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Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year




Thursday, December 30, 2010

From missal translation to atonement theory



America magazine has an article on the Roman Missal translation - For You and Who Else? by Paul Philibert, O.P. ....

[...] Among the many infelicities that the new English text, slated to become normative in Advent 2011, holds in store for Catholics is the replacement of the translation of the Latin “pro vobis et pro multis” that we have known since 1973 as “for you and for all [men]” with the newly proposed “for you and for many.” ...... Do church leaders want to signal that the grace of Christ is available only to the regular, traditional churchgoer? Is their intention to leave out the rest? More and more it looks as if the covert message beneath the written text is one of effective exclusion rather than antecedent inclusion of all humanity in God’s will for salvation ...

There's a Wikipedia page on Pro multis ....

The International Commission on English in the Liturgy translated the phrase "qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum" as "which will be shed for you and for all men, so that sins may be forgiven". This was the version approved by the Episcopal Conferences of English-speaking countries in 1973 and confirmed by the Holy See. The word "men" was later omitted because of complaints that it could be understood as referring only to males.

This was confessedly a non-literal translation, and objections were raised against it not only for this reason but also on the grounds that it could be taken to mean that all are in fact saved, regardless of their relationship to Christ and his Church. Some even claimed that use of the "for all" translation made the consecration invalid. In response it was said that the literal translation, "for many", could now be taken to mean "not for all", contradicting the declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 that Christ died for all, though not all choose to avail of the redemption won for them by the shedding of Christ's blood.


The Wikipedia page goes on to discuss not only who Jesus died for (some or all ... I vote for "all") but also about the whole idea of Jesus dying for our sins ... atonement stuff. I'd just been thinking of atonement theory after having listened to the pope's recent Thought For The Day in which he said "Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross." (see Richard Dawkins' response to it). I have some past posts on atonement theory and what these guys have said of it -- Gustav Aulen and David Bentley Hart ... Jeffrey John ...... James Alison ... N. T. Wright -- but speaking for myself, I hate atonement theory: I don't believe in original sin and I don't think Jesus came here to die for us, but instead to show us what God is like. Ken Overberg SJ can explain what I mean better than I can, so here's a bit of his article on the Incarnation at American Catholic (it's long and I left a lot out so best to read the whole thing) ....

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The Incarnation: God's Gift of Love

by Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J.

[...] What was the purpose of Jesus' life? Or simply, why Jesus?

The answer most frequently handed on in everyday religion emphasizes redemption. This view returns to the creation story and sees in Adam and Eve's sin a fundamental alienation from God, a separation so profound that God must intervene to overcome it. The Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, is considered God's action to right this original wrong.

How did this view develop? Just as we do when we face tragedy, especially innocent suffering, so the early followers of Jesus tried to make sense of his horrible death. They asked: Why? They sought insight from their Jewish practices like Temple sacrifices and from their Scriptures. Certain rites and passages (the suffering servant in Isaiah, psalms of lament, wisdom literature on the suffering righteous person) seemed to fit the terrible end of Jesus' life and so offered an answer to the why question. Understandably, these powerful images colored the entire story, including the meaning of Jesus' birth and life.

Throughout the centuries, Christian theology and piety have developed these interpretations of Jesus' execution. At times God has even been described as demanding Jesus' suffering and death as a means of atonement—to satisfy and appease an angry God.

An interpretation that highlights the Incarnation stands beside this dominant view with its emphasis on sin. The alternate view is also expressed in Scripture and tradition. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the Word made flesh has remained something of a "minority report," rarely gaining the same recognition and influence as the atonement view.

What, briefly, is the heart of this alternate interpretation? It holds that the whole purpose of creation is for the Incarnation, God's sharing of life and love in an unique and definitive way. God becoming human is not an afterthought, an event to make up for original sin and human sinfulness. Incarnation is God's first thought, the original design for all creation. The purpose of Jesus' life is the fulfillment of God's eternal longing to become human ......

John's meditation on God's supreme act of love in the Incarnation (also see 3:16) has led some theologians to consider that this event alone was sufficient to save the world. Indeed, John's gospel does not see Jesus' death as a ransom (unlike the Synoptic gospels, for example, Mark 10:45), nor does it use the language of sacrifice or atonement. There is instead emphasis on friendship, intimacy, mutuality, service, faithful love—revealing God's desire and gift for the full flourishing of humanity, or in other words, salvation (see the Farewell Address, John 13:1—17:26). Jesus' crucifixion (usually described as being "lifted up") is part of his "hour" of glorification, which also includes his resurrection and ascension. For John, this hour is not sacrifice but epiphany, the manifestation of God ......

Does this remarkable belief make any difference in our lives?

Absolutely, especially for those of us whose faith has been shaped by images of atonement and expiation. First, the creation-for-Incarnation perspective highlights the rich meaning of Jesus. He is not Plan B, sent simply to make up for sin. As Duns Scotus emphasized so well, God's masterpiece must result from something much greater and more positive (God's desire to share life and love). If some shadow of the cross remains over the crib, it comes from the fact of Jesus' execution, a fact that does not express the full meaning and purpose of his life. There is more light than shadow: Jesus is the culmination of God's self-gift to the world.

Second, the focus on the Word made flesh helps us to appreciate the depth of our humanness and the importance of our actions. Rahner's marvelous musings on our life in a world of grace give us renewed understanding of the biblical phrase, "created in God's image"—along with many implications for how we treat all our sisters and brothers in the human family. Teilhard's cosmic vision inspires us to see and take our part in the great evolutionary process, in a particular way (along with Francis of Assisi) in our care for the earth.

Third and most important, our "minority report" offers us a new and transformed image of God. Many people have had an intuitive sense that the dominant perspective of God demanding the suffering and death of the Son as atonement somehow missed the mark. Indeed, Rahner gently says that the idea of a sacrifice of blood offered to God may have been current at the time of Jesus, but is of little help today. Rahner offers other interpretations of how Jesus saves us, emphasizing that God's saving will for all people was fully realized in Jesus through the response of his whole life .....

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Denis Dutton and Alejandro García-Rivera on Beauty

I recently came across two thoughts on Beauty: today I saw a video of Denis Dutton, past philosophy of art professor at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Beauty and evolution .....



And yesterday I read an essay on Beauty and the problem of evil by Alejandro García-Rivera, past professor of Theology at The Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, in the book Theological aesthetics after von Balthasar by Oleg V. Bychkov and James Fodor. Here's the beginning of it ....

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Chapter 13 - On A New List of Aesthetic Categories

Taking Well of God

I have been asked many times, "What has brought me to seek theology in the arts?" The answer to that question lies within the core of my own questions about my faith and the God that is the subject of that faith. How shall I speak of a good and mighty God when all around me -- indeed in my own life -- I see and experience overwhelming human tragedy, conflict, and suffering. At these times I realize that I cannot ground such talk on the truth of God's revelation or on the goodness of God's intentions. There needs to be a different starting place, a place that addresses the question of suffering in a way that does not take me into the thicket of explaining that God is good and all-powerful, and yet also allows such suffering to happen.

