Wednesday, January 22, 2003

The Case of the Running Partridge

I have learned something in the process of trying to become a writer. I have learned that I can always find a ready source of inspiration for my musings. All I have to do is simply check on the activities of some of our prominent university professors.

Take for example Dr. Kenneth P. Dial. Dr. Dial is head of a biological flight laboratory at the University of Montana. Dr. Dial has spent a great deal of time and money, as reported by Newsweek magazine, studying the activities of young birds, members of the partridge, turkey, and quail family to be exact. The fruit of this effort is that Dr. Dial has learned that within days after hatching, these young birds, will use their tiny wings to assist them to climb steep slopes and trees to escape from predators. In essence, they use their wings to give them traction. Once these young birds have done this, it appears that they are not far from developing the ability to fly. So far, so good. We now know one mechanism used by young birds to escape predators and, at the same time, learn to fly. (By the way, pity the poor birds born in Kansas; Thanksgiving dinner for them.)

However, from this study, Dr. Dial has concluded that this is the same mechanism used by “feathered” dinosaurs to learn to fly (and by implication) in the process develop the evolutionary traits that lead to the modern birds we know and love. Dr. Dial draws his conclusion in very carefully phrased language, but it is there nonetheless.

I guess I’m one of the duller members of society. Can anyone tell me how the study of the process used by turkeys to escape predators and thereby learn to fly tells us anything about where the stupid turkey came from in the first place? How does Dr. Dial have any hope of establishing, in a truly scientific manner, that so called “feathered” dinosaurs did exactly the same thing. Even better, can anyone explain to me how learning to fly influenced the genetic makeup of their turkey off spring? I learned to fly and I hope and pray that none of my progeny will ever develop feathers and live in nests as a result.

My question to Dr. Dial concerning his dinosaur theory would be: “You were there?” Short of that, there is no hope of establishing any of this as fact; it is only another dose of modern scientific-materialist theology.

The sad thing is, that this study and these conclusions have been reported in a major national magazine as another bit of “scientific” proof for the theory of evolution. Even sadder, many people reading it will accept it as fact. The only thing I see here is wishful thinking. As G.K. Chesterton said, “The only thing we know for sure about the missing link, is that it is still missing.”

Monday, January 20, 2003

A Prayer of St. Francis

"Almighty, eternal, just, and merciful God, give to us wretches to do for you what we know you to will, and to will always that which is pleasing to you; so that inwardly purified, inwardly illumined and kindled by the flame of the Holy Spirit, we may be able to follow in the footsteps of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and by your grace alone come to you the Most High, who in perfect Trinity and simple Unity lives and reigns and glories God Almighty forever and ever. Amen."

This is one of my favorite prayers of St. Francis. This, to me, is St. Francis speaking, it is so simply stated. He knows who God is – Almighty, eternal, just and merciful. He also knows who we are -- “wretches”. I think when St. Francis says that though, he is speaking in true humility. He is acknowledging the simple truth of the matter, before God we are, indeed, wretches. But I think he also knows that we are destined to become God’s children, members of his adopted family. In light of this, his prayer is simply to do God’s will and to do it gladly and lovingly.

I will be praying and meditating on this prayer this week while I’m gone.
North to Alaska
I'll be heading north to Alaska tomorrow and won't be back til late Friday night. I ask you if you would pray for me on this trip. It will be difficult since I have to cover a lot of territory in a short time. I would greatly appreciate your prayers.

I am trying to get a post done to "time release" while I'm gone since I do not anticipate that I will have access to a computer, much less the internet during the trip. If this doesn't work my next post will likely be on the weekend.

In Christ

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Stacey Question – Part II

I think the comment made to Stacey by her friend is telling in that it assumes that fiction will not be as good, as worthwhile to read, as non-fiction. I think we come to accept this idea almost out of hand these days because there is such a dearth of good fiction being written. This is true, I think, of both Catholic and non-Catholic writers. But, why should we make that assumption? Why should fiction be any less important to us, or of any less quality, than any other form of literature? Why should we expect any less of fiction writers than others?

Human beings have always told stories, either to convey their history, to entertain, to inform. Think of the Iliad, the Odyssey, the book of Genesis, the great poetry and literature of the last two or three thousand years. These are not factual, footnoted, research papers, -- they are art. All of this is very much a part of our cultural heritage. Where would we be without them?

