Art of Persistence

"The art of love ... is largely the art of persistence." -Albert Ellis

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Rationalism, Empiricism...and Intuition?

In the chapter on Epistemology, Kreeft points out that the debate between Rationalism and Empiricism ignores another form of knowledge that Tolkien (and the ancients) did not ignore: intuition. Furthermore, "unlike reason and sense experience, [intuition] depends on moral goodness; it is only reliable in the virtuous."

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Indeed.

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Longevity v. Immortality, part deux

"Two opposite kinds of death are required to attain the two opposite kinds of immortality. The false immortality requires the death of conscience. The real immortality requires the death of egotism...."

"Tolkien's heroes...exemplify exactly what life would be like if the Christian claims are true, especially its central paradox about immortality through death and resurrection of the self, self-realization through self-sacrifice."

-Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

I'm Still Working on the One Thing

"It is one thing neither to be stung nor angered by affronts and insults, nor by temptations and trials, and another to be pleased by them. It is one thing to pray for the people who do such things, and another to love them with all one's soul as benefactors, and still another to impress on one's spirit the face of each one of them, and then, with tears of sincere love, to embrace them dispassionately as true friends without the least trace of dislike making its nest in the soul."

-St. Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, Volume 2: On Virtue and Christian Life, translated by Fr. Alexander Golitzin, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press

Okay, so I'm starting to get in the bad habit of merely quoting without comment. But what can I say about this quote that I haven't already said in the title of this post?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Longevity v. Immortality

Tolkien considered the central theme of The Lord of the Rings to be Death. Surprised? So was I. But Kreeft (in The Philosophy of Tolkien) includes a quote from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien to support this claim. And it seems that Tolkien himself was somewhat surprised when he realized the centrality of death in his story upon rereading his manuscript. The next time you re-read LOTR make note of the constant contrasting of real and false immortality, the immortality of the elves versus the longevity of Gollum or the Ringwraiths. Yes, this contrasting is subtle. If it were not, LOTR would be more of an allegory and much less popular and powerful a story.

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Magic and Time

'Technological magic works immediately. It attempts to reduce the gap between desire and satisfaction, to eliminate the "shadow" that falls between potency and the act....But in attacking the shadow, it plunges us deeper into the shadow because time becomes more and more important to us, and more problematic, as we become more technologized. For the chief effect upon our lives of all those millions of time-saving devices with which technology has enriched our lives has been to destroy leisure rather than to enhance it. No one has any time anymore.'

'But Enchantment makes time irrelevent. The hobbits lose track of time in Tom Bombadil's house, as we do when we read The Lord of the Rings, or when we make love, or surf, or look at the stars.'

-Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien

Time-saving devices allow us to spend our time differently. But what do we do with that time? Too often we use that extra time to pursue activities separately rather than communally. Or merely to pursue more cash so that we can afford more time saving gadgets. In this way we can gain the whole world and lose our souls.

Those who have experienced true community know that there is real magic in it.

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Magic in the Everyday

'In Tolkien's cosmology, as in all pre-modern cosmologies, everything is more alive. Where the modern cosmology reduces the life of a dog to the life of a complex machine, the cosmology of Tolkien expands the life of a mountain ("cruel Caradhras") to something like the life of an animal. Nothing is mere matter. Nothing is mere anything....there is so much life in things that we would call it "magic".'
'But there are two very different kinds of magic. One kind of magic, Enchantment, is our healing, and the other - the kind exemplified by the Ring - is our destruction.'
'The magic of enchantment means entering the holy city of beauty, truth and goodness and letting it conquer you. Ultimately, it means letting God conquer you, since beauty, truth and goodness are divine attributes; they are what God is. But the magic of the "laborious, scientific magician"...means playing God, like Sauron.'

-Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Destiny and Free Will

"There are good philosophical arguments for believing both [Free Will and Destiny], and for believing that the two ideas do not contradict each other.... But the strongest, most convincing evidence comes not from philosophers but from storytellers. Both of these ingredients...are always present in every successful story, every interesting story, every (and this is the point) story we find realistic, "true to life". A story without predestination means a story without an author, and that is a story without any authority. But a story without free will, a story about machines or falling raindrops, is not a story either...."

"We may not know how destiny and freedom can both be true, but we know that they must be present in true-to-life stories because they are both present in life."

Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien

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Monday, February 12, 2007

The Room of Love

To switch from Kreeft for a moment - that last post I find totally uninspiring in retrospect. I'm finishing up Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. This is a novel that's written as a memoir of an old, twice-widowed, Kentucky farm wife. This is what she has to say about the mature love of marriage...

"The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together. You come together to the day's end, weary and sore, troubled and afraid. You take it all into your arms, it goes away, and there you are in a gift. The words have all been said, all permissions given, and you are free in the place that is the two of you together. What could be more heavenly than to have desire and satisfaction in the same room?

If you want to know why even in telling of trouble and sorrow I am giving thanks, this is why."

I love the way Berry writes. I have read several of his novels and am always deeply moved by his understated wisdom. It's all about love, community, and working with God's creation in contentment.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Choosing My Religion

"Both atheism and orthodox Jewish, Christian, or Muslim theism are sharp and demanding, often distressing. But many people prefer something in the muddled middle, some compromise that will avoid the demands of both traditional theism and atheism. Increasingly in the West this generic religiosity, or "spirituality", is replacing specific, revealed religion....This newly popular religion is really pantheism."

-Peter Kreeft The Philosophy of Tolkien

Twenty years ago they called it "the new age movement". And I'm sure he's right that many people eschew traditional religion in terms of this new feel-good-ism precisely because it's not demanding. You really can make it up as you go. But I think the most likely reason people opt for this kind of thing is mere popularity; we choose our religions the same way we choose a new car - we like how it looks on us, how we will be perceived in it. And Christianity is soooooo outdated.

Now, I don't plan on using this text to launch into a diatribe against "those sinners". (All that business of atheists implying that theists are weak, simple-minded victims of wish fulfillment, and theists returning fire with equally pointless and unenlightening comments is just boring.) I am merely making an observation. And I have to ask myself honestly: if I were intellectually convinced of the religion of the big-haired, garishly dressed, Bible-thumping, preachers of Jesus-UH, could I follow?

If you really are distressed about the West falling away from Christianity, do the only thing you can do about it. Become a saint. Don't tell others to become a saint. Become a saint. The fact that I'm not yet a saint is a sign that I'm not really willing to become one. Because I know that God is certainly willing to make me a saint.

Lord, help me to will it.

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Flat Earth

"In Tolkien's Silmarillion the world is flat (until its fall) and therefore has an edge. A flat world is a physical symbol for a supernatural metaphysics. It points a "beyond" beyond its edge, a "more". But a round world is self-contained, and absolutely relative. In The Silmarillion the world is changed from flat to round as a divine punishment. This is far from fantastic; it is symbolically quite accurate. For in fact, the divine punishment was that our worldview, rather than our world, was changed from supernaturalism to naturalism.

Yet one edge, one absolute, remains in our round, relative world, though not in space, but in time. There is death, personal time's absolute edge."

-Peter J. Kreeft in The Philosophy of Tolkien

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Persistent but not Consistent

Yea. It's been far too long.

I overbooked myself for Fall semester '06. That lead to illness at the start of the Winter '07 semester. (I still can't get used to them calling it "Spring semester" - it starts in January, for crying out loud!) And starting off two weeks behind in HW for my first grad level course while teaching 5 classes was not my idea of a good start. So I dropped my course. Sigh. But I will begin again in September with a better sense of my limitations.

I thought I'd get back into blogging by commenting on a book that I read over the Christmas break for relaxation. The Philosophy of Tolkien, by Peter Kreeft has been most enjoyable and enlightening.

The first quote that I'd like to share is a reflection on the discrepancy twixt the book's wild popularity and the critics' disdain.

"So it is no surprise that in a culture in which philosophers scorn wisdom, moralists scorn morality, preachers are the world's greatest hypocrites, sociologists are the only people in the world who do not know what a good society is, psychologists have the most mixed-up psyches, professional artists are the only ones in the world who actually hate beauty, and liturgists are to religion what Dr. Van Helsing is to Dracula - it is no surprise that in this culture the literary critics are the last people to know a good book when they see one."

Yes. The book is uplifting and insightful. Kreeft can at times be rather poetical for a philosopher. But occasionally you will run across a bit of corn like the Van Helsing/Dracula bit.

I'll share more of my favorite passages later.

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