Just published by RNS–David’s piece on the “Causes and Contexts” study, which the USCCB will release tomorrow.
Archive for May, 2011
Apropos Eric’s post below, I though dotCommonwealers would enjoy Commencement remarks by John Garvey, former Dean of Boston College Law School and the (still relatively new) President of Catholic University:
Mercy is a gift. First and foremost, it’s a gift from God. It’s not something we can pay back. (That would be justice.) As one of Graham Greene’s characters says: “You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone – the . . . appalling . . . strangeness of the mercy of God.” And when we show mercy, we do it in imitation of Christ. He instructed his disciples to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
The virtues say something about who we are. The cardinal virtues speak to the goodness of human nature. The theological virtues speak to our heavenly end. The virtue of mercy shows that we have received a gift. It tells the story of our salvation.
“OK,” you’re thinking, “you’re gone off the rails. This is commencement. You’re supposed to be telling us to wear sunscreen and change the world. What’s mercy got to do with it?” Here’s the point. I like to involve students in university decisions. Young people take their responsibilities seriously. You respect confidentiality better than faculty do. When you serve on disciplinary boards, you are stricter than your elders. You are uncompromising in your judgments – of movies, food, public figures, parents. I admire your integrity. It is part of the idealism that makes it a joy to live and work with you.
Mercy is foreign to the idealist. It is a grandparent’s virtue. Some time between now and 2041 you should learn it, and I want you to start today. Unlike justice it doesn’t follow rules. If we replaced punishment with mercy, we would have anarchy. Article II of the Constitution entrusts mercy to the President, and gives him unreviewable discretion, because we can’t make it a general rule, and there is no formula for applying it.
But in the love of two people it is essential. There, there is no room for just desserts. You must make it your rule always to give and forgive. (You will fail, but you’ll get the proportions right.) In your friendships too, you should replace judgment with mercy. And if you practice this virtue on your inner circle, it will soften the sharp edges of your ideals just enough, and make you a much more effective leader, lieutenant, teacher, doctor, architect, or conductor.
Not to be missed in the annals of sneering at your former bf. “Pakistani PM hails China as his country’s ‘best friend.’” And furthermore, “we call China a true friend and a time-tested and all weather friend,” said Mr. Gilani.
“Chinese officials and state media have hinted that they will use Mr Gilani’s visit to portray Beijing as a steadfast and reliable partner in contrast to Washington, described in one editorial as a fickle and demanding interloper.” And say it: Fair weather friend! Read it at the BBC.
I have been making my way through Denys Turner’s book on Julian of Norwich’s soteriology, which is, like so many of Turner’s books, about so much more than its title would imply: Julian of Norwich, Theologian. I could go on about what an amazing book it is, but I thought I would just share a few passages that might be of interest to those who followed our recent discussion of Ross Douthat’s column on Hell a few weeks ago. In general, Turner argues that Julian, and a large part of the medieval Christian tradition, is flatly against the view that hell is primarily about people getting their just deserts for the sins they committed in life. In fact, Turner claims that this quid pro quo story is precisely the hellish one that sin tells of itself. It is the story that torments the Prodigal Son on the way back to his father’s house, convincing him that the requirements of justice dictate that he only be granted a place among the servants. This story evaporates the faith that the son should have in his father’s forgiveness, which, as Turner writes, “was always there before the event of the son’s betrayal, because forgiveness was in the very nature of his [father's] fatherhood.” It is the story that also forces the elder brother out of the party in obtuse indignation over the egregious lack of justice shown by the father. According to the story sin tells, the radical love of the father is seriously “out of order.” Turner continues, “In that elder son’s resentment of the father’s unconditional love, disruptive as it is of the world’s compromised complacency, lies the source of the wrath and violence that is ‘only within us,’ and is not to be found otherwise except as projected by that wrath onto God as its dialectical counterpart.” This, Turner says, is the story of sin as “told by idiots, its sound and fury signifying nothing.” Read the rest of this entry »
Congressional Republicans warn that if the federal government doesn’t make deep spending cuts soon, international investors will start to worry that the U.S. can’t pay its bills. Therefore…unless the Democrats agree to more spending cuts, the Republicans say they will vote against raising the debt ceiling, which would insure that the government couldn’t pay about a third of its bills. This makes no sense at all. Either we shouldn’t be worried about reassuring the bond market (and there are good reasons to think we should be less worried), or we should do everything necessary to make sure the federal government doesn’t go into default. If the mere fear of X has serious repercussions, then X itself is likely to have repercussions at least as serious. The Republicans’ willingness to use the debt ceiling as a hostage in budget negotiations proves a lack of seriousness or sincerity. It’s like threatening to shoot a sick person unless a doctor agrees to see him.
