Difficulty of realizing the personhood of othersNothing is more difficult than to realize that every man has a distinct soul, that every one of all the millions who live or have lived, is as whole and independent a being in himself, as if there were no one else in the whole world but he.
John Henry Newman
The Individuality of the Soul
Feb. 20 at 5:03am
I'm reading a book about a young woman's escape from the Jehovah's Witnesses when she was 18. Her mother had been a fanatical devotee for ten years, blighting her youth with excessive control. It's not a very good book; I don't recommend it. But it has its insights. I'm thinking about this one today:
My parents had failed to follow through on the most important obligation they had as parents. They had failed to create autonomy in me by letting me experience life— good and bad— providing guidance and emotional support when I needed it.
I think there's a lot to this, though, speaking as a parent (soon to be grandparent!), living in a society aggressively hostile to the values I most …continue reading
Feb. 17 at 1:35pm
I’m not speaking here of a boxing-match or of bullies who like beating up others. What I’m referring to is the widespread human temptation to put others into “boxes”. What makes this so terrible, and yet so tremendously tempting?
It can seem an innocent enough pastime. What I tell my spouse or mother, or what I talk about in the inner recesses of the family, won’t hurt anybody, right? I can trust my mother or spouse sufficiently that he or she won’t be going round, spreading the bad news about Aunt Emma’s character faults. Perhaps I can trust them, and neither of us will share this with other members of the family or let alone, God forbid, with Aunt Emma herself (nothing worse than having …continue reading
Feb. 17 at 10:46am
A friend of mine shared a link to my post "Love is unconditional; relationships have terms" on Facebook, adding a question: "Should we put conditions on relationships?" This gives me an opportunity to expand and clarify my thoughts. (Thanks, friend!)
The kind of terms I had in mind aren't the kind we "put"; they're the kind we receive. They come with the relationship.
Some relationships involve arbitrary (in the sense of at-will) terms. If I hire someone to clean my house, I might stipulate that she has to come on time and she can't smoke. Those are my conditions for hiring. She might have conditions of her own: She wants $20 per hour and she will only work with non-toxic cleaning …continue reading
Feb. 16 at 5:51pm
“Apologetics is a hobby of mine.”
As soon as I'd said it, something didn’t sound right.
My friend was looking into becoming Catholic, and I was offering to answer any questions she might have. I’m a convert and a bookworm, and over the years, I’ve studied a lot of theology. Just the hours I’ve logged listening to Catholic Answers radio while chopping onions for supper are probably the equivalent of a degree or two. Add 25 years of retreats, study courses, days of recollection, reading and writing…
But, a hobby?continue reading
Feb. 12 at 2:29am
Following the death-by-overdoes of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman last week, a Ricochet contributor raised the question of the use of psychedelic drugs in treating heroin addiction. She thought it scandalous that more isn't being done to research and employ the method, when studies show it to have been effective in some cases.
I commented that I have doubts about the approach. Among other misgivings, I worry that it can become a way of avoiding the prime thing at issue in addiction, which is moral and spiritual, not biochemical. (Our society and culture are so vested in denying or downplaying the spiritual and moral dimensions of human life.) I have similar worries about using ritalin to …continue reading
Feb. 10 at 10:35pm
When I was seven, my parents, my little sister, and I joined a cult which later made headlines for all kinds of bizzare and criminal conduct.
We only lasted two days. There were red flags, but my parents, brand-new Christians, mistook some of them for radical, early-Church-style discipleship. (Also, the classic signs of cults were not so well publicized then as they are now.)
Still, there was one thing they couldn’t swallow: the part about sending my little sister and me away to be “educated” in another city. So after two days, we were done.
You can read the whole story of our family’s conversion in my mother’s hilarious chapter of this book.
