Archive for April, 2007
The story is told that when the Nazi party first came to
political prominence, some in Germany complained about the incivility of Hitler
and his followers. Goebbels is alleged
to have responded: “When I hear the word civility, I reach for my gun.” The story may well be apocryphal, but it
provides a lesson about the importance of civility anyway.
Certainly the public’s reaction to Imus’s racist comments
was justified, but the larger issue to which the whole affair points is the
remarkable incivility of our public discourse. (The incivility of bloggers is of course legendary.)
Let me offer a local example that is not about race or
gender. Consider the coverage of an
alternative newspaper in
of the allegations about financial misconduct of the former bishop of
Cleveland, Anthony Pilla. For background
on this story, see Grant Gallicho’s post from February 18 on the scandal in
Cleveland, “A Fine Financial Mess.”
Although the allegations have not
been substantiated, The Cleveland Scene recently ran a story
with a picture of Bishop Pilla under the headline “The Scum Always Rises.” (If they were going for a literary allusion,
shouldn’t this be “The Scum Also Rises?)
appearance of Cleveland’s current bishop, Richard Lennon, in the documentary on
the sex abuse scandal, Hand of God, when
Lennon was still an Auxiliary in Boston. To say the least, Lennon’s on camera appearance was anything but pastoral, but The Scene’s characterization of the
episode was beyond the pale; they described Bishop Lennon in anatomical terms
that I will not reproduce here.
that the editors of The Scene are anti-Catholic bigots, just as
it might be reasonable to conclude that Imus is a thoroughgoing racist. Yet drawing these conclusions is a little too
easy. For one thing, citing racism or
religious bigotry lets us off the hook way too quickly. After all, it is we who listen to the radio
programs, buy the papers, and watch the shows about which we are
complaining. So who really is to blame
You may have noticed the lead story on the home page, Mark Sargent’s “Vengeance Time: When Abuse Victims Squander Their Moral Authority.” We’re already getting…somewhat heated letters about it–not that anyone is surprised. Mark gives voice to the concerns of many observers of the church’s sexual-abuse scandals–liberal, conservative, Catholic, and non-Catholic alike. Take E. Paul Kelly, for example, a retired attorney who worked on the Bishop Accountability database of accused priests. On his blog, he writes the following:
I agree that Catholic priests, a small minority to be sure, had sought out
children, wee ones, elementary school ages, teenagers, for gross sexual
practices, and had been doing so for decades. Many of their bishops knew about
their crimes against humanity and suppressed as mightily as they could the
leaking of any disclosures of those monstrosities, lest the Roman Catholic
Church’s reputation be stained. They transferred them within and without their
dioceses, pulled a rug over the whole tragic slaughter of the young, and looked
the other way. The explosion of that news in January, 2002, was unbelievable,
unimaginable, incomprehensible. We, all of us, were enraged and we roared into
action to see that justice be done, accountability be extracted from those
responsible, and punishment be imposed for those resonsible. I joined in.
Now, however, I am frightened for our country, as well as for our religion
and the institution that calls itself its church. We have forgotten who we are.
Our country is mean. Justice is a synonym for vengeance. The rule of law is
ignored by vigilantes in their relentless pursuits. Accusation in a news story
is conviction without courts. The government is a sham and the Department of
Justice itself is in tatters, from the current administration’s abuse of power.
And lawyers are beginning to wake up.
Our church continues under the leadership of its bishops, as it has always
done, impervious to change, excommunicating those of us who seek change,
ignoring us as people of the church by the stalemate of silence, and plowing
straight ahead with The Three Ds: Dogma, Doctrine, Discipline. Many of
our bishops and their church have become masters of the hardball tactics of
unscrupulous lawyers, frustrated judges with delay by discovery, obliterated
victims’ hopes with bankruptcies, and turned the search for justice into a
bare-knuckled game where victory goes to the meanest. It is time for lawyers to
stand and speak, for the sake of our legal system and the oaths they swore to
uphold the Rule of Law.
One of them is Mark A. Sargent, the Dean of the Villanova University School
Should Catholic campuses be training undergraduates to serve in what the Church has called an unjust war given that there is no such thing as selective conscientious objection? Is this akin to Georgetown or Notre Dame training students to become executioners when the Church has explicitly condemned the use of the death penalty in almost all cases? Katie Millar has more: http://www.nd.edu/~mbaxter/cpf/sopII2/sopII2rotc.htm.
Sandro Magister (magister #3) has posted a chapter by chapter resume of Pope Benedict’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, released in Rome today.
In the appendix Benedict XVI (magister #1) refers to works by scholars whose work he has found helpful. He singles out one in particular:
For each of the ten chapters, Ratzinger cites the main books to which
he refers, and which can be read for further study. Furthermore, he
points out “some of the most important recent books about Jesus,”
including those of Joachim Gnilka, Klaus Berger, Heinz Schürmann,
Thomas Söding, Rudolf Schnackenburg, and John P. Meier. Of the last of
these, a work in three thick volumes entitled “A Marginal Jew.
