Saturday, May 22, 2010

Why I am Interested in the Creation-Evolution Controversy

I have been following creationism at a safe distance. I catch Origins TV when I can, go to their website, look at the power point presentations, buy creationist books cheaply when I see them at second-hand bookstores, and read what I can find on the web. Call it a hobby. Why do I do it? It's true; it is not a salvation issue. It has no direct bearing on my life, practical, material, spiritual or moral. Even if I were to find out some definitive answers, even if I were to become convinced that I now knew something true, such as the age of the universe, the exact role evolution played in the origin of various species, particularly man, if any, it would make no real difference. That, I suppose, is why my interest is no more than a hobby. It is more than an idle curiosity, but less than a matter of personal importance. It is something in between. I can sum it up this way - I know that I believe in some non-negotiable truths as a committed Catholic. I know that original sin is one of those non-negotiables. I know that I am to believe that whatever is being asserted by the human author(s?) of Genesis must be understood as being asserted by the Holy Spirit, and thus there can be no error or deception there. But I strongly prefer to understand what I am committed to believing so that when I make a statement about believing what I believe, I, at least, can know what I mean. As it is, when it comes to the primordial origins of the world, life, and mankind, I confess that I there is little definite conceptual content to these beliefs about our origins. I can recite verbal formulae, but I don't know what they really mean. God created the universe? Yes. How old is it? I don't know. How long did it exist before God created human beings? I'm not even sure the question has any meaningful answer that corresponds to reality. Did the Antediluvian patriarchs really live that long? Was there really a global flood? I just prefer to know what I am believing and confessing when I say that I accept the truth of God's revelation as contained in Genesis. I would like to know what I am committing to. But it is not very important, because whatever I found out, I would still remain Catholic, and I would still practice my faith. It's just that I feel a deep dissatisfaction with a situation wherein I have certain beliefs that bear on important truths, truths in which I have always been interested, but I cannot ascertain what the relation my beliefs have to those truths. I want my beliefs to be meaningful affirmations, not mere verbal recitations. Also, now that I am thinking about this, I have engaged in apologetics at times, and questions of that sort come up often enough that I want to be able to have a ready answer. It helps to know what my beliefs mean when endeavoring to defend them and offer them to others for credence. It would be nice if I could, after affirming that I believe in the six days of creation, Adam and Eve, the temptation by the serpent, the Fall, as the origin of human death, Noah, the ark, and the Flood, I would urgently wish to be able to follow-up on such an affirmation, and answer questions in a fairly definite way, such as whether all human beings descended from one literal original couple, and how long ago they were created, how long at least Adam lived, and how long ago he died. I would like to be able to say whether there was, according to the faith I hold, a global flood (and to be able to locate it in a definite chronology of human history with a reliable Anno Mundi dating system), or to be able to say that there definitely was not a global flood and that my faith doesn't teach that there was, and show persuasively why that is so, the way I can comfortably show that my faith does not teach that God's creative activity was confined to the first 144 consecutive hours elapsed time. I would like to be able to say, "Yes, there was a Big Bang event," or "No, there was no Big Bang." I would very much like to find a theory of origins that makes sense of all the data and is consistent with what I know because of my faith in what God has revealed.

I can't help the fact that I will always desire of science more than it can give us. I want it to do more than save the appearances. Science does not confine itself to that modest goal, either, not for a long time. Ever since the Enlightenment, when confessional warfare provoked people to lose their faith in organized religion to provide a coherent worldview and answers to all the ultimate questions that we all want to know the answer to in a way that everyone could more or less agree on, science has been offering itself as more than a method and organized body of knowledge that renders intelligible the data of our experiences of how things appear in the natural world. Science has been promising to eventually get us the answers of what, how and even WHY things actually are -- the answers only God knows. When you read the works and candid interviews of the leading lights of physics concerning what questions they are looking for and seeking answers to, they are questions that empirical natural science can never hope to properly address because they are totally outside their sphere of competence.

Brian Greene, in an interview right after publishing The Elegant Universe: "I think as an adolescent I had many of the questions and concerns that many adolescents do, you know -- what's it all about, why are we here, what are we meant to be doing with our time and so forth. And it just occurred to me that many people much smarter than I had thought of these questions through the ages and come up with various solutions, none of which I guess were completely satisfying, and it didn't seem to me that I was going to come up with a solution to those particular problems.
"But it seemed to me that if one could gain a deep familiarity with the questions, a real profound understanding of the questions themselves -- that is, why is there space, why is there time, why is there a Universe -- then at least that would be the first step towards coming to answers. And physics is the field that has these questions as its real central motivating force behind the work that is done. So that was the main reason for physics."

The last paragraph of Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time: "However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we should know the mind of God."

And then, of course, the famous Einstein quote:

"I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know his thoughts. The rest are details." (The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton University Press, 2000 p.202)

Some of these areas of inquiry would be better reserved for metaphysics, if one insists on confining oneself to the domain of reason. But even then, if that metaphysics remains insulated from and uninformed by theology, it will not be able to offer answers. At best it will be able to evaluate the questions themselves and define the boundaries of what is theoretically possible, laying out all the conceivable answers and all the reasons why each and every one can appear cogent, but no final conclusions will be forthcoming unless fundamental premises are supplied a priori.

While I grant that it is possible that no new theory, no new discovery, no cosmological speculation on the part of any astronomer or physicist, nor any novel ad hoc just-so-story from either young earth creationists or Neo-Darwinists may ever satisfy me as being worthy of a definite belief with conviction on my part -- the sort of belief that I would wish to defend with arguments -- that does not prevent me from wanting something from this area of inquiry to emerge as worthy of firm belief. Like Aristotle, I take it as basic that all men desire to know, and prefer knowledge to ignorance. When knowledge is not available (at least not certain knowledge), credible, plausible, cogent, reasonable beliefs will serve as a substitute. Even they are preferable to being satisfied with ignorance.

I do not accept the question-begging fundamental premise of metaphysical naturalism employed by modern cosmology, physics, geology, paleontology, anthropology, biology, and neuroscience. I don't accept the principle of uniformitarianism as anything but useful methodological assumption. But I am very suspicious of the sort of ad hoc, exegetically question-begging conclusion-driven speculation that creationists offer, and it seems like the more scientifically educated they are, the more bizarre their theory is likely to be.

If I was given a choice by God -- "I am present even now at the beginning of the world and can make it as I choose. How shall I do it? Shall I create it such that by the time you are born it will be 6,000 years old, or shall I have it such that it originates in a big bang 15 billion years ago?" I would prefer the former to the latter. That wasn't always the case. When I first reverted to my faith, after nearly a decade of agnosticism, I was more inclined to want the universe to conform to the ideas of modern Big Bang cosmology. At that time, while I was sure of Christ and getting more sure about His Church everyday, I was still fairly confident that the world was created by God with a Big Bang event, and that life evolved pretty much the way secular science says it did. I didn't believe in a literal historical Adam and Eve, or a global flood, and while I was never sure what to make of the ages of the patriarchs, I found it impossible to believe that they had lived for centuries. I was comfortable doubting that they had even existed.

I can remember that there was a single moment when that changed. I couldn't tell you an exact date, though I am sure it was sometime around 1998. I was reading the Genesis genealogies because I had just happened upon an article that intrigued me. The author of the article had made a case for all the names of the patriarchs from Adam to Methuselah having been prophetic, and when put together in order as a in single sentence, spell out a message in Hebrew, an early, hidden gospel, a follow-up to the protevangelium in puzzle form. It intrigued me. I knew that many of the Old Testament prophets had prophetic names and were inspired to name their children with names that were prophecies. It seemed entirely appropriate that the family line of Seth should have been fore-runners of that tradition. I wondered whether this was the true literal meaning of the genealogies and the ages of the patriarchs, so I re-read the passage, hoping to be able to see whether this interpretation fit the data, and thus I could discern a true literal intent for that passage without having to believe anything incredible, like a man living for several hundred years. I was, of course, disappointed, in that the account not only gives the time between the birth of a man and the birth of a later descendant with the next name as the word in the hidden message, but it also explicitly revealed how long they lived, i.e., their ages when they died. The name-word-hidden message interpretation may have been true (I am still inclined to accept it as plausible), but it would not serve to replace the traditional literal sense of the passage with another one, more acceptable to a contemporary scientific worldview. But then I noticed something for the first time, and a light dawned.

Prior to this moment of epiphany, I had simply read the ages of the patriarchs as not-very-meaningful trivia, a set of fact claims that had no bearing on my life, and which I found to be unbelievable. Even if I had accepted the ages as literal, they did not mean anything to me - they would simply have been biographical data. As I didn't accept them, they looked like absurd legends.

But when I looked closer I saw something that I found very interesting. The life spans were fairly consistent prior to the Flood, and then after the Flood, they drop. That fact I never had trouble remembering, but I never bothered to look closely at how they drop. They do not drop suddenly, as if the Flood simply brought about an environmental change that made it impossible to live longer than the longest life spans we know of happening today. It was slow. It had a strangely plausible graduality, and a phrase popped into my mind: Genetic Degradation.

I was floored! This passage seemed to be an account of genetic degradation of the human species after the Flood. But could the human author have been inventing that as a story? It seemed almost impossible. He would have to not only be inventing a story, but the very concept of genetic degradation thousands of years before Gregor Mendel or Watson and Crick. Suddenly, for a moment, the ages of the patriarchs looked like something that I could believe. Not that I believed them even then, but prior to that moment, I had no wish to believe them. I could wish that the Tolkien's epic history of Middle Earth could have been the literal history of this world, but I couldn't wish to believe that the Book of Genesis was presenting anything like a literal history. I could no more believe one than the other, but I could want to believe in the Tolkien account. Now I was able to want to believe in Genesaic history as well, and for the same reason - for the first time, it could make ancient history look like a real story, an epic tale, rather than a dry set of facts in chronological order. Being able to believe that the ages of the patriarchs were genuine and accurate historical facts was like discovering a musty, dusty old trunk, long hidden and forgotten in an attic of one's ancestral estate and, upon looking within, finding documents that proved genealogies and ancestry to King Arthur or a least one of the knights of Camelot, together with some sort of archaeological evidence showing that Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table actually existed.

Ever since then I have wanted to believe in a literal Genesis and some sort of young-earth type account of the cosmology of the universe, or at least a coherent chronology that fits all the historical and archeological data, that would ascertain dates for the creation of Adam and the Deluge. Failing that, I would settle for definitive, irrefutable proof that such events never occurred. Searching for definite, concrete answers to these questions is like a snipe hunt. I feel silly, like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Inerrancy Debate Continues

"I think we need to be careful about discussing inerrancy, which has an important place in magisterial texts prior to VCII, but is curiously absent from Dei Verbum. DV says that ”he books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation,” but it does not teach that the texts are inerrant in faith and morals." - Joshua B, Evangelical Catholicism

We must be careful when discussing inerrancy? I second that, third that with the other hand and bang both on the table for emphasis!

During the Second Vatican Council, one Council Father, namely Franz Cardinal Koenig, read a list of Biblical “errors” and declared that scripture is not inerrant. That his argument had the impact that it did on the Council Fathers – preventing them from being able to unanimously approve of language that would affirm Biblical inerrancy in the same strong language that it had been affirmed in prior Church documents shows that those men had not, individually, in the course of their lives, their study, their walk of faith, come to terms with passages such as those. They did what almost everyone else does with them – they intellectually shelved them and ignored the collection on that shelf. It only took someone drawing their attention to its contents in detail, forcing them to examine item after item, to really shake the faith of some of these men.

I had an experience like that when I was in my first year of college. I wasn’t a Cardinal, ensconced in wealth, power and position, so I lacked some of the motivation that those men had to continue to act like a believer after my faith was shaken. From the data of apparent errors, I assumed the presence of actual error, rejected inerrancy, and with it, the only authority that I at that time accepted for the essentials of my faith. I no longer had any reason to consider myself a Christian. Those men could not have considered themselves at similar liberty, so they must have struggled to hold on to as much of their faith as they could, or at least act like it.

What I find remarkable is this – even though many of the Council Fathers were at that point convinced that the doctrine of inerrancy was a false, that conviction did not find its way into the Conciliar documents. The weak way that inerrancy is affirmed in Dei Verbum is still an affirmation, and not a denial of anything affirmed by Popes and Councils prior to Vatican II.

Here is how things stand now – the Church has always affirmed inerrancy and has done so infallibly. In the past it did so in the strongest terms. When it did so in those terms, it did it infallibly. In the most recent council, the faith of many of the Fathers was shakem but the Holy Spirit did not allow that to result in a statement in Dei Verbum that would contradict any of the strongly worded prior affirmations of biblical inerrancy.

Logically, if a strongly worded proposition P1 is affirmed as true, and then a later proposition, p2, a weaker version of P1, is put forward, we can confirm p2 in light of the truth of P1. But the weakness of p2 does not weaken P1. P1 is still just as true in its entirety as it ever was. Logically, it is just not the case that p2 implies P1 Light (which, strictly logically, is Not-P1).

The weak statement in Dei Verbum does not blunt the atrong affirmations declared by previous councils and encyclicals in which the Pope was teaching under the charism of infallibility. Catholics are not permitted to re-examine and weaken the force of the doctrine of inerrancy taught for millennia based on a weak affirmation in a recent council. To do so would not only be a lapse of faith, but a lapse of logic.

We should be careful when discussing inerrancy, because we do not have all the answers to all the questions and all the solutions to all the problems. A list of apparent errors can get very long, especially if one is inclined to read scripture with a hermeneutic of suspicion, in which anything that looks even remotely questionable is assumed to be error, instead of with a hermeneutic of charity in which the author of ancient text is given the benefit of the doubt whenever possible (which is necessary, but not sufficient, for the greater hermeneutic of faith). As the list of problems grows in length, a conviction emerges and begins to grow - there must be something to this…these can’t all be misreadings or copy errors of scribes absent from the autographa, can they? Lists of what look for all the world to be contradictions in scripture can be very persuasive, and very dangerous.

The one Kyle brings up is one of my favorites, because of how contradictory it looks, and how easily that appearance of error is dispelled. For me, it is a perfect paradigmatic example of a biblical “error” or “contradiction” – I wish they were all so easily resolved. Here is what I do with that one:

I start with a hermeneutic of charity. Before the issue of inspiration even comes into it, I assume that the human author at least was not a moron or a lunatic. If two statements are in the same passage, and we can know with as much certainty as we know anything about the text, that the two apparent contraries were penned by the same hand, probably within minutes of each other, it is unlikely that he is both affirming and denying the same thing simultaneously in the same sense. If any other reading is possible, I accept that one. If several are possible but only one is plausible, I take the plausible one. So what is the human author trying to affirm when he writes that God “regrets” making Saul king? If we assume, charitably, that he is not affirming that which he denies later in the same passage, namely, that God literally changes His mind, then he must be affirming something else. Is he using anthropomorphic language to indicate Saul has lost the favor of God, that by sinning Saul’s reign no longer enjoys the blessing of God and that without God’s support, his days as king are numbered? I think that is a plausible reading of the statement in the text about divine regret over Saul, and perfectly consistent with the later literally-intended theological negation.

Because the loss of my faith was largely due to the examination of apparent errors and contradictions in scripture, I knew when I returned to the faith that one day I would have to face that list again. Eventually I did. I was aware of a great many more problems the second time (I had a book length list of them, far longer than the one recited by Cardinal Koenig) and I no longer approached this challenge with the faithful assumption of inerrancy, but when I went down the list and read the text in context with a hermeneutic of charity that I was taught to apply to philosophical texts (but had not heard of the first time I dealt with these problems), the problems began to disappear. I found reasonable interpretations that did not support charges of error or contradiction, and, one-by-one, I was able to scratch off the items. Soon it got to be a game – I was positively hunting for the ONE indisputable error, the one pair of outright contradictories, that would settle the issue. But, when playing by the rules of a hermeneutic of charity, I could not find even one that fit the bill. I did not get more than halfway through my list before I threw it out, satisfied, and now as fully convinced of Biblical inerrancy as ever (but in a more doctrinally and theologically informed way). Today it strikes me as ironic that the first time I dealt with the issue of problems with inerrancy, I assumed inerrancy (in a na├»ve, fundamentalist way), but it did not take the presentation of very many scriptural difficulties to shake that assumption of faith, and I wound up losing my faith, but the second time, with renewed faith in Christ and a reasonable scholarly hermeneutic of charity, but no meaningful belief in inerrancy, I not only kept my faith, but became convinced of the truth of the Catholic doctrine of inerrancy!

When I argued for the Catholic doctrine of inerrancy at Vox Nova, I was repeatedly told by more than one poster that there was no such thing, that I was attributing my view to the Church, but there was no one official Catholic position on inerrancy. I was told that a view like mine was rejected at Vatican II. But such a “rejection” emerging in discussion and debate during the minutes of a council is not covered by the charism of infallibility. The final documents are, and nowhere in them is the Church’s traditional position on inerrancy retracted. Raymond Brown notwithstanding, the traditional doctrine of inerrancy stands. I close with a quote from Fr. William Most which confronts such Brown-inspired modernist heterodoxy head-on:

“Raymond E. Brown in many places, such as NJBC (p. 1169) , insists that Vatican II allows us to say that there are all kinds of errors in Scripture, in science, history and even in religion - only things needed for salvation are protected by inspiration. Hence he insists that Job 14. 13 ff raises the possibility of an after life, and then denies it. Brown said that if anyone tries to differ from this position of his, it is an "unmitigated disaster". He claims to found his view on a line in Vatican II, DV §11: "since all that the inspired authors or sacred writers assert should be regarded as asserted by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully and without error teach the truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to be confided to Sacred Scripture." Brown insists the underlined passage is restrictive, not descriptive, i.e., that it means to say only such things are inerrant. Brown points to the "prevoting debates", i.e., the day when Cardinal Koenig arose and gave a list of errors in Scripture. Sadly, a large number of bishops chimed in with him. Yet the Holy Spirit was at hand, and no trace of this idea is found in the final text of Vatican II. Most importantly, Brown ignores the fact that the Council itself gave several notes on the very passage, sending us to earlier pronouncements of the Church, including the statement of Vatican I that God Himself is the chief author of Scripture. Of course, Brown thinks he can get around it. He says there are two ways to look at Scripture. One is a priori, in which we say God is the author, and so no error is possible. But there is also, he asserts, the a posteriori way:look at the text, see all the errors, decide there are errors.

“The incredible thing is that today, now that we have new techniques for studying Scripture, not possessed by earlier scholars, even at the beginning of the 20th century, we have the means of answering countless claims of error, which earlier exegetes could not answer. Yet at this very point, those, like Brown, who are supposed to know these techniques, insist on saying the problems cannot be solved, that to try, e.g., to solve the problem of Job 14:23 - which is really easy -- is an "unmitigated disaster"!”

Friday, May 7, 2010

"WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME?!!?" - A friend's blog security measure passes computerized judgement

I have been in an ongoing debate with a friend of mine on the topic of Biblical inerrancy and the wars of extermination conducted by Israel in the Old Testament, apparently under the command of God. I dropped out of it for a little while but I have returned with a comment that seriously considers my friend's point of view without criticizing it. The blog's security demanded that I enter a word in order to insure that I wasn't some software spambot. I couldn't help but entertain the notion that the word was a criticism of the content of my post and an insult to me.

Was that a criticism of my overall point of view, or of my hypothetical concession?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What is Private Property? Reconciling The Universal Destination of Goods with Private Ownership.

Recently, while debating the merits of transferring the economic burden of health care from the private sector to the government, I revealed my personal struggle with social obligations, charity, and the role of government in making certain that we meet such obligations as well as the implications of the latter for private property rights. My friend Kyle Cupp invoked the Catholic doctrine of the Universal Destination of Goods - the principle that God created the world for all people, not just for some, and that the goods of the world are meant to be shared, not horded. I could not reconcile this principle with my intuitions about the right of individuals to own private property. But as a faithful Catholic, I know that when there is a conflict between my fallible intuitions and divinely revealed truth, there is no question about where the error must be.

I was left with my continued assent to Church teaching, but no understanding of what I was supposed to believe . My false intutions about ownership and private property were not immediately replaced with the truth. They were evacuated of meaning entirely. I had to re-examine them at their root and start over. I had been giving lip service to Christian stewardship but taking private property as properly basic, as an ethical and metaphysical first principle, and I should have known better.

I blame Ayn Rand. I had recently read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and Anthem, in that order, and sometimes her philosophical passion can very persuasive.

I thought about what property is, what it means to say that someone owns something. I have concluded that there are two very different conceptions of the origins of property ownership, one secular, one traditional and theistic. They are irreconcilable.

There has not always been human ownership of property, as there have not always been humans. The world existed before people were around. At some point, there was a first ownership, an original taking possession of something. There was a first piece of private property. What was that? What happened to make this thing property? Was it some man staking a claim on some piece of land - some expanse of earth on which to grow crops for food or raise livestock, or both? Was it some river for fishing? Whatever it was, it involved some person encountering something that already existed independently of people and making a first claim, saying of it “Mine!” What gave that person the right to do that? Is the right to private property derivative of our right to survive? From a secular point of view, what justifies the claim of ownership is its originality (no pre-existing competing claims) and the use of force to protect that claim. As far as I can see, that is it. From a secular point of view, all property taking amounts to, its whole metaphysical character, is force, and the threat thereof. Why is this land mine? Well, there was no one else around and it didn’t belong to anyone so I took it. Try to take it from me and see what happens. From the secular point of view, the right to possess property is ultimately justified by nothing more than my power to use force in order to keep it. But if that were the case, then it ultimately about Might, not Right, and if someone has the power to take something from me, he can not only take possession of it, but also ownership of it, as legitimate an ownership as the original owner had, and he will remain the owner for as long as he can keep it, until someone else takes it. At its deepest level, the secular view, lacking a divine guarantor of rights in general, has no way of founding a right to own property in anything more fundamental than the power to keep what one has taken, and thus he must rely on the self-interested agreement of others, not only for his ability to keep what he has, but for his right to do so. But if property posession is ultimately just an exercise of power, not a divinely guaranteed moral right, then there is no rational ground for a moral objection to the public seizing private property in its own best interest. That is where Rand is incoherent. She wants private property to be an absolute right, but she denies the existence of the God who is the source of rights. She wants the Self to be the source of rights and ethics to be nothing more than self-interest. But what justifies the interests of one self over another? Nothing that I can see other than the power of that self to defend his or her interests, by force if necessary.

Very well, then God exists and He gives us a right to own property, to encounter the unowned and stake a claim, to make it “Mine!” What then? From there it depends on what God’s will is with regard to property ownership. What is the divine intention behind my right to take possession of something unowned object or territory of which I take possession,or to own the fruit of my labor, or the results of my creative and intellectual work? All of these endeavors involve staking some kind of claim on something that already existed, either in potency (inventions) or in act (divinely created goods, pre-existing material). What is God’s intention in justifying that as a right? That is where the doctrines of stewardship and universal destination of goods comes in. As stewards of God’s created world, property owners enjoy a great deal of discretion and divine sanction to share the goods of this world, primarily with the family that He, in His providential wisdom, has placed in their care, and, with the excess, for others. But the goods of this world are not intended by God to be just for some - they are for all. That does not mean that I have a right to your stuff. Your stuff is yours by God’s providence, and the justification of taking from one of God’s stewards that which He has placed in his care is no light matter, and cannot rightly be done in a way that does not respect God’s decision to place those goods in that steward’s hands. Nevertheless, it is now much clearer to me that private property is not an absolute right. I am still working on reconciling my mind to the doctrine that the state has a role in re-distributing goods by force in the interests of social justice, but the main barrier, my unreflected assumption of the right of private property as an absolute, is gone.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The California Verbal Morality Statute In Real Life - It's A Brave New World, Demolition Man!

You cannot caricaturize California. You can anticipate their absurdity, but you cannot surpass it. No spoof, no satire, no intended exaggeration can succeed - anything you come up with in your wildest imagination they will beat for ridiculousness in real life. If they haven't done it yet, just give them time - they'll catch up.

In the 1993 movie Demolition Man, Sylvester Stallone portrayed a 20th century cop, John Spartan, thawed out in the 21st century from the cryogenic freeze he was placed in as the penalty he had to pay for he murders with which he was framed by the villain Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) who he captured. Phoenix is thawed out early, and the 21st century police are ill-equipped to deal with him, so they parole and reinstate Spartan to re-capture him. By this point, in California, everything is illegal, from alcohol and cigarrettes to caffiene and chocolate. "Abortion is illegal, but then again, so is pregnancy if you don't have a license." Cursing is against the law, a violation of the Verbal Morality Statute.

Now cursing is illegal in real life. In Pasadena - in fact, in Los Angeles, where Demolition Man was set - they have enacted a No Cussing Week. It's only a week, and there are no fines, so no tickets to use for toilet paper. The law is purely didactic, not punitive.

I am torn. It would be nice if people who curse in public would clean up their act, and such use of language out in the open is quite as offensive and polluting of the social air as playing a radio too loud. Furthermore, a week isn't a long time. Nevertheless, I get nervous when dystopian fantasies become fulfilled prophecies. I resent such encroachments of the Nanny State, and even when they have a good idea, I am inclined to forgo it. The price of such progressive reforms is the momentum it lends to progressivism. Give them an inch, they take a light year. Now that profanity is illegal, give them time, and public prayer, instead of being sacred, will be considered profane - too offensive to be allowed in decent society. Trust me - the Lord's Prayer will be classified as hate speech. We will live to see it.