Friday, November 14, 2008

Civil Rights

While I was overjoyed to see Barrack Obama voted into office, one thing has soured the experience for me - one thing has robbed the victory of some portion of its sweetness. In my home state of California, prop 8, the constitutional amendment to ban homosexual marriages, passed.

There have been massive protests ever since.

Today I heard on the news that, across the state, city and local officials are joining the protest against Prop 8, working to see this gross injustice overturned. I have never been prouder of them in my life.

The issue of whether or not homosexual couples should be allowed to marry is not a matter of religious conviction, but rather of secular conviction: it is a matter of convictions which, uttered at the dawn of our nation's history, hold no less true today. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."

This is about civil rights. This is about the necessary separation of Church and State. This is about whether or not it is acceptable in a free society for a majority to strip civil rights from a minority; in the same faith with which our founders penned those mighty words, we assert that it is not. We have seen too much to believe for even a moment that the desire of the majority - 'separate but equal' - is anything less than institutionalized injustice, and in unified spirit with Doctor Martin Luther King Jr and every civil rights leader who ever stood up for a despised minority, we hold to the faith that though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends towards justice in the end.

Monday, November 03, 2008

California's Proposition 8

I suppose there are very few people out there who are unaware of prop 8 on tomorrow's ballot, but in the unlikely event that any of you come across this blog, prop 8 is the one that strips homosexuals of the right to marry under the guise of "protecting traditional marriage."

It probably comes as no surprise to know that I am against proposition 8.

What the 'protect traditional marriage!' crowd fails to understand is that there is a difference between a marriage as facilitated by the state and the sacrament of marriage. It is an unfortunate coincidence of our language that we use the same word for both. One is a category in which couples receive legal benefits and protections. The other is a religious sacrament - in Christian theology, one of the seven sacraments of Evangelical Law (note: 'evangelical here does not in any way refer to the evangelical movement). Now, a church can do whatever it likes, but the state must not discriminate illegally in its contracts. If your particular church or denomination chooses not to recognize homosexual unions as participants in the sacrament of marriage, that is your right. I disagree with you, but I respect your right to make this decision. But it is immoral to exclude homosexual couples from the benefits and protections granted to couples in marriage as facilitated by the state.

It is my great hope that the majority of Californians will agree with me, and choose to say no to institutionalized hatred, discrimination, and injustice. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why I am Pro-Choice

I originally posted this as a comment on someone else's blog, in response to their question of how a Christian who supposedly believes that human life is sacred could possibly support abortion. After some urging from my brother, I've decided it's worth posting here as well. I'm going to tell you why, as a Christian, I am pro-choice.

First, I'm going to say off the bat that I am against abortion. I think abortion is a very big deal, is terrible, and that every time an abortion happens, a human life is ended before it can begin. However, I also believe that life should be brought into the world freely, not under duress. That is, I believe in free will.

When I look at the two alternatives, both of them terrible, I find the second worse than the first. While abortion is awful, looking into the eyes of a woman with an unwanted pregnancy and telling her, “You have no choice. We are going to make you carry this baby to term, whether you like it or not. We’re going to force you to have it, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop us,” is in my mind incomparably worse. Such is my horror at this utter negation of her personhood, this reduction of herself into little more than a glorified baby-factory, that I would rather abortion be legal and safe than put any woman through this kind of … rape. My horror of it is such that I must guard against the danger of thinking the pro-life position to be monstrous, understanding that it is held by those with no less moral conviction.

Perhaps there are holes in that argument. Perhaps it is overly emotional. But you must understand that my position is no less rooted in a strong sense of right and wrong than yours, and no less the product of intense emotion.
Yes, having a baby is the natural consequence of procreation. But we live in a time in which our science, outstripping our wisdom, perhaps, has given us not only the ability, but also the responsibility to decide when or when not to allow things to follow according to their natural consequences. In the literal sense of the word, it is an awful power, but it is ours, for better or for worse. Yes, we are responsible for our actions. Yes, it is arguably ‘against nature’ (if you hold to a concept of Natural Law) to abort a baby. None of that undoes the horror of the alternative. Abortion grieves me, and I wish that it never happened, but the alternative horrifies me more than I can possibly express.

