Sunday, April 19, 2015

Doomsday Du Jour — or — Doing My Job

Earth was not destroyed on June 13, 1857. The comet didn't even show up.

Mass starvation and various related catastrophes didn't happen in the 1970s and '80s, but the Ehrlich's reprise of Malthusian assumptions is still popular in some circles.

Apocalyptic predictions aren't unique to Western civilization, or Christendom — which are not the same thing, and that's another topic — but I'll concentrate on the Christian variety today.

Hyppolytus of Rome said the Second Coming would happen in the year 500. He died a martyr more than two centuries shy of his spurious Parousia. Hyppolytus of Rome is Saint Hippolytus of Rome now.

Saints are canonized for their heroic virtue, not for being spot-on accurate: and preferring death to denying our Lord is a short, painful, way to display that virtue. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828, 2473)

A messy death doesn't guarantee Sainthood, martyrdom still happens, many Saints died of natural causes, and that's yet another bunch of topics. (April 12, 2015; February 14, 2010)

Anyway, the year 500 rolled by. So did the years 1000 and 1033, which apparently saw some high-profile apocalyptic anticlimaxes.

The end of the first millennium wasn't entirely uneventful, though. One of our spectacularly unethical Popes was kicked out of the position twice, and sold the papacy once, between 1032 and 1048.

We've had a few other rough patches during the last two millennia: and that's yet again another topic. (September 14, 2014; February 15, 2012)

The last half of the 1300s and early 1400s was one of those bad times. The Great Pestilence or Great Plague sweeping Europe probably made the situation worse. Quite a few folks were in a panic, with some reason. We started calling it the Black Death a few centuries later. (April 4, 2014)

Fizzled Doomsdays



(Oakland Blog, via SFGate, used w/o permission)
(Judgment Day, 2011; wrong both times — May 21, 2011 and October 21, 2011.)

Every few years someone comes up with a new 'End Times' prediction: probably more often. That's just the ones I notice: and I suspect some are reruns of earlier, fizzled and forgotten, prognostications.

Some stand out, though.

Emanuel Swedenborg, one of the scientists who first developed the nebular hypotheses, made a remarkable claim during 1758. In "The Heavenly Doctrine," he said that Last Judgment had started — in 1757. (February 28, 2014)

I think Swedenborg gets points for originality imagination. Some folks may still believe he's right, since he placed doomsday's dawn in the 'spirit world.'

Harold Camping, now deceased, enjoyed fame in 2011 with a well-publicized 'End Times' marketing campaign that included billboards. I think — and hope, for his sake — he was sincere. He was also wrong. Both times. (June 14, 2011)

I'll concede that America's perennial 'Rapture' predictions, and the continuing willingness of some folks to believe them, has darkly funny sides.

In the comics, the scruffy man wearing a sack and carrying a 'The End is Nigh' sign is a stock character. So is the very-slightly-more-realistic rustic with a shaky grip on reality.

That's the comics. Real life isn't quite that simple.

Followers of this world's Campings aren't, or aren't all, uneducated yokels. For example, one of the folks who took Mr. Camping's 'Biblical' prediction seriously was a "former television producer:"
"...Follower Jeff Hopkins also spent a good deal of his own retirement savings on gas money to power his car so people would see its ominous lighted sign showcasing Camping's May 21 warning. As the appointed day drew nearer, Hopkins started making the 100-mile round trip from Long Island to New York City twice a day, spending at least $15 on gas each trip.

" 'I've been mocked and scoffed and cursed at and I've been through a lot with this lighted sign on top of my car,' said Hopkins, 52, a former television producer who lives in Great River, NY. 'I was doing what I've been instructed to do through the Bible, but now I've been stymied. It's like getting slapped in the face.'...
(Associated Press, via FoxNews.com)
I don't know what happened to Mr. Hopkins after that interview. I hope he didn't decide that all Christian leaders were like Mr. Camping.

A Willingness to Think


By the time I was out of high school, back in the '60s, I'd stopped wondering if the 'End Times' wannabe prophets were right, and started wondering how adults could believe them.

I still don't have a good answer to the second question. I suspect that a need for fear, highly selective memory, and at least a slight deficiency of analytic skills, may be involved.

My experience has been that having money or a diploma does not guarantee common sense.

