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Tuesday, December 31, 2013


- John Dean: The Legal Story of the Year, and Next Year Too: Edward Snowden

- Desmond Tutu On Animal Welfare: We Must Fight Injustice To Animals

- From NCR: Editorial: 2013's person of the year - Jennifer Haselberger

- A Guardian editorial: Religion: the God squad

- There's an essay at ABC Religion & Ethics by John Milbank on fantasy literature: Innocence that Grows: Christianity and the Fantastic Imagination. It's a long article and I'm not sure I understood it well, but it was interesting for me as a reader of fantasy. There are different kinds of fantasy - some have Christian themes, like CS Lewis' novels (and I guess Tolkien?), but others from fairy tales to some modern urban fantasies do not - but one thing they all have in common is the supernatural. I hadn't really considered this before .... naturalism and supernaturalism .... there are a number of Christians who are actually naturalists: they don't really believe, for instance, in the NT's miracles; and there are those who yearn for enchantment but who are not religious. I'm conflicted about naturalism/supernaturalism myself, which is probably why I like to read science fiction as well as fantasy :)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Movies of 2013

Recalling some of the films I posted about this last year ....

- Argo ... a 2012 historical drama about the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. It starred Ben Affleck ...

- Big Miracle ... a 2012 family movie starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski, about Operation Breakthrough, the 1988 international effort to rescue gray whales trapped in ice near Point Barrow, Alaska.

- The Company You Keep ... a 2012 political thriller starring Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Stanley Tucci, and Chris Cooper.

- Europa Report ... a 2013 science fiction movie about a fictional first manned mission to Jupiter's moon, Europa.

- Hitchcock ... a 2012 film about the famous movie director, starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson.

- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ... you know all about it, but let me just mention that there were hedgehogs! :) ...

- Jack the Giant Slayer ... a 2012 fantasy adventure about the fairy tale story of the reallllly tall beanstalk :). It starred Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, and Stanley Tucci. McGregor ...

- The Keys of the Kingdom ... a 1944 film starring Gregory Peck and based on the novel of the same name about A Catholic priest in China during the civil war there.

- Little Buddha ... a 1993 film by Bernardo Bertolucci, starring Chris Isaak, Bridget Fonda, and Keanu Reeves.

- Looper ... , a 2012 science fiction film about time travel starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

- The Mysterious Island ... a 2012 science fiction adventure film starring Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine, and based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name.

- Oblivion ... a 2013 post-apocalyptic science fiction film directed by Joseph Kosinski and starring Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, and Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Cruise ...

- Pacific Rim ... a 2013 science fiction movie directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, and Ron Perlman.

- Serpico ... a 1973 drama directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Al Pacino, and based on Peter Maas' biography of officer Frank Serpico, who exposes corruption in the NYPD. Pacino ...

- The Sessions ... a 2012 drama/comedy written and directed by Ben Lewin, based on an essay by Mark O'Brien about his paralysis and his time with a sex surrogate. William Macy played a priest in the movie ...

- Stargate ... a 1994 science fiction film starring Kurt Russell and James Spader, about an archaeological find in Egypt that created a wormhole allowing travel to other worlds. The US government picked a team to go through the "stargate" which consisted in part of Colonel Jack O'Neil (Russell), so depressed over his son's death that he was willing to go on a suicide mission, and Dr. Daniel Jackson (Spader), an archaeologist and linguist who'd committed professional suicide by asserting that aliens had built the pyramids. Spader ...

- World War Z ... a 2012 science fiction film based on the bovel of the same name and starring Brad Pitt ...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Keys of the Kingdom

Tonight I watched another movie recommended by Henry: The Keys of the Kingdom ...

a 1944 American film based on the 1941 novel, The Keys of the Kingdom, by A. J. Cronin. The movie was adapted by Nunnally Johnson, directed by John M. Stahl and produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The movie stars Gregory Peck, Thomas Mitchell, and Vincent Price, and tells the story of the trials and tribulations of a Catholic priest who goes to China to evangelize.

I liked the movie. The basic plot: in Scotland, an elderly Fr. Francis Chisholm gets a 'visitation' - the bishops sends a Monsignor to evaluate him for retirement after getting some complaints about the unorthodox priest. Overnight, the Monsignor happens to read Fr. Chisholm's journal which tells of his whole life: his being orphaned, his time in the seminary, his relationship with the woman he loved and her untimely death, his joining the priesthood, and his time as a missionary in China. After reading it all, he decides Fr. Chisholm should be allows to remain at his post.

Most of the movie is about Fr. Chisholm's time in China during the civil war and what makes it worth watching is Gregory Peck's portrayal of the priest as kind, humble, open-minded, and brave. Here he makes friends with Methodist missionaries ...

And he also made a friend of the Mother Superior at his Mission ...

And he raised this abandoned little girl to adulthood ...

He was castigated by his superiors as making few converts, but the ones he did make as a missionary in China were converted by his example of goodness :)

Here's the beginning of the review of the film by The New York Times ...

The subtle and spiritual story of a Catholic missionary priest which was told with such warmth and vitality by A. J. Cronin in his novel "The Keys of the Kingdom" three years ago has been imaged in pictorial outline by Twentieth Century-Fox in a long and mellow film of the same title which opened at the Rivoli yesterday. To pretend that the picture has anything like the original's significance or scope would be a stupendous injustice to Dr. Cronin and to the character he conceived. As is often the case with "screen versions," especially those of outspoken books, the film is but a surface shadow of the substance that was so finely wrought. And yet, in a loose and popular fashion, it does show a picture of a man of impressively saintly disposition and affecting humility ...

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Dream Of Wearing Shorts Forever

There's a post at Pray Tell comparing photos of the Christmas clothing choices of popes Francis and Benedict ... what a difference! I like Francis' attire best, and this all reminded me of a poem by Les Murray :) ...

The Dream Of Wearing Shorts Forever

To go home and wear shorts forever
in the enormous paddocks, in that warm climate,
adding a sweater when winter soaks the grass,

to camp out along the river bends
for good, wearing shorts, with a pocketknife,
a fishing line and matches,

or there where the hills are all down, below the plain,
to sit around in shorts at evening
on the plank verandah -

If the cardinal points of costume
are Robes, Tat, Rig and Scunge,
where are shorts in this compass?

They are never Robes
as other bareleg outfits have been:
the toga, the kilt, the lava-lava
the Mahatma's cotton dhoti;

archbishops and field marshals
at their ceremonies never wear shorts.
The very word
means underpants in North America.

Shorts can be Tat,
Land-Rovering bush-environmental tat,
socio-political ripped-and-metal-stapled tat,
solidarity-with-the-Third World tat tvam asi,

likewise track-and-field shorts worn to parties
and the further humid, modelling negligee
of the Kingdom of Flaunt,
that unchallenged aristocracy.

More plainly climatic, shorts
are farmers' rig, leathery with salt and bonemeal;
are sailors' and branch bankers' rig,
the crisp golfing style
of our youngest male National Costume.

Most loosely, they are Scunge,
ancient Bengal bloomers or moth-eaten hot pants
worn with a former shirt,
feet, beach sand, hair
and a paucity of signals.

Scunge, which is real negligee
housework in a swimsuit, pyjamas worn all day,
is holiday, is freedom from ambition.
Scunge makes you invisible
to the world and yourself.

The entropy of costume,
scunge can get you conquered by more vigorous cultures
and help you notice it less.

To be or to become
is a serious question posed by a work-shorts counter
with its pressed stack, bulk khaki and blue,
reading Yakka or King Gee, crisp with steely warehouse odour.

Satisfied ambition, defeat, true unconcern,
the wish and the knack of self-forgetfulness
all fall within the scunge ambit
wearing board shorts of similar;
it is a kind of weightlessness.

Unlike public nakedness, which in Westerners
is deeply circumstantial, relaxed as exam time,
artless and equal as the corsetry of a hussar regiment,

shorts and their plain like
are an angelic nudity,
spirituality with pockets!
A double updraft as you drop from branch to pool!

Ideal for getting served last
in shops of the temperate zone
they are also ideal for going home, into space,
into time, to farm the mind's Sabine acres
for product and subsistence.

Now that everyone who yearned to wear long pants
has essentially achieved them,
long pants, which have themselves been underwear
repeatedly, and underground more than once,
it is time perhaps to cherish the culture of shorts,

to moderate grim vigour
with the knobble of bare knees,
to cool bareknuckle feet in inland water,
slapping flies with a book on solar wind
or a patient bare hand, beneath the cadjiput trees,

to be walking meditatively
among green timber, through the grassy forest
towards a calm sea
and looking across to more of that great island
and the further tropics.

The border barriers of Northern Ireland

There's a post today by Anglican priest Giles Frasier about the awfulness of Israel's separation barrier. What always surprises me when I read British complaints about that barrier is the way they never seem to mention the separation barriers they themselves maintain ... the "peace lines" in Northern Ireland ... nor any of the other barriers built around the world. Here's a bit from a BBC article about those in Northern Ireland ...

[...] Wall number one, which divides the Falls and Shankill roads at Cupar Street, went up in 1969 following rioting and house burnings in west Belfast. Over the years it has risen to more than six metres.

The last one went up last year in the grounds of a north Belfast integrated primary school following a period of local tension.

There are 53 Northern Ireland Office maintained peace lines in four towns and cities in the region - 42 in Belfast, five in Londonderry, five in Portadown and one in Lurgan.

However, community relations groups say these are not the only peace lines, with other structures and land being used to keep communities apart.

In a survey for the Community Relations Council the Institute for Conflict Research listed a total of 88 peace lines as well as 44 police CCTV cameras.

Some are listed as wasteland being used by housing authorities as buffer zones, others include derelict houses as well as walls and vegetation to the rear of homes in interface areas .....

It takes an outsider to be shocked by the sight of the a peace wall and what it is - a means to stop people living in a western democracy at the start of the 21st century attacking each other .....

- The peace line at Bombay Street/Cupar Way in Belfast, seen from the Catholic side. The small back gardens of houses are protected by cages as missiles are sometimes thrown from the other side - Wikipedia

Sandoval's Run

Up late watching old episodes of Earth: Final Conflict ... a Canadian science fiction television series .... Early in the 21st century, a race of aliens, the Taelons, arrive on Earth. In exchange for being allowed to take refuge on our planet, the Taelons offer the people of Earth access to their advanced technology. As a result, disease, war and pollution are nearly eliminated. Despite all these advances, there are some people who think the Taelons are not as benevolent as they seem. A resistance movement is organized.

In the storyline, some law enforcement agents become "companions" to the aliens and get surgical implants, CVIs, in their brains that make them totally devoted to the aliens' agenda. One such agent is the main character, Boone, whose implant was altered by the Resistance so he could remain autonomous and undercover in the alien camp. Tonight's episode, Sandoval's Run, was about another agentl, who upon implantation had his wife put in a mental institution so she wouldn't interfere with his loyalty to the aliens. When his CVI breaks down and he becomes again the man he was before working for the aliens, he tries to rescue his wife and get her someplace safe before he dies ... the lack of the implant is killing him. But he's captured and another CVI implanted, and though the Resistance does save his wife, he's told instead that she's been killed. A really sad episode :(

Here's a clip showing Sandoval seeing his wife in the institution after years of neglect, breaking her out and getting her to a safe place, and then trying to explain to her what had happened to him - why he had changed and done what he had done to her ....

Thursday, December 26, 2013


- books! (see below)

- Hee hee ;) How The Media Will Report The Apocalypse ... The Daily Mail: We bloody told you!

- From US Cathoilc: Studies of US Catholics provide insight on synod questions, and related, from The Tablet: Most couples live together before marriage, says Catholic charity

- From The New Yorker, an article on the book of Job - Misery

- 21 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for GEEK’s Monthly Book Drop and NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide To 2013’s Great Reads and The year’s 10 most intriguing religion books

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

At my sister's house

Visiting my sis for Christmas snacks and I thought I'd take a few photos. This bird from New Mexico (I think) greets me as I enter :) ...

My sis has a new computer, a Nexus 7, hanging out here with her kindle ...

Outside, thhis vine makes me think of The Secret Garden :) ...

The vegetable plot is awaiting spring ...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Trying to find the right nativity picture to place here but it's hard to choose. Most medieval renderings seem so emotionally cold, even if they are visually attractive. This one at least has a kitty (or a dog?) sitting by the fire :) ...

- Nativité: miniature d'un bréviaire à l'usage de Salisbury

‘Follow me’

Reading In the beginning… by John Moffatt SJ, which reminds me of Duns Scotus' idea about the Incarnation ...

[I]f the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, that changes how we think about truth and meaning. Truth is not something that can be exhausted by the repetition of formulae, ancient or recent. Rather, it is most deeply revealed in relationship and in action, action that is fully human, a creative sign of selfless love, faithful to the will of the Father. We Christians believe many things, but the most important is that we believe in him. And his last words to Peter and to us are not a detailed list of instructions, but the simple, terrifying, consoling and liberating phrase: ‘Follow me’.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

With the help of an angel

Thinking of the movie The Bishop's Wife in which an Episcopal bishop becomes obsessed with getting the money to build a big new cathedral. He prays to God for help and God sends him an angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) :) ...

By the end of the movie, Dudley has wrought such a change in the bishop that he lets the new cathedral go and preaches this Christmas sermon in the old one ...

Joseph with Jesus

The only Jesus movie I've seen that shows much of Joseph with Jesus was the tv miniseries, Jesus (Joseph was played by Armin Mueller-Stahl). Sadly, there's a dearth of video clips of the show, but here are some pics ...

In the beginning of the film, Joseph and the adult Jesus travel to see Martha, Mary, and Lazarus to do a little carpentry work. Here Joseph hangs out with Martha ...

And here he checks on Jesus, who's fixing a squeaky door ....

As Joseph and Jesus travel back home, Jesus tells Joseph that he's in love with Mary and asks his advice ...

Once home, Joseph discusses Jesus' coming ministry with his wife ...

And soon after, he passes away. Here's Jesus in his tomb, bereft and asking God to resurrect Joseph ....

The last scenes with Joseph come later, when Jesus has left home and meets his cousin John the Baptist. They reminisce about when Joseph took them as children to the Temple in Jerusalem ...

What brought all this to mind was an article about Joseph by Nick King SJ at Thinking Faith ... What Would Joseph Do?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Movies about love

Tonight I watched a movie recommended to me - The Vow ... a 2012 romantic drama film directed by Michael Sucsy, starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams. The film is based on the true story of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter .... Ten weeks after their wedding on 18 September 1993, the couple were involved in an auto-mobile accident in which Krickitt suffered a brain trauma, which erased memories of her romance with Kim as well as their marriage. Kim is still deeply in love with his wife, although she views him as a stranger after the accident. According to the couple, their faith in Jesus and their wedding vows before God kept them together.

I'm mostly a watcher of science fiction or thriller films and I think part of the reason I don't watch many romantic movies is that the characters are often very hard for me to identify with .... they all seem so perfect and self-confident, they take so for granted their worthiness and capability for romantic love. My own self-image and relationships seem tortured in comparison. Perhaps that made it a little harder for me to feel as much empathy as I should have for this couple's hardships.

Here's a bit of Roger Ebert's review (2.5 stars) ...

[...] Paige and Leo are a young Chicago couple. She's a Lake Forest blue blood who angered her parents by dropping out of Northwestern law school, moving into the city and enrolling at the School of the Art Institute, where she sculpts clay into such forms that Leo mistakes a pile of fresh clay for one of her artworks. Leo has opened an independent recording studio, arguing that although everyone may be able to produce songs on their laptops, he can aim higher — at the heights of an old Sun Records session, for example.

They live happily. They are in love. She is estranged from her parents. They look great together, and as played by Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum why shouldn't they? The actors bring a dreamy warmth to their roles. Then one snowy night, the two are rear-ended by a truck. He wakes up in the hospital. She remains in a drug-induced coma to assist her brain in reducing its swelling. When she recovers, she has no memory of ever meeting or being married to Leo .....

This same story could be a fraught melodrama with pumped-up characters and dire consequences. "The Vow" is more of a sweet date movie for Valentine's Day; the women can identify with this poor Paige who belongs with the handsome Leo, and the guys can think that Rachel McAdams has just about the sweetest smile since Marisa Tomei. The more we discover about the story, indeed, the nicer a guy Leo turns out to be. The way the story resolves itself offers poetic justice.

But it's all too painless. One can imagine the anguish of the case in real life. How, really, do you approach the subject of having sex with your husband if you don't remember him? Especially when he is theoretically not the kind of man you would choose, and you believe you're engaged to a man you love? "The Vow" never really grapples with those issues. It's pleasant enough as a date movie, but that's all ...

And here's a trailer ...

I thought I'd also mention a couple of other movies about relationship that I have actually liked ...

One is Romeo and Juliet ... a 1968 British-Italian romance film based on the tragic play of the same name (1591-95) by William Shakespeare. The film was directed and co-written by Franco Zeffirelli, and starred Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematogry .... I first saw this in a class on Shakespeare. As we all know, it's about two teens of warring families who fall in love and decide to run away together. When things go terrible wrong, they end up committing suicide. I know, sounds grim, but the film is really good at envisioning the effervescent feeling of romantic love ...

The other movie is The Next Three Days (I wrote about it here). The 2010 movie is a remake of the 2007 French film Pour Elle by Fred Cavayé. Directed by Paul Haggis (Crash), it stars Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, and Brian Dennehy, and it tells the story of a family: college teacher John Brennan (Crowe), his wife Lara, and their little son. Everything changes for them when Lara is arrested and jailed for a murder she didn't commit and her husband gives up his whole life to break her out of prison ...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cold Equations: The Body Electric

The book I've just started is Cold Equations: The Body Electric by David Mack. It's the last book in a trilogy about Data's resurrection and his quest to bring his android daughter back to life too. It opens with this description of the last moments between Data and Lal ...


Data: Lal. I am unable to correct the malfunction.

Lal: I know, Father.

Data: We must say goodbye now.

Lal: I feel...

Data: What do you feel, Lal?

Lal: I love you, Father.

Data: I wish I could feel it with you.

Lal: I will feel it for both of us.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

God, Good and Evil

Listening to a 2012 podcast from ABC Religion & Ethics on theodicy. Some interesting people taking part ... Kevin Hart, John Milbank, Susan Neiman, Marilyn McCord Adams, and others. You can listen to it here and read the transcript here. Here's a bit from poet and theologian Kevin Hart ...

Scott Stephens: The great Augustinian moral revolution was to demythologise "Evil," to strip it of any power of fascination by reducing it to the mere perversion or distortion of what is otherwise good ...

Kevin Hart: I think you're absolutely right about the problem with Augustine, sympathetic as I am to Augustine. Augustine's view about evil, as you know, is that evil was a kind of absence or lack of the good, so it was somehow insubstantial. What happens with the Holocaust, the Shoah is it's very hard for people of any religious persuasion, or no religious persuasion, to see this as merely a lack; it seems that evil there took on a positive face. The Holocaust, Auschwitz was the great passion of the Jews, as Emmanuel Levinas says, and in completely agreeing with that I would add that it is a passion also, or should be, for Christianity. The most horrifying thing for Christians, it seems to me, the twentieth century, is the thought that the people who murdered Jews in a mechanical way at Auschwitz all knew their Catechism. Somehow the positive historical and theological knowledge of Christianity among people who are probably like you and I, did them no good whatsoever when it comes to making fundamental, and we would think, from this vantage point in history, quite elementary moral decisions.

So, the Holocaust, which remember, it took the Jews some 20 odd years to be able to write about, it was such a shock and felt to be such a shame, so it's only really been in the last 30, 40 years we've been able to digest this, with the death camps and the labour camps. Sometimes it's not even the murder of the Jews which is the most piercing thing; the most extraordinary book I've read on this is by Robert Antelme, called The Human Race, which to my way of thinking is the most extraordinary exposé of evil which we have in the 20th century. He tells about his incarceration in one of the labour camps. This is not the worst, this is not Auschwitz. Even so, the account he gives of each level of that society in the camp, of how the desire for food, the more primal desires for authority, to escape punishment, to escape disease, all of these things, how they brought out the absolute worst of people. Not just the SS, who it's easy to say are evil, but ordinary people, probably you and I, if we were there. Under these conditions, human beings immediately lose a grip on the Good, with a capital G, and start moving for the bad, with a lower case b at every opportunity ...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Plato, Aristotle, the church, and me

My friend Henry and I have been discussing one of my past posts - Evangelii Gaudium and marriage - and I thought I'd move the discussion here. In that post, I wrote of Pope Francis' statement that marriage is not about feelings of romantic love but instead about duty and obligation. Francis wrote ...

Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born “of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life”.

This same idea about marriage was asserted by the CDF's Archbishop Müller too. He said ...

[T]he anthropological value of indissoluble marriage: it withdraws the partners from caprice and from the tyranny of feelings and moods. It helps them to survive personal difficulties and to overcome painful experiences. Above all it protects the children, who have most to suffer from marital breakdown .... Love is more than a feeling .....

I disagree with the church's definition oft love/marriage - it bothers me for two reasons ...

1) I think the church has an agenda that is to the church's advantage at the expense of married people .... the church wants them to stay married, even when they aren't in love with each other, even when they are violent with each other (see Müller).

2) And the church's assertion that love as a feeling is "ephemeral" and unable to "survive personal difficulties" shows a depressing lack of faith in human nature. Love, if it's there, can withstand anything and can last forever. And if love isn't there, than no amount of duty will make up for its absence.

I saw an article today about how Plato and Aristotle saw love that night partly explain the difference between how I see love (I'm with Plato) and how the church sees it (they're with Aristotle via Aquinas). Here's a bit of the article ....

Plato on True Love

Whereas Aristotle is not nearly as interested in erotic love (erôs) as he is in friendship (philia), for Plato the best kind of friendship is that which lovers can have for each other. It is a philia that is born out of erôs, and that in turn feeds back into erôs to strengthen and to develop it .....

For Aristotle, happiness involves the exercise of reason because the capacity to reason is the distinctive function of human beings. However, it could be argued that the distinctive function of human beings is not the capacity to reason but the capacity to form meaningful, loving relationships. Plato reconciles these positions by blending desire, friendship, and philosophy into a single total experience that transcends and transforms human existence and that connects it with the timeless and universal truths of the eternal and infinite.

BTW, Wikipedia has a pretty good page on love.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Happy cows :)

I never imagined happy cows before seeing this video of some cows saved from death and instead allowed to live in a pasture. Makes the idea of cows in factory farms even sadder ....

See? ...

It's not just me who thinks Francis' attribution of clericism to the idea of women cardinals was spurious: Is calling for women cardinals an act of clericalism? by Scott Alessi at US Catholic ...

[...] Well, the Italian newspaper La Stampa asked the man himself [Francis] in a new interview, resulting in the following exchange:

May I ask you if the Church will have women cardinals in the future?

“I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued not 'clericalised'. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”

Now that's an interesting take on the subject. I've heard people who want to have women as cardinals be accused of heresy, or just of wishful thinking, but never of clericalism.

I wonder, though, if it is also clericalism to assume cardinals must be ordained. Or is the act of clericalism assuming that top Vatican posts must be held by cardinals, or at least by priests and bishops? Is it clericalism to only allow cardinals a vote in choosing the pope? Is Francis only furthering the notion of clericalism by even naming cardinals in the first place? ......

Monday, December 16, 2013

"Well, I’ll be a toe on a foot in a grave."

Hee hee :) The one episode in which Scottish/Peruvian actor Henry Ian Cusick appears in Fringe was on tonight. It's set 20 years into the future, when the evil Observers have taken over and the resistance is flagging. Their only hope: to find the mythical original Fringe team ...

I do like Cusick: he had a great part in Lost, but moreover, he made a really good Jesus ...


- my mom and sis with St. Peter's in the background

William is going to Italy for Christmas - that sounds so wonderful :) I've only been to Italy once, not long after college, but I enjoyed being there very much. A few years ago I posted about my one trip trip to Europe, and here's what I wrote about the Italy part of the trip (all photos except the one above of my mom and sis are from Wikipedia) ...

Day 9 - Italy. We took an overnight boat from Greece to Brindisi and then stayed in Bari. It's the town where St. Nicholas' relics lie, but at the time I wasn't a Christian, so all I noticed about Bari was the pasta :)

The next day we piled onto the bus that would be our transport for the rest of the trip, and stopped at Pompeii (interesting but a bit creepy) on the way to beautiful Sorrento ...

- Sorrento

From there we took a boat to the island of Capri. One of the great things about the trip for me was seeing all the places I'd read about in art and philosophy and history classes .... Capri was the hangout of the emperor Tiberius and as we drove up to the top of the island, I remembered a teacher saying Tiberius would have people he didn't like tossed from the cliffs. One of the big tourist draws of Capri is the Blue Grotto - I remember the grotto especially because I was almost decapitated by the low chain hanging across the entrance :)

- Capri

Leaving Capri, we took a boat to Naples but I don't really remember being there - odd, as it's the traditional home of pizza :) - and then we boarded the bus to drive to Rome. If only I'd been a Catholic then, I probably would have visited many more churches, but still we did visit St. Peter's, along with the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums, and history geek that I was, I loved seeing Hadrian's tomb and the Roman Forum.

- Vatican Museums

Next, we went on to Florence. For some reason I don't remember much about Florence either but I do have a (bad) photo of the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistry.

- Florence

Day 13 .... we stopped off in Padua at the Basilica of Saint Anthony, and then went on to Venice ... this at least I remember. The tour visited a glass-blowers workshop and the Piazza San Marco and then we walked around on our own.

- Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

After that we left Italy and went on to Austria through the Alps :) Here's my sister and sitting on a railing at a stop along the way. Bad photo, but you can kind of see the alps in the distance ...

Even the dogs

- Jesus to his disciples: "This woman has taught me that my message is for the Gentiles as well. If I can learn, so can you." (Jesus)

Thinking of the Canaanite woman and the dogs today ...

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

What brought it to mind was reading what Pope Francis had to say about women being cardinals ... "It's a sound bite and I don't know where it came from. Women in the church must be valued, not 'clericalized.' Whoever is thinking about women cardinals suffers a little bit from clericalism."

From all I've read of Francis' views of women and their place in the church, he appears to see us as something akin to high-functioning pets rather than fellow human beings with men. I've tried to be hopeful about him - God knows I'm grateful we finally have a pope who seems humble, who seems to care about economic justice, who is ecumenical, who seems less antagonistic to LGBT people, who notices there's a sex abuse problem. But his goodness in these areas doesn't excuse his sexism - it only makes it more painful.

Further reading - We are at a crossroads for women in the church, Joan Chittister

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Theories of the Soul

by Karen An-hwei Lee

A true friend is one soul in two bodies.

Kant says, transcendental
idealism. In Aquinas,

we exist apart from bodies
but only on Thursdays

when his famous ox
flies by the window

wiser at Cologne
where Albertus Magnus,

his real name, appoints
Aquinas to magister studentium,

master of students. Aquinas
is petrified but says yes.

He feels his soul
sailing out of his head

floating near the roof
where a blue ox wings by.

On Wednesday, two bodies
are one soul

waking at sunrise
thanks to the pineal gland

of Descartes, who thinks
this node in the brain

is a tiny sugar cone
or salted peanut,

the seat of the soul
while Aristotle points

to the chopping
ax as a teleology

as if the ax were a living,
breathing person

which it isn’t.
Heraclitus, air and fire

while Aquinas objects, no
not an ax but ox.

If you’re a bird or soul
I am only one mile

from the sea. If you
are a soul in two bodies

life is more complex
and we must labor

twice the field of sorrow
after sleep, bath, and a glass

as Aquinas whispers, the things
we love tell us who we are.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Data and the Bee Gees

In a couple of weeks it will be the time when my cat Data died. I don't know if it's because of that or because I'm reading a book about the Star Trek Data, but I've been remembering the while before he died when he was ill. He was 15, had bladder infections and bladder cancer, and was urinating blood. I was afraid to have surgery done on the cancer in case it made things worse an dll the antibiotics we tried didn't help with the infections so we tried chloramphenicol ... I had to sign a form saying I knew it could give both him and us aplastic anemia ... but that didn't help either. He lost so much weight he was like a little skeleton with fur, and we had to give him subQ fluids because he was so dehydrated. I remember one night waking up when he fell down - the sound of his head hitting the hardwood floor - and me picking him up and thinking, 'there really cannot be a God if stuff like this can happen'. During the time he was sick I had checked out a music CD from the library - Bee Gees: Their Greatest Hits. I looked it up on YouTube tonight and sang along with the songs to remember Data .....


- Gandalf ... see last link

- James Bond is an 'impotent drunk' ... Bond would be classified in the "top whack" of problem drinkers and would be at high risk of liver damage, an early death and impotence. "So he might be practising safe sex after all," said Dr Davies.. Despite having read all the Bond books as a teen, I've not really ever liked the movie James Bonds except the Timothy Dalton version.

- Fr. Robert Baron, a pretty conservative Catholic, blames Kant for Pope Francis being chosen by TIME magazine - sigh :( ...

[T]here is something that has been bothering me ever since Francis became Pope, and its on rather massive display in the Time article, namely, a tendency to distinguish radically between this lovely Franciscan emphasis on mercy and love for the poor and the apparently far less than lovely emphasis on doctrine so characteristic of the Papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. There is actually a good deal of dangerous silliness in this way of characterizing things. If I might cite the much-maligned Benedict, the Church does essentially three things: it cares for the poor; it worships God; and it evangelizes. Isolate any of the three from the other two, and distortions set in. Indeed, without deep care for the poor and for social justice, the worship of God can become lifeless ("liturgical fussiness") and evangelizing can devolve into cultural criticism or mere intellectual debating.

But isolate care for the poor from the other two and equally problematic distortions ensue. Without the worship of God and evangelization, the Church deteriorates in short order into one more social service institution among many, a mere "NGO" in Francis's own language. Now listen to the authors of the Time article: "In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church -- the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world -- above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors." And "his vision is of a pastoral -- and not doctrinaire -- church." This is so much nonsense. The source of a good deal of this mischief is the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant ....

- An interesting article at Fulcrum. There's a perception that all Christians denominations and individuals agree on stuff like the legitimacy of divorce and right of remarriage, on abortion, on just war or pacifism, on usury, on contraception, on genetic engineering, on sexuality, on economic priorities, on response to climate change - to name just a few moral and political questions, not to mention doctrines of church, ministry, mission and eschatology. but of course they do not. Why not? ... Why do Christians disagree? by Dr David Atkinson, former Bishop of Thetford.

- I've been showing my sister bits of the LOTR movies and we're almost at the end. I love Gandalf's laugh n this part! ...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rob Marsh, JD Crossan, and Keith Ward

An interesting essay by Rob Marsh SJ at Thinking Faith - Hating Incarnation. Here's the intro to it ...

Rob Marsh SJ hates his body. It is small wonder, then, that he has questions about God’s decision to commit to a life in human flesh, with its inherent problems and frailties. Wasn’t it risky? Was there no other action God could take? Rob finds a helpful framework in which to ask these questions in the Spiritual Exercises, where Ignatius encourages us to ‘see the Incarnation as a response that is loving and vulnerable’.

At one point in the essay, Fr. Marsh writes that his illness sometimes almost makes him a reluctant dualist, and that reminded me of a past post of mine, JD Crossan, Keith Ward, body and soul, which was about the main character in the movie Avatar, about his frail body, the transfer of his soul, and the definition of his true self. I wrote ...

What I found most compelling about the movie Avatar was the idea of Jake moving "himself" from his paralyzed body to a lab-grown avatar body - given my eye disease, I envied him his chance for a replacement body. But if Jake had been a Catholic, would he have done this?

It's all about dualism. If I understand correctly, Plato saw a person as being of different parts, mind/soul, and body, with the mind/soul immortal, and with an existence independent of the body. The neo-Platonists (like Augustine) followed his ideas. Aristotle, though, saw a person as having those parts unified, without an independent existence from each other. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, saw a complete person as having these parts necessarily unified - for him, a soul without a body was not a person, and each soul was the unique soul of a unique body. Is there a Jake who is more than his body even if he can't necessarily exist without it, and who has the right to change his body? Once he does change it, is he still Jake? I'd say yeas and yes.

Though I don't really understand this stuff well, I thought I'd post a couple of bits from JD Crossan who appears to hold the Catholic view, and Keith Ward who seems to feel differently (I like Ward's take).

First, JD Crossan ......

"My criticism of Gnosticism would be this: one of the most fundamental decisions we have to make, going back to dear old Plato, is whether the human being is a dialectic, in the same sense as before, of body and spirit, or if somehow that spirit or soul is only temporarily, possibly even unfortunately, joined to what is either a flea bag hotel or a magnificent palace called the body. But in either case the soul is only temporarily embodied until it goes home to its true spiritual abode. I think that this is the most radical question in Western philosophy. Whichever way you come down on this question, everything else will follow. If you think that human beings are actually incarcerated, entombed spirits, that we're simply renting bodies out, then everything else will follow. But if you think along with the Bible that somehow or other the body/soul amalgam is a dialectic, that you can distinguish but not separate them, then everything else will follow differently. So Gnosticism seems to be a perfectly good, linear descendent of Platonism (I'm not certain though what Plato himself would have said), but at the heart of it is the presumption that the material world is at best irrelevant and at worst evil. Those seem to be the fundamental options. You have to pick your position from there."
- An Interview with John Dominic Crossan, Journal of Philosophy and Scripture

And here's a part of a lecture by Keith Ward on JPII's Veritatis Splendor .....


[...] To speak of a ‘soul’ is to speak of the capacities of a type of physical body, capacities of a type of animal capable of abstract thought and responsible action. Souls cannot properly exist without bodies - a view Aquinas espoused.

The complication here is that the soul is often spoken of as though it is a non-physical agent of thought, action, sensation and perception. Some form of embodiment may be essential to it, in order to provide information, and the possibility of communication and action. But perhaps the same soul could be embodied in different forms. Anyone who believes in rebirth must believe this. Catholics, who do not share that belief, do nevertheless seem to be committed to the existence of souls, both in Purgatory and in Heaven, that have consciousness and experience, but do not have physical bodies. Moreover, whatever the resurrection body is, it is certainly not temporally or physically continuous with this physical body, and it may be significantly different in some respects (it will not be corruptible, and will not have exactly the same physical properties as the physical body when it died).

Aquinas said that unembodied souls exist ‘improperly and unnaturally’, by the grace of God, and will not fully be persons again until the resurrection. But it is obvious that a resurrected body will not be constituted of the same physical stuff as present bodies (it is said to be spiritual, not physical). The present physical universe will come to an end, and there will be ‘a new heaven and earth’. What that means is that the physical stuff of this specific universe is not essential to the nature and continuous existence of persons, even though something analogous to this body must exist.

What is at stake in this discussion is whether human consciousness is an emergent property of a physical object - and so ceases to function or exist without that object. Or whether human consciousness, though it does originate within a physical body, and does require some form of embodiment, is nevertheless dissociable from its original body, and is capable of existence in other forms. Is the soul adjectival to the body, or is this body just one form in which this soul may exist? Aquinas tries to straddle both sides of this divide by speaking of the soul as a ‘substantive form’, something whose function it is to give a body specific capacities, but which is capable of existing, though not of functioning in its full and proper way, without that body .....

John Paul is especially concerned to say that the body should not be regarded as simply ‘raw material’, something ‘extrinsic to the person’, that can be shaped or dealt with in any way one wishes. The unity of soul and body means that we must respect our bodily structure, since that is part of what we essentially are - ‘body and soul are inseparable’, and the body intrinsically has moral meaning. We might contrast this view with some Hindu views that the body is just a garment that we put on or off. For John Paul, the body is constitutive of what we are, and we would not be the same being without it, without the specific body we have. This is what is intended by the traditional Catholic view that each soul is fitted for a specific body. We might say that each soul is the unique soul of a unique body .....

The first question that must be posed by the relentlessly critical philosopher is whether this view of the person is knowable by natural reason. It seems not. For philosophical accounts of human personhood range from the reductive physicalism of Alonso Church (who denies that consciousness is important or even existent) to the pure idealism of Timothy Sprigge (who thinks that bodies are illusory appearances of pure mental realities). These are philosophers trying to give a reasoned account of human persons, and they disagree as much as they possibly could. My conclusion is not that the Catholic view is wrong. But it cannot be established with any certainty by reason. It can be reasonably maintained, and of course it can be accepted as true. But it cannot be defended as an account that all reasonable people can see to be true. To that extent, it cannot be the basis of a morality that all can accept with a reasonable degree of certainty. Catholic morality will depend upon a Catholic view of persons. That view of persons may be true, and it should certainly be defended by Catholics. But it will generate a distinctively Catholic view of moral precepts that is unlikely to be shared by all rational agents .....


Again: consolation without cause

Something interesting at the Jesuit Post: Brendan Busse SJ writes ...

After a recent discussion on ‘spiritual experiences’ a student wrote to ask if there was a particular experience that led me to become a Jesuit and if I thought that the beliefs of a person who hasn’t had dramatic ‘spiritual experiences’ (like herself) weren’t as strong as someone who has had them (like myself – she presumes) ...

He goes on to write this to his student about experience ...

There were many experiences that lead me to become a Jesuit. Most of them had to do with a deepening sense of self and a greater capacity for love–both of which I found more readily available when I was breathing ‘Jesuit air’ (i.e. as a Jesuit Volunteer, working alongside Jesuits in prisons and on immersion trips, etc.). I wasn’t raised with any explicit religious images of God so, in many ways, I came to faith as an adult. Because of this I would have to say that my ‘spiritual experiences’ were really just normal human experiences like everyone else’s .....

‘Experience’ in the sense that I think you mean (i.e. challenging or confirming spiritual experience) is one gift among many. The gifts of experience come in all stripes, sometimes dramatic, sometimes mundane; in either case they just seem to happen upon us. The trick is paying attention when they do. I pray (as Ignatius would) for the grace to see my experiences in the light of the revelation of God, in light of love ...

What interested me about this was my own conviction when I first became a Catholic, and even more so when I learned about Ignatian spirituality, that doing religion correctly meant having a mystical experience. Ignatius writes about two kinds of experiences in the Spiritual Exercises - consolation with cause and consolation without cause. Here's a definition of these from John Veltri SJ ...

Consolation With Cause ....... This Consolation is received because of some outside cause and can be explained by it. This outside influence can be any interior event such as one's own personal insight and understanding, or exterior event such as a beautiful piece of music to which one is listening, or a gift received from someone, or a compliment, or a job well done, etc. In other words, there is some outside influence that can explain the Consolation. Much of our work with directees involves this kind of Consolation and, therefore, requires discernment.

Consolation Without Cause ...... This Consolation is sometimes referred to as taking place without proportionate cause because no accompanying interior or exterior event can explain completely how the Consolation has come about. The Consolation is beyond its cause. For some Christians, their "calling" was experienced this way ... [John] English writes that this Consolation Without Cause suggests "an experience of the presence of God that takes over our whole person. I describe this experience as the confluence of two things: a passive experience of the unconditional love of God and an active experience of unconditional response to this love. Such a Consolation is self-authenticating and cannot be doubted."

As I understood Ignatius, a consolation without cause was a true mystical experience of God - unmediated - and I was surprised to learn that many Jesuits, like Brendan Busse SJ, don't seem to have had them, and perhaps many think that there are actually no such animals. Here's what Philip Endean SJ wrote about Karl Rahner and consolation without cause in Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality ...

Rahner describes 'consolation without preceding cause' as the pure, objectless brightness of one's whole existence being taken up -- a taking up that is consoled and surpasses anything that can be pointed to -- into the love of God; 'consolation with cause', by contrast, is the experience of 'being consoled in connection with a definite object of a categorical kind'. (p.i32)

... (snip) .....

Harvey Egan, in a doctorate written under Rahner's own supervision and building on what he takes to be Rahner's position, describes 'consolation without preceding cause' in terms such s these:

This central, core, touchstone experience cannot deceive and cannot in itself be measured; it is itself the measure and the standard of all other experiences, hence, the one movement among various movements of 'spirits' which carries within itself its own indubitable evidence ... and can serve as the Ignatian first principle in supernatural logic, because ... (it) ... is the becoming-thematic of supernaturally elevated transcendence, pure openness to God, and nothing else. It is essentially a consolation 'without conceptual object in the actual, concretely personal, radical love of God'.

... (snip) ...

Rahner seems, then, to be suggesting that there is one identifiable kind of experience that can be guaranteed as an experience of God. Such a claim seems problematic for at least two kinds of reason. Firstly, the claim that the experience somehow transcends language -- 'God himself. God himself I experienced, not human words about him' -- raises questions about how we can distinguish and reidentify different instances of the same experience ..... An associated question is that of the sense in which spirituality, or experience, can serve as a warrant for theological claims. (pp. 139-141)

I don't know - speaking for myself, I'm holding out for a seriously burning bush. If Ignatius (and Teresa of Avila, and Joan of Arc, and others) can have what they believe to be a direct experiences of God, then I would like to have one too.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Person of the Year

Wow, Pope Francis is really popular (Pope Francis, The People’s Pope), so much more so than B16 was, and apparently that's really eating at Georg Gänswein ;)

Still, I think Snowden should have won as person of the year .... No Contest: Edward Snowden is Person of the Year ... and The Guardian did choose him - Edward Snowden voted Guardian person of the year 2013.

The Catholic argument for vegetarianism

At ABC Religion & Ethics, an argument for being a vegetarian from a Catholic point of view ... Should Christians eat meat? by Charles Camosy, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University. The whole article is worth reading, but here's just a bit of it ...

[...] The overwhelming majority of meat that most of us eat - whether in a fast-food sandwich, on a plate at a four-star restaurant, or even in the stock of your homemade soup - comes from factory-farmed nonhuman animals. How should Christians think about factory farms? I argue that factory farms are morally reprehensible institutions, particularly from a Christian perspective. If we care about justice, we Christians should not only refuse to support factory farms with our money, we should work to undermine the values and social structures that make it possible for them to function and flourish in the first place.

From the perspective of the Bible, our Christian tradition and current Church teaching, nonhuman animals are cared for and valued by God independent of the interests of human beings. But it is precisely because most of us do not see nonhuman animals as objectively valuable - and have an important interest in seeing them as mere objects and products to satisfy our desires - that they are a vulnerable population which has been pushed to the margins of our culture and society. Those of us who follow the example of Jesus Christ, therefore, should give them special moral consideration and attention.

Christians should also be concerned about how the logic of violence and consumerism dominate the reasoning of factory farms. The attempt to maximize protein units per square foot is driven by both the customer's desire to buy meat at the cheapest possible price and the shareholder's desire to make a profit. This in turn drives factory farms to engage in practices that cause nonhuman animals horrific pain and suffering. Indeed, it has driven these farms even to push the boundaries of the species itself through artificial reproduction, breeding and genetic manipulation. These practices didn't exist when small farms produced most of our meat, but the social structure of the market (especially when pushed by new cost-cutting technologies) forced the change.

Given that our culture is dominated by the social structure of the market, the only way for a meat producer to stay in business is to drive down costs by factory farming. And let's not forget the Catechism's teaching on nonhuman animals:

* "[D]ominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbour, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation. Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals. God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure ... It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly." *

The treatment nonhuman animals receive in factory farms is about as far away from kindness as one could possibly imagine. To the extent that they care about the welfare of nonhuman animals, it is merely because it helps them get more protein units per square metre. These farms will treat their animals in the cruellest ways imaginable - and even risk dumping them by the millions (while still alive) into scalding hot water - if it will drive up profit margins.

Catholic teaching permits eating animals, but it also says that we may cause them to suffer or die only if we need to. Factory farms cause many billions of animals to suffer and die, that much is certain. The question then becomes, "Do we need to eat meat?" If you think carefully about why our culture eats meat, it is clear that we have two main reasons: it is cheap and easy, and it gives us pleasure. Neither reason comes close to the level of need ....

Related: here's an Intelligence Squared debate moderated by John Donvan of ABC News on the subject of whether or not to eat meat. You can read more about the debate here ....

Don't Eat Anything With A Face from Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates on

Monday, December 09, 2013

Spooky action at a distance ...

was Einstein's term for quantum entanglement, the phenomenon in which the behavior of two things can be connected regardless of distance.

I've just finished Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cold Equations: The Persistence of Memory: Book One and I hope it won't spoil the book for anyone if I reveal that the android Data, who had died some years earlier, has been resurrected by the end of the story. He's different, though, with a new and more advance body, and with the added memories and knowledge of the scientist who originally created him. He is offered his old commission in Star Fleet, but he refuses, in part because he's going off on a quest and in part because he's not really sure if he's the same person he once was. In this bit from the book, Geordi La Forge asserts that he is the same, but Data says ...

* * * * *

"I understand why you would take comfort in that idea, but I cannot share your confidence that I am, as you say, 'the real Data.'"

Offering his hand, La Forge asked, "Are you still my friend?"

Data shook La Forge's hand. "Always."

"Then you are the real Data. Case closed."

He smiled and released La Forge's hand. "Thank you, Geordi." Then he reached into his pants pocket, took out a metallic device shaped like a cylinder the size of a finger, and handed it to him. "I want you to have this. It is a comm device you can use to reach me in an emergency."

Holding up the gadget, La Forge asked, "How does it work?"

"Quantum particle entanglement."

* * * * *

Data's quest that will be covered in the second book of the trilogy, Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cold Equations: Silent Weapons: Book Two, which I guess I'll read next as it's only 99 cents :)

Still cold

Ice from the bird bath ...

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Karl Rahner on angels

- angel from the Basilica of Santa Croce

My latest book from the library is Karl Rahner's Encyclopedia of Theology: A Concise Sacramentum Mundi . It's quite a tome (1800+ pages). The book has entries on hundreds of alphabetically arranged topics, some of which have been written by Rahner and some which have been written by others. Here's a bit from the entry on angels, which Rahner wrote (pp. 11-13) ...


[...] The Thomistic speculation regarding the metaphysical essence of angels (DS 3607; 3611) is an opinion which one is free to hold or not. At all events their relation to the world, which is both material and spiritual, must be thought of in such a way that they are really understood to be "principalities and powers" of the cosmos in virtue of their very nature and do not merely intervene in the world by arbitrary decision contrary to their real nature, and in certain cases out of sheer malice.

Further speculation in scholastic theology about their spiritual nature was based on neo-Platonic philosophical theories about non-material pure spirit and is not theologically binding. The same probably applies to the natural superiority of the angelic nature to man. All such theses, when they claim theological validity, go beyond the basis of all dogmatic angelology and the limits it sets to our knowledge of the angels. Similarly the classification of the angels, which like everything created are rightly to be thought of as different in nature from one another, into definite "choirs" and "hierarchies" is arbitrary and has no real foundation in scripture.

Angels exist, but are merely creatures .... Angelology makes it clear that the evil "principalities and powers" are a condition of the supra-human and relatively universal character of evil in the world and must not be trivialized into abstract ideas, but at the same time that these supra-human and relatively personal principles of wickedness must not be exaggerated in a Gnostic or Manichean way (as often happens in unenlightened popular piety) into powers opposed to the good God who are almost his equals in might. They are not God's rivals, but his creatures. And as with man, even evil freely chosen in a definitive state is the purely relative corruption of a natural, permanent being who has a positive function in the world; for something absolutely evil would be self-contradictory.


The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas*

I've been getting a lot of hits on my old post about Polanski's Macbeth movie. I think that's because a movie about car racing that he made years ago is being re-released. When I think about Polanski I feel a kind of dread ... a 43 year old man drugged and raped a 13 year old, skipped the country after his conviction, ignored his financial responsibility in a civil suit, and went on to be wealthy, celebrated, and respected (link). Like the example of Bernard Law, his situation tells me that society, and the church in Law's case, pay only lip service to the idea that 'the least of these' have any worth.

*The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin

Friday, December 06, 2013

Bishop Kevin Dowling on Mandela

I've posted about the Bishop of Rustenburg, South Africa, Kevin Dowling, C.SS.R. before here and here. Today I saw an article with his (and other people's) comments on Nelson Mandela. Here's what he had to say ...

Mandela recalled as a man who inspired others to uphold human dignity

[...] In a telephone interview Dec. 6, Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, said Mandela "lived the values that make life truly meaningful" and explained that the former president's "memory invites us to reflect on our call to be human beings with each other and for each other."

Bishop Dowling, vice chairman of the Southern African bishops' conference justice and peace department, helped establish the conference's parliamentary liaison office in Cape Town soon after Mandela was elected president.

The bishop recalled one day in November 1995 in which he met Mandela twice: once at the funeral of a king of the Bafokeng people and later in Oukasie, a tumbledown township that was the site of significant struggle during apartheid, for a gathering of the international Young Christian Workers.

In Oukasie, Mandela "headed straight for the kids who were there and there was such mutual joy at seeing each other," Bishop Dowling said, noting that Mandela "always had such smiling eyes and an exceptional love for children."

Then Mandela "asked me if the people at the meeting were all from different countries and when I confirmed this, he said, 'then I must greet them all personally.'"

"So there was this old man, who had had a very long day, shaking hands with every person there, asking them what country they were from. And the look on those young people's faces as he did that ...," Bishop Dowling said.

The values Mandela portrayed -- "understanding, compassion, reaching out to others -- are values I aspire to, and I think every one of us feels the same. He was what we yearn to be ourselves: profoundly human," he said.

Philip Endean SJ on the Immaculate Conception

- Jesus and his mom: Jesus

Coming up ... the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. For those who aren't Catholic, the doctrine asserts that Mary was conceived without original sin.

I must admit that I don't believe or like the doctrine - I instead like the idea that God thought a normal human being with all the attendant frailties was good enough to be Jesus' mother. I'm not alone in disputing the doctrine: as this Wikipedia article states, It was rejected by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Alexander of Hales, and St. Bonaventure (who, teaching at Paris, called it "this foreign doctrine", indicating its association with England), and by St. Thomas Aquinas who expressed questions about the subject, but said that he would accept the determination of the Church. Aquinas and Bonaventure, for example, believed that Mary was completely free from sin, but that she was not given this grace at the instant of her conception.

More modernly, there was a comment to a past post on the immaculate conception at dotCommonweal by Lisa Fullam, a professor at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, that mirrors some of my own thoughts .....

# Posted by Lisa Fullam
on December 7th, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Thanks, Eric, for a thoughtful post. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (which my guy Thomas Aquinas did not hold, btw,) is in stark tension (though not a logical contradiction) with the Church’s denial of ordination to women. It never fails to amuse me that the magisterium occasionally feels the need to define (and delimit) women, our nature and vocation, (with or without any substantial input from actual women,) but oddly never feels the need to define (and delimit) the nature and appropriate roles of men, except by counterpoise in the documents on women. Why no masculine counterpart to “Mulieris Dignitatem”?

Of course, when women are contained, constricted and misdefined, so are men. If women are to be passive and receptive, that would seem to imply that men should not be–and anyone in a real relationship knows that such giving and receiving is mutual and reciprocal. When Mary is misread as passive, not the firebrand who shouted the jouful revolutionary anthem of the Magnificat, we downplay (or dismiss) the call for women to be audacious and active also–and the world loses out.

And the issue of women’s ordination remains a third rail in the Church. We’re told the issue is “settled,” so does not require further discussion. Can something so painful for so many be merely defined away? Can vocation be defined away? Justice? And of course we have L’Affaire Bourgeois, demonstrating that the hierarchy will respond with threats of the harshest penalty at its disposal should a priest act up in solidarity with women called to serve as priests in the Church. To put it mildly, the magisterium seems overly defensive on questions relating to women–why? ......

Today I saw an article at Thinking Faith by Philip Endean SJ on the immaculate conception - Theology and Candles: Original Sin and Immaculate Conception - which mentions the methodology of Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises as an alternative way of dealing with the idea of human imperfection. The whole article is worth reading but here's just a bit at the end ...

[...] Our standard formula, ‘Mary conceived without original sin’ presents Mary in logically negative terms, as someone without a problem. It starts from our difficulties, and takes them as a fixed basis from which we can explore holiness as an exceptional absence. There is, of course, a place for such thinking. Equally, Christianity has gone wrong if such thinking is all we have. For Christianity is about nothing if is not about our problematic selves being changed; as we explore the reality of holiness it makes a difference to us. The real conundrum is not one about how God can create a Jesus and Mary who do not share our problematic state, but rather about how God’s goodness can co-exist with a problematic creation, one in which the good is lacking.

There is no theological answer to that question. Some theologians have talked about ‘God respecting creaturely freedom’, but not in any way that really works. St Ignatius’s presentation of sin in Spiritual Exercises centres, not on a good confession, or an experience of forgiveness—still less on any sort of explanation. Instead he tries to lead to a place where we cry out in wonder. How can it be that the world has carried on when there has been so much resistance to God? Why has God not just given up or junked us into Hell already? Christianity does not answer these questions. Instead it attests to a revelation: a revelation of divine goodness keeping these unanswerable questions open, a goodness promising hope, a goodness inviting us not really to understand but rather to join in. The light shines in the darkness, a light which the darkness cannot overpower, a light made manifest in Jesus and Mary without sin. Theologies about how and why fail, but the light—and the candles—remain.