For fellow readers and book lovers … "best books of 2009"

I know, I know — the decade is not yet over — but as we had into the final year, some compilations of recommended reading and “best of the decade” lists.

Subjective, of course.

Q: What books did you read this year? Liked? Or perhaps disliked? — Did you accomplish your reading goals? I welcome your comments!

Here and There

  • “I’m a Catholic too” – Fr Dwight Longenecker (Standing on My Head):
    When I was an Anglican priest I once said to the (Catholic) Abbot of Quarr, “I’m a Catholic too, but in the Anglican Church.” He smiled and said, “You should understand that we Catholics define what being Catholic is rather differently than you do.”

  • Some News about the SSPX Discussions Via the website Panorama Católico Internacional (found via messainlatino.it) come news about the doctrinal discussions between the Holy See and the SSPX.

  • The Lost Wisdom of the Three Wise Men – Umberto Eco (author of ) laments the loss of religious and biblical literacy: “It’s impossible to understand roughly three-quarters of Western art if you don’t know the events of the Old and the New Testaments and the stories of the saints.”

  • Fidel Castro: Hollywood Screenwriter – Humberto Fontova (Big Hollywood) takes on Soderbergh’s and del Toro’s, “Che.”

  • Pius XII – Ready for sainthood? Joe Hargrave (The American Catholic) answers in the affirmative.

  • A Composer’s Ties to Nazi Germany Come Under New Scrutiny (Chronicle of Higher Education). “More than 50 years after the Finnish composer died, in 1957, at the age of 91, a musicologist in Texas is claiming that [Finnish composer Jean] Sibelius was culpably entangled with Nazi Germany, and should join Pound, Richard Wagner, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline in the select group of artists who have been cast into anti-Semitic ignominy.” (Though it seems to me that his complicity with National Socialism was much, much less than that of Martin Heidegger).

  • Edward Feser: “Over at my own blog, I provide a detailed critique of materialist philosopher Paul Churchland’s critique of mind-body dualism in his widely-used textbook Matter and Consciousness. In three parts: here, here, and here. If philosophy of mind is your bag, clear your schedule.”

  • From Lee Gerhard, geologist and reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a concise summary of the “climate change scam” (Hat tip: PowerLine):
    It is crucial that scientists are factually accurate when they do speak out, that they ignore media hype and maintain a clinical detachment from social or other agendas. There are facts and data that are ignored in the maelstrom of social and economic agendas swirling about Copenhagen. Greenhouse gases and their effects are well-known. Here are some of things we know …

  • Theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, dead at 95 (National Catholic Reporter).

  • A Walker Percy documentary is in the works! (Via Philokalia Republic)

  • Bill Cork teaches us how to count.

  • Lastly – Dissertations on His Dudeness Dwight Garner (New York Times) on the cult appreciation of the Coen brothers’ film “The Big Lebowski“, together with a new genre of literature:
    “The Big Lebowski” has spawned its own shaggy, fervid world: drinking games, Halloween costumes, bumper stickers (“This aggression will not stand, man”) and a drunken annual festival that took root in Louisville, Ky., and has spread to other cities. The movie is also the subject of an expanding shelf of books, including “The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers” (Zondervan, 2009) and the forthcoming “The Tao of the Dude.”

    Where cult films go, academics will follow. New in bookstores, and already in its second printing, is “The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies.” (Indiana UP, 2009).

    (A favorite film of my brother Jon and I, howbeit not to this extent).

"Is the SSPX Right about Vatican II?" — A dialogue between Aidan Nichols and a "confused Catholic"

Rome and the SSPX: a very puzzling dialogue” — When Moyra Doorly began to wonder if the SSPX is right about Vatican II she asked leading theologian Aidan Nichols to address her doubts. The initial exchange was published July 3, 2009, and continues in the pages of the Catholic Herald (UK):

The U.S. Army – Bringing new life to an old monastery.

Maj. Jeffrey Whorton, a Roman Catholic chaplain, celebrating Mass at St. Elijah’s Monastery near Mosul in northern Iraq.

The United States Army hopes to restore St. Elijah’s Monastery, an ancient site of Christian worship stuck in the middle of a base in northern Iraq (New York Times December 18, 2009) | Photo Tour of St. Elijah’s Monastery in Iraq.

  • In the years of American occupation, St. Elijah’s became a curiosity, a diversion for soldiers and contractors.
  • The site has never been studied or excavated. Before the war, Iraq’s Republican Guard occupied the base and, according to the Americans, used the cistern as a latrine.
  • The monastery is believed to date from the late 500s, when Elijah, an Assyrian monk, traveled from what is now Turkey. It later became part of the Chaldean Catholic Church.
  • The goal, Sergeant Miller explained, is to give St. Elijah’s “another 100 years of life — in whosever regime it is then.”

Update!

From a reader and fellow co-blogger at American Catholic recommends some additional articles:

Some of the interesting points:

- Dair Mar Elia was occupied as a monastery for nearly 1200 years before all 150 monks living there at the time were massacred by a Persian leader in 1743 for refusing to convert to Islam. The monastery has been a ruin ever since.

- The local Christian population used to visit yearly on the feast of St. Elia, but this practice has mostly been abandoned since the 70s, when the Republican Guard built a major tank base around the monastery.

- During their 30 year occupation of the site, the Republican Guard used the monastery’s sistern as a latrine and Iraqi soldiers carved graphiti on the walls through the standing buildings.

- The area was the site of a major tank battle in 2003, and the eastern wall of the chapel was damaged at that time by a turret blown off an Iraqi tank (which was positioned right next to the chapel).

- Coalition troops at first had no idea what the buildings were, and so painted over several areas of the monastery with white gloss paint, painted the 101st Airborne crest over the doorway, and most unfortunately, set the latrine waste in the cistern on fire. (Just for a good time? To get rid of the smell? Who knows…)

- Since army chaplains and the army core of engineers have set about restoring the monastery and trying to get it on the Ministry of Archeology and Culture’s list of historic sites, they’ve discovered additional graphiti carved in the monastery walls by crusaders in the 13th century, and also the tombs of the monks, which local Christians had believed to be lost or destroyed.

Whatever one thinks about the US’s mission in Iraq, it’s good to hear about this ancient monastery (long abused and unknown) is receiving some long needed restoration, and may in fact receive it long term through the Iraqi Ministry of Culture. And the Eucharist is once again being celebrated in a chapel which, for many centuries, was left empty, and in recent decades was actively mistreated. The stones once again witness the sacrements for which they were put in place. Those who put those stones in place could little imagine what would follow in the centuries to come. And yet, through it all, the sacramental life of the Church returns, Christ is present on the altar once more.

Not that I need another reason to enjoy coffee, but …

Melinda Beck provides a roundup of (mostly positive) coffee-related medical research (“Good News in the Daily Grind” Wall Street Journal December 29, 2009):

This month alone, an analysis in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who drink three to four cups of java a day are 25% less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who drink fewer than two cups. And a study presented at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting found that men who drink at least six cups a day have a 60% lower risk of developing advanced prostate cancer than those who didn’t drink any.

Earlier studies also linked coffee consumption with a lower risk of getting colon, mouth, throat, esophageal and endometrial cancers. People who drink coffee are also less likely to have cavities, gallstones, cirrhosis of the liver, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, or to commit suicide, studies have found. Last year, researchers at Harvard University and the University of Madrid assessed data on more than 100,000 people over 20 years and concluded that the more coffee they drank, the less likely they were to die during that period from any cause.

