honest man would want to claim dominum who are, without a doubt, “irrational”. Children? The mentally handicapped? Coma patients? 9th graders? What is rationality, and how do you measure it to see if you have enough of it? When does a person with Down Syndrome cease to be human? When does a baby become human? How stupid does a guy have to be before I may take his stuff or exploit his person?

“Rationality” is a poor measuring stick for what it means to be human.

This being the case, Christians (especially those of a paedobaptistic persuasion) should cheerfully grant that Coco is really talking: Why not? Dolphins really are smart as all get-out and isn’t it amazing. Different animals have individual personalities, feelings, emotions, and yes, thoughts. Obviously. After all, we baptize our kids.

In Which it’s Funny ‘Cause it’s True

Tollerance is a many splendored thing.

caveats: 1. Context is; The kids are forced to go to the “Museum of Tolerance” for complaining about the outrageous behavior of their teacher (he’s trying to get fired “for being gay” and thus be able to sue the school).
2. Ignore the Ohio-related political stuff surrounding the clip: You aren’t missing anything if you turn it off once the screen goes black.
3. If you are offended by the use of certain anglo-saxon phrases (or are under the impression that there is a list of “bad” words somewhere), you may wish to not be amused by this particular link.

In Which We Continue Questioning

This is for any thoughtful vegans who might be passing through:
Why is it morally impermissible to remove a calf from it’s mother (to be slaughtered, we’ll assume) and to continue milking her for our own consumption. Let’s assume, for the sake of simplicity, that the cow (and calf, up to the moment of being killed) are treated with great care and compassion; the care more typical of the small farm or family operation than a large industrial dairy (which is another problem to be discussed at another time). Why might this be wrong?

Conversely, for those on the opposite side of the fence, what arguments might one make for this practice being morally appropriate and even desirable (not merely permissible), eschatologically speaking?

For those who want a little background on where we’ve been so far in this discussion, check out the posts below:

In the beginning
Rights vs. Duties
A Vegan Church?
A Vegan Church? II
Or Maybe a Vegetarian Church?