Rethinking the Historical Jesus,” he writes:
“This multi-volume work by an American Jesuit represents in many
ways a model of historical-critical exegesis, and clearly displays both
the importance and the limitations of this discipline.”
So Monsignor John P. Meier of the University of Notre Dame will henceforth be known among his admirers as “magister #2.”
Happily, the Pope has already declared that the book is not an official act of the Church’s magisterium. For Meier is not a Jesuit (nor even a Vincentian), but a priest of the Archdiocese of New York — as are the non-monsignorial Joseph A. Komonchak and your humble scrivener.
President George W. Bush’s decision
to go to war with Iraq was initially supported by a host of liberals,
among them New Republic editor Peter Beinart and New Yorker writer
George Packer. These commentators were convinced that Iraq posed an
imminent threat to its neighbors and that Saddam Hussein’s regime had
to be removed for both security and moral reasons.
As the administration’s case for war
was gradually exposed as a fabrication and the botched nature of the
occupation became clear, most of these liberals have admitted they were
No such admissions of error, or even
regret, have been issued by outspoken Catholic neoconservatives who,
using the most tortured just-war arguments, publicly defended Bush’s
war of choice. Michael Novak, of the American Enterprise Institute,
even flew to Rome to persuade the Vatican not to oppose the invasion.
In First Things, George Weigel, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center,
memorably lectured religious leaders on the “charism of political
discernment” enjoyed by those in the White House (“Moral Clarity in a
Time of War,” January 2003). It was a charism, Weigel pointedly wrote,
“not shared by bishops.” He assured the war’s critics that elected
officials “are more fully informed about the relevant facts.”
Read the whole thing.
I loved the photos of the religious signs in the current issue of Commonweal. Over the years I have jotted down such signs as I ran across them. It is to my eternal sorrow that I am not a photographer but here are a few samples I have recorded in my journal:
(1) Just beyond the Georgian line driving into Florida: “Jesus is Lord over Taylor’s Catfish Restaurant.”
(2) In Northern Pinellas County in Florida on the sign of a warehouse “Trucking for Jesus.”
(3) In front of a mobile home on a state highway leading into Flannery O’Connor’s home town of Milledgeville, Georgia:: “Great Satan Trembles on his throne when a single Christian is at prayer.”
(4) My all time favorite is from the sign outside a rural Baptist Church in Wakulla county, Florida on the occasion of John Paul II ot the United States: “They call him Papa but he dresses like Mama.”
[Warning: Sopranos spoilers ---follow]
In last night’s episode, Christoppher Multisanti goes to the apartment of JT Dolan, the recovering drug addict and addicted gambler who wrote Cleaver -a slasher/gangster film film that Christopher is producing with mob money; he describes it as “Godfather II meets Saw.” Christopher sees a statute on JT’s mantlepiece and asks about it. JT says it’s an award from the Paulists for upholding the values of social justice in the entertainment industrty. This is hguely funny, because Cleaver is really gross–but it is also the last name of Beaver’s family in “Leave it to Beaver”–the wholesome television show of the fifties. It alludes to last week’s boundaries between Family and the family.
At any rate, Christopher promplty wacks him over the head with the award–it seems the script has gotten Christopher into trouble with Tony, by cutting a little too close to the bone, you might say. Christopher is expressing his using the award for social justice to express his displeasure. So much for social justice.
This episode explored the boundary between narrative and reality– which is primary? The Godfather books and movies modeled their plots and characters on the life of the mob. But later, the mob modled its action on the characters in the books. It is indisputable that the characters in the Sopranos have viewed the characters in the Godfather movies as iconic inspirations. Now we’re caught in another cyle.
Cleaver is about a made man–a man ike Christopher– who is killed by the mob, and who seeks revenge on the boss (a man like Tony) — for sleeping with his fiancee –and on everyone else for killing him and distributing his body parts throughout the area. (Needless to say, he has to pull himself together before exacting revenge.) . The boss character (perfectly played by a disintegrating Baldwin brother) gets killed with the cleaver at the end of the film.
So Tony is wondering whether Christopher–the man he views as his son –really hates him and wants to kill him. And Christopher is wondering whether his fiction– portraying Tony as being killed for having an affair with his still-missing fiancee Adraiana– is about to have unpleasant repercussions in his real life. It’s not as if elements of Cleaver don’t have a grain of truth to them-who could forget the scene when Christopher dismembers Ralphie on Tony’s order after Janice kills him? And the audience is wondering whether this film is going to affect the outcome of the real livves of the Sopranos by helping to fix motives and cement rivalries.
We viewers are also wondering more generally about the relationship between film and the reality of the Sopranos. I mentioned in my last post on the topic the prominence of the boating scene with Bobby and Tony–right out of Godfather II. Last night’s episode ended with a baptism in a (really modern) church– in Godfather I, the baptism scene (in a really old) church was the scene where Michael kills all the rival mob bosses of New York. So we catch the clue, and think we know where we’re going with this, but do we? The writers and the directors have directly addressed the viewer’s willingness “to absorb the [[Soprano's] world into the biblical tex [of the mob]” –to modify and borrow from what Hans Frei used to say. So they have diffused it. We don’t know what’s going to happen, because our predictions have become part of the plot. Really brilliant.
