Selected Thoughts on Liberation Theology

I have begun a study of liberation theologies under the informal direction of Father James Schall, S.J. (this is a pretentious way of saying I'm reading his book). I beg your indulgence for the moment.

As much as the Marxist underpinnings of liberation theologies might repulse me, it is true that the greatest errors often reveal profound truths. Light can be found even in the darkest of places. I hope to put together my own thoughts on this subject sometime in the future, but honestly other people are more worth your time. And so, for now, I've selected some of the more profound passages of this book to share in hopes of some fruitful conversation.First up is a selection from an essay by a one I. Andre-Vincent.
Every human being carries within himself something which goes beyond uman society. This "beyond" arises from his direct relationship to the Absolute; it is lived in filial relation to God.

Politics must stop short at the threshold of the Absolute; it is not the whole of man. And in this thought lies the first principle of any true liberation: liberationist totalitarianism stumbles at this very threshold. The theologians of liberation must liberate themselves from totalitarianism; theirs is the worst of all totalitarianisms because it hides itself under the mask of liberty. In doing so they will not be denying the political dimension of their passionate concern and love. Perhaps they must exile themselves for a time from the drama of this world but only in order to reenter it with a deepened faith guided by divine love, with a new and freer capacity for involvement in human history.

For the sons of the kingdom, contemplation precedes involvement. Theology is born from that source where the eternal penetrates time, where God comes clothed in the flesh of the world. Daughter of the Word, theology precedes history as the redemptive Incarnation precedes salvation. Theology is the light of salvation, finding its first source in the gift of the Spirit.

No fact of history, no drama of humanity, even be it world-wide, can be the root of a theology of the liberation effected among men by Christ our liberator. The political situation of the Third World, no matter how extreme the state of oppression, no matter how urgent the cry for justice, cannot be the ultimate foundation of a theology. A political situation determines political actions, undertaken in the light of political principles. The fact that the Gospel illuminates political principles does not make them a theology. The liberation which Christ brings is not limited to a social drama but pertains to the drama of man face to face with God"

- PH.-I. Andre-Vincent, O.P in the "Theologies of Liberation"
trans. Rev. James McCauley, S.J., originally published in Nouvelle Revue Theologique 98 (1976) pp. 109-125.
Next up is that theological polymath, Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Herewith selections of his conclusions from an essay on Liberation theologies.

""1. At the Medellin Bishops' Conference there was much talk of estructuras injustas y opresoras (1, 2 and passim), of situacion de injusticia (1, 1 and passim) and situacion de pecado (2,1). Now, societal situations can be unjust, but in themselves they cannot be sinful. Only those persons can be sinful who are responsible for the existence of such situations and who continue to tolerate them though they could abolish or ameloriate them.


"3. Christians can share guilt in social injustice without actually realizing it, whether because of pure ignorance ... or because of an education that holds certain class privileges to be right which objectively are not so considering society as a whole. In such circumstances, the Church - both clergy and laity - has the duty to sensitive public opinion and thus usher in a more just balance of goods, without, for all that, globally condemning as "sinful" such a highly complex system as "capitalism".


"5. The urgency of the practical concerns of liberation theology is not called into quesiton by any criticism that may be made of it. But the totality of God's revelation to the world can in no way be reduced to political and social liberation, nor even to the general concept of liberation. Liberation theology has its specific place in a theology of the Kingdom of God. It is one aspect of the whole of theology and, in practical terms, it demands the Church's commitment to the shaping of the world as a whole in a manner conforming with Christ."

From Hans Urs Von Balthasar, "Liberation Theology in the Light of Salvation History" translated by Erasmo Leiva, originally published in Theologie der Befreiung (Einsiedeln: Johannesverlag, 1977)
Lastly a quote from Paul VI on use of the word liberation:
"We speak of 'liberation'. The Church esteems this term highly and makes it her own. In fact it is used most emphatically in her fundamental teaching, the good news of that redemption which brings freedom from evil and sin. It is evil and sin which constitute the principle obstacles to the true freedom of the children of God, the main link in that dreadful chain of slavery which drags mankind into indescribable chaos, ever aggravated by the dialectic of egoism and the corruption of the passions."

- Paul VI, in a talk on November 3, 1974. Doc. Cath., no . 1665 (12 Jan 1974), 1003
From my reading here, the main problem with liberation theology is that fundamentally alters the way we are to understand sin: sin is no longer something committed by an individual - sin is something that is committed by a society. This opinion, as the Church has consistently taught, is at odds with orthodox Christianity.


car bumper-sticker-er theory

Spending the majority of my time in a University town, I am privileged to see an usual variety and large number of bumper-stickers. Perceiving a distinct absence in the literature of serious philosophical and moral analysis of bumper-stickers, I have the somewhat modest hope of beginning such an endeavor here.

People like bumper-stickers for a number of interesting and contradictory reasons. Perhaps most noble goal of the car-bumper-sticker-er is to provoke thought. A witty turn of phrase might rouse an otherwise idle mind. And who knows where that will lead!

Bumper stickers are also a way to publicly display your affiliation, akin to a team logo or mascot. Bumper-stickers foster a certain solidarity - a "yeah, that's so true, I'm with them there." In turn, bumper-stickers also identify potential enemies: Yankees fans, liberals, neocons, anti-choicers, hippies, whatever. This affiliation also has the psychological benefit of making you feel like you have more friends than you really do.

Finally, perhaps the real reason people use bumper-stickers is to publicly demonstrate their moral or intellectual superiority. This makes car bumper-sticker-ers something like a self-conscious peacock. Maybe it's just the location and environment I'm in, but a large number of people I meet are convinced that everyone else is stupid. What better way to let those stupid people know they're stupid than to write it on your new Saab!

And so with that I would like to explore some of the sentiments of my favorite bumper -stickers seen around town. The bumper-stickers can often be understood in two diametrically opposite ways - positively or critically. I will attempt to fairly represent the thought process behind each reaction here.

Recently, I have seen what is perhaps my favorite bumper-sticker:

Positive reaction: I respect that driver's commitment to pacifism and general attitude of opposition to the military-industrial complex. Critical reaction: Really? No matter what? Why do you feel the need to tell us this?

Another popular one around campus is

Positive reaction: It's true! All religions say the same thing and so we should all stop disagreeing because disagreeing necessarily leads to fighting and violence. Critical Reaction: What? Not all religions are the same, and it certainly is possible to disagree with someone without fighting!

And I cannot forget the NH classic, the pie-chart

Positive reaction: Yes, of course! The federal government should spend all that money on war educating people and feeding poor people! Critical Reaction: In the first place, a pie-chart is not an argument, and in the second place, I'm not even sure that's a correct pie!

And finally, perhaps the most telling sticker of them all,

Positive Reaction: All I really want to do is smoke weed. Critical Reaction: Thought so.

(disclaimer: I write this as someone who has, in my life, put 1 sticker in the rear view window of my car. It is a regret of mine.)


life cannot be lived without joy

"Man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures."

- St. Thomas Aquinas


are there limits to politics?

This is a question I'd pose particularly to those of a democratic-socialist disposition (or anyone interested in thinking about politics). What, if any, are the limits to politics, and where do they come from? Father James Schall's website has an essay that touches on this subject. It also includes an interesting description of the intersection of Enlightenment optimism and political realism.
As a teacher in political philosophy over the years, I have become intrigued by the effect of reading with an average class of modern students both St. Augustine and Machiavelli, the archetypes of what is called in political philosophy "political realism". Often these same students are bent on saving the world, largely, as far as I can tell, by going to law school, itself something of a problem in political philosophy. For we can, in this context, recall St. Augustine's own sobering account of his early teaching career. In Rome, his own students failed to pay their bills. In Milan, he realized that preparing students for law and rhetoric would not lead either him or them to the highest things. Thus these youthful enthusiasms will not seem overly surprising or only confined to our own time and place.

Indeed, such suppositions about legal and political solution to moral and social problems form almost a recurrent phenomenon among those many who want to find the City of God in places wherein it is not likely to be discovered. Activism in our time seems so superior to contemplation; politics seems superior to mysticism. Charity has become, in effect, compassion, a very different thing as it is used. The first, charity, means God's love in everything; the second, compassion, implies that no one is judged by any criterion but his own, whatever that be. Compassion has replaced reason and obviated the need for forgiveness.

Within activism, and, probably as a consequence of the reversal of the classical priority of contemplation to action, furthermore, fewer and fewer intrinsic limits to politics and action are acknowledged or observed. The scope of a freedom in modernity is defined, to be brief, not by nature or by nature's God, but by a freedom itself subject to nothing further than the self. In a sense the heady freedom Machiavelli granted to the prince is substantially granted to or subsumed by everyone. "Every man a king" has come to have more sinister overtones in a world bereft handbooks for kings that also teach them to be morally virtuous.

When contemporary students first encounter St. Augustine, moreover, they are usually disturbed. They find themselves unsettled by Augustine's pessimistic view of human nature, even if they suspect that he might be right on the empirical side. They do not like to admit the legitimacy of his experience even when they admit, that is, that he might be a realist, that he just might accurately describe the dire things they see about them every day. In the moral order, we are reluctant to admit how little progress we have made, even more reluctant to relate this lack of improvement to ourselves.

To explain this instinctive dislike of the pessimism of an admittedly fascinating man like Augustine always is to contemporary students, we cannot forget that one component, conscious or unconscious, of any modern student's soul is always the Enlightenment heritage, itself not unrelated to the Pelagianism about which Augustine was so concerned. Thus, a student presumes that no evil is connected with our lot, with our choices. He assumes that improving the human condition is a relatively easy process brought about by changing a few political and economic patterns that are, apparently, unduly opposed by a few bad men. Just how, on the same presumptions, these same few came to be "bad" in the first place is not altogether certain. Rarely is the necessary change in society first to take place in one's own heart.
Schall's essay has a lot of food for thought, so I'd like to make just one brief comment.

I think political realism is difficult for most modern Christians to accept, because the Christian has to reconcile his eschatological hope with his teaching on original sin. Both of these Teachings must inform the Christian's politics. But all of us being children of the "enlightenment", we find it hard to imagine the ideal society on Earth being anything but the New Jerusalem. So we tend to put more practical emphasis on the hope and less on the reality of sin. And more simply, hope is easier to talk about than is sin!



via Bloomberg:
"We've passed the hardest part and we're breathing again,'' Mars Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein said, according to NASA. The Red Planet's rocky terrain and equipment problems have led to the failure of more than half of all Mars missions, including a Phoenix predecessor destroyed in 1999.

Phoenix sent a signal confirming it landed safely in the northern polar region of Mars, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said on its Web site. The message took 15 minutes to travel to Earth from Mars at the speed of light.

Obama's Supreme Court Nominees

Jennifer Rubin, a contributor to Pajamas media (Roger Kimball's weblog) investigates the Obama's probable nominees and overall judicial philosophy. Herewith some highlights:

Judge as Social Worker:
Taken literally, Obama’s conceives the role of the courts as roving advocates of the poor and disadvantaged who will look, not to the text and meaning of the Constitution, but to their own ethics and values — presumably very left-leaning ones — to override statutes, executive branch actions, and the American people themselves.

Given that, one wonders if confirmation hearings for Obama judicial appointees should skip over questions of the law and focus on the appointees’ religious and ethical views, their childhood experiences, and even their record of charitable giving. How else will we know whether they are “sympathetic enough”?
Defending abortion:
On abortion, Obama is an absolutist. Last April, he took strong exception to the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act (which had passed the House 281-142 and the Senate 64 [including 16 Democrats] to 33).

This is not simply then someone who believes women should have the last say in deciding whether to have an abortion, but one who believes that the courts should entirely displace the view of huge congressional majorities and public opinion to discern, as Calabresi bluntly puts it, “a constitutional right to dismember babies in a painful and somewhat violent way.” There is virtually no regulation or limit on abortion which Obama would likely find acceptable.
And perhaps the most important - the significance of his judges:
These issues and many others are not mere academic exercises. Under the next president, nearly 200 lower courts, which are in essence the “minor leagues” for future Supreme Court appointments, will be filled. And of course the entire Supreme Court could be refashioned.

We know from Obama’s vote (one of only 22) opposing the confirmation of now-Chief Justice Roberts that Obama will not be content to appoint a highly regarded Supreme Court advocate and judge. He apparently wants no part of a judge whose judicial philosophy can be summed up as: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules, they apply them.” We’ve seen repeatedly that Obama wants, not a referee, but a tenth man on the field — or rather one who always joins the team currently behind on the scoreboard.
It's all worth reading, check it out here.


A letter to my senator

Senator Sununu,

In light of your recent vote to approve the Iraq funding bill that includes a provision that gives Planned Parenthood a discount from drug manufacturers, I will be actively campaigning against your re-election in the fall. I will be encouraging all my fellow Republicans to do the same.

I hope you will reconsider your approval of the federal government sanctioning organizations such as Planned Parenthood.



a few laughs

The Microbe

The Microbe is so very small
You cannot make him out at all,
But many sanguine people hope
To see him through a microscope.
His jointed tongue that lies beneath
A hundred curious rows of teeth;
His seven tufted tails with lots
Of lovely pink and purple spots,
On each of which a pattern stands,
Composed of forty separate bands;
His eyebrows of a tender green;
All these have never yet been seen--
But Scientists, who ought to know,
Assure us that they must be so....
Oh! let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!

- Hilaire Belloc

Catholics, Abortion, and Voting

I would like to pick a fight. And by pick a fight, I mean have a reasonable and fruitful conversation. Policraticus of Vox Nova poses the question:
“Did liberal justices hijack the Supreme Court in 1973, forcing legalized abortion on the whole country?”
His answer: A quick look at the Justices who made that horrendous decision seems to suggest otherwise.

The rest of his post contains the following reasoning:
(a) History shows that many Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents were either responsible for the original Roe v. Wade decision or its preservation

Sidenote: Justices appointed by Republicans are necessarily conservative

(b) Therefore there is no good reason to believe that a justice appointed by a future Republican president, even a staunchly pro-life one, will oppose Roe v. Wade

(c) Conclusion – in terms of the Supreme Court and abortion, there is simply no reliable practical difference between a Republican president and a Democratic president.
This reasoning is flawed, and I would argue, dangerous. Let’s go through the argument.

The author focuses on one aspect of the legal battle (i.e. who appointed whom?) at the Supreme Court and ignores just about every other consideration. First, he assumes that justices appointed by Republican nominees before the advent of Roe v. Wade were somehow vetted for conservative jurisprudence. Obviously, this is not the case, because before Roe, the attention of the country had not yet been drawn to the activist court, and the Republican Party had not capitulated to the country’s anti-Roe constituency. Thus it is flawed to think that simply because a justice was appointed by a putatively conservative republican, that justice holds or should hold judicially conservative views. In fact, all of the justices who signed Roe into law were liberal justices, despite the fact that Republican candidates appointed them.

Even if my preceding reasoning is flawed, it does not follow that there is no good reason to vote for a candidate who, at least in principle, supports originalist or constructionist judges. This is because in this case we ought not to look at simply the history of judicial appointments, but at the present intentions of the two Parties. It is a well-known fact that that the party that currently defends the jurisprudence of the justices who uphold Roe is the Democratic Party. Witness the recent statements of NARAL endorsing Barack Obama. And on the other side of the coin, by and large, the Republican Party supports in principle justices who oppose the judicial activism that wrought Roe v. Wade. Consider the endorsement of, for example, National Right to Life.

Stepping back from the particulars, I think it is clear the author is trying to convince Catholics that we need not to consider abortion law in our political considerations as Catholic voters. He wrongly argues that the appointees of either party will not be much different, and therefore will not have much effect on the law - this is manifestly not the case.

To see one reason why this is so, think of the difference between the two appointees the sitting President has made – John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Both are known to oppose Roe in principle and are demonstrating good prudence by waiting until they can actually effect a change. Now think of who the appointees would have been under a Kerry presidency. No reasonable person can dispute that Kerry would have appointed liberal justices who believed in the legitimacy of the Roe decision.

Or, consider an argument from authority: recently, the eminent liberal legal scholar Jeffrey Toobin suggested that a McCain presidency will likely bring about the rapid end of Roe v. Wade (HT: Opinionated Catholic). Perhaps he knows something that Policraticus does not?

Finally, I would note that the author is arguing against probability, and he knows it. He says that there is no guarantee that a justice appointed by a Republican president will work to overturn Roe. And certainly no one would argue there is an absolute guarantee. No such guarantees exist about anything politically – for example, there is certainly no guarantee that a President Barack Obama will absolutely guarantee a working system of government-funded health care. For that matter, there is no guarantee he will do anything good for the poor. Johnson never won his “War on Poverty.”

Policraticus' arguments endanger the success of the legal change we are so close to achieving - legal change that will help fight the culture of death.


a short list of words we could do without

Now don't get me wrong, I love words. But aren't there some that we could do without? Here is a short list of words I think fall into that category, coupled with a short explanation. Please, if you can think of any to add, let me know.
web-log: An abbreviated and ugly expression, but perhaps more palatable than it's progeny,

blog: The sound of this word is simulatenously cheesy and painful. Plus, it refers to something of questionable respectability - a public personal journal

chillax: A heinous concatenation of the slang words chillin' and relaxin'

neocon: This is often used as a slur without any reference to what might actually mean

irregardless: Why put the "ir" there?

blogosphere: this is not a place i want to visit

parent: The speech codes at my University say that we should avoid using the words "mothering" and fathering" and instead use parenting or nuturing. This is because, according to the University thought police, we "ought to avoid gendering a non-gendered activity"

first-years: the politically corrected version of "freshmen"

attitudinize: what an ugly word!


Steven Pinker and "the Edge"

Alan Jacobs at his finest, criticizing an essay on human dignity by Steven Pinker, Harvard psychologist:
Though he never quite admits it, Pinker is perhaps today’s most passionate advocate of the idea that the sciences and humanities form two cultures and that, like Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, they are predestined to eternal enmity: one of them must destroy the other. And while, as Levin and Douthat point out, Pinker does get quite bizarrely exercised about religion — anyone unfamiliar with the dramatis personae of this whole affair would come away from Pinker’s essay convinced that Leon Kass is actually the Papal nuncio posted to Washington — it’s also literature, indeed any non-scientific use of language, that tends to confuse and frighten him.

Here’s an example. Pinker is exercised by the fact that Padre Kass and some of the the other monks and nuns of the Council think that human beings possess intrinsic dignity. Au contraire, says Pinker, finger held aloft, “Dignity can be harmful.” And why is that? Because “Every sashed and be-medaled despot reviewing his troops from a lofty platform seeks to command respect through ostentatious displays of dignity.” There you have it: Stephen Pinker actually thinks that the dignity assumed by tyrants is the same thing that Kass et al. are writing about. What a shock Pinker will receive when, someday, he opens a dictionary and discovers that some words have more than one meaning.

Or this: Pinker is deeply disturbed by Kass’s “disconcerting habit of treating fiction as fact.” Evidence: in his essay for the collection, Kass comments that the Greek gods lived “shallow and frivolous lives.” Obviously, the only possible explanation for such a comment is that Kass actually believes in the Greek gods! (This could be a problem when word gets back to the Vatican.) Then Pinker lands this haymaker: “Kass cites Brave New World five times in his Dignity essay.” There you have it: who would cite works of fiction as though they were potentially relevant to ethical reflection? Surely, only someone too dim to understand the difference between fiction and fact.

This is not the first time that literature has proved to be too much for Pinker. Ten years ago, in How the Mind Works, he worried mightily over the question of why human beings read stories. Hamlet for example — what’s up with that? Here’s the answer Pinker sweated out: “Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalogue of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them. What are the options if I were to suspect that my uncle killed my father, took his position, and married my mother?”

To this Jerry Fodor gave the best possible response: “Good question. Or what if it turns out that, having just used the ring that I got by kidnapping a dwarf to pay off the giants who built me my new castle, I should discover that it is the very ring that I need in order to continue to be immortal and rule the world? It’s important to think out the options betimes, because a thing like that could happen to anyone and you can never have too much insurance.”
Every time I reflect on the fact that Steven Pinker is a respected professor at the putatively best university in the world, I am dumbstruck.


perceptive Nietzsche

"I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar."
- Twilight of the Idols

i.e., We will not have killed God until we have killed grammar. Think modern linguistics and literary theory, eh?


i don't get the joke

Prof. Michael Perry of Mirror of Justice highlights an interesting Youtube clip. I think it perfectly highlights the quixotic delusions of Obama supporters. Check it out for yourself!

p.s. I'm aware it's intended to be funny - if it is, I don't understand why. Who exactly are they satirizing?


Balthasar on Liberation Theology

"I Feel that the combined efforts of theology in the United States and Europe should also be directed toward helping the Latin American theology of liberation, which often becomes self-seeking and confused. I mean helping to clarify it with a sympathetic understanding of its genuine claims. Teilhard de Chardin (the French Jesuit philosopher) saw the future of theology as supranational, global, but he did not recognize the concerns of liberation theology. We must include them in our theological thinking, but in doing so, we must show greater discernment than our South American brothers do. Usually, their analysis of social situations is based impulsively on Marxist categories of "exploiting" and "exploited" countries... The tragic situation is more complex and we must show them that.

... The exponents of this third (liberation) direction must learn - with all due regard to their justified claims - that the Kingdom of God cannot be coerced into existence by any amount of social or political effort. It remains the gift of God and of the returning Lord to a world that cannot perfect itself by its own efforts."

- Hans Urs von Balthasar, "Current Trends in Catholic Theology", Communio(Sprint, 1978) pp. 84-85.


uhm, profound

"Religion, opium for the people. To those suffering pain, humiliation, illness, and serfdom, it promised a reward in an afterlife. And now we are witnessing a transformation. A true opium for the people is a belief in nothingness after death - the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged."
Polish Poet Czeslaw Milosz in Roadside Dog via First Things

David Brooks is strange

I tend to think that David Brooks, the peculiar prognosticator from the New York Times, tries too hard. His latest column serves as an example. He points to the current conversation between science and religion as evidence that the number of Orthodox believers is going to decline in the future - basically, that we will be more "spiritual" and less "religious".
In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day. I’m not qualified to take sides, believe me. I’m just trying to anticipate which way the debate is headed. We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution. It’s going to have big cultural effects.
Does Brooks' not realize that this phenomenon has been going on for a long time? The scientific revolution is roughly a quarter millennium old. He's hedging his bets by betting on the past.

technology and education

I am highly sympathetic to the argument advanced by "The Dumbest Generation", mentioned in the Wall Street Journal
Adults are so busy imagining the ways that technology can improve classroom learning or improve the public debate that they've blinded themselves to the collective dumbing down that is actually taking place. The kids are using their technological advantage to immerse themselves in a trivial, solipsistic, distracting online world at the expense of more enriching activities – like opening a book or writing complete sentences.

Mr. Bauerlein presents a wealth of data to show that young people, with the aid of digital media, are intensely focusing on themselves, their peers and the present moment. YouTube and MySpace, he says, are revealingly named: These and other top Web destinations are "peer to peer" environments in the sense that their juvenile users have populated them with predictably juvenile content. The sites where students spend most of their time "harden adolescent styles and thoughts, amplifying the discourse of the lunchroom and keg party, not spreading the works of the Old Masters."
Technology is not an unqualified good. A good conservative ought put their foot down and say something about this, eh?

Those Giants

“Quarry rock with razors, or moor a vessel with a thread of silk, then you may hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and pride of man.”

- John Henry Newman in The Idea of a University



David B. Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian who has a beautiful reflection on Christian Truth in the face of the horror of some of the natural disasters the world has been through in the past few years:
I do not believe we Christians are obliged — or even allowed — to look upon the devastation visited upon the coasts of the Indian Ocean and to console ourselves with vacuous cant about the mysterious course taken by God’s goodness in this world, or to assure others that some ultimate meaning or purpose resides in so much misery. Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation; our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death, and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. For while Christ takes the suffering of his creatures up into his own, it is not because he or they had need of suffering, but because he would not abandon his creatures to the grave. And while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we know also that it is a victory yet to come, and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will one day be revealed. Until then, the world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death; and, in such a world, our portion is charity.

As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child I do not see the face of God, but the face of His enemy. It is not a faith that would necessarily satisfy Ivan Karamazov, but neither is it one that his arguments can defeat: for it has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead. We can rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that He will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes — and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”
The whole essay is available here.


some quick recommendations

I have recently had the great pleasure of reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. The book is a resounding testament to the deleterious effects arrogance can have on science. If you want to be entertained, I recommend reading it along with David Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion, a highly entertaining book that assesses the argument at hand. Finally, I must mention the movie Iron Man: it is awesome.

The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism - 6

Novak on the fundamental error of socialism:
“The fallacy of socialism is to imagine that brotherhood demands collectivism. The genius of democratic capitalism is to serve brotherhood by recognizing that the most precious of all common goods is the individuality of each person, and that the best way to increase the common good is to empower people through differentiated systems.”

“Consider the institutions of capitalism: the corporation, the labor union, banking, the stock exchange. Each of these is communal. None would make sense in a world of isolated individuals. Each depends on bonds of trust which go beyond coercive force, beyond written contracts, and beyond the letter of the law. (An effective way of halting any enterprise is to slow it down by “going by the book.”) Most interchanges within a democratic capitalist economy depend upon the good faith implicit behind the spoken word; they depend upon a bond of spirit.”

“Ironically, a society supposedly based upon competitive individualism and possessiveness seems to favor in its citizens forms of generosity, trust, extroversion, outgoingness, and reliance upon the good faith of others. Meanwhile, existing socialist societies seem to narrow the circles of trust, as group competing for the same allocations run afoul of each other’s interests. Collectivism pits man against man. A system which encourages each to seek first his own interests yields liberty and receives in return loyalty and love.” (Pg 226)


Justice and American Constitutionalism

Professor Russell Hittinger has an excellent lecture on American Constitutionalism available here. I have way too much time on my hands and decided to transcribe it so I could study it in parts. I suggest listening to the entire lecture if you have a chance. If you don't have the time, I am going to post particularly engaging segments of the lecture here for future reference. He begins this erudite discussion on the Constitution by defining that most elusive and controversial term, justice.
And I want to begin by giving you one of the most ancient definitions in Western Law, which is the definition of justice. This definition goes as far back as the 5th century BC in Rome. When called upon to define what justice is, the Roman lawyer said, “justice is giving to each what is his right.” And the way the Roman lawyers thought about this, it is very common-sensical – until someone can claim, that this is owed to me, or to him, or to them, there is simply no issue of justice. In matters of justice there can be no act of giving what is due to someone, unless there is first something to be given. We have to find something to give – property, obedience, due process, non-interference in acts of religious worship, whatever. But until we can locate something to give, and that we are obligated to give to another person, all issues of justice are moot. In fact, for there to be justice, at least three conditions have to be met. First, we have to know what it is that we owe to someone else. Second, we have to know who should receive it. Third, we have to know who should give it. And if we’re ever confused about any three of those – the thing to be given, the person who’s supposed to give it, or the person who’s supposed to receive it, we really are confused about justice. So – who owes what to whom? This is the fundamental question.


this just in

Wal-Mart is great.

"LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, announced Monday it would expand its discounted prescription drug program to offer 90-day supplies for $10 and add several women's medications at a discount. It also said it would lower the price of more than 1,000 over-the-counter drugs."

intellectual empathy

A dispiriting essay from Alan Charles Kors at the New Criterion
The academic world I so loved revealed itself best in an undergraduate course I’d taken on the history of Europe in the twentieth century. When the professor, a distinguished intellectual of the Left, returned the midterms to the hundred plus or so of us who were in his course, he said that we’d saddened and embarrassed him. “I gave you readings that allowed you to reach such diverse conclusions,” he explained, “but you all told me what you thought I wanted to hear.” He informed us that he would add a major section to the final exam: “I’m going to assign the book I disagree with most about the twentieth century. I’m not going to ask you to criticize it, but, instead, to re-create its arguments with intellectual empathy, demonstrating that you understand the perspectives from which he understands and analyzes the world.” I was moved by that. The work was Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and it changed the course of my intellectual and moral life. It also showed me immediately how I wanted to teach as an intellectual historian. Each year, I teach thinkers as diverse as Pascal and Spinoza, Hobbes and Butler, Wesley and Diderot. I offer courses on intellectual history, and the goal of my teaching is to make certain that my students understand the perspectives and rich debates that have shaped the dialogue of the West. I don’t want disciples of my worldview. I want students who know how to read deeply, how to analyze, how to locate the essential points of similarity and divergence among thinkers, and, indeed, how to understand, with intellectual empathy, how the world looks from the diverse perspectives that constitute the history of European thought. I know that I am not alone, but I also know, alas, that I am in a distinct minority in my pedagogical goals in the humanities and the so-called social sciences.
Imagine a professor doing that today? Intellectual empathy! What a great concept.

blogging? meh

The question is: what would the web-log of a saint look like?

If the goal of Christian life is to imitate Christ (and it is), it is fair to ask whether or not Jesus would blog.

I think the only answer is no, He wouldn't; I would be interested to hear a case made that argues otherwise. Perhaps some of the Vox-Nova commentators can speak to this? Perhaps the question is the wrong question.

Fairness, idealism and other atrocities

P.J. O'Rourke, resident of the small town of Peterborough (where I went to school), in southwest New Hampshire, has written a column giving "commencement advice you're unlikely to hear elsewhere." He has five "political" messages:
1) Go make money! "There's nothing the matter with honest moneymaking. Wealth is not a pizza, where if I have too many slices you have to eat the Domino's box."

2) Don't be an idealist! Don't chain yourself to a redwood tree. Make your contribution by getting rich and doing something worthwhile with your money.

3) Get politically uninvolved! "All politics stink. Even democracy stinks. Imagine if our clothes were selected by the majority of shoppers, which would be teenage girls. I'd be standing here with my bellybutton exposed."

4) Forget about fairness! "I am here to advocate for unfairness. I've got a 10-year-old at home. She's always saying, "That's not fair." When she says this, I say, "Honey, you're cute. That's not fair. Your family is pretty well off. That's not fair. You were born in America. That's not fair. Darling, you had better pray to God that things don't start getting fair for you."

5) Be a religious extremist! " So, avoid politics if you can. But if you absolutely cannot resist, read the Bible for political advice...The Bible is very clear about one thing: Using politics to create fairness is a sin...Observe the Tenth Commandment...If you want a mule, if you want a pot roast, if you want a cleaning lady, don't whine about what the people across the street have. Get rich and get your own."


I was wrong about Life of Pi, Catherine was right.

"I'm sorry to say it so bluntly, we don't mean to hurt your feelings, but you don't really expect us to believe you, do you? carnivorous trees? A fish-eating algae that produces fresh water? Tree-dwelling aquatic rodents? Those things don't exist."

"Only because you've never seen them."

"That's right. We believe what we see."

"So did Columbus. What do you do when you're in the dark?"


The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism - 5

Maybe one of the only good things to come out of the enlightenment was the notion of a political pluralism - a society that recognizes and appreciates and tolerates a multitude of differences, yet remains united in first principles. In the Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Michael Novak addresses the importance of authentic pluralism and argues against an explicitly sectarian government:
“For grave dangers to the human spirit lurk in the subordination of the political system and the economic system to a single moral-cultural vision. Daily life is (as Christians believe) a contest with the world, the flesh, and the devil. An attempt to impose the Kingdom of God upon this contest is dangerous not only to human liberty but to Christianity itself (and to any other religion similarly tempted. For darkness and recalcitrance always demand their due and corrupt those who would replace them.

In the world as it is, humans as they are often and unavoidably enmeshed in lies, betrayals, injustices, and sinful energies of every sort. Prematurely, before the endtime, to attempt to treat any society of this world as “a Christian society” is to confound precious hope with a sad reality. Human beings, even the most devout and serious Christians, cannot be expected to act always and in all ways, as Christians ought to act, under the sway and impulse of God’s grace. A political system based upon such expectations must necessarily end in disaster. An economic system based upon such expectations must necessarily confound illusions with realities. In the world as it is, Reinhold Niebuhr warned throughout his exemplary intellectual life, “the children of light” are in many respects a greater danger to biblical faith than “the children of darkness.” (pg. 68)
Such a quest is tempting for many Christians, but as Novak points out, the quest is wrongheaded. While it's intentions may be noble, a quest to Christianize the system may have unintended consequences. Like tyranny.