Saturday, May 18, 2024

Samuel Schuijer 1873 - 1942

Interesting, these little "rabbit holes" the internet can put you on. Reading the introduction to "Loving the Torah More Than God: Toward a Catholic Appreciation of Judaism" -- provocative title, just started. I suppose I'll have a review at some point -- author Frans Jozef van Beeck mentions the following dedication:
Of the passages omitted in the present text, the most sigificant was the dedication of the lectures to the memory of my first violin teacher, the late Samuel Schuyer. I wish to repeat it here. Samuel Schuyer was born in The Hague, on September 9, 1873, into a family of musicians. He received his training in violin, bassoon, and theory at the Royal Conservatory in his native city. After an early career that involves positions as principal bassoonist in a variety of places as well as a European tour as a bassoon soloist, he became first assistant concertmaster at the French Opera in The Hague, and subsequently concertmaster at the Opera of Ghent, in Belgium. After a short stay in Paris, he returned to The Hague, where he became a very active violinist and teacher, and occasionally also a composer. He was sixty nine years old when in late 1942, he was taken from his apartment and transported to the transit camp at Westerbork. On December 8, 1942 he was put on the train to Auschwitz, where he was killed on the day of his arrival. May he live in peace.
On a whim and, wanting to find out more about this Samuel Schuyer, I Googled and discovered this fascinating biography and account of the musician containing a horrifying detail of his demise -- one can imagine no worse form of physical torture for an accomplished musician:
Het Vaderland reported regularly on new compositions by Schuijer and performances of his work until 1939. Then it becomes silent. The last official document is the death certificate showing that he perished in Auschwitz. A daughter of a former Schuijer piano student wrote to the Leo Smit Foundation: "My mother told me about the tragic fate of her respected piano teacher, who had suffered extreme torture in Auschwitz. We were told that both his hands were cut off."
as well as a remarkable tale of his discovery and the recovery of his music:
On December 11, 1942, Samuel Schuijer was murdered in Auschwitz. His home and music school had been plundered by the Nazis. With the loss of his life and destruction of his belongings, all traces of this significant Dutch musician seemed to be erased. But a group of children in The Hague found a box containing music manuscripts, waiting for the garbage truck. They took their treasure home and it became the first step in rediscovering a lost fragment of Dutch music history.

For which very reason, you can now listen to a composition by him:


Saturday, March 9, 2024

Open to me the gates of repentance, O Giver of Life,
For my spirit rises early to pray toward thy holy temple,
Bearing the temple of my body all defiled;
But in thy compassion, purify me by the loving kindness of thy mercy.
Lead me on the paths of salvation, O Mother of God,
For I have profaned my soul with shameful sins, and have wasted my life in laziness.
But by your intercessions, deliver me from all impurity.
When I think of the many evil things I have done, wretch that I am,
I tremble at the fearful day of judgment.
But trusting in thy loving kindness, like David I cry to thee:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.

Orthodox Christian hymn from Great Lent


(Dipping into Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent: Journey to Pascha as part of this season's Lenten reading)

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Thomas Merton on Teilhard de Chardin's romanticization of evolution and the atom bomb

Inasmuch as I myself appreciate the thought of Thomas Merton and his role in my own spiritual evolution, I was compelled to research further Merton's own thoughts on Teilhard, who seems to be "of two minds" about Teilhard de Chardin -- commenting positively on some aspects of Teilhard's thought but also critical as well. Richard W. Kropf explores Merton's thought on Teilhard in his paper, Crying with a Live Grief: The Mysticism of Thomas Merton and Teilhard Compared.

In Merton's review of De Lubac's The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin, Teilhard's Gamble (Commonweal 10/27/67), Merton reproaches Teilhard for what he perceives as his naive and overly grandiose faith in human evolution and technological progress:

Teilhard gambles on God’s need for man, since without man God’s creative plan cannot be fulfilled. Without man, God’s face cannot be fully manifest in his evolving creation. Man has an inescapable inner need to be the locus of the divine epiphany, because in him the universe has at last become conscious of itself. And "the universe by structural necessity cannot disappoint the consciousness it produces." [...]

[The Teilhardian man] is a " pilgrim of the future," and he refuses to be diverted from his pilgrimage even by the H-bomb which Teilhard found very inspiring: it was only a manifestation of the spirit and the " dawn of a Christic neo-energy."

Clearly, the Teilhardian wager is as much a gamble as Pascal’s. Perhaps it is more of a gamble. Pascal’s existential thinking confines itself to the area of individual freedom, and the individual can decide his own spiritual destiny! Teilhard has hocked everything and bet it on the whole human species. He has done so at a moment when the odds seem somewhat long against the kind of runaway win he anticipates. Teilhard does not seem to notice the wounds of mendacity and hatred which have been inexorably deepened in man by his practice of technological warfare, totalitarianism and genocide. Certainly we can sympathize with the admirable innocence of his hope. But is it as he believes, and as de Lubac concurs, a completely valid extrapolation of Bible eschatology? Is Teilhard so convinced that he be right, that he obstinately refuses to see any possibility of losing? At times, the Teilhardian synthesis seems to demand nothing short of blind faith in predetermined evolutionary success: the Noosphere is here, the super-consciousness is dawning and—this de Lubac neglected to add—the armies of Mao marching on Peking in 1951 were seen by Teilhard as the vanguard of a new humanity. Everything is already in the bag. You can’t lose: " It would be easier to halt the turning of the earth than it would be to prevent the totalization of mankind."

In "The Plague of Camus: A Commentary and Introduction", Merton indulges the question of whether the existentialist Albert Camus would not have turned away from Christianity had he read the works of Teilhard:

Camus would have heartily agreed with Teilhard’s love of man and with his aspiration toward human unity. But it is rather doubtful whether he would have been able to accept the evolutionary and historical scheme of Teilhardian soteriology. To be precise, it is likely that Camus would have had a certain amount of trouble with the systematic progress of the world toward " hominization" and " christification" by virtue of laws im­manent in matter and in history.

The point cannot be adequately discussed here, but anyone who wants to investigate it further had better read Camus’ book on Revolt (L’Homme révolté), which he wrote after The Plague and which he thought out at the same time as The Plague. This study of revolt, which precipitated the break between Camus and the Marxists (especially with Sartre), is a severe critique of Hegelian and post-Hegelian doctrines which seek the salvation and progress of man in the "laws of history."

Camus was suspicious of the way in which totalitarians of both the left and the right consistently appealed to evolution to justify their hope of inevitable progress toward a new era of the superman. In particular, he protested vigorously against their tendency to sacrifice man as he is now, in the present, for man as he is supposed to be, according to the doctrine of race or party, at some indefinite time in the future. In Camus’ eyes, this too easily justified the sadism and opportunism of people who are always prepared to align themselves on the side of the executioners against the victims. In other words, a certain superficial type of eschatological hopefulness, based on evolution, made it easy to ignore the extermination camps, the pogroms, the genocide, the napalm, the H-bombs that so conveniently favored the survival of the fittest, got rid of those who no longer had a right to exist, and prepared the way for the epiphany of superman.

