Saturday, 31 August 2013

What to think of Seamus Heaney?

*

I hear that the writer Seamus Heaney has died - someone who won the Nobel Prize for literature, and who was regarded by some as a great writer.

My tutor at Durham University was Dr DKC Todd, and he had taught Heaney at Queens University, Belfast - and the apocryphal story went around the department that the undergraduate Heaney had shown him some poems, but after reading them Dr Todd had advised him not to bother continuing on that line...

*

Well, the joke was understood to be mostly about how hard it was to discern promise in apprentice work, and how judgment may come back to bite us - but I have to admit that I do not regard Heaney as a poet.

*

It's not that he was a bad poet, but that he just wasn't a poet at all - I have read quite a lot of his stuff over the years, and so far as I understand poetry, this isn't it.

That sort of reaction only really became possible from the mid-twentieth century; until than there was no problem about who was a poet, but only about how good a poet.

But now, by my judgement, someone can be the most respected poet in the world - but not a poet...

*

Negativity of a young creative genius - the example of Wordsworth

*

http://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-unfortunate-but-necessary.html

*

If Jehovah is Jesus, then the incarnation may explain differences between Old and New Testaments

*

The title says it all, pretty much.

Another delayed insight follows:

If it is indeed true that Jesus is Jehovah

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/jesus-is-jehovah-yhwh-god-of-old.html

then it seems to follow that the apparent differences between the behaviour of Jehovah and Jesus, as depicted on the Old and New Testaments - these differences are perhaps a consequence of the incarnation; are perhaps a consequence of the effect of Jesus becoming Man, inhabiting a mortal body.

Much (not all) of the differences between Old and New Testaments would therefore seem to be a consequence of this difference in God the Son, the story of whose relationship with his chosen people these books record.

To save us, to atone for our sins, God the Son needed to become mortal Man - and this, presumably, had an effect on Him, as well as its effect on us - one effect perhaps being seen in the differences between the 'personality' of the Old and New Testament God.

*

Friday, 30 August 2013

Given that there are grounds for doubt, what should tip the balance between faith and unbelief?

*

From Lightning out of Heaven by Terryl Givens

http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=1851


Some people seem born with faith. And many people die with a full complement.

My own grandmother spent her last months pining for death because she was the last of her generation, she “missed her people” to an excruciating degree, and she grew more and more disconnected from a world she saw as simply irrelevant. Faith did not seem a choice for her. It descended upon her as naturally and irresistibly and encompassingly as the heavy snowfalls on her upstate New York farm.

But such a gift I have not found to be common. And it would seem that among those who are committed to the scholarly pursuit of knowledge and rational inquiry, faith is as often a casualty as it is a product.


*

The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart... with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and have reasonable, but not certain, grounds for believing to be true.

*

I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment.

The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension.

*


We are... always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial.

We are acted upon... by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our ego.

What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love.

*

That is why faith, the choice to believe, is in the final analysis an action that is positively laden with moral significance.

Men and women are confronted with a world in which there are appealing arguments for God as a childish projection...

But there is also compelling evidence that a glorious divinity presides over the cosmos...

*


There is something to tip the scale, however.

There is something to predispose us to a life of faith or a life of unbelief.

There is a heart that in these conditions of equilibrium and balance—and only in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, ... is truly free to choose belief or cynicism, faith or faithlessness.


http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=1851

**


Note:

It is possible for someone to remain in a state of agnostic balance - poised between belief and unbelief, unable or unwilling to choose - for a long time: for years, decades, until overtaken by death...

This is better than embracing the secular mainstream of hedonic nihilism, but is seriously deficient, because it is to commit to weakness - because it is to reject any possibility of spiritual progress. 

Certainty may come after choosing, but certainty does not compel choice - not in this world.

To wait for certainty before choosing faith is therefore a significant and substantial moral defect - itself a negative decision in the face of the human condition.

To fail to choose is a failure to engage the heart: it is a failure which is both self-revealing and self-defining. 

*

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Natural selection as religion

*

One problem with using natural selection as an explanation for a phenomenon is that the applicability of NS to any particular instance is a metaphysical assumption, not an empirical discovery.

That is, in trying to explain some biological phenomenon (such as why the giraffe has a long neck) then it is not a matter of discovering by research that natural selection was in fact the explanation for the specific phenomenon - this is impossible; rather it is first a matter of assuming that natural selection was the explanation, then doing science on that basis ...

(Roughly speaking, 'doing science' by making hypotheses about how 'this' could have happened, then planning observations and experiments to test these hypotheses of how it could have happened - by seeing whether observations and experiments are consistent with the hypotheses. Essentially, the process of science works by checking for coherence and consistency in a domain according to a specified set of causes.)

*

The assumption that natural selection was the cause of a specific phenomenon is something that is not, and cannot be, tested - because this assumption is outside science, comes before science, structures scientific investigations.

Paradoxically, it is the metaphysical - hence extra-scientific - nature of the concept of natural selection which enables it to serve as a kind of substitute for religion.

*

This is because natural selection is assumed to be the explanation for phenomena in general - therefore once this metaphysical assumption has been made, once natural selection has been accepted as universally valid, then all further experiences and investigations are structured by this assumption.

Therefore the 'truth' of natural selection is, apparently, reinforced by anything and everything which happens from that point onwards; natural selection can never fail to explain anything, because all valid explanations are required to conform to natural selection.

*

The problem is that those who accept natural selection as a universal explanation also typically do not acknowledge the fact that natural selection is a metaphysical assumption; instead they want (somehow) to say that natural selection is a product of science - while, at the same time, having the property of structuring science...

They typically want to assert that natural selection is not just an assumption with universal applicability, but that this assumption is necessary - that it is irrational to reject this assumption.

They want to argue that any rational and informed person is compelled by 'evidence' to accept the universal validity of natural selection.

*

So they are actually assuming the universal truth of natural selection, but falsely believe that they have instead been compelled by evidence to accept the universal truth of natural selection - 'because' everything they regard as valid evidence apparently fits-in with the theory of natural selection.

*

Hence natural selection functions, among those who regard it as inevitably universal, as their religion - that is, the bottom-line explanation of reality; while at the same time such people deny that natural selection is a religion - precisely because it is a metaphysical assumption outside science which nonetheless regards itself as an empirical discovery within science.

*

Natural selection is regarded as the epitome of truth and validity, precisely because of this error of classification.

For those who come to treat it as the fundamental reality, natural selection disguises its true nature as a structuring assumption and instead masquerades as a multiply-validated discovery.

