Bernard G. Prusak
Bernard G. Prusak is associate professor of philosophy and director of the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
By this author
Three years ago, in response to an article on vegetarianism that I published in this magazine (“All We Can Eat?” July 13, 2007), Andrew Linzey sent me an e-mail with the subject “Disappointment” and the valediction “Yours sorrowfully.” In between, he took me to task for making “the mistake of almost all Catholic moralists” who write on this topic—namely, “of focusing almost entirely [on] the modern secular, philosophical literature for animals…without engaging...the now extensive modern theological discussions
In a New York Times article titled “Making College ‘Relevant’” (December 29, 2009), Kate Zernike reported on the various responses of academic institutions to increasing pressure, from both parents and students, to show that the expense of a liberal-arts education is worth it.
Sometimes, pace the Lord, a prophet is honored only in his native land. So suggests the case of Hans Jonas, a philosopher whose prophetic warnings in the 1970s about dangers to the environment earned him fame in his native Germany and even played a part in inspiring a political movement there, the German Green Party. By contrast, Jonas is hardly a household name in the United States, where he lived from 1952 until his death in 1993, and even many professional philosophers here hardly know his work.
When I was a student at Williams College in the 1990s, Professor Mark C. Taylor was the big man on campus, the intellectual figure to reckon with. If a book had been written with the title God and Man at Williams, the man would have been Taylor, according to whom God was dead. Taylor loomed especially large for students like me who came to Williams with faith in God as well as aspirations, or pretensions, to be intellectually sophisticated. For faith in God, at least according to Taylor and his protégées, was intellectually disreputable.
After living in England for a year, and eating one too many dishes of poorly cooked, unidentified meat, I came home to the United States a vegetarian. Over Thanksgiving dinner, my uncle jokingly proclaimed that I had become an Episcopalian. Admittedly, what makes the joke funny is obscure. But there is a hint in it that becoming a vegetarian is not, well, altogether kosher—that it is something like giving up old-world Catholicism for new-age Episcopalianism.
In Plato’s Apology, Socrates’s claim to be wiser than anyone else in Athens rests on a paradoxical assertion-that he, at least, knows he is ignorant. If institutions spoke as forthrightly, some Catholic colleges and universities today might make a similar claim. More than other colleges and universities in the United States, they know that they do not know, or at least are questioning what the mission of a college or university should now be.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s elegant little book has gotten a lot of press. The reason for the buzz is that the view of constitutional interpretation that he puts forth directly challenges the view of the Court’s most outspoken conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia.
Of all the many documents produced by the Second Vatican Council, none systematically takes up the question of God. More precisely, though the documents refer again and again to God, and in Trinitarian terms, none is devoted to rethinking the church’s understanding of God and God’s relation to the world.