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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Evangelical Giant John Stott Has Died

Rev. John Stott (1921-2011)
John Stott died on Wednesday, July 27th. Here is the link to an obituary at Christianity Today. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who often writes nonsense in his futile effort to reconcile moral relativism with serious moral and social concern, this time "hits it on the nail" in this Sunday column at this link.

My personal, recent memory of him--although I never met him--is this: I gave one of his books to a Muslim friend of mine whom I met at a Starbucks. The book is pictured at left. I could think of no better book, outside of the Gospels, to give as an introduction to Jesus to someone from a completely different tradition. Starbucks has its uses; John Stott still has and will have his uses as long as we have his writings.

Here is the N.Y. Times obituary link.
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Friday, July 29, 2011

Saudi Fatwa Sets An Islamic Standard for Marital Sex

Minarets at Dawn - Medina, Saudi Arabia Shabbir Siraj via Flickr
The fatwa permits child marriages, even if the girl is an infant. Believe it or not, here are some of the details, as reported in today's Wall Street Journal:

"Scholars have agreed that is was permissible for fathers to marry off their young daughters, even if they are in the cradle," Sheik Fawzan wrote in his fatwa. "But it isn't permissible for their husbands to have sex with them unless they are capable of being placed beneath and bearing the weight of the men."

Source link, "Influential Saudi Cleric Backs Child Marriages," The Wall Street Journal, Friday, July 29, 2011, p. A9 (emphasis added; the citation is to the print edition; the online article at the source link reports the same quote but has additional details worth reading).

With "mercy" like that, who needs the merciless. For the record, this type of thinking is both evil and primitive.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Augustine & Intimacy

Philosopher Julián Marías
Philosopher Julián Marías writes the following in his History of Philosophy:

St. Augustine's [354-430 A.D.] thought contains something characteristic not only of Christianity but also of the modern epoch: intimacy. We have seen how he bases his philosophy on the inner man. He asks man to enter the interior of his own soul in order to find himself, and with himself, God. This is the great lesson which St. Anselm [1033-1109 A.D.] will learn first, and through him all Western mysticism. . . . The Confessions represents man's first attempt to approach himself. Until the advent of idealism--that is, until the seventeenth century--no one will achieve anything comparable. And when modern man, guided by Descartes, returns to himself and remains alone with his ego, St. Augustine will again acquire profound influence.

Marías, History of Philosophy (Dover Publications, 1967), p. 121 (emphasis added).

I am now plowing through the above book and highly recommend it.  Interestingly, the well-known historian Garry Wills seems to say the exact opposite about Augustine:

It is hard to imagine how Dreyfus and Kelly [authors of a book reviewed by Wills] could get sillier about Augustine, but they meet the challenge. They say that he invented the inner life of the mind. “Augustine had to get people to realize that they had an inner life.” . . . . Apart from the inner life of Homer’s heroes, how can professional philosophers think that Plato and his followers (down through Plotinus) needed to wait for Augustine to reveal the reality of inner moral choice?

Garry Wills, source link.

(I deleted the part of the above excerpt from Wills in which Wills claims, in my opinion, too much certainty about the reading habits of the ancients because I have already discussed that narrow issue in another post.)

Well, the mocked Dreyfus and Kelly are apparently joined by Marías in celebrating Augustine's turn to the inner life. Wills claims that "the reality of inner moral choice" was already a matter of discussion by Plato and his followers. But, Marías is not speaking of the mere, bare concept of "inner moral choice." 

What Marías is getting at is that in the Confessions we have an intense, dramatic preoccupation with an individual man's inner life, memories, formative influences, successes, and failures. In the Confessions, Augustine creates an autobiographical classic of self-discovery and self-examination in a way not found in Plato himself, whose dialogues do not focus directly and explicitly on the personal crises and transitions of Plato's personal life. (As to Plotinus, whom Wills mentions, I cannot opine because of my lack of familiarity with the scope of all the writings of Plotinus.) 

Yet, even if, for the sake of argument, we concede that some of the ancients before Augustine also penned "confessions" revealing their personal intellectual and spiritual crises and development, the dramatic, masterfully eloquent way in which Augustine accomplished his "confessions" still stands out as a turning point in Western thought. You do not have to be first in order to mark a turning point. To mark a turning point in thought, you have to be the one who is most memorable in articulating the turning point. 

