Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Leave of absence ...

I will be gone to a conference in Chicago from April 27-30, where the fledgling Max Scheler Society of North America (MSSNA), of which I am Acting Secretary, will be meeting in conjunction with the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association. The topics of the MSSNA papers, along with some abstracts, can be found online in this Program page. Deo volente, I will be back with you here in Blogsville in several days. As always during such undertakings, I covet your prayers for safety in travel.

Best wishes, Pertinaciously Yours.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Umberto Eco on the "silly sub-Christian superstitions" of the Da Vinci Code

Umberto Eco was raised Catholic and abandoned his faith as an adult, but he has not, as Karl Keating notes, abandoned common sense. The following from Umberto Eco:
"We are supposed to live in a skeptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity. The 'death of God,' or at least the dying of the Christian God, has been accompanied by the birth of a plethora of new idols. They have multiplied like bacteria on the corpse of the Christian Church--from strange pagan cults and sects to the silly, sub-Christian superstitions of 'The Da Vinci Code.'

"It is amazing how many people take that book literally and think it is true. Admittedly, Dan Brown, its author, has created a legion of zealous followers who believe that Jesus wasn't crucified: He married Mary Magdalene, became the King of France, and started his own version of the order of Freemasons. Many of the people who now go to the Louvre are there only to look at the Mona Lisa, solely and simply because it is at the center of Dan Brown's book."
[Hat tip to Karl Keating, E-Letter of April 25, 2006]

A sustained ovation for the extermination of humanity?

This is simply too amazing ... And Gene Edward Veith thinks so too. In short-and-to-the-point article entitled "The End of Humanism" (World Magazine, April 22, 2006), Veith traces the trajectory from humanism -- "that optimistic belief that human beings are the apex of the universe, the source of all values, and the measure of all things" to the hatred of humanity surfacing in recent attacks on "anthropocentrism." It's an interesting trajectory. Throughout the 20th century, many intellectuals assumed that humanism would take the place of the world's religions:
And yet, even within the world of humanism, the status of "Man" has been diminishing. In the sequence of Humanist Manifestos issued over the years, what began with the exaltation of "Man" has been reduced to the exaltation of "science," by which adherents mean evolution. Today, "secular humanists" still believe in secularism, but the humanism is all but gone. They have taken the next step, deriding humanism as an outdated relic of modernism. Cutting-edge thinking is increasingly anti-human.

Consider a recent speech by University of Texas biologist Eric Pianka. He was addressing the Texas Academy of Science, which had just named him the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist.

When people learn what is being taught in their tax-supported universities, they are often shocked. So before Mr. Pianka's talk, Academy officials threw out a TV cameraman who was videotaping the conference. Mr. Pianka explained that the public was not ready to hear what he was going to say. The old humanists used to believe in the freedom of the press and the free flow of ideas. But ordinary Texans might not approve of hearing that this Distinguished Texas Scientist wanted to kill them.

Mr. Pianka began by condemning "anthropocentrism," the idea that human beings have a privileged place in the universe. He told about a neighbor who once asked him what good are the lizards that he studies. Mr. Pianka replied, "What good are you?"
And, now, here's the really GOOD part! Observe this great-souled 'scientist' forthwith:
Mr. Pianka believes, in his words, "We're no better than bacteria!" and he has proposed an anti-bacterial course of hygiene. He said that, in order to save the planet, the human population should be reduced by 90 percent. War and famine are not efficient enough, he said, to kill the billions of people necessary. Disease would be the best population reducer. AIDS, though, works much too slowly.

What would be best, he said, is Ebola, a Central African virus that liquifies the internal organs. An airborne variety of Ebola, he calculated, would produce 90 percent mortality.

The Academy gave Mr. Pianka [on the left in the picture] a sustained ovation.
Ripley was right: reality is stranger than fiction! What a piece of work is (post)modern man! How stupid in reason! A paragon of degeneracy and decrepitude ... What is (post)modern man -- this quintessence of idiocy!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Opus Dei, TIME, and the McDonaldization of American sentiment

A friend of mine, a recent Catholic convert, came to me with the April 24 issue of TIME magazine, featuring on its cover the words "Opus Dei Code," an obvious spin-off of Dan Brown's notorious Da Vinci Code, and, beneath what looks like a torn away parchment, the image of a weeping Jesus. The issue featured an article, proporting to be a piece of investigative journalism by David Van Biema, entitled "The Ways of Opus Dei." "It's not the villain that The Da Vinci Code sets it up to be," a headline concedes. "But it has been a mystery. An inside look at the most controversial group in Catholicism." The article does everything it can to shock the McDonaldized sensibilities of the average American reader. The opening pages of the print article has a full-page photograph of the Opus Dei Vicar, Thomas Bohlin, smiling benignly at the camera across from an adjacent page sporting a full-page photograph of a small whip, the 'discipline,' used by some Opus Dei members as a form of penance and corporeal self-mortification. This should be enough -- of course! -- (TIME's editors doubtless thought) to make Jesus weep and shock the public, if no other dirt they managed to dig up on Opus Dei does the trick. Never mind that Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, despite its egregious misinformation and violence to the Christian Faith, doesn't make Jesus weep or shock the public -- so schizophrenic are the McDonaldized public sentiments of Americans these days. I think I understand fully my friend's reaction, as well as what TIME is up to in its studied endeavor to elicit reactions such as these. Here are my thoughts.

