North Hall Society

Friday, September 24, 2004

The ELCA's pet issue

Today the ELCA published a press release detailing the fact that the the bishop of one of its synods has "[sent] a letter of censure and admonition" to one of its congregations for installing a pastor a person who is inelligible, vis a vis current "Visions and Expectations" for clergy ministry. The man in question is gay. In the letter, the Bishop said he would hold off on disciplinary action until the results of the current study on the issue of homosexuality is complete while emphasizing the fact that the congregation in question had flown in the face of current ELCA standards. Of course the release failed to mention whether the minister in question is a practicing homosexual. If he is, then the censure is entirely in order, because current church policy does call for celibacy outside of marraige. Bracketing the outcome of "the study," policy is policy. It seems that there are at least some church leaders out there are willing to take a stand. For more information...,, Comments?

The heart of an issue

Friends - This article was emailed to various students for discussion by the Pastor, so I felt it appropriate to see what you all think...

Beaufort, S.C. - Much has been made in recent years of the
< unwillingness among college and university presidents to
< venture above the parapet and challenge some of the
< shibboleths of higher education. By this I do not mean
< advocacy of political positions. Presidents who would keep
< their campuses places where ideas are in fact freely
< exchanged ought to avoid signing public letters or
< endorsing candidates, tempting as it may be.
< No, I mean something else. I retired in June as president
< of Middlebury College in Vermont, but during my 13-year
< tenure I was as guilty as any of my colleagues of failing
< to take bold positions on public matters that merit serious
< debate. Now, a less vulnerable member of the faculty once
< more, I dare to unburden myself of a few observations. As
< the new school year begins, there are many things I suspect
< university presidents would like to say to their various
< constituencies but dare not.
< To faculties and governing boards: tenure is a great
< solution to the problems of the 1940's, when the faculty
< was mostly male and academic freedom was at genuine risk.
< Why must institutions make a judgment that has lifetime
< consequences after a mere six or seven years? Publication
< may take longer in some fields than in others, and familial
< obligations frequently interrupt careers. Why not a system
< of contracts of varying length, including lifetime for the
< most valuable colleagues, that acknowledges the realities
< of academic life in the 21st century?
< Moreover, when most tenure documents were originally
< adopted, faculty members had little protection. Today,
< almost every negative tenure decision is appealed. Appeals
< not upheld internally are taken to court. Few if any of
< these appeals have as their basis a denial of academic
< freedom.
< To current and prospective parents (and editors of
< magazines that profit by the American public's fascination
< with rankings): student/faculty ratio is overrated as a
< measure of quality. Can any faculty member persuasively
< argue that a class of eight or nine students is
< qualitatively superior to a class of 10 or 11? How many
< classes at any institution, large or small, are the actual
< size of the celebrated ratio? (Answer: very few.)
< More meaningful statistics, for those seeking to measure
< quality of education in terms of faculty accessibility, are
< average class size, average instructional load, percentage
< of faculty members who are full-time, and how frequently
< professors hold office hours or take their meals in student
< dining halls. And not all subjects are best learned around
< a seminar table. The large lecture, well designed and
< delivered, can, in fact, be a superior way to learn certain
< subjects.
< To lawmakers: the 21-year-old drinking age is bad social
< policy and terrible law. It is astonishing that college
< students have thus far acquiesced in so egregious an
< abridgment of the age of majority. Unfortunately, this
< acquiescence has taken the form of binge drinking. Campuses
< have become, depending on the enthusiasm of local law
< enforcement, either arms of the law or havens from the law.
< Neither state is desirable. State legislators, many of whom
< will admit the law is bad, are held hostage by the denial
< of federal highway funds if they reduce the drinking age.
< Our latter-day prohibitionists have driven drinking behind
< closed doors and underground. This is the hard lesson of
< prohibition that each generation must relearn. No college
< president will say that drinking has become less of a
< problem in the years since the age was raised. Would we
< expect a student who has been denied access to oil paint to
< graduate with an ability to paint a portrait in oil?
< Colleges should be given the chance to educate students,
< who in all other respects are adults, in the appropriate
< use of alcohol, within campus boundaries and out in the
< open.
< And please - hold your fire about drunken driving. I am a
< charter member of Presidents Against Drunk Driving. This
< has nothing to do with drunken driving. If it did, we'd
< raise the driving age to 21. That would surely solve the
< problem.
< I hope the public, and the higher education community, will
< be willing to engage these issues seriously and
< respectfully. My head is now well above the parapet.
< Gaudeamus igitur!
< John M. McCardell Jr. is college professor and president
< emeritus of Middlebury College.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

