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Friday, December 30, 2011

Movies and books of 2011

Some movies and books I've posted about this year (in no special order) .....


Shakespeare in Love


Shutter Island

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

The Rite


Tron: Legacy


Body of Lies


The Next Three Days



Enemy at the Gates

Mercury Rising


Source Code

Season of the Witch

Black Hawk Down

State of Play


The Conspirator

Helen of Troy


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The Bishop's Wife


Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality by Philip Endean SJ

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

The City & the City by China Miéville

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva

In the Woods by Tana French

Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord's Supper by Ben Witherington

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Blackout by Connie Willis

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Clothes make the man ...

and woman, to misquote Mark Twain.

Still watching episodes of JAG. It's challenging because I'm an anti-war pacifist who finds the romanticizing of the military creepy at best, but still I'm finding the series interesting and it reminds me of my grandfather, who was career military.

Last night's episode was a fictionalized account of the almost court-martial of a real-life fighter pilot, Martha McSally, who contested the Department of Defense's rule that service women must wear body-covering abayas when off base in Saudi Arabia. She brought a suit against the DOD and the policy was changed in 2002. It's strange - I don't remember any of this from the news then, but now, with the recent furor over burqa banning in some European countries, it seemed worth noting (for more on how I feel about burqas - Andrew Brown and myself on the burqa ban). Anyway, here's a short segment from 60 Minutes on McSally ...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cardinal George and Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

Saw today a post by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a professor and past president of the Chicago Theological Seminary and a minister of the United Church of Christ, in which she invited Cardinal George to join her and the Chicago Theological Seminary’s Pride group in the 2012 Chicago Gay Pride parade. The whole thing is worth a read, but here's part of what she wrote ....

Cardinal George, you’re wrong about Chicago Gay Pride

Chicago Gay Pride is a deeply spiritual event, combining a celebration of the diversity of humanity with a zest for life lived truthfully. Chicago Gay Pride is one of the largest such parades in the U.S., and it is listed on the city of Chicago’s official tourism Web site. Many, many Chicagoans are proud of their Pride Parade.

As a Chicagoan who is proud of Chicago Pride, therefore, I was very distressed to hear the Catholic Cardinal of Chicago, Francis George, make statementsto FOX Chicago Sunday, intimating that this wonderful Chicago event could become comparable to demonstrations by the Klu Klux Klan against Catholicism .........

Today I have written a letter to Cardinal George’s office, asking him if he will be my guest and march with the Chicago Theological Seminary’s Pride group in the 2012 Chicago Gay Pride parade.

This is a serious invitation. First, I make it in full confidence that the cardinal would be welcome in the Seminary’s Pride group. The United Church of Christ, to which our school is related, has as it’s motto, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” We practice what we like to call a “radical welcome” and that includes the cardinal. We have had many fine Catholic students over the years.

Second, I would like to invite the cardinal because I have become an ally of the LGBTQ community and it has been an incredible spiritual and theological journey for me. I would like to share with him a small part of how important this journey can be for Christian leaders as well as parishioners ..........

Cardinal George has now attempted to walk back his hurtful comments, indicating the comparison was only “parade-parade” not “people and people.” It’s a start, but it’s far from enough.

Thus, my invitation stands, because more change is needed in the Catholic church, and truly in all churches, so that the “people and people” comparison is not merely descriptive, but a positive and even spiritually enlightening one.

Join us in Chicago Theological Seminary group at Pride, 2012, Cardinal George. I promise you it will help with your ministry.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Coffee at the cathedral :)

Though I've been to San Francisco, I've never been to a church there. If I could go now, I'd visit Grace Cathedral. It's not a Catholic church, it's Episcopal, probably the most famous church in the city, and I think the only one with a Peet's kiosk :) I've visited the website often ... they host a lot of music and interesting speakers there like NT Wright, Garry Wills, Marcus Borg, Guy Consolmagno (see Forum videos from Grace Cathedral here). The present Dean of the cathedral is a Brit, a woman, and a pretty impressive person - Jane Alison Shaw

Wikipedia writes of the cathedral ...

The cathedral has become an international pilgrimage center for church-goers and visitors alike, famed for its mosaics by De Rosen, a replica of Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, two labyrinths, varied stained glass windows, Keith Haring AIDS Chapel altarpiece, and medieval and contemporary furnishings, as well as its 44 bell carillon, three organs, and choirs.

There's an interesting story about the doors (see above) to the cathedral. This, from Wikipedia .....

The cathedral entrance has an impressive pair of doors, often called the Ghiberti doors. They are a copy of the doors of the Florence Baptistry by Lorenzo Ghiberti, also dubbed Gates of Paradise. It has been said that they had been removed from a Renaissance church in Florence, but it is now known that during World War II the Nazi occupation government had ordered the doors to be removed from the church (to protect them from bombing and maybe to give Hermann Göring a chance to add them to his collection) and that they had been hidden in a disused railway tunnel and that reproductions had been made. The philanthropist Charles D. Field bought these replicas, and they were then shipped to San Francisco and installed on the newly-completed church in time for its official dedication in 1964.

The cathedral also has a neat indoor labyrinth modeled on the one at Chartres ...

Interestingly, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon there in 1965 (see more about this at the cathedral's website here). Here's the first of two videos of MLK at Grace Cathedral ...

Coventry Carol

The Civentry Carol , about the Massacre of the Innocents, performed by Collegium Vocale Gent, conducted by Peter Dijkstra.

Pot kettle black

When I read of Christian exhortations against turf war in the Holy Land, I can't help but think of the pot calling the kettle black ..... Rival Clergymen Clash at Bethlehem ...

(BETHLEHEM, West Bank) — The annual cleaning of one of Christianity's holiest churches deteriorated into a brawl between rival clergy Wednesday, as dozens of monks feuding over sacred space at the Church of the Nativity battled each other with brooms until police intervened. The ancient church, built over the traditional site of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, is shared by three Christian denominations — Roman Catholics, Armenians and Greek Orthodox. Wednesday's fight erupted between Greek and Armenian clergy, with both sides accusing each other of encroaching on parts of the church to which they lay claim .....

- the silver star, placed where Jesus is thought to have been born, beneath the altar in the Grotto of the Nativity - Church of the Nativity

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fully Human, Fully Divine

There's a post at America magazine's blog about what sounds like an interesting book - Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Interactive Christology by Michael Casey, a Trappist monk in Australia. Here's a bit from the post ...

[...] Casey's study alternates chapters between his treatment of segments of Mark's gospel (the baptism; the temptation; Jesus' exorcisms; Jesus as teacher; Jesus the Sower; Nature miracles; Jesus with the Syro-Phoenician woman; the transfiguration; Gethsemane; the cross and the empty tomb) with parallel chapters, drawing on the wisdom and spirituality of the great monastic writers, such as Julian of Norwich, Bernard of Clairvaux, John Cassian, Isaac of Stella, Gregory the Great. As Casey knows: " Outward observance, however holy, cannot take the place of personal encounter with the living God." .....

Casey follows the Greek Fathers' tradition in asserting that God became human so that we might also take on elements of his divinity. As he says in one remarkable throw away line: " Christianity is not a matter of being good but becoming God." Yet, as in Jesus the human and the divine commingled, so for us, too, " we are divinized to the extent that nothing of our humanity is denied, despised or ignored, when nothing of what makes us human is lost or left behind." ...

High Christology ... low Christology ... I'm not sure where I stand, but before I made that online retreat I had thought of Jesus as 99.9% divine - didn't imagine he was ever happy/sad or that he could suffer, much less that he could be surprised or change his mind. My experiences in the retreat blew that version of Jesus away. It's a strange tension trying to keep Jesus vulnerably human and at the same time God and it makes me very uncomfortable, but maybe that's ok.

I remember that when the movie Jesus came out some religious groups criticized it for showing a Jesus that was too human, and it does show a Jesus who tells jokes, dances, gets angry, falls in love, feels sad, but then he also does miracles. Here's a clip from it that begins with Jesus just meeting Peter and helping him catch fish ....

Monday, December 26, 2011


This song was playing on the muzak today at Whole Foods and it's been in my head ever since :) ....

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Popcorn and a movie

- Watson and Holmes

Today I went to see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which stars Robert Downey, Jr. as the Arthur Conan Doyle character of Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as his buddy, Dr. Watson. The basic plot .... Watson gets married and Holmes travels through Europe with the help of his brother (Stephen Fry) and a Gypsy/Roma (Noomi Rapace) and the reluctant Watson to foil (by sacrificing himself ala The Final Problem) an evil plot hatched by Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris).

- the movie's version of Reichenbach Falls where Holmes plunges to his death (or does he? :)

I liked this second of the new Sherlock Holmes series better than the first. I've read most of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories and Downey just didn't seem very Holmes-like to me in the first film, but he's starting to grow on me and of course Jude Law is just always good. I guess once I gave up on the movies being a good representation of the books it was easier to appreciate them, and so I do recommend this one. Roger Ebert liked it too, giving it three and a half out of four stars in his review. Here's a trailer ....

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Mice In The Hay - Leslie Norris

out of the lamplight
whispering worshipping
the mice in the hay

timid eyes pearl-bright
whispering worshipping
whisking quick and away

they were there that night
whispering worshipping
smaller than snowflakes are

quietly made their way
whispering worshipping
close to the manger

yes they were afraid
whispering worshipping
as the journey was made

from a dark corner
whispering worshipping
scuttling together

But He smiled to see them
whispering worshipping
there in the lamplight

stretched out His hand to them
they saw the baby King
hurried back out of sight
whispering worshipping

Friday, December 23, 2011

John Milbank video

Here's a video discussion fron the University of Nottingham with John Milbank on Henri de Lubac, a Vatican II era French Jesuit and theologian.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Hobbit

I saw this at the Christian Science Monitor - 'The Hobbit' trailer: 5 signs that Peter Jackson is back to his best - about the upcoming movie, The Hobbit. Here's the trailer mentioned ....

I first read the book when I was a teen and liked it very much. I hope I like the movie as much as LOTR, though I don't see how I can without Aragorn being in it :)


- blue jay in my yard

From Scientific American, a podcast for the human exceptionalists out there :) .... Pigeons Can Follow Abstract Number Counting Rules

As a NYT story states ...

By now, the intelligence of birds is well known. Alex the African gray parrot had great verbal skills. Scrub jays, which hide caches of seeds and other food, have remarkable memories. And New Caledonian crows make and use tools in ways that would put the average home plumber to shame. Pigeons, it turns out, are no slouches either. It was known that they could count. But all sorts of animals, including bees, can count. Pigeons have now shown that they can learn abstract rules about numbers, an ability which until now had been demonstrated only in primates.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A movie angel

- Dudley

A Christmas movie I just watched was The Bishop's Wife. It was made in 1947 and starred Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young. It tells the story of a bishop, Henry (Niven), who becomes obsessed with building a new cathedral to the point that he's compromising his ethics, his marriage is suffering, and he's miserable. He prays to God for help and an angel, Dudley (Grant), is sent to assist, but not in the way he expects.

Here's a clip which shows Dudley (the angel in disguise) telling the bishop's daughter a story about David and an angel ....

And here's a bit about the plot from Wikipedia ....

Everyone, except for Henry, is charmed by the newcomer [the angel], even the non-religious Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley). Dudley persuades the wealthy parishioners, particularly Mrs. Hamilton (Gladys Cooper), to contribute the needed funds, but not to build the cathedral. He helps Mrs. Hamilton decide to give her money to feed and clothe the needy — much to Henry's chagrin. He also redecorates the Broghams' Christmas tree in two seconds, saves an old church by restoring interest in the boys' choir, and arranges for the typewriter to automatically type Henry's new sermon - which Dudley dictates without Henry's knowledge.

When Dudley spends time cheering up Julia, there is an unexpected development: Dudley finds himself strongly attracted to her. Sensing this, Henry becomes jealous and anxious for his unwelcome guest to finish and depart. Eventually, he stands up to the angel. With his mission completed and knowing that Julia loves her husband, Dudley leaves, promising never to return. All memory of him is erased, and on Christmas Eve at midnight, Henry delivers the sermon that he believes he has written.

- Dudley and Henry

I really liked Dudley - he cared about every person he came across, no matter what their station or attitude or age - as he told the bishop, "Remember, we are interested even in the lowliest sparrow". Here's the sermon, written by the angel, that Henry preached ....

Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.

But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. Its his birthday we're celebrating. Don't let us ever forget that.

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shinning gifts that make peace on earth.

I recommend the movie! You can rent it, of course, or you can watch the whole thing on YouTube, as I did.

Happy Hanukkah

I saw this video at Bilgrimage and thought I'd post it too. It' the 2010 Hanukkah song "Candlelight" by the Maccabeats, an a cappella group from Yeshiva University ......

Monday, December 19, 2011

Make we joy now in this fest

Sung by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers ...

Make we joy now in this fest

Make we joy now in this fest
In quo Christus natus est. Eya! [in which Christ is born. Eya!]

A Patre Unigenitus [The only begotten of the Father]
Is through a maiden come to us.
Sing we of him and say 'Welcome!
Veni, Redemptor gencium.' [Come, Redeemer of the peoples]

Make we joy now in this fest
In quo Christus natus est. Eya!

Agnoscat omne seculum [Let every age perceive]
A bright star made three kings to come
Him for to seek with their presents,
Verbum supernum prodiens. [the high Word coming forth]

Make we joy now in this fest
In quo Christus natus est. Eya!

A solis ortus cardine [From the rising of the sun]
So mighty a Lord is none as he,
And to our kind he hath him knit
Adam parens quod polluit. [which our parent, Adam, defiled]

Make we joy now in this fest
In quo Christus natus est. Eya!

Maria ventre concepit, [Mary conceived in her womb,]
The Holy Ghost was aye her with.
Of her in Bethlem born his is,
Consors Paterni luminis. [sharing the light of his Father]

Make we joy now in this fest
In quo Christus natus est. Eya!

O Lux beata Trinitas! [O Light of the Holy Trinity!]
He lay between an ox and ass,
Beside his mother-maiden free:
Gloria tibi Domine! [Glory to thee, O Lord!]

Make we joy now in this fest
In quo Christus natus est. Eya!

— Anonymous, fifteenth century

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Edward Feser on the multiverse

A while ago I had a post about the multiverse ... Keith Ward and Brian Greene ... and I saw today that Edward Fesser has a post about Greene and the multiverse too ... Greene on Nozick on nothing. It's interesting reading for those like me who wonder about how God and the idea of the best of all possible worlds can be integrated with the idea of an infinite number of universes. Here's a bit from Feser's post ...

On the Ultimate Multiverse theory, all possible universes exist, including a universe consisting of nothing. To the questions “Why does this universe exist rather than some other?” and “Why does any universe at all exist rather than nothing?”, the Ultimate Multiverse theory responds: “There is no ‘rather than’ about it. This universe and every other possible universe all exist; indeed, this universe and a universe consisting of nothing both exist. So there is no special explanation of our universe required, because it isn’t in the first place only one of many possibilities to have been actualized.” (It should be added that neither Nozick nor Greene actually endorses this theory; they merely float it as a possibility. David Lewis famously did defend a similar view, though.) ...

And for those interested, here again is an interview with Brian Greene about the multiverse ...

Why are atheists so disliked?

I've seen a few articles in the religious blogosphere about Christopher Hitchen's death, usually about his atheism, sometimes comparing him to Richard Dawkins and finding him a bit less hate-worthy. It made me think about why atheists are so disliked by Christians ..... it's hard not to stumble over the many articles and books reviling them.

Maybe part of the reason is that believers think atheists have no moral center. I can say, though, as a former atheist, that I have pretty much the same ethics now that I had before: I was and I still am anti-war, I did and still do give to charity, I did and still do try to do the right thing, to be compassionate and fair and honest.

Maybe another reason believers dislike atheists is that atheists are seen as critical of belief in God, but while there are fundamentalist atheists who like to argue (just as there are fundamentalist Christians who like to argue), I think most atheists are critical of the same things in religion that many believers are also critical of: the discontinuity between religious ideals and the way religious institutions often operate.

I saw a post today at the NYT's philosophy blog that talks about why atheists are so disliked. Here's just the beginning of the post ....

Good Minus God

I was heartened to learn recently that atheists are no longer the most reviled group in the United States: according to the political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, we’ve been overtaken by the Tea Party. But even as I was high-fiving my fellow apostates (“We’re number two! We’re number two!”), I was wondering anew: why do so many people dislike atheists?

I gather that many people believe that atheism implies nihilism — that rejecting God means rejecting morality. A person who denies God, they reason, must be, if not actively evil, at least indifferent to considerations of right and wrong. After all, doesn’t the dictionary list “wicked” as a synonym for “godless?” And isn’t it true, as Dostoevsky said, that “if God is dead, everything is permitted”?

