Friday, July 31, 2009

Feast of St. Ignatius and New Blog

Today is our feast day.  And the contribution that some of us have decided to make to St. Ignatius is this new blog that kicks off today.  

In the Constitutions, St. Ignatius writes in paragraph 378:
Because of the utility there is in the practice of disputation (especially for those who are studying arts and scholastic theology), the scholastics should participate in the disputations or ordinary circles of the schools which they attend, even if not of the Society; and they should endeavor to distinguish themselves by learning joined with modesty.  
He continues:
During the preceding afternoon these theses will be posted in writing on the door of the schools, so that those who wish may come to dispute or to listen.  After these defendants have briefly proved their theses, those from within and without the house who wish to object may do so.
Then in paragraph 379:
The purpose is that the intellectual powers may be exercised more and that difficult matters occurring inn these subjects may be clarified, for the glory of God our Lord.
Finally, in characteristic Ignatian fashion, he concludes the discussion on disputations in paragraph 382 with a caveat:
In regard to the exercises of repetitions, disputations, and speaking Latin, if something ought to be changed because of circumstances of place, time, or persons, the decision will be left to the discretion of the rector, with authorization, at least in general, from his superior.
These quotations above summarize what we at this new blog are attempting to do.  Combining, hopefully, "learning with modesty," we are posting our ideas on the modern day "doors" so that everyone can see them.  We'll try to prove our theses, and then "those from within and without the house" can do what they can to prove use wrong.  Such is the method of disputation, foundational to the idea of western learning since Socrates.  

Of course, Ignatius always adds two things to just about everything he says.  First, make sure that it fits the circumstances.  After all, if we are to find God in all things, regularly updating our methods is required.  Second, do so under the sure protection of obedience.  The idea of this blog is thus a response to the belief that "something ought to be changed because of circumstances of place, time, or persons."  That something is how Jesuits live in and confront the world with their particular charism.  To hide either out of fear or apathy is directly contrary to our mission.  For this reason, hoping to give glory to God and to exercise our intellectual powers for the good of society, "Whosoever Desires" has been born.  

This project cannot work unless you are engaged.  We thus ask that you contribute vigorously to our discussion.  The more comments the better, since this is precisely how disputation works.  Ideas are put in the open so that they can be commented on.  We encourage all comments.  Just be charitable in form and content please.  If you have something harsh to say, clothe it in courteous language.  

The formula for first vows in the Society concludes:
And, as you have freely given me the desire to make this offering, so also may you give me the abundant grace to fulfill it.  
This blog is an offering of some of us.  Hopefully St. Ignatius will be pleased by the effort of his sons.  Please keep us in your prayers.  

St. Ignatius, pray for us.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Buttiglione Clarifies

Rocco Buttiglione clarifies his position here:
“I did not say it was wrong to seek to defend the rights of the child through the use of the penal code. I did not say that. The life of the child should be defended with all possible means. With penal law? Yes, of course, with penal law, where possible.

“But this is not possible in Italy today, so we must rely on other means. We must realize that we do not have a consensus on an abortion ban.”

However, he suggested pro-lifers in the past have relied “too much” on penal sanction, which is only the “one element” in the defense of life.

“If we do not remove the causes that lead so many women to abort, we will not win our battle against abortion,” he told C-FAM. “We will not win our battle against abortion relying only on penal sanction.”

He urged nations which retain abortion restrictions to defend their laws against abortion and also to complement such laws with “good policies in defense of motherhood, and for the support of mothers.”

Otherwise the pressure to remove abortion restrictions will be too strong, he believed.

“You cannot pit the support of the mother against the penal defense of the life of the child. They are two parts of one strategy to defend life. It is always better to have two legs.”
As many have argued, penal sanction alone will not solve the abortion problem.  Laws favoring motherhood and cultural shift are the only methods that will be effective in the long run.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Websites for Father Thomas, SJ

I have written here and there in pieces about Father Rick Thomas, SJ, my primary reason for becoming a Jesuit, and the Lord's Ranch Catholic community in New Mexico.  These are some new websites that have been created about the various works that my family and the larger Catholic community does.  They are still rudimentary, but are a work in progress.  Like the Bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico, I believe that Father Thomas is a saint and that the Church may indeed recognize him as such one day.  Here are the three sites:

There are two things that I would like to specifically highlight.  First, you'll notice on the Father Thomas site the following:

Father Rene Laurentin, a renowned theologian, wrote two books about Father Rick and the community entitled, “Miracles in El Paso?” (which is now out of print) and “Le Miracle Continue” (which was only published in French.) 

A new book, written by a Canadian journalist named Richard Dunstan, is scheduled for publication in July 2009 and is entitled, “The Bible on the Border: How Father Rick Thomas and his friends learned to serve the poor of Mexico by taking God at His Word”. Dunstan is currently working on a biography of Father Thomas. 

I've read the manuscript for "The Bible on the Border."  It is excellent, and a good overview of the work done by the community on the Lord's Ranch, in El Paso, and in Juarez, Mexico.   

You'll also notice on the Father Thomas site an old article that he wrote. He wrote very little for a Jesuit, but this was a very early piece discovered in which he presents a simple case for the meaning of the poor for the Church.  I suggest you read it in full.  His repetitive style, borrowed from Ignatius' Exercises, may disguise some his profundity.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How to Solve the Health Care Problem

John Allen writes:
In a similar vein, I asked myself this week what I would do if somebody offered me a blank check to spend on some project in American Catholicism. The more I think about it, the more my CJ-esque reply would be, “Hire a nurse for every parish in the country.”

As with African roads, parish nursing may not be the most glamorous idea around. But looking down the line it’s tough to imagine a step of greater practical value -- regardless of whatever Washington does or doesn’t do with health care reform.
Not just of practical value, but of evangelical value. His post reminded me of these two easy essays by Peter Maurin:
Feeding the Poor at a Sacrifice

In the first centuries
of Christianity
the hungry were fed
at a personal sacrifice,
the naked were clothed
at a personal sacrifice,
the homeless were sheltered
at personal sacrifice.