This Blog

This blog is set up for only a few people who happen to know each other pretty well, so the problem of forgetting who we are dealing with will likely be quelled. That said, lets get on to discussing!

Concerning the Internet and Blogging

My suggestion wasn’t that good discussion isn’t worthwhile, rather that there is something about the Internet that catalyzes such discussions into screaming matches and competitions where those with the most outrageous conspiracy theories win (and note that you may indeed be disqualified from said contest if you try and support your claims with any valid information at all). All one has to do is look at the plethora of political blogs and see that the few that do offer good legitimate insight are infinitely outnumbered by the countless folks out there jamming angry at their keyboards and yelling piercingly through their computer screens.

I think this is probably due to the fact that it so easy to forget that there are actual people on the other side of the information super-highway and once you have forgotten that it becomes a simple matter to dehumanize everyone involved except yourself. Thus the end result is that people are much less concerned with the other guy then they would be if we were all, let us say, at the local tavern sipping a cold PBR. Where before you would most likely recognize that the opinion you were being presented with was important to the person presenting it and treat it with the respect which it entails, now you are free to completely ignore that fact. In short, as it has been similarly said of alcoholic drink, the Internet just turns you into the asshole you really are. However, I do have much hope that this will not be the immediate fate of this blog, as since we have to deal with each other on a daily basis I believe we will show much more respect to each other then your average blogger.

Of course this raises a more interesting question about the fate of the Internet. In the end is it going to be the great revolutionary tool for academia that it first promised to be or is it just going to be a source of stolen music, stolen movies and free pornography for the masses? Bread and Circus, anyone?


Perhaps Kierkegaard did not deny the metaphysical of the fallenness of man, but one must acknowledge that an incorrect reading of Kierkegaard could lead to the breakdown of such ideas. It seems evident in the Post-Modern Philosopihes of deconstructionism, etc. Sadly it would seem that one could draw a line from these relativistic ideas to existentialists, or perhaps even as far back as Descartes who set the standard for beginning philosophy from the individual. After this shift, philosophy split into the more Lebniz-ian conception of rationality and the train of thought that lead to the "subjectivism" of Kierkegaard. It would seem that the latter is more in keeping with the spirit of Descartes thought. I would argue that in a sense Descartes was asking the same questions as Socrates and Augustine , "Who am I?" But this question I think needs to be placed into the contect of the reality of the universe (and for Augustine the supernatural as well) - "Who am I?" and "How do I fit into the world around me?" Sadly, it would seem that Post-Modernism has lost sight of this last question.

Existentialism, truth, and fallenness

All existentialists focus on the immediate inwarness of the individual subject's experience. In that sense, they lack the objectivistic openness to the world characteristic of traditional metaphysicians like Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. Thus even the Christian Soren Kierkegaard (pictured right) defines truth in terms of "subjectivity." Such a definition, of course, has its hazards. As Notre Dame Professor Ralph McInerny (pictured left) says, Kierkegaard is, at best, a "corrective." Kierkegaard was reacting to the excessive emphasis upon rational, scientific facticity characteristic of his time. But his reaction has often been understood to have been an overreaction, landing him in the quanderies of subjectivism.

