Category Archives: family

response to an opinion

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

Times Opinionator by Justin McBrayer

This is a video of his explanation of the problem presented at Evangel University.

My response to the written piece in the NYT Opinionator

I have always maintained that the equation between truth and proof is fallacious. We’ve moved on past the simplicity of a logical proof to statistical correlations between facts, truths, and opinions. The nice thing about that is that irrespective of whether you are judging opinion or the real world, a statistical correlation gives corroboration and even warrant to the best of our moral intuitions, even as it does to our measurements of the material properties of the universe.

In this way we have learned to judge the negative value of divorce, except in the case of spousal violence. And divorce is a great example because any blanket proscription against divorce because it is “morally wrong” fails to rescue women (or men) from abusive relationships that may, and too often, result in death. Statistical correlation does give warrant for divorce. It is the moral solution in the case of abuse. It is not an opinion. (Or, if it is an opinion, it is also more than that.)

Yes, this judgment relies on the belief that all people are created equal and deserve equal judgment under the law. But even that belief has statistical warrant. It is a negative warrant, but one that has proved to be true over the many centuries when different values have been held. Other grounds for social values all end by breaking social bonds and result in logical, legal, and moral contradictions, subjecting one group to the will of another, and performing unjust actions upon them. This is not strictly a biblical value either, except by derivation. There was no proscription against slavery in the Bible, something that southern landowners knew very well.

Yes the very concept of justice relies on a belief that equity and fairness must be preserved, and that there must be redress for wrongs done, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

To think that values are simply opinions that can be dismissed because they are opinions is the shallow end of the gene pool, both intellectual and biological. They choose this path because it is deterministically simple, and no more complex thought is required, and whether they would be able to perform that complex thought is in question.

The only disappointing thing about relying on statistical correlations is that they must be worked out through arduous research. Logic is much simpler. But can we require certainty? There are plenty of examples where incomplete reasoning, false certainties, or open-ended absolutes are the cause of much abuse and damage to God’s children and the earth he has placed them on. Under which justification can a king claim divine right, the absolute rule over a subject’s life without appeal?

public space, private space

My discussion of this issue, at least the inner dialogue that takes place whenever my private bubble is breached, is foremost an internal one. I wonder how people think of their spaces when they live in an obviously public space. So this discussion about public and private space revolves around the psychology of living in public with other people.

This churning of my soul may just be a private dialogue, but it comes when people stick their bodies, voices, cars and other things that they have some control over into the space that I should have control over but don’t because of them. So this begins by thinking that my preferences are just pet peeves. It continues when I think that it can’t just be me who has these thoughts. It becomes an obsession when traffic of all sorts gets backed up around their preference, or failure to form one.

I believe that society would be a better place without these transgressions, but I also think negatively that serendipity and chance acquaintance would suffer from the lack of accidental contact brought about by a less strict adherence to Doug’s rules of order, or even a complete ignorance of them altogether. That said, and I do believe my own self criticism, there is much that people could do to make the lives of those around them less arduous. But a good bit of this only resolves itself in negotiation between competing interests. However most of the necessary groundwork has already been done.

The first principle of space, is being aware of other’s needs for space. And this involves use of the golden rule. Let’s start with an example. Our architecture sometimes attempts to mollify the effect of this particular breach of public space.

After a meeting of some kind, people often gather in small groups and talk. This seems perfectly normal and good as far as it goes. But when people stand in the doorway or the only available aisle to do this talking they breach the public space if people want to get by. Heaven forbid that the conversation is broken up, but frequently the only way to get these transgressors out of the way is to say something and interrupt the conversation. If it is rude to breach the conversation, it is far ruder to force the breach of the conversation by inhabiting the public space as if it were private.

What is private space? Even though every culture has its own constraints on private space, private space is defined as the boundary that should not be crossed by another person unless explicitly obtaining consent. The way people keep their private space is various in different cultures but it remains a sphere that cannot be breached casually without offense. Each culture has a combination of rules either formal or informal that determine the circumstances under which one person may touch another. Breaking those conventions between equals is seen as too friendly, pushy, overly familiar, domineering, abusive, assault, or even rape.