At this point, it must be admitted that one of the most serious criticisms of Teilhard bears precisely on this point: an optimism which tends to look at existential evil and suffering through the small end of the telescope. It is unfortunately true that Teilhard, like many other Christians, regarded the dead and wounded of Hiroshima with a certain equanimity as inevitable by-products of scientific and evolutionary progress. He was much more impressed with the magnificent scientific achievement of the atomic physicists than he was with the consequences of dropping the bomb. It must be added immediately that the physicists themselves did not all see things exactly as he did. The concern of a Niels Bohr and his dogged struggle to prevent the atomic arms race put Bohr with Rieux and Tarrou in the category of "Sisyphean" heroes that are entirely congenial to Camus. After the Bikini test, Teilhard exclaimed that the new bombs "show a humanity which is at peace both internally and externally." And he added beatifically, "they announce the coming of the spirit on earth." (L'Avenir de l'homme) [...]

No matter how much we may respect the integrity and the nobility of this dedicated Jesuit, we have to admit here that at least in one respect he resembles his confrere Paneloux. True, they are at opposite extremes of optimism and pessimism; but they do concur in attaching more importance to an abstract idea, a mystique, a system, than to man in his existential and fallible reality here and now. This is precisely what Camus considers to be the great temptation. Lured by an ideology or a mystique, one goes over to the side of the executioners, while arguing that in so doing one is promoting the cause of life.

There is no question whatever that Teilhard believes in the "new man", the homo progressivus, the new evolutionary leap that is now being taken (he thinks) beyond homo sapiens. Science certainly gives us a basis for hope in this development, and perhaps Camus needed to have more hope in the future of man than he actually seems to have had. Perhaps Camus was too inclined to doubt and hesitate. Perhaps his "modesty" tended too much to desperation. Perhaps there was much he could have learned from Teilhard. But it is not likely that he would purely and simply have agreed with Teilhard’s statement in Peking, in 1945, that the victorious armies of Mao Tse-tung represented "the humanity of tomorrow" and "the generating forces and the elements of planetization," while the bourgeois European world represented nothing but the garbage (le déchet) of history. No doubt there may be good reason to think that a "new humanity" will arise out of the emerging Third World. Let us hope that it will. But Camus would not be so naïve as to identify this "new humanity" with a particular brand of Marxism, or to pin his hopes on a party which announced its own glorious future as a dogma of faith.

Source: The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton, ed. Patrick Hart (New Directions Publishing, 1985), 214-217. Tip of the hat due to the blog Real Physics for reposting Merton's insightful essay in full).

  • Regarding Teilhard's romanticized view of nuclear testing, see: A Symbolic Meditation on Hiroshima at 75: Divine-Human Transfiguration and Transhuman Disfiguration, by Christian Roy (The Symbolic World 08/06/20);

    What truly troubled [Bernard] Charbonneau however was the willingness of many supposedly high-minded humanitarians to celebrate — as immanent spiritual epiphany and ultimate eschatological fulfillment — globalized modern technology’s Activation of Energy. This was the title of a book about the spiritual life inherent in atomic particles by the worst culprit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). This Jesuit evolutionary thinker posthumously became fashionable well beyond an initial coterie of progressive Catholics. He remains a kind of patron saint of transhumanism as its pre-war initiator. But at the height of his fame, Charbonneau’s first published book was devoted to debunking Teilhard de Chardin, Prophet of a Totalitarian Era (1963).

    The inherent inhumanity of Teilhard’s technophile theodicy was evident in “A Few Reflections on the Spiritual Impact of the Atomic Bomb” (1946) for the journal of French Jesuits, that failed to even directly mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki or their human toll. They focussed instead on the Trinity and Bikini research and testing facilities as harbingers of world peace, through global unanimity in the concerted effort to consolidate mastery of the energy at the heart of matter, portraying this as the divine fulfillment of man’s destiny and the goal of evolution.

    Teilhard’s text is replete with inverted symbolic echoes of the Transfiguration, and especially of its defining role in the hesychastic practice of the prayer of the heart...

  • Teilhard's reflections on the Bikini Atoll tests are reproduced in full here: Quelques réflexions sur le retentissement spirituel de la bombe atomique" ["Teilhard de Chardin, Some reflections on the spiritual impact of the atomic bomb, 1946"], in Etudes, 79th Year, Vol. 250, July-August 1946.

On the resurgence of Teilhard de Chardin

If there ever was a theology very much in vogue and appealing to hipsters, "new-agers", the young and the fashionable, it was that of Teilhard de Chardin -- whose theological vision served as aesthetic inspiration for jazz, folk folk and classical albums; the basis for a science fiction novels, and also a chief influence on Salvador Dali's artistic incorporation of religious iconography. Recently, Teilhard's name popped up in popular discussions of eugenics, transhumanism and artificial intelligence, with the philosopher Eric Steindhart praising Teilhard as "one of the first to articulate transhumanist themes".

The mystical theology of Teilhard de Chardin has been alluded to time and again in the works of recent popes -- implicitly by Pope Saint John Paul II, in his encyclical Ecclesia Eucharistica: "the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation". Chardin exercised an influence on Ratzinger/Benedict XVI as well, who referenced him numerous times in his book Spirit of the Liturgy as well as his speeches and homilies.

Thus it comes as little surprise that we find Pope Francis -- especially with his (pre)occupation with ecology -- carrying the Teilhardian banner, or that under his pontificate the Pontifical Council of Culture would request the repeal of the Holy Office's 1962 Monitum (warning) -- or even that a petition was recently circulated to declare Teilhard de Chardin a "Doctor of the Church."

Nor is it suprising that with every instance of a papal quotation, his supporters seem to reassert themselves, rushing to zealously proclaim on social media that he is being "REHABILITATED" in their desire to exonerate a polarizing theologian whose work, arguably, should still and nonetheless be approached with no small amount of caution.

Teilhard's defenders include the esteemed Henri de Lubac, who remarked "We need not concern ourselves with a number of detractors of Teilhard, in whom emotion has blunted intelligence." and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who naively mused that "it is very likely that within fifty years all the trivial, verbal disputes about the meaning of Teilhard's "unfortunate" vocabulary will have died away, Teilhard will appear like John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, as the spiritual genius of the twentieth century."

On the other hand, those De Lubac ridiculed with "blunted intelligence" include the likes of Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Cardinal de Journet, and Dietrich von Hildebrand -- all of whom in my humble opinion, were justifiably hesitant and properly cautious over the philosophical implications of Teilhard's theology, when carried to its ultimate conclusions.

* * *

Via the web, here's a compilation of related material as I dig a little deeper into said debate:

The Monitum on Teilhard de Chardin

Teilhard de Chardin - Rehabilitated?

Commentary on Teilhard de Chardin and his critics by Peter Kwasniewski.

A prominent critic of Teilhard de Chardin online is Dr. John P. Slattery, Director of the Carl G. Grefenstette Center for Ethics in Science, Technology, and Law at Duquesne University.

