Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What really matters on the bucket list

The "bucket list" is made up of things someone wants to do before they die, that is, before they kick the bucket. "The Bucket List" was the name of a 2007 movie starring jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as, "Two terminally ill men [who] escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die."

(Actually, you don't "escape" from a cancer ward. It's not a prison. You just tell the staff you're leaving. See ya, so long, adios, adieu. Then you walk out. But I digress.)

Inspiration and Chai blog has a post about the five most important things to dying people.
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. ...

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
I won't copy and paste the whole post, but I will point out that in my own years in pastoral ministry, and having ministered to more dying men and women than I wish I had to, I think this writer is spot on. Here are his five "regrets of the dying."
  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

  2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I'll add one myself: "I wish I had been more generous." I have known far too few genuinely generous people. My father in law is one, and so was a man of the first church I served named Wilson Herbert. Generous people die easier, or rather, they come to peace with their terminality quicker. They have not spent their lives grasping and clinging to the things they have, so when it is time to let go of life, they manage that much better. Of course there are other things that matter, too - faith or its lack, for example. But the blogger is right:
It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
There are no independent men or women, no matter how we like to imagine ourselves so. The Book of Job quotes Job, enduing the worst kind of suffering, as saying, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart" this life. But he was wrong. We are born naked, but we died clothed in the love we gave away. At the end, only love matters. And only love lasts. Only love never ends.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The dying churches of America

The UMC's greatest membership number came in 1968, when The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren merged to create The United Methodist Church. The merger resulted in a membership of about 12.5 million souls.

Since then, the number of United Methodists in the United States has fallen without cease, numbering today about eight million. The average age of a UMC member is 60 and climbing. As I explained in 2007,
Consider some actuarial facts. If indeed the median age is about the same as the average age, 60, that means that of the 8 million UMs living today, one-fourth, or 2 million, will be dead within 20 years, and another million dead about eight years later. So in less than 30 years, we will lose from death alone three-eighths of our present membership, leaving us at 5 million.

That decline does not include the hemorrhage of our youth who, when graduating from high school, graduate from the church as well (an issue affecting all denominations). I don't have the demographic breakdown for that age group as a percentage of the UM total, but the church admits that, relative to the general population, people under 35 are underrepresented.

I should note that the UMC is a worldwide denomination and is growing outside the United States. But I am concerned here with the churches in America.

But not only the UMC is in decline. Almost without exception, the other denominations of the US are falling in number, too. In fact, the fatest-growing religious category that people use to describe themselves is "unaffiliated."

All of this leads Los Angeles Times religion columnist William Lobdell to sketch the broad outlines of the state of American churches.
August 08, 2010|By William Lobdell

Novelist Anne Rice's surprise post last week on Facebook — she announced she had quit Christianity "in the name of Christ" because she'd seen too much hypocrisy — brought cheers and smug smiles from critics of institutional faith, and criticism and soul-searching among believers.

But there's something more at play here than one of America's most famous Catholics — Rice re-embraced the faith of her youth in 1998 and published a memoir just two years ago, "Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession" — walking away from the church.

Rice is merely one of millions of Americans who have opted out of organized religion in recent years, making the unaffiliated category of faith the fastest-growing "religion" in America, according to a 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The Pew report found that 1 in 6 American adults were not affiliated with any particular faith. That number jumped to 25% for people ages 18 to 29. Moreover, most mainline Protestant denominations have for years experienced a net loss in members, and about 25% of cradle Catholics have left their childhood faith, the study showed.

And in a 2008 study by Trinity College researchers, 27% of Americans said they do not expect a religious funeral.

American Christianity is not well, and there's evidence to indicate that its condition is more critical than most realize — or at least want to admit.

Pollsters — most notably evangelical George Barna — have reported repeatedly that they can find little measurable difference between the moral behavior of churchgoers and the rest of American society. Barna has found that born-again Christians are more likely to divorce (an act strongly condemned by Jesus) than atheists and agnostics, and are more likely to be racist than other Americans.

And while evangelical adolescents overwhelmingly say they believe in abstaining from premarital sex, they are more likely to be sexually active — and at an earlier age — than peers who are mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews, according to University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus.

On the bright side, Barna's surveys show evangelicals (defined by Barna as a subset of born-again Christians, which he sees as a broader group with more flexible beliefs) do pledge far more money to charity, though 76% of them fail to give 10% of their income to the church as prescribed by their faith. Various studies show American Christians as a whole give away a miserly 3% or so of their income to the church or charity.

"Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change," Barna has said.

Barna isn't the only worried evangelical. Christian activist Ronald J. Sider writes in his book, "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience": "By their daily activity, most 'Christians' regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is their Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate their allegiance to money, sex, and personal self-fulfillment."

How to explain the Grand Canyon-sized gap between principles outlined in the Gospels and the behavior of believers? Christians typically, and rather lamely, respond that shortcomings of the followers of Jesus are simply evidence of man's inherent sinfulness.

But if one adheres to the principle of Occam's razor — that the simplest explanation is the most likely — there is another, more unsettling conclusion: that many people who call themselves Christian don't really believe, deep down, in the tenets of their faith. In other words, their actions reveal their true beliefs.

That might explain why Roman Catholic bishops leave predator priests in ministry to prey on more unsuspecting children. Or why churches on Sunday mornings are said to be the most segregated places in America. It also would explain why most Catholic women use birth control even though the practice is considered a mortal sin.