For example, in the US, pregnant women almost get used to affectionate (male or female) strangers touching their pregnant belly without eliciting great offense. It may be uncomfortable, and the touch can be resisted without offense, but it is also an introduction into a world where breaches of private space by the child will be the norm for the expectant mother. But for a stranger to touch the belly of a non-pregnant woman is an offensive breach of private space. Why the difference between the two events?

If we can learn what that difference is, I believe we can obtain a clue to the character of the difference between public and private space.

one ring to rule them all

I’ve been thinking about the rings I wear. I have worn a wedding ring for over 32 years. What does it symbolize? Why can’t I, shouldn’t I take it off; is it possible to take it off without calling into question the commitment it represents? Marriage is complicated by every revelation, every intention, every act. Acts of faith and acts of passion, acts of love and acts of desire, known acts and hidden acts. Then there are moments of grace, moments of anger righteous and otherwise, prejudice and overlooking offense. The breadth of any relationship is extremely broad, and mostly unfathomable.

An old Jewish proverb curses by saying, “May you live in interesting times.” Marriage is clearly one of the most interesting times. As a man, I have one woman, and she is a fabulous complexity that though known, is almost entirely beyond comprehension. Human freedom accounts for most of this, but there is a matter of nature and limits, and genetics, and everything that limits freedom. Little cruelties don’t go unnoticed. Slights and offenses build up. Unintentional misfires of language set the stage for explosive anger and hunger for reattachment, forgiveness and a pledge to do better next time. We are together because we want to be and because we need to be. More than anything else the ring is evidence of that, but not its means.

It is the endearing and enduring quality of hope that makes living together the luxury that we can’t do without. And, occasionally we grow through the trials of our relationship into better people than we were before.

I have worn a few rings besides my wedding ring. The first that was important to me was my high school ring. East Aurora High was a place of profound change for me. I got a ring (I can’t remember whether I paid for it or my parents), you know, with a blue glass jewel and an EAHS inscription around it, standard fare for the 18 year old.

I was proud of it and wore it all the time, until I almost lost my finger to it hanging from it on the back of a stage prop in a play. I can’t tell you how scared I was or how grateful I was that I didn’t lose my finger. But I lost the ring after that.

The next ring I wore was my wedding ring. I was 27 years old and happier than I could have imagined. I told that story. I have never been threatened by my wedding ring like I was by the EAHS ring.

I felt I wanted another ring, and I didn’t want just any old ring. Why should I be happy with a ring that fit if it didn’t represent what I thought it should?

When our family traveled out west to explore and see the sights, we stopped off at an old voleano caldera and in the gift shop I found a silver ring. I found out later that it was a Hopi story ring. It had figures on its surface that told of Hopi life. I thought I would wear it in solidarity with Native American (even though they call themselves Indian) rights. I wore it on my right-hand ring finger. In a couple years I lost it while I washed my car. I replaced it with a silver spoon handle ring that didn’t represent anything.

The next ring I bought was also on our western trip. It was also a Hopi story ring but smaller and I wore it on my right pinky finger. I lost it about a year earlier than I lost the other Hopi ring, also at a car wash. But I went back and found it on the ground. Yea!

When my family and I went to Britain to celebrate me finishing my doctorate in philosophy, my wife and girls bought me a celtic ring. I took off the silver spoon handle ring and put the celtic on my right ring finger. I decided after that to remove my Hopi ring, since I really didn’t need or want to represent Native American rights any more. So Now I am wearing my wedding ring and my philosophy ring. But I went through a time after our Britain trip that I couldn’t wear my philosophy ring. So I didn’t I just had my wedding ring.

Through thick and thin, my wedding ring has stayed on my finger. Later, I don’t quite know the moment, but I felt as if I had both earned my doctorate, and that I had become the philosopher, and I could again wear my celtic ring. So I wear the two as symbols of the enduring relations I have in my world, my wedding ring and my philosophy ring. But my wedding ring, has endured all changes and is preeminent over all the others in importance and time.


Gosh, the installation was easy. My server offers it as an easily installable option. Click . . . done! I find that I need to update and advance my web mojo to keep up with one of my clients. So I am spending hours and hours learning how to do stuff I shied away from before.