Gustavo Gutiérrez made an important observation about theology in his illuminating study of the book of Job. Gutiérrez points out that at the end of the narrative, God is pleased with Job not because he spoke correctly but because he spoke well of God. Indeed, God rebukes Job's theologian-friends precisely because they try to explain away Job's suffering by insisting that God is good and powerful. Job, on the other hand, insists that his suffering is not consistent with such a view of a good and powerful God: therefore, God has been unjust to him. God thus praises Job for not succumbing to easy explanations of God's intentions. Job's friends spoke correctly about God's power and goodness, not well about God in Godself. Gutiérrez's insight into the book of Job has been of crucial interest to me as a theologian trying to understand human suffering in the light of a belief in a good and powerful God.

Yet Gutiérrez's insight leaves contemporary theology in something of a quandary. Contemporary theology continues focusing its energy on trying to speak correctly of God -- in terms of the truth about God's nature or the implications of God's power -- rather than concerning itself with speaking well of God. Whether it be fundamentalist Biblical literacy or Catholic dogmatism, Latin American liberationism or postmodern skepticism, contemporary theology has failed to heed God's whirlwind's revelation to Job. The result is that genuine talk about Job's God remains immensely difficult. Authentic talk of God in a suffering world, I contend, is to be found more in how well we speak of God rather than in how truthful or morally correct our talk of God happens to be.

But what is the starting point of a theology that speaks well of God? Where does one begin speaking well of God? Let me suggest that it is neither in the sense of the True nor in the sense of the Good, but in the sense of Beauty. Pseudo-Dionysius put it clearly. The closer we come to naming the reality that is God, the more the importance of our ordinary language is made evident. As our language approaches the mystery of the divine reality, it begins to break up and enter a new mode. Ordinary speech becomes extraordinary poetry, and extraordinary poetry shifts to exquisite music, and music in turn gives way to breathtaking design until a "silent" word becomes the only adequate name for God. This is the sense of Beauty I would like to describe .....

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

In search of the elusive Titmouse

I've been trying for a long time to take a photo of some tiny birds in the yard. With my bad vision they only look like little blurry spots but I thought if I could get a photo, I'd finally be able to see them. The trouble has been that they're very shy and quick and hard to catch with the viewfinder. Today I was lucky. These aren't the greatest photos but I think the birds might be Oak Titmice :) ....





The bluejays and the squirrels aren't afraid of me, so they're easier to catch ...






Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thor


- Thor in Asgard

When I was a kid the first thing my sis and I would do upon waking up Christmas morning was to retrieve our stockings and go back to bed to eat the oranges that my mom always put in them from our orange tree while we read the new Marvel comic books she also always included in the stockings ... The X-Men, Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, Thor, etc. Today I saw a movie trailer for an upcoming movie adaptation of Thor comics :)

The movie is directed by Kenneth Branagh, the script is written by J. Michael Straczynski who created Babylon 5, and it stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Jaimie Alexander, Anthony Hopkins, and Stellan Skarsgård.


- Thor on Earth

I was really intrigued in college with medieval Scandinavian history and Norse mythology but it's pretty convoluted and I've forgotten most of it.. If I remember correctly, Odin is the ruler of Asgard, his wife is Frigg, and he is Thor's father (Thor's mother is Fjörgyn). Thor is married to Sif (and he has some girlfriends too), he has many half brothers, and his weapon of choice is his hammer, Mjöllnir. Loki, who can shape-shift, is considered something of a sinister character. Asgard, the realm of the gods, can only be reached by way of the Bifröst, a rainbow bridge between Asgard and Midgard (Earth), and it's guarded by Heimdall

In the comics, Thor displeases his father and is sent to Earth, to be somehow blended with an already existing physically disabled doctor, Donald Blake. While in his Blake persona he treats patients but when trouble rears its ugly head (often Loki) he strikes the ground with his cane and becomes Thor (his cane becomes his hammer) and he saves the day. His nurse friend, Jane Foster, is his love interest at the beginning of the comics, though he later ends up with Sif.



I'm not sure how close the movie will stick to either Norse mythology or the comic book, but it should be interesting. You can watch the trailer at Apple here.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

I couldn't decide between these two paintings ....


- The Nativity by Arthur Hughes


- In The Hands Of The Father by Roger Loveless


Gloria In Excelsis Deo


- Frank Mason


Angels We Have Heard On High

Andrea Bocelli ....



Thursday, December 23, 2010

Being single at Christmas

I saw an interesting post at the blog of Kelvin, the Provost of St. Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow. Here's just the beginning of it .....

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How to be single at Christmas

I find myself wanting to write something about being single at Christmas. After all, I’ve got some experience to draw on. There was a time when I used to find being on my own at Christmas a tricky thing to think about, but these days its one of the times of the year when I genuinely think I can be thankful for my single status and would prefer to sit down to a nice Christmas dinner on my own than to be a guest any number of other people’s tables.

Here’s a bit of what I’ve been learning.

If you like being with others on Christmas Day and others invite you to join in then go for it. However, decide some time before the big day what you want to do and stick to it. If you don’t want to be with others then make your mind up to resist all invitations. Don’t be frightened of saying to people that you like your Christmas and you wouldn’t want to miss out on it. They will look at you in awe and wonder. They may tell you that you are brave. Smile in a knowing kind of way and murmur, “No, I’m vulnerable too sometimes” and this will confirm them in their view that you are more valiant than Braveheart or the Bruce.

Being on your own at Christmas is one of those things that can seem daunting. However ........

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Playing possum

Sad to say there was what appeared to be a dead opossum near my front door today. Blind as a bat, I didn't even see him when I went out to get the mail but my sister pointed him out when she came over. Poor little guy - he was gray, about the size of a large cat, with cute little ears. We moved him to the backyard for overnight in case he's not really dead ....

When threatened or harmed, they will "play possum", mimicking the appearance and smell of a sick or dead animal. When playing possum, the lips are drawn back, teeth are bared, saliva foams around the mouth, and a foul-smelling fluid is secreted from the anal glands. The physiological response is involuntary, rather than a conscious act. Their stiff, curled form can be prodded, turned over, and even carried away. The animal will regain consciousness after a period of minutes or hours and escape.

If you want to learn more about these marsupials, visit the Opossum Society of the United States.


Shutter Island: A Novel

My latest book from the library is Shutter Island: A Novel by Dennis Lehane, who has written a number of award winning novels, some of which were turned into movies (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island). According to Wikipedia, Lehane wanted to write a novel that would be an homage to Gothic settings, B movies, and pulp. He described the novel as a hybrid of the works of the Brontë sisters and the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Here's what Publishers Weekly says of it ....

Know this: Lehane's new novel, his first since the highly praised and bestselling Mystic River, carries an ending so shocking yet so faithful to what has come before, that it will go down as one of the most aesthetically right resolutions ever written. But as anyone who has read him knows, Lehane, despite his mastery of the mechanics of suspense, is about much more than twists; here, he's in pursuit of the nature of self-knowledge and self-deception, and the ways in which both can be warped by violence and evil. In summer 1954, two U.S. marshals, protagonist Teddy Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, arrive on Shutter Island, not far from Boston, to investigate the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando from the prison/hospital for the criminally insane that dominates the island. The marshals' digging gets them nowhere fast as they learn of Rachel's apparently miraculous escape past locked doors and myriad guards, and as they encounter roadblocks and lies strewn across their path - most notably by the hospital's chief physician, the enigmatic J. Cawley - and pick up hints of illegal brain surgery performed at the hospital. Then, as a major hurricane bears down on the island, inciting a riot among the insane and cutting off all access to the mainland, they begin to fear for their lives. All of the characters-particularly Teddy, haunted by the tragic death of his wife - are wonderful creations, but no more wonderful than the spot-on dialogue with which Lehane brings them to life and the marvelous prose that enriches the narrative. There are mysteries within mysteries in this novel, some as obvious as the numerical codes that the missing patient leaves behind and which Teddy, a code breaker in WWII, must solve; some as deep as the most profound fears of the human heart. There is no mystery, however, about how good this book is; like Mystic River, it's a tour de force.