That sort of wisdom comes from, among other things, a willingness to think about extravagant claims before 'really believing.'

No wonder I became a Catholic.

We're told that emotions are fine: they're part of being human. But we're also expected to think about what we say and do. (Catechism, 1762-1775)

Each of us someone, not something: a person. We're able to reason, and decide how we act — and in these ways are like God. (Catechism, 357, 1700-1706)

Being able to reason is one thing. Using that ability is another: and so is using it wisely. I've talked about emotions, reason, and getting a grip, before. (March 1, 2015; October 5, 2014; December 8, 2013)

Doomsday Du Jour


There may be another 'End Times' prediction in progress: judging from what I've seen from my 'front porch' online: Brian Gill, on Google Plus.

I think folks who pass along portentous messages take them seriously. Some may think that the Last Judgment really is upon us — this time.

I've seen too many 'doomsdays' come and go to get particularly worked up over the latest one.

I see 'End Times Bible prophecies,' and their Catholic equivalents, as cultural and psychological phenomena.

On the other hand, I believe what our Lord said about His return.

I'm a Christian, a Catholic: so I must take Sacred Scripture seriously. (Catechism, 101-141)

That includes John 6:39-40 and Revelation 7:9-10.

A few decades back, while discussing the End Times Prophecy du jour, someone told me what Mark 13:32 'really' means. I'll get back to that.

Mark 13 starts with our Lord and one of the disciples leaving the temple area. The disciple was impressed by the architecture, Jesus said, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down." (Mark 13:2)
"2 As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple area, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,

" 'Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end?' "
(Mark 13:3-4)
My Lord died a little later, stopped being dead, rallied the surviving Apostles, gave standing orders that we're still following, and left. (Mattnew 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-21; Acts 1)

It's the 'stopped being dead' part, I think, that really got the Apostle's attention: once they'd been convinced that Jesus really was alive. (April 5, 2015; October 5, 2014; March 11, 2012)

Our Lord will return, after "a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers." His return has been imminent ever since the Ascension. After Jesus returns, we'll finally see what's next. (Catechism, 673-679, 1001)

But all we know for sure about the timetable is that we're about two thousand years closer to that day than we were when our Lord left.

Right now it's Saturday afternoon, April 18, 2015. This post is scheduled to show up Sunday morning. If the world's end comes in the next several hours: you won't be reading this, and I'll be very surprised.

A Simple Message, and Mark 13:32-37


We've been on standby alert for two millennia so far: waiting for our Lord's return, making "disciples of all nations," and passing along ethical standards our Lord gave us. (Matthew 28:18-20)

The message is simple: God loves us, and wants to adopt us. (John 3:17; Catechism, 52, 1825)

We're expected to love God, love our neighbors, see everyone as our neighbor, and treat others as we'd like to be treated. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)

I'm about as sure as I can be that we're not expected to know more than our Lord did:
""But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

"Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.

"It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.

"Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.

"May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.

"What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!' "
(Mark 13:32-37)
My friend, some decades back, earnestly told me that Mark13:32 'really' means that we can't pin the Parousia down to a particular day — so far, so good.

But he was convinced that the self-styled prophets had Judgment Day pinned down to a particular week.

They were wrong. Again.

A Job to Do


I figure that either I'll still be alive when our Lord comes back: or, much more likely; that I'll die first, in which case I'll go through my particular judgment and whatever comes after that. (Catechism, 1021-1041)

Either way, I'll be at the Final Judgment. I really hope that I'll be with with the "sheep" at that point. (Matthew 25:33)

Meanwhile, I've got a job to do. The laity are in the Church's front line. We're expected to permeate "social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life." (Catechism, 899)

I've got my hands full: learning to seek, know, and love God, and doing my job as a Catholic layman. (Catechism, 1, 898-913)

I'm quite willing to let God the Father handle the big stuff.


(From NASA/ISS, used w/o permission.)

More of my take on life, death, and the long view:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Dark Matter and Energy: New Data, and a Map

Dark matter and dark energy will probably be in the news — science news, anyway — quite a bit over the next few months. CERN's upcoming research, using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), pretty much guarantees that. (April 10, 2015)

The Dark Energy Survey, an international team of scientists, gave a second-year report on their five-year project this Tuesday. They are mapping the universe, tracing the effects of dark matter and dark energy: or whatever is pulling — and apparently pushing — galaxies and galactic clusters into position.