Culturally, America is still a Christian nation. The majority of us still attend church at least occasionally, celebrate Christmas and Easter, and pepper our conversations with "God bless you" and "I'll be praying for you."

But judging by the behavior of most Christians, they've become secularists. And the sea of hypocrisy between Christian beliefs and actions is driving Americans away from the institutional church in record numbers.

Some, such as Anne Rice, are continuing their spiritual journey on their own, unable to reconcile the Gospel message with religious institutions covered with man's dirty fingerprints. Others have stopped believing in God. Those with awareness who remain Christians are scrambling to find ways, like St. Francis of Assisi, to rebuild God's church.

But remember, St. Francis offered a radical example during a time when the institutional church had grown corrupt and flabby. He was a wealthy young man who took a vow of poverty and devoted himself to the poor. His motto: "Preach the Gospel at all times — and when necessary use words."

A well-informed hunch says American Christians aren't ready for the kind of reformation that will realign their actions with biblical mandates. And in the meantime, the exodus from the church will continue.

William Lobdell, a former Times staff writer, is the author of "Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace."

This is not to say that unchurched people, especially young adults, are not religious. It's that traditional religious practices and structures are not attracting them. This is not altogether to fault the UMC or other mainline churches however. That young people are enbracing "spirituality" in stead of "religion" is just as basically hypocritical as they claim we of mainline churches are. See my post, "Why 'Spirituality' Instead of Religion?"

"Hiroshima Day" - World Council of Churches gets it wrong again

It's past time for Western churches to stop treating Japan as victim every Aug. 6 and 9.

I know this is a "dog bites man" kind of story, but once again the World Council of Churches has got it wrong with, "Prayers for Peace and Justice on Hiroshima Day."

Let me be clear. I certainly have no problems with prayers for peace and justice. I pray them myself. But the order of remembrance (at the link) promulgated by the WCC is not one that I can in good conscience lead. One reason why is the inclusion of a, "Reading of an eye witness account from Hiroshima," adapted from an account by Murakami Toshio. It is a compelling account, and what he endured was dreadful beyond description. I gainsay that not. But the reading's conclusion is unacceptably incomplete:
We, the people of Hiroshima, crushed by nightmares, exasperation, resignation and hardships, have come to hate war, more than any other people, and above everything else. We have eagerly sought for peace, being so urged from the bottom of our hearts, from our very innermost core. ...
I would like to know whether Mr. Toshio hates that war equally from its beginning as from its end. Does he hate what his country did to Nanking as much as what America did to Hiroshima? After all,
When Japanese forces conquered Nanking, for example, they killed at least 200,000 civilians and probably as many as 300,000 over a six-week period (or so) beginning in mid-December 1937.
Japanese atrocities in Nanking were so terrible that Nazi Germany's Consul to the city personally intervened to save hundred of Chinese, especially women, tens of thousands of whom Japanese soldiers gang-raped and then, usually, murdered.

The list of Japanese atrocities during the war - which it started many years before it attacked Pearl Harbor - is literally too long to list here. For example, During America's campaign to liberate the Philippines, the Japanese command declared Manila to be an open city, a term in international law with the specific meaning that it would not be defended and American forces could occupy it unopposed. This was treachery and deceit: the Japanese defended the city fiercely, resulting in the deaths of 100,000 Filipino civilians. The city itself was devastated just as completely as either Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

During 1945, a half million civilians under Japanese occupation were being killed or dying every month because of the occupation.

Japan has never come to grips with its actions and has deliberately refused to face them. Germany, at least, went through such self examination after World War II, and indeed, repentance, that its Nazi past, though not erased, no longer strongly stains the nation of today. Indeed, Germans today have understood their special, historical obligation to face their past honestly and to stand for better angels of human nature today.

Japan, murderer of at least as many people as the Nazis, has never done this and will not do this. Its many years of atrocities: concentration camps, its biowar experiments on Chinese civilians, its deliberate programs of starvation and murder of prisoners, the rapacious pillaging of conquered cities and their peoples, its impressment of foreign women as sex slaves for soldiers - this and more all swept under the Japanese rug with even the barest pretense of acknowledgement that they ever occurred.

So what, exactly, about the war is it that we are supposed to be so morosely prayerful about every Aug. 6? Aug. 6 and 9 are being used by Japan to play the victim card, and when the West plays along it enables the millions of innocent victims of Japanese bushido militarism to be flushed down the memory hole. But facts are stubborn things. Japan and Japan alone is solely responsible for the Pacific and Asia wars and for America's entry into them. The delusion of the WCC and other Hiroshima apologists is that somehow the war could have ended more gently than by the bombings. But as I explained in, "Hiroshima Day,"
Had President Truman not ordered the atom bombings, the US military could have done nothing but intensify conventional bombing and blockading. Hence, Japan could not possibly have been brought to a gentler end of the war than the ending that occurred. Had fighting continued after early August 1945, additional civilian deaths would certainly have numbered in the many hundreds of thousands and probably in the millions by the end of the year.