In this season of rapid-fire wisdom condensed and delivered at campuses all over the world, I cannot help recalling my favorite commencement speech. (NB: I wasn’t “commencing,” mind you, but keeping in touch with the old turf.) J.K. Rowling addressed Harvard in 2008, recommending to them that they consider the benefits of failure. And consider the audience–not a group generally considered, at least as they gather at graduation, to be failure-prone. A courageous move. Whole text/video here. Money quote:
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
She’s not saying that failure is a good thing. Nor is she saying that bad news always has a silver lining, and it’ll all be OK. She directs their attention to the askesis of failure engaged mindfully. Not, perhaps, unlike the way Ignatius reminds us to remember desolation in times of consolation, to prepare ourselves for what will come. (And vice versa.) She went on to discuss imagination. Hmmm….Rowling an Ignatian? Seems so…
And you? Commencement speakers, new or old, who stick out in your mind?
Today the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “circular letter” to bishops conferences worldwide asking them to develop guidelines for responding to abuse allegations. The letter is intended to help bishops formulate these guidelines–the letter itself doesn’t contain new rules. Although, according to Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the CDF, the guidelines should involve the major superiors of religious institutes, to make sure both diocesan and religious priests are covered. (Bishops lack the canonical authority to suspend religious priests–an issue that has caused a great deal of confusion in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.) Bishops are to send the new rules to the CDF by May 2012.
Here’s what the CDF is asking bishops to keep in mind while writing their guidelines.
The Speaker made his somewhat contested appearance at commencement and delivered a fairly standard buck up speech that offered no insights into how his faith informs his politics. That is disappointing, I think, but not surprising. But among his folksy recollections — which aimed at showing how Catholicism makes you tough, it seemed — was this keeper:
“I played football in high school. The Moeller High School football team was the Moeller Crusaders. And our coach, Gerry Faust, made sure we earned every bit of that name. For him, there was no distinction between the spiritual life in the Church and the physical grind of the football field. He made no bones about it. He would tell us in no uncertain terms that life is a precious gift from God, and therefore making the most of one’s life is a direct form of devotion to the Virgin Mary.
“He’d have the whole team kneel down and pray the Hail Mary before every meeting, every practice, and every game. Then we’d go out and smash heads with the other team for four quarters…all in the name of the Blessed Mother. That gives you an idea of the kind of guy Coach Faust was, and still is. And it was the basis for a lesson he taught us, one I’ve been repeating ever since: ‘There’s nothing in life you can’t achieve if you’re willing to work hard enough and make the sacrifices necessary to succeed.’
Yeah, well. That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Except sometimes it kills you. Go figure.
What are dissident voices saying to the military and the government in Pakistan? Here’s one “Sulks and Self-Delusion” published in the English language version of Dawn. Not exactly Glenn Greenwald, but asking some good questions.
“LOST in the strident blame game between Islamabad and Washington in the aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad is any clarity about the basis of their relationship. While conspiracy theories and accusations are being hurled back and forth, nobody`s asking: what next? This confusion is more pronounced in Pakistan where a humiliated high command is issuing angry statements to little purpose. One example of its fury emerged when Maj-Gen John Campbell, US commander of forces in eastern Afghanistan, said that for two days, he could get no response at all from his Pakistani counterpart.”
