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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fanatic Illusion

Fanaticism creates an alluring illusion that draws others into the very same fanaticism. The illusion can be compared to an arms race--"Can you top this?"

Sometimes we see this "arms race" in devotional or pious circles: who can do more of certain pious acts? Who can be more elaborate in his ritualism? who can be stricter than the strict? Who can learn more sacred verses?

Of course, we also see it in the "avarice race": who can earn more money and accumulate more financial and physical assets?

In the "popularity race": who can get to the highest political position? Who can gain the most votes, regardless of principle? Who can get the highest ratings using every excess imaginable to draw in the most viewers, listeners, box office numbers, or unique visits?

In the "prestige race": who can get themselves or their kids in the most elite schools? who can live in the most elite neighborhood? who can score highest on the SAT?

There is also the "knowledge race": who can win as the know-it-all who can quiz and stump all others and glory in correcting them?

The illusion is that this type of fanaticism is tied to goals worth pursuing. We compete--all the while forgetting what we are after. Mindless competition does not get us any closer to the truth in religion or to personal happiness and fulfillment in the rest of life.

Many have often commented over the years on the arms race that put us on the edge of mutually assured destruction. The personal arms races we participate in are just as mutually destructive, wasteful, and useless.

Mature people learn to identify what is worth pursuing regardless of what anyone else is doing.

(Image of the Tower of Babel in public domain)

Very Biblical Scene

Luke 18:

16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (NRSV)

Minor Blogger note: Imagine if the child in the photo had been a little girl. I can hear some saying: "Oh, now he is paving the way for women priests or a woman pope!"

(Image under fair use doctrine for purpose of public comment)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Greatest Freedom

In my opinion, the greatest freedom is the one that is hardest to obtain: freedom from being evaluated by others.

My Protestant brethren like to approach it in this way: we are not justified by anyone other than by God. Notice that there is great freedom in affirming that we are justified only by God. By taking that position, many others lose out.

We are not justified:

By our grades;

By whether people like us;

By our income;

By our diplomas and academic titles;

By our mates;

By our race or ethnicity;

By how we or our schools rank.

We are justified by a gracious God who is love.

That is the ultimate liberation. So smile and laugh. You are free. And so now you can free others.

(Image under Creative Common License, Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Polish Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman on Dialogue

“I am personally very hopeful and anxious to see the future developments of this pontificate,” Bauman said. “I have been struck by the emphasis Bergoglio places on dialogue: a real dialogue, not just the kind you get by speaking to people who think more or less like you. It’s when you compare ideas with individuals who see things from a completely different point of view that dialogue becomes interesting; in this case, the different sides may very well be driven to change their personal opinions.”

Source Link

Blogger: It is indeed amazing how people are stunned when you politely tell them that you disagree with them. It is as if the experience is completely novel to them. I sometimes have to ask them: "Is it OK if I disagree with that?" And sometimes the reaction is an arrogant reluctance to recognize my obvious right to disagree, a right that is not going away, although I might go away and find someone more magnanimous with whom to speak.

(Image of Dialogue of Plato, Creative Commons License:
Phaidros_Philebos_anagoria.JPG )

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Epidemic of Pretence

What does the word really mean? My shorter Oxford English Dictionary tells me it may be from the Latin word "to pretend" and refers to someone pretending to merit or special worth, especially in a false sense. Yet, the pretending can just be ostentatious or affected, even regarding a technically true trait.

Think of where one sees it in oneself and in others--and by others, I do not just mean individual persons but also groups of persons and institutions.

The pretentious, for example, like to bring out the family tree--some famous ancestor or other or just the fact of having a detailed family tree. The pretentious also like elite connections in their zip code or on their diplomas. And don't forget the unnecessary use of job titles: congressperson, judge, doctor, professor, reverend.

It is amazing how much and how often people push pretension in our faces. Of course, there is collective pretension: my country or ethnic group or school is just so special--it may just be better than yours and thus, by implication, so am I!

When we are pretentious, we have made a momentously bad choice. We have decided that we are not good enough without this baggage of pretence. So we pile on as much baggage as we can for personal and public display.

Of what use is all the baggage? Does it really change our self-appraisal? Can we really delude ourselves into thinking ourselves better than we really are?

Now, we can delude others; but the shrewd are not deluded, or, at least, not deluded for long. So you can really fool only the foolish. Of what use is the awe of fools? Fools are by definition in awe of the trivial.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Let's then replace our impulse to pretence with something better. Substance and character are great candidates. And the best substance is humble and compassionate and so does not lean on props for self-worth. Focus on those traits, and even the really shrewd will be impressed--and we will no longer be delusional about our own self-worth.

(Image in public domain)

What is a Saint? What is a Christian?

My answer: a saint or a Christian is like a sacrament. And, in Catholic circles, when we speak of the Sacrament we mean the Eucharist. And for Catholics and some other Christians, the Eucharist is none other than Jesus himself.

Hence, a saint or a Christian is like Jesus.

But let us go deeper (in Spanish, "profundizar"). The Eucharist is the new Passover. Jesus is the Passover lamb. The saint or Christian is like a Passover lamb at the heart of the pivotal Exodus experience which gives us the hermeneutical key to the entire Bible and to all of Christian theology.

What does the Passover lamb do for the people of Israel? It protected from death, it healed from the ravages of centuries of slavery, it liberated from that slavery. The same things that Jesus did on earth and that Jesus does today through the liturgical sacraments:

Protect, Heal, Liberate.

The conclusion: A saint or a Christian has the mission of protecting, healing, and liberating others because the saint or Christian is like a sacrament.

(Image by blogger; Summer 2013)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Good Need Not be Exclusive

We often forget this truth. We find something good and so conclude that it must be the exclusive vessel or agent of that good.

We do it with political parties and denominations. We do it in theology. We do it for nations and ethnicities. We do it as we rank universities. We do it in the throes of romantic attachment.

For example, in Catholic theology, we have the liturgical sacraments as the infallible vessels of grace to recipients (with the fruits of the sacrament arising if the recipient has the needed disposition of faith). But God also bestows grace in many other ways--through simple prayer, through the beauty of nature, through the beauty of good people. The dignity and distinctive role of liturgical sacaraments are not diminished by these other routes of grace. As the official Catholic Catechism tells us, "God is not bound by his sacraments" (CCC Paragraph 1257).

And so we can say that certain non-liturgical realities are "like" sacraments, as the Church herself is said to be "like a sacrament" (Lumen Gentium, 1.1, third sentence).

Many people whom we have the privilege of meeting, often just in passing, can be like sacraments to us and sources of grace to us. I think of this reality when I recall some who have passed away. I especially wish to dedicate this meditation to the memory of one of my students who recently and suddenly passed away. Bonum esse exclusivum non necesse est.

(Image under Creative Commons License)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Extremism Disembowels Republican Party

I am just one person, but I no longer feel comfortable with the Republican Party. My prediction: many more are in the same boat. The situation reminds me of what happens when crime increases in a city or town: people move out.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Uptight Catholic Does Not Equal Better Catholic

In searching for updates at the Washington Post on the latest political chaos, I came across this story (see link) on the discomfort of some "conservative" Catholics with the so-called "freer" style of Pope Francis.

My brief reaction:

Uptight is not better. Having a personal and very subjective penchant for excessive precision is not required by Christianity. Based on my personal experience, that compulsive tendency is a common personality trait among self-described "conservatives"; but this tendency is not necessary (and certainly not sufficient) for the Christian personality.

I do believe there is a necessary and specific Christian personality type. Here it is in authoritative detail:

. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Galatians 5:22 (in part), 23 (NAB).

That personality profile does not emerge overnight, but that profile should be the recognizable trajectory and trend for all of us who claim to be Christian.

(Image in public domain)

History Mocks Our Immigration Myths

In some European countries--think of Britain as an example, people complain about foreign immigration, as they have done for decades now. It seemed odd to me that an island that went out of its way to conquer India and large parts of Africa would be surprised at the presence of these peoples in British neighborhoods. Gee, you went pretty far away to take over their lives.