Well, actually — no, it’s not. (And for the record, Dostoevsky never said it was.) Atheism does not entail that anything goes .......

Saturday, December 17, 2011

O Adonai

O Antiphon for tomorrow

By Healey Willan , Advent Carols & Lessons service (2002), sung by Vancouver's Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Rupert Lang, director.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Indiana Jones and the missal translation

- Indy helps his father drink from the cup of a carpenter, the holy grail

I've been checking old movies out of the library and the latest is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. When I got to the part where the bad guy so disastrouslyy chooses what he believes is the holy grail - a jewel-studded gold chalice, instead of a simple ceramic cup - I was reminded of the cup to chalice change in the new missal and couldn't help thinking Vox Clara had 'chosen poorly' :) but I'm getting ahead of myself. As we all know .....

Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr. is asked by the wealthy Walter Donovan to help him find the holy grail ...

through the use of a tablet which describes where the grail lies ....

and a manuscript which describes the knight who guards the grail.

Indy agrees to help so that he can find his father, a medieval scholar and the original investigator, now missing.

With the aid of his dad's grail notebook ...

Indy is able to decipher the clues in a stained glass window in Venice ....

and eventually finds his dad and the location of the grail (actually Al Khazneh in the city of Petra).

There Indy and Walter Donovan vie to choose the true grail from a host of options. Donovan chooses an elaborate gilded chalice, saying that it's truly the cup of the king of kings .....

But, as the knight guarding the grail comments after Donovan is horribly vaporized upon drinking from his chalice, "He has chosen poorly." Indy instead chooses a simple ceramic cup, one that would have belonged to a carpenter ....

and he and his father drink from it, gaining eternal life :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A test and a video

At the NYT's philosophy blog there's a link to a morality test that asks you questions and then rates and compares your answers with others. I did it and found the results kind of disturbing: I seem to be rigid (absolutism vs relativism) but in odd ways, like I'm very less likely than others to make moral distinctions between in-group and out-group people. Given this, Thomas Aquinas, who was ok with killing heretics and didn't see an obligation to turn in criminal relatives, would be considered much less rigid than I, who would want to treat heretics and relatives the same :). I wonder how people come to believe what they do about morality?

I saw a video a while ago that mentioned five moral touchstones - care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity - and how these interact with our beliefs. I'm not sure how well the test mentioned above or the categorizing done in the video below really correspond to reality - people actually seem to have the capacity (I think) to be all over the map in morality and valuation - but anyway, here's the video for those who might be interested ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Hallelujah Chorus, the Roches ...

Still watching episodes of JAG and tonight's episode, Miracles, had an Irish Catholic priest, a postulator from the Vatican, as a character ... Fr. Harry O'Rourke (James Patrick Stuart). The episode told of a Marine on trial for trying to kill his wife, who claimed that he instead was able to save her because of a miracle, the intercession of an already beatified Chaplain - the postulator was there investigating whether a miracle had truly occurred. I remember being slightly shocked when I first saw this episode years ago because the priest character was a fan of The Roches and because he smoked ciggies like a fiend - I didn't know many priests back then :)

The priest was put on the stand at the trial and gave some interesting info about how miracles are investigated. The prosecutor was especially critical in his cross examination: his baby daughter had died not long before and he couldn't understand why a miracle would be vouchsafed to save the Marine's wife but not to save his own child (good question!). In the end, the Marine was found guilty, but the priest had decided anyway that the miracle was probably legit. Harm asked him if the Chaplain, then, was going to be made a saint. The priest replied that he should check back with him in about 100 years because that's how long such things take (a fact soon belied by the quicky canonization of Josemaría Escrivá ).

I don't really know where I stand on the subject of miracles. I do want to believe in them, I guess - no Jefferson bible for me - but I don't understand why, if miracles are indeed done, they only happen sometimes and only to some people.

An interesting aside: the actor who played the priest is the son of Chad of Chad and Jeremy ....

Monday, December 12, 2011

7 posts from 5 years past

Here are a few of my old posts from 2006 -

1) - Hell and Hans Urs von Balthasar

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.

I've been thinking about hell lately. That's what I get for watching the 1998 movie What Dreams May Come. The visual effects are outstanding but I found the storyline disturbing. The basic plot, from Ebert's review ...

... Chris and Annie (Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra) have a Cute Meet when their boats collide on a Swiss lake. They marry. They have two children. They are happy. Then both of the children are killed in an accident. Annie has a breakdown, Chris nurses her through, art works as therapy, they are somehow patching their lives back together--and then Chris is killed. The film follows him into the next world, and creates it with visuals that seem borrowed from his own memories and imagination .... There is a guide in the next world named Albert ..... Heaven, in one sense, means becoming who you want to be. And hell? "Hell is for those who don't know they're dead,'' says Albert .... Many of those in hell are guilty of the greatest sin against God, which is despair: They believe they are beyond hope. After the death of her children and husband, Annie has despaired, killed herself and gone to hell.

I hate the idea that hell may exist, that Jesus mentions it in the Gospels, that being in despair (suicide) can send you there. Most modern theologians and preachers I've read make a case for hell being not God's choice but man's ... that people go to hell of their own volition, following a desire to be apart from God. This explinarion doesn't work for me, though it's preferable to some others ... here's a tidbit from an article cited below by David Watts - ... we can be sure that, even in His righteous hatred, God loves the damned. How is God's love for them shown? In their agony not being even greater. They are not suffering as much as they deserve, according to the saints. And one of the reasons God ended their earthly probation when He did was, no doubt, to stop them from adding sin to sin and hence clocking up more severe punishment. The damned may not thank God for all this, but we can. ... holy mackerel!

