Saintly actions: admirable, but not imitableWe utter something deeper than we realize when we say of such acts that they are admirable, but not imitable. They are not generalizable, universalizable. They are good; indeed, they are the best of all moral acts. But they are good only for him who does them. We are here very far from the Kantian universal with its morality defined as the possibility of making the maxim of an act into a law for all men.
Existence and the Existent
Jan. 23 at 11:16am
A lively—not to say heated—facebook exchange yesterday got me reflecting on the problem of moralizing. What is it, and what's wrong with it, exactly?
Speaking as "a recovering moralizer," and without trying to be comprehensive about it, I'll say that it generally involves two things:
The moralizer in one way or another sets himself up as teacher and superior. He presumes to instruct others he has no business instructing.
So, I am not moralizing if I give my children moral instruction. They are my children. Instructing them belongs to the parental job descrption. If I try it with a neighbor, though, I can expect a retort, "Who made you Pope?"
The …continue reading
Jan. 22 at 2:51pm
I've referred several times to the master/slave dynamic that has menaced human relations since the fall. (Being a deep and fundamental truth, it bears repeating.) Persons were designed to live lives of mutual love and service, on a footing of equality with one another. But with the fall came the twin tendencies of domination and slavishness, both of which have to be constantly resisted in ourselves and others.
Those who are stronger, who are inclined to be domineering, must learn to check their power, for love. Those who are weaker and inclined to be dominated must learn to assert themselves, also for love. We have to assert ourselves over and against those who are trying to dominate us. …continue reading
Jan. 18 at 8:46pm
This afternoon Jules pointed out these lines from Martha Nussbaum's book, The Therapy of Desire.
Philosophy heals human diseases, diseases produced by false beliefs. Its arguments are to the soul as the doctor's remedies are to the body. They can heal, and they are to be evaluated in terms of their power to heal.
It rings true to me, at least to a point. Philosophy can't save us from sin and death. No matter how true it is, no philosophy can win us eternal life. But errors in our thinking do more than just darken and constrict the mind, they burden the soul. Good philosophy doesn't merely sharpen the intelligence, it relieves the soul of distress.
To give an example from my own …continue reading
Jan. 16 at 4:36pm
Simcha Fischer linked at facebook today a beautiful post by Elizabeth Esther. That led me to her blog, which induced me to read older posts of hers. I'm finding them pretty great. Take this one, on what not to say to people who have suffered spiritual abuse. It touches on our ongoing discussion of "unprincipled forgiveness."
She is speaking from the experience of having been raised in a fundamentalist Christian cult. The abuse she experienced wasn't physical or sexual. It consisted essentially, it seems, in a denial of her selfhood.
This passage is taken from another post of hers: How to talk to someone living in a cult. [Emphasis in the original]
Here's the thing: it has to get …
Jan. 16 at 11:32am
There were some interesting conversations among members at Ricochet this week. One atheist libertarian started a long thread by asking where God's authority comes from. Then an agnostic, frustrated by the direction of that discussion, asked a different question—a more interesting and personalistic one: Why can't I find God?
These two taken together (and having Jules' course on Newman still fresh in my memory) have made me reflect again on the role of subjectivity in faith.
Many unbelievers, I find, pique themselves on being especially rational—on having "high epistemic standards." They would believe in God, they like to claim, if only there were sufficient evidence of his existence.
I …continue reading
Jan. 14 at 3:58pm
[Laypeople] should not be regarded as “collaborators” of the clergy, but, rather, as people who are really “co-responsible” for the Church’s being and acting. It is therefore important that a mature and committed laity be consolidated, which can make its own specific contribution to the ecclesial mission...
Pope Benedict spoke these words last August--but any Pope speaks so very many words that some of them invariably get lost in the shuffle. Happily, Al Kresta recalled this passage to us at a recent conference called “Catholic Witness in a Nation Divided.”
I have seldom heard so many meaty, substantial, satisfying talks in one place, or been part of a more deeply engaged audience. …continue reading
Jan. 13 at 11:13am
Friday we hosted the first of Jules' 8 classes on the Philosophy of the Person. It was a lovely evening. Local students ranged in age from 20-something to 70-something, and included a doctor, a homemaker, an accountant, a seminarian, a piano teacher, a retired economist, a college student... Just the sort of mix we envisioned when we founded the Personalist Project. Not professional academics, but normal, thoughtful people, who want to deepen and clarify their understanding of the nature and dignity of the human person.