We see this reality in other areas of thought. For example, before Adam Smith, other writers analyzed the market (see, for example, Bernard Mandeville and Richard Cantillon).  But, in his classic The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith "hit it out of the park," so to speak, so that, today, we see his work as a major turning point in economic thought. Likewise, Augustine's Confessions is seen by many as the most memorable articulation in the ancient world of human self-consciousness as it meditates on very particular and specific autobiographical circumstances. (The closest ancient competitor to the Confessions of Augustine, in my view, are The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, another favorite of mine and of many others.) No one is claiming that Augustine first raised the issue of inner moral choice. That is a straw man target not worth attacking.

Again, I highly recommend Marías' History of Philosophy (which is listed in the Logos Book Store link under the "Ortega y Gasset" category). The book can help us discern truth from the trite exaggeration sometimes found in book reviews.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The "Learned Ignoramus"

Phi Beta Kappa KeyImage via WikipediaIt is a phrase that I take from the philosopher Ortega y Gasset. In this excerpt by Antón Donoso of the University of Detroit, we see the context for this provocative phrase:

The specialist was a new creation in history. Previously, people could be simply divided intellectually into one of two categories: the learned and the ignorant, with everyone more or less in one category or the other. He [the specialist] is neither learned in the former sense of seeing the part in its contextual whole, of understanding the superficial through the fundamental, nor ignorant in the former sense, since he knows quite well his own tiny portion of reality. In Ortega's words: "We shall have to say that he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with all the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line." 

Donoso, "The University Graduate as Learned Ignoramus According to Ortega," in Ortega y Gasset Centennial, University of New Mexico (Madrid: José Porrúa Turanzas, 1983), p. 10.

Ortega is aiming at the specialist, whether in the natural sciences or the humanities, who in spite of all his or her credentialed learning remains an ignoramus. The mark of the ignoramus is the proliferation of opinions, often expressed with emphatic certainty, which are not based on study or research or personal experience. You can find the typical, bare ignoramus at the local bar, pontificating on all the ills of the world with a massive self-assurance that contrasts with his usually miserable personal lifestyle. The  variety known as the learned ignoramus is then the one who does the same thing but in his medical office or his courtroom or his faculty lounge or his laboratory. The specialist, inflated by his own narrow accomplishments, decides to snap his fingers and judge areas of knowledge about which he lacks the faintest understanding or even the honest desire to understand. The usual mode of reasoning of the learned ignoramus is this: if I do not understand it, then it must be nonsense or madness or contrary to common sense. What is missing is any realization that he may not be able to understand something or he may not wish to understand something that undermines his comfortable, personally convenient worldview.

In my own experience, I have seen some holders of Phi Beta Kappa keys and of the equivalent law school honor (known as the Order of the Coif)** to be abject intellectual mediocrities with a weak grasp even of their own chosen specialties. I believe that, in our age of mass education, my personal observations are not unique. Of course, the challenge is not to engage in elitist disparagement of wide educational opportunity but to expose university and post-university graduates to the limits of their own specializations. The truth that many of us learn with age is to take credentials with a grain of salt. Credentials, honors, and specialization alone do not make one learned. They never have. They never will. When you meet the truly learned person, you will know it even without previewing a curriculum vitae or resumé. Or seeing the diplomas on the wall.


**Certainly, this observation does not apply to all holders of such honors.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Stats for World Youth Day


VATICAN CITY, 29 OCT 2010 (VIS) - For the occasion of Benedict XVI's apostolic trip to the Spanish capital Madrid to preside at twenty-sixth World Youth Day, statistics have been published concerning the Catholic Church in that country. The information, updated to 31 December 2010, comes from the Central Statistical Office of the Church. The Pope's journey is due to take place from 18 to 21 August.

  Spain has a surface area of 505,992 square kilometres and a population of 46,073,000 of whom 42,470,000 (92.2 percent) are Catholic. There are 70 ecclesiastical circumscriptions and 22,890 parishes. Currently there are 126 bishops, 24,778 priests, 54,184 religious, 2,826 lay members of secular institutes and 99,581 catechists. Minor seminarians number 1,258 and major seminarians 1,866.