A theologian who spent some time thnking about hell was one-time Jesuit, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Let's read some bits from an article in First Things by Avery Cardinal Dulles on Balthasar and Hell ...

As we know from the Gospels, Jesus spoke many times about hell ... He describes the fate of the damned under a great variety of metaphors: everlasting fire, outer darkness, tormenting thirst, a gnawing worm, and weeping and gnashing of teeth ....

Among the Greek Fathers, Irenaeus, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem are typical in interpreting passages such as Matthew 22:14 as meaning that the majority will be consigned to hell. St. John Chrysostom, an outstanding doctor of the Eastern tradition, was particularly pessimistic: “Among thousands of people there are not a hundred who will arrive at their salvation, and I am not even certain of that number, so much perversity is there among the young and so much negligence among the old.”

Augustine may be taken as representative of the Western Fathers. In his controversy with the Donatist Cresconius, Augustine draws upon Matthew and the Book of Revelation to prove that the number of the elect is large, but he grants that their number is exceeded by that of the lost ....

... Thomas Aquinas, who may stand as the leading representative, teaches clearly in the Summa Theologiae that God reprobates some persons. A little later he declares that only God knows the number of the elect. But Thomas gives reasons for thinking that their number is relatively small ....

About the middle of the twentieth century, there seems to be a break in the tradition. Since then a number of influential theologians have favored the view that all human beings may or do eventually attain salvation ....

Karl Rahner, another representative of the more liberal trend, holds for the possibility that no one ever goes to hell. We have no clear revelation, he says, to the effect that some are actually lost .... Rahner therefore believes that universal salvation is a possibility.

The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell has been proposed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?” He rejects the ideas that hell will be emptied at the end of time and that the damned souls and demons will be reconciled with God. He also avoids asserting as a fact that everyone will be saved. But he does say that we have a right and even a duty to hope for the salvation of all, because it is not impossible that even the worst sinners may be moved by God’s grace to repent before they die ....

... a number of theologians remain opposed. In a supplement to his book, Balthasar himself reports that one reviewer accused him of supporting “the salvation optimism that is rampant today and is both thoughtless and a temptation to thoughtlessness.” At an international videoconference organized by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Clergy last November, Jean Galot, with an apparent reference to Balthasar, said that the hypothesis of hell as a mere possibility “removes all effectiveness from the warnings issued by Jesus, repeatedly expressed in the Gospels.” At the same conference Father Michael F. Hull of New York contended that Balthasar’s theory is “tantamount to a rejection of the doctrine of hell and a denial of man’s free will.” In this country Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap., accused Balthasar of being a Hegelian relativist who “smuggles into the heart of the Catholic a serious doubt about the truth of the Catholic faith.” Scanlon himself takes it to be Catholic teaching that some persons, at least Judas, are in fact eternally lost. This article set off an epic controversy between two Catholic editors, Richard John Neuhaus and Dale Vree, both of whom came to Catholic Christianity as adults ....

It is unfair and incorrect to accuse either Balthasar or Neuhaus of teaching that no one goes to hell. They grant that it is probable that some or even many do go there, but they assert, on the ground that God is capable of bringing any sinner to repentance, that we have a right to hope and pray that all will be saved ...

It's Balthasar's hope that all might be saved, and I like that ... Origen believed even Satan would be saved (an interesting book on the subject of universal salvation is The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott). But my hope is that we won't need to be saved - that hell does not even exist.

Dulles mentions some of the articles below on the discussion over Balthasar's theory of hell ...

Fr. Regis Scanlon's article, originally in the New Oxford Review, blasting Balthasar's view on hell - The Inflated Reputation of Hans Urs von Balthasar

Richard John Neuhaus' article in First Things, defending Balthasar against Scanlon - Will All Be Saved?

Dale Vree's article in the New Oxford Review, answering Neuhaus - If Everyone is Saved ...

There's more of the guys above :-) but perhaps the next one to read would be found in the New Oxford Review by Janet Holl Madigan In Defense of Richard John Neuhaus

And let's not forget David Watt's article, originally in the New Oxford Review, against Balthasar's view - Is Hell Closed Up & Boarded Over?


2) - David Bentley Hart and Voltaire

- Voltaire

As I wrote in an earlier post, I've been reading David Bentley Hart's theodicy book, The Doors of the Sea. I've come to a place where Hart mentions Vlotaire and his poem about the disaster of All Saints' Day, 1755, in Lisbon. That event affected not only Voltaire, but many thinkers of the Enlightenment, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, and drove a stake through the heart of the theodicy arguments of the day. Here's just a tiny bit of Voltaire's poem ...

"But how conceive a God supremely good,
Who heaps his favours on the sons he loves,
Yet scatters evil with as large a hand?
What eye can pierce the depth of his designs?
From that all-perfect Being came not ill:
And came it from no other, for he ’s lord:
Yet it exists. O stern and numbing truth!
O wondrous mingling of diversities!
A God came down to lift our stricken race:
He visited the earth, and changed it not!
One sophist says he had not power to change;
“He had,” another cries, “but willed it not:
In time he will, no doubt.” And, while they prate,
The hidden thunders, belched from underground,
Fling wide the ruins of a hundred towns
Across the smiling face of Portugal."

And here's a bit about the earthquake that inspired it ...

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake took place on November 1, 1755, at 9:40 in the morning. It was one of the most destructive and deadly earthquakes in history, killing between 60,000 and 100,000 people. The quake was followed by a tsunami and fire, resulting in the near-total destruction of Lisbon. The earthquake accentuated political tensions in Portugal and profoundly disrupted the country's eighteenth-century colonial ambitions .... Geologists today estimate the Lisbon earthquake approached magnitude 9 on the Richter scale...