It's clear to me that TIME went after connotation and jarring imagery in order to attempt to shock and dismay and incriminate by suggestion. When you examine the real 'dirt' it managed to dig up on Opus Dei -- the real, hard facts -- was there really much more than this? What are the actual facts? A few circumstantial details about a corrupt turncoat FBI agent who sold classified data to the enemy. Criminal activity, to be sure, but how is that representative of the organization, any more than Judas is representative of Christianity (even though he was one of the Twelve chosen by Jesus)? A man who alleged irresponsible accounting practices in an Australian office, which were allegedly swept under the rug or smoothed over. Allegedly ... We don't know the facts. But even if it were true, what's the point? If it's true, it was clearly wrong, but does that make it institutional policy? A woman who tired of the constraints of Opus and bailed out after twenty years, blaming the organization. Sounds a lot those individuals who bail out of marriages after twenty years and blame the institution of marriage. Only Opus doesn't require a life-long vow, like the priesthood or a religious order, but a year-to-year renewable contract. No indelible metaphysical mark here: one can opt out, if one wishes, though it understandably may be difficult to prevent others from questioning one's wisdom in doing so.

There is no deep, dark secret to Opus Dei, no Byzantine intrigue to titillate the imagination, as much as Dan Brown's novel might have the public pandering after such titillation. It is a work devoted literally to the 'work of God' (Opus Dei), which here means the work of sanctification in each person's soul, each person's work, each person's family. It is 'coaching' in living a devoutly Catholic life. If there is anything shocking about Opus Dei, it is likely the tenor of this devotion, which might take a typical American's breath away, just as the sight of a Muslim family with its car parked on the shoulder of Hwy 321 between Granite Falls and Lenoir, NC, with its prayer rungs pulled out on the grass, all prostrated toward Mecca in prayer. What? People in the Tar Heel State in 2006 doing THAT??? Indeed.

In a post-Christian world, it's a shocking thing to secular society that there are theists at all. Among theists (like some Unitarians, Jews, and Muslims) it's often shocking that there are Christians who actually believe God could become a man, like Jesus. Among Protestant Christians, it's a shocking thing that there could still be Catholics who actually adhere to an organization that conducted medieval crusades and Spanish inquisitions and claims to trace it's founding by apostolic succession from the current pope back to Christ and the Apostles. Among American Catholics, it's shocking that there are still Catholics such as Opus Dei types, who actually believe the claims of their Church and take seriously a very traditional piety and discipline with a robustly male, Iberian tenor.

American Catholics have become so thoroughly Protestantized today, that they've practically forgotten what it means to be Catholic anymore. What's the definition of a 'sacrament'? "An outward sign of an inward grace." That's more than an individual sacrament. It's a whole outlook -- a way of seeing life and reality and the world. If you go to the Friday Stations of the Cross during the 40 days of Lent, you follow the priest around the interior of the Church genuflecting and repeating prayers that take your breath away. At the Fifth Station of St. Alphonsus Liguori's rendition, where one reflects on a reluctant Simon of Cyrene's enlistment in helping Jesus carry His cross, part of the prayers read:
"My beloved Jesus / I will not refuse the cross as Simon did: / I accept it and embrace it. / I accept in particular the death that is destined for me / with all the pains that may accompany it. / I unite it to Your death / and I offer it to You. / You have died for love of me; / I will die for love of You and to please You. / Help me by Your grace. / I love You, Jesus, my Love; / I repent of ever having offended You. / Never let me offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will." (St. Alphons Ligouri's Stations of the Cross)
One way of praying the Rosary has us reflect on the mysteries in Jesus' life through the eyes of Mary, the poignancy of which needs no explanation when one considers that the Sorrowful Mysteries include Jesus' agony in the garden, scourging at the pillar, crowning with thorns, carrying of the cross, and crucifixion (one can hardly avoid recollecting Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ).

What I am trying to get at here is a dimension of Catholic piety and devotion that has been practically submerged over the last thirty or forty years in the McDonaldization of American Catholicism. Catholicism in modern America has become, in large part, innocuous. It tends to be easy, upbeat, convenient, and compatible. There are few Holy Days of Obligation other than Sundays anymore -- and our Sunday Mass obligation can be fulfilled Saturday evening so that Catholic men can go golfing like everyone else on Sunday morning. Catholicism doesn't require much in the way of self-sacrifice, discipline, humility, a zeal for souls, an other-worldly outlook, or a fear (as opposed to a superficial love) of God. The movie Dogma portrayed Jesus as our 'Buddy Christ.'