  • Dangerous Tendencies of Cosmic Theology: The Untold Legacy of Teilhard de Chardin by John P. Slattery. Philosophy and Theology Vol. 29: No. 1. pp. 69-82, according to whom "from the 1920s until his death in 1955, Teilhard de Chardin unequivocally supported racist eugenic practices, praised the possibilities of the Nazi experiments, and looked down upon those who he deemed 'imperfect' humans."
  • Teilhard de Chardin, racism and eugenics: An exchange - John P. Slattery | Juan V. Fernández de la Gala. America 08/09/23.
  • Trashing Teilhard: How Not to Read a Great Religious Thinker, by John F. Haught. America 02/12/19. In which Haut responds to Slattery's article in Philosophy & Theology.
  • Teilhard & Eugenics: A Response to John Haught Commonweal 03/12/19, in which Slattery concludes:
    ... it is hard to deny that Teilhard’s clear and consistent support of eugenics-related philosophies can be tied to core principles of his mature thought, especially his arguments combining physical and spiritual evolutionary development.

    I do think there is a way forward for Teilhardian research, in addition to further investigation of his ties to eugenics. I would welcome a renewed focus on Teilhard’s early mystical writings. But his support of eugenics and the related doctrine of human inequality force us to reject or readjust some interpretations of his ideas. It would be irresponsible to ignore even a tangential connection between Teilhard’s arguments and eugenics, especially at a time when CRISPR technology and widespread DNA sequencing have revived eugenics-related conversations.

    Christian theology demands, in its beautiful paradox, that we find holiness not in the strength but in the suffering of the world, and that the path to God is found by prioritizing the broken, the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, and the oppressed. I firmly believe there is a place for Teilhard in the Christian theological tradition, but there is absolutely no room for eugenics.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Speaking in Tongues: A Critical Historical Examination: Volume I

Speaking in Tongues: A Critical Historical Examination: Volume 1: The Modern Redefinition of Tongues
by Philip E. Blosser (Author), Charles A. Sullivan (Author).

In three carefully researched volumes, this ground-breaking study examines the gift of tongues through 2,000 years of church history. Starting in the present and working back in time, these volumes consider (1) the modern redefinition of "tongues" as a private prayer language; (2) the church's perennial understanding of "tongues" as ordinary human languages; and (3) the Corinthian "tongues," which, in light of Jewish liturgical tradition, turn out to have been a foreign liturgical language (Hebrew or Aramaic) requiring bilingual interpreters. In the first volume, the authors establish that modern glossolalia, far from being a supernatural gift enjoyed by certain believers since the time of Pentecost and undergoing a resurgence in modern times, has no precedent in church life prior to the nineteenth century. They discuss why German theologians, responding to the Irvingite revival, coined the term "glossolalia" in the 1830s; why Pentecostals between 1906-8 quietly began redefining "tongues" to mean a heavenly language unintelligible to human beings but pleasing to God, instead of foreign languages useful for evangelism; why Protestant cessationists believed miraculous tongues had ceased; and why interpolated idioms like "unknown tongues" in Protestant Bibles were aimed originally at Rome's use of Latin.

Reviews & Discussion

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Ronald Reagan on Hans Urs von Balthasar

On June 15, 1989, former President Ronald Reagan was inducted into the prestigious French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, his second honor during a weeklong European tour -- one day after receiving an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in London.

Apparently in receiving such an honor, it is customary of the current recipient devotes his speech to the recognition of his predecessor. In this particular case, said predecessor was none other than Swiss theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar(!!!). The complete text of Reagan's tribute to Hans Urs von Balthasar can be found in the appendix of the book Dividing or Strengthening? Five Ways of Christianity by Harry E. Winter, O.M.I., and is available online here.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Remembering Paul Johnson (1928-2023)

Remembering Paul Johnson

  • Paul Johnson, Prolific Historian Prized by Conservatives, Dies at 94 New York Times 01/12/23.
  • Paul Johnson, prolific journalist and historian who started on the Left but became a champion of the Right – obituary The Telegraph 01/12/23.
  • Paul Johnson, friend of Israel and the Jews, dies at 94 The Jewish Chronicle 01/15/23.
  • On the Writer Paul Johnson (1928–2023 National Review:
    William F. Buckley Jr. wrote that Johnson was liable to be underrated, or taken for granted, because he was so routinely excellent. “His performances are unvaryingly (boringly?) extraordinary,” he wrote. WFB went on to say that Johnson had had “as productive a literary-analytical career as any in modern times.” And he said that in 1994, when Johnson had about 20 more writing years in him.
  • Remembering Paul Johnson, the Historian of Human Dignity, by Hans Zeiger. Public Discourse 01/23/23. Underlying Paul Johnson’s historical writing was the sense that people possess an innate dignity. To Johnson, history was the story of people—flawed, creative, reasoning, exceptional—with the capacity for incredible achievement. People, he thought, were made with a purpose, and that meant history has a purpose.
  • Knowledge and Verve: Remembering Paul Johnson, by Theodore Dalrymple. City Journal 1/13/23:
    Johnson liked nothing more than to infuriate by means of iconoclastic polemic. His book Intellectuals (1988) provided potted biographies of such revered figures as Rousseau, Marx, and Tolstoy, demonstrating what rotters they all were in their personal lives. This was not exactly an exercise in scientific method, but it was good fun and gave pleasure to those who distrust intellectual gurus. It also gave rise to insinuations that Johnson himself did not always quite live up to the moral ideals that he so fiercely propounded in public.

    He coined striking phrases—Hitler’s views, for example, were “the syphilis of antisemitism in its tertiary phase”—and he could never be accused of mealy-mouthedness. His views, though somewhat changeable, were expressed with vigor approaching dogmatism, though they were always well-informed. You knew where you stood with him.

    It is customary to say of remarkable men that we shall not see their like again. Whatever may be the case with other remarkable men, this is likely to be true of Paul Johnson. It is unlikely that anyone will tackle so huge a range of subjects again with such knowledge and verve.

  • The World of Paul Johnson Book and Film Globe 06/01/23. "The late historian didn’t have a lot of friends on the left, but his popular histories help explain the present day."
  • Paul Johnson: A Great Man of Letters The Catholic Herald 01/01/23:
    ... He had his undeniable faults, of which irascibility was just one, but he was also exemplary in his hard work (few people could write so quickly and eloquently), his diligence (the reading undertaken for his work and his range of reference was remarkable); his loyalty to his friends and his devotion to his children and grandchildren. His son Daniel is a prominent Catholic journalist (and writes in this edition). He was a Defender of the Faith; there are few of his calibre now.

    At his funeral, the opening hymn was, unexpectedly, “To Be a Pilgrim”, the words for which are based on John Bunyan, the anti-Catholic Puritan. It might seem a curious choice until we consider the words: “Hobgoblin nor foul fiend can daunt his spirit/ He knows he at the end shall life inherit”. That summed Paul Johnson up: may it be so for him.

  • Paul Johnson and the fate of conservatism, by Dominic Green. 06/19/23:
    ... Johnson did as much as any writer to spread the ideal Western civilization, and especially Judeo-Christian civilization, in the U.S. These ideas have little purchase in Britain. Johnson’s son Daniel is one of their few advocates, and he, too, finds more receptive audiences abroad. Like Roger Scruton, Paul Johnson found that Americans supposedly a frivolous and unthinking people, are more interested in ideas than the British are. It is telling that Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2006, but he was not appointed a Companion of the British Empire until 2013.

