10 12 2019

One of the most convincing challenges to Western monotheist theodicy that I can think of is one I will term the “finitude of the good.” That is, how can people we love end up doing evil things, or on the “wrong side” of morality? This question poses itself starkly when a loved one dies “outside the faith”, or if they were not a particularly pleasant person, but may have been dear to us. This person did some good, they were not an absolute waste of humanity (people seldom are). The cliché of the serial killer’s mother protesting that he was a “good boy” once rings hollow to both his victims and decent people alike. Where did that good innocent smiling boy in the photograph go? What of any of the good acts he did? Do they merely magnify the turpitude of his later actions, as Catholic theology claims when the mystery of the world is laid bare at the Last Judgment? Are they the result of karma which keeps the spirit-soul in the cycle of birth and death as the Vedas and Puranas of India indicate? Or are love and kindness just a temporary illusion of synapses flashing in the brain as the atheists proclaim? Just chemicals sloshing around in the skull… Read the rest of this entry »


24 11 2019


I have been an inconstant seeker of the transcendent. Part of this is due to vague childhood memories of beauty. There were my grandmother’s peacocks. There was the idyllic countryside where I grew up. And there was the church. The Catholic rites were updated over a decade before my birth, but old practices and vessels take a while to get rid of. The devotions of the elderly women never left. My grandmother continued to veil her weary and withered head with a mantilla. There was that old priest or two who chanted a chunk of the Mass in Latin. But most of all, there was the building itself. I grew up in old churches, and no matter how much they wanted to alter everything right away, renovations are costly and can’t be done overnight. In my childhood parish, it took a massive earthquake for them to finally get around to gutting the sanctuary. The actual damage, however, had already been done. The shadows of the past were already cast in my mind. Read the rest of this entry »

David Bentley Hart’s End of History

11 10 2019

When thinking of the problem of Hell, I recall one of the only sermons that I remember from my time in the Society of St. Pius X seminary. It was an anniversary Mass of one of the priests where he began stating that the one thing that motivated him to be a priest was the idea of Hell and that people go there. This was one of the only instances when Hell even entered into my religious considerations. As a teenage hanger-on at my mother’s Legion of Mary praesidium, I remember being recounted the vision of Hell shown to the children at Fatima in connection to that apparition’s message of penance. As with many modern people, Hell is sort of always in the background but never at the forefront of what I think concerning the meaning of human life. But for many, such as that priest, it is very much front and center of who they are as followers of Christ. Read the rest of this entry »

On the spiritual body

14 05 2019
Narada Muni Transcendental Spaceman

Narada Muni (source)

A reader left a comment with a link to an article by David Bentley Hart entitled The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients. Here I will offer a few comments, specifically on the main themes of the corporeal vs. the spiritual body. Read the rest of this entry »

On the cycle of the yugas

3 05 2019

A reader pointed out two essays in First Things by Russian author, Eugene Vodolazkin, more or less on the themes of time and historical truth. For the most part, these essays suffer from the tendency of literary scholars to divide the world into a series of just-so stories: observations from limited sources that seem to flawlessly explain the long arc of history. So needless to say, I don’t agree with much in these articles. But I do want to draw from them two themes to discuss here, namely, the repetitive nature of past narratives, as well as the progressive concept of time. Read the rest of this entry »

God of History vs. God as History?

24 04 2019

One of the great influences of my youth was a Russian Orthodox monk who was a Catholic convert. According to a biographical essay written by one of his disciples, he was converted by the Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky. Having read Florovsky myself, I can attest that he is one of the only Orthodox writers worth a damn. Aside from his obvious mastery of Patristics and Church history, his more theoretical impact was clear and to the point: Christianity is a religion of history. That is, in contrast to Nietzsche’s attempt to revive the eternal return, Christianity is based firmly on the concept of linear time. Things happen once, and not over and over again. Humans are historic persons with their own unique substance, and not just masks for an eternal repeating energy flow. For instance, this is the main difference between Christian liturgy and pagan ritual in spite of any superficial similarities and appropriations. Liturgy can only commemorate historical events and not eternal cycles of seasons and movements of nature. It could be said that the latter only have meaning in light of the former. Read the rest of this entry »

On the supersoul

6 03 2019

I have a habit of trying to read books outside of my expertise and interest, and the above talk is on the book that I just finished reading: Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. The octopus and the cuttlefish in particular seem to exhibit evidence of consciousness and recognition, often with mischievous and self-interested ends. Humans have reported octopuses trying to escape from aquariums, exhibiting hostile behavior, and swimming next to divers in a pattern of recognition. They seem to demonstrated levels of consciousness only present in “higher mammals.”

