Love and suffering

In the end, even the “yes” to love is a source of suffering, because love always requires expropriations of my “I”, in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded. Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love.

Benedict XVI

Spes Salvi

Jules van Schaijik

Is there any precedent for West’s views in the tradition?

Jun. 21, 2009, at 1:21pm

Even though I agree with Katie’s point (in the previous post) about there being legitimate (even desirable) ways of being “out of step” with Catholic tradition, I would still like to see some evidence for claims such as that “liturgists and theologians from the early days of the Church have understood the Easter Candle just as West does.”

Does anyone know of any?

Katie van Schaijik

Fr. Geiger’s latest on the West debate

Jun. 20, 2009, at 8:38pm

Yesterday a friend sent me Fr. Angelo Geiger’s latest guest post at the Dawn Patrol on the controversy surrounding Christopher West. I have less sympathy with it than I did with his first piece. I think he is unfair to West and his defenders.
For instance, in his first paragraph he identifies part of the debate as being over whether CW’s approach is “out of step with Catholic tradition.” I find this an unhelpfully ambiguous phrase. It seems clearly meant to indicate unsoundness. But there are ways of being “out of step” with the tradition that are thoroughly legitimate. Wasn’t Joan of Arc’s taking on the role of a soldier rather out of keeping with tradition? Couldn’t Dietrich von Hildebrand’s emphasis on love as the meaning of marriage be seen as in some sense novel? Doesn’t Mass in the vernacular represent a certain break with the past? Don’t many people dismiss the charismatic renewal as a whole on the grounds that it is unlike what we are used to in the Church?

In other words, to show that a person’s methodology or “line of thought” is heterodox and “dangerous” (as David Schindler implied of CW’s), it is not enough to show that it is new or unusual or “out of step” with the tradition; you have to show (it seems to me) that it is incompatible with the tradition. I don’t think either Schindler or Fr. Geiger comes close to doing that.

Even if we grant that the Easter candle is primarily meant to symbolize the light of Christ; even if we acknowledge that its form follows its function, why should that preclude the possibility that it may have other connotations as well? If the conjugal union is an icon of the Holy Trinity and the source of new life in the world, why should we be startled or offended by the idea of phallic symbols? Why should we see them as in themselves vulgar or prurient? Does noticing a phallic aspect in a thing mean we are dirty-minded? Is sex something dirty? I think anyone who thinks so DOES (sorry) betray an element of prudishness.

Then there is Fr. Geiger’s strange treatment of Janet Smith. He “rolled his eyes” as she “confessed” to her prudery and says that “she tells us we should all be ashamed if we don’t like the idea of the Easter candle being a phallic symbol.” Where does she tell us anything of the kind? Why must he twist and belittle her remarks? What is wrong in her saying that she has felt challenged by this discussion to consider whether her own reaction might not be somewhat prudish?

Then, I dislike intensely his derisive-sounding use of the term “copulation” in reference to liturgical symbolism. Here I am with Damian Fedoryka. Among persons there is no morally indifferent physical act. There is only either the marital embrace or sexual sin. Hence the dousing of the Easter candle in the holy water font, if it has sexual connotations, would be a symbol of self-giving, procreative spousal love, not “copulation.” Copulating is for animals.

Finally, Fr. Geiger seems to take it for granted it that his own reaction against the idea of sexual imagery intertwined with liturgy and prayers is the normal, natural and right one for all Catholics. But I’d like to know how he can be sure of that. Is it not at least possible that CW is right that we are all much more under the influence of prudishness than we realize; that we are missing a depth dimension in a lot of liturgical symbolism because of it; that we are lacking altogether an adequate appreciation of the centrality and greatness of human sexuality in God’s plan of salvation for the world? Or, if you think that goes too far, what about this: Isn’t it possible that some people are just much more sexually charged and alert than others, so that they notice “signs and symbols” that others miss? And if so, isn’t it great that they find those signs and symbols in their religious life, and not separated from it?

Josef Seifert

But are we free? Five questions

Jun. 20, 2009, at 11:04am

But are we free? Do we possess freedom? And can we know this with our pure human reason or only accept it on faith? We need to distinguish here five questions, two general and three more specific ones:

(1) What is the nature of freedom? In what does it consist? This we must understand not only in order to assert the existence of human freedom but also in order to deny it. If we did not know WHAT freedom is and what we mean by this word, we could neither assert nor deny the existence of freedom because we would not understand at all what we are saying when we say “We are free” or what we are stating when we claim “We are not free.” Both judgments make no sense without understanding what freedom is.
(2) The second fundamental and quite independent question is: Does freedom exist?

