Writing for the public

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

Cyril Connolly

The New Statesman

Josef Seifert

What Is Freedom? Can We choose Radically Different Lives?

Aug. 16, 2009, at 4:24am

Freedom is one of those arch-data that cannot be defined in terms of something else or reduced to anything besides itself. It includes, however, many dimensions and traits which can be unfolded and analyzed (as this has recently been done in deep works of Karol Wojtyla and Dietrich von Hildebrand): It is not only a freedom from determining causes, an „I can but I do not need to,“ but also the power of self-determination that makes free acts utterly different from chance-events, with which Heisenberg and many physicists and philosophers of science confused it. Freedom also involves a special form of possession of one’s being, which is only possible in and through the free agent’s rational consciousness and capacity of self-governance and self-determination. To a person’s free determining and governing herself corresponds also the person’s being governed and determined by herself.

None of this can be understood if we do not recognize that free acts necessarily presuppose and entail consciousness, not only immanent conscious states such as fatigue but an intentional conscious directedness to something over against freedom, to some object of which we are conscious, to which we can refer in free acts only because we also are related to them through some rational knowledge and thought: “nothing is willed if it is not known before”; or: “nothing is willed that is not first conceived in thought”, one could formulate roughly the immensely differentiated relation between freedom and objects of consciousness. But consciousness of some objects is not only presupposed by freedom, it characterizes free acts themselves: they relate consciously to their object.

Free acts, however, not only presuppose some objects, perhaps neutral objects such as the number of little pebbles on the street which can be objects of our perception or knowledge. Rather, free acts presuppose an object of some weight or importance, some good we aspire to or some evil we seek to avoid; otherwise freedom would sink down to the level of a totally sense-less exercise of changing neutral facts. We cannot meaningfully speak of a free act in an axiological void; in a meaning- and valueless universe free acts would not have any sensible motivation and freedom would sink down to the level of pure empty arbitrariness, like: “I am free to move pebble # 2,000.019 from its position at the right of the adjacent pebble to its left.”

The object of a meaningful free act must therefore possess some importance that lifts it out of neutrality. The importance of the object of a free act can be positive or negative. It also can take fundamentally different forms, which explains the drama of human freedom: it can move just on the level of the merely subjectively satisfying or dissatisfying; pleasure is very often a desirable good but it can continue to motivate us even when such a satisfaction is neither objectively good for us but destructive nor good in itself; thus we can consume drugs even if we know that they destroy our health, life, and happiness, or turn us into thiefs. The Good can also be an objective good for us, lie in our true interest, which can happen even when we feel subjective dissatisfaction, as when we get freed from a drug-addiction. A being can thirdly also possess value in itself, an intrinsic preciousness calling upon our adequate response, such as when we say that the human person deserves respect in view of her dignity.

Freedom is thus not only a freedom from and self-determination, lordship over our own acts, but also a freedom for, the ability to speak a free yes or no to some object. The close connection between freedom and an object of which we are conscious and which possesses positive or negative importance, is good or bad, entails the all-important power to engender from oneself acts of freely responding and taking stances towards objects and other persons, to fulfill oughts and obligations issuing from them, to give them their due response, as well as the capacity of serving goods and other persons, and of self-donation. But we are also free to ignore the call of objective values and for example use or rape a girl without any concern for her intrinsic dignity and for what truly is best for her and for us. All these are aspects of the “freedom for” or the “freedom to”.

Freedom is also intimately connected with the life of the intellect and involves the capacity to open one’s mind in knowledge in order to receive information, to love the truth, to cooperate freely with the process of knowledge, and to consent to some extent freely to that which is known to us.

Two Dimensions of Human Freedom and Morality
In order to understand the relation of freedom and the different kinds of acts which it renders possible, we must first distinguish two quite different dimensions or perfections of freedom. The first one unfolds in relation to the important object; it involves a free ‘yes’ or a free ‘no’ spoken to it. It is the freedom to respond, to take a stance, affirming or rejecting an object or state of affairs.
The second dimension of freedom consists in the will being able to engender free outward-directed actions, and to initiate new causal chains, thereby also becoming the lord over our external actions and being able to initiate activities which then might lead to the realization of states of affairs which we realize in the outside world, after „affirming“(willing) them freely in an inner response. The second dimension of freedom may also lead to the making or creating of objects, works of art, etc., which are not reducible to states of affairs.

The first perfection of free will is deeper and has a much wider scope than the second. It encompasses also all purely inner responses, including those directed to objects which the free agent can in no way change, such as God or our neighbor, perhaps a more gifted person than we are, whom we can freely respect, affirm in love, or reject in hate and envy, or a cross or illness, which we cannot alter but can freely and humbly accept or rebel against.

The second dimension of human freedom chiefly refers to free actions in the strict sense, i.e., to acts which aim at the realization of things that are not yet real but can be realized through me. Within the things that can brought into being by free acts we distinguish the object-sphere of acting in the narrower sense of this term, through which we bring about states of affairs, such as saving a person’s life who fell into deep water and cannot swim, from the object-sphere of making, through which we can make or produce things such as handiwork or works of art. In such actions or creative acts which are geared to the real world outside of ourselves, we initiate those activities which bring about the intended states of affairs or objects of making.

Both dimensions of freedom involve the mysterious inner power to engender acts without any preceding cause or our nature forcing us to act. This essence of freedom is common to all free acts and actions and entails an absolutely astonishing feature: due to our freedom we are „the lords over the being and the non-being of our act[ion]s.”

The first perfection of the will, the responding one, can not only freely affirm a good without choosing properly speaking, but it also includes the freedom of choice. Free choice, at least in finite persons, is not restricted to the choice of the proper means to achieve the good as final end, as Aristotle thought: a free person does not want with necessity as final end the intrinsic good or the happy life or the realization of moral values and the adequate response to the truth and especially to morally relevant goods. Alas, he can fail to will the first and most important objective goal of freedom – to conform his life to the truth and to true goods. He can instead choose a life of subjective satisfaction in indifference towards intrinsic values and morally relevant goods, and even in indifference towards his own objective good, or even in hatred of these objective values and of God. Thus a free finite person can choose between ultimate ends, between good and evil, between the love of God up to the abandon of self (amor Dei usque ad contemptum sui), and the self-love and lust for pleasure up to the contempt of God (amor sui usque ad contemptum Dei), as Saint Augustine expresses it. This choice between the ultimate ends is the chief drama of human freedom.

Katie van Schaijik

A child psychologist’s insights on anger

Aug. 14, 2009, at 1:23pm

I’m reading a book I wish I’d read 20 years ago, before my children were born. It’s called Between Parent and Child, by Dr. Haim G. Ginott. It includes some insights relevant to our discussion of anger, and not, I think, unrelated to the prudishness problem.

In our own childhood, we were not taught how to deal with anger as a fact of life. We were made to feel guilty for experiencing anger and sinful for expressing it. We were led to believe that to be angry is to be bad…With our own children, we try to be patient; in fact, so patient that sooner or later we must explode. We are afraid that our anger may be harmful to our children, so we hold it in, as a skin diver hold his breath…
Emotionally healthy parents are not saints. They’re aware of their anger and respect it. They use their anger as a source of information, an indication of their caring. Their words are congruent with their feelings. [His emphasis.]
There is a place for parental anger in child education. In fact, failure to get angry at certain moments would only convey to the child indifference, not goodness. Those who care cannot altogether shun anger. This does not mean that children can withstand floods of fury and violence; it means only that they can stand and understand anger that says, “There are limits to my tolerance.”

I would be very interested in hearing what Personalist Project adviser, Danish psychologist Dr. Peter Damgaard-Hansen would say to this. He has done a lot of important work on the problem of anger and I suspect would have a different take.

Jules van Schaijik

Stevenson’s wrath

Aug. 13, 2009, at 4:24pm

I just read an open letter, wonderfully written by Robert Lewis Stevenson (the author of books like Kidnapped and Treasure Island), in defense of Blessed Damien of Molokai against the pharisaical slander of a certain Reverend Hyde. The letter strikes me as a great example of just the sort of holy wrath so sorely missing in today’s (Church) culture (see Katie’s previous post).

