Not meant to be mere instrumentsWhat does God, above all, demand of us? Our love. What is the question Our Lord puts thrice, emphatically to Peter in that great hour when He entrusts him with the care of His flock? It is the question as to his love. “Simon, son of John, lovest thou me?.” Those men err who believe it to be our supreme goal that we become pure instruments of God. … So long as we are a mere channel for the flow of God’s will, so long as we are nothing but an impersonal tool in the hands of God, as we have no desire other than to discharge a certain function in the universe according to the plan of God, we cannot be transformed in Christ. The attainment of our proper supernatural aim supposes an entrirely different attitude on our part. It requires that we surrender ourselves to Christ by an act of love which is nothing if not eminently personal.
Dietrich von Hildebrand
Transformation in Christ
Jun. 26, 2009, at 9:21am
“We want to enhance the potential of stem cell research. If we are going to encourage stem cell research as a solution for a variety of diseases, we should remove barriers to the greatest extent possible,” said David Hohn, vice chairman of the board’s two committees that endorsed the move. “We decided to break some new territory.”
Jun. 25, 2009, at 10:34am
Before gracefully bowing out of the discussion, Professor Seifert made a point about burqa banning that deserves a separate post:
[M}any of those who want to force Moslem women to take off their veils do so out of an idolization of Western pseudo-civilization and forget the horrors of our own libertarian and degenerate society. Compared with the acts of “legalized” crime and oppression (that alone the abortions here and the increasing threat to the freedom of conscience constitute), I find wearing burqas (even if I wish women replace them by other decent robes) not only completely harmless but in no way intrinsically wrong, and certainly nothing that our states should hypocritically forbid (in contrast to some of the other practices you mention: forced marriages, honor killings as well as schariah laws such as to kill one’s own child if he or she become Christian etc.), where of course the state has to interfere against crimes and grave oppressions of religious freedom of this nature. [see entire post]
I agree with him that it would be wrong to ban burqas on secularist grounds, as France does—making public schools, for instance, “religion free zones.” I also deplore any idolization of Western civilization, (though I may not call it a pseudo-civilization.) But though I, too, regret the prevailing fashions of Western clothing, I do think the freedom that women have in the West is a genuine and great achievement, for all its attendant evils. And if burqas were to be banned in the West, they should be banned on grounds first of women’s freedom and equal dignity as persons and citizens, second of common social values, and thirdly on practical security concerns.
I don’t agree with him that burqas are “completely harmless” and “in no way intrinsically wrong,” since, as Teresa Manidis expressed so well in her comments on an earlier post, they go hand in hand with the subjugation and de-personalization of women. (It is the element of coercion that at least approaches intrinsic wrongness, I think.) It’s true that they do not remotely compare in grievousness with the moral crime of abortion. But surely we shouldn’t refrain from addressing injustices recognized by our society because it fails to recognize worse ones?
Finally, I suspect that as a matter of fact, unreal romanticism and multi-cultural relativism is a greater factor in our failure to stand up against the oppression of women in much of the Islamic world than an idolization of our own society. Aren’t we more prone to cultural self-hatred than triumphalism?
Jun. 23, 2009, at 8:24pm
It didn’t seem quite right to add this to Josef Seifert’s post defending the “freedom” (I can’t help adding the scare quotes) to wear the burqa, but I post it for the sake of making clear the sort of thing I have in mind. No conciliating baby blue this time.
I’ve also just come across an article in today’s Daily Mail [a UK paper] on the subject: a British Muslim woman making the case for banning the burqa in public. I won’t link it directly (because of the racy gossip also featured), but here’s a key passage:
Many of my adult British Muslim friends cover their heads with a headscarf - and I have no problem with that.
The burkha is an entirely different matter. It is an imported Saudi Arabian tradition, and the growing number of women veiling their faces in Britain is a sign of creeping radicalisation, which is not just regressive, it is oppressive and downright dangerous.
The burkha is an extreme practice. It is never right for a woman to hide behind a veil and shut herself off from people in the community. But it is particularly wrong in Britain, where it is alien to the mainstream culture for someone to walk around wearing a mask.
The veil restricts women. It stops them achieving their full potential in all areas of their life, and it stops them communicating. It sends out a clear message: “I do not want to be part of your society.”
