Month: July 2013

Here and There

  • The Dorothy Day Few of Us Know, by Stephen Beale. Crisis March 19, 2013:

    he lamented the encroachment of the state and the perils of the welfare system. She once compared abortion to genocide and the U.S. government to Nazi Germany. She cheered on income tax resisters, dismissed the benefits of the minimum wage, and worried about the decline of freedom in an increasingly bureaucratic society.

  • My Camille Paglia Interview: The Outtakes, by Emily Esfahani Smith. On the feminist author’s playing the negro spiritual “Go Down Moses” to her students:

    … as the students read these words, and as Paglia talked them through the spiritual, there was something wrong. The students were not connecting with the song. “It was hard going,” she explains. “There was a disconnect as I kept talking and talking. I felt I was struggling, and I didn’t know why. And then it struck me with horror that of a class of twenty-five students, only two seemed to recognize the name ‘Moses’ and understand what I was saying—and they were African-American students.” A few others had heard the name “Moses” before, but it was clear that they did not know his story of bondage in Egypt or anything about his role as the liberator of the Jews.

    “They did not know who he was,” she tells me in disbelief. “If you are an artist and you don’t recognize the name of ‘Moses,’ then the West is dead. It’s over. It has committed suicide.”

  • “The Death of Facebook February 19, 2013. On one Catholic blogger’s decision to abandon social media:

    I canceled my account because there was nothing about Facebook that was leading me towards Christ. I was wasting my time browsing people’s favorite quotes, judging people’s musical tastes and political views, and engaging in long-winded debates that were at times civil and beneficial, but more often than not robbed me of my inner peace. It was time to get out.

    Not that I’ve forsaken Facebook myself. I find it a convenient resource for keeping up with my extended family and friends from all walks of life (Boy Scouts, college, etc.). In old days my parents had what used to be called the “Round Robin”, a circular package of letters that would make its way via U.S. postal mail through the entire family, everybody contributing an update of what was happening. The downside of course is that by the time you received the package, the “family updates” you were reading were dated by weeks or months. So I appreciate and prefer the immediacy of Facebook in this sense, insofar as it’s confined to immediate acquaintances.

    George W. Bush is smarter than you, by Keith Hennessey, Stanford University. April 24, 2013:

    One of my students asked “How involved was President Bush with what was going on?” I smiled and responded, “What you really mean is, ‘Was President Bush smart enough to understand what was going on,’ right?”

  • The Ambiguity of Islam Homiletic and Pastoral Review. November 1, 2009. Fr. Schall’s review of Samir Khalil’s 111 Questions on Islam
  • “Detheologizing” Christianity Michael Kruger’s review — and demolishment — of hipster preacher Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God (2013):

    In the end, my overall concern about this volume is a simple one: it is not Christian. Bell’s makeover of Christianity has changed it into something entirely different. It is not Christianity at all, it is modern liberalism. It is the same liberalism that Machen fought in the 1920’s and the same liberalism prevalent in far too many churches today. It is the liberalism that teaches that God exists and that Jesus is the source of our happiness and our fulfillment, but all of this comes apart from any real mention of sin, judgment, and the cross. It is the liberalism that says we can know nothing for sure, except of course, that those “fundamentalists” are wrong. It is the liberalism that appeals to the Bible from time to time, but then simply ignores large portions of it.

    Little wonder, then, that Pastor Bell is a “bestselling author, international teacher, and highly sought after public speaker and New York Times‘ bestseller.

  • Ayn Rand: Architect of the culture of death, by Donald DeMarco. National Catholic Register “No philosopher ever proposed a more simple and straightforward view of life than the one Ayn Rand urges upon us.”
  • Church as Sacrament, by John Cavadini. First Things August / September 2013. A review of George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church:

    Weigel argues that the twin criteria of truth and mission, the goal of which is sanctification, are the criteria for the reform of all of the vocations in the Church. Truth and mission both bring their gifts to bear, in a spirit of continuing conversion, on missionary proclamation of the truth, building up a culture conducive to Gospel values. The “deeply reformed” Church becomes an evangelizing presence in the modern world, wherever she finds herself.

    There is much to commend in this vision of the Church. If the Catholic reader experiences some feeling of discomfort, the feeling is surely partly due to being called out of the Catholic comfort zone in which one takes one’s religion for granted, as an essentially private affair that places no particularly urgent demands for proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed.

    But it is also sometimes hard to distinguish this beneficial discomfort from the worry that, despite Weigel’s disclaimer distinguishing Evangelical Catholicism from Protestant Evangelicalism, the ecclesiology implied in his descriptions of Evangelical Catholicism threatens to leave behind fundamental features of Catholic ecclesiology. …

  • Flannery O’Connor: A Brief Introduction to Her Themes and Symbols, by Randall Ivey. Amnesis: A Journal for the Study of Tradition, Place and “Things Divine”. March 2013.
  • Courage in the Ordinary, by Tish Harrison Warren. InterVarsity’s The Well Blog:

    I spent a little while in two different intentional Christian communities, hanging out with homeless teenagers, and going to a church called “Scum of the Earth” (really). I gave away a bunch of clothes, went barefoot, and wanted to be among the “least of these.” At a gathering of Christian communities, I slept in a cornfield and spent a week using composting toilets, learning to make my own cleaning supplies, and discussing Christian anarchy while listening to mewithoutyou. I went to Christian Community Development Association conferences, headed up a tutoring program for impoverished, immigrant children, and interned at some churches trying to bridge the gap between wealthier evangelicals and the poor. I was certainly not as radical as many Christian radicals — a lot of folks are doing more good than I could ever hope to and, besides, I’ve never had dreadlocks — but I did have some “ordinary radical” street cred.