- engraving of the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755

The earthquake shook much more than cities and buildings. Lisbon was the capital of a devout Catholic country, with a history of investments in the church and evangelism in the colonies. Moreover, the catastrophe struck on a Catholic holiday and destroyed almost every important church. For eighteenth-century theology and philosophy, this manifestation of the anger of God was difficult to explain.

- the ruined Convento de Carmo, destroyed in 1755 by the earthquake.

The earthquake strongly influenced many thinkers of the European Enlightenment. Many contemporary philosophers mentioned or alluded to the earthquake in their writings, notably Voltaire in Candide and in his Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne ("Poem on the Lisbon disaster"). The arbitrariness of survival motivated Voltaire's Candide and its satire of the idea that this was the "best of all possible worlds"; as Theodor Adorno wrote, "[t]he earthquake of Lisbon sufficed to cure Voltaire of the theodicy of Leibniz" (Negative Dialectics 361). In the later twentieth century, following Adorno, the 1755 earthquake has sometimes been compared to the Holocaust as a catastrophe so tremendous as to have a transformative impact on European culture and philosophy ....

- Wikipedia

David Hart lines up the arguments against a God both good and all powerful - Voltaire's poem is an example of the best of these - and though Hart feels these arguments sometimes speak of a God he barely recognises, he does not dismiss them lightly, but writes ...

"... there are even certain respects in which arguments of this sort should command not only the attention of Christians, but some measure of their sympathy - not pity, that is to say, not a patronizing longanimity, but sympathy in the proper sense of kindred feeling. After all, at the heart of all such unbelief lies an undoubtedly authentic moral horror before the sheer extravagance of worldly misery, a kind of rage for justice, a refusal of easy comfort, and an unwillingness to be reconciled to evil that no one who believes this to be a fallen world should want to disparage ..."

That is one thing I like very much about Hart's book ... he doesn't try to reconcile the reader with evil - doesn't try to make suffering acceptable or understandable. I guess I'd rather find no redemptive meaning in my own suffering than think God had anything to do with it.


3) - Unbinding the Gay Conscience

One of the online articles of Fr. James Alison's that especially touched me was Unbinding the Gay Conscience, given as a talk in 2002. Though it's written particularly for gays, I think it can be useful to others as well, for many of us find ourselves in "double-binds" ... the double-bind of feeling that one can't both be themselves and also be loved is one I particularly struggle with. Below are some bits snipped from the article, but to do it justice, you should read the whole thing ... it's worth it ....


Unbinding the Gay Conscience

Some of you may have known Benjamin O’Sullivan, a Benedictine monk of Ampleforth Abbey who killed himself early in 1996 .... I felt that his death was brought about because this extremely attractive, apparently self-confident, effervescent young man had been unable to stand up as an ordinary gay man to the voice of the lynch mob. And the reason was because he was bound in his conscience ... the person caught in the trap looks at the world through fear-coloured spectacles, and fear darkens rather than illumines what it projects. But this gives a hint of what I mean by a bound conscience: the sort of person who can’t stand up and be what they are ...

Now I would like to examine the binding and the unbinding. What does it look like? The first step is to look at what being ‘bound’ means. A bound conscience is one which cannot go this way or that, forward or backwards, is paralysed, scandalized. In that sense it is a form of living death, and those afflicted by it are living dead, and many of us are or have been such people. For example: we are familiar with the notion of a ‘double-bind’ or a ‘Catch 22 situation’. A bound conscience is a sense of being formed by a double-bind or a series of double binds ....

What I would like to suggest is that in all these cases we are dealing with a self that has been formed by being given contradictory desires without being given any ability to discern where they might appropriately be applied. In other words, two instructions are received as on the same level as each other, pointing in two different directions at once, and the result is paralysis. This is what σκάνδαλον - skandalon - refers to in the New Testament - scandal, or stumbling block. Someone who is scandalised is someone who is paralysed into an inability to move. And the undoing of σκάνδαλα - skandala – which means the unbinding of double binds that do not allow people to be, is what the Gospel is supposed to be about.

I want to make it quite clear that we are dealing with something very basic and central to the Gospel here. It is perfectly possible to present the Gospel in such a way that it is a sort of double-bind. Any sort of presentation of the Christian faith which says, ‘I love you but I do not love you’, or ‘I don’t love you as you are, but if you become someone different I will love you’, is in fact preaching a double-bind, a stumbling block, a pathway to paralysis.

Let’s imagine the conversation between a false god and the self:

False god: I want to love you, but I can’t love you as you are, because you are sinful and objectively disordered.

Self: Well, what then must I do to be loved?

False god: You must become someone different.

Self: I’m up for it, show me how.

False god: Love isn’t something that can be earned, it just is.

Self: Well then how do I become the sort of person who can be loved?

False god: If I were you I would start somewhere else.

Self: That’s a great help. How do I start somewhere else?

False god: You can’t, because even starting off for somewhere else starts from you, and you can’t be loved.

Self: Well if I can’t start off from somewhere else, and I can’t start off from where I am, what can I do?

False god: Give up on the love thing; just obey and be paralysed.

That’s how powerful it is to receive our sense of self, our identity, our desire, in imitation of, through the regard of, eyes which give us a mixed message, a double bind.

Now if the Gospel means anything at all it means that the Good News about God is unambivalent, that there are no ‘if’s and ‘but’s in God - God’s love is unconditional. And this means, above all, that there are no double-binds in God. That God desires that our desire should flow free, life-giving and untrammeled, because it is in that flow of desire that we are called into being.

Well, if that is the case, imagine then what might be a conversation between the Unambivalently loving God and the self:

Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but I’m full of shit, how can you love me?

Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but you can’t love me, I’m part of all this muck.