That’s OK. It is the pathway now between fear and trembling on one hand and dread on the other.

I finished two projects this week that were sort of looming over my head. They were obligations to the academic community I am a part of and had been ignoring. The first, a review of Amos Yong’s book The Spirit of Creation for a journal that included comments about the book and Amos’ response to them. Dread kept me from that one. I couldn’t face the knowledge of that subject for a while, after I had thoroughly indulged myself in it. The second project was reading a book on theology for Brill, title and author’s name were withheld from me so I could review fairly. Good book, interesting thesis, but I don’t know when it will come out. I had forgotten to do it, and an email from the publisher reminded me. So fear and trembling pushed me to finish it.

Drupal, an open source web development system, a CMS. Interesting, simple structure. I am just beginning my journey.

Today I am going to the movies with my Alpha unit in the afternoon, and pick up my spouse from the airport in the evening.

a better ethos

I grew up in a house where respect for science was common currency, not unlike many houses in the United States. My mother, before marrying my father, was a research chemist. Both my parents took it as gospel that science and reason give us useful access to the world and its wonders. I grew up believing the earth was ancient and the universe even older. As readers of National Geographic, we all followed the exploits of the Leakey family as they fleshed out a plausible narrative of ancient paleontology. Louis Leakey was both a follower of Darwin and a devout Christian, not an unusual combination in the circles my parents traveled in.

When I became a believer in the early 1970s I began a long and sometimes tortuous relationship with the evangelical church. I had no problem with Jesus, but some of his followers weren’t so happy with me. God, however, saved me in many ways by the blood of Christ and fellowship of the saints. I needed the church and devoted my life to serving God.

My evangelical adoption came with many things as a package deal. Short hair (no big deal, I was in the Air Force anyway,) a literal interpretation of the Bible, and a deep devotion to God. I’m sure you can guess where we are going with this. I adopted with my new family a literal interpretation of the Bible, itself a very modern method, and struggled to reinterpret the world in those terms. I have to say that in my euphoria of early salvation, I glossed over the troubling consequences of literal interpretation and because of my grateful reaction to God I rebuilt my world with a young earth view.

None of my education at Valley Forge Christian College prepared me to face the consequences of such a naïve view of the scripture, though I was learning that not all scripture could be read literally. I did adopt an old earth view during that time, seeing that it was one reasonably supported view in Christianity. The curious thing was that I defended it with a strange logic of scripture. God perceived that a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. So, if time was relative to God, then I also would count the six days of creation to be relative. This realization did nothing to dissuade me from literalism, if I could import a reasonable argument to defend what, on the surface, appeared to be true, that the earth looked like it was very old.

I discovered later that the young earth creationists, many of them my brothers and sisters in Christ, also believed that the earth appeared to be very old. What seemed strange to me was that they spent most of their time proposing arguments more gimmicky than mine to prove that the earth was actually very young. I rebuffed their nuances when I realized that they were not as interested in doing science as they were in discrediting it. I started to see those people as one would see a dull witted uncle who still argues that the New Deal of Roosevelt’s era was a bad idea. You still invite him to Thanksgiving dinner but hope nobody brings up politics. My problem is that I like to get him going and ride the excitement, even though sometimes it turns sour. I don’t think he gets it.

When I was doing my doctoral studies at Temple University, I became interested in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. I discovered that within these disciplines, a critique of science was emerging that at once acknowledged the middle state of our knowledge and the embeddedness of the scientific enterprise within human limitations. Science, on this view, could not declare its findings with certainty, even though it had mastered technologies of many kinds. I found comfort in the realization that unlike the young earth creationists, the scientists, with many exceptions, were able to critique their own work. That seemed to be a much more honest way of engaging the world, and I adopted that ethos wholeheartedly. I hadn’t abandoned Christ, but believed that he would prefer this sort of humility against the principled dishonesty of the young earth creationists. I call it principled, because it resides within a tradition of biblical interpretation that had for a large part been a profitable means of exploring scriptural truth. I call it dishonest because its participants were not interested in the truth of the world any longer, but building a rational citadel against infidels. Their method had become naïve propositional logic and not faith in God.