I'm just about a quarter of the way into the book. If it was a movie, it would have an R (maybe X?) rating for sex, language, and violence, but I think it's pretty good so far. UPDATE - I've finished the book, and although I found it intriguing the whole way through, I should also say I found it very disturbing.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Costa-Gavras, Pius XII, Kurt Gerstein, and WikiLeaks

I've written numerous posts in the past on Pius XII and the Holocaust (I'm in the camp that thinks he didn't do enough), so I was interested to see the subject has surfaced in WikiLeaks.

While I was reading about this, I came upon mention of a 2002 movie by Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras (see my post on the film Z) which was an adaptation of a 1963 play by Rolf Hochhuth, The Deputy, a Christian Tragedy. BYW, that play came out during th Second Vatican Council and according to John O'Malley SJ in What Happened at Vatican II, it had something of an effect on the council's discussion of Nostra Aetate (p. 220-76) ....

By August 1961, well before the council opened, the Secretariat had prepared a brief scheme titled "On the Jews" .... Although much of the opposition stemmed from what were perceived to be the political ramifications the declaration might have and the difficulties it might raise for Christians in the Middle East, other reasons were also at play. In early 1963, two months after the first period of the council ended, Rolf Hochhuth's play Der Stellvertreter, usually translated into English as The Deputy but more accurately as The Vicar [of Christ], a rambling and long-winded dramatization of Pope Pius XII's supposed "silence" during the Holocaust, opened in Berlin. The play created a sensation and was soon translated into a number of languages. With equal passion it was denounced as a vilification of a saint and praised as a much-needed exposé. The affair deeply disturbed the Vatican and troubled perhaps nobody more than Paul VI, who had been one of Pius' closest assistants during the war years. The pope worried that the council's declaration might be taken as a validation of Hochhuth's position ..... Thus the document originally intended as a theological statement on the Jews and in some form a condemnation of anti-Semitism, was eventually expanded into the final version ..... the text was revised again and again .... It soon became clear that the pope and Bea did not see eye-to-eye on the text, particularly on what was to be said about the critical issue of deicide .... Bea and others who had hoped for an explicit denial of the guilt of deicide had by now resigned themselves to a weaker but still groundbreaking statement .....

But back to the movie: here's a bit about it from Wikipedia ...

The film "Amen." examines the links between the Vatican and Nazi Germany. The central character is Lieutenant Kurt Gerstein, a member of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS, designing programs for the purification of water and the destruction of vermin. He is shocked to learn that the process he used to eradicate typhus, by using a prussic acid mixture called Zyklon B, is used for extermination in the concentration camps. After witnessing one such gas chamber in operation, Gerstein attempts to notify Pope Pius XII through the Papal Nuncio, but is appalled by the lack of response he gets from the Catholic hierarchy. The only person moved is Riccardo Fontana, a young Jesuit priest. While the character of Kurt Gerstein is historical, the character of the young priest is fictional, and the plot is fictional.

As the above mentions, Kurt Gerstein was indeed a real person, a German SS officer and member of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS, who, according to Wikipedia, gave information to the Swedish diplomat Göran von Otter as well as members of the Roman Catholic Church with contacts to Pope Pius XII in order to inform the international public about the Holocaust .... His statements to diplomats and religious officials over the period of 1942 through 1945 had disappointingly little effect. He wrote The Gerstein Report, his eyewitness account of the gassing of some 3,000 Jews in the extermination camp of Belzec in 1942, which was later used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials. In 1945 he surrendered to the French, was imprisoned, and apparently committed suicide. As it turns out, Gerstein was a Christian, and like Bonhoeffer, a member of the Confessing Church.

Here's a trailer for the movie ...



For those who want to check out the Pius XII WikiLeaks stuff, go here and here/view R sidebar for more.


Rejoice!

Fr. James Martin SJ asks at In All Things - Will Catholics Rejoice over the Repeal of DADT?. I'm sure many individual Catholics will rejoice - I'm one of them - but I won't hold my breath waiting for an official word of rejoicing from the Catholic Church. Today, though, I saw a neat video posted at Susan Russell's blog of the congregation of her church rejoicing upon the announcement of the DADT repeal in a sermon by the Rev. Zelda Kennedy :) .....




Sussex Carol

David Willcocks' arrangement of the Sussex Carol, sung by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, 1994 :) .....



On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King's birth.

Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad?
Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad,
When from our sin he set us free,
All for to gain our liberty?

When sin departs before His grace,
Then life and health come in its place.
When sin departs before His grace,
Then life and health come in its place.
Angels and men with joy may sing
All for to see the new-born King.

All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night.
All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night:
"Glory to God and peace to men,
Now and for evermore, Amen!"


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The retreat, Frasier, and zebra finches

I didn't realize how much I'm not being Christmas-like until I saw an old episode of Frasier on the computer last night showing Frasier's apartment (and Eddie the dog) decorated for the season :) .....







The most Christmas-like thing I've done so far was to go with my sister to a local pet store. She wanted to buy pet food for her work's Christmas donation to the county pound. I wanted to donate some cat food to representatives of a no-kill shelter who were at the pet store that day. While there we saw fish, reptiles, and birds for sale. They were so attractive but sad because they'll be spending their lives in cages. Here's a Wikipedia photo of one of the little birds we saw, a zebra finch, which was only about as big as my finger ....



The other Christmas thing is Creighton University's online Ignatian retreat which I'm making in sync with the liturgical calendar - the retreat material is about the annunciation, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, up until but not including Jesus' birth (week 14). This is the first week of the retreat in which we're asked to try gospel contemplation, a vivid imagining of ourselves taking part in the scripture story ....

Be attentive to where you are standing when Mary is visited by an angel. Be aware of what you imagine the angel is saying and what Mary is thinking. What do you say and do as you accompany Mary to the house of Elizabeth? What is Joseph doing after he awakens from a dream in which he understands that he must marry his betrothed even though she is with child, which he knows is not his?


- The Angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah by William Blake

Then Ignatius asks us to make reflections on ourselves and draw some insight and grace. Perhaps we watch Mary from a distance. That is good. Now we pray with those feelings of distance. Perhaps the distance comes from not wanting to have anything to do with mystery and having to trust. There we are then, praying with a truth, whose realness has been revealed in a new and dramatic way. For Ignatius, getting close to Jesus and his close friends is a way of getting closer to ourselves. This is in no way self-preoccupying or narcissistic. The closer I get to myself and my real truth, the more intimately will I find Jesus being with me. God’s Truth, made flesh, enters the lives of these three persons by charging them with trust and charging them with the mystery of giving in to surprise and adventure. This is a frightening, yet consoling, week for us who watch and listen to the human struggle to let God into our private and personal scenes. We also pray to receive the grandeur of God’s charge.
- link


- The Visitation by Maurice Denis


Monday, December 20, 2010

Jane Williams and The Lost World


- Lord Roxton

I saw a couple of interesting posts today at The Guardian's CIF Belief by theologian Jane Williams (wife of Rowan) - The Book of Genesis, part 1: God created and The Book of Genesis, part 2: In the beginning.

