Torching the Humanities: A Response

Here’s an interesting post by my prof. at CU, Ben Hale, on his blog. Indeed an excellent response to the reality, not only the idea, of doing away with the humanities in a university. What an intelligent destruction of the opponent! Here the full text. Below an excerpt:

Then there’s the question of whether the state legislature’s inaction gave you no other choice. I’m sure the budgetary problems you have to deal with are serious. They certainly are at Brandeis University, where I work. And we, too, faced critical strategic decisions because our income was no longer enough to meet our expenses. But we eschewed your draconian – and authoritarian – solution, and a team of faculty, with input from all parts of the university, came up with a plan to do more with fewer resources. I’m not saying that all the specifics of our solution would fit your institution, but the process sure would have. You did call a town meeting, but it was to discuss your plan, not let the university craft its own. And you called that meeting for Friday afternoon on October 1st, when few of your students or faculty would be around to attend. In your defense, you called the timing ‘unfortunate’, but pleaded that there was a ‘limited availability of appropriate large venue options.’ I find that rather surprising. If the President of Brandeis needed a lecture hall on short notice, he would get one. I guess you don’t have much clout at your university.

It seems to me that the way you went about it couldn’t have been more likely to alienate just about everybody on campus. In your position, I would have done everything possible to avoid that. I wouldn’t want to end up in the 9th Bolgia (ditch of stone) of the 8th Circle of the Inferno, where the great 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri put the sowers of discord. There, as they struggle in that pit for all eternity, a demon continually hacks their limbs apart, just as in life they divided others.

The Inferno is the first book of Dante’s Divine Comedy, one of the great works of the human imagination. There’s so much to learn from it about human weakness and folly. The faculty in your Italian department would be delighted to introduce you to its many wonders – if only you had an Italian department, which now, of course, you don’t.

Bison, Bear and Nature

This has no underlying relevance, just an incredible image of the power and wonder of nature. Did I say “nature”? Why not “environment”? Or should I use “creation”? In the end, there is something here, usually unaware – the words we use to describe “nature” and what that means to us. This is the content of my next paper, on “The nature of nature”, tracing the meaning of the concept of nature starting with the Greek “phusis” through the Latin invention of “nature” to “creation”. More on the conclusions coming up in 2 weeks. For now enjoy the fascination of… creation.


Contraception, Africa and the Church

Recently there has been much controversy in the media about the Pope’s recent interview publication and his comments with regards to contraception. Many media reports portray this as a revision of the Church’s position on the matter, as can be seen here, here and here. Clearly, this is not the case. When Pope Benedict XVI visited Africa, this was a major issue for the secular press and he was severely criticized on the matter. Well, CNA has an excellent interview with Fr. Fesio, the translator of the book in English for Ignatius Press, who had some direct correspondence to clarify the issue. See the interview here. Below some excerpts:

But didn’t the Pope say that sex with a condom to prevent infection is a lesser evil? Well, the Pope didn’t say that, at least in his book. Fr. Lombardi said it. But the Pope could have said it, because in one sense it’s true. (I’ll explain why this is only “in one sense” in a moment.) Unfortunately, however, for those whose profession is reporting news, there is nothing new in this at all.

What may be new is the fact the many educated people no longer understand the ethics of the “lesser evil.” It’s not difficult to understand, though. The crucial distinction is: one may tolerate a lesser evil; one may never morally do something which is a lesser evil.

Back from Zion

Sorry for the slow time lately, I was on a camping trip that included Moab UT, Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. Despite the often waking up to snow on our tent, the weather was better than expected for late November. The highlight was by far Zion, with climbing in Moab a second place. Below the pictures. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving.

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Economics, the Pope and G20

Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the G 20 Summit and highlighted the importance of the economic crisis and the duty of leaders:

I therefore encourage you to tackle the numerous serious problems facing you — and which, in a sense, face every human person today — bearing in mind the deeper reasons for the economic and financial crisis and giving due consideration to the consequences of the measures adopted to overcome the crisis itself, and to seek lasting, sustainable and just solutions…

The world’s attention focuses on you and it expects that appropriate solutions will be adopted to overcome the crisis, with common agreements which will not favor some countries at the expense of others. History, furthermore, reminds us that, no matter how difficult it is to reconcile the different socio-cultural, economic and political identities coexisting today, these solutions, to be effective, must be applied through combined action which, above all, respects the nature of man.

The rap below, doesn’t focus on the deeper issues of the crisis, but rather on currency wars. It is educational in it’s own way though.

Climate Change and Ideology

Here is another example of how climate change becomes the narrative for other debates of our times. Roger Pielke Jr. recounts how his proposal for government action in energy issues ends up in a head on collision with a libertarian view of government and economics. Climate change doesn’t even seem like the issue at stake, but rather the underlying ideologies of how to go about it. Makes one think Mike Hulme was right about the role climate change plays as a narrative for our times.

