Clement of Alexandria on Knowlege and Reason

From the Stromata (Miscellanies) II, 4:

Should one say that Knowledge is founded on demonstration by a process of reasoning, let him hear that first principles are incapable of demonstration; for they are known neither by art nor sagacity. For the latter is conversant about objects that are susceptible of change, while the former is practical solely, and not theoretical. Hence it is thought that the first cause of the universe can be apprehended by faith alone. For all knowledge is capable of being taught; and what is capable of being taught is founded on what is known before.

One reason Patristic studies are fruitful is that the Fathers met many of the same philosophical objections to Christianity (to theism in general, in many cases) that we do today.  We, like geese waking up in a new world every morning (well, that’s what my mother used to say) think that the assaults are new, but they are not.  They were especially important to those who lived in Alexandria, such as Clement and Origen, where philosophy was deeply rooted.  It’s not an accident that the first full-scale defence of Christianity was Origen’s Contra Celsum.

In Clement’s case here he is defending against an idea that we hear from atheists today: that they, uniquely it seems, consider things from pure reason while everyone else do not.  Clement’s comeback is that the first principles are unknowable by reason or investigation.  I would put it differently: I think that both sides are using reason but differing premises.  To take the atheists as correct is not as much to say that their logic or reasoning is superior but that their premises are correct.  Although I agree with Clement that many of the first premises are unknowable, a more immediate problem is that the atheists’ philosophical extrapolations from the science are faulty.  One need only consider the multiple extrapolations from evolution–something that has bedevilled the theory from Darwin onward–to see that this is so.

On a lighter note, we can see Clement’s own logic on the subject of earrings.   Although my Pentecostal bretheren will wince at the memory of legalism, we have certainly seen this come to pass:

The Word prohibits us from doing violence to nature by boring the lobes of the ears. For why not the nose too? (The Instructor, III, 11)

The Bad Taste of Princeton Alumna Susan Patton

Was to state the obvious:

Her betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.

Ross Douthat, IMHO, nails it on the dynamic behind an Ivy League education, and I commend the article.  And, of course, this is the United States, where the quickest way to make people mad is to state the obvious.

In good élite fashion, however, Ms. Patton couched her advice to marry while still at Princeton in terms of finding someone of the same intellectual calibre as you are.  When I read this, the first thing that popped into my mind was this: if one’s central objective is to find a brainy spouse, one shouldn’t head to Harvard or Yale but to Beijing University, hopefully armed with Mandarin fluency.

But then again, as this Palm Beacher well knows, there are some things that just aren’t said in polite company.

They Used to Know Christians By Their Love. But Now…

even the Federal government boots the likes of Michael Pfleger off the program:

Michael Pfleger, the controversial Catholic priest who made racial remarks about Hillary Clinton and defended Louis Farrakhan, has been removed as a keynote speaker at a diversity day event sponsored by a federal government agency.

A spokesperson for the Broadcasting Board of Governors told Fox News that Pfleger’s office has been notified that his invitation to address the group has been rescinded.

“This is an event that is meant to celebrate inclusiveness and diversity,” spokesperson Lynne Weil told Fox News. “It was deemed by our senior management that it was not appropriate to have him as a speaker.”

Pfleger is one of a extended tradition of left-wing Chicago activist clerics.  Most people think of Jeremiah Wright, but it goes back a lot longer than that.  On our music pages two from the 1960’s are represented: the Episcopalian Ian Williams and the Catholic Peter Scholtes, who is best known for They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love.

The fact that the “religious left” had its place in the “Jesus Music” and movement of the era is something that’s easy to forget with subsequent events and the absolute polarisation of our society.  Ultimately any political or social scheme which is driven by identity politics the way ours is will degenerate into bigotry and hatred.  The fact that an administration run by a Chicago community organiser saw fit to boot someone who should have been a hero to it shows that occasionally even the left has its limits.

Christians should be known by their love.  Although I’ve discussed the importance of doctrinal and theological integrity before, losing ourselves in the hatred of others is another sign that some of us have wandered from the fold.

Some Thoughts on Same Sex Civil Marriage–from 2004

I’ve taken something of a “Lenten Break” since Ash Wednesday.  I find it more and more frustrating to opine on social and political matters to either a)liberals, who like my old cat only hear the sound of their own voice, or b)conservatives, who can’t get themselves to think outside the box at a time when their survival depends upon it.  Most of this past Lent I’ve spent music blogging, an activity which has gratified both me and many of the artists represented, and a blessing to people around the world. (2012, however, was a rough year in the field).

Unfortunately events move on.  I surfaced twice, once about the new Pope, and the other time about Tory Baucum and his ill-considered strategy vis-à-vis the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.  The latter has ended well for the time being, which is a relief.

More recently, of course, we have SCOTUS hearing two cases on same-sex civil marriage during Holy Week. The timing was certainly in bad taste, but get used to it: there’s more to come.  Same sex civil marriage has become the “civil rights” campaign of the hour.  From our elites’ standpoint, it makes sense.  First, the LGBT leadership has been the vanguard of the American left, with its “take no prisoners” method.  Second, our elites can fancy themselves heroes by championing “marriage equality” which costs them nothing.  If they were to focus on economic equality, it would cost them a lot, because they would have to give up the benefits of the economic inequality (and the centralisation of wealth and power) that proceed afoot in our country and of which they are the chief beneficiaries, rhetoric notwithstanding.

Many of the responses are predictable.  What’s gratifying to me personally is the more pundits on the right are calling for the abolition of civil marriage.  I must confess that I was forced to “fish or cut bait” on this idea by a gay activist who launched what was IMHO cyberbullying on this blog almost seven years ago.  What’s amazed me is that no one on the right has really challenged me on this position.

At this point getting civil marriage out of our legal code is going to be a long process.  If we look at the time, money and chutzpah that has gone into getting same-sex civil marriage this far–and be assured that it will make it sooner or later–we can see how long it would take to root it out altogether.

In the meanwhile churches and people who profess and call themselves Christians are going to need a game plan to protect themselves from the predictable onslaught that will follow.  Back in 2004, before this site became a blog, I wrote a piece entitled “Gay Marriage? What Marriage”? which looked at the alternatives for Christians and churches in response to the legalisation of same-sex civil marriage.  My suggestions at the time were as follows:

  1. Christian churches could revert to their pre-Constantinian position and discourage service in the military, as holiness and Pentecostal churches did during the early part of the last century. The Church of God, for instance, waited until V-J day in 1945 to adopt a friendlier position on military service by its members.
  2. They could also opt out of opposition to illegal immigration, figuring that those which jump the fence or swim across the river are fit members for their church (which they are in many cases.)
  3. Anyone who works for or is economically dependent upon a foreign corporation–especially if it’s state owned–is an agent of a foreign government, albeit legally.
  4. Christian churches could finally expect their members to either home school their children or send them to a Christian school, which would spare them both state indoctrination and mediocre education.
  5. Christians would have to interpret passages such as Roman 13 in the context they were originally written in–a dictatorial state whose actions they had no input in and the obedience of whose laws is done solely as a Christian witness, not as a civic obligation.
  6. With a little organisation, Christian churches could even enable their members to opt out of civil marriage altogether, divorcing themselves from an institution that first came from God Himself but has been nationalised to suit the needs of the state, and putting it back in the hands of Him who joined the first man and woman in the Garden.

When your country doesn’t want you any more, you do what you have to do.