Every time the burkha is debated, Muslim fundamentalists bring out all these women who say: “It’s my choice to wear this.”
Perhaps so - but what pressures have been brought to bear on them? The reality, surely, is that a lot of women are not free to choose.
Girls as young as four are wearing the hijab to school: that is not a freely made choice. It stops them taking part in education and reaching their potential, and the idea that tiny children need to protect their modesty is abhorrent.
And behind the closed doors of some Muslim houses, countless-young women are told to wear the hijab and the veil. These are the girls who are hidden away, they are not allowed to go to university or choose who they marry. In many cases, they are kept down by the threat of violence.
The burkha is the ultimate visual symbol of female oppression. It is the weapon of radical Muslim men who want to see Sharia law on Britain’s streets, and would love women to be hidden, unseen and unheard. It is totally out of place in a civilised country.
Precisely because it is impossible to distinguish between the woman who is choosing to wear a burkha and the girl who has been forced to cover herself and live behind a veil, I believe it should be banned.
Jun. 23, 2009, at 12:54am
I think that not even the most literal interpretation of the Koran’s dressing codes for women, wearing burqas, ought to be outlawed in the West, let alone Muslim women covering of heads by normal veils (which are equally outlawed in many Western countries). It seems to me that any observance of a religious tradition that is not in any way in itself evil, or criminal, or offensive, ought to be permitted by the law and never be banished or outlawed, which does not exclude to persecute domestic crimes even if justified in the shariah.
Not only is there a sacred right to the freedom of religion and to the freedom of conscience to obey one’s positive religious mandates as long as they do not entail crimes or oppression bordering on crime (which wearing the nice burqa that underlines the mystery of the woman’s body, certainly does not). One may remind oneself that also Saint Paul demanded that women cover their heads in Church as sign of their submission to their husbands and of their respect for the angels. Should it be outlawed that women wear veils in our Churches (which is still being done in some places)?
The comparison with religious habits of nuns is not that far-fetched. There is a Catholic nun’s order of the “slaves of Christ” in Spain, and some other Eucharistic feminine orders, who wear almost the same veils that completely cover their faces. Should this be outlawed?
Moreover, in general the outlawing of any dresses that do not offend public morality is an assault against freedom, even if these dresses have nothing to do with religion.
Besides, to want to forbid pious Muslim or Hindu women (in the name of fighting oppression!) to wear veils or other dresses that correspond to their beliefs, while we do nothing to solve first our problems with women’s dresses, as an extremely witty Muslim Professor remarked when called to speak out in the veil-processes in England, seems doubly wrong.
There is another reason against this. It seems in general quite wrong to support any kind of pressure (as in Mexico for decades in regard to the Catholic priests and nuns and now increasingly in the West) that demands that nobody may wear in public places or private schools symbols of their religion.
Moreover, it is ludicrous, grotesque and utterly hypocritical that in Germany, France, England, or the USA, Muslim women should be forced to take off their veils against their conscience, while our women may wear the most offensive and unbelievably impure dresses in public, indulge in the most shocking public seduction, for example as naked prostitutes on TV commercials giving their phone numbers and “prices,” pose in offensive nakedness in Playboy and other magazines, without being outlawed!
Finally, a country that forbids burqas but “legalizes” the murder of one’s own children is in my opinion absolutely cynical and grotesque!
Jun. 22, 2009, at 5:30pm
Note: After our recent event on human sexuality, recordings of which are now freely available on our site, there was a lively question and answer session. Rather than posting that entire session online, we decided to excerpt four questions from it that are likely to interest many. These questions are posted individually so that they can be discussed separately (in the respective comment boxes).
The first question concerns the comparison that Christopher West sometimes makes, and for which he has been severely criticized (especially since his TV interview), between Hugh Hefner and John Paul II. Click on the link below, and you will hear what West and Healy had to say about the issue.
• On JPII and Hugh Hefner (opens in a small popup window)
Jun. 22, 2009, at 5:29pm
The next question had to do with the definition of prudishness. Both Healy and West were asked to give concrete examples, and thereby clarify their meaning.
• On prudisness (opens in a small popup window)
By the way, some discussions on prudishness have already taken place in the Linde. Clicking the appropriate tag above will lead to those.
Jun. 22, 2009, at 5:28pm
Some critics of West have argued that he underestimates the role of concupiscence in human life, and that he sometimes even goes so far as to suggest that it can be rooted out completely (in this life). A question was raised concerning this very issue, which gave West a chance to clarify his position.
• On concupiscence (opens in a small popup window)
Jun. 22, 2009, at 5:27pm
The last question we thought was worth posting has to do with the way in which “sexual activity” can become an expression of love and a gift of self.
Jun. 22, 2009, at 2:23pm
Sarkozy says that burqas are not welcome in France.
I would like to know what personalist philosophers say to this. We favor the free expression of religion, while we oppose the oppression of women in Islam embodied in the burqa. What’s a pluralistic society to do?
Jun. 21, 2009, at 1:21pm
Even though I agree with Katie’s point (in the previous post) about there being legitimate (even desirable) ways of being “out of step” with Catholic tradition, I would still like to see some evidence for claims such as that “liturgists and theologians from the early days of the Church have understood the Easter Candle just as West does.”
Does anyone know of any?
Jun. 20, 2009, at 8:41pmSee below for the 4th part of the comments elicited by Fr Geiger's latest on the West debate.
Jun. 20, 2009, at 8:40pmSee below for the 3rd part of the comments elicited by Fr Geiger's latest on the West debate.
Jun. 20, 2009, at 8:39pmSee below for the 2nd part of the comments elicited by Fr Geiger's latest on the West debate.
Jun. 20, 2009, at 8:38pm
Yesterday a friend sent me Fr. Angelo Geiger’s latest guest post at the Dawn Patrol on the controversy surrounding Christopher West. I have less sympathy with it than I did with his first piece. I think he is unfair to West and his defenders.
For instance, in his first paragraph he identifies part of the debate as being over whether CW’s approach is “out of step with Catholic tradition.” I find this an unhelpfully ambiguous phrase. It seems clearly meant to indicate unsoundness. But there are ways of being “out of step” with the tradition that are thoroughly legitimate. Wasn’t Joan of Arc’s taking on the role of a soldier rather out of keeping with tradition? Couldn’t Dietrich von Hildebrand’s emphasis on love as the meaning of marriage be seen as in some sense novel? Doesn’t Mass in the vernacular represent a certain break with the past? Don’t many people dismiss the charismatic renewal as a whole on the grounds that it is unlike what we are used to in the Church?
In other words, to show that a person’s methodology or “line of thought” is heterodox and “dangerous” (as David Schindler implied of CW’s), it is not enough to show that it is new or unusual or “out of step” with the tradition; you have to show (it seems to me) that it is incompatible with the tradition. I don’t think either Schindler or Fr. Geiger comes close to doing that.
Even if we grant that the Easter candle is primarily meant to symbolize the light of Christ; even if we acknowledge that its form follows its function, why should that preclude the possibility that it may have other connotations as well? If the conjugal union is an icon of the Holy Trinity and the source of new life in the world, why should we be startled or offended by the idea of phallic symbols? Why should we see them as in themselves vulgar or prurient? Does noticing a phallic aspect in a thing mean we are dirty-minded? Is sex something dirty? I think anyone who thinks so DOES (sorry) betray an element of prudishness.
Then there is Fr. Geiger’s strange treatment of Janet Smith. He “rolled his eyes” as she “confessed” to her prudery and says that “she tells us we should all be ashamed if we don’t like the idea of the Easter candle being a phallic symbol.” Where does she tell us anything of the kind? Why must he twist and belittle her remarks? What is wrong in her saying that she has felt challenged by this discussion to consider whether her own reaction might not be somewhat prudish?
Then, I dislike intensely his derisive-sounding use of the term “copulation” in reference to liturgical symbolism. Here I am with Damian Fedoryka. Among persons there is no morally indifferent physical act. There is only either the marital embrace or sexual sin. Hence the dousing of the Easter candle in the holy water font, if it has sexual connotations, would be a symbol of self-giving, procreative spousal love, not “copulation.” Copulating is for animals.
Finally, Fr. Geiger seems to take it for granted it that his own reaction against the idea of sexual imagery intertwined with liturgy and prayers is the normal, natural and right one for all Catholics. But I’d like to know how he can be sure of that. Is it not at least possible that CW is right that we are all much more under the influence of prudishness than we realize; that we are missing a depth dimension in a lot of liturgical symbolism because of it; that we are lacking altogether an adequate appreciation of the centrality and greatness of human sexuality in God’s plan of salvation for the world? Or, if you think that goes too far, what about this: Isn’t it possible that some people are just much more sexually charged and alert than others, so that they notice “signs and symbols” that others miss? And if so, isn’t it great that they find those signs and symbols in their religious life, and not separated from it?
Jun. 20, 2009, at 11:04am
But are we free? Do we possess freedom? And can we know this with our pure human reason or only accept it on faith? We need to distinguish here five questions, two general and three more specific ones:
(1) What is the nature of freedom? In what does it consist? This we must understand not only in order to assert the existence of human freedom but also in order to deny it. If we did not know WHAT freedom is and what we mean by this word, we could neither assert nor deny the existence of freedom because we would not understand at all what we are saying when we say “We are free” or what we are stating when we claim “We are not free.” Both judgments make no sense without understanding what freedom is.
(2) The second fundamental and quite independent question is: Does freedom exist?
This second question can again be divided into three distinct questions:
(a) whether human (and angelic) freedom or
(b) [only] divine freedom or
(c) both human and divine freedom do exist.
A most fundamental question for all our understanding of the human person, is no doubt whether WE are free, whether human freedom exists.
But can we truly know that we are free? Before we can answer the question whether we are free and how we can know this, we have to inquire into the nature of freedom, as we have already said. But this first huge question has to be tackled another time.
Jun. 19, 2009, at 12:36pm
A couple of weeks ago the Personalist Project hosted its first advisers and directors retreat. We gathered for three days of leisurely philosophical communion on the theme of forgiveness in beautiful Spring Lake, NJ. I hope to share some of the fruit of our discussions soon. Meanwhile, here is a photo of the participants.
From left to right:
- Mike Wallacavage, who received his MA in philosophy from the IAP.
- Jill Burkemper, PhD, of Saint Louis University.
- John Henry Crosby, Founder and Director of the Hildebrand Legacy Project
- Peter Colosi, PhD, of Charles Borromeo Seminary
- Michael Healy, PhD, of Franciscan University
- Wendy Laurento, West Chester lawyer, who also has an MA in theology
- Peter Damgaard-Hansen, PhD, Danish licensed psychologist
- Maria Fedoryka, PhD, of Ave Maria University
- Katie van Schajik
- Fr. Philip Forlano of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
- Jules van Schaijik, PhD
Jun. 13, 2009, at 7:39am
Because some of our discussions of questions of sexual morality were becoming rather too detailed and explicit for so open a forum, we have closed them temporarily while we figure out how to continue them without crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed.
Just what those lines are is open for discussion. On the one hand, the Christian personalists of this forum recognize and wish to defend and cultivate in ourselves and others a sense of the essential mysteriousness and intimacy of the sexual sphere. On the other hand, there is a growing feeling, at least in many of us, that much more and much more open discussion is called for as part of the ethical task of Christian philosophers in our day.
It may be seen as a valuable and necessary service to those who have honest questions, to those who are burdened by false or inadequate teachings, to those who are infected (perhaps without realizing it) by an inhibiting prudishness, to those who are in vocations (like priesthood, medicine, psychology) where sound and detailed ethical information is urgently needed…
The internet, while it has the “problem” (in this case) of being highly public, also has at least three distinct advantages for our situation.
1) It allows like-minded thinkers and questioners who are geographically far apart to “meet” each other in one place.
2) It allows for genuine dialogue, which is an especially fruitful way of approaching difficult ethical questions. Thinkers can offer tentative opinions, raise questions, and challenge each other’s reasoning without having to dedicate months or years to research toward a fully-developed idea. Ideas are worked out in communion with other minds. “Onlookers” naturally imbibe a sense of how philosophy works and of how not open-and-shut many questions are. Everyone learns.
3) The “virtuality” factor can be seen as a kind of protection. Readers can enter the discussion and bring their experience to the table anonymously. I know if I had a “sex issue” in my marriage, I certainly would rather go online for information from Christian ethicists whose basic vision and moral seriousness I trust than go to my parish priest and discuss it with him!
I’d love to know what others think.