By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Irrational Ambivalence, Irrational Decisiveness

The Wall Street Journal has an article this week on why people can't make decisions at this link. The article is not terribly enlightening at all, but the article did cause me to think more deeply about the matter.

It is not a simplistic issue of either being ambivalent or being decisive. The crucial point is about what things it is wise to be ambivalent and about what things it is wise to be decisive. For example, it has been common now for decades in the U.S. for the children of broken families and others to be highly ambivalent about marriage. Another recent media story noted that the number of unmarried young adults is at an historic high due to economic conditions, but more fundamentally due to a long-term trend favoring sexual cohabitation.

Many are highly ambivalent about marriage, regardless of economic conditions, because they are extremely cynical and pessimistic about love and commitment. Yet, when it comes to having sex, the ambivalence flies out of the window--on the issue of having sex outside of marriage, decisiveness comes through the bedroom door with both feet.

The same individual is ambivalent about some things but decisive about others. We are now and have been for years in a culture that is very ambivalent about marriage and quite decisive about having sex whenever with whoever happens to be conveniently at hand. The non-marital sexual aspect is so "decisive" in character that it is now beyond the realm of even being a conscious decision or issue--non-marital sex is simply the unconscious, unquestioned default mode like eating and breathing.

Now, is that the type of "decisiveness" that is of value? Not at this blog. Sex without permanent commitment cries out for ferocious ambivalence and hesitation. Just ask those who have endured single motherhood, abortions, and promiscuity (whether serial or simultaneous) with their profound life-long emotional, psychological, and even physical repercussions. Sex outside of marriage is a cliff at which it is better to come to a full stop and peer first over the edge with great concentration of mind.

On the other hand, marriage should be the default preference because of its obvious focus on commitment, teamwork, exclusiveness, intimacy, permanency, and security.  Yet, many remain ambivalent about these goods while decisively going right off the extramarital sexual cliff. (The issue is further complicated by the fact that the regnant, decisive embrace of non-marital sex actually makes people less marriageable, which in turn further bolsters ambivalence about marriage. There is a mutual, feedback relationship between the two social realities of marriage and non-marital sex.)

Again, it is not a superficial question of being either decisive or being ambivalent. It is rather a matter of choosing when to be decisive and when to be ambivalent. But in order to be able to pick the right approach of either being ambivalent or being decisive for a particular situation, it is not unhelpful to have a moral code and a fund of practical wisdom. Without such a moral code, without such wisdom, we get irrational ambivalence and irrational decisiveness, both of which lead nowhere.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Kindle Access: Read Free Sample Chapter on this Blog--Right Here, Now

Below is a free sample of the Kindle edition of the biography of Marcus Aurelius that I blogged about yesterday. You can now access free Kindle book samples (first chapter) through the web on your laptop or other computer without downloading any software (see this Amazon link for more information). You can click the small rectangular image at the top of the sample below to get a bigger screen. You can also click the "Aa" at the top of the sample to choose the font size you prefer.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Salvete, Roman Home Schoolers

Bust of Marcus Aurelius (reign 161–180 CE).Image via Wikipedia

What is looking, as I begin to read, to be a well-written new biography of the famous Roman Emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius has a great quote that rings true in many situations today:

Many oligarchic Roman families, the Annius clan [the clan of Marcus, which originated in Spain, as did two other Roman emperors, the "Spanish emperors" Hadrian and Trajan], insisted that their children be educated at home rather than at school, and it is worth asking why. In the first place it was thought that schools were likely to corrupt the morals of the young, partly because they would come into contact with rougher, more depraved elements, and partly because there was little effective discipline in the public schools, with teachers either being martinets or pussycats, but seldom striking the right balance, and their charges being idle, ill-behaved, conceited or self-willed.

Frank McLynn,  Marcus Aurelius (2009),
beginning at Kindle location 540.

Of course, there are many fine public schools today where these problems do not exist. Yet, of course, there are also many today where these problems do exist.

Greco-Roman societies have a strange way of reminding us of our own societies, although we do have to be careful with facile comparisons after a gulf of so many centuries, customs, and habits. But Roman society especially seems to remind me of many things in American culture. We are very Roman in many aspects, good and bad, often without realizing it. I hope we can improve on the Roman historical outcome.

