Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Disclaimer 2

I really shouldn't have to post this, but none of my religious reflections are intended as a proof of the Catholic faith or of God in general, or of my ethical and political views. Most of them are personal experience and ideas which you can peruse at your pleasure. I don't view this weblog as a vehicle to convert people (although if something you read does lead you to examine your thoughts on something, I'd thank God for it). So all comments, even "Pat, you don't make any sense here" or "I disagree with you completely", are OK with me (sans flaming and other irresponsible actions).

I Believe, Because It Is Difficult

Something recently occurred to me with regard to the Catholic Mass. I am at times capable of great focus. I can lose myself in a novel until the dawn is beginning to show. I can immerse myself in a math problem or an essay. I can focus during a completely dull lecture (modulo interrupting my notes with comical phrases once or twice). But I can't, for the life of me, keep my concentration during the Mass and particularly the Eucharistic Prayer.

What I've come to realize is that this means I must have some desire to avoid concentrating. When I can't will myself to do something I'm physically capable of doing, there is some emotional/psychological/spiritual factor at work. And the question is: why? If one suggests that somehow I know it's all empty, then how's that different from a novel I don't really enjoy? I stuck it out through Rabbit, Run, after all. That desire tells me that something is, in fact, happening in the Mass, and it's something that I don't fully like.

And humble submission to an infinitely superior God is certainly something I have desires against. I desire that submission, of course, but I also desire to be 'my own person', or more accurately 'my own God'. That's part and parcel of fallen human nature, as the Church puts it. So what exactly do I mean? I believe that the fact that I'm resisting something means that there is something- or Someone- there to be accepted or rejected. And I'm praying for a deeper acceptance of that One.

Human Dignity and Personhood Theory

A friend of mine believes that because of society's investment in education, people such as myself have a responsibility to survive that exceeds that of others. The hypothetical example that came up was that of sacrificing my life to save that of a child, which my friend thought would be morally indefensible: I'm just 'worth more', at least to society.

Somehow, I can't agree with that utilitarian line of reasoning, any more than I can stomach the 'personhood theory' asserted by people like Princeton's Peter Singer. According to it, people have no inherent worth except for their level of consciousness and productivity; Singer directly advocates infanticide, euthanization of the disabled, et cetera. Here's a link I chose because it lists his most startling conclusions without necessarily taking my side. I am trying to be balanced (if not fair). It just seems far too Brave New World to me, a new class system in the name of 'objectivity'.

But it's difficult without starting from religious principles to assemble a convincing argument in favor of human dignity. (Nota bene: last I checked, "difficult" is no synonym for "impossible".) And that's a problem. It's much, much easier to show that human life begins at conception than it is to convince someone else that we should respect that human life in and of itself. So what's a Catholic natural-law quasi-humanist to do in a post-Christian post-morality post-humanist post-post-modern world?

Finals Week

Monday was a brutal Representation Theory final. After writing out a lengthy pre-announced proof of the Frobenius Kernel Theorem, we had to choose five out of eight further problems. I couldn't understand three of the questions, and I blanked completely on two more. Thus I spent the last half-hour of the test staring at the exam booklet, wondering if everyone else had bombed the test as badly as I, and writing a haiku:

Thought I understood
Representation Theory;
Turns out I was wrong.

Fortunately, grad student Mike did the best thing any teaching assistant has ever done: he went over the problems with us immediately after the final. Turned out that everyone had, in fact, done about as badly as myself, that one of the questions I'd misunderstood was mostly right anyway, and that he'd lobby to weight the proof 80% and the rest 20%. I felt much better then.

European Civilization final was not stressful, and I think I'm prepared for Mathematical Logic. Sorry for the marathon post; good luck to all other Finals takers!

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