Consequently, universal natural selection feels like an objectively factual yet also un-dis-proveable religion - the perfect religion! - necessarily correct and the master key to explaining everything! 

*

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Scientific geniuses enabled the destruction of Christianity via economics

*

There is a neglected sense in which science and technology enabled the destruction of Christianity.

Most people argue that the antagonism was in the realm of explanations and beliefs, but an indirect and perhaps more powerful mechanism was via economics.

The argument involves several assumptions I have defended elsewhere, but it is quite simple.

*

The main social and historical effect of science has been at the level of 'breakthroughs' or revolutionary science - especially those breakthroughs which lead to technological improvements in functional effectiveness and (especially) efficiency - improved efficiency equals the same function for less resources or more functionality for the same input.

Only breakthroughs really matter, because only breakthroughs can overcome the adverse societal factors which are present, and indeed tend to accumulate - thus the model of economic growth is something like Schumpeter's creative destruction: periodic revolutions, rather than incremental improvements.

*

Breakthroughs are a product of creative genius: that is specific individual people characterized by a combination of high intelligence and high creativity (plus some other factors, including luck) - this it was the high concentration of creative geniuses in North Western Europe which underpinned the Agrarian then Industrial Revolution.

The Agrarian/Industrial revolution continued for a couple of centuries approximately, as breakthrough followed breakthrough - overwhelming the economically parasitic counter forces - which include Leftism, bureaucracy, and the mass media - and the consequent decadence and moral corruption which used to be regarded as an outcome of 'luxury'.

Genius enabled breakthroughs caused efficiency enabled growth of parasites.

*

The state of permanent social revolution triggered by the Agrarian/ Industrial revolution was certainly a stress for Christianity in the West, but it was the long term and massive growth of economically parasitic counter forces which have brought Christianity to its present desperate state.

*

But the whole process of breakthroughs-revolutions-parasitism depends on the breakthroughs of a small proportion of individual geniuses - and breakthroughs have dried up as the supply of geniuses has dried up.

(The reasons for the supply of geniuses drying up are multiple - and the topic of another blog: http://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.co.uk and a book http://corruption-of-science.blogspot.co.uk.) 

*

We are now seeing the process in reverse. Geniuses are now too rare, breakthroughs too few and infrequent, therefore economic efficiency is necessarily declining; but at present the economically parasitic counter forces still remain in-power - and of course they hasten these trends both by deliberate destructive policy and by their continued efficiency-sapping parasitic growth.

*

So, the conditions which led to the destruction of Christianity have reversed, and religion will return to the West.

'Religion' will return, but not necessarily nor even probably Christianity - because, of course, Christianity must be chosen, and there are rivals.

*

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Deep modern Christian apologetics - psychological evaluation procedures may be the key

*

The reason that CS Lewis has not yet been superseded as a Christian apologist (i.e. one who defends Christianity, shows its coherence, explains its basis and so on) - is that his arguments cut deeper than other apologists and he made fewer assumptions of his readers.

It seems that nobody has yet gone any deeper, or at least not in appealing way; but most more recent apologists have simply rung variations on Lewis's method.

*

What did Lewis do?

Here is an excerpt from the letter he wrote to the BBC when invited to contribute the talks taht later became Mere Christianity: 

It seems to me that the New Testament, by preaching repentance and forgiveness, always assumes an audience who already believe in the law of Nature and know they have disobeyed it. In modern England we cannot at present assume this, and therefore most apologetic begins a stage too far on. The first step is to create, or recover, the sense of guilt. Hence if I give a series of talks I should mention Christianity only at the end, and would prefer not to unmask my battery till then. 

*

Lewis based his apologetics on the understanding of human nature and natural law - which for his era was still solid ground among all except a handful of intellectual ultra-radicals. 

But since Lewis wrote, the inbuilt spontaneous assumption that there is a human nature and that there is a valid natural law (inbuilt morality) have actually been inverted - such that anything spontaneous is regarded as evil, this is perhaps the essence of prevailing public morality (political correctness). 

So, unless people can be caught as youths, before they have been participants in that vast and pervasive system of artificial morality the mass media, they may be lost to even Lewisite apologetics.

*

Modern apologetics must cut even deeper - must (I think) focus on systems of evaluation (but not, of course, calling them that!). 

In other words, modern apologetics must start with a discussion of grounds for belief, which means exposing the basis by which people arrive at beliefs - and the extent to which this is a product of political correctness and the mass media, and the extent to which this permeates all of the high status and powerful evaluations systems such as politics, law, public administration, charities and NGOs, educational institutions, the military... and the major Christian churches.

Or, we cut to the chase and go straight to the individual systems which lie below this. 

If we cannot rely on previously trusted sources, and not even the Christian churches - then people are thrown back onto their own devices: the must (and I mean must) develop their own instincts of evaluation based on the heart. 

Obviously this idea of the heart needs clarification - and needs to be distinguished from head and body knowledge -  but it is critical; and it may be the only realistic hope. 

But obviously this is hazardous - it has, in particular, the hazard of spiritual pride and self-serving self-deception. But where else can we go to to find a ground for living, and a sufficiently-powerful basis for motivation?

*

Intellectuals schemes from reading or institutions and the vitalism of following powerful gut-feelings will not work, they have been colonized and corrupted; we must instead learn to seek and recognize heart knowledge, the slow warmth of it - the connecting, relating basis of life. 

All external knowledge must be tested by the heart.

We need to build upon the certainties of the heart.

*

This is hazardous. But we have no alternative. 

Christianity needs to come from the heart, be underpinned by the heart - this needs a new kind of apologetics.

The evaluations of the heart is not the end of apologetics - that end would be a full denomination of Christianity; but that end cannot nowadays be reached in one step; but only via gaining independence from the corrupted or inverted evaluations of the body or head. 

On that independence apologists can build; not otherwise.

*

Monday, 26 August 2013

Five favourite tree species

*

Difficult to choose just five, but here they are:

1. Beech

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/all-autumn-in-one-tree-beech.html

2. Birch - for its papery white slim trunk, the purplish twigs and neat leaves - the associations with Northern forests (Northumberland, Scotland, and North America), and Algonquin Indians (Longfellow's Hiawatha, Thoreau's Maine Woods etc), and Robert Frost's poem.

3. Scots Pine - each has a distinctive 'head', the trunks have a lovely warm colour, it is native to Britain (unlike other pines), good timber, and reminds me of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine Club books and Shepherd's illustrations of the Enchanted Place in Winnie the Pooh.

