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Amanda Shaw, junior fellow at First Things magazine, defends "Bella" against critics who say the movie is "sappy" and "saccharine," and argues that far from being a "fairy tale", it is a story about real life and authentic love.
VATICAN CITY, OCT 31, 2007 (VIS) - During his general audience, held this morning in a rainy St. Peter's Square in the presence of 30,000 faithful, Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis to the figure of St. Maximus of Turin.
Maximus became bishop of that Italian city in the year 398 just as it was being threatened by various barbarian tribes which had entered Italy through the eastern passes and pushed as far as the western Alps. Turin was protected by a military garrison and served as a safe haven for people fleeing rural areas.
Faced with such a situation the activities of Maximus, author of around 90 sermons, "bear witness to his commitment to react to the degradation and break-up" of civil society, said the Pope. The bishop censured the faithful when they sought to turn another's disadvantage to their own benefit, thus highlighting "the profound relationship between a person's duties as a Christian and as a citizen." And Maximus was concerned "not only with people's traditional love for their hometown" but also proclaimed "the specific duty of paying taxes."
A historical and literary analysis of the figure of St. Maximus, said the Pope, "demonstrates his growing awareness of the political responsibility of the ecclesiastical authorities at a time in which they were, in effect, substituting civil authority."
"It is clear that today's historical, cultural and social context is completely different," the Holy Father went on, "but in any case, ... the duties of believers towards their city and their homeland remain the same. The link between the obligations of the 'honest citizen' and those of the 'good Christian' has not changed in the least."
In this context, Pope Benedict then went on to refer to the Vatican Council II Pastoral Constitution "Gaudium et spes" which had the aim "of illuminating one of the most important aspects of the unity of Christian life: coherence between faith and life, between Gospel and culture."
Vatican Council II, he concluded, "exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation."
Pope Benedict XVI and the New Ecclesial Movements | Bishop Stanislaw Rylko,
President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity | The Introduction to
New Outpourings of the Spirit by Joseph Ratzinger
(Pope Benedict XVI)
Pope Benedict XVI has been following for many years,
with the passion of a theologian and a pastor, the phenomenon of the
movements and new communities that
sprang up in the Church after the Second Vatican Council. His very first
contacts with these ecclesial entities
go back to the mid-1960s, when he was still a professor
in Tubingen.  Then, with the passage of time, these
relations became deeper and more intense and were transformed into a
true friendship. In 1998, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he reminisced as
follows: "For me personally it
was a marvelous event when at the beginning of the
seventies I first came into close contact with movements
like the Neocatechumens, Comunione e Liberazione,
and the Focolarini and thus experienced the enthusiasm
and verve with which they lived out their faith and felt bound to share
with others, from out of the joy of their
faith, what had been vouchsafed to them."  These were
the postconciliar years, difficult years for the Church,
but these new entities unexpectedly appeared to the eyes
of the theologian and pastor as a providential gift. As he
later wrote, "Suddenly here was something nobody had
planned on. The Holy Spirit had, so to say, spoken up
for himself again. In young people especially, the faith
was surging up in its entirety, with no ifs and buts, with
no excuses or way out, experienced as a favor and as a
precious life-giving gift." 
Alongside the Servant of God John Paul II, as Prefect
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger
was an authoritative interpreter of the
latter's magisterial teaching on the ecclesial movements
and the new communities and became for them a sure
point of reference.
This low, according to the Indo-Asian News Service:
Spears photo shoot will anger church
Tuesday, October 30, 2007: (London) :
Troubled pop superstar Britney Spears is sure to anger the Catholic church with her controversial 'confession' photo-shoot for her new album Blackout.
She appears in a very short skirt and reveals her fishnet stocking-clad legs as she sits in the confessional box while a handsome priests listens to her confession, mirror.co.uk reported. In another picture, she sits on his lap in the cubicle.
Spears is working on her comeback after having suffered numerous career and personal setbacks.
And I say: "Yaaaaaawwwwwwwwwn." Boring. Stupid. Whatever. Next.
Sure, this is insulting and rude. But the suggestive headline is, I think, even worse: The Britney Machine and the Celebrity Obsessed Hack Media think that Catholics are cerebral-challenged prudes who can be manipulated with this sort of digital dung. Just as telling is the calculated belief that such soft porn will titillate millions of mindless consumerists, ages, what?—ten to fifteen?—and build up confidence in the Britney Brand. This is how bad Ms. Spears has become: she almost makes "Madonna" look like a mature adult. Now that takes some manipulation.
MTV News reports on the reaction from the Catholic League:
"This girl is crashing," League President Bill Donohue told New York's Daily News. "She's not even allowed to bring up her own kids because she's not responsible enough. Now we see she can't even entertain."
Kiera McCaffrey, the League's director of communications, told MTV News on Tuesday
(October 30, the album's release date) that the group considers the
photos a "cheap publicity stunt that is a way to get people to talk
about Britney Spears' album without talking about her music, which is
what they should be focusing on. All we see is how troubled this girl
is now, especially with her family, losing her kids, with her career on
a downward slide. And now she's put out this album and this is her
tactic to promote it? She should be focusing on singing and dancing and
trying to be an entertainer without mocking a Catholic sacrament."