Some of them have taken classes with us before, others were new.
Distance students are listening in from four continents. :)
Anyway, for those who might be on the fence …continue reading
Jan. 11 at 4:44pm
Archbishop Caput concludes an address to campus ministers (hat tip Scott Johnston, on facebook) about the need of the hour with a very personalist exhortation. The kind of truth the world needs, he said, is the kind that is communicated in and through love.
We Catholics – you, me, all of us — need to be and to make a fire on the earth that consumes human hearts with God’s love. We can’t “teach” that. It doesn’t come from books or programs. We need to embody it, witness it, live it.
I’ve come back again and again in recent weeks to those last words of Thomas More to his daughter Meg: “You alone have long known the secrets of my heart.” That kind of intimate knowledge comes only from …
Jan. 10 at 2:16am
Now that various courts are beginning to weigh in on the HHS Mandate, it’s worth re-examining what the commotion is all about. Over at Bad Catholic, one article lays out convincingly why religious liberty is worth making a fuss over.
Here's another aspect: the reductionism of abandoning constitutional terminology and quietly replacing “freedom of religion” with “freedom of worship” as Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and some others have been doing for years now.
Maybe they thought no one would notice. Maybe they believed the core of a Catholic’s faith is a fondness for quaint liturgical customs and a sentimental sense of belonging.
Still, in his community-organizer days,and throughout …continue reading
Jan. 9 at 7:55pm
In her recent First Things article, What Are Children For?, Paige Hochschild criticizes Dietrich von Hildebrand for thinking of procreation as a merely extrinsic purpose of marriage, as something which is in no way constitutive of its essence. She quotes him as saying that marriage is a "closed union" in which "each of the two parties is turned exclusively upon the other." As a result, she goes on, von Hildebrand can't possibly do justice to the political and communitarian dimensions of marriage. He "excludes from marriage's integral ordering, both in end and in meaning, the raising of children for the society of the city of God."
All of this seriously mis-represents von Hildebrand's real …continue reading
Jan. 6 at 3:02pm
I came across this week (I can't remember where) someone making a point in passing—as if it were a matter of plain fact—that "passive aggression" is basically the same thing as "non-violent resistance."
It took me aback. I see these two things as radically opposed, with "passive aggression" being vicious, while non-violent resistance is virtuous.
I have the same experience when I hear people speaking as if lust is a synonym for conjugal desire. Conjugal desire and lust are both about sex, but that's where the similarity ends. Morally speaking, they are opposites. Conjugal love is a self-giving desire for union with another person; lust is a self-centered urge to use another. Conjugal love …continue reading
Jan. 2 at 6:03pm
“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?”
What’s a personalist to make of this question?
It’s a familiar one to evangelicals—so familiar that you can easily gloss over what exactly it might mean. It’s also a question to which, since becoming a Catholic, I’ve learned a couple of preliminary comebacks:
First, of course, nowhere in the Bible does Christ say “Go out to all the nations and instruct them to accept me as their personal Savior.” It’s a relatively recent phrase, and its centrality to salvation—especially the way it displaces baptism—
is a modern invention.
Secondly, yes: the personal assent of the will, the free receptivity to the proffered gift, is …continue reading
Jan. 1 at 4:17pm
Pope Benedict's New Year's message is, as so much of what he writes and says, eminently personalistic. Lamenting the way bad news and evil acts "make more noise" than love and truth and sacrifice, he calls on us to deepen our interior lives.
“We can’t just stop at the news if we want to understand the world and life, we have to be capable of standing in silence, in meditation, in calm and prolonged reflection, we have to know how to stop and think,” he said.
One of the mottoes of the Personalist Project is "bringing philosophy to life." We mean to capture two things with the phrase: that the focus of our interest is the mystery of life, and that we want to help bring the habit of …continue reading
Dec. 22, 2012, at 8:40pm
I really love good movies, and I hate bad ones. This, of course, creates a bit of a practical dilemma, since you can't really be sure ahead of time whether a movie will be good or bad.
Not long ago our family sat down sort of hopefully to Brave. After all, it was Pixar, and it had gotten pretty good reviews. Afterwards, we were appalled, including the nine year old—annoyed that we'd wasted an evening of family time; bitterly disappointed that Pixar could produce such inane, PC drivel; depressed about the state of our culture...
It's the sort of experience that puts you on guard. You think, "That's it. I am never watching a movie again unless the reviews from someone I trust are rock …continue reading
Dec. 22, 2012, at 10:11am
What is it about our understanding of matrimony that makes the arguments for "marriage equality" seem so plausible to so many?
If we, as a society, still believed marriage was essentially about lifelong fidelity and children, and somebody proposed that a same-sex relationship be regarded as one sort of marriage, it would seem implausible, even unthinkable. After all, such unions are inevitably infertile and notoriously impermanent and non-exclusive.
But we've already downgraded "traditional" marriage to a (usually) long-term relationship between two people who “have feelings for each other.”
Children are an optional accessory which may be acquired the old-fashioned way or by any number …continue reading
Dec. 20, 2012, at 2:26pm
A Ricochet member linked today a thought-provoking essay in the UK Guardian on the medicalization of evil. It's written by a medical historian observing the public commentary on the massacre of innocents in Connecticut last week.
Anyone who has been watching the news over the past few days will have heard the gunman, Adam Lanza, described as "sick," "disturbed" and "defective". The perpetrator may indeed have suffered from mental conditions that led to his homicidal attack, but even before anything was known about Lanza (including his name), many people in the media assumed a crime of this magnitude could only be committed by a mentally unstable individual. Very little discussion – if …
Dec. 19, 2012, at 2:36pm
For many months now, I have been steeping my psyche in the wisdom of Whittaker Chambers, as I fall asleep nightly listening to the audio version of Witness.
When awake, I mostly read other things, including, at the moment, Norman Podhoretz' highly engaging, Ex Friends. I would write a daily post about it, too, if time permitted.
What most compels my attention and admiration about Chambers' thought is his deep conviction that the battle of our time is not, finally, between two political philosophies, but between two faiths: a faith in God, who made us in his image, and the faith that opposes this faith, i.e., the denial of God and God's image in man.
(It's worth saying here …continue reading
Dec. 17, 2012, at 2:07pm
The introductory note to the Psalm for today in Magnificat is arresting.
The coastlands see, and fear, the ends of the earth tremble: these things are near, they come to pass. (Is 41:5)
The time grows short, the messenger's cry urgent: the Lord is very near! Those who hope to delay his coming until "later, when I have time to get ready" find this late Advent cry diconcerting. Those who look for him not only in hte past but in the present and the future rejoice at the news: God's promises are kept within the boundaries of time.
It's a phrase I think I've not heard before. "God's promises are kept within the bounds of time." There will come a day when this order of things passes away …continue reading
Dec. 16, 2012, at 10:12pm
Sometimes a piece of writing seems all set to go. You’ve wrestled it into shape: you’re not altogether satisfied, but it’s probably good enough, and anyway, the deadline is here.
But you keep sensing the very inconvenient need to file it away, start again from scratch, and address something else altogether.
That happened when our friend, Peter, died—I realized how pointless it was to try to write anything but a tribute to him. Something similar happened today.
Here it is, Gaudete Sunday. That means we’re commanded to rejoice. Not just encouraged, but commanded (gaudete: plural imperative).
That seems surprising, because sometimes the Good News is presented in a deformed state, and …continue reading
Dec. 12, 2012, at 9:11pm
I basically learned the faith from Sr. David Mary, a member of the Sisters of Loretto. I had her as my teacher in elementary school for nearly three years—I had to move away in the middle of my third year—and she drilled us in the Baltimore Catechism #2. She also taught us our prayers and we went through them daily at school. We opened the schoolday as a class with the Morning Offering, paused for a decade of the rosary at mid-morning (covering the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, but also including the Hail Holy Queen), said grace before and after meals at lunch, said the Confiteor aloud together before we began the afternoon classes, and ended the day with the Act of Contrition.…continue reading