Other scientists, studying galaxies about 1,400,000,000 light years away, collected and analyzed data that may help us understand dark matter.
  1. Shedding Light on Dark Matter
  2. Mapping Weak Gravitational Lensing: a Two-Year Report
I'll occasionally have something that belongs at the end of a post, but isn't quite related to the week's last news item. This is one of those times:

Living in a Big Universe



(From NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
("...the rich galaxy cluster Abell 3827. The strange blue structures surrounding the central galaxies are gravitationally lensed views of a much more distant galaxy behind the cluster...."
(ESO/Wikipedia))
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft."
(Psalms 19:2)
I've been over this before. The universe is big and old. We've known this for a long time.
"4 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.

"But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.

"For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.

"And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? "
(Wisdom 11:22-25)
As a Catholic, I must believe that God is creating the universe: which is changing as time proceeds. (Genesis 1:27-28; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 302373)

I also must believe that we're rational creatures, made in the image of God, responsible for the management of this world. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 16373, 1730)

The universe, although not yet perfect, is a place of beauty and order. Since part of our job is taking care of this world, learning how the universe works and developing tools is not just 'allowed.' It's part of being human. (Wisdom 7:17; Catechism, 341, 2292-2295)

Since the things of faith and the things of the world are all created by God, honest research cannot work against an informed faith. (Catechism, 159)

I like what Pope Leo XIII wrote: "truth cannot contradict truth." ("Providentissimus Deus," Leo XIII (November 18, 1893))
"...These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers...."
(Catechism, 283)
On the other hand, some Catholics insist that God must conform to a 17th-century Calvinist's timetable, and that's another topic. Topics. (January 9, 2015; February 5, 2014)


1. Shedding Light on Dark Matter



(From EXO/R. Massey, via BBC News, used w/o permission/)
("The distribution of dark matter in the cluster is shown with blue contour lines"
(BBC News))
"Dark matter becomes less 'ghostly' "
Paul Rincon, BBC News (April 15, 2015)

"The mysterious stuff known as dark matter just became less ghostly.

"It makes up 85% of the total matter in the cosmos and comprises some 27% of the known Universe.

"For the first time, the enigmatic quantity may have been caught interacting with other dark matter in a cluster 1.4 billion light-years away.

"Previous studies of colliding galaxy clusters have shown that dark matter barely interacts with anything.

"And the finding, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, may hint at exotic physics - beyond the scope of current theories...."
This team was studying four bright galaxies in the Abel 3827 cluster.

I'm guessing that Paul Rincon got that "up to 85% of the total matter..." from Plank data. The number is a reasonable estimate: but it's far from carved in stone.

Scientists with the WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) project were very clear about how precise their numbers are. Or, rather, aren't:
"Warning! This graph will continue to change slightly as better and better data is collected This image is made with 5 year WMAP data. The final 9 year data produces a more accurate result...."
(WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe): Content of the Universe; NASA)
Plank data suggests that today's universe is about 68.3% dark energy; 26.8% dark matter; and 4.9% atoms, the sort of matter we're made of.

That's some of the best data we have today, and some of the best analysis of that data. But it's still an estimate: an educated guess, based on observation and the best math we've developed.

Like I said last week, phlogiston was a pretty good explanation for how combustion works: but it doesn't exist. (April 10, 2015)

Unlike phlogiston, however — the more data they collect, the better dark matter and dark energy look explanations for what scientists observe. I'm reasonably sure that dark matter, and dark energy are real: based on what we've been learning about the universe.

As I said last week, dark matter and dark energy are "dark" because they're frustratingly hard to observe. They're not dark-colored, at least not in the way we usually think of color. (April 10, 2015)

Observation and Analysis


Atoms are fairly easy to observe, particularly when they're clumped together in massive quantities and very hot: like stars.

Back in 1932, Jan Oort published "The force exerted by the stellar system in the direction perpendicular to the galactic plane and some related problems." I've talked about Ernst Öpik, Jan Oort, and the Oort cloud surrounding our star, before. (October 24, 2014)

Anyway, Jan Oort studied star motions near our galaxy: and figured that there was a lot more mass in the galactic plane than had been observed. His numbers weren't spot-on, but his math helped other astronomers analyze stellar motion. (Oort constants, Wikipedia)

Over the following decades, astronomers noticed that galaxies moved as if there was a whole lot more mass around and in them than we could observe.