Another key thing: the movie to which the series owes the most, but which isn’t here, is Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990). In fact, several of the actors in the Sopranos were in Goodfellas –Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Melfi), Michael Imperioli (Christopher), and Tony Sirico (Paulie), and Vincent Pastore(the late Big Pussy). There’s a reference to Scorsese in the episode “Well, he’s good, but he’s not Marty.” Two other directors are in the episode as actors: Sydney Pollack –who plays an oncologist imprisoned with Jonny Sack for killing his wife–and Peter Bogdanovitch –who plays Dr. Melfi’s shrink.
In the end though, reality has to win out. Jonny Sack dies of cancer in a prison ward–his family is prevented from hugging him to comfort him when they hear the news. He is not the big mobster we saw when we first met him, and his death is not this mesmerizing scene of gore we just saw in Cleaver. He’s just a frail old man dying–and wondering if the dream he lived his life for was an illusion.
Peter Steinfels’s “Beliefs” column on Saturday offered a preview of Commonweal‘s April 20 editorial, which will be available on our Web site this afternoon (I’ll bump it here):
For over four years, George Weigel, staunch supporter of President Bush and biographer of Pope John Paul II, has never ceased to insist that the war in Iraq meets all the traditional moral criteria for a just war. And most leaders and thinkers among Mr. Weigel’s fellow Roman Catholics, along with many non-Catholic proponents of just-war thinking, have never ceased to disagree.
Now there is a fresh surge in this debate, with combat concentrated not only on how to apply these venerable moral principles to this particular war but also on how the principles should be understood in the first place.
Mr. Weigel’s elucidation of this moral tradition has been notable for two emphases. For years, he has scolded the Catholic bishops and other just-war proponents for claiming that the teaching begins with “a presumption against war.” On the contrary, Mr. Weigel has argued, the “classic” doctrine treated war not as a moral anomaly that had to run a gantlet of moral tests before it could be justified but as “a moral category,” a neutral instrument of statecraft that could be used for good or ill. The tradition should never be removed from the obligation of nations (like the United States in Iraq) to assure security, justice and freedom.
Second, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Weigel insisted that religious leaders should exercise “political modesty” in the public debate, recognizing that government officials “are more fully informed about the relevant facts.” Employing the term “charism,” usually associated with saints who founded religious orders, he proposed that government officials enjoyed a “charism of political discernment” that was “not shared by bishops, stated clerks, rabbis, imams, or ecumenical and interreligious agencies.”
The thrust of these emphases was of course to undercut the moral objections of many religious leaders about the potential human and political costs of invading Iraq.
In his latest essay, Mr. Weigel grapples with the fact that those costs have become painfully evident, and the larger concerns of security, justice and freedom increasingly elusory. Now his case for war scarcely mentions the earlier suspicion of weapons of mass destruction but stresses a need to defeat jihadi terrorism and establish responsible government and peace throughout the Middle East.
He laments “mistakes made by analysts and U.S. policy makers,” who remain unidentified except for the “convenient scapegoat,” Donald H. Rumsfeld. Finally, he defends the administration’s latest strategy against an alternative that he defines simply as “we’re out.”
In all this, he merely alludes to his earlier critique of the “presumption against war” and makes no mention of the “charism of political discernment.” But his animus toward antiwar religious leaders is unabated.
Which is what struck the editors of Commonweal, who have consistently opposed the war. In contrast to the second thoughts of many liberals originally convinced of the Iraq war’s necessity, the editors note, “no such admissions of error, or even regret, have been issued by outspoken Catholic neoconservatives.” Does Mr. Weigel’s long list of American miscalculations, they wonder, “cast doubt on his claim” about the government’s “charism of political discernment”? Reviewing the prudential warnings and moral qualms issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “it is hard not to conclude,” the editors write, “that the bishops’ charism, rather than the president’s, has better served the nation.”
Read the rest of Peter’s column right here. And be sure to check back later to read the full editorial.
In a previous post I suggested that the Public Editor of The New York Times would do well to examine the paper’s coverage of the accusations against the three Duke lacrosse players, now belatedly found innocent of the charges leveled against them.
In today’s Times-owned Boston Globe, columnist Cathy Young provides further details of the “rush to injustice,” especially focusing on the role played by various academics.
As writer Charlotte Allen has documented in The Weekly Standard,
academics were quick to tailor the still-unfolding case to a narrative
of sexual abuse of a downtrodden black woman at the hands of privileged
white males — males who, in the words of Duke literature professor
Wahneema Lubiano, represented “the politically dominant race and
ethnicity [and] the dominant gender.” Much of the media echoed this
narrative, albeit in more readable form.
Yet serious doubts about
the accuser’s credibility existed from the very beginning. Her story
kept changing, even on such significant details as how many players
assaulted her. The material evidence did not corroborate her charges
and in some instances contradicted them. The other stripper who was at
the party said that she did not believe the woman was raped.
many people wouldn’t let the facts get in the way of a good crusade.
Eighty-eight Duke faculty members signed a statement, drafted by
Lubiano, that expressed solidarity with the students who rallied
against the accused. Its language was drenched in a presumption of
Needed in an academia, ever ready to invoke and intone “academic freedom”: a Public Editor.
Saturday’s NYTimes carried this op-ed by James Zumwalt, id’ed as former Marine and member of the Committee on the Present Danger (an old Cold War neo-con group–I think).
Zumwalt makes a great deal of the Imam case in Minnesota, six muslim clerics who were removed and barred from a flight for suspicious behavior. The airline found nothing, but they missed the plane. They are now suing the airline and the passengers who reported their behavior.
Zumwalt has drawn some startling conclusions. Among them:
“While the imams may or may not have suffered an injury, the harm these John Doe claims can cause will go far beyond what the defendants themselves will suffer by being dragged into litigation. It is clear this lawsuit seeks to warn Americans against voicing similar concerns. For if they do, they run the risk of opening themselves up to liability and incurring enormous legal defense costs. The effect this would have — discouraging Americans from playing an active role on the home front in fighting the war on terrorism — is chilling.”
Read the whole thing, if you have access, and report back!
Jonathan Glater and Karen Arenson report:
In a fierce contest to control the student loan market, the nation’s banks and lenders have for years waged a successful campaign to limit a federal program that was intended to make borrowing less costly by having the government provide loans directly to students.
The companies have offered money to universities to pull out of the federal direct loan program, which was championed by the Clinton administration. They went to court to keep the direct program from becoming more competitive. And they benefited from oversight so lax that the Education Department’s assistant inspector general in 2003 called for tightened regulation of lender dealings with universities.
Advocates of the direct loan program say that it has been held back from offering more competitive rates and benefits, and that a very small percentage of students can take advantage of the private rivals’ advertised rates and incentives. They argue that private lenders cost the government vast amounts of money because they are subsidized and guaranteed against default.
President Bush’s budget reports that in 2006 for every $100 lent by private lenders, the cost to the government of subsidies, defaults and other items was $13.81, while the same amount lent through the direct loan program cost the government $3.85. The battle for dominance in the loan market has escalated as tuitions have soared and students have borrowed more. This is the context for many of the payments to universities and financial aid officials that have come to light as a result of recent investigations into student loan practices.
“What has happened is unbridled competition meets lack of oversight,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education.
For a few years after direct lending went into effect, it grew quickly. But as student loan volume has risen, climbing above $85 billion in 2005-6 from just over $30 billion 10 years earlier, the government’s share as a direct lender has declined, and now amounts to less than a quarter of the total.
“When direct lending was created, the initial assumption was that the bank-based program would be quickly overwhelmed by the government program,” Mr. Hartle said. No one counted on the strength of the reaction from the lending industry, he and others said.
The Education Department fought back. Richard W. Riley, then the secretary of education, tried to make the direct lending program more competitive in 1999 and 2000 by reducing origination fees and interest rates. The private lenders sued, saying Mr. Riley had no authority to do this because these rates were set by Congress under the loan legislation. (Last year, lawmakers set the interest rate on new Stafford loans, one of the most popular federally guaranteed loans, at 6.8 percent; many private lenders offer to reduce that rate for borrowers who make payments on time or meet other goals.)
In response to the lawsuit, the Education Department argued that the public and private loan programs had the power to offer the same terms and conditions, and added that better loan terms would make loans more affordable and thus reduce defaults, benefiting taxpayers.
With the Bush administration more sympathetic to the private market, the lenders withdrew the lawsuit last year, and the direct loan program has offered some of the incentives used by its private rivals.
The Bush administration took virtually no action as lenders offered special pools of money if universities would leave the direct loan program. Lenders, by law, are barred from offering inducements to gain loan applications. But what is an inducement is not entirely clear.
Republicans in Congress have issued a continuing stream of criticisms about the direct lending program and tried to restrict it in a variety of ways.
Just last year, they voted to give lawmakers the power to cut the budget of the Education Department office that oversees the student loan program — a looming if indirect threat to direct lending. They also made it more difficult for many borrowers with multiple loans to combine them into a single, larger direct loan, effectively making it harder for students to refinance their debts.
“The federal government should be in the business of student loans as the lender of last resort when private lenders can’t offer competitive opportunities,” said Senator Michael B. Enzi, a Wyoming Republican who is the former chairman of the Education Committee.
In the absence of any crackdown on inducements, banks and other lenders showered universities with incentives to leave the direct lending program.
The kids, they don’t vote. But I wonder whether this issue might induce a few more students and people with student loans to visit their local polling place next November. Accountability in education, a favorite theme of the Bush administration, isn’t limited to teachers in publicly funded primary and secondary schools.
Contrary to custom, Pope Benedict will celebrate his 80th birthday tomorrow by giving a gift: his new book Jesus of Nazareth will be released in Italian, German, and Polish. The English edition will be available in mid-May — though Amazon is taking pre-publication orders.