4. Cedar of Lebanon - rather specific: a couple of trees in Somerset with smooth branches, horizontal near the ground, scented bark, flat umbrellas of leaves... best tree for lying on.

5. Elm

Because they epitomized summer in southern England and they are all dead... (all the big ones, anyway). Sob!

*

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Is Terryl Givens the modern C.S Lewis?

*

By which I mean an excellent, effective Christian apologist of a new kind and potentially broad constituency?

Well, probably there never will be another Lewis, as a package; but in terms of apologetics, Givens comes closer than anyone I can think of with The God who Weeps - co-written with his wife Fiona.

What I get from the Givens's book is the same kind of freshness as I find in Mere Christianity (and which is so lacking from later attempts to emulate MC) - it results from the capacity to rethink faith from the ground up, based on premises which the author personally finds relevant and convincing, together with a strong and likeable literary persona

*

The twist, of course, being that Givens is what might be termed a Mere Mormon, and furthermore one who has stepped away from any worries about convincing mainstream Christians that they ought to include Mormonism, but who has instead focused on clarifying and explicating Mormonism's distinctive qualities with most relevance to the concerns of modern times.

*

I made this connection while re-reading God who Weeps and after reading the blog Dawning of a Brighter Day:

http://blog.mormonletters.org/?p=5849

I have no idea whether Givens is indeed the Mormon CS Lewis, since I don't know enough about his Mormon rivals - but whatever his status in the LDS community, Givens could well become a Lewis-ite figure for Mere Christians, if only they could approach his work in a positive spirit.

*

Saturday, 24 August 2013

If free will really cannot be coerced, ever, by anybody or anything...

*

...then things begin to make sense.

*

Since the idea of genuine, radical, incoercible free will began to sink in; things begin to make sense that never did - about the way things work, about history, about our relation to God and Satan.

If we regard everything as an enticement of our choice, in a situation where choice cannot be compelled by anybody or anything (not even God) - then this fits with what happens in the Bible, with knowledge, with experience, with intuition.

*

The fact that so many people for so many reasons (mostly bad, but some mistaken but well motivated) deny that free will really is free, necessarily free, inviolably free - the fact that this fact is so often denied, is a matter of great and pervasive significance; it gives a false understanding of the whole nature and set-up of human existence.

And it leads to endemic and insoluble confusion, alienation, and especially evil; since the consequence is that we become creatures who use our free will to deny free will, we choose to deny our capacity for choice, we are centres of consciousness and agency which self-represent that we are merely contingent clusters of passive consequences.

*

The situation, once understood thus, is bizarre in the extreme! - yet mainstream, not just in the secular world but in most religions, including most of Christianity.

Perhaps this is the most destructive way to mess with somebody's head; to entice them to deny that of what every spontaneous instinct and perspective convinces them naturally and with total certainty: that they are ultimately free, autonomous, an un-caused cause.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Charles Williams and Phyllis Jones - kissing was involved...

*

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/charles-williams-love-affair-with.html

How to be *certain*? It is a matter of love, a matter of the heart

*

How can we be certain about anything?

On the one hand, there must be and always is de facto certainty - not least because it is impossible to doubt everything, and in practice we doubt one thing in terms of other certainties.

But this still leaves open the question - how can we be certain about anything?

In particular, how can someone be certain about religion or a 'philosophy of life'; in particular, how can someone be certain enough that they will be strong and solid about Christianity in the way that people clearly were in the past.

*

The certainty of past Christians tends to be set aside as naive, fanatical or due to insufficient knowledge; but that is to beg the question - which is to assume precisely that which needs to be proved.

*

The problem with answering this question is that we use the wrong model of certainty.

The typical model of certainty which is wheeled-out is that of science; usually some solid bit of science like the periodic table or Newton/ Einstein's laws.

But this is a false example, because scientists are not certain about science in the overwhelming and personal way which is being sought in relation to religion.

Scientists regard the current truth as a working hypothesis; but any scientist worth his salt would be prepared to re-conceptualize their present understanding if or when something better came along - as Newtonian Physics was re-conceptualized by Relativity and Quantum Theory.

*

Another false model of certainty is philosophy: specifically the idea that really good and 'rigorous' philosophy would lead to certainty (and serve as a foundation for other forms of knowledge).

But this is wrong, too, since the history of philosophy is the history of disagreements about what is certain.

Philosophy resembles a battleground more than it resembles a set of solid foundations!

*

So what should be the model of certainty?

The answer is love - and a good specific instance is a child's certainty that he loves his Mother and his Mother loves him.

*

Now, if we acknowledge that a child knowing for certain that his Mother loves him is a valid example of certainty, and that therefore the proper answer to the question of how to be certain is related to love more than to science or philosophy, then it can be seen that certainty is a matter of the heart rather than 'the head', or the intellect.

So, for a Christian to be certain of the truth of Christianity, or something more specific like the divine inspiration of the Bible, or the validity of the ten commandments - is a matter of love: specifically certainly of the love of Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father, and certainty of love for Them.

*

Thus it is that the simplest Christians are typically the most certain; because simple Christians are generally those (such as children) whose faith is based on a conviction of God's love and in love of God.

And intellectual Christians are typically, chronically, intrinsically plagued by doubts.

Because their belief is based upon intellectual assent, and intellectual assent is not the kind of thing susceptible to certainty.

*

This has implications for 'evidence' in relation to belief.

A child who knows his Mother's love is not open to empirical persuasion on the matter; it is not something which can either be proven or disproven.

Of course, a child's confidence can be broken. He may become ill, damaged, brainwashed, demoralized, alienated...

And indeed modern Man has been by thus broken by secularism, as the way of destroying certainty in the love of God.

However, it can be seen that although successful, the consequence is not simply to destroy one specific certainty, in the love of God, but to destroy the capacity for all certainty, and to damage the capacity for parental and filial love.

*

And a life view, a philosophy, a religion is properly built from certainty: such that one certainty leads to another; and then certainties become mutually reinforcing - and we become situated, based and rooted in reality in the way that (lacking it) we crave.

*

What are the legitimate grounds for the reality of this internal certainty. We need to be certain, and we want to know that of which we are certain - how to go about it?

If it is a matter of the heart, then it is to the heart we should look: we need to examine our hearts to discover that of which we are certain - and to recognize and acknowledge that as being validated in the only way that certainty can be validated - and to start with that.

