Monday, April 26, 2010

The Pill's fiftieth anniversary

I'd like to keep on with the argument of my previous post, and I invite the LD to join in.

An occasion is offered by an article in the last issue of Time, devoted to the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Pill, its discovery and its effects, especially on the "sexual revolution" of the following decades.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI published the encyclical Humanae vitae, which raised an uproar of protests among Catholics, in particular in America.

What did it say that was so offending? The right answer might sound more or less like this: it reminded men, male and female, that they are by nature bodily beings, with all that this implies.

I heard said that the Pill represented a liberation of women from the burden of unwanted pregnancy. Well, the same Time's article remarks, women have always known how to avoid pregnancy when they didn't want it. Yes, contraception might have been less secure, but was available. Then we could say that it liberated women from the fear of unwanted pregnancy. Even this, I think, is relative. A decade later a much more dreadful way to liberate themselves from unwanted pregnancy was allowed, by the Supreme Court in the States and by the legislature in Europe.

No. I think that the long term effect of the Pill, foreseen by Pope Paul, was another.

It contributed to change the imagery of men. So that being bodily didn't require anymore the acceptance of the limits involved in it. What else could it mean to say that women were liberated by the Pill from a burden? Which burden, if not that of being women? A similar liberation was there expecting men.

No need consequently to identify with our own body (if you know what I mean).

However, it wasn't the Pill to start this change. It actually started already four centuries ago, when Descartes drastically distinguished, nay, separated res cogitans and res extensa, mind
and body, and saw men not as a unity of both, but as made by a strange connection of them of which he didn't know how to account.

Corollary: if sex belongs to the body, this means then that mind is asexual and can dispose of the body the way it wants.

Call this Cartesian dualism, or, with a more sophisticated notion, gnosticism.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Greeks Called Him SPOUDAIOS

I saw this story this morning, and I thought I'd pass it along.

It's about a college football player who graduated in 2 1/2 years with a 3.75 GPA (for you European readers, that is a very, very, very rare achievement), and spent last year as a Rhodes Scholar.

Now, the Tn. Titans have drafted him.

Until very, very, very recently, scholastic excellence included athletic excellence. To excel at school meant to excel in the classroom, and on some playing field.

We yet took seriously the idea of mens sana in corpore sano.

It is good to know that some of us still do.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

George Weigel Replies to Fr. Hans Kung (quanno ce vo', ce vo')

George Weigel has written an open letter to Fr. Hans Kung, in reply to Fr. Kung's unfortunate piece in the Irish Times, itself an open letter to the world's bishops.

Weigel's letter contains at least one error of fact, i.e. an erroneous identification of then Proff. Ratzinger and de Lubac as Council Fathers (they were periti, "theological experts" who acted as consultors to the Council Fathers), which unfortunately requires us to withold absolute and unqualified praise of Weigel's effort as a paragon of polemical elegance.

Even so, Weigel's essay is more than an excellent polemical exercise - it merits consideration as one of the finest contributions to its literary genre in recent memory.

It also happens to hit the nail on the head.

Money quotes:
"[Y]ou have lost the argument over the meaning and the proper hermeneutics of Vatican II. That explains why you relentlessly pursue your fifty-year quest for a liberal Protestant Catholicism, at precisely the moment when the liberal Protestant project is collapsing from its inherent theological incoherence."

"I understand odium theologicum as well as anyone, but I must, in all candor, tell you that you crossed a line that should not have been crossed in your recent article, when you wrote the following:
'There is no denying the fact that the worldwide system of covering up sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger (1981-2005).'

"That, sir, is not true. I refuse to believe that you knew this to be false and wrote it anyway, for that would mean you had willfully condemned yourself as a liar. But on the assumption that you did not know this sentence to be a tissue of falsehoods, then you are so manifestly ignorant of how competencies over abuse cases were assigned in the Roman Curia prior to Ratzinger’s seizing control of the process and bringing it under CDF’s competence in 2001, then you have forfeited any claim to be taken seriously on this, or indeed any other matter involving the Roman Curia and the central governance of the Catholic Church."
As enticing, as polemical engagement is, and indeed precisely because of its ability to inebriate - even intoxicate - I do not generally advocate it. The Romans have an expression, however, reported in the title of this post: quanno ce vo', ce vo', which roughly translates, "Sometimes, you've just got to have at it."

This was one of those times, and Weigel has acquitted himself admirably.

Read the rest here.


Status Update - and a nod to Nietzche

After so much time out of circulation, I am finding it hard to get back into the swing of blogging.

I share some of the HP's embarrassment at beginning, crafting and finishing a piece - and I also find that the frenetic pace of commentary (leave aside the impossibly intense 24/7 "news" cycle) makes it extremely difficult to offer serious analysis that is also timely.