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: how can it be me that you love when I’ve been involved in bad relationships, dark rooms, machinations against other people?

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But ...

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But ...

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: OK then, so are you just going to leave me in the shit?

Unambivalently loving God: Because I love you, you are relaxing into my love and you will find yourself becoming loveable, indeed becoming someone that you will scarcely recognise.

Self: Hadn’t I better do something to get all ready for this becoming loveable?

Unambivalently loving God: Only if you haven’t yet got it that it’s I who do the work and you who get to shine. Because I love you, you are relaxing into being loved and will find yourself doing loveable things because you are loved.

Self: I think I could go along with this.

Or to put it in a nutshell, when faced with the standard Irish joke about ,’How do I get to Dublin?’, and being told ‘If I were you I wouldn’t start from here’, the Gospel response, that is to say the regard of Christ, tells us: ‘I will come with you starting from where you are’ ....

I would like to dwell a little more on the effects on us of this regard, the one which looks at us and says, ‘I love you, and as you discover yourself loved you will find yourself becoming something else’. I want to say something apparently rather banal here, but I think it is rather important. I think that we would be wise to send the word ‘love’ to the laundry and use the word ‘like’ instead. I say this for the following reason. You have probably met people, as I have, who tell us that they love gay people, and that is why they are so keen to change us. In other words their ‘love’ does not include the word ‘like’. It means something like: ‘I feel that in obedience to God’s love for sinners I must stop you being who you are’.

But in fact the word ‘like’ is rather more difficult to twist into a lie than the word ‘love’, because we know when someone likes us. We can tell because they enjoy being with us, alongside us, want to share our time and company. Well, what I would like to suggest is that if our understanding of love does not include liking, or at least being prepared to learn to like, then there’s a good chance that we’re talking about the sort of love that can slip a double-bind over us, that is really saying to us, ‘My love for you means that I will like you if you become someone else’.

Well, it seems to me that the doctrine of the incarnation of Our Lord, the image of God coming among us as the likeness of humans8, is a strong statement that the divine regard is one of liking us, here and now, as we are. Glad to be with us. And this means that the one who looks at us with love is not just looking at us with a penetrating and inscrutable gaze of utter otherness, but is looking at us with the delight of one who enjoys our company, who wants to be one with us, to share in something with us. Sure, as we learn to relax into that being loved we are going to find that we are quite different from what we thought we were, and that our patterns of desire will become quite different, which is what it means to find that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in us in and through the reformation of our desire. But the regard does not first knock down so as then to build up, as we so often imagine it, rather as though Jesus was a sergeant-major whose job it is to give hell to the recruits and make them feel awful so that later, after they’ve lost their identities, they’ll start to feel good new identities as soldiers, and then they’ll discover he has a heart of gold.

No, our faith is that the eyes of God that are in Christ, and thus the divine regard through which we can receive new being, are eyes that like us, from alongside, at the same level as us. Which means, do not control us, do not try to ‘know better than us’ who we are, but want to participate in a discovery with us of who we are to become ....


There's more to the article, so read it all if you have the time and the interest (link).

Read more of Fr. Alison's work at James Alison Theology .... there's also an article on Pentecost by him at the Tablet - The Wild Ride.


4) - St. Margaret Mary and the X-Files

Sometimes it seems like everything I know, I learned from the X-Files :-) ... for instance, the identity of St. Margaret Mary. Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque (1647-1690) was a French Catholic nun, who entered the Visitation Convent at Paray-le-Monial at the age of twenty-four. She was a mystic, practiced a number of mortifications, and had many visions, the most well known being that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In this vision, Jesus showed her his heart, burning with divine love, and told her to establish a feast in honor of his Sacred Heart.

One of the first to believe in and support Margaret Mary's vision of the Sacred Heart was a young Jesuit, her spiritual director, St. Claude de la Colombière SJ. and it was the Jesuit Order that later helped establish the devotion of the Sacred Heart. Below is a prayer by Claude, translation by John Veltri SJ ...

Act Of Hope And Confidence In God

My God, I believe most firmly
that you watch over all who hope in you,
and that we can want for nothing
when we rely upon you in all things.
Therefore I am resolved for the future ... to cast all my cares upon you
People may deprive me of possessions and status.
Sickness may take my strength from me. I may even jeopardize our
relationship by sin; but my trust shall never leave me.
I will preserve it to the last moment of my life,
and the powers of hell shall seek in vain to grab it from me.
Let others seek happiness in their wealth and in their talents.
Let them trust in the purity of their lives,
in the number of their activities, in the intensity of their prayer;
as for me, my confidence in you fills me with hope.
You are my divine protector. In you alone do I hope.
I am assured, therefore, of my eternal happiness,
for I firmly hope in it and all my hope is in you.
"In you, O Loving God, have I hoped: let me never be confounded."
I know too well that I am weak and changeable.
I know the power of temptation against the strongest virtue.
I have seen stars fall and foundations of my world crack.
These things do not alarm me.
While I hope in you, I am sheltered from all misfortune,
and I am sure that my trust shall endure,
for I rely upon you to sustain this unfailing hope.
Finally, I know that my confidence cannot exceed your generosity,
and that I shall never receive less than I have hoped for from you.
Therefore I hope that you will sustain me against the ways
in which I deceive myself.
I hope that you will protect me against the deceitful attacks
of the evil one. I hope you will cause my weakness
to triumph over every hostile force.
I hope that you will never cease to love me
and that I shall love you unceasingly.
"In you, O God, I have hoped, let me never be confounded."


