My Thoughts on Bill Nye, the (so-called) "Science Guy"

In early February we were regaled by a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham over “creationism vs. evolutionism” which attracted more attention than it deserved.  I’m tempted to move on about this except for this fawning piece in the New Republic (lefties can certainly be sycophants when the situation calls for it, something Barack Obama is greatly thankful for).  Now, of course, Nye has graduated from defending evolution against New Earth Creationists to being the current darling of climate change fanatics (we’ve passed from advocacy).  So, since they’re going to keep him in the spotlight, I think I will oblige.

Nye and myself have a few interlocking life threads.  He graduated from Sidwell Friends school in DC (where my father started his educational career) the same year I graduated from St. Andrew’s in the land where the animals are tame and the people run wild.  He went to Cornell (and from there on to Boeing) with a high school friend of mine.  Nye and I both had the same major (mechanical engineering) and would have graduated at the same time except that I graduated from Texas A&M a semester early.  I too went first into the aerospace industry before moving in the other direction.

But, as you will see, the similarities end soon.  This is a classic case of two people who have taken the same data and come to opposite conclusions.  Since Nye’s “day job” for many years was to promote science, let’s consider that in view of the hot topic in education these days: STEM education.  It’s traditionally been something of a job to get Americans interested in STEM careers and the education that leads up to them.  Let’s start by considering two fundamentals in favour of that career path.

The first is that STEM educated people eat and many others don’t.  That’s more obvious today but it was certainly true when Nye and I were making career choices.  Part of Nye’s problem is, perhaps, that he never considered a non-STEM type of career; many engineers and scientists are that way.  For me, I bounced around various career options (most in the arts) until just before my senior year in prep school; for me STEM was an afterthought, which made playing catch-up as an undergraduate something of a challenge.

The second is that our civilisation, such as it is, is powered by the results of science and engineering being applied.  Although we think of our present state as the demonstration of that, this fact was true in Nye’s formative years as well.  In some ways, however, the interaction of that fact with the social movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s has skewed the debate about science and engineering in this country in the wrong way.

I’ve made this point before but it bears repeating: the social upheaval of the 1960’s was a profoundly Luddite, anti-technological business, from the anti-moon Luddites (who have finally triumphed in Obama’s scaled back NASA) to the attempted destruction of the computer at the Courant Institute.  Those upheavals put an end to a “golden age” in STEM which were (in part) detonated by the Soviets’ Sputnik launch.  That was the backdrop for just about anyone getting, for example, an engineering degree in the 1970’s, and many others went into professions that promised more money for less work and higher grades: law, business, etc.  That last process continues to this day; the work (and lower grades) involved with STEM majors means that they are often left to those who value hard work and diligence, i.e., the immigrants.

Given both positives and challenges, how do we build on them and induce people to make a career in STEM?  Nye’s career as the “Science Guy” has been based on an underlying assumption: if we make science “exciting” for kids, they’ll want to grow up and make a career out of it.  Personally, I’ve always found “science promoters” like Nye (sadly, there are others) a little creepy and “gee-whiz” in nature.  Superior pay and the technological nature of our society have worked for my family for more than a century and a half, why isn’t that enough?  Americans, however, hate to promote anything from hard necessity; like John Lennon, they’d rather be dreamers, even though their dreams turn to nightmares.

Nye would do well to consider the nightmares he is promoting these days. I think it unwise that he would carry the water of people (and their disciples) who, having turned the world upside down by closing campuses (including Nye’s at Cornell) now trumpet themselves as the “scientific” élite lording over the Luddite masses.  (Think: how can another Harvard lawyer really be the “scientific” President?) Thoughtful consideration of the two “litmus test” issues (evolution and climate change) will bring to light the weaknesses of such an approach.

For me, the Nye-Ham debate was a dissatisfying business.  By making the debate squarely about the age of the earth, Ken Ham let Nye off of the hook about the philosophical implications of evolutionary theory.  Those implications–or at least the ones that the proponents want to promote at a given time–have always been evolution’s most distasteful result.  They range from Social Darwinism and Marxism in the nineteenth century to the fatalism engendered by current evolutionary biology.