And the link to Dawn for those keeping abreast.
UPDATE: Apropos of Syria’s strategy discussed below, there is this from Anthony Shadid of the NYTimes on yesterday’s Israel-Syria border incidents. And here is Juan Cole on the range of incidents that accompanied the Palestinian observance of Nakba, “The Arab Spring Comes to Israel” (Warning: not for the closed minded; may bring on apoplexy).
I’ve just finished reading 38 papers from my “Exploring Catholicism” course. They are a take-home final: an effort to encourage the students to bring the semester’s readings and presentations together into a synthesis that is both faithful to the material covered, yet also personal. Reading them is sometimes tedious, but more often stimulating, even thrilling.
One of the requirements is that, on the title page, they place an “epigraph,” some excerpt from one of the semester’s readings that conveys a particular insight they carry away with them. Here is a sampling of what they chose and the authors from whom the quotes come:
“The Word of God, the eternal Son of the Father, became man; God became part of what he created. But this work of God was not an event that occurred once and then receded into the past; the Incarnation was meant to change creation and to change history, and to do so in a way that the change remained palpably present” (Robert Sokolowski)
“For Christians, Jesus Christ is the center of everything: our meaning, our hope, our self-understanding, our church lives, our theologies, and our spiritualities … What Jesus wants of us is that we undergo his presence so as to enter into a community of life and celebration with him” (Ronald Rolheiser)
“He did not say: You will not be assailed, you will not be belaboured, you will not be disquieted, but he said: You will not be overcome” (Julian of Norwich)
“We should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone” (Benedict XVI)
“I saw the scattered elements unite, bound all with love into one book of praise, in the deep ocean of the Infinite” (Dante Alighieri)
“Here ceased the powers of my high fantasy. Already were all my will and my desires turned — as a wheel in equal balance — by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Dante Alighieri)
Post Scriptum from a student:
“I thought you should know that the piece we read by Andre Dubus, “On Charon’s Wharf” had a profound affect on me. It made me appreciate the time I have with my friends and the ones I hold close to my heart. I continually re-read the piece throughout the semester, and went as far as sharing it with a few people. I do hope you continue to pass out that small, but important piece for future classes!”
Today the Associated Press ran a story on Ana Maria Catanzaro’s Commonweal article, “The Fog of Scandal.” If you’ve read the piece, you won’t learn much, but the story does contain a couple of interesting items.
First, Nicholas Cafardi–former chair of the National Review Board and author of “Another Long Lent” (among several other Commonweal articles)–told the AP that Catanzaro “should feel very, very used. They’re being asked to give credibility to a process that is supposed to involve them but didn’t.”
Second, in response to Catanzaro, the archdiocese said: “The observations of Dr. Catanzaro and other review-board members are critical to implementing the best possible methods.” Yes, and that’s precisely why an archbishop, or an auxiliary bishop, or any chancery official should not be cutting them out of the process. You’ll recall from Catanzaro’s piece that the Philadelphia review board did not see every allegation received by the archdiocese. Board members still do not know exactly how the archdiocese determines which cases to send to the board, nor do they know who makes the determination. Now the AP is reporting that the archdiocese has hired “a second former city prosecutor, Albert Toczydlowski, to ensure that complaints are thoroughly investigated and sent to the review board in a timely fashion.” Better late than never, but it shouldn’t take an ex-prosecutor to figure out that a diocesan review board won’t work very well if it’s not looking at all allegations received by the archdiocese. That is, after all, the point of review boards: to help bishops determine whether an allegation is credible, and whether to suspend the accused. No preliminary culling required. It’s good that the archdiocese added another outside investigator, but they could have saved themselves some money if they’d simply announced that the practice of prescreening allegations had come to an end.
Jim Lehrer is continuing to step back from his “Newshour” duties, graciously ceding his place to younger colleagues. Here is a recap of his distinguished career. At the end of the segment he enunciates the “guidelines” which have made him one of the most respected voices in American journalism. Ad multos annos!