In order to enter the kingdom of God one must become like a little child. Between the scientists and the young earth creationists, the scientists were more like little children being guided by wonder, beauty, and curiosity. I am not suggesting that scientists are blameless and more holy than the young earth creationists, but rather that they model an ethos that leads to the kingdom of God. They are also continuing to obey the command of God to subdue the earth.

great nephews

I now have two great nephews on the east coast on my family’s side. On my wife’s side, I have a huge pile of great nephews and great nieces. But shortly I will upload a couple pics of Owen, the son of my nephew Chris and his wife Bronwyn, and Finley the son of my niece Allison and her husband Dan. Owen is one month younger than Finley.

it’s been over a week

since my cat died. I tried to get on with my life, but in so many ways I recognized that mourning for him took over my free mind, my social consciousness, my connection to my wife, my celebration of our wedding anniversary. When I prepared to speak on Sunday at a church north of town, I could see the words I wrote on the page, but I was not connected to them. I think that is why I put it off so long, until Saturday, hoping that I would connect. Speaking was OK, and I think it helped me reintegrate, but it didn’t seem natural at first.

I saw my wedding anniversary coming all week long, but I just didn’t do anything about it. It was too distant from my self. All you married boys know how big a problem it is for us if we don’t remember our anniversary. Well, I watched it coming all week long like a drugged person placed on the railroad tracks waiting for the train.

Why is it that a cat commanded such complete connection with me that losing him would disconnect me from my world? I don’t know, but I suspect that it has something to do with euthanizing him instead of just waiting for him to die. I think it took something out of me to do it. I am usually opposed to taking life of any kind, and this has really wrenched me from my self.

To my wife, I am sorry for being such a klutz. I am not using the cat as an excuse for neglecting us, it is just that I have been broken from my normal self by this event.

my cat died today

Strictly, I took Gilbert to the Vet to put him out of his misery, even though today was a good day for him. I’m tearing up as I write, sitting in Borders using their new free wi-fi. Most days in the last three or four months have been hard for him. But today he took the time to lick his coat, sit in the sunshine, play with the other cats. Over the last few months they had begun to ignore him for the most part since he was so nearly lifeless sitting in his chair or lying still on the floor, but today they noticed him a little more.

Lois treated him with special kindness this morning. I came home from seeing my friends at Panera at 9:15 a.m. to find him walking around the house, happy. She let him out of his room when she left for work knowing it was his last day in the light. I don’t want to rehearse the whole story of his kidney failure here, but suffice it to say that he was incontinent and lost his training for using the cat box persistently. I remember reading of a book once that described the moral characters of our pets. The author said that they reflect the moral character of their owners. He would act guilty when he peed on the carpet, but he also couldn’t square away what he should have been doing. He was miserable that he couldn’t fix this problem.

I am a little angry that I became angry with him, but I used a little negative reinforcement to retrain him. His kidney failure assured that his bloodstream was swimming with his own poison, and he just couldn’t remember what to do. We put him in the laundry room at night and during the day when we left the house. He usually remembered while we were home to confine his potty to the box. But he began to forget even when we were home. We couldn’t keep him locked up in that room forever. He would cry pitifully. So we let him out and he would usually find his way to the middle of the floor or to his chair where he would stay most of the time.

On his happy days he would rub up against us or even get on our laps, visit us when we took a shower or do any of his usual happy things like pawing my book bag or any new backpack or luggage.

Today, he walked over to the laundry room stood inside the door and meowed to let me know he knew I wanted him to use the potty there, to let me know what a good cat he was. I petted him then cried a bit, making sure he had enough food and water, his last nibble. He didn’t eat anything then but followed me out into the living room. I cuddled him a bit and when I put him down he went to the window and sat in the sunshine. Eden arrived at about twenty minutes till ten. She cuddled him and held him, and after taking care of some business, she followed me out of the house with him.