And because the poor
were fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
the pagans used to say
about the Christians
"See how they love each other."

In our own day
the poor are no longer
fed, clothed, sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
but at the expense
of the taxpayers.

And because the poor 
are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
the pagans say about the Christians
"See how they pass the buck."

The Duty of Hospitality

People who are in need 
and are not afraid to beg 
give to people not in need 
the occasion to do good 
for goodness' sake.

Modern society calls the beggar 
bum and panhandler 
and gives him the bum's rush. 
But the Greeks used to say 
that people in need
are the ambassadors of the gods.

Although you may be called 
bums and panhandlers 
you are in fact
the Ambassadors of God.

As God's Ambassadors 
you should be given food, 
clothing and shelter 
by those who are able to give it.

Mahometan teachers tell us 
that God commands hospitality, 
and hospitality is still practiced 
in Mahometan countries.

But the duty of hospitality 
is neither taught nor practiced 
in Christian countries.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Friday, July 24, 2009

Quote of the Day

One of my tremendous pet peeves is when people talk about how we used to interpret, for instance, Genesis "literally" but now we interpret it "figuratively."  So now we understand that the literal meaning might be that God created in six days, but the figurative or symbolic meaning is that these "days" represent millions of years, or something like that.  What we end up doing is abdicating to the fundamentalists something they do not deserve.  

We interpret Genesis literally more correctly, not them.  And we do so because we, not they, understand what "literally" means.  It means to understand a passage according to the literary genre in which it was written.  We would never allow a fundamentalist to use the word "literally" to explain the figure of speech "the creek laughed" to mean that the water started talking.  We would "literally" understand this to mean that maybe it was not stagnant, sounded nice, etc.  Yet we allow them to do this with the Bible!  Not that we actually approve, but we grant to them the language of the word "literal" to describe what we do.  So, with that background, my quote of the day from Karl Rahner, SJ: 
A way of talking as if the account in Genesis was understood more literally by the older exegesis whereas this is no longer the case, should be altogether avoided, because it is false and confusing.  A statement is all the more literally understood, that is the to say, all the more fully and precisely, the more clearly and consciously the literary character of the statement in question is recognized.  If we can do this better now than some time ago, it is we, not the exegetes of the nineteenth century, who understand the text "more literally." 

Karl Rahner, Hominisation, 1965

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Majesty Snowbird - Sufjan Stevens

For those of you who like Sufjan like me, here are some songs I had never heard before, I think because you can't buy them on i-Tunes.  I checked.  The one above is awesome.  Beautiful.  I was able to embed it here. It's long though, so give yourself time. The next ones are all linked to sites where you can listen to them. Enjoy!

Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell cover)

You Are the Blood (Castanets cover)

Pray that he comes out with a new album soon! 

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Examination of Conscience

I'm taking this from Evangelical Catholicism, who got it from Fr. Dubay's book Happy Are You Poor.  Great examination of conscience:
By what standards do I determine what is necessary?

Do I collect unneeded things? Do I hoard possessions?

May I, on Gospel principles, buy clothes at the dictates of fashion designers in Paris and New York? Am I slave to fashion? Do I live in other peoples’ minds? Why really do I have all the clothes I have: shirts, blouses, suits, dresses, shoes, gloves?

Am I an inveterate nibbler? Do I eat because I am bored? Do the weight charts convict me of superfluity in eating and drinking? Do I take second helpings simply for the pleasure they afford?

Do I keep unneeded books and papers and periodicals and notes?

Do I retain two or three identical items (clocks, watches, scarves) of which I really need only one?

Do I spend money on trinkets and unnecessary conveniences?

In the winter, do we keep our thermostat, at a setting higher than health experts advise: 68 degrees?

When I think of my needs, do I also think of the far more drastic needs of the teeming millions in the third world?

Do I need the traveling I do more than the poor need food and clothing and medical care?

Am I right in contributing to the billions of dollars spent each year on cosmetics? How much of this can be called necessary?

Is smoking necessary for me?

Is drinking necessary for me?

Do I need to examine exactly what I mean by saying to myself, “I need this”?

Can I honestly say that all I use or possess is used or possessed for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31)? Would he be given more glory by some other use?

Do I in the pauline sense “mind the things above, not those on earth” (Col 3:1-2)?

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

We Need Social-lifers, (or Pro-justicers)

Deal Hudson at Inside Catholic criticizes three ways of reading Caritas in Veritate.  One of those ways is John Allen's irenic "package" reading:
Benedict XVI insists that Catholic social teaching must be seen as a package deal, holding economic justice together with its opposition to abortion, birth control, gay marriage, and other hot-button issues of sexual morality. The pope expresses irritation with 'certain abstract subdivisions of the Church's social doctrine,' an apparent reference to tensions between the Church's pro-life contingent and its peace-and-justice activists.
This reading, claims Hudson, fails to take into account the reality of the two camps in which "social justice" advocates regularly distance themselves from pro-life positions while pro-lifers "do not dissent from social justice issues." So there is an imbalance here. 

Oh really? That was not, nor is, my experience concerning just war theory. Nor torture. Nor racism, which many "social justice" people still consider a prevalent problem in society, a position which makes many pro-lifers scoff (this comes from my experience). Hopefully the divide is narrowing, but it is still a reality. 

We would also do Benedict great harm not to give him credit for being a very historically minded thinker. There is a reason that Paul VI wrote Populorum Progressio and Humane Vitae, both. The first was -- and still is by the likes of Weigel -- considered a "progressive" fluke, while the second was widely rejected by arguably most Catholics in the United States. I think that Benedict is intentionally bringing these two together in one encyclical. His address on the 2008 World Day of Peace -- which brought together sexual ethics and social issues -- continues to be the best guide to the new encyclical.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I have nothing against Michael O'Brien as a person.  He is my favorite living Catholic author (with the possible exception of Ron Hansen).  I've read all of his novels and regularly recommend them. I also quite appreciate his paintings.  

