Sunday, April 30, 2017

Can an atheist really be good?

Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God...promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.

- John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration

But can a person who does not acknowledge that he is accountable to a truth higher than the self, external to the self, really be trusted?

- Richard John Neuhaus, Can Atheists Be Good Citizens?

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky is often quoted as saying, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” Similarly, the French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre has allegedly opined that "If there is no God, the only honest response is despair." We will allow those continental notables a bit of slack, as the exact sources of those quotes are difficult to pin down. Still, despite anything else those thoughts certainly convey ideas about atheism which an honest atheist should find hard to dispute.

If there is no God, everything is permitted. Sartre taught, rightly, in context, I would argue, that with no God each individual is god. Without a God some sort as a philosophic basis for thought and action then everything is indeed permissible. The individual would have no need to consider other persons' rights. There would be nothing to measure them against if life, the universe, and everything were merely a personal domain.

Atheists will argue that this isn't true. An atheist can care about others, about right and wrong, about being responsible for themselves and his fellow man. Yet if what Sartre and Dostoevsky say is true, then the responsible atheist is being good only because he either isn't a real atheist or is, at the least, simply choosing to live better than his ideals require.

Why should it be any other way? An atheist after all believes (he must believe this as, again, a logical extension of his nonbelief) that we are accidents of the universe who came into being quite out of our control and will leave existence behind in a like manner. Where can you infer responsibility from that? You surely can't find dignity in it either.

I should point out that I am not talking about what many if not most atheists say atheism is but about where atheism, if true, must lead whether the adherents accept such conclusions or not. I will not dispute that most atheists lead relatively good lives. Yet that doesn't prove that atheism is true any more than a cold blooded murder by an avowed Christian would disprove Christianity. While it is generally good advice to question practitioners of given creeds when you want to find out what they believe, this cannot mean that they are in fact right about what they assert. There is a self interest involved in any creed, even Christianity, which may itself cast doubt on the veracity of the creed.

If atheism is true then the atheists who pay their bills on time, respect others, and plan for the future do so either because they're better than their premise requires or are just selfish about their comfort. There really are no other explanations for the 'good' atheist.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Thursday on the road.

A couple of things hit me as I drove through northern Ohio yesterday.

Just south of Toledo is an exit for Ohio State Route 582. The signage for the exit reads that 582 will take you to the towns of Luckey and Haskins. When passing I found myself thinking, 'Oh, that Luckey Haskins!'

A few miles down the road I came to Arlington. You know, the village with sibling issues. Anyway, I noticed a building for sale. The sale was being handled by Farthing Real Estate. So, I wondered, might the company be owned by Hobbits?

Come on, on long drives a guy has to find ways to entertain himself.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Governments are exasperating

Folks ask me why I do not trust government (they really do). Today I shall try to answer why. And I will try to be as neutral as I can, so I do not appear to be any of the isms I am constantly accused of being. Also, because I don't want to offend the dignity of our civil servants. They are, most of them I readily concede, only trying to make a living. I respect and understand that. So please forgive the choppy, roundabout language.

I traversed to a government agency today to transact business which my government demands that I transact. I arrived within their reasonable hours and waited to transact my business.

When my number was announced, I approached the counter. I offered my paperwork. They asked why I had presented them one particular paper. I answered, because I had understood it was expected of me.

They assured me that it wasn't necessary. All will be well. Then they presumed to work on my requests.

And they messed them up. Fortunately I caught the errors (there were three). The point is I had to tell them how to do their job before I could get out of their office. And I have no direct experience of how to do their job. They were supposed to be the experts.

Everything is straight now. I think. I won't actually know until my things arrive in the mail. But this was not the first time I have dealt with inefficient government and I doubt it will be the last. Bureaucracies tend to be inefficient and their hirelings tend to be less than stellar, whether by their fault or that of the bureaucracy itself. And that is one of the reasons why I don't trust government.

Monday, April 24, 2017

2001: A Birthday Odyssey

As many of you might already know, I just celebrated a birthday. And it was a good one too. My sons bought me some great DVDs and baseball tickets, and my daughter took me to a midnight showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's perhaps my favorite movie.

