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August 10, 2005

Consequentialism in Historical Interpretation

The confluence of Tom's post the other day on Disputations, and my proximity to some of the most horrendous historical atrocities to deface our fair country provoked a line of thought that has long been brewing.

I spent a week in West Virginia within several miles of Harper's Ferry and could not bring myself to visit. Harper's Ferry has been much written about, by writers great than me and by historians with a fuller comprehension of all of the subtleties. To recap--John Brown--a known agitator and militant abolitionist from Kansas made his way eastward to stage an attack on a Federal Arsenal at Harper's Ferry. He and some twenty men attacked and took the arsenal for a short span of time, killing some people (I wasn't able to determine the exact number) during the event. John Brown was stopped, arrested, tried, and hanged for treason. But this brief insurrection served its motive purpose--to bring the cause of abolition to the forefront of the already heated debate between North and South.

In the aftermath, we have made a hero of John Brown. We've taken a nineteenth century crazed jihadist terrorist and turned him into the man who showed us our conscience and who brought to a head the crisis that would result in the War Between the States and, incidentally, (non consequentially) the freedom of the slaves.

Now, we can go back and forth about whether the South was on the brink of revising an economic system or not, whether economic pressure from the North might not have been sufficient to bring about the reformation that we were seeking, about what the War was really about. But the bottom line is, John Brown was a terrorist. He killed innocent people in a religious struggle to bring about an end he saw as the greater good. That the end did result is something to be truly thankful for, but his zeal for that end resulted in one of the great tragedies of our nation. Could slavery have been brought to an end without the War--who knows? I certainly could not say--most assuredly it would have taken a great deal longer--and the institution was insufferable. Does this in any way excuse John Brown's zeal?

Well, only if you're willing to grant that Iraqi insurgents bombing open marketplaces and killing innocents in the process is a justifiable means of accomplishing an end.

John Brown was a terrorist--plain and simple. His terrorism ignited the powder keg that was the War between the States. Would the war have occurred otherwise? It's difficult to say; however, no reasonable person looking back on the events can excuse John Brown any more than they could excuse the bombing of abortion clinics. In each case an unacceptable, immoral means was used to accomplish a real good. That does not justify the action.

And yet we insist on lauding John Brown and paying tribute to his great spirit that led us to the state we have today. We pay tribute to consequentialism, it seems, at every turn of the historical wheel. We justify events by the results. Did slavery need to be abolished? Absolutely! Did John Brown's action help to precipitate this? It would certainly seem so. Was John Brown's action then justifiable because of the end that resulted? Absolutely not.

Which brings up another point. The War cast a shadow over the states that lingers to this very day. Reconstruction and its horrors saw the rise of the KKK and the unleashing of a virulent racism that lingers in the oddest places today. Undoubtedly the racism of slavery was even greater, but I have to wonder if just means had been used to bring about its end, would the evils that trailed in its wake have been as severe? By this I mean to ask, are there spiritual consequences entailed with using an illegitimate means to achieve a noble goal? Is this another example of a spiritual law? Can we equate this to something like the Hindu concept of Karma in which a person, or an entire society bears the weight of the spiritual wrongs done?

Spiritual laws are interesting things. I don't know if they have been quantified, qualified, or discussed in any detail in the Catholic Tradition. But other traditions, particularly the Pentecostal tradition, focuses a lot of attention on spiritual laws. Over time, I have come to believe that these laws are every bit as exacting (and even more so) than the physical laws that we live with every day. However, we don't spend a lot of time thinking about or studying the spiritual laws. Perhaps that is because, like Angels, most of what we know comes from hints and snippets, and it would be difficult to erect an exact science on so little information. And yet, there is clear information given about some of these laws. "Judge not, lest ye be judged with the judgement ye have rendered." "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you hold bound are held bound." Tantilizing--not enough to write a full scale law book, and yet, I wonder, if we paid careful attention, what spiritual laws might we uncover experientially?

It's a pity we are too wrapped up in other things to spend a good deal of time studying what happens when right means and wrong means are used to effect the same end. I suspect such research would be endlessly rewarding, providing as it were, another weapon in the arsenal of apologists, and another mainstay of surety when we pass through times of trouble.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 4:37 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 13, 2005


What can you expect from a new book by James Rollins? Well Ice Hunt had a pre WWII Soviet Ice Laboratory in which one could find quadrupedal mind-frying whales and a serum for eternal youth. Yes--likelihood isn't one of the strong points of Mr. Rollins's fictions; however, enjoyability is always high.

This particular entry offers us the lost city of Ubar, anti-matter, human parthenogenesis, the Queen of Sheba, and a Sandstorm to beat all sandstorms. In addition, he learned what people really liked about DaVinci code and uses the device quite effectively, even if there is no chance whatsoever that anyone will be able to figure out the clues or the places. That's cool, after all you read a book like this for its surprises and its internal logic.

Face-paced, a quick read, light summer fun for those into this undefinable genre.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 9:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Request for Information--Wine Associations

Does anyone out there know the origin of the association of white wine with fish and red with beef? I know that nowadays not very many people pay attention to these rules, but they must have had an origin in some sort of gustatory or hygienic protocols. Does anyone have a source for this?

Posted by Steven Riddle at 9:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Current Reading

Dance of Death Yes, another easy on the brain time-waster by the inveterate Preston and Cloud--direct sequel to Brimstone which introduces us to the truly deplorable brother of worthy protagonist/dectective Pendergrast.

Under the Banner of Heaven Jon Krakauer--if you aren't already up on Mormon history, this is an interesting read. Much of this I've already encountered and I often have to wonder what one would make of the Catholic Church if you sifted through looking for the looniest tunes of the lot. Brigham Young was no great shakes as a person, but there's a bunch in this book that make him look like Mother Teresa.

If Grace Is True Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. Oh well, I just can't resist the lure of a universalist theology. Yes, I know all the arguments and still I tread as close to that line as Church Doctrine allows, because that line defines the parameters of the God I love. The biggest problem with universalists is that, like modern liberals, they don't give enough credit to sheer human cussedness and there is a horrendous propensity for overlooking the sheer presence of evil and evil acts in the world. No just God could overlook these things. While He might stand stolid and steadfast in the face of insults hurled at Him, I think, like any good parent, He rushes to the protection and care of His children. Say anything you want about me, but don't dare lay a hand/word on Samuel.

The Quiet American Graham Greene does Vietnam--calling it Annam, and the Vietnamese Annamese. Very, very interesting.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 9:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Gift From TSO

I saw this the other day and only just now had time to actually respond:

Name your three biggest non-reference books (excluding the Bible and text books):

The Libretti of the French, Italian, and German Operas with Commentary and Musical Annotations

A La Recherch du Temps Perdu a single volume French Edition

The Riverside Shakespeare (Was a text-book, but isn't anymore--worn to a frazzle with years of reading).

Name your three biggest reference books:

Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology--Volume S Echinodermata

The Oxford Classical Dictionary

A Compendium of Syro-Phoenician, Akkadian, Sumerian, Egyptian, and Other Ancient Sources

Posted by Steven Riddle at 9:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack