LostYou live in a deranged age—more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.
Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
Jul. 10, 2010, at 11:55am
In Spain without much access to the internet, I’ve been reading the books on my son’s AP English summer reading list. It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve read real literature.
There were two by Tobias Wolff, whose work I’d never come across before. In Pharaoh’s Army and Old School. I especially loved the latter, which was tender and touching and honest and insightful.
I marked this passage for our catalogue of great personalist insights.
“Arch” is the first name of Dean Makepeace, who had resigned his long-standing position at a prestigious boys’ prep school and now found himself adrift in the world.
In former times Arch had supposed that his sense of being a distinctive and valuable man proceeded from his own qualities, and that they would sustain him in that confidence wherever he happened to be. He’d never imagined that this surety was conferred on him by others, by their knowing and cherishing him. But so it was. Unrecognized, he had become a ghost, even to himself.
He distilled no general rule from this understanding. Maybe a man of lordly self-conviction and detachment could forsake the place that knew him and not become a ghost. Arch could say only that he was not that man. He was attached. How could he have thought that he was free to leave his school?
Jun. 10, 2010, at 10:04am
It’s not every week that I that I find myself in perfect agreement with a Maureen Dowd opinion piece. But this is one of them. She tells the following appalling story:
A group of soon-to-be freshmen boys [i.e., 14 year olds] at Landon, an elite private grade school and high school for boys in the wealthy Washington suburb of Montgomery County, Md., was drafting local girls.
One team was called “The Southside Slampigs,” and one boy dubbed his team with crude street slang for drug-addicted prostitutes.
The young woman who was the “top pick” was described by one of the boys in a team profile he put up online as “sweet, outgoing, friendly, willing to get down and dirty and [expletive] party. Coming in at 90 pounds, 5’2 and a bra size 34d.” She would be a special asset to the team, he noted, because her mother “is quite the cougar herself.”
Before they got caught last summer, the boys had planned an “opening day party,” complete with T-shirts, where the mission was to invite the drafted girls and, unbeknownst to them, score points by trying to rack up as many sexual encounters with the young women as possible.
At the end of the column, she draws the only possible conclusion.
Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey.
Hear, hear! Only, I would like to add two thoughts.
1) I fear it is practically impossible so to educate young men while the culture around them is awash in pornography and celebrates moral relativism and sexual libertinism.
2) It is not only young men who must be taught that young women are not prey; young women also need to learn it.
Taking care not to commit the error of “blaming the victim”, we should look for ways of communicating to young women the role they play in ensuring that relations between the sexes are properly personal rather than brutal. This involves at least two things:
1) We have to encourage young women to value themselves as persons—as unique individuals, of infinite worth, free and responsible to dispose over their own destiny.
2) We have to encourage them to take care to present themselves to others as persons, not as objects, not as specimens of sexual attractiveness. A key element of this is modesty in dress and manner. We advocate modesty not (as the radicals feminists or modernists suppose) because we find sex or the human body shameful, but because modesty is essential for directing male attention to the personhood—the subjectivity and individuality, as opposed to the “flesh,” of the women he meets. When young women dress in a way that draws attention to their breasts or thighs or bare midriffs, they make it much harder for men to encounter them as a unique and incommunicable person—a person worthy of and calling for nothing short of love and respect.
And when they are treated as objects, it is much harder for them to realize their personhood to themselves.
Jun. 6, 2010, at 4:08pm
I will have more to say in coming days about the conference, and some reflections inspired by our experiences in Italy and France. Meanwhile, Zenit has an article. Here is a short piece of it [bolding is mine.]
Leading Church philosophers shared a wide range of views, from the philosophical differences between Thomists and Hildebrandians to insights into spousal and romantic love. One of the most impressive speakers was Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, Greece. An Orthodox theologian, well respected in both churches, he also heads the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Without prior knowledge of Von Hildebrand, he read “The Nature of Love” for the conference and found it to be one of the most significant books he’d ever read. In his address, he compared the book to Greek Patristic thought, examining commonalities, but mostly differences, between the two. Yet he praised many aspects of Von Hildebrand’s thought, such as his emphasis that “love alone” brings the human being into full awareness of his personal existence, that love involves “a transcendence of the human being from his self-centredness toward the other,” the importance of “beauty for love and personhood” (recalling Dostoyevsky’s words that “beauty shall save the world”), and Von Hildebrand’s emphasis on the “role of the heart in the experience of love.”
May. 18, 2010, at 11:41am
Had he lived, he would be ninety today.
I think the Church has hardly begun to realize and assimilate the greatness of his legacy of philosophical personalism. A few favorite quotations:
From The Person: Subject and Community:
The present age is a time of great controversy about the human being, controversy about the very meaning of human existence, and thus about the nature and significance of the human being. We know that such situations in history have frequently led to a deeper reflection on Christian truth as a whole, as well as on particular aspects of it. That is also the case today. The truth about the human being, in turn, has a distinctly privileged place in this whole process. After nearly twenty years of ideological debate in Poland, it has become clear that at the center of this debate is not cosmology or philosophy of nature but philosophical anthropology and ethics: the great and fundamental controversy about the human being.
From Love and Responsibility:
A person is an objective entity, which as a definite subject has the closest contacts with the whole (external) world and is most intimately involved with it precisely because of its inwardness, its interior life.
From Theology of the Body:
… the gift reveals, so to speak, a particular characteristic of personal existence, or even of the very essence of the person. … [Alone] man does not completely realize his essence. He realizes it only by existing “with someone”—and, put even more deeply and completely, by existing “for someone.”
From The Way to Christ:
... the battle which each person—and particularly each Christian—fights for humanity and human values is the noblest of battles. It is a frontline battle, and final victory is worth the risk of some losses.
From Redeemer of Man:
Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.
From a letter to Henri de Lubac, written when he was still a Cardinal:
I devote my very rare free moments to a work that is close to my heart and devoted to the metaphysical sense and mystery of the person. It seems to me that the debate today is being played out on that level. The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. This evil is even more of the metaphysical order than of the moral order. To this disintegration planned at times by atheistic ideologies we must oppose, rather than sterile polemics, a kind of “recapitulation” of the inviolable mystery of the person.
May. 17, 2010, at 11:37am
Next week Jules and I are heading over to Rome for a grand conference on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s philosophy of love.
It’s not too late to join us! Or, if you can’t be there in person, to watch the talks live-stream. Read all about it or register here.
May. 11, 2010, at 1:43pm
The Pope had sobering words about Church scandals today. They are sobering, but cheering too, because they are true, and offer hope for healing.
“Today we see in a truly terrifying way that the greatest persecution of the church does not come from outside enemies but is born of sin within the church,” the 83-year-old pontiff said in response to a question about the scandal, submitted in advance.
“The church has a deep need to learn to do penance, accept purification, and to learn to ask forgiveness,” he said. But he added that “forgiveness cannot be a substitute for justice.”
Do penance; accept purification; ask forgiveness; and do not imagine that the demand for justice is vindictive and unforgiving.
May. 11, 2010, at 1:27pm
Check out this hilarious performance of John Cage’s (in)famous composition, 4′33″ (pronounced Four minutes, thirty-three seconds), and then ask yourself: How is it possible? How can we, human persons, made in the image and likeness of God, be such fools?
May. 8, 2010, at 11:24am
The New York Times has an obituary portrait (hat tip Jen Rubin) of a courageous white woman, who did what she could to fight the vicious system of apartheid in South Africa.
Over decades of volunteer work — counseling thousands of black South Africans, plotting legal strategy, writing pamphlets, holding silent vigils and speaking out in churches and at universities — Mrs. Duncan moved far beyond the traditional sphere reserved for white women of her day.
She helped people whose families were being torn apart by laws that kept black workers in the cities to serve whites while exiling their kin to impoverished rural “bantustans,” or homelands. She invited those who sought her advice to sit on the same side of the desk with her as she pored over their identity documents, especially the books blacks were required to carry to prove they were authorized to be where they were. With no formal legal training, Mrs. Duncan became an authority on the notorious pass laws, which governed the movement of blacks. She sent people with a chance of successfully challenging them to the Legal Resources Center, a human rights organization that took on such cases with financial support from American foundations and South African corporations.
What a witness to human dignity!
The Sowetan, a daily newspaper that serves a black readership, wrote in its lead editorial on Thursday: “Our sorrows and fears lifted a little whenever her ample figure hove into view. She took up the cudgels and fought tirelessly, without profit or reward, against members of her own race who enslaved us.”
May she receive her eternal reward, and may her tribe on earth increase!
May. 3, 2010, at 9:22am
Sandro Magister has a good analysis of Friday’s Vatican statement on the initial findings of the Visitation of the Legion. I was glad and grateful to see that the statement made a point of not limiting its indictment to Maciel’s gravely immoral, even criminal double life, but extended it to system he created to enable that life.
The apostolic visit has been able to ascertain that the behavior of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado has had serious consequences for the life and structure of the Legion, such as to require a process of in-depth revision.
This aspect of its call for reform is particularly interesting from a personalist perspective:
the need to review the exercise of authority, which must be joined to the truth, to respect the conscience, and develop itself in the light of the Gospel as authentic ecclesial service.
In practice, the Legion emphasis on authority was detached from truth and replaced all individual, conscientious discernment with formal obedience.
Magister adds this observation:
With this statement, the Holy See has overturned the dominant model of recent reporting on pedophilia. Instead of letting its agenda be dictated by the newspapers, instead of responding case by case to the deluge of accusations, this time the Holy See has taken the initiative.
May. 1, 2010, at 6:31pm
John Zmirak has posted a thoughtful article over at Inside Catholic touching on an issue much on my mind in recent years, viz., the relation between justice and mercy.
This is the stuff of many long discussions. For now, just a few summary paragraphs:
There’s one sure test for determining whether an action really lives up to the theological virtue we hope we’re practicing. It’s simple: Does this action violate any natural virtues along the way? For instance, a citizen who listens to clerics pontificate about politics and follows their lead in supporting policies that destroy the sovereignty and civic order of his country may think that by deferring to churchmen he is practicing the virtue of Faith. But if the laws he favors violate Justice, he’s deeply mistaken. A priest who fears that his congregation won’t obey the moral law, so for the sake of their salvation he decides not to preach on controversial topics like contraception—how sound is his Hope for their souls?
Simple Justice is what each of us owes the other in an unconditional debt. We cannot violate that Justice in pursuit of Faith, Hope, or Charity. When we contemplate any action that stokes in us the sentiment that we’re being “more radically Christian” and really “living the gospel” by going beyond “merely natural” virtues, every alarm bell in our conscience should start going off. We can no more attain theological virtues by violating the natural ones than we can build the dome on a cathedral by pulling steel from its foundations.
We cannot practice Charity toward the poor through confiscation from the rich; only if something is owed the poor in simple Justice should the state make sure they get it (as Pope Leo XIII taught in Rerum Novarum). At the height of the high Middle Ages, the Church never furthered the salvation of souls by confiscating non-Christian children, baptizing them, and rearing them in the Faith. At age 18 I wondered why not, till a wise priest explained to me that the natural rights of pagan parents could not be torn away in such a “higher cause.” Likewise, the natural rights of parents, and the state that represents them, to defend their children from rape cannot be sacrificed on the altar of priestly solidarity, compassion for “troubled brother priests,” or the need to avoid bad publicity for the Church
May. 1, 2010, at 6:26pm
We have reached the reductio ad absurdum of rights proliferation. Discovery News now features an earnest article titled, “Do Nature Films Deny Animals Their Right to Privacy.” (Hat tip Mark Steyn, in the Corner.)
Imagine if a film crew, without your permission, stormed into your home and filmed you in your most private moments. Makers of wildlife documentaries do just that to non-human animals, and are denying these animals their right to privacy, according to new research published in the current issue of Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies.
But, shouldn’t we consider what grounds my concern with privacy? Isn’t it precisely the personal subjectivity, the interior existential plenitude, the self-possession and individual moral agency that characterizes all human beings but which animals plainly lack?
Dr Mills said, “It might at first seem odd to claim that animals might have a right to privacy. Privacy, as it is commonly understood, is a culturally human concept. The key idea is to think about animals in terms of the public/private distinction. We can never really know if animals are giving consent, but they often do engage in forms of behavior which suggest they’d rather not encounter humans, and we might want to think about equating this with a desire for privacy.”
Couldn’t we just consider it a natural preference for quiet and safety? Seems to me an appeal human decency and kindliness toward creatures in the wild should suffice for promoting more humane filming practices.
We can’t extend human rights to animals without completely vacating the meaning the of the term.
Apr. 23, 2010, at 4:56pm
A year or so ago feminist Lori Gottleib generated a lot of buzz with an Atlantic Magazine article urging women to settle for “Mr. Good Enough.” Now she’s published a book on the theme. I haven’t read it, but I did read an engaging blog post about it by Megan McArdle. (Hat tip Maggie Gallagher.)
I’m busy trying to prepare a talk, so I can’t give the topic the time I’d like to. But these lines caught my personalist attention:
Feminists are no less prone than other women to resist thinking of romantic choices as pragmatic. Maybe more so, even, because relationships are supposed to be about self-actualization, not the prosaic projects of economic security and diaper-changing. Gottlieb’s straying a little too close to Jane Austen territory . . . and even for her own time, Austen was overly brutal.
I’m against that pragmatic approach to marriage too—as if courtship were a matter of weighing practical advantages against disadvantages and settling for the best available option. But self-actualization? Is that the contrast? Is that really what relationships are supposed to be about? What about self-giving? What about love?
Apr. 21, 2010, at 1:04pm
Friend Mark forwards these lovely lines from an 1870 letter from Mark Twain to his fiancée, Olivia. They ring just as true today.
This 4th of February will be the mightiest day in the history of our lives, the holiest, & the most generous toward us both—for it makes of two fractional lives a whole; it gives to two purposeless lives a work, & doubles the strength of each whereby to perform it; it gives to two questioning natures a reason for living, & something to live for; it will give a new gladness to the sunshine, a new fragrance to the flowers, a new beauty to the earth, a new mystery to life; & Livy it will give a new revelation to love, a new depth to sorrow, a new impulse to worship. In that day the scales will fall from our eyes & we shall look upon a new world. Speed it!
Apr. 18, 2010, at 1:37pm
Last night in the midst of an attack of insomnia, I read this beautiful and moving talk by John Barger, of Sophia Institute Press. Before he became a publisher, Dr. Barger earned a PhD in philosophy under Josef Seifert and John Crosby.
The talk is an exhortation growing out of personal experience—experience of his personal transformation as a man, a husband, and a father, and consequently of the transformation of his marriage.
It is full of deep insight and timeless wisdom.
But I wonder whether anyone will agree with me that it is also somewhat dated?
I mean, his description of the way Catholic husbands habitually view women, including their wives, strikes me as no longer true. It seems to me that “JP II husbands” are generally as different from the earlier generation of husbands as “JP II priests” are from an earlier generation of priests.
Apr. 13, 2010, at 12:20pm
I’ve heard it said often (and I believe it) that, at bottom, the culture wars are all about sex. Social justice, racial equality, environmentalism, anti-war, etc.—these are pretexts. What the progressive, secular leftists really care about—what they’ll fight for at all costs—is sexual liberty. Sex liberated not just from traditional taboos, but from life, from God, from personal identity, from gender. Scratch the surface of any “progressive” cause and this is what you’ll find. Sex is their religion.
If you doubt it, listen to this Heritage Foundation address by former liberal Hollywood Jew, Evan Sayet, called “How Modern Liberals Think.”
And consider this item: a report about he Maine Human Rights Commission’s proposal to ban schools from distinguishing between boys and girls. “It says forcing a student into a particular room or group because of his or her biological gender amounts to discrimination.”
Shall I tell you what else I believe? I believe with Edith Stein and some early Church fathers that the original sin was a disordered sexual act between Adam and Eve—an act whereby they used each other for pleasure rather than giving themselves to each other in service of life and love. I believe that this severing of life and love was the moral atom-splitting at the dawn of human history whose fallout is death. “The aboriginal calamity.”
I once asked Alice von Hildebrand about this. She demurred somewhat, saying only that her husband was aware of the tradition, but did not agree with it. He thought the original sin was one of pride, not concupiscence. I think it was both. A disordered sex act is not an act of mere concupiscence—like taking that fourth glass of wine or that second slice of pie or that extra hour in bed. It entails a direct defiance of God, and a violation of the Image of God in ourselves. It entails a using of another person and a using of self. It is an assault on human dignity and personhood. Kant practically inauguration modern personalism with his great ethical insight: “A person is an end-in-himself, never to be used as a mere means.”
A person is from love and for love.
Inter-personal love—is the life force of the universe.
Dante: “The love that moves the sun and stars.”
Think of God. He is the great “I AM”. Absolute Being, and a union and communion of love among three Persons. The Holy Spirit Proceeds from the Father and the Son.
John Paul II: “Love is the unification of persons.”
Persons are engendered in the union of love between a man and a woman. This is the literal origin of life. Persons abuse one another. This is death and destruction—the root cause of all that ails the world.
Sacramental marriage—the transformation of eros by agape—eros re-ordered toward life, and under the aegis of Eternity—is the literal healing of the rift opened in Eden.
This mystery is a continual background meditation of mine. It came to the fore again today when I happened to listen to a segment of an episode of Uncommon Knowledge. Taped a decade or so ago, it features William F. Buckley and Christopher Hitchens discussing the cultural upheavals of the 1960’s.
Buckley identified the restiveness and outbreaks of the time as “masturbatory”—a self-indulgent demand for release in service of no transcendent value. Hitchens objected to the characterization, but then offered this essential confirmation: “We were the first generation to take the separation of sex and procreation for granted.” Resistance to this, as Hitchens sees it, is rooted in envy.
There you have it. The ultimate source of the moral madness unleashed in our society since then.
Ground zero of the culture of death.
Apr. 12, 2010, at 10:55am
I read an article in the Daily Mail today, which I won’t link directly, because of the surrounding sleaze. It was about mid-life crises—how common they are and how they can be an essential turning point. (According to the article, the term ‘midlife crisis’ was coined by Canadian Elliott Jaques to describe dramatic self-doubt in the middle age of life.)
I liked its conclusion.
Previously, she had always been manically busy - with work and motherhood. She had no time to think things over. Then, all of a sudden, with no job and an empty nest, she had nothing but days and nights of endless unfilled time.
‘And what was I so afraid of?’ she asks. ‘Being alone with myself long enough to wonder what is the purpose of my life?’
Like Shapiro, she embarked on a long and often painful journey. Though neither was religious, both found solace and comfort in re-discovering the religious teachings of their childhoods.
In addition, Browning began to appreciate what she describes as the ‘small beauty in every single day’.
‘One adventure is over; it is time for another,’ she writes. ‘I am growing into a new season. I am not old and not young; not broken and yet not quite whole. These are my intertidal years.’
Browning says that in the aftermath of her crisis, she re-connected with something she had encountered as a teenager and then lost in the frantic skim through adulthood - ‘the desire to nourish my soul’.
Both of the friends I mentioned earlier said they feel as if they don’t know who they are any more. It is as if their souls are crying out for some attention.
Only time will tell if they will listen to that call from within. I know many people have trouble with this kind of thing. It’s about taking a little time out of the rat-race and reconnecting with the lost child within all of us.
It could also be an advertising slogan for the Personalist Project: “Built for those who desire to nourish their souls.”
Apr. 10, 2010, at 11:50am
Is there another country whose sufferings compare with Poland’s over the last centuries? No doubt there are some whose sufferings have been as bad or worse in terms of loss of life, and by other measures too. But I refer to the marked spiritual dimension to her particular sufferings. They seem almost personal—almost as if they were deliberately directed at her identity as a nation. And they are imposed on her from without, not self-inflicted, as in Russia or Rwanda.
I am thinking of the partitions, the Nazi occupation, swiftly followed by the Soviet occupation; the Warsaw uprising and its aftermath, Auschwitz, the Katyn Forest Massacre, and now the terrible, terrible news today.
Why? Who can fathom it?
I am clinging to the insight of the greatest son of Poland in our time: the purpose of suffering is to unleash love.
Apr. 10, 2010, at 11:02am
A Wall Street Journal article today delves into Mitt Romney’s campaign trail dilemma. On the one hand he stands with those calling for the repeal of Obamacare, and on the other he wants to defend the similar law that was a defining achievement of his term as governor of Massachusetts.
Mr. Romney also took pains to defend another element common to both plans—the mandate requiring nearly all people to buy coverage—that many conservative activists consider one of the most objectionable elements of the federal law. But he did so by adopting a more GOP-friendly vocabulary, declaring it a matter of “personal responsibility” for all people to buy into insurance pools so that “free riders” without insurance can’t stick taxpayers with their hospital bills.
“We are a party and a movement of personal responsibility,” he said at a book signing in Manchester. He invoked the same idea at the college, calling it a “conservative bedrock principle.”
I can think of only two possible explanations for this “vocabulary adoption”.
1. He has no idea what personal responsibility means.
2. He is being dishonest and manipulative.
A person is no more rendered responsible by government mandates than he is rendered generous by having his property seized.