Friday, September 24, 2010

From Greece With Love

English playwright, poet, and actor Ben Jonson...Image via Wikipedia
An old Greek textbook (see image below) gives an ancient Greek love poem as a translation exercise. Here, from another source, is the English translation popularized by Shakespeare's contemporary Ben Jonson, with commentary from the source link noted below:

To Celia 

A Romance Poem Rendered in English by Ben Jonson 
From a Love Letter by Philostratus of Athens or Philostratus of Lemnos 
Jonson Published the Poem in 1616

1....Drink to me only with thine eyes,
2....And I will pledge with mine;
3....Or leave a kiss within the cup,
4....And I'll not ask for wine
5....The thirst that from the soul doth rise,
6....Doth crave a drink divine;
7....But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
8....I would not change for thine
9....I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
10..Not so much honoring thee
11..As giving it a hope that there
12..It could not withered be;
13..But thou thereon didst only breathe
14..And sent'st back to me,
15..Since when it grows and smells, I swear,
16..Not of itself, but thee 

Notes and Comments  [by Source Link below]

Lines 1-8: The first stanza is a metaphor comparing love to an ethereal elixir. The poet uses the words drink, cup, wine, thirst, and nectar to enhance his trope. Jonson bends the connotation of sup in Line 7. Ordinarily, the word means to eat the evening meal—that is, to have solid food for supper.

Lines 7-8: These lines call to mind Odysseus (Roman name, Ulysses) and his wife, Penelope, in Homer's Odyssey. When the goddess Calypso offered Odysseus immortality if he would remain with her on her island, Odysseus refused the offer in order to return to his homeland to be with his wife. Nectar, as noted above under Figures of Speech and Allusions, conferred immortality on those who drank it. 

Lines 9-16: The second stanza centers on the hope that the love of Celia and the poet will thrive, like the wreath, which continues to grow and send forth fragrance. 

Source link (source different from the textbook image above).

The source commentary notes the hope that the love between man and woman "will thrive, like the wreath, which continues to grow and send forth fragrance."

You want to know the raison d'etre for the traditional Catholic and Christian teaching about chastity. There it is. That is what you are saving yourself for: to make that "which continues to grow and send forth fragrance" possible and probable.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Does Lack of Grammar Affect Life?

0905070001Image by Leftsider via Flickr
For more than one generation now, it is clear to me that there has been a disastrous decline in the teaching of fundamental English grammar in high schools. The result is that we have college students, even at selective universities, who are awkward in using basic terms such as "subject, predicate, direct object, appositive, predicate nominative, predicate adjective, prepositional phrase."

OK. Is this going to be another rant about declining standards in an educational system that reflects the loose, "anything goes" mentality that seeped into American culture circa 1968? Yes and no. Yes, something very bad happened to American and Western culture circa 1968--I call it nihilism, despair about finding any kind of binding, obligatory truth, especially moral truth, a despair resulting in lives of personal chaos to this day. But I wish to go further.

Has the inability or unwillingness to transmit fundamental skills in English grammar made us think incoherently about things other than grammar? Do individuals who are never taught and raised with the fundamental logical building blocks of the English sentence think less critically, less logically, and thus less effectively about the crucial decisions of life?

If a society has a cohesive, rational moral consensus, then taboos take care of many of the risks of making catastrophic, illogical mistakes in life. So someone who does not think logically or critically can simply conform to the customary consensus and avoid a lot of problems. For example, the now seemingly ancient taboo against sex outside of marriage would have saved many adults and kids from sad, chaotic lives and tragic consequences. The most dramatic damage from violating this former taboo is apparent in the inner cities, but serious damage is also present in the many suburbs full of despair and sexual chaos. If the also seemingly ancient taboo against substance abuse were alive, then it is unquestionably true that millions would be better off today and would have been better off in past decades.

Today, the taboos that would have compensated for a lack of logical thinking have evaporated, precisely at a time when, more than ever, logical thinking is needed to navigate a world of moral and philosophical chaos. The cushion or buffer of taboos is gone. In such a time, the signal failure of our educational system to transmit the basic logical categories of our language is extremely unfortunate. Lacking those basic categories results in many individuals who cannot calmly evaluate the flood of information, advice, promises, lifestyles, and ideologies, both religious and secular, widely disseminated in the age of the internet.