Here is a smart analysis of why Qaddafi is likely to go while Syrian president Assad of Syria is not–or at least not with U.S. participation (or probably anyone else’s). Arron David Miller in FP.
“If you’re a bit confused about U.S. President Barack Obama’s passivity in the face of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal repression of domestic opposition, don’t be. Syria isn’t Libya. The Assad regime is just too consequential to risk undermining.
“Although the fall of the House of Assad might actually benefit U.S. interests, the president isn’t going to encourage it. For realists in the White House, Assad’s demise carries more risks than opportunities.”
Anthony Shadid of the NYTimes seems to have been allowed into Syria, which has banned most journalists (May 13). And from May 12. This (May 9) from a Syrian government spokeswoman: “The remarks by Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Mr. Assad who often serves as an official spokeswoman, suggested that a government accustomed to adapting in the face of crises was prepared to weather international condemnation and sanctions. Her confidence came in stark contrast to appearances just two weeks ago, when the government seemed to stagger before the breadth and resilience of protests in dozens of towns and cities.”
This in today’s Time’s from Mahmoud Gebril ElWarfally, interim prime minister of the Transitional National Council of the Libyan Republic…
Stephen Walt, who opposed U.S. intervention of Libya, asks: “Twilight for Qaddafi?” He thinks the answers is yes, but asks about what is to follow.
And this from Michael Young a columnist for a leading Lebanese paper: “Syria fortifies Obama in his indecision,” which critiques the Shadid interviews.
Speaking of unreformed liturgies…Stephen Colbert can’t kick the habit. So to speak.
H/T: Thomas Peters, the “American Papist”
Just posted, an important article by Ana Maria Catanzaro, chair of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s review board.
Eight years ago, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua asked me to join the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s sexual-abuse review board, which he was putting together to help him determine the credibility of allegations against priests. His invitation provided an opportunity and a challenge. If I wanted to be a part of the solution, here was my chance. And so, after much praying—and hand-wringing—I accepted.
Given the nature of the cases we’d have to review, I never imagined the work would be easy. Board members have worked hard to help the church address the crisis—and keep children safe. We thought we were making a difference. So, when a 2005 grand jury strongly criticized the archdiocese for its handling of abusive priests, the board was as surprised and dismayed as anyone. But none of us was prepared for the news that broke this past February, when a second grand-jury report resulted in the indictment of four priests and claimed that it had found “substantial evidence” another thirty-seven, all still in active ministry, had abused. (Subsequently, twenty-seven priests have been suspended, pending further investigation.)
The February 2011 grand jury criticized the review board for not recommending the suspension of several priests. “In cases where the archdiocese’s review board has made a determination,” the grand-jury report states, “the results have often been even worse than no decision at all.” That sweeping judgment stunned review-board members. The grand jury had never asked us to testify about how we arrived at recommendations. In fact, the board had reviewed just ten cases involving the thirty-seven priests. None of the evidence we saw concerning the ten led us to conclude they had sexually abused minors. But until the grand-jury report came out, the board was under the impression that we were reviewing every abuse allegation received by the archdiocese. Instead, we had been advised only about allegations previously determined by archdiocesan officials to have involved the sexual abuse of a minor—a determination we had been under the impression was ours to make. The board still doesn’t know who made those decisions.
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Torture didn’t lead us to bin Laden. Torture is still wrong. And torture is counterproductive. So says Sen. John McCain in a strong opinion piece in today’s Washington Post.
McCain debunks the assertions that waterboarding led directly to bin Laden, stating clearly that claims to that effect made by former attorney general Michael Mukasey are “false.”
I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda. Read the rest of this entry »
Various threats from our Congress to cut off aid to Pakistan are likely to come to nothing in the short-term. Medium term will depend on what comes of U.S. Afghanistan policy. The discussion, however, has produced some interesting facts and factoids about other of Pakistan’s alliances. Here are samples of the discussion.
