January 31, 2013
Moral Anthropology truths . . . on Twitter
Thanks to the Holy Father's Twitter feed for this:
Every human being is loved by God the Father. No one need feel forgotten, for every name is written in the Lord's loving Heart.
Catholic Legal Theory in a nutshell, I think.
Happy National School Choice Week!
School choice -- and, more specifically, public support for the education of the public that is provided by parochial and other Catholic schools -- is required in justice and by the Church's social teaching. If you have not read it before -- and, frankly, even if you have -- check out John Coons' "School Choice as Simple Justice", here. Then, go the web page for National School Choice Week, read about what's going on, and commit to helping out.
Then, watch this great video about Catholic school teachers (the video features, among others, the daughter of a proud MOJ reader) in Chicago and the mission of Catholic schools. Then, go to the site of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education, learn about their amazing work, and write them a check. (And then send a note to the Cardinal Newman Society, suggesting that they re-allocate some of the effort they spend trashing, for fundraising purposes, Notre Dame to praising A.C.E.)
January 30, 2013
Nuns and Hollywood
AS Oscar season approaches, I guess it's time for the NYT's annual story about nuns involved in the movie industry. This time it isn't Mother Dolores Hart, subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary about "the nun who kissed Elvis." Rather, it's Sister Rose Pacatte, film critic: "A Nun at the Crossroads of Faith and Film." Here's how she started out:
On the day before she entered a Catholic boarding school in August 1967, as a 15-year-old who felt the call to be a nun, Rose Pacatte indulged in a final fling with the secular world. She went to the local drive-in to see “The Dirty Dozen.”
And here's what she does now:
Besides writing for The National Catholic Reporter’s online edition, she reviews for The St. Anthony Messenger, a monthly magazine for Catholic families with a circulation of about 300,000. She has presented talks on topics like “Meeting Jesus at the Movies” and “Media and the Moral Imagination” from Toronto to Oxford to Johannesburg. She has sat on Catholic or ecumenical juries at the Venice and Berlin International Film Festivals, among others.
January 29, 2013
"Traditional Marriage Activist’s New Allies: Gays"
[from the NYT, 1/29/13]
David Blankenhorn, a traditional-marriage advocate and star witness in the Proposition 8 trial in California in 2010, shocked his allies with an Op-Ed article in The New York Times last June announcing that he was quitting the fight against same-sex marriage. “Instead of fighting gay marriage,” Mr. Blankenhorn wrote, “I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same.”
On Thursday, Mr. Blankenhorn’s research group, the Institute for American Values in New York, plans to issue “A Call for a New Conversation on Marriage,” a tract renouncing the culture war that he was once part of, in favor of an unorthodox pro-marriage agenda. The proposed conversation will try to bring together gay men and lesbians who want to strengthen marriage with heterosexuals who want to do the same.
The document is signed by 74 well-known activists, writers and scholars, on the left and the right, including the conservative John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine; John Corvino, a gay philosopher; Robert N. Bellah, a sociologist; Caitlin Flanagan, a feminism skeptic; and Glenn C. Loury, an economist — once conservative, now less so.
[The rest of the article is here.]
Newman and the University
Go here for information about an upcoming (Feb. 4) conference at the Catholic Center at NYU.
In recent years, the philosophical question is acutely felt: what is a university education for? The goal of this event is to reflect critically on the legacy of John Henry Newman with regard to this question. What is it that unites or unifies a university as a cultural entity of research and education? What positive contribution can religion make to the ongoing life of the university in a contemporary context? In a cosmopolitan culture, is the serious consideration of religion a hindrance to the understanding of social co-existence, or is it a prerequisite?
Should be great!