Getting ahold of the children as early as …continue reading
Feb. 7 at 2:14am
Vatican II resolved a theological and philosophical dilemma that had perplexed Catholics since the Protestant Reformation and the religious wars that followed in its wake. We have always believed that our Faith is the One True Faith. We believe that error and heresy are destructive of individuals and communities; they can't be considered as on par with truth. "Error has no rights" was the way the point was usually expressed.
And yet we also believe in religious liberty. How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory dogmas?
The answer came through the personalist developments in modern thought. Error has no rights, but conscience does. (Newman put it this way, "Conscience has …continue reading
Feb. 5 at 11:38pm
I ran across this unfortunate object on the internet the other day.
I don't know how compelling it might look to your run-of-the-mill New Atheist, but it does shine light on a common misunderstanding, rampant among Christians and anti-Christians both.
We seem to be sending a mixed message, and the most effective way to stop doing that is to get clear in our own minds what we believe.
So--Is God’s love unconditional, or isn’t it?
If it is, why did he bother to give Moses 613 commandments?
Doesn’t unconditional love accept the beloved as she is? What if your boyfriend claimed to love you unconditionally but was always pressing you to lose twenty pounds, or dye your hair blonde, or …continue reading
Jan. 28 at 6:01pm
We don’t know much.
This thought is a useful remedy for anyone inclined to nose around in other people’s consciences and make free about the state of their souls. Reflecting on just how miniscule our knowledge is, and how many, many unknown variables are at play is handy for warding off judgmentalism. It turns out gaze back on our own cluelessness and helps us realize how unqualified to pontificate we are.
But it can also have a more pleasant (and just as crucial) use. It reminds us to wonder.
If fallenness does anything, it makes us jaded. The “cares of this world” crowd out the pleasures of wonder. We get mired in the anxieties of wrestling the family budget into submission. Or …continue reading
Jan. 28 at 4:54am
Isn't it weird how exactly right and at the same time completely wrong Sartre was when he wrote, "Hell is other people"? He is right in as much as hell is the use and abuse that is the master/slave dynamic of the fall.
When you're being used, you're in hell. When you're using others, you're in hell.
The only way out is through the heaven of self-oblating, other-receiving, life-giving love. I've had very intense experiences of it this week. I mean, the contrast between being loved and being abused, between hell and heaven. I've had searing existential confirmation, this week, of the truth of the deepest mystery of human life: our path to heaven or hell has everything to do with personal …continue reading
Jan. 21 at 2:30pm
I first joined Facebook to stalk (and I mean that benevolently) my college-bound daughter. For this I endured some ribbing from her younger brothers and sisters, the usual targets of my anti-social-media tirades. My standard rant went something like this:
Children, beware the subtle snares of self-absorption! They don't call it a web for nothing, you know!
Pity those poor wretches with nothing better to do than cultivate pseudo-relationships with virtual “friends”! Whose self-worth is so puny that it craves the thrill of the little red notification flag! Who’ve forgotten the feel of fresh air! Who inevitably come to a sad end because they can’t bear to be parted from their social …
Jan. 17 at 3:55am
One of the best moral lessons I ever learned came through the example of a non-religious friend. She and her sister had been the designated heirs of a rich, childless aunt. But a smarmy, conniving distant cousin managed to manipulate the dying woman and induce her to sign over a large portion of her fortune to him.
My friend's mother was furious with indignation when she found out. Choked with gall. My friend, though, shrugged off the loss, and wouldn't let her mother rant over it.
"You know what Mom? He has to be him and we get to be us. Think of it that way."
When she told me the story, besides being stunned with admiration at her generosity of spirit (so unlike the reputedly religious …continue reading
Jan. 12 at 10:31pm
It’s January 13th. Do you know where your New Year’s resolution is?
Mine is right around here somewhere. Like Mr. Micawber, I’m hoping it will turn up. But in the meantime, I’ve learned one thing.
It only works if you do it.
Obvious? Yes. But it was a revelation for me, and I have reason to believe that plenty of people in high places have yet to figure it out.
