Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Thursday, August 26, 2004Next Major Update: Monday, August 30, 2004
Utterly Confused: Kerry at the Cooper Institute
John Kerry recently spoke at New York City's Cooper Institute standing before a bust of Abraham Lincoln. In Lincoln lore, the Cooper Institute is famous as the site in 1860 of one of Lincoln's greatest speeches. One Lincoln book calls it the "oratorical climax" of Lincoln's career--at least before the Gettysburg Address later during the Civil War. The speech is also known as the Cooper Union address, with "union" referring to the Republican organization that sponsored it. The full text of the address is available at this link.
So Kerry, the antiwar Democrat, tries to grab the mantle of Lincoln the first wartime Republican president. But when we take a closer look at Lincoln's speech at the Cooper Institute on February 27, 1860, Kerry's attempt to usurp Lincoln's memory is even more outrageous.
Lincoln's speech focused on his thesis, copiously supported by historical research, that the founding fathers meant to put slavery on the road to eventual extinction. Lincoln defended the new Republican Party against southern charges of radicalism by showing that the authentic conservative position on slavery was that of the Republicans who merely wanted to continue the opposition of the founding fathers to the spread of slavery.
Lincoln ended the speech with the familiar line: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it" (A. Lincoln, "The Cooper Institute Address," Feb. 27, 1860, repr. in Don E. Fehrenbacher, ed., Abraham Lincoln: A Documentary Portrait Through His Speeches and Writings [Stanford Univ. Press, 1964], p. 143).
Today, John Kerry stands for the proposition that Roe v. Wade has secured the permanent national recognition of abortion on demand throughout the United States. In Lincoln's time, those against the spread of slavery also labored under the burden of wrongheaded Supreme Court reasoning. Yet, Lincoln refused, as anti-abortion voters do today, to accept the wrong reasoning of the Supreme Court "as a conclusive and final rule of political action" (p. 140).
Lincoln hoped in his time, as we hope today concerning Roe v. Wade, that "[w]hen the obvious mistake of the Judges shall be brought to their notice, [it will be reasonable] . . . to expect that they will withdraw the mistaken statement, and reconsider the conclusion based upon it" (p. 139). That long hoped for reconsideration will come only with another Republican president willing to appoint Supreme Court justices open to that reconsideration. The election of Kerry would firmly close the door to such reconsideration in the near future.
Lincoln denied that the right to take slaves into federal territories was found in the Constitution just as the pro-life forces deny that the right to abortion is found in the Constitution (p. 138). We can adopt Lincoln's response to those basing their case, whether for slavery or abortion, on such "assumed" constitutional rights: "We, on the contrary, deny that such a right has any existence in the Constitution, even by implication" (p. 138).
Lincoln pointed out what was behind the demand for the national recognition of slavery: "Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing" (p. 142). Today, Kerry and his allies view abortion as morally right, as socially elevating, as a legal right, and as a social blessing. That is the only explanation for their stubborn and passionate embrace of this evil.
In contrast, we who view abortion as a great evil demand its eventual extinction. Lincoln also articulated the force of the pro-life stance:
Thinking it [slavery/abortion] right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but, thinking it [slavery/abortion] wrong as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?
Lincoln, at p. 142.
Likewise, we who view abortion as wrong, cannot but vote for the only pro-life candidate in this presidential election. That is why former Democrats, like this writer, will be voting for George W. Bush.
And our pro-life votes will not be dissuaded by the false arguments of the "Seamless Garment" variety that confuse this great moral issue of our times. Lincoln also had apt words for those who by sophistry seek to cloud the great moral questions faced by voters:
Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored--contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man--such a policy of "don't care" on a question about which all true men do care . . . .
Lincoln, at p. 142.
Even some clerics, to their eternal shame, engage in these "sophistical contrivances" to confuse voters. They did so in Lincoln's time. They do so today.
