February 05, 2014

MOJ at 10: Scaperlanda's reflection

My first post, written on February 10, 2004 was titled “Anthropology and the Structures of Injustice.” In that post, I suggested that “A (maybe THE) major structure of injustice in our society is a malformed anthropology, which provides the foundation for many of the other structures of injustice.” I continue to think this. 

A Chronicle of Higher Education (1/27/2014) article, “When I Was Young at Yale,” written by an English professor who co-taught a course with Richard Rorty at Virginia, where the objective of the course was “de-divinization,” supports my hypothesis. He writes: “We were out to wipe the highest aspirations of humanity off the blackboard—they were an encumbrance, a burden, a major inconvenience. Courage, compassion, the disinterested quest for ultimate truth: Let’s drop them. They were forms of oppression. They weighed people down.” Although this professor confessed to being “slow,” he finally realized that “If there were no ideals, or no creditable ideals, then the kids who were headed from Skull and Bones to Wall Street and the CIA were absolved, weren’t they? They didn’t have to be honorable; they didn’t have to seek the truth; they didn’t have to do what Auden told us all we had to try: ‘love one another or die.’ No, the kids from Yale [and, I would add, the rest of us] were free.”

I too am slow. I ended my first post with “We cannot force someone to accept our anthropology - our understanding of what it means to be human - but I think (like Rick) that there is good reason to raise the question and also hope (not to be confused with optimism) that this anthropological perspective will resonate with others. More on these two points later ...”

Ten years later, I continue to hope, but I am much less optimistic that this hope will be realized in the near term than I was a decade ago. Ten years ago, in my youthful (I wasn’t even 44 yet) naiveté, I imagined that the new springtime of the Church was just around the corner. I thought that if people understood the beauty of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the nature of the human person (instead of obsessing over and twisting a few aspects of this teaching), they would gravitate toward that worldview in large numbers at least philosophically. My co-edited book (with Teresa Collett), “Recovering Self-Evident Truths: Catholic Perspectives on American Law,” was an attempt to show that the Catholic Church had much to contribute to the discussion about labor law, immigration law, property law, contract law, etc.

My sense today (and maybe I am just an overly pessimistic nearly 54 year old) is that far from gaining traction, a Catholic anthropology is actually losing ground in the public sphere where debate is being shut down in the name of tolerance and diversity. I now expect a long winter before the coming spring. 

I am grateful for Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and their sound philosophy and theology (I suspect that the Theology of the Body will take root in the long run) in the decades after Vatican II.  Rational argument still needs to be made, and the two of them along with faithful theologians and philosophers, have kept the Church on solid intellectual ground. But, I sense a shifting of the wind, and I am equally grateful for Pope Francis with his emphasis on being a living witness to Christ’s love and mercy. I suspect that love and mercy showered on those who have lost hope will have a greater impact in the long term than any argument the best of us could make.  As a result of my shift in emphasis from arguing with others to being present to others, I have become one poor correspondent on MOJ.

Posted by Michael Scaperlanda on February 5, 2014 at 09:21 AM in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

December 29, 2013

Eve Tushnet and the Holy Family

Although Eve Tushnet's "Coming out Christian: How faithful homosexuals are transforming our churches" (The American Conservative Jan./Feb. 2014, subscription required) was not written with the Feast of the Holy Family in mind (at least to my knowledge), it is a fitting reflection on this feast.

She writes that "Gay Christians are finding 'chosen families' in many different ways," including living in "intentional communities" and embracing the "nearly forgotten Christian traditions in which friendship is treated as a form of kinship that carried obligations of care."

She also argues that the presence of celibate gay Christians in Christian communities those communities embrace the Cross: "The sentimental, Disney view of marriage was always wrong.  Marriage changes our loneliness but rarely cures it. ... But for a long time American Christianity has sought to fix loneliness and suffering rather than accepting them as part of the core of Christian experience. ... Because marriage, the standard solution to the problem of loneliness is typically unavialable to gay Christians, we've had to confront loneliness earlier and more publicly than many of our peers." 

She ends with: Jesus - unmarried, marginalized, misunderstood, a son and a friend but not a father or spouse - is the preeminent model for gay Chrisitans. In this, as in so many things, we ar just like every body else."

Posted by Michael Scaperlanda on December 29, 2013 at 07:44 PM in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

November 29, 2013

The Social Kingship of Christ: A Question for Patrick

On the Feast of Christ the King, Patrick quoted Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP: "[P]ublicly recognising divine revelation is an entailment of the Kingship of Christ on which, despite its difficulties in a post-Enlightenment society, we must not renege." Patrick continues: "I agree with Fr. Nichols's judgment, of course, but I have to wonder whether any other contributor to this blog also agrees.  Enthusiasts of the First Amendment's agnosticism will have a hard time on this one." 

Right after the above quote, Fr. Aidan says:

Where the ethos of society is such that an elected legislature may be trusted to regard the Judaeo-Christian tradition as normative, the Church should be accorded her rightful place as “mother and mistress”. (The Edwardian priest-novelist Robert Hugh Benson’s The Dawn of All will give you the idea.) Where that is not possible there should at least be, in the former Christendom, a recognition of the historic role of the faith in forming the human patrimony.

