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Involuntary self-revelations

The 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’.

Roger Scruton

Sexual Desire

Katie van Schaijik

Scruton on giving

Apr. 3, 2010, at 11:00pm

Even if you have only a little leisure for reading, try not to miss this offering by the great Roger Scruton.  He is not a Catholic, but he is a true philosopher and an intuitive personalist.  Note how like John Paul II he sounds:

When I give something I am present in the gift: it comes from me and is a symbol and an out-growth of the free self that is the moral heart of me. The gift comes wrapped in affection, an out-going of me to you that is created by the very act of giving. Even if the gift belongs to a context of ritual and reciprocity, it is something more than a bargain or a contractual exchange. It is I, going out to you.

I’d like to add many more quotes, but lack time.  Do read the whole thing.


Katie van Schaijik

Penitence

Mar. 31, 2010, at 11:41pm

I am entering the Easter Triduum feeling overwhelmed as never before in my life with the tides of evil that seem to be sweeping the Church and society.

Now comes ray of light from the Vatican:

Pope Benedict XVI sees the priestly sex scandal as a “test for him and the church,” his spokesman said Wednesday, as bishops around Europe used Holy Week’s solemn call for penitence to announce new pledges of transparency in dealing with the abuse of children.

And from Cardinal Shoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna, at a service for victims:

“Thank you for breaking your silence,” Schoenborn told the victims. “A lot has been broken open. There is less looking away. But there is still a lot to do.”

God’s arm is not too short to save.
Full article here.


Katie van Schaijik

The priority of the personal in human happiness

Mar. 30, 2010, at 1:12pm

Interesting David Brooks column in today’s New York Times that begins by pointing to the case of Sandra Bullock (who won a Best Actress Oscar days before her marriage publicly fell apart) and asking whether readers would rather have a good marriage or a great career triumph.

Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

This is more than intuitive wisdom.

This is the age of research, so there’s data to back this up. Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been studying happiness. Their work, which seemed flimsy at first, has developed an impressive rigor, and one of the key findings is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.

And it’s not just marriage.  It’s interpersonal relationships in general.

If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).

Brooks proposes that our institutions begin paying more attention to the non-material factors in human well-being.  I’m all for it.


Katie van Schaijik

The personification of evil

Mar. 29, 2010, at 1:18pm

Two names given by Holy Scripture to the devil came to mind reading this article: Father of Lies and Legion.

According to some of the testimonies given to the apostolic visitors in recent months, some in this group knew about the founder’s double life, about the carnal acts he performed with many of his seminarians over the span of decades, about his lovers, his children, his drug use. But in spite of that, a fortress was built around Maciel in defense of his virtues, devotion to him was fostered among his followers, all of them unaware of the truth, his talents were emphasized, even among the upper hierarchy of the Church. This exaltation of the figure of the founder was so effective that even today it inspires the sense of belonging to the Legion among many of its priests and religious.

The cohesion of the leadership group, originating from its decades-long connection with Maciel, endures today in the bond that binds and subordinates everyone to Corcuera, and even more to Garza.

Garza concentrates two key posts in himself. He is vicar general, with control of administration, and he is the director of the congregation’s Italian province, headquartered in Rome, where the Vatican is. He took this second post shortly before the beginning of the apostolic visit, transferring his predecessor, Jacobo Muñoz, to the province of France and Ireland.

But in addition to this, Garza is the creator and absolute master of Grupo Integer, the holding company that acts as treasury and administrative center for all the works of the Legion in the world, with assets totaling an estimated 25 billion euros.

This groups with assets in tens of billions of dollars routinely send out fundraising appeals asking for money for its poor seminarians, who don’t have enough food of heat. 

I am finding it increasingly difficult to trust or respect anyone who remains affiliated in any way with this travesty of a religious order.


Katie van Schaijik

John Allen on Benedict’s handling of the issue

Mar. 29, 2010, at 12:02pm

Right after linking the Weigel piece below, I found this op-ed by John Allen in today’s New York Times. It’s good—as is a National Catholic Reporter article he wrote on the same theme a week or two ago.

The outside world is outraged, rightly, at the church’s decades of ignoring the problem. But those who understand the glacial pace at which change occurs in the Vatican understand that Benedict, admittedly late in the game but more than any other high-ranking official, saw the gravity of the situation and tried to steer a new course.