Adding to the problem the evolutionists’ favourite mantra: that it’s necessary to “believe in evolution” to be scientific.  The blunt truth of the matter is that there are substantial areas of science, engineering and technology for which “belief” (which makes the business a religion) in evolution is totally unnecessary for successful result.  One which is significant for Nye is mechanical engineering; one can go through an education and career in same without ever having to consider evolution at all.

With climate change, it’s been understood for a long time that, everything else being equal, the addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will result in a greenhouse effect and temperatures will rise.  But with earth sciences there is one basic problem: nothing else is ever equal, which is why the data, to use a good Thomistic term, is not univocal.  And as someone whose first degree is in mechanical engineering and his later academic specialisation is geotechnical engineering, I know all too well that mechanical engineers can easily miss the finer points of earth sciences.

Beyond that, climate change fanatics have raised justifiable suspicion about their cause by their proposed (or lack thereof) method to fix the problem they are so passionate about.  When pressed for solutions, we always get the same answers: solar, wind, etc.  Although these are promising, the simple truth of the matter is that, with one exception, none of these fossil fuel burning alternatives will meet the requirements of our technological society in the foreseeable future, and certainly within the horizon that climate change fanatics normally live in.  That exception is nuclear power, the bête noire of environmentalists for nearly half a century, even though Greenpeace’s founder has found peace with it.

The only way, using the limited options the fanatics place in front of us, we’ll get to where they want to go is to return to a poor, primitive state that makes the fifty square metre apartment look luxurious.  There’s nothing particularly scientific about that.  Fanatics characterise their opponents as “anti-science” but why should their opponents believe them?  Science got us into this mess, why can’t science get us out of it?

That’s a question that Nye, if he were true to his original profession, would be asking, and asking intently.  It bothers me that so many in the scientific and engineering community have rolled over to the highly unscientific powers that be these days.  Nye, like the Imitation Foreign Devil, is playing up to those who trashed his first profession in times past.  I don’t think the result will be as rosy as he would like to think.

Pauline Mills: Pauline Sings

Century 35625 (1963?)

One of the frustrating things about our culture is that everyone “markets” what they do as brand new. That includes Christian music. Music leaders, composers, and publishers would like to think that the move away from “traditional” Christian hymnody (and they usually fail to define “traditional”) is all recent and the music they produce is the “vanguard” of this new move.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. The move away from hymns is one that’s been going on for a long time, and one of the pioneers in this move was Pauline Mills.

She was at the centre of modern Pentecost (and the Charismatic Renewal) in the last century: healed under the ministry of Smith Wigglesworth, a Pentecostal pastor’s wife, and the mother of Dick Mills, whose prophetic ministry is well-known. She wrote a variety of songs, the most famous being “Thou Art Worthy,” which appears on this album.

This album has something of a “homemade” feel to it. She plays the piano and sings, and with the occasional “amen” corner that’s just about it. But it’s enough. She wrote many songs and choruses taken directly out of Scripture, which was regarded as a novelty but which actually antedates “traditional” hymnody, as any student of Anglican, Catholic or Orthodox music knows.

For those of us who were involved in Charismatic prayer groups in the 1960’s and 1970’s, this album will evoke many memories. Because she flows from one song to another, the album is recorded in two continuous tracks.

  • Track 1
    • When You Know He Cares
    • He Is The Great I Am To Me
    • The Rock Holds Me
    • A New Breath of Fresh Air
    • My Haven
    • With Security I Sing
    • Behold I Will Do A New Thing
  • Track 2
    • If My People Will Only Pray
    • I Will Extol Thee, My God
    • When You Walked In
    • Magnificat ( Song of the Virgin Mary)
    • Thou Art Worthy
    • The Desert Shall Rejoice

Personal note: in 1989, my wife and I went to a CBN event in Nashville, where her son Dick prophesied that we would have the opportunity to give counsel to those in the upper reaches of our society. I’d like to think that this site is a fulfilment of that, but I’ll leave that up to you.

Go Ahead, Make My Day. Excommunicate Me!

(Note: the Markov chain example starts about halfway through the post).

One of the issues that the Roman Catholic Church wrestles with on an ongoing basis concerns the status of those politicians which a) profess and call themselves Roman Catholics yet b) show that they do not ascribe to the teaching of the Church in the way they vote and the positions they take.  Since the Roman Catholic Church expects the faithful to follow its teachings without reservation, the question comes up: why doesn’t the Church excommunicate these people?

