Friday, October 31, 2003

"What TV is extremely good at--and realize that this is "all it does"--is discerning what large numbers of people think they want, and supplying it. And since there's always been a strong and distinctive American distaste for frustration and suffering, TV's going to avoid these like the plague in favor of something anesthetic and easy."

-David Foster Wallace

This obviously affects our politics as well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Immaculate Conception as the Decisive Confutation of Pelagianism

from Pattern of Redemption: The theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar by Edward T. Oakes, SJ

..."Answer," then, is quintessentially feminine, and this is why it was so "fitting," as Thomas Aquinas says, that the consent to the incarnation come from a woman.[7] Moreover, not only was Mary predestined to be the Mother of the Savior, whose consent to the incarnation would inaugurate the drama of our redemption, she would do so entirely by the power of the grace of God.[8] Only this realization, enshrined in the infallibly defined dogma of the Immaculate Conception, can preserve the essential feature of our theodramatic redemption: that God has in his infinite freedom decided to save us in a way that respects our finite freedom but which also demands his infinite power of grace to fulfill:

In the course of unfolding these implications, two difficulties were encountered that have occupied theology right up to medieval and modern times. The first arose from the realization that God's action in reconciling the world to himself in the Cross of Christ is exclusively his initiative; there is no original "collaboration" between God and the creature. But as we have already said, the creature's "femininity" possesses an original, God-given, active fruitfulness; it was essential, therefore, if God's Word willed to become incarnate in the womb of a woman, to elicit the latter's agreement and obedient consent... God could not violate his creature's freedom. But where did the grace that made this consent possible come from--a consent that is adequate and therefore unlimited--if not from the work of reconciliation itself, that is, from the Cross? (And the Cross is rendered possible only through Mary's consent.) Here we have a circle--in which the effect is the cause of the cause--that has taken centuries to appreciate and formulate, resulting in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the exact reasoning behind it.[9]

Many of the objections of Protestantism to the so-called "innovations" of Roman Catholicism, its "departures" from the truths set forth in Scripture, would vanish with a proper understanding of this circular movement of understanding. Marian dogmas naturally flow from theological reflection on the few(but crucial!) scenes in which Mary appears: above all, the Annunciation, the wedding at Cana, her presence at the foot of the Cross, and her fellowship with the apostles and disciples on Penecost Sunday. These scenes, coupled with a basic reflection on the meaning of Mary's motherhood of the Savior, lead naturally to the unfolding of all the doctrines of mariology.


[7]"Non enim invite tantum beneficium praestari debebat" (De Veritate, q 12, art. 10, ad 6): "For it was not right that so great a benefit be granted without consent." Although Thomas Aquinas also denied the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, I think Protestants do not sufficiently realize how much a denial of this doctrine contradicts their own views on the necessity for prevenient grace if one is to give assent to God: far from glorifying the creature at the expense of God's grace, this doctrine is a witness to the overarching and ever-present necessity for God's grace.

[8]Which is why the patristic and medieval theologians liked to contrast her free and conscience consent with Adam's sleep: "The Virgin was not visited by sleep(like Adam) but by an angel sent by God... to make known to her this great mystery.... Moreover, God wished not only that she should know of this but also that she should cooperate so that he could give his Mother the greatest privilege of honor and grace." (William of Newburgh, Explanatio sacri Epithalamii in Matrem Sponsi, text ed by JC Gorman

[9] von Balthasar. Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory, vol 3, 296-297.
It is in this tangle of an effect being the cause of the cause that Aquinas went astray; but if as part of the logic, the Cross itself is made possible only through Mary's consent(which is clearly the case), then the heretical implications of a denial of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception should be obvious: for it makes our salvation dependent on the power of one human creature, Mary, to say Yes to God on her own power. Denial of this dogma therefore not only leads to Pelagianism, but even makes the whole drama of salvation hinge on a human work! Denial of the Immaculate Conception, then, is the very apogee of the Pelagian heresy!
"The ideal of scripture is not independence. It is community. The independent individuals of today confront in scripture a very different ideal of human relationships. They confront God's desire to form one body out of many different self-willed, selfish individuals. They confront the call of Jesus to lose their lives so that they can gain them. The contemporary world demonstrates little real community. This is no accident, because the principles by which so many people live do not allow real community. Contemporary people need a conversion to a whole new ideal, to the call of God to lose one's life and to be united with other members of the body of Christ. They must be ready to subordinate their lives to the Lord and to other human beings."

-Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ, Chapter 2
Affirmation Generator. Funny.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Eureka Street, apparently the Aussie Jesuits' equivalent of America
The Gift Economy. Lots of silly stuff along the lines of "the future will be a very different place" cliche, but some interesting analysis of human life. "'Tis better to give than to receive."

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

"I am driven to observe of the ultra-Darwinists the following features as symptomatic. First, to my eyes, is their almost unbelievable self-assurance, their breezy self-confidence. Second, and far more serious, are particular examples of a sophistry and sleight of hand in the misuse of metaphor, and more importantly a distortion of metaphysics in support of an evolutionary programme. Consider how ultra-Darwinists, having erected a naturalistic system that cannot by itself possess any ultimate purpose, still allow a sense of meaning mysteriously to slip back in. … Third, as has often been noted, the pronouncement of the ultra-Darwinists can shake with a religious fervour. Richard Dawkins is arguably England’s most pious atheist. Their texts ring with high-minded rhetoric and dire warnings – not least of the unmitigated evils of religion – all to reveal the path of simplicity and straight thinking. More than one commentator has noted that ultra-Darwinism has pretensions to a secular religion, but it may be noted that, however heartfelt the practitioners’ feelings, it is also without religious or metaphysical foundations. Notwithstanding the quasi-religious enthusiasms of ultra-Darwinists, their own understanding of theology is a combination of ignorance and derision, philosophically limp, drawing on clich├ęs, and happily fuelled by the idiocies of the so-called scientific creationists. It seldom seems to strike the ultra-Darwinists that theology might have its own richness and subtleties, and might – strange thought – actually tell us things about the world that are not only to our real advantage, but will never be revealed by science. In depicting the religious instinct as a mixture of irrational fundamentalism and wish-fulfillment they seem to be simply unaware that theology is not the domain of pop-eyed flat-earthers."

Conway Morris, Life’s Solution, pp. 314-316. Quoted by Edward T. Oakes, SJ in a response delivered at a Harvard conference on "Biochemistry and the Fine-Tuning of the Universe."

This is doubly delicious, for Morris is not a theologian but an evolutionary paleobiologist.
Man and Woman in Christ, an on-line theological study by Yale sociologist Stephen B. Clark. Thanks to the_spacemouse.
Speaking of porn, Fr. Bryce Sibley directed me to an article on how internet porn affects relationships. Here's an editorial by Naomi Wolf, saying much the same thing:
For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.

JPII's Theology of the Body actually predicts this. I might make the effort to track down some relevant sections later on.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Cornelis has posted an exerpt from Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, dealing with music. The chapter titled Music: A Runaway Train on the Rails of Adolescence is a searing attack on rock music, declaring it all pornophony. Following Plato, Bloom sees our music as the mark of a disordered society. Many have, like Eve Tushnet, attacked this as an overgeneralization. Nobody I've read, however, acknowledges the obvious pornophony that's all over the music industry, say Nine Inch Nails' I Want to **** you like an Animal or even less salient works like U2's Discotheque.

Complaining about raunch in pop culture has all the effect of beating back the Pacific with a table sponge. But if virtue is indeed habituated, listening needs as much formation as any other human faculty, which means subjecting it to the right training, the right music. Indeed, I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that, just as pornography dulls the person to real sexual intimacy, pop music enervates the person's capacity to enjoy all but the most exaggerated tunes.
Prometheus Unbound: The Musical

Monday, October 13, 2003

An old essay arguing against women's suffrage, would be useful to Carrie's upcoming speech against women in combat. It does provoke the question, though: does opposition to women in combat necessitate opposition to women's suffrage? via Zorak
An Essay on Ralph Waldo Emerson via Cacciaguida

Saturday, October 04, 2003

As is the case with all collective enterprises, the social sciences have many more practitioners than they do ideas and principles. I would even argue that they rest upon one sole principle, the separation of facts and values, which sets them apart from philosophy and testifies to their scientific character. The demise of political philosophy is of a piece with the triumph of this principle. I admit that generally such sweeping statements are better avoided. Nevertheless it is a fact that the fact/value distinction has become not only the presupposition of present–day social science but also the prevalent opinion in society at large. In present conditions, a teenager proves his or her coming of age, a citizen proves his or her competence and loyalty, by making use of this principle.

[...]To put it in a nutshell: while previous societies organized themselves so as to bind their members together, while they extolled the ideas of concord and unity, our democratic society organizes itself so as to untie, even to separate, its members, and thus guarantee their independence and their rights. In this sense, our society proposes to fulfill itself as a dis–society. An extraordinary phenomenon indeed!

