Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I'm sorry for waiting so long to follow up- especially as I've left so much completely unclear. I haven't been able to organize my thoughts that well, so pardon the format of what follows.

For a man so obsessed with logical consistency, my self-portrait is rather a mess of contradictions.

I am a rationalist Romantic, a secular contemplative, an apostate who still loves his Church.

And I do still love the Catholic Church, even though I cannot believe Her about everything. A child's First Communion, the combination of reverence and everyday ease with which a boy or girl accepts what they take to be God Himself (insofar as they understand what is happening), that is still a sublime moment. The chanted "Adoro Te Devote" is still the most perfect artistic expression of purity of heart that I can conceive of. The darkness of Mother Theresa's prayers may not signify to me all that it once would have, but it still contains within it the whole of human heroism in the face of darkness.

So I am still going to Mass- in fact, I'm still in the chant choir. The parishioners at St. Margaret Mary's have been exceptionally good to me, even now; mostly converts themselves, they know what it is like to be on the other side and what it is like to undergo such turmoil. They think of me as a young fool, of course, but I have no proof that I'm not one.

I make no promises about what I'm going to believe in another few years, except that I'll strive for intellectual honesty all along the way.

It seems that the man on the street has no one belief system, but rather a tangle of different ones (usually incompatible) from which he picks and chooses his ideas. Philosophers from Socrates on down have been aghast at this muddle: how could one hope to find any truth starting from a medley of fictions?

Of course, the philosophers have been known to go mad at a higher rate than the man on the street.

I'm beginning to suspect that beliefs simply play a different role in most lives than they do in mine- that they are most often used to give context to one's life, meaning to one's actions, reassurance of one's fears. If those are to be preserved, perhaps it's unwise to peer too closely- just as, if one wants to be happy eating bratwurst, one shouldn't look inside a sausage factory. Double standards and contradictions, so often pointed out as signs of insincerity or hypocrisy, may be just what is necessary to get by.

And yet here I am, the radical. I can't refrain from asking "But is it true?", no matter the consequences, no matter how dim the prospects of reaching a satisfactory answer.

In agreement with MacIntyre's After Virtue, I have given up on certain aspects of the Enlightenment project- in particular, Kant's attempt to deduce morality from a picture of human beings as abstract moral agents. It all seems a mess of question-begging generalizations, and you can count me as a disappointed ex-Platonist, if anything.

The two moral philosophies that tend to make sense to me at present are some updated version of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and some less nationalistic rendition of Nietzsche's corpus. The verdict is still out, even provisionally, at least until I finish a few more books.

In the meantime, I'll be keeping to my old morality until I have sufficient reason to conclude the truth is otherwise. I hope that's sensible.

I had turned prosaic out of skepticism, but it's not good to stay that way. One doesn't need to be a Platonist to respond to this world with wonder every now and then.

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