Remi Brague on Secular Society

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THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF SECULAR SOCIETY

WITHOUT A TRANSCENDENT HORIZON, SOCIETY CANNOT ENDURE.

By Remi Brague

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/10/the-impossibility-of-secular-society

“There is no such thing as a secular society. My claim is a brutal and paradoxical one: The question about the possibility of a secular society resolves itself, or rather it dissolves itself.

To defend this claim I would like to submit two-and-a-half theses. First, a purely secular society simply cannot survive in the long run. As a consequence, leaving behind secularism is a necessary move, indeed a vital one. Second, the term secular society is tautological, because the ideal of secularity is latent with the modern use of the term society. Third is the half thesis, which I won’t develop here: Whatever comes after secularism, it won’t be a “society” any longer but rather another way for us to think about and give political form to the being-together of human beings.

The use of the term secularism in English began in the middle of the nineteenth century. George Jacob Holyoake (1817–1906) may have coined the word as early as 1846,and one of his main works, published in 1870, bears the title The Principles of Secularism. In 1859, the philosopher John Stuart Mill was still treating the word as a neologism. In On Liberty, after mentioning the religious principles that can motivate human action, he speaks of “secular standards (as for want of a better name they may be called).”

Mill used the term because he was eager to avoid atheistic, which is the more fitting term to describe the opposite of religious. But atheism was hardly the thing in Victorian Britain, and the word was felt to be rude. In the same intellectual atmosphere, the biologist T. E. Huxley, Darwin’s famous bulldog, coined agnosticism during a memorable discussion that took place at the Metaphysical Society in 1869. In present-day Britain, a third word, humanism, is often used with the same meaning and with the same intention: to evoke the possibility of a nonreligious basis for a morally animated society.

The debate for which the word secularism was coined is a false one. Advocates of secularism assume they are proposing a novel possibility, which is that moral precepts can be known without any particular revelation by God. Yet this is precisely what Christianity has taught, explicitly since Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and, implicitly, since Jesus himself. This was lost sight of in the modern era, when many Christians defended religion against skeptical and rationalist attacks by arguing that it is necessary for ensuring the moral basis of society. Men without religion, it was argued, could not be trusted to behave in an upright fashion. So advocates of secularism were drawn into the false debate.”

The Divine Music of Mathematics

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http://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/04/the-divine-music-of-mathematics

David Goldman in First Things:

It is consoling to think that the emotions that music arouses in us have something to do with the makeup of the universe. The eternal relation of math and music has been a perennial question since Plato, from Boethius and Cassiodorus in late antiquity, through Dante’s celestial harmony in Paradiso and Shakespeare’s discussion in The Merchant of Venice. The deeper affinity between mathematics and music, though, is less consoling and more challenging: The modern concept of a higher-order number begins with St. Augustine’s fifth-century treatise on music, and a red thread links it to Leibniz’ invention of the calculus in the seventeenth.

Music employs number both in its harmonic foundation and its metrical presentation in time. But what sort of number is it? In the sixth book of his De Musica, Augustine asserted the existence of a higher order of number that in some way stands above the senses, the numeri iudiciales or “numbers of judgment” which “come from God” and enable the mind to judge what it perceives and remembers, as well as what it expects. Augustine’s assertion is arresting in all three of its parts: first, that neither our sense perception nor even our memory explains how we hear music; second, that the faculty by which we judge the numbers (rhythms or harmonies) of music is also a kind of number; and third, that this higher-order number comes from God.”

The Psychological Cost of Boring Buildings

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http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/04/the-psychological-cost-of-boring-buildings.html

Raises some good points, makes some faulty conclusions.

One could also write about the psychological costs of starchitectural ego-tecture which pushes too far in the opposite direction.

“New Yorkers have long bemoaned their city being overrun by bland office towers and chain stores: Soon, it seems, every corner will either be a bank, a Walgreens, or a Starbucks. And there is indeed evidence that all cities are starting to look the same, which can hurt local growth and wages. But there could be more than an economic or nostalgic price to impersonal retail and high-rise construction: Boring architecture may take an emotional toll on the people forced to live in and around it.

A growing body of research in cognitive science illuminates the physical and mental toll bland cityscapes exact on residents. Generally, these researchers argue that humans are healthier when they live among variety — a cacophony of bars, bodegas, and independent shops — or work in well-designed, unique spaces, rather than unattractive, generic ones. In their book, Cognitive Architecture: Designing for How We Respond to the Built Environment, Tufts urban policy professor Justin Hollander and architect Ann Sussman review scientific data to help architects and urban planners understand how, exactly, we respond to our built surroundings. People,they argue, function best in intricate settings and crave variety, not “big, blank, boxy buildings.”

When Narcissus became an Architect

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Architect Zaha Hadid Visits Glasgow's Riverside Museum

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/04/zaha-hadid-was-one-of-architectures-greatest-narcissists/

“Some critics say she had to be imperious in order to get her work done, as a foreign woman working in a man’s world. I don’t agree – rudeness is rudeness, whatever the putative qualities of the rude person. Rudeness wouldn’t matter so much – although it still does matter – in a genius. But she was no genius.

You can see that same disregard for people in her buildings – flights of fancy with no regard for the poor inhabitants who had to live and work in them. 

