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
Nov. 13, 2012, at 10:17am
Cardinal Dolan yesterday offered a beautiful address to fellow bishops.
I am struck by his emphasis on prayer and interior conversion as the beginning of the New Evangelization. He quotes St. Bernard: "If you want to be a channel, you must first be a reservoir." What he says of bishops is true of laymen too:
I would suggest this morning that this reservoir of our lives and ministry, when it comes especially to the New Evangelization, must first be filled with the spirit of interior conversion born of our own renewal. That's the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a penitential heart, and our own full embrace of the …
Nov. 10, 2012, at 9:47am
(in keeping with my role as Pollyanna in Chief)
First: It turns out it wasn’t just me! I woke up the morning of November 7th with a highly unusual urge to set things in order. I cleaned a closet and a bathroom before breakfast. No, really—you can look it up on Snopes. And it turned out this was no isolated phenomenon. My sister Abby described Wednesday morning at her house:
We cleaned everything. We soaked the stove knobs in ammonia. We cleaned the dried milk drops off the hutch. We cleaned UNDER the microwave and all the couches. We used up the ammonia and the bleach (but not at the same time). We cleared surfaces of objects that had been invisible before the election…
My other …continue reading
Nov. 7, 2012, at 8:57am
I spent a sleepless night of worry for our nation.
One of my best insomnia rememdies is to put on a favorite audio book, usually Wittaker Chambers' Witness. In most cases, the calm steady voice of the narrator takes my mind off whatever treadmill it happens to be on and lulls me to sleep. But sometimes, like last night, it's not enough.
The upside is that I heard anew the beautiful and deep wisdom of his story, including countless gems like this one:
When man tried to organize society without God, he ends up organizing it against man.
Nov. 5, 2012, at 10:17am
Without attempting any application to current politics (in contrast to my previous two posts on Martin Buber), I wish to draw out some of the further wisdom of this 20th-century personalist Jewish philosopher and author of Good and Evil concerning how to attain a deeper measure of wisdom through our experience, even when that experience is negative. He says:
For the most part we understand only gradually the decisive experiences which we have in our relation to the world. First we accept what they seem to offer us, we express it, we weave it into a ‘view,’ and then think we are aware of our world. But we come to see that what we look on in this view is only an appearance. Not that …
Nov. 2, 2012, at 2:01am
Last week, we considered the uses and abuses of spontaneity. But what about the opposite extreme?
According to legend, my grandfather was once discovered to have penned the reminder “Kiss Thelma” on his to-do list.
Thelma was his wife.
This is as good an illustration as any that Grandpa Lenny was not a spontaneous man.
Now, it’s true, as Jacques Philippe points out, that steady, proven faithfulness, year in and year out, is a far more convincing proof of love than sporadic bursts of passionate affection alternating with stretches of neglect. But what to make of such, well, extremely steady steadiness as my grandfather’s?
Did he love his wife? Yes, of course he did. They stayed …continue reading
Oct. 31, 2012, at 4:10pm
I write to encourage the traditional way of celebrating Halloween—for the sake of the children. I think we as Christians should not be narrow, rigoristic, abstact logicians about this “feast,” but rather look at the existential reality. Here’s how I remember it from my youth.
First, Halloween was the only other celebration besides Christmas that involved the whole neighborhood. Further, it involved some living notion of love of neighbor and love of strangers—key indicators of true Christian charity. The idea that complete strangers in the vicinity of my home would freely give me candy for the asking (candy being a high priority for an 8-10 year old) struck me as the very height of …continue reading
Oct. 31, 2012, at 1:16pm
Crisis Magazine's website today kindly published my remarks from the religious liberty panel discussion last week. The bottom line:
When the federal government uses the force of law to mandate that Catholic institutions and businesses provide birth control and sterilizations and abortifacient drugs to their employees, it is, in effect, seeking to conscript the Church into the service of the culture of death as a condition of our participation in society. It is no side issue. It is no glancing blow. It is a stake aimed at the very heart of Catholic life.
Oct. 29, 2012, at 5:20pm
Continuing our reflections on Buber’s Good and Evil in conjunction with the current elections, the Psalmist (Psalm 12) hears “the presumption whispering in their [i.e., the liars] secret hearts (“Our lips are our own, who is Lord over us.”), and at the same time he hears God’s response (“Now will I arise.”).
With the ‘now’ there breaks out in the midst of extreme trouble the manifestation of a salvation which is not just bound to come some time, but is always present and needs only to become effective.
This reminds me, if I were to transpose it into philosophy, of Plato’s description of truth as always present, never refutable, never erasable. Like being itself, the truth about being, is …continue reading
Oct. 28, 2012, at 9:41pm
“The lie is the specific evil which man has introduced into nature.” Thus begins Martin Buber’s (1878-1965) study Good and Evil, reflecting on Psalm 12. As a Jewish thinker who protested against and suffered under the Nazi’s in the 1930’s, he became fascinated by the problem, status, and motivations for evil. He writes:
…the lie is our very own invention, different in kind from every deceit that the animals can produce. A lie was possible only after a creature, man, was capable of conceiving the being of truth. It was possible only as directed against the conceived truth. In a lie the spirit practices treason against itself.
The psalmist no longer suffers merely from individual …continue reading
Oct. 26, 2012, at 11:29am
This documentary about Obamacare has some serious flaws. It traces the evil of the utilitarian view of the person embodied in Obamacare to Plato, (of all philosophers!), because Plato (like virtually all Ancient Greeks) saw persons as subordinate to the State. It fails utterly to do justice to Plato's general ethical philosophy, which was ordered toward the Good, the True and Beautiful. It draws a direct line from Plato to Nietzsche, without noting the arrival of Christianity on the scene of human history. And so on. But, swallowing hard and setting aside those aggravations, I endorse this good and important film. It's important because it exposes not just the misrepresentations and inefficiencies in Obamacare, but the de-personalizing and inhumane philosophy undergirding it.