Assuming that Christianity is real and true - than all certainties of the heart - of whatever kind and on whatever subject - will, eventually, lead to Christ.

*

Why the Bonferroni correction is a mistake (almost always)



Why statistical adjustment for multiple comparisons (eg. the Bonferroni correction) is almost always a mistake

Bruce G Charlton

*

One thing that everybody who has ever done a course on statistics apparently remembers is that there is ‘a problem’ with using multiple tests for statistical significance' on a single data set.

In a nutshell, if you keep looking for significant differences, or significant correlations, by two-way comparisons - then you will eventually find one by chance.

So that if you were to seek for the 'cause' of fingernail cancer by measuring 20 biochemical variables, then you would expect one of these variables would correlate with the diagnosis at the p=0.5 level of significance - on the basis that p=0.5 is a one-in-twenty probability statistic.

*

For some reason, everybody remembers this problem. But what to do about it is where the trouble starts - especially considering that most research studies measure more than a pair of variables and consequently want to make more than one comparison.

*

Increasing the 'stringency' of the statistical test by demanding a smaller p value in proportion to the number of comparisons – with the greater the number comparisons the smaller the p value before ‘significance’ is reached (eg the Bonferroni 'correction') - is probably the commonest suggestion - but this is the wrong answer.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonferroni_correction

Or rather it is the answer to a different question, because (as it is used) it is trying to provide a statistical solution to a scientific problem - thus it is trying to replace science by statistical obfuscation which cannot be done: this the Bonferroni 'correction' is (in common usage) an error based upon incompetence.

As I will try to explain, in reality, the Bonferroni correction has no plausible role in mainstream research - what it does is something that almost never needs to be done.

*

Statistical tests are based on the idea that the investigator has taken a random sample from a population, and wishes to generalise from that sample to the whole population. Each random sample is a microcosm of the population from which it is drawn, so by measuring a variable in the sample one can makes an estimate of the size of that variable in a population.

For example, the percentage of intended Republican voters in a random sample from the US state of Utah is an estimate of the percentage of Republican voters in the whole of Utah.

If the sample is small, then the estimate is imprecise and will have a large confidence interval - and as the size of a sample gets bigger, then the properties of the population from which it is drawn become more apparent, hence the confidence interval gets smaller and the estimate is regarded as more precise.

*

For instance, if there were only ten people randomly sampled in an opinion poll, then obviously this cannot give a precise estimate of the true proportion that would vote Republican compared with Democrat, and Libertarian voters would probably be missed-out, or if included over-estimated as a proportion, and the tiny proportion intending to vote for the Monster Raving Looney Party would almost certainly be unrepresented.

But a random sample of 1000 will yield a highly precise estimate of the major parties support, and will let you know whether the MRLP voters are few enough to be ignored.

The statistical null hypothesis assumes that comparisons between Republican and Democrat are comparisons between random samples drawn from a single population. The size of the p value estimates how likely this null hypothesis is, given the measurements we have obtained from our sample.

*

Now, suppose we want to compare Democrat support in Utah and Massachusetts, to see if it is different. This is the kind of question being asked in almost all science where statistics are used. 

Random samples of opinion are taken in the two states, and it looks as if there are a higher proportion of potential Democrat voters in Massachusetts. A t-test is used to ask how likely it is that the apparent difference in Democrat support could in fact have arisen by random chance in randomly drawing two samples from the same population (taking into account that the samples have a particular size, are normally distributed, and are characterized by these particular mean and standard deviation values).

It turns out that the p value is low, which means that the difference in intended Democrat voting between samples from Utah and Massachusetts is large enough to make it improbable that the samples were drawn from the same population (ie. it is more probable that the two sample were drawn from different populations).

*

What is happening here is that we have decided that there is a significant difference between a microcosm of Massachusetts voting patterns and a microcosm of Utah voting patterns. It seems very unlikely that they could have been so different simply by random chance of sampling from a single population. The p value merely summarizes this probabilities relating to this state of affairs.

IN this example, the p value is affected only by the characteristics of the Utah and Massachusetts samples, and we use it to decide how big a sample is needed before we accept the probability that voting patterns in Massachusetts really are different from Utah.

The necessary size of the sample (to make this decision of difference) depends on how big the difference is (the bigger the difference, the smaller the sample needed to discover it), and on the scatter around the mean (the more scattered the variation around the mean, the bigger the sample needed to discover the true mean value which is being obscured by the scatter).

But the sample size needed to decide that Utah and Massachusetts are different does not (of course!) depend upon how many other samples are being compared, in different studies, involving different places.

*

Supposing we had done opinion polls in both Utah and Massachusetts, and that there really was a difference between the microcosms of Utah and Massachusetts voting intentions.

Suppose then that someone goes and does an opinion poll in Texas. Naturally, this makes no difference to our decision regarding the difference between Massachusetts and Utah.

Even if opinion polls were conducted on intended Democrat voters in every state of the Union, then these other pollsters performed statistical tests to see whether these other states differed from one another - this would have no effect whatsoever on our initial inference concerning the difference between Massachusetts and Utah.

In particular, there would be no reason to feel that it was now necessary either to take much larger samples of the Utah and Massachusetts populations, nor to demand much bigger differences between measuring voting patterns, in order to feel the same level of confidence that the difference was real. Because information on voting in other places is irrelevant to the question of voting in Massachusetts and Utah.

Yet this is what the Bonferroni 'correction' imposes: it falsely assumes that the addiction of other comparisons somehow means that we do need to have a larger sample from Massachusees and Utah in order to conclude the same as we did before. This is just plain wrong!  

*

In sum, the appropriate p value which results from comparing the Utah and Massachusetts samples ought to derive solely from the characteristics of those samples (ie. the size of the samples, and the measured proportion of Democrat voters); and is not affected by the properties of other samples, nor the number of other samples. Obviously not!

*

So, what assumptions are being made by the procedures for ‘correction’ of p values for multiple comparisons, such as the Bonferroni procedure? This procedure demands a smaller p value to count as a significant difference according to the number of comparisons. And therefore it assumes that the reality of a significant difference in voting intentions between Utah and Massachusetts is – somehow! – affected the voting intentions in other states...

From where does this confusion arise?  The answer is that the multiple comparisons procedure has a different null hypothesis. The question being asked is different.

The question implicitly being asked when using the Bonferroni ‘correction’ is no longer 'what is the likelihood that these two opinion polls were performed on the same population' - but instead something on the lines of  'how likely is it that we will find differences between any two opinion polls – no matter how many opinion polls we do on a single population'.