Stevenson apparently knew Reverend Hyde personally, and even had some cause to be grateful to him. But he considered that no reason to remain silent:

…there are duties which come before gratitude, and offences which justly divide friends… Your letter [in which Hyde calls Fr. Damien “a coarse, dirty man, head-strong and bigoted” and accuses him of not being “a pure man in his relations with women”] is a document which, in my sight, if you had filled me with bread while I was starving, if you had sat up to nurse my father when he lay a-dying, would yet absolve me from the bonds of gratitude.

Stevenson’s defense of Fr. Damien is noble and convincing, but also vehement. It is clearly a fruit of his outrage, wrath and indignation. It simply could not have come about without these. Mere sadness would probably have kept silent. For, as Aquinas explains, “sorrow by its very nature gives way to the thing that hurts” while anger “strikes at the cause of sorrow” and “cooperates with fortitude in attacking.” (I-II 123,10 ad. 3)

Stevenson’s letter is itself a concrete illustration of the place for “holy wrath” in society. It also contains a good example of it. Towards the end, Stevenson writes that he had heard rumors of Fr. Damien’s alleged impurity before, and he relates how this rumor was received by one of the bystanders:

A man sprang to his feet…‘You miserable little -’ (here is a word I dare not print, it would so shock your ears). ‘You miserable little -,’ he cried, ‘if the story were a thousand times true, can’t you see you are a million times a lower - for daring to repeat it?’

Would that the Reverend Hyde had reacted similarly:

I wish it could be told of you that when the report reached you in your house, perhaps after family worship, you had found in your soul enough holy anger to receive it with the same expressions; ay, even with that one which I dare not print; it would not need to have been blotted away, like uncle Toby’s oath, by the tears of the recording angel; it would have been counted to you for your brightest righteousness.

Katie van Schaijik

Anniversary of the death of Newman

Aug. 11, 2009, at 10:34am

On August 11, 1890, John Henry Cardinal Newman died in Birmingham, England, where he will be beatified next May. The words on his tombstone: “Out of the shadows and into Reality.”

Among my favorite of his sermons is On the Greatness and Littleness of Human Life.

Read at least these two paragraphs, if you haven’t got time for the whole beautiful thing. They give us a taste of the absolute joy he must have experienced on that day 119 years ago, and of how he had yearned for it his whole long life. They also give a feel for his profound personalism.

This is from the early part, leading the congregation toward a more vivid sense of the fleetingness and relative insubstantiality of our earthly existence.

And this sense of the nothingness of life, impressed on us by the very fact that it comes to an end, is much deepened, when we contrast it with the capabilities of us who live it. Had Jacob lived Methuselah’s age, he would have called it short. This is what we all feel, though at first sight it seems a contradiction, that even though the days as they go be slow, and be laden with many events, or with sorrows or dreariness, lengthening them out and making them tedious, yet the year passes quick though the hours tarry, and time bygone is as a dream, though we thought it would never go while it was going. And the reason seems to be this; that, when we contemplate human life in itself, in however small a portion of it, we see implied in it the presence of a soul, {216} the energy of a spiritual existence, of an accountable being; consciousness tells us this concerning it every moment. But when we look back on it in memory, we view it but externally, as a mere lapse of time, as a mere earthly history. And the longest duration of this external world is as dust and weighs nothing, against one moment’s life of the world within. Thus we are ever expecting great things from life, from our internal consciousness every moment of our having souls; and we are ever being disappointed, on considering what we have gained from time past, and can hope from time to come. And life is ever promising and never fulfilling; and hence, however long it be, our days are few and evil. This is the particular view of the subject on which I shall now dwell.

And this from the penultimate paragraph:

To those who live by faith, every thing they see speaks of that future world; the very glories of nature, the sun, moon, and stars, and the richness and the beauty of the earth, are as types and figures witnessing and teaching the invisible things of God. All that we see is destined one day to burst forth into a heavenly bloom, and to be transfigured into immortal glory. Heaven at present is out of sight, but in due time, as snow melts and discovers {224} what it lay upon, so will this visible creation fade away before those greater splendours which are behind it, and on which at present it depends. In that day shadows will retire, and the substance show itself. The sun will grow pale and be lost in the sky, but it will be before the radiance of Him whom it does but image, the Sun of Righteousness, with healing on His wings, who will come forth in visible form, as a bridegroom out of his chamber, as His perishable type decays. The stars which surround it will be replaced by Saints and Angels circling His throne. Above and below, the clouds of the air, the trees of the field, the waters of the great deep will be found impregnated with the forms of everlasting spirits, the servants of God which do His pleasure. And our own mortal bodies will then be found in like manner to contain within them an inner man, which will then receive its due proportions, as the soul’s harmonious organ, instead of that gross mass of flesh and blood which sight and touch are sensible of. For this glorious manifestation the whole creation is at present in travail, earnestly desiring that it may be accomplished in its season.

Katie van Schaijik

Tocqueville’s definition of individualism

Aug. 10, 2009, at 1:13pm

An ISI-sponsored lecture by Berry College professor Peter Augustine Lawler has Alexis de Tocqueville defining individualism as a disease of the heart, involving “the mistaken judgment that love is more trouble than it’s worth.”
That’s very well put, is it not?
Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s free online audio library is a treasure trove.

Katie van Schaijik

Ronda Chervin on Anger

Aug. 7, 2009, at 10:50am

These remarks in a comment thread below by Dr. Ronda Chervin deserve an entry all their own:

I am a disciple of Dietrich Von Hildebrand,a professor of philosophy at Holy Apostles Seminary and author of many books including one on anger entitled Taming the Lion Within: Five Steps from Anger to Peace.
I would like to share a few key points about anger that might be helpful:

First we need to distinguish hot anger, expressed in screaming, throwing things,etc,and cold anger characterized by inner resentment, withdrawal, etc.
Then there is just and unjust anger. Just anger is directed to real injustices directed against us or others. Unjust anger comes when we are furious without cause, for example when rightly upbraided for bad behavior (the pouting child in the corner for example).
Self-righteous anger can be just or unjust. In any case, according to Thomas Aquinas, even if anger is just, it should never be disproportionate, out of control, unforgiving, or vengeful!
Dietrich Von Hildebrand analyzes Pharisaic anger as involving enjoying sitting on the throne of truth hurling denunciations at others. Even if we are justly angry we should be deeply grieved by the sins of others vs. enjoying sitting on the throne of truth hurling denunciations.

I have been involved in a great self-help group called Recovery, International (not 12 step). The founder, a psychiatrist Abraham Low, coined an expression that is greatly helpful to me.

It is symbolic victory. We like to feel strong. In many things in life we are weak or inferior to others in talents or virtues or just in ability to overcome adversaries. To compensate for our feelings of weakness we indulge in hot or cold anger because anger makes us feel, to use Biblical imagery, like lions instead of weak lambs.

Examples I give to illustrate this: a driver is speeding dangerously. We are weak. Even if we called 911 it could be too late for avoid an accident killing us or our loved ones. Some compensate for this unbearable feeling of weakness by screaming at the driver through his or her CLOSED window. This is a symbolic victory. The curses don’t actually hurt the dangerous driver who can’t even hear them, but they give the lawful driver a feeling of being a raging lion instead of a lamb ready for the slaughter.

Take any example of anger if your own life or in controversies you read about such as handing of pedophilia by the Bishops and check to see - even if my wrath is justified, is it disproportionate, unjustifiably sarcastic, unforgiving, vengeful in the sense of indulging in symbolic victory in my head as I wish the bishops disaster and maybe gloat over the millions that are being paid out in law suits.

How should I deal with it instead? It is right to be angry at cover-ups. I should pray much more for the victims, the pedophiles and the bishops than I do. I don’t think that I am okay if I say a one line prayer for each of these groups after 2 hours of vitriolic sarcastic hurling of denundiations from the throne of truth.

Katie van Schaijik

Suggested weekend reading

Aug. 7, 2009, at 10:40am

Robert P. George on Marriage and the Courts.
Fr. Angelo Geiger’s latest critique of Christopher West.
The 1982 National Review article by Allan Bloom that grew into his classic, The Closing of the American Mind.
Russell Hittenger on Christopher Dawson’s view of technology (not secularism) as the true enemy of classical liberalism.

Katie van Schaijik

Anger, passivity, bureaucracy

Aug. 4, 2009, at 7:37pm

Mona Charen’s column today jives nicely with the discussion about wrath.

Here’s one line:  “Some of this is the bureaucratization of America — the deliberate attempt to drain individual judgment and initiative from life.”

Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath? (3)

Aug. 2, 2009, at 6:03pm

Below is the 2nd part of the comment thread begun under the previous column: Where's the wrath.

Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath? (2)

Aug. 2, 2009, at 5:03pm

Below is the 2nd part of the comment thread begun under the previous column: Where's the wrath.

Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath?

Aug. 2, 2009, at 4:03pm

A Zenit item about the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ $660 million settlement with over 500 victims of sexual abuse is titled, “Spokesman: Church Saddened by Pedophelia”.

Father Lombardi spoke of the attitude the Church takes regarding the crime of sexual abuse.
He said: “Cardinal Mahony explained—as John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said many times—that the Church is evidently and above all saddened by the suffering of the victims and their families, for the harm caused by the grave and inexcusable behavior of some of its members, and is firm in its resolve to avoid future vile acts of this kind.
“The agreement, and the sacrifice it involves, are also a sign of this resolve, of the decision to close a sorrowful chapter in history and to look forward in terms of prevention and the establishment of a secure environment for children and young people in all areas of the Church’s pastoral work.” [my emphasis]

I raise this question for discussion:  Is sadness the right response to wrongs of this kind?  What about wrath?

In a review of Leon Podles’ disturbing book, Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, Adventist pastor, Bill Cork, argues that lack of due anger is part of the problem.

For Thomas Aquinas, anger is a necessary element of the virtue of fortitude—fortitude isn’t a matter of just putting up with evil, or of enduring sorrow, but includes actively resisting evil, bravery in the struggle, and anger at the evil which has led to sorrow. Summa Theologica, IIa-IIae, Q. 123, Art. 10.

Leon Podles is angry, and wants us to be angry, too. He wants us to be angry at the sin of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. But more than that, he also wants us to be angry at the bishops and pope for not being angry at that same sin. That’s what irks him about this crisis more than anything else—never have the bishops or popes expressed any anger that priests molested kids or that other bishops covered it up and transferred the predators to new hunting grounds.

I tend to agree with him.  But I would love to know what others think.

Katie van Schaijik

Persons and power

Aug. 1, 2009, at 1:41pm

In the course of an insightful analysis of this revealing photo
at the American Thinker blog, Thomas Lifson hits on a central theme of personalist ethics:

In my own dealings with the wealthy and powerful, I have always found that the way to quickly capture the moral essence of a person is to watch how they treat those who are less powerful. Do they understand that the others are also human beings with feelings? Especially when they think nobody is looking.

The tendency of the human condition since the fall is to succumb to a master/slave dynamic of interpersonal relations, with the strong vying for power and the weak cringing in fear and begging for favors.  Meanwhile, at the heart of our true nature as persons is a call to give ourselves in love, to put ourselves at the service of others.  Those who tend to be slavish have to learn to be self-standing.  Those who tend to “Lord it over others” have to learn to be self-giving.  This is why the answer to the question: “How does he treat the weak and powerless?” tells us so much moral essence of a given individual.

Like Thomas Lifson, I have often observed in strong and successful people a habit of contempt for weak people.  They seem to imagine that their strength and power and riches make them admirable as persons.  What a disastrous mistake!

Katie van Schaijik


Jul. 23, 2009, at 1:45pm

I am reading Catholic poet and mystic Caryll Houselander’s book Reed of God. It begins with a rich mediation on emptiness—contrasting the meaningful kind, the kind that is shaped for a purpose, like the warm round nest prepared to house a little bird, and the modern kind, of which our world is full.

Emptiness is a very common complaint in our days, not the purposeful emptiness of the virginal heart and mind but a void, meaningless, unhappy condition.
Strangely enough, those who complain the loudest of the emptiness of their lives are usually people whose lives are overcrowded, filled with trivial details, plans, desires, ambitions, unsatisfied cravings for passing pleasures, doubts, anxieties and fears, and these sometimes further overlaid with exhausting pleasures which are an attempt, and always a futile attempt, to forget how pointless such people’s lives are. Those who complain in these circumstances of the emptiness of their lives are usually afraid to allow space or silence or pause in their lives. They dread space, for they want material things crowded together so that there wil always be something to lean on for support. They dread silence, because they do not want to hear their own pulses beating out the seconds of their life, and to know that each beat is another knock on the door of death. Death seems to them to be only the final void, the darkest, loneliest emptiness.
They have no sense of being related to any abiding beauty, to any indestructible life; they are afraid to be alone with their unrelated hearts.
Such emptiness is very different from that still, shadowless ring of light round which our being is circled, making a shape which in itself is an absolute promise of fulfillment.

Katie van Schaijik

Who really inspires the political left?

Jul. 22, 2009, at 11:39pm

Over at the American Thinker, Kelcy Allen provides an eye-opening (let us hope and pray!) comparison of the rhetoric and principles of liberal sentimental favorite, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Saul Alinsky, whose political philosophy and program shapes so much of the American left. He uses quotations from both to imagine a verbal boxing match between them.
Here is just a taste:

Round One: Saul Alinsky opens with, “To hell with charity…morality is but rhetorical rationale for expedient action and self-interest.”

Martin Luther says, “Now is the time to make real the promises of Democracy.”

Round Two: Alinksy fires, “Ours is a world not of Angels but of ‘angles’. Reconciliation is when one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it, then we have reconciliation”.

MLK parries, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children”.

Round Three: Alinsky jabs, “Radicals…have contemptuously rejected the values and way of life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized and corrupt…they are right.”

King fades right, “...Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

MLK, Jr. was a moral hero, deeply influenced—even in a sense “saved” from the temptation to violence, radicalism and revenge—by the encounter with Christian personalism, which shaped his theory of non-violent resistance.

Katie van Schaijik

The limits of central planning

Jul. 22, 2009, at 4:11pm

Yuval Levin makes sense on health care, reminding me again of Newman’s idea of the illative sense in the moral life.  In the Corner today:

To me, this all looks like a demonstration of how much of what you conclude about public policy from social science really depends on the implicit assumptions you bring to the table about human behavior and human fallibility. When I look at the immensely complicated picture of American health-care decision-making that emerges from those Dartmouth studies, I don’t think “we need to centralize this,” I think “this can’t possibly be centralized.” I take it not as an indictment of local variability but as proof of the limits of imposed efficiency. Those limits, if we take them seriously, argue for rules that set general incentives and then give individual players the freedom to find their own ways of responding to them, because we cannot know in advance the peculiar pressures that will drive behaviors in different parts of the system, and we cannot hope to eliminate those pressures. There has to be room for local and individual decision makers to find what works for them. That certainly means that the system won’t be optimized for efficiency, but optimal efficiency is not in fact the alternative to this kind of messy market approach. The alternative is artificial shortages.

Katie van Schaijik

What freedom is not

Jul. 22, 2009, at 1:06pm

The July 6, 2009 issue of National Review includes a review by the excellent David Pryce-Jones of a new book about the demented and destructive sex life of Lord Byron.

Bertrand Russell, of all philosophers, pointed out that Byron’s concept of freedom was the same as that of a German prince or a Cherokee chief: the pleasure of doing as one pleases and not having to account for it.

Pryce-Jones ends the review with a melancholy reflection that Bryon’s notion of freedom has become mainstream.

Byron opened the way for men and women everywhere to indulge in whatever they like without moral judgment or acceptance of responsibility.  Conduct that was once offensive has become commonplace.  The outrage and destructiveness that surged around Byron have long dissolved into a sense that his poetry is a full and complete justification of the man.  Radical politics like his have become a standard intellectual property, and transgression in personal relations and matters of art is considered perfectly normal, altogether in the order of things.  Where once this singular English peer staggered the world by abusing the privileges of his class and his times, now innumerable demotic copycat Byrons feel born to opposition of their society, and they too have no idea that they are spoiled, abusing the very things that have protected them and made them what they are.

Contrast this notion of freedom with the Christian personalist notion, as expressed, for instance, in this article by John F. Crosby.

Katie van Schaijik

Reagan explains what’s wrong with socialized medicine

Jul. 18, 2009, at 3:07pm

More than worth listening to.  Hat tip, Jonah Goldberg at the Corner

Katie van Schaijik

The failure of institutions

Jul. 14, 2009, at 10:40am

As I mentioned below, Archbishop Chaput recently gave an address to Legatus titled “Catholics and the Fourth Estate.’” You can read here. I found it via the American Papist, where host Thomas Peters praises it with the words “not a single word wasted.”

When I began reading it, I expected to be writing a Linde post about the need for genuine Catholic journalism. Up until lately it seems to me that Catholic journalism has tended either to be dissenting or to be controlled by the bishops in a way that prevents its being able to play the role it’s supposed to play, i.e., helping to shape public opinion and keeping leaders accountable. What is desperately wanted is Catholic journalists who are faithful to the Church and unflinching in their critique of it.

But, reading the whole thing, I got mad. It is Archbishop Chaput (whom I generally admire) preaching about the failure of the secular media to live up to its institutional vocation to inform the public truthfully. I got mad because of all institutions to have failed to live up to their mission in society lately, I think I’d put “Catholic bishops” at the very top of the list, with “Catholic laity” a close second.

In the size of the gap between what we are and what we should be, the mainstream media doesn’t come close.

Katie van Schaijik

De-personalizing, cultish tendencies in the Church

Jul. 13, 2009, at 3:50pm

Former Legionary, Fr. Thomas Berg, in an interview today (hat-tip life-after-rc) offers his insights into the central disorder of Legion spirituality.

At the core of serious problems in the internal culture of the congregation is a mistaken understanding and living of the theological principle - in itself valid - that God’s will is made manifest to the religious through his superior. The Legionary seminarian is erroneously led to foster a hyper-focusing on internal “dependence” on the superior for virtually every one of his intentional acts (either explicitly or in virtue of some norm or permission received, or presumed or habitual permissions). This is not in harmony with the tradition of religious life in the Church, nor is it theologically or psychologically sound. It entails rather an unhealthy suppression of personal freedom (which is a far cry from the reasoned, discerned and freely exercised oblation of mind and will that the Holy Spirit genuinely inspires in the institution of religious obedience) and occasions unholy and unhealthy restrictions on personal conscience.

Furthermore, Legionary norms regarding “reporting to,” “informing,” “communication with,” and “dependence on” superiors constitute a system of control and conformity which now must be considered highly suspect given what we know about Fr. Maciel. They furthermore engender a simplistic, and humanly and theologically impoverished notion of God’s will (its discernment and manifestation) that breeds personal immaturity.

More seriously, the lived manner in which Legionaries practice obedience is laced with the kind of unquestioning submission which allowed the cult of personality to emerge around the figure of Maciel in the first place and covered for his misdeeds. Legionary seminarians are essentially trained to suspend reason in their obedience and to seek a total internal conformity with all the norms, and to withstand any internal impulse to examine or critique the norms or the indications of superiors.

It sounds like a more extreme version of what I witnesses of the Covenant Communities in the ‘80s. It likewise brings to mind the clericalism and lay passivity that allowed the priests’ sex scandal to get as bad as it did. Truly Catholic education has to focus much more on developing a proper sense of adulthood, freedom, responsibility, and self-standing in its members.

Katie van Schaijik

A personalist pet peeve

Jul. 13, 2009, at 10:41am

I am just now reading an address by Archbishop Chaput on Catholics and the media about which I’ll have more to say soon. For now I just want to mention a personalist pet peeve of mine. It is the propensity seen everywhere lately to use the computer metaphor “hardwired” to refer to human nature, the sexes, or individuals. A friend of mine described her husband to me as “wired” to love fast cars. Men are frequently said to be “wired” to respond sexually to female flesh. Women are “wired” to love babies. It’s everywhere. The Archbishop does it in this address:

The great Jesuit defender of the American experiment, John Courtney Murray, argued that the natural law – the idea that human nature is hardwired with universal, basic understandings of right and wrong – gave all Americans a common language for their democracy, regardless of their creed.

I dislike it. I find it misleading, degrading, depersonalizing. Computers are inorganic and unfree. Persons, are genitum, non factum. Begotten, not made. And it is of the very essence of our nature and dignity (confer Josef Pieper’s Leisure, the Basis of Culture) that we have spirituality; that we are open to the world as it is, that we are capable of relating to it in truth and through freedom. We don’t find murder evil because we are “wired” to find it evil—as if we might have been wired otherwise by some omnipotent techie in the sky. We find it evil because it is evil and we have been endowed by our Creator with the moral and intellectual power to recognize it as such.

Not “wiring”, endowments. Gifts. Powers.
Let’s take care to cherish and promote human dignity in small matters as well as large.

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