From columnist David Brooks:
"There must be something legalistic in the human makeup, because cold, rigid, unambiguous, unparadoxical belief is common, especially considering how fervently the Scriptures oppose it."
Source link: NY Times
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
From columnist David Brooks:
Sunday, January 26, 2014
As I prepare for a graduate comprehensive exam by reading--and reading and reading, I came across this quote in the magisterial, large volume by Italian classicist Gian Biagio Conte of the University of Pisa (who, by the way, has read more than I could in several combined lifetimes). It's for your contemplation without any comment by me:
"One may say, as it may have been said, that in antiquity there were two epochs that were fundamental for the definition of man, of his social and cultural characteristics: the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. in Greece and the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. for Christian thought."
--Gian Biagio Conte, Latin Literature: A History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, 2nd ed.), p. 678.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
We see this "chasing of our tail" often in moral quandaries. The temptation is to ask "what is the just thing to do?" as the key to our problems, when in reality we have to give content to what is justice. To ask "what is the just thing to do" is simply to ask "what should I do" in different words. That redundancy gets us nowhere in practical terms.
Christian morality is a morality of self-gift. I like it said better in Spanish: "la teología moral es una teología de entrega." Catholics can find the locus classicus for this idea in the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes, (section) 24, where we are told that the fullness or happiness of human beings lies in the sincere gift of self (look up the original language at the Vatican website).
So "what should I do" or "what is the just thing to do" is now filled with real content: "what does entrega (the sincere gift of self) require?"
Well, entrega means I cannot lie or deceive the other. That takes care of a lot of the commandments, if not all of them. Go through the list and see how many of the Ten Words come down to not deceiving or lying to the other, including the Other who is God. For example, envy is a form of deceiving the other by wishing ill to him. Entrega (I will no longer italicize the Spanish word since I have now explained it) means making oneself a sincere gift to the other in varying degrees. Parents do it all of the time. Parenthood is one major form of entrega, and so Christianity gives us the image of God the Father and also of the ultimate sacrificial entrega of the shepherd for his flock that is pictured by the crucifix.
Etymologically, "entrega" comes from the Latin "integrare" which means, as you can guess, to make whole or complete. Entrega makes us whole and complete, it "integrates" us. Entrega is the core of our human identity. That's the way I read Gaudium et spes, 24. If you want to explain the heart of moral theology, there it is:
"man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself."
(Image via Creative Commons License)
Monday, January 13, 2014
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
One of the benefits of so much immigration from Latin America may be that we Americans might take up this custom. It sure puts a different spin on events from a Santa Claus in whom St. Nicholas is hardly recognizable. I myself reinstituted this custom of "straw in the shoes" with my own children, as I fondly recalled how my parents as Cuban immigrants taught us to carry it out before Santa Claus took over even in my household.
The Pope's comments on Epiphany are, as usual, insightful for all of us, whether believers or not:
On the feast of the Epiphany, as we recall Jesus' manifestation to humanity in the face of a Child, may we sense the Magi at our side, as wise companions on the way", concluded the Holy Father. "Their example helps us to lift our gaze towards the star and to follow the great desires of our heart. They teach us not to be content with a life of mediocrity, of 'playing it safe', but to let ourselves be attracted always by what is good, true and beautiful. ... by God, who is all of this, and so much more! And they teach us not to be deceived by appearances, by what the world considers great, wise and powerful. ... We must press on towards Bethlehem, where, in the simplicity of a dwelling on the outskirts, beside a mother and father full of love and of faith, there shines forth the Sun from on high, the King of the universe. By the example of the Magi, with our little lights, may we seek the Light and keep the faith".
(Here ends the quote from Pope Francis' Homily for Epiphany, January 5, 2014, found in the Vatican Information Service article dated 1/6/14; the Vatican Information Service newsletter is a free email service that you can subscribe to at this link. It's a good way to avoid the misleading internet commentary of many supposedly Catholic commentators.)
1. Do not be content with a life of mediocrity. The commencement speakers are right: follow your passion for the true, the good, and the beautiful. If you fail--if "failure" even makes any sense to anyone who is on the road toward the good, try another route.
2. Be shrewd, cunning, and astute enough (as the Pope says in the parts of his message not quoted above) to avoid the gloom, suspicion, and envy of Herod's palace. There are many Herodian palaces all around us. They look quite lavish, large, and even magnificent. But they are full of darkness. The shrewd know how to take a route, as the Pope says, around such places and to avoid becoming their prisoners. Anyone with even some life experience can likely think of examples of such Herodian palaces in his own personal history. I like to compare such shrewdness and cunning to the American strategy against the Japanese in World War II: "island-hopping." Jump over and around the Herodian palaces to avoid getting bogged down in the swamps of gloom where we suffer high casualties, and instead keep heading toward your ultimate goals.
3. Let us press on to Bethlehem and to Nazareth. Those are the places where we want to be: places free of status-seeking, of conspicuous material consumption, of envy, of insecurities, of cynicism, of sarcasm, of unending comparisons and obsessively compulsive nit-picking criticisms, of fear, of traps, and of people seeking to humiliate or embarrass or control others. Seek the Bethlehems and Nazareths that can be found everywhere people are generous, positive, grateful, friendly, joyful, humble, authentically honorable and dignified. Seek the places of magnanimity. Then you will be able to help others on the way also find similar places.
This message tugs at the hearts of all human beings. We Christians diplomatically propose Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the historical models of all these good things.
(Images under fair use doctrine via Vatican Information Service and AP)
Saturday, January 4, 2014
Even in private life, you sometimes are faced with expressions of extreme, almost paranoid, views of events.
What can you do? The golden mean of Aristotle, the qualitative excellence of genuine moderation, is mocked by extremists. Moderates are weak appeasers, too obtuse to see the stakes.
Well, I am a moderate in pursuit of the qualitative rational excellence of the golden mean in many disputes, whether political or religious. The best favor moderates can do to extremists is to be assertively and forthrightly moderate. Reason is usually on the side of the golden mean. Be assertive about your moderation. You are providing a dose of sanity to ideologists of all stripes.
So sometimes you just have to calmly tell someone, for his own good: "I disagree. Is it OK to disagree?" Sometimes they will take it well, other times they will be in shock.
But it is a good lesson to give anyone: other people and other views exist. Recognize that reality and deal with it intelligently and kindly. Do not retreat from reality into the mindlessness of ideological fanaticism--whether it is a form of hypernationalism or of Tea Party politics or of religious fanaticism.
Virtue lies in moderation. Barry Goldwater had it all wrong when he famously said that "extremism in defence of liberty is no vice." As usual in a misleading statement, the assumption involved is not openly defined. Goldwater assumed that "liberty" was equivalent to what his own very particular American version of rightwing politics celebrated. Liberty includes much more than that because it belongs to all human beings and to all cultures and existed well before modern capitalism. In addition, liberty is not just for me and my views, but also for the other and his views. That means that I must eschew extremism and learn to listen and learn from the other and be very skeptical about ideological claims to have uniquely and completely tapped into the ultimate truth.
I used to be a law clerk for a federal judge many years ago. I recall, with a smile, that he made sure that witnesses sworn to testify in his courtroom were not asked to swear to the "whole truth," because, as he said, no one knows the whole truth. Instead, you swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The whole truth is only in the mind of God. Our minds cannot compete. The most religious should be the first to recognize this fact.
"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/winstonchu100446.html#0YSHs3vObwBuqGjY.99
(Image is used via fair use doctrine and/or public domain; the Greek word in the chart means "vanity." Source of image is at Google books link.)