Meanwhile, Horace W. Babcock noticed that the Andromeda galaxy's stars rotated a lot faster at the galaxy's edge than they would if the galaxy's mass was distributed like its stars were.

That was in 1939. Babcock suggested at least two explanations for this oddity: neither of which involved unobserved mass.

A lot more observation and analysis later, most scientists decided that the unexpected rotation rates in galaxies was due to "dark matter:" stuff they couldn't observe, but that had mass — and the gravity that goes with having mass.

Neutrinos, WIMPs, and All That


Scientists have known about one sort of dark matter, neutrinos, since 1956. Neutrinos are subatomic particles with no electric charge. They have mass, probably, but it's tiny even compared to other subatomic particles.

Since they're electrically neutral, magnetism won't affect neutrinos: but the weak subatomic force does, and so does gravity.

They're produced during radioactive decay and nuclear reactions, like what happens in our sun's core. I've talked about neutrinos and science — real and Hollywood versions — in another blog. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (November 22, 2013; November 16, 2009)

So far, scientists are pretty sure dark matter particles, or most of them, are WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles).

We didn't realized that dark matter might exist until we started measuring things larger than star systems and smaller than atoms, though: so there's a very great deal left to learn.

As we learn more, we may learn that dark matter isn't what causes the effects we've observed.

Other explanations include mass in other dimensions, with gravity having an effect across all dimensions. This might explain why gravity is such a very weak force: it take moon- and planet-size concentrations of mass to produce serious gravity fields.

Or maybe we're looking at defects in quantum fields; or Newton and Einstein's descriptions of gravity need another major tweak, or Unruh radiation horizons generate inertia.

We don't know yet: and I've talked about that before. (November 7, 2014)

More:

2. Mapping Weak Gravitational Lensing: a Two-Year Report



(From Dark Energy Survey, via BBC News, used w/o permission/)
("Warmer colours represent areas of higher density"
(BBC News))
"Dark matter map unveils first results"
Jonathan Webb, BBC News (April 13, 2015)

"A huge effort to map dark matter across the cosmos has released its first data.

"Dark matter is the invisible 'web' that holds galaxies together; by watching how clumps of it shift over time, scientists hope eventually to quantify dark energy - the even more mysterious force that is pushing the cosmos apart.

"The map will eventually span one-eighth of the sky; this first glimpse covers just 0.4%, but in unprecedented detail.

"It shows fibres of dark matter, studded with galaxies, and voids in between.

"The international collaboration, known as the Dark Energy Survey (DES), will present its preliminary findings on Tuesday at a meeting of the American Physical Society and publish them on the Arxiv preprint server.

"The survey involves more than 300 scientists from six countries and uses images taken by one of the best digital cameras in the world: a 570-megapixel gadget mounted on the Victor Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, high in the Chilean Andes.

"Incredible detail is required to detect dark matter, based purely on the way it warps the light from very distant galaxies...."
BBC News generally avoids the bombastic generalizations and factual errors that plague mainstream 'science' news. However, although saying that dark matter "is the invisible 'web' that holds galaxies together" may be true — the last I checked, scientists still weren't that certain.

And despite what the second paragraph says, these scientists didn't observe "fibres of dark matter, studded with galaxies," they mapped gravity lensing.

"Gravity lensing?"

Light travels in straight lines, but what's "straight" depends on the shape of space-time: which depends on gravity, so areas with lots of mass act like a lens, 'bending' the straight lines of light.

The colored part of that map is where they observed weak gravity lensing, with red representing lots of lensing. Assuming that stuff with mass makes the lensing, that's where the mass is. Black circles are galaxy clusters.
"...The clusters are overlaid as black circles with the size of the circles indicating the richness of the cluster. Only clusters with richness greater than 20 and redshift between 0.1 and 0.5 are shown in the figure. The upper right corner shows the correspondence of the optical richness to the size of the circle in the plot. It can be seen that there is significant correlation between the mass map and the distribution of galaxy clusters. Several superclusters and voids can be identified in the joint map."
("Wide-Field Lensing Mass Maps from DES Science Verification Data;" V. Vikram, C. Chang, B. Jain, and many others)
The team's map is a major accomplishment. They observed weak gravitational lensing, which shows where mass is: and isn't. It's not raw data. The 'mass map' is an analysis of 20 variables from DES (Dark Energy Survey) and South Pole Telescope data.