But those studies come on the heels of older ones showing that coffee—particularly the caffeine it contains—raises blood pressure, heart rate and levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in blood that is associated with stroke and heart disease. Pregnant women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day have a higher rate of miscarriages and lower birth-weight babies; caffeine has also been linked to benign breast lumps and bone loss in elderly women. And, as many people can attest, coffee can also aggravate anxiety, irritability, heartburn and sleeplessness, which brings its own set of problems, including a higher risk of obesity. Yet it’s just that invigorating buzz that other people love and think they can’t get through the day without.

Melinda asks: “Why is there so much confusion about something that’s so ubiquitous?” — Read the rest.

Happy New Year!

As for 2009 wrap-ups, may I say ‘God Bless Dave Barry’ for giving us something to laugh about?

Obama’s Peace Prize Speech, Neihbur’s "Moral Realism" and the Catholic Just War Tradition

Diverse reactions to President Obama’s Nobel Peace Price Speech (full text):

  • Fr. James V. Schall praised it:
    As far as I can tell, nothing in President Obama’s background or politics prepared us for the remarkably sane address that he delivered in Oslo. He previously went around the world apologizing for everything the Americans ever did, only to turn around and say it was absolutely necessary.

  • George Weigel believes “Obama’s Oslo speech presumes too much about a centuries-old intellectual tradition”:
    In November, the president of the United States ordered a surge of U.S. forces into Afghanistan and called on other countries to do their duty in bringing that war to a successful conclusion. A few weeks later, the same president traveled to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The notion that the juxtaposition of these two events involves a “contradiction” (as the Washington Post subhead put it, and as the president’s speech tacitly acknowledged) is, in fact, a neat illustration of just how badly the just-war way of thinking has deteriorated in our culture, and just how attenuated the idea of the pursuit of peace has become.

  • Responding to Weigel, Kenneth Anderson (Volokh Conspiracy) The tradition most at work in the speech is ‘Niebuhrian realism’”:
    .. .It is a form of moral realism that has elements of just war ethics but also a much stronger sense of traditional realism — the “world as it is” of the speech — and which run against just war ethics as functional pacifism. There are tensions between this moderate moral realism and stricter versions of just war ethics, however, depending on the elements of each that one might emphasize.

    However, perhaps more important is that although to American ears, the just war tradition and its requirements seem, today, quite ordinary and natural, it is both a relatively new way of speaking about war in the American political tradition; also one that to European intellectuals and its international elites strange if not disturbing in the age of the UN Charter; and finally one that is not embraced directly by the Vatican. …

    I am not a Catholic or Catholic theologian, but in following Vatican statements concerning the use of force, I have long been struck that the Vatican does not follow just war ethics as even the formal apparatus of analysis. Summarizing roughly, it seems to follow more closely the European line about the primacy of international law, or anyway a certain, thoroughly unrealistic, but literal, reading of the Charter. I have sometimes wondered if the Vatican’s refusal even to speak the formal language of just war ethics — the five or seven standard criteria — was not intended as a very long term message that, although Americans associate just war ethics with Catholicism, it is not the law of the Church, but only one tradition within it concerning the use of force. I believe Weigel would concur in the observation that the Vatican has abstained from signing onto just war ethics as the formal apparatus for analyzing resort to war.

    (Very true!)

  • Lastly, the editors of the Jesuit weekly America on Obama’s use of the language of his “favorite philosopher” may work against him:
    In a campaign interview last year with the columnist David Brooks, Barack Obama identified Reinhold Niebuhr as his favorite philosopher. Following the president’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech on Dec. 15, many commentators noted that the speech reflected Niebuhr’s Christian Realism, a political theology that stressed the inescapable power of group egoism, especially in nation states, and the need of countervailing power to check injustice in the world. Niebuhr’s major works, Moral Man And Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics and The Nature and Destiny of Man, were sustained arguments for realism in politics and international affairs. But he equally insisted that nations were given to self-deception about their role in the world and employed myths and rationalizations to justify their self-interest.

    Indeed, another Niebuhr book, The Irony of American History, offered criticism of the self-deceptions, moral confusions and rationalizations of American foreign policy. … [more]



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