Month: January 2015

Here and There

  • Discussing or Ignoring Thomas Pink’s Interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae Rorate Caeli 01/05/15:

    One of the most difficult of the doctrinal points at issue between the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) and the Holy See is the question of religious liberty. The Second Vatican Council’s teaching on this point in Dignitatis Humanae seems to be in clear opposition to the traditional teaching. In 2011 [Rorate Caeli] posted an intervention on the question by Prof. Thomas Pink, in which Pink proposed a reading of Dignitatis Humanae in accord with tradition. At the time, the chairman of the Latin Mass Society, Joseph Shaw, now a Rorate contributor, hailed Pink’s intervention as “truly important article,” and a blogger well acquainted with the SSPX called it a “a game-changing intervention,” that reframed the debate.

    Prof. Pink has since developed his argument further in a number of papers (most of which are available here). But what effect has Pink’s thesis actually had on the debate?

  • Thomas Aquinas in China, by William Carroll. Public Discourse 12/11/14. “Thomas Aquinas’s commitment to the importance of reason and its universal role in defining what it means to be human makes him an attractive thinker for contemporary Chinese scholars.”
  • The Philosopher Who Defied Hitler: Q&A with Alice von Hildebrand, by Sean Salai, S.J. (and in America magazine, of all places!):

    Before her husband [Dietrich von Hildrebrand] died in 1977, she persuaded him to write an autobiographical account of his life. This memoir includes the story of his persecution under the Nazis, who had blacklisted him in 1921 and eventually forced him to flee Europe for the United States during World War II. A portion of the manuscript, newly compiled and translated into English by John Henry Crosby under the title “My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich,” was published Oct. 21 by Image Books.

    On Oct. 21, I conducted the following email interview with Lady Alice on her career and on the newly translated autobiography of her husband …

  • ‘First Things’ vs. ‘Communio’, “Murrayites” and “MacIntyrians”; The Paradox of the “Catholic Libertarian” and Another Kind of Illiberal Catholicism — A roundup of relevant reading in 2014 – Taking a look back at last year’s skirmishes. The Catholic Church and the Liberal Tradition 12/20/14.
  • Dr. Ed Peters on antinomianism, moved by the observation that Francis has appointed five more papal electors than Church law authorizes:

    Let me be clear: it does not make a fig’s worth of difference whether 120 or 125 cardinals vote in the next papal conclave, but it does make a fig’s worth of difference, I suggest, if yet another ecclesiastical rule, set out in a major legislative document using terminology indistinguishable from that which conveys many other considerably more important rules, is ignored because this leader or that doesn’t feel like abiding by it. We have processes to reform law in the Church; looking the other way isn’t one of them—at the very least, it’s a very dangerous way to change laws.

    Antinomianism has been a long time spreading, and we are going to be a long, long time repairing the damage it has done to the Church (and the State). Where to start, then, except with the first step: recognizing that antinomianism is the default setting today.

    (HT: Pertinacious Papist, see comments for further discussion).

  • Torture: Historical and Ethical Perspectives Unam Catholicam Sanctitam brings refreshing analysis to the torture debate, renewed once more within the Catholic blogging world by the release of . Drawing upon prior historical research from Fr. Harrison, the authors to the following conclusion:

    Understanding these distinctions [between punitive torture, torture for purpose of extraction and extrajudicial torture] means that one could also simultaneously affirm the permissibility of certain kinds of torture (punitive) while uniformly condemning the practices of the CIA, which are extrajudicial.

    The long and short of it is that attempts to make blanket statements about torture qua torture are misguided and prone to end up in contradiction for the simple reason that Tradition does not address torture qua torture, just like we cannot make blanket statements about violence qua violence but only violence under a variety of categories (war, assault, corporal punishment, self-defense, etc.) In the eyes of tradition, putting a man on the rack to extract information, branding a convicted thief with a hot iron, flogging a prisoner, and executing a man in an extremely painful manner (e.g., burning) were all totally different things. To moderns, these are all simply “torture” without disinction, but the Tradition did not view it this way; their distinctions were real distinctions, not mere semantics, and if we hope to understand what the Tradition says to us, we have to accept its distinctions.

    Incidentally, the attempt to ground opposition to all forms of torture in “the dignity of the human person” was not an argument known to tradition and leads to various difficulties. As we have mentioned above in our discussion of Ad Extirpanda and Ad Consulta Vestra, it was only because objections to torture were not grounded in the dignity of the human person that any development of thought here was possible. The argument that all forms of torture are intrinsically evil because they are offenses against the human person is not tenable, at least if we take the Church’s tradition seriously.

  • Peter J. Leithart and Robert P. George spar over the proper understanding of religion as a “basic human good” worthy of being (freely) pursued – “Basic Goods” (First Things 8/27/14; Reply to Leithart (8/28/14), to which Dr. Mark Latkovick remarks:

    I simply want to add the point – moral rather than anthropological – that contrary to what Leithart implies, the “basic human goods” are not moral directives for choice. This is why, according to the “new natural law” theory (of Grisez, Finnis, Boyle, W.E. May, George, and others), moral principles and moral norms are necessary to guide our free choices so that we choose the various basic goods wisely. The latter are practical in nature, the former are moral in nature.

  • How to be a conservative: a conversation with Roger Scruton, John Derbyshire. Prospect Magazine. 09/12/14.
  • Raising the Tone: An Interview With Renowned Composer James MacMillan Regina (09/05/14). Mr. MacMillan was Composer/Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic from 2000-2009 and Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Kamer Filharmonie until 2013. He is also an outspoken critic of much contemporary Catholic church music, and recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Regina Magazine to discuss his point of view.
  • “Ruined by books: My Top 10 Philosophy List”, by Artur Rosman (Cosmos In The Lost).

  • Lastly, OnePeterFive’s “Drunk Catholic History” series covers my spirit of choice: bourbon.

Thomas Merton, on Heresy

I’ve posted this excerpt before — some ten years ago (have I been blogging that long? — but even now as we draw near to Merton’s 100th birthday on January 31st, 2015, it seems most appropos:

In the climate of the Second Vatican Council, of ecumenism, of openness, the word “heretic” has become not only unpopular but unspeakable — except, of course, among integralists, who often deconstruct their own identity on accusations of heresy directed at others.

But has the concept of heresy become completely irrelevant? Has our awareness of the duty of tolerance and charity toward the sincere conscience of others absolved us from the danger of the error ourselves? Or is error something we no longer consider dangerous?

I think a Catholic is bound to remember that his faith is directed to the grasp of truths revealed by God, which are not mere opinions or “manners of speaking,” mere viewpoints which can be adopted and rejected at will — for otherwise the commitment of faith would lack not only totality but even seriousness. The Catholic is one who stakes his life on certain truths revealed by God. If these truths cease to apply, his life ceases to have meaning.

A heretic is first of all a believer. Today the ideas of “heretic” and “unbeliever” are generally confused. In point of fact the mass of “post-Christian” men in Western society can no longer be considered heretics and heresy is, for them, no problem. It is, however, a problem for the believer who is too eager to identify himself with their unbelief in order to “win them for Christ.”

Where the real danger of heresy exists for the Catholic today is precisely in that “believing” zeal which, eager to open up new aspects and new dimensions of the faith, thoughtlessly or carelessly sacrifices something essential to Christian truth, on the grounds that this is no longer comprehensible to modern man. Heresy is precisely a “choice” which, for human motives . . . selects and prefers an opinion contrary to revealed truth as held and understood by the Church.

I think, then, that in our eagerness to go out to modern man and meet him on his own ground, accepting him as he is, we must also be truly what we are. If we come to him as Christians we can certainly understand and have compassion for his unbelief — his apparent incapacity to believe. But it would seem a bit absurd for us, precisely as Christians, to pat him on the arm and say “As a matter of fact I don’t find the Incarnation credible myself. Let’s just consider that Christ was a nice man who devoted himself to helping others!”

This would, of course, be heresy in a Catholic whose faith is a radical and total commitment to the truth of the Incarnation and Redemption as revealed by God and taught by the Church. . . . What is the use of coming to modern man with the claim that you have a Christian mission — that you are sent in the name of Christ — if in the same breath you deny Him by whom you claim to be sent?

Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Related Links

Some notes occasioned by some “contemporary Christian rocker” named George Perdikis announcing he’s left the faith and embraced atheism (“I Co-Founded One of the Most Popular Christian Rock Bands Ever… and I’m Now An Atheist” Friendly Atheist Patheos.com 01/21/15):

I always felt uncomfortable with the strict rules imposed by Christianity. All I wanted to do was create and play rock and roll… and yet most of the attention I received was focused on how well I maintained the impossible standards of religion. I wanted my life to be measured by my music, not by my ability to resist temptation. …

As I carved out a life for myself away from the church, I began my own voyage of inquiry into what I believed. My perceptions started to transform when I became interested in cosmology in 1992. I soon found myself fascinated by the works of Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Brian Cox, and Richard Dawkins. I learned so much and was blown away by all the amazing scientific discoveries and facts. When my marriage dissolved in 2003, I turned my attention to human psychology.