The answer to that question is like a lot of things these days: it’s complicated.  It ranges from the desire of the Church not to be unduly unpopular to not wanting the state to retaliate against it for such an action.  It also stems from the fact that neither the United States nor any other nation can be called a truly Catholic country, and thus the standard of expectation is not the same.

It’s fair to say that the Roman Catholic Church isn’t the only church that experiences this difficulty.  The tale that this blog piece deals with comes from Russia, a place where many strange things happen and many unexpected results come to reality.

In 1901 the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated Lev Nikolayevitch Tolstoi, the famous Russian writer.  He had developed an idea of Christian anarchism and pacifism which (among other of his ideas) was unacceptable to the church.  The church wasn’t the only one unhappy with Tolstoi’s idea: in his last years his wife was increasingly disenchanted with his desire to renounce his wealth, as he came from an aristocratic background.

One of those in Russia who was likewise disenchanted with the state of things was the mathematician Andrei Andreyevitch Markov.  Markov is best known for his development of Markov Chains, an example of which can be found at the end of this piece.  Markov, far from basing his idea on Christianity, was an atheist.  Nevertheless, in protest of the Church’s excommunication of Tolstoi, he requested that the Church excommunicate him too.  The church made his day and did so, and he remained outside of its communion until his death after the Revolution.

It’s easily forgotten today, but Tolstoi was very influential in the development of non-violent resistance and action towards social change.  That influence was more felt outside of Russia through people such as Gandhi (India), Martin Luther King (United States) and in his later years Nelson Mandela (South Africa).  For that to be effective requires conditions which were present in the last century but which may be a thing of the past today.

In Russia, Markov’s fellow atheists the Bolsheviks took a more violent (and I might say a non-Markov Chain type of) course.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the same Russian Orthodox Church, almost driven to extinction under Stalin, made a comeback. After seventy years of atheism and all that went with it, Russians are chary of attacking an institution which stood against it, as Pussy Riot found out the hard way.  And they’re still hanging tough on Tolstoi’s excommunication.

For all of Russia’s strange and sometimes horrific history–a history that continues to play out in our time, with impact everywhere–one has to admire Markov when comparing him to the mealy-mouthed politicians who use their religious affiliation to garner votes which at the same time acting and voting in ways which go against its precepts.

About Markov Chains

Markov chains concern themselves with predicting the outcome of a sequence of events given the probability of an outcome at each step.  The following example comes from Marvin Marcus’ A Survey of Finite Mathematics (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1969).  We present another interesting example from Marcus’ book here.

In any case, consider a population of women which, like Gaul, is divided into three parts:

  1. Those who are overweight at 40;
  2. Those who are underweight at 40;
  3. Those who are normal weight at 40.

(The example doesn’t define the break points for weight, which is always the tricky parts in studies like this).

The transference of this condition from mother to daughter runs as follows:

  1. For mothers who are overweight at 40, 70% of their daughters are likewise, 20% are underweight and 10% are normal weight.
  2. For mothers who are underweight at 40, 30% of their daughters are overweight, 50% are likewise, and 20% are normal weight.
  3. For mothers who are normal weight at 40, 15% of their daughters are overweight, 60% are underweight, and 25% are likewise.

We arrange these results in what we call a transition matrix, shown below.  Each category of mother represents a column in the matrix and each category of daughter represents a row in the matrix.

P=\left [\begin {array}{ccc} {\frac {7}{10}}&3/10&{\frac {3}{20}} \\\noalign{\medskip}1/5&1/2&3/5\\\noalign{\medskip}1/10&1/5&1/4 \end {array}\right ]

We now want to diagonalise the matrix.  We do this first by finding the eigenvalues and eigenvectors for the matrix.  These are reproduced below, with the following notation: [eigenvalue, number of occurrences, {[eigenvector]}]

[[{\frac {9}{40}}+1/40\,\sqrt {73},1,\left \{[-7/4-1/4\,\sqrt {73},3/4 +1/4\,\sqrt {73},1]\right \}],[{\frac {9}{40}}-1/40\,\sqrt {73},1, \left \{[-7/4+1/4\,\sqrt {73},3/4-1/4\,\sqrt {73},1]\right \}],[1,1, \left \{[{\frac {17}{14}},1,3/7]\right \}]]

In floating point form, the eigenvalues are .4386000936, .0113999064 and 1.