The book was formally presented at the Vatican by Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna, and former student and collaborator of the Pope. His remarks (available here in Italian and German) provide a fascinating preview.
Schoenborn’s title is itself significant:”The Pope in the Agora,” the public marketplace. He underscores what the Pope himself stresses in the book’s “Preface.” The work is not intended to be a formal statement of the Church’s magisterium, but a meditation by a believer and a scholar who is seeking the face of the Lord. He thus invites attentive consideration and considered response.
Of particular note is the the fact that the Pope drew inspiration for his meditation from a book by the Jewish scholar, Jacob Neusner, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus. Neusner imagines spending a day listening to Jesus of Nazareth and then discussing what he heard with the local rabbi.
When asked: what did Jesus omit from Torah?, Neusner replies, “nothing.” When asked: what did Jesus add?, Neusner responds, “himself!”
Benedict finds the relation and distinctness of Judaism and Christianity epitomized in that exchange. The Person of Jesus is at the heart of Christianity. Jesus the Christ is the living Temple of God’s Presence.
Benedict’s book meditates upon the Gospel portrait of Jesus from his Baptism to his Transfiguration, and will be followed, Deo volente, by a second volume, treating the birth and death of the Son of God.
Cardinal Schoenborn highlights a phrase from the “Preface” in which the Pope speaks of “intimate friendship with Jesus” This, of course, is the gift and calling of every disciple. But it is particularly fitting that the joy and challenge of this friendship be witnessed to by the successor of Peter — to whom the Risen Lord said: “if you love me, feed my sheep.”
1) “And with your spirit” has replaced “and also with you.”
2) “communion of the Holy Spirit” has replaced “fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
3) In the Confiteor, “mea cupla, mea culpa, mea maximum culpa” has been translated literally.
4) A much more literal translation of the Gloria. A lot of current musical arrangements are going to have to be rewritten.
5) Creed begins with “I believe” rather than “We believe.” “Seen and Unseen” changes to “Visible and Invisible. “Only Son” becomes “Only-begotten Son.” “One in Being” becomes “Consubstantial.” Advocates for inclusive language take note that “For us men” has now been rendered “For us.”
6) The sursum corda dialogue is now translated more literally: ”The Lord be with you” “And with your spirit” “Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them up to the Lord.” “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” “It is right and just.”
7) Concluding doxology is translated much more literally. Not the most felicitious sentence structure in English, I’m afraid.
I’ll leave the sorting out of the Eucharistic Prayers to the rest of you!
I have mixed feelings about this translation. There are certain things I like, such as the rendering of “et cum spiritu tuo” as “and with your spirit” and the more literal translation of the sursum corda dialogue. On the whole, I probably would have been a bit more conservative when it came to changing the people’s parts. The translation of the concluding doxology (“Through Him, With Him, In Him…”) seems very awkward. I don’t think chanting it is going to work as well as it does with the current translation, but we’ll see.
On the whole though, it’s hard to see the result–assuming this is close to the final version–as justifying either the claims of its supporters or the charges of its critics. The language is moderately more “elevated” in a few places, but on the whole the changes are not dramatic and are unlikely to lead to significant changes in how the congregation understands what is going on in the liturgy. At the same time, I think that Bishop Trautman’s statement that the new translation does not “adequately meet the liturgical needs of the average Catholic” is somewhat overstated. There will be a period of transition, certainly, but I suspect most “average Catholics” have successfully weathered more significant changes than this in our family and working lives.
I seem to recall Chesterton’s remarking that the most important thing about the “Missing Link” was that it was missing… Which seems to be the case with the motu proprio that would restore wider use of the Tridentine Mass. It’s still missing.
But while it’s missing, is it worth a thought or two about the wisdom of Paul VI’s having virtually forbidden its use? I remember at the time thinking that this was a mistake. You had priests saying Mass in clown face, making up their own eucharistic prayers (some of them with more about babbling brooks and beautiful butterflies than a certain Jesus Christ), using all kinds of breads (“This, except for the raisins, is my Body,” one uncertain priest is said to have intoned over what was offered for his use at a home liturgy.) So all that could go on, but the former rite couldn’t be continued?
So a first question, apart from whether it should now, almost forty years later, be permitted again: Was it wise to prohibit it back then?
Anyone who has taken an
undergraduate ethics class in philosophy is likely to have encountered that
strange creature, the hypothetical moral dilemma. There are some classic
examples. My favorite is Judith Jarvis Thomson’s case of the unconscious
violinist. Imagine, she says, that you wake up one morning to discover
that you have been kidnapped by the Society of Music Lovers and that you are
now hooked up to a famous unconscious violinist. If you disconnect
yourself from the violinist, he dies. Is it morally acceptable to
disconnect yourself? The violinist has a right to life, but you have a
right to bodily autonomy. Sorting through this case is supposed to help
us think through potential tensions between a right to life and right to bodily
autonomy and thereby help us to reason clearly about abortion. (I’m not
sure it does that exactly, but discussing the case in class almost always leads
my students—to their consternation—to defend a view of the relation
between sex and procreation that is pretty close to traditional Catholic
teaching—but that’s a topic for another post.)
I bring up the famous hypothetical
cases because, as William Saletan of Slate.com
has recently pointed out , it’s
not just philosophers talking about these cases any more; scientists are
getting into the act. A recent article in the journal, Nature,
for example, examined the reactions of patients with certain kinds of brain
damage to these cases compared to people with “normal” brains.
The conclusion? Patients with brain damage are more utilitarian in their
approach to moral decision making. It’s nice to have science on your
Of course, neuroscientists aren’t
just poaching on traditional philosophical territory; they are interested in
spirituality as well. For example, a study published last year in Neuroscience
Letters, (Volume 405, Issue 3, 25 September 2006, Pages 186-190) examined
the neural correlates of mystical experience. The investigators used
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study patterns of brain
activation in 15 Carmelite nuns. For discussion of this study, see this link.
I find the work in the new fields
of “Neuroethics” and “Spiritual Neuroscience” fascinating.
Still, it’s hard not to feel that Tom Wolfe was on to something when he
titled his essay on contemporary neuroscience, “Sorry, but your soul just
Forget about evolution, Cardinal
Schönborn, what do you have to say about brain science?
Since (full disclosure) I love to hate The Times, post-Easter generosity prompts my giving credit where credit is due.
First their report today on the pressure brought on China to take some action regarding the genocide in Dafur. The newspaper of record even acknowledges the role played by Mia Farrow, citing her op-ed piece in (gasp) The Wall Street Journal — a piece I previously posted on dotCommonweal.
Here, in part is The Times’ story:
Just when it seemed safe to buy a plane ticket to Beijing for the
2008 Olympic Games, nongovernmental organizations and other groups
appear to have scored a surprising success in an effort to link the
Olympics, which the Chinese government holds very dear, to the killings
in Darfur, which, until recently, Beijing had not seemed too concerned
Ms. Farrow, a good-will ambassador for the United
Nations Children’s Fund, has played a crucial role, starting a campaign
last month to label the Games in Beijing the “Genocide Olympics” and
calling on corporate sponsors and even Mr. Spielberg, who is an
artistic adviser to China for the Games, to publicly exhort China to do
something about Darfur. In a March 28 op-ed article in The Wall Street
Journal, she warned Mr. Spielberg that he could “go down in history as
the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games,” a reference to a German filmmaker who made Nazi propaganda films.
Four days later, Mr. Spielberg sent a letter to President Hu Jintao
of China, condemning the killings in Darfur and asking the Chinese
government to use its influence in the region “to bring an end to the
human suffering there,” according to Mr. Spielberg’s spokesman, Marvin
China soon dispatched Mr. Zhai to Darfur, a turnaround
that served as a classic study of how a pressure campaign, aimed to
strike Beijing in a vulnerable spot at a vulnerable time, could
accomplish what years of diplomacy could not.
Then how about this sample of “Letters to the Editor:”
To the Editor:
So, presumed guilty by fashionable black-white,
rich-poor, athlete-nonathlete stereotypes, Duke’s lacrosse players turn
out to be innocent victims.
I saw and despised Senator Joseph R.
McCarthy. But McCarthyism never gained a tenth the oppressive mind
control of today’s academic and media political correctness.
Maspeth, Queens, April 12, 2007
To the Editor:
defense attorneys also pilloried the press for piling on early in the
Duke rape case investigation. The Times should examine its reporting in
this case and report to us, its loyal readers, as to how it contributed
or did not contribute to this miscarriage of justice.
Fairfax, Va., April 12, 2007
Now let’s hear from the Public Editor.
John Allen’s “The Real Ratzinger Revealed” is free on the Tablet‘s Web site. Were you expecting a “fundamentalist” pope? If so, how are you coping with having the expectation confounded?
If the danger of the John XXIII and Paul VI era was throwing the baby
out with the bathwater, the chief risk in today’s politics of identity
cuts in the opposite direction, towards rigidity and exaggerated
defensiveness – a sort of “Taliban Catholicism” that knows only how to
excoriate and condemn. To be sure, one can see the stirrings of such a
spirit in today’s Church. Potentially, Benedict XVI’s legacy may lie in
pointing a way around these shoals. Given all that he represents,
Benedict is in a unique position to illustrate that one can embrace
Catholic fundamentals without becoming a fundamentalist, that reason
and faith are not opposed but inextricably linked. That, in fact, was
the argument he was trying to make in Regensburg, although the uproar
over the quotation occluded his effort.
The NYT has a nice retrospective about Kurt Vonnegut, who died yesterday. You have to register to read the piece.
I’d quibble with the Times’ comparison to Mark Twain, though. Vonnegut was as keen a critic of the human race as Twain was. But Twain forced you to look at the ugliness, relentlessly. When Twain’s characters tried escape, they usually landed back where they started. Like Jim in “Huck Finn,” who’s free and has $40 at the end of the book, but you know that’s not going to going to change things much for him, people being what they are.
