Friday, July 30, 2004

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Caesar

A piece by Russian philosopher-theologian N.A. Berdyaev. Some silly remarks about the inevitable and irreversible march of history, but otherwise insightful. He comments that the Czarist theologians tended to turn the coronation into the eighth sacrament. I'll see how the monarchists I know respond to that.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

If the abbeys went down, the king would never want any taxes again

On the dissolution of the monasteries

Preachers were moreover commissioned to go over the country in the early autumn, in order, by their invectives, to educate public opinion against the monks. These pulpit orators were of three sorts:

"railers", who declaimed against the religious as "hypocrites, sorcerers, and idle drones, etc.";

"preachers", who said the monks "made the land unprofitable";

 and those who told the people that, "if the abbeys went down, the king would never want any taxes again."

This last was a favourite argument of Cranmer, in his sermons at St. Paul's Cross.

What is *this* doing on

A positive review of Amintore Fanfani's _Capitalism, Protestantism, and Catholicism_, examining the origins and impact of capitalism on Christian life. Fanfani, a student of economics, went on to become a leader in Italy's Christian Democrat party. (How many economists are in our parties' leadership?) According to the review, "his final thesis is that "[m]odern capitalism is not compatible with Catholic morality or any Christian, that is, Protestant sect."

I was wondering about what Michael Novak might say about this. A review from a schismatic traditionalist site reveals that he has indeed written the introduction to one edition of the work. Novak seems to have made a habit of writing belittling introductions to Catholic critiques of capitalism--his foreward to G.K. Chesterton's _The Outline of Sanity_ is notorious. Somebody once quipped that having him write the introduction to GKC's distributism was like Hugh Hefner writing a forward to a book on Christian marriage. Aren't introductions supposed to *encourage* the reader to read the work at hand?

Anyway, I hope to get to Fanfani's work eventually. American insularity and monolingualism both tend to isolate American Catholics from their brothers and sisters around the world, and I would like to learn just what kind of political reasoning a Christian Democrat uses. Too bad I made my library run hours before I learned of this book.(Current read: Claes G. Ryn's _America the Virtuous_).

Lo! Here's the IHS Press introduction to the book.

Monday, July 26, 2004

The Underground History of American Education

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Friday, July 09, 2004

God is Not an American

Notre Dame's Rev. Michael J. Baxter, CSC, a Catholic Worker-type and Notre Dame theologian who is actually a believing Catholic, pens a challenging critique of the rhetoric used by Bush and Neuhaus & co. following September 11.

For one thing, [Neuhaus' argument] casts the war on terrorism in the exaggerated terms of a struggle for freedom and justice against cruelty and fear, and thus fails to acknowledge the possibility that neither the United States nor al-Qaeda may be on the side of freedom and justice (properly understood) or that both may be given to spreading cruelty and fear. Possibilities such as these do not appear when the world is viewed through the simplistic lens of Neuhaus (and Bush). For another thing, after identifying the cause of the United States with the cause of freedom and justice, it employs a flawed argument to align both of these causes to the purposes of God. The argument is flawed because, while it is true, as Neuhaus argues, that God is not neutral when it comes to freedom and justice, it is also true that God's purposes may well be aligned with a form of freedom and justice that is represented neither by the United States nor by al-Qaeda, but rather by some other political entity or body or by the church itself.

Of course, Neuhaus and especially Bush are involved in stirring up the people and the troops for the conflict, and saying, for instance, "We're fighting for the lesser of two evils" is hardly the wording used to instill dedication and sacrifice. Baxter continues, touching on the vagueness of the deity to which Americans refer in saying "One nation under God," or "In God We Trust." This is a key insight, I think. How many Christians were eager to believe that Muslims do not worship the same God as they, but yet also have quoted with approval Jefferson's dictum that "all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights" when in fact it is certain that Jefferson neither worshipped nor believed in the God of Abraham?

Baxter's essay is a worthy examination of the tenets of American civil religion. I am surprised it appeared at Free Republic, yet it is for a thread such as this that I continue to browse that increasingly emotivist forum.

It's not a Catholic work if it shows the sins of the Religious. Really!

The opera Jongleur de Notre Dame is playing at a local opera house. No doubt this is based on the story about the juggler who enters the monastery and, shamed by his fellow monks' talents displayed before a statue of Our Lady, thinks himself an inept talentless clod. Then one evening, he decides to juggle before the statue... and the statue smiles! Such sickeningly sweet pious stories are part and parcel of Catholic life. So it's quite funny to watch the director downplay the patent kitschy Christianity of the tale. (One wonders whether the opera company performed similar contortions when it presented Dialogue of the Carmelites a few years back.) Here's the director:

"But it's not overtly religious," the director said of the opera, which opens on Saturday. "Yeah, there's a miracle at the end. But it's about the importance of being honest."

or this gem:

"It's certainly not a 'Catholic' piece. In fact, there's a lot of mocking of the clergy." Indeed, there is a scene in which the monks argue over whose artistic talents are superior."

What's even more laughable is the contrast between the commercial paper's review and the Denver Catholic Register's review, titled "Upcoming opera offers lessons in humility, devotion to Our Lady.

Monday, July 05, 2004

'Caroline is being mystical,' Ernest said.
'Caroline is a mystic,' said Eleanor. 'I've always said so. She's a mystic, isn't she, Laurence?'

'Every time,' said Lawrence, very pleasantly.

'And the trouble with these mystics, the theorise on the basis of other people's sufferings, and in the end they belittle suffering. Caroline, if you'd suffered as much as I'd suffered, you wouldn't be talking like something out of this world.'

'I won't compete with you on the question of suffering,' Caroline spoke acidly, for, after all, she rather fancied herself a sufferer.

-Muriel Spark, The Comforters

Friday, July 02, 2004

Underminding the Foundation Myths of Liberalism

Jim Kalb links to an intriguing piece attacking the standard "the secular state arose as an alternative to wars of religion" thesis. A quotation:

Now the first problem with the attempt to make religion public is that it is still religion. Neuhaus, the Himeses, and McBrien all abide by McBrien's "working assumption" that "religion is a universal category (genus) and that Christianity is one of its particular forms (species)."71 Talal Asad's critique of Geertz' work provides us with a useful antidote to these universalist constructions of religion. Asad shows how the attempt to identify a distinctive essence of religion, and thus protect it from charges that it is nothing more than an epiphenomenon of "politics" or "economics," is in fact linked with the modem removal of religion from the spheres of reason and power.72 Religion is a universal essence detachable from particular ecclesial practices, and as such can provide the motivation necessary for all citizens of whatever creed to regard the nation?state as their primary community, and thus produce peaceful consensus. As we have seen, religion as a transhistorical phenomenon separate from "politics" is a creation of Western modernity designed to tame the Church. Religion may take different cultural and symbolic expressions, but it remains a universal essence generically distinct from political power which then must be translated into publicly acceptable "values" in order to become public currency. Religion is detached from its specific locus in disciplined ecclesial practices so that it may be compatible with the modem Christian's subjection to the discipline of the State.