Selected Pensées on the Deus Absconditus

God wishes to move the will rather than the mind.  Perfect clarity would help the mind and harm the will.
Humble their pride. (#234)


It is then true that everything teaches man his condition, but he must understand this well. For it is not true that all reveals God, and it is not true that all conceals God. But it is at the same time true that He hides Himself from those who tempt Him, and that He reveals Himself to those who seek Him, because men are both unworthy and capable of God; unworthy by their corruption capable by their original nature. (#444)


If there were no obscurity, man would not be sensible of his corruption; if there were no light, man would not hope for a remedy. Thus, it is not only fair, but advantageous to us, that God be partly hidden and partly revealed; since it is equally dangerous to man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing God. (#446)


I admire the boldness with which these persons undertake to speak of God. In addressing their argument to infidels, their first chapter is to prove Divinity from the works of nature.  I should not be astonished at their enterprise, if they were addressing their argument to the faithful; for it is certain that those who have the living faith in their heart see at once that all existence is none other than the work of the God whom they adore. But for those in whom this light is extinguished, and in whom we purpose to rekindle it, persons destitute of faith and grace, who, seeking with all their light whatever they see in nature that can bring them to this knowledge, find only obscurity and darkness; to tell them that they have only to look at the smallest things which surround them, and they will see God openly, to give them, as a complete proof of this great and important matter, the course of the moon and planets, and to claim to have concluded the proof with such an argument, is to give them ground for believing that the proofs of our religion are very weak. And I see by reason and experience that nothing is more calculated to arouse their contempt.

It is not after this manner that Scripture speaks, which has a better knowledge of the things that are of God. It says, on the contrary, that God is a hidden God, and that, since the corruption of nature, He has left men in a darkness from which they can escape only through Jesus Christ, without whom all communion with God is cut off.  Neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. (Matt xi. 27)

This is what Scripture points out to us, when it says in so many places that those who seek God find Him. It is not of that light, “like the noonday sun,” that this is said. We do not say that those who seek the noonday sun, or water in the sea, shall find them; and hence the evidence of God must not be of this nature. So it tells us elsewhere: Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself. (Is xlv. 15) (#781)


Lewis Carroll Explains the Caucus Race

If you’re unsure what, exactly, a caucus race is. Lewis Carroll gives as good an answer as any in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (‘the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no ‘One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out ‘The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, ‘But who has won?’

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

There you have it. A bunch of people running about with no direction, a tremendous amount of energy is expended, nothing is accomplished, and everyone feels good about themselves.

The Force Awakens is a Remake, not a Sequel

I realize I’m inviting all manner of attacks with this post, but I have to get it out of my system. I enjoyed the film. Seriously. I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoy a fireworks display. Oooh…aaahh. As one guy on twitter said, it had its bleep-blops and its pew-pews, what more do you want?

Some have said they enjoyed the “connections” with the first trilogy. But my biggest problem was that there weren’t just connections, there was clear plot recycling. Does the story have anything new of substance? Consider (I’ll add to this list as I think of more):

  • Rey = Luke (protagonist who doesn’t know who he/she is)
  • Kylo Ren = Darth Vader (former prodigy now turned to the dark side; wears a mask; some are convinced he can be “turned” back to the good side)
  • Snoke = Sidious (mysterious ruler who only appears as a hologram)
  • BB8 = R2D2 (hide plans in the droid that need to get to the good guys)
  • Luke = Yoda (need to track down the Jedi master, who is in hiding, for training)
  • First Order = Galactic Empire
  • Starkiller Base = Death Star (this is now recycled twice; as Han said, “So, it’s bigger.”)
  • Oscillator = Exhaust port
  • Han & Chewie provide comic relief = Han & Chewie provide comic relief
  • C3PO is annoying = C3PO is annoying

Seriously, how many times can the make the same movie?

A few other pet-peeves:

The first “reveal” of Kylo Ren is utterly anti-climactic. If they had waited until the last scene with Han and we see THEN that he is your average, everyday bloke, THEN it would have carried some weight.

Kylo can stop light with the force, use the force to coerce information from someone’s mind, yet he almost gets beat in a lightsaber battle with a STORMTROOPER—one who picks up a lightsaber for the first time! He also gets bested by a kid who learns she can use the force 5 minutes ago. Is he a master of the Force or not. Consistency please.

May the force be with you; again and again.

In which I Muse on Things I Assume Every Parent Knows, but Apparently not.

Heinlein quote

The English word “spoil” is ultimately derived from the Latin word spoliare and comes down to English via the Old French word espillier. What is interesting about all the different forms of the word throughout history is that one common theme emerges: violence. “Spoil” as a verb referred “to stripping someone (usually an enemy) of clothes; to strip, plunder, pillage.” As a noun, “spoil” referred to the results of what was taken by this act of violence.

