Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Best American Novel? You Decide

PowerLine is hosting a poll on the best American novel. Go here and scroll down just a bit on the right side, looking for "POWERLINE POLL."

Right now, the top five are:

Huckleberry Finn 26.4%
To Kill A Mockingbird 20.0%
Moby-Dick 13.3%
The Great Gatsby 7.6%
Catch-22 5.5%

Go cast your vote.

Wishing I Had Been in Vienna

George Weigel writes a gem ... again: "Tales from the Vienna woods." (HT: Ignatius Insight Scoop)

During a conversation in Cracow last July, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, O.P., the archbishop of Vienna, proposed that he and I organize a conference to discuss the growing gap between America and Europe, the roots of that gap as analyzed in my book The Cube and the Cathedral, and the possibilities of strengthening the trans-Atlantic Catholic dialogue and the new evangelization on both continents. I readily agreed, and the conference, which included some fifty public intellectuals from “Old Europe,” “New Europe,” and the United States, met in April in the archbishop’s palace in Vienna.

And at the conference was Rémi Brague:

Picking up on a phrase I had used in The Cube and the Cathedral, that Europe is “dying from a false story,” Brague suggested a fascinating way of looking at the last two centuries of western history. The 19th century, he proposed, was focused on the question of good-and-evil: the “social question,” posed by the industrial revolution, the emergence of an urban working class, and the demise of traditional society, dominated the landscape. The 20th century, he argued, had been the century of the question of true-and-false: totalitarian ideologies, built on perverse misunderstandings of the human person, defined the contest for the human future that drove history from the aftermath of World War I until the Soviet crack-up in 1991.

And the 21st century? Ours, Professor Brague said, is the century of the question of being-and-nothingness — the century of the metaphysical question.

Which may sound extremely abstract, but is, in fact, very concrete. For if nothing is “given” in the human condition, then everything is up-for-grabs. If, to take a salient example on both sides of the Atlantic, maleness and femaleness are mere “social constructs,” then “marriage” can mean anything someone wants it to mean, including not only “gay marriage” but polygamy and polyandry — and to deny that is an act of irrational bigotry.

Brague, who knows a great deal about Islamic philosophy, knows all about the threat to the West from jihadist Islam. In Vienna, however, he insisted that nihilism – a soured cynicism about the mystery and wonder of being — is the prior enemy-within-the-gates. For nihilism leads to deep skepticism about the human capacity to know the truth of anything; skepticism leads to what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described on April 18, 2005, as the “dictatorship of relativism;” and relativism is a solvent eating away the foundations of western self-understanding, western civilizational morale — and the western capacity for intelligent self-defense.

An Enlightenment intellectual, cited by Professor Brague, once said that he didn’t have children because begetting children was a criminal act — a matter of condemning another human being to death, to oblivion. That is the kind of nihilism that lies beneath Europe’s demographic suicide of recent decades. That is the kind of nihilism that occupies some of the commanding heights of American culture. That is the kind of nihilism that makes the defense of western civilization difficult today — and would make it impossible tomorrow, were it to triumph culturally.

The very goodness of life, the goodness of being — that is The Issue beneath all the other issues of the 21st century. So suggested Rémi Brague. I’m afraid he’s right.

I agree. With thoughts like these and the weapon of truth on their side, is it merely a coincidence that the event took place in Vienna? Hmm. Which side of the gate will you be on?

And then take a look at Weigel's longer essay in Commentary, "Europe's Two Culture Wars," wherein he writes:
It remains to be seen whether initiatives similar to Marcello Pera’s, or analyses similar to those he has advanced in intellectual tandem with Pope Benedict, can begin to get a purchase on the cultural high ground in Europe. Some would argue that it is already too late, that the demographic tipping point has been reached and that, as Mark Steyn puts it, with “the successor population [i.e., Islam] already in place, . . . the only question is how bloody the transfer of real estate will be.” But if Europe’s two culture wars are not to result in the accelerated emergence of “Eurabia” (in Bat Ye’or’s coinage), something resembling Pera’s initiative will have to lead the way, and soon.

The alternative approach to Europe’s future was graphically on display last August upon the death of Robin Cook, the former British foreign secretary (and critic of the Iraq war). The funeral service was held in the historic “High Kirk” of Edinburgh, St. Giles, and led by Bishop Richard Holloway, the erstwhile Anglican primate of Scotland, who some years ago wrote a book attempting to reconcile his readers to what he termed the “massive indifference of the universe.” Holloway later described the funeral in these words: “Here was I, an agnostic Anglican, taking the service in a Presbyterian church, for a dead atheist politician. And I thought that was just marvelous.”

Nihilism rooted in skepticism, issuing in the bad faith of moral relativism and Western self-loathing, comforting itself with a vacuous humanitarianism: not only is this not marvelous, it has contributed to killing Europe demographically, and to paralyzing Europe in the face of an aggressive ideology aimed at the eradication of Western humanism in the name of a lethally distorted understanding of God’s will. Those who love Europe and what it has meant and still could mean for the world had better hope that Marcello Pera and his allies among believers, and not Bishop Holloway and his fellow debonair nihilists, are the ones who will prevail in the contest to resolve Europe’s two culture wars.
Go and read the whole thing.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Wall of Freedom

Freedom is not free.

Thank a veteran.

Say a prayer for and honor those who gave all.

Posted by Hello

[Worth visiting are One Marine's View, Byrd, and Blackfive--keep scrolling down for many posts on Memorial Day--just to name a few.]

Korean War Memorial

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The Price of Freedom: Some Gave All

US troops killed in action: 54, 246

... for a country they did not know and a people they never met.

All gave some. Some gave ALL.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Getting Married

I hear my Beloved. See how he comes leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills. My Beloved is like a gazelle, like a young stag. See where he stands behind our wall. He looks in at the window, he peers through the lattice. My Beloved lifts up his voice, he says to me, 'Come then, my love, my lovely one, come. My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock. In the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweetand your face is beautiful. 'My beloved is mine and I am his. Set me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is strong as Death, jealousy relentless as Sheol. The flash of it is a flash of fire, a flame of the Lord himself. Love no flood can quench, no torrents drown.

--Song of Songs 2:8-10.14.16; 8:6-7

On the evening of their marriage, Tobias said to Sarah, `You and I must pray and petition our Lord to win his grace and protection.' They began praying for protection, and this was how he began:'You are blessed, O God of our fathers; blessed, too, is your name for ever and ever. Let the heavens bless you and all things you have made for evermore. It was you who created Adam, you who created Eve his wife to be his help and support; and from these two the human race was born. It was you who said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make him a helpmate like himself." And so I do not take my sister for any lustful motive; I do it in singleness of heart. Be kind enough to have pity on her and on me and bring us to old age together.' And together they said, `Amen, Amen'.

--Tobit 8:4-8

The time is approaching. Today, in fact: Saturday, May 20. Keep us in your prayers.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Killing, Murder, 5th Commandment, & Biblical Teaching: Continuing a Discussion

Is all killing wrong? Is any deliberate killing ever justified? Can a Christian or even a Jewish believer justifiably hold to the fifth commandment (or sixth for Jews) and also support any type of killing? What does the fifth commandment really say?

I have been involved in a good exchange over at Against the Grain. Though the original post is titled "Fr. Sirico, The Zwicks, and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church," the dialogue in the comments section has turned to all sorts of somewhat--or perhaps I should say "somehow"--related issues.

You can read the comments here and continue the discussion on this blog in the comment section below.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Watching United 93

I just finished watching United 93 with my daughter. She was fine. No fits. No uncontrollable emotional outbursts. In other words, no trauma like some of the pundits forecasted and hyped.

In fact, she was interested and attentive throughout. Asking questions at times and at the end. It gave me a good opportunity to explain some things, such as the nature of the enemy we are fighting in some parts of the world--most notably, not here on our land--airline safety, and the different forms or versions of Islam: both the peaceful or at least non-threatening Muslims and the extreme Islamists (the fascistic terrorist-minded Muslims who seek the end of the Western Judeo-Christian and secular humanist ways).

Teenage and older children in particular should see this film. If the younger teens have nightmares, comfort them. But young Americans need to know the nature of whom we are fighting. If they are attending a typical American high school or college, they probably don't know.

That said, you should see the movie and get others to see it too.

A point Dennis made this week is that if large numbers are not seeing this movie, then what message is that sending to the movie industry: not to make movies that highlight or dramatize the struggle, the war, we are in? not to make movies that inspire Americans to greater patriotism? not to make movies that promote and respectfully portray modern-day American heroes?

Is that what you want?

I hope not.

Go see the movie.

If that is not enough, read "All Americans must see 'United 93,'" Dennis Prager's column wherein he calls on all of us to

go and see "United 93," to see why some Americans still take "Home of the brave" seriously; and to see why we have to win this war more than any since World War II. That's how bad our enemy is. You have an unfortunately rare chance to see that enemy at work when you see what happened to everyone who boarded United Airlines Flight 93 that left Newark on September 11, 2001.

Then go and read this collection of excerpts of essays/articles/posts on the film: "Flight 93: Remembering Heroes."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Being Equally Just? Justly Equal? What It Takes To Be Free: My summer research plans

Just got approval for my summer research plans. I am going to work on a paper dealing with the different types of equality bandied about, how justice regulates the according claims, and explain how all this is directed towards the human person's desire for freedom.

TITLE (for now) OF RESEARCH: “Equality’s Just Place in the Human Person’s Quest for Freedom: Investigating the Interplay of Equality, Justice, and Freedom”


In both the contemporary literature on political philosophy and in the daily discourse of many Americans, there is an ongoing debate over the meaning and role that equality should play in our lives, both as private citizens and as members of a society. One person advocates political changes in order to achieve greater equality for a certain group. Another seeks revocation of current laws in an attempt to rectify alleged unjust policies. All these are done while referencing “equality,” “justice,” and even “freedom,” though these demands come from quite polarized political viewpoints. Various notions of equality are applied in these discussions. In addition, there are differences in what people think a government’s role and purpose is. Some view equality and a more contemporary notion of justice as the goals of government whereas others view a more traditional understanding of justice as government’s goal in its attempt to provide the framework so its citizens may reach their own political end: liberty.[1] Equality. Justice. Liberty. They are inter-related, indeed. The question is how. The problem is knowing their limits.

