Quotable: John Owen

Moral virtue is, indeed, the best thing amongst men that is of them. It far exceeds in worth, use, and satisfaction, all that the honours, powers, profits, and pleasures of the world can extend unto. And it is admirable to consider what instructions are given concerning it, what expressions are made of its excellency, what encomiums of its use and beauty, by learned contemplative men among the heathen; the wisest of whom did acknowledge that there was yet something in it which they could only admire, and not comprehend. And very eminent instances of the practice of it were given in the lives and conversations of some of them; and as the examples of their righteousness, moderation, temperance, equanimity, in all conditions, rise up at present unto the shame and reproach of many that are called Christians, so they will be called over at the last day as an aggravation of their condemnation. But to suppose that this moral virtue, whatever it be really in its own nature, or however advanced in the imaginations of men, is that holiness of truth which believers receive by the Spirit of Christ, is to debase it, to overthrow it, and to drive the souls of men from seeking an interest in it.

John Owen, Pneumatologia, IV.1

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Telescopic Philanthropy Covers a Multitude of Sins

Looking a Long Way Off

I’m only a little way into Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by his Mrs. Jellyby. The reader gets a first impression of her from the “biography” given by Mr. Kenge.

“Mrs. Jellyby,” he says, “is a lady of very remarkable strength of character who devotes herself entirely to the public. She has devoted herself to an extensive variety of public subjects at various times and is at present (until something else attracts her) devoted to the subject of Africa, with a view to the general cultivation of the coffee berry—AND the natives—and the happy settlement, on the banks of the African rivers, of our superabundant home population.”

In typical fashion Dickens mixes irony with description. Her “remarkable strength of character” is directed “entirely to the public.” Her “extensive variety of public subjects” is qualified by “until something else attracts her.” And we find she has interest in the “coffee berry”, but also the natives, he quickly adds (assuming that this interest in the coffee berry and the settlement of “our superabundant home population” is entirely consistent with a sincere interest in the natives).

We are left with a picture of a woman who is entirely and singly preoccupied with her own “quest” for social action, wherever that quest may currently be directed. We also guess that this singleness of mind may stem from misguided sense of moral earnestness which is driven by her fancy and lacks a thorough consideration of other relevant factors. This picture is only confirmed by later character development.

Our first encounter with the JELLYBY House is portentous; a small confused crowd of mostly children is gathered. We are told “One of the young Jellybys been and got his head through the area railings!” and that the “young Jellybys are always up to something.” From the very beginning the contrast between Mrs. Jellyby and Miss Summerson is apparent in that the former’s attention is elsewhere, and the latter takes responsibility.

The first actual description we are given of Mrs. Jellyby is that she is a “pretty, very diminutive, plump woman of from forty to fifty, with handsome eyes, though they had a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if—I am quoting Richard again—they could see nothing nearer than Africa!” She has “very good hair but was too much occupied with her African duties to brush it.”

She asks excuse for the state of the house, saying, “you find me, my dears, as usual, very busy; but that you will excuse. The African project at present employs my whole time.”

When Peepy falls down the stairs and comes to his mother for comfort, it is again Miss Summerson who comforts him as his sobs slowly subside. But ironically it is Miss Summerson who is made to feel shame as Mrs. Jellyby expresses her gratification at her work. “It IS gratifying,” said Mrs. Jellyby. “It involves the devotion of all my energies, such as they are; but that is nothing, so that it succeeds; and I am more confident of success every day. Do you know, Miss Summerson, I almost wonder that YOU never turned your thoughts to Africa.”

Mrs. Jellyby is not at this point a well developed character, but seems to be another emblem of a point that Dickens is trying to make, namely that difficult, earnest, and respectable effort is no guarantee of moral aptness. Dickens makes the lesson very clear in the mouth of Miss Summerson later when she says, “We thought that, perhaps, it is right to begin with the obligations of home, sir; and that, perhaps, while those are overlooked and neglected, no other duties can possibly be substituted for them.”

Looking Nearer

I suspect, however, that the vice of Mrs. Jellyby cannot be summarized simply by saying she picked the wrong thing to do. I suspect that there is a deeper issue that we too deal with. Mrs. Jellyby embodies a sort of moral myopia that Rebecca DeYoung characterizes as sloth. DeYoung objects to the view that sloth is simple laziness. To the contrary, sloth can be characterized by vigorous activity. Citing the desert fathers, she claims that sloth is not a sheer lack of inertia, but rather “a failure of effort…linked to a lack of love.” The old term for it was akedeia (acedia), literally “lack of care.” Fundamentally, this is a inner condition, a resistance to the demands of love.

It is worth noting that Mrs. Jellyby’s “love” operated in the abstract, for “coffee berries,” for “the natives,” for “the population.” Peepy’s actual bleeding knees and sobs did not command her attention. This is why I called it a “moral myopia,” echoing Dickens’ allusion to her eyes. This vice is about that to which we attend, what we see.

What seems to be driving this acedia or sloth in the case of Mrs. Jellyby is also familiar to us. Her efforts were gratifying. The first word we hear about her is a word of commendation. She sees what is far off because when she does, she receives mountains of correspondence and encouragement. Soothing Peepy’s sobs, on the other hand would be thankless. So this is a moral myopia which is driven by common social sentiment.