Reading her posts, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies which I'd just re-watched - The Lost World :). It's a 2001 BBC made-for-tv movie starring Bob Hoskins, Peter Falk, James Fox, Matthew Rhys, Tom Ward, and Elaine Cassidy. The story (set at the turn of the century) tells of Professor Challenger (Hoskins) who gives a lecture on prehistoric creatures at the London Museum of Natural History and then announces an expedition to the Amazon in search of a "lost world" habitat. Fellow Professor Leo Summerlee (Fox), newspaper columnist Edward Malone (Rhys), and the dashing Lord John Roxton (Ward) agree to accompany him.

Once in the Amazon they stop at a mission for supplies, have a disagreement about the theory of evolution with the resident minister, the Reverend Theo Kerr (Falk), and add his niece Agnes (Cassidy) to the expedition as a translator. Eventually they find a plateau with an isolated ecosystem containing not only dinosaurs but an evolutionary missing link between humans and so-called "lower" animals ..... the dramatic crisis of the story has much to do with the conflict between creationism and evolution.


- Agnes and Edward looking at a dinosaur looking at them

Here's a clip from the movie, which shows the group in the Amazon having just discovered a lake (which Edward names after his fiancé Gladys), and then Edward and Agnes being noticed and chased by a dinosaur [no actual dinosaurs were harmed in the making of this film :)] ....




Sunday, December 19, 2010

Daniel Craig is Werner Heisenberg :)



This week's movie from the library was Copenhagen, a 2002 British made-for-tv movie adapted from the play of the same name, and starring Daniel Craig (James Bond, Munich) as German physicist Werner Heisenberg and Stephen Rea as Danish physicist Niels Bohr. The film takes place in the present, in Copenhagen, where the ghosts of Bohr and his wife and Heisenberg visit the Bohr residence to reconstruct their 1941 meeting in order to figure out what exactly had occurred.


- Heisenberg gets off the train in Copenhagen

The backstory .... Bohr had been mentor and friend to Heisenberg in the 1920s and in 1927 they defended complementarity (quantum mechanics) at the Volta Conference. It was all good, - Heisenberg went on to publish the Uncertainty Principle and Bohr and Heisenberg came up with the Copenhagen interpretation.


- Heisenberg knocks on Bohr's door

But in 1933 Hitler came to power and in 1939 WWII began, about the same time that nuclear fission was discovered. In 1940 Germany took over Denmark, and Heisenberg, rather than accepting a job elsewhere, became part of Germany's nuclear energy project, while the Danish Bohr, part Jewish, became understandably worried. One year later, Heisenberg came to Copenhagen to visit Bohr. The visit was mysterious - no one can quite agree on why Heisenberg came or what the two men discussed, though there are opinions based on a 1956 letter Heisenberg sent to a journalist, and unsent letters Bohr wrote to Heisenberg in 1957 ...

In 1957, while the author Robert Jungk was working on the book Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, Heisenberg wrote to Jungk explaining that he had visited Copenhagen to communicate to Bohr his view that scientists on either side should help prevent development of the atomic bomb, that the German attempts were entirely focused on energy production and that Heisenberg's circle of colleagues tried to keep it that way. Heisenberg acknowledged that his cryptic approach of the subject had so alarmed Bohr that the discussion failed. Heisenberg nuanced his claims and avoided the implication that he and his colleagues had sabotaged the bomb effort; this nuance was lost in Jungk's original publication of the book, which implied that the German atomic bomb project was obstructed by Heisenberg. When Bohr saw Jungk's erroneous depiction in the Danish translation of the book, he disagreed. He drafted (but never sent) a letter to Heisenberg, stating that while Heisenberg had indeed discussed the subject of nuclear weapons in Copenhagen, Heisenberg had never alluded to the fact that he might be resisting efforts to build such weapons. Bohr dismissed the idea of any pact as hindsight. - link


- Heisenberg and Bohr exchange pleasantries

Bohr escaped Denmark in 1944 and eventually ended up contributing to the Manhattan Project in the US. In May 1945, Heisenberg was arrested in Germany by invading US forces and was kept for a while in the UK. In August of that same year, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place.


- Heisenberg and Bohr take a walk outside to escape being bugged by the Nazis

I liked the movie (though it was very talking heads), especially the way it connected Heisenberg's uncertainty principle with the idea that one can never be sure what's going on in another person's mind/heart. For more info, check out the PBS site for the movie.


DADT, Catholic style

Francis X. Clooney SJ has a post at In All Things on the Catholic Church's version of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell & the Politics of Being Catholic, in which he writes .....

Like many of you, I am sure, I was surprised that the Senate actually voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell before ending its lame-duck session. In retrospect, it seems as if the long discussions and testimonies seem to have made a difference, and a few skilled political leaders in the Senate did good work in persuading senators to vote in favor of the repeal. Democracy at work. In this context, I cannot help but think about where we are regarding gay men and women in roles of leadership in the Church ..... At a rather dreary level, it might seem that our situation as Catholics is some version of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, without the legislation actually in place or a rational plan for open discussion of what ails us. But ever the optimist - or better, ever hopeful - it seems to me that we are also forming an incredibly sophisticated membership, true believers – gay or straight, conservative or liberal – who have learned, continue learning, to read the Church always from multiple angles, never settling for anyone’s pure viewpoint. I suspect most of us wish for some kind of changes in the Church, but this unity-in-ambiguity, authority-with-sophisticated-responses-to-authority, might be a kind of adult Catholicism that is not so bad, after all, given how we are in 2010.

I appreciate Fr. Clooney even bringing up this subject but I have to disagree with his optimistic take on the situation in the church. I find disconcerting his idea that those who are sophisticated (what?) would prefer a system of "unity-in-ambiguity". I'd like to hope instead that all people of good will, sophisticated or not, would prefer a straightforward and transparent church stance of inclusion. I saw a quote today about the end of DADT in the military ... "Now we can serve our country without having to lie to our country" ... it would be nice if the same could be said by gay priests about the church.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Alejandro García-Rivera and St. Martin de Porres

I was sorry to hear that Alejandro García-Rivera, a professor at The Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, has passed away. For those interested, I have some past posts on him ... The Garden of God ... Alejandro Garcia-Rivera and others on Jon Sobrino's Christology ... Alejandro García-Rivera/Sandra Schneiders.

Today I wanted to post the beginning of an article he wrote for US Catholic earlier this year on St. Martin de Porres, his guide in a strange new land ......

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Come together: St. Martin de Porres

One day I was home, a familiar comfortable place; the next day I was a stranger in a strange land. It was Nov. 3, 1960, the date of my exile from my home in Cuba. It was also the feast day of St. Martín de Porres, a Dominican friar from Peru. St. Martín, I now believe, was assigned to be my guide in this strange land, the United States.

Although not many English-speaking Catholics are familiar with St. Martín, he is one of the most popular saints in Latin America. St. Martín was the son of the white, blue-eyed hidalgo (a Spanish noble) Don Juan de Porres and the freed black slave Ana Velázquez. Born in Lima on Dec. 9, 1575, Martín also was born into a kind of exile. His own father would not acknowledge him as his son in public. The baptismal entry in the registry of the church of San Sebastian in Lima reads simply: "On Wednesday the ninth of November of 1579, I baptized Martín, son of an unknown father."

At the age of 16, Martín presented himself as donado to the Dominican friars of the Monastery of the Holy Rosary. Donados were members of the Third Order who received food and lodging for the work they did as lay helpers. In Spanish eyes this work was menial and not fit even for the lay brothers of the monastery .......

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Feel the joy of giving ...

from the Episcopal Cafe. This touched me, despite my calloused heart -




Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas trees past

Two of the Christmas trees I remember my family getting when I was a kid were live and we planted them side by side in the backyard after Christmas. Now they're really big ....




Monday, December 13, 2010

From Cosmopolis to Karl Popper


- Baldassare Castiglione [or Karl Popper?] by Raphael

I was trying to remember the name of a book today - Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity - and then curious, I looked up the writer, Stephen Toulmin, and then followed a link to the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club, which mentioned a famous ten minute argument between philosophers Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein I know a bit about - I tried and succeeded in avoiding all philosophy classes in college that dealt with him :) but I know less about Popper: just that he was interested in the philosophy of science and in how to assess truth. Here's a video about Popper ...



But back to the argument between Wittgenstein and Popper .....

His [Wittgenstein's] dominance of the Moral Sciences Club reached its height in October 1946 during a meeting that is now legendary among philosophers. It was on 25 October in Richard Braithwaite's rooms in the Gibbs building at King's (room three on the first floor of staircase H). A confrontation arose between Wittgenstein, who was chairing the meeting, and the evening's guest speaker, Karl Popper, Reader in Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics. The meeting had been organized by Wasfi Hijab, the club secretary, and was attended by 30 philosophers—dons and students—including Peter Geach, Peter Gray-Lucas, Georg Kreisel, Peter Munz, Stephen Plaister, Bertrand Russell, Stephen Toulmin, John Vinelott, and Michael Wolff. It was reportedly the only time Popper, Russell, and Wittgenstein—three of the world's most eminent philosophers—were ever together.

Popper was reading "Are there philosophical problems?" and an argument broke out about the nature of philosophy: whether philosophical problems were real, which was Popper's position, or just linguistic puzzles, which was Wittgenstein's. The pair almost came to blows, with Wittgenstein pointing Braithwaite's reportedly red-hot poker at Popper, demanding that he give an example of a moral rule. Popper offered one: "Not to threaten visiting speakers with pokers," at which point Wittgenstein stormed out in a huff. The minutes make no mention of the poker incident, recording only that, "The meeting was charged to an unusual degree with a spirit of controversy" ...


From here I followed a link to a page on a 2001 book written about the argument, Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers by BBC journalists David Edmonds and John Eidinow. And from there I went to a review of the book, in The New Yorker by someone who'd known Popper - The Porcupine: A pilgrimage to Popper by Adam Gopnik. The article is interesting but long, so here's just the beginning of it .....

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The Porcupine: A pilgrimage to Popper
by Adam Gopnik
April 1, 2002

Many years ago, when I was young and still in search of wisdom, I went on a pilgrimage to meet the man I thought was the wisest in the world. I came away wiser, though what I learned was what most pilgrims learn, which is that if you want to become wise you should not go on pilgrimages. I hadn’t thought much about the pilgrimage, or the wise man, until the past few months, when a friend sent me a new book that brought it, and him, back to mind.

The book is “Wittgenstein’s Poker” (Ecco; $24), by the British journalists David Edmonds and John Eidinow, and it has become an improbable best-seller. It’s a terrific book, a fuguelike account of everything we know and don’t know about a ten-minute squabble between two great and ornery Austrian-Anglo-Jewish philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper—the wise man I went to see. The squabble took place in 1946 in a Cambridge tutorial room, where Wittgenstein either did or did not threaten Popper with a poker and Popper either did or did not, when asked by Wittgenstein to give an instance of a moral rule, say, “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with pokers.” The authors conclude that the poker incident happened but that the line was strictly a wishful afterthought. They also suggest that a real pivot of the fight was both men’s need for the attention of a third philosopher in the room, Bertrand Russell, who was Wittgenstein’s intellectual father.

Though Wittgenstein is the star of “Wittgenstein’s Poker,” Popper is, I think, meant to be its hero: while Wittgenstein’s puzzles made for the bigger reputation, Popper’s problems presented the bigger ambition. Yet Popper suffered from the shortest half-life, and wore the smallest halo, of any great thinker who has ever lived. He reconfigured the image of the natural sciences in a way that altered everything from art history to Marxist philosophy, whose pretensions to scientific force he ended. In 1945, Russell could write, as an unexceptionable fact, that science dealt with the realm of the definite, philosophy with the unprovable. A half century later, no philosopher (including Russell) would have written that. Everyone accepts that science centers on the hypothetical and the conjectural, the imaginative leap and the subsequent search for a significant test, and the questions turn on just what tests, and just what guesses, count.

Popper was almost single-handedly responsible for this revolution and never got enough credit for it, as he would have been the first to tell you. In fact, since his death, in 1994, he seems to have receded right into history. Though a very good biography of him came out in 2000, Malachi Haim Hacohen’s “Karl Popper: The Formative Years” (Cambridge), and though he has had fierce admirers (George Soros’s Open Society Institute was inspired by him), his reputation is closer today to Ayn Rand’s, say, than to Russell’s, sectarian rather than secure.

Among the many themes of “Wittgenstein’s Poker,” the most human involves not so much the space between character and achievement (“Nasty Men Make Nice Things; Unpleasant People Think Important Thoughts” is, after all, the headline on almost every chapter in cultural history) as the more ticklish, almost taboo subject of intellectual glamour. Why is it that some people—and no one is a better instance of this than Wittgenstein—are able to impose their personality so forcefully on a time that they seem unencompassably large, while others, however large their thoughts, remain in some way little? This mystery, which, fully inflated, takes in everything from the different receptions of John the Baptist and Jesus to those of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, is one of the great, unacknowledged motives of human affairs—and one whose mystery I experienced when I went on my pilgrimage to visit Popper, at his home in the English countryside. No hero, I learned, ever made it harder on his worshippers, and no thinker gave better evidence in his person of just how much it is temperament that can fix a thinker’s place in the history of thought, changing and transposing and often untuning the song he sings.

It was the winter of 1975; I was staying with my sister in Oxford, and had spent Christmas in Paris with my cousin, with whom I went to movies. I also went to the Louvre every day. I haunted Raphael’s portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, the famous courtier and humanist. In Castiglione’s gentle gaze and half smile, civilization dancing at the serene corners of the eyes, I was sure that I was already seeing the face of the philosopher I was on my way to visit ........

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C. S. Lewis on animal experimentation



One of the charities I give money to is the National Anti-Vivisection Society, so I was interested that C.S. Lewis had written an essay for the British Anti-Vivisection Society (The radical Lewis at The Thinking Reed). I looked up Lewis' essay and have posted part of it below, but first here's a bit from Lee's post ...

Lewis posits a dilemma for the defender of animal experimentation: either they hold that humans are metaphysically superior to (non-human) animals (he identifies this with the Christian view), or they believe that there is no inherent metaphysical difference between humans and other animals (he calls this the naturalistic or Darwinian view).

If one takes the first view, Lewis argues, it by no means follows that humans are entitled to treat animals any way they wish. “We may find it difficult to formulate a human right of tormenting beasts in terms which would not equally imply an angelic right of tormenting men” (“Vivisection,” God in the Dock, reprinted in The Collected Works of C. S. Lewis, p. 452). Or, we might add, an extraterrestrial right of tormenting men .... But Lewis is quick to point out that if there is no great metaphysical gulf separating human from non-human animals, what reason is there to draw the line at the species barrier? If all that justifies our preference for our own species is sentiment, than wouldn’t sentiment also justify a preference for our own nation, class, or race?


Here's part of the C.S. Lewis' essay .....

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[...] The Christian defender, especially in the Latin countries, is very apt to say that we are entitled to do anything we please to animals because they ‘have no souls'. But what does this mean? If it means that animals have no consciousness, then how is this known? They certainly behave as if they had, or at least the higher animals do. I myself am inclined to think that far fewer animals than is supposed have what we should recognize as consciousness. But that is only an opinion. Unless we know on other grounds that vivisection is right we must not take the moral risk of tormenting them on a mere opinion. On the other hand, the statement that they 'have no souls' may mean that they have no moral responsibilities and are not immortal. But the absence of 'soul' in that sense makes the infliction of pain upon them not easier but harder to justify. For it means that animals cannot deserve pain, nor profit morally by the discipline of pain, nor be recompensed by happiness in another life for suffering in this. Thus all the factors which render pain more tolerable or make it less totally evil in the case of human beings will be lacking in the beasts. 'Soullessness', in so far as it is relevant to the question at all, is an argument against vivisection.

The only rational line for the Christian vivisectionist to take is to say that the superiority of man over beast is a real objective fact, guaranteed by Revelation, and that the propriety of sacrificing beast to man is a logical consequence. We are “worth more than many sparrows”, and in saying this we are not merely expressing a natural preference for our own species simply because it is our own but conforming to a hierarchical order created by God and really present in the universe whether any one acknowledges it or not. The position may not be satisfactory. We may fail to see how a benevolent Deity could wish us to draw such conclusions from the hierarchical order He has created. We may find it difficult to formulate a human right of tormenting beasts in terms which would not equally imply an angelic right of tormenting men. And we may feel that though objective superiority is rightly claimed for men, yet that very superiority ought partly to consist in not behaving like a vivisector: that we ought to prove ourselves better than the beasts precisely by the fact of acknowledging duties to them which they do not acknowledge to us. But on all these questions different opinions can be honestly held. If on grounds of our real, divinely ordained, superiority a Christian pathologist thinks it right to vivisect, and does so with scrupulous care to avoid the least dram or scruple of unnecessary pain, in a trembling awe at the responsibility which he assumes, and with a vivid sense of the high mode in which human life must be lived if it is to justify the sacrifices made for it, then (whether we agree with him or not) we can respect his point of view.

But of course the vast majority of vivisectors have no such theological background. They are most of them naturalistic and Darwinian. Now here, surely, we come up against a very alarming fact. The very same people who will most contemptuously brush aside any consideration of animal suffering if it stands in the way of 'research' will also, on another context, most vehemently deny that there is any radical difference between man and the other animals. On the naturalistic view the beasts are at bottom just the same sort of thing as ourselves. Man is simply the cleverest of the anthropoids. All the grounds on which a Christian might defend vivisection are thus cut from under our feet. We sacrifice other species to our own not because our own has any objective metaphysical privilege over others, but simply because it is ours. It may be very natural to have this loyalty to our own species, but let us hear no more from the naturalists about the 'sentimentality' of anti-vivisectionists. If loyalty to our own species, preference for man simply because we are men, is not a sentiment, then what is? It may be a good sentiment or a bad one. But a sentiment it certainly is. Try to base it on logic and see what happens!

But the most sinister thing about modern vivisection is this. If a mere sentiment justifies cruelty, why stop at a sentiment for the whole human race? There is also a sentiment for the white man against the black, for a Herrenvolk against the non-Aryans, for 'civilized' or 'progressive' peoples against 'savages' or 'backward' peoples. Finally, for our own country, party or class against others. Once the old Christian idea of a total difference in kind between man and beast has been abandoned, then no argument for experiments on animals can be found which is not also an argument for experiments on inferior men. If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies or capitalists for the same reasons. Indeed, experiments on men have already begun. We all hear that Nazi scientists have done them. We all suspect that our own scientists may begin to do so, in secret, at any moment.

The alarming thing is that the vivisectors have won the first round. In the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries a man was not stamped as a 'crank' for protesting against vivisection. Lewis Carroll protested, if I remember his famous letter correctly, on the very same ground which I have just used. Dr Johnson - a man whose mind had as much iron in it as any man’s - protested in a note on Cymbeline which is worth quoting in full. In Act I, scene v, the Queen explains to the Doctor that she wants poisons to experiment on “such creatures as We count not worth the hanging, - but none human”.
The Doctor replies: "Your Highness, Shall from this practice but make hard your heart".
Johnson comments: “The thought would probably have been more amplified, had our author lived to be shocked with such experiments as have been published in later times, by a race of men that have practiced tortures without pity, and related them without shame, and are yet suffered to erect their heads among human beings.”

The words are his, not mine, and in truth we hardly dare in these days to use such calmly stern language. The reason why we do not dare is that the other side has in fact won. And though cruelty even to beasts is an important matter, their victory is symptomatic of matters more important still. The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as animals, are already the victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the more recent achievements ....

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Worth a read .... C.S. Lewis's theology of animals by Andrew Linzey


Friday, December 10, 2010

Opus Dei and Anglican Ordinariates

I've been wondering when the Vatican would surface in WikiLeaks :) I saw today that some leaked US embassy cables touch on the Holy See. A story in The New York Times mentions cables that reference Opus Dei .....

Leaked Cables Show Vatican Tensions and Diplomacy With U.S.

[...] Some cables read in part like thrillers, like when Opus Dei, the powerful religious order, took pains to distance itself from one of its members: Robert P. Hanssen, an F.B.I. agent who in a dramatic case in 2001 pleaded guilty to being a longtime Russian spy [see my 2007 post on the movie Breach] .....

In one of the most mysterious cables in the lot, in March 2001, the chancellor of the Prelature of Opus Dei, the Rev. Thomas G. Bohlin, “requested an urgent meeting” with the chargé d’affaires at the American Embassy to the Holy See. “Bohlin said that Opus Dei had conducted an accounting of all financial contributions” made by Mr. Hanssen, then accused and later convicted of spying for Russia.

Father Bohlin “claimed that Hanssen contributed $4,000 through 1992 and made no contributions after 1992” and added that when arrested he was still “a member in good standing.”

“Request for urgent meeting struck post as unusual. This is the first time Opus Dei has officially asked for a meeting,” the cable continued. “It appears that Opus Dei is attempting to preempt any charges that it profited financially from alleged activities of Hanssen.”

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And at The Guardian, there's a story about leaked cables and the pope's offer to disaffected Anglicans. Here's a bit of the story ...

