Wednesday, October 2, 2013, 12:42 PM
After many years of comparing manuscripts, compiling chants, and refining translations, the treasures of the Dominican chant tradition have at last been compiled into an impressive new hymnal for the Divine Office, the traditional prayer of chanted psalms, which sanctifies the hours of the day. For those interested in sacred music and the recovery of the Gregorian Chant tradition, the Dominican Hymnarium is indeed an exciting milestone.
The hymnal to be published by the Liturgical Commission of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph is now it its final stages of preparation and is only in need of a modest sum of funding to bring the project to completion. (Benefactors who contribute $25 or more to the completion of the project can opt to receive a complimentary copy of the Hymnarium once it is published).
The Dominican chant tradition, a distinctive thread of the Gregorian chant tradition, remains unknown to many. The tradition finds its origins in St. Dominic himself, but it received a stable and decisive direction by Humbert of Romans, the fifth Master of the Order of Preachers. The Hymnarium‘s introduction explains this rich history:
St. Dominic, who is well known for having sung hymns such as the Ave maris stella and the Veni creator as he walked throughout Europe, passed on to the Order of Preachers his love of singing the liturgy. One element of the early Dominican liturgy that was cultivated with great care was the repertoire of Latin hymnody sung at the various hours of the Divine Office. Through the diligent revisions of the Dominican liturgy that took place in the mid-thirteenth century under the direction of Humbert of Romans, the Order developed a selection of hymns that was used continuously from the time of Humbert through the twentieth century, unchanged but for the addition of hymns for new feasts.
The Dominican hymn repertoire is particularly remarkable for its sophisticated arrangement of melodies based on the rank of a feast, as well as for preserving the traditional texts of the hymns even after the promulgation of neo-classical versions in the seventeenth century. The melodies range in character from mere recitation tones elaborated with only a few notes to sustained cries of jubilation. The texts of the Proper of Time are concise and poetic presentations of the mysteries of the faith. and the texts of the Proper of Saints recall the great miracles and deeds of the saints in a memorable way. Through the concord of text and melody the singer encounters a veritable musical catechism that recalls salvation history and leads one more deeply into the rhythms and mysteries of the Church’s year. . . .
The 774 page, hardcover hymnal provides hymns for the major and minor hours of the Divine Office of every season of the liturgical year and hymns proper to specific saints. Each hymn is presented in both a Latin and English version and is set to a chant melody which musically reflects the solemnity of the hour, day, season, or feast. Sample recordings
of each hymn melody, sung by Dominican friars, can be found on the project’s website. Be sure to check out melody 45
, which is reserved for feasts of Holy Father Dominic, and the haunting melody 56
, from the common of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013, 8:19 AM
You may have missed the news amid the turmoil in the Middle East, but last week Salt Lake City hosted its first ever Comic Con sci-fi and comic book convention. Perhaps it was the energy generated at Comic-Con San Diego last month, or perhaps it was a particular resonance with the city’s interstellar eschatological hopes—whatever the cause may be, with over 70,000 attendees, the Salt Lake City event was the largest first-year comic book convention in American history and the largest convention of any kind ever held in the state of Utah. Be that as it may, if you had scanned the crowd of Trekkies, geeks, and booth babes, you would notice that one man was conspicuously absent.
That man was Orson Scott Card.
Orson Scott Card is the author of the Hugo-award-winning Ender’s Game, a science fiction novel set in an orbiting Battle School for children bred and trained to be humanity’s best hope of surviving an apocalyptic alien invasion. Since the book became an international best seller (and mandatory reading for enlisted U.S. Marines), Card held tight to his film production rights on grounds of artistic integrity. After co-founding a film company in 1996, Card set about crafting a screenplay himself. Over a decade later, Odd-Lot Entertainment finally picked up the production, Summit Entertainment (since bought out by Lionsgate) picked up the distribution, and Gavin Hood (X-Men, Wolverine, Tsotsi) joined on as director.