Kerry attempted to usurp Lincoln's memory in blithe ignorance of the great moral question of our domestic politics. But Lincoln's logic can never be usurped by those, like Kerry, still viewing human beings as disposable objects.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004The Philosophy of "As If"
Although I have written daily on a blog for quite a while, I rarely relied on other blogs for news. Instead, I relied and continue to rely on the wire services, newspaper websites, and network websites, often using the Drudge Report as a starting point. But since the Kerry Vietnam issue broke, the best way to follow continuing developments is to visit several leading blogs covering the issues involved. This experience has now led me to check up on leading blogs more frequently than I ever did before. Others must be going through the same experience. That is why I agree with those who say that this Swift Boat controversy may have major effects on the status of blogs in the reporting of news. It certainly has in my own case.
But sometimes blogs can yield more than news. In one blog covering the Swift Boat issue, there was a perceptive reference to the philosophy of "as if" as articulated by Kantian philosopher Hans Vaihinger (1852-1933) (see RogerLSimon blog (8/23/04); encyclopedia entry) . From what I can tell, Vaihinger took the Kantian contentions that we can never know reality in itself and that the categories of our minds define or construct reality, and applied these contentions, in a manner similar to American pragmatism, to describing how science works and how individuals try to make sense of their lives.
The idea of trying out hypotheses to see if they "work" in the real world is of course the hallmark of the scientific method. In this sense, science always begins with educated fictional guesses that are then tested. That view of science is certainly nothing new.
The idea that we as individuals also try out fictions to see how they work is more intriguing because we tend to be unconscious about any such process. But surely we can see it working as our ambitions and goals change after contact with reality. We project a certain lifestyle or occupation and may end up in entirely different circumstances. The healthy person adjusts accordingly and makes the best of unforeseen circumstances with a "story" that makes sense of his or her present predicament. That is an intriguing process to consider, but really not all that surprising.
I even recall hearing one philosopher of the pragmatist school analyzing religion in the same way. This philosopher was an atheist but respected religious individuals as persons who found a particular relgious narrative to be pragmatically justified because it successfully organized their experiences.
You can see that, true to its Kantian roots, this idea of organizing reality for practical results, as opposed to gaining certain knowledge of objective reality in itself, is fundamentally relativistic. You can also see that this neo-Kantian point of view permeates modern Western culture and results in the victory of moral relativism.
What can Christians do with this overwhelming and widespread view that makes of Christian faith just another personal fiction of choice that may or may not be useful for someone? The Christian always points to an objective, historic reality: the empty tomb coupled with the appearances of the risen Christ.
Yet, the philosophy of "as if" is, as we all know, quite common among many liberal Christian theologians and biblical scholars. Some plainly deny any objectively historical resurrection. Rather, they emphasize the survival of the "spirit" of Jesus in the lives of his followers. Others are more circumspect and will say with supposed Delphic (or Germanic?) profundity that the resurrection is not a "historical" event all, but simply that it is beyond history. In my view, this denial of the resurrection as historic is the same as outright denial of its occurrence.
The philosophy of "as if" is certainly useful in formulating scientific hypotheses and even in seeking to alter one's personal moods, as recommended by pioneering American psychologist William James, by acting as if one were happy or optimistic in the hope of actually becoming happy or optimistic. But in these areas just mentioned, the philosophy of "as if" assumes an ultimate convergence with reality: the hypothesis is eventually verified. The scientific hypothesis successfully predicts the outcome. There really are reasons to be happy or optimistic.
Christianity was verified by the empty tomb and the appearances of Christ. No other religion dares to make the same claim. We live as if Christ rose from the dead because He did. We trust the testimony that the tomb was empty and that Christ appeared to his followers. Genuine Christianity is not a form of the philosophy of "as if." Christianity is rooted in that marvelous name of God that Jesus applied to himself: "I AM" (John 8:58). There is nothing conditional or hypothetical about "I AM." It has already been verified. Christianity is the religion of "I AM," not "as if."
Tuesday, August 24, 2004# 3 on NYTimes Bestseller List: Unfit for Command
Here is the link confirming that after only one week the firestorm book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry is at number 3 on the N.Y. Times Bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction.
For yourself or for the sake of others, you might want to request that your local public library obtain a copy of the book for its patrons. The authors are John E. O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi (Publisher: Regnery Publishing, 2004; ISBN: 0-89526-017-4). There is nothing like the Kerry attempt at suppression and censorship to stoke the demand for a book.
