Involuntary self-revelationsThe idea of embodiment helps us to understand why involuntary transformations—‘expressions’—have so important a function in mediating our interpersonal attitudes. In smiling, blushing, laughing and crying, it is precisely my loss of control over my body, and its gain of control over me, that create the immediate experience of an incarnate person. The body ceases, at these moments, to be an instrument, and reasserts its natural rights as a person. In such expressions the face does not function merely as a bodily part, but as the whole person: the self is spread across its surface, and there ‘made flesh’.
Jul. 7, 2009, at 12:23pm
A reader who listened to Bishop Sheen’s talk on marriage, linked below, sends in this question:
This is good. I wonder, however, what Archbishop Sheen would say regarding intimacy during affective dryness. Michael Healy’s [June 3rd, available at our downloads page] talk seems to indicate that only romantic love can save acts of intimacy from various perversions (or inordinacies). Doesn’t dryness imply a lack of romantic love? If so, it would seem that there should be no intimacy during dryness.
Maybe Dr. Healy or someone else could take it up.
Jul. 7, 2009, at 10:56am
David Brooks mars an otherwise excellent column about the relation between rules of etiquette, personal dignity and the public good with a gratuitous dig at Sarah Palin and strange admiration for Obama.
Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity. The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.
To me, Obama comes across as detached, unserious and full of self-regard. On several occasions, most conspicuously toward his predecessor in office, he has been egregiously, cringe-makingly discourteous. I find in him none of the marked moral seriousness and conscientious respect for others that are the core of personal dignity.
You can find George Washington’s “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” here.
It would be interesting for the Personalist Project to develop a 21st century code of etiquette. Proposals in this direction are welcome. I’d also like to know who readers sees as exemplars of true personal dignity in our day. I’ll mention a few who have influenced me. Each one has made me feel the “apostolate of being” that is personal dignity, and made me regret painfully my own sloppiness.
Alice von Hildebrand and Tom Howard, the encounter with whom more than twenty years ago caused a radical revision in my aspirations for life.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom I heard speak and met briefly at a Brandley Foundation Symposium. It came through in her height and stunning beauty, her way of carrying herself, the gentle strength and musicality of her voice, and above all her moral fearlessness.
Samuel Alito. Jules and I got to hear him speak at an ISI dinner in April. He was thoroughly unpretentious. There was nothing particularly great in his speech. But his physical bearing radiated rectitude, piety, modesty, moral seriousness, self-control.
Jul. 7, 2009, at 9:09am
New papal encyclical issued today.
Its first lines are notably personalistic.
Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth. Each person finds his good by adherence to God’s plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf. Jn 8:22). To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Charity, in fact, “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). All people feel the interior impulse to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely, because these are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person.
Jul. 6, 2009, at 3:04pm
The indefatigable Bill Drennen has thoughtfully challenged a point I made earlier regarding Christopher West’s Hefner/JPII comparison and Chesterton’s famous assertion that a man who is knocking on the door of a brothel is really looking for God. My point was that, while I understand West’s and Chesterton’s meaning, their way of expressing it is problematic for this reason: it obscures the dramatic difference between moral goodness and badness.
It is true, as Bill points out, that all men experience a certain restlessness and incompleteness in their hearts for which they try to find a remedy. Objectively and ultimately speaking that remedy is God and God alone. In this sense all are indeed “looking for God”: John Paul II, Hugh Hefner, the prostitute and her client, you and me.
What I want to stress, however, is that from the moral point of view—from the point of view of our character and well-being as persons—it makes all the difference in the world how each of us chooses to deal with this restlessness. There are two radically different possibilities—in our lives as a whole and in each of our acts. (This, BTW, is the kernel of truth in the “fundamental option” moral theory. It’s also what “conversion” is all about.) There is what John Paul II has called the “utilitarian” approach, which scans the world for anything that can satisfy our desires and cravings, or there is the “value-responding” approach (von Hildebrand’s term) which looks expectantly out into the world for things that are truly good and beautiful, and tries to live in accord with them. A person with this attitude does not simply use (and then discard) people and things, but respects and appreciates them for what they are. He finds happiness in so doing. His happiness and peace are not so much the direct aim of his moral acting, but a gift and a fruit of living in harmony with the world of values.
An unqualified “all are looking for God” idea, on the other hand, can leave the impression that saints and scoundrels are not so different from each other, morally speaking. We’re all looking for the same thing, all doing our best. Sin is nothing more and nothing other than ignorance—a problem of not understanding where to find the good we all seek. The truth is much more serious and much uglier than that.
Much more needs to said, and what I have said could be further clarified and expanded upon. But I’ll leave that for later (if anyone cares to take it up with me), and turn now to some of Bill’s specific objections:
1) First, Bill proposes: Even though God is not exactly WHAT the sinner seeks, he is the reason for (i.e. the WHY of) the seeking.
I answer: I understand and agree with what you’re getting at, but I don’t like the formulation, for two reasons. First, in the sense explained above (2nd paragraph) God is, ultimately, BOTH the what AND the why of our seeking. And second, usually it is precisely the answer to the question “why?” that makes the moral difference between men clear. Why is he going to visit that woman? Because he loves her and wants to propose marriage? or to find a cheap and convenient release for his sexual urges? (This is what St. Anselm refers to when he writes that every act has not only a “what” but also a “why”.)
The difference you are getting at (I think) is more like the difference between a blind urge, which impels, spurs, or prods a person to do something (e.g. the feeling of being hungry), and a genuine motive, which is an objective reason for acting in a certain way (e.g. a perfectly cooked steak). What do you think?
2) Bill says: Not every bad choice is a conscious and explicit choice of self over God.
I answer: True. When we gossip, tell a small lie, fail to speak up when we know we should, and so on, we are commonly not thinking about God. (If we were, we probably wouldn’t do it.) But our stance toward Him, is nevertheless involved in each case. That’s why, if we’re serious about holiness, we confess it as a sin and ask for forgiveness. Even in the case of grave sins, such as adultery, we may not be thinking about God or fully realize the effects they have on our communion with Him. But regardless, a rejection of God is implied and accomplished.
3) Bill says: The “love of self to the contempt of God” is very rare and a sure sign of an advanced stage of corruption.
I answer (along similar lines): It is true that we rarely find this attitude in a fully conscious, explicit and deliberate form. It requires sincere and deep reflection on our own behavior to recognize it (such as Augustine’s famous reflections on stealing a pear from a neighbor’s orchard). There is also the important difference between one bad act, and a vice. In the latter case, it is not just one act but our moral character that is (mal)formed.
Jul. 6, 2009, at 2:51pm
To begin to answer to the question below, let me take a short excursion into metaphysics.
When we examine “Being” philosophically, we see that the first crucial divide is the one between Creator and creatures. On the one hand, Absolute Being, Infinite Perfection, on the other: metaphysical dependence and contingency. No creature can account for its own existence; it was God’s gift. The second most radical divide is between personal and non-personal being. On one side, we have the Absolute Person, God, but also angels and human beings. On the other, all impersonal creatures: animals, plans, rocks and minerals.
I recall once hearing Cardinal Schonborne give a talk on evolution in which he mentioned that the difference between a chimpanzee’s DNA and ours is minimal, but this “insignificant” difference is the abyss between someone who can say I, somethone who can pray, someone who can love another not because of needs, but because of his beauty and goodness. Because man has an immortal soul, every single organ of his body is elevated to a totally different level. This is why an eagle’s superb eye sight does not perceive and therefore cannot contemplate beauty. This is why the amazing sensitivity of dogs to “decibels” does not enable them to be moved to tears by sublime music.
When God created Adam and Eve, He made them kings of creation. They were masters over material nature. Nature was to feed them, and provide for their needs. All impersonal creatures were given to serve human ends (which of course, does not mean that this ownership could not be abused—something which happened, alas, after original sin).
Because of his dignity as a person, man can never be used as a mere instrument, a mere tool whose purpose is to “serve” others, as if he were a lemon that can be squeezed and its rind discarded. This is so true that God respects human freedom—taking the “risk” that men might abuse this freedom.
This was Kant’s great insight when he defined a person as a being who is an end in himself, never to be used as a mere means.
But from this, we should not draw the conclusion that man is his own end. Man, being an imperfect creature cannot be his own “fulfillment”. To be person is to be called to be in communion with others. Animals “flock” together. Man is called to love—which is not an instinct, but a sign of his nobility and capacity to transcend himself. He is called, primarily, to be in communion with His Creator, through adoration, praise, gratitude. He is called upon to “love his neighbors”—persons like himself made to God’s image and existence. By transcending himself, he fully finds himself.
To suppose that man “does not need” anything beside his own being, is to forget that he is but a frail and imperfect creature. “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.” (St. Augustine, Confession I, 1)
Jul. 6, 2009, at 10:40am
A reader from Australia has raised a question that I think many share about how the personalistic norm articulated by Kant and then adopted and adapted by JP II, viz. “a person is an end in himself, and never to be used as a mere means” relates to the call to love that is likewise of the essence of personal existence.
Here’s the question:
I have just recently come across personalistic philosophy by John Paul II. Forgive my lack of knowlege in this subject but I have a qestion about love.
I am Catholic and practicing. I try to live out theology of the body. I know I need to love but why, if I am made for my own end, my own sake? I don’t need to live for anyone, I am my own person and my existence needs no addition to my happiness. Now I am sounding really individualistic. Why do I need to limit or sacrfice my freedom to acommodate for another? Isnt that diminshing my dignity as a person? Do persons really need love when our personhood is enough? To be honest, I am not satsified with the answer,‘God is love and that we have to image the trinity.’ It’s too abstract.
Jul. 2, 2009, at 3:17pm
A question from a reader for the philosophers:
I just “happened” upon your website and applaud your efforts to promote a
personalist agenda (particularly rooted in Christian metaphysics).
I’m wondering if you can point me in some directions? I am keenly
interested in Christian personalist expressions and have read material from
different approaches: Martin Luther King Jr., Bowne, Norris Clarke, Dietrich
von Hildebrand, Josef Seifert and John Crosby come to mind. I have been
helped by all of these authors to see that human dignity is objectively
grounded in the perfections contained in being a person (ultimately
reflecting the ultimate person). Unfortunately, here in Canada it is
sometimes hard to get my hands upon good material, particularly from the
school of phenomenological realism. I sense that this particular school has
a good approach to epistemology (an area I’m very interested in) and is a
good antidote to skepticism. I’ve been particularly interested in good
rebuttals of Descarte’s spiritus malingus argument.
Any help you might be able to give, either in dialouge or pointing me
towards written material, would be wonderful.
Jul. 2, 2009, at 1:32pm
I found linked today at the Dawn Patrol this treasury of free audios by Bishop Fulton Sheen. I listened to two of them. “Marriage Problems” and “Sex as a Mystery.” Both are very good. I take them as representing the best of pre-John Paul II Catholic thinking on sex and marriage. They contain much wisdom. But, it seems to me, they lack a depth dimension present in the Theology of the Body and in Dietrich von Hildebrand’s philosophy of love and marriage. They are not the “new thinking about mankind” that, as I said in my last post, we need to meet the crisis of our day.
I would love to know what others think.
Jul. 2, 2009, at 10:45am
This morning I came across this 1964 quote of Albert Einstein, whom Time Magazine named “Man of the [20th] Century.” It comes from an article about nuclear war prevention:
The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our ways of thinking. Thus we are drifting toward a catastrophe beyond comparison. We shall require a substantially new way of thinking about mankind to survive.
It strikes me that the same thing could be said about other lately-unleashed catastrophic powers. I am thinking specifically of the unleashing of sex that has been happening across the course of the last 100 years. The other night I watched part of an excellent PBS program on the history of Jazz that made clear how much the power and appeal of Jazz had to do with its sexual connection. Allan Bloom (I think it was) later said the same thing about rock and roll: “Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse.” (Speaking for myself, I didn’t know it when I was young. Now I think it’s true. And whether we knew it or not, it had the effect of setting loose a primitive power of sex in society. Rap music strikes me as a evoking a consciously loveless sexual force.) There was the legalization of birth control, radical feminism, the sexual revolution…
This unleashing plainly calls for “a new way of thinking about mankind.” It strikes me that we have that new way of thinking in personalism. It strikes me further that, in the mysterious economy of redemption, personalism was taking shape at almost the very same historical moment as the scientific, economic and cultural developments and disasters that led us to our present moral condition. We were never bereft of a solution. The turn toward liberalism in morals and religion that coincided with the beginnings of industrialization and scientism, was personalistically addressed by John Henry Newman in the 19th century. Max Scheler’s value philosophy and his analysis of shame came early in the 20th. Dietrich von Hildebrand’s books on Marriage and Purity rehabilitating the role of love in marriage and in human life and deploring artificial contraception on grounds of love were written in the 1920’s—before Margaret Sanger became a household name. Gaudium et Spes, Humanae Vitae, Love and Responsibility all came out in the 1960’s, just before the sexual revolution exploded on the scene.
It seems to me that in John Paul II’s personalist anthropology and his Theology of the Body, we have the new thinking that is more than capable of meeting and overcoming the power of evil in our present generation. The old ways of thinking won’t cut it.
Jul. 1, 2009, at 1:54pm
As my friends know, I have had a book on courtship on the back burner for years. Yesterday I got an email from someone who had read this article of mine, asking whether I’ve published anything on the topic since. I haven’t. But now that the Linde is up and running, I shall try again. I find I write best in dialogue with others, so if you have thoughts or questions or objections or feedback, please do write!
My hope is to apply the personalist insights of JP II and Dietrich von Hildebrand to the question of courtship. I am particularly interested in trying to throw light on the role of love in courtship—something that I think tends to be oddly neglected in popular Catholic teachings on dating. Here is a paragraph from that article:
Just last night, reading George Weigel’s biography of John Paul II, I was struck by this line: “Love, for Karol Wojtyla, was the truth at the very core of the human condition…” (p.101) Similarly, he saw it as the core of authentic courtship. In the experience of falling in love, Wojtyla shows, the meaning of the universe is mysteriously revealed, and with it the lover’s personal vocation: to give myself in love to this other, and to receive the gift of his love for me.(5)
Jul. 1, 2009, at 1:54pm
“Love is the test of truth,” the pope said. “Ever more we must be measured by this criterion, that truth becomes love and that love makes us truthful.”
Jun. 26, 2009, at 7:42pm
Here is an insightful and sobering analysis in the American Thinker of Obama’s cultural identity from an American woman of West African descent. (Hat tip Rush Limbaugh.)
She charges him with having absorbed from his father a marxist ideology out of resentment against the ravages of colonialism in Africa.
Like many educated intellectuals in postcolonial Africa, Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. was enraged at the transformation of his native land by its colonial conqueror. But instead of embracing the traditional values of his own tribal cultural past, he embraced an imported Western ideology, Marxism. I call such frustrated and angry modern Africans who embrace various foreign “isms”, instead of looking homeward for repair of societies that are broken, African Colonials. They are Africans who serve foreign ideas.
Like imperialists of Old World Europe, the ACP sees their constituents not as free thinking individuals who best know how to go about achieving and creating their own means for success. Instead, the ACP sees his constituents as a flock of ignorant sheep that need to be led—oftentimes to their own slaughter.
Like the European imperialist who spawned him, the ACP is a destroyer of all forms of democracy.
Her argument puts me in mind again of what I learned from Desmond Tutu about African “ubuntu” philosophy and its relation to Christian personalism.
Jun. 26, 2009, at 12:38pm
It seems the very least those of us who are serious about defending human rights and promoting the dignity of the person can do is listen to those who are trying to make injustice known. The Stoning of Soraya M., based on a true story, opens in theaters this weekend.
Jun. 26, 2009, at 9:48am
From the article:
A decline in tool use would seem to betoken a shift in our mode of inhabiting the world: more passive and more dependent. And indeed, there are fewer occasions for the kind of spiritedness that is called forth when we take things in hand for ourselves, whether to fix them or to make them. What ordinary people once made, they buy; and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely or hire an expert to repair, whose expert fix often involves installing a pre-made replacement part.
So perhaps the time is ripe for reconsideration of an ideal that has fallen out of favor: manual competence, and the stance it entails toward the built, material world. Neither as workers nor as consumers are we much called upon to exercise such competence, most of us anyway, and merely to recommend its cultivation is to risk the scorn of those who take themselves to be the most hard-headed: the hard-headed economist will point out the opportunity costs of making what can be bought, and the hard-headed educator will say that it is irresponsible to educate the young for the trades, which are somehow identified as the jobs of the past. But we might pause to consider just how hard-headed these presumptions are, and whether they don’t, on the contrary, issue from a peculiar sort of idealism, one that insistently steers young people toward the most ghostly kinds of work.
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.