Tom (the world’s not so flat as I once thought) Friedman has this in his May 11 column
Lawrence Wright looks at the history of U.S. aid to Pakistan in this weeks New Yorker.
Pat Lang has a diverse set of comments on the issue.
Elizabeth Rubin in the NYRB.
One possible conclusion from all of this is that the U.S. is actually funding everybody: the Pakistani military and security, the Taliban, and the insurgents in Pakistan as well as all the factions in Afghanistan.
House Speaker John Boehner is giving the commencement address at Catholic University of America this Saturday, and the contrast between the reaction (or lack thereof) to his appearance and that of Barack Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame two years ago is notable.
Some will of course say that Obama is pro-choice (or other, ahem, labels) and Boehner is “pro-life,” or at least against abortion rights. But Boehner is also a Catholic, CUA is the bishops’ university, and Boehner’s budget proposals have been anything but pro-life. Indeed, the GOP plans would tend to reward the wealthy while cutting programs for the most vulnerable in ways that will lead to unnecessary suffering by the most vulenrable.
The bishops themselves set out their criteria for the “moral measure” of the budget debate in a letter to Congress last week.
Now more than 70 Catholic theologians, scholars, priests, sisters and social justice leaders have signed a letter pointing out Boehner’s variance with church teachings and plan to deliver the letter to Boehner’s office on Thursday morning along with a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Michael Sean Winters has a copy of the letter at NCR, and an initial analysis here. Notable about the letter is that the Catholic leaders do not demand that CUA cancel the invitation nor do they engage in any of the ugly hectoring and personal attacks that were deployed against Notre Dame and Obama:
“We congratulate you on the occasion of your commencement address to The Catholic University of America. It is good for Catholic universities to host and engage the thoughts of powerful public figures, even Catholics such as yourself who fail to recognize (whether out of a lack of awareness or dissent) important aspects of Catholic teaching. We write in the hope that this visit will reawaken your familiarity with the teachings of your Church on matters of faith and morals as they relate to governance.”
A vain hope?
UPDATE: From the New York Times story:
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, responded by e-mail: “The Speaker will be delivering a personal, non-political message at the Catholic University of America that he hopes will speak to all members of the graduating class, regardless of their backgrounds or affiliations. He is deeply honored to have been invited by CUA to address the school’s graduating class, and is looking forward to receiving an honorary degree from the only Catholic college in our country that is chartered by Catholic bishops.”
Odd that you’d invite the third-ranking elected official in the country, and the second-most senior Catholic after Joe Biden, and he wouldn’t talk about the very reason he was invited, which is being a Catholic in public life. It would be a shame, in my view, if things had reached the point that Catholics cannot discuss important issues at a Catholic university. That doesn’t seem like the idea of a university, Catholic or not.
PS: The Times story also includes a link to a student newspaper editorial that brags on the choice, though apparently not so much because it is Boehner but because the university, now under new leadership, is allowing speakers with different points of view to address students:
Many times students have been denied the opportunity to hear government leaders right in their own student center or in classrooms because of an arcane speaker policy. As students in the most powerful city in the nation, in reaching distance of policy makers and national leaders, we should be offered the opportunity to experience ideas on each side of the political spectrum. A good university would offer this chance, and then guide us, and have faith, that their students will make the right decision and choices.
Snagging the third most powerful person in the American government is no small feat for our campus. It is a great accomplishment, one that every student, not only the class of 2011, should be proud of. We hope the choice for Boehner as the commencement speaker will open doors for students to hear from other powerful leaders in government, no matter what the party affiliation. Let this be the beginning of a new era for speakers on campus and for more DC only experiences to come to the University.
Well put. And interesting that Boehner should seem to be benefiting from an open approach that allowed Obama to speak at Notre Dame.
Kids react to the killing of Osama bin Laden:
Cancer (or its treatment) has robbed Christopher Hitchens of his speaking voice, and in his latest Vanity Fair column he ponders what this means in terms of writing and life and the writing life. The essay is wonderful for his tips on writing — which make sense to me — but it is also full of the kind of grace notes that only Hitchens, and perhaps only Hitchens under a death warrant, can produce. A taste:
When you fall ill, people send you CDs. Very often, in my experience, these are by Leonard Cohen. So I have recently learned a song, entitled “If It Be Your Will.” It’s a tiny bit saccharine, but it’s beautifully rendered and it opens like this:
If it be your will,
That I speak no more:
And my voice be still,
As it was before …
I find it’s best not to listen to this late at night. Leonard Cohen is unimaginable without, and indissoluble from, his voice. (I now doubt that I could be bothered, or bear, to hear that song done by anybody else.) In some ways, I tell myself, I could hobble along by communicating only in writing. But this is really only because of my age. If I had been robbed of my voice earlier, I doubt that I could ever have achieved much on the page. I owe a vast debt to Simon Hoggart of The Guardian (son of the author of The Uses of Literacy), who about 35 years ago informed me that an article of mine was well argued but dull, and advised me briskly to write “more like the way that you talk.” At the time, I was near speechless at the charge of being boring and never thanked him properly, but in time I appreciated that my fear of self-indulgence and the personal pronoun was its own form of indulgence.
To my writing classes I used later to open by saying that anybody who could talk could also write. Having cheered them up with this easy-to-grasp ladder, I then replaced it with a huge and loathsome snake: “How many people in this class, would you say, can talk? I mean really talk?” That had its duly woeful effect. I told them to read every composition aloud, preferably to a trusted friend. The rules are much the same: Avoid stock expressions (like the plague, as William Safire used to say) and repetitions. Don’t say that as a boy your grandmother used to read to you, unless at that stage of her life she really was a boy, in which case you have probably thrown away a better intro. If something is worth hearing or listening to, it’s very probably worth reading. So, this above all: Find your own voice.
H/T: The Dish
If you’ve been enjoying Unagidon’s serial fiction here at dotCommonweal, you’ll be glad to know the magazine publishes short stories too. Most recently we featured “Outside Gravity” by Jennifer Haigh, which describes a young Boston man’s experience training for the priesthood at the redoubtable St. John’s Seminary just before the Second Vatican Council. If the story left you wanting more, you can check out Faith, the novel from which it is adapted: today is publication day.
Bostonians might also enjoy this video “trailer” for Haigh’s novel. See anything you recognize?
(CNN) – Faith has outweighed fact at Der Tzitung, a Hasidic newspaper based in Brooklyn, New York.
The ultra-Orthodox Jewish publication ran a doctored copy of the iconic “Situation Room Photo” last Friday – you know, the one taken of President Barack Obama and his national security team during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.
Scrubbed from the picture: the two women in the room.
It’s as if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with her hand clasped over her mouth, and Audrey Tomason, director of counterterrorism, weren’t there and weren’t part of history.
Or maybe the raid never really happened at all. And bin Laden is alive. And Obama is NOT the same as Bush! Oh my.
According to Ross Douthat the Democrats have grown up and accepted responsibility for the post-9/11 world. His evidence: Libya intervention and the death of Osama bin Laden.
“There is good news for the country in this turnabout. Having one of their own in the White House has forced Democrats to walk in the Bush administration’s shoes, and appreciate its dilemmas and decisions. To some extent, the Bush-Obama convergence is a sign that the Democratic Party is growing up, putting away certain fond illusions, and accepting its share of responsibility for the messy realities of the post-9/11 world.”
Of course, it’s always gratifying to belong to a group that someone has declared grown up. But the quasi-smug assessment here leaves out a number of relevant issues: political party dynamics and the economic power of military-industrial-security complex that has eroded presidential powers and bought off the Congress.
What else am I missing in this slippery piece of argumentation?