As Stephen Bayley courageously wrote in The Spectator last year, her first real building, a small fire station in Germany, never really worked for its intended purpose: ‘Its shrieking concrete angles and disruptive interiors photographed very well and were dutifully recorded in the magazines, but were not much liked by the firemen. It was decommissioned and is now an exhibition centre.’”

The Fathers, the Scholastics, and Ourselves

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http://www.communio-icr.com/articles/view/the-fathers-the-scholastics-and-ourselves

One of the classic and all-time favorite essays of Hans Urs von Balthasar.

1. Posing the Question

“We are living in a time when the images of gods and idols are crashing all about us. The spiritual and cultural traditions of vast regions of the West are increasingly being called into question; indeed, we can go even further and say they are being liquidated, quickly and relatively painlessly. Just as a tree in autumn drops its leaves without pain or regret in order to gather once more new strength from within, to renew its powers in hibernal peace, so too the tree of culture is now being stripped of its leaves. Of course, in this, the late autumn of our times, the leaves lie thickly under our feet – and the books thickly in the bookstores; but we aren’t deceived for a moment about that.

This colorful yellow and red swarm of leaves is animated no longer by life but, if at all, only by the wind. A small regret might well be permitted us here, just as autumn is the time of the elegiac lyric, but who would want on that account to huddle up under the blankets of an eschatological pathos! We trust the powers of nature, her wise economy and the laws of her renewal.

Now under this drooping bower, many a Christian leaf can also be found. In the course of its two-thousand year history of spiritual and cultural life, Christianity has created for itself a wide variety of expressive forms, particularly in the West; indeed Christianity has been crucial in bringing forth and developing these forms.

In a labile and constantly changing relationship, it has turned these priceless works of art born of the human spirit into its dwelling places, its forms of expression, its vesture– indeed, it has almost made them a part of its very body. So it is almost obvious that today, where these dwellings seem to have become dilapidated, indeed where the worldly “body” of the Church seems to be wasting away, Christianity is being placed before the same question of what its living essence and core is that secular culture has also had to face.”

To Continue Reading…

 

Nutrition Science: A Diet of Suppression

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/04/12/this-study-40-years-ago-could-have-reshaped-the-american-diet-but-it-was-never-fully-published/?wpisrc=nl_az_most

“It was one of the largest, most rigorous experiments ever conducted on an important diet question: How do fatty foods affect our health? Yet it took more than 40 years  — that is, until today —  for a clear picture of the results to reach the public.

The fuller results appeared Tuesday in BMJ, a medical journal, featuring some never-before-published data. Collectively, the fuller results undermine the conventional wisdom regarding dietary fat that has persisted for decades and is still enshrined in influential publications such as the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  But the long-belated saga of the Minnesota Coronary Experiment may also make a broader point about how science gets done: it suggests just how difficult it can be for new evidence  to see the light of day when it contradicts widely held theories.”

The Sugar Conspiracy

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http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/07/the-sugar-conspiracy-robert-lustig-john-yudkin

“In 1972, a British scientist sounded the alarm that sugar – and not fat – was the greatest danger to our health. But his findings were ridiculed and his reputation ruined. How did the world’s top nutrition scientists get it so wrong for so long?”

The Discovery of the Mind

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51bomsmxzjl-_sx322_bo1204203200_ “An illuminating and convincing account of the enormous change in the whole conception of morals and human personality which took place during the centuries covered by Homer, the early lyric poets, the dramatists, and Socrates.” — The Times (London) Literary Supplement.


“European thinking began with the Greeks. Science, literature, ethics, philosophy — all had their roots in the extraordinary civilization that graced the shores of the Mediterranean a few millennia ago. The rise of thinking among the Greeks was nothing less than a revolution; they did not simply map out new areas for thought and discussion, they literally created the idea of man as an intellectual being — an unprecedented concept that decisively influenced the subsequent evolution of European thought.


In this immensely erudite book, German classicist Bruno Snell traces the establishment of a rational view of the nature of man as evidenced in the literature of the Greeks — in the creations of epic and lyric poetry, and in the drama. Here are the crucial stages in the intellectual evolution of the Greek world: the Homeric world view, the rise of the individual in the early Greek lyric, myth and reality in Greek tragedy, Greek ethics, the origin of scientific thought, and Arcadia.


Drawing extensively on the works of Homer, Pindar, Archilochus, Aristophanes, Sappho, Heraclitus, the Greek tragedians, Parmenides, Callimachus, and a host of other writers and thinkers, Snell shows how the Homeric myths provided a blueprint for the intellectual structure the Greeks erected; how the notion of universality in Greek tragedy broadened into philosophical generalization; how the gradual unfolding of the concepts of intellect and soul provided the foundation for philosophy, science, ethics, and finally, religion.


Unquestionably one of the monuments of the Geistegeschichte (History of Ideas) tradition, The Discovery of the Mind throws fresh light on many long-standing problems and has had a wide influence on scholars of the Greek intellectual tradition. Closely reasoned, replete with illuminating insight, the book epitomizes the best in German classical scholarship — a brilliant exploration of the archetypes of Western thought; a penetrating explanation of how we came to think the way we do.”

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