What’s also worth noting is that its unlikely Mrs. Jellyby ever made a conscious decision to put “the natives” over Peepy. What’s more likely is that she finds herself caught up into this moral inattention. This might give us pause to ask, are we morally shortsighted? Where are we resisting the demands of love for “the natives”? 

Quotable: Hume, on ancient morality

“You seem to take pleasure in this topic: and are indeed the only man I ever knew, who was well acquainted with the ancients, and did not extremely admire them. But instead of attacking their philosophy, their eloquence, or poetry, the usual subjects of controversy between us, you now seem to impeach their morals, and accuse them of ignorance in a science, which is the only one, in my opinion, in which they are not surpassed by the moderns.”

David Hume, Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, 330.

This Week’s Sign that ‘Idiocracy’ is Upon Us

A few bullet points:

  • Colin Cowherd is a smart guy who should know better than this.
  • This is what results from not teaching logic.
  • This is what results from deciding that moral reasoning is worthless.
  • The issue of gambling needs serious treatment, but for many, this is the only argument they will ever consider on the matter.

Colin Cowherd’s comments on gambling:

I understand certain outrages. The gun laws. It’s constitutional, but there’s safety issues. I can get the argument. I understand people getting worked up over presidential elections. But sometimes I don’t understand the outrage to stuff. And so, all the major sports leagues—the NCAA, the NBA, the NFL, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League (let’s not forget them)—have sued Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey in federal court for signing a law that allows betting on pro and college sports at New Jersey casinos and race tracks.

Now, the leagues claim that New Jersey sports gambling law violates a federal law already in place and enacted years ago. But here’s the outrage part, and by the way, laws change all the time, so just because something is federally enacted doesn’t mean it can’t be rescinded. The NCAA and pro leagues say such gambling would ‘not only harm sports leagues and organizations like the NCAA and NFL, but would be a flagrant violation of the 1992 congressional act to halt the spread of sports gaming.’

Here’s what I don’t get: Why is everybody so anti-sports gambling in these leagues? Does anybody remember the Tim Donaghy scandal? Do you know who tipped off the NBA? VEGAS! They’re not your enemy. They’re your ally. Vegas called the FBI; called the NBA and said, ‘You’ve got a problem.’ Use Vegas as your friend. They’re not your enemy. Vegas tipped off the NBA or Tim Donaghy could have gone years and convince other refs to do the same.

Sports gambling is here and we like it and it’s not ruining society. ‘But Colin, people get addicted!’ People get addicted to butter. Don’t blame the beer because you’re an alcoholic and don’t blame the bagel because you’re overweight. People have to be accountable for their own addictions.

Is it a moral issue? Well, more wars have been caused by religion than sports gambling. Religious zealotry scares me.  Who has the over on the Bengals/Ravens does not. Again, I get outrage on a lot of issues. Why does anybody get worked up over sports gambling? Now, I lived in Vegas for years. There are sleazy people in Vegas. There’s sleazy people anywhere. I found the people I knew at the time in sports gambling incredibly trustable. It’s a highly regulated business.

You know what’s not regulated? Strip clubs. If you’re anti-Strip Club, you may have a point. The alcohol business, every state’s different. This state’s the Wild Wild West. This state you can’t drink on Sundays. But the idea that people get worked up because I’ve got the Rams -6, I’ve never understood. And here’s a little secret: Sports gambling is already everywhere. Did you know that? Everybody thinks VEGAS. Oh, the din of iniquity! Do you know that only four percent of NFL bets take place in Las Vegas? I’ve got news for you: There’s already sports gambling in New Jersey. (laughs). And there’s more in Jersey than in Las Vegas.

I don’t know the industry well enough to make big predictions, but I wouldn’t be shocked—and I don’t think any of you would—if sports gambling was legal on the Internet in the next 10 years. I mean, what person have you ever met in New Jersey that says, ‘Bob! It’s not legal for me to bet on the Giants! Guess I’m out of luck!’ If you want to bet? Go bet. This is like the government trying to stop television viewing. People are doing it, they’ll always do it, it’s part of our fabric. Even if it’s illegal—and there’s a 12 percent underground economy in America anyway—you’ll never stop it. People are going to drink, they’re going to lust, they’re going to gamble, they’re going to eat and they’re going to watch TV.

You can’t stop it.

So, legalize it, tax the hell out of it, and Jersey can make over $200 million per year. Really? How much are they making on Strip joints? Not that much. It is amazing … People treat sports gambling like the Ebola virus. Here it comes! We’ll bleed from our eyes! Run for the hills! I bet football games. All right. How corrupt. Is it a moral issue? I mean, when the government had prohibition, do you think people didn’t drink? It was more of an underground premium than ever. I find the stigma just forces more illegal activity. If you legalize it, the bad guys go away. They lost their market. It’s like going to your son and saying, ‘Do not listen to GWAR! I do not like that music. That music is evil. You know what my son’s going to do? He’s going to go to his room and crank GWAR because I told him he can’t. If I say, ‘You know what? GWAR is awesome! Crank it, buddy!’ Suddenly it’s not cool.