Patrick, you have given this much more thought than I have, but it seems to me that these are the money lines for our situation.  I assume you agree with me that the ethos of our society is not such that the elected legislature can be trusted to regard the Judaeo-Christian tradition as normative. If so, then we can and should fight for a) our religious freedom along with the religious freedom of others (the agnostic position) and b) a recognition that Christendom played an historic role in forming the human patrimony.  The EU's refusal to give recognition to this patrimony in its proposed Constitution gave rise to Joseph Weiler coining the phrase Christophobia.

By my reading, in the American context this would not be considered First Amendment agnosticism but would be considered First Amendment realism.  Do you agree Patrick? Or, what am I missing?

Posted by Michael Scaperlanda on November 29, 2013 at 01:07 PM in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

The Culture Wars and Beyond: A response to Jody and Rick

In responding to our current cultural situation, two questions are paramount: 1) How am I called to respond? and 2) What is my judgment of the current situation?  These questions underlie the argument between Jody Bottum (here) and Rick Garnett (here).

In a recent Patheos essay, Jody writes: Forget the culture-wars crap. It was a fight worth having, back in the day when there was enough Christendom left to be worth defending. ... Start, instead, with re-enchnatment." I don't understand how we benefit from a house divided.  Why can't God be calling Jody to get out of the culture wars and focus on re-enchantment of the world through literary means while simultaneously calling Rick to fight for the legal rights for the unborn and religious freedom for all?  I don't see it as an either/or but a both/and according to our unique call.

What we hear and how we answer will be influenced, I suspect, by our assessment of the current state of our culture. The Christian who believes that we live in a truly post-Christian culture where Christian understandings of the human person, of reason, of truth, of goodness, and of beauty fail to get any traction might conclude that his or her time is better spent re-enchanting the world with beauty to provide an opening to the human heart that - when expanded - will be more open to the Good News and all that the Gospel entails. On the other hand, the Christian who believes that arguments on behalf of the unborn (or the poor, or the immigrant) and arguments for religious freedom can still gain traction in our culture, will, if called to do so, continue to make those arguments vigorously in the public square, our courthouses, and legislative assemblies.  

It seems to me that there is room for both/and!


Posted by Michael Scaperlanda on November 29, 2013 at 12:43 PM in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

November 24, 2013

Christ the King

“Who – or WHAT — really rules our lives?” 

Christ the King!

Posted by Michael Scaperlanda on November 24, 2013 at 07:49 PM in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

October 06, 2013

Evangelizing Mars

Suppose we discover an advanced human civilization on another planet marked by a great divide between economic and educational classes but suffering at both ends of the spectrum from a quiet desperation caused by a gnawing emptiness and hunger that grows continually deeper despite continuous consumption of everything from the latest technology to cheap and often vulgar entertainments to food to sex. An almost endless array of choices faces members of this society with no concrete criteria by which to choose among goods.  Loneliness abounds.  This civilization’s mythical religious traditions of the past no longer provide meaning and guidance in their lives. Although “reason” had always had a tough time supplanting the impulse of arbitrary power, “power” now reigns supreme in the face of collapse of faith in reason. The family structure is fractured as are the political structures. Social bonds have become completely untethered. In this “civilization” many employers view workers as disposable means to the end of production and the fetus in the womb is often viewed as a disposable by-product of sexual autonomy.

As we begin a natural process of interacting with these neighbors, Pope Francis encourages missionary orders to proclaim the Gospel to this newly discovered civilization.  How to bring Christ to this particular world with its myriad problems and dysfunctions?  As the missionaries discern how to preach the Gospel to this particular people at this particular time, they begin to realize the daunting nature of the task. But, they have a powerful ally – the law written on the heart - on their side.  Even if the people of this planet deny it, these missionaries know and trust that the natural law resides deep within each person.  Following the tried and true method of Alcoholics Anonymous, and risking the label relativist, the missionaries will take the people of this civilization and their consciences as they are, trusting that with this starting place, these consciences will develop to conform to the objective truth as their world is re-enchanted with the message of a God of mercy; a God who is Love – who loves so much that He sent His only Son to be one with them and to suffer and die for them.

The missionaries know that to be successful they must live the Gospel and literally become Christ for these people. As hope comes to this lost people, the missionaries know that they will be open to hearing about the authentic freedom and happiness that comes from living according to God’s design.  Although it will happen in fits and starts (after all, how many centuries did it take for the Christian West to root out the evil of slavery?), license – the false freedom of choice – leading to emptiness and despair will be replaced with living a moral life. For these people who breathe the narcissistic air of their culture, the saving hope of Christ must precede the Church’s moral teaching just as the adulteress experienced the loving gaze of and act of mercy from Christ BEFORE He tells her to go and sin no more.

This alien world is our world, or at least I suspect that Pope Francis thinks so. Despite the multiple signs to the contrary, many of us live, breathe, and operate as if this post-Christian civilization can be re-Christianized from within by re-membering our Christian, including moral, heritage. Pope Francis, I suspect, thinks we are wrong.  He thinks that that this iteration of Western Civilization – the civilization that emerged from the ashes of the Roman Empire – is dead.  We may not see it yet, but the dual projects of Reformation and Enlightenment, which have taken root over the last 500 years with the accompanying divorce of faith and reason and ultimate collapse of both, have run their course effectively destroying this iteration of Western Civilization. 

Vatican II prepared us to respond to this reality, but we needed 50 more years or so to make clear that the Church was not changing its fundamental teachings before we could begin to proclaim the Gospel to this alien civilization in which we live.  As this iteration of Western civilization dies and a new one rises from the ashes, we can rest assured that Christ will not abandon the Church.  Come Holy Spirit!

Posted by Michael Scaperlanda on October 6, 2013 at 10:46 AM in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 19, 2013

A Catholic Case Against MOOCs

MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) are all the rage in many quarters of the higher education "industry."  The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article by Jonathan Malesic, a theology professor at Kings College in Pa. titled "A Catholic Case Against MOOCs:"

There is one way in which MOOCs seem to line up with a major historical goal of Catholic universities: They offer access to college-level instruction for people who have been excluded because of poverty, remoteness, or others' prejudice. But the altruistic promise of MOOCs has been empty so far.


Catholic organizations have known for a long time that to educate the poor, you have to go to them. In fact, to educate anyone fully—addressing their moral and spiritual development as well as their intellect—teachers and students must be present to each other.

This article drives at the heart of a debate we should be having over what is the purpose of education.  Are we selling a product that is bought by our customers - the students.  Or, is it a moral enterprise aimed at developing the whole person.

HT: Kevin Lee

Posted by Michael Scaperlanda on September 19, 2013 at 05:43 PM in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 12, 2013

... and let it begin with me.

This from my wife's blog, Day by Day with Maria:

When the moments of crisis and violence around the world and in our country feels too overwhelming for me... when I start to feel helpless before the power of evil that I see, hear, smell, touch, seemingly everywhere I go... when my own heart begins to wonder, what difference does it make?...


I remember an ordinary, unwed woman living in a run of the mill, inconsequential village who, with her “yes,” gave birth to the Son of God.


I remember a mother whose prayers and petitions for her son’s conversion, brought about a priest, an illustrious bishop, who is also a renowned Doctor of the Church.  


I remember a simple, honest man from Okarche, Oklahoma, who after failing his second year of seminary Theology, became a missionary for the faith—and eventually, a martyr—ministering the people of Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala.


I remember the miracles in my own life, the abundant moments of grace that come about when I humbly and faithfully get on my knees in prayer and examine, “am I doing my part?”


Yes, let there be peace on earth—and let it begin with me.


Posted by Michael Scaperlanda on September 12, 2013 at 09:04 AM in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 09, 2013

Immigration and the Next America: Part I

In “Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation,” Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez puts the immigration debate into the larger context of who we are as an American people. Immigration reform, he says, must be “part of an even more comprehensive reform – a project for American renewal aimed at forming a new national identity and civic culture dedicated to the universal values of promoting human dignity, freedom, and a community of the good.”

Gomez understands the frustration born of the lack of leadership in Washington on the immigration issue. He also sees immigration as a “flash point” over the “deeper anxieties” we feel about the future of our country.  But, he sees cultural elites, not Hispanic immigrants, as the real threat to America’s future. America’s renewal requires challenging “the secularist, multicultural, and relativist consensus that in recent decades has taken hold among elite thinkers and opinion-shapers in our universities, cultural centers, and government.” Suspicious of our founders’ motives, these elites are “skeptical about the ideals of citizenship and integration around a common national identity,” preferring “a kind of anarchy of diversity” where no one has “obligations to anyone but themselves.”

The Archbishop offers a different vision: “We need to restore the ideal of citizenship based on integration and Americanization.  Immigrants would be welcomed within a civic framework built on a common American story and universal values.” He would promote “broad expectations for citizens – including the understanding that individual rights presume common duties; and that freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever we want, but instead means doing what is true and beautiful and good.”

Tune in soon for Part II of this review: “The Forgotten Piece of the American Story.”

Posted by Michael Scaperlanda on September 9, 2013 at 10:47 AM in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 06, 2013

More on the Hobby Lobby Case

OSV recently published an article by Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick (yes, I'm the proud dad) on Hobby Lobby's recent victory at the 10th Circuit and then in District Court in its challenge to the HHS mandate. In the article, Kyle Duncan, general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for Hobby Lobby, discusses the significance of the 10th Circuit's en banc decision.

OSV coupled the article with its editorial, which emphasized the irrationality of the administration's provisions.  According to the editorial, Hobby Lobby would face a $26 million annual fine ($2,000 per employee) for dropping health coverage altogether (this figure is much smaller than the cost of insuring its employees) but faces a $475 million fine ($100 per employee per day) for insuring employees but not complying with the HHS contraception coverage mandate. 

Posted by Michael Scaperlanda on August 6, 2013 at 04:59 PM in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | Comments (17)