Friday, December 23, 2022

... the majority of students do not see writing as a worthwhile skill to cultivate—just like I, sitting with my coffee and book, rereading Moby-Dick, do not consider it worthwhile to learn, say, video editing. They have no interest in exploring nuance in tone and rhythm; they will forever roll their eyes at me when I try to communicate the subtle difference, when writing an appositive phrase, between using commas, parentheses, or (the connoisseur’s choice) the em dash.

Which is why I wonder if this may be the end of using writing as a benchmark for aptitude and intelligence. After all, what is a cover letter? Its primary purpose isn’t to communicate “I already know how to do this job” (because of course I don’t) but rather “I am competent and trustworthy and can clearly express to you why I would be a good candidate for this job.” What is a written exam? Its primary signal isn’t “I memorized a bunch of information” but rather “I can express that information clearly in writing.” Many teachers have reacted to ChatGPT by imagining how to give writing assignments now—maybe they should be written out by hand, or given only in class—but that seems to me shortsighted. The question isn’t “How will we get around this?” but rather “Is this still worth doing?”

I believe my most essential tasks, as a teacher, are helping my students think critically, disagree respectfully, argue carefully and flexibly, and understand their mind and the world around them. Unconventional, improvisatory, expressive, meta-cognitive writing can be an extraordinary vehicle for those things. But if most contemporary writing pedagogy is necessarily focused on helping students master the basics, what happens when a computer can do it for us? Is this moment more like the invention of the calculator, saving me from the tedium of long division, or more like the invention of the player piano, robbing us of what can be communicated only through human emotion?

The End of High School English, by Daniel Herman. The Atlantic 12/09/22.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) - A Help or Hindrance to the Artist? -- Musings on Midjourney

As somebody who's (at least somewhat) creatively/artistically inclined, I find myself absolutely stunned by the recent advancements made in AI-rendered art. However, I admit to being conflicted and of two minds over such.

Half of me has that giddy mindset of a "kid-in-a-candy-store", especially when I experiment with Midjourney -- for the unfamiliar, "an independent research lab that produces a proprietary artificial intelligence program that creates images from textual descriptions" -- or see what others can come up with.

In its current state, which is still very much in its infancy (MidJourney beta only being released in 2022), AI-generated art gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "the imagination is the limit", having the ability to render whatever the user wants, based on a unique prompt. Admittedly there is some level of SKILL required in utilizing the prompts, learning what particular kind and combination of prompts achieves the desired result. But in any case, the images that Midjourney produces -- spanning practically every genre and style and medium -- are absolutely, completely mind-boggling. See, for example, the regular postings to the Official MidJourney Facebook page.

But there's another part of me that is tentative, even fearful, for the potential impact it can have on artists and photographers and illustrators. What does it mean, for instance, when you can render a painted image in a matter of MINUTES, that would take a human literally days or weeks to produce on their own, using skills they have spent the bulk of their lives honing and cultivating as a craft?

What are the implications ... when I read that the first portrait created using artificial intelligence sold at auction in 2018 for $432,500; and that only this year, a Midjourney AI-generated painting won first place in the Colorado State Fair?

According to Kevin Roose, A.I.-generated art is already transforming creative work, both positively and not necessarily so. Some artists are less concerned than others about the impact AI may have on their careers, as in the example of an interior designer who has figured out how to use AI to streamlining their work, fleshing out prospective ideas for office-renovation in real-time. On the other hand you have stories like this:

"Initially, Mr. Waldoch planned to hire human artists to illustrate each day’s rhyming word pair. But when he saw the cost — between $50 and $60 per image, plus time for rounds of feedback and edits — he decided to try using A.I. instead. He plugged word pairs into Midjourney and DreamStudio, an app based on Stable Diffusion, and tweaked the results until they looked right. Total cost: a few minutes of work, plus a few cents.

“I typed in ‘carrot parrot,’ and it spit back a perfect image of a parrot made of carrots,” he said. “That was the immediate ‘aha’ moment.”

Mr. Waldoch said he didn’t feel guilty about using A.I. instead of hiring human artists, because human artists were too expensive to make the game worthwhile."

On the other hand, David Holz, the founders of Midjourney, was interviewed by Forbes and was largely dismissive of the idea that AI-generated art would have a negative impact on artists themselves:

... think that some people will try to cut artists out. They will try to make something similar at a lower cost, and I think they will fail in the market. I think the market will go towards higher quality, more creativity, and vastly more sophisticated, diverse and deep content. And the people who actually are able to use like the artists and use the tools to do that are the ones who are going to win.

These technologies actually create a much deeper appreciation and literacy in the visual medium. You might actually have the demand, outstrip the ability to produce at that level, and then maybe you'll actually be raising the salaries of artists. It could be weird, but that's what's going to happen. The pace of that demand increase for both quality and diversity will lead to some wonderful and unexpected projects getting made.

A generation of students graduated art schools, many of them heavily in debt, counting on relatively well-paid jobs in entertainment production, videogame production, commercial art and so on. How does the emergence of AI text-to-image platforms impact their future?

I think some people will try to cut costs, and some people will try to expand ambitions. I think the people who expand ambitions will still be paying all those same salaries, and the people who try to cut costs, I think will fail.

Of similar concern are the copyright and privacy issues involved. Take this story of fantasy artist Greg Rutkowski, who found his own original work quickly overtaken and overwhelmed online by AI-generated replications:

Rutkowski was initially surprised but thought it might be a good way to reach new audiences. Then he tried searching for his name to see if a piece he had worked on had been published. The online search brought back work that had his name attached to it but wasn’t his.

The article goes on to describe the experience of others -- illustrators, photographers, models, actors and actresses, directors, cinematographers" -- who are grappling with the fact that their work is being fed into the 5.8 billion dataset used by AI. It is currently the case that artists don’t have the choice to opt in to the database or have their work removed.

Anyway ... no offense intended in this post to those who use Midjourney and are demonstrably very adept at guiding it to producing what they desire. I honestly remain very much enthralled by its potential and entertainment value.

But lurking in the back of my mind are the questions and the issues raised in these articles as well.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

The democratic ideal springs from the ideas of liberty, equality, majority rule through free elections, protection of the rights of minorities, and freedom to subscribe to multiple loyalties in matters of religion, economics, and politics rather than to a total loyalty to the state. The spirit of democracy is the idea of importance and worth in the individual, and faith in the kind of world where the individual can achieve as much of his potential as possible.

Great dangers always accompany great opportunities. The possibility of destruction is always implicit in the act of creation. Thus the greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself. From the beginning the weakness as well as the strength of the democratic ideal has been the people. People cannot be free unless they are willing to sacrifice some of their interests to guarantee the freedom of others. The price of democracy is the ongoing pursuit of the common good by all of the people. One hundred and thirty-five years ago Tocqueville gravely warned that unless individual citizens were regularly involved in the action of governing themselves, self-government would pass from the scene. Citizen participation is the animating spirit and force in a society predicated on voluntarism.

