Thursday, November 12, 2015

Etienne Gilson, on what is a "Christian Philosopher"

For although theology is a science, it does not propose as its end the transformation of the belief by which it adheres to its principles into understanding; to do that would be to destroy its proper object. Nor will the Christian philosopher on the other hand, any more than the theologian, attempt to transform faith into science, as if by some queer chemistry you could combine contradictory essences. What he asks himself is simply this: whether, among those propositions which by faith he believes to be true, there are not a certain number which reason may know to be true. Insofar as the believer bases his affirmations on the intimate conviction gained from faith he remains purely and simply a believer, he has not yet entered the gates of philosophy; but when amongst his beliefs he finds some that are capable of becoming objects of science then he becomes a philosopher, and if it is to the Christian faith that he ows this new philosophical insight, he becomes a Christian philosopher.

Etienne Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy p.36

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Hunt for the "Blue Collar Intellectual"

There was a massive demand for blue-collar intellectuals throughout much of the twentieth century because there was a massive demand for intellectual betterment. There isn't a massive supply of blue-collar intellectuals today because the enlightened do not feel a vocational pull to reach out to the everyman and the everyman expresses little demand for intellectual betterment. There is not even a consensus that reading means intellectual betterment, let alone what we should be reading. A society in which it is maladaptive to discuss The Nicomachean Ethics, Othello, and The Federalist Papers is a maladaptive society. The cultural common denominators of the past aren't so common anymore. Once can reference The Simpsons or Anchorman or an Eminem lyric with the understanding that an educated audience will know what one is talking about. Try doing that with The Odyssey or Moby Dick even. What it means to be an educated person has changed for the worse.

The intellectual and the everyman suffer when the life of the mind is deemed the exclusive domain of intellectuals. Segregated from society by academic jargon, minute specialization, and outright snobbery, intellectuals descend into a ghetto of unintelligible babble remote from mass society. Similarly, today's middlebrow becomes yesterday's lowbrow when Tool Academy, Grand Theft Auto IV cage fighting and Internet pornography crowd out the pursuit of higher things within mass culture. Comfortable in the sensate cesspool demanding of neither the intellect nor the soul, the everyman makes no effort to ascend from the muck. Grateful for the status separation, the intellectual does nothing to raise the mass and everything to extenuate his privileged apartness.

"We are increasingly ignorant, but we do not know enough to be properly ashamed," lamented W.A. Pannapacker, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education. "If we are determined to get on in life, we believe it will not have anything to do with our ability to reference Machiavelli or Adam Smith at the office Christmas party. The rejection of The Great Books signifies a declining belief in the value of anything without a direct practical application, combined with the triumph of a passive entertainment."

Daniel J. Flynn, Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Rushing to Judgement on Ahmed Mohamed.

There are multiple issues to the case of Ahmed Mohamed, the teenager who brought a clock to school that was mistaken for a bomb (or faux-bomb) and is now a national hero.

The reactions of both the police and the school officials are currently being vilified by the press and everybody I know (many of my friends on Facebook included).

That being said, speaking as a parent, with two kids in a school, and conscious of entrusting our children's safety with our teachers and school every day of the week ... I can't say I fault the school in this case.

Based on the picture provided, I'd pose a question:

if any kid (ANY KID, regardless of race or ethnicity or religious affiliation) brought in a device to YOUR SCHOOL that looked like this, would you really fault the teacher for erring on the side of caution and reporting it, as per conventional school policy?

* * *

Some have also questioned the motivations of the teachers, noting that they detained Ahmed -- but didn't go so far as to evacuate the school, like they would have if they thought it were a real bomb. That being said, it's possible to get into a good bit of trouble for simply bringing in a device that even LOOKS like a bomb, even if it isn't one. The offense would be the equivalent of calling in a bomb threat or introducing the device to create an incident. (Speaking from experience, I had a teenage friend who managed to do precisely the latter).

Again, bracketing for a moment any question of my race or religion -- if I took out a device that looked like the one pictured in public, in any context outside of a science class, I think I'd evoke some suspicion, and I'd find concern warranted, again, *based on the appearance of the device itself*.

* * *

Based on what I've seen so far from analysis on tech blogs (as in the article posted here), it seems possible that the clock was a 1986 Radio Shack model that was disassembled and re-built inside a pencil box.

Beyond that, I think there is all manner of speculation and knee-jerk assumptions being made (one one hand, that the police and school officials are obviously racist or bigoted in motivation; on the other hand, that Ahmed and/or his parents might be less than innocent and might well have designed the device "to look like a bomb", to deliberately provoke the authorities and stage what has become at this point a social-national-cultural media circus).

It's all speculation at this point -- from the left as well as the right. ...

But then, that's precisely what we're motivated to do here on social media before all the facts of any story come out. Rush to judgement.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Here and There

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Give Michael Liccione a hand!

Michael Liccione needs your help:
Here's the deal. I'm a former philosophy professor who, at age 60, works full-time as a state-certified driving instructor. For the past two years, I haven't managed to get any job paying more than $400 a week. Beyond my PhD, which I earned 27 years ago, I have two entry-level IT certifications (A+ and Network+). Three months ago, I passed the state auto-insurance adjuster's exam because I have a friend in the industry who can help me get a job therein if I have the license. But I have been unable to secure the license because I can't afford both the fees and the bond premium. After taxes and child support, my current job nets me less than $200 a week. That's why I live at a Catholic mission and don't have my own place. I have to do something.

One thing I've done is resume freelance writing (you can find earlier publications of mine with a Google search). I published a piece three weeks ago and have another coming out next week. But because I can't afford a decent place to live, it's very difficult to find a quiet place to write more than a few pieces a month on top of working full-time. That will not be enough. There are other alternatives, but none look particularly feasible at my age.

So I've set up this page in the hope that friends, some of whom have already expressed interest in helping, can do so. It won't take much. Thanks in advance for your help!

Michael (used to?) blog at Sacramentum Vitae, and I would credit him as one of my inspirations and models of quality Catholic blogging in general. Feel free to peruse the archives, and if you can afford it do lend him a hand.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Many Faces (and Allegiances) of Dalton Trumbo

Hollywood ...

... and history:

Hollywood's Trumbo appears to be something of a whitewash of Stalinist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Portrayed as a victim of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a closer investigation of history reveals that he did his fair share of censoring and "blacklisting" himself -- against anti-Communists in the movie industry.

  • Hollywood's Missing Movies: Why American films have ignored life under communism, by Kenneth Lloyd Billingsly. Reason June 2000:
    if Comintern fantasies of a Soviet Hollywood were never realized, party functionaries nevertheless played a significant role: They were sometimes able to prevent the production of movies they opposed. The party had not only helped organize the Screen Writers Guild, it had organized the Story Analysts Guild as well. Story analysts judge scripts and film treatments early in the decision making process. A dismissive report often means that a studio will pass on a proposed production. The party was thus well positioned to quash scripts and treatments with anti-Soviet content, along with stories that portrayed business and religion in a favorable light. In The Worker, Dalton Trumbo openly bragged that the following works had not reached the screen: Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar; Victor Kravchenko's I Chose Freedom; and Bernard Clare by James T. Farrell, also author of Studs Lonigan and vilified by party enforcer Mike Gold as "a vicious, voluble Trotskyite."