PHILLIP PADGETT (to Agent Scully) : I often come here to look at this painting. It's called "My Divine Heart" after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story... The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary... so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her heart... and so he did placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. Then he restored it to Margaret Mary sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand.
- Milagro episode - Inside the X-Files

- My Divine Heart


5) - Kermit

Kermit likes her birthday toy :-)


6 - It's All Greek to Me

I really like Greek history, I guess because it reminds me of happy times at college ... Greek art, Greek philosophy ... my boyfriend buying me Greek coins with Athena's owl on them, my sister and I spending afternoons pouring over our green-covered copy of Plato's Republic :-)

A post on Paula's blog made me think about Greek history in general and the battle of Thermopylae in particular.

The description of the battle can be read in Herodotus' twenty-second logos: Thermopylae... a nice online translation with modern commentary. But you can also read the long-story-short version at Wikipedia, which writes, in part, ...

In the Battle of Thermopylae of 480 BC an alliance of Greek city-states fought the invading Persian army in a mountain pass. Vastly outnumbered, the Greeks held back the Persian advance for three days. Leonidas, the Spartan King commanding the army, held up the enemy in one of the most famous last stands of history. The resistance of the Spartan-led army offered Athens the invaluable opportunity to make battle preparations and decisively defeat the Persians at the battles of Salamis. The final blow was delivered at Plataea, ending the Persian invasion of Greece and marking the rise of the Athenian Empire as a political and cultural world power. The performance of the defenders at the battle of Thermopylae is often used as an example of the advantages of training, equipment and good use of terrain to maximize an army's potential, as well as a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.

There have been a number of films, books and even poems about the battle ... one of the most recent efforts is a graphic novel, Frank Miller's "300", from which is being made a 2007 film with the same title. The movie, which stars Scottish actor Gerard Butler as Spartan King Leonidas, will use a digital backlot technique, in which actors do their thing in front of a blue screen, with the locations added on later by computer. I'm not a big fan of this technique (the film Sin City is an example) but on the other hand, after seeing how traditionally made movies like Troy and Alexander have turned out, well ... :-)

I'm a peace-nik, so it's odd for me to be so interested in a military battle, but I think it's that I'm intrigued not by the fighting, but by the human qualities shown through the fighting ... courage, self-sacrifice, and perhaps even more, a defiance in the face of assured defeat. Such defiance can be found in the words spoken by Leonidas to Xerxes, when the Persian king offered to spare the Greeks if they'd surrender their weapons ...

Come and get them.


7) - Steve Irwin has died

I was just looking at Google news before going to bed and saw a headline that saddened me - ‘Crocodile Hunter’ Steve Irwin dies.

Although his career has at times been somewhat controversial, I've been a long time fan of Stevee Irwin's. It was his show that gave me an interest in and appreciation of the wildlife of Australia, New Zealand and environs ... sea snakes, wombats, a shy platypus, a Tasmanian devil, komodo dragons. His show introduced me to the Dingo fence, to the International Venom and Toxin Database, the Galápagos Islands.

Here's part of the news story ...

Steve Irwin, the hugely popular Australian television personality and environmentalist known as the “Crocodile Hunter,” was killed Monday by a stingray during a diving expedition, police said. He was 44. Irwin was filming an underwater documentary on the Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Queensland state when the accident occurred ...

Irwin is famous for his enthusiasm for wildlife and his catchcry “Crikey!” in his television program “Crocodile Hunter,” which was first broadcast in Australia in 1992 and has aired around the world on the Discovery channel ... Irwin was also seen as a vocal critic of wildlife hunts in Australia. The federal government recently dropped plans to allow crocodile safaris for wealthy tourists in the Northern Territory following his vehement objections ... He is survived by his American wife Terri, from Oregon, and their daughter Bindi Sue, 8, and son Bob, who will turn 3 in December.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


- little rat in my yard

Sometimes the prevalence of human exceptionalism gets me down - I just listened to a Philosophy Bites podcast about animal minds in which Tim Crane, a philosophy professor at Cambridge, opines that animals don't think like we think, don't think about what we think about. Descartes thought animals didn't think at all, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas thought only humans had "rational souls", and the assertion so often made is that only humans have the ability to reflect .... I've got to say, I've met a number of people who don't seem to be able to reflect, and anyway, how can we possibly know for sure that some animals cannot reflect? Just wondering - do philosophers (or for that matter, theologians) ever read science journals? Research is showing more and more evidence that animals and people are more alike than different. In the news today, for instance .... Rats Show Empathy, By Freeing Trapped Companions.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saint John the Baptist

- by Taddeo Crivelli, Italian, Ferrara, about 1469, Tempera colors, gold paint, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, 4 1/4 x 3 1/8 in., MS. LUDWIG IX 13, FOL. 154V - the Getty Museum

Here's another manuscript illustration by him, from Wikiipedia ....

- from the Borso Bible, now in the Biblioteca Estense

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A couple of paintings I saw today ...

- Easter Morning, Edward Burne-Jones

- The Knight of the Holy Grail, Frederick Judd Waugh

In the news

Should Nuns Take the Pill for Health Reasons?

It appears studies have shown nuns who've never been pregnant have a higher risk of reproductive cancers, and this risk can be reduced by the use of birth control pills. What I found interesting was the response of Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Director of Media Relations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ...“They’re presuming the church has some kind of authority over the medical care of nuns, which it doesn’t,” Walsh told ABC News. “A nun goes to a doctor for her medical care, and if that medical care requires a certain kind of medicine then that medicine is prescribed.”

The church doesn't want victims of human trafficking to be given even referrals for full reproductive care, doesn't want government health care to pay for women's birth control pills, doesn't want AIDS patients to use condoms to protect against spreading disease, doesn't want to fill student pill prescriptions at Catholic colleges. But if a nun wants contraceptives, the church has no authority over her medical care - that's between her and her doctor?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Hmmmm ...

The government warehouse containing the Ark of the Covenant ....

Inside .....