Wednesday, August 9, 2006

The Coliseum

I mentioned yesterday that I had just returned from a five day visit to Rome. The city is a place of many wonders for the tourist looking for magnificent art and architecture as well as history and charm. There are important lessons, too, to be teased out from among the ruins and the opulence.

Our hotel was just a block or two from the ancient Coliseum which is something of a focal point of activity. A Metro station is nearby the ancient arena and there are several restaurants across the street so we found ourselves in its shadow every day.

(My wife and youngest daughter dining out on our last evening in Rome)

It was difficult to contemplate this enormous structure, which could seat over 50,000 people, without reflecting upon the events that occured there nearly 2000 years ago. From the time it was built around 80 AD until about 400 AD over ten thousand men were slaughtered in the gladiatorial fights, and countless wild animals - lions, tigers, elephants and the like - were killed in the staged "hunts" which entertained the Romans until the 6th century.

The relentless, brutal killing was accompanied by thunderous roars of approval from the huge crowds of men, women, and, presumably, children excited by the bloodshed and suffering which took place on the floor of the arena beneath them.

(The floor of the Coliseum is mostly gone revealing the chambers underneath where gladiators and beasts were held until they fought.)

It may be difficult to imagine human beings so depraved that they would cheer at a severed arm or head. Yet it's probably not so far from the fascination that people have today for "sports" like extreme fighting and other expressions of human brutality. I read an article just this morning about how children in Uganda are kidnapped by rebels and forced to kill other children by biting off their skin and flesh until the terrified victim bleeds to death. The evil of which men are capable seems boundless.

The gladiatorial contests held in the Coliseum were, like forcing children to bite other children to death, the logical consequence of man's alienation from God. Human nature is bestial and unless it is constantly re-oriented toward the lodestone of divine love its natural tendency will be toward ever-increasing depravity. The Romans knew nothing of true divinity. Their gods were made in their own corrupt image, and thus their amusements included cheering for people to be cruelly dismembered and die.

Roman society, by the time the Coliseum was built, was thoroughly sick and effete because it was not bound by any transcendent moral law. The Romans exulted in their power and moral autonomy and bloodlust was the consequence. Whenever man declares his independence from God, it seems, moral degeneracy eventually follows.

So it was for the Romans and perhaps there's a lesson for us, too, in the ruins of their ancient Coliseum.

Fire Rainbow

Bill Dembski posts this photo of a "fire rainbow" and wonders how a materialist can account for the human appreciation for beauty. How does random mutation and natural selection explain our sense of wonder and awe at such phenomena?

Dembski writes:

This is a fire rainbow - one of the rarest naturally occurring atmospheric phenomena. The picture was captured this week on the Idaho/Washington border. The event lasted about one hour. Clouds have to be cirrus, at least four miles in the air, with just the right amount of ice crystals; and the sun has to hit the clouds at 58 degrees. It's the gratuitousness of such beauty that leads me to rebel against materialism.

The world is filled with beauty. Why, on Darwinian terms, we should appreciate it as something special, why it should move us, is difficult to imagine. The poet Keats observed that beauty is truth and indeed there is a truth to be discerned in the beauty of a fire rainbow. That truth is that our ability to appreciate beauty such as this is no accident of vibrating atoms and blind forces, but rather the product of a purposeful, intelligent artistic mind which has created us to enjoy the aesthetic richness of the natural world.


For those of you who enjoy media shenanigans Michelle Malkin has some examples of faked photos - she calls it "fauxtography" - from the war in Lebanon which have appeared recently in the New York Times and U.S. News.

We shouldn't be too derisive of these major news organizations' inability to know when they're being duped. After all, it's not the facts that matter but the "deeper truth" of what's happening at the hands of the Israeli military to the poor people of Lebanon that's important. Any photo which conveys that "deeper truth" is itself truth whether or not the picture was actually staged. At least that's apparently how the post-modernists in the American media see things.

Is Bono a Republican?

If U2 lead singer Bono were an American no doubt he'd be a Republican, at least that seems a legitimate conclusion to be drawn from the following Newsmax article:

U2 and its lead singer Bono have been pushing the U.S. and EU countries to fork over more money for Third World nations to relieve debt and fight AIDS. But when it comes to paying their fair share of taxes to help those efforts, U2 wants a free ride.

That's the word from Ireland, where the group has been based since it was founded in the early 1980s. The Irish Examiner reports that U2 and Bono are furious that Ireland is doing away with its law exempting artists and authors from taxation.

Under the Irish government's last budget, artists and authors can get up to 250,000 euros ($325,000) in income tax free, but after that they pay like everyone else. Most taxpayers would be joyous they could get the exemption Ireland provides.

But U2 rakes in tens of millions globally, and the new schedule doesn't sit well with the millionaire singer and his band members. The Examiner reports that beginning in June of this year the group began moving parts of their business to Netherlands. The paper said now U2 pays "virtually no tax on royalties" in Holland.

And there's more news that U2 may be more of a savvy business than a social cause. Forbes magazine - the "capitalist tool" - revealed this week that U2 front man Bono and others in a financial investment company called Elevation Partners have purchased a large minority stake in Forbes Media, which owns the magazine.

Elevation Partners is a private equity firm which invests in intellectual property and media and entertainment companies. The Times said the investment amounted to $250 to $300 million. "This investment by Elevation Partners will now accelerate our pursuit of a number of very exciting opportunities for growth," said Forbes Chief Executive Steve Forbes, who is also editor in chief of Forbes magazine.

Forbes has good reason to be gleeful: he's been a champion of free market ideas forever. But the Times noted the irony of Bono's investment "in a magazine that celebrates wealth and consumption . . . "

Roger McNamee, a co-founder of Bono's Elevation Partners, responded: "The way you solve poverty is giving people the tools to overcome it." It's a good point, but one never pushed by Bono.

On the other hand, it's ironic that Bono has urged governments to contribute more and more of their citizens' taxes to Africa while he shelters his own obscene wealth from Ireland's exchequer by shuffling it offshore. He seems to be a very generous man with the money of other people so perhaps, if he were an American, he would be a Democrat after all.

Donohue and Colbert

Catholics and others among our readers might be interested in this amusing interview of William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, by Stephen Colbert.

Something I didn't know: Colbert is evidently a devout Catholic. He's also a funny one.

Thanks for the link to Bill Dembski at Uncommon Descent.