More likely, though, is that without the atom bombings, Japan would have become embroiled in civil war, which also would have been lethal beyond estimate. Japanese records show that the overriding fear of Japan's high council was the destruction of the emperor's office and line, and the most serious threat thereto was revolution by the Japanese people themselves. The American blockade was so punishing the people that Japan's internal security service, the Kempei Tai, had soberly concluded that revolution was becoming ever-more possible.
I refuse to pollute God's ears with prayers dedicated only to Hiroshima Day and the dead of those cities while ignoring the tens of millions of Japanese-murdered souls who cry for remembrance, but do not get it, certainly not from the World Council of Churches and its allies who have no loathing but for their own civilization. If the prayers of the WCC's service are to be offered, let them be uttered on Aug. 14, the day Japan announced its surrender, or on Sept. 2, the day the surrender instruments were signed aboard USS Missouri. Let our churches no longer be accessories to Japan's blood-soaked silence but instead be voices for the millions of murdered victims of its bloodlust, imperialist militarism.

Richard Fernandez:
[T]ry this quiz. Name the two greatest losses of civilian life in the Pacific war. Hint. In both cases the civilian casualties were greater than Hiroshima’s. In one case the event took place on American soil.

Hiroshima 70,000–80,000
Battle of Manila 100,000
Nanjing 300,000
Richard posts these two photos. One is of Manila after the the battle. The other is of Hiroshima. Identify which photo is of which city.

Also from Richard's post, the words of a memorial in Intramuros, Philippines, to victims of Japanese atrocities.
This memorial is dedicated to all those innocent victims of war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to a common grave, or even never knew a grave at all, their bodies having been consumed by fire or crushed to dust beneath the rubble of ruins.

Let this monument be the gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women, children and infants killed in Manila during its battle of liberation, February 3 – March 3, 1945. We have not forgotten them, nor shall we ever forget.

May they rest in peace as part now of the sacred ground of this city: the Manila of our affections.
In 1945, Richard's aunt threw her small children off the balcony of her Manila apartment, hoping someone below would catch them, because Japanese soldiers were going into each apartment, bayoneting everyone they found, regardless of age. Nonetheless, Richard kn ow that, “Given enough time and opportunity the masters of the narrative will eventually succeed in making the Pacific War all about American aggression.”

Oh, the first photo is of Manila, the second of Hiroshima. Yet you will never see a Japanese delegation sent to Manila to pray for its people on the anniversary of the battle.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Atom bombings and their context

I wrote this in 2005. Along with my essay, Hiroshima Day, it forms a necessary background to my coming essay on Aug. 9 on why the World Council of Churches gets it wrong in its call for prayer services for Aug. 6 and Aug. 9 to commemorate the atom bombings of those cities on those dates in 1945.
Bill Quick cites the Japan Times' claim that there was "No rationalization for Nagasaki attack." Says the Times,
If the incineration of Hiroshima was justifiable as a means to end the war and save American lives -- a thesis that even most liberal Americans accept -- what was the justification for the destruction of Nagasaki three days later before Japan had a chance to grasp the message from the first nuclear attack?
Hiroshima after the bombing
First, it is not true that most American liberals (an inapt term for the topic at hand, but let it pass) accept that even the Hiroshima bombing was justified. Even so, it would be helpful to examine the context the two atom bombings took place in, especially from the Japanese perspective.
At the time of the bombing, Japan was ruled by a cabinet consisting of nine men, most of whom were members of the Army or Navy (there was no independent Japanese air force or marine corps). 

Emperor Hirohito's role in the workings and edicts of the cabinet was strictly prescribed by ancient tradition plus severe restraints emplaced on royal authority as Japan had westernized in the latter half of the 19th century. Hirohito attended cabinet meetings but did not speak. The emperor's real role was to approve the decisions taken by the cabinet, and the decisions of the cabinet had to be unanimous by law and tradition. 

Militarists dominated the cabinet in 1945 although there were civilian members who wanted to sue for a negotiated peace. However, all cabinet members were concretely agreed that no peace could be acceptable that did not leave intact the office and symbols of the emperor. Unless that guarantee could be given by the Allies, even the peace-inclined cabinet members were agreed the war should continue. (However, there was never any agreement in the cabinet what other acceptable terms should be.)

It didn't take long for the cabinet to learn what type of weapon had destroyed Hiroshima on Aug. 6. Japanese physicists realized before Nagasaki's destruction that an atom bomb had been used and had informed the cabinet. Although the cabinet realized the bomb added a new dimension to the war, they did not change their basic perceptions on whether or how to continue the war simply because America possessed and used atomic bombs. 

One reason was that the destruction of the two cities, while horrific, was by that stage of the war not unusual. As the Times article points out, mass destruction of cities had already become the norm in the war:
Before the nuclear genie was let loose, mass killings had already become a feature of the war for all sides. 
On a single night, for example, nearly 200,000 citizens burned to death when U.S. bombers doused Tokyo with jellied petroleum in March 1945. Indeed, in the months before the nuclear bombings, half a million Japanese had already died and 14 million rendered homeless in U.S. firebombing raids on cities.

The Anglo-American firebombing of Dresden in February 1945 left some 39,000 Germans dead in an air campaign Churchill acknowledged amounted to "terror bombing." Hitler's massacres of Jews, and Japanese atrocities in China, reflected a similar disdain for civilian life.

By the time Hiroshima and Nagasaki were reduced to smoldering ruins, 50 million people in the world had already been killed in conflict since 1939.
The point about Japanese atrocities in China is well taken. When Japanese forces conquered Nanking, for example, they killed at least 200,000 civilians and probably as many as 300,000 over a six-week period (or so) beginning in mid-December 1937. The scale of the deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not exceptional by that time of the war. The cabinet already realized that atom bomb or not, Japan's cities would be reduced to ash by American bombers. The atom bombs made the task easier but not more certain.