[...]We have seen that predemocratic societies were "incorporated" societies, rooted in the fecundity of the body, culminating in the King’s body. As for democratic societies, while they are not particularly religious, they are politically and morally spiritualist, even otherwordly. Electing a representative, unlike begetting an heir, is the work of the will—of the mind or the soul.

[...]It might be argued that this heterogeneity is adequately taken care of through the public acknowledgment of the legitimate plurality of human values. Nothing could be more mistaken. As Leo Strauss once tersely remarked, pluralism is a monism, being an –ism. The same self–destructive quality attaches itself to our "values." To interpret the world of experience as constituted of admittedly diverse "values" is to reduce it to this common genus, and thus to lose sight of that heterogeneity we wanted to preserve. If God is a value, the public space a value, the moral law within my heart a value, the starry sky above my head a value . . . what is not? At the same time, for this is confusion’s great masterpiece, the "value language" makes us lose the unity of human life—this necessary component of democratic self–consciousness—just as it blurs its diversity: you don’t argue about values since their value lies in the valuation of the one who puts value on them. Value language, with the inner dispositions it encourages, makes for dreary uniformity and unintelligible heterogeneity at the same time.

-Pierre Manent, The Return of Political Philosophy

Friday, October 03, 2003

The Onion interviews Whit Stillman. Money quotation:
It's okay in our country to be bigoted if it's heading in a slant we consider upward.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Zorak links to a fascinating essay titled The Progressive Era and the Family, by Murray N. Rothbard. It outlines the influence of pietistic Protestantism on the progressive movement. Not only were public schools, prohibition, women's suffrage, and the eugenics/birth control movement choice examples of the moralizing pietistic impulse, they were also intensely nativist. Public schools, of course, were means of subduing the Popish menace, attempting to convert Catholics' children. The birth control movement was a similar means for reducing Catholic and other immigrant influence. Women's suffrage was a key blow struck by the pietists, for the women in more ritualistic forms of Christianity tended to leave politics to the menfolk. And where did the men gather for political association and argument? In the saloons, of course--which was another reason why Prohibition was implemented. This last fact makes me so mad I'm tempted to start up a political saloon of my own--which of course would promptly fail, the old ethnic neighborhoods having been destroyed by suburbanization. And suburbanization itself, some would argue, was an intended result of desegregation.

A few excerpts:
The pietist doctrine was essentially as follows: Specific creeds of various churches or sects do not matter. Neither does obedience to the rituals or liturgies of the particular church. What counts for salvation is only each individual being "born again"—a direct confrontation between the individual and God, a mystical and emotional conversion in which the individual achieves salvation. The rite of baptism, to the pietist, therefore becomes secondary; of primary importance is his or her personal moment of conversion. But if the specific church or creed becomes submerged in a vague Christian interdenominationalism, then the individual Christian is left on his own to grapple with the problems of salvation.

[...] In contrast, the Northerners, particularly in the areas inhabited by "Yankees," adopted a far different form of pietism, "evangelical pietism." The evangelical pietists believed that man could achieve salvation by an act of free will. More particularly, they also believed that it was necessary to a person's own salvation—and not just a good idea—to try his best to ensure the salvation of everyone else in society.

[...]Specifically, it was clear to the pietists that the role of women in the liturgical "ethnic" family was very different from what it was in the pietist Protestant family. One of the reasons impelling pietists and Republicans toward prohibition was the fact that, culturally, the lives of urban male Catholics—nd the cities of the Northeast were becoming increasingly Catholic—evolved around the neighborhood saloon. The men would repair at night to the saloon for chitchat, discussions, and argument—nd they would generally take their political views from the saloonkeeper, who thus became the political powerhouse in his particular ward. Therefore, prohibition meant breaking the political power of the urban liturgical machines in the Democratic party.

But while the social lives of liturgical males revolved around the saloon, their wives stayed at home. While pietist women were increasingly independent and politically active, the lives of liturgical women revolved solely about home and hearth. Politics was strictly an avocation for husbands and sons. Perceiving this, the pietists began to push for women's suffrage, realizing that far more pietist than liturgical women would take advantage of the power to vote.

[...]A laboratory test of which women would turn out to vote occurred; in Massachusetts, where women were given the power to vote in school board elections from 1879 on. In 1888, large numbers of Protestant women in Boston turned out to drive Catholics off the school board. In contrast, Catholic women scarcely voted, "thereby validating the, nativist tendencies of suffragists who believed that extension of full suffrage to women would provide a barrier against further Catholic influence.”