Be that as it may, Benedict now faces a difficult situation inside the church. From the beginning, the sexual abuse crisis has been composed of two interlocking but distinct scandals: the priests who abused, and the bishops who failed to clean it up. The impact of Benedict’s post-2001 conversion has been felt mostly at that first level, and he hasn’t done nearly as much to enforce new accountability measures for bishops.

That, in turn, is what makes revelations about his past so potentially explosive. Can Benedict credibly ride herd on other bishops if his own record, at least before 2001, is no better? The church’s legitimacy rests in large part on that question.


Katie van Schaijik

Weigel on the sex scandals in the Church

Mar. 29, 2010, at 11:50am

This First Things article by George Weigel is worth reading. But I don’t find it entirely satisfying.

It’s not only those who are out to get the Church who are pushing this issue. It’s also those who love her most, and those who have been scandalized and appalled not only by the abuses themselves, but by the wretchedly inadequate response of the bishops so far.

And who can be mollified by statistics showing that the sexual abuse of minors happens as much elsewhere in society as it does in the Church? The outrage is that it was done by priests. It’s very depressing to hear bishops and the Vatican now complaining that the media is out to get them.


Katie van Schaijik

What is criticism?

Mar. 26, 2010, at 12:45am

Many and many is the time in my adult life I have tried to wave the banner for criticism—tried to rally fellow Christians to do it more, accept it more.   Socrates explained why way back: The one who proves me wrong is my greatest benefactor—because nothing is worse and more damaging to the soul than to commit wrong. It follows that those who show me where I’m going wrong do me great good.
Christians—so conscious of our imperfections and enjoined to be humble—should recognize that reality all the more, shouldn’t we? Don’t we know we are blind to our own faults? Don’t we see how many good works and good institutions have gone awry because they have shut their ears to honest criticism?
Yet, endlessly, those who criticize (I know because by vocation I’m one of them) are rejected for being “negative” and accused of “attacking” when we mean only to challenge or correct or admonish. The mention of an offense is received as an outrage—proof of non-friendship: “Obviously, you don’t like me”. The pointing out of a substantial flaw in approach is treated as Satanic persecution of a “good person” or a “work of God”. I’ve never understood this. I’ve been shocked and depressed by it. I’ve lost friends, and had to sever ties with certain causes and institutions because of it.
And, being a self-critic too, I sometimes suppose the break must be my fault. And sometimes it is. (I criticized without grace or sensitivity perhaps.) But sometimes it’s not. Regardless, criticism itself remains highly called for.
I have just come across a quote from a film critic (in a First Things article) (hat tip Arts and Letters Daily), Pauline Kael, that captures the point perfectly: “Criticism is all that stands between the public and advertising.” That’s it!
The critic plays in community the role of conscience in personal life—abuse-stopper, bogosity detector, discriminator, prophet. Without him we’re too prone to sensation and manipulation. Also, without him we’re all too likely to be content with mediocrity.

In this connection, I have to say that Roger Kimball’s Notes and Asides in the current issue of the New Criterion is worth the price of a year’s subscription to that excellent journal. Here is a sample paragraph (referring to Anthony Daniel’s critique of Ayn Rand, which I mentioned and excerpted in a post below.)

The New Criterion is primarily a journal of criticism. Anthony Daniels’s essay on Ayn Rand is a percipient exercise in that art. This is something that Rand’s acolytes cannot abide. Never mind that, early on in his piece, Dr. Daniels enumerates what he takes to be Rand’s virtues: “She was highly intelligent; she was brave and uncompromising in defense of her ideas; she had a kind of iron integrity; and, though a fierce defender of capitalism, she was by no means avid for money herself. The propagation of truth as she saw it was far more important to her than her own material ease.” The fact that he goes on to dilate on her limitations and vices puts him beyond the pale for the Randian faithful. Dr. Daniels has assured us privately that the followers of Virginia Woolf are even more intolerant of criticism than the followers of Ayn Rand. Perhaps. If so, their intellectual sclerosis must be complete.

I am sorry to say that in my experience the brittle intolerance-of-criticism of Ayn Rand devotees is not unlike what I have found among many Christians.


Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience 5

Mar. 25, 2010, at 5:12pm

See below for the 5th and last part of the comments elicited by Katie's post on Conscience

Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience 4

Mar. 25, 2010, at 4:12pm

See below for the 4th part of the comments elicited by Katie's post on Conscience

Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience 3

Mar. 25, 2010, at 3:12pm

See below for the 3rd part of the comments elicited by Katie's post on Conscience

Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience 2

Mar. 25, 2010, at 2:12pm

See below for the 2nd part of the comments elicited by Katie's post on Conscience

Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience

Mar. 25, 2010, at 1:12pm

A friendly behind-the-scenes dispute with a Linde reader on the topic of religious liberty has reminded me once again how widespread is the confusion about the nature of conscience in our day. Many take it to be nothing other than a license for religious and moral subjectivism. The duty to act according to conscience is twisted into a right to do whatever I want so long as I don’t see anything wrong with it.

So when a traditionalist Catholic hears someone (like me) claiming (as I do) that religious liberty is an imperative of human dignity, he thinks he is hearing a defense of relativism. When I say (following Newman) that conscience is the voice of God speaking in the human soul, he understands me to absurdly and dangerously identifying all sincere ideas and intentions with the voice of God.

My desire to clear up the misunderstanding sent me back to Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk section on conscience. In it Newman clearly distinguishes between a false and contemptible notion of conscience popular in his day (and ours) and the truth about conscience.

When [today] men advocate the rights of conscience, they…do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman’s prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one’s leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.

If this is a person’s idea of conscience, it is no wonder that he thinks that the notion of religious liberty threatens the objectivity of truth! In fact, though, conscience properly understood, is nothing other than the subjective apprehension of moral truth and its implication for me as a free moral agent, answerable before God for my actions. Here is Newman again [my bold]:

I say, then, that the Supreme Being is of a certain character, which, expressed in human language, we call ethical. He has the attributes of justice, truth, wisdom, sanctity, benevolence and mercy, as eternal characteristics in His nature, the very Law of His being, identical with Himself; and next, when He became Creator, He implanted this Law, which is Himself, in the intelligence of all His rational creatures. The Divine Law, then, is the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority in the presence of men and Angels. “The eternal law,” says St. Augustine, “is the Divine Reason or Will of God, commanding {247} the observance, forbidding the disturbance, of the natural order of things.” “The natural law,” says St. Thomas, “is an impression of the Divine Light in us, a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature.” (Gousset, Theol. Moral., t. i. pp. 24, &c.) This law, as apprehended in the minds of individual men, is called “conscience;” and though it may suffer refraction in passing into the intellectual medium of each, it is not therefore so affected as to lose its character of being the Divine Law, but still has, as such, the prerogative of commanding obedience. “The Divine Law,” says Cardinal Gousset, “is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the fourth Lateran Council says, ‘Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ædificat ad gehennam.’”

So, as I put it to my traditionalist partner in dialogue:

The thing to do, when conscience is so widely and badly misconceived is to correct the misconception, not give in to it, and then treat conscience as something dangerous and doubtful and needing to be kept on a tight leash by authorities.

It is a great mistake for Catholics to think they can advance the cause of Truth by suppressing or downplaying or curtailing the rights of conscience. Only a laity with strong, free and clear consciences can possibly meet the emergency of our times. That’s why Vatican II made it so central a part of its teaching. A legalistic ethos that renders Catholics immaturely dependent on external authority will not answer.

Like Newman, my interest in freedom has everything to do with my interest in Truth and my interest in persons. Conscience is where Truth (highest, most momentous Truth) and persons meet, in the intimate interior of the soul. Hence, those who want to stifle conscience or limit its scope are—whether they realize it or not—calling for the oppression of persons—calling for them to be less intimate with God, less personally unified with Truth, more dependent on external authority.

You want consciences to be well and properly formed. Very good. So do I. But to do that we have to know what conscience is in the first place, viz. the voice of God in the human soul.


Katie van Schaijik

The nanny becomes a bully

Mar. 23, 2010, at 10:46am

The Australian think tank Institute of Public Affairs has published an insightful article by Patrick Basham (hat tip Mark Levin) foretelling the coming of the bully state. Governmental paternalism leads inexorably to governmental strong-arming. Concern for public health rapidly becomes demand for “healthy behavior”, quickly followed by all manner of coercion.

The past generation of welfare statism saw the unduly protective Nanny State bleed into every sinew of our daily lives. Sociologist David Marsland explains that, ‘Once you have a big welfare state in place, the excuse for state nannying is infinite in scale’, he says. ‘This ... continues the process of reducing self-reliance and handing responsibility for ourselves to external bodies.’