    Now, I’m a thirty-something with two kids living a more or less ordinary life. And what I’m slowly realizing is that, for me, being in the house all day with a baby and a two-year-old is a lot more scary and a lot harder than being in a war-torn African village. What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily every-dayness of life. Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it.


"There’s nothing about abortion in the bible" — A response to Adam Lee

The following article from an atheist blogger and activist is making the rounds (There’s Nothing About Abortion in the Bible — So How Do Right-Wing Christians Justify Their Crusade Against Women? Alternet 7/17/13), in which Adam Lee makes what he perceives to be the penetrating judgement that:

“it’s reasonable to conclude that the Bible’s authors never mention abortion because they weren’t especially concerned about it.”

This is pretty weak reasoning. The bible makes no mention of eugenics, abortion, human cloning, euthanasia, or other questionable moral practices in human society, but that hasn’t impeded Christians over the ages from coming to reasonable moral conclusions about such matters. In fact, such an “argument from silence” can be made only if you contend that

  • the Bible should be taken as Christianity’s sole comprehensive manual and explication of Christian morality and
  • is indicative of early Christian thought, such that the perceived silence of the biblical text on any issue can be interpreted as a clear sign of ambivalence.

But neither of these points hold up to scrutiny.

It’s clear by the author’s argumentation that he is treating “the bible” per se as the sole comprehensive position on morality, by which we can gain insight into what Christians thought about a particular issue. But this is simply not the case. The earliest long-standing Christian traditions — Catholic and Orthodox — have from their inception typically revered multiple sources of authority. Catholics look to the Magisterium (or the teaching authority of the Church) as the formal interpretor of the word of God, as expounded by the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, traditionally expressed in conciliar creeds, canons and decrees (not to mention summaries of Christian doctrine and ethics like the Catechism). Orthodox Christians likewise make appeal to the dual authority of the Bible and Sacred Tradition.

Greeks and Romans employed abortion, together with contraception and infanticide, as methods of family planning (particularly against women). By contrast, the practice was shunned by Christians. The Didache [“Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles (or Nations) by the Twelve Apostles”] — dating from 70-100 AD — explicitly prohibits abortion (2:2 “thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born”. Lee does acknowledge that “there are later Christian writings that explicitly mention and forbid abortion, such as the Didache. But none of these documents made it into the canon of the Bible.” However, the Didache was lost for centuries, was rediscovered in 1875 — and despite is non-canonical status is still recognized due to its age and content as the earliest known Christian catechism outside the bible, and representative of the traditional thought of the early Christian Church.

Despite various theological speculations on when “ensoulment” occurred, Christian teachers such as
Tertullian (c.160-240), Basil (c.329-379), Ambrose (c.340-397), John Chrysostom (347-407), Augustine of Hippo (354-430) down through Aquinas condemned the practice of intentionally procured abortion (much like the Hippocratic Oath of 5th century BC). Likewise, the sixth Christian ecumenical council in 678 AD equated procured abortion with murder.

Likewise, there is the Latin/Western tradition of natural law, which makes the moral case for various moral positions absent and independent of divine revelation. Adam Lee has some leverage here in his narrow focus on “The Christian Right”, because insofar as such are by and large “Evangelical”, Protestant Christianity typically does not lay claim to natural law.

Picking a fight with “Christian right” is an easy target — so I can understand the obvious temptation for Mr. Lee as an atheist blogger. I do think it’s a tad disingenuous for criticizing the use of “clobber verses” by his opponents, but indulging in the selfsame practice to bolster his own positions. However, should Mr. Lee wish to engage in some genuine debate on pro-life matters, he might consider some more heavyweight intellectual targets such as Christopher Kazcor (The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice) or Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefson (Embryo: A Defense of Human Life).


Happy Independence Day

  • The Declaration of Independence (“Charters of Freedom” – National Archives)
  • Speech on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, by President Calvin Coolidge. July 25, 1926. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

    … Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments. This is both historically and logically true. Of course the government can help to sustain ideals and can create institutions through which they can be the better observed, but their source by their very nature is in the people. The people have to bear their own responsibilities. There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to the government. It is not the enactment, but the observance of laws, that creates the character of a nation.

    About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

  • Archbp. Carroll’s “Prayer for Government” (Fr. John Zuhlsdorf) A prayer composed by John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore, in 1791. He was the first bishop appointed for the United States in 1789 by Pope Pius VI. He was made the first archbishop when his see of Baltimore was elevated to the status of an archdiocese. He was also cousin of Charles Carroll of Maryland, a Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.

  • 10 Things You Should Know About the American Founding (Catholic World Report) – Bradley J. Birzer, author of American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll (ISI, 2012) reminds us of a number of interesting facts about the era of our Founding Fathers.