They started work two years ago, and have another five to go: according to BBC News. This map is a sort of sketch: a preliminary map, using their first set of data. Eventually, they hope this data will help them understand dark energy.
"...The full DES survey area will be ~ 35 times larger than that presented here, at roughly the same depth. The techniques and tools developed in this work will be applied to this new survey data, allowing significant expansion of the work here...."
("Wide-Field Lensing Mass Maps from DES Science Verification Data;" V. Vikram, C. Chang, B. Jain, and many others)

Dark Energy, an Expanding Universe, and Angst


Dark energy is the best explanation scientists have for another unexpected aspect of our universe. Back in the 1920s, physicists realized that what they were learning about space and time, together with Einstein's field equations, made a lot more sense if the universe is expanding.

Up to that point, scientists had assumed that the universe was basically static.

Oddly enough, strident rejection of an expanding universe hasn't been popular among religious zealots. Maybe that's because it was the 1920s. Europeans were recovering from the "Great War," America's government imposed the lifestyle preference we call prohibition, and angst was in the air:
"...Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world....
"
("The Second Coming," W. B. Yeats (1919))
I've discussed Lovecraft, flappers, Europe flambé, and getting a grip before. (November 21, 2014; August 31, 2014)

Cosmic Expansion: Making Sense of New Data


Where was I? Gravity lensing, dark matter, angst. Right.

Scientists on both sides of the Atlantic were trying to make sense of new data in the 1920s.

Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven, applied Einstein's theory of general relativity to cosmology in 1927. He estimated a value for the rate at which our universe expands. Two years later Edwin Hubble, an American astronomer; working with more data, published a more precise value: the "Hubble constant."

Some scientists thought that the universe was expanding, but that new matter popped into existence to 'fill in the gaps.' Sir James Jeans introduced Steady State theory in the 1920s. It satisfied the Perfect Cosmological Principle, the idea that the universe looks and acts the same everywhere: and everywhen. It's an attractive idea, but hasn't been a good match with observations.

My guess is that a thousand years from now, folks will have found a more complete explanation for what we've found than the Big Bang: but right now, it still looks pretty good.

Accelerated Expansion: Making Sense of Even Newer Data



(From Alex Mittelmann, Coldcreation, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

The Big Bang would result in a universe that's expanding. Some 13,798,000,000 (give or take 37,000,000) years later, it's still expanding. Since gravity exists, and presumably doesn't have a range limit, you'd expect that the rate of expansion is going down.

That makes sense, but it's not what astronomers observe. It looks like the rate of expansion is increasing. This is something that's been confirmed in my lifetime, so it's no surprise that scientists still aren't sure why it's expanding faster as time goes on.

They've come up with several explanations. Dark energy may be the best of the lot, or maybe phantom energy or quintessence: versions of dark energy. Sort of. Phantom energy is, or would be, a more potent form of dark energy; quintessence would be a fifth fundamental force.

So far, we don't know why the universe is expanding the way it is: but we're learning more, and discovering that the universe is even more astounding than we thought.

More:
  • "Dark energy"
    Wikipedia
  • "Wide-Field Lensing Mass Maps from DES Science Verification Data"
    Cornell University Library; Astrophysics, Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics; V. Vikram, C. Chang, B. Jain, D. Bacon, A. Amara, M. Becker, G. Bernstein, C. Bonnett, S. Bridle, D. Brout, M. Busha, J. Frieman, E. Gaztanaga, W. Hartley, M. Jarvis, T. Kacprzak, O. Lahav, B. Leistedt, H. Lin, P. Melchior, H. Peiris, E. Rozo, E. Rykoff, C. Sanchez, E. Sheldon, M. Troxel, R. Wechsler, J. Zuntz, T. Abbott, F. B. Abdalla, R. Armstrong, M. Banerji, A. H. Bauer, A. Benoit-Levy, E. Bertin, D. Brooks, E. Buckley-Geer, D. L. Burke, D. Capozzi, A. Carnero Rosell, M. Carrasco Kind, F. J. Castander, M. Crocce, C. B. D'Andrea, L. N. da Costa, D. L. DePoy, S. Desai, H. T. Diehl, J. P. Dietrich, C. E Cunha, J. Estrada, A. E. Evrard, A. Fausti Neto, E. Fernandez, B. Flaugher, P. Fosalba, D. Gerdes, D. Gruen, R. A. Gruendl, K. Honscheid, D. James, S. Kent, K. Kuehn, N. Kuropatkin, et al. (29 additional authors not shown) (Submitted on 12 Apr 2015)
    (From arxiv.org/abs/1504.03002, arxiv.org/pdf/1504.03002v1.pdf (April 15, 2015))