We now construct a matrix of the eigenvectors and its inverse, as follows:

Q=\left [\begin {array}{ccc} {\frac {17}{6}}&-{\frac {13}{16}}-1/16\, \sqrt {73}&-{\frac {13}{16}}+1/16\,\sqrt {73}\\\noalign{\medskip}7/3&1 &1\\\noalign{\medskip}1&-3/16+1/16\,\sqrt {73}&-3/16-1/16\,\sqrt {73} \end {array}\right ]

Q^{-1}=\left [\begin {array}{ccc} {\frac {6}{37}}&{\frac {6}{37}}&{\frac {6}{ 37}}\\\noalign{\medskip}-{\frac {1}{2701}}\,\left (69+7\,\sqrt {73} \right )\sqrt {73}&{\frac {1}{5402}}\,\left (-27+23\,\sqrt {73}\right )\sqrt {73}&-{\frac {1}{2701}}\,\left (-227+7\,\sqrt {73}\right ) \sqrt {73}\\\noalign{\medskip}-{\frac {1}{2701}}\,\left (-69+7\,\sqrt {73}\right )\sqrt {73}&{\frac {1}{5402}}\,\left (27+23\,\sqrt {73} \right )\sqrt {73}&-{\frac {1}{2701}}\,\left (227+7\,\sqrt {73}\right )\sqrt {73}\end {array}\right ]

Careful observers will note that there is a scalar multiple between the original eigenvectors and these arrays.  This is an artefact of a struggle with Maple I didn’t quite win, and will cancel itself out in the diagonalisation process.

That being the case, we multiply them to obtain

D=Q^{-1}PQ=\left[\begin{array}{ccc}  1 & 0 & 0\\  0 & {\frac{9}{40}}+1/40\,\sqrt{73} & 0\\  0 & 0 & {\frac{9}{40}}-1/40\,\sqrt{73}  \end{array}\right]

We obtain, as we would expect, a matrix with the eigenvalues along the diagonal.

We then use the diagonalising matrices again by multiplying to obtain the distribution of results after an “infinite” number of generations, thus

A=QDQ^{-1}=\left[\begin{array}{ccc}  \frac{17}{37} & \frac{17}{37} & \frac{17}{37}\\  \frac{14}{37} & \frac{14}{37} & \frac{14}{37}\\  \frac{6}{37} & \frac{6}{37} & \frac{6}{37}  \end{array}\right]

The result is as we want: the three columns are identical.  That result is a good check on whether your result is correct; I found it very easy to make mistakes in the entries of the transition matrix, which will show up if either those entries are invalid (or unsuitable for a Markov chain) or an incorrect value is entered.

The three rows represent the final outcomes of the chain.  Thus, in this case, the top row represents the women who will be overweight at age 40, the second row those who will be underweight, and the bottom those of normal weight.  We thus see that the result is that at age 40, 46% of the women will be overweight, 38% be underweight, and 16% be of normal weight.


  1. The example above leaves out a great deal of the theory of how the diagonalisation process is used to analyse the Markov chain.  Marcus goes into this in some detail, but in the example he actually uses another method to get his result.
  2. Although some will find this example objectionable, linear algebra is full of examples like this.  When I took advanced linear algebra, I fell ill during Spring Break, and ended up in a Catholic hospital, where I saw the election of Pope Francis.  (I told them during the process, “You better pay attention, you’re getting a new boss…”)  I came back from this experience only to be presented with an example involving people dying in the hospital!

Unloading on Roman Catholicism: A View From the Pew

In response to my post Think Before You Convert, George comes back with some tough observations, which I reproduce below, with my comments interspersed:

I’m a catholic and this church feels so empty that I cannot recommend anyone to convert into the RCC. I am one of those “too enthusiastic” types, reading the Bible, volunteering at church, reading the catechism, etc… As noted in the article, this is an authoritarian church, there is not really a dialogue. If you know your Bible, and initiate a conversation with a priest, you will soon find they will not “encourage” you with a discussion on any topic where the validity of an RCC position is being discussed. The priest doesn’t have to defend anything, you can take it or leave it. That is the RCC.

