Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Honesty and Integrity

"Shall I uncrumple this much crumpled thing?" – Wallace Stevens

The wrestling is over. I am posting this weblog entry after overcoming many misgivings. The risk of offending some of one's best friends and a number of one's good friends is not an insubstantial risk, but the risk of failing to defend the faith at the point of attack is a graver one.

Bishop Eugene Robinson is the openly gay Episcopalian bishop most likely to go down in history as the man who kicked the stone that started the avalanche that brought the Anglican experiment to an end. It could hardly have escaped his notice, but he seems remarkably unperturbed by the prospect, even at times ebullient. In a recent interview with the Scottish journalist Andrew Collier, Bishop Robinson recalled a life-changing conversation he had with the chaplain at an Episcopalian college he attended.
One day when I was ranting and raving about how much of the Nicene Creed I didn’t believe, he said ‘well, when you’re in church, just say the parts of the creed you do agree with. Be silent for the others. We’re not asking you do so something against your integrity’. And again I thought whew, that’s what one would hope for from a religion – honesty and integrity. And I guess that’s a theme that has carried throughout my life in Ministry – that God wants us to be honest and full of integrity.
Stirring calls for honesty and integrity are hard to resist. Emerson (who spoke a lot of foolishness) once said that something foolishly spoken can be wisely heard. Perhaps there is some honesty and integrity to be found in Bishop Robinson's puzzling remark if we but take the time to look for it. For, quite without realizing it, he has put his finger on precisely the key issue.

It seems only logical to begin looking for the grain of truth and integrity where Bishop Robinson has often testified to have found it, namely, in the social cause he is most famous for espousing. No, not the Gospel, the other one. (It is a link between the two that I want to explore.)

The process of mainstreaming homosexual behavior has moved inexorably from perfectly legitimate and long overdue early efforts to understand the plight of those suffering from same-sex disorders and to exercise both more compassion and more prudence when trying to the prevent the social and moral damage known to be associated with homosexual lifestyles. And yet these early and appropriate steps, insufficiently guided by the underlying ethic that insured their moral coherence, quickly fell under the gravitational force to which cultures suffering “civilizational exhaustion” are vulnerable. In rapid succession, the declension began: from understanding to tolerance, from tolerance to moral indifference, from indifference to celebration, from celebration to intolerance for any moral objections, from intolerance to legal threats, and finally to teaching seven and eight year-olds the moral and social indistinguishability of homosexual coupling and heterosexual nuptiality. Thus, we arrive at where we are today: in the midst of a culture that thinks of itself as rational, one of history’s great flat-earth theories has so triumphed that few have been able to resist genuflecting at one time or another before its pieties.

Christianity’s empathy for victims has so shaped our moral environment that the historical mistreatment of homosexuals, after it had been as rectified as it is possible for such things ever to be, survived as icon, appealing to a kind of Christ-flavored moral sentimentality which made an ideal battering ram for demolishing the Christian moral realism of which the sentimentality was a parody. It has become increasingly clear to those paying attention – and this is why I come back to this issue more than I would like – that the question that is being adjudicated is not ultimately about sexual ethics; rather it is about whether the religion that taught us the sacramental dignity of the nuptial mystery (and a lot besides) is to lose its place in cultural life and in the education of the young for failing to regard as healthy and virtuous something that any Christian living in any age but ours would have had no trouble recognizing as "intrinsically disordered."

The fact that many of the Christian faithful and most of the Christian denominations are tying themselves in knots over this issue is no accident. It has been known for some time that putting Christians in what feels to them like a moral double-bind – an empathy for victims, on one hand, and personal and confessional misgivings about the behavior of the “victims,” on the other – was a conscious strategy for dividing and paralyzing those whose moral instincts, if not creedal allegiances, were rooted in Christian principle.

And so, today this dangerous social, moral and cultural inversion finds support, not only among the sexual revolutionaries, moral nominalists, and psychological Peter Pans whose sadly shrunken idea of freedom makes them hostile to the very idea of human nature. Support for this reckless experiment is found as well among those speaking in the name of Christianity and espousing a revised Christian sexual ethic that would be unrecognizable to any Christian or Jew living before, say, 1995.

In the days before the onset of all this a couple of decades ago, one of the implicit and sometimes explicit arguments for overlooking thousands of years of human history and the testimony of commonsense was that, once the moral revulsion with homosexual behavior and the retrograde favoritism too long enjoyed by natural marriage were eliminated, the duplicity and psychological self-deception that even homosexuals themselves found to be a repugnant feature of the homosexual lifestyle would vanish.

Alas, not all the signs are encouraging. Young Eugene Robinson, "ranting and raving about how much of the Nicene Creed [he] didn't believe," was given advice that inspired his dedication to truth and honesty. The older – and one would have hoped more mature – Eugene Robinson looks back on the sophomoric advice he was given, only to see it as the moral theme of his entire ministry. The advice? The advice was to play make-believe, to pretend to be faithful to the Creed, but in fact to be quietly altering it to suit one's own tastes.

"God wants us to be honest and full of integrity." It’s true. But the mumbled and spiteful rejection of the very creed that one has solemnly sworn to proclaim to the ends of the earth is decidedly not “what one would hope for from a religion.”

Here's my point: Whether it comes from above – from those in ecclesial robes leaning on a crosier – or from below – from those betraying their own dignity in vulgar public rejections of the very idea of sexual morality – the social and moral revolution to which each is contributing finally comes down to ranting and raving against the Nicene Creed and the breathtaking anthropological dignity to which the Council of Nicaea raised our mortal bodies by insisting that God had come to us in a human body, thereby repudiating the Gnosticism that regards the body as an assemblage of orifices which lends itself to a few passing pleasures but which is morally irrelevant and religiously inconsequential – a Gnosticism of which today’s sexual experimentalists are a very late and very sad manifestation. It is a Gnosticism, however, that is rapidly becoming a mandated feature of Western public education, very much at the expense of the Judeo-Christian anthropology upon which Western civilization was based.

Again, as G. K. Chesterton said: One small mistake in doctrine can lead to huge blunders in human happiness.

Like Christ, whose true mystery the Church began to commit formally to doctrine at Nicaea, the Church will ultimately be loved or hated. History consists of the process whereby the middle ground between them shrinks and those filled with ambivalence must move in one direction or the other. Compared to this, the question of sexual ethics is a small matter, but it doesn't remain a small matter when the question of sexual ethics becomes the surrogate issue for the determination of the ultimate one.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Stay Tuned . . .

In a piece I wrote this week, the fate of which remains to be seen, I wondered if it is possible to make a judgment without committing the one remaining contemporary sin of passing judgment. Since making judgments is the sine qua non of moral life and the passing judgments the moral faux pas of our age, to be avoided at all cost, the question is not as ridiculous as it ought to be.

The matter comes up again because I feel a less than irenic blog post welling up in me, and I'm hoping to talk myself out of it. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to post something about Liz or something like the last two posts, featuring marvelous and exemplary people. And nothing leaves me less satisfied than when I put up a grumpier sort of post, addressing some issue that is inevitably part of the culture wars and almost as inevitably complicated by personal friendships with those who hold positions quite at odds with my own. So, as I say, I hope to talk myself out of it. My examination of conscience on the matter has come to rest on this passage in 2 Timothy:
Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
Which are the "stupid and senseless controversies" and which are the substantive ones that should not go without a vigorous response? And, in responding, what might Paul (or whoever wrote 2 Timothy) have had in mind when speaking of correcting with "gentleness"? When Christ "corrected opponents," it wasn't always with what most of us today would call gentleness, and the author of 2 Timothy, especially as he was either Paul or someone who saw Paul as an exemplary model, probably had something in mind a little more serious than a group hug. Moreover, Jesus seems to have been at his least gentle when confronting religious leaders who used either their office or the prestige that came with it in ways that betrayed the responsibilities that also came with it. (And therein lies the matter that has caused this less than irenic blog post to rise up in me.)

Well ... we'll see. I'll sleep on it and pray on it.

If the next blog post to appear here is irenic in the extreme, you will know how the wrestling match turned out. If it is only marginally irenic, you'll also know.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Brother Brian Rooney

"The Spirit brings it about that a man grasps a truth which of himself he could not understand; that an attitude awakens within him which would otherwise be beyond his capacity; that he experiences a presence of God which he himself could not attain." -- Romano Guardini
Brother Brian Rooney
St. Joseph's Trappist Abbey

Today I will have the privilege of attending Brother Brian Rooney's solemn profession of monastic vows at St. Joseph's Abbey down the road from my home. Though Liz and I long admired him from afar -- admiring monks from afar is how it works with Trappists, whose cenobitic life we respected by admiring them "from afar" -- I only actually met Br. Brian yesterday when he graciously invited me to be present at his solemn profession.

Please keep Br. Brian and all the monks at St. Joseph's Abbey in your prayers. It is an extraordinary community. Liz and I moved here in order to be close to the Abbey, and being able to attend morning Lauds and Mass there (when I'm in town) is a great privilege.

Last Tuesday Benedict XVI met with local priests in the Italian Alps where he was vacationing. In the course of his remarks, he quoted a proverb that comes to mind now as I think about the monks of St. Joseph's: "If a tree falls it makes a lot of noise, but if a forest grows no one hears a thing."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


"No discipline can survive the loss of inwardness."

Philip Rieff again:
Here we now see, with startling clarity, how little our established political distinctions between left and right, conservative and radical, revolutionary and reactionary, matter nowadays. Rather, any remaking of political distinctions will have to ask, first, whether there is in fact a discipline of inwardness, a mobilization for fresh renunciations of instinct; or whether there is only the discipline of outwardness, a mobilizing for fresh satisfactions of instinct. Such a distinction will divide contemporary men and movements more accurately; then we shall find fashionable liberals and fascists on the same side, where they really belong.

Photo by Liz Bailie

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A 1938 Omen or a 2008 Opportunity?

In an earlier posting, I mentioned the name Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution. Later the same day, Sowell had a piece online analogizing, as many have, the situation we face today with what Europe faced in the 1930s. I commend Sowell's piece to you. It is here.

Another piece, by Monica Maggioni writing for the journal Foreign Policy, though it doesn't deal with Sowell's main point, nevertheless sees the situation quite differently. It is here.

These are matters well beyond my competence. I certainly hope that Maggioni is right, though I don't know what the likelihood is that Iran will be soon governed responsibly. I can't help feeling in my bones, however, that Sowell's 1938 Munich analogy is not without validity.

In either case, the price to be paid for misjudging the situation will be incalculable. Let's pray for Solomonic wisdom in high places.

In Rapped Attention . . .

In the current edition of City Magazine, the quarterly journal of the Manhattan Institute, the magazine's editor-at-large, Myron Magnet, has a piece on the moral and social catastrophe now occurring in parts of the inner-city black culture. It is a difficult piece to read. His analysis of rap music and the gangsta ethos that it often celebrates is deeply disturbing. Here are two short excerpts:
Over 16 percent of black men have been in prison (and 22.4 percent of those between 38 and 42 years old), blacks account for about 40 percent of the nation’s entire prison and jail population, and, extrapolating from its 2001 numbers, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that nearly a third of black men will go to prison during their lifetimes. In New York, home of the nation’s largest African-American community, blacks commit 68.5 percent of all the violent crime, Heather Mac Donald calculates, even though they compose only 24 percent of the population. It’s hard to argue that poverty explains these numbers, since blacks, 12 percent of the U.S. population, committed 48.5 percent of the nation’s rapes and sexual assaults in 2005.
How did this disaster happen? Magnet concurs with the analysis offered by Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Standford University. He writes:
By World War I, Sowell’s data show, northern blacks scored higher on armed-forces tests than southern whites. After World War II and the GI Bill, black education and income levels rose sharply. It was only in the mid-1960s that a century of black progress seemed to make a sudden U-turn, a reversal that long-past events didn’t cause. Beginning around 1964, the rates of black high school graduation, workforce participation, crime, illegitimacy, and drug use all turned sharply in the wrong direction. While many blacks continued to move forward, a sizable minority solidified into an underclass, defined by self-destructive behavior that all but guaranteed failure.

What was going on in the mid-sixties that could explain such a startling development? Political scientist Charles Murray gave the first answer to that question: welfare benefits sharply rose just at that moment. Offering more purchasing power than a minimum-wage job, the dole, he argued, provided an economic incentive for women to have out-of-wedlock babies and for their boyfriends to live off their welfare payments, too.

A decade after Murray, I suggested that, though welfare was part of the answer, the real explanation was larger. It was cultural, not economic. Begun by the elites, vast changes reshaped mainstream attitudes in the 1960s. Sex became fine outside marriage, and illegitimacy lost its stigma. Drugs were cool; social authority and tradition weren’t. America was deemed a racist, unjust society that victimized and impoverished blacks, who could rarely better their condition and who therefore deserved generous welfare benefits as reparations for past and present oppression. If blacks committed crime, the system that drove them to it, out of poverty or as an act of protest, was at fault: we shouldn’t blame the victim, as the saying went—meaning the poor criminal, not his prey. Since people shape their actions according to the ideas and beliefs they hold, when these new attitudes reached the inner cities, what could result but an epidemic of social dysfunction?
Magnet's article turns to the lyrics of rap "music" to diagnose the pathology that is currently infecting the minds and hearts of the most vulnerable young black children. After reviewing in painful detail the brutally misogynous lyrics of much of gangsta rap, Magnet offers this:
The great accomplishment of civilization has been to replace the reign of force with the rule of law, and to humanize the animal realities in which our lives are embedded by means of manners and rituals that give those realities a human meaning. And if the rule of law fares poorly in rap, civilization’s great effort to transform the animal facts of reproduction into love and marriage doesn’t do so well in gangsta-land, either. This is what so much of our culture is about—our manners and morals, poetry and song and film, from the Song of Solomon and the medieval French romances to “The Way You Look Tonight”: yes, I have these feelings, but not just for anyone; it’s you personally I love, so much that I want you always. And many of the popular songs of the 1940s and 1950s, making the promise of permanence explicit, end with talk of marriage. Human beings undergo an education of the feelings, and popular culture’s love songs were once great instructors in this school.
It makes for very depressing reading. It's here if you are feeling up to it. But I would add this: Without for one minute wanting to excuse this deplorable situation by attributing it all to historical racism, it is important to realize that culture matters. What the naive liberationist ethos of the 1960s let loose on the world has had devastating consequences everywhere. (I say this with personal remorse for how readily I found many of its fashionable nostrums convincing at the time.)

Many of us fortunate enough to have received moral, religious, and cultural formation, and who had the luxury of loving and stable families, may have seen our youthful idealism morph into something vulgar and aimless. But it was those without this cultural and psychological grounding who were to take the brunt of the revolution. The crisis in the black community is today a glaring and deeply disturbing symbol of a much wider moral and cultural disintegration. In my view, this terrible situation cannot be rectified without the reawakening of genuine religious devotion (and not simply quasi-religious zeal -- which often amounts to little more than the redirection of resentment). More to the point, what's needed is the revitalization of Christian faith, once the moral and social bedrock of African-American life.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Randy Coleman-Riese

Here is the selfless man without whom the work of
The Cornerstone Forum would grind to a halt,
a man who is a blessing to all those privileged to know him.

Happy Birthday, Randy

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Abraham, the father of faith

The first reading at Mass today was the story of the hospitality Abraham extended to the three strangers under the terebinth tree. The 15th century iconographer, Andre Rublev, used the story (as did others before him), to depict the mystery of the Trinity.

Far more than does the Roman Church, Eastern Church retains its devotion to the icon as a kind of visual sacrament. This icon hangs in my (our) home, and it never ceases to reward attention. As I have said many times in my talks on the Eucharist, Christ said, "Take this and eat it," he didn't say, "Take this and figure it out." Likewise, we could say of Rublev's depiction of the Trinitarian communio personarum, "Don't analyze it; just take a long, loving look at it."

As the German poet, Rilke, said at the conclusion of his poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo:
. . . there is no place on it
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Religious Freedom and "Tolerance"

Our greatest freedom, the freedom of religion and of conscience, is being challenged on all sides -- by Qur'an-mandated Islamic intolerance abroad as well as by homegrown "tolerance" vigilantes, who have elevated sodomy and abortion to the status of secular sacraments, and who consider Christianity's moral objections to these things to be indictable hate crimes.

Regardless of how much a religious school or hospital or charity might contribute to the common good, and regardless of how much these institutions relieve pressure on scarce public resources, if they receive one nickel of public funds they risk being force to choose between violating their moral and religious scruples (typically regarding abortion and homosexuality) and continuing to make their educational, charitable, or public service contribution to society.

On one of the frontline issues, the ability of Catholic adoption services to refuse to place children with homosexual partners, John Loughlin, a Visiting Fellow at the European Studies Centre at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, had this to say on yesterday's First Things weblog:
Since male homosexuals are about 2 percent of the general population, and it seems that only about 3 percent of homosexuals consider adopting children, the chances of them approaching Catholic agencies are pretty slim in the first place. Furthermore, homosexuals are fully aware of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. ... what is striking is the influence that the homosexual lobby has gained through using human rights legislation to achieve their political and ideological ends. We have passed from decriminalizing homosexual behaviour to the active promotion of homosexuality as a lifestyle the equivalent of heterosexual marriage. The next stage in this process is the silencing of any opposition—particularly opposition from the Catholic Church.
Under the circumstances, it would be good to review the closing document of the Church's Second Vatican Council, and especially the sober, respectful, and dignified words the Council Fathers addressed to secular "rulers."
At this solemn moment, we, the Fathers of the 21st ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, on the point of disbanding after four years of prayer and work, with the full consciousness of our mission toward mankind, address ourselves respectively and confidently to those who hold in their hands the destiny of men on this earth, to all those who hold temporal power.

We proclaim publicly: We do honor to your authority and your sovereignty, we respect your office, we recognize your just laws, we esteem those who make them and those who apply them. But we have a sacrosanct word to speak to you and it is this: Only God is great. God alone is the beginning and the end. God alone is the source of your authority and the foundation of your laws.

Your task is to be in the world the promoters of order and peace among men. But never forget this: It is God, the living and true God, who is the Father of men. And it is Christ, His eternal Son, who came to make this known to us and to teach us that we are all brothers. He it is who is the great artisan of order and peace on earth, for He it is who guides human history and who alone can incline hearts to renounce those evil passions which beget war and misfortune. It is He who blesses the bread of the human race, who sanctifies its work and its suffering, who gives it those joys which you can never give it, and strengthens it in those sufferings which you cannot console.

In your earthly and temporal city, God constructs mysteriously His spiritual and eternal city, His Church. And what does this Church ask of you after close to 2,000 years of experiences of all kinds in her relations with you, the powers of the earth? What does the Church ask of you today? She tells you in one of the major documents of this council. She asks of you only liberty, the liberty to believe and to preach her faith, the freedom to love her God and serve Him, the freedom to live and to bring to men her message of life. Do not fear her. She is made after the image of her Master, whose mysterious action does not interfere with your prerogatives but heals everything human of its fatal weakness, transfigures it and fills it with hope, truth and beauty.

Allow Christ to exercise His purifying action on society. Do not crucify Him anew. This would be a sacrilege for He is the Son of God. This would be suicide for He is the Son of man. And we, His humble ministers, allow us to spread everywhere without hindrance the Gospel of peace on which we have meditated during this council. Of it, your peoples will be the first beneficiaries, since the Church forms for you loyal citizens, friends of social peace and progress.

On this solemn day when she closes the deliberations of her 21st ecumenical council, the Church offers you through our voice her friendship, her services, her spiritual and moral forces. She addresses to you all her message of salvation and blessing. Accept it, as she offers it to you with a joyous and sincere heart and pass it on to your peoples.

Easter in the Meantime . . .

Liz horsing around in a hat she would never have worn in public.

Liz in Paris, horsing around again.
- - - - -

Liz died just over five months ago -- on February 18th.

I miss her more every day.

It has been quite some time since I discovered one of the little messages she left hidden like Easter eggs where she knew I would eventually (but not too quickly) find them. I had almost forgotten about these tricks of hers. But last night I found an audio file of Liz reading the Adrienne Rich's poem "Stepping Backward."

I don't know exactly when Liz recorded this poem, but it was surely in the last six or eight months of her life. She put the recording in a directory on my computer that I almost never open. Tonight, looking for something else, I stumbled upon it quite by accident, just as she no doubt had planned.

What an incredible gift it is. Liz's voice is the source of its power for me, of course, but the poem couldn't have been more suited to her loving purpose.

Stepping Backward
by Adrienne Rich

Good-by to you whom I shall see tomorrow,
Next year and when I'm fifty; still good-by.
This is the leave we never really take.
If you were dead or gone to live in China
The event might draw your stature in my mind.
I should be forced to look upon you whole
The way we look upon the things we lose.
We see each other daily and in segments;
Parting might make us meet anew, entire.

You asked me once, and I could give no answer,
How far dare we throw off the daily ruse,
Official treacheries of face and name,
Have out our true identity? I could hazard
An answer now, if you are asking still.
We are a small and lonely human race
Showing no sign of mastering solitude
Out on this stony planet that we farm.
The most that we can do for one another
Is let our blunders and our blind mischances
Argue a certain brusque abrupt compassion.
We might as well be truthful. I should say
They're luckiest who know they're not unique;
But only art or common interchange
Can teach that kindest truth. And even art
Can only hint at what disturbed a Melville
Or calmed a Mahler's frenzy; you and I
Still look from separate windows every morning
Upon the same white daylight in the square.

And when we come into each other's rooms
Once in awhile, encumbered and self-conscious,
We hover awkwardly about the threshold
And usually regret the visit later.
Perhaps the harshest fact is, only lovers--
And once in a while two with the grace of lovers--
Unlearn that clumsiness of rare intrusion
And let each other freely come and go.
Most of us shut too quickly into cupboards
The margin-scribbled books, the dried geranium,
The penny horoscope, letters never mailed.
The door may open, but the room is altered;
Not the same room we look from night and day.

It takes a late and slowly blooming wisdom
To learn that those we marked infallible
Are tragi-comic stumblers like ourselves.
The knowledge breeds reserve. We walk on tiptoe,
Demanding more than we know how to render.
Two-edged discovery hunts us finally down;
The human act will make us real again,
And then perhaps we come to know each other.

Let us return to imperfection's school.
No longer wandering after Plato's ghost,
Seeking the garden where all fruit is flawless,
We must at last renounce that ultimate blue
And take a walk in other kinds of weather.
The sourest apple makes its wry announcement
That imperfection has a certain tang.
Maybe we shouldn't turn our pockets out
To the last crumb or lingering bit of fluff,
But all we can confess of what we are
Has in it the defeat of isolation--
If not our own, then someone's, anyway.

So I come back to saying this good-by,
A sort of ceremony of my own,
This stepping backward for another glance.
Perhaps you'll say we need no ceremony,
Because we know each other, crack and flaw,
Like two irregular stones that fit together.
Yet still good-by, because we live by inches
And only sometimes see the full dimension.
Your stature's one I want to memorize--
Your whole level of being, to impose
On any other comers, man or woman.
I'd ask them that they carry what they are
With your particular bearing, as you wear
The flaws that make you both yourself and human.
God bless her.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Eugene Ionesco

This from the founder of the theater of the absurd:
"The Church does not want to lose her clients, so wants to acquire new members. This produces a kind of secularization which is truly deplorable. ... The world is going astray, the church is going astray in the world, priests are stupid and mediocre, happy to be only mediocre people like the rest, to be little proletarians of the left. I heard a parish priest in one church saying: 'Let's all be happy together, let's shake hands all round ... Jesus jovially wishes you a lovely day, have a good day!' Before long there will be a bar with bread and wine for Communion; and sandwiches and Beaujolais will be handed round. It seems to me incredible stupidity, a total absence of spirit. Fraternity is neither mediocrity nor fraternization. We need the eternal; because ... what is religion? what is the Holy? We are left with nothing; with no stability everything is fluid. And yet what we need is a rock."
Pretty strong stuff. Wonder who would be quoting such things?

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, The Essential Pope Benedict XVI, p. 281.

Have a Nicene day.

Jean Daniélou ... this time san quibbles

"Christ's resurrection was the essential historical event belonging to the end of created time, there can never happen anything of comparable importance in the future," writes Jean Daniélou. "But there is still something to wait for, because this supreme event has yet to fructify in all its consequences."
[The Lord of History, 271-272]

Monday, July 16, 2007

Hope is now personalized ...

In his book on eschatology, Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- wrote:
Christian hope is not some news item about tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. We might put it this way: hope is now personalized. Its focus is not space and time, the question of "Where?" and "When?," but relationship with Christ's person and longing for him to come close.
Though Christ is always at the center of this personalization of eschatological hope, Cardinal Ratzinger's subsequent rejoinder to Jean Paul Sartre -- "heaven is other people" -- has a bearing as well. Quoting again from his book on eschatology:
... the person who is set about by dangers in time and eternity finds a shelter in the communion of saints. He gathers the redeemed of all ages around him and finds safety under their mantle. This signifies that the walls separating heaven and earth, and past, present and future, are now as glass. The Christian lives in the presence of the saints as his own proper ambiance, and so lives "eschatologically."
With the death of my beloved Liz, and in the months since her death, I have experienced precisely this. It is in having Liz ever before me in my thoughts and prayers that my life has acquired an eschatological horizon. This, and not some theological principle or doctrinal belief, is what grounds eschatology and gives it the relationality proper to all things Christian.

Historical Analogue

I hope Philip Jenkins is right in his guarded optimism about the European capacity to retain its Christian identity. I don't know his analysis in detail (my stack of chores does not allow the luxury of a closer inspection), but what I have read of it in the press leaves the impression that his assessment is overly dependent on demographic aggregations and a naive majoritarian notion about cultural shifts. Even if this is not so for Jenkins, it is often the case with those who see cheerier prospects for the troubled heart of Western civilization. Moreover, the optimists often take some solace in the belief that European secularization can be counted on to rectify any troubling demographic asymmetry by secularizing Islam in the same manner that it secularized Christianity. That position overlooks the fact that it was Christianity's divided loyalties -- God and Caesar -- that gave rise to political secularization (not ideological secularism), whereas orthodox Islam (however problematic that term is) knows of no such division.

Be that as it may, here is a reminder that a small but committed minority, when faced with a feckless and morally confused majority, can bring about massive cultural shifts far faster than we usually think possible. It's from the historian Edward King, :
... the triumph of Bolshevism was not a triumph of the popular will over Tsarist tyranny, or of revolutionary enthusiasm over conservative order. ... [I]t was the victory of a few men who knew what they wanted and allowed nothing to stand in their way over a vast majority that was driven to and fro by the uncertainty of the politicians and the passions of the mob. It was, above all, the victory of one man -- Lenin ... [who] differed from the average Socialist leader, both among the Bolsheviks and outside the party, in his insistence on the philosophical absolutism of the Communist creed. ... Thus the Communist system, as planned and largely created by Lenin, was a kind of theocracy, a spiritual order of the most rigid and exclusive type ... The state was not an end in itself, it was an instrument, or, as Lenin himself put it, ... "a special sort of bludgeon, nothing more."
The numerical disadvantage of a minority can be more than compensated for by the ideological absolutism, theocratic zeal, and will to power of its determined exponents.

Apropos of which: It is in the nature of Islamic sharia law that it is imposed on an obstreperous humanity, whose recalcitrance can only be overcome by enforced submission. The idea that sharia would result from a democratic plebiscite is quite contrary to the premises on which the whole concept of sharia is based.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Jean Danielou

"Each of us will be eternally that which we shall have made ourselves on earth."

Now that's a truly daunting prospect. Here, however, is what saves us from it, (taken from the Eucharistic prayers):

"May He make us an everlasting gift to You."

So, praise God, it is not entirely what we make of ourselves, but what God in Christ makes of us. Our task is less to make something of ourselves than to open ourselves to Eucharistic assimilation.
Everyone has to pull his or her own weight, but God does the heavy lifting.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The European Crisis . . .

Christopher Dawson, from a book published in 1952:
The present crisis of European culture … is due not to any decline in physical or social vitality, but to the internal division of Europe by an intensive process of revolutionary criticism which affected every aspect of Western culture. This process did not consciously aim at the destruction of European unity. At each successive stage it was inspired by a belief in social progress and the hope of a new European order. … But the revolutionary ideal of a new European order was frustrated by the conflicting aims of the different revolutionary movements – liberal, socialist, and nationalist – so that revolutionary movement became destructive of European unity and hostile to European culture. In the bitter intensive struggle of parties and ideologies the deeper spiritual foundations of Western culture were forgotten or rejected until the movement which had begun with the worship of liberty and the declaration of the Rights of Man ended in the concentration camps of the totalitarian state and the mass suicide of total war.
By no means does Dawson anticipate all the events of the intervening half-century, for such perspicacity is beyond the role of the historian. Nevertheless much of what has transpired amounts to a footnote to what Dawson wrote in 1952.

Tiptoeing through the terror ...

Lee Harris has a piece in TCS Daily about the relatively genteel language Associated Press, Reuters, and the Main Stream Media generally employ in speaking of Islamic fanaticism, favoring terms like "supporters" and "militants" over terms that might actually describe the reality to which they refer.

Harris' piece includes this:
Islamic fanaticism has a historical depth in Muslim culture; it was present at the creation of these cultures, and that makes it radically distinct from the threats posed in the last century by Italian fascism, Nazism, or Soviet Communism, all of which, by their own claims, represented a new departure, a revolutionary transformation of both society and culture. The European threats demanded new prophets with a new revelation—men like Mussolini, Hitler, and Lenin; but Islamic fanaticism appeals to the same prophet and the same revelation that has held together the community of the faithful for nearly fourteen centuries. It is not an innovation, but a restoration. It is consciously seen by those who espouse it as a return to tradition, and not a bold leap into the future. Thus the threat of radical Islam is not a flimsy structure, destined to be blown away in the near future; it taps into the bedrock of Muslim culture, and has the capacity for strengthening itself immensely by spreading throughout the general public that distinguishes it from Italian fascism, Nazism, or Communism.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Unintended Consequences

Where political correctness still mistakes condescending fawning for real humility and indifference for compassion, a word of candor can seem like an inexcusable faux pas at best and an act of aggression at worst. Knowing all too well of these dangers, I chose my remarks at the open session of the Colloquium on Religion and Violence conference only after overcoming (just barely) a great deal of reluctance. I have no regrets about what I said, which I think will be vindicated by events, but my concern for their possible misconstrual would have been heightened had I been mindful of the possible presence of journalists, who naturally gravitate to controversy.

As it happened, the coverage that the conference received in the Dutch press was dominated by reference to my brief remarks. I was mentioned several times in the short article, eclipsing mention of the keynote speaker or any of the other extraordinary speakers at the conference. Indeed, René Girard’s name only appeared, as though in passing, after several excerpts from my remarks were quoted.

Embarrassed to have become the focus of the press attention, when my conference colleagues deserved much more attention for their much more substantial contributions to our deliberations, I decided to write to the editor of the Dutch newspaper. I am leaving both the letter and the decision as to whether or not to send it to the newspaper with my Dutch friends, who will translate it into Dutch if they decide to submit it.

In any case, and for what it might be worth, here is the letter:
To: Editor, NCR Handelsblad

The article in the July 8, 2007 edition of your paper about the conference of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion dwelt on a few remarks I made as one member of a four-person panel at the opening session of the conference at the Free University of Amsterdam. The quotations were accurate and fairly characterize the points I wanted to make. I stand by them. However, what gave my remarks their pertinence was their context within the much broader discussion which the conference was organized to foster. Taken out of that context and highlighted as they were in the piece by Maarten Huygen, my comments lose their relevance to the larger discussion of which they were a part.

The conference – co-sponsored by Pax Christi The Netherlands, the Blaise Pascal Institute, and the Free University of Amsterdam – was a rich and multifaceted exploration of the very complex challenge now facing Europe and much of the rest of the world: How to continue to honor the historic commitment to cultural openness and generosity without eviscerating the religious and moral sources of that very generosity? My rather candid remarks were made simply as a small contribution to that much larger discussion and should not be taken as emblematic of it.

Gil Bailie,
The Cornerstone Forum

Thursday, July 05, 2007

From the Amsterdam Conference

I'm reporting from the Colloquium on Violence and Religion conference in Amsterdam, where I'm happy to be seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I was asked by the organizers of the conference to serve on the panel discussing the keynote address. The panel also included Dr. Abdulkarim Soroush, an Iranian Muslim, a visiting professor at the Free University of Amsterdam; Dr. Markha Valente, an American trained professor of history now also teaching at the Free University in Amsterdam; and Dr. Monjib Maati, a Muslim professor of history at the Université de Rabat in Morocco.

Prior to my formal remarks, I made brief reference to the keynote address by Ian Buruma, author of Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance, and to the response to the address by my old friend Wolfgang Palaver, a professor of Catholic Social Thought at Innsbruck University. I simply expressed my general agreement with what they had to say – not complete agreement to be sure, but I was in substantial agreement with them. To which I added something extemporaneous to this effect, anticipating the need for it:

Let it be said that in what follows the historical sins of Western culture – known in great detail by every 12-year-old in the West – are hereby acknowledged and, to the extent that I can be contrite for someone else’s errors, I hereby apologize.
I daily remind myself of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, that love does not gloat over the wrong-doing of others but delights in the truth, but the truth can be uncomfortable, and we are here today to search for it.
My Formal Remarks:
Believe me, it is not easy it is to say what I’m about to say, for I know it will be misunderstood. If I was confident that someone else might say it, I would happily to leave it to them to say. But I’m not confident of that, so I’m going to ask your indulgence as I put on my very best Jeremiah impersonation.

At the heart of the European crisis, as I see it, is a loss of faith – Europe’s loss of its Christian faith and then, as a predictable consequence, Europe’s loss of faith in itself. It is fundamentally a Christian problem, but today of course it has both a Muslim and a Jewish component.


One of the West’s greatest shortcomings is its aversion to accurately assessing its own cultural uniqueness and especially the religious sources of that uniqueness. The key to the kind of pluralistic and politically secular polity that the West rightly cherishes is the parallel cultural coexistence of a religious tradition whose faithful are taught to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s and to recognize the dignity of the person and his or her right to follow the voice of conscience.

The last time Europe lost faith in itself this profoundly was in the aftermath of World War I, and in a heartbeat the primitive gods were back, tricked out on that occasion in ideological disguises. Whatever these gods will look like next time, the European loss of self-confidence and Europe’s confusion over its historic identity will provide the occasion for their return. At issue, it’s important to remember, is the spiritual condition of the West itself: whether or to what extent it has lost its soul and in the process lost its way in history and is no longer willing to pass on its cultural inheritance to the next generation.

Nothing exemplifies Europe’s lack of faith in itself more than its reluctance to reproduce. As Mark Steyn put it: the future belongs to those who show up for it. A great number of European Muslims are going to show up, but they will be joined by only a relatively small number of European Christians and Jews and by a statistically insignificant number of European secularists. The future belongs to the fertile. Europe – radical jihadists worldwide now have reason to believe – will fall into their hands by mid-century. For many of the most radical, however, that seems too long to have to wait.

Which brings us to THE MUSLIM COMPONENT

Henri de Lubac pitied those who learned their catechism against something, and the worst way to revive the Christian spirit in the West is to do so in order to counter non-Christian influences, whatever they might be. That said, however, there is in fact a Muslim component to the present crisis, and it is rooted in a few uncomfortable but undeniable realities:

#1. Mohammad: The founder of Islam, whatever his other virtues, was a conquering warrior who spread his religious beliefs by the sword. One doesn’t have to be an expert in mimetic theory to recognize the salience of this or its contemporary relevance.

#2. Since Mohammad’s modus operandi was inscribed in the Qur’an and made normative in the sharia, the second uncomfortable but undeniable reality is that obligatory acts of violence enjoy the highest possible Islamic sanction, and are regarded by Muslims of the strict observance as unalterable and immune to more benign construals.

I am genuinely honored to share the dais with Islamic scholars who have tried to foster a more irenic understanding of Islam, and who have, no doubt, paid a personal and professional price for doing so. Unfortunately, those courageous few – they are both very courageous and very few – who have publicly and unequivocally resisted the jihadist revival have had their voices drowned out by the radicals, who cite Qur’anic authorizations the moderates appear unable to effectively refute. In any case, it is now clear that such reform efforts are better appreciated by Westerners – desperate for signs of Islamic moderation – than they are by the sea of radical Islamicists who now dominate the discourse in the Muslim world.

#3. Religious Tolerance: The first freedom is religious freedom.

How many instances are there of societies with a Muslim majority or an Islamic regime where anything remotely resembling Western religious freedom exists? As mosques sprout up like Starbucks in the West, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and native animists are being denied basic religious freedoms and/or physically intimidated and persecuted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Algeria, Yemen, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan, Iran, Indonesia and so on. In an Islamic society, can a Muslim cease being a Muslim without endangering his life? Can a Hindu or a Mormon try to convert a Muslim without endangering his?


It was fashionable not long ago to sagely observe that the Palestinians are the Jews of our time. The truth, of course, is that the Jews are the Jews of our time. Now as ever, the Jews are the canary in the European mineshaft, and to repeat the cliché that their predicament is reducible to “the politics of the Middle-East” is a species of the 1930s slander about Jews in the international banking system, and it is shameful.

In Europe today, Jews are once again having to be cautious and to avoid certain areas out of very legitimate fears for their safety, while imams both inside and outside Europe spew forms of anti-Semitism that would make the Nazis blush. No dialogue that ignores these matters deserves the name.

St. Peter admonished Christians to be prepared to give nonbelievers the reason for their hope, and he did so no doubt because there seemed precious little empirical evidence for it. My own hope is of that same sort. I actually am hopeful, but I can’t let on if I am to play the gloomy Jeremiah role all the way to the end. Nothing less that sober biblical hope will do. It’s the best kind anyway. There is reason to hope, wrote the historian John Lukacs, “that the New Dark Ages may not last hundreds of years; and there is reason to believe that their darkness will not be uniform.”
In the question and answer period, I was able to clarify a number of points, but I also found an opportunity to add something that was part of my formal remarks, but which was inadvertently ommited in the text I took with me to the auditorium:
The history of this century and beyond will be very largely determined by whether the West finds a way to reclaim and reaffirm its spiritual inheritance and thereby reenergize a culture that fosters the genuine flourishing of its people and to which others – whatever their race, creed, ethnicity, or background – will want to transfer their national allegiance, culturally assimilate, and contribute their part.