Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Virtuous vs. Moral

Andrew Sullivan continues his debate with Sam Harris over the nature of religion as I noted before. Now Andrew posts a comment from a reader that points to a potentially critical distinction between Sullivan and Harris. Namely, what gives our lives meaning? I assume that Andrew would say that the meaning from his life comes from God, but I wonder where Sam attributes the meaning to his life or even if he believes that his life has meaning at all. I hope these to writers touch on the subject in future posts.

If I was going to be an Atheist, I would intimately link the meaning in my life to virtue - fully realizing myself as a great man. I am pretty sure that I would not tie the meaning in my life, as Andrew's atheist reader does, to making things just a little bit better for others. Come on how lame is that? If you are going to be an atheist you have to dream big and live large. What other meaning could you see in life other than exercising your will on the grandest scale possible? Isn't this what ancients Greeks and Romans aspired to achieve? What would Nietzsche think of an atheist who aspired to nothing more than making the world just a little bit better for those around him? I bet Nietzsche would say that that person had been cowed into abandoning his larger dreams by the prevailing Christian culture.

Though I certainly feel this call to virtue, I have to temper it with Christian morality, which comes from God and represents a universal truth. I resist the temptation to treat others as objects out of love, based on Jesus's example. What else, besides following Jesus's example, could motivate a person to give up his selfish desires and to love others instead. I think that Kant formalizes a way of thinking about this, but ultimately his philosophy crumbles unless its foundation is a universal law of love.

When atheists attack Christianity and the bible for the former's dogma and the later's internal contradictions, they miss the key point. They miss that God is love. They miss that creation, even, perhaps especially even, if it happened through the process of evolution was an expression of love. They miss that Jesus's life and especially his death was an expression of love. And they miss that every act of Christian worship ought to respond to that love. That framework gives meaning to my life. The tension that I feel between the urge to exercise my will and the call to love helps to prove to me that God exists more than any proof or even a momentary religious experience ever could.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Democratic Spending Restraint

I am happy to read in the Washington Post that the Democratic leaders in congress are actually planing to restrain spending for the last 8 months of fiscal 2007.
To quickly resolve the current budget, the Democrats are writing a resolution to fund the government -- without earmarks -- for the remainder of the year. Obey and Byrd expect the resolution to total $463 billion [sic], the amount left over from Bush's 2007 budget after the homeland security and defense budgets are removed.

I really never thought that I would cheer on Senator Byrd for fiscal responsibility, but that is just what I am doing. By eliminating earmarks in this budget the Democrats caused some heartburn at universities and other recipients of federal largess. So here is half a cheer for the Democrats. Why only half a cheer? Well with Post continues:
Obey and Byrd said earmarks will resume with the 2008 budget, but under new rules passed by the Democrats. Legislators will have to disclose any earmark they insert and will have to certify they have no personal financial interest in the earmark, among other changes.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Skiing: Day 6

Yesterday some friends and I skied at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire. Lori and I won free lift tickets from WFNX, a local radio station, as part of their Snow Riders program. This was my first trip to Bretton Woods, but unfortunately unless I win free lift tickets again, it will probably be my last.

Although the mountain's snow quality was actually OK for an East Coast resort - a little icy in spots, but overall pretty firm and flaky due to the very cold temperature, the bigger problem that I have with the mountain is just lack of terrain. Bretton Woods just does not have the enough vertical drop. All of the runs are very short and the steep sections are even shorter. For example, in the "bump" runs I considered myself lucky to find more than four moguls in a row - just too short to really start having fun. I will give the resort props for all of the gladed terrain available (unfortunately much of it was closed due to lack of snow), although I am pretty sure that even this is not enough to get me to return at $64 per lift ticket.

So thanks again to WFNX for the free lift ticket and the chance to explore this new mountain. Hopefully we can do it again sometime.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Let's Get Serious

Charles Krathammer unloads on the President's ridiculous energy proposals in today's Washington Post. Krathammer makes compelling arguments for taxing gas, drilling for oil in the Arctic and outer continental shelf, and increasing use of nuclear power to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy. The problem is that all of these solutions have costs, which means that our politicians do not want to talk about them.

Guaranteeing access to energy is a compelling national interest. We need to start acting like we believe that by taking the tough steps necessary to decrease our reliance on foreign energy sources.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Skiing: Days 1 - 5

This pas week, I had the opportunity to travel to Vancouver, B.C. for some meetings at my company's headquarters. While there I spent five days skiing at Whistler. Both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains had fantastic conditions. I usually gripe about Whistler's wet snow, which tends to become very unless they constantly have new snow, but last week, even though they did not have a ton of new snow, the colder than usual temperature kept the snow soft and flaky.

My favorite runs on the Whistler side were the Whistler Bowl going into Shale Slope, and certain sections off the Harmony Lift. On the Blackcomb side, I liked the Sunburn run off the 7th Heaven lift, and especially Outer Limits, which is a steep gladed run that holds snow incredibly well.

State of the Union

After watching the President's State of the Union address last night, I think that the speech was pretty much at least a year too late.

The most positive aspect of the speech was the President's proposal to level the playing field on health insurance by making health insurance premiums tax deductible and making employer provided health insurance a taxable benefit. Where was this proposal last year? The Wall Street Journal editorial page has been talking about this reform for the better part of the last decade. Of course now that the democrats control congress this proposal has just about zero chance of passing. This smacks of building up an electoral issue instead of trying to improve our nation's laws.

Perhaps the most depressing domestic policy proposal was the President's approach on reducing gasoline consumption by 20%. I do not necessary disagree with the goal, but setting increased fuel efficient standards and requiring the use of more ethanol is nothing more than a heavy handed way for government to regulate the markets. The sight of all the farm state congressmen whopping it up when the President mentioned increasing ethanol use disgusted me because we could easily increase ethanol use by just reducing the tariffs on sugar or ethanol produced by sugar as I have mentioned before. But these guys don't want that. They want the government to require consumers to buy more expensive corn produced ethanol from their constituents. Talk about mafia government...

And while were are on the subject: earmarks. The president's goal is to cut them in half this year. Please. Why not cut them to zero. How hard is that? Oh but then all the lobbyists would have to schlep off to 50 state capitals to make their money. We couldn't have that now could we.

On the Iraq war, I am certainly not happy with the situation, but it is just too important to lose. Any kind of significant US withdraw this year, next year, or probably for the next five years will likely cause even more chaos in the region. We have to stabilize that country. So I am willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt and give his plan a chance to succeed. Nonetheless, why didn't we "plus up" last year or the year before that?

On net I thought the speech was OK, but would have been better if the president had delivered it last year when he actually had congressional support.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sullivan vs. Harris

Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris debate if anyone can rationally hold religious beliefs. Harris says no, while Sullivan says yes. Readers of this blog know that I am certainly partial to Sullivan's position and I think that Andrew makes a strong case for belief in both religion and logic.

Without trying to jump too much into the middle of this debate, it seems that Harris' downfall here is trying to make the perfect the enemy of the good. In his latest post Harris states:
The bottom line is that this pope, and all his predecessors (and you, apparently) believe that the Bible is a magic book: that it was not authored by human beings, however brilliant, but by some supernatural force.
This just is not the case as the following quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear. Paragraphs 80 - 82 of the Catechism illustrates the relationship between sacred scripture and apostolic tradition:

One common source. . .
"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal." Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own "always, to the close of the age".
. . . two distinct modes of transmission
"Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."
"And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."
As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."

So this "magic book" not the sole basis for the Church's beliefs. For this reason the faithful must constantly struggle to interpret scriptures in a search for truth. We must constantly try to rectify scripture with tradition and our own experience. Paragraphs 107 - 110 describe the nature of sacred scripture and how Christians should use sacred scripture to augment their beliefs:
The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."
Still, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book." Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living". If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the
eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."
In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.
In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in
prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression."

The Catechism goes on to describe the various methods that the faithful should use to interpret scripture. This of course goes to the heart of Harris' misunderstanding of faith, especially the type of faith, which I profess. We must base our faith not only on scripture but on the entire tradition of the church. This tradition, if completely captured in writing, would encompass an entire library and run into the millions of pages. Our current cannon, was an attempt by men, guided by the holy spirit, some 1700 years ago to distill that tradition into a manageable volume that contained the truth as they saw it. This human effort, while perhaps not foreseeing moral breakthroughs like the end of slavery, gave us a book which continues to inform us about the truth and made those breakthroughs possible.

I doubt that Andrew will ever convince Sam of the merits of Christianity through this debate, but he can certainly help to fortify the beliefs of his fellow Christians in an age where vivid fabric of moderate belief seems torn between one dimensional atheism and fundamentalism.

Good Luck Andrew!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gas Tax Proposal

Back in October Greg Mankiw published an article calling for a much higher gas tax. I am beginning to agree but for slightly different reasons. Though instead of just raising taxes, I would like to see the American people get something out of this that will improve the efficiency of government.

So here is my proposal: Keep the federal gas tax as is but eliminate the Federal Highway Trust Fund and instead dedicate the taxes to General Revenue.

This proposal removes the federal bureaucracy and federal legislature from funding decisions on highways, which are regarded as complete. I would like to return decision making for highway investment to state governments, who are closer to situation and thus able to make better decisions. Under this proposal states would not receive any highway funding from the federal government so they would be forced to find other alternatives such as raising their gas taxes or privatizing their highways along the Indiana Toll Road model.

The remaining federal gas taxes will fund the military expenditures that are increasingly necessary to guarantee the supply of oil from unstable regions like the middle east, which is a proper federal priority.

Our Federalist system calls for each state to look after its own interests and for the federal government to look after the interests of all of the states. Before we had completed the Interstate Highway System, road construction was a proper federal priority on national security grounds. As that system is now complete this proposal will serve to refocus federal attention on national security and refocus state and local attention on maintaining their roads.

The obvious problems with this proposal concern vested interests. The federal bureaucracy and legislature like the clout that come from telling the states how to spend money on roads and the State governments like to pass the buck to the federal government. Government at all levels needs to get serious about their proper priorities.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Surprise Surprise

A recent Business Week article is titled "Chavez Moves Venezuela Toward Socialism." Yup. That's about right.

It turns out the Chavez plans to nationalize electricity production. This is really discouraging news from Venezuela since it is just going to further exacerbate the condition of that nation's poor. Any foreign oil company would be very foolish to invest on dime in Venezuela as long as Chavez is at the helm, which will mean that cutting edge technology in oil production will not be available. So although it looks like some US companies are going to take a haircut on their holdings, but the ultimate looses are going to be Venezuelans who are going to be further cut off from foreign investment.

Notre Dame in Uganda

For the next week, Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, is touring Uganda with a group from Notre Dame. You can keep track of their progress on Father John's Website. They have some great pictures including some pictures of the ordination of some local CSC deacon candidates. Good luck to Father John and the rest of the group on their journey!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Lori's Blog

My wife Lori now has her blog up and running! Make sure to check out Life According to Lori!