This second question can again be divided into three distinct questions:
(a) whether human (and angelic) freedom or
(b) [only] divine freedom or
(c) both human and divine freedom do exist.

A most fundamental question for all our understanding of the human person, is no doubt whether WE are free, whether human freedom exists.

But can we truly know that we are free? Before we can answer the question whether we are free and how we can know this, we have to inquire into the nature of freedom, as we have already said. But this first huge question has to be tackled another time.

Katie van Schaijik

Forgiveness retreat

Jun. 19, 2009, at 12:36pm

A couple of weeks ago the Personalist Project hosted its first advisers and directors retreat. We gathered for three days of leisurely philosophical communion on the theme of forgiveness in beautiful Spring Lake, NJ. I hope to share some of the fruit of our discussions soon. Meanwhile, here is a photo of the participants.

From left to right:
- Mike Wallacavage, who received his MA in philosophy from the IAP.
- Jill Burkemper, PhD, of Saint Louis University.
- John Henry Crosby, Founder and Director of the Hildebrand Legacy Project
- Peter Colosi, PhD, of Charles Borromeo Seminary
- Michael Healy, PhD, of Franciscan University
- Wendy Laurento, West Chester lawyer, who also has an MA in theology
- Peter Damgaard-Hansen, PhD, Danish licensed psychologist
- Maria Fedoryka, PhD, of Ave Maria University
- Katie van Schajik
- Fr. Philip Forlano of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
- Jules van Schaijik, PhD

Katie van Schaijik

Closed posts, open discussion

Jun. 13, 2009, at 7:39am

Because some of our discussions of questions of sexual morality were becoming rather too detailed and explicit for so open a forum, we have closed them temporarily while we figure out how to continue them without crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

Just what those lines are is open for discussion.  On the one hand, the Christian personalists of this forum recognize and wish to defend and cultivate in ourselves and others a sense of the essential mysteriousness and intimacy of the sexual sphere.  On the other hand, there is a growing feeling, at least in many of us, that much more and much more open discussion is called for as part of the ethical task of Christian philosophers in our day. 

It may be seen as a valuable and necessary service to those who have honest questions, to those who are burdened by false or inadequate teachings, to those who are infected (perhaps without realizing it) by an inhibiting prudishness, to those who are in vocations (like priesthood, medicine, psychology) where sound and detailed ethical information is urgently needed…

The internet, while it has the “problem” (in this case) of being highly public, also has at least three distinct advantages for our situation.
1) It allows like-minded thinkers and questioners who are geographically far apart to “meet” each other in one place.
2) It allows for genuine dialogue, which is an especially fruitful way of approaching difficult ethical questions.  Thinkers can offer tentative opinions, raise questions, and challenge each other’s reasoning without having to dedicate months or years to research toward a fully-developed idea.  Ideas are worked out in communion with other minds.  “Onlookers” naturally imbibe a sense of how philosophy works and of how not open-and-shut many questions are.  Everyone learns.
3) The “virtuality” factor can be seen as a kind of protection.  Readers can enter the discussion and bring their experience to the table anonymously.  I know if I had a “sex issue” in my marriage, I certainly would rather go online for information from Christian ethicists whose basic vision and moral seriousness I trust than go to my parish priest and discuss it with him!

I’d love to know what others think.

Katie van Schaijik

The problem of innocence

Jun. 11, 2009, at 8:20pm

A friend sent an email with some thoughts that technical difficulties prevented her from posting. Here is part of her note:

A sense of innocence is a good thing [A]lthough I supported all the wonderful, life-changing good he [another chastity speaker] did, I wouldn’t want my (then) 11 year old son attending his presentations. When asked why, I said I had been very innocent going into my own marriage (I had, maybe, once seen a naked woman; I know I had never seen a naked man, or even knew what to expect), and I wouldn’t have wanted all the distorted, diseased photos of human anatomy which [this speaker] shows his audience for shock value to follow me into the honeymoon suite. And he said he had never thought of it that way before (i.e., that a teenager in today’s world could still be that innocent), and that I had very legitimate point.

I think so too. And a week ago I would have agreed with all of it without reservation. I must say, though, this whole discussion has caused me to reconsider somewhat. I am wondering, specifically, whether such “extreme innocence” might not be hindering the Christian witness in the world in which we live? I mean, might there be such a thing as too much innocence? Might it (for instance) cause us to hold ourselves too aloof from the culture around us? I ask because I’d like to hear others opinions on the point. My own is unsettled. But I am thinking of St. Patrick. Suppose that to protect his own chastity he had chosen to stay in England rather than return to hedonistic Ireland, saturated as it apparently was in sex and the occult?