William James (1890) proposed a distinction be...                    Image via Wikipedia
As a result, the ideal hard, clear lines of rigorous thinking are replaced by an amiable, lazy fuzziness that trivializes lives and ideals. Not surprisingly, the moral flabbiness decried by philosopher William James decades ago fills the logical vacuum and is now more apparent than ever: "The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That - with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word 'success' - is our national disease" (source link; emphasis added).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Value of Shock

Puddleglum, as portrayed by Tom Baker in the B...Image via Wikipedia
Of course, none of us likes disappointment, pain, shock, or suffering. Yet, when we consider the matter more profoundly, we can discover a silver lining. In C. S. Lewis' The Silver Chair (Book 6 of the Narnia series), there is a comment by one of his oddest characters, Puddleglum, the Marsh-wiggle, after burning his foot while stamping out a fire burning in the fireplace. The fire had been emitting an enchanting smell which was enervating the "good guys" in the book. The enchanted smell was created by the Witch who threw a mysterious green powder into the fireplace. The effect was that the good guys could no longer think clearly and were gradually falling under the spell and control of the Witch's lies.


After Puddleglum bravely breaks the spell by stamping out the fire with his bare foot, the narrator observes:

[T]he pain itself made Puddleglum's head for moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.

The Silver Chair, Ch. 12, p. 190 in HarperTrophy 1994 paperback.

Think of times when you have been under some delusion about a significant other (sometimes even a spouse), a political party, a politician, an institution, an ideology, a religious leader, a religion, et cetera. Then, all of a sudden the spell is broken. You can think clearly; and you are no longer in the false, "enchanted" state. Shock, painful shock, is sometimes the right medicine needed to be free.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Stirring Up a Hornets' Nest and Inviting Reluctant Political Commentary

Christine O'Donnell SuportersImage by TaniaGail via Flickr
I intentionally avoid any political commentary on this blog in order not to give anyone a political excuse to ignore the joyful and life-giving faith proposed by Catholicism. But, recently, I have had to make one commentary about the ineptness and obtuseness of Obama and Bloombergy in handling the Ground Zero Mosque situation since the site of 9/11 is beyond mere politics. Now, I must also comment on the withering attacks on Delaware Republican candidate Christine O'Donnell. I saw her described in the media as totally unfit for office and scandal-plagued. So I looked for details--what exactly are her alleged misdeeds? Well, it seems that the major source of scandal has to do with her sexual views: she is against masturbation and sex outside of marriage!

Here is one nonpartisan commentator on the matter:

But then, there was the wackiness factor. O’Donnell believes in sexual abstinence for those not married (how wacky can you get?) and has denounced masturbation as a form of “lust.”

Source link.

It seems that especially offensive to many in the media is her denunciation of masturbation, although her denunciation is a tautology--of course, masturbation is a form of lust. What else could it be? Maybe, frenzied media reaction to this particular tautology tells us something about the private habits of some in the media that I have not previously suspected.

This candidate's view on sex outside of marriage and on masturbation is the standard and official Catholic view. It is also the view of  many non-Catholic Christians today and was the standard and official view of most, if not all, Christian groups, at least before the nineteen sixties. Yes, it is a "scandal" to the media; but not the type of scandal that even remotely disqualifies anyone from political office. It is a salutary "scandal" that exposes how corrupt and arrogant American culture has become in its practices and assumptions about right and wrong.

Do we Catholics and Christians follow these teachings? Of course, we do not follow them all of the time because of our own weaknesses, fears, emotional wounds, stupidities, and dysfunctional  personal circumstances. But personal failure and dysfunction is a completely different issue utterly separate and apart from the very different issue of what is the moral truth in the first place. Moral truths stand no matter how often we, who subscribe to them, fall short. Christine O'Donnell is speaking sanity on sexual matters to a corrupt culture. It is no surprise that the mouthpieces of that corrupt culture find that sanity "scandalous." That type of scandal is good for both the media and the public. May this type of scandal continue.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pope on Child Abuse

[Emphasis added by blogger] 

VATICAN CITY, 18 SEP 2010 (VIS) - In the archbishop of Westminster's palace this morning, before today's Eucharistic celebration in Westminster Cathedral, the Holy Father met with David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom, Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, and Harriet Harman, acting leader of the opposition.

  Westminster Cathedral is the main place of worship of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, seat of the archbishop of Westminster, an office currently held my Msgr. Vincent Nichols. John Paul II celebrated Mass in the cathedral in 1982 and Queen Elizabeth II - at the invitation of the then archbishop, Cardinal Basil Hume - participated in an ecumenical celebration there in 1995, marking the first time a British monarch had entered a Catholic church since the time of the Reformation.

  In his homily during the votive Mass for the Most Precious Blood of Christ, to which the cathedral is dedicated, the Holy Father remarked that "the visitor to this cathedral cannot fail to be struck by the great crucifix dominating the nave, which portrays Christ's body, crushed by suffering, overwhelmed by sorrow, the Innocent Victim whose death has reconciled us with the Father and given us a share in the very life of God".

  "The Eucharistic sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ embraces in turn the mystery of our Lord's continuing passion in the members of His Mystical Body, the Church in every age".

  Benedict XVI highlighted how "we see this aspect of the mystery of Christ's Precious Blood represented, most eloquently, by the martyrs of every age. ... It is also reflected in our brothers and sisters throughout the world who even now are suffering discrimination and persecution for their Christian faith. Yet it is also present, often hidden in the suffering of all those individual Christians who daily unite their sacrifices to those of the Lord for the sanctification of the Church and the redemption of the world. My thoughts go in a special way to all those who are spiritually united with this Eucharistic celebration, and in particular the sick, the elderly, the handicapped and those who suffer mentally and spiritually.

  "Here too", he added, "I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ's grace, His sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives. I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; and I invite you to offer it to the Lord with trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims, the purification of the Church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people. I express my gratitude for the efforts being made to address this problem responsibly, and I ask all of you to show your concern for the victims and solidarity with your priests".

  After then recalling how Vatican Council II had spoken "eloquently of the indispensable role of the laity in carrying forward the Church's mission", the Holy Father noted that "the Council's appeal to the lay faithful to take up their baptismal sharing in Christ's mission echoed the insights and teachings of John Henry Newman. May the profound ideas of this great Englishman continue to inspire all Christ's followers in this land to conform their every thought, word and action to Christ, and to work strenuously to defend those unchanging moral truths which, taken up, illuminated and confirmed by the Gospel, stand at the foundation of a truly humane, just and free society".

  "How much contemporary society needs this witness!", the Pope exclaimed. "How much we need, in the Church and in society, witnesses of the beauty of holiness, witnesses of the splendour of truth, witnesses of the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ! One of the greatest challenges facing us today is how to speak convincingly of the wisdom and liberating power of God's Word to a world which all too often sees the Gospel as a constriction of human freedom, instead of the truth which liberates our minds and enlightens our efforts to live wisely and well, both as individuals and as members of society.

  "Let us pray, then, that the Catholics of this land will become ever more conscious of their dignity as a priestly people, called to consecrate the world to God through lives of faith and holiness. And may this increase of apostolic zeal be accompanied by an outpouring of prayer for vocations to the ordained priesthood. ... May many young men in this land find the strength to answer the Master's call to the ministerial priesthood, devoting their lives, their energy and their talents to God, thus building up His people in unity and fidelity to the Gospel, especially through the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice".

  At the end of Mass, the Pope went out to greet young people gathered in front of the cathedral. Recalling the theme of his trip to the United Kingdom (Heart speaks unto heart - cor ad cor loquitur) he reminded them that "we were made to give love, to make it the inspiration for all we do and the most enduring thing in our lives. At times this seems so natural, especially when we feel the exhilaration of love, when our hearts brim over with generosity, idealism, the desire to help others, to build a better world. But at other times we realise that it is difficult to love; our hearts can easily be hardened by selfishness, envy and pride".

Green silence / Silencio verde"Green Silence" by victor_nuno 
  "Every day we have to choose to love", Benedict XVI insisted, "and this requires help, the help that comes from Christ, from prayer and from the wisdom found in His Word, and from the grace which He bestows on us in the Sacraments of His Church. This is the message I want to share with you today. I ask you to look into your hearts each day to find the source of all true love. Jesus ... is calling you to spend time with Him in prayer. But this kind of prayer, real prayer, requires discipline; it requires making time for moments of silence every day, ... because it is in silence that we find God, and in silence that we discover our true self. And in discovering our true self, we discover the particular vocation which God has given us for the building up of His Church and the redemption of our world".