Vonnegut, by contrast, created science fiction escapes for his characters, like the planet Tralfamadore where Billy Pilgrim is transported at the end of “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Billy Pilgrim is as much a prisoner on Tralfamadore as he was in Dresden. But the prison is nicer. He gets to keep his dog and has a nice roommate in Montana Wildhack.
Most of Vonnegut’s sci-fi havens were thinly disguised metaphors for death. In “Slapstick,” a character does die and ends up in a place the dead call The Turkey Farm, an endlessly boring waiting room, where people mill around a single telephone contraption hoping to connect with the people they left in life.
There is a wistfulness in Vonnegut’s hopelessness, a wish that things might be better–a wistfulness Twain utterly lacks, and would probaby have ridiculed.
Although I hadn’t read Vonnegut for decades, reading about his death made me recall the summer before college my friend Holly and I read “Breakfast of Champions” together, a book that got us through that last summer of adolescence.
Holly and I were angry about a lot of things–the complacency of our parents, the war, men, politics, organized religion–with that know-it-all superiority adolescents have. We were convinced that the Midland City of “B of C” was based on the actual town we were living in right then. There were too many similarities to be coincidences. And a famous writer knew all about it and agreed with us! The book provided a kind of Tralfamadorian escape valve that summer. We even discussed writing a letter to Vonnegut in hopes he would confirm our suspicions. But we never did.
And now we’ll never know for sure.
The nasty, academic (I know: that’s redundant) squabble between Harvard’s own Alan Dershowitz and DePaul’s (at least until now) Norman Finkelstein has hit the front page of The New York Times‘ “Arts Section” — right next to the ninety-eighth episode of the long-running soap opera, “Don Imus: Shock Jock.”
Dershowitz has been bombarding DePaul’s administration and faculty with e-mails setting forth Finkelstein’s myriad transgressions which ought to prevent him from being tenured.
If The Times’ story merits credence the Dean of Arts and Sciences at DePaul has been persuaded by the Harvard advocate and now opposes granting Finkelstein tenure. This is how Finkelstein explains the reasoning:
Mr. Finkelstein said that the dean of DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts
and Sciences, Charles E. Suchar, explained his opposition by arguing
that “DePaul was a Jesuit school,” and adhered to the values of St.
Vincent. “He claims that my scholarship does not fulfill the Vincentian
value of personalism,” or respect for dignity of the individual.
Leave it to those Jesuits to be in on the action, even when it’s not their school. This only confirms my view that a hermeneutics of suspicion should govern the reading of College “Mission Statements.” That is, if anyone, including deans and faculty,
even bothers to read them.
The great thing about blogs and the internet: no sooner do you have a thought about writing something when someone has already written and posted. I had this thought and now Earl Hutchinson has gone to the trouble of actually expressing it: http://www.alternet.org/columnists/story/50407/
Thanks Earl. ht: TomPaine.com
Noted journalist Frances Fitgerald in the New York Review of Books on divides among evangelicals. Some of these issues have been well covered in the press, notably recent efforts by leading evangelicals such as Rick Warren and others on issues ranging from aid to Africa and global warning, and the insistence by James Dobson and others that gay marriage and abortion trump other concerns. (Fitzgerald has had a long distinguished career as an essayist, including a very early piece on Jerry Falwell.)
What Fitzgerald hints at, and what I think, is that we seem to be at a particularly combustible moment in U.S. political history. Since the late 1960s the Republican party at the national level has (by and large) been more focused on a coherent message, fielded more attractive candidates and raised more money. Indisputably, I think, they drove the national debate on economic and “social” issues. (At least this is what I tell my classes). Is this era over?
I’m pleased to announce that Paul Lauritzen, director of the Program in Applied Ethics at John Carroll University, has agreed to join our esteemed roster of dotCommonweal contributors. You may recall Paul’s most recent Commonweal article, “Holy Alliance? The Danger of Mixing Politics & Religion.” Here’s a reminder:
How did we get from a situation where the working assumption was that “no Catholic prelate would tell the president how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote,” to one where a Baptist pastor asks members of his congregation to resign if they plan to vote for John Kerry, and Catholic clergy issue voting guides that all but endorse specific candidates?
I do not have a ready or easy answer to this question and what I will suggest is incomplete. Still, part of the answer comes from examining the growing-and to my mind troubling-alliance between conservative Evangelicals and Catholics. (When I refer to conservative Evangelicals and Catholics, I largely follow the definitions of these groups found in the “Fourth National Survey of Religion and Politics” conducted by the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron, specifically white Evangelicals and Catholics committed to orthodox belief, high levels of religious engagement, and a desire to preserve traditional beliefs and practices in a changing world.)
There are many ways of explaining this alliance, but I want to focus on one particular area of common ground that, more than any other, sheds light on the alliance-namely opposition to abortion.
Austin Ruse asked me to post these three responses to Rudy’s stand on abortion:
From Yale Alumni Magazine: (HT: America magazine).
