Saturday, December 30, 2006


"I notice that you believe in God, but that you want a God who is discreet, not too exacting and comfortably unknowable" - Paul Claudel

One of my newest favorite words, epistemology - the study of knowledge. Or, how do we know what we know? There are multiple ways to gain knowledge, which is to say, an intelligent person might recognize several valid epistemological approaches. I would like to touch upon just two or three of the most significant, as i see them:


The epistemology of science is based upon observation of empirical data. From these observations, the scientist looks for patterns, formulates a theory to explain the patterns, constructs experiments to test the theory, which yield more data to be observed, and the cycle repeats.

'Observation' is to be understood as any direct or indirect noting and measuring of the subject matter by the scientist's five senses, perhaps aided by instruments. Hence, the scientific method can only be concerned with the physical properties and behavior of the subject studied. That is, the proper domain of science is the physical universe, all things composed of matter and energy.

Note that this epistemology is necessarily tentative and experimental, always open to newly observed data which may alter the currently prevailing theory.

Note this also: Our perception of physical realities is a given; our senses will observe certain phenomena in the matter and energy with which we deal. But the scientific approach applies a discipline, rigor, and methodology to turn our observations more reliably into knowledge. The scientific method is absolutely the best thing going if you want to better understand our universe, and everything in it.


Not content with a single narrow epistemology, most reasonable people also recognize that much of reality does not fall within the category of physical matter and energy. Our lives are full of such non-material realities as love, honor, tragedy, beauty, good, evil...

The innate yearning of the human spirit for the Transcendant and the nearly universal recognition of moral responsibilities demand an appropriate means of knowing about these things, a fitting epistemology.

The scientific method, observing and measuring data, cannot be applied here. One cannot prove the existence of God by empirical observation alone, nor can one disprove His existence scientifically. Nor can moral principles be proven scientifically. Show me the empirical data which indicates that Mother Teresa was virtuous, or that Hitler was evil. It cannot be done, because examining and measuring mere matter and energy will never reveal any such non-physical stuff as virtue or vice.

As with physical reality, most humans will recognize transcendant and moral reality. Our dealings with moral and spiritual realities does not begin with theology. It begins with an inner experience which may seem inexplicable, beyond words. Yet we must explain it; we must try to understand it. Theology is just that - faith seeking understanding. As with physical reality, we will profit greatly from an appropriate epistemology, so as to reliably attain the knowledge we seek. No sense in a sloppy, undisciplined, or haphazard approach.

A person recognizes that the experience of faith is intensely personal, but a shared experience as well, common to Man. The best theology, then, would seem to be a didactic one, in which the knowledge is imparted from teacher to student, from mentor to disciple. And, as this would ultimately suggest, from God to Man. The epistemology of theology, then, is one of revelation and of authority, both divine authority and divinely ordained human authority. This is, in fact, the pattern we see in the three major creedal religions.

Note that, unlike the epistemology of science, this epistemology does not allow its knowledge to be experimental, tentative, or even changeable. Our theological understanding may deepen over time, but, once Truth is revealed divinely, it can't be 'unrevealed'. If ever we find ourselves saying that what was once true in a theological sense is no longer true, then we have a failed epistemology. Theological truth that is no longer valid must not have ever been so; and so our new 'truth' is unreliable, too.

Given the above, the most complete and reasonable system that i can find is that of Catholicism. God not only reveals Himself, but comes to us in the person of Jesus who gives authority to men, thus establishing the Church as 'the pillar and bulwark of truth' (1 Tim 3:15). Why single this creed out from the rest? Perhaps a future post will further explore my thoughts on this question.

(Later note: that post is Epistemology - Part 2, above)


I'm not at all sure that 'intuition' is the right word here. What i mean by it is the kind of knowledge that just sort of comes to us, in an inner and subjective way. What one may subjectively 'know' to be true in one's 'heart'.

Not much to say about this epistemology. It's best use is probably in such things as deciding upon a career path, whom to marry, and in other such cases in which the methods above may help, but the specifics of the situation require a more personal knowledge.

Putting it all together

I like to think of myself as a well-rounded and reasonable fellow. So i embrace all of the above, each in its own proper way. Science to answer questions of matter and energy, and everything included therein. Solid Catholic theology to answer questions of faith and morals. Subjective intuition to make those personal decisions (though first guided by good science and theology).

On that note, i make these three appeals (to whom it may concern):

You scientists, please recognize the limits of your discipline, and refrain from trying to draw moral or doctrinal conclusions from your empirical observations. Doing so will only damage your credibility as a scientist.

You theologians, please recognize the demands of your discipline, and refrain from trying to alter or experiment with eternal Truth.

Those of you who routinely call upon your 'heart' to draw scientific, doctrinal, or moral conclusions... please use your brain.

pax et bonum,

Monday, December 25, 2006

Hold the ketchup

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us

I have a confession to make: Sometimes i subconsciously get weary of the simple, ancient tenets of our faith, and welcome fresh ideas, new ways of looking at things, a different 'slant'. As if the Truth needed embellishment! Well, this is kinda like putting ketchup on chile. The simple truths of our faith are absolutely mind-boggling - if i dare to look at them, that is. When i fail to look at them straight on, or try to explain them away, or water them down (or drown them in ketchup), they do indeed become insipid. Taken as they are, well, they may be too hot for my tastes, but they are in no way boring or tasteless.

Let's just take one example: The God of our faith - the same God who sprinkled the galaxies around like so many grains of sand, and who personally created each atom in every molecule in every speck of dust under my bed (and that's alot of specks) - the Almighty, the Eternal, the Infinite - that this God chose to have a human Mother! Well, this would be too absurd to speak about, an immensely laughable concept, a preposterous idea of monstrous proportions - - if it were not undeniably true.

See what i mean?

So, hold the ketchup. No embellishment needed for this bowl of chile. Just give me the grace, Lord, to begin to appreciate the unvarnished Truth as revealed in Scripture and taught by Holy Mother Church. That's all i need, thank you.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What makes Jerry run?

Seems as if my desire to relocate to another part of the world has left some of you with an inaccurate picture. I am sorry if i gave the impression that my motive for going elsewhere was to preserve some personal purity (what personal purity?) from the corruption of our culture. I try to make a fine distinction between distancing myself from the culture (the prevailing or ascendant assumptions and expectations about behavior, etc.) and rejecting society itself. I am, after all, a social animal; i need other people, and maybe some of them need me. Hermits in the desert have this sense of connectedness, perhaps more than most others.

To be sure, the moral decay of Western culture is inarguable; in fact, that culture is now wrong about almost everything. Beginning with the holocaust of abortion on demand, and willingness of decent folks to accept it or at least ignore its magnitude, and, from there to other issues, our modern society is clearly going in the wrong direction.

Please know that this was a very traumatic realization for me. I grew up loving America, and being proud of my national heritage; to acknowledge that she was morally rotten was a difficult admission, but one that i had to make. I identified as well with the Democrat party and with its liberal ideology, and so it was hard to admit here, too, that those ideologies had become morally bankrupt and the party platform a murderous one. I was proud to be a member of the generation of hippies, flower children, and peaceniks, and it was gut-wrenching to have to admit that that generation was now responsible for some of the greatest evil in history.

But none of that would suffice for making me want to leave my native homeland. I would still be willing to continue living here, but for a couple of things:

First, the fact that our government is not content with simply abandoning legal protection for the pre-born, but requires all taxpayers to underwrite the holocaust. I do not pretend to be morally pure by any means, but i still have a conscience, and i still cannot willingly be an accomplice to the murder of innocents. As Thomas Jefferson opined, "To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical." Jefferson was just referring to ideas; what i'm being forced to do is cooperate with government mandated murder!

This is no longer confined to Title X abortion funding. With the re-election of Governor Doyle, Wisconsin taxes will likely soon be used to perform human embryonic stem cell research. Similar conditions exist in most of the states. American tax dollars are used for anti-life measures internationally as well, including forced or coerced sterilization, aggressive population control measures, etc. I may not be able to escape the evil in our world, but i think i might still find a place to live without having to fund murder and genocide with my taxes.

Secondly, i might be inclined to stay and resist, but the acceptance of this holocaust by otherwise decent people leads me to sadly acknowledge no remedy within reasonable sight; it has seemingly become an established part of the culture. True voter sentiment must be reflected in the aforementioned government policies, else, how do these politicians keep getting elected? And how is it that even so-called pro-life government leaders continue to support the funding of these things? And that church-going Christians increasingly accept and sometimes even approve of what they formerly would have called serious sin? No, this travesty is evidently embedded within our very collective consciousness. I no longer puzzle over how the good people of Germany allowed that holocaust to happen; with too few exceptions, the same phenomenon is happening right before my eyes.

The growing acceptance of same-sex unions, and homosexual 'rights' would not, in itself, be a motive for leaving, since that ideology does not (so far) require my material cooperation. But this phenomenon does underscore the concern just mentioned. Namely, that it indicates the gradual abandonment of moral standards by otherwise decent people, and thus indicates a systemic malady, very difficult to remedy. (Indeed, no remedy is possible where there is no recognition that a problem exists.)

Please understand that i do not hate or fear sinners. Indeed, i am one. Returning to the original theme, it is not due to some personal purity that i feel compelled to start afresh soon. I am a sinful man, and i freely acknowledge that. In fact, one of the signs of a healthy culture would be that my sins also would be recognized as evil, and not readily excused. For my own salvation, i need to live where some standards are upheld.

Some say it is better to stay and resist the evil. (Many of those saying this are not resisting the evil themselves, and many are major contributors to it!) Be that as it may, my current strategy within this country of passive tax resistance seems to be the best i can manage, but is becoming more and more futile.

I suppose i could stay and become a civil disobedience outlaw, perhaps engaging in an Operation Rescue or some such active resistance. But i couldn't do this solo, and i honestly don't see any such opportunities in sight. (Maybe somebody reading this will tell me of some!)

Perhaps this 'Slouching Towards Gomorrah' is, ironically, its own remedy. The more hopelessly depraved our culture becomes, the more quickly it is likely to implode completely, which may be the only ultimate remedy.

The coward in me says i might just as well go someplace where i can live a somewhat normal and quiet life for the final third of my lifespan. Somewhere where i could make a living without materially supporting murder via my taxes. Somewhere where standards of decency and morality are still recognized, even if not always followed.

So, the sense of entering into a new chapter of my life soon has almost nothing to do with a personal need to escape (or personal 'need' of any kind). It has a great deal to do with the increasing futility of my current strategy of passive tax resistance. I apologize for my apparent incoherence, and hope this clarifies any misunderstanding. I welcome any comments, and may expand upon these and other thoughts in future posts.

As to where and when i may go, i cannot tell the specifics, because i don't know them yet myself. I sense the transition may be near, but will have to see how things unfold, in God's sovereign way.

pax et bonum