In this project, I plan to discuss the major disputes over equality. I will investigate the various and often opposing views on the matter, engaging the works of liberal, conservative, communitarian, and libertarian thinkers. In an effort to understand better the value and place of equality, I will further probe the meaning and scope of justice. With a clear definition of justice, it will then be easier to discuss the main types of equality. Through this discussion, I hope to make clear which forms of equality a government, political theorist, or civic-minded person should be concerned with when discussing what is best for a people called to be free and to do so in a way that respects the dignity of the human person.

This is part of a larger goal of mine, one that seeks to develop and communicate an approach to society that provides for the best conditions in which the human person may not only experience structural equality and justice but also live out the freedom we are called to. Whether this calling is from God or just the dynamism of human nature is not immediately essential to the political discussion on what is best for a society. What is best is that we find a workable solution to continue in this country’s ongoing project of the “pursuit of happiness,” a happiness that finds its roots and its ends in the dignity of the human person.

Though I do believe God cares about what we do and how we treat others, I know that living in a pluralist society means that one has to come up with sensitive language that is both rational and convincing. This language must be understandable and acceptable to the theist and the non-theist, to the Christian and the Jew, to the faithful and the secular. As a result, even religious-minded advocates of justice should find a way to speak across the denominational and non-religious aisles. Theological arguments are good and have their place, but in our society, we do need a language that addresses the same social concerns (as theological mandates for justice) and we need one that does so mindful of the many traditions within our midst. It is unfortunate but a fact of our reality that explicitly theological/confessional language in the public square often turns people off to the message advocated, however worthy the content is. This is where philosophy and the use of reason can come into play. This is where my current proposal can aid: in an effort to supply a rational and human dignity-respecting answer to the problem of the relationship of equality, justice, and freedom.

[1] Cf. John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, Essays in the History of Liberty, Vol. I (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1985), 22.

Friday, May 05, 2006

In the Dawn of Our New Lives: The Christian Event

Last night at SoC, we discussed a few pages from Msgr. Giussani's Why the Church?, a book wherein (according to the back cover) "Giussani explores the Church's definition of itself as both human and divine, arguing that a different type of existence is born in those who try to live the life of the Church." The closing lines of our reading express and offer an image to understand with greater clarity (we hope) just what precisely an event is or feels like, which is something that will definitely help one of my ongoing "projects." Msgr. Giussani writes:

In the Christian, the newness is called to awaken and, no matter how dimly, to manifest itself like the dawn of a new day. The comparison I like to make is, in fact, the dawn. Imagine a person who has always lived in darkness. If he were to see, for the first time, the first half-light of day, he would realize that what was unfolding before his eyes was something new. It was no longer darkness. And, even though he could never imagine the sight of the midday sun, he would certainly be attracted by this phenomenon, which for him would be so unexpected and indefinable--that the dawning would have dispelled the darkness, introducing him to something different from the obscurity to which he was accustomed. This person would gaze in fascination at that prelude of light, waiting for an even greater newness, even though he could not imagine its form.

This is Christianity in history, the Church in the society of the times, a Christian community in its environment, a Christian man in the circumstances of his day-to-day living; the dawning of a different humanity, of a different human community, a community that is, new, truer. [pp. 182-183]

This is the happening of an event, the Christian event, which is:

an encounter with a human reality that channels the evidence of a correspondence between the divine that has stooped to enter our lives and what we are. This encounter opens my eyes to myself, spurs on an unveiling of me, shows that it corresponds to what I am: it makes me aware of what I am, of what I want, because it makes me understand that what it brings is just what I want, that it corresponds to what I am. [...] In a sequence of his film Andrei Rubliev, Tarkovski has one of his characters say, "You know very well: you fail at something, you are tired and you can take no more. And suddenly in the crowd you meet a person's gaze-a human gaze-and it is as if a hidden divine presence had approached you. And suddenly everything becomes simpler." The Christian event shows itself, reveals itself in the encounter with the superficiality, the shallowness and the apparent inconsistency of a face in the crowd, a face like all the others yet so different from the others that, when you meet it, it is as if everything becomes simple. You see it for an instant and as you walk away you carry the impact of that gaze within you, as if to say, "I would like to see that face again!" [...] We are here because of an encounter that happened [...]. From the instant the encounter happens, Christianity takes on a different meaning: Something Other has revealed itself to be important for the core of life.

Thus we have the words of the Roman rhetorician Gaius Marius Victorinus upon his conversion to Christianity: "When I encountered Christ I discovered that I was a man."

And the words of Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est:

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.