Why do I begin here? Today we most commonly apply the word “spoil” to two categories: food and children. What is interesting to observe is that these two categories “spoil” in opposite ways: food by neglect, children by indulgence. When we ignore and “under-care” for food, it spoils. Contrariwise, when we mollycoddle and “over-care” for children, they spoil.

But what does it mean to “over-care” for or pamper a child and why does this lead to spoilage?  The answer rests in the nature of growth. We might, to continue the analogy, spoil food before it reaches maturity in a similar way. We might over-water it, over-feed it, over-expose it to sunlight, and so on. If we are poor gardeners we might lavish a plant with things that it legitimately needs to grow, but given to excess, kills it. We might even do this out of love. That is, we so love our green beans that we lavishly spread manure over them, but give them so much that we suffocate them. No one who did this to plants could be said “to love” his green beans; so too with children. Both plants and children need the right amount of nutrients to grow, but no more. Both plants and children must be worked on to grow—they must be weeded, they must be pruned. They must be cultivated, which might include activities that each find disagreeable.

It is quite understandable that parents would want to protect their child. But when that protection is aimed at the elimination of all suffering, the parent—in a serious way—does violence to the child (i.e., spoils the child). We live at a time when people view childhood as a time set aside for delight, for play, for the care-free life spent skipping amongst the daisies, and splashing in pools. We must not, so the thinking goes, impose upon the child discipline and training and force the child to “grow up too fast.” Children must not be made to suffer these things. We must not spoil their childhood.

It is certainly understandable why some parents have this point of view. When we’re children, all we want to do is grow up, right? We want to be older. We want to do what the grown-ups do. We want to sit at the grown-up’s table. Who likes to sit at the “kids table?” Yet, once we grow up, we find that it’s not all it promised to be. There are debts to pay, yards to mow, laundry to wash, meals to cook, careers to advance, spouses to please, neighbors to keep up with. And faced with such undesirable circumstances, we tell our children, “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May.” So, we want to protect our children from all this. Perhaps we don’t want them to grow up, because we don’t like what growing up looks like. So, we give our children everything they want to protect them from all these undesirables.

No one, however, who thinks this way about their children, can be said to love their children. For this approach merely keeps the child as a child, which is unnatural. The child’s desire to “grow up” is natural and must be nurtured, not impeded. To lavish the child with everything he or she wants is to keep the child in a state of perpetual youth. Is this not what we mean by a “spoiled brat?” And when the child is given everything he wants, he cultivates within the mindset of “I will do what I will do, and no one will tell me otherwise.” This seems to have become the mantra of a large portion of our culture, and it is the mantra of perpetual childhood. It is the mantra of a wealthy era. For only the child expects to get whatever they want, do whatever they, and say whatever they want without consequences. This is the false process of a shallow freedom defined only as “lack of restraint.”


But true freedom is the ability to live according to one’s nature: to be able to live and act without a ruler and an overseer. But this requires great training, great discipline, great pain. The parents who truly love their children would be willing to see their children suffer so that those children might grow into healthy adults.

In our culture we often consider struggle as a sign that there is a problem. When a student is “struggling” with his or her homework, either the homework is too difficult or there is something wrong with the student—a learning disability perhaps. But why make this assumption? When I see a student struggling to understand, I rejoice. To me, this is a sign not that there is a problem, but that the student is thinking. Muscles must strain to grow. Iron must be hammered to be shaped. Friction must be achieved to sand wood. The mind must struggle with things it does not understand in order to come to an understanding. What really worries me are the students who aren’t struggling, because this is a sign either that the student already does understand (and so what is the point of the lesson) or that the student is indifferent and so no learning occurs.

Of course, we must do the right exercises too. Anyone who works in fitness and health will tell you that much damage can be done when exercises are done improperly. And much of what goes on in modern education would count as “damaging exercises.” But that’s not exactly my topic at the present. What is of more concern here is that we often find educators and even adults, avoiding tasks because they are “difficult.” For example, so many adults I meet refuse to read Shakespeare because it is “over their heads.” To this, philosopher Mortimer J. Adler answers:

Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up the ropes, with sore hands and aching muscles.

We mustn’t give our children “what they can handle.” We must give them “more than they can handle” so that they can grow ever stronger and stronger. Adults who refuse to grow can never, without the charge of hypocrisy, expect children to grow.

We must be stronger than our children. We must be strong enough to say “no” to their desires because they are not yet strong enough. But to do this, we must be strong enough to say “no” to our own desires. And perhaps, as the Bard said, “there’s the rub.” Perhaps we give our children all they want because we ourselves are still children. Perhaps we are not yet strong enough to rule ourselves. Perhaps we are not willing to be exact and demanding with ourselves, so we cannot do so with our children.