  • The Stalinist Ten--A True Story About Communists in the Movie Industry, by Allan H. Ryskind. [excerpt from the newly released book, Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters – Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler, by Allan H. Ryskind]:
    Trumbo is less well known for a script that never made it to the screen: An American Story, whose plot outline, in the words of film historian Bernard F. Dick, goes like this: North Korea finally decides “to put an end to the border warfare instigated by South Korea by embarking upon a war of independence in June 1950.” (In his papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Trumbo says he “dramatized” Kim Il-sung’s supposedly righteous war for a group of fellow Communist screenwriters, including at least two Hollywood Ten members.)

    Trumbo also seemed to think that Stalin needed a bit of a reputation upgrade. So one finds in his papers a proposed novel, apparently written in the 1950s, in which a wise old Russian defends Stalin’s murderous reign as necessary for the supposedly grand achievements of Soviet socialism.

    Those celebrating Trumbo today as a sort of saintly curmudgeon do not feel obligated to mention this aspect of his Red ideology, nor do they point to his writings during the Soviet-Nazi Pact, when he was excusing Hitler’s con- quests. "To the vanquished,” he airily dismissed the critics of Nazi brutality, “all conquerors are inhuman." For good measure he demonized Hitler’s major enemy, Great Britain, insisting that England was not a democracy, because it had a king, and accused FDR of “treason” and “black treason” for attempting to assist the British in their life-and-death struggle against the despot in Berlin.

  • Hollywood Celebrates Another Stalinist, by Allan H. Ryskind. 01/05/15:
    ... The evidence of Trumbo’s Red activities is hardly secret. He came clean, sort of, to his biographer, Bruce Cook, a writer of the upcoming Trumbo screenplay. He told Cook in the 1970s that he joined the party in 1943 (some FBI informants think he joined in the 1930s), that some of his “very best friends” were Communists and that “I might as well have been a Communist 10 years earlier….” He also says, about joining the party: “But I’ve never regretted it. As a matter of fact, it’s possible to say I would have regretted not having done it….”

    He said he let his party membership lapse after his HUAC appearance, possibly finding it difficult to pay his party dues after he was blacklisted, but he never publicly turned his back on communism or Stalin. Indeed, in his private papers he admits that he “reaffiliated with the party in 1954,” apparently his passion for a Communist America burning brightly as ever. So, by the historical record and his own account, he was in tune with the Soviet Union for nearly a quarter of a century, when Stalin was in his prime killing years.

  • Will the new Trumbo movie rehash old myths?, by Ronald Radosh. National Review 11/02/13:
    [Trumbo] bragged how he had used his position to stop anti-Communist films from being made. Stalin, he said, was “one of the democratic leaders of the world,” so he used his position to stop Trotsky’s biography of the dictator from being filmed, and did the same with anti-Communist books by James T. Farrell, Victor Kravchenko, and Arthur Koestler, all of which he called “untrue” and “reactionary.” As he explained in 1954 to a fellow blacklisted writer, the Communist party had a “fine tradition . . . that whenever a book or play or film is produced which is harmful to the best interests of the working class, that work and its author should and must be attacked in the sharpest possible terms.”

    Two years later, when many Communists learned some of the truth about Stalin from the Khrushchev speech, Trumbo wrote a comrade that he was not surprised. He explained that he had read the books by Koestler, George Orwell, James Burnham, Eugene Lyons, and Isaac Don Levine, who all had exposed the truth about the Soviet Union. These, of course, were the very books he had made sure would never be turned into movies. Trumbo supported Stalin, all the while knowing that he was a monster.

  • Flipping Hollywood’s Blacklist Narrative, by Ron Capshaw. Library of Law and Liberty 01/25/15:
    ... All in all, Ryskind’s work is a welcome addition to the anticommunist corrections to the blacklist legend. He has written a convincing and well-sourced follow up to the pioneering effort of the Radoshes. Moreover, he has refused to play the warped victim son of a writer who was much maligned in his time and may have been black-listed (Morrie never got another script accepted after 1945). Instead he has focused on disputing how Hollywood then and now has rehabiliated what in essence were Stalinists.
  • Exclusive Author Interview with Allan Ryskind, Author of “Hollywood Traitors”, by Christopher N. Malagisi.

  • Who was Dalton Trumbo, Screenwriter and Stalinist?, by Ron Capshaw. The American Spectator 01/06/15.

  • Dalton Got His Gun, by Stefan Kanfer. City Journal 02/27/15. "The lodestar of the Hollywood blacklist was all that his fans said he was—and less." [Review of Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo, and Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters, Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler by Allan H. Ryskind].

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Iconoclasm in the heart of New York City.

Naked in New York: The Unceremonious Stripping of Our Saviour, by Steve Skojec. One Peter Five July 23, 2015. In 2001, Fr. Rutler is assigned to a parish struggling under the burden of millions of dollars of mortage and other repairs and over the course of twelve years, reverses its path -- bringing it back to financial health through careful stewardship, establishing the celebration of the Latin Mass and a stunning renovation of the interior with hand-made iconography from Chinese artist Ken Woo who spent six years of his life to the project, including 28-foot-high image of Christ Pantocrator. It becomes a center for liturgical, aesthetic and spiritual renewal.

In 2013, Fr. Rutler is reassigned. New pastor moves in, promptly does away with the Latin Mass, scolds his congregation for their backwardness and embarks upon a demolition of all the work that preceded him -- stripping Our Savior of its iconography (while vacationing in the Hamptons, no less), the parish now (once-again) mired in debt.

What's wrong with this picture?

I remember stumbling rather by surprise across this church while walking in Manhattan, entering the sanctuary and being completely stunned by what I encountered on the inside. The beauty of the altar and the iconography had to be seen to be believed. This was a rare treasure of NYC. …

As a Catholic it's just infuriating - reading this and the painful realization that this place will never be the same again.

But one needn't be a Catholic, Christian or even religious to be offended at the willful dismantling of a work of spiritual beauty AGAINST the collective wishes of his parishioners. ...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Liberty, and the abuse thereof.

There is a liberty of a corrupt nature which is effected both by men and beasts to do what they list, and this liberty is inconsistent with authority, impatient of all restraint; by this liberty ‘sumus omnes deteriores’: ‘tis the grand enemy of truth and peace, and all the ordinances of God are bent against it. But there is a civil, a moral, a federal liberty which is the proper end and object of authority; it is a liberty for that only which is just and good. For this liberty you are to stand with the hazard of your very lives and whoever crosses it is not authority, but a distemper thereof.
-- Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1 (1835). [Via: Michael Novak].