Society today exalts our own knowledge, we only value what we can measure or quantify or verify in some way. I think this is a distorted view of the world. As Josef Pieper points out, if the only valid knowledge or learning is that which we acquire by our own effort then there is no such thing as objective truth, truth is limited to that knowledge which we acquire by our own effort. It eliminates the possibility of revelation, and cuts us off from a facet of our human existence.

The result is, I think, that we are not producing great works of art. This is true of literature, art and sculpture, all phases of creative effort. I can’t think of one really good writer of fiction working today. I think this is at least partly attributable to the scientific-materialistic bent of the culture in which we live.

One of the goals I have set for myself this year is to read more fiction and poetry because in recent years I too have fallen into the trap of reading only non-fiction. I will be taking a business trip this week and hope to read two books while traveling; one is Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstacy, (sp??) the other is Joel Rosenburg’s The Last Jihad. I’ll let you know how it goes. I wonder if anyone would like to suggest other books that have been written, say, in the last 40-50 years (fiction or poetry) that they consider worthwhile reading?
Stacey posted a question in the Catholic Writers Association chat group which reads as follows:

“I recently read a book. The author is a Catholic, who, based on credentials, I would assume to be reasonably orthodox in belief. (Yes, I'm being deliberately vague.) Frankly, I disliked the book very much, but I'm wondering how other writers feel about a few issues that were raised in my mind regarding the book. It is a work of fiction (and one of my friends informed me that "that's what you get when you read fiction" and perhaps she's right), so it's not like I would have the same expectations of it as I would of a non-fiction book, but having read a fair amount of Catholic fiction, I was surprised at this book. Ordinarily, I quite enjoy good Catholic fiction. The Red Hat, for example, I thought was a wonderful book, and I've thoroughly enjoyed all of Michael O'Brien's books, so I was really looking forward to this particular book and was terribly disappointed.

One concern that I had would be over "colorful" language. I'm sure that the author felt that it was "in character," but I found the taking of the Lord's name in vain to be disturbing. I would have been bothered much less by other sorts of vulgarities, which were much less frequent.

The other concern was the conclusion that was arrived at by the protagonist of the story. That character decided, at the end of the story, that Jesus matters because His message causes us to live good lives, but that if the story of the Resurrection is somewhat mythologized, that doesn't matter.

Obviously, such a conclusion is totally at odds with the truths of our faith, but I'm wondering if I am being naive in expecting an author who is represented as a faithful Catholic to have the characters of the book end up defending truth rather than giving a defense of heresy. Should I expect such a thing and be surprised when it doesn't happen, or is my friend correct in her "that's what you get when you read fiction"?”

Frank Sheed wrote that most Catholics go about their daily routine with no noticeable difference between their activities and those of their pagan neighbors. Their Christianity and Catholicism is nothing more than a patch on the same suit worn by all of their contemporaries. I think Stacey’s question highlights the problem in the world of modern literature. It sounds like the book that Stacey read is no different from so much popular fiction that is being written today. And from that perspective I don’t think that such a book can be called “Catholic”.

It seems to me that if a writer is writing from a Catholic-Christian perspective, that perspective will inform his or her writing. It will not, in the name of art, take the name of God in vain, since that is a violation of the 2nd commandment and at least borders on mortal sin. I also don’t think that it is Christian by any stretch of the imagination to portray Jesus as nothing more than a “nice guy” and the truth of his resurrection is anything more than a myth. This is New Age skepticism, not Christian faith and teaching.

As in any other area of life, if we proclaim ourselves to be Christians and Catholics and yet in our actions, or work or our art, do nothing that conforms to our beliefs, we are living a hopeless contradiction that we would tolerate in no other area of our lives. If we proclaimed ourselves to be Rock Ribbed Republicans and yet voted only for Democrat or Libertarian candidates and issues we would quickly see the inconsistency. If we claimed to be opposed to abortion and yet contributed large sums of money to Planned Parenthood I would hope that we would recognize the hypocrisy. How then, can a writer claim to be Catholic and not have his or her writing informed by her faith? Why do we accept the nonsensical in the area of our religious belief when we would accept it in no other area of our lives?

I don’t mean that a writer, or any artist, has to hit the reader over the head with his religion. J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, among others, demonstrated beautifully that writing can be “Catholic” or “Christian” and still be quality literature. To be Catholic, I think, it should first of all be good. I think there is precious little being written today that qualifies. I think Stacey’s friend’s comment highlights this point as another aspect of the problem. I will continue this in another posting.
Headline in the Sunday Colorado Springs Gazette

Iguanas Threaten US Virgins

Gee, I didn't know there were any left.