Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Happy Dog Year!

The Useless Tree, which explores "ancient Chinese thought in American Life," offers an interesting reflection on the Chinese character "fu," or happiness/fortune. When a Chinese Eastern-rite Catholic reader took off on that theme and drew a connection between Confucian "fu" and the Chinese translation of the Ave Maria prayer, which begins with "Wan-FU Ma-li-ya," Useless Tree asked, "how would Christian grace relate to Confucian duty?" I couldn't help but respond and grab the opportunity to explore how Catholicism integrates my ethnicity without rejecting or destroying it:
Not to speak for Mr. Yong, but I believe he's referring to that aspect of "grace" which connotes blessedness, beatitude, and plenitude. To draw perhaps a poor Confucian analogy from Yong's reference to the Ave Maria prayer, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the biblical scene from which the Ave Maria derives, is honored for being the most dutiful and filial among the daughters of her Heavenly Father. Through her free, affirmative submission to the Father's will, she becomes the tabernacle for the Incarnate Son, who all Christians profess to be their Lord and Savior. Therein lies her "grace" and the fulfillment of her "duty" as "the handmaid of the Lord." She thus becomes a model and Mother to all Christians.

There are many quasi-Confucian relations at work, especially in the Catholic interpretation of the Gospels' Nativity story: father-son (both heavenly and earthly), mother-son, father-daughter, husband-wife, cousins/siblings (not strongly distinguished in biblical times), even ancestor veneration if we analogize to the genealogies of Christ in Matthew and Luke. Of course, familial duties are not emphasized as they are in Confucianism, but they're implicit, with a Christocentric, rather than a horizontal humanistic focus. Just my two cents. Gong xi fa cai!

Alito's in

I'm happy about the Alito confirmation, not because I love Bush, or the Republicans, or even Alito himself, but because the Democrats soooo deserve it.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Breaking News: God Is Love!

...not very catchy, is it? Well, heck, not to let the truth get in the way of a good headline, let's say "Benedict's First Encyclical Shuns Strictures of Orthodoxy"!!! I mean, that's why we pay those NY Times headline editors the big bucks, right?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Catholic Convergence

With newly minted President of Notre Dame Fr. John Jenkins at the helm, Our Lady's University may very well be in the process of reclaiming her place as America's Truly Catholic University. One can discern in Jenkins' speeches on the Catholic understanding of academic freedom an emboldening progression of thought towards a firm, independent, and assertive outward gaze in Catholic thought. Here's an excerpt from his address to the university faculty delivered yesterday:
As I begin my presidency, I am aware that, as I make particular decisions and undertake initiatives, I am establishing patterns and expectations for how I will lead in this position. Consequently, it is important not only what decisions I make, but how I make them. On matters of significance, I will always strive to make decisions, consonant with my authority, according to my most informed and considered judgment about what is best for this university and its mission. I will not lead by consensus, nor by majority vote, nor in response to the pressures that individuals or groups inside or outside the university may bring to bear. However, prior to making a decision on an important matter, I will, as appropriate and practicable, strive to solicit and listen to the views of relevant individuals and groups. Central to the obligations of my office are the twin responsibilities of listening to the views of members of this community prior to a decision, and then making that decision. (emphasis added)
Jenkins sounds awful lot like Alito and Roberts, and come to think of it, like B16. Convergence is such a beautiful thing.

Read the rest to get the substantive philosophical arguments. It'll warm the Catholic mind and soul.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Where are the Commonweal Catholics going?

Luke Timothy Johnson, in the latest 1/27/06 issue of Commonweal, on the "intellectual chill" spreading across Catholic academia:
I am not sanguine. For one thing, the chill has become systemic. The episcopacy shaped by John Paul II will continue to perpetuate its fearful distrust of theologians. Defenders of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) argue that its investigations and sanctions of theologians are about “truth in advertising”-Catholic theologians in Catholic colleges should teach the way the Vatican says they should teach. Such a claim does little more than reduce theological truth to catechesis.
I'm no big fan of JPII's pics for the episcopacy, but LTJ is not helping. It's a little sad to see a fine Catholic NT scholar like Johnson, who I once admired greatly, slowly but willingly fall prey to the same infectious delusions of the modernist liberal intelligentsia. "Fearful distrust of theologians"? I guess anything less than rubber stamping is unequivocally distrustful then. "Truth in advertising" = reducing theological truth to catechesis? I suppose with the way American Catholics do catechesis, it deserves the insult. But if LTJ and his like-minded theologians can't distinguish between catechesis and CCD, and then incorrectly isolate catechesis from theological inquiry, well then no wonder modern theology is a mess.

I think we all need to wake up to the "you put down your gun and I'll put down mine" principle. Maybe if theologians didn't spend so much time bashing the hierarchy with their historicist narratives of power and their hermeneutics of suspicion, there would be a good reason for the hierarchy to trust you all. Meanwhile, the bishops have a huge unwieldy Church to hold together while the theologians, for the most part, have the luxury of playing pinata with effigies of the bishops.

LTJ's Emory colleague, Michael Perry, on Mirror of Justice blog is starting to annoy as well, with his Johnny-One-Note postings demonstrating little intellectual, but plenty of ideological, fussing. (HT: to MP for notice of the LTJ article, but not for his comments.)

My part in "The March"

Hosted friends from out of town, in town for the March for Life. Participated in a planning meeting for Americans On Call, a new movement started by my classmates. Went to a powerful Byzantine Compline at the Shrine last night and did a Holy Hour before the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Sat by the AOC phone today in case any media got curious. Talked to several marchers. Between classes, a very full day.

Came across this nice article by Frederica Mathewes-Green (thankfully avoiding her frequent anti-Catholic jabs) in which she says:
There is tremendous sadness, loneliness in the cry, ‘A woman’s right to choose.’ No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.
Read the whole thing.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Aslan is a not a Christ-figure

I finally caught the Narnia flic, and after scratching my head as to whether I saw the same movie as all the kind reviewers, I found a kindred moviegoer in Anthony Lane's review in the NYer:
Lewis lovers must squabble among themselves. I cannot join the party, having missed out on Narnia as a child. I was busy elsewhere, up to my armpits in hobbits, and starting to ask hard questions about the sexual longevity of elves. When, as a grownup, I finally opened “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” it struck me as woefully thin soil, with none of the gnarled roots of lore and language on which Tolkien thrived. If the movie has to forgo Lewis’s narrative tone, with its grimly Oxonian blend of the bluff and the twee (“And now we come to one of the nastiest things in this story”), that is fine by me. And, if there is Deep Magic, as Lewis called it, in his tale, it resides not in the springlike coming of Aslan but in the dreamlike, compacted poetry of Lewis’s initial inspiration—the sight of a faun, in the snow, bearing parcels and an umbrella.
If the movie's Aslan came anywhere close to representing C.S. Lewis', then I think I've finally found my good doctrinal reason for not liking Lewis: bad Christology.

Aslan is not even compelling as a movie hero, much less as as Christ-figure. For example, to allegorize Christ's scourging, Aslan got a bad hair cut by lawn gnomes brought to life. Puhlease. Mel's Braveheart cut a more Passionful Christ-figure than the movie's Aslan. In the end, he's just an all-powerful, sacrificial hero-type with a mean, toothy roar. That's not even the half of the true Christ, with a far more intriguing Trinitarian persona at work in the Gospels. Then again, Western Christianity has always been far less interested in the Sub-apostolic and Patristic understanding of Christ's Trinitarian identity.

Christ, without any conscious reference to a Person from Whom he was begotten, is a Christ for the heretics. It is not the Christ of the Gospels, nor a Christ of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. But I'm probably making too much of Lewis' Aslan. Of course Aslan was not presented intentionally as an anti-Trinitarian Christ, by either Lewis or the filmmakers. For the kids, that's fine. For adults, especially adult Christians who take Christological doctrine seriously, Aslan is a big disappointment. Yeah, yeah, I need to read the book before I judge too harshly. But that won't happen till I have me some kids of my own to read to sleep.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Go Providence!

It's one thing for the president of a Catholic college to ban the staging of the Vagina Monologues, it's an awesome thing to also capitalize on the opportunity to teach the school and community that yes, Virginia, an alternative, specifically Catholic understanding of "academic freedom" exists.
This policy will inevitably raise questions regarding academic freedom. The true meaning of academic freedom is often misunderstood; it is not the license to hold any view that one chooses. Academic freedom is instead always governed by truth. It is the freedom to pursue the truth in a discipline in accord with the accepted canons of inquiry without any impediment by extraneous considerations. Prohibiting a theatrical production of The Vagina Monologues does not prohibit free inquiry about the play. All members of the campus are free to read, study, and discuss the play in various settings, especially the classroom. It is perfectly appropriate that we study texts that have diverse views in order both to broaden our understanding of others and to bring our own views into sharper focus. I fully expect that one result of this communication will be some controversy. As a long-time student of St. Thomas Aquinas, I think disputes are an important part of education, so long as they are conducted with charity. While arguments about intellectual positions help us to learn from each other, attacks on persons do not.
God bless the sons and daughters of St. Dominic! (HT: The Curt Jester)

Traditionalist Sartorialism

As a Catholic with strong traditionalist sympathies, I must confess that I do not share in the adoration of humongous, gaudy episcopal/papal headgear. The bigger, more swollen and bulbous it gets, the more uncomfortably Freudian I become. What is the point, really, with the whole size thing? Once a mitre dwarfs the head it sits on by a factor of two or more, I think it safe to say we're in the Land of Ostentasia or Repressed Homoeroticism. This is another area where I'm with the Eastern churches - very dignified, theologically-distinctive, and naturally-proportioned mitres.

B16 actually seems to have a better sense of proportion and theological aesthetics in his headgear, so far as I can tell. I'm not into the red shoes though, unless they're an explicit reference to Elvis Costello's song about the angels who want to wear them.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Radical Orthodoxy Redux

Against the Grain has an excellent review of recent St. Blog's reflections on the Radical Orthodoxy movement, which had me wrapped around its ink-stained finger back in my div school days. I remember how it made me feel so smart, so enlightened in that Gnostic sorta way. But now I'm with Blosser - RO asks the right questions, comes up with philosophically innovative and satisfying answers, and leaves the soul empty, isolated, and worst of all, smug. Philosophy does not save. What RO is missing is the Catholic Church. They do have the Anglican Church, but that's partly why I haven't seen much of anything come out of it, except maybe the Emergent Church, which is the church you'd get if Oprah were to suddenly fall in love with Catholicism minus the Catholic Church.

William Cavanaugh's Torture and Eucharist is still among my most cherished theology books, but last I checked he's still Catholic and more of a Hauerwasian than a Radical Orthodoxist, or whatever you call them.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Advice to the Left: Never play the baby card

It's almost as if ideological politics were invented to save us from being bored to death by the law. My high-maintenance dog gets really huffy-puffy when it wants be stroked and patted on the head, and the Left's performance during these Alito hearings remind me of how closely related we are to our canine friends. Alito is in favor of strip-searching 10 yr-old girls! Oh, the horror! But if they voluntarily go on TV to do a strip dance, no problem, that's women's lib, girl-power. No one ever bothers to talk about what a strip-search IS. Yes, it's a potentially dangerous tool of law enforcement, highly susceptible to depraved abuses. But the Left seems to be saying that strip-searching children is a categorical moral evil -- under no circumstances can there be any just cause for searching a child underneath the clothes. Once again, who can really believe the sincerity of pro-choicers when they then turn around to adamantly declare that there ARE circumstances where we can justifiably kill a baby while it's in the process of being born? I'm not saying I approve of Alito's decision in Doe v. Groody, only that the Left is squatting on a very ironic stoop when it attacks Alito on Groody and then champions Stenberg in the same breath.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

They left out Protestantism - 0%

You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant




























Are you a heretic?
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EN: I've been faulted for the 67% Pelagianism. I never batted an eyelid about it because Catholic orthodoxy takes free will and moral agency seriously. Pelagianism became a "hot" heresy only because of the Calvinist appropriation of the late Augustine whose sense of human depravity by that point was getting the better of his moral theology. Beyond that, Pelagius' moral theology wasn't so bad, just his Christology.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

How scientism can make you stupid

Mirror of Justice alerts us to the latest Peter Singer opinion on the Hwang cloning scandal and its supposedly positive value to the pro-embryonic stem cell research movement.
If it is the uniqueness of human embryos that makes it wrong to destroy them, then there is no compelling reason not to take one cell from an embryo and destroy the remainder of it to obtain stem cells, for the embryo's unique genetic potential would be preserved.

This possibility highlights the weakness of the argument that abortion, too, is wrong because it destroys a genetically unique human being. By this reasoning, a woman who finds herself pregnant at an inconvenient time could have an abortion, as long as she preserves a single cell from the fetus to ensure that its unique genetic potential is preserved.

But it seems absurd that this should make any difference to the morality of aborting the fetus. If, at a later date, the woman wants to have a child, why should she use the DNA of her earlier, aborted fetus rather than conceiving another fetus in the usual way?

Each fetus - the one she aborts and the one she later conceives through sexual intercourse - has its own unique DNA. In the absence of special reasons, such as a change in sexual partners, there seems to be no reason to prefer the existence of one child to that of the other.

Perhaps the assumption is that, as opponents of abortion sometimes say, the aborted fetus had the genetic potential to become a Beethoven or an Einstein. But, for all we know, it is the next fetus that the woman will conceive, not the one she aborted, that will turn out to be the Beethoven or Einstein. So why prefer one genetic potential over the other?

Once we abandon arguments based on potential, the claim that it is wrong to kill embryos and fetuses must be based on the nature of those entities themselves: that they are actual human beings who already possess the characteristics that make killing wrong.

But because fetuses, at least at the stage of development when most abortions are performed, have yet to develop any kind of consciousness, it seems reasonable to regard ending their lives as much less serious than killing a normal human being. If so, then this is all the more true of embryos.
Much has been made about the fetishization of potentiality over and against actual postpartum life in the pro-life movement. And there's some truth to that pro-choice argument. But neither potentiality nor genetic uniqueness is by any stretch a cornerstone of a Catholic defense of the dignity of the fetus. What has underwritten Singer's position and what will make it so compelling for many today is the loss of a classical metaphysical understanding of quiddity and formal cause. This is where Cardinal Schoenborn's recent First Things article against Neo-Darwinism is very germane. Singer has to split hairs and build strawmen out of them in order to make this nonsequitur argument which has the logical relevance of Monty Python's "Every Sperm is Sacred."

Catholics care about what things are, the "Ding an sich" to which Kantianism wrongly denied us epistemological access. Call it what you want, but a human fertilized egg, even a cloned one, is a human being in the full context of its biology and its natural telos. But it doesn't end there. The Catholic pro-life position is careful to distinguish between what nature does and what we freely do with our moral agency. The quiddity of Hwang's experiments is the intentional and artificial creation of human life by moral indifference towards that life and for the willful purpose of destroying it. That crosses moral lines all over the place, and that's where Catholics object. Singer's piece is off in lalaland if he thinks his rationale even comes close to the Catholic pro-life position.

Alito & working class virtue

My pick for best Alito line so far:
And after I graduated from high school, I went a full 12 miles down the road — but really to a different world — when I entered Princeton University. A generation earlier I think that somebody from my background probably would not have felt fully comfortable at a college like Princeton, but by the time I graduated from high school things had changed. And this was a time of great intellectual excitement for me, both college and law school opened up new worlds of ideas. But this was back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. It was a time of turmoil at colleges and universities, and I saw some very smart people and very privileged people behaving irresponsibly and I couldn’t help making a contrast between some of the worst of what I saw on the campus and the good sense and the decency of the people back in my own community.
Won me over. I guess I'm a sucker for invocations of working class virtues, especially when it's made by one of the chattering class. The Jon Stewarts among us will, of course, be quick to associate them with racism and misogyny. But that would miss the point. As an angelic Clemenza might say, Leave the bathwater; take the baby. We're not even talking about the Left throwing out the baby with the bathwater; today it's all about throwing out the baby (quite literally) and keeping the bathwater as if it were single-malt. (HT: Catholics in the Public Square for posting the Alito statement.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