It’s tragic that a church with such a broad-based intellectual tradition, where you can find the question “why”? answered (a question Evangelicals are notoriously flat-footed in dealing with) for a variety of topics.  But the “take it or leave it” approach is not atypical at the parish level.  I’ve always felt that one of the great gifts from God in my life was that my first parish used the chapel for the archdiocese’s major seminary, where I could interact with the priests and professors there.

Converting is also quite a long and boring process. And you will have to sit through a ton of presentations, and will be expected to shut up and nod in acceptance of whatever you are told. Not kidding, ask a question, and they get uncomfortable quickly. The RCC is not a place where questions are asked.

I think the RCC has the idea that, if they make the conversion process difficult, they won’t get “box checkers”, which they have in abundance.  The problem is that the system, for other reasons, tends to encourage the formation of box checkers.  It’s kind of like my old cat, who thought that, if he hid behind the chair, we would not see him, oblivious to the fact that his tail was sticking out in plain view.

The Bible mentions so many spiritual things like; casting out demons, healings, visions, dreams, voices from Heaven, etc… The RCC has an intellectual acknowledgement of these things, bur if anyone actually talks about these things happening today in the laity, they look at you like you are crazy. So it is an intellectual Christianity, not a Christianity of the heart.

The problem here is that the RCC (especially these days) is obsessed with all the grace from God flowing through the church and the sacramental system.  That isn’t the way it works.  As far as head and heart knowledge, it’s a favourite “either/or” proposition of churches, but I don’t think that this is was God’s plan either.

The RCC has had a long obsession with Latin. For a long time mass was held in Latin, which is not the vernacular of anyone. So they chose for a long time to teach the word of eternal life in a dead language that hardly anyone can understand. Jesus and the apostles after the holy spirit descended on them spoke in languages that people could understand. The RCC chose latin that no one could understand for whatever bizarre reason that pleases them.

In the years after Our Lord was on the earth, his apostles and their agents, successors and assigns (sorry for the legalese, I’ve hung around lawyers too much) spread the Gospel in the languages then current.  One of those was Latin.  It was intelligible in the Roman Empire and widely so for a thousand years and more afterwards.

Unfortunately the people’s ignorance of the language turned what was intelligible to what was not, and it became a mystery, which turned into mystique, one buttressed by the fact that Latin is generally chanted.  It’s a good opportunity for parishes who want Latin Masses (and this applies to mixed ones too) to give Latin lessons, which would improve the people’s English to boot.  It’s also a splendid opportunity to pitch the Church’s dreadful pronunciation of the language.

Quite frankly, finding Jesus in the RCC, while not impossible, is super hard. Just find yourself a better church and enjoy the good news of the gospel.

That’s a tragedy for a church with such far a far reach into society.  Forcing people to make such a choice only impedes the advance of the Gospel and causes pain for many of us.

Agapè – Le Troisième Seuil (The Third Level)

Agapè AG-2001 (1972)

The styles of the “Jesus Music” era varied from group to group, reflecting the popular music of the era.  The concept was that the music “become all things to all men, so as at all costs to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 TCNT)  The old rockers celebrated then (and still do now) the emergence of real Christian rock music.  And, of course, there was a lot of folk music out there.

But one genre that was under-represented was progressive music.  Probably the best known example of this in the Anglophone world was Reflections’ Sounds of Salvation.  Another one which pushed the envelope in that direction was Outpouring. But the Francophone world shouldn’t be left out from this contest.  Just as Les Reflets took Christian folk to a new level in the “old country” so also a group of Québec based musicians did for progressive music with this album, justly titled The Third Level.

This album was primarily the brain child of Fr. André Dumont, who was the artistic director for the RM record label.  His idea was to present the Christian story in a new way, and to that end he assembled a very diverse group of musicians to produce this masterpiece, with its varying styles yet consistent message.

For this album to have seen daylight after all these years I am indebted to Sébastien Desrosiers at Patrimoine PQ, whose blog on the music of Québec in the same era is one of the most fascinating music blogs on the web.  His original posting of this album (with more details on its production) is here.

The songs:

  1. Overture
  2. Camarade
  3. Vous êtes pas tannées de crever
  4. Avez-vour passer une colombe?
  5. Le jugement dernier
  6. Le temps des partances
  7. Le printemps des pauvres
  8. Eden
  9. Le Troisième Seuil
  10. La fin des temps

From One Who's Been There: My Thoughts on Ulf Ekman's Conversion to Catholicism

The Pentecostal and Charismatic world has been atwitter (a phrase with new meaning these days) about the conversion of Ulf Ekman, Sweden’s foremost Charismatic pastor, to Roman Catholicism.  My friend Dale Coulter has a more “respectable” take on this, and he’s right: it’s easier to make the Tiber swim from a Full Gospel start than it is, say, from other parts of the non-Catholic world.  What I want to do is to look at from the viewpoint of someone who basically did the reverse, and went on to actually work in a Pentecostal church.

Probably the most popular stop on this site is my piece about conversion between Anglicanism and Catholicism. Some of my comments there probably apply to a process such as Ekman’s too, so I won’t repeat them here.  My willingness to talk about conversion has gotten me into trouble with sites such as TitueOneNine, but I think it’s important to be open about such things.

I also addressed some issues between prosperity charismatics (as Ekman was) and Roman Catholicism in this piece, and won’t go through all that again either.  But there are two things I do want to discuss here: the spiritual state of Roman Catholics and the point in Ekman’s own life when he made his Tiber swim.

One thing that Ekman has discovered is that many Roman Catholics operated on a higher spiritual plane than he was led to believe.  That’s no surprise to me: some of the most Christ-like people on earth I have ever met are Roman Catholics.  The Church is perfectly capable of producing people who follow the path that Our Lord has laid before us in a very beautiful way.

The problem is that the Church is also capable of producing a great crowd of “box checkers,” people who have “made a business deal with God” (as my first parish priest put it) and, observing the formalities to varying degrees, believe that they’re okay.  In addition to the expected variations of wheat and tares, there are many reasons why the Church is good at this: a weak pastoral care system, a gradualistic view of our place with God, an overreliance on the sacraments as conduits of grace to the faithful (and especially, since Vatican II, with baptism) and an institutional aversion to enthusiasm, which means that renewal movements tend to get smothered in the system.

I think that the trends are in favour of the Church because it is becoming harder and harder to be a Christian, especially in the West.  This will tend to shake the box checkers out in a way that anything the Church does cannot.  The Roman Catholic Church is experiencing a “Gideon moment” in the West–and it is not alone in that regard.

The other thing I want to mention concerns the appeal of his past and present form of Christianity with regard to stage of life.  Ever since late Patristic times the Church has recognised the distinction between the “active” and “contemplative” life, with a distinct preference for the latter.  In that respect Roman Catholicism has a strong escapist thread running through it.

Modern Pentecost has neatly solved the dilemma by pitching the contemplative life altogether.  Yes, there’s a renewed emphasis on prayer and the return of the prophetic.  But these, in good revivalistic tradition, are handmaidens to The Mission of spreading the Gospel and growing the church.  Modern Pentecost is the supreme “ants in the pants” religion, always in motion, almost never looking back.  When the Assemblies of God were offered the house on Bonnie Brae in Los Angeles where the Azusa Street revival started, they turned it down: they didn’t want a monument.

That makes Pentecost the young person’s religion par excellence.  Unfortunately those who stay on the earth for an extended period (in our sense) have a change in priorities.  The time of the Great Day of the Lord is unknown, but as we age our own Great Day’s approach looms larger.  This means that Pentecost is a great religion to live in but perhaps not such an ideal one to die in.  That tendency has only gotten worse of late as much of contemporary ministry has become a big, post-modern business, with our ministers unprepared to deal with the success they have prayed and worked for.  The last is something that Ekman saw with some of his colleagues.

It never occurs to our ministers, constantly seeking aspirational members who will find prosperity both for themselves and the church, that a religion with a strong intellectual tradition and a well-trained focus on the exit strategy would have any appeal.  But it happened the last time our civilisation went in the tank, why not again?

Ekman isn’t the first high-profile Swede to “swim the Tiber” and doubtless won’t be the last.  And, chances are, there will be others in the Pentecostal and Charismatic communities who will take his example seriously.  We would do well to consider why this is so and perhaps take some positive steps and not simply complain.