In the car, he cried as he normally does, but we let him walk around. He gravitated to my lap, but Eden helped me drive safely. We arrived at the Gentle Care Animal place in Nixa. We had been crying all the way, and telling stories about Gilbert. When we walked in the door, somebody at the front counter chuckled because Gilbert had his front paws around Eden’s neck, and was holding her tight. He was comforting himself. They saw then that Eden was crying and acted more respectfully. I gave them my name and paid the fee. In a moment we were ushered into a quiet clean room and were shortly visited by an attendant who told us what was going to happen. The doctor would anesthetize him. Gilbert would fall asleep in about five minutes. Then they would administer the barbiturate OD that would shut him down.

We touched him and held him while the Vet gave him the anesthesia near his spine just forward of the hip. Though he was usually scared at the Vet’s, he trusted us and was a good patient. The Vet and her assistant left for the five minutes and Eden and I took turns holding him while he slowly relaxed. His eyes dilated. He fell asleep. The Vet came in and administered the barbiturate in the femoral artery, he bled a little, but within seconds, he was gone. We wrapped him in the hot-air balloon beach towel I bought in the early 1980s, and took him to the car. Needless to say we were weeping.

His final dignity was that he didn’t release his bodily fluids until I handed him to Eden after she got out of the car. We wiped him off a bit then took him downstairs and placed him in the middle of the carpet. Jake, our youngest cat came by and licked Gilbert. Licked his head and his coat behind the head and the rear leg. He even tried to rouse Gilbert to play and wrestle. Jake gave up and went to sit in the sunshine. Jody came by and sniffed Gilbert and then walked over to me on the couch.

Lois came home and we sat, sighed, and cried. Jake tried to rouse Gilbert again, and gave up again. We talked to each other for a while, then as Gilbert became increasingly cold, I went to get the shovel. I began to dig a hole on the east of our young tree in the back yard. Eden finished. I wrapped Gilbert snugly in the towel and placed him in the hole. I took pictures. Eden read something she wrote, and Lois and I prayed. We started to fill the hole with dirt, then I got one of the stuffed mice all the cats played with and put it in the hole with him, you know, for the afterlife. We filled the hole in and went inside.

We sat and talked about him and thought that someone should bring a casserole. We all ate together. Eden and I ate grilled cheese and tomato soup. A little while later our friend Melanie brought over flowers and a lasagna. It was good to see her. Thanks Melanie. Melanie left and shortly after that, Eden left for school, I for Borders. Lois was still at home. I have been weeping in this public place until a short while ago. Maybe my mourning is over for the moment.

I am a patternist.

This is a view of what the soul is. It is not a substance, but rather, roughly data written on structured media. Humans are the structured media, while our experiences of people and the world we all live in is the data. I mention this because the pattern of my cat has been written for the last ten years or so on my body. I will remember him. What I am, what my soul has become is partly due to his little animal character. His little intelligence impressing itself on my greater intelligence and mine on his. We form together. We experience the world through each other’s eyes, through each other’s experience.

What I learned.

I have learned that rescuing a poor and terrorized animal from its former owners was a noble deed that came with a price. It cost me something of my natural self to learn patience with an animal whose only look at the universe was through the violence of his former environment. I have become less violent with the universe. I have learned some small measure of peace. I have learned to treat others with less violence than I had before. I have not, unfortunately, learned this lesson fully. I am hoping Gilbert’s pattern continues the work of pacifying me. I thank God for this gift of grace. Even though I am imperfect, I know Gilbert trusted me, and in his way made me part of his life. I hope I can learn to trust God at least as much as my cat trusted me. I hope I can save others at least as much as my cat saved me.

to euthanize my cat

I am so sorry this blog has been negative lately. I am appreciating the sunshine; the fire I burned outside last night brought enjoyment; my wife and children are constant joys, even my mother-in-law. Praise be…

My ~13-year-old cat is suffering from kidney damage and his health is deteriorating. After diagnosis, the vet told us that the cat would not recover his lost kidney function but that a diet change might help him get back to normal. Well the food helped his kidneys to work again, but he started peeing everywhere in addition to the box we had provided. Enough of that. In addition, he is not gaining weight or returning to his normal happy self.

We can’t have that in our house and live in it too. The cat cannot control himself. We are now looking at euthanizing the animal who has been our companion for 12 of those years. I weep thinking about it.