The murders in Charleston have summoned all the cliches about race, racism, black, white, etc., that are part of summertime news. The parishioners at Emanuel AME Church mourn the people they knew and loved and their relatives and friends weep and forgive. The rest of us should be sorting through cause and effect. It might actually sober everyone up.
This morning's NYTimes looks at the organization that inspired Roof to murder and it looks at who is the beneficiary of its political contributions.
"What is Whitness" in the NYTimes Sunday Review reminded us that once upon a time scientists divined many more races, Celts, Saxons, Southern Italians, etc, than they divine today.
The truth, as I see it, is that if black men and women, black boys and girls, mattered, if we were seen as living, we would not be dying simply because whites don’t like us. Our deaths inside a system of racism existed before we were born. The legacy of black bodies as property and subsequently three-fifths human continues to pollute the white imagination. To inhabit our citizenry fully, we have to not only understand this, but also grasp it. In the words of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, “The problem is we have to find some way with these dialogues to show and to encourage the white liberal to stop being a liberal and become an American radical.” And, as my friend the critic and poet Fred Moten has written: “I believe in the world and want to be in it. I want to be in it all the way to the end of it because I believe in another world and I want to be in that.” This other world, that world, would presumably be one where black living matters. But we can’t get there without fully recognizing what is here.
If my being a Catholic must be predicated on the belief that the God of the Israelites decided to inseminate a peasant woman in the Levant in order to birth a human sacrifice who would rise from the dead and redeem the world, and whose resurrection would then inspire an apostolic company who could interpret the sacred while taking my money and demanding my servitude, then you’ll forgive me, but I can’t call myself a Catholic. In Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, Mary McCarthy admits: “I am not sorry to have been a Catholic”—“this sensuous life,” she calls it, and like Percy and O’Connor she speaks of “the sense of mystery and wonder,” of how in certain “exalted moments of altruism the soul was fired with reverence.” I’d like to second that: I am not sorry to have been a Catholic. An upbringing in the Church has, I suspect and hope, outfitted me well as a storyteller.
James Salter died last Friday. Here is Nick Paumgarten on his life and work:
He was modest yet certain about his talents, anxious yet cool about his reputation, and somehow both demure and effusive about his influences. When I asked him where he thought his style came from, he replied, “Who knows.” And yet, he loved to talk about his favorite writers and what he had learned from them. Still, a knack is a knack. “In a way, it’s the way certain people can keep a tune and others can’t keep a tune,” he said. “Certain people can keep a word tune, so to speak, and certain people cannot. And, above all, certain people can tell a story, and other people can’t. They don’t hear that point where something else has to come. This is an ordinary talent you can hear in any barroom. You’re sitting there listening, and it’s a terrific story that you just told, or that he’s just told. And somebody else is telling one and your mind is wandering. You’re waiting to interrupt. What is that? They don’t mean not to be interesting. It’s not a gene or anything. It’s just that little thing, like keeping a tune.”
Pope Francis’s new environmental encyclical cites the usual sources. In addition to Scripture, we find the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the encyclicals and addresses of his papal predecessors, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, his own Evangelii Gaudium, and others.
Most surprising, however, is Francis’s turn to the documents of national and regional bishops’ conferences. He cites one USCCB document (no. 52), one from the Canadians (no. 85), two from the Germans (nos. 48 and 69), and one from the Portuguese (no. 159). I counted twenty-one references to environmental documents from episcopal conferences. Only the five mentioned above represent North America and Europe. The remaining sixteen refer to documents from bishops’ conferences in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Twice he cites the Latin American Bishops’ 2007 Aparecida document, on which he worked (nos. 38 and 54).
These references are doubly striking. First, Pope Francis is the self-proclaimed “man from the end of the world,” who appoints new cardinals from places many Americans have never heard of. As the pope of the periphery, Francis does not treat such questions as the environment and the family exclusively, or even primarily, in terms of perspectives dominant in Washington, Bonn, London, or even Rome. He wants to hear the voices of the churches from the Global South. Americans are going to have to get used to the fact that they make up only about 4% of the world’s Catholics. As this encyclical makes clear, Pope Francis does not map easily on to the landscape of cultural and political strife in the United States. His upcoming visits to Washington and Philadelphia will, I suspect, make this even clearer.
Second, these twenty-one references to teaching documents of episcopal conferences signal Francis’s own vision that the church of which he is chief pastor and teacher is a collegial body.Read more
In her Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, Elizabeth Johnson describes Darwin as "a beholder," citing the first three words of the first chapter of his On the Origin of Species: "When we look...". In this looking, Johnson claims that Darwin was not simply the disinterested observer that some, who still hold to the myth of scientific objectivity, would have us believe. Rather, Johnson claims that Darwin was a seer who beholds what is in order to penetrate more deeply into its fundamental structures, and, in so doing, is able to do justice not only to its presence but also to its future. This is to say that Darwin's theory of evolution is not simply an account of what is and how it came to be, but it also has something to say about what is to come, namely that it is likely to be at the same time completely continuous with and unpredictable in terms of our present reality.
It is this latter unpredictability that philosopher and anthropologist Bruno Latour argues is lost on contemporary neo-Darwinians, like Richard Dawkins, and it holds the key to understanding what makes Darwin's reverential beholding distinct from the mere observations of his most fervent would-be disciples. In his article "Will Non-Humans Be Saved?" Latour claims that the revolutionary discovery of "Saint Darwin," which makes him a later-day "Father of the Church," was that organisms are "creativity all the way down." What this means is that in emerging from a process that begins in the radical contingency of random mutation, each new species is a creation ex nihilo that in coming from nowhere, goes nowhere. Rather than being determined by evolution as if by a mechanical process that leaves no room for artistry, what Darwin saw when he looked at nature was a living composition that unfurled across time like a piece of music in which each new movement was completely unprecedented and yet instantly recognizable.
In his new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, Pope Francis can be found singing much the same tune, even if the lyrics are those of the slightly more orthodox saint - Francis of Assisi.Read more
In this morning’s Sakaal Times, Pune’s Bishop Thomas Dabre, while promoting Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, added that his diocese would promote greater austerity and sustainability measures across Pune.
His response caught the general reaction of Catholics here in India. In fact all the major newspapers, The Times of India, The Indian Express, and The Sakaal Times covered the encyclical’s launch favorably. Interestingly the only dissenting voice reported in the newspapers was Jeb Bush’s!
Indian Catholics already recognize the need to respond to climate change. For instance, Sr. Julia George, SSPS, a lawyer who advocates for women domestic workers told me that women bear the brunt of environmental challenges in India. In rural and urban areas, women are the ones who need to find and carry the water, for instance, that is needed for their families or for those for whom they work. As the environment worsens, so does the plight of women throughout India.
Sr. Nameeta, OCV, a physician from Mumbai, asks, "Can we sing a Canticle of Praise to the Lord, when we wound Mother Earth everyday? This is an enigma. The encyclical exposes our hypocrisy." Like other Catholics, she believes deeply that the time for the encyclical is now.Read more
It is tempting just to look away from the news about the Charleston shooting. Such incidents now seem to function in our culture as a kind of hyper-reality television. As new details emerge, we bat them around in conversation with family, friends, and colleagues. We strike the attitudes of baffled outrage that decency seems to require. After a few days or weeks the outrage becomes stale, the story slips from the headlines, and we all move on—until the next horrible shooting a few months later. In the meantime, nothing changes. Our gun laws and our mental-health system remain the same.
In this case, there is also the issue of racism, about which much of the country seems to be in denial. Jon Stewart called it an open wound on last night’s Daily Show, which became, for one episode, a comedy-free program. This is not an original metaphor, but it's a good one. Open wounds become infected if you ignore them, and that’s what seems to be happening with racism during the second term of our first black president. We can’t expect our politicians to make the racism go away—it’s too deep and complex a problem to be solved by policy alone—but they must do the little they can. At the very least, they must acknowledge that the problem persists.
Our gun laws, which indirectly cause so many real wounds, are not exactly an open wound. They are an embarrassing anachronism preserved by a chronic irrationality. We could fix them tomorrow if we wanted to. Not enough of us do because of ideology—and, in particular, because of an ahistorical idolatry of the Second Amendment. Other advanced countries have to deal with mental illness and racism, but they don’t have to persuade themselves that periodic mass shootings are just part of life, like car accidents. As President Obama sugested, the difference is our gun laws.