St. Louis and Portland under the same cloud

Ed Peters' canon law blog has shed some light on the Oregon bankruptcy court decision to reject the Portland Archdiocese's disavowal of ownership of its individual parishes. Very informative:
- "Under civil law, parish properties across the United States are registered in at least four very different ways (corporation sole, religious corporation, various trust models, and fee simple)."
- "Under canon law all parishes are 'juridic persons' (1983 CIC 515)." - In order to sell parish property, dioceses need to gain authorization from Rome for alienations over $ 3,000,000 (1983 CIC 1292).
Plus some commentary:
But let's prescind from law for a moment, and look at this matter common-sensically: exactly how is it just to make individual parishes pay for diocesan (read: episcopal) negligence? Consider: parishes have no say in who will be their pastor (1983 CIC 523), parishioners in many of these cases were themselves the direct victims of priest predators, and now parishes are being told they might have to pay—and pay dearly—for the gross offenses of men over whom they had no control. Does that sound fair?

Let there be no mistake: a way should to be found, and I think will be found, to compensate justly the victims of clergy sex abuse. The way will doubtless be painful. Nevertheless, justice cannot be satisfied by shuttering parish churches and schools or by disbanding community service organizations, and it cannot be served by letting stand lower court rulings that could provoke a major Church-State show-down with serious international repercussions.
Until someone actually names that alternate "way," the American public will only relish this slow public torture of the institutional Church. Peters is absolutely right about the injustice of making those parishioners whose blood, sweat, and tears built the American Church and those beneficiaries whose blood, sweat, and tears the apostolates are wiping pay for episcopal incompetence. It doesn't really matter how canonically correct Abp. Burke's excommunication action was; the St. Stanislaus rebellion did not occur in a vacuum.

We love saying proudly the Church is no democracy; but that deal presumes that our leaders remain vigilantly subservient not to the clergy alone but to the virtue and honor code of the Cross and the Eucharist. The extensive absence of moral fiber and spine in the American episcopate has not only diminished public sympathy for the institutional church but has infected the laity with a nihilism that will fester and ooze in ever more open dissent before it heals. It's exactly what Kafka warned us of. Burke's excommunication and the Portland Archdiocese's attempt to now recognize parishes as "juridic persons" both come too little, too late, and too off-target.

Yes, we get the bishops we deserve. But that's just 50% of the equation, especially when that "we" is not democratically defined. Unless we want to institute democratic procedure to the episcopacy (not a good idea), we need to raise lay standards, for it is from lay Catholic families that our priests and bishops come.

Monday, January 02, 2006

NYT on Chinese Koreaphilia

The article focuses on South Korea's role as cultural middleman between China and American consumerist, demotic pop culture. But the freaky part was revelation of "blitzkrieg evangelism" from Korean evangelicals:

Hwang In Choul, 35, a South Korean missionary here, also sees a direct link between South Korea's democratization and its influence in China. After restrictions on travel outside South Korea were lifted in the late 1980's, South Korea's missionary movement grew from several hundred to its current size of 14,000 missionaries. Mr. Hwang, who since 2000 has trained 50 Chinese pastors to proselytize, is among the 1,500 South Korean missionaries evangelizing in China, usually secretly.
Show the prosperity-starved Chinese images of humongous stadiums full of happy-clappy-weepy people enjoying the narcissistic fruits of modern spirituality underwritten by mass consumerism, and you'll tap into that frightening collective wellspring that created Mao. On top of all that, show how clean, materially prosperous, and utopian megachurch worship is, and evangelicals will win millions like they are in Latin America. Maybe the Great Commission was never meant to exclude economic and cultural aspirations in toto, but evangelicals have got to stop confusing missions with carpetbagging.