Let barking dogs lie…

There is one thing that will not be missed when we return from Greece, that is the dogs. Especially the barking dogs. Especially the loud, really loud barking dogs. I don’t know where they find them, but they can be so loud that it is not possible to hear normal conversation because of them.

Greeks are particularly fond of dogs. They are numerous and usually kept in the small, cramped apartments typical of Greek city life. Dogs are by nature gregarious pack animals. Yet they are most often left alone when their owners are gone, in a yard, on the ubiquitous balconies. One near us was kept on a rooftop.

We once had a dog, a cairn terrier, inevitably named Toto. He was a good dog but nervous. Once when we went camping, we tried to leave him outside our tent. In the pleasant summer weather, it seemed a reasonable thing to do. It quickly became obvious that our nervous little dog was afraid of the dark. He began barking continuously and the only thing we could do was bring him inside our tent. It was not unlike the plight of many dogs left by themselves by busy owners.

Neighbors can do little about this, other than to pass suggestions or complaints to the owners. This is true in Greece and anywhere else. Dogs left alone are lonely and nervous and express their anxieties by barking. As long as people keep dogs, this will be so.


Roe, Roe, Roe…

With the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court, Right to Life advocates see the prospect of the overturn of Roe v. Wade looming on the horizon. Perhaps it would be best not to be too eager. The politics of the matter, plus the question of precedents, does not make for an easy process. Leave both the political and legal issues aside. Roe presents a stark decision point for any society, and especially for a secular, pluralistic one such as ours.

The decision point is how to treat matters of faith. To understand the dilemma, it is necessary to consider how the unborn are considered by the Right to Life movement, and most religious communities. That must then be held in contrast to the atheistic view. I subscribe to the principle that life begins at conception. This is not technically correct, as life is in reality a continuum. To say that life begins is to suggest that inanimate materials have somehow been endowed at some moment with those characteristics we recognize as life. None the less, the phrase is useful if it is taken to mean that the life of an individual begins at conception. This is inarguable as we can infer from genetics. The DNA that identifies an individual (human or otherwise) is established at the time of conception.

In the materialist view, this is all that happens. But there is more to consider. We are, we believe, endowed with a soul, something that is not of the material world. It has been argued (and there are diverse views on this even among the religious) that abortion might be acceptable at any time before the developing embryo/fetus becomes human. The soul is essential to humanity and when ensoulment occurs is thus a critical moment. Again, I subscribe to the idea that ensoulment occurs simultaneously with conception. This is the only time that is not an arbitrary choice. Any other point further along depends on an arbitrary choice with unclear delineation. If you say that a beating heart is necessary, you cannot pin down the moment it starts. Brain development and other physical characteristics take place gradually and the clear moment is not readily discernible. Though we cannot easily detect that moment either, conception takes place almost instantly and thus it is a certainty that this new individual has both soul and body. it follows that abortion at any stage takes the life of a soul-endowed individual.

But does it matter. I certainly believe that it does and it is a matter of great importance to that God that endows us all with soul. Absent God, it does not matter at all. Then any arbitrary moment can be regarded as a dividing line, or no point at all need be established. It is entirely up to the people to decide, and it can change on a whim. There is nothing to stand in the way of any decision taken. But the words of the Declaration of Independence should matter, both because of the clear meaning and the understanding of the Founding Fathers who certainly believed in a creator, even if they could not agree on how to worship. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Jefferson wrote, “that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Truly, we cannot live up to those words if we have no respect for life, even at the earliest stages. Remove life, and liberty and happiness have no meaning.

Overturning Roe v Wade, will not be the panacea that some think it would be. It would only mean returning to status quo ante, wherein the matter is returned to the states. This will satisfy the federalists among us, allowing the matter to be resolved state by state. It will be an almost dead certainty that some states will retain legal abortion, perhaps legalizing even more extreme methods and circumstances. This will also mean that the socio-political divisions will likely become even sharper. In that future, Roe might be gone but chasm that exists between us will grow ever deeper.

Should Roe be upheld or retained? Consideration must be given to the dilemma judges face when such questions are brought before them. As has been rightly observed, the word abortion appears nowhere in the constitution. Thus there is no clear statement as to how it should be treated. In that circumstance, a judge must resort to other sources, or try to distill some reasonable conclusion from thin air. it is worth noting that there was a decided interest in considering Roe or a like case at the time. Given that there was nothing to go by, it is reasonable to think the decision was made before the case even came to court. Should Roe be overturned, there will inevitably follow a further effort to solve the matter “for once and for all”, meaning that it will not be put to rest, and attempts to litigate it will continue into the indefinite future. Without Roe, the attempt would be to effectively make the Declaration into law, something that could have profound, unforeseeable consequences.

The real solution is, as it has been all along, to convince the people of the rightness of the Right to Life cause. And too, to emphasize Lincoln’s admonition that a house divided cannot stand. Even if, as with the Founders, we cannot agree on the manner of worship, we must ultimately be of one mind on this issue. For me, I will continue to believe that all human life is precious, that it begins, both in soul and body, at conception. All this I have derived from observable facts and right reason and I am firmly committed to the words of the Nicene Creed. “I believe in One God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and everything visible and invisible…”

Belief: A Choice

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To begin with, you should know that I am an Orthodox Christian.* More importantly, I am a believer. I believe in One God, Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. If you do not recognize that phrase, it is the opening line of the Nicene Creed, which is the essential expression of the core beliefs of the Orthodox Church.