Oct. 25, 2012, at 12:53am
For a long time, I labored under the illusion that spontaneity, especially as practiced by me, was a charming thing. This misconception has been slowly, and I do mean slowly, draining away over the past couple of decades.
One early intimation that something was amiss came when my husband and I were newlyweds moving to a different apartment. He seemed distinctly uncharmed by the large quantity of boxes I had packed up and helpfully labeled “MISCELLANEOUS.”
I was mystified. What did he want: a boring, regimental, conformist wife?
(Now that I have eight children who take after me, his perspective is much less baffling.)
I’ve been reading Time for God by Fr. Jacques Philippe again,
and …continue reading
Oct. 22, 2012, at 12:16pm
Saturday evening, our local parish hosted a panel discussion about religious liberty in the current crisis. Taking inspiration from Archbishop Chaput's book, Render Unto Caesar, three panelists addressed the question, then engaged the audience in a lively Q&A, which could have gone on much longer if time had allowed. Feel free to continue it in the comments below. It's hard to think of a more important and timely issue.
Click on the names below to listen to the audio.
Peter Colosi (left), Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at St. Charles Borromeo seminary
Mark Henrie (middle), Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at Intercollegiate Studies Institute
Katie van Schaijik (right), Co-founder of the Personalist Project
Oct. 19, 2012, at 11:50am
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post questioning T.S. Eliot's "impersonal theory of poetry", according to which a good poem should contain "no trace" of the subjectivity and individuality of the poet who wrote it. Thanks to a reader, I have since found an essay by John Henry Newman that confirms and improves my thinking. "Literature," Newman writes,
… is essentially a personal work, it is … the expression of that one person's ideas and feelings, — ideas and feelings personal to himself, though others may have parallel and similar ones, — proper to himself in the same sense as his voice, his air, his countenance, his carriage, and his action, are personal. In other words, Literature expresses, …
Oct. 15, 2012, at 10:01pm
“What were you thinking?”
It’s finally happened: I’ve been a mother so long that I now address the All-Wise God like one of my kids, maybe a recalcitrant toddler or a teenager in the throes of a mood swing—someone who needs to be encouraged to think rationally. But this was the prayer that kept coming to mind when I heard the news that our friend Peter
had died suddenly and altogether unexpectedly.
I’m abandoning my futile attempts to try to write about something else this week. Luckily, Peter is relevant to personalism, if only because by age 23 he had already “become who he was,” as John Paul the Great urges everybody to do.
Everyone who knew him could have easily imagined him …continue reading
Oct. 12, 2012, at 12:57pm
October 12 is a big day for personalists of our stripe. It is the birthday of both Edith Stein (1891) and Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889).
To mark the happy occasion, a characterically personalist passage from each:
In order to understand the nature of the heart, we must realize that in many respects the heart is more the real self of the person than his intellect or will.
In the moral sphere it is the will which has the character of a last, valid word. Here the voice of our free spiritual center counts above all.
We find the true self primarily in the will. In many other domains, however, it is the heart which is the most intimate part of the person, the core, the real self, rather …
Oct. 11, 2012, at 9:37am
Today, the first day of the Year of Faith proclaimed by the Pope, is also the 50th anniversary of the convening of Vatican II. George Weigel has an article on the Council at National Review Online. He writes of how different it looks 50 years out from how it looked at the beginning, when Hans Küng was riding high and so much doctrine seemed obsolete.
Then, in yet another unexpected twist in the story-line, two men of genius, both men of the Council, arose to provide the Church with authoritative keys for properly interpreting the documents of Vatican II. That, history will likely show, was the great task taken on by the unexpected Polish pope, John Paul II (who as a hitherto-obscure …
Oct. 8, 2012, at 4:31pm
The other day, my son and I had the following conversation:
Mama: Gabe, why don’t you go play with the toys?
Gabe: Wah! Wah! You’re FORCING me to play with toys!
Mama: Well, what do you WANT to do?
Gabe: I WANT to play with toys, but you can’t make me!
There you have it: love of free will run amok. Gabe is four, but his line of reasoning is common in teenagers,
and even in much older people who really ought to know better.
The core of the Gabe Axiom is this:
The object of my choice doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is I who choose it.
The extremist version (which, unhappily, my son appears to espouse) goes like this:
I will accept even something good and desirable only if …
Oct. 7, 2012, at 11:21pm
Back in August, I posted a reflection on Boys Love, Not Just to Hit, But to Get Hit. Are Girls the Same? In the meantime, I came across an article on the sports page, citing Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys, as having a similar attitude—inspired by the oath of the Navy SEALS.
Witten came back from a spleen injury to help lead the Cowboys over the World Champion Giants in the first game of the year. His toughness, dedication and grit were an inspiration to the team—much like the injured Willis Reed in game 7 of the NBA championship in 1970, beating my beloved Lakers. Witten said he was inspired by a meeting with the Navy SEALS in San Diego during training camp. He hung a section of …continue reading
Oct. 5, 2012, at 8:33pm
Last February, Steven Hayward wrote a provocative post in the Corner warning conservatives against the "semantic infiltration of 'values'". To use the term, he argued, is to concede vital territory to our opponents. The point is, “values” is a term derived from philosophical subjectivism (specifically from Nietzschean nihilism), and as such makes a huge rhetorical concession to moral relativism. Conservatives shouldn’t use it.
Needless to say (in this forum), I agree with Hayward's rejection of subjectivism and moral relativism. But, I think he's wrong to assume that the term itself involves us in any concessions to those evils. Further, I think conservatives make the mistake of …continue reading