Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Unsecular age

There are several things that deserve attention, unfortunately of a not very pleasant character.

It is taking place an attack on the Church that endangers us all. I mean, it endangers our civilization, one could say, I prefer to say our whole legal civility.

Think of what happened in Belgium, a country whose raison d'etre was to be Catholic, and now sees his bishops practically detained for hours to be interrogated, while the tombs of dead bishops were ransacked.

It is all happening because of the sins of the Church's sons, it is the easy reply.

No playing victims from our great Pope Benedict. Just a right call to penance. The worst enemies of the Church are inside, he tells us.

It is so, but who are the enemies he is talking about? just the pedophiles?

How about the unacceptable understanding of things shown by our high prelates? Sinning, as it looks, of an ignorance that is a betrayal of Christ.

I was appalled by reading a debate between a highly considered cardinal, the archbishop of Vienna, and the Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find an English text to comment upon it. So I will have to stay with the title of Taylor's last book: The secular age.

Let me be a bit paradoxical, or at least go against the grain of current conceptualizations of present day society.

I don't believe that any such a thing as "secularization" exists. Usually it is meant by it the progressive loss of a religious understanding of the world, by turning to the saeculum so called: a desacralization of it. I see happening quite the opposite: a sacralization of it.

Christianity taught us not to identify God with any finite things. Now, what appears to be happening is the reverse (as I argued in my previous posts on "typhus").

So, I confess I don't understand what the archbishop is debating about with the philosopher.


Friday, June 25, 2010

A reply to the HP

Dear HP - I enter my reply to your remarks here, rather than in the combox.

I really do not know what to think about Gen. McChrystal's remarks.

I think it possile that he wanted to "fall on his sword" in order to dramatize what he considers to be an appalling lack of competence and conviction at the highest level of civilian leadership.

There are ways to do that, which do not compromise the absolute and indiscutible principle of civilian control over the military.

So, it was folly: either a perplexing lack of discretion, or a consternating failure of prudence.

More alter...


McChrystal and MacArthur

I'd like to raise a point of discussion with the LD, I am not sure whether it is dissent or just a specification.

I don't think General McChrystal forgot his history. It might be he knew it all too well. Otherwise his behavior was just silly.

Thus said, I come to General MacArthur speech, that the LD so gloatingly quotes. To this line:

In war there is no substitute for victory.

Shouldn't this be valid also for the civilian Commander in Chief? How about if he is rather working to undermine victory? As it appears to be the case, for example, when he announces that by the middle of next year he will start withdrawal. Which is like telling the enemy, it is enough for you to resist until then, and you win.

This sounds also like putting the high military command as well as the troops in a "double bind", by sending them contradictory messages like: I want you to win – I don't care whether you win or not. Certainly it is not made to keep up their morale.

Duty, Honor, Country.

Together with MacArthur the LD let's these words resound. A question then: shouldn't they apply also to civilians?

Of course the POTUS had no other choice than to relieve the General. So he did and did well. He held the honor of the office. How honorable, though, is the behavior of the incumbent?

Can we really say that this is an irrelevant question? MacArthur stated that the military shouldn't enter into politics. Ok. But are we sure that we are dealing here just with politics?

To know what I mean it might be the case to revert to my previous posts on the "creeping civil war".


Thursday, June 24, 2010

I have been engaged...

in a discussion at the Kresta in the Afternoon blog.

You may find my exchange with Nick (I believe this is Nick Thom, the executive producer of the Kresta in the Afternoon program).

Let me say that I am one of the Kresta program's avid, daily listeners.

The whole operation does a terrific job of presenting and analyzing the thorniest issues in a spirit of faithful fairness that is in the very best tradition of Catholic communications specifically and radio journalism, generally.

To read the discussion, click here.


De amicitia III

Clayton has published the full outline of his Friendship series, along with a letter explanatory.

If you would be edified and delighted, then follow this link.


Dissenter Priest Names "his" Bishops

With a tip of the hat to Fr. Zuhlsdorf...