Atrocities Then and Now
This site will try to give you the Catholic perspective on current events. You will not see the following obvious comparison made on any mainstream "Old Media" outlet. You will not even likely see it in any "mainstream" New Media blogs such as Instapundit. The only place you will likely see the following obvious comparison is on sites run by Catholics trying, however imperfectly, to follow the teachings of their Church and of the founder of their Church, Jesus Christ.
The latest in Kerry's highly confused and controversial military career focuses on Kerry's vouching, under oath before a Senate committee in 1971, for highly suspect accusations that atrocities were committed day in and day out in Vietnam with full knowledge of the chain of command. Needless to say, hundreds of honorable Vietnam veterans are boiling mad about that decades-old smear on their conduct.
But we don't have to go into the particulars of this specific Vietnam debate to draw our own conclusions about Kerry's fitness to be president. Kerry presents himself, to this day, as the noble, high-minded conscience of the war, with his upper class New England diction, daring to point out the Vietnam War as one big, non-stop atrocity and criminal enterprise. Of course, that presentation is muted long enough so that he can also present his particular military service in Vietnam as so heroic and high-minded that it qualifies him to take over as a wartime president. But there is an even graver conflict than the just described conflict that leaps from these dual, contradictory presentations about the Vietnam War.
In 1971, Kerry was a radical antiwar movement leader with his eyes set on running for Congress from leftist-leaning Massachussetts. He enthusiastically became the mouthpiece denouncing war atrocities as widespread, routine, and authorized. Yet, today, Kerry is the leader of another equally radical movement: the pro-abortion movement. Just as antiwar sentiment in the Massachusetts of the nineteen seventies made his denouncing war atrocities so politically convenient, so today the radical pro-abortion sentiments of the modern Democratic Party and its elite opinion make Kerry's embrace of the atrocity of abortion politically convenient and essential.
No one can deny that the killing of preborn or partially born children--children whose identity ultrasounds testify to daily and who, from the point of fertilization, contain the DNA of new life--is an atrocity committed daily by crushing heads or injecting poison or just plain dismembering with sharp instruments. Yet, Kerry and his modern Democratic Party are adamant about the perpetuation and protection of these daily atrocities committed against the most innocent and defenseless.
That is the greater contradiction, a contradiction greater than that of a suspiciously bemedaled candidate claiming the heroism of Vietnam who earlier claimed that he was a war criminal among war criminals in Vietnam. The greater contradiction that demonstrates a character unfit for command is the amoral indifference to the atrocity of abortion today while having engaged in unrepentant, postured outrage over the atrocities of wartime. It is a character of consummate amoral calculation. It is a character unfit for any leader at any level and certainly unfit for the presidency. Let me know if you see this obvious contradiction exposed on any non-religious website.
Monday, August 23, 2004The Gutting of Catholic Culture
In my opinion, the New York Times is really two newspapers in one. On the one hand, its coverage of politics and events in Iraq is utterly unreliable. As is being proven daily during the Kerry Vietnam debacle, the self-imposed mission of this newspaper is to run a public relations campaign for Kerry--a man who has already had to retract his proven false melodramatic claim that he spent Christmas in Cambodia.
But there is also another side of the paper that makes it worth reading: the non-controversial cultural side. When the subject is utterly non-political or not related to liberal social issues like gay marriage, the paper can be quite interesting. When a piece is on daily life in New York or on life in some out-of-the-way corner of the world or in the travel section, you can usually enjoy interesting and even, at times, insightful reading. The same is true of its obituary section, which in my view is the most interesting part of the N.Y. Times.
On August 15, 2004 (a date that always stands out for Catholics as the Feast of Mary's Assumption), the newspaper ran a lengthy obituary on Czeslaw Milosz (pronounced: CHESS-wahf MEE-wosh), the Nobel-winning Polish poet who defected from the diplomatic service of Communist Poland in the nineteen fifties. Milosz was an urbane, multi-lingual man whose poetry is of world significance. He was an adamant anti-Communist and took to task the so-called intellectuals, of all stripes, who justified totalitarianism. He was close to both Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa of Solidarity fame.
The N.Y. Times appropriately quotes at the end of the obituary a Milosz meditation on his own death:
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Czeslaw Milosz, "And Yet the Books" (1986).
Thus, we have a poet who does what poets do--capture the insightful moment we all have felt but have not been able to express and preserve.