Atheistic existentialists, such as Jean-Paul Sartre (pictured right, looking typically alienated amidst the oppressive greyness of a Parisian drizzle), lack any notion of "fallenness" whatsoever, except the fallenness that lies in the "bad faith" of refusing to choose what one wants to do. Kierkegaard, however, as a Christian, couldn't quite brazen out such a position. He still possessed on some level a sensitivity to the notion that one could sin, though this took an existentially over-inflated Lutheran form of describing God as a being over against which one "must always be in the wrong." However paradoxically Kierkegaard may express himself, therefore, I am disinclined to think that he jettisoned all notion of objective truth and fallenness.

A problem with an Existentialist conception of truth

For our first topic of discussion I propose a subject that will be of interest to those in the Existentialism class.

An existential conception of philosophy seems to have an essential flaw in the fact that it places the datum of truth with flawed individual. For example, Kieregaard discusses the phenomenon of people who possess a great theretical knowledge of morals, yet themselves lead immoral lives. However, just because a problem is not given assent does not necessarily show that it is false. The essential problem of man is his fallen state. Perhaps one might view this as a more theological that philosophical argument, but even philosophy has acknowledged the finitude of human epistemological capabilites. This fallen state, however, is more than an epistemological problem. In a moral sense, man even when he knows right and knows wrong, often will choose wrong. This is the necessary result of free will. This thought does not seem all that different from Kierkegaard or other existentialists, but the difference is in the placement of flaw. It would seem that an existenialist would view the existence of immorality in the face of theoretical knowledge as demonstrating a fundamental flaw in methaphysical philosophy/knowledge. On the other hand, I would place the flaw with the knower rather than the knowledge. Thoughts?

Prove Voltaire wrong ...

Jake's prediction could prove right, based on his adaptation of the quote from Voltaire (pictured left), "Good discussion over the Internet is usually neither good nor a discussion." But -- while we've the time for it, anyway -- we could try to prove him wrong. Perhaps one thing we could discuss is the value of discussion, to begin with. One observation I've heard many, many times is that students today, compared to students in the 1970s during the Vietnam War, are politically diffident, religiously indifferent and generally apathetic, that their chief interests lie in chasing the muses of personal peace ("don't bother me with anything") and affluence ("whoever dies with the most stuff wins"). In what, then, does the value of discussion, involvement, ecumenism, and political activism consist? Could all this discussion and talk and involvement not amount to useless and idle chatter? Could a disposition of apathy and indifference not be the essence of sanity amidst this insane world? Bertrand Russell (pictured right) once wrote a book of essays entitled In Praise of Idleness (pictured above left). Could he have been right? Are political debates, such as we have every four years, an exercise in self-delusion, futility, and an utter waste of time? Are ecumenical discussions between Lutherans and Catholics and Anglicans and Presbyterians a waste of time? Where have they gotten us? Should we perhaps jettison the ideal of that old geezer, Socrates (pictured left), who said that "the unexamined life is not worth living" and substitute for it the Russellian ideal "in praise of idleness"? Perhaps the majority of contemporary students are right after all, and it's the examined life that's not worth living. So why should we discuss anything at all? Perhaps we should each waste away our lives in idleness, sitting in front of his or her own computer monitor, shopping online, playing interactive games, watching movies, checking the news, listening to favorite tunes, or writing blogs that nobody will ever read ...

On that happy note, we'll see you around!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Good Discussion

I will give this a try despite the fact that I am pretty sure that it will end poorly. Why do I say that you ask? Because to butcher an aphorism of Voltaire’s “Good discussion over the Internet is usually neither good nor a discussion.” But I am sure it will be fun anyway, at least for a while.


Welcome Friends,

This blog is intended for good discussion on various topics. Feel free to post topics as you wish, but it would probably be a good idea to keep the number of different discussions happening simultaneously to a minimum to ensure that each may be addressed fairly and completely. Enjoy!