By 2007, I renounced Christianity once and for all and declared myself an atheist.

I find it interesting how Perdikis, like most “contemporary Christian” rock stars, have backgrounds in American evangelical Christianity or something they would describe as stereotypically “fundamentalist”, which is to say heavy on rules, heavy on the dogma, notoriously lacking in intellectual foundation (“The scandal of the evangelical mind … is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” – Mark Knoll, 1995).

Also a kind of religious environment where one’s faith is expected to be perpetually worn on one’s sleeve – where doubt in and questioning of religious convictions is never admitted, and when experienced is understood as a sign of intolerable weakness, “backsliding”. Also, where curiosity and intellectual investigation into the broader tradition of Christianity (never mind other religious traditions outside of Christianity) is generally frowned upon, especially where they might challenge or conflict.

* * *

Because of said standard of moral perfection, of unbreakable faith, etc. the perception of deviation from such in a parent or authority figure can be an impetus for questioning and a loss of faith.

This can range from the familial — parents who ‘say one thing, but do another’; a discovery of infidelity, divorce … to the more egregious and perverse (ex. a pastor who admits to marital infidelities before his congregation; sexual abuse amongst teachers and/or priests). If you grow up regarding somebody as an exemplar of moral perfection and purveyor of spiritual truth, such displays of human frailty and outright sin can be disillusioning, even life-shattering.

* * *

Or, if you happen to be in a particular type of industry in which you are materially invested in being “a good Christian” and your livelihood essentially depends on such — say, “contemporary Christian music” — maintaining that outward standard of perfection becomes all the more imperative, especially with thousands of adoring fans looking up to YOU as an exemplar of Christian discipleship.

In such a context, to experience questioning or signs of doubt (either in yourself, or witnessing fellow bandmates straying from the path) — and with the outward admission to such doubts potentially fatal to your brand — the disjuncture between ideal and reality can be too much to bear. It only becomes a matter of time before something gives: the ability to maintain the illusion of faith on stage OR “coming clean” to one’s doubts, at which point the erstwhile fans might well accuse you of never being a Christian in the first place.

In this manner, George Perdikis of the Newsboys is simply one of a long line of “contemporary Christian” performers who have left the faith, joining the ranks of Tim Lambesis (“As I Lay Dying”); David Bazan (Pedro the Lion); Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay); Clay Scott (Circle of Dust; Celldweller); Roger Martinez (Vengeance Rising, the first ever “Christian thrash” band). I’m not necessarily familiar with all of these musicians (really the latter two) but I’m interested by the similarities in their confessions of how they’ve left the faith.

Tangential note — the repudiation of CCM by former participants in CCM is rather common, with new bands, whose members perhaps “personally subscribing to” Christian beliefs, vehemently disavowing any relationship to CCM. The exact phrase “we are not a christian band” has 15,100 results in Google at this time.

* * *

It’s one thing to simply proclaim one’s agnosticism or ambivalence toward the greater metaphysical questions, quite another to pronounce judgement on them.

Certain types of lapsed believers, at one time “evangelistic” about Christianity, readily embrace and can even get quite “evangelical” about atheism — which if you think about it, carries its own set of concrete metaphysical-philosophical convictions (scientific materialism), and whose advocates get downright “fundamentalist” themselves — Ed Feser chronicles this in The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism with respect to the religion of Hawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens.

Such converts from Christian fundamentalism rarely just lapse into quiet agnosticism, but often move to the other extreme in rebellion: they become “outspoken atheists”, trading in one belief-system for another.

* * *

To be sure, Latin or Orthodox Christianity has its own scandals, and isn’t necessarily a reliable antidote to the curious phenomenon of “militant evangelicals leaving the faith to embrace a (sometimes even more militant and evangelical) atheism”.

But still, you have to wonder if things might have been different.

For example, those growing up with a fideistic mindset (believing that faith and reason are independent of and hostile to each other), assuming that religious belief can only be maintained by the suppression of rational inquiry might have concluded differently were they exposed to the riches of Christian scholastic philosophy?

Or those assuming that science is inimical to Christianity — would they be surprised at the number of Catholic scientists in history who would find such a view ludicrous?