[...]One way of correcting the increasingly pro-Catholic demographics was to restrict immigration; another to promote women's suffrage. A third way, often promoted in the name of "science," was eugenics, an increasingly popular doctrine of the progressive movement. Broadly, eugenics may be defined as encouraging the breeding of the "fit" and discouraging the breeding of the "unfit," the criteria of "fitness" often coinciding with the cleavage between native, white Protestants and the foreign born or Catholics—or the white-black cleavage. In extreme cases, the unfit were to be coercively sterilized.

[...]Many observers, indeed, reported in wonder at the strongly religious tone of the Progressive party convention. Theodore Roosevelt's acceptance address was significantly entitled, "A Confession of Faith," and his words were punctuated by "amens" and by a continual singing of Christian hymns by the assembled delegates. They sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and finally the revivalist hymn, "Follow, Follow, We Will Follow Jesus," except that "Roosevelt" replaced the word "Jesus" at every turn.

[...] Thus the foundations of today's massive state intervention in the internal life of the American family were laid in the so-called "progressive era" from the 1870s to the 1920s. Pietists and "progressives" united to control the material and sexual choices of the rest of the American people, their drinking habits, and their recreational preferences. Their values, the very nurture and education of their children, were to be determined by their betters. The spiritual, biological, political, intellectual, and moral elite would govern, through state power, the character and quality of American family life.

[...]It has been known for decades that the Progressive Era was marked by a radical growth in the extension and dominance of government in America's economic, social, and cultural life. For decades, this great leap into statism was naively interpreted by historians as a simple response to the greater need for planning and regulation of an increasingly complex economy. In recent years, however, historians have come to see that increasing statism on a federal and state level can be better interpreted as a profitable alliance between certain business and industrial interests, looking for government to cartelize their industry after private efforts for cartels and monopoly had failed, and intellectuals, academics, and technocrats seeking jobs to help regulate and plan the economy as well as restriction of entry into their professions. In short, the Progressive Era re-created the age-old alliance between Big Government, large business firms, and opinion-molding intellectuals—an alliance that had most recently been embodied in the mercantilist system of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.

Other historians uncovered a similar process at the local level, especially that of urban government beginning with the Progressive Era. Using the influence of media and opinion leaders, upper-income and business groups in the cities systematically took political power away from the masses and centralized this power in the hands of urban government responsive to progressive demands. Elected officials, and decentralized ward representation, were systematically replaced either by appointed bureaucrats and civil servants, or by centralized at-large districts where large-scale funding was needed to finance election races. In this way, power was shifted out of the hands of the masses and into the hands of a minority elite of technocrats and upper-income businessmen. One result was an increase of government contracts to business, a shift from "Tammany" type charity by the political parties to a taxpayer-financed welfare state, and the imposition of higher taxes on suburban residents to finance bond issues and redevelopment schemes accruing to downtown financial interests.

[...]In every case, we see the vital link between these intrusions into the family and the aggressive drive by Anglo-Saxon Protestant "pietists" to use the state to "make America holy," to stamp out sin and thereby assure their own salvation by maximizing the salvation of others. In particular, all of these measures were part and parcel of the long-standing crusade by these pietists to reduce if not eliminate the role of "liturgicals," largely Roman Catholics and high-church Lutherans, from American political life. The drive to stamp out liquor and secular activities on Sundays had long run into successful Catholic and high-church Lutheran resistance. Compulsory public schooling was soon seen as an indispensable weapon in the task of "Christianizing the Catholics," of saving the souls of Catholic children by using the public schools as a Protestantizing weapon. The neglected example of San Francisco politics was urged as a case study of this ethnoreligious political battle over the schools and hence over the right of Catholic parents to transmit their own values to their children without suffering Anglo-Saxon Protestant obstruction. Women's suffrage was seized upon as a means of increasing Anglo-Saxon Protestant voting power, and immigration restriction as well as eugenics was a method of reducing the growing demographic challenge of Catholic voters.

Of course, Pietism found its international expression in the form of Wilsonian diplomacy. It's not a suprise that today's neo-Wilsonianism walks hand in hand with pietism.

The Von Mises Institute has a blog.

A sample, which provokes fantasies of greed even in indifferent little me:

The New Yorker Magazine this week features a review of two investment classics, Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor and Burton Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street. Benjamin Graham, one of the teachers of billionaire investor Warren Buffert, comes down on the side of financial entrepreneurship. Based on simple mathematical models using the future profits of a business, he provided analytical methods for estimating the "intrinsic value" of its securities - the price that an informed investor would pay to purchase the asset. The intelligent investor will apply Graham's methods to company financials, looking for bargains: companies selling for less than their intrinsic value.