Stony Brook University researchers looked at the brains of Bernstein and 16 other people who had been married an average of 20 years and claimed to be still intensely in love. They found that their MRIs showed activity in the same regions of the brain as those who had just fallen in love.
“It’s always been assumed that passionate love inevitably declines over time,” said Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University and one of four authors of the study, presented in November at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
“But in survey after survey we always have these people who have been together a long time and say they are intensely in love. It was always chalked up to self-deception or trying to make a good impression,” he said.
This study suggests that’s not the case, said Bianca Acevedo.
In Bertrand Russell’s famous essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” he offers the following response to the Christian argument that objective moral standards are inexplicable unless God exists.
[The moral argument] has all sorts of forms. One form is to say there would be no right or wrong unless God existed. I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.
“Is that difference due to God’s fiat or not?” The problem is called Euthyphro’s Dilemma, taking its name from the Platonic dialogue in which Socrates wonders “whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.”
Both Socrates and Russell offer us a choice between two options. The first says that “good” means “that which God approves.” Love is good because God says it is; murder is bad for the opposite reason. At first glance, this definition may seem acceptable. The problem is that if God’s fiat, or preference, is the only standard of goodness, it seems meaningless to suggest that he is himself good. Imagine a god who declared torture, rape, and murder to be good. If “good” is merely an expression of divine fiat, then those acts would be good, as would the god who sanctioned them. However, if a god who approves of torture, rape, and murder is no less good than one who hates such evil, then the word “good” is meaningless when applied to God. Like Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, we may call day night, but only by sacrificing the meaning of both words. When goodness is founded only on divine fiat, we are left with an arbitrary morality dictated by an amoral God.
The alternative appears no more appealing, however, for then we must conclude that goodness is grounded in some standard other than God’s fiat. Love is good because it is, and God approves accordingly. However, if there is some standard of goodness which informs God’s approval of that which we call good, then God is in some measure bound by these external rules. He is not sovereign, for he is merely recognizing an authoritative goodness originating outside himself. We love our enemy because God commands it. If God loves goodness because goodness demands it, is he truly God?
This, then, is Euthyphro’s Dilemma: On the one hand, goodness grounded in the fiat of an amoral God. On the other, goodness constraining a less-than-sovereign God.
Fortunately, these are not the only two options. Russell and Socrates have offered us a false dilemma – an argument inaccurately positing only two options. In reality, Christian theology going back to the early Church offers a definition of goodness that falls into neither of these traps. Instead, the Christian understanding of goodness is grounded in God’s nature.
God is good. This is the Christian premise in understanding goodness. Therefore, that which conforms to God’s nature is good. Love is good because God loves. Forgiveness is good because God forgives. Intelligence, creativity, and even existence are good because God possesses these attributes. Goodness is not predicated on God’s amoral fiat, but neither does it direct him. God does not arbitrarily declare what is good; he is good. He is not bound by an external standard, because he is the standard.
Because the Christian defines goodness in an object (be it human, amoeba, or rock) as correspondence to God’s being within the bounds of the object’s created nature, both horns of Euthryphro’s Dilemma are avoided and we can have a meaningful definition of good grounded in the being of a good and sovereign God.
From Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future:
There is a disconcerting symmetry between Prozac and Ritalin. The former is prescribed heavily for depressed women lacking in self-esteem; it gives them more of the alpha-male feeling that comes with high serotonin. Ritalin, on the other hand, is prescribed largely for young boys who do not want to sit still in class because nature never designed them to behave that way. Together, the two sexes are gently nudged toward an androgynous median personality, self-satisfied and socially compliant, that is the current politically correct outcome in American society.
There’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears – that’s what soma is.
–Brave New World
I recently read Winfried Corduan’s No Doubt About It and was surprised by his argument that the Free Will Theodicy is invalid. (In a nutshell, this response to the problem of evil argues that moral evil exists in the world because God granted human beings the freedom to make significant moral choices.) Corduan argues, “The idea of freedom prohibits God’s directly influencing our choices, but there is another way of making sure of the desired outcome, namely by limiting the circumstances within which we choose.”
Corduan begins his argument by making the legitimate point that we do not have absolute freedom because our choices are constrained by external circumstances. “I cannot sensibly choose to be a world-class oboe player or the olympic gold medalist in butterfly swimming; I just do not have what it takes. I cannot reasonably choose to spend next semester on Mars: the laws of the universe and the policies of my university will not permit it. In short, pure unbounded freedom of choice does not exist. If we do choose freely, it is still within the limit of options given us.”
Because our choices are constrained by our situation, Corduan argues that God “could have arranged our available choices in such a way that we would be free but would only freely choose to obey Him.” As an example, he suggests that God could have created the Garden of Eden without the tree of temptation, thereby avoiding giving Adam and Eve the opportunity to rebel against him.
I believe a twofold response to these assertions is possible. First, Corduan misses a significant element of the Free Will Theodicy. The emphasis should not only be on moral freedom as intrinsically good, but also on free moral choices rightly made as a means for spiritual development. As James writes, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Can courage come in the absence of danger? Patience or hope in the absence of trials? Forgiveness without sin? Even love itself is best cultivated when directed towards one who has wronged us (Matthew 5:43-47).
The decision to choose the right when confronted with a genuine choice is the only way to cultivate many of the greatest virtues. For a perfect being – God – such moral development is not necessary. However, God in his wisdom chose to create mankind capable of moral growth, and such growth appears to only be possible in the presence of real temptation.
This is not to say that sin is necessary for moral development. One need not ever play the coward in order to be courageous, but courage in the absence of danger is no great virtue, nor will it create a more courageous creature. Adam and Eve did not need to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to grow morally, but they did need to be able to choose not to eat.
With this in mind, it seems that a universe so arranged that mankind was free to choose, but only from an array of virtuous choices, would miss the point of free moral will. Further, however, I believe Corduan’s position has a second and even more fundamental flaw, because the possibility of evil is inherent to the creation of a morally free, self-aware being.
Satan did not need a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to fall. All he needed were two things: himself and God. As soon as a being with free moral will is aware of itself as not-God, it can choose to value itself above God. And that is evil. If God’s only act of creation was to craft a disembodied mind floating in nothingness, that mind could not not be capable to sin if it was (1) morally free and (2) aware of itself (3) as not-God.
Because the nature of evil makes it logically impossible for a morally free, self-aware creature to exist in any set of circumstances without the possibilty of sin, even an omnipotent, omniscient God could not create such a situation. (See “Things God Cannot Do”.) God could choose not to create. He could choose not to create a self-aware creature. He could choose not to grant that self-aware creature free moral will. But he could not choose to create a self-aware creature with free moral will that could not sin, any more than he could create a circle that was square, or an inanimate object that was alive.
Because the real possibility of sin is necessary for true moral freedom, and because creation of a morally free, self-aware being necessarily makes evil possible, Corduan’s response does not adequately refute the Free Will Theodicy.
Researchers at Harvard University have discovered that our experience of pain depends on whether we think someone caused the pain intentionally. In their study, participants who believed they were getting an electrical shock from another person on purpose, rather than accidentally, rated the very same shock as more painful. Participants seemed to get used to shocks that were delivered unintentionally, but those given on purpose had a fresh sting every time.
It is strange how much our instructions to those seeking to become a better husband, wife, parent, or leader sound like those which might be given to a spy taking on someone else’s identity. “You’ll need to take a walk every evening at 6:00, because Mr. Johnson did.” “You’ll need to buy her roses, because that’s what a good husband does.” “You’ll need to take up woodcarving, because Mr. Johson enjoyed it.” “You’ll need to praise him when he does chores, because that’s what a good wife does.” “Try not to talk so much, because Mr. Johnson was quiet.” “Be assertive, because leaders are assertive.”
It is as if someone watched a good husband and recorded everything he did, then turned it into a checklist to be handed out to other men. “Do these things and you will be the man you ought to be.” Instead of, “Be the man you ought to be and you will do these things.” One doesn’t catch pneumonia from coughing.
As long as we act as if the key to success in life’s various roles comes from doing certain things rather than becoming a certain kind of person, we will continue to produce tired, frustrated people who wonder why checking all the boxes still isn’t getting any easier or more effective.
The Telegraph reports on the latest update to Oxford University Press’ children’s dictionary:
Oxford University Press has removed words like “aisle”, “bishop”, “chapel”, “empire” and “monarch” from its Junior Dictionary and replaced them with words like “blog”, “broadband” and “celebrity”. Dozens of words related to the countryside have also been culled.
The publisher claims the changes have been made to reflect the fact that Britain is a modern, multicultural, multifaith society. […]
“We have a certain Christian narrative which has given meaning to us over the last 2,000 years. To say it is all relative and replaceable is questionable,” said Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment at Buckingham University. “The word selections are a very interesting reflection of the way childhood is going, moving away from our spiritual background and the natural world and towards the world that information technology creates for us.”
An analysis of the word choices made by the dictionary lexicographers has revealed that entries from “abbey” to “willow” have been axed. Instead, words such as “MP3 player”, “voicemail” and “attachment” have taken their place. […]
Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College, a leading private school in Berkshire, said: “I am stunned that words like “saint”, “buttercup”, “heather” and “sycamore” have all gone and I grieve it.”
In an interesting review of the execrable Twilight series for The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan suggests that a major factor in the series’ popularity with teenage girls is the unique dynamic between Bella, the female protagonist, and her love interest Edward, who inconveniently happens to be a vampire. Flanagan writes,
Twilight centers on a boy who loves a girl so much that he refuses to defile her, and on a girl who loves him so dearly that she is desperate for him to do just that, even if the wages of the act are expulsion from her family and from everything she has ever known. We haven’t seen that tale in a girls’ book in a very long time. And it’s selling through the roof. […]
As he gradually explains, Edward has been avoiding and scorning Bella not because he loathes her but because he is so carnally attracted to her that he cannot trust himself to be around her for even a moment. The mere scent of her hair is powerful enough that he is in a constant struggle to avoid taking—and thereby destroying—her. […]
The erotic relationship between Bella and Edward is what makes this book—and the series—so riveting to its female readers. There is no question about the exact nature of the physical act that looms over them. Either they will do it or they won’t, and afterward everything will change for Bella, although not for Edward. Nor is the act one that might result in an equal giving and receiving of pleasure. If Edward fails—even once—in his great exercise in restraint, he will do what the boys in the old pregnancy-scare books did to their girlfriends: he will ruin her. More exactly, he will destroy her, ripping her away from the world of the living and bringing her into the realm of the undead. […] In the course of the four books, Bella will be repeatedly tempted—to have sex outside of marriage, to have an abortion as a young married woman, to abandon the responsibilities of a good and faithful mother—and each time, she makes the “right” decision. The series does not deploy these themes didactically or even moralistically. Clearly Meyer was more concerned with questions of romance and supernatural beings than with instructing young readers how to lead their lives. What is interesting is how deeply fascinated young girls, some of them extremely bright and ambitious, are by the questions the book poses, and by the solutions their heroine chooses.
It appears that young women are tired of a culture where being a gentleman means not forcing yourself on the girl after she says no. There is something wrong with a relationship dynamic where it is the woman’s role to persist in holding off an infantilized male bent on going as far as she will allow, and ironically enough, we have left it up to a moody, vegetarian vampire to remind us of that fact.
One of the most interesting speeches I assign to the students in my Intro to Logic and Rhetoric class is the question, “Does God’s omnipotence mean he can do absolutely anything?” Both Scripture and Christian tradition respond in the negative. There are, of course, several Bible verses that indicate things God cannot do:
- He cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18).
- He cannot be tempted by evil, or tempt anyone (James 1:13).
- He cannot disown himself (II Timothy 2:13).
We could summarize these propositions by saying that God cannot do evil. There is also a second set of things God cannot do: he cannot do illogic. God cannot create a square circle, or make 2+2 equal 5. He cannot create another infinite being (because an infinite being that was created is logically contradictory). He cannot create nothing (since something must be created, if creation occurs).
Our initial response to this assertion may be a feeling that God’s sovereignty is diminished. After all, does this mean that the laws of logic constrain God? Certainly not, any more than the earlier list of things God cannot do implies that the laws of morality bind him.
If we say, “God cannot do bleh, bleh, bleh,” are we offending his sovereignty? No, because “bleh, bleh, bleh,” is simply a series of sounds without meaning. It is nonsense, an empty phrase. If we think about it, the idea of a square circle or a created infinite being is equally nonsensical. Our mind instinctively assumes it must be meaningful since the phrase consists of two words which both have meaning, but when we apply the modifier “square” to the idea of “circle,” we fall abruptly into meaningless. A square circle is a series of sounds that refers to… nothing.
The common thread that binds these two assertions – that God cannot do evil or illogic – is the fact that God’s omnipotence operates according to his nature. God acts morally because his nature is good. God acts logically because his nature is rational. God’s omnipotence means that he is able to do whatever he wills (which is in accordance with who he is), unbound by any external contraints.
One of the ideas that I found most interesting in A Return to Modesty is Wendy Shalit’s suggestion that modesty is inherently more erotic than today’s overt sexuality. A quick mental comparison of Katharine Hepburn with Paris Hilton supports Shalit’s thesis that the blunt appeal of “nothing left to the imagination” sexuality does little to compensate for the accompanying death of mystery. We want dim, flickering candles – not a bank of fluorescent lamps – when we plan a romantic evening.
I am reminded of a passage from Quo Vadis in which a debauched Roman patrician glances at a floating barge of nude women and comments that a thousand naked women are somehow less appealing than a single one. In a sex-permeated culture, we have lost the mystery that makes sex anything more than a biological act. If you’ve already seen everything, and done most of it, sex becomes nothing but masturbation with a partner – certainly nothing to get particularly excited about, which might be why increasing numbers of otherwise-healthy young men are having trouble getting, err, excited.
Nudists insist that naturism isn’t about sex. One almost immediately becomes used to the nudity of those around you, they explain, and it ceases to be sexually appealing. Familiarity, it seems, does indeed breed contempt, or at least disinterest.