It used to be that Catholics had to fast from midnight Saturday until they received Communion at Mass Sunday morning. That fast has now been reduced to one hour before Communion. There is little guilt in Catholicism and virtually no fear of punishment, and everyone is virtually assured of going to heaven. What's to fear? Who goes to confession anymore? Whatever became of sin? If none of these things matter, furthermore, why trouble oneself to go to Mass at all? The music and homilies are pretty bad anyway.

Thus the few things that remain, as residual reminders of a former Catholic world strike us as rather quaint or strange, if not troubling. Fasting? Abstinence? But why? As if it's not bad enough that the Church should intrude into our bedrooms, why should the Church intrude into our dietary lives? What business is it of the Church's what I eat or how much? Days of both fasting and abstinence have been reduced to two -- Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, whereas there were numerous days in the ancient Church calendar when fasts and abstinences were imposed. Why have we reduced their number? Couldn't we just do away them altogether? Isn't this the 21st century??? Haven't we matured, become more knowledgeable, more educated, smarter? Or perhaps we're forgetting something -- something of which the Bible and writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and St. Josemaria Escriva ceaselessly remind us -- that life is war, or, as they were more apt to put it, a ceaseless spiritual battle. One's life is never a plateau. Perhaps even Bob Dylan glimpsed a dimension of this when he wrote, "He not busy being born is busy dying."

Where do sexual scandals of the kind and scale we've witnessed in the past few years come from? What are their causes and conditions? I can tell you where they're not likely to come from -- what causes and conditions are not likely to produce them. There's a chain of linked thoughts, dispositions, and behaviors that lead to such a results. It's not rocket science. Someone once said:
Sow a thought, reap an act;
Sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character;
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
Opus Dei offers rigorous 'coaching' in traditional Catholic virtues. One implements a 'plan of life,' in which one seeks to bring some order and spiritual discipline into his life. One forces himself out of bed early, rather than sleeping in. One cultivates daily habits of spiritual reading, mental prayer, and examination of conscience. One learns to master his appetites in little ways -- for example, by leaving a few bites of a favorite dish uneaten on his plate rather than asking for second and third helpings, scarfing down the last bite, and then licking the plate clean like a dog. Learning to say 'no' to little things trains one to be able to say 'no' to bigger, more difficult temptations. One learns to submit his fantasy life to the confessional, to bring the common sins of thought life under self-mastery and the governance of Christ. One learns to avoid common youthful temptations, like masturbation, and to confess those sins too, and to see how this, in turn, fosters purity in relationships with others. One learns to stop looking at others (and pornography) with the glance of a sexual predator. Fasting. Abstinence. Self-control. Prayer life. Confession. All of these help. How much chance of a Church-wide sexual scandal such as we've seen would we have had if the whole Church had been taking the problem of sin seriously in these traditional ways?

St. Paul writes: "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." (1 Corinthians 9:27) Where the King James Version here has "keep under my body and bring it into subjection," the later Revised Standard Version has "I pommel my body and subdue it." The New International Version says, "I beat my body daily." According to "Strong's Concordance," the word for "keep under" can mean beat or buffet (either one blow, or many blows). It also has a metaphorical sense of subduing, or annoying something into compliance, which is reflected in the words "keep under" of the King James Version. The larger context is St. Paul's discourse on "fighting the good fight" and "running the race" set before us as Christians (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Worth exploring.

Probably the images most shocking (and intended to be so) in the TIME article are that of the 'discipline' (the small, cord-like whip) and 'cilice' (the spiked chain -- actually a derivation of the ancient hair shirt, which originated in the region of Cilicia in Asia Minor), which some Opus members use as part of their spiritual self-mortification. Naturally this strikes us as extreme. We need to be aware, however, that there are whole traditions of 'mystical theology' and 'ascetical theology' in Catholic history of which contemporary Protestantism and secularism (and much of American Catholicism) know nothing. St. Thomas More of England wore a hair shirt under his garb as Lord Chancellor of England. He also used the 'discipline.' Hair shirts were worn by Saints Jerome, Athanasius, John Damascene, and many others. St. Catherine of Siena wore sackcloth and scourged herself three times daily in imitation of St. Dominic. St. Ignatius of Loyola wore a hair shirt and heavy iron chain. Even St. Therese of Lisieux -- the "Little Flower," famous for her "little way" and love of God -- fasted and used the 'discipline' vigorously, "scourging herself with all the strength and speed of which she was capable, smiling at the crucifix through the tears which bedewed her eyelashes," according to one of her biographers.