Take away the stigma; legalize it everywhere. ‘But Colin, you’ll have game fixing!’ They’ve had more game fixing in Europe. We had an Arizona State basketball game several years ago fixed. Sports gambling wasn’t legal in Arizona, and yet it was legal in Vegas and UNLV games aren’t fixed. Gambling is sanitized when it’s legal. There aren’t any thumb-breakers. There aren’t any loan sharks. We’re going to gamble as a society. Get over it. Legalize it and tax the hell out of it. You can’t stop it. Illegal card room. Legal card room. How about we make ‘em legal and get some tax revenue out of it? I mean, listen, what vice hasn’t the government gotten a piece of? I think their biggest issue is …

Here’s the great thing about sports gambling for you and I, and we love it, and we’re doing it right now and it’s not ruining society. I mean, look around society folks. Of all of our problems, how many of ‘em are tied to this? You can bet a Laker game tonight! Are any of our society ills based on that Laker game four months from now? This is not legalizing marijuana. There are concerns that it’s a Gateway drug; there are concerns what it does. We all went to high school with Corky. He was forgetful and sort of apathetic. I’ve just never understood it. It’s just so bizarre. I lived in Vegas. I knew these guys that bet for a living. Totally sanitized. All they are is analysts. You’re a hedge fund analyst. You’re a financial analyst. You’re an insurance analyst. There are sports gaming analysts. Hit 58 percent. Manage your money. There’s your living.

God, people get so worked up over it.

He might as well have said, “Gambling, it’s what people crave.”

Statements of Value and the Arts

Questions such as, “What does this music communicate?” or “Is this picture in any sense immoral?” have been radically avoided. There exists a thought with regard to the arts, that if a question cannot be decided on the basis of scientific means, then it cannot and must not be decided. So strong is the prejudice against the old forms of knowing—where the subject himself was given the responsibility of holding, of deciding—that when an objective position cannot be achieved, then it is better to have no position at all. “Let’s not argue over that, because we bound to disagree” is the our creed. But what if we should argue over it? What if only approximate agreement is our goal? After all, if there is a truth of the matter with regard to these questions (as Christians should agree that there is), should not we strive to come nearer to it?

Quotable: Michael Rosenberg

Michael Rosenberg:

“What I find remarkable is that, if all of this is true, the under-the-table payments are what would upset people the most. I mean, yes, it is against NCAA rules. But in any other segment of society, if a college kid found a way to use his talents to bring in money to support his father’s church, he would be a hero. There would be glowing newspaper profiles and probably a few humanitarian awards. If a kid does it in college football, he’s a villain.”

This is asinine.

Why Epistemology needs Metaphysics: "What is" needs "What should be"

CNN, Link

When “what is” is all that matters what should be ends up looking very strange. I say strange because Holly Hill’s tears remind us that she must overcome the common grace of the conscience to follow her own advice. Perhaps we should take the idea of real moral truth seriously? Perhaps there may be more consequences (some not so fun, some to others, some before God) to this arrangement she and her boyfriend have? But hey, she’s happy. Who am I to judge, right?

New York (CNN) — Could letting your man sleep with another woman help your relationship?

Author and former mistress Holly Hill thinks so.

“One of the main things that I have learned is that a woman that negotiates infidelity with her partner is far more powerful than a woman who is sitting home wondering why he’s late from the office Christmas party,” she says.

“It’s better to walk the dog on a leash than let it escape through an unseen hole in the back fence.”

“I thought it was men that would like the book,” she says, “But in fact it’s women, because what it says to women is that if your man cheats on you, he still loves you, and he’s probably running about average.”

Allowing their men to stray is a concept that’s difficult for most women to contemplate.

But Hill says that if a woman takes the time to truly examine her relationship and considers Mother Nature’s unerring spell on men’s libidos, she might realize that letting her boyfriend or spouse know she’s OK with him having sex elsewhere is a logical way to prevent him from doing it in secret.

I think that cheating men are normal,” says Hill. “Monogamous men are heroes. Monogamy does have a place in relationships, but not on the long-term. Men are hard-wired to betray women on the long-term.

“But psychology professor Lawrence Josephs believes it is more personality type than gender that indicates whether a person might cheat.

People who are higher in narcissim — whether they are male or female — are more likely to cheat. People who feel entitled to it, people who have what’s called avoidant attachment style where they tend to have more impersonal sex,” are more prone to straying, he said.

The professor also said people who experience lower levels of empathy or guilt tend to engage in more infidelity.

Central to the idea of negotiated infidelity, Hill says, is each couple figuring out what their boundaries are. While she admits she shed a few tears at the start of her relationship as she and Dean tested their comfort levels with different arrangements (Dean also says it has definitely been a learning process), they’re now very clear about what they will and won’t allow.

While Dean has the green light to have sex with other women, he’s not permitted to stay overnight. He also can’t take his lovers away for romantic weekends. And Hill says she’ll have an all-out hissy fit if he spoons another woman.