How crazy was the shooter? We don’t know yet. If his belief that he could start another civil war by murdering nine people in a black church is what proves he’s crazy, how much crazier is he than all the people who talk about needing their guns so they can overthrow a tyrannical federal government? Or, if it’s his monstrous racism that’s supposed to prove he’s crazy, then were the lynchings that used to take place in South Carolina just an outbreak of mental illness? “Mentally ill” is the term we now use to explain many, if not most, acts of individual evil. For collective wickedness, we have other words. What is our word for whatever keeps the Confederate flag flying above South Carolina’s capitol building two days after the massacre in Charleston?
Although a big part of me wanted former NBC news anchor Brian Williams to be fired after he embellished and even downright fabricated stories about his reporting in the field, I can accept his just announced return to a new and different job at MSNBC. Lester Holt has held the NBC anchor chair since Williams was suspended without pay for six months, and it would have been unforgivable on two counts—at least among journalists—to give Williams his old job back.
One, Holt has done a fine job. He's more Walter Cronkite, while Williams is more Johnny Carson. Two, even though Williams lied mostly on talk shows, not from the anchor chair, he shouldn't get to lead a news organization. Not even if viewers—and therefore advertisers—don't care. Surely corporate news executives retain, or feel compelled to exhibit, at least that much decency.
But given that Williams has apologized and been humiliated for his sins, I don't think it's necessary that he be drummed entirely and permanently out of the news business. I must say, however, that during my years in the business I've seen non-celebrity journalists drummed out for less.Read more
Understanding last night's massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, where a young white man entered one of the city's oldest historically black churches and shot to death nine people who were participating in a prayer meeting, requires understanding the intersection of race and religion in the American South, and that is no small matter.
I know this difficulty firsthand: about two years ago I moved with my family to Tallahassee, Florida, and in the past few months we stopped attending the large, predominantly white parish on the north side of town where we enrolled as parishioners when we first moved in, and are now going instead to a small parish on the city's south side where the congregation at the English-language Mass is so predominantly black that ours is often the only white family in attendance.Read more
Here’s a mid-day roundup of response to Laudato Si’ from around the web (if you've already made sure to read Anthony Annett, David Cloutier, Michael Peppard, and Massimo Faggioli on Commonweal). Start with E. J. Dionne Jr., who, in a column posted to our website, says anyone who claims Francis is inventing radical new doctrines
will have to reckon with the care he takes in paying homage to his predecessors, particularly Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II. He cites them over and over on the limits of markets and the urgency of environmental stewardship. Laudato Si’ is thus thoroughly consistent with over a century of modern Catholic social teaching, and if it breaks new ground, it does so within the context of a long tradition -- going back to St. Francis himself.
Similarly, Emma Green in The Atlantic:
Historical references … are peppered throughout the document, and they serve as an important reminder to an often-giddy media that loves to write about today’s revolutionary pope: In the Church, precedent is everything. Francis’s argument is deeply grounded in Catholic teachings dating back to the late-19th-century writings of Pope Leo XIII (and before that, Jesus). … This is far from the Church’s first foray into environmentalism. “I always remind my environmental friends that St. Francis was ours before he was theirs,” said John Carr, a professor at Georgetown and former staffer at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “This didn’t begin with Earth Day or Al Gore. It began with Genesis.”
R. R. Reno at First Things:
In this encyclical, Francis expresses strikingly anti-scientific, anti-technological, and anti-progressive sentiments. In fact, this is perhaps the most anti-modern encyclical since the Syllabus of Errors, Pius IX’s haughty 1864 dismissal of the conceits of the modern era. … Francis has penned a cri de coeur, a dark reflection on the systemic evils of modernity. Like the prophet Ezekiel, Pope Francis sees perversion and decadence in a global system dominated by those who consume and destroy. The only answer is repentance, “deep change,” and a “bold cultural revolution.” If Francis continues in this trajectory, Catholicism will circle back to its older, more adversarial relationship with modernity.
But Josiah Neely, also at First Things, calls Laudato Si' “a more measured affair” that deserves fuller reading: “[T]here seems to be a fairly large disconnect between the criticism of (much of it made prior to the release of the actual text) and the encyclical itself.”
Francis X. Rocca in the Wall St. Journal zeroes in on “passionate language likely to prove highly divisive” and characterizes Laudato Si’ as a “broad and uncompromising indictment of the global market economy.”