*

In effect, the Bonferroni procedure incrementally adjusts the p values, such that every time we take another opinion poll, the p value that counts as significant gets smaller, so that the probability of finding a statistically significant difference between polls remains constant no matter how many polls we do.

In other words, the Bonferroni ‘correction’ is based upon the correct but irrelevant fact that the more states we compared by opinion polls, the greater the chance that we would find any two states with different voting intentions by sheer chance variation in the validity of polls.

But this has precisely nothing to do with a comparison of voting patterns between Utah and Massachusetts.

*

In effect, the Bp takes account of the fact that a sample may be large enough to provide a sufficiently precise microcosm of the voting intentions in two states, but the imprecision of each two-way comparison is multiplied whenever we do another, and another, such comparison. So with the Bonferroni ‘correction’ in operation - no matter how many opinion polls are compared, we are no more likely to find a difference than if only two samples were compared.

*

But why or when might this kind of statistical correction be useful and relevant?

Beats me!...

I cannot imagine any plausible situation when it would be legitimate to use the Bonferroni procedure in practice. I cannot imagine any legitimate scientific situation in which it would be appropriate to apply this correction.

I am not saying there aren’t any situations when the Bp is appropriate – but I cannot think of any, and surely such situations must be very rare indeed.

*

Yet in practice the Bonferroni procedure is used - hence mis-used - a lot; and in fact the Bp often insisted-upon by supposed statistical experts as a condition of refereeing processes in academic and publishing situations (e.g. use the Bp or you won't pass your PhD, use the Bp or your paper will be rejected).

The usual situation is the non-scientific (hence anti-scientific) statistical incompetents (which is to say, nearly everybody) believes that the Bonferroni correction is merely a more rigorous use of significance testing - a marker of a competent researcher; when in fact it is (almost always) the marker of somebody who hasn't a clue what they are doing or why.

This situation is a damning indictment of the honesty and competence of modern researchers - who are prepared to use and indeed impose a procedure they don't understand - and apparently don't care about enough to make the ten minutes of effort necessary to understand; but instead just 'go along with' a prevailing trend that is not just arbitrary but pernicious - multiply pernicious not only in terms of systematically misinterpreting research results, but also in coercing people formally to agree to believing in nonsense; and thereby publicly to join-in with a purposive destruction of real science and the motivations of real science. 

*

So, given that applying the Bonferroni procedure is not a ‘correction’ but a nonsensical and distorting misunderstanding; then what should be done about the problem of multiple comparisons? Because the problem is real, even though the suggested answer has nothing to do with the problem.

Supposing you had been trawling data to find possibly important correlations between any of a large number of measured variables. A perfectly legitimate scientific procedure. Well, there may be some magnitude of significance (e.g. p value) at which your attention would be attracted to a specific pair of variables from among all the others.

If, in the above hypothetical data trawl, fingernail cancer showed a positive association with nose-picking with a p value of 0.05 - then that is the size of the association - of a size in which it would occur by random sampling of the same population only once in twenty times. It doesn't matter how many other variables were considered as well as nose-picking in looking for causes of fingernail cancer, one, two, four or a hundred and twenty eight; but if that nature of association between NPicking and FNail Ca is important enough to be interesting, then it is important enough to be interesting.

If a pairwise correlation or difference between two populations is big enough to be interesting, but you are are unsure whether or not it might be due to repeated random sampling and multiple comparisons within of a single population - then further statistical analysis of that same set of data cannot help you resolve the uncertainty.

*

But - given the reality of the problem of multiple comparisons - what to do?

The one and only rigorous answer is (if possible) to check your measurement using new data.

If you are unsure whether Utah and Massachusetts voting patterns really are different, then don't fiddle around with the statistical analysis of that poll - go out and do another poll.

And keep making observations until you are sure enough.

It's called doing science. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Falling in love or/and being married

*

Secular culture does an accurate job of depicting what it is like to fall in love, that delightful and painful state - indeed it does this to the point of tedium and way beyond.

But secular culture uses falling in love as a weapon against being married - as if it was a case of falling in love versus being married.

*

By contrast, secular culture does a very poor job of depicting what it is like to be married.

Secular culture fails and fails to depict the reality of marriage.

Indeed it does the opposite of failing, it successfully depicts marriage as the fading of the in-love state, as an impediment to falling in love; as at best cozy companionship and fun with kinds but at worst prolonged boredom and torment - in a word secualr culture depicts marriage purely as a material state.

*

So, secularism depicts falling in love as a spiritual state, THE spiritual state (one and only, the only self-justifying thing) but being married as an ANTI-spiritual state.

*

How strange (if it were not deliberately evil) that secular culture actually is (non-specifically, but assertively and un-boundedly) spiritual, when it comes to falling in love - yet so aggressively anti-spiritual about being married!

*

Christians ought to do better - and real Christians generally do DO better in practice - but the spirituality of marriage remains private (as it should, as a rule).

But the proper privacy of specific real spiritual marriage is compatible with the necessity for public depictions of the spirituality of marriage - marriage as an 'artistic' thing (artistic in the sense of real - really real!- but not autobiographical).

*

Why are they not more cultural depictions of the spirituality of marriage - of being married?

(I use the term spirituality to refer to the highest things, the most desired things, the things that produce the deepest and most lasting happiness).

The answer is obvious - because secular culture wants to destroy marriage.

*

But why are there not more, a lot more, Christian depictions of the spirituality of marriage? We need them.

Why don't more Christian churches set themselves up to help their young people marry, and marry well? Surely it ought to be a major priority? Surely it ought to be discussed from the pulpit and at the highest level?

To hear pro-marriage discourse from a church leader is sometimes like attending a social policy lecture, or a political speech - where in all this is the spirituality of marriage?

*

Where is the depiction of ideal marriage as a high and also profound path to God, offering glimpses of Heaven on earth, the family as a microcosm of the church and the human condition - a discussion of the potentially eternal consequences of marriage and family such that its delights do not fade but are forever, yet its sufferings are healed?

*

Everybody knows - because public discourse is full of it - that falling in love really is delightful, life-enhancing, self-validating and the rest of it - despite that it is also a state of torment, jealousy, disgust, despair and the rest of it.

Hardly anybody knows - because it is not in public discourse - that being married and having a family really is all of this, but more so.