God will judge, and judge justly, whether we were right or wrong. In the meantime, we must do as our consciences demand, and pray that when it comes our time to die, the mercy we have in Christ extends even to decisions like these.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

On Education

I am currently engaged in the ordeal of acquiring a teaching credential.
It's a strange sort of thing, doing this program. There's so much nonsense mixed with so much valuable information that it's hard to know which is which.

To quote Areopagitica (because, hey, why not?): "Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out and sort asunder, were not more intermixed. It was from out the rind of one apple tasted that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say of knowing good by evil."

And of knowing sense by nonsense.

In any case, I'll press on, do my work, turn in my assignments, and with any luck, I'll get my credential and secure a job for myself. Life is funny. I never in a million years would have thought that I would have wound up a teacher. Stranger things have happened, but always to other people.

If the credentialing process is anything to go by, teaching is a strange, strange profession. Education is a religion of sorts in this country. We dispense knowledge in the faith that education will raise the quality of life for all who receive it. It's our sacred cow in budgetary matters (think about how angry people get when they thing someone is cutting money from education), our chosen instrument of social reform, and simultaneously both the greatest resource of and the greatest threat to the continuation of our democracy: a well-educated populace is necessary for a functional democracy; a well-educated populace is clear-sighted enough to rise up in Revolution against an oppressive and corrupt government. But well-educated by whose standards? In public education? The government's. Catch 22. But I'll press on. No matter how much it creeps me out to think that the government is educating its own populace, no matter how horrifying the potential for abuse is in that arrangement, I'll press on.

Even idealists need to eat.

So here's to you, my future students, whoever you are. May you become the kind of educated people our country needs. May you be able to think rationally and (though the word is overused almost to the point of nonmeaning) critically about the world around you. May you mount up with the wings of eagles and help to create the sort of world you would want to live in. You won't have an easy time of it, I'm afraid. The idolatrous hopes of the United States of America rest in you, the student population. It is you who will be worshiped as soldiers, the idols of our hearts, condemned and stripped of your rights as criminals, condescended to as the middle class, ignored as the poor, embraced as the rich and the unexpectedly successful, lied to, manipulated, and ultimately may well be destroyed by a society in which the mass is still simple and the seers are no longer attended to. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "On or back we must go; to stay here is death." It is you who will decide this. Again, it will not be easy. But only very rarely are things which are worth doing things which are easy to do. The work of the transformation of our world for the better lies before us all.

Let's get to it.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Pale Blue Dot

I don't even have words for this one. Rarely before have I seen anything on youtube so beautiful that it moved me to tears.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Reflections on the Inferno

Reading through the Inferno this time around, I find myself particularly interested in the use and role of language here within. When you consider the various ways and forms of its use, an interesting picture is created.

First of all, the gates of hell bear a message for those that pass under, a final sentence of the condemned. "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," and dares to suggest that all the horrors of hell are the product of Divine Love. Perhaps they are. Then descend we into Limbo, where we find the citadel of the virtuous pagans, and the great philosophers there, who, by reason as through language, stave off the darkness of the Hell around them, a light which, like that same fire stolen by Prometheus of old, gives light but not comfort: What comfort can be found in Hell? But even here, even in the best possible world without salvation, the barriers of language are firmly in place: Saladin stands alone.

Unless I have misread, Hell appears to be a place utterly divided by language barriers. Dante and Virgil can speak only to those who can understand them, and in light of the unfathomable numbers which must suffer therein, this is not a small thing: part of the torment of Hell appears to be its isolation, and language barriers only serve to increase this. Not only to suffer eternally, but to be unable to communicate your suffering to the greater part of Hell's population, and therefore unable to make it less than it eternally is. Here we see the faint glimmering of a great truth: If Hell is to be eternal, it must always be happening *now.*

Descend we further and we encounter Charon, and further still the band of demons, and I note with interest that they have no difficulty understanding human speech, nor in being understood by humans. Yet the demons, though they can understand and be understood by the damned, are such low, such vulgar creatures that they scarcely have anything to say that is worth hearing. Hell, it seems, has a sense of humour, and there is no stronger evidence than this that it is God's handiwork: the damned do not laugh.