What, George Weigel asks, does Francis write in the encyclical?Read more
Laudato Si' offers two long-lasting gifts to the church. Through the body of the text, Francis first exhorts us to examine and renew our commitments to God, one another, and "our common home" on earth through an "integral ecology." But the footnotes of the text tell another story, related but distinct from the first. Francis has shown how the Pope can honor and foster collegiality and synodality among the world's Christian leaders.
Those aren't household words, but the concepts are simple enough. Collegiality refers to "the Pope governing the Church in collaboration with the bishops of the local Churches, respecting their proper autonomy." Synodality is "the practical expression of the participation of the local Church in the governance of the universal Church, through deliberative bodies."
The extent to which Francis manifests these concepts in Laudato Si' is breathtaking. He cites seventeen different bishops' conferences or regional meetings (some of them more than once) from six continents. In order of appearance, they represent: Southern Africa, the Philippines, Bolivia, Germany, Argentina, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, New Zealand, the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, Portugal, Mexico, and Australia.Read more
The overwhelming immediate importance of Laudato Si’ is to call both church and world to respond to the “urgent challenge to protect our common home” (13). As Tony Annett has already ably pointed out, Francis is not mincing words here, even if he is careful. Above all, the encyclical suggests we are home-wreckers, yet we also have a chance for a deeper conversion from our “internal deserts,” (217; one of the many quotes from Benedict XVI) to a more joyful and more challenging way of life: “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom” (205). Such a response, the pope makes clear in chapters 1 & 5, requires international cooperation because of the nature of the problems. That Francis chose to highlight the atmosphere, water, and the diversity of species is telling – these are all problems where global cooperation is absolutely necessary. Your car, lawn, and hardwood flooring may very well be implicated, but “nevertheless, self-improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today” (219).
Chapters 1 & 5 contain a lot of the material that will grab attention in the larger media. But the heart of the encyclical theologically and spiritually is chapters 2-4. It is important to highlight that this document is firmly and clearly theological. If we contemplate the broad structure of these chapters, we can see an elegant scheme of creation, fall, and redemption. This fundamental pattern of the Christian narrative is so easy to forget – to sing “Canticle of the Sun” while forgetting the cross, or to offer the cross as an escape hatch from creation, rather than a tree of life that makes way for the Spirit’s renewal of creation. To read the encyclical as a whole – not always easy given its length and its incredible detail! – is to be reminded of this basic pattern: God’s gift, our human sinfulness, and the everlasting covenant sealed by the Spirit, promising a vision of renewal to the ends of the earth.Read more
1. The encyclical strongly affirms the climate science and the gravity of the environmental challenge. The pope states clearly that the recent global warming is due to greenhouse gas emissions, caused mainly by human activity. He delves into the science, and even discusses risk factors like ocean acidification, the loss of tropical forests, and the release of methane from melting ice sheets. He calls climate change one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Overall, the discussion of the environmental threats is deep and wide-ranging, with discussions of water, ecosystems, and biodiversity. In places, the diagnosis is characteristically blunt: “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth”.
2. In the face of this crisis, the pope lambasts those who fail to act. Noting the failure to find solutions to the environmental crisis, Pope Francis pins the blame on obstruction by vested interests, general indifference, and blind confidence in technical solutions. He is particularly critical of people who possess more resources or more political and economic power, who seem concerned with “masking the problems or concealing their symptoms”. He notes that special interests trump the common good and manipulate information so that their own plans will not be affected. He criticizes a habit of evasiveness designed to feed “self-destructive vices”.
3. The encyclical calls for a dramatic reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, and for rich countries to help poorer countries on this path. It notes that fossil fuels need to be “progressively and quickly replaced” with renewables. This requires action at the global, national, and local levels. Given the complete failure of governments to reach agreement almost a quarter century after the Rio Earth summit in 1992, the pope notes that “we believers cannot fail to ask God for a positive outcome to the present discussions”. Noting that the poor pay the price for climate change—and indeed, that an “ecological debt” exists between north and south—Pope Francis also calls for the richer countries, who have enjoyed prosperity at the cost of polluting the planet, to help the poorer countries overcome climate change and move to lower-carbon energy systems.Read more
This morning Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato Si' was released and presented by Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace.” Alongside Turkson were other presenters: Metropolitan John Zizioulas, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church; Professor John Schellnhuber, founder and director of the Institute for Climate Impact in Potsdam; Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services and former dean of the Mendoza College of Business of the University of Notre Dame; and Valeria Martano, a teacher from Rome. The following is some selected Twitter coverage of the event as it happened.