WikiLeaks: Pope's offer to Anglicans risked 'violence against Catholics'

The British ambassador to the Vatican warned that Pope Benedict XVI's invitation to Anglican opponents of female priests to convert en masse to Catholicism was so inflammatory that it might lead to discrimination and even violence against Catholics in Britain, according to a secret US diplomatic cable.

Talking to an American diplomat after the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, met the pope in November 2009, Francis Campbell said the surprise Vatican move had placed Williams "in an impossible situation" and "Anglican-Vatican relations were facing their worst crisis in 150 years as a result of the pope's decision".

Campbell's strikingly candid comments are documented in one of a series of confidential dispatches from Washington's Vatican embassy released by WikiLeaks. Others reveal that:

• US diplomats believed the pope was instrumental in securing the release of 15 British sailors captured and held by Iran in 2007.

• The Vatican refused to allow its officials to testify before an Irish commission investigating abuse of children by priests and was angered when they were summoned from Rome.

• The pope was responsible for the Vatican's resistance to Turkey joining the EU and wanted a reference to Europe's "Christian roots" included in the EU constitution.

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Campbell, himself a Catholic, made his remarks in a conversation with the American deputy chief of mission to the Holy See, Julieta Valls Noyes, after the pope decided to announce a special dispensation allowing disaffected Anglicans to convert in groups while retaining their own leadership and some of their rites, in a body called an Ordinariate.

This had been arranged in Rome behind the backs of the English Catholic bishops, and Williams was given little warning. An official Vatican statement described the November 2009 meeting between Williams and the pontiff as cordial, but Campbell told the US ambassador, theology professor Miguel Diaz, that it was "at times awkward" ........

The ambassador told Noyes the decision had shifted the goal of the Catholic-Anglican ecumenical dialogue "from true unity to mere co-operation" and claimed that some Vatican officials believed the pope had been wrong not to consult the archbishop before making the announcement.

The cable continued: "The Vatican decision seems to have been aimed primarily at Anglicans in the US and Australia, with little thought given to how it would affect the centre of Anglicanism, England, or the archbishop of Canterbury. Benedict XVI, Campbell said, had put Williams in an impossible situation. If Williams reacted more forcefully, he would destroy decades of work on ecumenical dialogue; by not reacting more harshly, he has lost support among angry Anglicans."

Reporting back to Washington, the US diplomats wonder "whether the damage to inter-Christian relations was worth it – especially since the number of disaffected Anglicans that will convert is likely to be a trickle rather than a wave".

Out of the Church of England's 114 bishops, three have since announced that they will be joining the new Ordinariate, joined by two retired ones. All of them are long-standing opponents of female priests. It is expected that they will be joined by 50 of the church's 10,000 priests with elements of their congregations .....

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There are many other cables mentioning the Vatican which can be found here.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Rite



I see there's a movie coming out based on the book, The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio. Given the US Catholic Bishops recent interest in exorcism (Bishops to Discuss Exorcism - In All Things) I guess the movie can't just be dismissed as fanciful. The film, The Rite, which stars Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, and Alice Braga (and maybe Rutger Hauer?) tells of a young American priest who's sent to Rome to study exorcism - he's skeptical at first but Anthony Hopkins' character sets him straight with some hands-on experience. After watching the trailer, the film seemed to me to be a cross between The Exorcist, The Devils, and The Order, with just a touch of Hannibal .... creepy!

I'm concerned about the church's continuing interest in exorcism. I find it extremely hard to believe people are ever possessed by demons and I'd rather see the church spend its time and money on real problems like poverty. On the other hand, Ignatius of Loyola took for granted that bad spirits exist and influence us (the discernment of spirits). So I'm not sure what to make of all this except that it's creepy :)

For those interested, here's just the beginning of an interview in TIME about the book from which the movie was made ...

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The Story of a Modern-Day Exorcist

When he first heard about a Vatican-sponsored course on exorcism for priests, journalist Matt Baglio was intrigued by the idea of this ancient ritual taking place in the modern world. In his new book, The Rite, Baglio follows American priest Father Gary — sent to Rome to train as an exorcist — and his apprenticeship with Father Carmine. Baglio talked to TIME about belief, skeptical priests and the particulars of the exorcism ritual.

TIME: The thing that inspired this book was a class on exorcism. Tell me about it.

BAGLIO: I was a freelance journalist living in Rome and had heard about this course called Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation. It was organized by the Legion of Christ and their school, the Regina Apostolorum, which is Vatican-affiliated. Not knowing anything about exorcism or if the Church even still believed in it, I was intrigued by the idea of a university-level course teaching priests about exorcism.

What were your first thoughts about the class? Did you think, Wait a minute, this is the 21st century. Why are we even still talking about exorcism?

Absolutely. My first thought was, Why is the church doing this class? Is it just a p.r. stunt? But then I saw that a lot of the course work itself was very theologically and historically based. None of it was practical, which is why Father Gary had to eventually go out and apprentice with a veteran exorcist, Father Carmine. The course would bring in experts — experts in satanic cults, experts in criminology, they even had a psychiatrist come in to talk to the priests about the differences between the various mental illnesses that could be confused for demonic possession vs. what the church says is actually demonic possession ....

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards, RIP

Sad to see that Elizabeth Edwards has died. Some have criticized her last published message because of its lack of a mention of God. Hard to believe there are those mean-spirited enough to judge other people's last words :(

David Gibson posted on this. Here's part of what he wrote ....

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Why Elizabeth Edwards Left God out of Her Last Goodbye

]...] What seems clear above all is that Edwards' late-in-life spirituality was forged by the flames of unspeakable heartache, from the death of her 16-year-old son, Wade, in a car accident in 1996 to the faithlessness of her husband, John Edwards, who ran for president in 2008 and thrust his wife into the public spotlight while he betrayed her with a private affair. And of course, there was the cancer that since 2004 ravaged her body and also shaped her theology.

As Adele M. Stan recounted in a July 2007 profile of Edwards for the liberal journal the American Prospect, Edwards told audiences that she "grew up in the Christian tradition" and attended a Methodist church with her husband, but that during her early years as a child in Japan -- her father was a Navy pilot, so the family moved around -- "I grew up with Shintos and Buddhists."

That Eastern influence seemed to emerge as Edwards faced her illness:

"I have, I think, somewhat of an odd version of God," Edwards explained to an audience of women bloggers when asked how her beliefs inform her politics. "I do not have an intervening God. I don't think I can pray to him -- or her -- to cure me of cancer."

Edwards, according to Stan, laughed after describing God as "her" -- hardly a heresy and certainly understandable given her audience -- and continued on:

"I appreciate other people's prayers for that [a cure for her cancer], but I believe that we are given a set of guidelines, and that we are obligated to live our lives with a view to those guidelines. And I don't believe that we should live our lives that way for some promise of eternal life, but because that's what's right. We should do those things because that's what's right." .........

In a moving interview with Larry King in May 2009, for example, she spoke frankly about the death of her son and the religious questions it raised and the recalibrations it forced her to make.

In the weeks and months after Wade's death, she told King, "I had this idea that God was going to find some way to turn back time and he was going to be alive." She continued to ask herself, as many do, whether she had done something wrong -- did she not teach him well enough, not get him a safe enough car? And then when cancer struck, and her husband's affair was revealed, she agonized about the possibility of her own cosmic cooperation in it all.