  A total of 1,461,899 students attend 5,535 centres of Catholic education, from kindergartens to universities. Other institutions belonging to the Church or run by priests or religious in Spain include 77 hospitals, 54 clinics, 1 leper colony, 803 homes for the elderly or disabled, 391 orphanages and nurseries, 293 family counselling centres and other pro-life centres, 3,323 centres for education and social rehabilitation, and 632 institutions of other kinds.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Freud Misguided

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...    Image via WikipediaLike many of you, my reaction to Freudianism has been profoundly skeptical over the years. Yesterday, as I listened to a classicist lecture on the famous Oedipus Rex play of Sophocles, this long-term skepticism was further strengthened. The lecturer made clear that, in her view and that of others, Freud mightily misread the Sophoclean play in his attempt to find an "Oedipus Complex" relating to "infant sexuality" (I put the latter phrase in quotes because I am not persuaded of the existence of an alleged infant sexuality).

Now, this morning, I read this excerpt from a book review in the N.Y. Times:
Recent scholarship, he [the author, Howard Markel of the University of Michigan] writes, has offered “nuanced contemplations on the connection of Sigmund’s cocaine abuse to his signature ideas about accessing unconscious thoughts with talk therapy; the division of how our mind processes pleasure and reality; the interpretation of dreams; the nature of our thoughts and sexual development; the Oedipus complex; and the elaboration of the id, ego and superego.”
He quotes the historian Peter Swales thus: “Freud’s [concept of the] libido is merely a mask and a symbol for cocaine; the drug, or rather its invisible ghost, haunts the whole of Freud’s writing to the very end.”
Let us continue to be profoundly skeptical of Freudianism.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Look UP!

"Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me."

Look up at a starry, summer night sky as you listen to this music.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is Love Desire?

Ortega y Gasset en un fotografía tomada por la...Image via Wikipedia
José Ortega y Gasset
The philosopher José Ortega y Gasset wrote a book called Estudios sobre el amor (literally "Studies on Love"). Below is an excerpt distinguishing between desire and love:

Desire has a passive character; 
when I desire something, what I  
actually desire is that the object come to me. 
Being the center of gravity, I await things  
to fall down before me. Love, 
as we shall see, is the exact reverse of desire, for love 
is all activity. Instead of the object coming to me, it is 
I who go to the object and become part of it. In the 
act of love, the person goes out of himself. Love is 
perhaps the supreme activity which nature affords 
anyone for going out of himself toward something 
else. It does not gravitate toward me, but I toward 

St. Augustine, one of those who have thought 
about love most profoundly and who possessed per- 
haps one of the most gigantic erotic temperaments 
that ever existed, succeeds sometimes in freeing him- 
self from the interpretation which makes of love a 
desire or appetite. Thus, he says with lyric expansive- 
ness: Amor meus, pondus meum: illo feror, quocumque 
feror. "My love is my weight; where it goes I  
go." Love is a gravitation toward that which is loved.

Source link On Love: Aspects of a Single Theme by José Ortega y Gasset. Translated by Toby Talbot. New York: Meridian Books, 1957) [bold emphasis added].

Thus, love is a risky venture. It is not a matter of having something fall into your lap, so to speak. Love is a matter of going out of oneself.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Reviewers: Please Remember to Submit Your Email Address

I have had at least one person request free review copies of my Kindle books. That person should submit his email address as a comment to the blog so I can forward the requested Kindle books. I will not publish your email address, but I can't forward the books without an email address.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Free Kindle Review Copies Available

Anyone wishing a free review copy of any of my Kindle ebooks, please use the comment box feature at the bottom of any blog post to request a free review copy of a specific Kindle ebook authored by me. For a list of my Kindle ebooks, go to this Amazon author page.
Please submit your email address in the comment box so that the ebook can be sent to you. Your email address will be kept private.
A free review copy is for those who in good faith intend to submit a customer review at the product page for that particular Kindle ebook. I reserve the right to limit the number of free review copies sent to people.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Can Evolution Alone Account for All This Beauty?

Image Via Wikipedia
Let me be clear that, like the late Pope John Paul II, I certainly have no problem with the biological theory of evolution. (It seems to me that those with obsessive difficulties with evolution tend to be biblical fundamentalists, not Catholics.) But, like many others, I do not find persuasive or plausible the view that evolutionary theory explains in toto what we see in nature. What do we see in nature? What do we really see? I do not mean a cursory glance, but a real seeing, as recommended to us by the philosopher Ortega y Gasset. He described philosophy, in a manner fully consonant with its heritage, as the science of love, of gazing at things in love, a love that sees what is there without prioritizing manipulation or premature judgment.