Fr. Richard McBrien has "fondly and gratefully" remembered:
  • Leroy Matthieson, Amarillo, Texas, 1980-97;
  • Francis Hurley, archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska, 1976-2001;
  • John McCarthy, Austin, Texas, 1986-2001
  • Richard Cushing, cardinal-archbishop of Boston, 1944-70
  • Lawrence Shehan, cardinal-archbishop of Baltimore, 1961-74
  • William Borders, archbishop of Baltimore, 1974-89
  • Francis Mugavero, Brooklyn, 1968-90
  • Albert Meyer, cardinal-archbishop of Chicago, 1958-65
  • Joseph Bernardin, cardinal-archbishop of Chicago, 1982-96
  • William Hughes, Covington, Ky, 1979-95
  • Victor Balke, Crookston Minn., 1976-2007
  • Maurice Dingman, Des Moines, Iowa, 1968-86
  • John Dearden, cardinal-archbishop of Detroit, 1958-80
  • William McManus, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., 1976-85
  • Donald Pelotte, S.S.S., Gallup, N.M., 1990-2008
  • Lawrence McNamara, Grand Island, Nebr., 1978-2004
  • Joseph Breitenbeck, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1969-89
  • Joseph Imesh, Joliet, Ill., 1979-2006
  • Michael Kenny, Juneau, Alaska, 1979-95
  • Thomas Kelly, O.P., archbishop of Louisville, 1982-2007
  • Cletus O’Donnell, Madison, Wis., 1967-92
  • Rembert Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee, 1977-2002
  • Peter Gerety, archbishop of Newark, 1974-86
  • Raymond Lucker, New Ulm, Minn., 1975-2000
  • Terence Cooke, cardinal-archbishop of New York, 1968-83
  • John Cummins, Oakland, Calif., 1977-2003
  • Victor Reed, Oklahoma City, Okla., 1958-71
  • John McRaith, Owensboro, Ky., 1982-2009
  • Charles Buswell, Pueblo, Colo., 1959-79
  • F. Joseph Gossman, Raleigh, N.C., 1975-2006
  • Walter Sullivan, Richmond, Va., 1974-2003
  • Francis Quinn, Sacramento, Calif., 1979-93
  • Kenneth Untener, Saginaw, Mich., 1980-2004
  • John May, archbishop of St. Louis, 1980-92
  • John Roach, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, 1975-95
  • Patrick Flores, archbishop of San Antonio, Texas, 1979-2004
  • John R. Quinn, archbishop of San Francisco, 1977-95
  • Raymond Hunthausen, archbishop of Seattle Wash., 1975-91
  • Bernard Topel, Spokane, Wash., 1955-78
  • John Leibrecht, Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., 1984-2008
  • Frank Harrison, Syracuse, NY, 1976-87
  • Bernard Flanagan, Worcester, Mass., 1959-83
  • James Malone, Youngstown, Ohio, 1968-95
  • Robert Joyce, Burlington, Vt., 1957-71
  • Paul Leibold, archbishop of Cincinnati, 1969-72
  • James Casey, archbishop of Denver, 1967-86
  • John Whealon, Hartford, Conn., 1969-91.
  • Ernest Primeau, Manchester, N.H., 1960-74
  • Carroll Dozier, Memphis, Tenn., 1971-82
  • Thomas Grady, Orlando, Fla., 1974-89
  • John Snyder, St. Augustine, Fla., 1979-2000
  • Thomas Murphy, archbishop of Seattle, 1991-97
  • William Friend, Shreveport, La., 1986-2006
  • Joseph Maguire, Springfield, Mass., 1977-91
  • John Nevins, Venice, Fla., 1984-2007.
Rembert Weakland? The disgraced homosexual embezzler of archdiocesan funds? I really don't begrudge anyone the right to a political agenda - even an ecclesiastical one: but, geez! Has Fr. McBrien entirely abandoned even the most basic tenets of human decency?

A Note to General McChrystal

Apparently, the good General forgot the story of his predecessor, General MacArthur.

It is worthwhile to revisit General MacArthur's Thayer Award acceptance speech, delivered at West Point in May of 1962.

Below, an excerpt, followed by a link to the full text and audio recording at American Rhetoric:

We speak in strange terms: of harnessing the cosmic energy; of making winds and tides work for us; of creating unheard synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify sea water for our drink; of mining ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundreds of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of space ships to the moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.

And through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: it is to win our wars.

Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment. But you are the ones who are trained to fight. Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory; that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed; that the very obsession of your public service must be: Duty, Honor, Country.

Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men's minds; but serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation's war-guardian, as its lifeguard from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiator in the arena of battle. For a century and a half you have defended, guarded, and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice.

Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.
For the full text, and an Mp3 recording of the speech, click here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Typhus 2

Just two words more on the same theme of last time.

Being Italian, I follow with interest the performance of my country's team at the world cup.

We do feel represented when a team wearing the name of our country plays, and identify with it: so, according to the case we say "we won" or "we lost".

No qualms about that, and about the fact that the result of four year ago was a satisfaction.

It's a natural process of identification: "natural", I mean, according to man's nature, which is of being a social animal.

The question is to what extent it can be carried.

"They" tell us, in many ways, that we shouldn't indulge in social and cultural belonging, because it creates discrimination. The worse would be if our socio-cultural belonging came from a religious narrative: like the one telling the story of God's word made flesh.

If that story makes you happy, again "they" tell us, good for you. But don't dare advance any claim in the name of it, your belief is your belief, and that's it. To travesty one's need of belonging with God's name is purely and simply wrong.

This way "they" overlook the fact that identification doesn't come from a need of belonging, but is a natural process; and that God's name is not there to close, but to open the scope of belonging, to embrace potentially the whole of mankind. Useless to say so: "they" know better, and don't listen.