We are not here concerned with people who profess the democratic faith but yearn for the dark security of dependency where they can be spared the burden of decisions. Reluctant to grow up, or incapable of doing so, they want to remain children and be cared for by others. Those who can, should be encouraged to grow; for the others, the fault lies not in the system but in themselves.

Here we are desperately concerned with the vast mass of our people who, thwarted through lack of interest or opportunity, or both, do not participate in the endless responsibilities of citizenship and are resigned to lives determined by others. To lose your "identity" as a citizen of democracy is but a step from losing your identity as a person. People react to this frustration by not acting at all. The separation of the people from the routine daily functions of citizenship is heartbreak in a democracy.

It is a grave situation when a people resign their citizenship or when a resident of a great city, though he may desire to take a hand, lacks the means to participate. That citizen sinks further into apathy, anonymity, and depersonalization. The result is that he comes to depend on public authority and a state of civic-sclerosis sets in. From time to time there have been external enemies at our gates; there has always been the enemy within, the hidden and malignant inertia that foreshadows more certain destruction to our life and future than any nuclear warhead. There can be no darker or more devastating tragedy than the death of man's faith in himself and in his power to direct his future.

Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Newly Published in Thomist Studies: "The Thomist Tradition: Avoiding Scylla and Charybdis", by Dr. Donald G. Boland

The Thomist Tradition: Avoiding Scylla and Charybdis
by Dr. Donald G Boland.

As with every great philosopher and theologian, the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, though perhaps the clearest expressed of all, has inevitably been subject to a variety of interpretations. There is one interpretation that leans to a naturalist/rationalist (secularist) interpretation of his thought. That one is well-recognized today. There is, however, another interpretation so strongly opposed to this extreme that it tends to fall into the other error of supernaturalism/ fideism. In this book, hopefully following not only the thought of St. Thomas but also his method, I have tried only to draw particular attention to this latter error.

“Dr. Donald Boland offers us a penetrating critical reading of Tracey Rowland’s Culture and Thomist Tradition after Vatican II (2003), showing us that Thomism today is faced with an equal and opposite danger to the well-known error of a naturalist, rationalist or secularist interpretation of the Angelic Doctor’s thought. Today’s danger is closer to being a sort of muddled fideist or supernaturalist interpretation influenced by the confusing ideas of nouvelle theologians such as Henri de Lubac. Boland offers a wide-ranging and well-informed assessment.” – Dr. Philip Blosser, Professor of Philosophy, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

“In this engaging polemic, Donald Boland effectively reminds us that, as St. Thomas keenly understood, faith has no greater friend than reason. This reminder is sorely needed as some Thomists today have lurched to fideism (even supernaturalism) in their zeal to avert rationalism. Written in an idiom that suits the here and now, Boland shows how the perennial philosophy lives to instruct another generation.” – Dr. Curtis Hancock, Professor of Philosophy, Rockhurst University


Sunday, February 13, 2022

The best way to win souls is not by actions that have as their purpose to win those souls, but by actions that have no other purpose than to bear witness to the truth, and bear witness to this truth with the full and overflowing measure of love. Perhaps it is possible to find here the exact distinction between proselytism, which could be defined as an activity of spiritual conquest on a patient (actio transiens) and the true apostolate, which could be defined as the service of souls, and the awakening of souls to the truth, by the superabundance of activity that comes from union with the truth (actio immanens). In the latter case the animating form is love; in the former case it is a subliminated instinct of imperialism.
- Jacques Maritain, from The Story of Two Souls: The Correspondence of Jacques Maritain and Julien Green, ed. Henry Bars. (Fordham University Press, 1988).

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Here and There

  • Christopher Hitchens Wasn’t Great, by Meir Y. Soloveichik. Commentary February 2022:
    ... what are we to make about statements that are contrary to all obvious evidence—evidence that even rudimentary research would reveal? Are Hitchens’s assertions against obvious evidence not evidence itself that his assaults are expressions of deliberate dishonesty?

    Some admirers of Hitchens on the right concede how troubling this is. Former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson said he had always known that, on religion, “Hitch could be unfair—willfully so—and quite capable of presenting as fresh and new arguments that had grown stale a century ago.” Robinson added, “What I hadn’t quite realized, though, was that Hitch was also deeply ignorant—in particular, that in discussing the scriptures Hitch simply had no idea what he was talking about.” Robinson’s admiration for Hitchens, as he wrote in 2011, stems from the fact that Hitchens “held his head up for a flag of all the free.” Similarly, Continetti concludes that the lesson of Hitchens’s life is that “freedom needs champions.” Indeed it does, but Hitchens’s comments about faith illustrate that he learned the wrong lessons from a 20th century marked by battles between liberty and tyranny.

    His penchant for intentionally eliding evidence was reflected in his description of faith as “the origin of all dictatorship.” These were words written by a man who had witnessed a century marked by militantly atheist Communist dictatorships that murdered more members of humanity than any faith community in history. His brother, Peter, has powerfully pointed out that Hitchens’s religion writings were recycled talking points of the very regimes he claimed to oppose.

  • The Return of the Manuals, by John Brungardt. Thomistica 06/26/21 (reviewing R.E. Houser's Logic as a Liberal Art: An Introduction to Rhetoric and Reasoning and Michael J. Dodd's The One Creator God in Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Theology):
    In past unenlightened ages, it was a trope—and then a cliché—to denigrate a philosophical or theological view as bearing too much a resemblance to the “schoolmen” or the “scholastics.” In the last century, and even in this one, if you wish to dismiss summarily the mode or content of a book, simply call it a “manual” or its author a “manualist.” Surely you know the kind: those “Neo-Scholastic” manuals, written in a cramped Latin parceled out into enumerated paragraphs, all crested with a “nihil obstat” and appropriate "imprimatur."

    However, there is a lot about manuals that is simply a myth that needs to be quashed. This is because, as in any age in literate human history, there were good and bad books for students. Manuals overlapped with both. Furthermore, their use and abuse coincided with teachers both good and bad, and was incidentally tied to academic and ecclesial politics that either no longer apply or which now train their focus on other controversies. Blaming “the manualists” for the tribulations of philosophical and theological education partly overlaps with—and is about as accurate as—personally blaming Christian Wolff for the limitations of early Neo-Scholastic philosophy.

  • Scheler vs. Nietzsche on Ressentiment Part 1 / Part 2. "The philosopher Max Scheler (1874-1928) wrote a striking book titled Ressentiment, in which he explains this feeling in dialogue with Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900). I read passages of both philosophers and comment on them to bring out the meaning of Ressentiment and where the two men agree and disagree. Both philosophers saw Ressentiment not only as a struggle for individuals, but as a growing sociological/cultural phenomenon, and perhaps their work can shed some light on our times."

  • Sagan's Pale Blue Dot vs. The Christ Child Just Thomism 12/25/21:
    Sagan’s silence arises from his own awareness that the summum bonum is intrinsically and infinitely meaningful, and human love participates in it, notwithstanding the evident insignificance of human life. When we preserve both the truths that he says and leaves unsaid, therefore, what we get is not Sagan but Pascal. Human life is the paradoxical union of utter insignificance and infinite meaning, and our basic stance to life is both abject humility grounded in a true awareness of our nothingness and confidence that we exist to possess a good greater than the common good of the whole physical and angelic natural order. ...
  • Was Vatican II a Bad Seed? ChurchLife Journal July 29, 2020 - John Cavadini responds to the latest screed from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who "reduces Vatican II to a seedbed of contemporary error animated by the spirit of "Masonry."

  • Radioactive - a 6-part biographical podcast on Father Charles Coughlin from The Tablet. See also: 1996 C-Span interview with Don Warren, author of Radio Priest: Charles Coughlin, The Father of Hate Radio, which I read some time ago.

  • Ashley K. Fernandes, associate director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at The Ohio State University, asks: Why Did So Many Doctors Become Nazis? The Tablet 12/10/20.

  • The Raven is an "open access online magazine"
    ... of original philosophy written for intellectually curious readers with or without academic training in the discipline. It aims to revive an essayistic style of philosophy that was more common in academic venues as recently as thirty years ago but has gradually disappeared — that is, to publish contributions to the “literature” that deserve to be called literature.
  • Discerning the Real John Ehrett reviews David Schindler's The Politics of the Real: The Church Between Liberalism and Integralism University Bookman. 06/27/01:
    ... Schindler’s critique of contemporary integralism (from within the Catholic tradition) is probably the best one on offer anywhere. For Schindler, leading integralist Edmund Waldstein’s foundational definition of integralism—which centers on the subordination of the “temporal power” to the “spiritual power”—erroneously confuses the contingent historical forms of medieval Christendom for an enduring theological principle. Specifically, the definition treats the Catholic Church and temporal state as entities subsisting on the same ontological “level” and so in some sense vying for control of the same monopoly on coercive power. Schindler insists that this mischaracterizes the essentially analogical relation between church and state: the Church is relevant to all of life, and the political order is relevant to all of life. The temporal order is not neutral or second-order ground, but ought to be understood as “theological” through and through, with the Church serving as an enduring witness to transcendent truth.

    Agree with his arguments or not, virtually no one engaged in debates over “liberalism” has thought as deeply as Schindler about the fundamental metaphysical questions involved, and yet it’s those questions that must be addressed for any conversation to meaningfully progress.

  • Remembering Michael Novak’s “Democratic Capitalism”, Bradley J. Birzer. The Imaginative Conservative 09/27/21.

For Fun ...

Sunday, January 9, 2022

A bit of humor from Jacques Maritain (Reflections on America, 1958), commenting on the faux-optimism that is often mandated in the American workplace. Perhaps not so apropos in this day and age, where dourness prevails (what with the pandemic and all), but nonetheless elicited a chuckle:
The yearning to make life tolerable is best revealed, it seems to me, in the American smile. You meet on American streets smiling faces, which plunge you into a stream of quite general and anonymous good feeling. Of course, there is an immense part of illusion, of ritually accepted illusion, in the universal benignancy thus displayed.

I had a dentist in a small town whose nurses were so well trained that you were dazzled by their radiant smiles and their unshakeable optimism. Finally you came to think, in a kind of daydream, that the fact of dying in the midst of these happy smiles and the angel wings of these white, immaculate uniforms, would be a pure pleasure, a moment of no consequence. Relax, take it easy, it's nothing. Thereafter, you would enjoy the cleanness and happiness of the funeral home, and the chattering of your friends around your embalmed corpse.

l left this dentist, in order to protect within my mind the Christian idea of death.

Hans Boersma on George Orwell's 1984

Reading 1984 is medicine for souls like mine that have, perhaps unwittingly, accommodated to the militant secularism that engulfs today’s world—whether the conformity takes the shape of sipping hot chocolate in a Gothic apse or some other form. Here are some reasons why we might read 1984 as an act of penance. Among the salutary reminders that Orwell’s classic novel offers are the following:
  • The past is not the object of our own construction. Totalitarian regimes attempt to alter the past, changing lies into truths by means of newspeak and doublethink. “All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and re-inscribed exactly as often as was necessary.”
  • Language is closely tied to our most basic beliefs. Change or eliminate vocabulary, and you change the cultural mindset: “In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.”
  • We dare not give up on objective reality. After much torture and self-examination, Winston, the protagonist, genuinely admits that two plus two make five. A key axiom, which our culture is in danger of eradicating, is Orwell’s conviction that “freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
  • Nominalism has totalitarianism as its logical end point. If universals do not exist, we are thrown back upon ourselves, which means that truth equals power. As Winston’s interrogator puts it: “You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable.” Even our inmost thoughts and convictions are subject to totalitarian control. Winston doesn’t initially believe this (“the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable”), but in the end, he submits every aspect of his will and intellect to the Party’s control.

-- Hans Boersma, First Things 12/31/21.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

I am sure I am sounding like an old codger, but the one common thread with many of these interactions has been the youth of the interlocutors. Usually in their early twenties, sporting the shaved on the sides/long on the top hairstyle common amongst young men today, imbued with flaming machismo that is so ridiculous as to make them into little more than a Trad caricature. Many of them unemployed, living at home, or otherwise at the very bottom rung of the social ladder. Threads with young trad women are seldom any better.

I do not want to make this about youth; but at the same time, I cannot deny the pattern I have seen of late, and it's extremely depressing. Besides the evident lack of charity, it seems like a raw ignorance of what being a Traditional Catholic is even about. For many of these people Tradition seems to be primarily a social movement to "smash Western liberalism"; sometimes they say as much plainly. Obviously the entire ethos of Traditional Catholicism is opposed to the prevailing social mentality, but it would be profoundly wrong to view the Faith as essentially a contrarian social movement, even if it does oppose the modern zeitgeist.

When Trads Choose Barabbas Ut Unum Sanctum 05/09/21.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Happy 94th Birthday Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI!

Happy 94th birthday to Pope Emritus -- there are many things one might say in appreciation of Benedict XVI; in addition to his steadfast faith, spiritual wisdom and theological vision, I've long appreciated him as a fellow lover (and adoptee of) many a cat in his life.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The ultimate Catholic coronavirus vaccine morality explainer

The ultimate Catholic coronavirus vaccine morality explainer, by Michael Deem. The Pillar:
Since Covid-19 vaccines began to be discussed, Catholics have raised concerns about the moral and ethical aspects of taking them. While the Vatican and the USCCB have weighed in on the subject, a lot of Catholics still have questions.

To answer those questions, The Pillar brings you The Ultimate Catholic Coronavirus Morality Explainer.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Victor Ambrus (1935-2021)

Chances are if you ran across children’s book or YA editions of timeless classics like Moby Dick, The Iliad, The Oddysey, Don Quixote, King Arthur, The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien, English, Irish and Hungarian military history, as well as stories from The Bible — you may well have encountered the gorgeous, unique and unmistakeable illustrations of Victor Ambrus (1935-2021), who passed away last Wednesday (February 10th).

"... back in 1956, [Victor Ambrus] took part in the Hungarian Uprising. After escaping from a building with his fellow students when it came under fire from the Soviets, he eventually decided to leave his native Hungary and moved to England. After arriving in London, he continued his artistic dream and began to study at the Royal College of Art.

Whilst studying at the RCA, Victor embarked upon his first job as an illustrator, at just 20 years old. This first assignment was to illustrate the History of Britain for the Reader's Digest. This started his career as a historical illustrator, which has lead to him illustrating almost 300 books." -- Time Team


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Catholic Philosophy Classics - Getting a new life with Cluny Media

I've been updating various sites devoted to some favorite intellectual giants in Catholic though (a few of those who played a part in my own formation and conversion).

In the course of updating my page on the French Thomist Etienne Gilson, I discovered (much to my delight) that a Rhode Island publishing house called Cluny Media had fulfilled a personal wish of seeing a number of Gilson's old (outdated, and thus prohibitively expensive) books now back in print.

According to Cluny Media, "our publishing philosophy is simple":

A book, from cover to cover, should be an artifact, a work of art. Because our business is primarily to take the old and make it new, this philosophy demands a particular, careful process. Unlike the facsimile "republications" of other, similarly motivated publishers, Cluny editions are restorations. The restorative spirit especially animates the production and design elements of the publishing process.

You can read more about their publishing process and a brief history of their founding here.

Among their list of republished authors -- Georges Bernanos, Louis Bouyer, Paul Claudel, Jean Daniélou, Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Romano Guardini, Charles Journet, Jacques Maritain,. François Mauriac, John Henry Newman, Charles Péguy, Josef Pieper, Hugo Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger, Fulton Sheen and Sigrid Undset (among others).

p.s. I see that Sohrab Amari made a similar discovery, while looking for a book on Jean Danielou and has a nice profile of Cluny Media in First Things.

p.s.s. Sign up for their email list and receive a promotion code for a discount (+ free shipping on orders over $25).

Monday, January 25, 2021

Pope Benedict XVI: "Prayer for Life in the Womb"

Lord Jesus, You who faithfully visit and fulfill with your Presence the Church and the history of men; You who in the miraculous Sacrament of your Body and Blood render us participants in divine Life and allow us a foretaste of the joy of eternal Life; We adore and bless you.

Prostrated before You, source and lover of Life, truly present and alive among us, we beg you.

Reawaken in us respect for every unborn life, make us capable of seeing in the fruit of the maternal womb the miraculous work of the Creator, open our hearts to generously welcoming every child that comes into life.

Bless all families, sanctify the union of spouses, render fruitful their love.

Accompany the choices of legislative assemblies with the light of your Spirit, so that peoples and nations may recognize and respect the sacred nature of life, of every human life.

Guide the work of scientists and doctors, so that all progress contributes to the integral well-being of the person, and no one endures suppression or injustice.

Give creative charity to administrators and economists, so they may realize and promote sufficient conditions so that young families can serenely embrace the birth of new children.

Console the married couples who suffer because they are unable to have children and in Your goodness provide for them.

Teach us all to care for orphaned or abandoned children, so they may experience the warmth of your Charity, the consolation of your divine Heart.

Together with Mary, Your Mother, the great believer, in whose womb you took on our human nature, we wait to receive from You, our Only True Good and Savior, the strength to love and serve life, in anticipation of living forever in You, in communion with the Blessed Trinity.

Pope Benedict XVI, "Prayer for Life in the Womb"

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Edward Baring, "Converts To The Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy"

Converts To The Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy
Edward Baring. Harvard University Press; 1st edition (May 1, 2019). 504 pages.
In the most wide-ranging history of phenomenology since Herbert Spiegelberg’s The Phenomenological Movement over fifty years ago, Baring uncovers a new and unexpected force—Catholic intellectuals—behind the growth of phenomenology in the early twentieth century, and makes the case for the movement’s catalytic intellectual and social impact.

Of all modern schools of thought, phenomenology has the strongest claim to the mantle of “continental” philosophy. In the first half of the twentieth century, phenomenology expanded from a few German towns into a movement spanning Europe. Edward Baring shows that credit for this prodigious growth goes to a surprising group of early enthusiasts: Catholic intellectuals. Placing phenomenology in historical context, Baring reveals the enduring influence of Catholicism in twentieth-century intellectual thought.

Converts to the Real argues that Catholic scholars allied with phenomenology because they thought it mapped a path out of modern idealism—which they associated with Protestantism and secularization—and back to Catholic metaphysics. Seeing in this unfulfilled promise a bridge to Europe’s secular academy, Catholics set to work extending phenomenology’s reach, writing many of the first phenomenological publications in languages other than German and organizing the first international conferences on phenomenology. The Church even helped rescue Edmund Husserl’s papers from Nazi Germany in 1938. But phenomenology proved to be an unreliable ally, and in debates over its meaning and development, Catholic intellectuals contemplated the ways it might threaten the faith. As a result, Catholics showed that phenomenology could be useful for secular projects, and encouraged its adoption by the philosophical establishment in countries across Europe and beyond.

Baring traces the resonances of these Catholic debates in postwar Europe. From existentialism, through the phenomenology of Paul Ricoeur and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, to the speculative realism of the present, European thought bears the mark of Catholicism, the original continental philosophy.

Reviews and Discussion

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Marcin Wrona's "Demon" (2015)

"Demon" Synopsis: "A bridegroom is possessed by an unquiet spirit in the midst of his own wedding celebration, in this clever take on the Jewish legend of the dybbuk." This is an intelligent, well-crafted film, not quite belonging to the "horror" genre. Though it's theme of possession, it leaves you with the open question of who was truly the victim or recipient of such. It's underlying theme of guilt and collective "cultural amnesia" in the wake of the Holocaust. The dialogue -- in Polish, Yiddish, German and Russian -- is subtle and at times doesn't make a lot of sense at all in the immediacy of the moment, though in retrospect you grasp another layer of meaning. Disturbing, but recommended.

The director, Marcin Wrona (1973-2015), sadly took his own life during a festival screening the film.

  • Discover the haunting tragedy of this Polish possession horror Little White Lies 05/29/18.
  • Interview with Demon screenwriter Pawel Maslona
  • Olga Szymanska talks Marcin Wrona and DEMON – Exclusive Interview on the shooting of the film and its soundtrack (warning: spoilers).
  • Here and There