I did not want to entitle this post "Meditation on a Chipmunk," but here is the meditation on a chipmunk! A man sits on a lakeshore beach in a state park on a pristine, appropriately hot summer day. He happens to have sat near the home of two chipmunks (or, at least, what looked to him like chipmunks). In contrast to his usual experience, these "chipmunks" do not immediately scurry away, but delightfully and calmly linger staring at the man. The man finally gets to really see a "chipmunk." (Whether the animal was technically a chipmunk or not is immaterial to this meditation. Update (9/21/11): What I saw on the lakeshore was not a chipmunk but rather a striped ground squirrel. Sure looks more like a chipmunk. See link. I have now substituted the correct photo in this blog post.)

What struck the man is the symmetrical decoration of the humble chipmunk's furry coat: parallel lines with spots nicely placed in between, also in parallel deployment. What am I seeing? The symmetric design is in fact beautiful and striking. The design also seems utterly superfluous to the needs of the chipmunk. When we humans design camouflage, we try to mimic the helter-skelter mosaic of leaves in brush. We do not draw symmetric lines on camouflage military fatigues, lines more akin to the borders of some ancient Greek vase. Does the symmetric design facilitate mating among chipmunks? Well, then you have opened up another amazing vista: both humans and chipmunks find the same design to be beautiful and striking and worthy of notice.

The tiny chipmunk in fact has a beautiful, little fur coat. Why? For the man on the lakeshore (in other words, me), the exigencies of survival do not offer a sufficiently satisfying explanation for this "superfluous" decoration. Beauty is there and everywhere for those who want to see. Evolutionary theory alone is not a convincing explanation for all of this beauty, although I happily and ungrudgingly acknowledge its explanatory power for many other things.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"The Shakespeare Paradox"

ShakespeareImage by Jeroen Krah via Flickr
Dutch production of Shakespeare
In getting ready for a summer workshop in Latin poetry, I found this interesting excerpt in an introduction to an old translation of the Odes of the Roman lyric poet Horace:

The Odes of Horace offer us an especially lucid illustration of what may be called, in regard to translation, "the Shakespeare paradox." This is the paradox that a literary masterpiece that seems to enshrine the peculiar genius of a given language nonetheless succeeds in conveying its numinous power when translated into another language. Anyone who has had the curious experience of discussing the English bard's plays with, for instance, those who know them best in German translation cannot but be surprised by the strong claims of parity with the original on the part of enthusiasts of "unser Shakespeare" ("our Shakespeare"). In the case of short, exquisitely modeled lyric monuments such as Horace's Odes, the apparent paradox is even more pronounced. All our cherished assumptions about the inseparability of sound/sense, or form/content, in poetry are strenuously challenged when we confront the universal appeal of these finely honed poems to readers across diverse cultures and languages.

Gregson Davis, "Introduction" to Odes by Horace, trans. James Michie (N.Y.: The Modern Library, circa 1923), Kindle location 167 (bold added).

We often hear about the imperfections of translation. For example, one of my Greek professors used to say that the original is like color TV, while its translation is just settling for a black and white picture. If you are bilingual, you can easily see what that remark is getting at with its jibe at the difficulty of translation.

Yet, we know that translations do succeed. The over 400-year-old King James Bible (or "Authorized Version" for U.K. readers) is reputed to capture the grammatical structure of the original Hebrew very well, while its felicitous English style has in fact enraptured the minds, hearts, and souls of generations and, in fact, had a strong "Hebraizing" effect on the development of the English language. The translation known as the KJV worked. So, apparently, have some German translations of Shakespeare, as observed in the above excerpt.

What do I conclude? Yes, translation is challenging work. There are good and bad ones. Yet, when done well by those with the required knowledge, with a sense of style in the language of the targeted audience, and with an emotional and intellectual empathy with the text, translation works magnificently so that we get more than just a "black and white" version of a color TV picture. We can also get a "color TV" picture through translation, maybe with different hues and tones as required by the structure and style of another language.

So, if translations can and do work, what are the questions raised?

1. Does this reality not confirm our common human nature? I think so.

2. What does the success of translation say to those traditions that canonize one language as superior over all others? I think of the Islamic preference for Arabic. I also think of the obsession of some in my own tradition with Latin, especially when it comes to the Western liturgy.

3. Isn't the success of translation implied in the Pentecost event of Acts 2, where we see the same message effectively communicated in the various native languages of each one in the Jerusalem crowd?

4. What does the success of translation say to linguistic nationalists who sometimes go to extremes in pushing the superiority of an ethnic language over what is perceived as a "colonial" imposition? It may be that what was once a historic "colonial" imposition has nevertheless become part of the soul of the native population without detriment to the expression of that population's rightful aspirations. I think of the extremism of some linguistic nationalists in some regions of Spain. You can likely think of other examples.

I think that we often underestimate and forget how much more we have in common as human beings than what divides us into different cultures and ethnicities. As I like to say, millions throughout the world, without a drop of Chinese blood in their veins, like Chinese food. There is a common human nature.
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Enslaved Island

Cathedrals are often at the centre of a town. ...Image via Wikipedia
As an American both of whose parents were born in Cuba, I take special interest in news reports about the ongoing tragedy 90 miles from Florida. That tragedy is unequivocal. A former classmate of mine recently returned from a cultural exchange visit to the island with a university musical group. What he found was a Havana collapsing on itself with severe and blatant poverty on display. Here is an excerpt from a recent news report about how the Catholic Church is serving as an outlet for free expression in this sadly imprisoned island, full of so much economic and cultural potential and full of so many exuberant individuals brimming with life:

Church dioceses around the world have publications and newsletters, of course, often engaging with the pressing topics of the day. But in Cuba, where the newsprint and airwaves are the sole dominion of the state, church-run magazines have become a critical forum for debates on the country’s earthly problems — its faltering economic model, or the deep political divisions between Miami and Havana.
The most important venue to emerge in recent years is the magazine and website Espacio Laical (Secular Space). Each issue typically contains several items of spiritual and other ecclesiastical interest, but most of its pages are increasingly devoted to economic, social and political topics.

Source link.

Blogger Yoani Sánchez
To find out what daily life in Cuba is like today, you can probably do no better than to visit the island's most famous blogger, a very courageous young woman named Yoani Sánchez. Here is a link to her blog in English. The blog is called "Generation Y" because of the custom of giving children of her generation first names starting with the letter "Y," apparently because of the Russian influence on the island at that time.

Here is a link to a N.Y. Times article on Sánchez that appeared in today's edition of the Times.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Is It a Virtue? In My View, Yes.

Pope John XXIII blesses the crowds after his c...Image via Wikipedia
I recently glanced at a college syllabus and read this under the category of "Course Outcomes":

"Develop a tolerance for opposing views, and for those who might criticize your views."

In my view, the ability described above is indeed a virtue--you could classify it as an application of the virtue of temperance (for example, just because someone dislikes something you like, you take it in stride; it is an eminently foreseeable part of life) and/or of justice (give everyone what is due to them--respect for someone's freedom to contradict you in matters of substance or taste is that person's right emanating from that person's human dignity). I would also view this ability to tolerate contradictions as an expression of the theological virtue of charity (respecting the other's views or tastes is certainly part of agape).

Now, does this virtue mean that you surrender your own views or stop arguing for them? Of course not. But this virtue does mean that you do not take opposing views or criticism as a personal affront or shock requiring hammer blows. The virtue of serene toleration thus calls for the virtue of fortitude: of refusing to given in to the fear of "losing," a fear which challenges all of us. For, in the end, discussion and debate are not matters of winning or losing, but rather of learning, even if learning requires, as it surely does, revising our views.

So why is it that so many, especially in matters of politics or religion, can't abide even the honest expression of opposing or contradictory views? It could be that the answer lies in the triggering of our own personal insecurities when a pillar of our own personal set of opinions is contradicted. To detach oneself from such insecurities is quite a pleasant thing--you are not only doing a favor to your "opponent" but also to yourself and to your own sanity. Moreove, you will gain and keep friends, maximize your influence, increase your ability to persuade, and also strengthen your ability to get others, in turn, to listen to you. These benefits seem to me to make the serenely tolerant approach very much an application of the virtue of prudence.

Specifically referring to matters of taste, the Romans (or someone else communicating in Latin) said "De gustibus non disputandum est" ("About tastes, it must not be argued"). A famous quote, often erroneously attributed to Augustine of Hippo, says the following: "In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas" ("In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, freedom; in all things, charity"). This saying was quoted by Blessed John XXIII in one of his encyclicals (Ad Petri Cathedram, Section III, 8th paragraph).

