Sunday shame

A long-awaited grand jury investigation into clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania was released Tuesday in an interim, redacted form. The report detailed decades of alleged misconduct and cover-ups in six of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses.

The roughly 900-page report, thought to be the most comprehensive of its kind, paints a horrid portrait of activity that occurred in the dioceses of Scranton, Allentown, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Erie and Pittsburgh, implicating 300 “predator priests” statewide who committed “criminal and/or morally reprehensible conduct.”




The absurdity of life, according to Thomas Nagel, is due to “the collision between the seriousness with which we take our lives and the perpetual possibility of regarding everything about which we are serious as arbitrary, or open to doubt.”

Nagel: “If subspecie aeternitatis (L. lit. under the aspect of eternity; in its essential or universal form or nature) there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that doesn’t matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.”

Camus: “This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart.”


On Reason

In my view, “reason” is a concept which has received rough treatment at the
hands of many philosophers and many others. To begin to get a handle on this,
I would first distinguish between a narrow and a wide sense of “reason.”

The narrow sense is what is usually included under the heading of “deductive
reasoning” or “logic”: it is the realm of analytic truths – statements whose
truth is a function of the meanings of the words which make them up and of
nothing else. These “truths of reason” are really nothing more than
reflections of the linguistic and paralinguistic structures we have for
describing and doing other things to the world. The famous example: “All
bachelors are unmarried men” tells us about the way these words are used; it
tells us nothing about bachelors. Logic studies the ways in which such
analytic statements can be decided as true or false, based upon the nature of
the notational system or language in which they are expressed, as well as the
ways in which truth and falsity are propagated from one statement to another.
This is the kind of “reason” which plays a rôle in the distinction between
rationalism and empiricism, for example.

“Reason” in the wide sense refers to the broader realm of justification: the
practice of offering a claim as a reason for believing a further claim, or for
acting in a certain way, or for feeling a certain way. It is an extremely
varied area, encompassing all critical thought, and involves relationships
between statements which include but also extend far beyond those which can be
encapsulated in deductive logic. These relationships include those concerned
with empirical evidence, considerations in favour of value-conclusions,
action-justifications and so on. Wittgenstein, with whom I agree about this,
argued that there is no ultimate a priori way of specifying for all possible
attempts at reasoning which reasons work and which don’t: instead we have to
rely on the best piecemeal pictures we can discern (from our experience of
life) of what humans count as reasons in various contexts.

The poor treatment which the concept of “reason” has received is this: that
philosophers have often pretended that the way to understand reason in the
wide sense has to be through reason in the narrow sense: thus deductive
reasoning is set up as the model of all reasoning, and even where different
types of reasoning are allowed, the attempt is made to explicate them in terms
of some version of deductive reasoning.

This distortion has been reversed to a great extent in the last half of the
last century, for example through the development of the area of informal
logic. But some of its effects, in terms of conceptual confusion, linger on:
for example, the commonplace notion that reason is inimical to emotion, that
feeling emotions is not being rational. Many people still believe that to be
rational is to avoid, or repress, emotion; part of the explanation of their
having this belief is, I suggest, the historical confusion of the wide and
narrow senses: since no emotion is the conclusion of a deductive argument,
emotions are irrational (narrow sense).

Aristotle, however, knew that some occurrences of emotion are rational (wide sense), some not: it depends on whether there is sufficient reason for feeling them as one does.

Socrates and Euthyphro

When Socrates and Euthyphro meet, Socrates clarifies for Euthyphro the charges that the state has brought against him and Euthyphro is disturbed to hear about the trouble of his friend.  He says that he too has been involved in a rather unpleasant set of charges, namely his own accusation against his father.

Socrates is quite surprised to hear this because in ancient Greece it was considered very bold to officially accuse one’s own family member of anything, and mortals who did such were not looked upon kindly by the Greek Gods.  Euthyphro admits that he is prosecuting his father for the murder of a servant and consequently, he is considered by his fellow citizens and statesmen to be acting “impiously”.  Euthyphro, rather arrogantly, asserts that the people know not what impiety truly is, for if they did they would not consider his actions to be of the sort.  This assertion indirectly indicates to Socrates that Euthyphro has knowledge of piety and impiety, and Socrates draws and analogy between his own case and the case of Euthyphro.  If Euthyphro can explain to Socrates the meaning of impiety, perhaps Socrates can argue better against his own charges and so he asks Euthyphro to kindly teach him about piety, thus assuming the role not of the teacher, but of the student.

“Tell me then, what is the pious, and what the impious, do you say?”, says Socrates.

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Sex, secrecy and religion in Africa

    “Secrecy,” says American fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, “is the beginning of tyranny”. But I think, secrecy is actually the abode of darkness, ignorance, prejudice and confusion. Because whatever is held in secret is like something held in the dark- it can be anything, it can become anything. It can become nothing.

    In Africa, so much secrecy prevails in the area of human sexuality. Sexual expressions are preferably done in secret or discussed in hushed tones. There is hardly any open honest debate or dialogue on sexual issues going on anywhere on the continent. All questions about sexual matters appear to have been answered and such answers are taken to be correct- absolutely correct. Sexual rules are taken to be beaten paths cast in stones without any room for revision, change or improvement. And any attempt to question, challenge or alter the sexual norms and traditions is perceived as a taboo or an open invitation to social chaos and moral anarchy. Africa’s secretive morality has caused so much confusion, misinformation and misrepresentation of sexual dynamics in the region. It has estranged Africans from the table of ongoing debate on global ethics and morality. It has thrown up self appointed moral demagogues and custodians of African cultural norms.


    On religion

    All of us, secularists and theists alike, have a moral obligation to understand the role of religion in the world today. There is no possible understanding of humanity that does not include an understanding of religion, and no possible understanding of religion that does not include honest evaluation of different religious traditions. This is especially true today, when religion inspires not only terrorist hijackers but also those who help their victims. To understand how this is possible, we need to reject both the facile explanation that only good actions result from true religious belief, and the corresponding idea that all religions preach the same code of basic moral goodness. To cling to these simplistic ideas in the modern world is to fail to understand the problems facing us, and to abandon our highest moral responsibility to understand our fellow human beings in all their bewildering complexity.

    Source: Are All Religions Identical?
    By Phil Mole