I invite all to pause to think about the challenges we face regarding care for our common home. #LaudatoSi
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 18, 2015
The conference begins:
— Carolyn Woo (@WooCRS) June 18, 2015
— Antonio Spadaro SJ (@antoniospadaro) June 18, 2015
Just posted to the homepage, Massimo Faggioli's reading of Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato si'.
In some ways, Laudato si’ picks up where Evangelii gaudium left off. Francis decries the “culture of waste,” abuses of technology, and profit-mad globalization. As expected, he affirms the scientific consensus on global warming. In order to better listen to what the earth is telling us, Francis writes, the church must advocate for the poor—the first to suffer the effects of climate change. The pope rejects “demographic solutions” (like Paul VI in Humanae vitae, but Francis does not quote that text here), such as population control. He criticizes wealthy nations that leverage the needs of poorer ones for political control. Particularly strong is the pope’s analysis of the relations between politics, the global economy, and information, which is manipulated by business interests. Francis laments that in the debate on the environment, the role of politics is largely absent.
The Gospel calls the church to speak out against whatever threatens the dignity of every human being, including inequality. In this sense, the ecology of Francis is fully prolife: respect for people and respect for other creatures are closely connected. The strongest section of Laudato Si’ is its critique of technocracy (a skepticism shared by Benedict XVI). The “technocratic paradigm” is reflected in our failure to grasp the fact that many of the earth’s resources are finite. For Francis, technology is never neutral—it can be used to ill effect. The market itself will not correct this on its own. Therefore the church itself should offer a unifying voice in order to help us break free from the technocratic paradigm. To that end, Francis urges us to rethink our consumerist excesses: a good relationship with creation presupposes a good relationship with the Creator.
Ecology, according to Francis, always includes care for the poor, for the marginalized, and for nature. It also means protecting culture: the word “inculturation” does not appear in the text, but for Laudato si’ true ecology must be inculturated, not imported with a colonialist mindset. Authentic “human ecology” does not ignore sexual differences: accepting masculinity and femininity is a way of respecting creation, the pope writes, rather than imposing our will on it. In this Catholic presentation of ecology, society has a role in defending the common good, as do nations and governments.
Read the rest right here.
We've posted two new stories to the website.
First, in his weekly letter from Rome, Robert Mickens names Cardinal Pell "the most prominent of the church’s self-described climate change skeptics," and wonders if he--or any Catholic--can "simply ignore the new encyclical or the parts they don’t like":
Many have done so before, not least concerning Paul VI’s controversial 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae. Of course, the cardinal and many others in the hierarchy call such people 'dissenters.'
Plus, a look at which bishops elected by their national episcopal conferences will attend October's Synod on the Family, and a look into the truth behind Francis's (not yet) "tribunal" to try bishops who abuse their office. Read the entire "Letter from Rome" here.
Next, Benjamin F. Carlson shows that China's growing urbanization means rural villages are under threat of extinction, and that may mean the end of "undergound" Roman Catholicism as well:
The countryside is not only the bedrock of Chinese traditions, but also the bedrock of Chinese Catholicism. The majority of China’s one hundred and thirteen dioceses were founded around small, provincial cities.... it is not surprising that China under Xi Jinping has shown little interest in improving ties with the Vatican.
Read all of "New Tests for 'Old' China's Catholics" here.
The word "legacy" appears frequently in stories about the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). And almost without exception it refers to President Obama's legacy.
The defeat last week in the House of a piece of the agreement has been taken as a major defeat for the president, and what's more, at the hands of his fellow Democrats. No doubt, the whole thing will circle around again, and those now on record against the agreement can then vote, yes.
But why would it be singled out as Obama's legacy. We could say that the legacy of NAFTA lives on in the lives of those who lost or never found good jobs over the last two decades, and not in the life of Bill Clinton who signed it. Presumably the major legacy of TPP will be more disruption in job formation, both here and in the "trans-Pacific." Labor and environmental regulations are weak and the ability of a few to make lots of money is strong. Why would any president want that for his legacy?