January 28, 2013
Aquinas on Teaching
As Rick notes, today is the great Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas (it's also the date of Henry VIII's death in 1547, but let's set that aside). Some words about Aquinas on teaching from one of Aquinas's Dominican brothers, Brian Davies, OP of Fordham:
Does Aquinas have advice for teachers? As a matter of fact, he does. And it is rather sensible. For, so he says on more than one occasion, teachers should proceed with an eye on the intellectual standing of their students. “Knowledge”, he suggests in his Summa contra Gentes, “is acquired in two ways, both by discovery without teaching, and by teaching. Consequently teachers begin to teach in the same way as discoverers begin to discover, namely by offering to the disciples' consideration principles known by them, since all learning results from pre-existing knowledge”. In other words, Aquinas thinks that teachers ought to start from where their students are. He also thinks that they ought to express themselves clearly. In the Summa theologiae he alludes to the view that “it is the duty of all teachers to make themselves easily understood”. And this sentiment is very much echoed in the way in which Aquinas himself communicates. He is a model of lucidity, especially in the Summa theologiae which actually begins with some reflections on the business of teaching those in their early stages of study. The subject matter of the Summa theologiae is the entire scope of Christian teaching, and in a foreword to the work Aquinas expresses himself unhappy with much that he knows to be available on this. “Newcomers to this teaching” he says, “are greatly hindered by various writings on the subject, partly because of the swarm of pointless questions, articles, and arguments”. They are also, says Aquinas, hindered by the fact that available texts all too often pursue the interests of their authors rather than “a sound educational method”, which Aquinas takes to involve being “concise and clear, so far as the matter allows”.
It is not, of course, easy to be concise and clear. And it is hard to get to the truth of things. So Aquinas also has another piece of advice to offer those who go in for teaching. For in his view they need to cultivate a high degree of humility. In particular, so he says, they should remember that all that they have is given to them by God, including their learning and their skills at conveying it. According to Aquinas, and as he puts it in the Summa contra Gentes: “God by His intelligence is the cause not only of all things that subsist in nature, but also of all intellectual knowledge”. At one level Aquinas suggests that this conclusion ought to leave teachers feeling proud, for it implies that they share in God's work of bringing it about that learning occurs. Or, as he says in a lecture delivered in 1256: “The minds of teachers ... are watered by the things that are above in the wisdom of God, and by their ministry the light of divine wisdom flows down into the minds of students”. At another level, however, Aquinas reckons that teachers should realize that their role as divine instruments ought to remind them of their need of divine assistance. Aquinas himself always prayed before writing, just as he prayed when he ran into any kind of difficulty. In the lecture of 1256 he notes that teachers of theology might feel that they are just not up to their task. But, he adds, “no one is adequate for this ministry by himself or from his own resources” and one may “hope that God may make one adequate”. And, so I might add, if one considers this remark in the context of Aquinas’s writings as a whole, it should not be viewed only as a word to theologians. It is a comment he would have offered to all teachers.
"Aquinas and the Academic Life," 83 New Blackfriars 336, 342-43 (2002).
Happy Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas (or, "is St. Thomas boring"?)!
The question whether "St. Thomas is boring" is asked and helpfully answered, here, by Br. Raymund Snyder, O.P. (natch). A taste:
Whether Thomas Aquinas is fittingly called boring?
Objection 1: It would seem that Thomas Aquinas is fittingly called boring. The works of Thomas are composed of impersonal statements and arguments, which are boring. Now, every agent acts in accordance with its nature to produce something like unto itself (omne agens agit sibi simile). Just as nothing can effect heat unless it is hot, so too no one can produce boring writings, unless he is boring. Hence it is seen that since Thomas’ works are boring, Thomas is fittingly called boring.
Objection 2: Thomas Aquinas is well known to have been of considerable girth. A man possesses phlegmatic humor in proportion to his size. The more phlegmatic a man’s disposition, the more he is perceived as dull, wearisome, and uninteresting. Thus, as a result of his girth, Thomas is fittingly called boring.
Objection 3: Those who are always correct in all things are annoying. Those who are annoying are also boring. Thus, Thomas, who is typically correct on account of the soundness of his reasoning and the brilliance of his intellect, is fittingly called boring. . . .