I think that he has misappropriated to his own (good?) ends dubious content from a letter by then Cardinal Ratzinger.  That is all.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

House Built on Lies

Some of the sad details coming out about the Legion.  Yet they continue to begin new schools and carry on life as normal.  What more needs to be discovered?  Let's just pray for them.  Here are some excerpts from the linked article:
“The atmosphere in House of Studies is bizarre,” a Legion priest said glumly, sitting on a bench near the Tiber River, fearful of repurcussions should his name be used. “Even now, the brothers [seminarians] have not been told about Maciel’s pedophilia. Their mail is screened and web access restricted.”

He considers the 320 seminarians “brainwashed. They read the letters of Nuestro Padre” — Our Father, as Maciel, touted internally as a future saint, was called. “Three years after the Holy Father punished him, they study his writings. Priests can spend time freely outside. The brothers are in a concentration camp.”

Money was an instrument by which the Legion secured Vatican support. Maciel spent lavishly to woo cardinals and bishops, even after a 1997 Hartford Courant investigation exposed his sexual abuse of early seminarians. Another Legionary, over coffee, fumed: “So much money at Christmas goes to the wine, the whiskey, and the special hams for the gift baskets. Legionary brothers are sent in cars to deliver them to cardinals and other allies, always for a purpose. To gain power for the Legion and Maciel ... . A small gift, I understand; but a large gift is a bribe.”
He said that Maciel had subsidized the publication of a book for a Latin American cardinal, and presented a new car to the late Cardinal Pio Laghi, former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., who spent his final years as Vatican prefect of the Congregaton for Education. This was when Maciel was building the university. Laghi rebuffed the offer. The car went to another cardinal, who has since died, according to the priest.

Christmas gifts were divided into category by declining levels of importance, the Legionary continued. For weeks, “eight or 10 brothers prepared the baskets in the basement. Fine Spanish hams cost quite a lot — 30 euros per kilo. You can spend $1,000 for a large one,” said one of the Legion priests who spoke on condition that his name not be used.

Another priest here who left the Legion years ago recounted how Maciel in 1946 arrived in war-ravaged Rome and presented Cardinal Clemente Micara, then the vicar of Rome, with $10,000 cash.

“That was an enormous amount in those days,” the former Legion preist said.Micara would return the favor at a pivotal moment in Maciel’s life. In 1956 the Legionary founder was suspended by Pope Pius XII while hospitalized for morphine painkiller addiction, amidst abuse allegations in the seminary. Barba and others have stated that as boys he abused they lied to protect Maciel in questioning by Vatican officials. “We obeyed our vows to the Legion,” he said. “You must realize, it was the only world we knew.”

When Pius died in 1959, Micara had Maciel reinstated, though whether the cardinal had the formal power to abort a papal investigation is in doubt. Micara would preside at the opening of the Guadalupe Basilica Maciel built in Rome.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Monday, July 20, 2009

Grilling Sotomayor on Life

Passed on from a friend.

Sen.Tom Coburn, speaking to Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor at confirmation hearing, July 15, 2009:
We now record fetal heartbeats at 14 days post-conception. We record fetal brainwaves at 39 days post-conception. And I don’t expect you to answer this, but I do expect you to pay attention to it as you contemplate these big issues. We have this schizophrenic rule of the law where we have defined death as the absence of those, but we refuse to define life as the presence of those.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Genetics and Homosexuality

I've often wrestled with the question of what I would be forced to believe if science ever discovered a "gay gene."  With the mapping of the human genome, Francis Collins has affirmed that this is not a remote possibility.  Would this mean that, since one can be genetically predisposed to be gay, that the homosexual inclination is in conformity with the natural law?  

I think that part of this objection has to do with too closely conflating natural law theory with biological determinism.  No single genetic inclination makes that inclination "human."  After all, the evolutionary development of the human being is full of mistakes and wrong terms, and so it can only be suspected that our genetic make-up is full of deviations from what it means to authentically be human.  If anything, evolutionary theory has helped us to understand precisely how much we are not dependent upon our genetic make-up, or at least that we are capable of rising above. Due to the evolutionary process, some people are genetically more prone to aggression than others, but this does not make aggression that leads to murder right.  

Natural law reflects on what it means to be human as body and soul. Therefore it includes the body, but not in a deterministic way.  With existentialist philosophy, it agrees that what primarily constitutes human nature is precisely freedom -- not freedom in the abstract, but human physical freedom for, not from.  What it means to be human according to natural law theory is to be an embodied person who exercises freedom as a tool towards the accomplishment of the single vocation of the human race.  This ultimate vocation is union in God. Because our human nature is freedom for, we must eliminate all practices -- even negative genetic holdovers from evolution that can be compounded by selfishness -- that, as I have argued before, are not self-diffusive of the person, which is the inherent structure of authentic freedom.  Homosexual behavior is one such practice. 

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ


The Divine Milieu by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ is a masterful work on spiritual theology. Here are a couple of quotes I like:
The day is not far distant when humanity will realize that biologically it is faced with a choice between suicide and adoration.

The Christian, who is by right the first and the most human of men, is the more subject than others to this psychological reversal whereby, in the case of all intelligent creatures, joy in action imperceptibly melts into desire for submission, and the exaltation of becoming one’s own self into the zeal to die in another. Having been perhaps primarily alive to the attractions of union with God through action, he begins to conceive and then to desire a complementary aspect, an ulterior phase, in his communion: one in which he would not develop himself so much as lose himself in God. 
He does not have to look far to discover possibilities and opportunities for fulfillment in this gift of self.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harry Potter: The Pope Does Not Have an Opinion

I have gone back and forth on Harry Potter over the years. What I do firmly believe is that parents should educate their kids about the actual dangers of magic and occultic practices so that they know how to recognize the difference between power coming from God and from the devil. But in an alternate universe where God doesn't feature and there are other kinds of powers at work -- such as in The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, we can't just equate "magic" with "bad." Either way, the Catholic novelist Michael O'Brien has done most of the philosophical work arguing for why the Harry Potter books are dangerous for children. However, he has also been in the news several times for claiming that Benedict XVI agrees with him and has condemned Harry Potter. Whether one thinks Harry Potter good or not, claiming that the pope has an opinion about it is nonsense, and for the sake of truth and honesty, I'm posting a good and thorough report on the subject below. This is a report by Rita Skeeters and I've taken it from Hogwarts Professor:

The most frequently requested article from the old Hogwarts Professor site after “Obviously Dumbledore is not Jesus” has been this piece on the scandalous use of the Pope by Canadian Harry Haters and Culture Warriors the day before Half-Blood Prince was released. I re-print it now in anticipation of similar shameful efforts in the third week of July this year. Harry Potter is a phenomenon those who style themselves latter-day Savonarolas almost certainly will not let pass without a volley and flourish.

“Pope Opposes Harry Potter”? Hardly.
Michael O’Brien and the Kuby Letters: Rita Skeeter covers the Vatican

A Time Line and Commentary on the Kuby Letters, supposedly written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), on the subject of the Harry Potter novels written by Joanne Rowling.

February, 2003:

The story begins at the press conference releasing the Pontifical Council on Culture and Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue’s of “Vatican statement on New Age Religions’ Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life (A Christian Reflection on the “New Age”).

Fr. Peter Fleetwood at the Press Conference for this document was asked about Harry Potter. In an interview 15 July 2005 on Vatican Radio Fr. Peter said that, at the 2003 Press Conference he had said only that (1) the books reflect Rowling’s Christian upbringing and study of myth and (2) that the books are about good triumphing over evil. This was widely reported and interpreted as a Vatican endorsement or “closet imprimatur” for the Potter books.

Michael O’Brien, Canadian painter and self-described “combat soldier in the culture war,” has said about this event:

“In short, it was the superficial personal opinion of a man who may or may not have read the books. That the media turned this into a major world-class story (and at the same time largely ignored the reason for the conference, the release of the Vatican’s teachings on the New Age movement) is so blatant a violation of journalistic standards that one cannot help but wonder over it.”

March, 2003:

In March 2003. a German sociologist and self-educated Catholic apologist sent a copy of her Harry Potter book to then Cardinal Ratzinger asking for his endorsement. She received this response (English translation by

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Vatican City
March 7, 2003

Esteemed and dear Ms. Kuby!

Many thanks for your kind letter of February 20th and the informative book which you sent me in the same mail. It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.

I would like to suggest that you write to Mr. Peter Fleetwood, (Pontifical Council of Culture, Piazza S. Calisto 16, I00153 Rome) directly and to send him your book.

Sincere Greetings and Blessings,

+ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Ms. Kuby did send the book to Fr. Peter Fleetwood as instructed by then Cardinal Ratzinger and received a four page response explaining where he thought she may have misunderstood or read too much into the books. He said he never heard back from her.

Ms. Kuby did write the Cardinal again, asking permission to use his book blurb and received this response (translation again from

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Vatican City
May 27, 2003

Esteemed and dear Ms. Kuby,

Somehow your letter got buried in the large pile of name-day, birthday and Easter mail. Finally this pile is taken care of, so that I can gladly allow you to refer to my judgment about Harry Potter.

Sincere Greetings and Blessings,

+ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

The Cardinal’s sentence was published on the book which was reviewed in Germany and largely dismissed. As German Catholic priest and literature critic Fr. Karl Leisner pointed out at the time and again recently, and as Fr. Fleetwood has said he wrote to her in response to then Cardinal Ratzinger’s request that she write to him, Ms. Kuby is neither a careful reader nor a competent critic, however admirable her intentions.

April, 2005:

The matter rested there until Cardinal Ratzinger’s elevation to the Papacy the next spring. Ms. Kuby then shared her letters supposedly from the new Pope about Harry Potter again with the Press. This made a “big splash” in the papers and Harry Potter fan sites at the end of April, 2005.

There was very little said about this report after the announcement in April, other than notices being made that the letters were (1) from Cardinal Ratzinger writing a book blurb for a friend, not from the newly elevated Pope speaking ex cathedra and (2) that it was very unlikely that then Cardinal Ratzinger had read either the book by Ms. Kuby or the Harry Potter books. The story died a natural death.

June 27/July 13, 2005:

In late June and then again three days before the release of the sixth Harry Potter novel, a small Catholic news service that reports pro-life stories located in Combermere, Ontario, Canada, releases a story with the headline “Pope Opposes Harry Potter Novels” with the location of the news release being given as “Rimsting, Germany.” The articles feature comments by Catholic novelist Michael O’Brien, also, remarkably, of the small town Combermere, Ontario, Canada. He says in this piece:

“This discernment on the part of Benedict XVI reveals the Holy Father’s depth and wide ranging gifts of spiritual discernment.” O’Brien, author of a book dealing with fantasy literature for children added, “it is consistent with many of the statements he’s been making since his election to the Chair of Peter, indeed for the past 20 years - a probing accurate read of the massing spiritual warfare that is moving to a new level of struggle in western civilization. He is a man in whom a prodigious intellect is integrated with great spiritual gifts. He is the father of the universal church and we would do well to listen to him.”

The timing of this article and the remarkably deceptive headline caused the firestorm one would expect. Catholics around the world were led to believe by newspapers (that picked up this story and headline from a news-scanner called Drudge) that their Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, had weighed in on this subject. Mr. O’Brien appeared on a CNN news program Friday, 15 July, which program belittled his position but reported without qualification the story about the Pope. O’Brien proclaimed this a victory on his website, saying:

The great grace of Friday’s CNN show was that the Holy Father’s letter regarding the Potter series was read, even in the midst of everything working against it.

The delight of staffers in the spread of their story from is evident in this posting on a Catholic web site by “Hilary” on July 13th:

I’m very proud to say that was us. LifeSite has been hammering at Harry Potter for years and we got the letters by contacting the woman presonally. Drudge picked it up this morning and we rushed to get the graphics off the story before the tidal wave hit us and crashed the site, which has happened the couple of other times we have been picked up by Drudge. He’s really good at crediting us and as also always happens, the first few stories who pick it up from Drudge also credit us, but by the time the Washington Post gets it and it rolls back to Canada’s National Post, we have dropped off the radar. But it seems to be better this time, John Henry got a call from the London Times this morning, which is something because we are six hours ahead of them.