But the threat to the integrity of the emperor and his office was not simply from the Allies. Japan's security arm, the Kempei Tai, had a domestic enforcement arm very similar to that of the Nazi Gestapo. Kempei Tai intelligence had for months been assessing that there was a real and growing threat of revolution in Japan because of worsening subsistence of the people. American submarines and B-29s emplaced and enforced a ruthless blockade of Japanese ports, cutting off access by sea from Japanese holdings in mainland Asia. Bombers also devoted thousands of sorties to the destruction of rail and road egress from Japanese port cities to the country's interior.

These operations made Japan's populace suffer terribly from the interdiction of foodstuffs from Asia. The main effort was actually named "Operation Starvation" and was begun in April 1945. So severe were its effects that,
After the war, the commander of Japan's minesweeping operations noted that he thought this mining campaign could have directly led to the defeat of Japan on its own had it began earlier.
By the time of the atom bombings, actual starvation had not begun in Japan, but the population was experiencing the same privation as if from severe famine. Adults in some parts of the country were consuming fewer than 1,000 calories per day; on July 30, 1945,
Food shortages lead the government to call on the civilian population of Japan to collect 2.5 million bushels of acorns to be converted into eating material. The average Japanese is presently surviving on a daily intake of about 1680 calories, or 78 percent of what is considered the minimum necessary to survive.
The Kempei Tai was well aware that more than a few revolutions in world history had begun from lack of food and was concerned that the emperor might become personally at risk when children and infants started dying and adults became desperate. The cabinet was regularly briefed by the Kepei Tai on this concern.

What the atom bombings did more than anything was provide the Japanese cabinet - and not all of them - with the excuse to surrender rather than the direct reason. Although American and Japanese historians continue to debate the issue, my readings lead me to conclude that the bombings were seized on by Hirohito and like-minded cabinet members as the handle to end the war to avoid revolution. According to Mitsumasa Yonai, Japan's civilian navy minister,

“It may be inappropriate to put it in this way, but the atomic bombs and the Soviet entry into the war are, in a sense, God’s gifts,” Yonai said nearly a week after an American B-29 dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. ...

“Now we can end the war without making it clear that we have to end the war because of the domestic situation,” said Yonai, who was among the six-member inner Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki.

“I have long been advocating the conclusion [of the war], not because I am afraid of the enemy’s attacks or because of the atomic bombs or the Soviet participation in the war,” he said. “The most important reason is my concern over the domestic situation.”
This statement was uttered before Hirohito directed the cabinet to end the war on Aug. 14. Hirohito took the unprecedented and then-shocking step of personally speaking to the cabinet, rather than sending written communications, and directing the cabinet to end the war. Hirohito made recordings to be broadcast to the nation on Aug. 15. During the evening of Aug. 14, some militarist generals attempted a coup to seize the recordings and take the emperor into what they termed protective custody, convinced that he had fallen under sway of traitors in the government.

(Hirohito's reputation was remade after the war as the savior of his nation but there is little reason to believe he was neutral between the peace advocates and war advocates. Hirohito was a staunch militarist, who along with other militarists in the government,
... waited, instead, until the foreign enemies gave them a face-saving excuse to surrender in order to prevent the kokutai from being destroyed by antimilitary, antiwar pressure from within Japan. ... It didn’t matter how many hundreds of thousands died as long as the monarchy remained intact.
Hirohito was just as concerned about revolution as anyone, maybe more so since his neck was literally on the line in the question.)

It may still be reasonably debated whether the Nagasaki bombing was too hasty. But it isn't clear that without a second atomic bombing fairly soon that the Japanese would have capitulated as readily as they did. In fact, one reason the American authorities hit Nagasaki only three days after Hiroshima was to deceive Japan that there was no shortage of atomic bombs. In fact, the two dropped were the only two that existed. Additional atom bombs would not be ready until September, but then would be produced rapidly enough to support the Air Force's regular use of them through most of the fall.

In 20-20 hindsight it can be reasonably argued that Japan would have surrendered without the bombings, but many crucial facts we know now were opaque to both sides at the time. There is no doubt that many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of solders and civilians across the Pacific and Asian areas would have died from the war had it continued; discussion of prospective American and Japanese casualties from an invasion of Japan don't consider that hundreds of thousands of other nationalities were perishing every month at Japanese hands in lands still under Japanese control.

However the war would have ended absent the second bombing, or absent it coming so soon, I don't see how it could have ended as quickly or cleanly as it did and it probably would not have ended so absolutely or bloodlessly. The bombings left intact the organs of the Japanese government, which alone were able to order the far-flung Japanese forces to lay down their arms. Had either invasion or domestic uprising or their combination fractured the unity of the central government, America might have been forced to fight each Japanese unit across the Pacific and Asia to neutralize them and there may have been Japanese guerrilla wars for years in Japan and elsewhere by Japanese soldiers. We'll never know, of course.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Legalize polygamy?

In the wake of federal Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling that overturned California's Proposition 8, that defined marriage solely as the union between a man and a woman, I think it would be useful to ask why not legalize polygamy (or polyandry, for that matter).

Understand: I am not advocating this. But if the US Supreme Court upholds Walker's ruling, as many observers think it will by 5-4 vote (Kennedy being the swing), the the inevitable - indeed, unavoidable - consequence will be that the state has no authority to regulate marriage. That being the case, it will not be possible to offer a legally sustainable argument that gay marriage is okay but polygamy is not.