All of this will seem quite distant and even distasteful to us, given our habits and our times and our McDonaldized American sentiments. If we want to get beyond a study of our own knee-jerk reactions, however, there is good material available. For a start, more on the subject can be found in a good essay by Rev. Michael Giesler entitled "The Body's Forgotten Ally: A Brief Defense of Corporal Mortification," Crisis magazine (April, 2006). A good, brief biography of St. Josemaria Escriva before his canonization as a saint can be found on the Vatican website, entitled "Biography of Blessed Josemaria Escriva" (the Vatican website actually has a great deal more on him than this, published under the heading: Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, in more detail than I can reference here). If you're looking for somebody in the mainstream of American Catholicism whom even liberal, dissident Catholics respect, in order to find an 'impartial' biography, probably the best you're going to find is John L. Allen's Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church. Here is a review by a trusted Crisis magazine contributor, Russell Shaw, "Opus Dei Revealed."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Provocative fictions ... or facts?, which vets urban legends to test for authenticity, judges that the status of the following text may be "various":
At about the time our original 13 states adopted their new constitution, in the year 1787, Alexander Tyler (a Scottish history professor at The University of Edinburgh) had this to say about "The Fall of The Athenian Republic" some 2,000 years prior:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship."

"The average age of the worlds greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:
  • From Bondage to spiritual faith;
  • From spiritual faith to great courage;
  • From courage to liberty;
  • From liberty to abundance;
  • From abundance to complacency;
  • From complacency to apathy;
  • From apathy to dependence;
  • From dependence back into bondage."
The text goes on to attempt an inference about the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections, which is both dubious and of no interest to me. However, whatever the status of the foregoing text, and whether it was really by "Lord Woodhouselee, Alexander Fraser Tytler" or not, the provocative idea it suggests is worthy of some consideration, even if not altogether new. The Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, is full of references to the cyclical rises and falls of Israel's fortunes as she walked with God, then turned away from God, and then repented and turned back to Him, repeating the cycle. One thinks of the imagery of the Prophet Hosea. If one has read Gibbon, it's hard not to recall the pace of the decline and fall also of the Roman Empire, and hard to avoid drawing parallels to our own time. One reads historical texts and finds that in every generation, nearly, the elders seem to find the younger generation headed to hell in a handbasket. Yet when one observes the larger sweep of history, there are genuine turns of the tide, as when the Greeks spoiled the invasion of the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, or when Rome actually fell in AD 476, or when Byzantium fell in 1453, or when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed in 1945, or the US abdicated her effort in Vietnam in 1975, or the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Was September 11, 2001 symptomatic of some deeper turning point in U.S. history? Or was it something more culturally significant, such as the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder and legitimation of abortion with Roe v Wade, both in 1973? Is Oswald Spengler (the author of The Decline of the West) right, are civilizations like organisms? Do they have a natural lifespan and die? Or do they just become spiritually corrupt and suffer divine judgment implode under their own decadence? Maybe Mel Gibson's new film, Apocalipto, will offer a provocative suggestion as to the fate of the Mayan civilization. Even Herman Dooyeweerd gave a series of lectures entitled In the Twilight of Western Thought. Is it only Catholics who take the long view? AmChurch may die in ten or twenty years, but the Catholic Church will be forever. As they say, "Eternal Rome." Or again: "The Catholic Church," said G.K. Chesterton, "is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age." Cheers.

The Resurrection: Were the Apostles Deceived? ... Deceivers?

Let's come clean with the alternatives: Blaise Pascal writes in his Pensees, No. 322,
The Apostles were either deceived or deceivers. Either supposition is difficult, for it is not possible to imagine that a man has risen from the dead.

While Jesus was with them he could sustain them, but afterwards, if he did not appear to them, who did make them act?
Former Notre Dame Philosophy Professor, Thomas V. Morris comments, in his book, Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life (Eerdmans):
If what the apostles reported about Jesus was false, then either they believed it and so were themselves deceived or they knew it was false and so were just deceivers. How plausible is either of these alternatives?

First, consider the claim that the followers of Jesus were themselves deceived, wrongly believing in his miracles and resurrection when no such things had ever actually happened. On this supposition they were themselves just mistaken. But there is something interesting about the concept of a mistake. I can be walking down the street and think I see an old friend approaching but on getting closer realize that I have made a mistake. I can mistakenly believe that today is Saturday when it's Friday. I can make some pretty big mistakes. We call can. But a mistake can only be so big. I cannot mistakenly think I see exactly 419 pink and purple elephants outside my office window, suspended in mid-air. I can't mistakenly think I have twelve arms.
Consider the claim that dismisses the literal interpretation of the resurrection, substituting for it the fuzzy intellectual abstraction that would have us believe that in one sense, a spiritual sense (or in a sense in which we can admit of a spiritually transformed body), Christ is risen, but in another sense Jesus' bones may still be moldering in some Palestinian grave. This is the sort of interpretation that is embraced by urbane contemporary sophisticates who would find the simple notion that Jesus could have arisen, bones and all, from the grave, as impossible to believe as that one sees exactly 419 pink and purple elephants outside his window, or that he has twelve arms. The point, however, is that the biblical Resurrection, like the Cross of Christ, is something scandalous -- something unbelievable in ordinary terms. One can't just mistakenly believe something like that. Morris continues:
The apostles reported detailed encounters with the risen Christ sometime after his death and burial. Would it have made much sense for loved ones to respond to such reports by saying, "Calm down, dear. It was just your imagination"? Pascal says that it is not possible to imagine that a man has risen from the dead. That's too extreme to be a mistake. And there were no cultural expectations in first-century Judaism that a single man might be raised from the grave by God into a new, yet recognizable, form of life. Hallucination is not plausible. Repeated, convergent mass hallucinations are even less plausible, much less plausible. Pascal finds this suggestion absolutely incredible, strictly speaking.

So what of the other possibility? If the testimony of the apostles is false, and it is utterly implausible to think of all of them as deceived by appearances concerning such extraordinary events, then the other possibility, as Pascal points out, is that they never believed for a minute these stories they told about Jesus but were themselves just deceivers. How credible is this supposition?
In another passage in his Pensees, No. 310, Pascal writes:
Proofs of Jesus Christ. The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus' death and conspiring to say that he had risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost. Follow that out.
Morris comments:
Lying is hard work. When you tell a lie, you don't have reality to back you up. When you tell a lot of lies, one building on the next, you get yourself in an even worse fix. Such deceit requires extraordinary powers of memory as well as imagination. Most of us have a hard enough time remembering things that have actually happened. And when we forget, we can usually rely upon the fact that the truth leaves traces of itself behind -- footprints, documents, memory impressions in other people's minds. But when we concoct an alternate reality, a history contrary to what really has happened, we have only our own memories to rely on concerning what we said happened.

A conspiracy of lies is even more fragile. This is from the beginning an exceedingly odd sort of agreement - a number of different people get together, concoct a story, and agree to lie about it, each promising not to break and tell the truth. It is crucial to their agreement that they're all liars, but how in the world can you trust liars to keep their end of an agreement? Any supposition that the apostles of Christ met after his death and entered into this sort of agreement is especially hard to swallow. Here a number of ordinary men from walks of life in which the truth mattered, who had just spent an extended period of time with a charismatic leader whom most non-Christians recognize as one of the greatest moral teachers in history, are supposed to have met together after the death of their leader and, to further his work, agreed to tell outrageous lies about him? This is just too bizarre. And worse, Pascal points out, from these lies they would have had little to gain and much to lose, as circumstances developed. Only one of them need have cracked and the whole conspiracy would have unraveled. And each of them, knowing that each of the others was lying against the grain of his own personality, would surely have suspected that one of the others would crack, and so would have been all the more prepared himself to tell the truth and cut his losses, distancing himself from the others in times of increasing pressure and persecution. Further, recall that we are talking about a message that itself emphasized the importance of walking in the truth. The hypothesis that the followers of Christ were just deceivers is just too out of step with everything we know about them, about their circumstances, about their message, and about human psychology.
The citations from Thomas V. Morris's Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life are from pp. 173-176 of that volume. The quotations from Pascal's Pensees are also from Morris's book.

Also highly recommended:

Saturday, April 15, 2006

He rose in space and time ...

The words "He is risen!" are an ancient Easter greeting among Christians. "He is risen indeed!" is the traditional reply. The proposition is, of course, true. But that does not save the greeting from the danger of being hijacked by those who would reinterpret it to mean something other than what it meant to the historical Christians who first uttered the words. For the whole tradition of Protestant Liberalism, stemming from the Enlightenment assumptions represented by Lessing's big, ugly "ditch" and subsequent dualizations gone to seed in precious moments sentiments about the "Christ of faith," utterly emasculated from the hard historical facts of the "Jesus of history," have left contemporary Christians vulnerable to wolves in sheep's clothing -- wolves who sound like warm, caring 'pastoral' types, but who no longer believe in miracles like the historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But if He is risen at all, believe me, this is what the whole Catholic and Christian tradition affirms: He rose in space and time -- like an earthquake. Not to believe this is to abdicate one's faith and embrace some other religion, even if it should have all the superficial furnishings and appearances of Christianity.

Google "empty tomb" and you get some interesting and often very good (mostly evangelical Protestant) links on the subject:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

You must read this ...

Present at the Demolition: A Philosopher Remembers and Reminds: An interview with Dr. Alice von Hildebrand

The following conversation with Dr. Alice von Hildebrand opens our discussion of this issue's focus (of The Latin Mass magazine): The Crisis in the Church: Scenarios for a Solution. Dr. von Hildebrand, professor of philosophy emeritus of Hunter College (City University of New York) has just completed The Soul of a Lion, a biography of her husband, Dietrich.

TLM: Dr. von Hildebrand, at the time that Pope John XXIII summoned the Second Vatican Council, did you perceive a need for a reform within the Church?

AVH: Most of the insights about this come from my husband. He always said that the members of the Church, due to the effects of original sin and actual sin, are always in need of reform. The Church's teaching, however, is from God. Not one iota is to be changed or considered in need of reform.

TLM: In terms of the present crisis, when did you first perceive something was terribly wrong?

AVH: It was in February 1965. I was taking a sabbatical year in Florence. My husband was reading a theological journal, and suddenly I heard him burst into tears. I ran to him, fearful that his heart condition had suddenly caused him pain. I asked him if he was all right. He told me that the article that he had been reading had provided him with the certain insight that the devil had entered the Church. Remember, my husband was the first prominent German to speak out publicly against Hitler and the Nazis. His insights were always prescient.

