All posts filed under: Articles

Technology and the Mystical After Auschwitz

Introduction Technology has accompanied the evolution of human beings from time out of mind. The use of simple instruments to attain food or construct shelter can be considered as elementary forms of technology. Relatively more complex forms, such as a lifter or a shadoof, reflect the more articulate awareness of the importance of technology in the accomplishment of simple tasks. Technology has become ever more complex throughout the centuries, though the growth of complexity was not very obvious before the modern technological revolution in the 18th century. However, not only military equipment was developed nearly constantly before that time, not only construction technologies evolved in the entire known history of civilization, but, most importantly, a complicated technical knowledge was present even at the beginning of the human epoch. Such technology was probably kept as knowledge reserved for the few for a long time. This is clearly shown by the technological contrast we find between the popular work on machines written about by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century CE on the one hand, and …

The Most Important Religious Event Since the Reformation

Leonard Bernstein was born in 1918—the year World War I ended. His musical West Side Story premiered in 1957. On 9 August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. Its Cathedral of St. Mary was annihilated instantaneously. On August 15, the Japanese surrendered, ushering in the end World War II. On 1 November 1950 Pius XII declared the dogma of the Assumption. Carl Jung called this declaration “the most important religious event since the Reformation.” West Side Story The 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth has occasioned numerous performances of West Side Story, easily his most popular work. It places the traditional Romeo and Juliet story in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, where the white Jets fight the Puerto Rican Sharks for neighborhood territory. The Jet Tony falls for Maria, sister of the Sharks’ gang leader. Performances and program notes in 2018 have noted the continuing American struggle of immigration and racial integration decades after the musical’s performance and its 1961 transformation into an Academy Award-winning film. Perhaps West Side Story relates …

Job and the Problem of Evil Versus the Tribunal of History

Introduction: Beyond the Tribunal of History—Beyond Is For some, for many, maybe even most, it is difficult to shower history with the ethical compliments of “good,” “just,” “fair.” Not that the temptation does not exist: our own—often  momentary—well-being and prosperity, or the well-being and prosperity of our little group, often urges us to extrapolate such a contingency onto the face of history itself. We do so almost by reflex, and such an extrapolation probably represents our instinct to keep our life simple, evade the threat we peripherally sense. But even when we have reduced the scope of our vision to ourselves and/or immediate family and close friends one would have to be extremely fortunate not to come up against the shadowside of illness, death, malice, brokenness, incompleteness. Continuing to deny the reality of evil in general, undeserved suffering in particular, in the face of what encroaches in one’s own life betrays a hysteria to keep the world ordered at all cost. If there is trust here in pattern and meaning, this trust is evasive and …

Addressing the American Suicide Contagion

Suicide We are in the midst of an existential crisis or cultural sickness, also known as an opioid epidemic. Increasing numbers of Americans are self-medicating with the hardest of hard drugs, prescription pain meds like fentanyl, which is 100 times more potent than morphine and many times more potent than heroine. More than 63,000 US citizens died from an overdose last year. More than a million OD’ed and lived. We have more opioid addicts in the US than anywhere else in the world despite the fact the opioids are widely available in many other countries over the counter. The problem is so severe that it has reduced life expectancy overall several years in a row. Happy people, people whose mental, physical and spiritual needs are being met, do not abuse prescription pain meds. These are deaths of despair. These are slow-motion suicides. Parallel, but not as frequently discussed, is the public health crisis of direct suicide. 45,000 Americans took their own lives last year and 1.3 million made a nonfatal attempt. The suicide rate has …

Modernity’s Marginalization of Philosophy Makes the Practice of Everyday Life Unintelligible

We are sitting with friends at a diner or standing in line to buy tickets for a movie, chatting idly, when suddenly one of us, unable to contain himself in the face of our trivialities, bursts out with some existential question which we might later on paraphrase in polite terms as “What is it to live a human life well or badly?” or one which we might paraphrase as “What law, if any, has authority over us?” . . . And the response by those who hear both the questions and the emotions expressed through them is likely to be deep embarrassment, a strong wish to change the subject, a will to behave as if the questions had not been asked. We think: what can have got into him to talk like that? Is he perhaps having a break-down?[1] Commentators have often failed to realize the extent to which University of Notre Dame philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre breaks with Aristotle concerning the superiority of the vita contemplative vis-à-vis the vita activa. In his Politics (8.3), Aristotle famously said that “the first principle of …