Afterword: "...Like a Tent...."


The idea that this universe won't last forever is unsettling: to me, anyway. But I won't insist that the universe must be the way I want it. Taking reality 'as is' seems more prudent.

Besides, as a Catholic I must believe that God decides what's real and what's not — it's not up to me, or Aristotle, or anybody else. I've discussed 1277 and Aristotle's fan base before. (September 26, 2014; February 23, 2014)

We've known that the universe is like a tent, a garment, something useful but temporary, for millennia:
"He sits enthroned above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; He stretches out the heavens like a veil, spreads them out like a tent to dwell in."
(Isaiah 40:22)

"3 Raise your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth below; Though the heavens grow thin like smoke, the earth wears out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies, My salvation shall remain forever and my justice shall never be dismayed."
(Isaiah 51:6)

"and: 'At the beginning, O Lord, you established the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands.

"They will perish, but you remain; and they will all grow old like a garment.

"You will roll them up like a cloak, and like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.' "
(Hebrews 1:10-12)

"Then the sky was divided 13 like a torn scroll curling up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place."
(Revelation 6:14)
What's changed in the two-dozen-plus centuries since Isaiah's day is how much we know about this 'tent:' and how much we're discovering there is left to learn.

More of my take on reality and truth:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Death at Garissa University, Sin, and Consequences

About 150 people stopped living on April 2, 2015, in Kenya: Thursday of last week. They were killed at Garissa University College.

Quite a few folks are upset about this.That's reasonable.


(From AP, via Al Jazeera, used w/o permission)
("Several ceremonies to mourn the victims have been held in Nairobi"
Al Jazeera)

I put excerpts from news and views at the end of this post.1

The body count would have been higher, but the killers were very careful about choosing their victims. After collecting about 700 students, they only killed those who said they are Christians.

Don't expect a rant about those [hated group] who always commit [atrocity of the day]. I think that's as foolish as making excuses for members of [approved group] who behave badly.

Although I'm upset about the loss of life, I'm not particularly concerned about long-term prospects for the 150 folks who decided that they'd rather be killed, than deny that they follow our Lord.

Martyrdom is messy and generally unpleasant: but it's a short, and painful, way to make the big time. (Catechism, 2473-2474)

Family and friends of the dead: I'm more concerned for them. No pressure, but praying for their well-being and support couldn't hurt.

Putting in a word for the half-dozen or so who did the killing may be more important. What they did has long-term consequences, far beyond what any local or national court could impose.

Hellfire and Hypocrisy



(From John Martin, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

I think it's wrong to kill someone for having the 'wrong' faith, ancestry, or appearance. More to the point, the Church says murder is wrong. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2268-2269)

Murder, deliberately killing someone when there isn't a really good reason, qualifies as a mortal sin. I'll get back to that.

Killing another person, when that's the only way to keep the other from killing me, is not murder. It's also very truly the last acceptable option. I've discussed legitimate defense, capital punishment, and getting a grip, before. (August 24, 2014; November 10, 2013; July 6, 2009)

Why aren't I indulging in a harangue about the killers getting cast into the eternal hellfire reserved for folks who aren't just like me?

Partly because I don't need that kind of trouble, partly because I think paying attention to our Lord's example is a good idea.

My rap sheet is long enough as it is, and I'm no more than a few decades — tops — from my particular judgment. (Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:41-42; Catechism, 1021-1022)

While Jesus was being tortured to death, in pain and with some reason for being in a snit, our Lord said "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)

That sets a pretty high standard. So does this:
"11 If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.