So, will we? Will we ourselves “grow up” and stop spoiling ourselves and our children? Are we willing to see ourselves suffer and our children suffer that we might be something greater than we are now? Or will we continue to indulge ourselves like children and remain in a state of perpetual immaturity demanding to have the world bend to our wills?


And by “suffer,” of course, I do not mean “abuse.” Clearly, that would go against all that I’ve stated here. Certainly there is an opposite error that some parents have made whereby they use abuse and punishment for the “good of the child.” Certainly not all discipline, training, and punishment is up-building; but neither is all discipline, training, and punishment harmful. As I’ve argued here, it can, in fact, be quite loving. Where is the line? Let that be the topic for another post.

For now, let us focus on not spoiling our children, on not plundering and pillaging them by lavishing them with all they want. Let us discipline them and help them grow. Let us cultivate them into the adults they are intended to be.

The Carpet Makers – Futility Intensified

N.B. I will do my best not to reveal anything here that a person wouldn’t learn from reading the back cover of the book or the first few chapters.


Andreas Eschbach’s book The Carpet Makers (Die Haarteppichknüpfer) is a German science-fiction novel first published in German in 1995 and translated into English by Doryl Jensen in 2005. The story centers on a somewhat mysterious Emperor Cult / Guild known as the carpet makers. Carpet makers, always men, work their entire lives to create a single work of art: a carpet roughly the size of a man intricately knotted together out of the hair of their wives (they practice polygamy) and daughters. Once completed, the craft is handed down from father to son. These carpets, which seem to drive the entire economy of this planet, are destined for the Imperial Palace on a distant planet that no one has ever visited for the glory and honor of the God-Emperor. This tradition has been going on for thousands of years. So long, in fact, that no can remember how or why the tradition was begun. But there are rumors circulating that the Emperor has abdicated, or worse, been killed (hardly something that can be believed of an immortal being).

Numerous questions arise about the nature of the hair carpet practice and what it might mean for entire galaxies who have worshiped an immortal Emperor for thousands of years to be suddenly Emperor-less. These are the central tensions of The Carpet Makers.

The great strength of The Carpet Makers rests in the manner in which the story is told. Each chapter focuses on a single character and never repeats a character so that the book could be seen as a series of short stories. Yet these stories are all connected. In the first half or so of the book, each chapter jumps slightly forward in time from the previous chapter, but always circles back to connect with the central character of the previous chapter so that the book itself appears as a kind of carpet with interlocking knots. This structure loosens a bit as the book progresses, which mirrors the overall unraveling of the world within the narrative.

The weakness of The Carpet Makers is well, the answers to the questions, and it does give us answers. I’m sure that some will find the secret of hair carpets wickedly clever, but I found it merely wicked. The whole book leaves one with a sense of meaningless about life: one long useless task that, in the end, signifies nothing (as Shakespeare put it). One cannot help make the connection between the emptying of the Universe of the God-Emperor with Nietzsche’s death of god. But even Nietzsche’s will to power alternative is seen as fruitless in the end. Even this won’t give us meaning. The Emperor can’t, our labor can’t, what can? The Carpet Makers offers no answers that I can find. If that’s the point of the book, it does not resonant with reality. The Carpet Makers offers a skewed understanding of man’s relationship to God, even if it accurately portrays a Universe without God. But the Emperor isn’t God, and surely it is true and good to be reminded that we should not worship the creation rather than the creator. But that is not the message of The Carpet Makers. In The Carpet Makers, even if God exists, life is meaningless because God is merely an immortal man consumed with a thirst for power.

Students Are a Lot Like Dogs

Now that school is over I spend much more time with my dogs than with my students. It occurred to me that students and dogs share a few characteristics:

  1. They want constant affirmation.
  2. Their favorite thing in the world is “to go outside.”
  3. They always want to be let out to go to the bathroom, but when they go all they do is wander around.
  4. They can be made happy simply by giving them a treat.
  5. They always look at you confusedly even though you’ve told them the same thing hundreds of times.
  6. When they are left alone they are either (a) getting into trouble or (b) sleeping.
  7. They are completely distracted by something as simple as a squirrel.
  8. They get really excited when someone new enters the room.
  9. They don’t clean up after themselves when they make a mess.
  10. Once they start making noise, it’s nearly impossible to get them to stop.

Of course, there is one BIG difference:

My dogs get really excited when I walk into the room.

Nobody is an Active Man

In a delightful passage in Essay Six “Of Judgement” from the Essays on the Intellectual Powers, Thomas Reid makes an observation that shows he was also a father in addition to being a Philosopher. He has argued against David Hume’s notion that we cannot know cause and effect relationships, and in this passage he observes that no one could possibly accept Hume in the practical, every-day living of ordinary life:

In great families, there are so many bad things done by a certain personage, called Nobody, that it is proverbial that there is a Nobody about every house who does a great deal of mischief; and even where there is the exactest inspection and government, many events will happen of which no other author can be found; so that, if we trust merely to experience in this matter, Nobody will be found to be a very active person, and to have no inconsiderable share in the management of experience. But whatever countenance this system may have from experience, it is too shocking to common sense to impose upon the most ignorant. A child knows that, when his top, or any of his playthings, are taken away, it must be done by somebody. Perhaps it would not be difficult to persuade him that it was done by some invisible being, but that it should be done by Nobody he cannot believe…

I have a similar problem with Nobody leaving trash on my classroom floor.


On Talkativeness

Philosophy finds talkativeness a disease very difficult and hard to cure. For its remedy, conversation, requires hearers: but talkative people hear nobody, for they are ever prating. And the first evil this inability to keep silence produces is an inability to listen. It is a self-chosen deafness of people who, I take it, blame nature for giving us one tongue and two ears.

Plutarch, Moralia, Book VX


The Christian Never Multi-Tasks

It is a not uncommon notion in our busy lives that we are told we need to “prioritize,” or “put our lives in order” so as to avoid the burn-out of our busy lives. We have many packed schedules, commitments of friends, family and work, and duties and responsibilities that burden us day and night. If we would only reflect on what matters most and rank all other things in order of importance, we would be able to get a grip and manage our lives. Just do a cursory search for “time management” techniques to find many such strategies.

Such advice, however, does nothing to minimize our busyness, it only attempts to manage it. We remain busy and divided in our lives, and consequently the burdens of our lives are not relieved, they are just hidden. Let there be just one thing to trip up our techniques and schedules and the thin veil will be pulled away.

This is because the problem is not that we have failed to properly manage our time, the problem is that we have divided ourselves.

The Christian need not “prioritize.” The Christian does not have “many commitments.” Says Kierkegaard,

[Christian love] is no busyness, least of all a worldly busyness, and worldliness and busyness are inseparable ideas. For what is it to be busy? One ordinarily thinks that the manner in which a man is occupied determines whether he should be called busy or not. But this is not so. It is only within a narrower aspect of the definition that the manner is the determining factor—and this only after the object is first defined. He who occupies himself only with the eternal, unceasingly every moment—if this were possible—is not busy. Consequently he who really occupies himself with the eternal is never busy. To be busy means, divided and scattered (depending upon the object which occupies one), to occupy oneself with all the manifold things in which it is practically impossible for a man to be whole, whole entirely or whole in any single part, something only a lunatic can successfully do. To be busy means, divided and scattered, to occupy oneself with what makes a man divided and scattered. But Christian love, which is the fullfilling of the law, is whole and collected in its every expression, and yet it is sheer action. (Kierkegaard, Works of Love)

kierkegaard2This is how Kierkegaard understands both Christ’s beatitude: “The pure in heart shall see God” (Matt. 5:8) and James command: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8). To be “pure” in heart is to be unmixed in will and desire, as James contrasts it with the “double-minded.”

Only the pure in heart are able to see God and consequently keep near to him and preserve this purity through his keeping near to them; and the person who in truth wills only one thing can will only the good, and the person who wills only one thing when he wills the good can will only the good in truth. (Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing)

The Christian, therefore, has only one task: to will the good. All the Christian’s actions are related to loving God. As Kierkegaard defines Christian love: “For to love God is to love oneself in truth; to help another human being to love God is to love another man; to be helped by another human being to love God is to be loved.” (Kierkegaard, Works of Love) This guides every Christian action, it is the only thing the Christian has to do. The Christian does not have a busy schedule—the Christian has a single task: love.

Or, as Christ commanded: “Seek first the Kingdom of God.”

John Dewey Predicts the Rise of Pop Music

Dewey didn’t get everything wrong:

Only persons who have been spoiled in early life like things always soft; persons of vigor who prefer to live and who are not contented with subsisting find the too easy repulsive. The difficult becomes objectionable only when instead of challenging energy it overwhelms and blocks it. Some esthetic products have an immediate vogue; they are the “best sellers” of their day. They are “easy” and thus make a quick appeal; their popularity calls out imitators, and they set the fashion in plays or novels or songs for a time. But their very ready assimilation into experience exhausts them quickly; no new stimulus is derived from them. They have their day–and only a day.

John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934), 173-174