Yet, just when you thought things could not get worse, they did. Two years ago, Oxford University’s Nuffield Council of Bioethics published a seminal report that provided the international public health establishment with the explicit rationale for a dramatic change in the relationship between the citizen and the State.

Of course, the implications of the Nuffield Report extend far beyond health. Given the expansive way in which health is now defined, the state’s power to enforce behavioural change on individuals reaches considerably beyond the current notion of what falls within health care.


Katie van Schaijik

Power vs. service

Mar. 18, 2010, at 3:32pm

A quote from Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals (posted at the Corner by Andy McCarthy just now) expresses the cynical opposite of authentic personalism as well as the Christian gospel.

It is a world not of angels but of angles, where men speak of moral principles but act on power principles; a world where we are always moral and our enemies always immoral; a world where “reconciliation” means that when one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it, then we have reconciliation[.]

Personalism seeks to replace the dynamics of power with the dynamics of love and service, because these are the only dynamics worthy of the dignity of persons, the ones we were made for, the ones in which we can flourish.


Katie van Schaijik

The de-personalizing Legion of Christ

Mar. 16, 2010, at 11:35am

I’ll have more to say on this article soon.


Katie van Schaijik

Christians in public

Mar. 11, 2010, at 11:51am

A friend pointed me to this recent address by Denver Archbishop Chaput on religion and public life. He approaches the subject by way of a thoughtful critique of a landmark speech by presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to a group of Protestant ministers fifty years ago—a speech designed to allay fears about Kennedy’s Catholicism influencing his politics.

To his credit, Kennedy said that if his duties as President should “ever require me to violate my conscience or violate the national interest, I would resign the office.” He also warned that he would not “disavow my views or my church in order to win this election.” But in its effect, the Houston speech did exactly that. It began the project of walling religion away from the process of governance in a new and aggressive way. It also divided a person’s private beliefs from his or her public duties. And it set “the national interest” over and against “outside religious pressures or dictates.”
For his audience of Protestant ministers, Kennedy’s stress on personal conscience may have sounded familiar and reassuring. But what Kennedy actually did, according to Jesuit scholar Mark Massa, was something quite alien and new. He “‘secularize[d]’ the American presidency in order to win it.” In other words, “[P]recisely because Kennedy was not an adherent of that mainstream Protestant religiosity that had created and buttressed the ‘plausibility structures’ of [American] political culture at least since Lincoln, he had to ‘privatize’ presidential religious belief – including and especially his own – in order to win that office.”

The archbishop, again following Massa, points out that the secularization that followed as a consequence of Kennedy’s stress on separation of church and state is partly the fault of Protestant resistance to Catholics in public office.

[S]ome of the same people who worried publicly about Kennedy’s Catholic faith got a result very different from the one they expected. In effect, “the raising of the [Catholic] issue itself went a considerable way toward ‘secularizing’ the American public square by privatizing personal belief. The very effort to ‘safeguard’ the [essentially Protestant] religious aura of the presidency . . . contributed in significant ways to its secularization.”

Then he shifts to the remedy: A renewal of Christian action in public life—action grounded not on a theory or program, but on the personal influence of (mostly) laymen living lives rooted in a personal relationship with Christ.

Christian faith is not a set of ethics or doctrines. It’s not a group of theories about social and economic justice. All these things have their place. All of them can be important. But a Christian life begins in a relationship with Jesus Christ; and it bears fruit in the justice, mercy and love we show to others because of that relationship.


Katie van Schaijik

Satanism in the Vatican

Mar. 10, 2010, at 10:01pm

The only part of the story about the chief exorcist’s claims that Satan is at work in the Vatican (including among Cardinals and Bishops) I find impossible to believe is this comment from another Roman exorcist repudiating the charge:

“Cardinals might be better or worse, but all have upright intentions and seek the glory of God,” he said.”


Katie van Schaijik

Freedom has to come from within

Mar. 9, 2010, at 11:34am

I was a supporter of the Iraq invasion at the time. But a comment by Daniel Pipes in the Corner this morning expresses well my worries now.

“It takes a cynical mind not to share in the achievement of Iraq’s national elections.” So writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board today. I’m no cynic, but my mood about Iraq could variously be described as depressed, despairing, despondent, dejected, pessimistic, melancholic, and gloomy.

