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Ask a Theologian III

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Nov 7, 2009.

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  1. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Chieftain

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    That's really not a matter for this thread.
     
  2. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    Give me a second and I'll create a thread just for it. BRB
     
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm really puzzled by this. If Barron thinks that what they're doing is wrong, why on earth shouldn't he say so? That's what all public commentators do, whether they are priests, scientists, or journalists. And, yes, that includes people who present themselves as "common people", whether they be Jeremy Clarkson or that Glenn Beck they have now in America. All these people speak out when they think that there's widespread wrongdoing.

    The question to ask is why Barron thinks that people are wrong to celebrate Bin Laden's death. It's because it quite clearly says so in the Bible. Isn't it right for a priest to say that people's actions should be guided by the words of Jesus? Should a priest remain silent when he thinks people are failing to do that?

    I honestly don't understand this kind of complaint. I could understand if you were criticising what he says or how he says it. But you seem to be criticising him simply for having an opinion at all and expressing it, as long as that opinion differs from that of the majority. But what would be the point of expressing an opinion that's the same as everyone else's? Are you saying that people shouldn't speak out when they think others are wrong? If so, why?

    I really think you're reading things into the broadcast that aren't there. You're interpreting Barron as basically insulting other people because they're not as clever and enlightened as him, which is why they're wrong and he's right. I don't get that impression from his video or the one or two others I watched. Certainly he thinks he's right, but then so does anyone who makes a public statement about something. And he thinks the people he's criticising are wrong. Again, so does anyone in such a position, whether (as I say) they are a priest, a professor, or a journalist. If you think that that alone is insulting, then you're saying that simply disagreeing with other people is intrinsically insulting. That seems pretty implausible to me. Yet I don't see anything else in his presentation that suggests any insult.

    You seem to be saying that if person A says person B is wrong about something, then person A is saying that person B is stupid. But that's not true. I think you're wrong about this, but I don't think you're stupid! People on this forum say that each other are wrong all the time, but that doesn't mean they think everyone's stupid. I take it you think that Father Barron is wrong, at least about something, but I hope you don't think that Father Barron is stupid just because of that. Of course there are some kinds of wrongness that do suggest some kind of stupidity. Someone who believes today that the world is flat, after looking at all the evidence that it is not, must be suffering from some kind of stupidity. But it is surely implausible to think that every accusation of wrongness carries with it an accusation of stupidity.

    They study people like the ones you mention because those are the ones who had something interesting to say on the topics that they study. If I want an opinion on (say) metaphysical idealism of course I'm going to read what Schopenhauer said about it in preference to what my next-door neighbour thinks on the topic - not because I think Schopenhauer is more intrinsically worthy or important than my neighbour, and not because I have nothing but contempt for my neighbour, but simply because it's a specialised topic that my neighbour almost certainly doesn't know about. I wouldn't ask my dentist about it either, or my MP, or a lawyer. It doesn't follow that I think those people are all morons who aren't worth talking to. It just means that I don't think they're worth talking to on that sort of topic. They're certainly worth talking to on others.

    First, why do you say "as far as anyone knows"? We know an awful lot more about Plato than just the fact that he wrote The Republic, and indeed he wrote a lot more than just The Republic. In fact Plato's real political views are to be found not in The Republic but in The Laws, which are completely different. The Republic is an allegory of the human soul and is not meant to be taken seriously as a political programme, which is why in antiquity nobody did take it that way. In the allegory of the cave, the "hapless schmuks" aren't the common mass of unthinking people - they are everyone, whether intellectuals or not. The man who sees the light and cannot make himself understood doesn't represent intellectuals. He is Socrates himself. And as I said before, Plato consistently presents Socrates as seeking ordinary people to ask their opinions and learn from them. His works are fundamentally non-elitist in that regard.

    No, it's just common sense that you don't ask the average guy on the street about metaphysics and related topics, because they are specialist subjects. I honestly don't understand your complaint. Do you complain that when people are ill they consult a doctor instead of some random bloke from the street? Or when they are being sued, they consult a lawyer? Is that elitist and insulting and showing contempt for ordinary people? Academic subjects are specialist subjects, just like medicine, law, science, and anything of that nature.

    It certainly could have a truth value. The Catholic Church would say, yes, it does indeed have truth value, and it is true, because the Catholic Church teaches that ethical statements are objectively true or false. It would be quite wrong, under these circumstances, for a Catholic priest to ignore what his church teaches is objectively wrong - he should speak out against it.

    The fact that you can't measure or empirically determine the truth value of a statement doesn't mean it has no truth value (the supposition that it does is logical positivism, which was discredited a long time ago, not least because "a statement whose truth value cannot be empirically verified has no truth value" is itself a statement whose truth value cannot be empirically verified). After all, the statement "God exists" has a truth value, which we cannot measure. So the impossibility of verifying the truth value of ethical statements doesn't mean that they don't have truth value. Personally I'm dubious whether they do, but for different reasons. In this case, a Catholic priest or indeed anyone who accepts the authority of the Bible is surely committed to the view that "It is not a good thing to celebrate a person's death" is straightforwardly true. Personally I would be inclined to agree with this too, and I think that Father Barron is absolutely right in his video on the subject. (I don't think he's absolutely right on the others that I watched, although I do think he has some interesting insights and some worthwhile arguments.)
     
  4. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    I'm not so sure that saying someone shouldn't celebrate the death of another isn't a kind of poke at them and an attempt to elevate oneself above the crowd, at least for some a times. Granted there may be some true believers that truly take the moral high road, but I don't buy it from this father Barron. Maybe I'm just stereotyping him or something.

    Secondly, as far as the truth value of the statement, I think it's a pretty big leap to say that the statement is true. I don't see the harm in celebrating the death of a mortal enemy. Does it "taint the soul"? Does it cause the celebration Gods to get angry? First off it assumes there is a God who really cares whether you celebrate the enemy's death or not or assumes there is a soul which is somehow negatively affected by it or something.

    As far as asking the guy on the street about Metaphysics, coming at it from a different angle, maybe metaphysics, or ethics or the study of it isn't that important and doesn't make one an expert on it. Maybe we should just go with our gut feelings sometimes. Maybe if the guy on the street asks an intellectual about such things he will not get something worth while from it?

    I don't think Father Barron is necessarily wrong I just think maybe he is using his intellect for the wrong ends. He could be right about what he says but in a sense this knowledge is being used in the wrong manner. Again, just the impression I get. I could very well be wrong. I don't know the guy except looking at him in the video.

    For instance I could say that homosexuality is a waste of time for the species. Maybe I am right about that, I don't know. But when I say that in a certain context I can be using it to deflate the legitemacy of someone else's actions at the same time that it is a true statement. Do you go up to a guy in a wheel chair and say, "hey you're crippled"? In that context maybe it wasn't really a simple observation.

    And of course maybe I am trying to elevate myself above Father Barron. Or maybe I'm trying to bring him down from his lofty perch because I just don't like him up there. That is of course a possibility as well. In that case maybe I'm using something that is true about him in order to deflate him. Well that's a possiblity but as you point out that doesn't mean that what I say of him is not true.

    Certainly I could say that many people out there are ignorant about many things. And that is probably true but maybe that would be the pot calling the kettle black.
    So it sort of boils down to the following:

    1) Is father Barron taking a poke or "cheap shot" at the majority of humanity or is he not? Regardless of whether what he says is true or not.

    2) Is it ever OK to celebrate the death of someone else or not? Not to mention how anyone could ever arrive at some sort of infallible conclusion about it.

    I really get the impression from Father Barron that he is not really saying, "This is what Catholics think". He is actively saying "This is what YOU should think." Unlike you perhaps, he isn't just making us better informed individuals regarding what catholics believe. He is giving us the truth which we SHOULD accept. Most of the things I've seen in this thread are simply giving us knowledge about what Theologians think. We can accept or reject what is said and you're not trying to shove it down our throats. I don't get that from this guy. Again, maybe I'm wrong.
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    So do you think that this is the case whenever anyone says "we should do this" or "we should do that"? Is any statement of morality intrinsically insulting? If you do think that, that's a pretty odd thing to think. It's also inconsistent if you combine it with the claim that we shouldn't insult people in such a way, because that is itself a moral statement. E.g. you seem to be saying that Father Barron shouldn't be making statements of the kind that he does; are you therefore insulting him and trying to make yourself seem better than him because you don't do it?

    If, on the other hand, you don't think that all moral statements are insulting, what is it about this one that you object to?

    Don't you think Father Barron gives a pretty comprehensive reason why it's wrong? He says it contravenes the law of love and particularly the command of Jesus to love one's enemies. Which is obviously correct. I'd also say that celebrating the death of an enemy is at best childish and egotistical, and at worst barbaric and hateful. It's an inherently divisive act. In the case of Bin Laden, one of his main aims in his activities was to cause hatred and war. Like most apocalyptic extremists he wanted to bring about a crisis, in this case outright conflict between the western and Islamic worlds. Every time anyone - whether western or Muslim - acts like the other lot are their enemies they are doing what Bin Laden wanted. I would say that Father Barron is absolutely right: it's OK to think it a good thing that Bin Laden is dead, because it means a threat has been removed, but to celebrate his death is wrong. It is certainly profoundly uncivilised.

    You don't have to believe in God or the soul to believe in right and wrong. But even if you did, it is surely not unreasonable to expect a Catholic priest to believe in these things.

    I don't understand why anyone would think this. Surely, no matter what the subject, a person who has devoted their career to studying it and thinking hard about it is more likely to have something worthwhile to say about it than someone who hasn't. Why would you think otherwise?

    Maybe - but then again, maybe not. Do you have any reason to think these things? If not, they're just prejudice.

    It worries and baffles me when I encounter the idea that things like facts, evidence, careful study, and thought are worthless or even actively counter-productive, and that one should instead make judgements on the basis of feelings, lack of information, and guesses. I don't understand why anyone would think this.

    I don't really understand what you're saying here. Do you really think that making a video about what you think is right or wrong behaviour is the equivalent of insulting someone in a wheelchair? Why would you think that?

    It doesn't mean that it is true either, though. I can't really see any reason to suppose that it is.

    You're assuming here that the majority of humanity disagrees with Father Barron on this particular issue; maybe the majority of Americans do, but that's not the same thing. Anyway, the more important thing is, do you think that anyone who stands up and denounces a common practice as unethical is merely taking a "cheap shot" at others and should not do it? Would you say this of, e.g. those who opposed slavery, or racial discrimination, or not allowing everyone to vote? Weren't they right to stand up and say that these things were wrong? Now the issue Father Barron is protesting about is perhaps not as important as those. But it's the same principle. Would you really want to live in a world where no-one ever spoke out against what they perceive to be wrongdoing? I certainly wouldn't. I think it's absolutely right that people protest about things that they think are wrong. They may be mistaken over whether they are actually wrong, but that's a different matter.

    I've already said I think Barron is right - he's certainly right from a Christian viewpoint and I'd say he's right just from the viewpoint of secular morality too. But I don't see that this is really the issue here. You originally posted about Father Barron not because you disagreed with his opinion about the ethics of celebrating enemies' deaths but because you disagreed with his practice of broadcasting his opinion in the first place. The real question is not whether his opinion is correct but whether he should broadcast it, as addressed above.

    But Father Barron is talking about ethics. Ethics, by its very nature, is normative. If I say "Murder is wrong" I'm not stating some abstract fact which I'm informing you of. I'm saying that you shouldn't murder people. Similarly, if Father Barron says that celebrating Bin Laden's death is wrong, he's not just putting that out there as a proposition to consider - he's saying people shouldn't do that. Anyone who makes an ethical claim is saying something about what people should or shouldn't do - not what they should believe, but what they should do. Now of course I haven't done that in this thread because ethics is not the topic of this thread. If I had a thread where I invited people to ask me my opinion on various moral questions then I certainly would be telling people what I think they should or should not do. And so would anyone else who answered such questions.

    Like I said before, I don't think your complaint is against either theologians or intellectuals (whatever you mean by "intellectual"). Neither of those groups are particularly prone to lecturing the masses. I suppose that since I work at Oxford University I must be coming into contact with a fair number of people you'd class as "intellectuals", but they're just like anyone else (most of them, anyway). They don't look down on other people or think they're all stupid. It's just a prejudice to suppose that they do. They also don't spend their time telling other people what to think. The people you're talking about are pundits, who may indeed include academics, intellectuals, theologians, and priests - but also people who are none of these things and indeed may despise them. Pundits spend their time lecturing others and telling them what to think or do, as you will see if you look in any tabloid newspaper. Personally I think that the world would be greatly improved if all pundits were academics, and if they were restricted to being pundits only on their areas of expertise, but unfortunately when it comes to opinion the world values loudness rather more than it does understanding.
     