By now I'm sure there has been a combination of eye rolling (from those who don't like the film) and nods of agreement (from those who do). Be all that as it may, I like the movie. A lot.

But how do you watch it? The best way is on the big screen. Yet that's true of most any film made for theaters. What, you may ask, in Marty's mind makes it such a grand motion picture?

I'm wont to argue that whether Stanley Kubrick meant it or not, he made a film which touches on the numinous in a profound and inspiring way. Arthur C. Clarke, who collaborated with him on the project, said at the time (the 1960s, when the film was made) that MGM had just made the first $10 million religious picture. I believe he's right, in a manner of speaking.

The fact is that stories take on a life of their own as they develop. 2001 touches on the mystery and awe inspired by all the great questions and great philosophers of history in an innovative and compelling way.

All that being said, and part of me can't believe that someone like me is about to say what I'm about to say, the best way to watch 2001 is to just let it overwhelm you. Allow yourself to drift into its universe; simply sit back and watch it, get lost in it if you will, accepting its pace and unusual qualities, and take in the accomplishments and limitations of humankind (mainly symbolically, but quite literally at points) roll out before you. And I believe the film will make more sense then.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Marty's birthday

Happy birthday

Yeah, I should be taking my morning walk. But I'm not. I'm sitting on my bed, typing on my laptop, thinking life is good.

And you know what?

Life is good.

Peace out.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Findlay and Arlington Ohio

In my travels, I often drive through Findlay, Ohio. Findlay proclaims itself, 'Flag City USA'. All right, let it be as they say. I have no reason to doubt it, even though I suspect it's just a ruse of some sort.

About 10 miles after Findlay is the little town of Arlington (also in Ohio). The sign welcoming you to Arlington also makes a proclamation. It announces Arlington as 'Flag Village USA'.

You know what I think?

I think Arlington has sibling issues...

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Why the surprise?

One of the fascinating things about repairing drain cables and equipment are the the laments which I hear along the way. At times I wonder if people ever actually think about what they say.

Broken cables always just break. The operator never ever put too much pressure on it. Never ever. They were simply feeding it into the drain line and it broke. One fella even claimed, I am not making this up, that he just looked at his machine and the cable snapped. Of course, he was kinda ugly...but the point is that most cable breakages supposedly occur though absolutely no fault of the operator. Right.

A favorite of mine is the question, why did my machine break? It is often asked with incredulity. My normal answer is, I think, obvious. Everything is subject to break. Nothing made by human hands lasts forever. Your equipment, your cars, your refrigerator; they all break, and sometimes we just don't know why. Why are you be shocked by that?

Then there's the equally incredulous, it was working and then it just stopped! Again, why are you surprised? Everything works until it doesn't.

Sometimes I just sigh about it. Other times I blog about it. Today is your lucky day.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lexington and Concord

On this day in 1775 the American Revolution began. The people of Lexington and Concord turned back the British, and harassed them all the way back to Charlestown. The Shot Heard Round the World had been fired. April 19, 1775 had secured its place in American and World history.

The significance of this cannot be underscored enough. To date, it is almost surely the only large scale revolution which has had any modicum of positive success. Most new nations sink into anarchy or more terrible tyranny when a known form of government falls. We need only look to the recent Arab Spring uprisings to see this is true.

To be sure, even our Revolution was subject to severe trials early on. It was no certainty that a civil government based on popular will would result from that war. Yet somehow it did; I believe that it was through Providence and American exceptionalism that our nation rose from the battle field as it did.

I do not mean this as an insult towards other people and nations who are now seeking similar freedom and respect. Perhaps over time Libya will stabilize, Isis fail in Iraq and Syria, and the Muslim Brotherhood moderate. But I cannot help feeling that their story will be many more years playing out than the American tale. The fact is that popular uprisings need more than simple change. They need enlightened leadership; they need more than mob or knee jerk mentality.

The colonists had that leadership. They overcame the occasional rabble to form a stable, reasonably free nation. And that's exactly what makes April 19, 1775 so memorable. Our revolution is truly unique in history. It began 242 years ago today.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tax Day 2017

Today is Tax Day, April 18, 2017. Yet we haven't worked enough just yet to have actually paid our taxes. That day comes later this month. Or maybe in May. Whatever.

