Tuesday, March 30, 2004


A couple of questions

you can answer at least one, surely...

Does anybody deserve love?

What did Jesus mean when he said to his disciples that they must carry their own cross and follow him?

Friday, March 26, 2004


Post-Foetal Ramblings

Stuff happening

My sister just started working at Target and she and her fiance have a date set for their wedding: November 6, 2004. I think it's in the middle of the week in Galveston, Texas, and other details are being worked out. My mom also got a job at Barnes and Noble and we're all very happy. It's good that she's working again. I'll probably be going to visit Texas sometime in April regarding a faculty interview at Texas A&M, and as it's near my sister, mom, and dad, I'll pay them a visit.

So I'm working as a consultant at Boeing in El Segundo twice a week now, and I've had to learn to get along with Windows, which seems to be everywhere. At least in the group I'm working with, they have a secret stash of Unix machines for doing the real work.

Lemme tell you, it's not easy getting along with Windows after having been with Macs and Linux for so long. All this My Documents, My Settings, My Blah blah crap is getting stupid. What am I, five years old? Windows can be so annoying. And the paperclip guy! Don't get me started! No me empiezas! If only Macs would invade the corporate world, the world would be simpler, sleeker, and less conducive to making me break stuff.

Anyway, I turned in my thesis this week to the Dean's office and also to my committee members. D-Day is April 7th (the day of the defense). I'm also giving a public lecture aimed at a more general audience on Cinco de Mayo at 4pm at Caltech. Please come if you can. It's entitled The Interplanetary Transport Network: Space Transportation Architecture for the 21st Century. It should be a hoot and have lot's of pictures and movies to make the math and stuff visualizable.

I found out today that Tim Henson and Ramon Mayo have blogs. You should start one too.

Anyone going to the Prince concert on Monday? I'm not, but I'm guessing it would be cool. (By the way, Jessica says hello -- I'm on the phone with her.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


Eternity in Our Hearts

God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
-- The Teacher (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

If you have ever taken in a breathtaking vista in the Sierra Nevadas or swam in the clear blue waters of the Yucatan, you can identify with the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, who sees with dazzling clarity the beauty in the created world. One can detect in Ecclesiastes a longing, expressed by C. S. Lewis as "drippings of grace," those hints of transcendence he experienced when listening to music, visiting a beautiful cathedral, or reading Greek myths. We all feel that longing sometimes: in sex, in beauty, in music, in nature, in love.

Where did this sense of beauty and pleasure come from? The Teacher's answer is clear: A good and loving God naturally would want his creatures to experience delight, joy, and personal fulfillment.

An encounter with beauty or an experience of intense joy may cause us for a moment to forget our true mortal state, but only momentarily. Every bride walks the aisle believing in a new life of bliss and every parent of a newborn leaves the hospital full of joy; yet we know that half of all marriages end in divorce and perhaps a third of all children will suffer abuse at their parents' hands. We can't shed our mortality.

A person may sense eternity in their heart and never turn to the God who placed it there. For those who continue to live "under the sun" the Teacher of Ecclesiastes has a simple message: you will surely fail to find what satisfies. "Is that all there is?" asked Peggy Lee in her own Sixties' version of Ecclesiastes. You may fail by chasing wealth, success, or sex, or you may fail by dropping out, giving up, and yielding to addiction. The Teacher says he pursued both paths. Ecclesiastes recounts the decadence of the richest, wisest, most talented person of the world in his time, serving as the perfect allegory for what can happen when we lose sight of the Giver whose good gifts we enjoy.

Pleasure represents a great good but also a grave danger. If we start chasing pleasure as an end in itself, along the way we may lose sight of the One who gave such good gifts as sexual drive, taste buds, and the capacity to appreciate beauty. In that event, Ecclesiastes tells it, wholesale devotion to pleasure will paradoxically lead to a state of utter despair.

Despair descends as we abuse God's good gifts; they seem no longer gifts, no longer good. We turn nudity to pornography, wine into alcoholism, food into gluttony, and human diversity into racism and prejudice.

The Teacher's words endure as a work of great truth because it presents both sides of life on this planet: the promise of pleasures so alluring that we may devote our lives to their pursuit, and the haunting realization that those pleasures ultimately do not satisfy. God's tantalizing world is too big for us. Made for another home, made for eternity, we finally realize that nothing this side of timeless Paradise will quiet the rumors of discontent.

Monday, March 08, 2004


The M Word, the H Word, and the Demand for Public Acceptance

If you followed the debate in the comments to the previous post, you've seen that we definitely have a controversy on our hands regarding gay marriage. And we have been brought to this point by the astonishing success of the homosexual movement over the past three decades. Traditionally, sodomy was viewed as an act, and was condemned as unnatural and deviant. A hundred years ago, homosexuality was viewed as a condition afflicting people who are prone to engaging in such unnatural and deviant acts. Today "gay" signifies not so much an act or condition as the identity of people who say that they most essentially are what they do and want to do sexually. (You might ask yourself what gives you your identity? Your hometown? Your sexulaity? Your race? Your beliefs?) The movement has been from act to condition to identity, bringing us to the present demand for same-sex marriage.

From one to ten percent of the teenage and adult populations (the actual figures are highly disputed) are said to be a minority deprived of their rights. In particular, they claim to be discriminated against in that they are "excluded" from the institution of marriage. They are not asking for tolerance of their private sexual practices and of the gay subculture constituted by such practices. They are demanding, rather, public acceptance and approval. That is the whole point of focusing on the status of marriage, which is a quintessentially public institution.

There are some gays who express admiration for traditional marriage and say they simply want to be included in its benefits. They claim they are now excluded. And they are right. But they are not excluded by others; they are excluded by their identity as gays.

Sexual temptations, like other temptations, can be resisted. In the "permissive cornucopia" which is our modern American culture, sexual orientation seems to flip-flop among the confused, as kika has noted among some of her acquaintances. In other cases, sexual orientation can be changed. Human weaknesses notwithstanding, chastity is a possibility for all. Yet we are faced with a not-insignificant number of people who say that gay is who they are, whether by choice or by fate, and that they are unfairly excluded from the companionship, stability, and other goods of marriage.

The M Word. But were the powers that be to do their bidding tomorrow, however, they would still be excluded from marriage. Throughout history and in all major cultures, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. That is what marriage is. A man and a man or a woman and a woman may have an intense but chaste friendship, including shared living arrangements. It is not the business of the state to certify or regulate friendships. As for those who choose a sexual relationship, we may well understand their yearning for public approval of their choice. But same-sex marriage is not marriage. It is at most an attempt to create a semblance of some features of marriage, a pretending to be something like the relationship between husband and wife that is marriage. The reality is not changed if the state collaborates in the pretense and calls it marriage.

Some may respond that it is a harmless pretense. If a minority so desperately want to be legally designated as married, even though everybody knows that their relationship is not really a marriage, why not let them? It seems the generous thing to do. And besides, it may reduce the typically wild promiscuity that is characteristic of the gay lifestyle. Nobody can know whether same-sex marriage would, in fact, help domesticate the gay subculture. We do know, however, that it would radically change the customs, laws, and moral expectations embedded in millennia of human experience. Marriage and family law reflects the historically cumulative complexities of public concerns about property, inheritance, legal liability, and the legitimacy of children—the latter entailing a host of responsibilities for which parents, and especially men, can be held accountable.

The H Word. Many oppose same-sex unions and the consequent revolution in marriage and family law because they believe homosexuality is a disorder and homosexual acts are morally wrong. That is not a private prejudice. It is not, as the Supreme Court has claimed, an "irrational animus." It is a public moral judgment grounded in reason and historical experience, and supported by the authority of the biblical tradition. Nobody should apologize for publicly advocating a position informed by the foundational moral truths of Western Civilization.

Of course, those who do so will be accused of "homophobia." But as I've said, "homophobia" is a recently created term meant to stop all conversation on this serious matter. Support for the civilizational tradition in this regard is not a phobia; it is not an irrational fear. Concern about the legal establishment and normalization of sexual deviance is fully warranted. What is called "homophobia" is more accurately understood as a positive judgment regarding the common good and, most particularly, the well-being of children.

It should not be, but it still is, necessary to add that hatred of gays or denial of their human or civil rights is evil and must be unequivocally condemned. But as I've written in an earlier comment, the "right of gays to marry" is not a civil right. It would be a redefinition of marriage. And many of us who are concerned about the common good and the well-being of children are reasonably alarmed by the consequences in our society of such a redefinition.

Monday, March 01, 2004


State-Sponsored Marriage

An exchange. To be read from the bottom up.

Jacob Sullum: "Rather than imbuing the word 'marriage' with constitutional significance," Justice Martha Sosman, who dissented from the court's decision in Goodridge, wrote in a footnote, "there is much to be said for the argument that the secular legal institution, which has gradually come to mean something very different from its original religious counterpart, be given a name that distinguishes it from the religious sacrament of 'marriage.'...The legislature could, rationally and permissibly, decide that the time has come to jettison the term." Significantly, this solution seemed acceptable to the majority. Chief Justice Margaret Marshall said giving a new name—"civil union," say, or "household partnership"—to a legal arrangement available on an equal basis to homosexuals as well as heterosexuals "might well be rational and permissible."

Richard John Neuhaus: Since the Massachusetts high court, by a 4-3 vote, mandated same-sex marriage (Goodridge v. Department of Public Health), all the polling data indicate a growing rejection of the idea, plus rapidly increasing skepticism about “gay rights” more generally, especially when presented as a parallel to the civil rights movement of the last century. President Bush has declared that he supports marriage as an exclusive union between a man and a woman and has, albeit somewhat ambiguously, indicated his support for an amendment.

Matt: And I would say that the state most certainly does not have the right to determine that "that certain kinds of relationships are a benefit to society and should be encouraged."

Matt: Actually, that IS the job of the courts...judicial review. Courts must decide if a legislative action is in violation of the Constitution.

Tisco: But for a court to say that the state does not have the right to make this determination is ridiculous.

Tisco: I think the state is right to do this. If you disagree, then use the legislative process to abolish state-sponsored marriage.

Tisco: The state's purpose in granting benefits to marriage is that it has decided that certain kinds of relationships are a benefit to society and should be encouraged.

Tisco: Nobody's free association is being hampered. Relationships of all kinds are still happening, aren't they?

Tisco: We should probably have this conversation in a more permanent format, so that I don't miss something if I check too seldomly.

Matt: Shane- A marriage should concern only the two (or more?!?) people involved in the agreement. It's nobody else's business but theirs.

Shane: I suppose not, Jenny. And yet, it also seems important to limit the powers of government to handle only those actions which directly affect others.

JennySmith: Is it possible to do any action that does not affect anyone else?

Shane: When you marry, does that concern only yourself, or are others affected?

John Stuart Mill: ...the individual is not accountable to society for his actions, in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself.

Matt: And in the words of John Stuart Mill:

Thomas Jefferson: The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.

Matt: For in the words of my hero Thomas Jefferson:

Matt: Whether it is moral or immoral is irrelevant.

Matt: Further, by denying them the right to marry whomever they wish, we are denying them the freedom of association as well as equal protection under the law.

Matt: The Constitution does not grant the Federal government the power to regulate marriage.

Matt: Who a person marries is none of my business, none of your business and it is cetainly none of George Bush's business.