By the time I have thought through an issue - at least far enough through it to be able to say something moderately intelligent - the world around me has largely moved on.

I firmly believe that the sickness is with the world, not with my thinking of it (and here, I am reminded of Emerson's claim to the effect that he knows the world he converses with in the city and the farms is not the world he thinks - though I am not certain whether I am reminded after Plato or after Heraclitus. I mean to say that Aristotle's remonstration with his master is different in result (at least) from that, with which Cratylus engaged his own master, Heraclitus, over the matter of a river and our chances in it).

I stand for slow and perfect reading - for endless listening and endless response:
[W]e are friends of the lento, I and my book. I have not been a philologist in vain — perhaps I am one yet: a teacher of slow reading. I even come to write slowly. At present it is not only my habit, but even my taste — a perverted taste, maybe — to write nothing but what will drive to despair every one who is ‘in a hurry.’ For philology is that venerable art which exacts from its followers one thing above all — to step to one side, to leave themselves spare moments, to grow silent, to become slow — the leisurely art of the goldsmith applied to language: an art which must carry out slow, fine work, and attains nothing if not lento. Thus philology is now more desirable than ever before; thus it is the highest attraction and incitement in an age of ‘work’: that is, of haste, of unseemly and immoderate hurry-skurry, which is so eager to ‘get things done’ at once, even every book, whether old or new. Philology itself, perhaps, will not so hurriedly ‘get things done.’ It teaches how to read well, that is, slowly, profoundly, attentively, prudently, with inner thoughts, with the mental doors ajar, with delicate fingers and eyes. My patient friends, this book appeals only to perfect readers and philologists: learn to read me well!
Let me only say, "philosophy".


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The real ground of disagreement

To write a post is, at least for me, a demanding thing.

To write, period, is for me demanding.

Why? you might ask.

Simple, because of the creeping civil war.

The easiest thing is to take side, and to write for one's own side. But it is equally easy, by so doing, to fall into the traps laid by the other side, and accept its premises.

A widely accepted premise, is that sexual matters concern morality, and that morality is tied to religion, and that religion is out of discussion – meaning that it is something about which no discussion is possible, being a matter of personal opinion and not of truth.

Only remains to distinguish right and wrong, according to this premise, the law. It also follows that the only limit the law can put to people's right to do what they want, is there being consent among the parties involved. Which have to be, therefore, on an equal footing.

It is hard, when that basic premise is granted, to argue otherwise. If one tries to do it, claiming that there are not negotiable moral values, he can be easily silenced with the accusation of wanting to thwart people's rights. And he can be singled out for public disapproval if some of his associates have indulged in practices that violate the requirement of consent, as the only criterion for judging of right and wrong

Am I defending them? No way, I am only trying to understand why the present debate goes the way it does.

It goes in a way that the real premises on which agreement fails remain actually hidden.

Disagreement is not about morals – not at least if morality is understood as described above. It concerns our self-understanding as "men": let's say, bodily beings conscious of their being such.

There is then one side, that keeps on speaking of spiritual matters, where actually our bodily being is looked at as important for what we are and for how we should relate to each other. There is another side, agnostic in spiritual matters if not utterly negative toward them, that actually looks at our bodily being as irrelevant, just a sort of property of which we can dispose at our will.

Do you find this obscure?

If you do, I wouldn't be surprised, because it is so far from our contemporary culture, dominated as it is by a mind-body or spirit and matter dualism. That's why writing is, as I said, a hard and demanding thing.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Homosexual character

Here there is one touching the forbidden topic: that priests' abuses so much motive of scandal in and out of the Church are largely of an homosexual character!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The one and the other party of the creeping civil war

Democracy was newly born in the West a couple of centuries ago, from the understanding of the equal dignity of each person brought about by Christianity. But the freedom it grants to everybody to express and promote his way of thinking and living, allowed an anti-Christian understanding of the equality of all men largely to affirm itself as the true basis of democracy.

So democracy was turned into a creeping civil war, that, I fear, will endanger its survival.

In the world of ideas, thrown there to conquer consensus with the electoral body, the war is an open one. Both parties – let's call them, for what is worth, "liberal" and "conservative" – accuse the other of being the real threat to democracy. It doesn't matter how much we might hate being partisan, we are forced to take sides. The only thing we can do, not to be simply fan of one or the other side, is to try to understand the point of contention.

Of course I already know that only one is helpful in this regard: the one that states the other's point of view correctly.

They diverge, I'd say, in the understanding of justice. And I am not making offence to the party I am against, but just relate what they themselves say, if I maintain that for them justice coincides with equality.

The trouble is that people are different: men and women, children and grown ups of all ages, look and size, not to speak of social origin and tradition. And all this cannot be merely denied and considered indifferent, without risking of being unjust. Everybody expects in fact to be treated according to his worth. Classical ethics and politics offers a sound conceptualization of what makes for just intercourse among people, by questioning what makes the real worth of people, to specify the meaning of its definition of justice, still well summarized as "giving to everybody his due". To this Christianity added that his due also includes recognition of his dignity as human being made "in the image and similitude of God", with all that this requires.

Take away the classical tradition of ethics and politics kept up and enriched by Christianity, and equality becomes enforced uniformity.

Unfortunately things are not black and white. So it happens that even the Church, that best represents and defends the side on which I stand, is affected by the confusion concerning equality coming from the other side. And this becomes occasion of scandal, that makes her enemies hopefully to decry her in a moral wreckage.

Or is it their own wreckage they show?


Friday, April 09, 2010

History is history

History is history, which means that it happened and nothing we can do about it, save try to understand it.

For centuries the Church acted in a secular context characterized by a monarchical and aristocratic articulation of society. There it became, in spite of the initial opposition, the main culture of the people, so it was in her that the princes searched for a justification of their representation, that made them other than tyrants. Of course, so the history goes, at the same time the princes tried over again to make of her just the spiritual side of their power: in a word, to subordinate her to themselves as to the true anointed by the Lord.

But there is a little particular: every Christian is, in the Church, anointed.

So for centuries the only one to remind the princes of this little particular was the Pope: the papacy was, over again, the only bulwark to the absolutism of secular monarchs, who in turn claimed exclusive holiness for their kingdoms.

By itself, I could say, the Church (the only one, holy catholic church) is a transcendent monarchical institution, established by God through Christ, leaving Peter and the other apostles with their successors, the Pope and the Bishops, to spread his Spirit through the people, so to have everybody share, once anointed, in his divine kingship.

Things have not changed even after that, also because of the long term effect of the Church's work in society, monarchy left the way to democracy in the secular constitution of states.

In Europe, this required in order to happen a series of revolutions, from Luther's protest to the juvenile movements of the late Sixties. It happened that people, moved by the sense of the equal personal dignity they owed to the Church, saw her on the side of the monarchical and aristocratic powers that be, and so turned also against her as an impediment to their divine freedom. But in this way, having deprived their dignity of its transcendent justification, they followed the way of the old princes, and tended to turn into tyrants.

This again is history, and I don't need to remind the ways this turn to tyranny took. But perhaps I do need to remark that this turn can take a soft as well as a hard face: a needed reminder now days, when the soft character of tyranny risks to make it invisible to us.

Different was the experiment in democracy made in America: not against the Church, but leaving the churches free to educate people to the required royal virtue. Of course, perfection is not of this world, and even the American experiment is subject to the temptation of soft tyranny.

That tyranny it is, is recognizable precisely by the attacks moved to the Church and the Pope.

There are derailing priests, betraying their order by indulging in "paiderastia" (today it is called "pedophilia")? So what is new: that men are sinners, and such unfortunately stay also within the Church, is again history. Nothing to marvel about.

I would marvel only if it were a phenomenon of such diffusion in the Church to exceed by a long stretch its presence in other sectors of human society. Which is in no way the case, quite the contrary.

This means therefore that the Church is attacked for the same old reasons, that she is there to remind people of belonging to a higher society than the one represented by any state of this world. Thus she reminds them of their freedom of children of God, being, because children, heirs, and sharing, because heirs, of his sovereignty.

Hence the royal liberty that makes democracy – the democracy we cherish – possible, keeping us from the otherwise inevitable servitude, to others as well as to ourselves.


Friday, April 02, 2010

More about Christ’s kingship and us

A little political supplement to my last post, for whomever might be surprised by my reference to Christ sacrifice as "kingly" (with some implications for the question of bipartisanship raised in the one but last post).

I am used to say that there are two different ways to understand democracy: that in democracy there are no kings; that in democracy everybody is called to be king.

Another more provocative way of saying the same thing is that democracy either is Christian or it is nothing: meaning that, if it is not such it ceases to be what it claims to be.

To understand what I mean, one has to know the historic and ethnographic evidence concerning kingship, where someone is deemed worthy of being king by his capability of giving all: even life. His figure appear then as an eminently sacrificial one.

If I add that only in Christ the idea of king is fully realized, then my statement might look less provocative: because, by adhering to him, we come to share of his kingship.

Kingship becomes democratized.

The corollary is that those who are attacking the Church and the Pope are not only enemies of religion but also of democracy.