Or those who by their background were led to assume the admission and experience of religious doubt as inherently detrimental to faith and indicative of a renunciation of faith … would they have considered otherwise, if they were exposed to a tradition where even those who are proclaimed saints by the Church and held up for emulation experienced what is called the “the dark knight of the soul” (St. Therese of Lisieux or even, more recently and in our own time: Mother Theresa):

Where existential doubt and belief in a Christian’s life go hand in hand (see: “Joseph Ratzinger on Uncertainty and Doubt”, an excerpt and one of my favorite passages from his Introduction to Christianity).

Where even the current Pope himself can confess to having “doubts along the way” without his flock being overtly scandalized?

* * *
Musings from one who experienced his own loss of faith while young (and finding his way back).

Robert Tracy McKenzie on Matthew Stewart’s "Nature’s God"

In America’s Founding May Not Have Been Christian, but It Sure Wasn’t Anti-Christian, Robert Tracy McKenzie, chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College, reviews Matthew Stewart’s Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic. (Christianity Today 07/03/14):

… I’ll leave it to the philosophers to evaluate whether Stewart has exaggerated the underlying atheism of this cast of characters. (His portrayal of Locke, at least, is sure to arouse controversy.) As a historian, I am more concerned by his utter failure to establish the influence of atheistic belief on America’s founding. Historians believe that our most important task is to explain what we see, basing our statements of cause and effect on evidence. Stewart takes a different approach. He concludes that radical philosophy was widespread among common Americans after discovering it in the writings of two individuals, Vermont’s backwoods leader Ethan Allen and a Boston physician named Thomas Young. In like manner, he finds that atheistic presuppositions determined the political philosophy of the most prominent Founders by ruthlessly disregarding all competing influences. This is pronouncement, not demonstration.

McKenzie comments further, on his own blog, Faith and American History:

Although Stewart cloaks his argument in a 400-page narrative, the heart of his reasoning boils down to a simple syllogism: The ideas that matter in history are the ones that are true. Religious beliefs are, by definition, false. Ergo (philosophers say ergo a lot), religious beliefs couldn’t have mattered in the American founding. If lots of colonists back in ’76 thought otherwise, that’s because they weren’t as enlightened as the author. Too bad for them.

The thrust of my review was to call attention to Stewart’s a priori assumptions and to remind readers of historians’ quaint belief that historical assertions should be grounded in historical evidence. Stewart is correct to point out that the religious beliefs of many of the leading Founders were unorthodox, David Barton’s wish-dreams to the contrary notwithstanding. But Stewart errs badly in equating the views of the leading Founders with atheism, and he provides almost no evidence at all for his insistence that radical philosophy was widespread among the rank and file of colonial patriots. In short, the emperor has no clothes.

Matthew Stewart, a self-identified atheist, professed in an interview with the Boston Globe that he’d “like the United States to become what it was always meant to be, which is a secular nation — more publicly committed to reason, to improving understanding, and promoting education”, sans traditional orthodox religiosity of any kind. Curiously, notes McKenzie,

for a study that is so determined to discredit orthodox Christianity, the author is curiously averse to engaging Christian scholars, whether historians or theologians. When it comes to the religious beliefs of the revolutionary generation, quite a number of Christian historians have anticipated much of Stewart’s findings, albeit with vastly greater nuance and balance, but you’d never know it from his account.

Elsewhere, Baron Swaim (Wall Street Journal) deems that “Mr. Stewart’s learning in philosophical radicalism is impressive; what undermines his work is his contempt for everyone but the few radicals he esteems.” And Charles W. Cooke (National Review) corrects Stewart’s mistaken charge that “the first Tea-Partier was an atheist.”

Most of these authors of course do not believe their own postmodern tenets. They criticize capitalism because it pays financial dividends [but] none wish to share their salary with the dispossessed or live among the muscular classes. They advocate multiculturalism [because] it promotes them out of the classroom and away from the lower undergraduates — the very people their curriculum is supposed to liberate.

They say there are no facts, but are outraged when their research is criticized. They pile up the frequent-flier mileage on gravity-defying jets that whisk them to the latest conference on the social construction and relativism of the scientific method. They hate the West, but demand the freedom of speech, material prosperity, lack of religious interference, respect for diversity and competitive merit-based rewards that the West alone ensures. … They insist that nothing can be known, that knowledge is a mere construct of unreliable language, that linear thinking is phallocentric, imperialistic and oppressive, and then, without a hint of irony, write heavily-footnoted book after book to tell us so. They say that truth is relative, yet condemn opposing theories as being less valid than their own.

