Our small hungry shivering self

It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self — never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardour of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.

George Eliot


Katie van Schaijik

Self-possession and the call to love

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.

Katie van Schaijik

The Stoning of Soraya M.

Jul. 5, 2009, at 3:13pm

A good review here, highlighting the moral issues raised by the film, and by Islam in the modern world.

And another, at Pajamas Media, fittingly titled, “An Unflinching Look at the Unconscionable.”

Katie van Schaijik

Looking for philosophical leads

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.

Katie van Schaijik

Bishop Sheen on sex and marriage

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.

Katie van Schaijik

A thought about personalism

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.

Katie van Schaijik


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)

Katie van Schaijik

Caritas in Veritate

Jul. 1, 2009, at 1:54pm

John Allen previews Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, due to be published within a week or so, here.
Hat tip American Papist.

“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.”

Katie van Schaijik

Obama’s cultural identity

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.

And this:

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.

Katie van Schaijik

This is getting good reviews

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.

Katie van Schaijik

Shop Class as Soulcraft

Jun. 26, 2009, at 9:48am

Matthew B. Crawford, author of a fascinating New Atlantis article with deep personalist resonance has just come out with a book of the same name.

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.

Katie van Schaijik

New York to offer cash for ova

Jun. 26, 2009, at 9:21am

New York state will begin using tax payer dollars to pay women to donate their eggs for embryonic stem cell research. Washington Post article here. Hat tip Mona Charen at the Corner.

“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.”

Katie van Schaijik

Grounds for a burqa ban

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?

Katie van Schaijik

Abortion survivor story

Jun. 23, 2009, at 11:39pm

Friend Teresa sent me this link to the incredibly inspiring video testimony of abortion survivor Gianna Jessen.

Katie van Schaijik

Another burqa photo

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.

Katie van Schaijik

Iranian women

Jun. 23, 2009, at 2:56pm

Speaking of women in Islam, Anne Applebaum has an interesting piece in today’s Washington Post about the role of women in the uprising underway in Iran.

Josef Seifert

Defending the Freedom of wearing Veils and Burqas

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!

Jules van Schaijik

Question 1: on John Paul II and Hugh Hefner

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)

Jules van Schaijik

Question 2: on prudishness

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.

Jules van Schaijik

Question 3: on concupiscence

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)

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