Josef Seifert

Why nothing is left of Jewish Christian Faith if we are not free

Jun. 10, 2009, at 11:15am

1. Without acknowledging freedom of the created person, God would be the origin of all evils and thus a hyper-demonic being: Each metaphysics, which denies the freedom of humans and of angels, and more precisely the abuse of freedom, as source and first cause of all the manifold evils that obviously exist in the world blames these evils on God or, if he is an atheist, on an unfree natural cause. In either of these two cases moral evil would not exist at all in humans. Because if humans and angels were determined to be evil, they would be innocent like lambs or like puppets; God, however, as long as his existence is not altogether denied, as the source of all evil and suffering, would be himself evil. Therefore each denying of human and angelic freedom either leads to atheism or to polytheism, or to a transformation of God into a super-demon (infinitely more terrible than Satan, because all evils from the beginning to the end of the world would be God’s fault alone, which cannot be said of Satan. In contrast to Satan’s limited causal role regarding other evils besides his own). If man and angels were not free and if therefore, granted his existence, God had brought into the world all meanness, all lies, all adulteries, all perjuries, rapes, murders, thefts, tortures, hate and envy, genocide and other crimes (including Satan’s and his angels’ sins) or if He had determined angels and humans to commit them, He would be the only ultimate source of evil (which cannot be said of Lucifer). One cannot imagine a more terrible destruction of the idea of God. God would be an Anti-God. In this case, Ivan Karamazov’s rebellion against God as responsible for all evils would be wholly justified.

2. Without divine freedom there could not be any contingent world and particularly no created free person: The origin of non-necessary beings in the world, and particularly of created free agents, could not be explained without creation being a free act of God, because a contingent and temporal world cannot proceed from God by a necessity rooted in the eternal and necessary divine nature but only from a free divine choice, and even more clearly: never could unfree causes in nature or in God explain the wonder of a free will in finite beings. Freedom in the world can come into being only from a free act of the absolute Being. Therefore, if God were not free, neither the contingent (non-necessarily existent) world nor free agents in it could exist. Therefore, do deny God’s freedom of choice, still retaining His existence, will lead to some form of pantheism that dissolves human personhood and freedom. Moreover, if the world and even evil flows necessarily from God, God would, if not freely, so necessarily, become the cause of evil as well, as Schelling suggests in his thesis that everything flows with absolute necessity (at least moral necessity) from God.

3. Without divine freedom there would also be no divine holiness: Each adequate idea of God implies His freedom also for another reason: as the condition and origin of His justice, mercy, and Holiness as the highest perfection of any person qua person: Without God’s supremely perfect freedom the core of divine perfection would be null. God would no longer be just, merciful and holy, and hence not God.

4. By denying divine, angelic and human freedom the entire Judeo-Christian revelation is being denied and Holy Scripture rendered a worthless book:
Without freedom, God would not be our creator, nor our redeemer, nor would there be divine forgiveness of sins, nor any reason for gratitude towards God for our creation, redemption or for the forgiveness of our sins, because if these were not works of divine free choice, they would be nothing.
Likewise without freedom of God, of angels and of humans all anthropological contents and teachings of Sacred Scripture and of the Church would lose their foundation: We would not be creatures but some moments in a necessarily self-unfolding life of God. There would be no original sin, no personal sin, no redemption from them, no meaning of the divine commandments, nor of any divine promises. The Sermon on the Mount and the call to holiness would not have any sense any more let alone eternal rewards or punishments. All talk of a purgatory, of moral conscience, of the sacraments of confession and baptism or the unction of the sick would be senseless babbling.

In a word: without freedom no Christianity! And also no Judaism and no Islam which recognize many of the same truths about God and man!
Therefore hardly any truth is more important not only for the metaphysics of the person and our personal life, but also for the Christian and any other theistic faith than this one: that the person, whether human and finite or divine and infinite, is free.

Josef Seifert

Conjugal rights: a further Comment

Jun. 10, 2009, at 4:02am

As far as Saint Paul’s passage cited in the letter to Katie van Schaijik (it being better to get married than to burn) (1 Cor. 7:9) is concerned, I believe that what she indicates in her reply is the deepest, truest and most personalistic interpretation (also found in Pope John Paul II) of this text and of the teaching on marriage as “remedium concupiscentiae”: that the true remedium against concupiscence is the inner transformation of human sexuality into a mutual gift of love that is not just for lust or concupiscence and that, being informed and transformed by “love for the sake of the other person herself”, becomes thus “healed.” Nevertheless, there is still another more obvious and literal meaning of this text that has also to do with the marital rights and duties. If the refusal of marital intercourse leads one’s spouse to sin because of his or her “burning,” it is also for this less noble reason and less sublime meaning of “remedium concupiscentiae,” a serious matter to refuse the spousal act to one’s spouse directly or indirectly by leaving him or her against the other’s will. Also Christ refers to this, and not to marriage as highest spousal communion of love, when he says that a husband who dismisses his wife (which is the most radical way of such refusal), “makes an adulteress of her”.
But of course, to the utmost extent possible to a person, the spousal act should never be just sought and even less conceded just for the sake of stilling the sexual desire of oneself or of the spouse, but be an expression and unique fulfillment of spousal love, a love which Christ compares with the supreme self-giving love of Christ and the Church.
Thus fully agreeing with Michael Healy’s and Grisez’s remarks on “a more literal meaning” of the married person’s rights and duties, I would regard it, like they do, as a grave violation of my married love and marriage vows ever to refuse this “right of my wife over my body” for less than serious reasons, and like Healy I would understand this quite personalistically: not as having myself made into my wife’s sex-slave, but as being part of the “totality” of the gift of my married love, a gift I give to no one else until death shall part us (this of course does not exclude but include the consideration which especially the husband owes to his wife in this regard).

I would only add to all these excellent remarks of Healy that it is a false though widespread idea that Pope John Paul II’s and Hildebrand’s personalist and grandiose vision of marriage as a communion of love has, because they hardly speak of it ever, abolished the meaning of what Saint Paul expresses when he says that no longer the man has a right over his body but his wife and quite equally not the wife but her husband. To bestow this right on the spouse is itself, or ought to be, a unique act of deep love: a perpetual and undivided self-donation.

Hence, while a personalist understanding of marriage and spousal rights will more radically exclude any kind of slave-interpretation of Paul’s words as if the spouses would have an unrestricted right over the other body, to use the other as a mere sex-object, for sex-games or for impure and unworthy acts, that are opposite to the dignity of the marriage act, the personalist understanding implies even more than just a right over each other’s body: namely a certain right over the soul and heart of a person that ought to be given with and in this act: correspondingly, the spouse’s duty is not only to lend his or her body to the other coldly “for the purpose of intercourse,” or “for the purpose of acts which by their nature are capable of being procreative,” but he or she is bound to do so lovingly, to give his or her heart, as deeply as he or she is capable in a certain moment, to the other. Thus, the right I give to my spouse in the consensus involves much more than giving her a right over my body: namely a claim over my loving will and intention, and even over the love of my heart, inasmuch as the voice of my heart, the actualization of my superactual spousal love, even in its affective dimensions, depends on my indirect or cooperative freedom. Therefore, the fulfillment of the spousal duties never must be just that: fulfillment of duties; and the rights over the other’s body are never just that: a right over a body.

In this double way (of excluding a right over the spouse’s body for impure or perverted acts, and of demanding infinitely more than “merely being ready to have intercourse”), I see the personalist vision of love and marriage as a perfection of the traditional teaching on the marriage rights and duties, but as a perfecting it that does not cancel and does not even change but fulfill this teaching such that in its highest form, the spousal act includes but goes beyond all rights and duties, and show itself truly to be that “great mystery” of which Paul speaks and a true image of the perfect loving union and desire for union between Christ and the Church , and a true reflection of God’s own inner-trinitarian, freely given, uncoerced, mutual and perpetual love.

Josef S

Michael Healy

Kissing the Koran

Jun. 9, 2009, at 8:44pm

Kissing the Koran: To What Extent can Christians Regard it as an Inspired Book?

As one of his many acts of reconciliation, Pope John Paul II at one point in his reign accepted a copy of the Koran from an Imam and kissed it “as a sign of respect.” Here is the reference:
The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Rafael, who was present at the time, affirmed that this “gesture” demonstrates that the Pope “has also great respect for Islam.”

Now such a profound gesture of respect also raises the question of the exact status of Mohammed as a “Prophet” and of his “Revelations” (the Koran) from a Christian point of view. Mohammed did seem to receive some special religious messages in his cave and the book itself carries an outspoken “numinous” or religious power to it. However, as Catholics we believe absolutely that God’s public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle John. So how is a believing Christian to interpret Mohammed and the Koran? I wish to review a few possibilities that have arisen historically or that reason might suggest:

1) Some say Mohammed was simply deceived by a demon to promote a “new” religion as a rival to Christianity and with the purpose of stamping Christianity out. Thus the reference in Christian history to “the imposter Mohammed.” There seem to be vast times in Christian history when the name Mohammed is scarcely used without this prior designation. Now in light of the Pope’s gesture, in light of a valid ecumenism, and in light of world situation demanding fraternal respect and cooperation in order to avoid horrors, this would seem to be a very destructive, insulting, and unacceptable approach in the present day. Of course, such a way of speaking, insulting their deeply revered founder, is also not at all helpful toward attracting and converting Muslims, toward inspiring them to take a fresh look at Christ as really the God-Man, rather than merely a highly respected forerunner to Mohammed. Nor is this approach justified in light of the fact that there is much good and truth in their religion (even if as Christians we believe these dimensions go back mainly Old and New Testaments and the early years of the Church, i.e. borrowed from the Judeo-Christian tradition itself).