Think of how much this old wisdom is lacking in the utterly wasteful liturgical debates that consume the time of so many of my fellow Catholics--debates often encouraged by individuals who should know better. The same lack can surely be found in some of the debates in other religious traditions. And, of course, let's not even mention the area of politics.

Update: For a concrete example of the application of this virtue in the context of friendship, see the comments to the immediately, chronologically, preceding post "Our Primary American Reality" published on July 4, 2011.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Our Primary American Reality

Statue of Liberty in New York seen from its ba...Image via WikipediaSince the 1970's, there has been a trend in the U.S. of rediscovering and emphasizing one's ethnic roots, even to the point of dictating the very names that we give our children. There is something to be said in favor of that: as one of my favorite philosophers, Ortega y Gasset, wrote long ago, we engage the world through the prism and perspective of our very particular historical identities, traditions, and cultures.

Yet, it seems to me that it may be getting too easy to forget our very real, common American identity and, maybe, to overemphasize our ethnic identities--identities which at times seem to me to be more a matter of wishful thinking by polyglot, ethnically mixed Americans trying to concoct an ethnic identity which is, in reality, quite culturally distant and even, at times, somewhat implausibly maintained given the vast ethnic intermixture which has always been the American experience.

Here are some words of Theodore Roosevelt which came to mind to me on this July 4th. They can serve as a balance to our tendency to create our separate, quasi-fictional worlds, separate worlds that sometimes seem more imaginary in character than realistic and true to our actual circumstances. The excerpt below is from the Wikipedia article "Hyphenated Americans":

Former President Theodore Roosevelt in speaking to the largely Irish Catholic Knights of Columbus at Carnegie Hall on Columbus Day 1915, asserted that,[3]
There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all... The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic... There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.
Source link.

That's quite a forceful statement without much, if any, nuance. (TR was not one to go much for nuance, anyway, and certainly had his share of defects of character and blind spots.) But, maybe, this balancing view is a necessary corrective to consider as our own imaginations sometimes blind us to our primary and most realistic circumstance as privileged citizens of the United States: the fundamental reality of simply being American. That is an identity much envied throughout the nations and continents from which our ancestors came.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Study Questions to Go With New "5 Lessons from Augustine" Book

I have lately been publicizing my new, very inexpensive (0.99), and short book on Augustine. It is available on both the Nook at Barnesand and the Kindle at Although I own a Kindle, I find publishing on the Nook to have been much easier and faster in accepting minor corrections and revisions. I also very much like the cover and text as displayed on the free Nook for PC application. In my opinion, you will enjoy viewing the book on the free Nook for PC application.
But the point of this post is to submit some "study" or "reflection" questions to aid you in getting more from the book as you read it. I have included the Table of Contents from the book so that you can see how the questions match up to the chapters. Here are the "study" questions:

1. The Gospel calls us to be like children, but the Bible also calls us to maturity. How do you resolve this apparent tension? What should we keep from childhood, and what childishness should do we leave behind as we mature? (Chapter 1)

2. What vain pursuits do we engage in as a way to "mark time"  until we die? Why are we doing certain things or following certain paths in our lives? Is it because we are bored? Is it because we are searching for approval from others? Do these pursuits feed our ego or vanity, or do they feed our souls? Are these pursuits worth it? (Ch. 2)

3. Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Do you think this saying applies to all or just to a few? How can you flourish and mature if you do not examine your life, including its past? What does this bit of wisdom tell us about the dangers of denial and unquestioned assumptions, which are rampantly present in human nature? (Ch. 3)

4. What do you desire the most? If you desire anything above wisdom, will you end up getting that thing you put above wisdom? The Gospel says that he who loses his life will find it. A recent book spoke about the value of  "obliquity," of pursuing goals indirectly or obliquely. If we desire wisdom over all other things, will we then be in a position to get everything else? What Gospel saying comes to mind when you consider this issue? (See suggested answer at this link.) Think of people who have lost their souls as they pursue their desires. If they had put wisdom first, what would be different in their lives? (Ch. 4)

5. If we view life biblically as a series of liberations or exoduses from different forms of slavery or bondage, what have been your exoduses over the course of your life? What is the next exodus that you are called to dare to make? What or who can help you rise up from your current bondage and enter the promised land? (Ch. 5)