Some interesting tidbits from the book is that octopuses seem to see with their skin and, in spite of having advanced intelligence for their habitat, they live only about two years. The author then has to explain why animals that have this level of intelligence live so shortly. The hypothesis is that animals in general have to “front end” all of their vital energies, which explains why we get old. We have to have all of our strength and health early to reproduce the species as much as possible. Otherwise, especially in the wild, if we had to wait to be strong and attractive at the end of our life, we could be killed or or suffer an accident before we reach our full potential.

Such inherent intelligence also reminds me of the book, Gifts of the Crow, also about an animal with an “abnormal” level of intelligence. Crows have been known to go out of their way to sabotage cars and get resources in creative ways. The problem then becomes: Are we seeing ourselves in a universe that is dead and hostile to us, personifying the inhuman? Or is our intelligence part of a larger intelligence that works in us but not exclusively?

Lost in translation – II

11 01 2010

Pierre Hadot loses his religion

At this point, it would probably not come as any surprise that my favorite philosopher in the last five hundred years is an apostate Catholic priest. Pierre Hadot was born in 1922 to a Catholic family and entered minor seminary in his early teens. He advanced rapidly in his studies, having been put through the typical regimen of scholastic philosophy and militant Counter-Reformation piety in style at the time. He was ordained in the midst of the Second World War at the age of 22. Unlike others from his generation, he did not leave the priesthood in the wake of Vatican II, but preceded the mass exodus of men from the priesthood by about fifteen years. He abandoned his priestly vows and ultimately the faith in 1950 to run off with a woman who he would divorce twelve years later. His reflections on his Catholic upbringing and formation are predictably mixed, but the few times he speaks of them in his latest book to be translated into English, The Present Alone is Our Happiness, they are very perceptive in reading the mood of the Church in Europe before the Council.
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An Evening with Robert Louis Wilken

15 10 2009


AG and I went to a talk at Notre Dame Seminary here in New Orleans given by the noted Christian scholar, Robert Louis Wilken. A former Lutheran pastor and a convert to the Catholic Faith in 1994, Dr. Wilken this night gave a talk entitled, “Reading St. Augustine in the 21st Century”. Dr. Wilken, as many will know, is an expert in early Christian thought, having written and edited such books as Remembering the Christian Past and On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ. He is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia as well as having taught at many notable universities around the world. He is also a New Orleans native, having grown up in the lower Ninth Ward, and gave a biographical prelude to his talk on how good it was to be back in his hometown. There was a good turnout for the event on a rainy Friday night, and the talk itself was followed by a lively and equally interesting Q & A session.

Dr. Wilken decided in his limited time to tackle perhaps the most prolific and influential of ancient writers, St. Augustine of Hippo. Wilken had to start out surveying the vast expanse of Augustine’s thought and writings, not to mention his equally impressive legacy on Western thought. He began with some rather broad yet profound themes that Augustine touched upon in his writings: time, memory, the self, and the soul. In these, what is most important is the “inner life” of man; it is the “most important part of being human”. In Augustine, above any other thinker in antiquity, we have a “turn towards the self”. In no other author then or now can we get a deeper sense of the “inner life” as it journeys towards the truth. For Augustine, reflection and the turn towards the self were a “step on the way back to God”. His task was to explore the infinitely vast universe within, of which the outer universe is but a mere shadow, and there find God.
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On the tetrad

14 10 2009


If number is the form of all things, and the terms up to the tetrad are the roots and the elements, as it were, of number, then these terms would contain the aforementioned properties and the manifestations of the four mathematical sciences- the monad of arithmetic, the dyad of music, the triad of geometry and the tetrad of astronomy, just as in the text entitled On the Gods Pythagoras distinguishes them as follows: “Four are the foundations of wisdom- arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy- ordered 1,2,3,4.” And Cleinias of Tarentum says, “These things when at rest gave rise to arithmetic and geometry, and when moving to harmony and astronomy.”

-from The Theology of Arithmetic attributed to Iamblichus