But you should hear the neo-catholics screeching at us! Every time we go after Harry the Weigelites come after us with knives sharpened. They really REALLY hate to have their complacent little tea party with The World disturbed by difficult truths hey?

I should enjoy it less I suppose…but that’s whaty I’ve got a spiritual director for I guess.

But is this letter from Cardinal Ratzinger actually from Cardinal Ratzinger? Has it been translated verbatim or in a way that sensationalizes and misrepresents what the Cardinal or the curia bureaucrat who wrote it has said? And what is the Vatican position on Harry Potter, if any?

The Vatican was, of course, immediately besieged by requests for confirmation or denial of the story with the headline “Pope Opposes Harry Potter.” The Pope and his secretary were at the Pope’s retreat villa in the Northern Italian Alps so there was no response from Pope Benedict XVI. Vatican Radio, however, “the Voice of the Pope,” on July 15, two days after this report was re-released from Michael O’Brien’s hometown, featured an interview with Fr. Peter Fleetwood about the Kuby letters. The Catholic News Service, the most reputable source of news for Catholics, also reported on the “New attention given to 2003 Cardinal Ratzinger letter on Harry Potter.”

In the interview, Fr. Fleetwood makes it clear he doubts the letters were written by the Cardinal:

I was sent a letter from a lady in Germany who claimed to have written to the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, saying that she thought Harry Potter was a bad thing. And the letter back, which I suspect was written by an assistant of the then-Cardinal Ratzinger in his office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, suggested that there was a subtle seduction in the books. What that subtle seduction was, was not specified, which makes me think it was a generic answer. And she had written a book on these subjects and so the Cardinal’s signature was at the bottom of the letter, suggesting she should send me the book. She sent me the book, and I found it a very unsatisfactory book.

So unsatisfactory was the book that he felt obliged to send her a four page letter detailing the errors and misunderstandings in it. Ms. Kuby, Mr. O’Brien, and make no mention of this exchange and Ms. Kuby’s failure to heed or even respond to a letter sent from an official of the Pontifical Council of Culture who has read the books.

As Fr. Fleetwood points out, the wording in the German is generic and “subtle seductions” does not point to Harry Potter the way the translation presents it. The German language version in fact reads more like a description of poisons that don’t allow plants to grow normally in the soil. It congratulates the author for being watchful for such subtle seductions in even children’s books but does not say that Harry Potter is one of these.

As the Catholic News Service report makes clear, “Cardinal Ratzinger did not say he had read any of the Harry Potter books.” His letter did, however, direct the author to a Pontifical Office that dealt with these matters and to a person that had read the books, whose guidance and instruction Ms. Kuby has ignored and neglects to mention.

The Vatican position, if there is one, seems to be the one expressed by Fr. Peter Fleetwood on Vatican Radio. As reported by Catholic News Service and available verbatim on line :

The most appropriate way to Judge Harry Potter is not on the basis of theology, but according to the criteria of children’s literature and whether children will read the book willingly.

This interview and reports are the only statements made (1) by a legitimate Catholic official (2) speaking directly to the subjects of Harry Potter and the Kuby letters (3) from a Vatican news service.

How then are we to understand the Kuby letters?

I think the common sense conclusion but sad fact of the matter is that a provincial Catholic zealot group has exploited the Pope and Catholic feeling for their Holy Father for their own gain. “Pope Opposes Harry Potter” Hardly. The new Pope did not write these letters as Pontiff, it is doubtful then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote courtesy book blurbs, and, if he did write these letters, they don’t say what LifeSite News and Mr. O’Brien say they do. A better and more accurate headline would have been: “Vatican office sends polite thank you to frenetic Catholic Harry-Hater.”

Mr. O’Brien decried the “superficial personal opinion of a man who may or may not have read the books” when speaking about a Vatican official and Englishman who certainly had read the novels and spoke in a Pontifical Office charged with knowing about such things. It is ironic and hypocritical that he then says about then Cardinal Ratzinger, a German in an office with responsibilities not stretching to children’s literature and who almost certainly has not read the Potter novels, that “this discernment on the part of Benedict XVI reveals the Holy Father’s depth and wide ranging gifts of spiritual discernment” and that “he is the father of the universal church and we would do well to listen to him.”

O’Brien and have exploited the Pope and made him into something of a hand puppet to say the things they want him to say. Anything from the Vatican archives or waste bins that can support the Combemere, Ontario, position is “spiritual discernment.” Explicit correction, on the other hand, from Vatican offices charged with such matters are neglected or misrepresented.

“Star Chamber” and “Super-Catholics” are here evidently “Cafeteria Catholics,” picking and choosing what they like from the Vatican menu.

The Kuby letters are best understood as letters from a curia official writing a polite book blurb and thanking her for the kindness of sending the Cardinal a book. As Mark Shea has written, “the note was obviously about as doctrinal as a Papal handshake in a giant crowd.” The re-release of these letters by a Catholic artist and news service located in a provincial Canadian town on the eve of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’s publication, a re-release four months after the story had broken, speaks to the type of media irresponsibility decried by O’Brien and satirized by Joanne Rowling in the Harry Potter novels. Mr. O’Brien and, in fact, resemble with disarming likeness The Daily Prophet and reporter Rita Skeeter.

The only difference is, sadly, the satirical characters and media in the Potter novels could never have dragged down the faith of millions and diminished both a Pope’s reputation and “spiritual capital” for their personal gain. For a sober Catholic’s reflections on the Kuby letters and Harry Potter books, please read acclaimed Catholic novelist Regina Doman’s essay at the Zossima Press home page.

And please remember the next time you see Michael O’Brien on CNN or a quotation or story from that these provincial Canadian Catholics have their private agenda for you, the Pope, and faith and culture.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mason, We Will Miss You

Well, Mason Slidell is taking a bit of a vacation from blogging.  He may not be back for a little while, but he may make cameos if you beg hard enough.  We will miss him of course.  He had most of the profound or humorous things to say around here.  Wish him well and say a prayer for him as he tackles the challenges of diocesan formation.

Also, though I will continue writing here, as of July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius, Whosoever Desires will be officially launched, and I will spend time writing for that project as well.  However, I will continue here, so don't leave me bereft and blue.  Just read both.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chapter 3: Gratuity and Gift


I'll have to admit, this made me laugh. It was one of the initial humorous responses to Weigel's ridiculous piece in the National Review. I think the best direct response can be read at Evangelical Catholicism. You should go read it.

But what I'd like to do here is rather comment a bit on what the encyclical actually says. I wanted to do this chapter by chapter, and I still hope to do that, but Weigel's comments will make me go a little out of order. Notice for instance this statement he makes:
But then there are those passages to be marked in red — the passages that reflect Justice and Peace ideas and approaches that Benedict evidently believed he had to try and accommodate. Some of these are simply incomprehensible, as when the encyclical states that defeating Third World poverty and underdevelopment requires a “necessary openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion.” This may mean something interesting; it may mean something naïve or dumb. But, on its face, it is virtually impossible to know what it means.

The encyclical includes a lengthy discussion of “gift” (hence “gratuitousness”), which, again, might be an interesting attempt to apply to economic activity certain facets of John Paul II’s Christian personalism and the teaching of Vatican II, in Gaudium et Spes 24, on the moral imperative of making our lives the gift to others that life itself is to us. But the language in these sections of Caritas in Veritate is so clotted and muddled as to suggest the possibility that what may be intended as a new conceptual starting point for Catholic social doctrine is, in fact, a confused sentimentality of precisely the sort the encyclical deplores among those who detach charity from truth.
I'll grant to Weigel that I think these parts of the encyclical are hard to understand. But what I won't grant to him is that they are incomprehensible, or just the angry mutterings of Peace and Justice. Rather, what we should do as readers is try to understand why Benedict would put these into a social encyclical at all. Tomorrow I will write about Vocation and Discernment in Caritas in Veritate. Today I want to take up Gift and Gratuity.

Chapter 3 is the chapter of gratuity. In it, Benedict constructs a tightly knit argument about the need for gratuity in market exchanges. Originally, this does appear incomprehensible. Isn't the market founded upon the equivalence of value of exchanged goods? Yet Benedict makes these claims:
In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well. Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function.
This is a mild way of making his point. Internal to the market must be solidarity. But what exactly does it mean that solidarity is "internal" to the market? Solidarity -- the recognition that all are responsible for all -- is hardly a market principle. But Benedict is very clear. Gift must become a central aspect of market exchange. And it would be easy here to simply claim that he must be talking about mutual giving, which is simply another way of speaking of exchange. But he says clearly:
When both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence, actions of gratuitousness, all of which stand in contrast with giving in order to acquire (the logic of exchange) and giving through duty (the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law).
He is talking about something beyond giving in order to receive and giving through duty. Neither market exchange nor taxation is what Benedict is the answer. Rather, genuine gratuity must find a place internally as a market force.

To try to grasp exactly what he means by this, we should try to unpack exactly how Benedict conceives of society as a whole. Adopting John Paul II's tripartite understanding of human society, he speaks of the State, the Market, and Civil Society.

The Market

The market, for Benedict, is not neutral. It does not exist in a pure state, as economist will often claim for it. It does not operate in a vacuum. Nor is it evil of itself. Benedict speaks of it as an instrument. Here are some examples of his thought:
Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state. It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction.

The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.
The market is not negative in itself. It is rather human. Its laws are human, and so they are necessarily bound up in human freedom and human choices. Therefore, for the market to work correctly, humans must work correctly. The initial way in which the negative tendencies of the market are held in check is by that other human instrument, the State.

The State

The place of the state, since Rerum Novarum, has been to regulate the market and allow for just redistribution. Benedict repeats:
The civil order, for its self-regulation, also needed intervention from the State for purposes of redistribution.
Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.
Legitimate forces of regulation must be in place, and this is the traditional duty of the state. In this regard, Benedict tells us, the role of the state may have to grow. However, the State along as a human and political regulation of the market is itself not enough.
Perhaps at one time it was conceivable that first the creation of wealth could be entrusted to the economy, and then the task of distributing it could be assigned to politics. Today that would be more difficult, given that economic activity is no longer circumscribed within territorial limits, while the authority of governments continues to be principally local. Hence the canons of justice must be respected from the outset.
He continues:
The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society. The market of gratuitousness does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law. Yet both the market and politics need individuals who are open to reciprocal gift.
What is required is neither more state control, nor more freedom in the market. Neither of these provides the solution. More "freedom" for the market is just a classical liberal term that means individualism and greed. This concept has been so manipulated by large corporations and their advertising arms that it no longer even contains any meaning. But neither can the state simply exert more control over the market as a way of improving it. Rather, it needs a new mechanism from within that can transform it. This new mechanism is Gift.

What sense does this make?

To explain what he means, Benedict turns to the third part of John Paul II's tripartite scheme: Civil Society.

Civil Society

Benedict renames the three divisions according to three kinds of logic. There is the logic of exchange, political logic, and the logic of unconditional gift:
The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.
Now things clear up slightly. Civil Society must be characterized by the logic of unconditional gift if the other two are to function as they are meant to. In other words, civil society must be the heart and soul of the state and the market. It's own logic must pervade the other two to such a degree that it saturates them. But how can this happen?

I think what we must do it look back to Benedict's talk at the World Day of Peace, where he connected the Family to World Peace. This threw people off a bit, but I think the logic is tight. In a family, the logic that rules is that of unconditional gift. A family is not made up of individuals, but of brothers and sisters. Benedict hints to this when he speaks of the global family. He notes in the Introduction to Caritas in Veritate:
As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers. Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the Father, who loved us first, teaching us through the Son what fraternal charity is.
Since neither the market nor the state can make us brothers, this must be the work of civil society, and most markedly, of the family. In the family, the logic of unconditional gift reigns. And this is the highest form of logic. I'm getting ahead of myself to tomorrow, but in the family, there is a common vocation. And the very concept of vocation, of calling, requires that one find oneself by giving of oneself. This is of course symbolized richly by marital intercourse. And this is also why according to this logic homosexual "marriage" can have no place. The family is the foundation of tripartite system. It is also the place of unconditional love and gratuity. In the family, the logic of prelapsarian man can still be found. After the Fall, the tendency of man is to digest, to consume and to make all things into myself. But Reason, as Thomas noted, resists this fall of the flesh, by trying, as Aristotle said, to become all things. This is our calling, our vocation, to become all things, and so to be united with all. The Eucharist most perfectly makes this happen, and so is the most perfect antidote to the Fall, making us all literally one body in Christ. But in marriage, this making of One Body is replicated in a smaller symbolic way all over the world. And so the family produces on a small scale what the eucharistic Church tries to produce on a large scale: the self-diffusion of the individual into the universal vocation of all human beings. We become one body. The self is so given over, in fact, that a new person comes into being, a Third, beyond the two. This is why metaphysically, homosexual behavior is violent behavior and destroys the logic of love. Sexual behavior and social justice are one and the same issue.

But that is another topic. Most importantly, unless we can become a world family, economics cannot work. The market will be destructive. But we all know that the Enlightenment experiment of a worldwide fraternity failed. That liberal vision was destined to fall to pieces. Benedict is not looking to build a civilization founded on rational principles of fraternal equality, but rather on vocation and gratuity. And for this to happen, the logic of the family must saturate the state and the market. This means, contra liberal society, communal Ends, not just personal aggregate goals. Not personal ends, but a single End that all strive for. This is what happens in the family. It must too happen in the market. This is why capitalism on a liberal model must be rejected and new ways of understanding capitalism in a communal model must be found. Over and over Benedict mentions communities. They are the only way to achieve his goal. A new end, the end offered by the logic of gift, must replace the vacuum of ends that makes up liberal capitalism:
Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself.
This is because communities, like families, have singular ends, not individual ends that are supposed to aggregate into a "common good." As communities form, the market is tempered to a proper end, and can work as a positive rather than a negative force. Whether Benedict has in mind Mondragon in Spain or not I don't know. But surely something along that model might be the best way to go.

Either way, contra Weigel, I think we need to try to plumb Benedict's thought, rather than engage in selective source criticism. And I think I will better explicate how Gratuity should work internally the market when I engage Discernment and Vocation tomorrow.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Michael Novak, as Warm Up for Tackling Caritas in Veritate Little by Little

Michael Novak strongly defends liberalism as a system within the confines of American law and culture. Like Murray, I take him to be articulating something that he thinks has always been a part of American culture or public philosophy but must now be further explained. His argument is that liberal capitalism in the American experiment, through which it first acquires the name of “democratic capitalism,” is the ideal economic system for a free polity. He argues, following as he claims Centesimus Annus, for a tripartite system. However, first I would like to restate Novak’s thesis, since it succinctly gives his reader a sense of the optimism which he has toward an American democratic free economy. He typically argues: 
Thus the insight most lacking in traditionalists is that intelligent and practical persons, acting freely and on behalf of their own practical wisdom, can in their free exchanges generate a spontaneous order, a form of catallaxy superior in its reasonableness to any order that might be planned, directed, or enforced from above.
This is his thesis, which, however, he continually modifies with his tripartite society. 
Novak quotes John Paul II in order to explain what he means by a tripartite society that he envisages the United States to be: “Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the state so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.” Here we see the three forces that must interact in a free society: the market, civil society, and the state. Each of these three branches – the market, civil or cultural society, and the state – must balance one another out in order to have a truly free way of life. By outlining this tripartite society, Novak means to free himself from so-called “primitive capitalism” which was truly a war of all against all within the market. Therefore, he is not, as John Paul II also was not, an advocate of a lassaiz faire free economy, but rather of a free economy within a strong system of checks and balances. He himself admits: “At various times in American history, both the political system and the moral-cultural system have seriously intervened, positively and negatively, in the economic system. Each of the three systems has modified the others.”  

What then must these checks and balances look like? Murray argued that American law had as its primary precursor British Common Law which in turn has its moral roots in medieval natural law theory. If this is true, then the American system of government was founded by a group of men who were reasonable and virtuous and who expected that those who would live within the system they established would also have the same prerequisites. Novak argues the same. Over and over he states: “A free economy cannot function unless its participants have mastered certain moral virtues. Important ethical assumptions are built into the free economy.” A free economy must be “embedded in powerful democratic and moral-religious traditions.” It must contain the twofold presupposition of the entire western tradition: the understanding of the human vocation to bring the earthly city in line with the heavenly city, and the vision that even the lowliest person is precious in God’s eyes.

Novak presents a beautiful vision of a human society. His tripartite society of checks and balances borrowed from John Paul II is admirable. Its grounding in the American proposition is debatable, and this is not an argument that he takes up here. What are more important are his presuppositions about such a society. I am not claiming that the best economic system would be one created from above as the traditionalists would claim. Rather, his presupposition stated in the first quote above concerning “practical persons, acting freely and on behalf of their own practical wisdom” seems dubious. He claims in regard to the Polish workers movement that “the birth of a capitalist system requires a moral revolution.” This was certainly not true in England at the time of the Industrial Revolution, nor was it true of most forms of primitive capitalism which Marx took aim at. He must then mean capitalism as he understands in within his tripartite society.  