New chaplain will minister to all faiths
by Mark Alden Branch ’86
In a development that would no doubt have astonished Yale’s Puritan founders, the university has appointed Sharon Kugler, a Catholic layperson, as Yale’s seventh University Chaplain. Kugler, who has served as chaplain at Johns Hopkins University since 1993, will start at Yale this summer, succeeding Rev. Frederick Streets ’75MDiv.
The fact that a non-ordained Catholic — and a woman — could assume a post that has always been held by Protestant clergymen suggests just how much Yale and the chaplaincy have changed. Over the years, the university has welcomed increasing numbers of Catholics, Jews, and, more recently, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others. “We now have 30 or more active religious groups on campus, a number of them from non-Western religions,” says President Rick Levin. “It was a strong view of mine and the search committee’s that the new chaplain needs to minister to that entire community.”
That is just the kind of chaplaincy Kugler has run at Johns Hopkins. A graduate of Santa Clara University with a master’s degree in religious studies from Georgetown, she “virtually created the multi-faith chaplaincy at Johns Hopkins,” says Yale Divinity School dean Harry Attridge, who co-chaired the search committee. “She built up that program and the interfaith center there virtually from scratch.”
Kugler says that interfaith dialogue has been her mission as a chaplain. “We’re living in a world where people kill each other over religion,” she says. “I feel that my call is to be in young people’s lives when they are expanding their horizons and their brains and their hearts — and to get them to engage with people who might scare them.”
And while some may imagine interfaith dialogue to be, as Kugler jokingly describes it, “Let’s all sit at a round table, put a topic in the middle, and see how everybody comes at it,” she says she prefers a subtler approach. The interfaith center at Johns Hopkins features an ice-cream maker, a bubble machine, and occasional Crock-Pots of “Chaplain’s Chili” to bring students together — first to play, then to talk.
In announcing Kugler’s appointment, Levin made a point of affirming Yale’s roots in the “Protestant tradition.” He said that a Protestant chaplain will be appointed to lead services at Battell Chapel and to minister to Protestants “in much the same way that Father Robert Beloin serves as chaplain for the Catholic community and Rabbi James Ponet ['68] serves as our Jewish chaplain.”
For her part, Kugler says her Catholic faith is central to her personally but not to her job. She sees her non-ordained status as an advantage in her effort to work with people of different faiths. “As a layperson,” she says, “I’m everyone’s chaplain and no one’s clergy.”
After nearly a two year break between the first half of season six and the last half, I feared that the voices of the Sopranos might have lost their full range and subtlety. I needn’t have worried.
Last night’s episode was about boundaries and borderlines, and crossing borders and boundaries: most of it was set on the shore of the lake house of Bobby and Janice (Bobby’s a made member of Tony’s crew and Janice is Tony’s sister), very near the US Canadian border. Tony and his wife Carmela went up for the weekend to relax. (Big spoilers follow.)
To give you as sense of the density of the imagery and the narrative, let me give you one example: a hit was performed, the story of which crossed over and back and over again the boundary between family and the Family.
Tony and Bobby were meeting with Canadian mobsters who were going to provide them with expired prescription drugs to sell in th US. The Canadians offered to lower the price if the Americans would arrange a hit. It seems that the (sister??) of one of the mobsters was having relationship problems, and her boyfriend was going to take her child away from her. After the four mobsters wholesomely agree that it isn’t right to take a baby from its mother, the Canadians inidcate that it would be very good indeed if the boyfriend could disappear. So, for the sake of business, Tony agrees to a do a personal hit.
And for the sake of personal matters, he assigns the business to Bobby. Earlier in the weekend, Bobby admits to Tony that he hasn’t killed anyone yet–although he’s come close–he’d been on the borderline. Bobby expressed relief that he had not yet crossed this moral boundary. This seems like a close moment–they’re out in a rowboat on a lake, talking about life. But it is filled with tension for the viewer–brothers, and rowboats, and lakes are not a good combination. (Fredo and Michael–Godfather II).
Later in the weekend, the two have a blowup, over Bobby’s defense of his wife against Tony’s repeated insults, and it comes to blows–Bobby beats up Tony. Tony admits he went too far–he crossed a boundary.
But Bobby did too. As Janice tells her husband, as the boss, Tony can’t let this challenge to his authority go unpunished. Yet as Janice’s brother, he can’t entirely disrupt family relations by killing him. So he makes use of the information he just gained, and assigns the hit to Bobby. He kills his soul, not his body– if that boundary line even holds. Earlier in the their talk on the boat, a weary Tony indicates that he knows the odds aren’t good: most people in their line of work end up in jail or in the undertaker’s workroom.
Bobby knows he has no choice but to do the hit, if he is to preserve his family with Janice, as well as his status in the Family.
So after a brutal scene where he shoots the unsuspecting Canadian in a laundromat– a man who will never be able to see his child again — he goes back to the lake house and hugs his little daughter.
It’s a brilliant riff on Godfather II– the boat in the lake, the specter of one brother killing the other, and the line “It’s not personal. It’s just business.”