  The Pope then unveiled and blessed a mosaic of St. David, patron of Wales, and lit a candle before an image of Our Lady of Cardigan who is venerated at a shrine in that country.

  Before returning to the apostolic nunciature, the Holy Father again met briefly with the archbishop of Canterbury, who was present at the Eucharistic celebration.

Blogger comment:
There is so much noise in our daily lives that, as the Pope recommends, we need to create islands of silent meditation and receptivity so that what is not conformed to our daily routines, our assumptions, and our previous and likely inadequate plans of action can emerge. In that island of silence, we can glimpse what is beyond our limited horizons and begin to enact real change in our lives so that we do not miss the real purpose of our lives and no longer confuse that real purpose with the purposes and agenda of others for our lives, or with purposes for our lives rooted in our fears or in unthinking, unreflective custom and routine.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pope's Westminster Address

The Clock Tower, Palace of Westminster, London...Image via Wikipedia
Recently, I was thinking about the domain of philosophy after speaking with a fellow student about his plans to study philosophy in graduate school in the analytic tradition that is dominant in the English-speaking world.

What philosophy do we as Catholics and Christians have to offer to the world today? Simply stated, I think that philosophy is a serious commitment to lucid and precise reason in exploration and celebration of the unchangeable goods of human nature: truth, fairness, justice, self-respect, honor, dignity, self-sacrificial love, mercy, love of beauty, temperance, and attraction to the holy. So I was particularly pleased to read the Pope's address to political leaders in the U.K. The emphasis below is mine. I think that the words emphasized below in effect define philosophy's most important task, as known since at least the days of Socrates: to set forth the content of the truly good life with lucid and careful reasoning.

Pope Benedict's address to Politicians, Diplomats, Academics and Business Leaders
17/09/2010 7:10 pm

Westminster Hall, City of Westminster, Friday, 17 September 2010

Mr Speaker,

Thank you for your words of welcome on behalf of this distinguished gathering. As I address you, I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall, a building of unique significance in the civil and political history of the people of these islands. Allow me also to express my esteem for the Parliament which has existed on this site for centuries and which has had such a profound influence on the development of participative government among the nations, especially in the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world at large. Your common law tradition serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world, and your particular vision of the respective rights and duties of the state and the individual, and of the separation of powers, remains an inspiration to many across the globe.

As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose “good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament’s particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today. And it finds expression in the fields of concern in which your Government has been engaged with the Holy See. In the area of peace, there have been exchanges regarding the elaboration of an international arms trade treaty; regarding human rights, the Holy See and the United Kingdom have welcomed the spread of democracy, especially in the last sixty-five years; in the field of development, there has been collaboration on debt relief, fair trade and financing for development, particularly through the International Finance Facility, the International Immunization Bond, and the Advanced Market Commitment. The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all.

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.

This overview of recent cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See illustrates well how much progress has been made, in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share. I hope and pray that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with this Parliament’s historic practice of invoking the Spirit’s guidance upon those who seek to improve the conditions of all mankind. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed. The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.

Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!

Source link.

(Photo credit: Google Images).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Classic Book Tip

For those who love the classics, I highly recommend this translation of selections from the Iliad and the Odyssey by Prof. Stanley Lombardo. A Greek professor recommended it to me as a very faithful and realistic translation. I have begun reading this particular edition, and I affirm his conclusion.

Of course, I cannot resist sharing some excerpts to whet your appetite:

Achilles had his say and sat down.
Then up rose
Calchas, son of Thestor, bird-reader supreme,
Who knew what is, what will be, and what has been.
He had guided the Greek ships to
Through the prophetic power Apollo
Had given him, and he spoke out now . . . .

Iliad, Bk. 1, circa ll. 75-80 and thereabout, trans. Stanley Lombardo.

The master strategist Odysseus,
born and bred
      In the rocky hills of Ithaca. He knows
      Every trick there is, and his mind runs deep.

Iliad, Bk. 3, circa l. 215.

Remember, this blog is "Catholic" and "catholic" and hence nothing of genuine human value is alien to it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another Great Catholic Woman Leader

Simone Martini, fresco detail depicting Saint ...Image via Wikipedia


VATICAN CITY, 15 SEP 2010 (VIS) - Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis during this morning's general audience to St. Clare of Assisi (1193-1253), a contemporary of St. Francis and one of the most beloved saints of the Catholic Church. "Her witness", the Pope said, "shows us how much the Church is indebted to courageous women rich in faith who, like her, were capable of giving a decisive impulse to ecclesial renewal".

  Clare, the Holy Father explained, was born to a rich and noble family. While she was still very young, her relatives decided to arrange an important marriage for her, but at the age of eighteen the saint, in a bold gesture inspired by a profound desire to follow Christ, abandoned her family home in the company of a friend. She joined the Friars Minor at the church of Porziuncola and Francis himself welcomed her in a simple ceremony, cutting her hair and investing her with the penitential habit. From that moment Clare became a poor and humble bride of Christ, and dedicated herself entirely to Him.

  "Clare found in Francis of Assisi, especially at the beginning of her religious experience, not only a master whose teachings to follow but also a fraternal friend. The friendship between these two saints is a beautiful and important element, for when two pure souls enflamed with the same love for God meet, from their mutual friendship they draw a powerful stimulus to follow the path of perfection. Friendship is one of the most noble and exalted human sentiments, which divine Grace purifies and transfigures".

  The Flemish bishop and chronicler Jacques de Vitry, who visited Italy during that period, speaks of Clare and her followers in the early days of the Franciscan movement and notes her sensibility towards "a characteristic trait of Franciscan spirituality: ... radical poverty associated with complete trust in Divine Providence".

  For this reason the saint received "from Pope Gregory IX, or perhaps earlier, from Innocent III", the so-called "Privilegium Paupertatis" according to which Clare and her followers "could possess no material property. This", the Pope explained, "was a truly extraordinary exception to then current Canon Law, granted by the ecclesiastical authorities of the time in appreciation of the fruits of evangelical sanctity they saw in the lifestyle of Clare and her consoeurs.

  "This shows", he added, "how even during the Middle Ages women played an important not a secondary role. In this context it must be remembered that Clare was the first woman in Church history to produce a written Rule, approved by the Pope, so that the charism of Francis of Assisi could be conserved in all the many female communities which were coming into being at that time, and which sought to draw inspiration from the example of Francis and Clare.

  "In her convent of San Damiano, Clare heroically practised the virtues that should characterise all Christians: humility, a spirit of piety and penance, and charity".

  Her fame of sanctity and the prodigies that came about thanks to her intervention led Pope Alexander IV to canonise her in 1255, just two years after her death. Her followers, the Poor Clares, still "play a vital role in the Church with their prayer and their works", Pope Benedict concluded.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Evolutionary Biologist Punts--Wildly

Adaptation and Natural SelectionImage via Wikipedia
Here is the quote:

"I account for morality as an accidental capability produced, in its boundless stupidity, by a biological process that is normally opposed to the expression of such a capability," Dr. Williams wrote starkly in 1988.

Source link.

The quote is from a N.Y. Times obituary on Dr. George C. Williams, an evolutionary biologist, affiliated with Stony Brook University, New York.

His quote begins with the assertion "I account . . . ." But you do not account. Is it really "accounting"-- for something so socially, historically, culturally, psychologically, and perennially significant as human notions of morality-- to assert that morality is "an accidental capability produced, in it boundless stupidity" by an inherently hostile biological process?

Dr. Williams did not account for morality at all but merely, at best, stated the question: whence something that cannot be adequately explained by biological or evolutionary processes alone?

Remember that many non-theists criticize religious traditions precisely because they are alleged to have failed to explain, for example, the reality of suffering and evil. Well, the Christian religious tradition explains much suffering and evil as due to human hubris in rebellion against the Creator's plan for human thriving (many non-Christian perspectives offer similar explanations).  That is more of an accounting than what Dr. Williams proposed. The non-theists should at least seek to remove the beam in their own non-explanations before criticizing others for an alleged lack of answers and before peremptorily dismissing questions that they just can't answer.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Narrow Anger

The main building of the National Library of G...Image via Wikipedia
Ultimately, the attraction of history for many of us is the study of human nature and the kindling of reflection about our own situation in history. Here is some food for thought. The author is speaking about the decline of classical Athens as reflected in the works of the comic playwright Menander:

On an Egyptian tomb when the first dynasty was falling into ruins someone inscribed the words, "And no one is angry enough to speak out."  None of Menander's stage people and none of his audience ever felt that kind of anger, white-hot at corruption and injustice. Only what touched them personally made them angry. A sudden breaking out of the spirit of Marathon is inconceivable in them. Ahead of them in history lay the Roman conquest and they were predestined to be its victims. As far as we can tell, Athens retired contentedly to the position of a university town. Her light of genius flickered up waveringly a few times and then died forever.

Edith Hamilton, The Echo of Greece, Ch. VII, p. 154 (Norton, 1957) (emphasis added).

"Only what touched them personally made them angry."  It used to be that "personally" included one's family. In some cases, the range of concern does not even go that far--I have seen parents indifferent to the corruption of their offspring and older siblings indifferent to the corruption of  younger siblings. This narrow range of concern reflects a dysfunctional individualism marked by preoccupation with one's selfish needs. Seriously damaged people do not have a wide range of concern for others.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Another Muslim Against the Ground Zero Mosque

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...Image via Wikipedia
Below is an excerpt from CBS News (not Fox News):

Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, in Phoenix, a former Muslim U.S. Navy Commander, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Friday sharply critical of the planned Islamic center, urging organizer Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Muslims all over the world to show compassion and understand the American separation of church and state. 
Jasser says the Islamic Center as conceived is more about making a political statement that will seriously divide communities than about bringing them together. 
He wrote, "We Muslims should first separate mosque and state before lecturing Americans about church and state." He continues, "American freedom of religion is a right, but … it is not right to make one's religion a global political statement with a towering Islamic edifice that casts a shadow over the memorials of Ground Zero. … Islamists in 'moderate' disguise are still Islamists. In their own more subtle ways, the WTC mosque organizers end up serving the same aims (as) separatist and supremacist wings of political Islam." 

Source link (emphasis added).

President Obama has taken the lead in absurdly mishandling the controversy over the Ground Zero Mosque by failing to make clear that this particular location is not a wise choice. Mayor Bloomberg of New York City has also failed miserably by oversimplifying the issue and refusing to see that the issue is not religious freedom at all but rather respect and humane sensitivity concerning the site of a massacre.  Because of the Obama and Bloomberg ineptness, the developers of the mosque see no reason to back down from the project. With the N.Y. Times taking the lead, the liberal media has also failed miserably by implying or explicitly saying that any common sense opposition to this mosque is somehow bigoted or xenophobic or against religious freedom. Those personal attacks are all straw men that betray great obtuseness and ideological rigidity in the media.

What do you get when inept political leaders plus reflexively liberal media encourage the dishonorable and disrespectful stubbornness of the Ground Zero mosque developers?  A controversy that will not end any time soon. This controversy may become another "Roe v. Wade" in which liberal elites seek to impose their rigid view of what is appropriate on a nation that refuses to conform to what the elites prescribe. We have now had the abortion wars for decades because of that liberal self-righteousness. We may now have for decades the Ground Zero mosque controversy if that project goes forward.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Crucifixion: Standard Method of Execution for Roman Slaves

We Catholics see crucifixes so often that we can easily stop being shocked by this gruesome and humiliating method of execution. Here is an excerpt from a book that I am reading which reminds us that crucifixion was the preferred way for Romans to execute slaves, the lowest of the low in Roman society:

The cross--the slave's penalty, they called it in Rome--is often on the master's lips. Sometimes, but only once or twice, there is a hint as to the slave's side. In Plautus' Braggart Captain a master is denouncing his slave, who in this case is innocent. As the list of tortures in wait for him is unrolled he turns on the speaker:
Don't go on threatening. Well I know the cross will be my end, /My place of burial. There is where my ancestors all rest, /My father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather, too./ My great-great grandfather. D'you think just words mean much to us?

Edith Hamilton, The Roman Way, Ch. II, p. 42 (Norton, 1993).

A Crucifix, considered in Christian tradition ...                                 Image via Wikipedia

This passage is good background for reading what Paul wrote:

5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,a 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,b being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV) (emphasis added).

The Greek word for "servant" in verse 7 can also be translated "bondservant" or "slave."