"And I have to recognize with each of these things, they just happen," she told King. "You didn't have to do something wrong to justify them."

But she added, "You still sort of wonder: Is there some grand plan where you've done something someplace else?"

Edwards said she had to move on from such magical and negative thinking, and she quoted a line from the Bill Moyers PBS special on the Book of Genesis, to the effect that "You get the God you have, not the God you want."

"The God I wanted was going to intervene. He was going to turn time back. The God I wanted was -- I was going to pray for good health and he was going to give it to me," she said. "Why in this complicated world, with so much grief and pain around us throughout the world, I could still believe that, I don't know. But I did. And then I realized that the God that I have was going to promise me salvation if I lived in the right way and he was going to promise me understanding. That's what I'm sort of asking for . . . let me understand why I was tested.

Such openness to doubt and, in particular, to the persistence of suffering runs counter to powerful currents of American Christianity that stress the blessings (mostly material) that will flow to those who believe (and donate), as well as to the premium so many Christians place on voicing a confident and undiluted conviction, no matter what the reality.

For instance, compare the testimony of Elizabeth Edwards to that of her husband, who frequently touted his faith -- as it seems every candidate for office must -- which he said came "roaring back" after the death of Wade. Edwards alternately cited Jesus to reprove Americans for not caring for the poor and for his (albeit reluctant) opposition to gay marriage.

John Edwards, who was raised a devout Southern Baptist and is now a Methodist, told Beliefnet in 2007 that his Christian faith also helped him deal with Elizabeth's cancer.

"It's important in my case to have a personal relationship with the Lord, so that I pray daily and I feel that relationship all the time," he said. "And when I'm faced with difficult decisions, which I regularly am, I very often go to Him in prayer."

This was at the time Edwards was having an affair with a campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter, who would soon bear their child.

The testimony of Elizabeth Edwards, by contrast, seems much more human, but is also orthodox in channeling the Stoic philosophy that influenced early Christians along with the biblical tradition of lamentation, from the Psalmist whose words are echoed in the cry of Jesus dying on the Cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

And Elizabeth Edwards' view that Christians should take care of others not out of a self-interested salvation but out of selflessness and love of God is also about as mainstream as you can get, since it was the command of Jesus himself .....

Whatever Elizabeth Edwards believed at the hour of her death is known only to God, and is beyond the scope of our ability to judge or to affect. But her honesty in posing hard questions that most leave unasked -- or simply gloss over with biblical bromides -- seems like a legacy equal to the joys and griefs of her life.

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More on The Big Silence



I finally finished watching the twelve episodes of the past BBC tv series The Big Silence (you can watch all the episodes at YouTube).

The show took five volunteers (see photo above) on an eight day retreat at a Jesuit spirituality center, St Beuno's, with brief stops before and after at Worth Abbey, and the whole thing was facilitated by Worth Abbey's Dom Christopher Jamison.

I was particularly interested in what the retreat itself was like. I had thought a retreat would be all about preaching, classes, reading assigned books, a lot of group dynamics, etc., but this one was not so. Apart from one meeting a day with their spiritual directors, the retreatants had no assigned schedules and no duty other than to try to remain silent. They spent their time mostly alone experiencing nature through the beautiful grounds and countryside around the retreat house ..... sunsets, fields and hills that went on forever, trees and flowers, birds, sheep, butterflies, a horse, and a kitty :)

Of the five people chosen, only two thought of themselves as Christians before the retreat, and the other three appeared to be agnostic. Still, all of them had what seemed like profound religious experiences during the retreat that changed the way they thought of themselves and their lives and God. At the end of the last episode Fr. Jamison noted with some concern that while all had had such experiences, only the two previously Christian were interested in joining church. He commented in a voice-over ... "Three of the group did not connect belief in God with religion .... after... this journey with a religious community takes them farther than they ever dreamt ... still they have this sense, 'well I can still do it on my own'. So there's this wonderful paradox in all that which may occur to them in time. There's a sadness in it for me and there's a sadness in it for them too I think. And i think some of them almost sense that sadness, that they'd kind of like to take some more steps but they just can't, and that's really sad."

I think I understand the point of view of those three retreatants who took a step back - a retreat can show a person that God exists and is willing to interact with them directly, and that person may not see the need of religion in order to continue their relationship with God, especially if they've had previous worries about institutionalized religion.


Monday, December 06, 2010

Nihilism

One of the concerns often brought up by religious leaders is nihilism, the idea that aspects of life have no intrinsic value. The philosopher most identified with nihilism may be Nietzsche - I'd like to say I know a lot about him and nihilism but I never studied either in school, so I was interested to see the latest post at the NYT's philosophy blog - Navigating Past Nihilism by Harvard philosophy professor Sean D. Kelley.

Here's the beginning of the post ...

“Nihilism stands at the door,” wrote Nietzsche. “Whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?” The year was 1885 or 1886, and Nietzsche was writing in a notebook whose contents were not intended for publication. The discussion of nihilism ─ the sense that it is no longer obvious what our most fundamental commitments are, or what matters in a life of distinction and worth, the sense that the world is an abyss of meaning rather than its God-given preserve ─ finds no sustained treatment in the works that Nietzsche prepared for publication during his lifetime. But a few years earlier, in 1882, the German philosopher had already published a possible answer to the question of nihilism’s ultimate source. “God is dead,” Nietzsche wrote in a famous passage from “The Gay Science.” “God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

There is much debate about the meaning of Nietzsche’s famous claim, and I will not attempt to settle that scholarly dispute here. But at least one of the things that Nietzsche could have meant is that the social role that the Judeo-Christian God plays in our culture is radically different from the one he has traditionally played in prior epochs of the West. For it used to be the case in the European Middle Ages for example ─ that the mainstream of society was grounded so firmly in its Christian beliefs that someone who did not share those beliefs could therefore not be taken seriously as living an even potentially admirable life. Indeed, a life outside the Church was not only execrable but condemnable, and in certain periods of European history it invited a close encounter with a burning pyre. Whatever role religion plays in our society today, it is not this one ......


The post goes on to mention the downside of nihilism as expressed by David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide not long ago ....

[T]hey [people experiencing nihilism] may feel the kind of “stomach level sadness” that David Foster Wallace described, a sadness that drives them to distract themselves by any number of entertainments, addictions, competitions, or arbitrary goals, each of which leaves them feeling emptier than the last.

I feel this way sometimes myself, but when I'm in that mood I try to remember another philosopher who believed there were no intrinsic values but who managed to still find value in life, a value no less valuable because it was self-given instead of revealed ... Sartre (existentialism). The writer of the NYT post chooses someone else as an antidote to nihilism - Herman Melville ...

Herman Melville seems to have articulated and hoped for this kind of possibility. Writing 30 years before Nietzsche, in his great novel “Moby Dick,” the canonical American author encourages us to “lower the conceit of attainable felicity”; to find happiness and meaning, in other words, not in some universal religious account of the order of the universe that holds for everyone at all times, but rather in the local and small-scale commitments that animate a life well-lived .... To give a name to Melville’s new possibility — a name with an appropriately rich range of historical resonances — we could call it polytheism.

I have to say, I like Sartre and his idea of no God at all better than I like Melville and his "polytheism" - Sartre seems more honest.

Even better, though, I like hoping that there are intrinsic values after all.