In our own country, the complaints are even more ironic. At least, no part of Britain was originally part of an Asian or African nation. But, in the U.S., large parts of our country--mostly the West--were explored and owned by Spain and later by Mexico as Spain's successor. In addition, Florida was part of Spain until purchased by the U.S. in 1819. We still have Puerto Rico which was conquered from Spain in 1898. So, is it really a surprise that large parts of the West are today very Mexican or that southern Florida (so close to Cuba) is so Hispanic or that there are so many Puerto Ricans in New York?

If you want homogeneity, then don't conquer or buy up territories that were settled by another culture or remain very closely located to the sources of that original culture. But it is a silly form of sour grapes to complain that the neighborhood you took away from another does not look like your old neighborhood. Either don't take over another neighborhood or just give it back. Or, even better, learn to accept and enjoy the diversity of the human family of which we are all a part.

This quote reminded me of the situation I describe above:

"Americans today automatically associate Hispanics with immigration. That reflex omits one fact: part of the reason Hispanic culture remains so influential in the United States is that America absorbed large sections of the former Spanish colonial empire and, by so doing, effectively entered the Spanish-speaking world, not the other way around."

Source: Nadeau & Barlow, The Story of Spanish (St. Martin's Press, 2013), p. 237.

The further irony about discomfort over Hispanic immigration is that large numbers of Hispanics are of significant and visible Native American ancestry--a group that had it all a long time ago and was marginalized and isolated in most of the U.S.

(Image of San Diego de Alcala Mission, San Diego, California, founded in 1769, under GNU License)

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Stupid Party Does It Again

Excerpt from Politico:

A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released Thursday night – and no doubt reflecting what both White House and Republican pollsters already knew – showed the public approval rating for Republicans at 24 percent, an all-time low in the history of the survey. Seventy percent of respondents said the congressional GOP was putting politics before the good of the country, and, worst for the GOP, the numbers for Obamacare have actually risen during the shutdown.
Thirty-eight percent of Americans now see the Affordable Care Act as a good idea, up from 31 percent last month, according to the poll. And while 43 percent see it as a bad idea – about the same as last month – 50 percent now say they oppose de-funding the law.
“That is an ideological boomerang,” Bill McInturff, a GOP pollster who teamed up with Democrat Peter Hart on the survey, told NBC. “As the debate has been going on, if there is a break, there is a break against the Republican position.”

Read more: Politico

(Image in public domain)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The American (also Western) Curse: Individualism

Not just individualism, but individualism out of control. We could define it as the attitude that I can do whatever I want. Period. And I don't even have to consider the ripple effects on others now and in the distant future.

So, a common scenario: the promiscuous person who finds that the respect, devotion, admiration, and commitment of a significant other is nowhere to be found years or decades later. That's just one example of a hyperindividualism that tells us: it's all a free lunch.

We also see this hyperindividualism today when a fanatical subset of Tea Party ideologues paralyzes the U.S. government. I had to hear the apparently eternally present George Will (probably with bow-tie) pontificating on the radio that the government deadlock was (let me pompously clear my throat and tilt my head upward) "Madisonian." Each branch of government has to maximize its power. More power to the fanatics in the House for doing so, according to Will.

Oh really. The impressive "Madisonian" label does not work as a magic charm or talisman to cloud the reality. The reality is that any constitutional system needs the virtue of prudence and the virtue of self-control and self-restraint in order to advance the common good. Abusing constitutional prerogatives undermines the constitution and the society that the constitution serves.

It is funny to see a so-called conservative ignore the obvious necessity of a virtue ethics on the part of those claiming to lead a country. But, again, it is the American curse of hyperindividualism: our own special Achilles' heel. Do whatever you can do and get away with--don't think of the costs down the road or on others. Hence, hyperindividualism is just another word for egotism and selfishness.

Let's consider a conservative source quoting Madison himself:

James Madison reflected this milieu [virtue ethics] in Federalist 57: “[t]he aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first, to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, whilst they continue to hold their public trust.”

Source link.