2) Some think Mohammed simply deceived himself into thinking he was having revelations and was a victim of his own pride and vanity here (or even epileptic fits). Again, not the best first step in trying to appeal to Muslims to think seriously about taking a fresh look at Christ, i.e. simply calling their founding hero either sick, a psycho, or an egomaniac. All of the objections raised in Point #1 count here as well. We as Christians know that if someone opens up insulting Jesus Christ, our natural reaction is to turn away from or be highly suspicious of their further message. It follows that Muslims would react in the same way if we insult Muhammad.

3) I think it could be argued that Mohammed may actually have received private revelations from above in his cave near Mecca. However, a difficulty here is that the standard Muslim interpretation is that Mohammed was a pure vessel of the revelation of God directly, i.e., that nothing in his personality or milieu touched or effected the “revelations” in any way, but that they are God talking directly from heaven through a chosen mouthpiece. This interpretation, of course, Christians would have to reject. But Christians could accept that Mohammed did receive private revelations from a messenger of God but that in fact those revelations were filtered through the human vessel of his personality. Thereby those private revelations may have been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and distorted: a) by Mohammed’s own personal faults, b) by his reception of the revelations in light of his surrounding milieu through which he would naturally have interpreted them, and c) by interpreting his private revelations in the context of his incomplete, faulty, and distorted contact with Jewish and Christian scriptures and beliefs. I think this third possibility is a real one that acknowledges some supernatural origin to the Koran (the OT and NT as remote causes, private revelations interpreted by a fallible human being as the immediate cause).

4) However, a problem arises with Point #3 even within the Islamic tradition itself (often not a popular topic of discussion, and disputed by some as to historical accuracy, but with evidence for the historicity of the account) in that Mohammed himself admitted at one point that he was deceived by Satan in certain of his revelations (the “Satanic verses”). In a crisis situation, while under persecution by the Meccans, he seems to have proclaimed that the 3 goddesses worshipped by the Meccans were valid objects of worship for his followers (contradicting his monotheism). This caused the Meccans to stop the persecution of the Muslims and to flock to Mohammed. However, he later claimed he was deceived by Satan in this proclamation about the three goddesses and rejected this “new” teaching. Then the persecution returned. Yet Mohammed himself seems to admit error here in being deceived by Satan. [Note that some Muslims today deny the historical accuracy of the “Satanic Verses” account, and threaten with death anyone who speaks of them. However, some even within Islam accept the historicity of the account.]

So in light of all this, it seems to me that in trying to interpret the status of the Koran as a holy book, we may have some entangled combination of (now listed in order of importance):

1) some genuine remnants of God’s true revelation as delivered to the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament and fulfilled in Christ in the New Testament (yet distorted, misunderstood and only partially known by Mohammed),

2) some actual private revelations from a divine messenger to Mohammed (yet again at times distorted and misunderstood in various ways in their interpretation by both Mohammed and his followers when passing through the human vessel),

3) some interjection of purely human dynamism via Mohammed’s own charismatic and complicated personality and human faults, and …

4) some possibility of deception by Satan himself, as seemingly admitted in at least one case by Mohammed himself.

It seems to me the most fruitful attitude to adopt today in a respectful and ecumenical approach to Islam would be to more emphasize the positive possibilities of the above and then to try to show how Islam and the Koran actually point toward and are fulfilled by Christ, despite Muslim claims that it is the other way around. [One can also build such arguments to some extent from within the Koran itself, though of course this is not the “orthodox” Muslim mode of interpretation. My son Michael happens to be working on just this perspective for his doctoral dissertation for the International Academy of Philosophy.]

So we as Christians can acknowledge that the Koran contains many elements of God’s genuine supernatural revelation traced back to the Old and New Testaments and the early centuries of the Church, some private revelations to Mohammed, and some insights on the level of human experience and reasoning, together with distortions, exaggerations, omissions, and deceptions that may have come from human or devilish origin. Pope John Paul II seemed to think there was enough good here to give the book a solemn and respectful kiss.

Katie van Schaijik

Not bragging, just marveling at the internet phenom

Jun. 9, 2009, at 12:29pm

Since we launched the Personalist Project, I have heard by email from the Amazon jungle, from China, from the Phillipines, the Middle East, and Europe. The other day we heard from someone who had found us through Google. He’s Polish, working on an Australian oil rig, and reading Josef Seifert’s book, Back to Things in Themselves.