The title of this page indicates what I wish to convey in this essay, that belief in God is one’s to choose, not something to be imposed. Yes, you may quibble by suggesting that raising a child in your faith is an imposition of belief, but all parents have a need, an obligation even, to provide their children with the tools and knowledge necessary to make their way in the world. Certainly, given that the majority of the world’s population holds religious beliefs, ignorance of religion, with or without belief, is a significant handicap.

Free will is, in the Orthodox Christian faith, absolutely essential. This is in opposition to the materialist view that everything and everyone is at the mercy of the inexorable laws of nature. In the material universe, there are no accidents, no coincidences, no lucky ~or unlucky~ occurrences. All is determined from the very beginning by the interactions of the multitude of atomic and sub-atomic particles created in the big bang. We only lack complete knowledge to predict everything that will happen in the future.

Free will changes all that. We become responsible for our actions, for the choices we make, for what we believe. And there are ramifications. Along with free will, we believe that God wants us to love Him, and to do so freely.** A side effect of this belief is that it makes it futile to prove the existence of God.

The material universe is still bound by the laws of nature. Thus, when Isaac Newton observed the apple falling, it did not take a random direction. Obedient to the force of gravity, it fell to the ground, as does any dropped object. We, however, are the intersection of the material and spiritual realms. While our physical body will fall, our spirit is not so restricted. To fully love God, we must be free to choose. That being so, it must follow that not one atom of the material world can have been arranged to force our belief. Evidence of God’s existence abounds, if you choose to recognize it, but that Q.E.D proof that would force the logical thinker to believe simply cannot exist.

Now I did not come to Orthodoxy as most do, that is, by birth. For the “cradle Orthodox” all the beliefs and habits of the faith are ingrained. For me, it has been a long learning process. It is possible to reason one’s way to faith, but as I have demonstrated, there is a point at which that “leap of Faith” is necessary. Reason will take you to this point, but not beyond.

All this does not fully explain why I choose to believe. If it is not possible to reach a hard logical conclusion that compels a choice, then there must be more than mere whimsy involved. Indeed that is so and there are benefits that accrue to the individual as well as the society. Most important of these is the foundation for morality. Without God, we can only be regarded as so much animated mud. In this state, even though a moral code can be constructed, in the end it fails and degenerates to a question of power. In it each individual can do whatever is necessary to survive and to prevail. The society then must impose the moral code all the while knowing that it is in the end entirely arbitrary. With no higher authority to answer to, the inevitable outcome simply resolves to who has the most power. Put God in the picture and there is at least some restraint on behavior and an understanding that there is a morality that exists in all time and every place.

Thus, I make my choice. Πιστεβω I believe.


*You will find that Orthodox Christians often call themselves simply, Orthodox. I have had the experience of being thought to be Jewish because, of course, there are Orthodox Jews. And since Christianity is divided among the Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants and more, it is better to keep the Christianity in Orthodox.

**In referring to God, it has been fashionable to argue that God is not specifically male. This is erroneous, I think, as Jesus prayed to Him as Father. Moreover, the Trinity is the expression of God as Father, as well as Son and Holy Spirit. However, unless it is clumsy to do so, I try to refer to God as GOD, to avoid the more biological image.

Why Blog?

This site is intended to be a general blog in which I will record various and sundry rants on whatever comes to mind. The title is taken from the Lewis Carroll poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter, which has been strip-mined by so many in so many ways that it is near impossible to make a clear reference. Try it. Look for, say “sailing ships and sealing wax”. You will find blogs evidently started and forgotten as the poem was likely the only inspiration. Once accomplished the authors seem to have nothing further to say. But the URL stays on whirling around in a digital never-land for nought.

What this blog is not is a cooking or recipe page. While I dabble from time to time with desecrating sundry pieces of meat and occasionally shove some flour in a bread machine, I am not a serious cook and have no expertise. For that I direct you to http://www.mostly-greek.com, wherein you will find excellent recipes and more by a superb cook and blogger. It is greek but much more than greek so do not hesitate.

What I intend is to have a place to record thoughts on many subjects that have been occupying my mind for a long time. There is much in the world of socio-politics that deserves attention and clear minded analysis. Too much of our politics is taken up by booga-booga drum beating that only muddies the waters and leads nowhere. By that I mean the kind of thing which reduced to its basics is typified by the message, “booga boog [insert current issue here], send money”. We can do better and I have no other place that will allow such commentary.

I intend more. The theme, conveniently provided by WordPress, of travel is a good choice. I have traveled extensively and will add commentary and observations and pictures from my vast collection (30,000 and counting images) of photos. There ought to be a place to display what I have and this will have to do.

So stand by, there will be more to come. Certainly I should be able to do than just an empty title whirling around in virtual eternity…

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton