Life threatened by consciousnessPlants can grow only when their roots are in the dark. They emerge from the dark into the light. That is the direction of life. The plant and its direction die when the root is exposed to the light. All life must be grounded in what is not conscious and from that root emerge into the brightness of consciousness. Yet I see consciousness becoming more and more deeply the root of our life. A relation to other lives is seen, one event is brought under the same law as others, and we get closer and closer in our scrutiny to the beginnings, the origins of life. The root of life itself, what is innermost to it, is lit up. Can life sustain this? Can it become consciousness and at the same time remain alive?
Letters from Lake Como
May. 21, 2013, at 8:38am
One of my favorite books is Fables, by the delightful Arnold Lobel. (If you have children, don’t miss his “Frog and Toad” series.) One chapter is called “The Crocodile in the Bedroom.”
It goes like this (bear with me--the personalist angle will become evident shortly):
A Crocodile became increasingly fond of the wallpaper in his bedroom. He stared at it for hours and hours.
"Just look at all those neat and tidy rows of flowers and leaves, " said the Crocodile. "They are like soldiers. There is not a single one that is out of place."
"My dear," said the Crocodile's wife, "you are spending too much time in bed. Come out into my garden where the air is fresh and the sun is bright and …
May. 20, 2013, at 3:14am
Over the last two months, eight friends and acquaintances of my family have died. Some deaths were expected, but many took us by surprise: two road-accidents, a sudden heart-attack occurring during sleep, a few cancer-deaths that suddenly took a turn for the worse etc. Some of the dead had been pious, some had distanced themselves from the Church, some hadn’t cared about religion at all. For the bystanders and mourners, death has a way of pulling them out of the hustle and bustle of the everyday; everything comes to a standstill, and what really matters is able to come to the forefront. The ultimate seriousness of it, the finality, the last judgment that everybody must expect shakes one …continue reading
May. 18, 2013, at 10:45am
Lately I've been reading about co-dependency. I'm impressed by how "naturally personalistic" so much of the literature around addiction and recovery is. It's put in plain terms, of course, but its practical wisdom very much embodies many of the deep philosophical principles formally worked out by great thinkers like John Paul II.
Here's one line (among dozens I might have chosen) from The New Co-Dependency, by Melody Beattie. "Suffering is how we feel about how we feel." In other words, it involves the kind of reflection and response that is only possible in a free and responsible subject, a self. Physical pain considered alone doesn't quite qualify.
This is why suffering is so deep …continue reading
May. 12, 2013, at 6:41pm
Once in a while, my weekly deadline finds me floundering around, vainly trying to wrestle some complex metaphysical truth down to 800 words or so. This time it was a centuries-old misunderstanding about the hypostatic union. I was having about as much success as you might expect.
Well, the hypostatic union will have to wait. Having remembered Mother’s Day, and what a personalist mother I have, I’ve decided to write about her instead (here she is in the green shirt, with my father and their eight children).
On the one hand, my mother is the kind of traditional, hardworking, devoted housewife who just about everybody agrees is good for children. Even many who theoretically disapprove …continue reading
May. 9, 2013, at 12:04pm
Today's Magnificat includes a beautiful and highly personalist quotation from Pope Emeritus Benedict on the Ascension and its promise for humanity.
The meaning of Christ's Ascension," writes Pope Benedict XVI, "expresses our belief that in Christ the humanity that we all share has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God." It would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as "the temporary absence of Christ from the world." Rather, "we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him." Heaven is a person. "Jesus himself is what we call 'heaven'."
May. 8, 2013, at 8:52pm
I was just reminded by an advertisement (a bookseller), that Søren Kierkegaard turned 200 last Sunday. That is something I don't want to let pass unnoticed. But I have only a few minutes at my disposal. So I will just leave you with soem passages from one of Kierkegaard's early journals. In these he expresses his longing, indeed, his need, "to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die."
The whole passage could be seen as an explanation of our motto, tua res agitur (the thing concerns you}.
Of what use would it be to me to discover a so-called objective truth, to work through the philosophical systems so that I could, if asked, make …
May. 7, 2013, at 3:11pm
The word tenderness seems to be in the air lately. It's clearly a favorite of our new Pope's. He used it in some of his earliest remarks as Pope. "Do not be afraid of tenderness." He mentioned it again several times today, in reflections on the First Letter of St. John and the sacrament of confession.
"The Lord is tender towards those who fear, to those who come to Him "and with tenderness," He always understands us”. He wants to gift us the peace that only He gives. " "This is what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation" even though "many times we think that going to confession is like going to the dry cleaner" to clean the dirt from our clothes...
It came up, too, in the last two …continue reading
May. 4, 2013, at 11:13am
We have said that in a certain sense the right to life is the most fundamental and basic natural human right. Now we have to clarify in which sense this is true and which are other points of view perceived from which it is not the most fundamental one, and whether these other points of view to determine the most basic human right are more foundational or fundamental ones. We will here omit the purely historical point of view, which basic human right was the first one to be included in a modern human rights catalogue because we do not deem this question to be relevant for our analysis. (From this point of view, at least if one prescinds from all ancient and early medieval human rights …continue reading
May. 4, 2013, at 10:22am
The Right to Life is, in a sense, the most Fundamental and Basic Absolute Natural Right (Urgrundrecht)
The right to life is not only a natural and an “absolute right,” as also the right to the freedom of religion or the right to choose one’s wife freely upon her consent, but it is also an, or even in a certain sense the, absolutely foundational concrete human right (Urgrundrecht). This does not exclude that other fundamental human rights, rooted in the dignity of the awakened actual conscious life, have another kind of priority and more specifically “personal character” precisely because they exist only on the level and dignity of the rational conscious life of the human person.
That …continue reading
May. 4, 2013, at 9:59am
1. Personhood and Human Dignity as Foundation of Ethical Obligations and Fundamental Human Rights
Most of ethics rests on the insight into the sublime dignity of persons. Every human person, regardless of age, sex, race or other differences between different members of the species man, possesses a unique value, called "dignity," which lifts him or her up above all impersonal creatures. This human dignity is the source of a strict moral obligation to respect it during all phases of human life.
The ethical question of respecting human dignity, or better said, to respect any human person in virtue of the dignity of the person, is not at all restricted to the aspect of fundamental human …continue reading
May. 3, 2013, at 4:05pm
Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
--Robert Frost, "Death of the Hired Man"
Some people hear this as an insult to home and hearth (and I see what they mean), but I think it captures something.
There’s something about family—which is pretty much synonymous with “home” here—that inspires the invention of counterfeits. I heard an ad the other day for a “family of mutual funds”
and another for a “family of cleaning products.”
Just what is it they’re trying to piggyback on?
Is it mere biology that ensures the kind of unconditional love (or at least acceptance) we associate with families? No, there's no absolute guarantee. Is there anything …continue reading
May. 2, 2013, at 10:04pm
Since member Quinton mentioned recently on the Member Feed that he's been wondering what personalism would look like in practice, I've been wanting to launch a section profiling people who have done it.
I have in mind people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jean Vanier; Maria Montessori, and Suzuki—people who have used the insights of Christian personalism in a pioneering way, dramatically influencing culture and society.
I see that the NCR today has a profile on Dorothy Day, called, "Catholic Worker Celebrates 80 Years of Gentle Personalism." The phrase comes from her longtime intellectual and spiritual mentor, Peter Maurin, who spoke of "the gentle personalism of traditional …continue reading
May. 1, 2013, at 3:11am
We are more or less used to the inequality we have to deal with in everyday life: some of us are more intelligent, talented, wealthy, healthy and lucky than others, while others are badly off in all respects. We don’t need to see this as a sign of God’s favor or neglect; lack of health, of opportunities, of money, intelligence and talents can be explained as the consequences of original sin, of “sinful social structures” which John Paul II spoke about, different genetic pools or just as plain bad luck. The wealthy are not particularly good nor are the suffering particularly evil; good and evil cut across all classes and professions. God lets the sun shine on the good and the bad equally …continue reading
Apr. 27, 2013, at 12:41pm
Devra recently linked at facebook an interesting and helpful Patheos article by Fr. Dwight Longenecker on the problem of cults and cultlike behavior among the religious. I was glad to see it: for one, because the difference between healthy relations and dysfunctional ones is a key interest of mine personally (I've addressed it before, including here), and for two, because I think we have an epidemic on our hands, and too few of us are adequately aware of it. There's a reason for our unawareness.