They reject “narrow” disciplines in favor of “inclusive” cultural studies — and then rigorously exclude anything that does not support their tendentious political agenda. They denounce an imagined world governed exclusively by issues of power even as they spend their time handing out curriculum vitiate, applying for the next job, and running for office in professional organizations. They proclaim the death of the author, and then sign their names to their books and wear nametags at conventions. They advocate the overthrow of hierarchical privilege while clutching desperately an outdated system of tenure that guarantees their own power and privilege. […] They profess radical skepticism in their scholarship but use inductive logic to plan every second of their personal and professional lives: what car to buy, what neighborhood to live in, what schools to send their children to, what articles to write and classes to teach (or not to teach).

The contradictions of the medieval Church or eighteenth-century French letters to do not match the hypocrisy of contemporary American academic culture.

— Introduction, Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age by Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath and Bruce S. Thornton.

Pre-emptive Critics of Francis’ Encyclical – Look to his Predecessor

Apparently there are some who are venturing into vehement criticism of Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on ecology … an encyclical we might add that has yet to even be released.

Perhaps it may be of benefit to point out that Pope Francis, in writing this encyclical, might even be taking SOME queues in this regard from his predecessor, who didn’t earn the nickname “The Green Pope” for nothing. As National Geographic reminds us, among the actions of his pontificate:

… He approved a plan to cover the Vatican’s Paul VI hall with solar panels, enough to power the lighting, heating, and cooling of a portion of the entire country (which covers, of course, a mere one-fifth of a square mile). He authorized the Vatican’s bank to purchase carbon credits by funding a Hungarian forest that would make the Catholic city-state the only country fully carbon neutral. And several years later, he unveiled a new hybrid Popemobile that would be partially electric. (How Green Was the ‘Green Pope’? National Geographic (02/28/13).

And on the topic of climate change, we might recall that Benedict himself specifically weighed in on the subject, :

Pope Benedict XVI appealed for the success of a UN climate change conference […] in Durban, South Africa. Speaking to the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus prayer, Pope Benedict expressed the hope that “all members of the international community might reach agreement on a responsible, credible response,” to the phenomenon of climate change, which he described as “complex” and “disturbing”. [Vatican Radio 11/27/11].

In fact, if he had not resigned in 2013, we could reasonably suggest that Pope Benedict might have at some point devoted greater length to this particular topic in some formal manner.

Perhaps the best position present critics of Pope Francis can adopt (and this author is by no means wholly enthusiastic about the present pontiff) is to cultivate the virtue of patience and mindful silence — and refrain from what is largely speculative criticism until the content of the encyclical is actually released, and we’ve all had opportunity to read it.

* * *

Further reading on the Pope Emeritus‘ thinking on the environment.

Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Assessing Pope Benedict XVI’s Ecological Vision for the Catholic Church in the United States
Lexington Books (November 21, 2013). 322 pgs.

Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Assessing Pope Benedict XVI’s Ecological Vision for the Catholic Church in the United States explores four key areas in connection with Benedict XVI’s teachings: human and natural ecology/human life and dignity; solidarity, justice, poverty and the common good; sacramentality of creation; and our Catholic faith in action. The product of mutual collaboration by bishops, scholars and staff, this anthology provides the most thorough treatment of Benedict XVI’s contributions to ecological teaching and offers fruitful directions for advancing concern among Catholics in the United States about ongoing threats to the integrity of Earth.
Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks Out for Creation and Justice

Ave Maria Press (June 1, 2009) 162 pgs.

Woodeene Koenig-Bricker skillfully weaves together Pope Benedicts key statements on environmental justice into one volume. Additionally, she offers commentary that helps to unpack the “Ten Commandments for the Environment,” which were recently released by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Koenig-Bricker helps us understand an environmentally responsible lifestyle as a moral responsibility to protect the poor, who suffer most when climate change creates a shortage of resources. With practical, everyday ideas for reducing ones ecological footprint, this book is a must-read for those seeking the inspiration that the Holy Father radiates to a new generation of Catholics.
The Garden of God: Toward a Human Ecology
The Catholic University of America Press (March 18, 2014) 232pgs.

This book gathers together the audiences, addresses, letters, and homilies of Benedict on a wide-ranging set of topics that deal with the world about us. The major themes and connections he explores are creation and the natural world; the environment, science, and technology; and hunger, poverty, and the earth’s resources.

See also: