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The Pope as conqueror of prejudice

On the face of it, these pro-homosexualists who don’t like “prejudice” have a point: Mixed message, and Two speeches, two days apart. If it’s true, as the Pope supposedly said, that we should all strive to “overcome preconceived ideas and prejudices, tear down barriers and eliminate contrasts that divide … so as to build together a world of justice and peace,” then it’s not clear why we should accept sexual distinctions rather than struggle against them, with gays heroically leading the way. To be more specific, here’s the way people today understand such statements:


Reconciliation as an ultimate category

Does anyone know what “reconciliation” means in church-speak? Dr. Schori, the Episcopal Presiding Bishop, uses it quite a lot, and calls it the mission of her church, but you never see a clear definition.


More on the Mass

The freeing of the Old Mass seems to be drawing closer.


First and last things

Hegel points out somewhere that at one time men started the day by praying or reading the Bible, while in his day they started it by reading a newspaper. Today I suppose they mostly turn on the TV or radio or go online. Whatever the specifics, Hegel’s general point is an important one. When you start a day or anything that matters the point is always to get in touch with where things stand, and how you do that depends on what you think your setting is and what you think is real.

God is the ens realissimum, the Most Real Being. You could turn that around, and say that whatever you think is most real is what you think is God. How men deal with that issue changes from time to time. The classic Christian view is reflected in the Treaty of Paris (1763), ending the Seven Years War, which begins “In the Name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” In contrast, the beginnings of the Declaration of Independence (“When in the course of human events”) and the U.S. Constitution (“We the people”) suggest that by the time they were written history and therefore human activity had become the basic reality. (At least that was so at the highest and most formal level of thought. In slightly more local and day-to-day settings, for example the drafting of state constitutions, men continued to appeal to God.)


A slightly brighter note

Still, in spite of the gloom and doom of the last posting, life goes on, and no cloud but has a silver lining. For example, a big benefit of the recent scandals in the Catholic Church and growing anti-religious trends in Western life is that they’ve squashed a lot of the happy talk the Church has been stuck with for the past 40 years and forced the bishops to try to figure out what it is they’re supposed to stand for and why.


Invasion of the evil theocrats

The dictionary definition of theocracy is government of a state “by priests or according to religious law,” or perhaps “by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided.” As such, it applies to states like traditional Tibet, early Mormon Utah, and revolutionary Iran, but not in substance to any traditional Christian state. Even when ruled by a saint or bishop, Christian states have treated politics as different from religion, have not been subject to a general system of religious law (which doesn’t exist in Christianity), and have not viewed the political ruler in his capacity as such as the regular beneficiary of special divine guidance.


The Fall of France, ch. xxxvii

In France, criticism of a private fund-raising effort now seems to constitute a violation of the separation of Church and state: Catholic Clergy Attack French Telethon Over Stem Cell Aid.

The country’s Muscular Dystrophy Association runs an annual telethon to raise money for medical research, part of which is spent on research on embryonic stem cells. Some clerics said the telethon shouldn’t be supported for that reason. It seems that the most extreme statement was made by a member of the commission for bioethics and human life in one diocese, who posted a statement on the diocesan web site that said “It is no longer possible to participate in the telethon … Christians cannot cooperate with evil.” The statement has been removed, and the consensus among bishops is that the effort should still be supported,


Before Thanksgiving

I find atheism extremely puzzling, like persistent attempts to square the circle or construct a perpetual motion machine. To me it seems that our way of understanding the world will be usable—will actually function as an understanding—only if it is coherent, hierarchical and ethically directed. “Coherent” seems self-explanatory. “Hierarchical” means we must be able to distinguish principles that are more and less fundamental. “Ethically directed” means that our understanding must advise us what to do. There must be something about the world that makes things worth doing or not worth doing.

Religion and politics, then and now

A really striking feature of the Guardini book discussed in my last entry is how extremist it is by current standards. It’s not a call for dialog and a place at the table. Instead, he calls for the “absolute experiencing of dogma,” for “a pure obedience. Christianity will arm itself for an illiberal stand directed unconditionally toward Him Who is Unconditioned.” He says that in


More on a world's end

Romano Guardini’s book The End of the Modern World provides an interesting comparison with Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences. Both were written in the immediate post-war period, and first presented to the public in 1947-1948. Both considered, in the setting of recent horrors, the tendency of technological mass society to reduce all things to function and utility.

The two are nonetheless quite different. The key difference, I think, is that Guardini was religious where Richard Weaver was only reverent. The difference made Guardini much more independent of his social and cultural setting, and enabled his book to be far more radical than anything Weaver could have written, In particular, it enabled him to emphasize the compulsive power of historical transformations much more than Weaver could, since it gave him a point of reference altogether outside the historical process.


Tracking the Tridentine mass

A Good Source tells me that everyone at the Vatican is in a tizzy over the rumored document liberalizing availability of the Tridentine (traditional Latin) mass. Everyone think’s it’s a big deal, but no one (except I suppose the Pope) has any idea what’s going to happen or when.

So much for inside gossip. In the rest of the world hardly anyone has any idea why any of this should matter. Here are some points that may help guide the perplexed:

  • The Mass is central to Catholicism. It’s the most important single thing the hierarchical Church does, because it’s the center of unity—spiritual, social, historical and physical—between Heaven and earth and among Catholics. Raphael’s Disputa might give you some idea of the place it holds. It’s a bit like the position sex holds in marriage, only more so.

Mainstream Christianity today

I remember the beauty of Anglican worship when I first encountered it, and I used to attend an Episcopalian church, so like others I’ve been watching with horrified fascination the continuing devolution of the Episcopal Church. So here are some comments on Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori’s investiture sermon as presiding bishop of what is now TEC (“The Episcopal Church”):

  • From the sermon and other statements it appears that putting aside poetic language Dr. Schori’s religion is a matter of working together to eliminate social divisions and gross material evils like poverty and disease. Today, it seems, that means signing on to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. So far as I can tell there’s nothing else there. Creeds and so on from her standpoint are just distractions in comparison with “mission”, which means development goals.

Rising down under

Oriens, the journal of the Ecclesia Dei Society of Australia, has a good website with a good selection of articles, reviews, and other materials connected to the restoration of the traditional Latin Mass and its bearing on the situation in the Church generally. Among the articles I particularly noticed The Papa Luigi syndrome and Think Catholic, Act Locally.


The Search for a Moderate Liberalism

The following review of Christopher J. Insole, The Politics of Human Frailty: A Theological Defense of Political Liberalism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005) appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of Telos.

What is liberalism and is it good or bad? Its pervasiveness makes it difficult to gain the perspective needed to decide such issues. Many current writers treat it as relativistic, individualistic and hubristic, and the man who is now Benedict XVI has gone so far as to describe the situation in the liberal West as a “dictatorship of relativism.”1 The author, a lecturer in theology at Cambridge University, disagrees. His academic position has made him quite familiar with the complaints, and he begins his book by observing that recent theological critics have described liberalism as


Skepticism and dogmatism (snippet from book-to-be)

The fundamental question of political legitimacy is the nature and purpose of authority, and thus the nature of man, the world, moral obligation, and the human good—in other words, which religion is correct. Liberalism cannot get by without answering that question, but it answers it indirectly, by claiming moral ignorance. We do not know what the good is, it tells us, so we should treat all desires the same. The satisfaction of all desires thus becomes the unquestionable good.


Decoding Da Vinci

What does it mean that something as idiotic as the Da Vinci Code has had a strong effect on how people answer pollsters’ questions about Christianity and Catholicism? (No, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, and yes, I feel entitled to dismiss them as idiotic anyway.)

Some possibilities:


Liberalism and its meaning for Christians

The following essay appeared in the Spring, 2005 issue of The New Pantagruel.

Liberalism has enormous power as a social reality. When liberals call themselves “progressive” they make it stick. Their views dominate all reputable intellectual and cultural institutions. Judges feel free to read liberalism into fundamental law, even without historical or textual support, because it seems so obviously right.

Nonetheless, many people resist the notion that something called “liberalism” can matter so much. After all, liberal views have changed over time and will change again. Everyone holds some such views, few people hold all of them, and most normal people who hold them cut back on them in various ways. Besides, the results attributed to liberalism can be attributed to other things, non-ideological social developments for example. So why not forget stereotypes like “liberalism” and look at particulars?


Credo ut intelligam (snippet the second)

To think and act we have to trust things that go beyond what we can perceive or demonstrate. Our knowledge cannot be a mere summary of the evidence but must rest on something further—at a minimum, on a belief that future evidence will validate it. It is a system of coherent belief, and like any other cannot exist without tradition and thus faith. In the end, there are no skeptics. None of us can abandon faith without abandoning thought and life.

Reason and experience depend on an everyday kind of faith. We need that faith to tell us that our memories can be relied on, that the experience of others is like our own, even that things exist independently of us and our thoughts. Reason is not self-sustaining. It cannot demonstrate the conditions of its functioning: the validity of first principles, the coherence of memory, the trustworthiness of perception, or the reliability of the linguistic and cultural setting it needs to operate. To trust reason we must trust those things, and to trust experience we must trust both our perceptions and the thoughts that enable us to sort them out and come to grips with them. We understand tradition, the accumulated thought and experience of our people, much more by accepting it than by weighing and judging it from outside. We treat it as something that comes to us with an authority that goes beyond anything we can fully explain. Our confidence is based on faith that it is not random or arbitrary but revelatory, that through it the bits, pieces and glimmerings that are immediately available to us have grown into attitudes, practices, beliefs and symbols that show how things are and make truths available to us we could not attain directly.


Can a Catholic oppose mass immigration?

Here’s an edited version of a usenet discussion I had on immigration in a Catholic newsgroup:

Ille: In the US the government is discussing new rules on how to keep THEM out of the US.

Ego: What’s with the “THEM”? Disagreement on immigration does not mean stupidity and malice.

Ille: The THEM is any group that is not ourselves. They can be from Bangla Desh or they can be from New Orleans.

Ego: Do you think there’s something wrong with distinguishing “us” from “them,” and looking after our interests more than theirs? To my mind it’s the same issue as private property. In some grand sense everybody’s responsible for everything, but to have a system that works you have to divide things up so that individuals and groups have something definite to look after.


Making nice is not statesmanship

I’d been out of internet contact for 10 days or so and hadn’t seen the cartoons that supposedly gave rise to all the delayed Muslim outrage. When I did I was startled by how mild they were. A few of them seemed likely to offend: one that made the Islamic crescent look like horns on Mohammed’s head, and a couple that depicted the prophet as violent and oppressive.



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