You want to make people into Republicans or Libertarians? Or better, you want to make them conservatives? Make every dime of their taxes, and not their tax forms, due on April 15 (or 18, as is the case this time around). Further, get rid of the withholding tax. Make people feel deeply exactly how much they pay when it must be paid in a lump sum rather than weekly. You want a second American Revolution? It would start the day after Tax Day without withholding. Probably sooner.

So many of us are so happy when we get a refund that we don't notice what we actually pay. We're stupidly happy when we get our own money back from an interest free loan demanded by Washington and Lansing. Anything wrong with this picture, Americans?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter 2017

On this Easter morning, I am reminded that this great Holy Day seems to play second fiddle to the other greatest Christian feast, Christmas. Not that Christmas is a lowly event, either; far from it! Yet I cannot help but conclude, in reconciling the levels of attention paid to each, that we ought to focus more of our efforts, if even only slightly, on Easter.

I do not pretend to be a theologian, but as wonderful as December 25th is, it is something of a precursor to our salvation: Christ comes into the world as all the rest of us have, as a child. His is the promise: for God so loved the world that He sent His only Son for our redemption. Christmas is hope. The celebration of it demonstrates trust in the future which Our Lord has set before us.

Easter fulfills that hope and promise. Though we grieve so deeply and so rightly at the misery and death which Christ took upon Himself for us, it is not His Death but His glorious Resurrection which redeems us. Who else has come back from the dead? Who else has defeated that last obstacle to secure the possibility of our everlasting joy?

So while I attempt to tread lightly in making such comparisons I have to believe that Easter should be felt more profoundly than any other Christian celebration. He is Risen. Our Heavenly destiny is opened to us should we accept. Let us rise with Him to the level for which we were created, made possible by His love for us. Made possible through the Resurrection.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday 2017

Today is perhaps the day of the greatest irony on our calendar. It is Good Friday, the day we Christians remember the crucifixion of out Lord Jesus Christ.

It doesn't seem that it should be called good. On the surface, the celebration (perhaps veneration is a better word) of someone's death, particularly a rather gruesome one, seems odd to say the least. Yet that is an interpretation based solely on earthly terms. When you consider that the great Divinity was involved, it casts an entirely different light on the situation.

God sent His only Son to be humiliated, to suffer and die horribly, for us. Such a great act cannot be seen except as fantastic. How could a sacrifice of that magnitude be seen in other than a positive light?

We cannot rightly see it any other way. Remember what Aquinas teaches: Christ is either lunatic, liar, or Lord. He Himself gives us no option but to answer the question in that frame. He claimed He could forgive others' sins: sins committed (on the surface) against other people by other people. That itself is effrontery or lunacy or even diabolical if He is not part of the Godhead. If He cannot actually do that, if He does not really have that power, then He lies or is insane. If He lies or is insane, then we cannot trust anything else He may say or teach or do. It's that simple.

Yet if we choose the example which faith recommends, if we see Him as Lord of all based on His actions in life and death as well as through the testimony of his trusted companions, then we see the need for praise and holy fear which His death illustrates to us. We understand what that death means: that the God of all humanity will not forsake humanity to her own selfish desires. He will give us an out, if you will, by living the greatest love of all: to give one's life for one's friends.

When the greatest One does that, what choice do we have but to call it Good?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Worth the read

Awhile back I stumbled upon the type of thing one often stumbles upon on the Internet: a list (this one by Esquire magazine) of 80 books in no particular order which Esquire insists everyone ought to read. To my delight (I can be delighted rather easily it seems) I found several books on the list which I actually have read: The Things They Carried by one Tim O'Brien, a rather grotesque Vietnam War tale which I thought far too full of itself; Jack London's The Call of The Wild, which I remember little of except that they made us read it in Grade 7; The Killer Angels, a simply marvelous historical fiction from Michael Shaara wrapped around the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War (I gained a great respect and admiration for the Confederate General Longstreet after reading it); and Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff about the Mercury astronauts, where I similarly learned to like Deke Slayton. On the list too though I have not read it was David McCullough's The Great Bridge, about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. As he did such fine jobs with biographies of John Adams and Harry Truman I find myself interested in how he might make bridge construction an exciting read

But what most delighted me to find on list was, of all things, a little comedy which I first read after my wife, who had had it assigned to her in an English course at the University of Detroit, complained to me that neither she nor the rest of the class understood. So I borrowed it immediately. Five pages in I was laughing so hard I was, as the cliche insists, crying. Or hurting, as both adjectives are suggested by like cliches. The book, which by one of those strange intersections of time and circumstance I just happen to be rereading just now, is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.