Polygamy has in fact has vocal though few advocates in the United States for years. The Mormons began practicing polygamy shortly after moving to Utah in the 1840s, continuing with ecclesial endorsement until 1890, when church president Wilford Woodruff ended the practice its sanction. But the practice continued until for new few years afterward. (Presumably, existing polygamous marriages were grandfathered.) Some Mormon advocate re-sanctioning polygamy today (and here).

A post at Blogcritics on "Legalizing Polygamy and Polyandry" states the obvious: "that polygamists and polyandrists see the recognition of same-sex marriage as being a justification for their cause... "

I personally do not foresee a large movement toward polygamy (or "plural marriage," as its advocates call it). But my question remains: once the Court has struck down the states' authority to regulate marriage, what is there to stop it? Nothing.

I'll give the last word to the Chinese:

Above is the ideogram for "two women under one roof," which means "trouble" in Chinese. This may be an urban legend, though. "Yin & Yáng and the I Ching" says that no such symbol actually is used in China, although there are authentic ideograms for one woman under a roof and three under a roof, thus:

Interesting that three women under one roof has such purely negative connotations. And probably informative, too.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What makes marriage, marriage?

A secular argument against same-sex marriage
With the ruling this week by federal Judge Vaughn Walker that overturned California's Proposition 8, that defined marriage solely as the union between a man and a woman, I think it would be useful to examine the question, "What makes a thing a thing?"

More to the point, what makes marriage, marriage? That is a basic dispute in the issue. I take the position in this post that "homosexual marriage" is a self-contradictory expression that cannot be sustained as an intellectually coherent concept.

The Problem of Universals and defining what is marriage

On the one hand, traditionalists insist that marriage is the legal and sexual union of a man and a woman for the purpose of bringing forth the next generation. That some husbands and wives do not conceive children for whatever reason is accidental to this definition and therefore does not obviate it. Along the way there are certain socially recognized, and usually legally enforceable, rights and obligations that go along with spousal status, such as property rights. Marriage is therefore definitionally impossible for between members of the same sex. Usually, but not always, this argument is buttressed from religious grounds.

On the other hand, proponents of same-sex marriage insist that it is the fulfillment of love and affection they have for one another to which childbearing is incidental. They claim that homosexual relations are just as valid an expression of love as heterosexual; therefore, homosexual relationships should receive the same legal recognition as traditional marriage. Sometimes, but not often, this argument is also buttressed from religious grounds.

Now, the particulars of these arguments I'll address below. First, I want to discuss this question: "what makes a thing a particular thing?" This problem is one of the oldest if philosophical inquiry. It is called, "The Problem of Universals."

Individuals have two kinds of knowledge of things: experiential and intellectual. Experiential knowledge arises from our senses - sight, sound, smell, etc. Intellectual knowledge of things is ideas or concepts formed from seeing experiencing many things and categorizing them into abstracted concepts.

Experiential knowledge gives us knowledge about a particular thing - the keyboard I am typing on, for example, but in intellectual knowledge we primarily use a concept. A true concept of, say, books, tells us nothing about the particular characteristics of the next book we pick up, but it tells us how we will know it is a book at all.

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato took the view that there was a realm of unchanging Ideas to which the physical world conformed so as to give each physical thing its identity. A particular object is endowed with a lesser, impermanent reality of its Ideal as it comes into momentary being, and loses it as it passes away. (Plato's work heavily influenced medieval thinkers, who called the realm of Ideas Universals.)

Aristotle, not long after Plato, disagreed with the notion of Ideas and thought that the forms (as he called them) exist only in the particular things and have no existence apart from or separate from them.

So the problem of universals was this: Since the nature of a universal concept was different in detail from any particular occasion of it, do universals actually give us any knowledge about the world?

In the 11th and 12th centuries, three positions got staked out:

Nominalism (Roscellinus): only the particular or individual is real. Universal terms are merely a word or a name, a flatus vocis , or "breathing of the voice," entirely subjective and mental, which serves as a sign for common objects.

Universalism (William of Champeux): Individuality is only an accidental variation or modification of universal essence.

Conceptualism (Abelard): a kind of moderated realism. Universal concepts are more than mere names and are actually abstractions of general characteristics objects possess in common. These natures do actually exist, but only in the objects which possess them. "Tree" as a universal category is an isolation of the mind of common features present in all trees. But "tree" does not exist as a universal being on its own. Universals are indispensable forms of knowledge we need to know the world.

What the two sides of the same-sex marriage are doing is arguing from two different understandings of what make a thing a thing, or what makes marriage marriage. The "pro" side seems to me to be arguing from the nominalist side, that marriage has no reality in the abstract apart from married couples themselves. Hence, objections from traditionalists that calling the same-sex couples in San Francisco married does not make them so is met with derision from the pro side. In their view, calling them married is exactly what does make them married.

OTOH, most traditionalist arguments I've seen seem to cleave to the Universalist line, that marriage has a definition - that is, a reality - independent of persons who are married. Marriage, truly to be marriage, must conform to this Universal. If not, it is not even a decent imitation and does not share in the Universal reality of marriage.

I tend toward a Conceptualist position. "Marriage" is not simply the name given to any relationship between adults, but only to certain kinds of them. As ordained by God or evolved through millennia (take your pick) there are certain characteristics and behaviors that marriage partners have always exhibited in common.