Drawing upon the work of the anthropologist Mary Douglas, philosopher of religion Jeffrey Stout has written about how crossing conceptual and social boundaries, and the products of such crossing, make people deeply uncomfortable. He used the example of a “cabbit” –a cross between a cat and a rabbit–that he saw on a late night television show. It unsettled him, while his young daughter (who hadn’t yet formed firm conceptions of the proper categories for small, warm, and furry things) wasn’t bothered at all by the fuzzy monster.
I thought of this when I saw an entry on Fr. Z’s blog that I couldn’t resist clicking on –on altar girls at the Tridentine Mass. Apparently, it’s not prohibited–but it does seem deeply incongruous to me too, even though I attend Novus Ordo masses and am happy to see girls as well as boys serving Mass.
But here’s my question, drawing upon Stout’s story: if TLM takes on a a larger role and place, will it be possible for it to evolve in ways that seem incongruous to us now, but which aren’t liturgically prohibited–and which won’t seem odd to the next generation, who might be attracted to some aspects of TLM but not to each and every aspect of the way things were done in 1962?
Or is it the case that once a cabbit, always a cabbit–in the realm of liturgy, at least?
BTW, I am asking this straightforwardly as a question: Liturgy isn’t one of my special areas of expertise. I have no view on how TLM should be conducted.
One of the most entertaining features of The New York Review of Books is the predictable follow-up to a critical review. Garry Wills’ recent über-critical review of All Things Shining (mentioned on dotCom by John McGreevy) has elicited counter-accusations by the aggrieved authors:
Any good argument against a position, of course, begins by interpreting it as sympathetically as possible. Perhaps Wills is unable to recognize this hermeneutic charity.
And they conclude, plaintively (though with a touch of hauteur):
Garry Wills has been described as the “finest intellectual historian of our age.” But the particular, well-trodden historical debates he recites are irrelevant to our book’s philosophical claims, and no substitute for serious thinking about them.
Meanwhile, take-no-prisoners Garry, comes to the fray armed with his ready rejoinder:
They do not even mention the matters that were most noticed as sacred “shining moments” in their book—the worship of Roger Federer’s tennis, the “praises of the Lord” for Demon Deacons, the canonization of Elizabeth Gilbert for submitting to the god of her own genius. They especially do not take the opportunity to explain, at last, their wildest idea—that carefully brewed coffee is a prophylactic against the “whoosh” of Hitler rallies. They vaguely dance away from all that with a dismissive claim that I am talking history and they are talking philosophy—as if philosophy were a warrant for making false statements, over and over.
Though I’ve given the essence of their ephemeral joust, those who would relish the whole exchange of whooshes can find it here.
One only hopes that all parties will read the piece on Orwell in the same issue of the Review (referenced below by DG) and come to recognize one another as fellow-travelers-with-falling trousers.
Trail of crumbs: AL Daily pointed me to a fine New York Review of Books essay by Simon Leys on George Orwell, and a passage that put me in mind of Lisa Fullam’s recent post on blogging, and the despair some feel at the way we often treat each other in our virtual world. To wit:
Even in the heat of battle [Leys writes], and precisely because he distrusted ideology—ideology kills—Orwell remained always acutely aware of the primacy that must be given to human individuals over all “the smelly little orthodoxies.” His exchange of letters (and subsequent friendship) with Stephen Spender provides a splendid example of this. Orwell had lampooned Spender (“parlour Bolshevik,” “pansy poet”); then they met: the encounter was actually pleasant, which puzzled Spender, who wrote to Orwell on this very subject. Orwell, who later became a friend of Spender’s, replied:
“You ask how it is that I attacked you not having met you, & on the other hand changed my mind after meeting you…. [Formerly] I was willing to use you as a symbol of the parlour Bolshie because a. your verse…did not mean very much to me, b. I looked upon you as a sort of fashionable successful person, also a Communist or Communist sympathiser, & I have been very hostile to the C.P. since about 1935, and c. because not having met you I could regard you as a type & also an abstraction. Even if, when I met you, I had happened not to like you, I should still have been bound to change my attitude, because when you meet someone in the flesh you realise immediately that he is a human being and not a sort of caricature embodying certain ideas. It is partly for this reason that I don’t mix much in literary circles, because I know from experience that once I have met & spoken with anyone I shall never again be able to show any intellectual brutality towards him, even when I feel that I ought to, like the Labour M.P.s who get patted on the back by dukes & are lost forever more.”