Where did this urbane, soulful man get his talent? Milosz gives us the source:
If I were asked to say where my poetry comes from I would say that its roots are in my childhood in Christmas carols, in the liturgy of Marian and vesperN.Y. Times obituary, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2004 (full obituary available for a fee at this link).
Milosz also gave credit to his education in the Latin language:
He studied Latin for seven years in school, and in his Nobel acceptance speech [in 1980] credited that underlying linguistic discipline and classroom translations of poems with helping him to develop his mastery.
N.Y. Times obituary, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2004.
And so the great poet, a poet of universal significance, tells us that the source of his poetic genius lies in the Catholic liturgy, the Bible, and in the Latin language. His poetic genius sprung from a robust Catholic culture.
All of which raises the question for today: where will our future Catholic poets find the youthful nourishment they need? If they attend a public school [government-run for U.K. readers] in the United States, they will not hear any traditional Christmas carols. They may not even hear many traditional Christmans carols in "progressive" parishes. And it is extremely unlikely that, in the last thirty or so years, any significant number of Catholic youth has had any exposure to "the liturgy of Marian and vesper offices." And as to exposure to the Bible, biblical instruction, like catechesis in general, has collapsed in the past thirty years.
Milosz also mentions the influence of years of training in Latin. In direct defiance of the edicts of Vatican II, Latin has been unceremoniously exiled from the liturgy. Your best shot at hearing any Latin today is at the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, where it seems that the old Latin hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas have somehow miraculously managed to survive, or by seeking out a Tridentine Mass. You might come across here and there a Vatican II liturgy fully in Latin or with some Latin chanting occasionally interspersed. And as to education in Latin, it seems that some priests today are not even trained in Latin while in the seminary. A fortiori, the situation is worse among the children of the laity.
So the fertile ground for the Catholic literary imagination has been woefully impoverished for the youth of the last few decades. It is no surprise that you hear moaning about the lack of Catholic literary achievement. And that impoverishment is not just a Catholic problem. It diminishes the entire world of culture. Something has been lost.
Fortunately, here and there, some hope is springing. As noted before, you will find more and more that some Latin chant is occasionally inserted into the modern liturgy. Closer to home, I happily noticed that a nearby church was planning to introduce the public praying of the Liturgy of the Hours. These are needed steps to undo the gutting of Catholic culture that guts all culture.
Sunday, August 22, 200421st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30
The clear message, as both Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have emphasized, is that the Church is missionary at her core. In Isaiah, the prophet who in so many ways is so close to the New Testament, God's universal call to all peoples is emphasized. God's people have a missionary and evangelistic calling. In Luke, Jesus reaffirms the message of Isaiah: "And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God."
This prophecy is not just a vision of people of any and all religions ultimately gathering together. God can and does save individuals of all religious backgrounds who, through no fault of their own, have not been able to respond to the Gospel. But this is the same Jesus who also said that no one comes to the Father except through the Son. This is the same Jesus who, as stated in today's Gospel, "passed through towns and villages." Jesus was an untiring evangelist. We must also be evangelists.
In Hebrews, Paul exhorts us to endure our trials as instances of loving discipline from God. This advice makes sense only if we are aware that we are sinners always in need of healing. Those without any sense of sin will bitterly despise and reject the call to accept trials as discipline. At the end of the reading, Paul makes a thought-provoking statement: "Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed." He seems to be saying that following the straight path will heal our lameness. It is an extraordinary image: by walking the lame will be healed. Our natural instinct is to stay off our feet if we are lame. Here is an insight that bears serious reflection.
In so many instances in life, our natural and understandable reaction is to draw back in the face of pain. Faced with physical pain, many of us become withdrawn. Faced with spiritual pain, the temptation is to despair. Faced with a person who has some sort of disability, we naturally tend to accommodate them rather than to aggressively seek to improve their condition. Faced with a Church racked by scandal and moral and religious relativism in various quarters, our tendency is to lick our wounds. What Paul would say is: get on the straight path, accept the trials as discipline, and be who you are--a missionary, evangelistic Church taking the Gospel to all peoples. Paul would have been at home with the popular saying: "the best defense is offense." Keep walking the straight path.