Humanae Vitae and the Mystical Call of Chastity

How do we understand chastity? For many, the very word implies restraint, and restraint is not exactly the most exciting thought. The Ancient Greeks thought of chastity as a subspecies of temperance,[1] and if there is one virtue more alien to today’s so-called “late capitalism,” it is probably temperance—and not just in matters sexual. For others, talk of chastity brings to mind purity rings and virginity pledges, almost as if chastity is defined primarily by sexual abstinence before marriage. Hence we often speak of being chaste before marriage, but hardly ever about being chaste in marriage. Yet it seems to me that the paradigm of Christian chastity is not, in fact, abstinence, but marital sexual union. This thought may well be what distinguishes an authentically Christian understanding of sex from mere social conservatism or prudishness. For chastity, as Elizabeth Anscombe wrote, “is simply the virtue whose topic is sex, just as courage is the virtue whose topic is danger and difficulty.”[2] But why, many would object, does sex need its own, dedicated virtue—does this not …

Humanae Vitae After Planned Parenthood v. Casey

The contraceptive revolution has made quite a lot of people—especially drug companies—quite a lot of money. Imagine, for instance, that you had the Supreme Court of the United States promoting your product: The Roe rule’s limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives. The Constitution serves human values, and while the effect of reliance on Roe cannot be exactly measured, neither can the certain costs of overruling Roe for people who have ordered their thinking and living around that case be dismissed. This, of course, is the (in)famous “reliance clause” in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the case which tried to rescue abortion rights …

The Catholic Imaginings of Jimmy Buffett

This little song sort of combines a hangover cure and fourteen years of Catholic education into a song; it’s a little bit weird, but it sort of works out.[1] Jimmy Buffett, the king of “drunk Caribbean rock and roll music,” may seem like an unlikely person to be an example of the Catholic imagination. In his music, merchandise, restaurants, and resorts, Buffett revels in escapism and pleasure, giving license to hedonsim and letting it run amok. He has accrued a tremendous amount of wealth through these endeavors and cultivated a devoted following, known as Parrotheads. Indeed, he would seem to be the Evangelist for just the kind of leisure recently criticized by Paul Griffiths. Buffett peddles the side of leisure (otium) decried by St. Augustine too in his City of God as delight in “lazy inactivity” (iners vacatio).[2] Buffett’s incredible success, however, bespeaks in his fans an instinctual dissatisfaction with the demands of modern work and a desire to get away, to escape and have a good time, to have fun. Jimmy Buffett has been …

Is There an Escape from the Evils of a Contracepting Society?

What a Contracepting Society Looks Like Contraception was from the beginning touted as the answer to a host of societal problems, from the old Neo-Malthusian bogeyman of over-population, down to marital unhappiness and child abuse.  But have such extravagant claims come true? Has contraception helped marriage? Contraception, after all, is sold as promoting the deeper union of the spouses. But divorce has skyrocketed to around 40-50 percent of all marriages since contraception became a widespread marital practice. If contraception increases bonding between spouses, then at least some amelioration of the divorce rate among those using contraception (that is, almost every married couple) should be evident. But no data indicate such an effect. In fact, demographer Robert T. Michael has argued that half of the rise of the divorce rate between 1965 and when it leveled off in 1976 “can be attributed to the ‘unexpected nature of the contraceptive revolution’ . . . especially in the way that it made marriages less child-centered.”[1] More generally, given the deepening of love that it is supposed to foster, contraception …

The Light of the Liberal Arts is Different in Light of the Faith

This is the theological continuation of the philosophical beginning in The Resplendent Completion of the Liberal Arts. Catholic Theology and the Beginning In the beginning. Theology begins at a beginning. Well, it begins at more than one beginning, but we will begin with the first. So: in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth . . .[1] God created everything above and everything below, and created even this beginning. There is a “before” creation, a before the beginning, but there is no word for it—it is not a before, not like a time with an after, not at all, since there is only “after” the beginning—and it is not really known in itself, known as it is only through the beginning. There was no beginning, and then there was. God created ex nihilo, out of nothing.[2] All that is “something”: God created that. To put it another way: there is that which does not begin, does not, and there is that which begins beginnings. This is God. God simply is. God has no …