Which immediately calls back to mind a remarkable passage of Homage to Catalonia: Orwell described how, fighting on the front line during the Spanish civil war, he saw a man jumping out of the enemy trench, half-dressed and holding his trousers with both hands as he ran:
“I did not shoot partly because of that detail about the trousers. I had come here to shoot at ‘Fascists’; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn’t a ‘Fascist,’ he is visibly a fellow creature, similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting at him.”
Perhaps a good image to keep in mind for those in the blogging trenches?
The Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, under the direction of Mary Ann Glendon, had a conference on religious liberty last week. I have not had a chance to read the papers yet -and I’m not sure that it is even possible to do so. According to news reports, however, the thesis of the conference is that religious liberty is good–good for the stability of liberal democratic societies, among other things. Believers, according to Glendon and others, are leaven in political society.
The event crystallized in my mind a question I’ve been grappling with for a while: does the”leavening” relationship of religious belief and liberal democratic values flow in one direction, or both directions?
In the United States, religious believers have been very active in shaping the political and social direction of the country. In response to criticisms of this intervention, the response is essentially, “Believers are citizens too. We have a right to participate in the political process.”
But if believers are citizens, many citizens are also believers. What, in principle, is wrong with believers using the power of citizenship to prod their religious communities in a direction more consonant with their fundamental values as citizens, which they believe to be fundamental values of humanity as a whole? Does the leavening go both ways? Or not? Re-reading the news reports of the Vatican conference, it appears to me that the prevailing assumption is that any effort to intervene in a religious community’s operations is assumed to be the work of secularists who hate religion. But suppose it is the work of believers who wish to see some practices of the religion they love reformed to better conform to the moral truth?
Would it be wrong, for example, for Catholic citizens to join together with other citizens and make 501(c)(3) status–tax exempt status as a charitable corporation–dependent upon having effective child protection procedures in place? This requirement couldn’t and shouldn’t be targeted only against sex abuse in the clergy, either theoretically or practically. But it could be targeting at sex abusers in institutions more generally. If loyal citizens draw upon the resources of their faith communities to reshape the political context in accordance with fundamental values, why can’t loyal believers draw upon the resources of the political community to reshape the religious culture in accordance with fundamental values?
The Catholic Church does not condone sexual abuse, so the prior example would be using federal funding mechanisms to make it live up to its own values. More extremely, would it be wrong for reformers in religious communities to press for internal religious reform in line with the basic values of the society by using the tools of government financing? If so, why?
What is the difference, after all, in saying that we will not send government money to organizations (religious or not) that are associated with performing abortions (despite the fact that it is a constitutionally protected right), and we will not send government money to organizations (religious or not) that discriminate on the basis of sex or race, or which practice internal censorship, or which advocate imposing religious law upon the whole country (despite the fact that it is a constitutionally protected right to advocate the overthrow of the First Amendment)?
Is the argument about taking ultimate care to preserve the internal autonomy of religious institutions to engage in practices (racism, censorship, or sexism) that are widely held to violate this society’s deeply held political values ultimately relativistic? If one is convinced that certain actions or omissions are objectively and seriously morally wrong, why should it matter that they are practiced by religious groups–one’s own or others’?
Moreover, we can distinguish between actively intervening to stop groups which perform a certain practice and deciding not to fund them. This is how pro-lifers want to deal with abortion. We can’t outlaw it, but we don’t have to fund it. Why not use this distinction to target other objective moral wrongs as well–whether or not they are practiced by religious institutions?
The general answer is: well, we don’t give federal funds to institutions that violate the principle of the equality of the races (the Bob Jones University case), but we leave more room on disputed questions (like sex discrimination). Is that response ultimately workable?