There are three points I wish to raise:

1. We Catholics need to appreciate the significance of the crucifix and try to put our minds and hearts back in the era when this was the preferred and common method of executing slaves.

2. I think our Protestant brothers and sisters should learn to appreciate more the value of a crucifix as a complement to the plain cross in order to remind all of the profound significance of the humiliating and gruesome type of death suffered by Jesus.

3. I also think that our Protestant friends should note the powerful and eye-opening witness of the crucifix to those of other religious traditions. For example, Islam rejects the reality of the crucifixion as unworthy of a prophet of God and finds the idea that the deity would submit to such treatment unthinkable and absurd.

In my view, these are three important reasons to see the crucifix proliferate. The crucifix is an icon of the Gospel message.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Power: Give It To Those Who Do Not Want It

In classicist Edith Hamilton's The Greek Way, we read:

Plato's rulers  . . .  were to be given absolute power only upon the condition that they did not want it, a curious parallel to the attitude prescribed by the early Church. A man appointed to the episcopacy was required to say--perhaps still must say, forms live so long after the spirit of them is dead--"I do not want to be a bishop. Nolo episcopari." To the Fathers of the Church as to Plato, no one who desired power was fit to wield it.

Hamilton, Ch. V, p. 68 (Norton, 1993).

Later, in the same book, she quotes from a play (Plutus) by Aristophanes, where a slave named Carion quizzes a politician:

Carion: How do you make a living?
Politician: Well, there's several answers to that. I'm Supervisor General of all things here, public and private too.
Carion: A great profession that. What did you do to qualify for it?
Politician: I WANTED it.

Quoted in Hamilton, p. 115.

The Old Testament gives the same warning: those who want power are unfit for it (see this previous post on Judges 9:8-15).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Special to UK Readers: Papal Visit to Britain Sept. 16th to 19th

United_Kingdom_FlagImage via Wikipedia

Here is the website link with many resources. The resources include basic information on the Catholic faith and how to learn more about Catholicism, including how to become a Catholic and how to resume practicing the Catholic faith (scroll to very bottom of page). 

In addition, here is the itinerary from the Vatican website.

The N.Y. Times Round Up: Humility

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...Image via CrunchBase
If the key to the Socratic method is provoking serious reflection by asking insightful questions, sometimes I think the key to the N.Y. Times "method" is to provoke serious reflection by presenting obtuse perspectives with a straight face without noting the great ironies involved. Here we go.

1. A front page story on the economy has this statement by a Democratic housing expert with ties to the current administration:

"The administration made a bet that a rising economy would solve the housing problem and now they are out of chips . . . . They are deeply worried and don't really know what to do."

Source link (emphasis added).

Yes, the best and the brightest (a phrase made popular to describe the eggheads who got us into a quagmire in Vietnam and kept us there even when they already knew that their tactics would not work), all the Ivy League economic experts associated with the administration, simply don't know what to do. Back in the thirties during the first Great Depression, many, who later became famous economists, decided to study economics in search of solutions. Maybe, we need another wave of new students of economics to rejuvenate a field that has discredited itself again. The wider moral and philosophical lesson is one that all academics and assorted experts should relearn daily: the man from Nazareth was right--humility, humility, humility.

2. Another front page article has Muslims in the U.S. wringing their hands over all the alleged hostility unleashed by the debate over the Ground Zero mosque (I use "Ground Zero" because I firmly believe that the only reason this particular location was so sought after by the developer in the first place was precisely because it would be a Ground Zero mosque--why else continue to resist the obvious solution of choosing a new location as an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers desires?).  Here is the quote that ends the article:

Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, said many American Muslims were still hoping to salvage the spirit of Ramadan.
“In Ramadan, you’re really not supposed to be focused on yourself,” she said. “It’s about looking out for the suffering of other people. Somehow it feels bad to be so worried about our own situation and our own security, when it should be about empathy towards others.”

Source link (emphasis added).

Well, empathy usually begets empathy: why propose putting a mosque in the first place so close to a very sensitive spot that will cause suffering to others? Is that proposal empathetic towards others? Having a legal right to do something is not enough--it is only the first step in a common sense analysis. The second, essential step is asking whether one should exercise this legal right in these particular circumstances. Empathy will give you the right answer. Again, humility, humility, humility.