But if this is the case, then capitalism itself is not a “moral revolution.” Rather, it must take place within a moral revolution and must be constantly informed by such a revolution. And this is difficult once a free economy is in place. Free economies tend to exert a powerful influence upon the moral status of a nation, an influence that governments cannot be expected to counteract entirely. Often governments themselves become heavenly influenced by values of the economy. Therefore, this influence is left up to a moral culture. Yet this moral culture, far from simply being in line with the same principles of capitalism, must actually regularly resist the influences of a free economy. This is so because the market and the production of goods tend according to the nature of human beings to be selfishly driven and egotistically motivated. The market is neutral in itself. Novak is right about that. Yet it tends to feed off of the humans who make it up, and humans, as a good anthropology knows, more often than not follow their concupiscence. Therefore, a “neutral market” will almost inevitably go in the direction of alienation and exploitation. This is simply human nature in relation to money, the “root of all evil.” Murray himself observed that “the native tendency of an industrial economy is towards oligarchic organization and towards independence of all political, not to say popular, control.” For the most part, a moral and religious society must spend most of its time acting against the tendencies of a free market rather than acting as its cheerleader, which is what Novak seems to be doing primarily. If it does not do so, the market will not only not remain value-neutral, but it will begin it assert its own negative values acquired through human weakness upon the moral culture of a nation. I think this is simply being realistic. While the tripartite system is nice to look at, the economy tends to exert the majority of influence. They all touch each other, but not equally. And so the other two must push back in order to maintain a society in proper check.  

This leads me to my second criticism of Novak, concerning his treatment of “creative subjectivity.” Novak sees creative subjectivity as the virtue par excellence for a capitalistic society. Yet he must be careful here on two fronts. First, in The Acting Person, as in every other place where he writes on creative subjectivity, Wojtyla places equal emphasis on the notion of community. In the case of persons, subjectivity is always intersubjectivity. Therefore, all creativity must remain within the bounds of an understanding of community, which is an equal good for the human person. As the person leaves his family and moves into the market, he must now form community, whereas before it was given to him. And the market must not be at odds to the formation of genuine community. Capitalism by its nature tends to rupture families and communities, even while it gathers together groups of individuals to work toward a common goal. One need only look at working families these days and all the travel that both mother and father must often do, or, conversely, at the actual “communities” that have formed with their center around sprawling suburban strip malls. When it comes to community, capitalism can be more of an enemy than an ally.

I post this now, because Benedict in Caritas in Veritate brings up again the tripartite system of Centesimus Annus. However, he tweaks it in some rather important ways that I will discuss tomorrow. What role must the state and the family have on the market? Benedict takes this up in a particularly unique way, using fairly new terms in the Catholic social debate: vocation, discernment, gratuitousness and gift to highlight his new emphasis.  Benedict goes beyond the free exchanges of practically wise men that Novak envisions.  He inserts the new term of gratuity.  More later.  


David Schindler on modern liberalism:
I’m inclined to accept what Alasdair MacIntyre says — and I quote it often — that most of the public debates today are among different strains of liberalism: conservative liberalism, liberal liberalism, and radical liberalism. … Often Catholics have prematurely followed liberalism in the sense of assuming that its institutions are good and that freedom of choice is good, as long as both are used for the right purposes. If you press deeply enough, there’s an ontologically self-centered utilitarianism already built into the original logic of our (liberal) institutions and freedom.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Benedict and Darwin in 2009

It is an important year for Benedict to come out with a new social encyclical.  Not only to look back at Populorum Progressio, but also to consider many of the effects of Darwin's theory 200 years after his birth and 150 years after his publication of On the Origin of the Species.  We can make this connection because of Benedict's concern, as he says, to promote an "integral humanism." A brief survey of the Introduction to Caritas in Veritate makes clear note of this. For example, some of the main themes found in the Introduction: 
Love is God's greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.

Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice.

The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion.

Every Christian is called to practise this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis.

In an increasingly globalized society, the common good and the effort to obtain it cannot fail to assume the dimensions of the whole human family, that is to say, the community of peoples and nations.

Life in Christ is the first and principal factor of development.

The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development.
Particularly the last two raise interesting questions in relation to Darwin.  It would be easier -- as many theologians have done over the century -- to turn to Lamarck rather than to Darwin as a refuge for theological deism wedded with evolutionary theory.  Lamarck claimed that evolution worked like an escalator, moving ever higher and higher in its progress and advancement of the species.  Darwin, on the other hand, argued that evolution did not necessarily favor progress and advancement.  Often simpler organisms adapted better to their environment than did more complex ones.  However, many of his advocates quickly embraced his theory as a form of Lamarckianism rather than accepting his own claim.  The rapid spread of his theory into various versions of social Darwinism found their economic enthusiasts in the Rockefellers and Carnegies.  Philosophies of individualism appeared to be sanctioned by Darwinism rather than more communal understandings of civil life.  As William Graham Sumner, a noted American capitalist and exponent of social Darwinism claimed:
If we do not like the survival of the fittest, we have only one possible alternative, and that is the survival of the unfittest.  The former is the law of civilization; the latter is the law of uncivilization.
And the law of charity.  Of course, Darwin's understanding of the development of morality understood the golden rule to be a high point of evolutionary instinctual development.  It was the natural outcome of social instincts.  Others did not see it this way, especially in America, and theories of individualism became closely linked, not only with social Darwinism, but also with a form of Larmarckianism.  

However, excising the Larmarckian tendencies, at least from the economic ramifications that social Darwinism has had on American society, could do some good.  It is not progress for its own sake at any costs that we seek.  It is not hard to see the current economic crisis as a reflection on Lamarckian views.  If the escalator goes up, I might as well get a head start. Darwin's own views, rather, leave out the progressive aspect more simply in favor of requisite change for survival.  

Benedict takes this direction, recognizing both the need for development for the sake of human society, but also the importance for this development to be a communal enterprise, built upon solidarity and love.  As he says at the beginning of chapter 1: "integral human development is primarily a vocation."  This means that there is a goal, but not a single-faceted one.  What happened in the American economic and philosophical scene was that early on, the great entrepreneurs picked out one single capitalistic variation -- making money -- as the only sign of progress.  The havoc this vision has wrought is visible to all.  Integral development implies vocation, and vocation is a wholistic term. Nor can this human vocation be known without the "unfittest."  They are precisely the key to noticing what is most "advantageous" in the human person.  They are the linchpin who often most clearly see the "trait" that best advances human society: charity.  Benedict acts as a scientist of the human heart in selecting out this most important feature of human development.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Sunday, July 12, 2009

From Caritas in Veritate: 
In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