"But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."
(Matthew 6:14-15)

"1 2 'Stop judging, that you may not be judged.

"For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you."
(Matthew 7:1-2)

"1 Therefore, you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. 2 For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things. ... There is no partiality with God."
(Romans 2:1-11)

Forgiving, including forgiving our enemies, is vital. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" is part of the Lord's prayer. (Catechism, 2838-2845)

On the other hand, we're not required to be stupid. I'll get back to that a little later.

Footnotes to Matthew 7 points out that Jesus isn't telling us to avoid getting lumber stuck in our eyes. The idea is that being arrogant and judgmental is not good.
"2 [1] This is not a prohibition against recognizing the faults of others, which would be hardly compatible with ⇒ Matthew 7:5, 6 but against passing judgment in a spirit of arrogance, forgetful of one's own faults."
(Matthew 7, footnotes 1, 2)

Sin and Sense


I've talked about positive law, rules we make up; and natural law, ethical principles woven into reality, before. (August 31, 2014; August 29, 2014)

Sometimes a society's rules defining our rights and responsibilities are somewhat in line with natural law. Sometimes they're not.

The 'middle-class morality' that many folks got fed up with in my youth was an example of positive law gone wrong. I do not miss the days of the 'boys will be boys' double standard, when "she's smart as a man"was supposed to be a compliment.

Some of my generation's reforms didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, and that's another topic.

Breaking a positive law may be a sin, or not: violating the ethical principles positive law should be based on is.

"Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience...." It's a "failure in genuine love for God and neighbor...." Sin is a violation of eternal law. (Catechism, 1854-1864)

Sins aren't all alike. Some are comparatively minor, some are anything but.

Mortal sin is what the Church calls a sin that attacks the charity in us. It's an act that is a serious violation of ethical principles, done deliberately. (Catechism, 1855-1859)

Like I've said before, the rules are simple. I'm expected to:
I said simple: not easy.

Wrenching myself back on-topic, murdering my neighbor is pretty much the opposite of loving my neighbor: and it's a mortal sin. (Catechism, 1858)

Justice, Mercy, and Freedom


This is not where I start ranting about the Garissa killers being thrown into Hell. I have no idea what's going on inside their heads: much less how God sees the situation.

I am, however, as certain as I can be that what they did was wrong.

Killing someone for having a particular faith is a bad thing: whether the victims are Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, or anyone else. (September 11, 2014; February 25, 2014; August 9, 2012)

Are the Garissa killers going to spend eternity in Hell? I have no idea. What they did was a bad thing — but so is trying to muscle in on God's turf, which includes vengeance and final judgment. (February 1, 2015; September 11, 2010)

Although we can decide that what someone does is a "grave offense," we must trust God's justice and mercy for what happens to them — and to each of us — in the long run. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1861)

I've run into Christians who think that America's ethical standards are faulty — arguably true — and that 'there oughta be a law' that every American be forced into church.

I sincerely hope that doesn't happen, and don't think it will. America has a tradition of grudging tolerance for folks who don't agree with the majority.

Some Catholics might think that 'the government oughta do something,' and force everyone to say their Catholic. That, in my considered opinion, would be a profoundly lousy idea. More important, the Church says that religious freedom is necessary. (Catechism, 1738, 2104-2109)

That's real religious freedom. Not the 'free to agree with me' stuff that's been popular off and on: and certainly not a 'convert or die' policy. The Verdun massacre left a mess we're still cleaning up. (May 18, 2014)

Doing Something Constructive — or Not


When something like the killings at Garissa University College happen, local, regional, and national leaders must do something. Leaders have responsibilities, like everyone else. (Catechism, 2235-2237)

Make that do something constructive. I think Armin Rosen's op-ed in Business Insider (April 8, 2015) makes a good point: Kenya's national government is not acting, or reacting, wisely.

I think I understand why the powers that be in Kenya have apparently decided that freezing the assets of Somali-owned enterprises in Kenya is a good idea.

Al-Shabaab says it is responsible for the Garissa University College killings.

Al-Shabaab's headquarters is in Somalia.

It's easy to assume that all Somali are Al-Shabaab terrorists, or supporting Al-Shabaab.

Ironically, Al-Shabaab seems to have a rather international membership.