The Britney Brand apparently holds to Ambrose Bierce's definition of entertainment: "Any kind of amusement whose inroads stop short of death by injection." But what about being bored to death...?
The pope's recent authorization of the Tridentine Latin Mass, without the need to seek the local bishop's permission, has stirred some measure of debate within the Roman Catholic Church, especially in letters-to-the-editor and on blogs written by individuals who seem not to have day-jobs.
Ooooh. That was light'ning in a bottle, Jethro! Zing! Bang! Boom! Fortunately for me, part of my day job is to write for this blog. But, honestly, if your day job includes writing columns for Catholic newspapers, shouldn't you make some sort of effort to make them readable? If I had thrown down that opening sentence on a sixth-grade English exam, Mrs. Hermiston would have smacked me silly. And rightly so.
The overwhelming majority of Catholics, however, are apparently unaware of, or have already forgotten, the July 7 papal letter, entitled Summorum Pontificum (Latin, "Of supreme pontiffs").
Make up your mind: either people should be busy working their day jobs like mindless drones, or they should be paying attention to papal documents and blogging about them every single day. Which is it?
Indeed, those who attend Mass regularly would never prefer Mass in a language other than their own.
Never! None of them! And that, folks, is from the Chair of Richard, which means it can be placed right next to that glorious work of catechetical brilliance, Catholicism, nominated for several doctrinal errors by the USCCB. Well, every Sunday, my family and I attend Divine Liturgy at a Ukrainian Catholic parish, and some 20 to 30% of the liturgy is in Old Church Slavonic, a language that is not "my own." Do I "prefer" Church Slavonic? I don't think of in that way, I suppose; my preference is for reverence, a palpable sense of the sacred, decent music, a lack of experimentation, a good homily, a valid Eucharist. Is that so much to ask?
Those who do claim to prefer the Latin Mass, whether Tridentine or Novus Ordo (that is, in keeping with the reforms of Pope Paul VI), constitute a tiny minority of the Roman Catholic Church, which is not to say that they have no right to speak their minds about the matter or to take advantage of the concessions which the Vatican has offered them.
Please tell me he doesn't actually get paid to write these sort of sentences. Doing so makes it very difficult to decide if I should be more offended by the sloppy, inept writing style or the empty, condescending blathering. Here, then, is a glimpse into the world of Fr. McBrien:
1. No good Catholic prefers Mass said in a language not his own. 2. Some claim to prefer the Latin Mass. 3. But since Latin is not their language, they are only claiming to prefer the Latin Mass.
Thus, we can conclude that these folks are liars or that Fr. McBrien doesn't know what he's talking about. Tough choice.
But if such Catholics are under the ages of 45 or 50, they have little or no hands-on experience of the pre-Vatican II Mass. It is a mystery how one can be nostalgic for something one had never experienced.
Right, just like the "nostalgia" a bride and groom have for one another before they are married. Sure, they've never enjoyed the marital embrace, but for some strange reason they look forward to it, and for whatever reason anticipate its goodness. Nostalgic morons!
The point is that the use of "nostalgic" here is simply an empty (and bumbling) polemical device. But it also exposes the fraudulent nature of Fr. McBrien's "argument," which began with the bald assertion that no one, especially anyone under "45 or 50" would prefer the Latin Mass, but since many younger people do, they must be "nostalgic." But since you can't be nostalgic for what you don't know, they must be idiots. No, it's worse than that: they aren't "liturgical scholars":
In the past three months, liturgical scholars have published articles which carefully pick apart the reasoning behind the papal document that authorizes the use of the Tridentine Latin Mass.
[Similar, I presume, to how McBrien's Catholicism attempted to "pick apart" the reasoning behind certain core Christological and ecclesiological doctrines of the Church.]
(The document is technically known as a motu proprio, in that it is produced by the pope "on his own initiative.") Each critical analysis usually provokes a flurry of indignant reactions from a handful of Latin-Mass advocates.
Those Latin-loving, nostalgic ingrates! Just because the Pope has taken the step of allowing folks the right to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite doesn't free them from their obligation to cower before the liturgical scholars (of McBrien's choice, of course). How dare they question these expert denouncements of the papal motu proprio!
Again, while no one should question their freedom of speech, not one of them, to my knowledge, has presented a credible justification for their preference. A few substitute ridicule for reasoning.
"No one should question their freedom of speech..." What is this, fourth-grade debate class? Forget freedom of speech, how about freedom from yapping silliness? And, to your knowledge? Don't even get me started. Oops, that sure sounded like ridicule, didn't it? But, once again, I'm free from criticism since I'm not a Latin guy—remember, I attend a Byzantine Catholic Church. Yes, yes, I know. No real Catholic would prefer an Eastern Catholic parish when he could go to a Western rite parish. Let's just say that, having been raised in an anti-Catholic fundamentalist Bible chapel in western Montana, attending Divine Liturgy is all about nostalgia for me.
From a professor at a university in the eastern United States, this question:
As a Protestant historian writing about a Catholic subject—in a nutshell, how Ivan Illich sabotaged the American Catholic missionary movement to Latin America in the 1960s—I’m unclear on who might provide a different Catholic perspective from what I’m getting. The primary and secondary sources I’ve looked at so far tend to accept, rather uncritically, it seems to me, the shift of Catholic missions toward social justice, development, and presence during the 1960s and 1970s and at the same time to be puzzled by the rapid decline in Catholic missions to the region, despite the calls of two popes for massive aid. Do you know of anyone—scholars, missionaries, bishops—who challenged the primacy of social justice, development, and presence and emphasized evangelization and conversion?