  6. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    BINGO! We have a winner! That's EXACTLY what I pointed out in one of my posts above if you bothered to read it. I will admit that I can be hypocritical. Do you admit the same? Or are you perfect?

    So you don't like divisive intellectuals? Is this not a divisive position to have? In other words you're taking a shot at those intellectuals who are "divisive". You seem to think you are above the fray. Are you? Don't you think there is even social struggle among thinkers? Or do thinkers just sit around a cooperate with each other all day?

    I'm truly sorry to be this way but I wish you understood where I "come from". I think I understand where you're "coming from" but I don't get the feeling you understand me. Either that or you are playing coy with me.

    The funny thing is I'm trying to share somethig with you and I don't think you are going to figure that out, or perhaps you don't want me to share what I have? Granted it is most difficult to share nothing. I do appreciate that which you share with me. Don't get me wrong. If I didn't appreciate it I would ignore the thread.
     
  7. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    Am I the only one who is beginning to find Gary Childress completely incomprehensible?
     
  8. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    Why do you say that? Please elaborate?

    EDIT: Or rather, what do you find incomprehensible? Do you find it incomprehsible in the sense that you don't understand what I'm saying or do you find it incomprehensible in the sense that you don't know how to pin me down as a character? In other words do you not understand what I'm saying or do you only not understand why I'm saying it? Please. I'm curious.
     
  9. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    I find it incomprehensible that you roll of a great spiel of self-contradictory assertions and accusations, and when Plotinus unpacks them with altogether more care and patience than I'm sure they deserve, you go "ah-ha!", call him a fat-head (paraphrasing), and still, presumably, expect to be taken seriously.

    (And don't feel obliged to contest this, because I've said my piece, and don't plan to impose myself on this thread any further.)
     
  10. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    You're being unreasonable now. I had such high hopes for you.
     
  11. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    My username, I would've thought, tells you everything you could need to know about my reliability. ;)
     
  12. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    I see. Touche!
     
  13. Jehoshua

    Jehoshua Catholic

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    No you are not alone in that assertion.

    From what I gather all that he really wants to say is that he doesn;t think people should make moral statements in public, which is a ridiculous assertion in my opinion as Plotinus' reasoned response likewise shows.

    Perhaps his attitude towards the statement is simply due to the fact that it is a priest that is making the statement. I hardly think he would react the same way if a random person off the street made a similar comment. If this isn't why Gary Childless holds this view towards Father Barron... well, I like Traitorfish find him and his statements incomprehensible and totally unreasonable.

    Perhaps he could enlighten us?
     
  14. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    I'm not saying people shouldn't make moral statements in public. I simply think moral statements make as effective weapons as insults do, probably even more effective.
     
  15. Jehoshua

    Jehoshua Catholic

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    Then what exactly is your problem with Fr Barron and his statement specifically?

    He is simply doing his job as a priest to re-iterate the teaching of his Church and he is doing that from the video in a way that is reasonable and not in any manner condescending.
     
  16. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    I think Fr Barron is a hypocrite like most of the rest of us. But he doesn't think he's a hypocrite. So maybe that's my problem with him. :dunno:
     
  17. Jehoshua

    Jehoshua Catholic

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    I hardly see how thats a point. After all the nature of a person hardly invalidates the validity of his argument, or in this case the moral point he is making.
     
  18. civ_king

    civ_king Deus Caritas Est

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    Please reiterate how he is a hypocrite.
     
  19. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    If we all are hypocrites, why single out fr. Barron for it?
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I've got agree with the others here and say I just don't understand what you're saying - not that I don't sympathise with your position, but I genuinely don't know what it is. Yes, I did see that you said something very similar to my point about how asserting that people shouldn't make moral statements is inconsistent. But why are you attacking me for agreeing with you? I'm not attacking "intellectuals" who are "divisive" at all and I don't understand why you think I am. Of course there's a sort of social struggle, at least among academics, who are under-funded and competing for insufficient jobs. I'm part of the "publish or perish" world myself. But what's that got to do with anything?

    That may well be the case. But so what? If you think it's all right for people to make public moral statements, why are you criticising Father Barron and his ilk?

    You didn't say this before. This is a very different sort of criticism. What makes him a hypocrite? And as Atticus said, if you think most of us are hypocrites, why single him out for criticism on that score?

    [EDIT] And it looks like we've reached 1,000 posts. So I will close this thread and create a new one.

    Moderator Action: Thread closed. New one here.
     
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