Without virtuous and prudential restraint, self-control, and moderation, no constitution can endure. And I think Madison, in an era that revered the golden ethical mean of Aristotle, would have agreed. The lesson was clearly evident in the Civil War. The system collapsed and was able to rise again only after the bloodiest war in U.S. history because slavery fanatics were willing to sacrifice the union.

Yes, our constitutional system did collapse back in the time of Lincoln. The union victory restored it. Process, however theoretically elegant on paper, won't survive without prudence, self-restraint, and the eschewing of fanaticism. No constitutional system works without the prudence of its participants. There is no magic in the misleading use of the "Madisonian" label--even with a bow-tie.

(Image in public domain)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Great Secret: Do Not Let Your Enemies Change You

Yes, we all have enemies of one sort or another. Even Jesus, the perfect one, had enemies; so how much more do we enjoy that experience (this argument is in the form: if the great suffered X, then it is no surprise that we the lowly also suffer it; it is the inverse of the old rabbinic form of argument "light and heavy").

Enemies (and you can also read "the Enemy"; let those who can see the meaning, see it) most threaten us by changing our identities. Do we become angry or vicious like them? Do we lose our heads like them? Or do we shrewdly refuse to take the bait? Do we practice what they do? (The advice not to take the bait is proverbial; I believe it really caught my attention when someone quoted it from a book written by a Brian Hollins).

In addition, enemies can be turned to good use: I will not be like that; I now know that I should do precisely what disturbs the enemy; I know where to concentrate my energies.

One of the great secrets--learned by many through experience--is how to turn the enemy to good account: do not be like him or her, and, in fact, run in the other direction. And, by the way, your enemy may not be maliciously targeting you at all--the enemy may be just being the negativity that comes naturally, often because he or she was first a victim of another enemy. Enemies are not for hating, they are for learning and even for compassion, as long as the compassion is shrewd and not obtuse.

(Image in public domain)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The False Fear of Ross Douthat on Pope Francis' Outreach to All

At this NY Times link, you can find columnist Ross Douthat describing the fear that Pope Francis' outreach to secular culture will "fail." He also says that you will be able to judge the Pope's outreach to the unchurched by its "fruits."

There are two blatant fallacies in his column:

1. For the Christian, there is no choice but to reach out to everyone. The choice between a small, selective in-crowd of the pious and the great unwashed masses is not a Gospel choice. A Christian reaches out to everyone. Period. Any choice for a pure minority is a replay of the old, discarded option of Donatism. Read Augustine again.

2. How does Douthat define "fruits" of any papal outreach? He seems to define "fruits" as statistical measures of seminarians, church attendance, etc. By that statistical approach, then the scandal-ridden Legionnaries of Christ was a great success. I beg to differ. By "fruits,"or to be more exact, good fruits, the New Testament means the fruits of the Holy Spirit: patience, kindness, goodness, humility, among others. By that authentically biblical standard, the Pope's outreach has already been validated.

Christianity defines success and failure very differently from what statistics can measure.

And, by the way, on a more purely personal note, the keenest observer of the Vatican is John Thavis.

(Image of Augustine in public domain)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pope Francis and Catholic Vertigo

Many Catholics--a vast majority according to U.S. polling--are delighted with Pope Francis. Speaking for myself, he is just what the doctor ordered. His humility, directness, and lack of ostentation are profoundly refreshing. I think many others share that reaction. Houston, we have a Christian. Of course, his predecessors were great Christians; but now we have one in dramatic living gospel color. It makes a big difference.

Yet, we have a minority that experiences some kind of vertigo--he doesn't speak about the faith like they do, he doesn't follow the customary culture warrior template, he is too spontaneous, he doesn't use the old tropes, he is just, just too----messy for them! He needs to be more careful, more circumspect, more austere, more distant, more dignified, more precise, they tell us. Less innovative and unpredictable.

Well, I am at the same time not surprised and yet amazed. The old saying is don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Yet, some people always do. They can't help it.

I am sorry there is vertigo in some quarters--but, hey, I am delighted, and I accept the gift. I can't help it--it's too good to pass up.