*

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Why get married, why have children? The reason must be very strong (as well as believed)

*

Given the multiple alternative satisfactions and the many-many reasons for saying 'not yet' (delaying and delaying...), to get married and have children (in the modern world, and especially for those who are in higher social classes) means to put this at the centre of life: as number one priority.

So the reason for the whole needful M&F package of remaining chaste until marriage, getting married young, staying married, having children, having as many children as can decently be raised without the probable need for extra-family assistance - to do all this in a world which encourages and rewards and accords status to doing pretty much the opposite... well, the reason has to be a very strong reason indeed.

*

But - quite aside from whether or not people believe them - for many or most people the traditional mainstream Christian reasons for getting married are just not strong enough in today's context.

The traditional reasons are true, and they used to be strong enough; but now they are true but not strong enough - because the forces of secular hedonism have grown and grown in power and pervasiveness, and now overwhelm the traditional rationale for marriage and family. 

These traditional reasons are (in no particular order) 1. Sex without sin. 2. Companionship. 3. To have children.

*

1. Sex without sin... most modern people don't feel sin in relation to sex, and sin can be repented, and marriage does not necessarily lead to sex - or at least not of the quantity and quality which is desired...

But more fundamentally, many traditional Christians believe that sex is sin, and the ideal is not to have sex.

Eastern and Western Catholic traditions therefore believe that marriage is a second best to celibacy; a compromise between an ideal of no sex and the actuality of uncontrollable lust. So, on this basis, married Christians are being asked to put a second-rate compromise at the centre of their life! Hardly an inspiring prospect...

*

What about Protestant traditions? Protestants reject the religious life - that is to say they reject the existence of an organised celibate life in the Church (among Priests, Monks, Friars, Nuns etc)  - which would presumably imply, indirectly, that Protestants embrace marriage as the primary life path.

Yet the actual grounds given for marriage are almost-wholly negative - the Protestant attitude is that the life of 'a religious' is bad, rather than that marriage is good in and of itself. The grounds for the primacy of marriage are therefore stated in terms almost identical to the Catholic perception of a second-rate compromise, but without any alternative provision for the celibate life.

In sum, the only sense in which Protestants have a 'higher' valuation of marriage than Catholics is that nothing higher than marriage is acknowledged as valid - i.e. Protestants do not (in practice) acknowledge that celibacy is higher than marriage.

So marriage has ended as 'top of the heap' only because celibate monasticism has been knocked off its perch; and not because marriage is more highly valued by Protestants than Catholics.

*

2. Companionship... but marriage is not needed for this; nor does modern marriage undermined by unilateral no-fault-divorce-on-demand provide a strong guarantee even of companionship.

And (according to mainstream traditional Christian doctrine) the companionship of marriage is, at most, until death - so it is at best merely something to help you get through until death. And you might die soon.

And however long mortal life may be, in comparison to the hoped-for eternity after life the span of a human life is almost nothing.

A concept of marriage as companionship-unto-death is not - surely? - the kind of ideal that would inspire really significant here-and-now, this world, life and lifestyle sacrifices.

*

3. To have children... this usually reduces to some argument based on social statistics that the average marriage makes a better environment for raising kids than the alternatives - but these are just averages; and anyway, who bases their whole life on data derived from social science research?

And young people nowadays don't want to have children - or at least 'not yet', and not many; and anyway, there is about a 1/10 chance that you won't be able to have children even if you do get married.

And the argument is circular: we marry in order to have children, whose main function in life is... to have children.

To defend marriage primarily on the basis that it is a means to the end of having children, or to creating a good environment for children, is therefore an argument full of holes and exceptions.

*

Marriage as merely a second rate compromise to celibacy; marriage as merely an insecure means to the end of a restrictive form of companionship to get you through to death; marriage as merely a statistically probably beneficial means to the end of children...

None of the traditional Christian reasons for marriage (and the behavioural package that marriage as a primary priority entails) have much traction against the prevailing mainstream secular imperatives such as money, formal 'education', fun, sex, license/ freedom, distraction and so on - all of which counsel not yet, the risk is too great, first you need to..., pie in the sky, wait until...

For Christians, therefore - in the environment of today - it is not necessarily enough merely to have people believe and therefore take seriously the traditional arguments in favour of marriage and family.

Because even if people do believe and believe these arguments, they are not very strong arguments as compared with the powerful incentives of the societal situation working against them.

*

To recapitulate - the reasons for making marriage and family the focus of earthly life need to be strong enough to justify what will be perceived as numerous sacrifices of worldly goods. In fact, since marriage ought normally to be by the early twenties, young Christians are being asked to take a very different life-path than their contemporaries - and this especially applies to women, and especially intelligent women.

Intelligent women are being asked not to place college and job at the centre, but to constrain and even forgo these opportunities in so far as they conflict with the M&F imperative - to do this, reasons must be strong.

Even if intelligent women do - for a while - follow the mainstream path in relation to college and careers - they are being asked to forgo the mainstream 'recreational lifestyle' - the lifestyle focused on sex and relationships, fashion and gossip, parties and travel, getting attention and participating in emotional psychodramas - which lifestyle is the near exclusive focus of life among modern young women outwith the realms of education and career - and the staple of fiction, news, soaps and the mass media generally.

*

So the question boils down to this: what kind of a thing, what kind of ideal of marriage and children might in principle make it worthwhile for able and intelligent young women to forgo almost the whole life and lifestyle package of secular modernism, and instead opt for an extremely different (and socially disvalued) alternative path?

Given the lack of any guarantee and the probability of falling short and failing - the hoped for ideal of marriage and family must be commensurately stronger:

*

The ideal married union must be more powerful, more intense and more enduring than mere companionship until death; the hopes in relation to children must be more profound than mere genetic replication, and hopes for their future of greater significance than 'mere' health, happiness and fertility.

This is what is needed: a way of presenting marriage and family as not just the highest available Christian path; but a Christian path potentially of intense and permanent significance - one which it is well worth having as the focus of earthly life.

*

That's the theory - but how plausible is it to make such vast claims for the ideal state of marriage and family - above and beyond the explicit claims of mainstream traditional churches?

Is it just made-up, wishful thinking, pie in the sky?

The answer is that it is very plausible in the sense that there are significant numbers of people for whom this ideal is a matter of personal reality and observation; albeit, like all ideals, only known temporarily and glimpsed imperfectly.

*

So there are people who can put their hands upon their hearts, and say with a certainty borne of direct experiential knowledge, that this extraordinarily elevated view of marriage and family is both possible and true.