The Real Enemies of Perseverance–and Success

One trait that’s deeply cultivated in this country–to a fault, really–is perseverance.  How many times have we heard that “winners never quit and quitters never win”?  How many times have we heard stories about people who have “pursued their dream” often a great cost (to someone) and accomplished what they set out to do.  Isn’t that the American way?

Let’s start by considering just what perseverance is to start with.  As our old friend Thomas Aquinas would say, perseverance is simply to persist at length towards a good goal (cf. 2-2, q. 137, a. 1).  Whether perseverance is a virtue depends first on the nature of the goal.  If the goal is bad, all the perseverance in the world won’t make it any better.  (If we can’t tell right from wrong, do we really know whether it matters or not)?

Beyond that, there are two main enemies of perseverance: softness and pertinacity.

Softness is simply the situation where “someone to be ready to back away from a good on account of difficulties which he cannot endure.” (2-2, q. 138, a. 1)  It doesn’t mean that someone who is actually defeated by a superior force is soft; it means that a soft person is one “who backs away from good on account of sorrow caused by lack of pleasure, yielding as it were to a weak motion”.  We see that a lot these days; people would rather drink, take drugs, hook up and party and not stick to what they’re supposed to be doing.  That, IMHO, is why it has taken the left so long to win the culture war.  Their principal goal, although they’re loathe to admit it, is for they and everyone else to drink, take drugs, hook up and party, and that goal has been in their way for the last fifty years.

The technical term for the other enemy of perseverance is pertinacity. A “person is said to be pertinacious who holds on impudently, as being utterly tenacious.”  To stick the knife in further, Aquinas brings in Aristotle to note that he “calls (the pertinacious) ischyrognomones, that is “head-strong,” or idiognomones, that is “self-opinionated,” because they abide by their opinions more than they should” (2-2, q. 138, a. 2).

Although we generally see softness as the primary opponent to success, anyone who has moved in a workplace or a church or a political institution knows that self-proclaimed know-it-alls or bull-headed people can ruin an institution–and the lives connected with it–as fast as anything else.  And it’s easy–especially in our extreme culture–to mistake this for real perseverance, but the failure from pertinacity can be far worse than the failure due to softness.

A good example of that which is familiar to many readers of this blog is the Anglican/Episcopal property wars.  Even with élite opinion running in their favour, the Episcopal Church has spent in excess of forty million dollars to hold property they have no practical game plan to populate.  A little thoughtful consideration could have netted a positive cash flow by using the Dennis Canon as a weapon during negotiations.  Some in the church actually figured that out, but such sensible strategy is beyond its current general leadership.

So what do we do?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Set good goals.  Perseverance of any kind is bad if the goals are bad.  The best goal is eternal life; the rest are in reference to same.
  2. Keep the goal you set in front of you.  One of the problems with pertinacity is that it substitutes the process for the goal, which means you get bogged down.
  3. Have a “Plan B” and an exit strategy.  It’s considered “unAmerican” to have either these days, but if it’s true so be it.  If your earthly goal is what it is supposed to be, “Plan B” should be just another way to get there.  Lacking same is another way we get trapped in pertinacity.
  4. Don’t let the pleasure of the moment deflect you from the goal.  Make provision for some “good times” in the plan but don’t make them the plan.

If we adopt sensible, strategic goals and methods of achieving these goals, our perseverance can count and we can avoid the pitfalls its enemies present to us.

All quotations from Aquinas are from the Summa Theologiae.

Rising Hope: Farewell to the Shadowlands and Where the Songs Come From

This Cincinnati, OH, based group put out two very nice folk-rock albums.  There is a mixture of original compositions and covers, some of which (well, one of which) you wouldn’t expect on a non-Catholic album.  The group does well in different styles and these albums are very good as a result.

More information about the group can be found here.

Farewell to the Shadowlands (LP S 726) 1975

The songs:

  1. Farewell to the Shadowlands
  2. Secret of the Start
  3. Love to Pass the Ages
  4. Psalm 27
  5. Come Gather Children
  6. Song of Praise
  7. The Lord Will Be My Snowtires
  8. Psalm 121
  9. Help Oh Lord
  10. Lead Me On
  11. Further Up

Where the Songs Come From (8064N2) 1978

  1. Here’s My Family
  2. I Want To Be
  3. Try To Run
  4. Listen To The Singer
  5. Friends & Lovers
  6. I Am The Bread Of Life
  7. Run To California
  8. The Winner
  9. Morning Song
  10. A Wind In The Door

Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire: Ian Mitchell Was Replaced by Jon Bruno

It’s always interesting to follow the various artists that grace this blog.  One of them, Ian Mitchell of American Folk Mass fame, was featured a little while ago when I discovered that the L.A. Times reported on Halloween 1985 that he had been given the boot at St. Athanasius Episcopal Church.  That took place because he was too sympathetic to the homeless and homosexuals.