At both the San Diego and Salt Lake City conventions, Lionsgate heavily promoted the film adaptation of Ender’s Game, which will open in theaters November 1st. Lead actor Harrison Ford even fielded questions at the San Diego presser. While most geeks would have been thrilled to meet the legendary sci-fi author, Orson Scott Card was not invited to take part. A geeky LGBT group known as Geeks Out had gotten wind of Card’s opposition to redefining marriage; they called for a boycott of the film, and suddenly Card became a liability for the film’s promotion. Amidst the drama, Card issued a call for tolerance and humility in victory:
Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984. With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state. Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.
Card uttered this plea for tolerance in Entertainment Weekly, but arguably he wrote his most powerful plea thirty years ago when he created Ender Wiggin, his most brilliantly crafted character.
Born under military contract and monitored from birth, Ender is taken by the International Fleet to Battle School at the age of six where he is deliberately subjected to extreme mental and emotional anguish to prepare him to defend the human race against the invasion of the alien Formics. Ender’s chief torment is that while he never wants to harm anyone, he is manipulated into situations in which he must attack for survival. His compassion is overruled by his instinct of self-defense, and the burden of humanity’s hope placed on his shoulders. Every time he is manipulated into conflict, Ender’s brilliant mind studies his enemy and achieves a deep bond of sympathy precisely at the moment he discovers and exploits his enemy’s weakness. This is why he is humanity’s hope—and humanity’s victim. By the end of the novel, Ender’s greatness is vindicated by his compassion and sympathy towards his enemy, a greatness played out to less dramatic effect in the novel’s sequel.
Same-sex marriage proponents may think of Orson Scott Card and the National Organization for Marriage as Formic invaders. And there are those on the other side of the fence who view the LGBT lobby the same way. Whatever side of the fence one is on, hopefully all can agree that a little bit of imaginative sympathy would go a long way to judging the matter rightly. As Ender Wiggin would attest, hate sees monsters where there are men, and fear sees enemies where there are brothers.
Image: Orson Scott Card at Comic-Con 2008, photograph by Alex Erde
Cross-posted at Dominicana Blog
Monday, July 22, 2013, 4:09 PM
The Guardian reports that British Prime Minister David Cameron will soon announce sweeping measures to reduce child access to online pornography. Beginning at the end of next year, every household in Britain with an Internet connection will be obliged to decide whether they want family-friendly filters installed by their Internet service providers, and the default selection for new connections will be “yes.” The possession of “extreme pornography,” depictions of simulated rape, will also be outlawed, for the prime minister rightly observes, “These images normalise sexual violence against women – and they are quite simply poisonous to the young people who see them.”
This is a very encouraging policy move, which could serve as a model for legislation here in the United States. Cameron’s comments aimed at internet search providers are especially noteworthy:
I have a very clear message for Google, Bing, Yahoo and the rest. You have a duty to act on this – and it is a moral duty. If there are technical obstacles to acting on [search engines], don’t just stand by and say nothing can be done; use your great brains to help overcome them.
You’re the people who have worked out how to map almost every inch of the Earth from space; who have developed algorithms that make sense of vast quantities of information. Set your greatest brains to work on this. You are not separate from our society, you are part of our society, and you must play a responsible role in it.
That last exhortation calls to mind American FCC chairman Newton Minow’s famous “Wasteland” speech of 1961 to the National Association of Broadcasters. Appealing to the responsibility of broadcasters to serve the genuine public interest, Minow delivered an impassioned speech widely regarded as one of America’s best in the twentieth century.
When television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day. . . Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending.
By his appeal to the broadcast networks’ responsibility to the public interest, Minow had hoped that reform could come from within the industry itself. Broadcasting over public airwaves, the industry was a trustee of the public interest with an unprecedented degree of power. This power described by Minow could just as easily be ascribed to those browsers and search providers that give access to the Internet’s filth and riches:
What you gentlemen broadcast through the people’s air affects the people’s taste, their knowledge, their opinions, their understanding of themselves and of their world. And their future. The power of instantaneous sight and sound is without precedent in mankind’s history. This is an awesome power. It has limitless capabilities for good—and for evil. And it carries with it awesome responsibilities—responsibilities which you and I cannot escape.