Not all such people are Christians, not by any means; but those who are Christians may find themselves in the regrettable position of being unable to explain their deepest and most convincing 'intimations of immortality' (or intuitions of Heaven) in terms of their Christian faith - but must instead regard their most powerful life experiences un-Christian or non-Christian, and may indeed come to disregard and undervalue them.

*

What is needed is to conceptualize - simply and clearly and powerfully - the best experiences of marriage and family in a fully Christian context, so that young Christians planning their lives can be influenced by the truths known by older generations of Christians.

So they can recognize that the sacrifices are potentially worthwhile, because it is a matter of personal experience and certain knowledge that in many people's lives nothing on earth can exceed the rewards of marriage and family.

That is a fact; what I am saying is that the fact needs to be made explicable to Christians.

*

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

What advantages are there to the (deleted) Epilogue of The Lord of the Rings?

*

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-epilogue-to-lord-of-rings-what.html

*

Is creation necessary? What are the intuitions? More on the faith of the heart

*

In the many decades in which I was an atheist, one of the things that most annoyed me about many Christians who argued for the reality of God what there assumption that there must be an explanation, a cause for what exists.

This especially applies to the question which is being answered by 'creation from nothing'. 

But I never saw then - and I don't see now - why there must be an explanation or cause for what exists; instead my baseline assumption is that what exists always existed.

*

That was my spontaneous intuition but I used to assume that this was idiosyncratic and most other people assumed that everything must have a cause, and therefore one was driven back to the inference that everything originally came from nothing.

In fact the opposite seems to be the statistically normal assumption among the inhabitants of most simple societies, and probably among children too that the bottom line is that some things were 'always' in existence.

Similarly, when anthropologists ask hunter gatherers how long they (as a people) have lived where they do, the answer is along the lines of always.

They have no record or memory of any time they lived anywhere else, and little curiosity about the matter - indeed rest on the assumption that what is now always was, and if this is challenged then this is interpreted as disputing that they belong where they are - preparatory to taking their land from them (or rather, taking them from their land, rather as someone might be taken from their parents).

*

I think this is how the human mind naturally works. Beyond a certain point, beyond just a couple of levels of explanation and an explanation of that explanation - a cause and a cause of that cause; people rest in the assumption that this was how things always were, how things always worked - and it is a minority of philosophically-minded modern people, with their abstract concepts of time and causality, who come to see a problem in this.

*

These inbuilt ways of thinking are difficult to overcome without creating confusion, alienation and disorientation - it is easier for philosophers to challenge and probe naive ways of thinking than to come up with better alternatives - it is easier to induce people to lose confidence in natural ways of thinking than it is to generate confidence in other ways of thinking.

Hence the history of philosophy.

*

The big problem is conviction. I might (for a while - an hour, a few days, months or years) subscribe to a philosophical explanation yet this explanation may never carry my heart.

This is not just the fickleness of the human will - it is a matter of depth.

Some things I can't deeply believe - and others I can't not believe!

*

This is relevant for Christian apologetics and evangelism - converting to Christianity from secular Leftism ought to bring (among other things!) a sense of moving onto solid ground, a grounding on realities which one can believe with the heart and not (as with so much of modern secular culture) believe only with the mind (easily manipulated by the establishment elite) or the body (easily manipulated by the mass media and fashions).

A belief of the heart carries both intellectual conviction and emotional warmth - but its intellectual convictions are resistant to mainstream academic manipulations, while its warmth is like the slow-smouldering heart of a fire, rather than the flickering flames that come and go. 

*

This - if successful - is a risky business, and it is hard to predict where exactly it will lead; which is why in practice most Christian denominations are reluctant to go down the path of the heart.

To go down this path would mean that Christians must test all propositions with their heart, and build their faith from that which is endorsed by their heart, and set aside (even if not reject) that which does not carry the heart or which quenches the heart.

A Christian faith is thus a work in progress; and an active thing - and for many Christians this will be seen as lacking in humility and obedience, and in a sense it is.

But these are desperate times. We need the heart to detach us from the pervasive and increasing evils of modern secular culture, and we need the heart to sustain us through the process and after the reality of detachment.

*

A strong, warm heart grants autonomy, and the heart also generates the strength required for autonomy - so that as we are restored to reality, we are also en-couraged (filled with courage).

Thus to be Christian is possible - despite the feebleness and incompleteness of the churches and the all-but-overwhelming hedonic evils of secular society.

IF a Christian faith can be built from the heart, all this may be possible.

*

Without the heart to sustain feeble spirits in such hostile environments, real Christianity may be so difficult, miserable, lonely - as to be both rare and weak.

So, by this argument, intuitions - metaphysical intuitions concerning reality - probably should be accepted the basis of a heart-felt Christianity since only they enable the faith to resist a hostile and invasive world.

And I cannot see how such a faith can avoid being metaphysically, philosophically heterodox - positively and negatively, in many instances - so I think that must be accepted too.

Yet heterodoxy must be combined with strong loyalty to The Church (that mystical reality of the actual corrupt institutions) - which seems like a difficult trick...

*

It is possible, I think, but there is no formula - and perhaps if heart-unity with The Church is actually achieved it will violate both head and body reasoning.

But the wonderful thing about the heart is that this is indeed possible; a faith in Christ that is grounded in the heart and fueled by the heart can reject any amount of negative evaluations and conclusions and be sustained through a maelstrom of bodily distractions.

Such a faith is in fact unstoppable and inevitable - if it is wanted: if it is asked for. 

*

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Three Greatest Pirate Captains

*

1. Captain Hook in Disney's Peter Pan

The greatest ever voice acting (by Hans Conried)  in the best of all Disney cartoons - this choice is a no brainer.

*

2. Captain Pugwash

Throatily voiced by the late great Peter Hawkins in the most crudely-animated cartoons ever to grace the BBC.

Pugwash was kindly, but with a tough streak especially in dealing with his arch enemy Cut-Throat Jake.

Excellent five minutes plots, wholesome and funny, great theme tune - what's not to like?

*

3. Captain Feathersword

Coarse actor Paul Paddick makes the big time with The Wiggles.

A controversial choice, I realize - but I was always grateful when his unrestrained hamming enlivened what were often turgid episodes watched with my kids in pre-school days.

The following sketch was the very first time that my daughter and her cousin cried uncontrollably with laughter -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAZtNrcUW20

Shamans and creativity

*

http://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/shamans-and-creativity.html
*

Clarification: it is not about good versus evil people - it is about which side you are on

*

There is a very common misconception which amounts to a straw man argument - and it goes along the lines that 'just because' a person does something bad, something evil - 'that does not make X an evil person'.