(Image under fair use doctrine: “An illustration of the pope from the side.” by Hamilton Cline, Daly City, Calif. Via RNS; link)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Ivory Tower

The Ivory Tower
The Ivory Tower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here is a link to criticism of Pope Francis by a well-known conservative moral theologian. With all due and great respect to Mr. Grisez, I fail to see his point.

The Pope does not communicate in an interview like someone reading a dense academic treatise. In my view, that is a long overdue improvement in papal communications.

As to the substance of the criticism, as I understand him, Grisez is saying that the Pope's comments are confusing and misleading, especially to those who do not share traditional Christian moral views and instead embrace moral relativism.

Grisez seems to take exception to this particular part of what the Pope said in his recent interview with la Repubblica: "the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel."

If you read for yourself the Pope's interview (see link at an earlier blog post), you will see that Francis is stating a truism: if we do not preach personal transformation through Jesus, specific Christian moral teachings become matters of widespread indifference to many, many people, including Catholics. That is the collapse, the social amnesia, to which Francis is referring.

That amnesia has already taken place in the U.S. and in many other countries that are historically Christian. The moral black-out has been going on for forty or more years at an accelerated pace, although the roots of the collapse can be found in earlier decades (see Ivory Tower link). Do I need to repeat the particulars of this collapse? Just ask yourself this simple sociological question: what does a white wedding dress mean today in the United States, even among Catholics?

Individuals like Grisez need to stop imposing their own personal styles on others, including the Pope. The style of the academic treatise has miserably failed to stem morally chaotic trends with high personal costs in historically Christian nations. That academic style may give comfort and pleasure to the already committed and to those of us who have an academic and intellectual mindset, but the academic style has in fact been ineffective for the masses of secular and even Christian and Catholic individuals. 

Conversion must precede a list of ethical rules. In addition, most people don't speak "academese"--and even those who do, ignore "academese" when it comes to the emotional turmoil of living and surviving in their day-to-day circumstances.
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The History of the Spanish Language

I am now reading the book pictured below. Here is a quote from the book jacket:

"Just how did a dialect spoken by a handful of shepherds in northern Spain become the world's second most spoken language, the official language of twenty-one countries on two continents, and the unofficial second language of the United States?"

Here is another excerpt:

"What is making Spanish so infuential in the United States? Part of the answer lies in the language's quirky, vibrant, and accessible pop culture. This charisma gives Spanish a special kind of power in the United States, a singular quality that inspires many to learn Spanish. Spanish--literally--makes the world bigger" (p. 6).

By the way, those who teach or just love Latin should grab the opportunity: Spanish provides a great way to interest students in Latin, the mother tongue of Spanish. The similarities are immense, the pronunciation is similar, and, as others have noted, learning a "living Latin language" gives greater appreciation for Latin as a living and spoken language.

In addition, Roman history is full of Roman emperors (some of the best) with Spanish roots (Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Theodosius the Great). Roman literature has the Senecas, Lucan, Martial, and Quintilian. Then, there was the famous anonymous Spaniard from Cadiz (Gades) who travelled to Rome simply to gaze on the face of Livy and then promptly turned around and headed home. You get the drift: Hispania was integral to the culture of the empire.

The popularity of Spanish in U.S. schools and colleges is not a zero-sum competition with Latin. Latinists who are sapientes or wise will use and encourage the synergy. It seems so obvious to grab the opportunity, but we humans tend to love our isolated niches.

Also of interest to Latinists with a bent for historical linguistics is that "the Latin spoken in Hispania contained words that had actually disappeared in Rome by the time Rome started conquering its other territories" (p. 11). Thus, "[r]elative to other languages that grew out of Latin, Spanish, therefore, contains many words linguists label archaisms" (ibid.). For example (exempli gratia), the Latin word "cansar"/"to tire" is still used in Spanish and Portuguese but in no other Romance language (ibid.). The word had disappeared from Rome by the time Julius Caesar took over Gaul (ibid.).

(Image of Hispano-Roman noble under GNU License)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"Epochal Change"

Here is the link to the latest interview by Francis: a 76-year-old who is the youngest person I know:
la Repubblica interview.

(Image in public domain)