It really is very funny in its very English way. There are passages which until yet I laugh at for so long and so hard that I have to stop reading for minutes at a time. Then I have trouble getting back to the text because the funniest moments just keep coming back to me. Yes, it is that good. That is, if you like dry, droll, yet still somehow over the top English humor.

And you should, you know. The English have a delightful way of melding sublime understatement, surreal juxtaposition, and outlandish slapstick in hilariously satisfying ways. A wonderful example from Lucky Jim is a passage where an absent minded driver comes near to a head on collision with a bus. His passenger, the actual lucky Jim, describes the incident in harrowing comedic detail, finishing with a description of the obviously excited and screeching bus driver, "...his mouth opening and shutting vigorously.' I'm chuckling at it still.

The closest American approximations are the Marx Brothers and, believe it or not, Bob Newhart. The English, they know humor. Americans should get to know English humor better too.

And I'm not talking Benny Hill either, you walking primates out there.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The trouble with United

I see that a fella, a doctor no less, was dragged off a United Airlines flight because United needed seats for its employees. Today I'm hearing excuses as to why that was okay. You can read one man's thoughts on that here:

Without getting into all the details (and I'll concede that I may not know all of them) one thing strikes me as the most salient point: if I pay for something (presuming that the something in question is not itself immoral) it is morally mine. I have moral power, moral control over it.

The arguments about the logistics of airline overbooking are bunk. I pay for a seat from Chicago to Louisville on a certain date at a certain time on a certain airline, that seat belongs to me. I control it. I own it for that period of time. To make me give it up involuntarily is a moral evil.

I sell drain snakes. If a man paid me up front for one with a promised delivery date, I must honor that commitment. I cannot unilaterally sell it to someone else or use it for some other purpose (especially selfish purposes) outside of extreme and compelling circumstance. Period. Simply to get your employees to a destination is not a good enough reason to delay others. No others, again outside of compelling reasons.

That's it in a nutshell.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday of the Lord's passion

Today is Palm Sunday. The day of the Long Gospel, to those of the Catholic faith. It is also the Sunday where I find myself most often moved to tears during the Mass.

Perhaps it is because today is the start of Holy Week. Yet I think it signifies something deeper. I wonder if maybe today we get to see the Lord, our brother Jesus Christ, at his most human, and we also get to see the great example of how He triumphed over human weakness.

Can anyone understand despair quite so well and so deeply as Christ did? He prayed that the cup be taken away. He didn't want to face what He knew he must face; He knew the horrors of what awaited Him. Still, He said: Thy will and not my will. This despite prayer so fervent that He would sweat blood. Can we really understand that?

He would not answer the Sanhedrin, nor Pilate. He knew the futility of it, so He stood mute. He had faith that that was pointless and even that no answer would speak more profoundly than anything He might utter. Pilate was amazed. One can almost taste the apprehension the Roman felt...and one can certainly sense the human fear which caused him to symbolically wash his hands of the affair.

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? He cried. Many today believe it nothing but a cry of total despair. But it was not. It was the beginning of the 22nd Psalm, a prayer which ends hopefully and indeed gloriously. You may read it here:

Christ more fully understood human suffering than any one of us. Yet He gave Himself up to it, to show that it was not futile. Let's not fail Him in facing our own despairs.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The road atlas, or, good things come

I have had a fascination with maps for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to sit with Grandpa Joe at his kitchen table and we'd pour over a road atlas, studying what new roads had been completed or proposed (the Eisenhower Interstate System was still in development), or how we might get somewhere, alternate routes and all. It was fun. It was sort of like daydreaming.

For years now, I've wanted a new road atlas. Yet whenever I was in a store thinking about buying one, I'd always talk myself out of it. They seemed so expensive; while it was one thing to buy a book which you might read over and over if you really liked it, buying a book of road maps seemed silly. I never bought one.

Until Wednesday. I was gassing up outside of Knightstown, Indiana and saw a rack with 2017 Rand McNally road atlases for $6.99. I picked one up, then put it down. What did I need an atlas for? Then I thought to myself, in true Joe Cosgriff form, aw Hell. I picked it up again, gave the cashier a fifty and said to give me the balance on pump five, and turned to go.

"Sir! Sir!" she called after I was a few feet away. "A coupon printed after your receipt. You get two dollars off your road map." I went back and took it. My atlas would only cost me $4.99. I guess good things do come to those who wait.

That night in my hotel room as I ate the fast food dinner I'd bought before check in, I sat at the desk and went page by page through my new book. I found that a few things have changed since 1970. Grandpa, did you see there's an Interstate 49 cutting through western Arkansas? Who'da thought they'd put a freeway there?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Experience and wisdom

So, last Friday I was replacing a light fixture in our upstairs hallway. Easy peasy, right? Only the ends of the electrical wires feeding into the fixture were badly frayed. So I thought I ought to peel them back a bit.

All went well until I was trying to shave off about a half-inch of insulation from each side of the power cord. I had just thought silently to tell myself that the knife I was using was sharp and that I should be careful. But Hell, I'll be done in a second, right?

I was done in a second. Done enough for my knife to slip and cut every bit of a quarter inch deep into the pointing finger of my left hand.

It hurt and it bled. Luckily I was five feet away from the basin in our upstairs bathroom. I jumped into it and ran my bleeding finger, bleeding like a stuck hog as the saying goes, under hot water for several minutes. Then I applied pressure, fixed gauze and white tape, and stopped the blood flow. I then finished the job.

A few minutes later I was explaining to my daughter the lesson I'd learned: cut away from yourself. I added, "Experience is when you learn from your mistakes. Wisdom is when you learn from the mistakes of others."

My darling daughter only smiled and said, "You just learned from experience. I just learned from wisdom."

Well, what could I say?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Small town America

This is Marty Cosgriff reporting from Corydon, Indiana.

Corydon is a quaint, small town indicative of middle America. There are many clues of course which let you know when you are in small town America.

First, there is a Waffle House. It is located conveniently across the road from the WalMart.

There is a gun shop. It has been advertised for miles along Interstate 64.

There are a ring of motels and fast food restaurants right on the exit to town. The motels and peasant eateries are here because there is something tourist trappy somewhere near Corydon. I believe that it is Corydon's proximity to a bridge across the Ohio River into Kentucky.

And, of course, there is a Tractor Supply. For all your John Deere needs.

This intrepid reporter found adequate sustenance at Arby's. The gyros were two for one. The one sits in his in-room refrigerator anticipating becoming breakfast.

This has been Marty Cosgriff reporting from Corydon, Indiana.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Opening Day 2017

Today is Opening Day. I don't think I have to say any more (though of course I will) as any red blooded American, when hearing the term Opening Day, knows that it means baseball.

Oh sure, get all technical if you like and point out that it was actually yesterday for a handful of teams. But baseball, being provincial (and that is a strength) takes little regard of that. Opening Day is when your team begins play, not someone else's.

So at 4:10 this afternoon, Monday, April 3, 2017, the Detroit Tigers will send Ian Kinsler to bat, and baseball will begin. We have a lineup which will do some damage. We have decent defense and good starting pitching. We will compete.

Yes, we. Because the local baseball team is our team. A good, solid summer awaits.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

When Marty met Jimmy

I first met Jimmy about 25 years ago, a grand old Scotsman with many a fine tale, after a bonspiel (curling tournament) at the Detroit Curling Club. We were talking after a game. He noticed my name tag and he comments, "Cosgriff? Is Welsh is it?"

I replied, "I don't think so. My cousin Beth has traced our family to north Tipperary in Ireland."

Jimmy replies, "Ah, Irish, Scottish, Welsh. All Gaelic. We all have the one thing in common."

"What's that, Jimmy?" I asked in curious reply.

"We hate the English."

We have been good friends ever since.