The Conceptualist advantage is that it does not require every example to conform to the abstraction in every detail, as the Universalist position does (its real weakness as an argument), and as the Nominalist position holds as irrelevant.

A Conceptualist argument of marriage could examine the history and results of marriage for literally back to the stone age and identify certain essentials of marriage that have not changed throughout history:

  • Marriage has always, in all times, cultures and place, been the union of a man and a woman. There is no reason to doubt that homosexuals have also lived in all those cultures, but there is no evidence that their relationships have ever determined the nature of marriage.

  • The affirmation of love and affection of the spouses for one another has only rarely been a cause for marriage in human history. Until recently even in in the West (including America), the emotional feelings that spouses had for one another was not considered very important; what was important was their social or economic similarity, and their compatibility in a myriad of other ways. Marrying because of love is a latecomer to the scene and is not really the norm in most of the world's people now. There are billions of people living in cultures today in which brides and grooms hardly have met before their wedding day.

  • The very fundamental purpose of marriage has been and remains the propagation of the next generation. Look at it this way: just as "a hen is an egg's way of making another egg," marriage is the means by which parents become grandparents. While it is biologically possible for children to be born outside the marital bond (obviously), it is empirically provable that what biologists call "survival advantages" of those children is so relatively low that non-marital childbearing is literally a dead end.

  • Hence, marriage is self-perpetuating, self-referent upon itself and self-defining. Marriage throughout human history has never needed to be defined by relying on something else. However, same-sex "marriage" has no existence or meaning apart from male-female marriage. Male-female marriage is self-perpetuating within itself; same-sex marriages cannot self-perpetuate within themselves at all. In fact, if not for male-female marriage, same-sex marriage cannot even occur at all. Self-perpetuation is the critical element of marriage without which a same-sex relationship, no matter how affectionate, fails to be marriage.

  • Elements of marriage such as property rights and the like do not centrally define what marriage is. Indeed, the historical and present record shows that such matters have varied widely across human cultures and experience. The wife as an equal partner is a modern development, but its lack in other times and places does not obviate the essential character of marriage, the procreation of the next generation. The various legal and social rights and recognitions that pertain to married couples are the result, not the cause, of marriage, intended to buttress its central purpose. Therefore, they are added or discarded inasmuch as they do so, though not without other influences as well. Thus, the legal rights and social claims of married partners are incidental, not essential, to defining what marriage is.

  • Marriage is therefore a social institution, not a merely personal one. All society has a vested interest in the propagation of the next generation and the health thereof. As the saying goes, we are always only one generation from extinction. As a social institution, marriage is defined in aggregate, not in particular. This fact argues against a Nominalist position that if two same-sex persons obtain a marriage license, that they are in fact married. It also shows why the pro side's snark that many male-female married couples never have children is irrelevant: out of any random 100 heterosexual marriages, the overwhelming majority will conceive children of their own, within the marriage bond, but out of any 100 same-sex unions, exactly zero will do so. Hence, the lack of children in a small minority of male-female marriages is accidental to marriage as a social institution and the purpose it serves, but the inability of same-sex unions to have children within the bond is inescapably central to their relationship.

All of which is to say that the accidental characteristics of marriage - love, affection, property and other rights - spring from what marriage is rather than define what marriage is. Therefore, whatever relationship homosexuals may have with one another, and whatever legal rights civil authority may confer upon them, marriage is inherently - indeed, metaphysically - the province only of men and women united in matrimony.

Because the state of marriage is a matter of of social concern and justifiable public interest, society has the right to regulate it as it would regulate other matters of equal (or even lesser) concern. Consider that marriage today is less regulated than getting a driver's license, yet no judge finds it unConstitutional that blind or 12-year-old persons can't get licenses.

But this is simply to recognize that the advocates of gay marriage have no philosophical or rationalistic basis. Theirs is a political claim and nothing more. But, having failed to advance their cause through legislative or executive support, they have turned to the last refuge of political scoundrels: activist courts and judges.

Endnote: Dana Mack, writing in the WSJ, "Now What for Marriage?":
[T]here is a great deal of social-science evidence connecting marriage and the active engagement of two biological parents with child well-being. And there is simply no other way to view the age-old, universal institution of marriage than as rooted in the biological family. Marriage, like all cultural institutions, evolves; and it may look very different in different cultures. But the institution's common denominator across time and cultures has been its dedication to the offices of reproduction. The great 20th century cultural anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowsky stated that while marriage is as old as human life, it has never been primarily a romantic, or even an economic, bond. It has been principally an arrangement for bearing children.

Hiroshima Day

The first atomic weapon used in warfare explodes over Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945

August 6 is the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. It and the subsequent atom bombing of Nagasaki led quickly to the capitulation of the Empire of Japan, ending World War II. The history leading up to the bombings is compelling and has been the subject of intense debate here in the United States as well as the occasion for condemnation of America after the war by various factions both domestically and abroad.

My purpose here is not to assess those debates or accusations, but simply to relate the history and its context of the American decision to drop the two atom bombs and of Japan's decision to surrender afterward. How connected, exactly, was Japan's surrender to the bombings? The answer is surprising. The atom bombings, it turns out, did not cause Japan to surrender so much as it gave them the chance to do so honorably (honorably in their minds, that is).