Q.E.D. and all that. Now, here's a painting of St. Thomas, in some hallway in the Vatican Museum, that I've always really liked. "Bene scriptisit de me Thoma." Indeed.
And Finally, Why Stewardship Will Require Global Currency Reform Too
By way of final installment in today's series, I'll remind readers that the earlier-mentioned Way Forward paper included a third pillar as well in its three-pillared plan for addressing the ongoing debt-deflation problem that it diagnosed and explained. That third pillar involves deep reform of global currency arrangements, which render it both (1) impossible for the U.S. not to run permanent current account deficits with the rest of the world, and (2) accordingly very difficult indeed for the Federal Reserve to modulate credit-money in the manner required to prevent recurrent debt-fueled asset price bubbles and busts such as that we've just been through. Interested readers can find more in Bretton Woods 1.0, which covers the territory in full.
I hasten to add, though, one more reminder of what I said in the post that opened today's sequence. That is that stagnant real incomes have been our principal problem since the 1970s, and that trade policy -- inclusive of currency arrangements -- is only part of what underwrites that stagnation. Indeed, in this connection, the President and wider public's renewed attention, at long last, to disturbing inequality trends in the U.S. is much to be welcomed. Such inequality, it turns out, underwrites the private debt loads I singled out earlier, which in turn render debt-fueled asset price bubbles and busts all but inevitable. An important means of ending bubbles and busts, in other words -- and hence of preventing future debt deflations and consequent hits taken by the public fisc -- is to address inequality. Significant empirical support can be found in this paper I've only just completed in draft form with a first-rate research assistant -- Income Inequality and Market Fragility: Some Empirics in the Political Economy of Finance.
Our Ongoing Mortgage Debt Overhang, Its Drag on the Macroeconomy, and What to Do About It
On now to Pillar 2 of the Way Forward paper cited in my earlier post. This, our readers might recall, involved measures designed to trim back the huge mortgage debt overhang that continues to operate as principal drag upon U.S. macroeconomic recovery -- and accordingly to prevent liquidation of our still growing public debt.
By far the most effective way to get at this problem, as I suggested here this past June, is for municipalities to employ their eminent domain authority to purchase underwater loans out of trusts in which they are currently locked, refinance them, and thereby recoup value for homeowners and bondholders -- not to mention municipalities -- alike. There's been a great deal of press about this plan since June. My old mentor Robert Shiller of Yale, for one thing, endorsed the plan in his 23 June Sunday Times column. But much more press, television, and radio coverage -- from all of the usual suspects (NYT, Time, Business Week, CNBC, Bloomberg, etc.) -- can be found here. As it happens, a state official who read my earlier post on this plan here at MOJ back in June reached out to me and happily his state is now considering it.
I would also be very keen to hear from our readers what they might think of another solution, cooked up by New York Fed colleagues and myself, for mortgagors who are not underwater but having trouble staying current on mortgage payments owing to slump-induced un- or underemployment. The statute we've drafted on this, The Home Mortgage Bridge Loan Assistance Act, might well be passed in New York soon, and it would be lovely to see this happening nationally as well. This supporting white paper says why.
Public Infrastructure Investment: Why It's Crucial and Less Expensive than You Might Think
In a post put up a short while ago, I mentioned a paper titled The Way Forward, and mentioned that it both diagnosed the present national economic impasse and offered a three-pillared plan for how to get past it. Pillar 1, I noted, involves well targeted public infrastructure investment.
Readers who find that prospect intriguing might like this paper that my Cornell colleague and regular Sunday NYT columnist Robert Frank have co-authored. One very important upshot of the paper is that the multiplier for infrastructure spending is sufficiently large as to render such expenditures largely self-liquidating. But there are many additional reasons to undertake these projects now, as the paper elaborates.
I'm pleased also to be able to report, in this connection, that Congressman Brian Higgins of Buffalo, New York has introduced legislation in Congress prompted by this paper - the Nation-Building Here at Home Act of 2012. A white paper in support of this legislation is adapted from the foregoing.