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Nothing Like Life

For some readers his journey will be proof positive of Rick Santorum’s assertion last month that college is too often godless and corrupting. For others, it will be a resounding affirmation of education’s purpose.

Frank Bruni recounts the story of a Catholic classmate’s evolving worldview. Well worth a read.

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Consequences

February 25, 2012 Leave a comment

A lot of the dialog in the culture war lately has been about consequences. The idea of consequences was front and center in the recent debate about contraception. The idea is that people who make, shall we say, less than (small-c) conservative decisions should be forced to take their medicine, whether they like or not.

Jamelle Bouie flags a Washington Post blogger, Alexandra Petri, discussing a fatal episode of domestic violence  at the University of Virginia. She’s obviously disturbed by the incident, but doesn’t seem to be able to come up with a narrative that can explain what happen.

She argues that the system is to blame. It was too lenient. It let these kids think they could get away with murder.

This is a story of growing up in a world where people sand off life’s edges on your behalf. Where parents and institutions exist not to protect you from mistakes, but from their consequences.

The setting is a character on its own: the college campus, where hook-up culture runs rampant and you are expected to drink four times a week, where you can sleep with someone and he can come to the stand and say that you were just friends, and it can be true. It’s a no-man’s land in which everyone wants to have fun without consequence. Where people are just mature enough to act immaturely.

[Accused killer] Huguely sent Yeardley Love, his girlfriend, a hand-written note saying that alcohol was ruining his life. He choked her. He threatened her.

Huguely’s friends said that at one point, they thought of staging an intervention because of his drinking. They didn’t. Why would they? They were college students.

It seems to me that the fact that this guy’s friends even considered an intervention means that they understood consequences. They realized that things were spiraling out of control. I’m sure they wanted to help but didn’t know how. After all, they were college students.

But I wanted to talk more broadly about how some people think of consequences. The idea is that every action has a predictable consequence that should not be mitigated. If you fuck, someone’s going to get pregnant and you should shut up and have the kid. If you drink, I guess someone will end up beating you to death? I’m not really sure where the Right is going with this.

My point is that of course we try to lessen the consequences of various dangerous activities. Negative consequences are bad and I don’t think we’re spoiling ourselves by looking for work arounds.

Think about the result of a car crash. It can be pretty catastrophic. That’s why we’ve built seat belts and air bags and the like. We want drivers to be safe, but ensuring the worst possible consequences for any failure is not the way to do it. We do not have a moral imperative to make cars unsafe.

The world is a complicated place. There are too many factors involved in any action to always be able to determine what the consequences should be. Of course, we need to consider the possibilities before we move. We need to think not just of ourselves but of those around us. But too many are still stuck in the puritan mindset that says the only way to keep people in line is through fear of fire and brimstone.

People make mistakes. Sure, society should try to prevent mistakes where we can, but there’s always going to be some asshole. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, and a lot of people get hurt. But that doesn’t me we shouldn’t be standing by to help pick up the pieces.

Categories: Politics, Religion

You Should Only Believe True Things

February 18, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking a lot about religion lately. I’ve actually been trying to put down some thoughts about specifics. But a conversation with a friend last night got me thinking about it more generally. My problem with any sort of dogma is pretty fundamental and likely irreconcilable.

Different denominations have different teachings, and while conversions happen, generally you are expected to stick with the group you were born into. Once you decide which group you belong with, you must at least pay lip service to your sect’s teachings. The Catholics in particular are explicit about this. They have a whole speech you need to memorize called the Profession Of Faith that lays out the minimum believes required of a member in good standing.  Still, all religions have similar expectations. The problem is that this goes against what I believe to be a very common sense idea. In fact, if I told you this idea, you likely wouldn’t hesitate to agree. The idea is simple: You should only believe true things.

At first glance, this seems obvious. The idea of knowingly believing false things seems almost contradictory. But being a card carrying Theist requires you to believe all sorts of things that are pretty questionable. If you’re an Evangelical, for instance, you’re required to take the Christian Bible as the literal truth. Including the contradictory parts, I assume. Not sure how you pull that off, but the real question is why would you even try?

There’s a reason you want to believe in true things. The search for truth is the engine of human progress. Folk tales give us a very approximate model of how the world works. We’ve been able to refine our view of nature and have ended up cutting out a lot of cruft. We no longer need divine intervention to understand things like disease and weather.

True things can be elusive. You’ve never going to be able to weed out all the wrong ideas in the world. But if you agree, even in theory, that true things are more desirable than false things, I don’t see how you have any choice but to leave religion behind. Truth is an entirely separate path from dogma.

Categories: Religion