Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Russell Kirk on Call to Action

Much to my surprise, Russell Kirk was an attendee of the notorious 1976 Call to Action conference, which organized Catholic radicals for the most superficial forms of activism. Kirk's wife was even a delegate, though the conference was run by the "chancery rats and church mice" who make their living in adminisrative positions in ecclesiastical bureaucracies. Kirk published his reflections on the event in the Fall/Winter 1982 issue of the Intercollegiate Review.

He notes the utterly secular presuppositions of the conference:

"Human rights" and "civil rights" were employed as god-terms, unqualified and abstract; the assumption of the resolutions' authors seemed to be that absolute liberty always has been the norm for humankind, and that any deviation from unlimited freedom is "oppression." I doubt whether any of the delegates had read Rene de Visme Williamson's analysis of "the Christian doctrine of man and civil rights" in Independence and Involvement:
Man can lay only a very limited claim to liberty on the basis of his origin. ...Fallen man can no more have a rightful claim to the same measure of liberty which belonged to him in a state of innocence than a poor copy of a great painting can command the same price as the original.... We must recognize that the denial of liberty is coexstensive with sin.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Islamic Roots of Straussianism

It is a commonplace to refer to Muslims, Jews, and Christians as “Peoples of the Book,” but strictly speaking, that phrase really applies only to Muslims, because, for them, all that can be known about Allah is what he has chosen to reveal directly—and then only until that revelation is contradicted by further revelation, as occurs within the Koran itself. By sundering reason and the Word, Islam creates a very modern (and false) opposition between faith and reason. It is no surprise, then, that Jewish political philosopher Leo Strauss arrives at his understanding of the radical opposition between faith and reason through his study of Arab interpreters of Plato and Aristotle.
Scott P. Richert

This kind of latent Averroism is ubiquitous in journalism and prominent in the academy. One can never quite trust Straussians favorable to religion; their theoretical embrace of pious-sounding double-talk is too basic.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Neo-traditionalist laments

Andrew Cusack highlights some wmusic protesting the homogenization of modern life. One lyric from an Englishman:

And the Minister says his vision of hell
Is three folk singers in a pub near Wells
Well I've got a vision of urban sprawl
Pubs where no one ever sings at all
And everyone is staring at a TV screen
Overpaid soccer stars, prancing teens
Australian soap, American rap
Estuary English, Baseball cap

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sacrificial Architecture and Modern Urbanism

Notre Dame professor of architecture Phillip Bess is writing at Right Reason on architecture both secular and sacred:

What are the marks of a sacramental sensibility in architecture and the city? To dwell even briefly with sacrifice, prohibitions, and obedience as marks of a sense of the sacred is to underscore the fact that these are not exactly prominent themes of contemporary "therapeutic" society. Indeed, contemporary art and architecture seem to aptly display the tenor of our era in works that commonly thematize self assertion over self sacrifice; revolt and entitlement over gratitude; the temporary over the durable; transgression over prohibition; autonomy and the pursuit of power over obedience to legitimate authority; and the deliberate blurring of distinctions over the desire to understand and order things in clear and right relationships to one another. To the extent that these themes indeed flourish in works of contemporary art and architecture, such works may be regarded as a conscious or unconscious denial of the sacred, or (perhaps) an artistic lamentation of the absence of a shared sense of the sacred in the contemporary world. If I am correct about the marks and effects of the sacred upon human social life however, the one thing these works are not is an address to the sacred.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Yet Another Health Complaint

It seems my prayers for a complete healing have only been partially met, like that blind man who at first could only see men as walking trees. My chronic vomiting problems perhaps irreversibly damaged my jaw joints. At this point pain management, possibly including surgery, is the only treatment option.

Please pray for me, all you readers.

Walker Percy on YouTube

Doc Percy speaks upon receiving the Laetare Medal at Notre Dame. via Amy Welborn

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Scotism, and Radical Orthodoxy

Months late, I have rediscovered my notes from a presentation at Regis University's Gerard Manley Hopkins Conference. Loren Wilkinson of Regent College discussed the poet's theological inspiration, John Duns Scotus, and the ignominy heaped upon him by the school of contemporary theology known as Radical Orthodoxy.

Believing themselves to be working for the restoration of neo-Platonism, Radical Orthodox theorists are committed to the metaphysics of participation in the divine. For them, the Great Chain of Being transcendently connects and binds every thing. This renders secularism metaphysically impossible. The school's anti-secular attacks often exploit secularism's ambiguous and often disingenuous disavowals of its substantive philosophical bases.

While some writers like Richard Weaver locate the original philosophical faults of secular modernity in the work of nominalists like William of Ockham, it seems the Radically Orthodox have chosen the thought of the Doctor Subtilis, Blessed John Duns Scotus, for their bĂȘte noir. Scotus held, among other things, that the Incarnation was necessary for all eternity, and that the human intellectual faculty is subject to the primacy of the will. He prized particularity, "this-ness" moreso than universals.

According to Wilkinson, it is this particularism which earns Scotus the ire of Radical Orthodoxy. His theology, they claim, collapses even God into particularity, God becomes just one more being among others, but a being still infinite in difference from other beings. This opens the secular gulf between creature and creator.

However, the key consideration is how God becomes "just one more being among others." What this can describe is nothing less than the scandalous particularity of the Incarnation. When Paul preached of Christ's death and resurrection on Mars Hill, the pagan neo-Platonists in the audience scoffed precisely because of their hostility to the fleshy incarnate. Scotus' belief in the inevitability of the Incarnation ties a knot in the Great Chain of Being. As Wilkinson comments:

Ward goes on to refer to Scotus' conviction "that God elected to create in order to be both a creature and God at once." Thus in all creation only "the incarnate one" "participates" in God. Through Christ humans are invited into that participation--and through humans, the rest of creation. But the "window on eternity" thus provided is not Platonic participation; it is the Incarnation.

It is the Incarnation that sparks Hopkins' poetic imagination and makes his poetry at once both Christocentric and radically humanistic:

...the incompleteness of the creature is completed by God in only one instance, "man", that is, individual human beings, and there full humanity is perceived not through some participation by which reality is suspended from "the transcendent". It is completed instead by Christ, presenting redeemed humanity "to the Father." It is only through Christ, and Christ "playing" in humanity that creation "participates" in the divine. [...] Creation becomes itself not when it participates in God, but when it participates in the human, through perception, appreciation, and thankfulness. That thankfulness, expressed to God through humans in Christ, is the perfection of creation.

Scotus thus makes a poet-friendly theologian. His exaltation of the senses, his emphasis on particularity, and his belief in the primacy of the will seem positions ready-made for a poet keen on close observation of and revelry in the commonplace. Scotism has Hopkins, and Thomism has Dante. Whether Radical Orthodoxy can produce a great poet remains to be seen.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Expanding Women's Choices"

via BettNet, a sad video about the death of an unborn child, highlighting several twisted ironies of modern life.