* * *
While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

John Adams, "To the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts". 11 October 1978.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history."

Francis Cardinal George 11/03/12.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pope Francis: "Laudato Si'" : Reactions and Commentary (Roundup)


Reactions and Commentary

Rounding up for reference's sake and to chart the diverse (and ideologically-fueled) reactions from all quarters. It goes w/o saying but I'll say it anyway: reading somebody else's commentary is no excuse for not reading the actual text of the encyclical itself. - Christopher

  • Is Less Really More? Reflections on Scarcity in “Laudato Si’”, by Michael Severance. Catholic World Report 07/17/15. "What might be the problem with the pope’s economic claim that we should consume less in order to have more resources?"

  • A Prophetic Pope and the Tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, by Fr. Robert Barron. National Catholic Register 07/14/15:
    ... He asks, “Do we realize that that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature?” He is not speaking here of the market as such, but of a deeply immoral attitude that has seized the hearts of too many who use the market. And he complains, “An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women.” These are strong words indeed, but we notice again that the Pope’s attention is not so much on the mechanisms of capitalism, but rather on the wickedness of those who are using the market economy in the wrong way, greedily making an idol of money and becoming indifferent to the needs of others.

  • The Weakness of Laudato Si, by R.R. Reno. First Things 07/01/15:
    Let me be clear. I’m not criticizing Laudato Si for its substantive claims. I’m not competent to contest claims about global warming, nor am I an expert in the economics of development. In any event, I agree with Pope Francis’s main point. Although I would put the substantive issues differently, I share his view that the triumph of global capitalism poses significant and fundamental challenges that we must address—and that are going to be difficult to address because of the technocratic domination of our moral imaginations and the very terms of public debate.

    All the more reason why we need teaching, not just exhortation and denunciation. It won’t do to blame our difficulties on “those who consume and destroy,” or to insinuate, as Francis so often does, that the rich and powerful stand in the way of ecological ideals and a just social order. This is cheap populism that falsifies reality. The global ecological movement is a rich-country phenomenon funded and led by the One Percent. And it’s beside the point. If global warming presents such an immediate and dire threat, then we need clearly enunciated principles to guide our participation in debates about what’s to be done, not rhetoric. The same is true of the pressing need to encourage economic development that promotes human dignity.

  • The Theological Mind of Laudato Si’, by Eduardo Echeverria. Homiletic and Pastoral Review 06/27/15:
    my approach to the encyclical is to consider the theological mind that informs its framework. Helpfully, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (hereafter CCSD) organizes the Church’s social teaching, which has a theological-moral nature, in light of a set of distinctions that will, arguably, illuminate the architectonic framework of this encyclical. This set consists of: (1) the foundational level of motivations; (2) the directive level of norms for life in society; and (3) the deliberative level of consciences, called to mediate objective and general norms in concrete and particular situations (CCSD, §73). I now will provide a brief exposition of Francis’s encyclical in light of each of these levels in order to get at his theological mind ...

  • Where Did Pope Francis’s Extravagant Rant Come From?, by Maureen Mullarkey. The Federalist. 06/24/15:
    Propelled by the cult of feeling and Golden Age nostalgia—enshrined in the myth of indigenous peoples as peaceable ecologists—that elusive something picked up a tincture of Teilhardian gnosticism as it grew. It bursts on us now as “Laudato Si,” a malignant jumble of dubious science, policy prescriptions, doomsday rhetoric, and what students of Wordsworthian poetics call, in Keats’ derisive phrase, "the egotistical sublime."

    See also from The Federalist:

    • Pope Francis, The Earth Is Not My Sister, by Hans Fiene. The Federalist 06/23/15. "The pope thinks we should view the earth as our sister. I don’t, mainly because I have a sister. While my sister and I have had our disagreements over the years, I haven’t spent my entire life trying to stop her from killing me."
    • Pope Francis’s New Encyclical Isn’t What You Think, by Rachel Lu. The Federalist 06/23/15. "Conservatives should see Pope Francis’s encyclical as an opportunity to reflect on the ever-pressing need to respond to the dehumanizing pressures of the modern world."
  • The Miracle of Pope Francis, by William McGurn. Wall Street Journal 06/22/15:
    Other popes have issued bracing critiques of modern Western culture. Pope Francis, however, goes deeper. This encyclical is less a corrective to the excesses of science and technology and markets than it is an argument that they are fatally flawed.

  • The modern world's case against Pope Francis, by Damon Linker. The Week 06/23/15. "I's impossible not to be impressed with the theological and moral seriousness of Laudato Si', Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment. Whether it's politically and economically wise is another matter."

  • The Fatal Errors of Capitalism: Laudato Si’ & the Economy, by Keith Michael Estrada. (Guest Post) Cosmos in the Lost 06/20/15:
    While mentioning capitalism by name could be imprudent for Francis, any reader could make the following conclusion not only after reading Laudato, but after familiarizing ourselves with moral theology: the church invites us to go beyond capitalism. Not merely crony capitalism, nor mercantile capitalism, nor industrial capitalism, nor monopolistic capitalism, nor any other capitalism that could in reality be distinguished from US capitalism. Capitalism has got to go.

  • The Encyclical's Challenge is to Climate-Change Activists, not Skeptics, by Oren Cass. National Review 06/19/15. "Activists looked forward to bringing their opponents copies of the encyclical and asking, “Do you agree with the pope?” But the better question is for the activists: Do you?"

  • What Laudato Si' is really about, by Dr. Jeff Mirus. Catholic Culture. 06/19/15:
    Laudato Si’ is addressed to everyone in the entire world, not just Catholics, and not just Christians. The Pope sees that a mistaken understanding of nature, and of our role in nature, causes problems for everyone. (In fact, even if none of these problems had yet occurred, our mistaken approach to nature would inevitably cause them over time.) He sees that we have a strongly instrumentalized vision of nature. We regard it, in essence, as a kind of accident demanding technological mastery and manipulation for our own self-centered purposes.

    Nor is it any use criticizing the Pope for choosing to write on this topic, when (as many might say) “there are so many more pressing moral issues.” The whole point of the encyclical is that this instrumentalization of nature is a foundational problem. It shapes everything we do, including the pervasive contemporary tendency to undertake ever more grotesque and peculiar manipulations of nature in order to escape from despair. This instrumentalization poisons everything, not only our environment but our self-understanding. It affects our use of our own bodies, our grasp of the meaning and purpose of our sexuality, the relations between the sexes, and our attitude toward children, marriage and family life.

    This instrumentalization of nature causes us not only to abuse and dispose of the poor and marginalized through garden-variety selfishness. It is even worse than that. It causes us to abuse and dispose of ourselves.

  • Vatican's Climate Expert, an Atheist, Speaks on Impact of Leader of World's 1.2B Catholics Tackling Environment Issue Zenit. "Only if we get our acts together will the climate crisis problem be able to be overcome. This is the conviction of Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who has been a right-hand expert for Pope Francis' just-released encyclical on ecology." Interview with Deborah Castellano Lubov. Zenit News. 06/19/15.

  • “Laudato Si’”, the anti-gnostic encyclical, by Gianni Valente. "The Vatican Insider" La Stampa 06/19/15. The Christian experience of creation described in the papal document also acts as an antidote to old and new doctrines that spurn creation as an “evil” that needs to be overcome (even through ecological destruction).

  • A Magnificent, Wonderful Encyclical, by Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist. Sancrusis 06/19/15:
    Pope Francis has indeed penned a cri de coeur against the destruction of God’s beautiful creation, the marring of the creatures whom God has given as so many words revealing his beauty and love, and the impoverishment and debasement of man, the destruction of human culture, and the oppression of the poor and murder of the innocent that have been the price of “progress.” But Laudato Si’ is much more than a cry of protest against the evils of modernity. What makes this a truly great and moving and beautiful encyclical is the magnificent exposition of another view of reality: a description of the true nature of the created order, in all its marvelous and interconnected glory, and of the true rôle of man as the gardener of this garden of wonders. Pope Francis’s style can at times be a tad bit rambling and prolix, and he lacks the incisive and subtle intellectual argumentation of Pope Benedict’s writings, but the shear wonder and love that suffuse Laudato Si’ makes this work of his rise to a very high level.

  • "Laudato Si": Well Intentioned, Economically Flawed, by Samuel Gregg. The American Spectator. 06/19/15:
    while most of the text’s reflections upon public policy issues focus on the environment, a subterranean theme that becomes decidedly visible from time-to-time is the encyclical’s deeply negative view of free markets. This would confirm that this pontificate’s reaction to respectful questions asked about the adequacy of the economic analysis contained in Francis’s 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium has been to simply recycle (no pun intended) some of that document’s demonstrably flawed arguments concerning the market economy’s nature and effects. ...

  • Mixing Up the Sciences of Heaven and Earth, by Fr. George W. Rutler. Crisis:
    It is noteworthy that Pope Francis would have included in an encyclical, instead of lesser teaching forms such as an apostolic constitution or motu proprio, subjects that still pertain to unsettled science (and to speak of a “consensus” allows that there is not yet a defined absolute). The Second Vatican Council, as does Pope Francis, makes clear that there is no claim to infallibility in such teaching. The Council (Lumen Gentium, n.25) does say that even the “ordinary Magisterium” is worthy of a “religious submission of intellect and will” but such condign assent is not clearly defined. It does not help when a prominent university professor of solid Catholic commitments says that in the encyclical “we are about to hear the voice of Peter.” That voice may be better heard when, following the advice of the encyclical (n.55) people turn down their air conditioners. One awaits the official Latin text to learn its neologism for “condizione d’aria.” While the Holy Father has spoken eloquently about the present genocide of Christians in the Middle East, those who calculate priorities would have hoped for an encyclical about this fierce persecution, surpassing that of the emperor Decius. Pictures of martyrs being beheaded, gingerly filed away by the media, give the impression that their last concern on earth was not climate fluctuations.

    Saint Peter, from his fishing days, had enough hydrometeorology to know that he could not walk on water. Then the eternal Logos told him to do it, and he did, until he mixed up the sciences of heaven and earth and began to sink. As vicars of that Logos, popes speak infallibly only on faith and morals. They also have the prophetic duty to correct anyone who, for the propagation of their particular interests, imputes virtual infallibility to papal commentary on physical science while ignoring genuinely infallible teaching on contraception, abortion and marriage and the mysteries of the Lord of the Universe. At this moment, we have the paradoxical situation in which an animated, and even frenzied, secular chorus hails papal teaching as infallible, almost as if it could divide the world, provided it does NOT involve faith or morals.

  • Pope Francis Is Wrong about Air Conditioning, by Shubhankar Chhokra. National Review 06/18/15. "Pope Francis’s aversion to air conditioning may be red hot, but he himself is comfortably cool."

  • Metropolitan Zizioulas: "Laudato Si’ is an occasion of great joy and satisfaction for the Orthodox" "Vatican Insider" La Stampa 06/18/15. Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon’s address for the launch of Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical Laudato Si’. At the presentation which took place in the New Synod Hall in the Vatican this morning, the Metropilitan, acting as representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, communicated the Patriarch’s “personal joy and satisfaction” for the issuing of the encyclical. [Click link for full text].

  • "Laudato Si" focuses on the heart of man and the disorders of our age, by William L. Patenaude. Catholic World Report 06/18/15. "The central thesis is that the fallen nature of the human heart and the resulting brokenness of human relations is the cause of the crises in our lives, families, nations, and now the life-sustaining ecosystems that form our common home."

  • The challenge of Laudato Si, by Phil Lawler. Catholic Culture. 06/18/15. "But if you think Laudato Si is about climate change, I suspect you might also think that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is about suicide. Yes, the topic is mentioned; indeed it’s a very important part of the story. But it’s not the main theme."

  • If ‘Laudato Si’ is an earthquake, it had plenty of early tremors, by John Allen, Jr. Crux 06/18/15.
    Laudato Si seems destined to go down as a major turning point, the moment when environmentalism claimed pride of place on a par with the dignity of human life and economic justice as a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching. It also immediately makes the Catholic Church arguably the leading moral voice in the press to combat global warming and the consequences of climate change.

    In truth, however, none of that should be any surprise to those familiar with official Catholic teaching on the environment as it’s evolved over the last half-century.

  • Let's listen to the Pope on the Climate, by Josiah Neeley. First Things 06/18/15:
    What’s significant about Laudato Si is not that it adds anything new of substance to what scientists, economists, or prior popes have said about climate change. Rather, the encyclical is likely to be significant simply by raising the salience of the climate issue. The Great Recession temporarily knocked climate change off the front pages, and it’s an issue that a lot of us would prefer not to think about. But as 2015 appears headed to shatter another temperature record, it is becoming clearer that the climate change issue isn’t going away. One way or another, we will have to deal with it. Laudato Si is simply Pope Francis’s attempt to make our response more fruitful.
  • Pope Francis wants to roll back progress. Is the world ready?, by Matthew Schmitz. The Washington Post 06/18/15:
    Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on the environment, is the work of a profoundly pessimistic man. John Paul II may have spoken of the “culture of death” and Benedict XVI of the “dictatorship of relativism,” but not since the publication of the Syllabus of Errors in the nineteenth century has a leader of the Catholic church issued a document so imbued with foreboding.
  • The Return of Catholic Anti-Modernism, by R.R. Reno. First Things 06/18/15:
    I must report an odd, disoriented feeling when I finished reading Laudato Si. Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has adopted a largely affirming attitude toward Western modernity. John Paul II denounced the culture of death and Benedict XVI spoke of the dictatorship of relativism. But in their teaching it was clear that they intended these as necessary criticisms to restore the religious and moral basis for modernity’s positive achievements.

    Pope Francis seems to be changing course. Laudato Si does not explain how modern science can recover a sense of humility and wonder, nor does it lay down a natural-law framework for the proper development of technology. There’s no application of Catholic social doctrine to help us think in a disciplined way about how to respond to environmental threats, or how to reform global capitalism. That would have reflected the Gaudium et Spes agenda as carried forward by the last two popes.

    Instead, Francis has penned a cri de coeur, a dark reflection on the systemic evils of modernity. Like the prophet Ezekiel, Pope Francis sees perversion and decadence in a global system dominated by those who consume and destroy. The only answer is repentance, “deep change,” and a “bold cultural revolution.”

    If Francis continues in this trajectory, Catholicism will circle back to its older, more adversarial relationship with modernity. In the nineteenth century, the Church regarded modernity’s failure to acknowledge God as damning. It led to usurpations of authority, disrespect for hierarchy, and other signs of anthropocentric self-regard. Francis’s concerns are different. He’s worried about the poor, environmental disasters, and the complacent rich indifferent to both. But his analysis is the same, and he shares a similar dire, global view of modernity as the epitome of godless sin.

  • Ideology Subsumes Empiricism in Pope's Climate Encyclical, by Lawrence M. Krauss. Scientific American 06/18/15 -- is, what you would say, entirely predictable from the perspective of a scientific materialist:
    No one can fault Pope Francis’s intentions, which are clearly praiseworthy, but his call for action on climate change is compromised by his adherence to doctrines that are based on revelation and not evidence. The Catholic Church and its leaders can never be truly objective and useful arbiters of human behavior until they are willing to dispense with doctrine that can thwart real progress.
  • Rush Limbaugh (Facebook) 06/18/15: "A man of religion, the Vicar of Christ, seems to have fallen in with the communist way of doing things: Controlling mankind through command-and-control governments backed by police or military power. This is what the pope is essentially calling for."

  • The Theological Heart of Laudato Si', by David Cloutier. Commonweal 06/18/15:
    The overall effect o the encyclical is undeniable: this is a sweeping call for change, deeply rooted in a Catholic worldview, one that burrows into every facet of our lives and deeply into the human heart, as well. Francis is here confirming what many have said: the environmental crisis is really the key to economic questions, sexual questions, spiritual questions. It is the key to everything, because the message of environmentalism is, as Francis repeats many times in the document, “everything is connected.” It is extremely telling that the “official” date of the document is Pentecost. This “birthday of the Church” is importantly about what the Church is for: not itself, but for the redemptions and renewal of all of God’s creation.
  • What the Environmental Encyclical Means: A roundup of expert analysis America Magazine. 06/18/15. [Panel discussion].

  • The Pope’s Encyclical, at Heart, Is About Us, Not Trees and Snail Darters, by George Weigel. National Review 06/18/15:
    It is probably inevitable that Laudato Si will get labeled “the global-warming encyclical” and that the label will stick. This will please some and displease others, and they will have at each other — which is no bad thing if it helps clarify that there is no simple path to meeting the twin goals of environmental protection and the empowerment (through economic development) of the poor. But the label will be misleading, I think, not because there isn’t a lot about climate change in the encyclical, but because that’s, to my mind, the least important part of Francis-the-pastor’s call to a more integral, indeed more humanistic, ecology.
  • Pope Blames Markets for Environment’s Ills Wall Street Journal 06/18/15. "... a broad and uncompromising indictment of the global market economy, accusing it of plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and of future generations."

  • The Pope’s Moral Case for Taking On Climate Change, by Emma Green. The Atlantic 06/18/15. "Francis’s first encyclical is a cry to save the environment—and make a priority of theology over politics."

  • Pope Francis’ leaked encyclical: the good and the bad, by Christopher Ferrara. Lifesite New 06/17/15.

  • 10 Things That Won’t Be In Pope Francis’ Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, by Larry D. Acts of the Apostasy 08/16/15. "Al Gore will not be declared a Doctor of the Church, and "An Inconvenient Truth" will not be required viewing for RCIA classes."

  • Thinking About Climate Change, DarwinCatholic 06/17/15.

  • Fr. John Zuhlsdorf:
    Perhaps we can pay as much attention to the sections on markets and environment, as the catholic Left pays to Humanae vitae.

    When the libs shove it in our faces and command us to accept every word, we can pay as much attention to it as they gave to Summorum Pontificum.

  • The Pope and climate change: Francis is slapping his conservative critics in the face, by Damian Thompson. The Spectator UK. 06/17/15. "Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment comes down firmly on the side of the global warming consensus/lobby (delete according to taste) and is a slap in the face to climate sceptics of every hue. Thwack! It’s very much this Pope’s style."

  • The Last Time Conservatives Dismissed a Major Encyclical, It Ended Terribly for Them, by Jet Heer. The New Republic 06/18/15. "The Mater et Magistra dispute led to many ironic consequences. In defending National Review’s capitalist Catholicism, Buckley and Wills had provided a rationale for social liberals to ignore church teachings on sexual matters, which was especially pertinent after the Vatican released the encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), reiterating opposition to birth control and abortion."

Pope Francis on Social Media

"True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise."
-- Pope Francis, Laudato Si 47.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"obscurantisme terroriste"

With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he's so obscure. Every time you say, "He says so and so," he always says, "You misunderstood me." But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation, then that's not so easy. I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism). We were speaking French. And I said, "What the hell do you mean by that?" And he said, "He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, 'You didn't understand me; you're an idiot.' That's the terrorism part."

Reality Principles: An Interview with John R. Searle with Steven R. Postrel & Edward Feser. February 2000. (HT: Edward Feser).


Monday, May 18, 2015

Universities should be the very places where such things should not apply. They are not supposed to be confessional institutions inculcating a particular creed, nor should they be built on politicized extensions of child-rearing philosophies founded on self-esteem. They should be places where debate is part of the way of life, and where one has to live shoulder to shoulder with those with whom one differs. Yet they have become the very places where this inability to disagree is now apparently cultivated as a positive virtue. The truly educated person is now no longer the person who understands an opposing viewpoint even as he rejects it. For even to understand an alternative viewpoint is to collude in the oppression which such an opinion embodies.

I suspect that the future health of democracy depends upon university administrators worrying less about the dangers posed by whatever is the micro-aggression du jour and more about providing safe places for those who actually want to hold opinions and have debates. Safe places, that is, that are marked by the very risks and danger involved in intellectual engagement.

Carl R. Trueman, "In Praise of the Dying Art of Civil Disagreement"
First Things 5/18/15

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"The worst anxiety of all ... is the fear of not being loved, the loss of love: despair is thus the conviction that one has forfeited all love forever, the horror of complete isolation. Hope in the proper sense of the word is thus the reverse: the certainty that I shall receive that great love that is indestructible and that I am already loved with this love here and now."

Joseph Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI]
To Look on Christ: Exercises in Faith, Hope, and Love

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Sometimes small children have epiphanies they remember for the rest of their lives. Virginia Woolf called such experiences "moments of being" and saw them as the foundations of consciousness. In 1942, Jack recalled one that had occurred just before his seventh birthday on a February day that he considered "the day I was born." On his way home through the snow-covered streets, pulling his sled behind him, he'd "stopped to look at the sad windows of the houses. Why, why? I asked myself, aged six. Pourquoi I might have said, because I was French. At any rate, I wanted to know, and I couldn't quite make it out, and I still cannot make it out, which is in a nutshell the story of the inward war raging inside of me ..."

He would always believe that untila that moment he had been walking along "dead," or, in other words, locked inside of himself. But then "with a sweep of bewilderment I began to live -- a man on the earth, his relation to all things, to his fellow man, to his society, and to the universe."

The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac, by Joyce Johnson. p. 34

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The people who feel driven today to turn their backs on the Church are not only the ones who have become alienated from the Church's faith or who regard the Church as too old-fashioned, too medieval, to hostile to the world and life, but also those who loved the historical form of the Church: her worship, her timelessness, and the reflection of the eternal in her. It seem sto them that the Church is in the process of betraying what is most characteristic of her, that she is selling herself to the current fashion and thus losing her soul: they are disappointed like a lover who has to experience the betrayal of a great love and must seriously consider turning his back on her.

Conversely, however, there are also quite conflicting reasons to stay in the Church: the ones who remain are not only those who steadfastly adhere to their faith in her mission or whose who are unwilling to sever their ties to a dear old habit (even though they make little use of that habit). Also remaining in the Church today, quite emphatically, are those who reject her entire historical character and passionately fight against the meaning that her officials try to give her or uphold. Although they want to do away with what the Church was and is, they are determined not to be ousted, so that they can make of her what, in their opinion, she is supposed to become. [p. 134]

* * *
"The death of God" is a very real process, which today extends deep into the interior of the Church. God is dying in Christendom, so it seems. For when resurrection becomes an experience of a commission perceived in outmoded imagery, then God is not at work. Is he at work at all? That is the question that immediately follows. But who wants to be so reactionary as to insist on a realistic "he is risen"? Thus what one person necessarily considers unbelief is progress to another, and what was hitherto unthinkable becomes normal: that men who long ago abandoned the Church's Creed should in good conscience regard themselves as the truly progressive Christians. For them, however, the only standard by which to measure the Church is the expediency with which she functions; of course, the question remains as to what is expedient and for what purpose the whole thing is actually supposed to function. For social criticism, for developmental aid, for revolution? Or for community celebrations? [p. 139]

Joseph Ratzinger, on "Why I am still in the Church", circa 1970. From Fundamental Speeches from Five Decades].

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Hart-Feser Debate over Natural Law, Revisited

In "Reason's Faith", David Bentley Hart revisits a series of exchanges in First Things circa 2013, in which he argued (his words):
not that natural-law theory is inherently futile, but rather that its proponents often fail to grasp just how nihilistic the late modern view of reality has become, or how far our culture has gone toward losing any coherent sense of “nature” at all, let alone of any realm of moral meanings to which nature might afford access.
Hart's original post provoked a storm of controversy, with a number of prominent authors rallying to his defense (Michael Potemra, Rod Dreher, Alan Jacobs) as well as bracing rebuttals from the more philosophically inclined, most notably Edward Feser, as rounded-up and chronicled here.

Edward Feser too, revisits the debate in Reasons of the Hart (03/13/15):

... the focus of Hart’s latest piece is the question of the relationship between faith and reason. Hart objects to the charge that he is a fideist, arguing that both fideism and rationalism of the seventeenth-century sort are errors that would have been rejected by the mainstream of the ancient and medieval traditions with which he sympathizes. With that much I agree. I agree too with his claim that the use of reason rests on the “metaphysical presupposition” that there is a natural fit between the intellect and that which the intellect grasps -- an “orientation of truth to the mind and of the mind to truth.” I agree with him when he argues that naturalism cannot account for this fit, that the best it can attribute to our rational faculties is survival value but not capacity to grasp truth, and that this makes it impossible for the naturalist rationally to justify his own position. And I agree with him when he argues that idealism in its various forms also cannot account for this fit -- that if naturalism emphasizes mind-independent truth to such an extent that it cannot account for the mind itself, idealism emphasizes mind to such an extent that it cannot account for mind-independent truth.

All well and good, and indeed a set of points whose importance cannot be overemphasized. What puzzles me, though, is the way Hart characterizes the position he would put in place of these errors -- a way that at least lends itself to a fideist reading, his rejection of the “fideist” label notwithstanding. [Read the whole thing].


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square, by Randy Boyagoda

Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square
by Randy Boyagoda.
Image (February 10, 2015). 480 pgs.

Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) was one of the most influential figures in American public life from the Civil Rights era to the War on Terror. His writing, activism, and connections to people of power in religion, politics, and culture secured a place for himself and his ideas at the center of recent American history. William F. Buckley, Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith are comparable -- willing controversialists and prodigious writers adept at cultivating or castigating the powerful, while advancing lively arguments for the virtues and vices of the ongoing American experiment. But unlike Buckley and Galbraith, who have always been identified with singular political positions on the right and left, respectively, Neuhaus' life and ideas placed him at the vanguard of events and debates across the political and cultural spectrum. For instance, alongside Abraham Heschel and Daniel Berrigan, Neuhaus co-founded Clergy Concerned About Vietnam, in 1965. Forty years later, Neuhaus was the subject of a New York Review of Books article by Garry Wills, which cast him as a Rasputin of the far right, exerting dangerous influence in both the Vatican and the Bush White House. This book looks to examine Neuhaus's multi-faceted life and reveal to the public what made him tick and why.
"Boyagoda dispassionately describes this fascinating and active life, and he manages to blend skills as a folksy storyteller, researcher and unbiased historian, providing a biography that is balanced, interesting and relevant. A useful, provocative spotlight on one of the leading lights of the 20th century." – Kirkus
“Faith, it is correctly observed, while intensely personal, is never private. In North America, nobody recently has more effectively defended and encouraged bringing religion into the public square than Richard John Neuhaus. And up until now, no one has offered a more credible, careful, and colorful biography of this convert to Catholicism—in the line of Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker and Thomas Merton—than Randy Boyagoda.” – Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, author of True Freedom
"A Lutheran pastor who became a Catholic priest, labeled sometimes as liberal and other times as conservative, Neuhaus was truly a "sign of contradiction" in our times, a man whose constant affiliation in life was of belonging to God and striving to draw ever nearer to Him. Thorough, vivid, and keenly understanding of the interplay of personality, faith, and cultural context, Boyagoda's biography of Neuhaus does justice to this man of faith who became a type of "grace to be reckoned with," becoming a culture-altering tour de force. As Americans continue to explore the challenge of living one's faith in the public square, this book is an enriching testament to a man who blazed that trail in his own lifetime, fearless of everything but God Himself." – Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus

Reviews and Discussion
  • Neuhaus Described, If Not Explained, by William Gould. The University Bookman Spring 2015. "In short, what we have here is a good, helpful biography of Richard Neuhaus, but a more substantial account and evaluation of his intellectual contribution remains to be written."

  • Life in the Public Square CBC Radio. Discussion with host Paul Kennedy, author Randy Boyagoda, Catholic thinker and Ideas contributor Michael W. Higgins and historian of religion, Molly Worthen (University of North Carolina). May 5, 2015.

    • The Neuhaus Legacy, by R.R. Reno. First Things 05/06/15: "While listening to Worthen's comments I was again reminded of how difficult it is for many, perhaps most, liberals to fathom reasons why someone (Neuhaus, for instance) would think American-style conservatism the best way to promote the common good."

  • Burning Fr. Neuhaus’s Diary, by Joseph Bottum. Weekly Standard May 18, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 34.:
    Reading the new biography by Randy Boyagoda, seeing the clips of Fr. Neuhaus on websites discussing the book, I’ve had that day come back to mind recently—replaying, this time in doubt, the decision I made to destroy his diary. Certainly Boyagoda’s work would have been considerably easier if he’d had the diary to guide him. Substantially different, too, I suspect, Richard’s internal narrative shaping in entirely different ways the external actions of his life. ...
  • The Vision of Father Neuhaus, by William Doino Jr. First Things 3/23/15:
    ... Because Neuhaus was such a prominent figure, and so involved in the major political debates of his time, he is often criticized for having compromised his faith. But those who say Neuhaus was more politician than priest miss the mark. Fr. Neuhaus always saw himself—first and foremost—as a pastor and parish priest. The source and summit of his life was celebrating the Mass, hearing confessions, and attending to the needs of his flock. He loved to write, yes, but he did so in hopes that people would espouse the good—and by doing so, to turn toward their Savior.
  • Understanding Father Neuhaus, by Alan Jacobs. Snakes and Ladders 03/13/15:
    ... here’s (a simplified version of) my reading of Neuhaus’s political transformation: Over time he came to believe that the American left had effectively abandoned its commitment to “the least of these,” had decided that, in Boyagoda’s clear formulation, “private rights — made possible by and indeed protecting implicit race and class privileges — trumped responsibilities for others.” The moral language that he had learned from his Christian upbringing and pastoral training and experience simply had no purchase in a party dominated by a commitment solely to the “private rights” of self-expression, especially sexual self-expression. He turned to those who showed a willingness to hear commitments expressed in that moral language, who appeared to be open to being convinced. In return he gave them his loyalty, his public support, for the rest of his life.
    It may well be that this was a devil’s bargain, one that Neuhaus should never have made. ...
    But I think we have strong documentary evidence that Father Neuhaus made his bargain out of a genuine and deeply compassionate love — a love that pulled him all his life — for those whom the world deems worthless. In trying to realize this love in the medium of politics, that cesspool of vainglory and vanity, he sometimes befouled himself. But we all befoul ourselves; few of us do it in such a noble cause.
  • How Father Neuhaus Found GOP, by Geoffrey Kabaservice. The American Conservative 03/17/15.
  • Neuhaus in his time, by George W. Rutler. National Review 03/09/15.
  • New biography captures spirit of the of the great Catholic intellectual, by Russel Saltzman. Aleteia. 02/19/15. "Boyagoda found the Neuhaus I knew, complete with all the man’s winsome qualities and not a few of his contradictions. Not surprisingly, he also revealed facets of the man I could never guess. ... Boyagoda has given us a meat-and-potatoes biography. I regard that as a good thing to say."
  • Preaching to the White House, by Phillip Marchand. National Post 02/25/15:
    Boyagoda makes no sweeping pronouncements on this unresolved issue of Neuhaus’s legacy. Certainly things were not as they once were when Neuhaus could claim intimacy with President Reagan and Pope John Paul II. But Boyagoda’s luminously intelligent study of the man makes clear that Richard John Neuhaus — however one regards his politics — deserved his place in a long line of memorable American preacher politicians.
  • The story of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, an extraordinary Christian man, by Gregory J. Sullivan. Catholic World Report 03/13/15. "a reliable and readable biography."
  • The American Life of Richard John Neuhaus, by Matthew Walther. The Washington Beacon 03/14/15.
  • Richard John Neuhaus and the perils of theologically motivated hyper-partisanship, by Damon Linker. The Week 03/13/15.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Contra Stoker Bruenig. On Pope Francis and His Critics

Francis Agonistes, by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig. The New Republic 03/01/15. "The Pope is engaged in a struggle to bring the Church into the modern age. And American conservatives are fighting him every step of the way."


Sunday, March 8, 2015

But no man is without sin, and although every sin is the denial and betrayal of Chris, yet in his mercy and our true contrition and confession of our sins with meekness and humility and the long suffering desire of amendment brings us forgiveness.

Nowadays the utterances of confessions on paper bears the stigma of hypocrisy, for it is too easy to cry out for our sins without true contrition, and to proclaim them without ourselves believing them to be sins. And those who read them also do not believe these things to be sins.

- Thomas Merton, 09/13/39 [Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation [The Journal of Thomas Merton, Volume 1: 1939-1941]. ].

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Here and There

  • Discussing or Ignoring Thomas Pink’s Interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae Rorate Caeli 01/05/15:
    One of the most difficult of the doctrinal points at issue between the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) and the Holy See is the question of religious liberty. The Second Vatican Council’s teaching on this point in Dignitatis Humanae seems to be in clear opposition to the traditional teaching. In 2011 [Rorate Caeli] posted an intervention on the question by Prof. Thomas Pink, in which Pink proposed a reading of Dignitatis Humanae in accord with tradition. At the time, the chairman of the Latin Mass Society, Joseph Shaw, now a Rorate contributor, hailed Pink’s intervention as “truly important article,” and a blogger well acquainted with the SSPX called it a “a game-changing intervention,” that reframed the debate.

    Prof. Pink has since developed his argument further in a number of papers (most of which are available here). But what effect has Pink’s thesis actually had on the debate?

  • Thomas Aquinas in China, by William Carroll. Public Discourse 12/11/14. "Thomas Aquinas’s commitment to the importance of reason and its universal role in defining what it means to be human makes him an attractive thinker for contemporary Chinese scholars."

  • The Philosopher Who Defied Hitler: Q&A with Alice von Hildebrand, by Sean Salai, S.J. (and in America magazine, of all places!):
    Before her husband [Dietrich von Hildrebrand] died in 1977, she persuaded him to write an autobiographical account of his life. This memoir includes the story of his persecution under the Nazis, who had blacklisted him in 1921 and eventually forced him to flee Europe for the United States during World War II. A portion of the manuscript, newly compiled and translated into English by John Henry Crosby under the title “My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich," was published Oct. 21 by Image Books.

    On Oct. 21, I conducted the following email interview with Lady Alice on her career and on the newly translated autobiography of her husband ...

  • 'First Things' vs. 'Communio', "Murrayites" and "MacIntyrians"; The Paradox of the "Catholic Libertarian" and Another Kind of Illiberal Catholicism -- A roundup of relevant reading in 2014 - Taking a look back at last year's skirmishes. The Catholic Church and the Liberal Tradition 12/20/14.

  • Dr. Ed Peters on antinomianism, moved by the observation that Francis has appointed five more papal electors than Church law authorizes:
    Let me be clear: it does not make a fig’s worth of difference whether 120 or 125 cardinals vote in the next papal conclave, but it does make a fig’s worth of difference, I suggest, if yet another ecclesiastical rule, set out in a major legislative document using terminology indistinguishable from that which conveys many other considerably more important rules, is ignored because this leader or that doesn’t feel like abiding by it. We have processes to reform law in the Church; looking the other way isn’t one of them—at the very least, it’s a very dangerous way to change laws.

    Antinomianism has been a long time spreading, and we are going to be a long, long time repairing the damage it has done to the Church (and the State). Where to start, then, except with the first step: recognizing that antinomianism is the default setting today.

    (HT: Pertinacious Papist, see comments for further discussion).

  • Torture: Historical and Ethical Perspectives Unam Catholicam Sanctitam brings refreshing analysis to the torture debate, renewed once more within the Catholic blogging world by the release of . Drawing upon prior historical research from Fr. Harrison, the authors to the following conclusion:
    Understanding these distinctions [between punitive torture, torture for purpose of extraction and extrajudicial torture] means that one could also simultaneously affirm the permissibility of certain kinds of torture (punitive) while uniformly condemning the practices of the CIA, which are extrajudicial.

    The long and short of it is that attempts to make blanket statements about torture qua torture are misguided and prone to end up in contradiction for the simple reason that Tradition does not address torture qua torture, just like we cannot make blanket statements about violence qua violence but only violence under a variety of categories (war, assault, corporal punishment, self-defense, etc.) In the eyes of tradition, putting a man on the rack to extract information, branding a convicted thief with a hot iron, flogging a prisoner, and executing a man in an extremely painful manner (e.g., burning) were all totally different things. To moderns, these are all simply "torture" without disinction, but the Tradition did not view it this way; their distinctions were real distinctions, not mere semantics, and if we hope to understand what the Tradition says to us, we have to accept its distinctions.

    Incidentally, the attempt to ground opposition to all forms of torture in "the dignity of the human person" was not an argument known to tradition and leads to various difficulties. As we have mentioned above in our discussion of Ad Extirpanda and Ad Consulta Vestra, it was only because objections to torture were not grounded in the dignity of the human person that any development of thought here was possible. The argument that all forms of torture are intrinsically evil because they are offenses against the human person is not tenable, at least if we take the Church's tradition seriously.

  • Peter J. Leithart and Robert P. George spar over the proper understanding of religion as a "basic human good" worthy of being (freely) pursued - "Basic Goods" (First Things 8/27/14; Reply to Leithart (8/28/14), to which Dr. Mark Latkovick remarks:
    I simply want to add the point – moral rather than anthropological – that contrary to what Leithart implies, the “basic human goods” are not moral directives for choice. This is why, according to the “new natural law” theory (of Grisez, Finnis, Boyle, W.E. May, George, and others), moral principles and moral norms are necessary to guide our free choices so that we choose the various basic goods wisely. The latter are practical in nature, the former are moral in nature.

  • How to be a conservative: a conversation with Roger Scruton, John Derbyshire. Prospect Magazine. 09/12/14.

  • Raising the Tone: An Interview With Renowned Composer James MacMillan Regina (09/05/14). Mr. MacMillan was Composer/Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic from 2000-2009 and Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Kamer Filharmonie until 2013. He is also an outspoken critic of much contemporary Catholic church music, and recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Regina Magazine to discuss his point of view.

  • "Ruined by books: My Top 10 Philosophy List", by Artur Rosman (Cosmos In The Lost).

  • Lastly, OnePeterFive's "Drunk Catholic History" series covers my spirit of choice: bourbon.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thomas Merton, on Heresy

I've posted this excerpt before -- some ten years ago (have I been blogging that long? -- but even now as we draw near to Merton's 100th birthday on January 31st, 2015, it seems most appropos:
In the climate of the Second Vatican Council, of ecumenism, of openness, the word "heretic" has become not only unpopular but unspeakable -- except, of course, among integralists, who often deconstruct their own identity on accusations of heresy directed at others.

But has the concept of heresy become completely irrelevant? Has our awareness of the duty of tolerance and charity toward the sincere conscience of others absolved us from the danger of the error ourselves? Or is error something we no longer consider dangerous?

I think a Catholic is bound to remember that his faith is directed to the grasp of truths revealed by God, which are not mere opinions or "manners of speaking," mere viewpoints which can be adopted and rejected at will -- for otherwise the commitment of faith would lack not only totality but even seriousness. The Catholic is one who stakes his life on certain truths revealed by God. If these truths cease to apply, his life ceases to have meaning.

A heretic is first of all a believer. Today the ideas of "heretic" and "unbeliever" are generally confused. In point of fact the mass of "post-Christian" men in Western society can no longer be considered heretics and heresy is, for them, no problem. It is, however, a problem for the believer who is too eager to identify himself with their unbelief in order to "win them for Christ."

Where the real danger of heresy exists for the Catholic today is precisely in that "believing" zeal which, eager to open up new aspects and new dimensions of the faith, thoughtlessly or carelessly sacrifices something essential to Christian truth, on the grounds that this is no longer comprehensible to modern man. Heresy is precisely a "choice" which, for human motives . . . selects and prefers an opinion contrary to revealed truth as held and understood by the Church.

I think, then, that in our eagerness to go out to modern man and meet him on his own ground, accepting him as he is, we must also be truly what we are. If we come to him as Christians we can certainly understand and have compassion for his unbelief -- his apparent incapacity to believe. But it would seem a bit absurd for us, precisely as Christians, to pat him on the arm and say "As a matter of fact I don't find the Incarnation credible myself. Let's just consider that Christ was a nice man who devoted himself to helping others!"

This would, of course, be heresy in a Catholic whose faith is a radical and total commitment to the truth of the Incarnation and Redemption as revealed by God and taught by the Church. . . . What is the use of coming to modern man with the claim that you have a Christian mission -- that you are sent in the name of Christ -- if in the same breath you deny Him by whom you claim to be sent?

Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

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