Assuming that all Somali support Al-Shabaab may be easy, but it's almost certainly not accurate: any more than assuming that all Muslims are terrorists — or believing that all American Protestants support the Ku Klux Klan.

Maybe there's a reasonable explanation for the Kenyan government economically attacking Somalis. Maybe Kenya's leadership panicked. I don't know.

I do know that we live in a big world, that we're not all alike, and that this is okay. We're supposed to look different, and follow different customs. (Catechism, 360, 361)

Working for Change: It's a Long Haul


I gather that outfits like Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram think there's something wrong with Western civilization.

In a way, they're right. My native culture isn't perfect, and should be changed.

It has been changed, quite a bit it some ways, since my youth. My generation helped make some of those changes: which weren't, like I said before, all bad.

There's still room for improvement. A lot of room.

There are short-term fixes, but real change won't happen until most folks think that loving God, loving neighbors, and seeing everybody as a neighbor, is a good idea — and live as if that's true.

Meanwhile, we'll keep working with what we have, correcting what is unjust, and supporting what is right. (Catechism, 1897-1917, 1928-1942)

That's why I keep sharing the best news humanity's ever had: that God loves us, and wants to adopt us. (John 3:17; Catechism, 52, 1825)

It's called evangelization — preaching the gospel, or converting to Christianity — and is, or should be, a major priority for every Christian. (Catechism, 905)

Again, I can't make you, or anyone else, believe anything. Even if I could, it's against the rules. Every person must be free to choose: to accept truth, or not.

Finally — evangelization, Catholic style, isn't trying to force everyone into one cultural mold, impose the 'correct' form of government, or drag the world back to some imagined golden age. The 'good old days' weren't. (November 23, 2014; August 3, 2014)

We've been passing along God's message of hope and love for two millennia so far, made some progress, and have a very long road ahead of us. My opinion. (April 5, 2015; October 26, 2014; June 23, 2013)

More of my take on love, truth, and perspective:

1 News and views:

(From AP, via Al Jazeera, used w/o permission)
("Several ceremonies to mourn the victims have been held in Nairobi"
Al Jazeera)

"Kenyan students march to honour Garissa victims"
Al Jazeera (April 7, 2015)
"Hundreds of demonstrators in Nairobi call for better security and compensation for families of 148 killed at university.

"Hundreds of Kenyan students have marched in downtown Nairobi to honour the 148 people who died in an attack by al-Shabab fighters at a college campus in Garissa and to press the government for better security in the wake of the killings.

"The crowd walked and jogged down main thoroughfares in the Kenyan capital on Tuesday, sometimes sitting in traffic circles and intersections.

"One demonstrator held a sign that read 'You remain in our hearts!'. Another said 'Comrades are tired of al-Shabab'.

"Al Jazeera's Malcolm Webb, reporting from Nairobi, said the demonstrators were angry with the government for failing to provide adequate security in Garissa...."

"Kenya is responding to the latest al-Shabaab attack in a way that could make the country's terror problem worse"
Armin Rosen, Business Insider (April 8, 2015)

"In the wake of the massacre in Garissa, the Kenyan government has been harshly criticized by its citizens for missing the clues of an impending attack by the Somali Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabaab. Gunmen from the group killed 147 people at a university in the eastern Kenyan city of Garissa on April 2.

"Now, it's clear that Nairobi's initial reaction to the attack is to go after the country's sizable Somali minority.

"On April 4, the government published a list of "entities suspected to be associated with Al Shabaab", including 13 of the largest Somali-operated money transfer companies working in Kenya. On April 8, the government ordered those companies' activities to cease and froze all of their accounts...."

"Kenyans protest against al-Shabab after Garissa attack"
BBC News (April 7, 2015)

"About 2,500 people have marched in Kenya's Garissa town in a show of defiance against militant Islamist group al-Shabab following its deadly assault on a local university.

"Students have also protested in the capital, Nairobi, ahead of a candle-lit vigil demanding more protection from the al-Qaeda-linked Somali militants.

"The assault on Garissa University on Thursday killed 148 people.

"Five Kenyans have appeared in court for suspected links with the attackers....

"...A sixth suspect, a Tanzanian, is being held in the north-eastern town of Garissa, which is about 150km (90 miles) from the border with Somalia...."

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