Katie van Schaijik

Conjugal rights

Jun. 9, 2009, at 11:26am

I just got this good question by email from a friend who studied personalist philosophy as an undergrad. It’s one that comes up often in Catholic circles.

Dear Katie,
Have just happened upon the excitement on your website as I was searching for a good definition of Personalist philosophy to send to someone here in—.
Just out of interest (and because I am working two jobs for the foreseeable future and don’t have time to explore all the good links on your website), can you tell me if the issue of “It is better to marry than to burn with passion” 1 Corinthians 7:9 has come up yet in your discussions. This has always rankled, as it seems to condone the using of one’s spouse as an object. However, in certain Church circles, I am told that this is morally acceptable. This is closely allied with the concept of “conjugal rights”, which also mystifies me. If a woman (and it is almost always this way around) has had her trust in her husband eroded by anger and/or violence, subjectively, for her, conjugal relations can become something akin to physical violation. As a sponsor [in a 12-step program], I come up against this problem a lot.

Here is the response I sent:

Our discussions are just getting off the ground, so only a few topics have been raised. Maria Fedoryka has some great thoughts on “conjugal rights”, which I’ll see if I can entice her to share. Basically the idea behind “better to marry than burn” and “remedy for concupiscence” is that true spousal love can overcome the tendency to treat sex as a mere appetite and another person as an object for my pleasure.
As for conjugal rights I see it this way: when a woman pledges herself to her husband she is his alone. She had no right to give herself sexually or romantically to anyone else. It does not mean that her husband has a right to enjoy her sexually whenever he pleases. He still has a duty in love to try win by his love a response of love in her. She has a duty to be open to his love, not necessarily his sexual advances—especially if she senses that they are impure.

Katie van Schaijik

Violence in the Koran vs. the Old Testament

Jun. 8, 2009, at 11:34am

There is a fascinating article in the current issue of the Middle East Quarterly on the question of violence in religion. Its author, Raymond Ibrahim, takes issue with those who contend that there is no significant difference between the place of violence in the Muslim and Judeo-Christian traditions.
Here’s an excerpt:

In light of the above, as Armstrong, Esposito, Jenkins, and others argue, why should Jews and Christians point to the Qur’an as evidence of Islam’s violence while ignoring their own scriptures and history?

Bible versus Qur’an

The answer lies in the fact that such observations confuse history and theology by conflating the temporal actions of men with what are understood to be the immutable words of God. The fundamental error is that Judeo-Christian history (which is violent) is being conflated with Islamic theology (which commands violence). Of course, the three major monotheistic religions have all had their share of violence and intolerance towards the other. Whether this violence is ordained by God or whether warlike men merely wished it thus is the key question.

Old Testament violence is an interesting case in point. God clearly ordered the Hebrews to annihilate the Canaanites and surrounding peoples. Such violence is therefore an expression of God’s will, for good or ill. Regardless, all the historic violence committed by the Hebrews and recorded in the Old Testament is just that: history. It happened; God commanded it. But it revolved around a specific time and place and was directed against a specific people. At no time did such violence go on to become standardized or codified into Jewish law. In short, biblical accounts of violence are descriptive, not prescriptive.

I would love to see this question, too, taken up by personalist philosophers, especially in view of the imperative of inter-religious dialogue and the problems related to freedom raised, for instance, in Josef Seifert’s post below.

Katie van Schaijik

Secret Faults

Jun. 7, 2009, at 12:51pm

Speaking of Newman:
Last week the Personalist Project sponsored its first Directors and Advisers retreat in beautiful Spring Lake, NJ. Eleven of us gathered for three days of leisurely philosophical communion on the theme of forgiveness. To get us in the right frame of mind for approaching such a mysterious and fearful reality, Michael Healy read us Newman’s sermon, “Secret Faults” on Sunday evening.

I yield to no one in devotion to Newman. To me he is the great thinker of the whole modern period, as well as an unsurpassed personal influence. But I have doubts about this sermon. I remember John Crosby once saying that the more he reads Newman’s Anglican sermons, the more he feels in them “a certain limit.” Specifically, John thought, they seem to lack a certain “Catholic fulness” in the sense of God’s mercy. I felt that limit Sunday.

While I agree line by line with what Newman says in this sermon, I wonder whether in its general drift it doesn’t incline toward a kind of moral heaviness, even skepticism—as if I must at all times cultivate such a lively awareness of my own sinfulness that I must constantly doubt my moral condition and shrink from objecting to wrongs.

This is an unfinished thought, needing much more clarification, but I am wondering whether others on the retreat reacted similarly.

