. . . But not in the usual sense of that term. As reported by The World:
In L’Hospitalet, near Barcelona, a priest let a bunch of graffiti artists go to town on his church. Specifically, on the dome ceiling above the main altar. You know, the space Michelangelo liked to paint.
The Santa Eulalia church is neo-Romanesque in design, with a Catalan twist. Inside it’s austere. The walls are painted nondescript colors, the statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the Saints are simple. To compensate Father Ramon Borr decided to make the main dome a little different.
In the ante-chamber of the church on a recent evening, he recalled how he came upon the idea last year, surfing the web. He said to himself, why not graffiti?
“Even though the press is scandalized by graffiti artists,” he said, “for me graffiti is just another artistic technique.”
The result is a spectacular splash of colors – rich blues, bright reds and greens, on the rounded ceiling dominating the main sanctuary. But don’t think street art. In fact, the style of the painting is faithfully Romanesque, with static, two-dimensional renderings of Saint Eulalia, the Virgin and Baby Jesus and the congregation. Borr says he sent his two young graffiti artists to school before he let them near the place.
An exchange in Boston Review between Richard White and Gavin Jones on wealth during and since the Gilded Age reminded me of a question that arose during the Occupy Wall Street protests: To what extent has the decline of social stigmas contributed to the rise in economic inequality?
Few would disagree that there is now less of a stigma against divorce, unwed motherhood, homosexuality, and other once-controversial practices than there was in the early and mid-twentieth century. (The real argument is over whether stigmas can serve a useful purpose, but we’ll leave that aside for now.) One factor underlying the explosive growth of top executives’ compensation in recent decades could be a similar decline in the stigma against accumulating and enjoying great wealth.
For a generation after World War II, fear of outrage kept executive salaries in check. Now the outrage is gone. That is, the explosion of executive pay represents a social change rather than the purely economic forces of supply and demand. We should think of it not as a market trend like the rising value of waterfront property, but as something more like the sexual revolution of the 1960’s—a relaxation of old strictures, a new permissiveness, but in this case the permissiveness is financial rather than sexual.
Brink Lindsey, writing (PDF) more recently for the libertarian Cato Institute, admits that Krugman “is on to something” but argues that the older attitude toward wealth was closely tied to “the combination of in-group solidarity and out-group hostility” that also contributed to racism and sexism. Racial, sexual, and financial tolerance may be a package deal; one cannot have both individualism and a high degree of social solidarity.
Lindsey’s argument seems plausible, but social stigma has not evaporated entirely: Even as many forms of stigma have declined, new ones have emerged. The former stigma attached to interracial marriage, for example, has been replaced by a stigma against racism. The Occupy Wall Street protests could be read in part as an effort to re-stigmatize wealth by publicly criticizing, ridiculing, and harassing the extremely wealthy.
Whatever the merits of such demonstrations—no one wants reckless CEOs to receive golden parachutes and government bailouts—I don’t think the broader re-stigmatization campaign has much chance of success. It’s hard to attach public disgrace to a desirable state of life, and perhaps harder still to inflict it on society’s most powerful members.
As you may already know thanks to the ad on our homepage, we’re now accepting applications for the First Things junior fellowship program:
Graduating college seniors and recent graduates are invited to apply for the First Things junior fellows program. The junior fellows work closely with the editors to produce the magazine and its website. The one-year, full-time fellowship (which is normally extended to a second year) includes housing and a modest stipend.
Please send a resume, a 250-word description of why you want to be a junior fellow, two (short) writing samples, and three references (one of whom should know your writing or editorial work) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are due by March 15.
Matthew Schmitz gave a basic description of the program on our blog last month; here I’ll add a more personal view from my experiences as a junior fellow this year. (Incidentally, the title of this post is a nod to Larry Norman, who reportedly said “We need worship for our spirit, fellowship for our soul and committed subservience for our body.”)
A junior fellowship is an opportunity to immerse yourself not only in the production of the magazine but also in an enriching and joy-filled community . . . not to mention the religious, intellectual, artistic, musical, and historical worlds of New York City. That means you can hone your dinner-cooking, museum-visiting, restaurant-finding, liturgy-attending, and theology-debating skills along with your writing, editing, and proofreading ones.