Hmmm...good question. On a global scale, one could point to Pope Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, which I think is an excellent reflection on the necessity and place of evangelization, with a very strong emphasis, of course, on conversion. I don't know if this passage was written with an eye toward liberation theology, but it could have been:
9. As the kernel and center of His Good News, Christ proclaims salvation, this great gift of God which is liberation from everything that oppresses man but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One, in the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him, and of being given over to Him. All of this is begun during the life of Christ and definitively accomplished by His death and resurrection. But it must be patiently carried on during the course of history, in order to be realized fully on the day of the final coming of Christ, whose date is known to no one except the Father.
10. This kingdom and this salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ's evangelization, are available to every human being as grace and mercy, and yet at the same time each individual must gain them by force - they belong to the violent, says the Lord, through toil and suffering, through a life lived according to the Gospel, through abnegation and the cross, through the spirit of the beatitudes. But above all each individual gains them through a total interior renewal which the Gospel calls metanoia; it is a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart. (pars 9-10)
As for specific examples of scholars, missionaries, and bishops in Latin America emphasizing evangelization and conversion in the 1960s and 1970s, none readily come to mind, mostly because, frankly, I'm rather clueless about Latin America. (As well as rugby, yodeling, and flying helicopters, but those are topics for another post.)
"Good news and bad news", said the agent at the airline check-in
counter in Munich.
"The good news", she went on, "is that the flight to Dulles is
on time. The bad news is that it's a full flight. I put you in a middle
A short time later, fearing the worst--a 350-pound woman on one side of me, a
man with a hacking cough on the other--I boarded the plane. Traveling by way of
Munich, I was heading back to the United States after two weeks in Rome spent
lecturing at a university and attending a meeting at the Vatican.
The 350-pound woman and the coughing man apparently missed the plane. What I
got instead were a quiet young chap in his late twenties on my left and, on my
right, a blonde young woman, twenty at most, in tee shirt and jeans. Breathing
a sigh of relief, I settled in for the nine-hour flight.
From a lengthy Touchstone symposium, "Evangelicalism Today," these comments by six Evangelical scholars/theologians:
What would you say to an Evangelical tempted to become Catholic or Orthodox?
Moore: There are some Evangelicals who genuinely become convinced that the
truth claims of Rome or Antioch are persuasive. If that’s the case, one
should indeed become Catholic or Orthodox rather than attempting to convince
Shiloh Baptist Church to use icons or King James Bible Church of the benefits
of venerating Mary.
Most Evangelicals I’ve encountered who are tempted to become Catholic
or Orthodox, however, are going to make quite poor Catholic or Orthodox churchmen.
I type that with fear, knowing many exceptions to this—including some
colleagues on our editorial board.
Most young Evangelicals I’ve known who are tempted to become Catholic
or Orthodox quite frankly aren’t heading in that direction because they’ve
been convinced by Cardinal Newman’s critique of sola Scriptura or
because they’ve found papal authority in the patristic writings. Instead,
many of them become Catholic or Orthodox because they are tired of dealing
with sinful, hypocritical, arrogant, mindless, loveless Evangelicals.
Just as some Catholics moving in this direction assume that every Evangelical
church is sparkling with the warm piety of those who have personal relationships
with Jesus (only to find otherwise), some Evangelicals tempted to leave seem
to think all Catholics are Walker Percy or Richard John Neuhaus or that all
Orthodox are Maximos the Confessor.
Many are then really disappointed to find what any Catholic or Orthodox person
could have told them—that they will be dealing with some sinful, hypocritical,
arrogant, mindless, loveless Catholics or Orthodox. Anyone on a search for
Mount Zion will be continually disappointed unless he finds it in the New Jerusalem.
Burk: I would counsel him not to be deceived by the marketing and pragmatism
of popular Evangelicalism. The current rot within Evangelical subculture does
not accurately reflect the richness of its theological heritage. Fundamentally,
the Evangelical faith is rooted in the solas of the Reformation,
which are themselves rooted in the confessions of the ecumenical creeds, which
are themselves rooted in the inscripturated apostolic witness to Christ.
Timothy George has written that he would have counseled Francis Beckwith
to press more deeply into this tradition before crossing over to Rome. And
I agree with George, who writes that Beckwith “might have found deeper
resources and a sturdier faith than that on offer in much of pop Evangelical
culture today. He would certainly have found there a way of thinking and a
pattern of Christian life much more resonant with the apostolic witness and
the orthodox faith he so clearly loves.”
Franke: First, I have great admiration for both the Roman Catholic and the
Orthodox traditions. They are vital parts of the Body of Christ, worthy of
honor and respect as co-laborers with Evangelical Protestants in the ministry
of the gospel.
Having said this, significant differences exist between us concerning the
nature of authority and grace. Both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions maintain
that the authority and grace of God are mediated through the agency of the
historical and institutional church. For Evangelicals, the genuine significance
of the church in the economy of God does not in any way imply that the church
has been fully entrusted with authority or given control over the dispensation
of grace in the world. These belong to God and God alone.
Hence, in spite of the genuine problems of Evangelicalism, particularly in
the area of ecclesiology, I would encourage someone who was tempted to become
Catholic or Orthodox to remain Evangelical while working to establish more
faithful and fruitful forms of ecclesiology. However, I have little doubt that
the conversion traffic will continue to move in every direction and trust that
God is at work even in this.
Hart: Look before you leap. I certainly appreciate the frustration that many
Evangelicals have with the movement’s informality and lack of substance.
Rome and Constantinople offer more in the way of liturgy, ecclesiology, and
even moral guidance. But as heirs of the Protestant Reformation, Evangelicals
contemplating the other Christian traditions need to think carefully about
how they are right with God and the nature of the redeeming work of Christ.
The Protestant Reformers answered such questions in decidedly different ways
from Catholicism and Orthodoxy. So to switch Christianities may be more of
a change than frustrated Evangelicals are prepared to accept.
Horton: I recognize the attractions. Raised in conservative Evangelicalism
myself, I was introduced to a wider and deeper heritage through Reformed churches.
As its name suggests, the Evangelical movement of the sixteenth century was
an attempt to reform the church, not to start a new one. Unlike much of Evangelicalism
today, these confessing Evangelicals had a high view of the creeds and confessions
as subordinate authorities as summaries of God’s Word, of the sacraments
as means of grace alongside the Word, and of an ordered worship, catechesis,
and discipline as aimed at driving the gospel deeper into our hearts.
Starved for mystery, transcendence, maturity, order, theological richness,
liturgy, and history, many young Evangelicals are discovering Reformation Christianity.
Yet for some, it is only a rest stop on the way to Rome or Orthodoxy.
Here’s how I would counsel such a person: Start with the gospel. The
gospel creates and sustains the church, not the other way around. If the Evangelicalism
familiar to you has been a constant stream of imperatives—moral exhortation,
whether in rigid and legalistic or warm and friendly versions—the antidote
is not to follow different rules for attaining justification, but
a constant, life-long, unremitting immersion in the good news that Jesus Christ’s
obedient life, death, and resurrection are sufficient even to save miserable
That is what the Reformation was all about, and it is why we need another
one, even in Protestantism as much as in any other tradition. If our salvation
depends on anything done by us or even within us by the Spirit, then our situation
Despite their own differences, Rome and Orthodoxy are at one in telling us
in their official doctrinal statements that this message is wrong—not
just in emphasis, but in the doctrine itself. According to Roman Catholic teaching,
it is a serious error—heresy, in fact—to believe that we are accepted
by God in Jesus Christ apart from any virtuous activity on our part and while
we remain in ourselves actually sinful. Our meritorious activity must play
some part in our final justification, according to both Rome and Orthodoxy.
One might hear more of God’s grace in the Mass or in John of Damascus’ The
Orthodox Faith than in a month of Sundays in many Protestant churches
today, even some of our own churches that are confessionally bound to teach
otherwise. But in Rome’s official teaching, not to mention
in its popular piety, the doctrine that we are justified by grace alone,
through faith alone, in Christ alone—apart from any inherent righteousness—remains “anathema.”
As the Vatican made clear, the Joint Declaration between the Lutheran World
Federation and Rome regarding justification in no way rescinds or qualifies
Trent. Only because the LWF partners no longer believe what Trent condemned
could the ban be lifted.
There are many insights that we can—indeed, should—learn from
the wisdom of these traditions and from ecumenical conversations. Distance
breeds suspicion, while personal interaction often not only dispels caricatures
but also provides opportunities for genuine spiritual fellowship even where
our visible communions remain divided. We should not misrepresent each other’s
views or engage in grandstanding polemics, but hope for a genuine reformation
of all professing churches that will restore visible unity.
In fact, Reformed and Lutheran churches consider the church fathers and,
in Calvin’s expression, even “the better doctors” of the
medieval church a common inheritance. Our older systems freely draw on these
sources. Continuing the tradition of the apostles communicated normatively
through the biblical canon, proclaiming the gospel and administering the sacraments
as means of grace, appealing to everything that is conformable to Scripture
in every time and place, Reformation Christianity is catholic and Evangelical.
Jeffrey: Count carefully the cost. What you may well gain in Eucharistic
worship and in prayer life, and even in some cases in biblical orthodoxy, carries
with it a burden. Part of this burden is an institutional infamy for clerical
abuse tragically comparable to, if not greater than, our own. And there is
schism de facto in American Catholicism; the authority of Scripture
and the rule of faith are more hotly contested by a substantial percentage
of the Roman clergy than among even liberal mainline Protestants.
But there is another element: A number of Protestants whom I have known who
converted to the Catholic Church were positively drawn by a profounder sense
of holiness in worship and by the sacraments, yet sometime after arrival found
themselves deeply nostalgic for a deeper, richer preaching of the Word. Though
such faithful teaching from Scripture is increasingly hard to find anywhere,
if it is something your spirit needs, you will find it even less frequently
in Catholic churches despite the weakening of expository biblical teaching
But in the last analysis, I would simply counsel prayer and discernment to
assure as far as possible the spiritual authenticity of one’s personal
prompting to move. If the Lord is in it, there will be an unmistakable confirmation
of his leading; if this is not transparently evident, a deeper and more thoroughgoing
process of discernment should be undertaken.
I have seen much evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in conversions to
the Catholic Church; I have also seen less convincing instances in which people
appear to have “swum the Tiber” primarily for aesthetic or imagined “intellectual” reasons.
The first motive is as appropriately to be honored as the second to be (however
Richard Dawkins, biologist and best-selling author, claims that belief
in God is a “delusion” and that “religion” harms society. Dawkins
contends that he has reason and evidence on his side, and he dismisses
faith as unfounded, even irrational.
Dominican Thomas Crean tackles Dawkins’ claims head-on. He presents
straightforward arguments for God’s existence, and he uses reason and
evidence to defend such things as miracles and the authority of the
Bible. He also shows how God is important for a coherent understanding
of morality, and why Dawkins’ approach winds up reducing morality to
the individual’s subjective likes and dislikes. By demonstrating how
Dawkins’ criticisms rest on misunderstandings, superficial readings,
poor argumentation, a lack of historical awareness, and not a little
prejudice, Crean reveals Dawkins to be out of his philosophical and
theological depth, and his case against God to be fundamentally flawed.
"Fr. Crean is an excellent tutor. These pages took me back to my university classes in philosophy. Questions, examples, objections, definitions, qualifications, expositions of absurdities—it is all here, with splendid lucidity." — Dr. Thomas Howard | Author, On Being Catholic and Chance or Dance?
"An admirable example of the best Catholic response to Dawkins: calm and reflective, patient and charitable, not stooping to invective or getting carried away with side-issues: everything, in fact, that Dwawkin's book is not." — Dr. Joseph Shaw, Tutorial Fellow in Philosophy at St. Benet's Hall, Oxford University
In a post yesterday, I had a quote from Dr. Francis Beckwith's Defending Life: A Legal and Moral Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge, 2007), which is a very thorough apologia against abortion rights and for the pro-life position. Today's edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald has an op-ed by Dr. Beckwith, titled "Let us define 'pro-life' for you." He writes:
What then is the pro-life
position? It is the view that the membership of the human community
includes prenatal human beings, even if excluding them would benefit
those who are more powerful than the prenatal and who believe that the
prenatal’s destruction is in their interest.
It is the view that human beings have intrinsic dignity by nature
that is not a consequence of their size, level of development,
environment or dependency.
Young writes: “Surely someone devoted to preventing abortions would be just as devoted to preventing pregnancy.”
Pro-lifers, to be sure, would like to see fewer abortions. But it is
not because we find abortion unattractive or repugnant, as if judging
its wrongness were merely a matter of like or dislike.
Rather, the reason why we would like to see fewer abortions is
because the unborn are full members of the human community and ought to
be respected as such.
Once a human being comes into existence, the parents have an
obligation to care for this vulnerable and defenseless family member.
These parents may call on the rest of us to help and provide to them
both material and spiritual resources, as many pro-life groups and
individuals indeed do.
There have been several excellent short critiques penned about of the recent spate of books by the "new atheists," but Theodore Dalrymple's "What the New Atheists Don’t See," (subtitled, "To regret religion is to regret Western civilization"), freshly posted on the City Journal website, is my favorite. Part of it is that Dalrymple is himself an atheist. But Dalrymple is not the sort of angry (Dawkins), pseudo-intellectual (Harris), posturing, blustering (Hitchens) atheist who blithely ignores argument, philosophy, and history in order to score cheap polemical points. He is an excellent thinker and a superb writer (his book Our Culture: What's Left Of It, is also a must read) who isn't satisfied with rhetorical sucker punches, whether from theists or atheists. A few excerpts:
Few of us, especially as we grow older, are
entirely comfortable with the idea that life is full of sound and fury
but signifies nothing. However much philosophers tell us that it is
illogical to fear death, and that at worst it is only the process of
dying that we should fear, people still fear death as much as ever. In
like fashion, however many times philosophers say that it is up to us
ourselves, and to no one else, to find the meaning of life, we continue
to long for a transcendent purpose immanent in existence itself,
independent of our own wills. To tell us that we should not feel this
longing is a bit like telling someone in the first flush of love that
the object of his affections is not worthy of them. The heart hath its
reasons that reason knows not of.
Of course, men—that is to say, some men—have denied this truth ever
since the Enlightenment, and have sought to find a way of life based
entirely on reason. Far as I am from decrying reason, the attempt leads
at best to Gradgrind and at worst to Stalin. Reason can never be the
absolute dictator of man’s mental or moral economy.
The search for the pure guiding light of
reason, uncontaminated by human passion or metaphysical principles that
go beyond all possible evidence, continues, however; and recently, an
epidemic rash of books has declared success, at least if success
consists of having slain the inveterate enemy of reason, namely
religion. The philosophers Daniel Dennett, A. C. Grayling, Michel
Onfray, and Sam Harris, biologist Richard Dawkins, and journalist and
critic Christopher Hitchens have all written books roundly condemning
religion and its works. Evidently, there is a tide in the affairs, if
not of men, at least of authors.
The curious thing about these books is that the authors often appear
to think that they are saying something new and brave. They imagine
themselves to be like the intrepid explorer Sir Richard Burton, who in
1853 disguised himself as a Muslim merchant, went to Mecca, and then
wrote a book about his unprecedented feat. The public appears to agree,
for the neo-atheist books have sold by the hundred thousand. Yet with
the possible exception of Dennett’s, they advance no argument that I,
the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14 (Saint
Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence gave me the greatest
difficulty, but I had taken Hume to heart on the weakness of the
argument from design).