The Diocese rose to the occasion and, as reported here, made the following appointment to replace him:

The Rev. J. Jon Bruno, a former policeman and professional football player, is a large man. Now, the 6-foot, 5-inch, 300-pound Episcopal priest has a job to match his size–a job that may require the spirituality of a clergyman, the street smarts of a cop and the rough-and-tumble doggedness of a defensive tackle…

“You know the old saying about ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread?’ Well, I’m no angel. So of course I have some fear and trembling about entering this situation. But I do it prayerfully. I feel compelled to respond to the need.”

Bruno proved no angel, all right: he was a major protagonist in litigation against the parishes which attempted secession in the last decade.  And, as far as being a “compromise” candidate is concerned, he oversaw the consecration of Bishop Mary Glasspool as the first openly lesbian bishop in TEC.  Even in 1985, “But others say they are pleased by Bruno’s efforts to make both camps feel comfortable, and by his assurances that such community programs as El Centro (gang outreach) will remain and that gays will be welcome. There is, however, some suspicion of Bruno because he was appointed by Rusack, whom some view as an autocrat, and because Bruno pledges his loyalty to the bishop.”

“Autocrat” bishops and presiding bishops are well entrenched in TEC these days.  As noted by this nephew of my old Bethesda Rector, Hunsdon Cary, about Bruno and Glasspool themselves:

We believe it is up to the vestry to come up with a candidate that can only be denied by a bishop(s) if there is moral turpitude or a history of the candidate that does not accord with ‘conduct unbecoming’. We believe that it is the role of the bishop and the canon to participate in an advisory capacity only when asked.

We believe that the person selected to be the Head Usher, for example, or any position of leadership, should be a person selected by fellow church members in conformance with godly principal. We believe that this person should be transparent in all areas.

We believe that Bishop Mary Glasspool, albeit a convivial, bright, articulate individual, is a non-celibate lesbian who was elevated to her current position by a Bishop no stranger to bullying; who, with Bishop Glasspool, defied the Archbishop of Canterbury; who was not above suing individual vestry members of a Newport Beach church all the while purporting to love his fellow man, while confiscating churches and property taken by church dicta without reference to established property law, courtesy of David Booth Beers.

We do not believe this kind of behavior is part of the long tradition of the Episcopal Church or of the Catholic Church tradition, from which Bishop Bruno emerged. We believe that if Bishop Bruno and Bishop Glasspool wanted to start a church or join the Unitarian Church, they should do so and leave the heirs to the tradition of the Christian Church to fulfill God’s purpose for His heirs in Christ; or at least stay out of the affairs of the individual churches.

And if liberals are mystified by conservatives’ wariness about “compromise” they should see where this has gone.  It’s just too bad the conservatives didn’t wake up sooner and over the core issues of the faith rather than wait until this one came to the surface.

Sylvia Dunlap: Someone Like Me

Oblate OBLP 1001 (1981)

Followers of this blog know that, if an album combines “Texas” and “Catholic,” I’m generally interested.  This album, which is a little later than most of the albums on this site, goes against the grain of where Christian music was going in the early 1980’s (and that’s also somewhat true of Ft. Worth based Honor, Wisdom, Glory and Praise) in that it’s a straightforward Christian folk album.  Sylvia Dunlap isn’t the strongest vocalist out there (but then again neither was Juliana Garza, and look what she put out) but the music is simple and sincere, and that makes it nice.

The songs:

  1. Someone Like Me
  2. Song of Solomon
  3. Peter Was a Fisherman
  4. Wash Me In Water
  5. Pick Me Up
  6. Woman At The Well
  7. My Father’s House
  8. Sing a New Song
  9. Hollow of His Hand
  10. Paul’s Prayer

For more music click here