In stark contrast stands Purgatory. When souls arrive, they arrive singing, and not only that but singing *together,* and there is more in that than might be supposed. Already we find a spirit of cooperation vastly, vastly different from what exists in Hell. They are singing the Latin text of Psalm 114, which in English is as follows (The Holy Bible, NIV):

"When Israel came out of Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,

Judah became God's sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.

The sea looked and fled,
the Jordan turned back;

the mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.

Why was it, O sea, that you fled,
O Jordan, that you turned back,

you mountains, that you skipped like rams,
you hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,

who turned the rock into a pool,
the hard rock into springs of water."

These are not simply singing pilgrims at the base of their holy mountain: these are God's chosen, who, though they have not yet reached the promised land, have not yet seen the hard rock become springs of water, fervently look forward to the Divine Promise that it will be so. Eve at the entrance to purgatory, even at its lowest levels, the souls within exhibit a level of trust that is simply inconceivable in Hell. The psychology of the damned is, to quote C.S. Lewis, one that is primarily concerned with its own dignity and advancement. "It is a place where everyone has a grievance, and everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment." And in Dante, it is also God's answer to these evils: a last, stop-gap emergency measure to draw even the irredeemable as close to perfection as can be achieved. If the damned could see beyond these passions, beyond their little lives, beyond their suffering, towards any kind of perspective whatever that was not centered on their selves, they would no longer be in torment but in Limbo. But here, at the base of the holy mountain, the souls who are about to be plunged into the purifying fires of Purgatory sing a psalm of praise. Their focus is in the right place: not on their selves, but on each other. Unlike the language of Hell, their language serves its proper purpose. Now they walk and sing. Presently they will learn to fly; it is said that angels fly by taking themselves lightly. So may we all.

Friday, January 04, 2008

On the Romance of Language

I watched a video today called "Silent Children, New Language," and it was interesting. It dealt with the emergence of a new sign language among deaf children in Nicaragua, and there are some very specific things that I found particularly notable and worth examining in the short space allowed here.

The first statement made in the film which I should like to examine is this one: "These children have created a language out of nothing." I wish to further inform this statement with another one from the film: "The ideal linguistic experiment to see whether we have an inborn capacity for language would be to take five children and put them on an island and have them live together in isolation." Now, much is made of the fact that these Nicaraguan children are totally isolated, that they have 'created a language out of nothing,' but this is not entirely the case. These children are not without raw material for their language, nor is it created in total isolation. These children are not alone on an island, but acting and living as best they can within the context of the Nicaraguan culture. We must be careful about the kinds of things we claim as fact supported by evidence. Broad, sweeping, blanket statements are dangerous tools. If we are not careful, we shall find that, in our zeal to find support for our theories, we have editorialized the evidence into a shape which its geometry will not support.

The next statement I should like to examine is more a matter of philosophy than strict linguistics, but is interesting nonetheless. It is a quote of Judy Kegl, and given in reference to her attempt to discover what exactly the signs she was studying meant. "The signs have to come from somewhere." On one level, this is an obvious statement. Everything that is not self-existent must find its source in something else. The same is true of a new language. Considered on another level, however, this is a fantastic statement of faith, and gives us real insight into Doctor Kegl's philosophy of language, and where she stands on the 'inborn language' VS 'social construct language' debate.

Another interesting quote follows along the same lines: "It is not surprising," we are told, by many experts and repeatedly, "to learn that we have an instinctual ability to create language." Furthermore, "It is no more fantastic than the ability of foetal cells to divide and grow from a single cell into a human being." If there were ever in all the history of the world a greater lie about language, I have not heard it. "It is not surprising?" What strange, deluded creature could make such a statement? It is surprising. More accurately, it is fantastic, just as the ability of foetal cells to divide and grow from a single cell into a human being is fantastic. Language is a Romance, and all linguists are Romantics, for only Romantics mistake the sublime for the everyday. It is said that the Hatter is mad because he must measure the human head. So too is the linguist, for he must measure what is meant by such statements.