(It must be considered, though, that throughout most of 1945, a half-million civilians were dying monthly at the hands of the Japanese in the Asian and Pacific lands Japan still occupied. Any criticism of the decision to drop the atom bombs must take this genocidal monthly death toll into account.)

Syndicated columnist Austin Bay posted the text of a letter written by James A. Michener to a friend in October, 1995. Michener was serving in the US Army Air Corps in the Pacific when the bombs were dropped. He wrote ,

Never once in those first days nor in the long reconsiderations later could I possibly have criticized Truman for having dropped that first bomb. True, I see now that the second bomb on Nagasaki might have been redundant and I would have been just as happy if it had not been dropped. And I can understand how some historians can argue that Japan might have surrendered without the Hiroshima bomb, but the evidence from many nations involved at that moment testify to the contrary. From my experience on Saipan and Okinawa, when I saw how violently the Japanese soldiers defended their caves to the death I am satisfied that they would have done the same on Kyushu. ...

[I]f you are unlucky enough to become engaged in [war] you better not lose it. The doctrine, cruel and thoughtless as it may sound, governs my thought, my evaluations and my behavior. I could never publicly turn my back on that belief, so I have refused opportunities to testify against the United States in the Hiroshima matter. . . . I know that I was terrified at what might happen and d----d relieved when the invasion became unnecessary. I accept the military estimates that at least one million lives were saved and mine could have been one of them.

I have known a few men who served in the armed forces in the Pacific who completely agree. My father-in-law, an Army officer in 1945, veteran of eight combat amphibious assaults in the Pacific, is convinced that he is alive because the atom bomb canceled the invasion of Japan. My father was assigned to the Pacific Fleet in 1945 and wound up on an aircraft carrier, serving a battle station as a 40-mm antiaircraft gunner. Carriers were primary kamikaze targets.

There are two essential books to understand what happened and why. One is a little-known work of Japanese historians, written eight years after the bombing, Japan's Longest Day . Their focus is on the period between the Nagasaki bombing and the radio address of Emperor Hirohito in which he announced that the war had not turned in Japan's favor. The authors painstakingly document the fact that even the atomic bombings did not persuade all the Japanese high command to surrender. A coup was actually attempted by an army general, who sent troops to occupy the emperor's palace grounds, take the emperor into protective custody and seize the recordings of his statement to be broadcast. The coup failed, of course, but as Wellington had said about Waterloo, it was a close-run thing.

The second book is an award-winning book, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, by Richard B. Frank. A very comprehensive history, Frank documents the Japanese plan for defending against American invasion of the home islands, using Japanese documents and records. But his best contribution is the way he shows the context in which the Japanese bombings occurred.

Frank shows that the most destructive weapon used against Japan in 1945 was blockade, which robbed Japan of raw materials, petroleum and most vitally, food from the Asian mainland. The blockade was enforced by submarines and B-29 bombers, which laid mines throughout the Sea of Japan, concentrating on the approaches to Japan's harbors. Japan's industries were surprisingly resilient to aerial bombing but could not function when their raw materials were so successfully interdicted.

The remains of Nagasaki, destroyed by an atom bomb on August 9, 1945

Frank shows that within a day of the first bombing, Japanese scientists had correctly identified the weapon's type. Even so, no one's first thought was of surrender. The death tolls of the bombings and the extent of their physical destruction were neither remarkable nor unusual by that stage of the war. As far back as March, B-29s had killed far more people in one night of bombing Tokyo than died in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. While the Japanese high council did understand that the atom bomb was an unstoppable weapon, well, so were the vast fleets of American bombers already pulverizing Japan's cities. (The high council, eight men who advised the emperor, ruled Japan without challenge. The Diet was toothless by 1945.)

The emperor and his government were united in a collective, non-negotiable condition for capitulation - that the emperor and his office must remain intact, along with the ancient symbols of his divine authority – something akin to the British crown jewels and scepter; the closest American equivalents are the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The emperor's line had continued unbroken for 2,600 years and his imperial regalia had been passed down from time immemorial. Together they defined the national polity. Japan Zone explains ,

According to the historical chronicles of ancient Japan, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters, AD712) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan, AD720), the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami presented the sanshu no jingi or Imperial Regalia to her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto. He in turn passed them on to his descendants, the emperors, the first of whom was Emperor Jimmu. The regalia, a mirror, a sword and a curved jewel are symbols of the legitimacy and authority of the emperor. These creation myths also form the foundations of the indigenous Shinto faith.

At the insistence of General Douglas MacArthur, who knew Japan, its history and culture intimately, America covertly promised to leave intact the emperor's throne and regalia long before the atom bombings. The Allies issued Japan the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945, directing Japan to surrender or "face prompt and utter destruction." Only two days later Japan's government rejected the ultimatum out of hand. On July 31, Emperor Hirohito told the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, Koichi Kido (a member of the high council) that the imperial regalia would have to be protected at all costs.

Despite the secret guarantees, none of the high council agreed to surrender before the atom bombings occurred. Japan's prosecution of the war never let up. The Truman administration and military commanders began to wonder whether, short of actual invasion, Japan could be brought to surrender. (Several of the high council never agreed to surrender even after the atom bombings.)

Until 1995, very large amounts of American records from the months before the bombings remained classified. These records included minutes of meetings of very high-level American civilian officials and military officers. The more conspiracy-minded of historians claimed that the decades-long classification of these records were meant to conceal the enormous rifts within the government over using the atom bomb, and that the hawks of the government and armed forces had succeeded in quashing objections.