The Heat from ‘Cool It’

There is a new documentary out that is causing quite a bit of controversy, on the mistakes and exaggerations of global warming. For some, it is the response to Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”. It is called “Cool It” and despite its potential for generating controversy, has been surprisingly well accepted. One good way to learn is to look at what the opposition is saying. Andy Revkin from the New York Times, a long time advocate of climate change and personally very involved in the issue has a surprisingly positive view on the documentary. You can see Revkin’s comments here and Lomborg’s own answer to questions and criticisms here.To me, it seems like the final strike to a ‘cultural narrative’ that is dying, as I mentioned here.

Lomborg’s approach seems to be not to contest climate change on scientific grounds, but rather on economic and cultural grounds. With the information we have, what should we do? In unraveling that question Lomborg seems to give responses very similar to many serious academics committed to climate change but disenchanted with the responses in the popular media, such as Roger Pielke Jr., Max Boykoff, Judy Curry and others.

3 Books to Read

On his trip to Spain Pope Benedict XVI spoke many times about Gaudí, the architect of the Sagrada Familia church. More than once, when talking about Gaudí’s inspiration the Pope recognized the 3 books: book of nature, Scripture and Liturgy. This is what he said on the Homily at the Sagrada Familia (1) and then similar words on the flight to Spain (2):

  1. from the three books which nourished him as a man, as a believer and as an architect: the book of nature, the book of sacred Scripture and the book of the liturgy. In this way he brought together the reality of the world and the history of salvation, as recounted in the Bible and made present in the liturgy. He made stones, trees and human life part of the church so that all creation might come together in praise of God, but at the same time he brought the sacred images outside so as to place before people the mystery of God revealed in the birth, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  2. Gaudí desired this trinomial: the book of nature, the book of Scripture, the book of the liturgy. And precisely today this synthesis is of great importance. In the liturgy the Scripture becomes present, becomes reality today, it is no longer a bit of writing from 2,000 years ago but is celebrated, realized. And in the celebration of Scripture nature speaks, it meets creation and finds its true response, because, as St. Paul says, creation suffers – and instead of being destroyed, despised – awaits the children of God, that is, those who see it in the light of God. And thus this synthesis between the meaning of creation, Scripture and adoration is indeed a very important message for today.

Plenty to digest here, on how nature speaks to something greater than itself, pointing to God. By engaging nature in this fashion, Gaudí is allowing for one alternative in which the world can channel its appreciation for nature. Also, Guadi’s work may serve as a synthesis, indeed an example, of the cultural engagement that the Church must participate in, as reminded in an address on  the importance of the social doctrine of the Church, and it’s need to engage…

great centers of formation of world thought — such as the great organs of secular press, the universities and the numerous centers of economic and social reflection — which in recent times have developed in every corner of the world.

Climate Change and Religion

Last week in Boulder, Mike Hulme gave an impressive presentation of his book and his intellectual contribution to the subject of climate change. The title of the book is explains a lot of the project: “Why we disagree about climate change”. Mike explains climate change as an idea more than a physical event, it is a powerful narrative through which many of the issues of our times are played out; discussions on values, beliefs, attitudes among others. He has a very interesting take on the religious undertones of much of the discussion on climate change, and a general humanist openness quite unusual to scientists. As Hulme quotes on his website, part of this insight seems to come from his religious background: “I am an evangelical Christian and member of the Church of England, and my theology is broadly aligned with that espoused by Fulcrum, a movement seeking to act as a point of balance within the Anglican Church.” One of the reasons we disagree about climate change according to Hulme, is because we disagree about what we believe, and climate change becomes a platform for discussing these beliefs. In fact, for some, climate change itself is a form of religion.

This last point can be seen on the raging debate about the science on climate change. Judy Curry is a well known climate scientist that goes against the strain of climate . You can see the religious invocations here, where she is accused of heresy, and here where she discusses climate dogma. Judy Curry is considered by many scientists as a climate heretic for challenging many alarmist positions on climate change, apparently with substantive arguments. I have heard positive remarks about her positions within the academic community, but haven’t made my mind up yet. Apparently, she gets a lot of heat from fellow scientists, some posts get over 400 comments, like this one.

Anyway, changing gears a little, the other conference I went to was the Energy Justice Conference. You can read more about it on the link, but an interesting connection is how the climate change narrative deeply affects  many other issues such as energy justice. Aware of this, the conference director Lakshman Guruswamy in his concluding remarks made the point that Energy Justice is an issue that must be seen apart from climate change. This unhinging is likely betraying the losing power of climate change as a narrative for our times. Had the energy justice folks listened to Mike Hulme and Roger Pielke Jr.  among others, earlier, they may have unhinged themselves from climate change earlier…

Speaking of the Camino…

While we are on the subject of the famous Camino de Santiago de Compostela in the previous post, occasion for reflections on truth and freedom, here is a new movie set on the famous pilgrimage. We’ll have to see, but this one seems to integrate a vision of freedom that is closer to truth, where nature doesn’t become an escape, but rather the occasion for an encounter. Enjoy.