A verse from the second reading at today’s liturgy jumped out at me in this connection:
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

Jules van Schaijik

Here’s hoping that West pays no attention

Jun. 7, 2009, at 12:21pm

I have been following the discussion (on this site) about Christopher West and his presentation of the Theology of the Body and find it all very helpful. Lots of good points made on both sides.  But what is helpful to me and many others on the sidelines, may well be detrimental to West and the beautiful message he is trying to spread.

There is a definite danger (to use Healy’s words) of “nitpicking Chris to death on his presentation.”  He has a message to deliver: too much second guessing would keep him from doing it.  Attempting to anticipate all objections or prevent all possible misunderstandings, would take the life and sparkle out of his talks.  What he might gain in precision and clarity, would, I suspect, be outweighed by what he would lose in effectiveness.

I am reminded of Newman’s response to the suggestion that the “Tracts for the Times” should go through a committee before being published: 

If you correct them…according to the wishes of a board, you will have nothing but tame, dull compositions, which will take no one.
Individuals who are seen and heard, who act and suffer, are the instruments of Providence in all great successes… [If every tract must be] weighed and carefully corrected… they [will] become cold and formal, and (so to say) impersonal. An address with much in it which others question, yet coming from an individual mind, has a life about it which is sure to make an impression.

No one could accuse Newman of having a cavalier attitude towards truth.  It is precisely for the sake of advancing the truth that Newman prefers the uncorrected Tracts coming from an individual mind to the more precise and unobjectionable tracts coming from a committee.

There is a further point here that is worth dwelling on: Newman knows that truth advances at the cost of personal sacrifice.  The individual gets criticized for the incidental mistakes he makes, while the truth he presents goes on and has an impact.  (There is something deeply fitting and appropriate in this.)

To conclude, I realize that the title of this post is too sweeping.  To simply ignore all criticism is a fault.  But West has a proven record of being open to correction and changing when necessary.  I just hope that he won’t allow himself to get bogged down or discouraged by all the criticism.  That would be a major loss for us all.

Josef Seifert

Are we free?  Are we persons?

Jun. 7, 2009, at 3:16am

The Immense Importance of the Question whether We Are Free

There is hardly anything that could be more fundamental for personalist philosophy, for the understanding of the human being qua person, than the comprehension of the nature of freedom and an answer to the question whether we humans are in fact free. Already a purely philosophical grasp of the person is enough to see the inseparable link between person and freedom so that one can say on purely philosophical-rational grounds: an “unfree person” is a contradictio in adiecto, a contradiction in itself — just like an “iron wood.”

Freedom belongs so essentially to personhood that no being can be called a person if he or she, in principle and as subject awakened to rational conscious life, were entirely determined from without, by physical forces, by his or her own nature, by other persons or even by God — rather than being capable of engendering acts by her free center, by her herself. Even a child’s pre-philosophical experience of freedom is enough to see that if a person were not free, responsibility and morality could not exist, good and evil would be illusions, there would be no guilt, no merit; praise and blame would be just as senseless as punishment and reward, and moral conscience that urges us to do the good when we hesitate doing it and makes present to us our obligations, warns us not to commit evil, or reprimands us for having done something wrong, would be based on a big delusion; promising, breaking or keeping promises, or giving a gift would all cease to be what they are and be reduced to their semblance; gratitude or reproach would all be absurd nonsense — all these dimensions so essential to personal human life would be deprived of their foundation if human persons were not free.
Thus it is not amazing that we encounter profound statements on human freedom in philosophers and cultures of all epochs — in Socrates, Plato, Sophocles, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Augustine, and many others.

Aristotle left us with possibly the most metaphysical characterization and affirmation of human freedom, stating: “For he [man] is the lord over the being and over the non-being of his actions.”

Aristotle calls freedom in other texts “the first principle,” “the cause” and the “master of action”. Hence the common (partly Hegelian) opinion that only Christianity introduced the idea that all human beings are free is not true. We find it very clearly expressed in ancient thought, not only in Plato and Aristotle, but also in Seneca’s magnificent texts insisting that even slaves are free qua human beings.
Nonetheless, what remains true in Hegel’s position is that a full acknowledgment of human, angelic and divine freedom is indeed far more clearly and centrally contained in the contents of the Christian faith than in any other religion or philosophy: Christianity (but in the last analysis also Judaism and Islam) would be an absurdity without human and divine freedom: Without the person possessing freedom, which implies that the free subject is not wholly determined by nature or by any cause extrinsic to herself, none of the chief Christian beliefs would be true. One might say without exaggeration: the entire internal structure of the Christian faith, at least its logical conditions, would break down without humans and angels, and without God truly possessing freedom.

Josef Seifert


Jun. 7, 2009, at 2:09am

I believe that “prudishness” can have quite different meanings and refer to different phenomena:

1. It may consist in a kind of exaggerated or overly great sense of shame and pudor, such as the “insuperable or insurmountable feelings of shame” of a virgin or nun not to undress for a gynecological exam or surgery even at grave risk of her health or life which “horror ingens” some traditional moralists regarded as valid reason for refusing life-saving operations or necessary medical exams. This does not have to imply per se any negative attitude towards sex but is an exaggerated and in this sense “prudish” sense of its intimacy or sacredness and disproportionate fear of the danger of desecration through revealing one’s body to others; another example might be being shocked by or blushing on even the most reverend speaking of sexual matters.

2. It may mean a hypocritical “social” negative attitude towards sex which eliminates or represses, or feels outraged by, or reacts hysterically and negatively, to any even noble speech on sexual matters while (like Queen Elizabeth) one’s private hidden life is full of impurity.

3. It may mean a non-hypocritical and sincerely negative approach to sexuality even in the context of married love because the prudish persons rejects all sexual acts because she feels sexuality as such to be something bad or dirty and something to be shunned or reduced in all its forms.

4. It may mean a kind of “mental cramp” and psychic inability to allow even one’s husband or wife intimate expressions of tenderness or to reveal one’s nakedness to him or her even in married life except to a minimal degree. This can have many roots including a fear of the power of sex and a wish to remain always in cool control, a fear to give oneself fully to any human person, a false sense of piety or purity, an unfounded fear of being touched impurely, a psychic disorder, a confusion of purity with frigidity, a lack of spousal love, disgust of overweight of one’s partner, etc.

There are also many phenomena misnamed prudishness:

4. The caution, appearing ridiculous to Waldstein and perhaps to most of us, taken by a person tempted through masturbation or other impurity, not even to look at his own body or to throw ashes in his bath tub, or to shun looking at Titian’s Venus, Michelangelo’s Adam, etc. This may be prudishness but if it is an action or caution taken for a legitimate fear of offending God through impurity to which one truly is tempted by such sights, it is not prudish at all.

5. The reluctance or refusal to allow truly impure looks, touches, or lustful abuses of one’s body even in marriage. (Rejecting what Wojtyla calls the partner’s “adultery with one’s marriage partner” belongs here). This is purity that has nothing to do with prudishness.

6. Feeling offended by what Alice von Hildebrand calls Chr. West’s vulgar or irreverent language or by his claims that oral sex or anal sex are OK in the foreplay, or that we must be grateful for Hugh Hefner’s, the hero of impurity’s, fight against prudishness (all of which points I for one think deeply false in West’s remarks and on which I do not agree with Waldstein’s, Healy’s or other whole sale defenses of West, but rather with Alice von Hildebrand, even though I think West is basically very good and Schindler’s critique goes completely overboard). Any feeling offended by the many impure, shameless and irreverent ways people demonstrate sex publicly, speak of sex, portray it in movies or pictures, etc. has nothing to do with prudishness, but with purity and a sense of appropriate acts and proper language, wherefore I think that West’s suggesting that a person questioning him on some of these points must have problems of sex is deeply wrong and grounds for his apologizing to the questioner. In spite of some justified criticisms all of us ought to thank West for his many tremendously strong and good points and forgive him is faults such as his “love for Hugh Hefner” or uttering his name in the same breath with Pope John Paul II (of course his true charity for H. and his insisting that his pronorgraphic sexual revolution very wrong, are very good).

There are still many other possible distinctions but I wrote too much already.

Katie van Schaijik

Examples of prudishness

Jun. 6, 2009, at 5:23pm

A questioner at the talks the other night asked the speakers to give examples of things that are prudish and things that would not be prudish. I doubt he was completely satisfied with the response he got, which offered cases that were too obvious to be helpful for those trying to judge borderline cases in the here and now.

But there’s an reason for the speakers’ vagueness, which goes to the heart of things. Prudishness, like chastity and salaciousness, has an inescapable subjective dimension. Since it is often hard to know what is really motivating ourselves, never mind others, we cannot easily judge from the outside whether a given comment is coming from prudishness or salaciousness or a an entirely wholesome attitude toward sex.

I am reminded of those who demand examples for what does and does not counts as a “serious reason” for postponing pregnancy through NFP. I have heard people ask: “Is finishing my education a serious reason?” and I have heard Christian teachers say, “Finishing your education is not a serious reason.” I think both the question and the answer betray an externalist tendency that violates the spirit of the Church’s moral teaching in this area.

In truth, for the same thing (a desire to finish one’s education, for example )can be in the case of one couple a deeply serious reason and in the case of another an unserious one.

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