Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Pope as a political philosopher . . .

Benedict XVI -- "a profound political thinker"

Apropos of the previous post, this from Thomas Rourke, professor of political science at Clarion University in Pennsylvania, from his article in Communio: International Catholic Review (Fall, 2008).

Describing Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) as "a most profound political thinker," Professor Rourke writes:
. . . a central feature of the pope's fundamental politics is to show how the state's openness to God, far from leading to theocracy, is actually the only thing that enables the state to distinguish itself properly from the Church, and thus to resist the twin temptations of utopianism and totalitarianism.
Now there is a thought: a deracinated and ideologically secularized state -- unable to properly distinguish itself from "Church" -- flirting with a utopian ideal and slowly (or not so slowly) proposing totalitarian means for achieving it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Following Europe into Crisis

You are probably already among the over one million people who have viewed this video. In case you missed it, however, here it is, a voice of sanity on the other side of the Atlantic. Below the video are the remarks of Victor Davis Hanson on a topic of related interest.

Apropos of which, this from Victor Davis Hanson:
I don’t know quite what the allure of Europe is for the American Left. But it seems to be that more of us will soon all be working for the government, habitually striking, hunting out that rare capitalist in hiding for a shake-down, and bitching over our weary 35 hr. work week.

Yet without hardship, challenge, and hope, the individual dies daily. Once the government ensures that all your needs will be taken care of, from your teeth and joints to job and retirement, ennui sets in, and with it the cargo we see in Europe—pacifism, cynicism, the loss of transcendence marked by atheism and childlessness, and worry about what others have rather than what you aspire to. . . .

So strange (or not so strange, after all?) that the liberal impulse in postwar Europe led to millions living in nearly identical houses and apartments, driving the same sort of cars, thinking about the same (their parties are like the feuds and squabbles among the Democratic Party here at home), and exuding the identical teen-age petulance when events belie the gospel.

We can see what Europeanization leads to: you worship at the altar of the goddess Pax, but hate the United States for still having a military that saves postmodern you from premodern others. You praise diversity, but are terrified of unassimilated Middle East Muslims thriving in your midst, who unlike you, really do believe in something and it’s not Western liberalism. You praise openness and tolerance, but demonize anyone who questions orthodoxy, whether it be global warming or the efficacy of state redistribution. . . .

Europeanization is so at odds with human nature that it bifurcates it—a false public face, a cynical private one. (I used to love living in Greece, going to the beach in the summer as a student and seeing all these socialist public power, phone, water, bank, etc., vans parked as their left-wing employees “got away” for some downtime around 2 PM—or being told I could hire a public worker after hours for cash for a phone installation rather than wait 9 months on “the list”.) Marxist at the day-job, conniving entrepreneur in the night hours.

It seems that in just 60 days we are heading that way—fast. These gargantuan deficits will require the most insidious taxes (on everything, as in the age of Augustus) we have yet witnessed, to make up the soon to be $20 trillion national debt. Universal health care, college for everyone, government jobs will mean a vast array of technocrati and less-skilled overseers and guardians. Less defense, higher taxes, more social spending, bigger government will expand the public sector to such a degree that to dismantle it will result in the sort of European mass protests and strikes we see daily in Greece or France when a poor fool like Sarkozy thinks it could be1950 again, and wants to head-off pension insolvency, or bring back a 40 hour work week to the subway drivers.
Hanson's full remarks are here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Christocentric Trinitarian Anthropology

Tracy Rowland is Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Melbourne, Australia. She is, in my estimation, one of the most gifted theologians writing today. Here is something from her essay "Natural Law: From Neo-Thomism to Nuptial Mysticism," in the Fall 2008 edition of Communio: International Catholic Review:
. . . the Church's scholars should not waste their energies performing all manner of linguistic gymnastics, transposing her teachings into the idioms of hostile traditions, in order to entice neo-pagan elites to buy their intellectual package.

The movement from a neo-Thomist account of natural law to one that explicitly acknowledges its trinitarian context is unlikely to make the notions of natural law any less acceptable to such elites. If they oppose a more Liberal-sounding version of it, then one might as well drop this project and concentrate on making the teaching more comprehennsible and attractive to the Catholic faithful and plain persons of good will, especially Protestants.
In a footnote, she adds a comment which I can affirm from my own experience: "There is much potential for successful diplomatic work with members of the Protestant communnities who have been encouraged by the christocentric accent of the moral theology of the current and previous pontificates."

She then concludes with a comment which is apropos of the work of the Cornerstone Forum:
Further work also needs to be done in recovering lost ground with those who are nominally Catholic and have never been presented with a comprehensive account of morality as filian participation in the life and love of the Trinity.

Democracy and Its Essential Limits

Edmund Burke from his Orations and Essays:
Certainly, Gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have a great weight with him, their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfactions, to theirs, and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.

But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure, no nor from the law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
This is quoted on a website dedicated to the memory of Representative John E. Moss, a Democratic Congressman who died in 1997. The quote from Burke was Moss' own summation of his guiding principle. This is the kind of principled politician that we so desperately need today.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

American Mob Rule

Victor Davis Hanson has a piece today in National Review Online that those interested in René Girard's work should find interesting. Hanson writes:
In the last three months, we’ve been reduced to something like the ancient Athenian mob — with opportunistic politicians sometimes inciting, sometimes catering to an already-angry public.

The Greek comic playwright Aristophanes once described how screaming politicians — posing as men of the people — would sway Athenian citizens by offering them all sort of perks and goodies that the government had no idea of how to pay for.

The historian Thucydides offers even more frightening accounts of bloodthirsty voters after they were aroused by demagogues (“leaders or drivers of the people”). One day, in bloodthirsty rage, voters demanded the death of the rebellious men of the subject island city of Mytilene; yet on the very next, in sudden remorse, they rescinded that blanket death sentence.

Lately we’ve allowed our government to forget its calmer republican roots. We’ve gone Athenian whole hog.
Read it all here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Opposition to Artificial Equivocation . . .

The success of the Obama revolution depends on the elimination -- by the time-honored method of divide-and-conquer -- of the Catholic opposition to his radical abortion, embryo-cannibalizing, and marriage-eviscerating agenda. The president of Notre Dame University has allowed the use of the most famous -- in many respects, and from this day forward, infamous -- American Catholic educational institution to be exploited for precisely this purpose.

What the Notre Dame president and others at the university have done -- whether wittingly or not -- is to allow themselves to be used to create the impression either that the Church's position on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and the univocal meaning of marriage as the covenant between a man and a woman is unsettled and amenable to "evolution" or that one can disagree with what the Church has for two thousand years opposed and in recent years declared to be the preeminent moral issue of our age (the intentional killing of innocent human beings in the womb or in their embryonic stage) and still be a faithful Catholic in good standing.

As Ralph McInerny -- nearing his retirement after 54 years as a Notre Dame faculty member -- put it in a recent column for TheCatholicThing weblog:
By inviting Barack Obama as commencement speaker, Notre Dame is telling the nation that the teaching of the Catholic church on this fundamental matter can be ignored. Lip service may be paid to the teaching on abortion, but it is no impediment to upward mobility, to the truly vulgar lust to be welcomed into secular society, whether on the part of individuals or institutions.
Stephen Barr, writing for the FIRST THINGS On the Square weblog, put it this way:
Abortion is a defining issue of our time, in the way that slavery was in the mid-nineteenth century and segregation and racial discrimination were in the mid-twentieth century. Overlooking the pro-abortion views of a politician now would be analogous to overlooking pro-slavery or segregationist views in those eras. Would Notre Dame have invited a champion of segregation to be a commencement speaker in the 1960s, however brilliant or talented, however well-meaning in other ways and on other issues he or she may have been?

Some will say that there is no comparison between the issues of racial discrimination and abortion. From a Christian point of view, however, they are at root the same issue: the respect due to our fellow human beings simply as human beings. The lives of fifty million innocent human beings have been snuffed out in the United States since 1973, so it would be absurd to suggest that abortion is less serious an issue than racial discrimination. The difference between the two issues lies not in their intrinsic moral gravity, but in the way that society views them. Virtually everyone agrees that racial discrimination is morally repugnant. There is a strong social consensus on that issue, whereas on abortion at present there is not. The social elites of this country are largely pro-choice, and being pro-choice is regarded by many as a mark of enlightenment. This, I think, has everything to do with why an institution like Notre Dame would never honor a champion of segregation, but would honor a champion of so-called abortion rights. What governs the moral reflexes of institutions like Notre Dame is not how things appear in the light of the gospel, but how they appear in the eyes of the social elites—or to use more biblical language, how they appear to the world. St. Paul told us not be “conformed to this world”, but to put on the “mind of Christ.” It seems that the University of Notre Dame is conforming itself to the world.
What can those of us who deeply regret this latest sign of capitulation do in response? It's very difficult to say. Here is what I wrote to my bishop yesterday:
I realize that there are probably limited courses of action with regard to the shameful decision of Notre Dame University to invite the most anti-life politician in America to deliver this spring’s commencement address, but I hope and pray that you and your fellow bishops will do something equally dramatic to send a message of reassurance to the faithful Catholics in this country who have endured this kind of shamelessness for far too long.

I have no doubt that your heart is in the right place, and I have no advice as to what might be done, but if there is something, it would be greeted with a great sigh of relief from the faithful.
From the point of view of the increasing number of post-modern relativists who realize that the Catholic Church is the chief obstacle to the accomplishment of the moral and cultural revolution to which they have committed themselves, the next best thing to silencing the Church -- which even they realize is impossible -- is to drown its voice of moral clarity in a cacophony of opinions expressed by self-proclaimed "faithful Catholics."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jeff Hendrix Update

Jeff just notified me that the results of his medical tests were encouraging. He thanks us for our prayers.

Jeff Hendrix

Please keep Jeff in your prayers today as he is tested to determine the effectiveness of the treatments he is undergoing for cancer.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Inexorable Logic

If they are going to be terminated, it is a shame to waste their organs,” says an adviser to the Royal Society and the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority at a conference at the Oxford International Biomedical Center.

More here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

5-day-olds vs. 50-year-olds

On the First Things Blog, Nathaniel Peters reviews an article on Slate by William Saletan, and he concludes it with a comment and a quotation from Saletan's article that sums up beautifully the embryonic stem-cell issue. Here's Peters' comment, followed by Saletan's.
At one time, liberal principles claimed to defend the weaker party against the interests of the strong. Not so today. As Saletan concludes,
The stem-cell fight wasn’t a fight between ideology and science. It was a fight between 5-day-olds and 50-year-olds. The 50-year-olds won. The question now is what to do with our 5-day-olds, our 5-week-olds, and our increasingly useful parts.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The New Cannibalism

As surely as night follows day, the Obama administration is now poised to lift the ban on the federal funding of research on human embryos, meaning that we are moving along the path down which the white-coated Nazi scientists were the first to tread. If what made the the wanton use of human life for medical research so horrendous in the 1930s and 1940s was the blatant barbarity of the experiments, what makes the embryonic version of it so horrendous is the sheer numbers of tiny innocent human lives that will be used as so much raw material. The old and growing ever older will now begin to live off the young. Such a civilization neither deserves to survive, nor will it.

While we have breath, we must not let this become the status quo.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

More on the End of Tolerance . . .

Tomorrow is a travel day, and with it begins a whirlwind schedule. So I'm posting again today, not knowing when I might be able to do so for the next while.

This from David Stevens of the Christian Medical Association, on the news that the Obama administration is moving to rescind a regulation protecting the exercise of conscience in healthcare:
The move to rescind the healthcare provider conscience regulation imperils women's healthcare access, threatens healthcare professionals' freedom to practice medicine according to ethical standards, and exposes the myth of moderation in Obama's abortion policy.

The Obama administration claims, without offering a shred of statistical evidence, that the regulation has 'created confusion' and will somehow hinder access to healthcare. What can be clearer than not using federal funds to force healthcare professionals to violate longstanding principles of medical ethics like the Hippocratic Oath, which guided medicine for over two millennia? The real threat to healthcare access is driving out every healthcare professional who conscientiously practices medicine according to life-affirming ethical standards.
Perhaps those who, despite glaring evidence to the contrary, were sanguine about Mr. Obama's reputed moderation on the abortion issue might want to come forward to tell us how they assess these developments.

The whole CMA statement is here.

The Angel of Death . . .

This from today's New York Times:
According to the documents released today, Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz death camp doctor known as the "Angel of Death" for his experiments on inmates, practiced medicine in Buenos Aires for several years in the 1950's. He "had a reputation as a specialist in abortions," which were illegal.
Wouldn't you know.

Hat tip: my friend Dan Florio.

The whole story is here.

Monday, March 02, 2009

That rarest of rarities . . .

The vast majority of cases in which someone changes his or her position on abortion involve a move from a pro-choice to pro-life position. But the exception proves the rule.

In the recent issue of -- you guessed it -- The National Catholic Reporter, Kate Childs Graham chronicles her moral shift in the opposite direction. You can read it here, discovering at the end, to no one's great surprise, that she "serves on the Women’s Ordination Conference board of directors and the Call to Action Next Generation Leadership Team."

The "next generation," pray God, will continue to move in the opposite direction.

Hat tip: Carl Olson: Ignatius Insight Scoop.