A Philosophy of Wine

I would suspect that when one drinks wine he must have a little bit to think about it. He spends a few dollars at the grocery store and might not think much. In fact, he may take the wine home with any to little intention of thinking at all. All this seems normal. Yet I confess that my pet peeve is just that normality (or routine) doesn’t, or at the very least shouldn’t, escape scrutiny.

Scrutiny? No one is upset at this poor sap at the local supermarket. Wine, however, necessarily invites one before a table (usually with company) and sparks the marriage of its various aesthetic features: pairing the beverage with a complimented meal (e.g., Pinot Noir and rotisserie chicken), intellectual or existential conversation, the experience of the wine’s chemical/sensational characteristics (tannins, descriptors, etc). This of course isn’t usually the case of how one drinks wine.

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God Is Fixing Us

It’s been almost 15 years since the 9/11 attacks. This was a devastating and tragic period of time for American history in particular and a widening rift for those most affected, in general. Sermons (such as Carter Conlon’s post-9/11 service), music (Tori Amos wrote “I Can’t See New York” in 2002), and most significantly, popular books (eg., Sam Harris’ End of Faith in 2004) also emerged to bring about a new conversation on fundamentalism, fanaticism, and religion that would later start a whole new breed of secularists. In other words, we would come to see “the decade of atheism.”

Now, I’m not sure why tragedies lead people to unbelief; it’s a strange corollary. From multiple testimonies I have gathered from unbelievers, tragic events seem to be tied one way or another to their disbelief in God. Divorces, death, great misfortune (like Job),  suffering, abandonment and betrayal all sit on the shoulders of humanity. Some men are born blind, after all. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1)

God has been approached by the most arduously skeptical and provocative thinkers history has ever seen, I’m sure. Though these men lack the advantage of personal acquaintance, Jesus’ own disciples – his closest followers, friends, and rather highly educated “theologians” – questioned Jesus on one man’s misfortune of having been born blind. Jesus, Lord and philosopher par excellence, answered his disciples:

Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

Long story short, the blind man was sent away to wash his eyes and was later able to see (vv. 6-7). Though Jesus knows that his followers are ignorant of God’s overall redemptive plan, He reverts their attention away from one man’s example of worldly misfortune to that same man’s image of redemptive rebirth. This is evidenced by the fact that (a) the man, once blind, “can now see” (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4) and (b) that his neighbors do not recognize him as the same man who was begging just a little bit ago.

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Why Be Religious?

I tried to think of some parable or analogy that would best express the situation of religion in modern society. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) in Either/Or and Harvey Cox (b. 1929) in The Secular City both point to the parable of a clown being mocked off stage after a failed attempt to warn the audience of a fire which erupted backstage. They dismiss the warning and proceed to laugh at the clown and his “misfortune.” And so, modernity, “the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke” (Oden 1978, 3).

The idea behind the parable suggests that the clown represents the contemporary theologian; strutting about in his makeup and clothes, no real danger or urgency behind what he is saying. Amidst the theologian’s “seriousness” and “urgency,” the public still knows better that he is all that he is – just a clown (Ratzinger 2000, 39-42). What makes this parable (and others like it) so significant is that it prompts us to ask ourselves not merely “Am I apart of the applauding audience?” but rather “What is the condition of man?”

What does it mean to be a man? What does man’s world consist of? What is man’s relation to other things (the universe, other people, etc.)? While these questions do not immediately prompt an irreligious person to spew a “religious answer” for them, they by all means demand an answer. In my experience, these are the sort of questions which the general public (Christians included!) disregard as needless exercises in abstract thought. However, at the same time, there are some who recognize the legitimacy of these questions, but only in the realm of “individual human lives, human creativity, human interactions, and human institutions” (Nagel 2010, 7).

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Philosophy, Sex and the American Decline

I suspect you’ll see the title as hinting that I’m going to talk about the subject of philosophy, perhaps a little bit about the act of sex, and then talk a little more on how these things might contribute to the “strange” idea that America is in a decline. Is it a moral decline? An educational or financial one? Perhaps he’s going to go on about how a bad philosophy of sex has contributed to the decline of traditional American values over recent times.

To be honest with you, I have no interest in talking about how traditional American values have declined because of an unlawful use of sex. This doesn’t mean that I lack civic interest in the subject (indeed, I’ve argued about this many times before), but really that at the heart of whatever our moral decline may be, there lies a bad philosophy of many a things – of life, of sex, of person(s), of society and structure, and uniquely (though not new), a bad philosophy of self.

Consider the differences between two ethical philosophies that touch on the subject of human nature: Natural Law and Naturalism. Natural Law acknowledges nature has a supernatural intelligence backed behind it, while Naturalism fundamentally rejects this point. God holds a chair of ontological significance in Natural Law to which Naturalism places Nature (with a capital “N”) on the chair in His place. For philosophers, Naturalism is the view that only the material is the real.

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Thoughts on Wine and Weed

I work in a wine cellar. Five days out of the week I oversee and care for over 100,000 bottles of wine in this cellar. For the short time I have spent with these wines, I have come across bottles that even most restaurant aficionados will hardly, if ever, see in their entire lifetime. Wine is an area of human sensuality which has its commendable qualities and even religious connotations (Benjamin Franklin once said that wine is evidence that “God loves us and wants to see us happy”) which is soft for the palate of the soul.

We see Man and Nature interact in such a way where God’s grace extends even to some drops of water falling onto grapes and making wine to fit Man’s liking (that is, should he choose to intervene). Marijuana is different in this reverential regard.

Whereas wine attempts to cultivate aesthetic experiences by synthesizing a wine regions unique terroir with human sensations, marijuana is the manipulation of man’s already pre-functioning faculties for the sake of “mental obstacle courses for couch potatoes” (Stephen H. Webb).

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Hearts for Heaven

There are typically four ways a theologian may speak of “God’s revelation.” The first two pertain to some kind of special revelation: (a) A revelation or manifestation of God through the person Jesus Christ or (b) God’s revelation through written scripture. The latter two pertain to some kind of general revelation: (c) God’s general revelation through nature in created things or (d) God’s imprint on the human mind/heart to recognize they were created in His image. I think for (d) the great female philosopher Ariel from The Little Mermaid said it best:

Look at this stuff
Isn’t it neat?
Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl
The girl who has everything?

Look at this trove
Treasures untold
How many wonders can one cavern hold?
Looking around here you think
Sure, she’s got everything

I’ve got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty
I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore
You want thingamabobs?
I’ve got twenty!

But who cares?
No big deal
I want more

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The Agnostic

Agnosticism: it has been described to me as not really a position at all. As a matter of fact, it is really an outlook upon matters of immanence (a pesky word that refers to God’s presence in the material world) and transcendence that chooses to withhold judgement. What then does it really claim? It makes no claims, just an attitude one expresses towards religious truths.

Agnosticism on this view is blind, if not deaf. A “non-position” that makes a judgement to withhold judgements from religious claims misses the parrot of self-referential incoherence over its shoulder. Put simply, it shoots itself in the foot (e.g., parrot still intact). As someone with a basic college education could understand, Allan Bloom in his brilliant Closing of the American Mind gives us the observation that if something is to be a position it must as well be exclusive. In other words, it must exclude other positions if it itself is to be a position. Agnosticism clearly does exclude some positions (religious truth, etc.), and hence is itself a position taken against another. Is agnosticism then purely polemic (an attack against something else)?

No, and few fail to recognize this (including the agnostics). Though agnostics are not all similar to say, Pascal’s skeptic interlocutor in the Pensées (who wishes “not to gamble” on the quest for Happiness and Truth), there are some even more far-fetching in that they claim that religious truths can’t be known at all by anyone. Well then! What a claim all of sudden! This kind of person has been called many names (no, not “bad” names): hard agnostic, strict agnostic, religious skeptic, etc. It not only amounts to a mere positive claim, but it amounts so much as to almost God-like knowledge of the human condition: humans nowhere can whatsoever obtain a knowledge of God (please see my note below*).

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