TLM: Why did Don Villa write these works singling out Paul VI for criticism?

AVH: Don Villa reluctantly decided to publish the books to which I have alluded. But when several bishops pushed for beatification of Paul VI, this priest perceived it as a clarion call to print the information he had gathered through the years. In so doing, he was following the guidelines of a Roman Congregation, informing the faithful that it was their duty as members of the Church to relay to the Congregation any information that might militate against the candidate's qualifications for beatification.

Considering the tumultuous pontificate of Paul VI, and the confusing signals he was giving, e.g.: speaking about the "smoke of Satan that had entered the Church," yet refusing to condemn heresies officially; his promulgation of Humanae Vitae (the glory of his pontificate), yet his careful avoidance of proclaiming it ex cathedra; delivering his Credo of the People of God in Piazza San Pietro in 1968, and once again failing to declare it binding on all Catholics; disobeying the strict orders of Pius XII to have no contact with Moscow, and appeasing the Hungarian Communist government by reneging on the solemn promise he had made to Cardinal Mindszenty; his treatment of holy Cardinal Slipyj, who had spent seventeen years in a Gulag, only to be made a virtual prisoner in the Vatican by Paul VI; and finally asking Archbishop Gagnon to investigate possible infiltration in the Vatican, only to refuse him and audience when his work was completed -- all these speak strongly against the beatification of Paolo VI, dubbed in Rome, "Paolo Sesto, Mesto" (Paul VI, the sad one).

TLM: So you see the only scenario for a solution to the present crisis as the renewal of a striving for sanctity?

AVH: We should not forget that we are fighting not only against flesh and blood, but against "powers and principalities." This should elicit sufficient dread in us to make us strive more than ever for holiness, and to pray fervently that the Holy Bride of Christ, who is right now at Calvary, comes out of this fearful crisis more radiant than ever.

The Catholic answer is always the same: absolute fidelity to the holy teaching of the Church, faithfulness to the Holy See, frequent reception of the sacraments, the Rosary, daily spiritual reading, and gratitude that we have been given the fullness of God's revelation: "Gaudete, iterum dico vobis, Gaudete."

TLM: I cannot end the interview without asking your reaction to a well-worn canard. There are those critics of the ancient Latin mass who point out that the crisis in the Church developed at a time when the Mass was offered throughout the world. Why should we then think a revival is intrinsic to the solution?

AVH: The devil hates the ancient Mass. He hates it because it is the most perfect reformulation of all the teachings of the Church. It was my husband who gave me this insight about the Mass. The problem that ushered in the present crisis was not the traditional mass. The problem was that the priests who offered it had already lost the sense of the supernatural and the transcendent. They rushed through the prayers, they mumbled and didn't enunciate them. That is a sign that they had brought to the Mass their growing secularism. The ancient Mass does not abide irreverence, and that was why so many priests were just as happy to see it go.

Read the entire interview HERE. (This is 'must' reading.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Then it became clear to me what the foundation of real liturgical piety is ..."

An extraordinary lesson on the liturgy, drawn from life and written by the theologian who was Joseph Ratzinger's instructor -- a short text, translated from the original German for the first time, courtesy of Sandro Magister (www.chiesa, April 12, 2006): "Holy Week at Monreale," by Romano Guardini.
Today I saw something grandiose: Monreale. I am full of gratitude for its existence. The day was rainy. When we arrived there -- it was Holy Thursday ....

So, a brief historical moment. It did not last long, but was supplanted by something else entirely...

When they brought the holy oils to the sanctuary, and the procession, accompanied by the insistent melody of an ancient hymn, wound through that throng of figures, the basilica sprang back to life....

The crowd sat and watched. The women were wearing veils. The colors of their garments and shawls were waiting for the sun to make them shine again. The men's faces were distinguished and handsome. Almost no one was reading. All were living in the gaze, all engaged in contemplation.

Then it it became clear to me what the foundation of real liturgical piety is: the capacity to find the "sacred" within the image and its dynamism.

Monreale, Holy Saturday....

The people's conduct was simultaneously detached and devout ....

The most beautiful thing was the people. The women with their veils, the men with their cloaks around their shoulders. Everywhere could be seen distinguished faces and a serene bearing. Almost no one was reading, almost no one stooped over in private prayer. Everyone was watching.

The sacred ceremony lasted for more than four hours, but the participation was always lively. There are different means of prayerful participation. One is realized by listening, speaking, gesturing. But the other takes place through watching. The first way is a good one, and we northern Europeans know no other. But we have lost something that was still there at Monreale: the capacity for living-in-the-gaze, for resting in the act of seeing, for welcoming the sacred in the form and event, by contemplating them.

I was about to leave, when suddenly I found all of those eyes turned toward me. Almost frightened, I looked away, as if I were embarrassed at peering into those eyes that had been gazing upon the altar.
This was in 1929, mind you, well before Vatican II and the now current notions of liturgical "participation." For the complete text of Guardini's still very short reflection, "Holy Week at Monreale," and for further observations by Sandro Magister on Guardini's influence on the Holy Father's writings on the liturgy, go to www.chiesa, April 12, 2006.

The Cathedral of Monreale, which has been called "The most beautiful temple in the world," stands at the edge of the historical center of Monreale, Sicily. The "Conca d'Oro" (or "Golden Temple"), is a fairy-tale construction, the Christian apotheosis of a Norman king's dream. One morning in 1174, William II, known as "the Good," Roger II's grandson and third Norman King of Sicily, awoke at daybreak and reported to his ministers that he had dreamt that the Virgin Mary had asked him to build her a church with the treasure stolen from the State by his father, William I, known as "the Bad," and hidden in a secret place that she would show him. Read more here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Woman Freed In Amish Road-Rage Incident

Buggy Driver, Cop Consent To Plea Bargain - The Greater Philadelphia NBC10.COM post reads as follows:
A woman accused of repeatedly ramming her car into the horse and buggy of a Nottingham, Pa. man and slashing a police officer with a knife last fall has been ordered released from prison under a plea bargain.

As part of the agreement, Emma Jo Bandy, 49, of Rising Sun, Md., received credit for time spent in prison since the Sept. 27th incident....

Assistant District Attorney William Ross Stoycos told an initially skeptical Chester County Court Judge Juan Sanchez on Friday that "the commonwealth has concluded that what Mrs. Bandy needs is mental-health treatment."

The judge ultimately approved a sentence of 83 days to 23 months for resisting arrest and reckless endangerment.

Bandy must spend two years on probation and undergo mental-health treatment. She must also pay restitution of $3,000.

Stoycos said both victims, Eli Stoltzfus King, 19, and West Nottingham Township Police Officer Donald McIvor, were comfortable with the plea agreement.

Defense attorney Francis Miller said Bandy, who suffers from bipolar disorder, had her medicine changed several weeks before the incident and became delusional, suddenly believing her children were being kidnapped by the Amish.
I know this is old news, and quite sad. And I know the picture doesn't quite match the story. But I can't help finding both the story and the picture a tad amusing. Amish kidnappers? Eli Stoltzfus? Amish road rage? I know, I know, I know ... Pertinacious is a bit twisted in his sense of humor. But, hey, why are you reading this? Step on it, Yoder!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

On the hermeneutics of fittingness: head coverings for women

I remember some of the Protestant churches my parents would take me to when I was a child on furlough in the United States (they were missionaries in Japan) were filled with women with veiled heads. That was long ago, of course. Well, maybe not so long ago: some of you may remember pictures of Jacqueline Kennedy coming out of church after Mass with her husband, J.F.K., and their two children. Still today, however, if you darken the doorway of a church where the Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated, you will find yourself in a similar world -- similarly 'strange' by contemporary standards. One feels immediately plunged deep into history and into a world that is distant from cell phones, Reality TV, consumerism, and the 'McDonaldization' of American culture.

The practice of women covering their heads in church is rooted in ancient Israel, attested by St. Paul (1 Cor. 11:3-16), and was absolutely universal from apostolic times to the 1960s. Canon #1262 in the 1917 Code of Canon Law strictly insisted upon it, and this prescription was in force until it was dropped, mysteriously and without explanation or directive from the Vatican, from the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

The controversy over whether this constitutes abrogation or whether long standing tradition continues to be binding, as I'm inclined to believe, is a heated one. But this is not my chief interest here. Rather, my interest here is in the question of the fittingness of a woman covering her head as a sign of reverence during worship. There is a whole nest of issues involved here. As St. Paul suggests, the signification of a head covering involved a good bit more than this in his day. I'm admitting that significations can change over time. Yet I'm insisting that a covered head or an uncovered head signifies something. What does it signify? There are cultural variables here, obviously. But the variables are not as vast as one might think initially. Most importantly, there is the question of continuity vs. rupture in our own Catholic tradition, as well as the relationship of the Latin, western Catholic tradition vis-a-vis the globalization of Catholicism in a world where there may be some need for sensitivity to what differences, if any, exist in cultural significations that may bear on this issue in non-western cultures. If you run a few Google searches on this issue, you will see that it is anything but a sleepy issue. What think ye?

Thomas Blosser - in memoriam

Tom, my brother, had died of a heart attack last night, my father said. The finality was jolting when my father called with the news on Friday, March 24th. The next morning, my wife and daughter and I packed up and headed down to Birmingham, where Tom had been living the last twenty years. We were not quite sure what to expect, since Tom had virtually dropped off the face of the earth after the death of his wife in 1987. He had called once or twice, but he left no forwarding address, and no telephone number where he could be reached. We didn't even know he was living in Birmingham. Apparently, he never quite regained his footing after Wendy died.

The obituary in The Birmingham News gave only the following spare details for Thomas Yoshiro Blosser the following Monday morning:
BLOSSER, THOMAS YOSHIRO, Accomplished local musician, Thomas Yoshiro Blosser, died suddenly of natural causes on Thursday, March 23, 2006. Born November 3, 1951, in Muroran, Japan, he became a naturalized US Citizen, was married to the late Wendy Holcombe, and is survived by his adoptive father, Eugene, and siblings, Philip, Rachel and Meiko. Memorial Services will be held on Monday at 2:00 p.m. at Charter Funeral Home, 621-0800. Published in The Birmingham News on 3/27/2006.
These few sentences, of course, do not begin to fathom the story of Tom's life; nor can I, for that matter, in the brief compass of this post. But the story begins long ago in Japan. Read the rest of the story here.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"On Turkey's Wings"

Quote for the Day
Every game must start with the National Anthem. The fans stand at attention, and many of them sing. Men from all walks of life, bankers, bricklayers, carpenters, lawyers, policemen, many of whom can never be prevailed upon to sing "On Turkey's Wings" or other twaddle at church, will take off their caps and place their right hands over their hearts, and sing.
Anthony Esolen, explaining the rules of baseball in "Kneeling Before the Gates of Paradise," Crisis magazine (April 2006), p. 29 (emphasis added).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Smooth as Silk

Dale Vree

You should know by now that the mass media have been mainstreaming homosexuality. Rod Dreher [pictured far left], who works for a mainstream daily newspaper, has an article in Touchstone (Sept. 2005) titled "Pink Campaign: How the Media Made Homosexuality Mainstream." He says: "Every media product -- every newspaper or television report, every movie, every TV show, and so forth -- is shaped by choices made by the creators, producers, and editors. Those choices will inevitably reflect the judgment of those creators, not only about what's right and what's wrong, but more fundamentally, about what constitutes the range of acceptable opinion."

Dreher says that for the mass media, "Sexual repression is responsible for human misery, and must be fought at every turn if we are to be free and happy. The people who went on to make the movies, the television shows, the music, and the news products...agree with this view...and business people, who may or may not be personally conservative, have not hesitated to co-opt the message of sexual liberation to sell their products."

As for mainstreaming homosexuality, Dreher says: "You might have thought that the advent of AIDS in the 1980s would have sobered up our culture about promiscuity in general, and specifically about its key role in male homosexual identity. But a funny thing happened: In the media, AIDS carriers became identified solely as victims -- victims of cruel fate and a repressive society.... The message went out through the media that promiscuous gays who contracted AIDS were not to blame for their predicament -- which is no more true than to say that a two-pack-a-day smoker is not responsible for his emphysema. We have no problem blaming the smoker.... But with AIDS, it was different."

Dreher quotes a 2003 story from the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Michael Wilke, who advises corporations about how to advertise in the gay community, lauds...['gay'-friendly TV] programming (including Queer as Folk, Will and Grace, and Boy Meets Boy). He said, 'It gives straight viewers a chance to make friends with gays in their living room. It's like sensitivity training.' Robert Thompson...said, 'This is the genius of television. Gay characters are a hot genre, the shows have a cumulative power, and they end up moving the center of public opinion.'"

You might think that conservative media might be different. However, Dreher says: "In the early 1990s, I was a television critic for the Washington Times. One of the biggest television stories in either 1992 or 1993 was the debut of Matt, an openly gay character on the [neoconservative] Fox nighttime soap Melrose Place.... The producers made Matt into a veritable saint, and audiences got comfortable with him.... Just over a decade from the moment when Fox tentatively stepped forward with an openly gay character in prime time, homosexuality is at the white-hot center of our popular culture." (And, by the way, we've had several of our "gay"-unfriendly ads rejected by neoconservative publications and even one conservative publication.)

Dreher says the media "consciously work to marginalize any negative judgment of homosexuality" and "the media ignore or downplay unpleasant or inconvenient facts." And here's the kicker. Dreher says: "This is...why you have seen little, if any, reference in the mainstream media to the role male homosexual culture played in the Catholic sex-abuse scandal. Mainstream journalists are making conscious decisions to ignore it. When I arrived in Dallas in the summer of 2002 to cover the historic meeting of the Catholic bishops for National Review, I was asked to brief a correspondent for [neocon] Fox News who had been put onto the story at the last minute. When I got to the part about the role of male homosexuality in Catholic clerical culture, I told her she needed to speak to Michael S. Rose, who was at the conference [meeting], and whose terrific book Goodbye, Good Men was an important exposé of the so-called lavender mafia. The reporter shook her head and said the crew had orders from New York, from the top of the company, not to talk to him [Rose], and to stay off the homosexual thing. If Fox spinning the news like that, what hope do you have that ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, The New York Times, and other agenda-setting news media will be honest?"

We live in a free country, but don't think for a moment that you've not been subliminally manipulated. The Communists have had harsh re-education camps while the Americans have the "genius of television," and you should know which one is more effective. Communist propaganda was crude; American propaganda is smooth as silk.

[This article was originally published as a New Oxford Note in the New Oxford Review (March 2006), pp. 20-21, and is reprinted here by permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]