Minow’s appeal to the conscience of the industry was not to great effect. The public interest is not the same as what interests the public, and what interests the public is what brings a profit to the broadcast industry. Cameron’s appeal to the conscience of Internet search providers faces the same challenges. Depending on the study, anywhere from 13-25% of all Internet searches on a given day are for pornographic material—that’s a sizable chunk of search-related ad revenue. Hence the need for regulation.
If broadcast television in 1961 was a wasteland, the Internet in 2013 is Newton Minow’s new minefield. It may be impossible to dig up the mines, but the path of our children’s cyber-wanderings can be safely directed away from the fields where they lay. Cameron’s announcement today signals a step in that direction, a step for England congruent with the wisdom of an American FCC chairman: “And just as history will decide whether the leaders of today’s world employed the atom to destroy the world or rebuild it for mankind’s benefit, so will history decide whether today’s broadcasters employed their powerful voice to enrich the people or debase them.”
Photo Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Ezekiel R. Kitandwe/Released
Monday, July 22, 2013, 3:47 PM
In today’s column, Luke Foster reflects on President Obama, the legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, and Christian hop-hop.
Healing racial wounds in America must go beyond government policy and economic reform and address family norms in our nation’s most marginalized communities. Yet, from the president’s rhetoric to his administration’s initiatives, Obama-era social policies have only made matters worse. The HHS mandate will stifle the sacrificial work of Catholic institutions serving the poorest among us, and the Democratic Party’s entrenched alliances with teachers’ unions have blocked school reforms that could revitalize the nation’s worst school districts.
Politics matters, but real signs of Gospel hope run deeper in art and culture:
There are voices crying in every wilderness. Enter the new generation of Christian hip-hop artists. The chart-toppingLecrae Moore sees his worshipful lyrics and intense sound as part of his broader work to bring Gospel renewal to inner-city culture through ReachLife Ministries. His lyrics repeatedly call on men to honor women and pursue chastity and his “Just Like You” tells the tragic story of a son whose father abandoned him. “Don’t Waste Your Life” has been a perennial encouragement to me. Along with other Christian rappers like Trip Lee—who released a wonderfully poignant pro-life track, “Beautiful Life”—and therichly theological Shai Linne, there is much all Christians should love about the Church and the Faith redeeming an art form to serve neighbor for the glory of Jesus.
Read the full On the Square here.
Friday, July 19, 2013, 1:32 PM
The young doctor stood in the packed auditorium, microphone in hand, glancing from downcast face to downcast face. Amidst that awkward disquiet, his honest, good-intentioned query suffocated in a hundred medical minds, asphyxiating under a pillow of political correctness. The young doctor, son of a recent acquaintance of mine, along with his fellow doctors in residency had just heard a presentation addressing the negative physiological effects of sodomy and how they might be treated. The presentation was concluded, the microphone was passed, and the young doctor asked, “Given these harmful effects, should I advise my patients to desist from such activity?”
The stunned silence of the doctors is easy to understand. In our individualistic, post-sexual revolution age, it is a blasphemous affront to the dignity of personal autonomy to place an obstacle to another’s pursuit of sexual fulfillment. Of course, for those of us beholden to the beauty of Christ’s solemnization of human sexuality, who live with an invigorating fear of God, and who dare to hope that every man might stand justified on the day of judgment, the “blasphemy” of the young doctor sounds like reverence, his naïve “intolerance” like charity.
The plight of the young doctor’s question illuminates a distinction which Harvard psychologist Herman Kelman famously made between two common forms of social influence: normative and informative. The shame inducing silence of our young doctor’s peers is an example of normative social influence. Had his peers refuted the premise of his question with a reasoned defense of the freedom of consensual adults to engage in physiologically dangerous sex-acts, then they would have been engaging in informative social influence through positive rational or rhetorical persuasion. Normative social influence appeals to the good of interpersonal communion, informative to the good of possessing the truth.
It is characteristic of our day that when normative social influence is brought to our attention we generally hold it in disdain. This disdain arises from a characteristically modern social norm: the norm of authenticity. As an authentic person, you must intentionally and critically examine each of your cultural inheritances, choose what you like and discard that which you don’t—and you must not raise obstacles to others doing the same. It’s a Lockean philosophy of political sovereignty applied to the realm of moral tradition. And just as consent undermines the definition of sovereignty, the norm of authenticity would seem to undermine normative social influence itself: Peer pressure is vilified because it tempts us to be inauthentic.
The irony, of course, is that just as the exercise of sovereignty is necessary to perpetuate the politics of consent—as the recently-ousted democratically-elected president of Egypt can testify—so too is normative social influence (or peer pressure) necessary to perpetuate the norm of authenticity—as the shunning of our young doctor friend can testify. There is no zone of invulnerability to normative social influence, although many live under the illusion of occupying such a space.
The positive counterpart to this social vulnerability is that we always belong to a moral community. The more we share the norms and values, aspirations and ideals, hopes and fears of the community, the more united we are with each other. Both normative and informative forms of social influence are inevitable and important for achieving and passing on this great good of human community. There is a time and a place to patiently bear the brunt of blasphemy, to carefully refute the errors that undergird vice, but there is also a time and place to tear our garments and respond with indignant silence. In fact, normative social influence may be the more ubiquitous and powerful support of moral consensus simply because human beings fear more to be left out than to be mistaken.
In our pluralistic and morally confused society, this fact impresses upon us the importance of clearly identifying our loyalties. When the young doctor bore the brunt of his peers shaming silence, he was faced with the choice that presses upon us all: To whom do we conform? Non-conformity is not an option.
Photo Credit: Jasleen Kaur, Sphygmomanometer
Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 1:16 PM
In October of last year, Bobby Hogg died. He was an aged Scotsman, a native of a remote fishing town. When he died, the ancient Black Isle dialect of Cromarty died with him. It was an obscure dialect, always a bit precarious, teetering at the edge of the Highlands. Buffeted by the winds of urbanization, compulsory education, and the mass media, the dialect finally fell to join the graves of Eyak, Aka-Bo, and Sowa—languages that have all gone extinct within the past fifteen years.
Language is perhaps the most fundamental tradition, the symbolic breath of a living community and the first cultural inheritance handed on to a child. The death of the Black Isle dialect, indeed the death of any language, reveals the frightening fragility of local traditions in light of the homogenizing power of mass media. Today, if a tradition is not in the ascendency, it is almost inevitably in decline. Living traditions, like the basking sharks which visit Bobby Hogg’s Scottish fishing village each summer, must keep moving to stay alive.
While hardly as tenuous as was Scotland’s lost dialect, there is little doubt that the living tradition of Christianity in the Western world is declining in the face of a rival secular tradition. Few dispute the reality of the decline, many dispute how the Christian tradition might be revitalized. Michael Hannon’s report on the recent Fare Forward symposium outlines a range of possible responses: should Christians adopt MacIntyre’s melancholy Benedictine option—“the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us” or a more “Dominican option” recommended by Hannon? (more…)
Friday, July 12, 2013, 10:01 AM
Faith Lights Life
George Weigel, National Review
Meghan O’Rourke, New York Times
The Rise of the Machines
Meredith Hindley, Humanities
Without Words to Describe
Helen Alvaré, Public Discourse
Localism, Globalization, and Moral Progress
Dylan Pahman, Ethika Politika
Monday, July 1, 2013, 2:38 PM
Stepping out my front door, I almost ran into a man wearing a mini-skirt, bra, and heavy mascara. He was standing with his arm around a young woman posing for a smart-phone picture. At the click of the digital shutter, she turned and thanked the well-heeled man, saying, “You look beautiful!” With a smile, which I confess made me shudder, he responded, “Happy pride day, darling.”
I suppose I lack eyes to see. Under the layers of eye make-up, I saw only a poor man, rebelling against an unavoidable shame, enslaved by a particularly virulent strain of concupiscence. As speedo-clad men with Indian headdresses walked between corporate floats and smiling transvestites, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the miracle of propaganda that had turned such blatant displays of sexual perversion into something which could be called “beautiful.”
Was no one else seeing what I saw? Two NYPD officers stood sentinel along the Christopher Park stretch of the NYC Gay pride parade route. To the first, a tall black man wearing dark sunglasses, I asked if the guys at the NYPD supported “this cause”—as a man wearing fake plastic breasts over a black Goth jumpsuit walked by. He replied in the affirmative. I turned to his partner, a shorter white man who, looking a bit uncomfortable at the direction of my query, gave the noncommittal reply, “I have no opinion.”
Thanking the NYPD for their service, I turned around to find a Latino woman standing with her two teenage daughters. With hopeful naïveté, I asked if she too was in support of all this, gesturing to the parade route, which featured a shirtless Asian man prancing in leopard-skin tights. She nodded. “These poor men and women look unhappy to me,” I replied, ”enslaved to desires that promise a happiness that they can never achieve.” I told her I was Catholic, and I knew that God created men and women for perfect happiness, that we all suffer desires that would make us slaves of the devil, and that I don’t take pride in this tragedy. She said that she too was Catholic.
Despairing of finding anyone else who saw tragedy in this “beautiful” display of pride, I changed my line of questioning. “Why do you support gay marriage?” I asked a young woman, standing with her arm around her partner. “I should have the same rights as my brother and sister,” she said. “What is marriage?” I asked a volunteer for Lambda Legal. “Marriage is a civil right that gives legal benefits to couples who wish to spend their lives together.” On the parade route, a presumably straight couple with a baby carrier walked by with a sign reading “38 States to Go!”
Having prayed a Rosary on the sideline as dancing Diet Coke, TD Bank, and Delta Airlines employees floated by, I said a few St. Michael prayers for good measure and returned to my church. I don’t know what it will take to turn the tide of the “civil rights movement of our generation,” but if we are to shed the dunce-cap of the hostes humani generis, reveal the love that inspires our resistance, and reclaim the moral high-ground, then we must expose the personal tragedies that are wrapped in rainbows. A man wearing a mini-skirt, bra, and mascara does not look beautiful. He looks like a man crying for help.
Photo Credit: Phil Davies (post does not express opinions of artist)
Friday, June 28, 2013, 3:23 PM
Given the failure of the Enlightenment project and the disturbing phenomena of today’s shrill, incommensurate, and emotivist moral discourse, Alisdair MacIntyre has argued that we face one of two options: return to a teleological account of the order of natures or embrace the inherent nihilism of enlightenment anthropology. The choice is between Nietzsche and Aristotle. Which will we choose?
His dichotomy may be questioned, but MacIntyre’s narrative of the breakdown of contemporary moral discourse is compelling, and the Thomistic-Aristotelian movement in moral philosophy he has helped re-invigorate is encouraging. I saw what I take to be an impressive sign of the vitality of this movement at the annual philosophy conference held a fortnight ago at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York.
“Free Will and Virtue” was the theme of this third annual Thomas Aquinas Philosophy Workshop hosted by Mount Saint Mary on their beautiful Hudson River Valley campus. The four-day international conference featured an impressive roster of presenters including Russell Hittinger from the University of Tulsa (“Religious Freedom & the Final End of the Human Person”), Candace Vogler from the University of Chicago (“Intention and End”), and Michael Sherwin from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland (“Virtue, Truth, and Freedom”). Notable philosophers from the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America also gave papers.
Aside from the erudite papers, which ranged from free will and determinism to the requirement of natural ends for freedom and love, and the engaging panel discussions, the most striking aspect of the conference was the community, fraternity, piety, and joy that obtained among the seventy-one participants from twenty-four states and several countries. With ample time each evening for conviviality, debate, and “spirited” conversation, the conference carries the baton of the lively Thomistic Summer Institutes organized by the late philosopher Ralph McInerny.
With Mass celebrated each morning and a Holy Hour of Eucharistic Adoration on offer each evening, the conference embodies the mutual enrichment of faith and reason, theory and practice, that typified the life of the event’s patron. The tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas, one of Aristotle’s greatest commentators, was alive at Mount Saint Mary College during those days, a tradition that extends beyond the content of his thought to embrace the form of life that was its font.
The philosophy of Aristotle is certainly in the ascendency, both in the philosophy of science (as noted recently by John Lamont) and in moral philosophy (as noted recently by Jennifer Welchman). There is good reason to hope that, given MacIntyre’s dichotomy, Nietzsche may fall on the losing side of intellectual history. The latest conference in Newburgh, which numbered several recent converts to Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy among its participants, is one small sign of hope pointing in that direction. And that is good news for those, like myself, who dread the alternative.
Thursday, June 20, 2013, 12:21 PM
“The world has heard enough of the so-called ‘rights of man.’ Let it hear something of the rights of God.”
A powerful proposition—startling, perhaps even dangerous. When Pope Leo XIII uttered these words at the turn of the twentieth century, he issued a warning with the urgency of Kierkegaard’s famous fire-alarm-raising clown and was given about as much heed (as the heart-wrenching history of the unfolding century bears witness). The dignity of man is in grave jeopardy, the Pope cried, and the danger lay shrouded in the heart-warming rhetoric of the “so-called ‘rights of man.’”
The recent legal action of the American Civil Liberties Union, the twenty-first-century torch bearer of these so-called rights, shows that the danger persists. On the same day last week, the ACLU both filed suit to protest NSA surveillance and filed suit to block abortion restrictions in Alabama: the dignity of phone users upheld, the dignity of womb dwellers denied. The passage of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday had Laura Murphy of the ACLU in a huff of moral indignation: “Today’s vote is part of a wave of ever-more extreme legislation in the states and in Congress that interferes with a woman’s ability to make personal and private medical decisions.”
With rhetoric strikingly similar to that of Leo, the ACLU issues a dire warning in its own online encyclical:
A new kind of intolerance is creeping into our country—one that shrouds its true identity and uses the law as a means to codify discrimination. . . . We’ve seen this trend across a number of civil liberties issues including: attacks on marriage fairness for LGBT couples; efforts to deny women insurance for abortion care; people and organizations using religion as a basis to discriminate or denying services.
The ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, and other like-minded organizations understand themselves to be defenders of dignity in the face of discrimination and champions of rights in the face of unfairness. For those of us concerned with the injustice cloaked by their cause, how can we best disabuse our heroic opponents of their claim to wear the moral mantle? (more…)
Friday, June 7, 2013, 10:51 AM
As Raymond Tallis points out over at The Guardian, philosophy is one tough bird to kill—even the question-begging broadside of Stephen Hawking and his reductionistic hunting party can’t quite bring her down. In fact, says Tallis, the very people who deny the relevance of their field need the help of metaphysicians now more than ever:
There could not be a worse time for philosophers to surrender the baton of metaphysical inquiry to physicists. Fundamental physics is in a metaphysical mess and needs help. The attempt to reconcile its two big theories, general relativity and quantum mechanics, has stalled for nearly 40 years. Endeavours to unite them, such as string theory, are mathematically ingenious but incomprehensible even to many who work with them. This is well known.
Edward Feser offers some illuminating commentary on the three problems confronting physicists pointed to by Tallis: consciousness, time, and the coming-to-be of the universe. Each of these phenomena poses problems to the philosophical materialism and naturalism adopted (often unreflectively) by prominent atheist physicists. Feser locates the insulating fallacy that keeps one such atheist comfortable with his failed philosophical presuppositions:
Every question worth asking can be answered by naturalism; so those questions that naturalism can’t answer must not really be questions worth asking. Nothing to see here, move along please.
Thursday, June 6, 2013, 3:28 PM
When valedictorian Roy Costner IV ripped up his graduation speech yesterday and prayed the Lord’s prayer, he dealt a defiant riposte to the atheist whining which had prevailed over his South Carolinian school district. His prayer garnered an exuberant round of Southern hoots, hollers, and applause, as can be seen here.
Roy’s controversial witness comes on the tails of a similar controversy in Kentucky, where graduating class president Jonathan Hardwick issued his own prayer during the graduation ceremonies. One sensitive atheist schoolmate was not pleased and has stated that he may consider legal action. The young atheist told The Advocate Messenger, “Every student should feel safe at their graduation ceremony and should not have to worry about religious bullying.”
On the one hand, the charge of religious bullying is a bit comical—why get in a huff about a petition made of someone you do not believe to exist? But on the other, the atheist sees better than most what is truly at stake in a prayer offered at one of life’s critical junctures—the weaving of man’s relationship to God within the cultural fabric of our common social life. In some small way, what is at stake is the survival of a Christian worldview.
Is God the cause of our being? Does God exercise providence over his creation? Does our ultimate destiny, our true and final end, lie only with Him? Did the Son of God truly walk this Earth, teach us to pray, die, and rise from the dead? Do we then have a duty to offer thanks to God, give him praise, and turn to him in supplication?
When a public prayer of thanksgiving and petition is not offered at life’s significant junctures, we as a community answer “No” to at least the last of these questions. There is no neutrality in the matter. Certain times call for prayer, and not to offer it implicitly fosters an atheistic worldview by ignoring the practical demands which follow upon a community’s relationship to God.
Will such communal acts of prayer alienate some people? No. But, they will reveal the alienation that already exists. Let’s face it. If you don’t believe in God, your bonds of solidarity with those who do will be rather thin. The solution is not to dilute all such bonds to the weakness of your own.
Nothing forges greater bonds of solidarity than belonging to the same divine Father, and nothing is the source of greater joy. We revel in that joy when we unite in common prayer. No reason to feel bullied or jealous—our common prayer is an invitation and our joy free for the taking. Revel with us, or don’t, but don’t ask us to abandon our joy. It was bought at too great a price.
(Image: David Michael Morris)
Monday, June 3, 2013, 3:54 PM
“How beautiful it would be for someone who could not read.” That was Chesterton’s witty response to the blazing advertisements and gaudy lights of Times Square. As ostentatious as the square may have been in Chesterton’s day, I can only imagine what would be his reaction to the spectacular explosion of brilliant LEDs that shine from every storefront today.
Since the visit of the great ironist, not only has the square increased its wattage, but it has also added, in 1937, a giant stone cross and bronze statue. In my wanderings this past weekend, I stumbled upon the granite memorial, illuminated by the glow of booze, cola, and movie ads. On its front stands a statue of Father Francis P. Duffy, Catholic chaplain to the Fighting 69th Infantry and pastor. Father Duffy’s bronze face is turned towards the downtown tower of dancing lights, his back to a tourist bleacher.
The irony would have delighted and annoyed Chesterton. In a square zoned to order man’s passions to products, a man is memorialized who surely preached that they should be subject first to God.
Chesterton saw better than most that beauty, if it be true to its vocation, must be at the service of the honorable. The honorable is not always attractive. It does not exercise the sex appeal of the hot new smartphone nor does it pull on the appetites like the ice-cold beer. All the more important is it then that the attractive power of beauty be placed at the service of the virtuous and the honorable.
In his day, Chesterton found beauty’s power misplaced in Times Square, but if he were to find himself there again, he may read something beautiful after all. It is written, not in light, but in stone, “Francis P. Duffy / Catholic Priest / Chaplin . . . A Life of Service / For God and Country.”
Thursday, May 30, 2013, 4:39 PM
There has been a bit of back and forth recently at Psychology Today concerning the prevalence of ADHD in school-aged children in the U.S. and France. Here at First Thoughts, Collin Garbarino reported the opening piece by Marilyn Wedge and offered his own controversial opinion on the matter. Since then, neuropsychologist David Nowell has offered his own critical response to Wedge.
Marilyn Wedge, the author of Pills Are Not for Preschoolers, argues that fewer French children are diagnosed and medicated for ADHD than their American counterparts (0.5% in France compared to 9% of kids in the U.S.) due in part to differing French and American philosophies of discipline:
Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.
Against Wedge, neuropsychologist David Nowell argues that the actual prevalence of ADHD does not vary significantly among nations, and he chalks up the statistical differences to over-diagnosis and under-diagnosis of the disorder. Nowell does think it legitimate to ask, however, whether there might be “specific supports which protect and buffer the functional impact of ADHD symptoms among individuals in some groups.”
Whether Wedge or Nowell is best vindicated by the empirical data I am not qualified to say. For those of us who hold a hylomorphic anthropology—that man is composed of both body and soul, the soul being the form of the body—taking a radical stance on the nature-versus-nurture debate is rather absurd. Extreme positions detract from the more important question of how discipline might nurture the virtues that perfect our nature. Thankfully on this point there is a common thread of consensus between Nowell and Wedge.
Both writers acknowledge the importance of discipline in training children’s attention, even if Nowell couches the imposing concept in the innocuous category of “specific supports.” It seems a commonsensical proposition—discipline tempers those desires which distract the mind—but with the problematic materialist anthropology that all too often informs the practice of clinical psychology, such common sense cannot always be taken for granted.
The common thread of the “specific support” is worthy of note for it addresses a disorder at the heart of our fallen state. Who, after all, is entirely free of the disorder of the soul which makes the mind vulnerable to the “tyranny of one’s own desires”? It seems we all suffer an attention deficiency, albeit in various degrees. Discipline of the mind is not just for kids, French, American, or otherwise. And if “absolute unmixed attention” is at the heart of prayer, as Simon Weil once posited, then the discipline of our attention affects more than we might guess and is all the more necessary.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 12:16 PM
Today marks the first anniversary of the death of the blind flat-picking guitar master and folk legend Arthel “Doc” Watson. Kent Gustavson, author of the Watson biography Blind But Now I See, offers a fitting tribute over at bluegrasstoday.com, enumerating five “Doc Watson Principles” which define the man and the musician: honoring tradition, hard work, hospitality, humility, and home.
There is a sublimity surrounding a man who, standing in ocular darkness, lets loose a torrent of flat-picked melodies made sacred by their time spent echoing in the heart of Appalachia. Some might think, and perhaps with good reason, that entire realms of reality were inaccessible to Watson. After all, blindness cuts man off from the great communion of visual perception. He never saw a single human face, and yet, as Gustavson observes, Doc was anything but isolated. He was a man rooted in tradition, a tradition of which he was a great traditor:
He borrowed most of his songs from the hills and valleys of Appalachia, and from records and radio. He made them his own, and then he passed them along. That has enabled all of us, his fans, to make Doc’s music our own; in awe of his picking and singing, we pick up the guitar and we sing and play the tunes Doc gave us.
Last night, down in SoHo, bluegrass musician Michael Daves strummed a remarkable set, with a song or two of Doc’s. As I looked around the New York City venue and Daves belted out a soul-stirring rendition of “Where the Soul of Man Never Dies,” I couldn’t help but marvel that this Gospel hymn, born in the repentant soul of a Mississippi inmate, continues to set before man’s sight the hope of the Kingdom that is to come. Perhaps a bit of bluegrass gospel is just what the doctor ordered, an earthy and melodic salve to cure an eschatological blindness.