Or, 'I know somebody who does/ has done [that Christianly-prohibited thing], but I also know that X is a good person'.

All of this is true. But so what?

*

People who use these arguments apparently suppose that all this kind of stuff on the mismatch of objectively wicked acts and 'good people' means that evil things are not really evil, or that evil things don't really matter after all and the only thing that matters is whether or not you are a good/nice/kind/ friendly person...

*

The absurdity of this argument is concealed when it is being used to analyze some previously sinful act which is currently being normalized, such as easy-terms divorce, promiscuous sex, immodest dress or tattooing; but its absurdity comes out when the same argument is applied to things like armed robbery, rape and murder - it is also true (but so what?) that not all burglars are 'evil people' and an armed robber might indeed be 'a good person' - but that doesn't make rape and murder okay, does it?

*

We are all of us mixtures of good and evil; so if we are strict, there is no such thing as a good person or an evil person.

(However, there are indeed people whom I trust and mix with, and others I try hard very hard to avoid - so in that sense I do divide the world in twain. That is simply to be competent at living.)

The point is: which side are you on?

*

We are engaged (like it or not) in war - in the culture war - in a war between those against Christianity and in defence of Christianity.

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/how-to-win.htm

Numerically, and in terms of power, it is a very one-sided war -  but that means that it is especially important for the weaker side to be able to differentiate allies from foes - since if the weaker side un-intentially makes alliance with its foes, then defeat will be (is being) swift.

*

There are observable ideological and physical markers which can be decoded to reveal which side you are on.

The value of these markers is in revealing which side you are on in the culture wars.

And these markers provide more valid information on 'which side' than does self-identification.

*

Self-identification as 'A Christian' is not merely compatible with being on the enemy's side in the culture war - it is statistically-normal for self-identified Christians to be fighting against Christianity: these fifth columnists are among the most dangerous of enemies.

Indeed probably the most dangerous of the fifth columnists are those who sincerely but deludedly suppose themselves to be on the side of the angels (people like nearly all Bishops of the Church of England, for instance; or pro-Marxist monks, nuns and friars).

*

So how can the enemies of the culture wars be identified?

It is actually very easy - using Litmus Tests (as I like to call them).

The enemy by and large proudly advertise themselves using differentiating markers such as their manner of dress; self-mutilation; self-presentation; by Leftism; by favouring the sexual revolution; by inversion of traditional morality, promotion of ugliness or marring of beauty; by calculated and deniable dishonesty; by bureaucratic language and behaviour... and so on and on - the staples of this blog.

These markers - these self-markers proclaim that such people are (at least to that extent) on the enemy side in the culture war; which is why markers are so very important.

*

(So, if a person is on the Christian side, yet defends some significantly Christian-subversive aspect of the sexual revolution - then that is a self-identification which represents a potentially exploitable weakness in their commitment; a potential, perhaps even likely, factor which could lead to them turning coat and joining the enemy. In the culture war, such persons need careful watching - and the defense might well be more effective without them!)

*

We need to learn how to read and interpret these markers of which side you are on in the culture war.

The good news is that this is easy!

The bad news is that the result of reading the markers is to experience an horrific recognition of the vast numbers, wide distribution, and tremendous power of the enemy.   

*

Sunday, 18 August 2013

It was a perfect title...

*

From Lucky Jim (1954) - by Kingsley Amis:

**

Dixon looked out of the window at the fields wheeling past, bright green after a wet April.

It wasn't the double-exposure effect of the last half-minute's talk that had dumbfounded him, for such incidents formed the staple material of [Professor] Welch colloquies; it was the prospect of reciting the title of the article he'd written.

It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article's niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems.

Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance.

"In considering this strangely neglected topic," it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what?

His thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the typescript only made him appear to himself more of a hypocrite and fool.


**

One of my favourite passages from the funniest comic novel I have ever read. 

*

The traditional Christian concept of marriage is too weak

*

The following is the Solemnization of Matrimony in the Church of England according to the Book of Common Prayer (the words by which I was married, in fact). 

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.  ...


WILT thou have this Man to thy wedded Husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live? ...


I take thee to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.

*

I we put aside for a moment the wonderful, incomparable, precision and beauty of this language - then we may consider the conceptualization of the nature of marriage which lies behind them.

(I take it, I assume here, that these words also represent closely-enough the understanding of marriage in all the main traditional Christian denominations.)

*

And we can see that in some ways the concept of marriage is extremely ambitious and demanding and spiritual; but in other ways it has a very negative (remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication) and expediency-based (for the procreation of children) approach to marriage.

But also, and most importantly, marriage is seen as wholly a worldly thing, part of this brief and fallen mortal existence (so long as ye both shall live... till death us do part)

To a modern secular person, to be married for one's whole life seems like something tremendously demanding and indeed overwhelming; but to a faithful Christian who perceives this life in the context of eternity, a lifetime of marriage is almost trivially brief - it is to make marriage one episode in the tiny spark of mortality.

*

Why Christianity should have such a low view of marriage (even of marriage at its very best) is perhaps related to the history of the church, and the fact that the highest spiritual status was accorded to ascetic celibacy.

Perhaps also the sense that the events of this world were simply a trial - a test which could be failed, but not the kind of experience which might assist our spiritual state in the next life.

Perhaps also it is derived from the sense that the body was inferior to the spirit, that the needs and desires of the body were bad and ought to be transcended, and therefore that a thing of the body such as marriage was a sub-optimal compromise.

But, whatever the reasons; I suspect that this fundamental weakness, or ambiguity, or error in understanding the positive status of marriage has eventually proved to be a near-fatal Achilles heel in the context of modern Leftist secularism - which has for more than two centuries unrelentingly focused on subverting and denigrating marriage (and thereby family) as its major tool for the overthrow of Christianity.

*

Against this long-term and wholesale cultural assault on marriage, the mainstream Christian response has been and remains disturbingly feeble.  

I see this feebleness as evidence of (and consistent with) a long-standing Christian ambiguity about marriage; and the covert but undermining conviction that marriage is a second rate spiritual path and a worldly expedient - especially among the spiritual leaders of the Churches.

If the denigration of marriage is intrinsic to Christianity, then so be it; but if it is a result of long-standing doctrinal error or incompleteness - then now would be a good time to set about correcting it!  

*