The Only Works If You Do It Axiom applies to countless areas of life. For example:
Organizational tools. My kids laugh at my fondness for charts, schedules, and lists. They sprout like toadstools all through the house at the start of each new semester, and sometimes around New Year’s Day and Ash Wednesday, too.
This year …continue reading
Jan. 6 at 9:34pm
Joy is no simple thing, it turns out. Pope Francis invites us to experience the “Joy of the Gospel” and immediately the misconceptions spring up like—let’s see--like bundled-up children on a snow day in Michigan.
Here are two misreadings I’ve run into:
Dec. 27, 2013, at 6:40pm
There was once a politician so power-hungry that he insisted on gathering extensive data about his people
at whatever cost to them, in order to tax them more efficiently.
He cared nothing for the inconveniences and expenses involved in complying with his mandates. He was especially ignorant, hardhearted, or both, on questions pertaining to bringing new life into the world.
When he decreed that everyone should return to their ancestors’ native place, the better to keep track of them, he allowed no exemptions--not even for one obscure young woman who was already nine months along. She accompanied her husband to his native town, despite the danger of giving birth along the way.
She …continue reading
Dec. 23, 2013, at 7:28am
Christmas for me growing up was magical. The tree and the lights, stockings, the candycanes, the music, the manger scene, the "specials" on TV, the stories both fantastic and real, the thrill of anticipation, the annual new dress, the piles of presents...All of it.
After Mass, our family would drive to my grandparents on Long Island, where there would be another tree, more decorations, more presents, a feast and the fun of being with aunts, uncles and cousins. It was, without question, my favorite time of year.
Later, as my immediate family grew more religious and the extended family less so, some tension crept in and clouded the joy. The Santa story began feel less like a happy …continue reading
Dec. 22, 2013, at 2:14am
Scarcely had I waded past the first paragraph of Evangelii Gaudium when I came across a very odd sentence.
It wasn’t about trickle-down economics, and it wasn’t about the salvation of atheists (although I just heard a good line about that: the question is not so much whether those who reject the Gospel can be saved, but whether we can be saved if we don’t preach it).
No, this was not about the usual bones of contention. The odd sentence was this:
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.
Wait, what? How can you be …continue reading
Dec. 19, 2013, at 6:37am
Hanging out, as I do, with political conservatives and libertarians, I've encountered a depressing amount of Pope bashing lately. Even Catholics who want to defend him will typically do it by pointing out that the Pope is not infallible in economic matters. All of them seem to take it more or less for granted that Pope Francis is a socialist, if not a marxist. When he says that free markets alone won't bring about a just society, they take him to be calling for state-enforced income re-distribution. They think they prove him wrong by reminding him that capitalism creates more wealth than any other system known to man, while socialism (besides punishing the producers) leads to stagnation …continue reading
Dec. 13, 2013, at 9:03am
I’ve been a mother for almost 9 years, and I’ve been discussing motherhood and parenting for longer still. When you’re a mother, parenting is both the easiest and most perilous topic to broach. Easy, because parenting can create a common bond between people who otherwise would have nothing in common—and if you’re as inept at small talk as I am, it is always a relief to have a common interest to discuss! Perilous, because parenting decisions are inevitably personal and often emotionally charged.
This vulnerability drives people to seek out those with similar approaches to parenting—with similar parenting philosophies—simplified by identification with particular parenting experts, writers, …continue reading
Dec. 12, 2013, at 11:22pm
Do you admire Pope Francis?
Are you sure that’s a good thing?
Here’s what Soren Kierkegaard has to say about admirers in his short work, Provocations:
… Admirers are related to the admired only through the excitement of the imagination. To them he is like an actor on the stage except that, this being real life, the effect he produces is somewhat stronger. But for their part, admirers make the same demands that are made in the theater: to sit safe and calm.
What’s the alternative, then? Kierkegaard addresses that, too:
What, then, is the difference betwee an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally …