Friday, June 09, 2006

The Machiavellian Media

Observing the news media with regard to the most recent triumph in our war against Islamist terror, I've become upset with the never-satisfied, always nay-saying attitude of the press: Zarqawi is finally dead, a murdering, horrible, evil villain responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people, Iraqi and American. But the media can only speculate about his "martyrdom," and whether his death helps or hinders our cause. This is odd, given that prior to Zarqawi's demise, the media's standard line was to criticize our alleged inability to capture and kill top al Qaeda operatives. Which do they want?

Conclusion: Liberals and the media have decided that this war is wrong, they desire to see the U.S. fail in its policy aims and want our troops out--all in order to validate their opinions and bring their party back into power. For them, it isn't about good and evil, it's about power--their own power, and the sense of power they receive when proven correct. And this is true even if being proven correct includes proving that certain peoples cannot handle democracy, proving that liberty is not a universal value, and proving that American values are no better than those of any other society.

But, I suppose, if one doesn't believe in good and evil to begin with--if one doesn't think some values are more correct than others, it makes no sense to say that American values are better or worse than others' in the first place. If that's true, however, why does the media cry foul at what they perceive as, for example, Republican disregard for the poor, or Republican religious intolerance? Allowing, arguendo, that Republicans do disregard the poor and are intolerant, aren't those "values" equally amoral and OK under liberals ideology? As the reader can see, the liberal viewpoint of cultural and moral relativism is nonsense--it is a mask for an ethical system that values one thing: power. I remember being told of a man from 15th century Florence that thought the same way...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Egalitarian Quality of Natural Law

"[S]ays the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Jer 31:33-34

This passage was read this morning in church--it is one of my favorites. It ties in with my post from yesterday: The natural law is written on our hearts, we know it innately even if we don't (and simply cannot) understand it fully. In this way, even he who disavows the absolute nature of truth senses that certain things are fair and other things unfair.

Another thought occurred to me as I listened to this morning's sermon: The fact that, when we dig as deep as human reason can reach, with our most advanced science and mathematics, we find that we simply cannot understand the mysteries of the universe--that is a very equalizing and egalitarian notion. Not even the most intelligent, most intellectual person can understand the truth. But we all have access to it through belief--it is written on our hearts. Thus the simplest mind and the most complex may be equally in the dark and equally enlightened. And every person, "from the least of them to the greatest," has equal access to truth (and salvation) if they accept that which they know innately to be true.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Conversation with Friends: Confucius, Socrates, Christ, and Truth

I had a relatively entertaining conversation with a couple of colleagues over tapas and sangria last night (well, at least I was entertained...I'm not entirely sure about my colleagues). We were discussing religion, and I had said something about the mystery of Christ's resurrection, and one of the people I was with, a very good friend of mine, said something like, "Well, we can't really question it like that--we can't understand it. It's beyond our comprehension." I believe I responded with agreement, adding that any religion that you could completely understand couldn't possibly be a true one, because it wouldn't transcend human experience.

I kept thinking about what my friend had said as I walked back to my apartment. What does it mean to know with certainty that you can't know something? If we can't know something, how do we talk about it? What I was thinking about was the nature of truth. In the conversation earlier, I had likened that which blocks our view of truth to clouds in the sky blocking the sun. Many relativists deny the existence of absolute truth by noting that humankind can't agree on many issues and values. That's no argument. On a cloudy day, it would be ludicrous to deny the sun's existence. We never see the truth directly, but we know it is there--we can feel it, and we believe in it. Life is one, long, ever-cloudy day. One could reply that we see the sun on a sunny day and that's why we know it's there on a cloudy day. But really, that's not an argument either--for all we know, on a cloudy day an imposter sun jumps into the real sun's place. We simply choose to believe that the sun is continuously there.

As I was thinking about all this, I thought of Socrates' famous phrase, which I have permanently placed just to the right of this writing space, that true wisdom is knowing that one knows nothing. Earlier, my friends and I had discussed a little about quantum mechanics. With physics we can now show that we can know nothing absolute about what's around us--measuring something changes the object so it isn't the same as what was there before you measured it. Truly, we don't "observe" anything, we merely interact with things and change them in doing so. So Socrates was absolutely right--all we can know is that we know nothing, at least in terms of what we think we observe.

Faith is all we have. Faith, and then our reason, from which we can deduce logical outcomes from precepts that we simply believe in. But that doesn't mean that there isn't absolute truth, either--it simply underscores what my friend had said earlier, that human powers of inquiry are limited. Even the relativist takes positions on issues, speaks of "fairness" or has a feeling about what should be and what shouldn't. That's because there is something innate, there is some natural law, some absolute truth. I can't prove that, but I believe it. And knowing that we can know nothing justifies "belief" and "faith" in general.

At about this point I reached my apartment. I decided to have a cigarette (I know, bad idea), and I sat down and thought some more.

All we have is faith, mind, ideas, and logic, but we can't understand the whole Truth with these tools. Then I remembered a fact that I have always found fascinating: The three greatest "philosophers" in human history, from all cultures, Jesus Christ, Socrates, and Confucius all had two things in common: None of them ever wrote anything--their followers recorded their words--and all of them spoke in analogies and parables. I think each of these people had a better grasp of the Truth than most(and one had an absolutely complete grasp of it), and none of them could simply explain why something was true. They told stories or parables or analogized and hinted at the truth. Their listeners got a "sense" of the truth through those stories and analogies without full comprehension. That's not unlike someone feeling the warmth of the sun on one's skin on a cloudy day, I suppose. And that the Philosophers always spoke, never wrote indicates (besides pointing to the futility of what I'm doing right now) the elusive reality of absolute truth--that it is worth discussing, but not boiling down to anything concrete. That we can use is to posit laws and create policies, even without knowing exactly what it is.

In other words, it is not in a treatise that we find the Truth. Only in conversation and contemplation do we dance around Truth's edges. In conversations like the one I had last night, for instance. And this is comforting: Truth comes from interaction with our fellow humans and in society and in friendships.

How does this play into political philosophy? Those who think they "know" the truth and deny God, write a book (Karl Marx), and then try to implement it (Lenin) end up ruining society. Democracy, on the other hand, is an institution that uses consensus and debate (conversation) as a way of coming up with laws that best approximate and uphold absolute truth (like a telescope, perhaps, trying to get a better view of something far away, or a radio telescope piercing through the clouds to get some semblence of the sun). When a society respects simultaneously the absolute certainty of Truth's existence, and also its elusive, social nature, that society thrives.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Our Values, Faith, and the War

I have faith that good always prevails over evil and that the values our Nation has always cherished and defended--ordered liberty, democratic institutions, the separation of powers, the dignity of human life, personal autonomy, and the rule of law--will succeed wherever people can come together to support them. So lately I have grown very tired of listening to the interminable anti-war rants of those who claim that these values of ours are not universal, that they are somehow unique to us, and that others around the world aren't capable of handling them or wouldn't select them for themselves if given the chance.

If we don't believe that all men and women around the world deserve freedom, and if we don't believe that democracy is a good way to secure the same, then America stands for nothing. Some things are just True, even if we can't quite figure out the exact contours of the truth: True adherence to the principle of separation of powers always works to block the rise of tyranny. Voting, if properly conducted, always works to check the concentration and abuse of power. Some societies have selected systems of government that are inferior to others in that they don't serve the interests of human dignity and autonomy. We may judge other governments this way, but it is simply not our place to judge whether a society could "handle" liberty and freedom if given the opportunity to try it out. They deserve it ab initio, no matter what.

Personal autonomy flows from the concept of human dignity, which in turn flows from the concept that we are designed and created--and if one truly believes that God did indeed create mankind, the justifiability of any military action to defend liberty wherever liberty is truly threatened is unquestionable. This is true even if the defense must be selective because of limited resources and other important objectives. It is no argument to say that a military action to oust an Adolf Hitler or a Saddam Hussein is not just and correct simply because we do not simultaneously challenge Joseph Stalin or Kim Jung Il in a like manner.

And it is a sign of an utterly superficial understanding of Western history to claim that America is seeking 'empire,' or is 'taking over' other countries just for oil (whatever this ridiculous blanket assertion people toss around even means), or has any desire at all to 'conquer' anyone else. Did we oust the Nazis and establish American empire? Or did we aid the rebuilding countries, help them set up democratic governments, and withdraw (save to the extent they invited us to stay in light of the Soviet threat)? Did we go into Vietnam for any reason other than to stop the (at least) feared spread of a God-hating ideology that is undeniably responsible for the deaths--by famine, purge, and oppression--of over 100 million of our fellow humans? Do we have 50,000 troops in South Korea to maintain our Empire, or to hold back the North, which would subsume and destroy the democracy in the South in a matter of days were we not there, even if only as a nuclear trip-wire?

To those who don't support our mission in the broader Middle East, including Afghanistan and Iraq, I ask: What is your alternative? Would you allow the Arab world to march further down the path of tyranny, instability and economic ruin, to the point where destitute Muslims have absolutely nothing to live for but a bastardized version of their faith, along with a heartfelt desire to destroy those they believe are responsible for their situation--the infidel West? Would you allow that to happen even as Middle Eastern tyrants and terrorists leaders collude and seek weapons of mass destruction that can kill millions with a single detonation? What would you have America do?

I'd do what the President did and what politicians rarely ever do: Come up with a long-term solution. Long-term solutions are always difficult to implement because of our natural tendency to wish problems away and act the part of the ostrich--the tendency resulting in the so-called "peace" movement (as if peace can be achieved by merely wishing it was so). But the President is more realistic, and he made a tough (and correct choice). He made a choice that honors our American values and the universal idea they represent, the idea of human dignity and autonomy for every man and woman, whatever their faith or creed or nationality.

We are fertilizing two blossoming flowers in the desert--we are arming two democracies that embrace unity, tolerance, and a moderate version of Islam in the Middle East. We are arming them against the terrorists and against the tyrants and against the fundamentalists who, in their heart of hearts, desire destitution in the Middle East because it serves their megalomaniacal purposes and their crazed vision for Islamic Empire (which is really just their own thirst for power).

If we succeed in creating two stable, prosperous, unified democracies in the heart of the Middle East, liberal-leaning Muslims all over the region will have cause to be brave, and fundamentalist governments and terrorists will have lost. That's why our enemy fights so vehemently to stop us in Iraq. Iran and the terrorists are linked arm-in-arm against the greatest threat they've faced yet--the prospect of stable, peaceful, respectful, and moderate, powerful, armed government in their midst. That is real change and a real vision for the future of the Middle East.

So I truly thank God for our President and his courage in the face of uneducated, short-sighted politicians and demagogues, and I thank God for our troops. And, because we are on the side of Good, I have faith we will ultimately prevail.

A Dialogue--Dice, Quantum Mechanics, Morality, and Christianity

E: Einstein said, "God does not play dice." That was his response to the quantum-mechanics physicists in his day that insisted the universe is all probabilities--that you can't determine he position of any particle with certainty, only predict with a probability. What do you think?

M: I think he was right, but not how he thought he was right. Instead, I say God is dice.

E: OK, I don't think I agree. But let's follow this analogy for a bit. If God is the dice, who rolls them?

M: It is the nature of the dice to roll.

E: Who observes the outcome?

M: God.

E: Ah, but then you admit God is separate from the dice.

M: No, observer and observed are one and the same, two qualities of the same principle. God is dice, and everything is in the dice.

E: Everything is in the dicedo you mean to say that all is probability, or rather that all of reality is situated within God?

M: Both. I don't think the one could be true without the other.

E: But then is God probability?

M: Yes and no. God exists--he cannot not exist--but still, you never know how the dice will roll. There is fixed past but only potential future.

E: Does that mean those within God only have potential future?

M: Yes.

E: And we are within God?

M: I think all creation is, but that is not the same as saying God is all creation.

E: OK, so we all only have potentiality. The dice are real and certain just like the past is certain. But they are also only probability--what they roll in the future is not known, even to God. This is what you are saying?

M: Yes.

E: But the dice are fixed. In the past and the present and the future.

M: Hence the only unchanging quality of God is his existence.

E: Doesn't that admit imperfection?

M: No, it only admits that perfection may change.

E: If perfection may change, how can we guide our lives?

M: As we learn, and God changes and learns about us according to the natural laws that define God and the Universe, the principles become clearer.

E: So you say that there are principles that are immutable and above God.

M: No, there are principles that are immutable and with God--all potentiality is oriented toward them, or should be, and only God can see themthe forms, as Plato called them, I suppose.

E: What of the Dice?

M: No analogy can capture the Truth perfectly, but it is a useful mental aid which we have now surpassed, except to say "that the dice should roll" might be analogous to an immutable principle.

E: Let's get back to the observer and the observed. You say that they are the same.

M: Yes.

E: But I can see you, you are separate, and we are not the same.

M: Not in a way that you can observe--if it is true that observer and observed are the same, then the moment you observe me, we constitute something of a unity, a single "quantum," if you will, that is different slightly from how we were before we interacted.

E: If that is so, one cannot observe or measure anything. And yet I have the sensation of separation.

M: An illusion--our powers of observation are really powers of interaction.

E: Prove it.

M: Quantum Mechanics haswe know that a particle of light is not a particle nor a wave, but rather a localized potentiality wavein normal terms, a paradox, something between a particle and a wave, until it is observedand then when observed it takes on the characteristics of either a particle or a wave. The observer changes it, forces it to choose, so to speak, at least for the time it is being observed. And its movement can only be predicted via potentiality, but not measured because measuring changes it. This is mathematically and experimentally demonstrable.

E: I have heard of this. But if this is true, then how can we know anything for certain?

M: We are constantly interacting with everything around us, so we are "forcing" everything to choose, creating quantum unity, if you will, as we observe, or rather, interact.

E: But you said the dice were certain.

M: Yes, insofar as only probability is certain--probability and how things have come out in the past. The present exists but is fleeting. The future is potentiality. God lays out potentiality.

E: OK, but then as things unfold and change and are in flux, there seems to me there can be no morality--all is changing and relative. In such a universe and with such a conception of God, how can we determine right from wrong?

M: Step back for a moment. In Quantum Mechanics, the only thing that is absolutely true is the mathematical description of the Quantum and the formulas predicting probabilities. The math is incontrovertible and never changes. But the outcomes do. So too in the universe are there immutable principles that govern all and are pure and true like mathematical equations. They are Plato's forms, our unchanging morality, God's definition--he calls us to them, to follow them, but we have free will. There is only probability that we will or will not heed his call, just as there is only probability that a certain electron will be in a certain place at a certain time.

E: Then mind and body are different and separate--you just said principles are separate from the actual existence of things and matter and the way it unfolds.

M: Again, yes and no (sensing a pattern?). Principles exist as God does and all is within them. So there is separateness in them in that they are immutable, just like the fact that the dice exist. But again, the outcomes cannot be predicted, even though the formula or principle does.

E: OK, so you claim to be a Christian. Christians hold that good is separate from evil and that God is beyond all, and all knowing.

M: God knows all the principles. He knows the unifying formula. He knows which way we should go and God calls us to it (as we are lesser, we can't see the formula, the purpose, the aim). But what God does not know is if we will follow his callingthe universe was a risk God took. And God learns about his creation as we make choiceswe are also lesser creators in that our choices solidify our potential futures into a single, immutable past.

E: What of Jesus Christ?

M: Well, he fits right in. The God of the Israelites was different from the God of JesusGod chose to send a part of him to experience human life and make human choices, to join in his creation in a qualitative way--and God suffered. He sacrificed. He experienced humanity. He paid for our sins.

E: Ah, but if he "paid for our sins," then God is subject to an immutable law requiring justice--requiring payment for our debts. He couldn't just declare a general amnesty?

M: Maybe, maybe not. Justice may be a defining principle that should play out but won't necessarily. So God chose to make the world more Just by sending his Son to "pay" for mankind's transgressions. But more importantly, Jesus was God on earth, a way for us to interact with God, a way to feel God's calling and a way for God to encourage us to follow his Ways rather than sinful ways.

E: What of eternal life?

M: We spoke of principles and forms. These exist, but are just formslike a mathematical equation. When we die, I suspect we continue having subjective experience, just on another plane. A plane where, perhaps, we can see the truth of the forms more fully. But only God will ever completely understand the forms. I suspect that we are all contingent on whether God wants us to exist--even after death. If we choose the wrong path, we may just cease to be.

E: Ah, but won't our observing the forms change them?

M: Good point. I misspoke. No one can "see" the forms, no one can interact with them. Can you interact with a mathematical concept? Not really. Only understanding pertains. And only God understands fully. I suspect our understanding will be expanded when we die and our being moves off in a spatial direction we can't see.

E: You are losing me, but I sense truth in this--it seems right that, at the same time, all is potential, but all is still real. So I guess we've covered a lot of ground--Christianity, quantum mechanics, Plato's metaphysics, ethics, the nature of God and eternity.

M: I'm losing me. But that's because our powers of observation--or rather, interaction--limit us. We are not God, though we are within him. See, all those things you list, they are all the same thing, I think. They are the dice.

E: Ah, you mean just because we can't know something doesn't mean it isn't true. And so God is the only being who cannot not know.

M: Now you get it. At least, you sense it.

E: And that's key too: Sense, the qualitative partmusic is beautiful, but I don't know why; a sunset is too, though I can't measure its beauty.

M: Right, you experience it. So, like everything else, there are dual qualities of one thing: the physical, or past, or fixed; and the palpable, unmeasurable, potentiality.

E: I think I know God exists because of this: there is no reason for music to be beautiful.

M: I agree. But maybe that's just because we don't understand the reason. We may someday, either in this life as humans progress, or after we die. But that doesn't refute your point. It affirms it.

E: Yes.

M: Perhaps qualia, the "feeling" part of things, is our impression of potentialities and our limited understanding of the forms--the more something is like the form, the perfect ideal equation, that which only God knows, the more we sense its beauty, its rightness--so beauty and Good are also just facets of the same thing.

E: So a beautiful woman is not just beautiful to me because of the survival instinct and necessity of procreation?

M: That may be one reason, but insofar as that drive corresponds to a proper path for our potentialities, that is beautiful too. But also, the form, the appearance, the symmetry--it may reflect the divine. And we sense that. So too in music--some is more divine, some is less.

E: Sensing. Feeling. That's a lot like believing.

M: Yes, when you consider all is changing and within God, faith is just like reasonor rather, there is no reason not to have faith, and there is no faith that can exist without reason. Our feeling of the beauty of the sunset reflects God, and praising that beauty is praising and having faith in God.

E: Ah. But back to musicyou said some could be "less divine." What would it mean to be "less"?

M: Well, given that there is a path God calls us to, there is another pathlesser, incorrect. That must be true, right?

E: I believe so. So you mean to say it's the baser qualities--pleasure seeking, lack of what we sense are virtues--music that plays to those rather than invoking a sense of beauty and appreciation, that kind of music is less divine.

M: Yes, I think so. Hereto our theory ties into Christianity again--Lucifer made a wrong choice, and fell from God's favor, so he plays his part, leading us astray. Temptation is the ugly made attractive because Satan distorts potentialities for us just as God lays them out for us. But Lucifer is lesser.

E: That's disconcerting--Truth won't conquer in the end? Evil could win?

M: Well, there is a chance. But God is higher, and Lucifer is a lesser creation. So the chance is slim. But then, this makes our morality and the need for it make sensenothing is predetermined, just probability, and so it really matters if we choose rightly or wrongly. God learns and changes as a result of those choices.

E: Could we end up destroying God?

M: No, only his creationus. And the universe, perhaps. That which is within God.

E: So I see now how prayer could work, and meditation, and spirituality--when we interact with each other, we change each other, so we are all linked in a way, at least for a fleeting moment, but we retain some of the change, and the past is solidified. But also, we are separate actors. And how I act really does effect the rest of the creation.

M: Yes. And maybe one of those immutable principles has something to do with "what goes around comes around."

E: Maybe. I better go start making up for my solidified, not-so-stellar past.

M: Me too. And I best get back to work, lest I solidify a forced resignation.

E: OK, we'll pick this up again another time.

I'm Back

Try to contain your excitement. Really, keep it down. But I am back, and I'll be posting my thoughts on politics and philosophy here as time allows. I've also recovered and reposted the more interesting essays (in my opinion, at least) from 2004 and 2005.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A Final Post

After much reflection, I have decided that I will stop blogging indefinitely. For now, I don't have the time it takes to write the kind of (hopefully) insightful and interesting posts that justify the blog's existence. I hope you have enjoyed reading my various, sundry thoughts on philosophy and life in general -- I have certainly enjoyed sharing them with you.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

More Government by Judiciary

Today, in a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that executing individuals for murders committed while they were under the age of 18 constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment. No matter what one thinks about the death penalty, today's decision is flagrant judicial activism and it ups the ante on upcoming court appointments. The decision, Roper v. Simmons was decided 5-4, with Justice Kennedy writing for the majority and Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, and O'Connor dissenting.

To arrive at its absurd result, the majority completely ignores what the framers had intended by banning cruel and unusual punishment -- an inquiry which must look to what was considered cruel and unusual at the time of the adoption of the bill of rights -- and instead looks to whether a 'national consensus' has formed against the juvenile death penalty. Had they investigated the former, they would discover that there is ample evidence that the framers did not find capital punishment, even for juvenile offenders, cruel and unusual (although there was a presumption against forming criminal intent for those under 14). The majority's analysis centers on what it calls 'objective indicia' of a national consensus against the juvenile death penalty, basically that 4 states passing laws against it, and the fact that 47% of the states that permit the death penalty do not permit its use for juvenile offenders. Some consensus. Next, the majority brings in the law of foreign countries as evidence that our own death penalty law is an abberation in terms of international legal norms. How exactly foreign law should somehow trump the will of the people as expressed by state legislatures and our own constitution is beyond me, but it certainly is a nice, flexible way for the justices to justify the imposition of their own will on the rest of us.

Justice Scalia wrote a biting dissent, the introduction to which expresses the problems with today's decision better than I can hope to (citations omitted):

In urging the approval of a constitution that gave life-tenured judges the power to nullify laws enacted by the people's representatives, Alexander Hamilton assured the citizens of New York that there was little risk in this, since "[t]he judiciary...ha[s] neither FORCE nor WILL but merely judgment." (Federalist No. 78). But Hamilton had in mind a traditional judiciary, "bound by strict rules and precedents which serve to define and point out their duty in every particular case that comes before them." Bound down, indeed. What a mockery today's opinion makes of Hamilton's expectation, announcing the Court's conclusion that the meaning of our Constitution has changed over the past 15 years -- not, mind you, that this Court's decision 15 years ago was wrong, but that the Constitution has changed. ... The Court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our Nation's moral standards--and in the course of discharging that awesome responsibility purports to take guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures. Because I do not believe that the meaning of the Eighth Amendment, any more than the meaning of other provisions of our Constitution, should be determined by the subjective views of five Members of this Court and like-minded foreigners, I dissent.

Once again 5 liberal justices -- and the liberals cheering this decision -- have succeeded in supplanting the will of the people with their own, supposedly more enlightned ideas. Once again they put their own policy agenda above the higher law of our land and the principles of democratic rule. If we have much more of this, drastic change, perhaps via impeachment, or systemic change, via constitutional amendment, may be necessary given the malfunctioning of a judiciary meant to judge but bent instead on exercising its will.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Random Thoughts on Music, Beauty, and Creation

The best proof that there is a Creator and that there is purpose in this world, in my estimation, is the truth of beauty. I was pondering this as I sat down to play the piano a bit yesterday. There is no reason that I should appreciate the interplay of certain frequencies of vibrations passing through the air, and yet the catharsis and emotions I experience as I produce those various vibrations is certainly real and certainly appreciated. It is beautiful. And there is no reason for it -- and that makes it even better. It brings pleasure of a higher sort.

So I got to thinking. There is a lot of other music that can also bring pleasure which I would not necessary call 'beautiful' in the same way I would label, say, choral music beautiful. Much popular music can bring a pleasureable experience, but where is the difference between it and the transcendent nature of human voices joining together in harmony? There must be a difference -- the two listening experiences are hardly comparable.

The answer, I think, lies in the appeal of each, and in the nature of humankind as between God and beast. Humans aspire to the Good. In Christianity, we are made in God's image. But we are also fallen creatures of the earth, and have instincts and desires akin to the animals and less akin to our Creator. We are 'between,' just as this world is something between the absolute joy of the transcendent and the sheer evil of what in Christianity would be termed hell. This is not to say that our baser instincts and desires are necesarily bad -- many are just good in a lesser way than the highest goods, and best when indulged in moderation. For example, the survival instinct and survival itself is a good thing, but it is a lesser good than, say, liberty, and thus arises the situation where someone sacrifices his life to preserve liberty. Likewise, sex is good. But so is beauty. The former relates to survival and our animal nature (here I mean sex in its most basic form -- it obviously can become something much higher) and the latter is an 'unnecessary' attribute. Beauty in its purest form is the divine. Beauty in this world is found in the measure that something (music, a sunset, a beautiful person) reflects that divine, perfect beauty. The interplay between the base and the higher is complex, as we desire both.

Music, too, is beautiful and can be pleasureable in one of two ways -- in its appeal to our more base side (sex) and its appeal to that which mirrors the divine (beauty). I think it safe to say that a popular song, say one of the hiphop variety, with suggestive lyrics, very base-intensive thumping rhythm, and suggestive dancing appeals to the base. A Bach invention doesn't. A Beethoven Sonata certainly appeals to beauty and the divine, but also may evoke emotions relating to the more basic side as well. Most things worth appreciating have a mixture of both aspects.

So too do human relationships. We seek the beauty of the divine in the relationships we form. The highest type of relationship may be the intimate one between man and woman, and this too can come to reflect divine beauty. A bad relationship, following this logic, would be the relationship driven solely by the base and not by the desire to find the beauty of the transcendent.

All of this is also proof that there is something higher -- why else would we appreciate music at all? Why would we appreciate the beautiful artistic design of a sunset? Why would we ever believe that sex and relationships could become something more valuable than the act of procreation and physical pleasure? The fact that we can discern a difference between the beauty of the divine and the lesser goods of this earth points to the reality of the transcendent. And that is a comforting thought to me.