Monday, June 22, 2015
Walter Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz" is one of those books that I've seen on lots and lots of "novels that Catholic readers should read" lists (along with, you know, "The Moviegoer," "The Power and the Glory," "A Confederacy of Dunces," etc.) but never got around to reading. Well, I just finished it. Fascinating (especially in light of what seems to be the trend -- especially in so-called "Young Adult" fiction -- of post-apocalyptic-dystopian stuff). If you are looking for a summer read, check it out. (For a bit more -- and I don't think the piece really "gets" the book, but that's alright -- here's a New Yorker article on the book's legacy that ran a few years ago.)
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Friday was one of my most favorite days of every year -- the day I get to watch my son and his fellow Special Olympians at the state gymnastics meet. As always, it was a day of witnessing what true joy and pride looks like, again and again. If you've never witnessed a Special Olympics competition of any kind, do yourself a huge favor and watch one.
When I got home, I saw that, while I was watching my son, Pope Francis was addressing the Special Olympics team from Italy who will be coming to Los Angeles for the World Games later this summer. Among his thoughts:
Please, remain faithful to this ideal of sport! Do not let yourselves be “contaminated” by the false sports culture, that of economic success, of victory at any cost, of individualism. It is necessary to rediscover “amateur” sport, that of gratuitousness, sport for the sake of sport. It is necessary instead to protect and defend sport as an experience of human values, yes of competitions, but in loyalty, in solidarity -- always dignity for every person!
And, on a somewhat related note, a very sweet message to all fathers from the Jerome LeJeune Foundation: My Dear Dad.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
RR Reno ("Rusty") of First Things just spoke on the modern papal diplomacy of "bold words and striking gestures," which both JPII and now Francis have displayed in great measure (up and against the more inward-facing papacy of Pope Leo and his predecessors). Though Reno only gave passing mention of Laudato Si, he spoke more as an academic than a commentator (as here). Arguing the encyclical is a "diplomatic intervention into a fraught and difficult geopolitical issue," which strikes him as designed to "arrest our attention," he wonders: 1) if the "rich world" diverts much of its GDP to the radical political/economic restructuring of itself (as it would need to in order to achieve the necessary reduction in fossil fuel use, etc.), what will become of our moral responsibility (and current capacity) to help developing countries mature economically?
I’m at Providence Abbey in RI today for this delightful conference, "Understanding the Francis Papacy." The conference organizers are to be commended for bringing together a diverse swath of intelligent, engaging and, thus far, quite humorous and compelling Catholic speakers. Attendees include many from the Catholic Worker Movement including Tom Cornell, students, academics, members of the broader community with an affection for the Holy Father, and of course, the Benedictine monks and priests. Here is a list of speakers and topics.
Ross Douthat spoke yesterday evening on “The New Catholic Civil War,” drawing extensively from this recent—provocative--blog post. (Elizabeth Stokes Bruenig is here too, by the way...) Here he lays out his “taxonomy” of Francis' critics: the three groups of Catholics who he judges are most worried about or threatened by Pope Francis, in varying degrees. In general, the recent Pew poll tells us that Francis enjoys enormous support among Catholics. But traditionalist (associated with the Tridentine Mass), capitalist (a particularly American phenomenon), and conservative Catholics (focused on marriage/family issues) are wary for different reasons. Again, the blog post here.
Most interesting though (and not in the post) was Douthat’s ruminations on the distinctions between Francis and his predecessors as to how to deal with argument within the Church (i.e., dissent). Francis definitely thinks he’s letting arguments air--that it’s healthy for the Church to have arguments. Of course there has long been argument in the Church regarding doctrinal matters, but during the last two pontificates, among bishops and priests, doctrinal unity was the "watchword.” Now, bishops are invited to “express themselves.” And they have. And some, as among the German bishops, have revealed a certain style of 1970s Catholic liberalism that was far more resilient than doctrinal conservatives (like Douthat) had thought. We now have a far clearer picture of the state, scope and scale of the divisions in the Church.
Perhaps the pope believes that out of this argument will come “new ideas and new synthesis.” But perhaps there will simply be more public division, whatever happens at the Synod in the fall. Such division, Douthat suggests, would call out for the pope, though probably not this pope, to seek resolution in a conciliar form…
Friday, June 19, 2015
A friend passed this along -- almost 110 years old (the piece, not the friend), but very much on-point:
What ails our much-vaunted public school system? Why do our common schools fail to attain the ends for which they were established ? To the many firm believers in the Public Schools, infallibility of our national institutions, these questions, may appear impious, but the facts are concrete. We are "up against it" on the public school question. From far and near comes the cry, give us a school system which will not only thoroughly train the child in the essential elements of knowledge, but so mold the varied and cosmopolitan offspring of our population that they will develop into active, patriotic and morally responsible citizens with the welfare of their country at heart.
How, it is asked, is this to be done? By the unanimous opinion of thinkers, it can only be done by giving to our youth not only mental but moral training. An education which develops the mind and ignores the heart cannot fail to rear a godless, conscienceless, irresponsible class of men, fit for anarchy, socialism, individualism or any of the flagrant isms that are now flourishing.
The Catholic Church by her system of parochial schools is avoiding this great mistake. She is solving the problems of our country, as educators and moralists say it must be solved. In doing so, however, she is not only doing her share to support the State schools, but bearing voluntarily the enormous burden ofher own schools. The injustice of the situation is obvious to every true disciple of justice and right. The time must come in the immediate future, when the country will realize that the training of the heart and the mind go hand in hand. Those who have at heart the perpetuation of our nation as a world-power realize that they must have behind all else an enduring moral code.
With the youth of our country trained to ideals of morality, of civic virtue and an all-abiding belief in God, there will be no doubt that our government shall live on untouched by the evils which have befallen so many of the nations that have been great, to worldly seeming.
Where did the above essay come from? The student Board of Editors, of the Notre Dame Scholastic, October, 1908.
Today is the anniversary of the birthday of the formidable mathematician and thoroughly unsystematic philosopher, Blaise Pascal. For a collection of posts for fun on his work (which I'll try to continue throughout the summer, and which was inspired by Michael's wonderful post on Jansenism's "long tail"), see this, this ("On Legitimacy"), this ("On Intention"), and this ("The Wager").
Thursday, June 18, 2015
This situation has led to a constant schizophrenia, wherein a technocracy which sees no intrinsic value in lesser beings coexists with the other extreme, which sees no special value in human beings. But one cannot prescind from humanity. There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then “our overall sense of responsibility wanes”.96 A misguided anthropocentrism need not necessarily yield to “biocentrism”, for that would entail adding yet another imbalance, failing to solve present problems and adding new ones. Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility are recognized and valued. 95 John Paul
Just a bit from the encyclical:
In the first creation account in the Book of Genesis, God’s plan includes creating humanity. After the creation of man and woman, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen 1:31). The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons”.37 Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of the Creator for each human being “confers upon him or her an infinite dignity”.38 Those who are committed to defending human dignity can find in the Christian faith the deepest reasons for this commitment. How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles! The Creator can say to each one of us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5). We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”.39 . . .
84. Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous.
Now, review "The Weight of Glory"!
In this New York Times piece, Andrew Rosenthal discusses former Gov. Jeb Bush's recent statement that:
“But I love … first of all, Pope Francis is an extraordinary leader,” he said. “He speaks with such clarity,” Mr. Bush said. “He speaks so differently and he’s drawing people back into the faith, all of which as a converted Catholic now of 25 years I think is really cool.”
But, Mr. Bush said, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or from my pope.” He added that “religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”
Although I admire a lot about Gov. Bush's views and record, I had been preparing to do a post, along the line of Rod Dreher's, criticizing Bush's statement for it's wrongheaded sharp distinction between "making us better people" and "the political realm." As Dreher says, "Catholic Christianity is not focused only on personal piety, but has a broad social dimension as well[.]" But then along came the Rosenthal piece, which manages, at the same time, to (a) hold up the JFK speech as a model of the right way to think about religion-and-politics while (b) blaming Bush for not being more like JFK. As I see it, Bush's mis-step was precisely in echoing JFK (on this particular point). According to Rosenthal:
Mr. Bush is perfectly O.K. with government imposing the religious values he shares on women who make the difficult decision to have an abortion, or simply to get prenatal care or contraceptive services. He doesn’t want to hear from “his cardinals” on economic issues, but apparently thinks the right wing’s religious views should dominate on the civil rights issue of allowing people to marry whomever they choose, regardless of gender. He’s O.K. with laws that allow discrimination against same-sex couples based on the religious beliefs of business owners.
And he had no problem when he was governor of Florida acting on his personal religious views to thrust himself into the agonizing decision of Terri Schiavo’s family to disconnect her feeding tube after she had been in a persistent vegetative state for over a decade.
Well, there's a lot of question-begging going on here, I think, involving the distinction between "acting on . . . personal religious views" or "imposing . . . religious values" and . . . supporting and executing laws in accord with one's understanding of the common good, human dignity, and political morality? It's an old point, but it's also always worth making: The equality norm that Rosenthal (and others) fault Bush (and others) for disregarding in, say, the abortion context is, at the end of the day, inextricably indebted to "religious views" and "religious values."
Reed v. Gilbert is a unanimous--and clearly correct--decision upholding a start-up church's challenge to a crazy-quilt town ordinance that severely limited both the size and duration of the church's roadside signs directing people to its worship services. (The church, which met in a local school, effectively could not put up the signs until late the evening before the service.)
But behind the unanimity in invalidating the ordinance is pretty substantial division on whether to analyze it under strict scrutiny (the majority) or something less (Kagan and Breyer concurrences in the judgment). The division reflects the increasingly evident fact that the Court's "conservatives" interpret free-speech rights more broadly than the "liberals" do. The liberals' concurrences bring up various government regulatory interests that involving prohibiting or requiring speech (securities filings, required signs urging people to wash their hands after leaving a petting zoo, etc.). Looming in the immediate background of this case is the recurring divide over the extent to which free-speech rights might cut into general government regulation.
Justice Kagan raises some reasonable questions about whether strict scrutiny should be automatically triggered just because a sign ordinance makes distinctions based on a sign's content (by, for example, favoring historical-marker signs or highway signs advertising the availability of coffee). The amicus brief filed by the Christian Legal Society and others, written by the St. Thomas Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic, agreed with the majority's analysis here but also offered a narrower potential principle. We argued that laws discriminating against announcements of, and directions to, noncommercial events--as the town's ordinance did here--should trigger strict scrutiny under the distinct First Amendment freedom of assembly. We made use of John Inazu's groundbreaking work on that freedom.
The majority didn't take up our suggestion. But it did say that the town's argument that it could treat signs advertising events less well than other signs (e.g. those supporting political candidates or "ideological messages") was "novel" and unsupportable. So make a mental note: in the future, Reed v. Gilbert might be cited as a case where the Court recognized, if implicitly, that gatherings of people--"assembl[ies]"--enjoy strong, not weak, First Amendment, protection.
(St. Thomas student Michael Blissenbach did fine work helping to draft the CLS et al, amicus brief.)