...cult like behavior is often very similar to authentic and Spirit filled Christian communities. A cult will often look like a good, authentic and dynamic Christian community. In fact, the cult …
Apr. 26, 2013, at 3:05pm
Lately I've run into some exceptionally interesting articles on mental health (by John Janaro
and Gregory Popcak).
It occurs to me how closely related to personalism this subject is. In the quest to “become who you are” (not somebody else, and not some lesser version of yourself)—in the struggle to sort through all the bogus and genuine paths to fulfillment and maturity, where exactly do mental illness and its treatment fit in?
Simple! (I used to think) Mental illness is scandalously overdiagnosed! Drugs are shockingly overprescribed! Every squirmy little boy is saddled with an ADHD label, every sleep-deprived new mama is PPD, every moody adolescent bipolar. …
Apr. 22, 2013, at 6:03pm
After posting the other day about Simcha Fisher's article on a disturbing streak of holocaust denial in traditionalist Catholic circles, I was drawn into an email discussion with a fellow FUS grad, who defends the type. It's been eye-opening. I begin to worry that it's more than a streak.
I am under no illusions that my arguments will break through to this group. Some forms of traditionalism have all the earmarks of a cult. Reasoning doesn't avail against it, which was partly Simcha's point. But I'll publish some of the exchange here, in the hope of helping inoculate others against the oh-so-plausible arguments justifying holocaust denial.
I'll offset his comments (which I quote only …continue reading
Apr. 20, 2013, at 10:31am
He addresses the nature of evil in a timely column.
In the days ahead we need to pray for the dead and wounded in Boston, and their families. And then, with the help of God, we need to begin to change ourselves. That kind of conversion might seem like a small thing, an easy thing - until we try it. Then we understand why history turns on the witness of individual lives.
Apr. 18, 2013, at 9:30pm
To say that fiscal policy is not my forte is—let’s put it nicely— an understatement. (In fact, I chose this graph because it was so pretty.) But there is an important personalist point to be made about it anyway, and maybe I can express it in a way that other liberal-arts types can understand.
Many labor under a perceived conflict between taking seriously the Church’s concern for the poor, on the one hand, and treasuring the rights of the individual, including the taxpayer and entrepreneur, on the other. The “social justice Catholics” object to neglecting the poor in the name of the economic freedoms of people who could help them. Small-government advocates object to a state that …continue reading
Apr. 18, 2013, at 8:31am
A friend links an exceptionally thoughtful blog post on the question of organ donation. She touches the problem of medical personel, acutely aware of the urgent need for organs, putting undue pressure on the grieving families, who may have religious or moral objections.
Clinicians and medical staff know so very little, if anything, about these families and about how they feel about their dead. They only know how they present at a given period of time and what the medical records say. Sometimes, in our haste, practitioners/clinicians see families as hurdles; persons to sidestep or go around. We can subconsciously depersonalize them, characterizing them as obstacles to the lung, liver, …
Apr. 14, 2013, at 10:36am
I’ve just spent a solid week in an Ann Arbor basement in the company of Pope Francis. Well, not in person, but I got a surprise opportunity to do one layer of editing of a collection of his homilies, letters, and addresses. (This explains why you haven’t heard from me in a while.) The book will be available from Scepter…well, I’ll let you know as soon as I have a date. But it was a worthwhile way to spend a week, and I thank my longsuffering children
for making it possible. (Actually the three pictured here, as you can imagine, were mostly useful in keeping the older ones productively occupied.)
As I got to know Pope Francis, I kept remembering that interview with Cardinal Dolan, …continue reading