    • J.I. Packer: A Great Puritan, by Hans Boersma. First Things 07/21/20:
      ... Packer’s signing of the 1994 ECT ["Evangelicals and Catholics Together"] statement again led to sharp disagreement with evangelicals—influential leaders such as John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul—who felt that Packer had sacrificed doctrinal integrity. Packer, however, did not flinch. He published an article on “Why I Signed,” and pointed out that his continuing disagreements with Rome ought not stand in the way of making common cause. Today’s deepest division, he claimed, was not that between Catholicism and Protestantism. Instead, it was the division “between theological conservatives (or ‘conservationists,’ as I prefer to call them), who honor the Christ of the Bible and of the historic creeds and confessions, and theological liberals and radicals who for whatever reason do not.” Appealing to Francis Schaeffer’s concept of co-belligerence and Billy Graham’s cooperative evangelism, he threw down the gauntlet, insisting that it was high time to make common cause, even in evangelism and church education: ECT was merely "playing catch-up to the Holy Spirit," Packer insisted.
    • Francis Beckwith on Reading the Summa Theologia Cover to Cover: Mission Accomplished
    • Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher) on the Profitable Study of Philosophy (01/01/21).
    • Walker Percy’s Prescient Dystopia, by Collin Slowey. Public Discourse 11/05/20. Love in the Ruins speaks to our present moment in the United States like few other books. Most important is what Percy has to teach us about the dangers of moral superiority, ideological idealism, and the capacity of intellectual humility and hard work for achieving genuine progress.
    • Overlooked in 2020 -- non-aggression pact or "truce" between the oft-sparring Edward Feser and David Bentley Hardt:
      David Bentley Hart and I have had some very heated exchanges over the years, but I have always found him to be at bottom a decent fellow. That remains true. During our recent dispute over his book on universalism, the one thing I took great exception to was the accusation of dishonesty on my part, and I let David know this privately. He sent me the following statement to post here, for which I thank him. I would also like to reaffirm my longstanding admiration for much of his work, such as his books Atheist Delusions and The Experience of God....
    • The Question of Catholic Integralism: An Internet Genealogy, by John Brungardt. 05/22/20 (a helpful roundup for those interested in the subject)
    • Joseph Ratzinger on the Creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople excerpt from Joseph Ratzinger’s Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology
    • Pruning the Mind During a Crisis, by Margarita Mooney. The Hedgehog Review 04/16/20. "The great danger is to come to love what we know more than to love the pursuit of knowledge as an end in and of itself."
    • William Faulkner's Demons, by Casey Cep. New Yorker 11/30/20:
      What if the North had won the Civil War? That technically factual counterfactual animated almost all of William Faulkner’s writing. The Mississippi novelist was born thirty-two years after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, but he came of age believing in the superiority of the Confederacy: the South might have lost, but the North did not deserve to win. [...] In contrast with those ["Lost Cause"] delusions, Faulkner’s fiction revealed the truth: the Confederacy was both a military and a moral failure.


      "Faulkner the man shared many of the closed society’s opinions and values," Gorra writes. "But when the novelist could inhabit a character—when he slipped inside another mind and put those opinions into a different voice—he was almost always able to stand outside them, to place and to judge them."

      Faulkner was unwilling in his own life to adequately acknowledge the evils of slavery and segregation, but he did so with savage thoroughness in his fiction.

    • John le Carré, Best-Selling Author of Cold War Thrillers, Dies at 89 New York Times 12/13/20.
    • An Interview with Historian Gary Gallagher, with Clayton Butler. "Thoughts on the state of current Civil War scholarship and the compelling nature of Civil War history." Gallagher thinks "Catton is best narrative writer who’s ever written about the Civil War. Better than Shelby Foote", and after reading Catton's This Hallowed Ground: A History of the Civil War, I would agree. At least Catton serves as an alternative to Foote's "Lost Cause" nostalgia. To that end, here is David Blight on the career and influence of Civil War historian Bruce Catton (video).

    Monday, January 4, 2021

    A Summary of 2020 Election Voter-Fraud Claims (and their Debunking)

    Paul Zummo (Letters from Cato) writes:
    With the help of friend and former co-blogger Darwin Catholic, we have have put together a summary of the voter fraud claims put forth, and the sources debunking these claims. I have tried to be succinct as possible below or else the document would have been about 20 pages. For ion-depth analysis, please refer to the sourced link.

    You will see The Dispatch factcheck referenced many times. They are indispensable resource, and I believe these factchecks are available to non-subscribers. I should also note AG Hamilton, who has also put together a summary of allegations, and that is linked to at the end.

    If you see anything we missed, or have other resources you would like to share, please feel free to add those in the comments. This will be a “living” document and so will be updated as needed.

    See also

  • Brendan Hodge (Darwin Catholic on the 2020 electoral aftermath:
  • "Now What?" - Paul Zummo (Classical Liberal) Reflections on the future of conservatism after the 2020 elections.
  • Goodreads 2020 - Highlights of Another Year in Reading

    Surprised I met my GoodReads challenge this year, since up to this point my most efficient reading time is the 1.5 hours to/from work on the subway -- I slacked off a bit March-May as the pandemic hit but as I adjusted to the present circumstances I turned to late-night reading.

    Perhaps as a means of escape from the pandemic I picked up more fiction than usual, and discovered some intriguing new authors along the way.

    If anybody reading this uses GoodReads feel free to look me up and friend me -- I'm always curious what others in my audience are reading!

    Personal highlights:

    • Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery - comprehensive and definitive examination of the subject. I found him to be very fair: critical where criticism is certainly warranted, likewise credit where credit's due (Lincoln's position on slavery evolved over the course of his presidency).
    • Thomas Merton, The Living Bread - meditations on the Eucharist.
    • Emery de Gall, O Lord, I Seek Your Countenance: Explorations and Discoveries in Pope Benedict XVI -- very substantial work of Ratzinger scholarship, especially his chapter discussing Ratzinger's contributions as peritus to Vatican II.
    • Edward T. Oakes, SJ A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies -- an exploration of theological dilemmas such as nature and grace, free will and predestination, experience and divinization; sin and justification; original sin and evolution. I like Oakes' for the breadth of his own reading (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) which he makes ample use of.
    • Fr. Garrigou Lagrange, The Essence & Topicality of Thomism -- a treasure ... the bad rap he gets among the Ressourcement theologians is, at least in my mind, undeserved.
    • Stuart Walton, The Devil's Dinner - an informative "biological, gastronomical, and cultural history" of the chili pepper. The first two chapters alone on the origins of the chile pepper in South/Central America and its subsequent introduction -- by way of Portuguese trading -- to the entire world (India, Thailand, China, et al., each continent or country giving its own culinary spin to its use) is worth the read alone. Very informative.
    • William Faulkner, Light in August. I went on a Hemingway binge a few years ago. Lately I've been on a Faulkner binge, intending to read his works along with a biography on my list for 2021). Faulkner can be very dense at times, with odd syntax and a "stream-of-consciousness" style (ex. The Sound and the Fury), but I found this one more readily accessible.

    Some new discoveries:

    • John Le Carre - spurred by the news of the author's passing this year, I had enjoyed various movie adaptations of Le Carre's work (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; A Most Wanted Man) and decided to read the whole series featuring his character "George Smiley". Knocked out the first two this year, Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality.
    • Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows -- a Russian novelist whose work was introduced as a source to Timothy Snyder's magnificent Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010). This is Vasily Grossman's unfinished and final novel, written after the Soviet police seized his earlier work and left him to write alone. It's about a prisoner returning to Moscow from the Gulag after 30 years and readjusting to the world around him, together with an account of the Ukranian terror-famine of 1932-33. (I now want to read his suppressed masterpiece Life and Fate, an epic account of World War II).
    • Ian McGuire, The North Water - oddly enough, I spotted the literary vocalist Neil Fallon (of the American rock band Clutch) reading this in a video tour of the band's bus, figured "why not check it out?" -- a delightful, gritty romp of mystery, murder and arctic survival in 1859. McGuire has a unique and visceral way with words. I'd like to read more of his novels in the new year.