However, when the records were released in the '90s, no such rift was evident. While it is true that a number of officials and generals expressed dismay or reservations later (often years later), they never uttered objections before the bombings.

So why were the files classified so long? The answer is mundane: they showed that not only were US intelligence services intercepting and decoding Japanese communications, they were doing the same with the communications of almost 30 other countries, many allied with the United States, including our closest ally, Britain,

These interceptions included those of non-belligerent nations that still maintained embassies in Tokyo. Their communications to their home governments in 1945 were nearly unanimous that Japan would not capitulate. It would fight to the bitter end.

Another thing that the files revealed was that a serious rift over US policy and plans against Japan was developing before the atom bombings, but not over the atom bomb or its use. The rift was over the prospect on invading Japan. And the neutral nation's diplomatic messages were part of the reason.

American planners' estimates of casualties on both sides following an invasion were shockingly high. The recent bloodbath of the battle for Okinawa evoked a split among the American joint chiefs of staff over the prospect of invasion. Half the service chiefs became opposed to invasion because the human toll was unacceptable. Richard Frank concludes in an online essay that this rift was not quite fully set by the end of July but that, absent Japan's captitulation in August, the president would have decided not to invade the Japanese home islands and would have ordered other means to force surrender.

What could those other ways have included? Even if Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not been destroyed by atom bombings, they would not have been spared destruction by massive, conventional bombing. The air campaigns against Japanese cities and lines of communication - rail lines, roads, bridges and the like - would have continued, even though by mid-1945 they were mostly destroyed. Japan's cargo fleet was mostly sunk. Japan had no navy left to speak of. What it did have was thousands of airplanes, millions of soldiers and militia and near-limitless stocks of ammunition, held in reserve to oppose invasion.

Hence, American strategy, absent invasion, could only have consisted of two things:

1. More atom bombings. The atom bombings of Japanese cities would not have stopped with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Manufacture of atom bombs was scheduled to ramp up to at least two per month before autumn and other target cities had already been identified.

2. Tightening the already-choking blockade. It's worth remembering that as late as World War One, blockade as a war measure was condemned as inhumane and even criminal because its effects spread across all the people of the blockaded country, without regard to age, sex, or status as soldier or civilian. Cut off from Asian mainland food stocks, the Japanese were coming dangerously close to actual starvation by late spring 1945. The per capita, daily calorie intake had fallen to significantly less than the minimum required and was declining steadily. Even after the war, typhoons so damaged Japan's rice fields in October 1945 that massive US food aid was required to prevent mass starvation. Had the war still been going on then, as it would have without the atom bombings, the Japanese death toll would have been very high.

As you can see, though, such a "strategy" is no strategy at all. It is a spasm. Had President Truman not ordered the atom bombings, the US military could have done nothing but intensify conventional bombing and blockading. Hence, Japan could not possibly have been brought to a gentler end of the war than the ending that occurred. Had fighting continued after early August 1945, additional civilian deaths would certainly have numbered in the many hundreds of thousands and probably in the millions by the end of the year.

More likely, though, is that without the atom bombings, Japan would have become embroiled in civil war, which also would have been lethal beyond estimate. Japanese records show that the overriding fear of Japan's high council was the destruction of the emperor's office and line, and the most serious threat thereto was revolution by the Japanese people themselves. The American blockade was so punishing the people that Japan's internal security service, the Kempei Tai, had soberly concluded that revolution was becoming ever-more possible. Even the most hawkish of the council were petrified by this prospect, realizing that people who were literally starving could never be reasoned with to endure obediently to their deaths, especially as they watched their children suffer. The council also had no way to ensure that army units would remain loyal to the emperor once the people took to the streets - the soldiers were hungry, too.

Hence, the atom bombings provided an opening for a face-saving way to end the war. Petrified by the prospect of civil revolution, the high council could preserve its honor (as it understood it) by claiming that the atom bomb was a new weapon of such power that resistance was no longer preferable or possible. This was indeed the tack they took. Not every member of the high council agreed even so; some were willing to risk that the American invasion would come before a domestic revolution broke out and that once US troops were ashore, the people would unite to fight the enemy.

Finally, Emperor Hirohito himself broke the impasse, speaking directly to the high council, which had never been done before. He declared that "the time has come when we must bear the unbearable....[so I] give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied [Potsdam] Proclamation," that had directed Japan to surrender or face utter destruction.

The atom bombings, then, provided the opening rather than a fundamental reason to accept the Allies' terms. With the assurance that the Americans would neither abolish the emperor's office nor claim the imperial symbols as war prizes, surrender became the only guarantee that the national polity could continue. Hence it was less undesirable than continuing the war, which would have only invited more destruction and then revolution.

Update, 8/19/2023: This video on YouTube came out just four days ago. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Kit-Kat Jesus

According to The Telegraph, this is, "A Kit-Kat which supposedly contains an image of Jesus."
"I was amazed. I just took a bite and then I saw the face of Christ in it," the finder told the NU.nl Dutch website. Other witnesses were less impressed. "It looks more like Darth Vader," said one.

Here is an image from the Shroud of Turin, reputed to be the burial shroud of Jesus.

And here is Darth Vader.

I report, you decide. Shroud of Turin gets my vote,.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Learning the hard way

There is probably no more difficult lesson to learn than that life is not about you.

Jesus is served

John 6.5-14 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people t...