In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes with approval a
new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an
atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require
commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their
metaphysical status seem to worry him. The last of the atheist’s Ten
Commandments ends with the following: “Question everything.”
Everything? Including the need to question everything, and so on ad
Not to belabor the point, but if I questioned whether George
Washington died in 1799, I could spend a lifetime trying to prove it
and find myself still, at the end of my efforts, having to make a leap,
or perhaps several leaps, of faith in order to believe the rather banal
fact that I had set out to prove. Metaphysics is like nature: though
you throw it out with a pitchfork, yet it always returns. What is
confounded here is surely the abstract right to question everything
with the actual exercise of that right on all possible occasions.
Anyone who did exercise his right on all possible occasions would wind
up a short-lived fool.
This sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple, with the
assumption of certainty where there is none, combined with adolescent
shrillness and intolerance, reach an apogee in Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith.
It is not easy to do justice to the book’s nastiness; it makes
Dawkins’s claim that religious education constitutes child abuse look
sane and moderate.
As regular readers of this blog know, I've taken Harris's book to task more than once for its laughable "logic". Dalrymple's essay is an elegant exposure of the inconsistent, intolerant beliefs of Harris and Co., all of the more intriguing because of Dalrymple's own rejection of belief in God.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, is urging
the faithful throughout the Archdiocese to see the powerful new film
"Bella" which opens in select local theaters on Friday, October 26,
2007. Cardinal Rigali said, "This film has a message that is so
connected to life: to the problems of life, the challenges of life, the
value of life. This film, I believe, is destined to have an
extraordinary impact on people's lives."
Bella is a film with wide audience appeal. It was the 2006 winner of the People's Choice Award
at the Toronto Film Festival, an honor received by former Academy Award
winners including "American Beauty" and "Life is Beautiful" among
others. "Bella" is the story of a young woman who becomes pregnant and
loses her job and a man who is unable to recover from a tragic accident
in his past. The two befriend one another one day, and their friendship
ends up changing their lives and bringing new hope to both.
Cardinal Rigali, in his office as Chairman of the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote
to his fellow Bishops encouraging them to host advanced screenings of
"Bella" with the hope of spreading the positive message of this film.
In early October, Cardinal Rigali and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
hosted a private screening of "Bella" at Villanova University's
Connelly Center for approximately 200 people, many of whom are pro-life
Bella, the pro-life themed movie that has the potential to change hearts and minds on abortion, opened solidly with $1.3 million over the weekend in a limited release in just 31 cities. Though other movies achieved higher gross sales, they needed significantly more theaters to do so.
The film stars Eduardo Verastegui as a former soccer player who learns the value of human life and helps a pregnant waitress, played by Tammy Blanchard, appreciate the value of the baby she's carrying.
The number one movie this weekend, according to initial figures, was "Saw IV," a Holloween horror flick that took in $32.1 million.
The movie had the highest per theater average of any in the top ten with $10,087 per theater over 3,183 theaters across the nation.
Bella firmly established itself in second place with $7,784 on average at each of the 167 theaters where it opened this weekend.
Why Do They Hate Catholics So Much? | Dr. James Hitchcock | IgnatiusInsight.com
Editor's Note: Written eight years ago, this essay remains quite timely,
even in its direct and indirect references to current events.
Most professed believers cannot conceive of why it should
ever be necessary to make sacrifices for their religion, which is why
there is almost total indifference to the fate of persecuted believers
during one of the great ages of religious persecution in the history of
Authentic religion, precisely because it penetrates so
deeply into the being of its adherents, has the capacity to inspire
either great love and devotion or great hatred, sometimes one
transforming itself into the other. At certain times in history that
suppressed hatred bursts out violently, in systematic and frenzied
attempts to, as Voltaire is supposed to have urged, "Crush the infamous
thing." Such was the French Revolution, the triumph of Communism in
Russia, and other episodes.
Benedict XVI said in his letter: "Following my recent meeting with you and Mrs. Alice von Hildebrand, I wish to express my appreciation for the efforts of the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project to promote greater knowledge of and esteem for Professor von Hildebrand's distinctive contribution to Christian philosophical thought.
"Drawing inspiration from the Augustinian tradition and its Thomistic reception in the light of Aristotelian philosophy, von Hildebrand sought to advance that tradition by creatively reinterpreting it in the context of modern thought and its concerns.
"He was far from a 'petrified' vision of the teaching of Thomas, based on a narrow and uncritical devotion to the 'words of the Master,' and could well make his own the classic dictum: 'Amicus mihi Thomas, magis amica veritas!'"
"It is this 'legacy' which has motivated your project," the Pontiff added.
Benedict XVI continued: "Grounded in the rich philosophical movement which stretches from the Pre-Socratic's through Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, to Augustine, Thomas and the great thinkers of the modern age, and taking up the challenge set forth in the encyclical 'Fides et Ratio,' the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project aims to enter into reasoned dialogue with contemporary currents of philosophy, bringing the full scope of reason to bear on fundamental human questions and contributing to the recovery of the sapiential dimension inherent in the 'philosophia perennis.'
"Without such a commitment to the philosophical enterprise, Christian faith would fall prey to a 'fideism' which would deprive it of its grandeur as man's free submission of intellect and will to the splendor of God's truth, and gravely compromise its missionary dynamism, whereby believers are called to offer to all a reasoned account of the hope that is within them.
"I therefore express my appreciation and support for the work of the Dietrich von Hildebrand Project, and my confidence that this praiseworthy initiative will bear abundant fruit for the evangelization of contemporary culture."
Staff writer Kim Jannsen of the Daily Southtown (Chicago) wants to help readers understand what real witches are all about, so she interviewed Deanne Joy, who "dabbled with Catholicism and Buddhism but settled on witchcraft about
1982 - around the time a group of classmates at her high school on
Chicago's North Side locked her in a car and tried to set it on fire." We learn:
Real witches don't believe in the devil, who was invented by
Christians, she said. Real witches believe instead that you should "do
what you will, but do no harm," she said in an echo of the Hippocratic
They don't wear pointy hats, but they do wear a lot of black, she said, admitting she has a "98 percent black wardrobe."
Witches don't turn people into toads, but they do keep black cats
(Joy's is called Halloween). They might not ride broomsticks, but they
do sweep the room before ceremonies, she said. And Joy said they only
have green skin if they've got food poisoning.
This is very helpful, indeed, especially the part about toads and cats, which seems to create all sorts of nasty prejudices and misunderstandings. But Jannsen also discovers that getting a clearer picture of what a witch believes is not without its challenges:
Joy's description of witchcraft can be infuriatingly vague, partly
because "some things are very private, and we don't discuss them with
outsiders," she said.
But she said the absence of many hard-and-fast rules is part of the appeal.
"It's about finding things that are important and meaningful to you and finding ways of incorporating them," Joy said.
You have to admit, this is a bit vague. I bet quite a few people are willing to say they like to find things that are important and meaningful and then "incorporate" them; don't even the most straight-laced and non-witchy of businessmen do that on a regular basis? Which means, I suppose, that a large number of Americans are witches of some sort, even if they don't wear much black or use brooms instead of vacuum cleaners. And Joy seems to admit as much, stating: "We're so misunderstood, and some people are so afraid. We're totally harmless, and we're everywhere."
What, then, are witches?
• They are people who are misunderstood. • They are feared by some. • They are harmless • They are everywhere • They find things that are important and meaningful and then incorporate them. • They are private. • They don't talk much to outsiders.
They are, in short, Jehovah's Witnesses? Or fans of the Detroit Lions? Amish? Devotees of free jazz? Readers of Proust?
Like I said, this is very helpful. Which is why I'm trying to incorporate it.
Sen. Sam Brownback pronounced himself "much more comfortable" with
Rudy Giuliani's position on abortion after the one-time rivals for the
Republican presidential nomination discussed the issue Thursday.
flew to Washington for a meeting he requested with Brownback in the
Kansas senator's Capitol Hill office. Brownback dropped out of the race
last week, citing poor fundraising, and his former rivals have been
seeking his endorsement.
The two men spoke briefly to reporters afterward.
much more comfortable," Brownback said. "Justices are key. He's stated
publicly many times about his support for strict constructionists like,
I believe he said Roberts. John Roberts is a personal friend."
And what is Guiliani's current stance on abortion?
Asked whether he could support such a candidate, Brownback said: "I
don't know that he would — I'll let the mayor describe himself —
whether he'd describe himself as a pro-choice mayor, or a pro-choice
Giuliani, pressed on whether he would describe himself that way, said: "You know what I am."
described it in the past," Giuliani said. "I've opposed abortion. I'd
like to see a society in which there is no abortion. I think you have
to get there by changing people's minds and hearts. I'm not in favor of
changing the law and the right that presently exists.
"But I do
think I'm in favor of everything else that would limit the number of
abortions, that would increase the number of adoptions and that would
move us in the direction of many fewer abortions," Giuliani said. "And
if we could get to no abortions based on people's decision-making, I'd
be in favor of that."
This makes sooooooo much sense. No, actually, it doesn't:
1. Guiliani has opposed abortion. 2. He wants a society without abortion. 3. But he doesn't support changing the law and the right to abortion. 4. But he wants to limit abortions. 5. And he favors "no abortions" based on people deciding to not have abortions. 6. Thus, when all is said and done, he supports abortion.
Or, put more succinctly: he opposes abortion and also supports it.
This is, it seems to me, simply a variation on the old "we can't impose our morality on others" riff. Strangely enough, for those who use this line of argument, such reticence against legislation doesn't seem to be an issue when it comes to, say, drunk driving, murder, child abuse, smoking, playing loud music at 3:00 am while driving through residential areas, etc., etc. In his new book, Defending Life: A Legal and Moral Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge, 2007), Dr. Francis Beckwith writes:
Therefore, a law prohibiting abortion would unjustly impose one's morality upon another only if the act of abortion is good, morally benign, or does not unjustly limit the free agency of another. That is to say, if the unborn entity is fully human, forbidding abortions would be perfectly just, because nearly every abortion would be an unjust act that unjustly limits, or more accurately, does not permit to be actualized, the free agency of another. Consequently, the issue is not whether the pro-life position is a moral perspective that may be forced on others who do not agree with it, but rather, the issue is who and what counts as "an other," a person, a full-fledged member of the human community. (pp 118-9)
Does Guiliani believe that unborn children are fully human and are full-fledged members of the human community? If so, why shouldn't they be accorded the protection and rights that the rest of us have?
Why the Bewilderment? Benedict XVI on Natural Law | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | October 27, 2007
On October 5, in the Hall of the Popes in the Vatican,
addressed a brief lecture to the members of the International
Theological Commission. He began by remarking on the recent document of that
commission relating to the question of the salvation of un-baptized infants, of
which by any calculation, including the aborted ones, there are many. I will
not go into that question here though the pope did give the principles on which
any solution must be based: 1) "The universal saving will of God, 2) the
universality of the one mediation of Christ, 3) the primacy of divine grace,
and 4) the sacramental nature of the Church" (L'Osservatore Romano, October 17, 2007). This solution recalls the
document Dominus Jesus that Pope
Ratzinger authored while he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith. Modern theology is full of those who would save everyone but without
the mediation of Christ, grace, or sacraments. Such theories, however well
intentioned, are not Christian in origin.
The Heartland Film Festival® celebrated and honored some of the world’s
most talented and inspiring independent filmmakers during the 16th
annual Crystal Heart Awards Gala at Conseco Fieldhouse tonight. Awards
and $200,000 in cash prizes were presented to 16 films. Heartland
announced “Bella” by Alejandro Monteverde as the $100,000 Grand Prize Award Winner for Best Dramatic Feature (pictured); “Hear and Now” by Irene Taylor Brodsky as the winner of the $25,000 Award for Best Documentary Feature and “Validation” by Kurt Kuenne as the winner of the $10,000 Vision Award for Best Short Film.
I have failed to convey the charm of the movie. Verastegui, despite
sporting a beard so thick and black it makes him look like a 19th
century anarchist, has friendly eyes, a ready smile, and a natural
grace in front of the camera that will soon have fans shifting their
Banderas pinups to the bottom drawer. And Blanchard fits comfortably
into the role of a woman who wants to do the right thing but feels
alone, friendless and broke. All she needs is someone to trust, and she
There is also a lot of cooking in the movie. Jungles of cilantro are
chopped. The restaurant's staff luncheon features quail in a mole
sauce. Verastegui looks like he knows what he's doing in the kitchen.
His IMDb profile says he likes cooking, which I believe, although
that's usually the desperation answer by people who can't think of
anything they like. You sense a little of that, indeed, in his
profile's next two sentences: (1) "He has a golden retriever," (2) "He
likes golden retrievers." He stops short of liking to cook golden
The movie is not profound, but it's not stupid. It's about lovable
people having important conversations and is not pro-choice or pro-life
but simply in favor of his feelings -- and hers, if she felt free to
feel them. The movie is a little more lightweight than the usual
People's Choice Award winner at Toronto, but why not? It was the
best-liked film at the 2006 festival, and I can understand that.
"Bella" is a tearjerker that
earns its sobs with heartfelt emotions. The main characters - a chef in
an upscale Mexican restaurant in New York and a waitress he helps get
through a rough patch - seem like real people, and so you sympathize
with them as you would a friend or relative.
Although made to attract Latino audiences, this bittersweet drama
has a universal appeal. It won the Toronto International Film
Festival's People's Choice Award.
Unfolding during a single day, "Bella" avoids a sense of confinement
by frequent flashbacks and an occasional flash-forward. Their
significance doesn't crystallize until the end, when the Kleenex is
sure to come out.
All this switching back and forth in time is never confusing.
Director Alejandro Monteverde immediately draws you into the
co-workers' lives and uses dramatic devices to hold attention, ensuring
that the pieces of the puzzle will stay in mind until they fall into
place. This is difficult for a seasoned filmmaker to pull off; for a
rookie like Monteverde it's a near miracle.
Bella is billed as a love story, but that’s a misnomer; the crux of the film isn’t love but rather those intense and unexpected events that punctuate life and change one’s course. Where a typical love story is often fantastical, the characters and situations in Bella are penetratingly real, with the grit, glare and sorrow that so often invades reality. Mexican director/writer Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, a new talent to watch, has developed a strong style of close-ups, sharp angles and other techniques that are fresh yet seamlessly poetic. Even more impressive is Monteverde’s ability to portray a feeling, thought or a full moment in a scene with nothing but camera angles, sound and an actor’s expression or gesture. Above all, however, Monteverde has succeeded in eliciting deep empathy and emotion, and that is what makes this film a winner.
A whisper of mystery and sprinkling of magic loft this parable of broken souls somewhere above the New York streets where it so comfortably tells its tale.
Starring former Mexican telenovela star Eduardo Verastegui as Jose, an ex-soccer-star-turned-cook with a tragedy in his past, and the wonderful Tammy Blanchard as Nina, a waitress with a bun in the oven, "Bella" is best when it's dealing with the relationship between the two.
When Nina is fired by Jose's cafe-owner brother Manny (Manny Perez), Joe walks out too, and a bad day starts to sparkle, as they get to know each other. The film, co-written by debuting director Alejandro G. Monteverde (with Patrick Million and Leo Severino), grows more pedestrian when the two visit Jose's family, and values start marching through the movie. It's better when the earthy Nina and the dreamy, Christlike Jose are more or less floating through the city.