More seriously, working here means pondering “the first things” and what they imply about the second things. Far from being abstruse philosophical theories, these reflections bear on today’s most controversial issues: What is the purpose of government? Are religion and science at odds? How should the church and state interact? What is marriage?
As a junior fellow, you can consider and debate such questions with colleagues who are far better-read and more knowledgeable than you, while also making essential contributions to the magazine. A few duties are routine office tasks: answering emails, moderating comments, advertising events. But you’ll spend most of your energy on writing for our website, evaluating submissions, participating in editorial meetings, editing and fact-checking manuscripts, attending our events, and reading any of the hundreds of books that pour into our office. I highly encourage you to apply.
In a newly released pastoral letter to the Diocese of Marquette, Bishop Alexander Sample (now archbishop-designate of Portland) calls for implementation of Church teaching on the use of sacred music in the liturgy.
Drawing on a century’s worth of papal and council documents, he points out that Catholics do not just “take the Mass and simply ‘tack on’ four songs.” Rather, “since sacred music is integral to the Mass, the role of sacred music is to help us sing and pray the texts of the Mass itself [the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Psalm, Alleluia, etc.], not just ornament it.” In short, “we sing the Mass at Mass, rather than sing songs during Mass” (emphasis his).
Bishop Sample also reviews the qualities of sacred music and its traditional forms from Gregorian chant, which the Second Vatican Council gives “pride of place” in the Mass, to polyphony, hymnody, psalmody, and others. About singing hymns at Mass, a subject we’ve debated here before, he writes:
Hymns are a musical form pertaining more properly to the Liturgy of the Hours, rather than the Mass. Hymn-singing at Mass originated in the custom of the people singing vernacular devotional hymns at Low Mass during the celebrant’s silent recitation of the Latin prayers. However, the current Missal as well as official liturgical documents envision a singing of the Mass as outlined above.
The Roman Missal assigns a few hymns to various Masses in the course of the liturgical calendar . . . However, the hymns and songs commonly sung at Mass every week at the Entrance, Preparation of the Gifts and Communion are not identified in the Missal. It is important to recognize that when we sings hymns at these moments during Mass, it is because we are omitting some of the Mass chants.
While the Proper chants in the Missal should be sung if at all possible, he concludes, “singing hymns in place of [some] Proper chants is permissible for pastoral reasons.”
Read the whole pastoral letter here. And let us hope that the Diocese of Marquette is not the only place that will carry out Bishop Sample’s instructions.
Following up on Peter Blair’s post that we linked to yesterday, Sarah Ngu writes at Fare Forward about the shortcomings of the typical Christian arguments against relativism.
“Relativizing the relativizer” only works if the relativist “actually [cares] about having an airtight, logically consistent worldview,” which not all people do, she points out. And some people are relativists not merely “out of a desire to be their own master” but also “out of a sense of injustice, because they associate capital T ‘Truth’ with historical injustice.” Ngu explains:
In the 19th century, it was True that Africans and Asians were somehow less human. In the early 20th century, it was True that women were not to be trusted with voting rights. It is no wonder then that the postmodern tends to suspects an Oz-like wizard behind the flashy projections of “Truth.” The standard apologetics’ explanation for relativism is often traced back to thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche, but the real question is why his argument that the powerful define truth begins to seem more and more plausible.
I hadn’t thought about the attraction of relativism in quite these terms before, but my own limited experience with today’s young relativists—or rather, selective relativists, as most of them believe in at least a few moral and metaphysical absolutes—would fit her explanation. My relativistic friends aren’t just self-seeking hedonists or lazy metaphysicians. Rather, they’re skeptical of truth claims because historically, many people have indeed used them to justify cruelty. Ngu’s conclusion:
The Gospel is a meta-narrative whose truth is not to be denied, but rather substantiated and backed up, not just by sophisticated arguments for truth and morality, but also by standing for the widow, the fatherless and the orphan, or whoever is weak and powerless amongst us. If not, it will simply be dismissed as just another self-serving Truth.
Note her emphasis on a both/and approach rather than an either/or one. Philosophical argument and moral witness are not competing approaches to apologetics; they are complementary. Read her whole post here.
An eighth-century depiction of the arrest of Christ from the Book of Kells.
Church historian Philip Jenkins, who studied the Dark Ages (with his apologies for the term) as an undergraduate, compares the spread of Christianity in that era to its spread in our own:
The central fact of the [Dark Ages] was the conversion of [the British Isles and Scandinavia] to Christianity, which meant thinking about the nature of mission, and the relationship between old and new faiths. When for instance a formerly pagan society accepted Christianity, how much of their old ways should they retain? How many old customs or cultural forms could be brought within the scope of church life? Moreover, Christianity meant literacy: how did that transform the older society, and what scope did that allow for the old spiritual and cultural leaders, whether pagan priests or druids?
For many years now, my main area of research has been in Global or World Christianity, namely the historic shift of the faith’s center of gravity to the Global South, to Africa Asia and Latin America. In many instances, the issues at stake in this growth are very similar indeed to those of the Early Middle Ages. In Africa, for instance, Christianity boomed when it broke free from the constraints of the European missions, and developed a mass following among independent churches with native leadership. Often though, Western Christians were (and are) alarmed at what seemed to be concessions to old pagan ways, in matters like healing, exorcism and spiritual warfare. The debates resonate immediately with anyone familiar with Europe’s own conversion era.
Jenkins goes on to quote a letter Pope Gregory the Great wrote to Abbot Mellitus as the abbot set off to evangelize England in the year 601, a letter that shaped missionaries’ attitudes for centuries. Read the whole post at The Anxious Bench. And if you’ve never read his 2006 Erasmus lecture on Christianity in the Global South, then read that, too.
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver speaking last May.
When the Colorado Independentreported late last month that a Catholic hospital in Colorado was arguing in a malpractice case that fetuses aren’t people, the incident was immediately (and rightly) denounced as hypocrisy. The next day, local bishops promised to investigate the litigation and the policies of Catholic Health Initiatives (the non-profit organization that runs the hospital) in order “to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church.” The bishops then met with CHI executives.
As a result, the group yesterday released a statement (PDF) acknowledging that it was morally wrong for hospital lawyers to argue that fetuses are not persons, stating it will no longer use that argument in court, and affirming its adherence to the Church’s position on when life begins. The bishops, too, released a statement describing the case and reiterating Catholic beliefs.
So the matter seems to be resolved, even if it took public embarrassment for that to happen. There may have been hypocrites among the hospital’s executives, or they may have just neglected to supervise their lawyers as closely as they should have, but Church teaching has, thanks to the bishops’ efforts, seemingly won out.
A small victory, perhaps, but the damage has been done. (more…)
As an English major I cringed at some of the recommended rhymes, but this advice is definitely right: “One thing in your song should always be on fire, be it our heart, our souls, this generation . . . Something needs to be in flames.” (h/t Colin Gormley)
We were reminded of this recent church service parody:
One of the many contentious questions in the debate over gay marriage is whether, and how, same-sex marriage would affect the flourishing of families and especially of children. Alana Newman, who has written for us before on gay marriage and assisted reproductive technologies, took up that topic yesterday at the Family Scholars blog.
At a luncheon, she says, she once heard “a woman speak of her and her lesbian partner and their deep, passionate desire to get married.” She continues:
In defending why they should have the right to do so they first and most forcefully reveal that they have a son they’re raising, born using one woman’s eggs, the other woman’s womb, and someone else’s sperm—a man that has been excluded and banished from the family. I notify her that I am against gay marriage and cite being donor-conceived as the essential experience that informs and shapes my opinion on this subject. She responds “but marriage and donor-conception have nothing to do with each other.” Even though she just propped up her son as the main reason why she and her partner should receive marriage privileges.
Recounting a lecture she attended by Robert George on What Is Marriage?, Newman writes that the philosophy underlying the left’s views on marriage, abortion, third-party reproduction is a dehumanizing form of mind-body dualism:
If “we”, our true selves, are our mind, and our body is just a vessel—then what harm are drugs, promiscuity, abortion, and 3PR? . . . If my body is separate from “me” than it is totally ridiculous and pointless that I am spending so much time talking about and pining for my biological father. . . .
But the body is the person. I am a woman. I am an amalgam of my father and mother. And they are of their mother and father. Intending parents that choose to dismember the human body and separate parenting into services rendered, particularly through surrogacy and egg donation, are dehumanizing their child. . . .
They are separating the person from a precious and sacred element of what it means to be human—having a mother and father. And it all stems from the mistake of philosophically separating the mind from the body. For parents via 3PR [third-party reproduction], I am not the enemy to their children finding happiness. Neither is the Catholic church. The enemy to their children’s happiness is humanity itself.
Your teenage “kids” are probably a lot more competent than they seem, according to psychologist Robert Epstein. But a raft of laws and regulations (compulsory education, labor restrictions, a separate juvenile justice system) and an ever-growing consumer sector have needlessly delayed their entry into the adult world. Historically, he points out in an interview about his recent book The Case Against Adolescence, this is not the norm:
We have completely isolated young people from adults and created a peer culture. We stick them in school and keep them from working in any meaningful way, and if they do something wrong we put them in a pen with other “children.” In most nonindustrialized societies, young people are integrated into adult society as soon as they are capable, and there is no sign of teen turmoil. Many cultures do not even have a term for adolescence. But we not only created this stage of life: We declared it inevitable. In 1904, American psychologist G. Stanley Hall said it was programmed by evolution. He was wrong.
Rejecting the stereotype of the teenager as immature and incompetent, Epstein argues that adolescents are fully capable of cognitive and moral reasoning, maintaining long-term relationships, and being responsible for themselves. While teens “have too much freedom” in certain senses, they’re nevertheless “not free to join the adult world, and that’s what needs to change”:
I believe that young people should have more options—the option to work, marry, own property, sign contracts, start businesses, make decisions about health care and abortions, live on their own—every right, privilege, or responsibility that an adult has. . . .
When we dangle significant rewards in front of our young people—including the right to be treated like an adult—many will set aside the trivia of teen culture and work hard to join the adult world.
Naturally I disagree with him about abortion, and I’m not convinced that we should roll back child labor laws or institute the competency tests that he favors. Broadly, however, I think he’s right that the myth of the shallow, irresponsible teenager is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Parents may not be able to give their teenage sons and daughters all the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, but they can at least encourage teens to find a job and give them enough freedom to learn from their mistakes, just like adults do. Don’t assume they’re incapable of making good decisions unless they’ve proven by their behavior that they’re incapable. Stop treating them like kids, and they may stop acting like them.
It may have been penicillin, not the Pill, that triggered the sexual revolution, a new study indicates. Hypothesizing that “a decrease in the cost of syphilis due to penicillin [which, in 1943, was found to treat syphilis effectively] spurred an increase in risky non-traditional sex,” the Emory University economist Andrew Francis discovered evidence that “the era of modern sexuality originated in the mid to late 1950s,” prior to the debut of oral contraceptive pills in 1960. (Full PDF here.)
Francis is not the first to suggest this; Megan McArdle, for one, floated the idea last year when writing about the advent of seemingly untreatable STDs. Untreatable STDs sound like the stuff of a nightmarish sexual education class (like the scene in Mean Girls: “if you touch each other, you will get chlamydia, and die”), but the CDC seems to consider their development fairly likely. If penicillin sparked the sexual revolution, antibiotic-resistant STDs could lead to something of a sexual un-revolution.
But it’s impossible to know what such an “un-revolution” would look like. It would certainly disrupt the hook-up scene (not to mention today’s “open relationships”) and may make serial monogamy a bit less serial. Nevertheless, given the contraception-related transformation of the sex and marriage markets—which Timothy Reichert has described in our pages—a return to premarital abstinence and lifelong monogamy seems highly unlikely. Let’s hope, for the sake of people who could contract incurable and fatal STDs in this scenario, that we don’t find out.
Quick: Define nugatory, macerate, and ferrous, and use each in a sentence. A bit rusty on your vocabulary? You may want to brush up—and make sure your kids do, too. As E. D. Hirsch Jr. writes in City Journal:
There’s no better index to accumulated knowledge and general competence than the size of a person’s vocabulary. Simply put: knowing more words makes you smarter. And between 1962 and the present, a big segment of the American population began knowing fewer words, getting less smart, and becoming demonstrably less able to earn a high income.
But flashcards aren’t the way to go. Rather, “the fastest way to gain a large vocabulary . . . is to follow a systematic curriculum that presents new words in familiar contexts, thereby enabling the student to make correct meaning-guesses unconsciously.” “A large vocabulary,” Hirsch concludes, “results not from memorizing word lists but from acquiring knowledge about the social and natural worlds.”
New words in familiar contexts, acquiring knowledge about the world—sounds like a subscription to First Things! Just one David Bentley Hart column offers you multiple opportunities to expand your vocabulary. Whether he’s talking about lachrymose Republicans, unctuous euphemisms, effervescent seasons of celebrity, or “a kind of Aufhebung (in the Hegelian sense),” you’re unlikely to escape “The Back Page” without needing a dictionary. If you needed just one more reason to subscribe, let this be it.
The March for Life, which is now underway in Washington, D.C., tends to be a festive affair—which is unsurprising, given that it’s dominated by young people (with up to 80 percent of attendees under the age of twenty, according to event director Jeanne Monahan). High schoolers and college students outnumber older adults by a huge margin, and you’re less likely to hear doomsday preaching than upbeat chants and hymns.
But my heart is heavy today as I think of all who should be alive, but are not—the 55 million Americans who, thanks to the legacy of Roe v. Wade, were killed before their birth over the past forty years. National Review‘s Katrina Trinko wrote movingly on this subject earlier in the week:
It’s hard to mourn [the victims of abortion] because we know virtually nothing about them, except they once existed. So much of them remained potential. We don’t know how many of them would have been eager and well-behaved, and how many would been hellions, and how many would have been, like most of us as children, a mixture of earnest affection and efforts and tantrums. . . .
So it’s tough to mourn, because when we mourn, we talk specifics. We talk about how the departed one loved certain things, whether it be cult movies or fashion or basketball. We talk about the memories we have of him or her, of the specific things done in the past. We talk about his personality, his approach to life—whether that be glass half full or half empty—and so much more.
But for these kids, we have none of that. . . . .
And we don’t know how having them around would have changed us. Could they have been friends, spouses, relatives, colleagues who we would have connected with, who would have awakened or encouraged an aspect of our personalities that may now remain dormant? Perhaps.
It’s curious to notice who isn’t there. But it’s even stranger that we spend so little time wondering who they—and we—would have been if they were still with us.
Kelby Carlson, writing at Alastair’s Adversaria, proposes a richer theological model of disability as he brings his experience as a disabled person “into dialogue with two important concepts: the evangelical doctrines of vocation and the theology of the cross.”
In doing so he aims to avoid two flawed religious interpretations of disability: first “a kind of non-redemptive liberation theology” that defines God as some marginalized category and believes him hostile to the non-marginalized, and the opposite tendency to “collapse disability into a grand narrative of sin in such a way that redemption of disability becomes redemption from disability” (emphasis mine).
“There are few things more potentially useful to the disabled experience than the idea of vocation,” Carlson argues:
Vocation places disability in a wider spectrum of the sacred calling. It implies that disabled people and their able-bodied counterparts are on equal spiritual footing. More than that, it suggests that disabled people can be seen as conduits for God’s grace and service rather than it only images of a broken creation in need of “fixing.”
This doctrine of vocation restores the image of God to the disabled. In response to the worry that disability is evidence of sin, one can reply precisely to the contrary. While brokenness itself is evidenced of a creation longing for release from bondage, an individual’s disability is, subversively, a venue for Christ to display his glory.
Turning to the theology of the cross, he writes: (more…)
The pro-life movement has always been accused of opposing the progress of women, trying to expel them from the workplace and entrap them in the home to do nothing but prepare food and bear children.
Now that women lead the pro-life movement (a development that not even the Washington Post and the New York Times could fail to note), that claim has lost some plausibility, but pro-choice activists haven’t stopped making it. Witness the vitriol Ross Douthat attracted when he wrote about the nation’s declining birthrate, the claim that conservatives are making “a bid to roll back the gains and freedoms that feminism has managed to earn for women,” or the invocation of The Handmaid’s Tale in discussions of pro-life politicians and arguments.
Upholding the myth of pro-life gender-traditionalism-bordering-on-misogyny in the academic world is a study now almost thirty years old: Kristin Luker’s Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. As Jon Shields (whose article “Roe‘s Pro-Life Legacy” appeared in our January issue) wrote in the journal Contemporary Sociology last year, “no other work on abortion politics has approached [Luker's book's] influence.” Her thesis in a nutshell: “While on the surface it is the embryo’s fate that seems to be at stake, the abortion debate is actually about the meaning of women’s lives.” This may have been true in the early 1980s when Luker did her fieldwork, but it’s no longer the case.
Using data from the National Election Survey, which asks respondents about their views on gender roles and abortion (among other topics), Shields demonstrates in his paper (PDF) that a clear majority of today’s pro-life Americans are gender egalitarians, with only a handful of believing that women’s place is in the home. Or to slice the data another way, “the average moderately pro-life citizen [now] is a stronger supporter of gender equality than even the typical strongly pro-choice citizen was in the early 1980s.” Furthermore, “the divide over women’s roles nearly disappears entirely among young pro-life and pro-choice citizens.”
The battle over abortion, Shields concludes, “will be fought increasingly by gender egalitarians.” Just don’t expect the pro-choice movement to admit it.
A new report from the Institute for American Values explores the complicated ways in which a child’s family structure, particularly the experience of parents’ divorce, can affect his or her religious practices as an adult. Coauthors Elizabeth Marquardt, Amy Ziettlow, and Charles E. Stokes emphasize the significance of their findings and recommendations on the Washington Post‘s ”Guest Voices” blog:
Numerous studies are now revealing that children of divorce overall are less religious when they grow up, with clear implications for the vitality of the churches. In one study, two-thirds of young adults who grew up in married parent families, compared to just over half who grew up in divorced families, say they are very or fairly religious. And, more than a third of people from married parent families currently attend religious services almost every week, compared to just a quarter of people from divorced families. Given that about one in four of today’s young adults are grown children of divorce, and that more than 40 percent of American children are now born outside of marriage, how these younger generations approach questions of spiritual meaning and religious involvement will influence broader trends in the churches for years to come.
The FamilyScholars blog is hosting a symposium (including a contribution from Helen Alvaré, whose writing we’ve mentioned before) on the report, the entirety of which is available online (PDF) but too long to summarize. Here are a few interesting excerpts, however, with page numbers referring to the PDF of the report. (more…)
New York City–area readers may wish to attend this lecture on health care ethics by Brother Ignatius Perkins, O.P., Ph.D., R.N. on Saturday, February 2. “The Dehumanization of the Clinician and the Demise of the Healing Relationship” is the inaugural lecture of the Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry’s St. Catherine of Siena Chair in Catholic Health Care Ethics.
The event, which will take place at St. Catherine of Siena Church (411 E. 68th St., New York, NY), is free and open to the public; however, registration is required. The webpage provides this more detailed description of the lecture’s focus:
Professional literature in health care ethics today frequently reports discussions on the multiple variables that threaten the human dignity and vulnerability of the sick person. Unfortunately, little attention is given to understanding how human dignity of the clinician is threatened and violated in the current health care environment.
Today’s technologically and economically-driven health care environment is influenced by moral relativism, reductionism, and a clinical focus on specialization, technology and disease rather than on the human person who is sick and in need of healing. The influence of these principles has led to the systemic violation of the dignity of the clinician (and ultimately that of persons who are sick), created moral distress among clinicians, and the collapse of the healing relationship. Guided by the Church’s teaching these violations can be addressed and corrected by applying the Church’s moral tradition in health care, by re-affirming the principle of human dignity as the moral center of the healing relationship between clinician and patients. [Brother Ignatius’s] presentation will propose three strategies directed toward reclaiming the dignity of the human person and the re-humanization of the clinician, namely, formation of the clinician, creation of moral communities for clinicians, and implementation of the Pellegrino healing relationship model in clinical practice.
In order to better facilitate discussion on this blog, we’ve recently updated our commenting policies to include a limit on the length of comments. Comments can run to no longer than approximately three hundred words (1900 characters, including spaces). Multiple-part comments are not allowed; however, we continue to encourage back-and-forth conversations between commenters as long as the discussion remains civil and relevant to the original blog post.
Dallas Theological Seminary last month published an interview with the eminent Evangelical Anglican theologian Alister McGrath on subjects from atheism and apologetics to classical liberalism and Ludwig Feuerbach.
Here’s what he had to say about American apologetics:
A lot of American apologetics is still angled toward to a modern, rather than a postmodern context—I’m thinking of its concern with propositional correctness. I accept that; that’s a very important part of apologetics. But apologetics is also relational. It’s how you become the right kind of person. It’s how you find something you can rely on. It has to do with ethics. It has to do with imaginative visions of the world. Without losing its strengths, can American apologetics embrace these areas as well? I think it can and it will.
It is right to say there is a degree of complexity in nature that can’t be accounted for in any natural mechanism. . . . But I get worried that the Intelligent Design movement sometimes is a bit like the “God in the Gaps” approach. In effect, you say, “Look, you can’t explain this—that’s God.” Take Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box (1996), which often says “We can’t explain that by science, therefore . . . ” But actually, fifteen years later, some would say that we can now explain some of that.
and classical liberalism:
[Classical] liberalism, as I understand it, is an ethos of tolerance. It is an ethos of saying, “This is what you think; this is what I think, but we can get on together in a civilized way that enriches us and our society.” . . . I fully accept that we should work hard to get on with each other. Yet as a matter of principle, we have to say sometimes, “This is just wrong. We can’t allow this. We need to do something about this.” In effect, classic liberalism makes toleration its normative foundation. Therefore, it finds itself in a difficult situation where it has to tolerate that is intolerable.
Daniel Silliman ponders on his blog whether charity could entirely replace the welfare state, as some conservatives desire:
Could private charities move beyond assistance, beyond helping at the points where the system of government assistance is breaking down, replacing government with benevolent associations as religious conservatives say would be preferable. If given the chance, could and would people of good will take care of the poor voluntarily, giving enough money to private organizations to functionally replace the social safety nets now in place?
He cites his experience as a reporter in Georgia, taking that state as a test case for whether charities could take over the work of government programs for the poor. Later he examines the claim that lower tax rates will lead to more private-sector giving:
The president of [the Acton Institute] has argued that “Private charity tends to be inversely related to growth of government welfare” and that when “budget cuts go into effect, people will reach deeper into their pockets to help those genuinely in need.”
That doesn’t seem to be true, though. Giving doesn’t correspond to tax rates, but to economic growth. When recessions hit, giving declines, and when the economy improves, giving does too. In recent history, giving increased a good bit during the late ’90s, corresponding pretty directly to the boom years of the dot-com bubble. The Bush tax cuts, by comparison, which went into effect in 2001 . . . saw no corresponding increase in giving. . . . Generally speaking, charity doesn’t increase when there’s increased need, in the way that government spending might, but rather seems to be another kind of luxury spending that people, in aggregate, spend when they have.
To state the obvious: If conservatives want the argument that charity can replace government programs to look plausible, we’ll need to start putting our money where our mouths are. You can read Silliman’s entire post here.
Sometime in the last few years, I realized that my ignorance of botany was interfering with my enjoyment of literature. This truth was brought home to me once more last night as I read Sigrid Undset’s novel Ida Elisabeth. The title character, Undset tells us, “would have liked more plants in pots”:
It made her green with envy to go past windows which had swelling tea-roses and bright bunches of red and white pelargoniums pressing against the panes. Marit, for instance—she had a huge green window-box full of Jacobæa lilies; in summer it was like a regular thicket of long, narrow dark green leaves arching and crossing one another, and then in autumn came the flowers, as many as twenty at the same time. . . . Ida Elisabeth felt wild with longing; she did not quite know for what, as she sat and looked at all these tall, stiff stalks with bunches of great staring red calyxes—the colour was so strange, so bright and clear, and the shape of each separate flower seemed so perfectly clean-cut and strong.
It’s supposed to be an evocative passage, but I had no idea what Ida was looking at.
I can easily find out what the named flowers look like: here are tea roses, red and white pelargoniums, Jacobæa lilies. But when I’m reading in bed, I don’t want to get up and Google it. Even when I’m reading with a computer nearby (no e-reader for me), I rarely want to disrupt the experience of reading by pausing to look something up, whether a word or a plant.
The problem seems trivial, I know, but it represents a sad impoverishment of the imagination: When I (and presumably many others today) read “pelargoniums,” no picture comes to mind. The word is divorced from the image, disconnected from the thing it names. And in most cases, the names and descriptions of plants function as more than just background or filler material. Rather, they develop the atmosphere of a scene, or establish a metaphor, or reveal something about the inner life of a character.
For example, by telling us in the above passage that Ida Elisabeth is drawn to certain bright, lush flowers in full bloom (rather than to delicate baby’s breath flowers, a simple green shrub, or a stately tree), Undset probably means to underscore that Ida wants a richer life than she experiences during her busy days indoors as a seamstress and mother. In the context of the book, this interpretation seems obvious; without a mental picture of the flowers named, however, the reader is less likely to connect the flowers with the more explicit descriptions of Ida’s desires.
Similarly, not without reason would D. H. Lawrence name lime trees, balsam pines, and copper beeches in the poem “Trees in the Garden.” When we know nothing about those trees—what they look like, where they’re found, what emotions or characteristics are commonly associated with them—we’re not going to get much out of the poem. One cannot skip over the types of trees he names in the way a small child can skip over unknown words in a book and still grasp the story’s development. For the writer’s purposes, then, our ignorance of the natural world resembles not merely a stunted vocabulary but the lack of a whole language: We cannot understand what we’re reading on the level the writer intends. And that is a sad loss.
The Church hates science. The Church hates women. The Church hates gay people.
Many Catholics are sick of hearing this refrain but unsure of how to answer it, especially in language that’s appealing to non-Christians. And a quick search for resources is more likely to yield Internet polemics, dated encyclopedia entries, and an intimidating stack of books than anything of use in a face-to-face argument.
Into this breach has stepped Christopher Kaczor, whose recent book The Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church: Distinguishing Fact from Fiction about Catholicism offers an accessible and impressively thorough (for its length) examination of the Church’s alleged hatred, bigotry, and backwardness.
In just over 150 pages, Kaczor takes on misconceptions related to the Church’s stand on science, happiness, women, contraception, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and priestly celibacy (this last item especially in connection with the sex abuse crisis). (more…)
The Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Navarra and the Social Trends Institute have scheduled a two-day Seminar on Natural Law and Public Reason for graduate students. The seminar will be run by advanced graduate students in the field of moral philosophy, and is also addressed to graduate students working in the field.
Presenters will include friends of First Things Sherif Girgis and Matthew O’Brien. The full list of presentations, along with application details and information on travel grants, can be found here.
Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron recently spoke about the role of Catholic schools in the Church and the new evangelization—an issue particularly urgent as many Catholic schools struggle to remain open and affordable. Archbishop Vigneron argues that schools are “an organic extension of the Church, an outgrowth of her very substance”:
Schools are integral to the Church not only because of who our Lord is but also because of who we are. We are persons, not animals or robots. God has created us with a dignity and a capacity for wisdom that correspond, however analogously, to his own. But neither are we angels, so we also need to learn wisdom and to grow in wisdom. . . . There are many ways we come to wisdom and to the knowledge of God, but our schools provide privileged opportunities for this education during the most formative years of our lives.
He reminds his listeners that Catholic schools do not exist merely to provide a superior form of education. Rather:
What we want for our students, to put the matter in its simplest form, is that they become saints. A school that is an effective instrument of the New Evangelization will equip each of its students with all that is needed to offer a wholehearted “yes” to the universal call to holiness.
Calling for a “fundamental renewal of our Catholic schools,” the archbishop points to a successful educator of the past:
Here I look to the great scholar Alcuin, who was the schoolmaster of Charlemagne and a very significant reformer of Catholic education around the turn of the 9th Century and one of the leading lights of the Carolingian Renaissance. Alcuin’s efforts at launching a new education project bore great fruit, reshaping Christian culture over 1000 years ago.
Today, we’re Alcuin. Christ is calling us “(to) put out into deep water” in the work of renewal. We must be “deep” in our self-examination, “deep” in the changes we are willing to make for the sake of our mission, and “deep” in the boldness with which we will launch out into a new way of educating our children. Half-measures will not be sufficient to do the job. Our schools need our commitment, our self-investment, and our resolve if they are to become the instruments of the New Evangelization Christ wants them to be. Our children need what we have to offer in our schools, which is to say they need Jesus, and woe to us if we fail them. Jesus himself expects this of us, and we cannot disappoint him.
The address is available in its entirety here (PDF).