Joseph A. Komonchak has received the John Courtney Murray Award from the Catholic Theological Society of America, the organization’s highest honor. Regular readers of Commonweal are no doubt familiar with Joe’s work: He is not only a longtime friend and contributor, but also (of course) a leading scholar on Vatican II, the editor of a five-volume history of the council, and the author of more than one hundred and fifty articles. The award was presented June 13 at the CTSA convention in Milwaukee. Please join us in congratulating Joe on winning such well-deserved recognition from his fellow theologians.
Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, widely seen as skeptical of the Francis papacy, has published an Italian draft of the pope's encyclical on the environment, which is scheduled to be released Thursday morning. One Vatican official called the leak "a heinous act." As word of the leak spread, my Twitter feed blew up with complaints that Magister had violated journalistic ethics by writing about an "embargoed" document. And Holy See spokesman Federico Lombardi, SJ, seemed to agree. Emphasizing that Magister's copy is not the final draft, Lombardi suggested that L'Espresso's decision to run with it was unprofessional. "The rules of the embargo remain in place," Lombardi said in a statement.
Magister got his copy from an unofficial source (obviously curial) who imposed no restrictions on its use. An embargo obtains when a source gives a journalist (or journalists) information with the understanding that it cannot be reported until a certain time. The Vatican, for example, is allowing accredited journalists to read the encyclical two hours before it is officially released. The embargo doesn't begin until Thursday morning, when reporters receive their advance copies. If one of them publishes on that text before at 11 a.m. local time, then the embargo will have been broken.
So Lombardi is mistaken. Magister didn't commit any journalistic sin. He got a legitimate scoop, decided making the Holy See Press Office crazy was a price worth paying, and wrote it up. What's unfortunate about the leak is that it will make the Holy See more wary of providing advance warning of the publishing dates of papal documents.
This morning, ten days after the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was criminally charged with child endangerment and five days after Pope Francis announced a new tribunal for bishops who mishandle cases of abusive priests, the Vatican announced the resignations of Archbishop John Nienstedt, along with one of his auxiliary bishops, Lee Piché. Prosecutors charged the archdiocese with failing to protect the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer, the now laicized priest who is serving a five-year sentence for molesting children and possessing child pornography. (The criminal complaint also named several other accused priests whose cases were mishandled by the archdiocese.) Nienstedt's replacement has not yet been named. In the meantime, Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Bernard Hebda as apostolic administrator (not the Twin Cities' remaining auxiliary bishop, Andrew Cozzens)--an unusual move, given the fact that Hebda is already the coadjutor archbishop of Newark, where he lives.
Nienstedt has been buffeted by calls for his resignation ever since his former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, provided Minnesota Public Radio with troubling information about the archdiocese's responses to cases of accused priests. As recently as last July, Nienstedt pledged not to resign. "The resignations were both prudent and necessary," Haselberger told me. "The Holy See has acted wisely by appointing an apostolic administrator."Read more
There is a passage by Iris Murdoch from The Sovereignty of Good where she describes joy in teaching herself the Russian language. “Attention is rewarded by a knowledge of reality,” she writes. “Love of Russian leads me away from myself towards something alien to me, something which my consciousness cannot take over, swallow up, deny or make unreal.” Because the rules of Russian grammar are difficult to master, learning the language pushes Murdoch’s full attention into a humble posture. She’s describing devotional attention, in other words, and its devotional character is what’s most true about it because it makes one’s body and mind confront something you’re not meant to just use, but see.
Matthew Crawford uses Murdoch’s lines in both his books, Shopclass as Soul Craft, and his latest The World Beyond Your Head (reviewed here in Commonweal) where he takes up the issue of “distraction.” His broader argument hinges on this idea that how we train—or don’t train—our focus, even more than what we set it on, shapes whether or not we become the kind of people who can make free and meaningful choices. It’s a philosophical stab at a moral, social, and economic problem: How can we be more than consumers, but free individuals? We can’t, really, if we hand over our focus to whoever and whatever wants it.
Attention, reality, consumerism—worrying about these things now means thinking about digital technology, especially since a lot of us carry a small machine seductively designed for infinite distraction in our pocket. Rand Richards Cooper recently wrote on how Smartphones allow us to check out from where we’re standing. He writes, “Technology is a majestic human story, and the benefits we’ve gotten from farming out our tasks to machines are incalculable. But what happens when what we’re farming out is consciousness itself—the ability to be ourselves, with ourselves, amid the glories of creation?”Read more