That’s because the Iraqi regime (along with those of Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority) is a kept institution that cannot survive without constant American support. As long as Washington pumps money and sacrifices lives to maintain the Baghdad government, the latter can hobble along. Remove those props and Iranian-backed Islamists soon take over.

Tehran has aspired to seize effective control of Iraq since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. With many levers at hand, from mosques to schools to militias to politicians, the Iranian despots are well placed to inherit the country.

It does no good to remove a tyrant militarily if the moral conditions that allowed his rise to power remain in force on the ground.  We would have done much better, I now think, to support internal resistance.


Katie van Schaijik

Al Qaida calls for more murder

Mar. 7, 2010, at 1:52pm

Speaking of fanaticism and intimidation in religion, now this.

Al-Qaida’s American-born spokesman on Sunday called on Muslims serving in the U.S. armed forces to emulate the Army major charged with killing 13 people in Fort Hood…

“Nidal Hasan is a pioneer, a trailblazer and a role-model who has opened a door, lit a path and shown the way forward for every Muslim who finds himself among the unbelievers,” Gadahn said.
In the latest video, Gadahn said those planning attacks did not need to use only firearms like Hasan, but could use other weapons. “As the blessed operations of September 11th showed, a little imagination and planning and a limited budget can turn almost anything into a deadly, effective and convenient weapon.”
Gadahn said fighters should target mass transportation systems in the West and also wreak havoc “by killing or capturing people in government, industry and the media.”


Katie van Schaijik

Intimidation vs. freedom in religion

Mar. 7, 2010, at 12:58pm

Several years ago Jules and I heard Cardinal Schönborn give a lecture about the then newly released Catechism of the Catholic Church. Afterwards, someone in the audience asked the Cardinal what the Church was going to do about dissenting theologians and catechists. He answered with moving humility that he himself, who had headed the group that had authored the catechism, had been unable to stop the teaching of heterodoxy in his own diocese of Vienna. Then he told us that he had recently found himself sitting beside a highly-placed Muslim cleric on an airplane who had asked a similar question: Why did the Church not crack down on dissent within its ranks? His response was to point to the mystery of freedom in the Christian vision.

Yesterday I spoke with a friend who had just run into a friend of hers and discovered that he had left the Church months ago. She was full of sorrow for him and remorse that she had not even known—had done nothing to reach out to him. She prayed with him on the spot and recommitted herself to being a better friend from here on out.

When Ayaan Hirsi Ali was asked whether she was concerned about the influence of fundamentalist Christians in our society, she said (paraphrasing from memory), “No. When Christians ask me if I’m a believer and I say, ‘no’, they don’t try to kill me; they say they’ll pray for me.”

After posting the entry below, I found (by way of the Drudge Report) another article, this one in the New York Times, on Scientology and its defectors. It featured a young couple who had been raised in Scientology, who had been true believers and had dedicated themselves to working for it for years. Over time, witnessing the way staff were treated, and sensing the whole thing was a giant sham, they grew disillusioned and wanted to leave. But,

They could not just up and go. For one, they said, the church had taken their passports. But even more important, they knew that if they left the Sea Org without going through the church’s official exit process, they would be declared “suppressive persons” — antisocial enemies of Scientology. They would lose the possibility of living for eternity. Their parents, siblings and friends who are Scientologists would have to disconnect completely from them, or risk being declared suppressive themselves.

“You’re in fear,” Mr. Collbran said. “You’re so into it, it’s everything you know: your family, your eternity.”

I am appreciating more and more the place of freedom in personal life, and the wrong of all forms of coercion and intimidation in religion. And I am thanking God for the radical difference on that score between Christianity and other faiths.

UPDATE: Later in the NYT article, a current spokesman for the church of Scientology defends their practice of shunning apostates this way:

Mr. Davis, the church’s current spokesman, said Scientologists are no different from Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish who practice shunning or excommunication.

“These are common religious tenets,” he said. “The very survival of a religion is contingent on its protecting itself.”

Excommunication in the Catholic Church, as I understand it, is not something the faithful do to the sinner, so much as what the sinner does to himself. In any case, it does not entail shunning the ex-communicant personally. It means rather that he may not receive the Sacraments of the Church unless and until he repents.


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