"They" can't but marvel, therefore, when "they" look at what happens around them, like the fact that interest in a soccer team becomes a fever: not just the mild feeling I spoke about, but typhus.

Identification, thrown out of the door, comes back from the window. And for many people a soccer team is the only thing left to represent them. It takes religious overtone: it becomes idolatry.


Friday, June 18, 2010

De amicitia: parts V-VII of Clayton's series on friendship

...may be found here (V), here (VI) and here (VII), for the edification and delight of the readership.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Indeed the Hyundai ad was blasphemous; but the real blasphemy is what we have allowed soccer to become.

Over here in Italy we call support for a soccer team tifo, i.e. "typhus", a contagious sickness that gives very high fever.

I don't know whether the same fanaticism, often violent, that is unleashed in connection with soccer matches in Italy or in England and elsewhere, is aroused by any of the preferred American national sports (football, baseball, basket ball …) .

I would have liked to expand on this, and perhaps I'll do it in another post. For now just one comment:

When we abandon the true God, inevitably we fall prey of idols.


Unbecoming: a consideration of the Catholic League's involvement in the Empire State Building controversy

Dr. William A. "Bill" Donohue, in his official capacity as President of the Catholic League, has engaged in a campaign against the ownership and the management of the Empire State Building (ESB).

In his campaign, he accuses the ESB operators of anti-Catholic bias in their decision not to accept the Catholic League's request that they illuminate the ESB with the colors of the Missionaries of Charity on August 26th, to mark the centenary of the birth of MC foundress, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Donohue's campaign is inconsistent with the nature, purpose and traditions of the organization he leads; Donohue's conduct of the campaign is unbecoming a Christian gentleman.

The following considerations are offered as substantiation of the critical observations, which I have made of Donohue's behavior.

Controversy in Context

The Jesuit priest and professor of political science at Marquette University, Virgil Blum, SJ, founded the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in 1973.

The Catholic League tells us that its purpose is:
[To defend] the right of Catholics – lay and clergy alike – to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination.
This is a cause around which all Catholics have a right and a duty to rally. Immediately following this mission statement, we discover the following specification:
Motivated by the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment, the Catholic League works to safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of Catholics whenever and wherever they are threatened.
In the broadest sense, then, the Catholic League exists in order to defend the place of the Church and of her members in the public square.

We find this understanding confirmed in the following words, taken from the "What do we do?" header of the "About Us" page at the League's website:
In essence, the Catholic League monitors the culture, acting as a watchdog agency and defender of the civil rights of all Catholics.
The Catholic League has often acted in keeping with its mission statement, bringing violations of and encroachments on the rights of Catholics and of the Church to the attention and the scrutiny of the broad public in a manner consistent with Christian charity and the common morality of all people who fear God.

The Present Case Considered

The Catholic League has, under Donohue's leadership, sought a secular honor for Mother Teresa, one of the Church's blessed. To seek such an honor is not to preserve the Church's place in the world; rather, to seek such an honor is to desire the approval and even celebration of the world - and this is not in keeping with the stated mission of the League.

Peculiarly distasteful is Donohue's use - as a trope - of a daughter of the Church, who so perfectly despised such dappled vanity while she was on Earth.

Donohue's ungrounded insistence that the ESB operators must have been motivated by anti-Catholic bias in their refusal, bears none of the marks of prudence, temperance, or justice.

Donohue, in leveling an accusation of mendacity against the ESB operators - an accusation based on the most uncharitable possible reading of comments torn from a statement published to the building's website in shocked response to Donohue's unexpected vitriol, and with the most exquisitely studied disregard for the full circumstances of the statement's publication - has behaved in a manner that is frankly indefensible.

I do not doubt the sincerity of Donohue's commitment, nor do I believe his intentions were dishonorable.

Nevertheless, his behavior has weakened the credibility of the Catholic League; he has done a real disservice to Catholics; he has wounded our national discourse.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Friendship with the Weight of Glory

My friend, Clayton, who is proprietor and operator of the Weight of Glory, has an excellent series of posts about friendship (I) (II) (III) (IV).

Well worth a visit.


Hyundai Motor America Pulls Offensive Ad

Hyundai has removed its blasphemous spot from circulation, after receiving what they described in a letter to concerned customers as, "[An] unexpected response."

I, for one, am glad that Hyundai executives have pulled the spot, and apologized for their lack of sensitivity in conceiving, creating and executing it.

I believe them when they say that they were not intending offense.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Hyundai's Blasphemous World Cup Advert: a call to action

Hat tip to Fr. Zuhlsdorf at WDTPRS

Here is the advert, below which I have offered a sample letter to the president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America:

I encourage you all to write to Hyundai.

Christopher R. Altieri
[ ...]
[ ...]

John Krafcik
President and CEO
Hyundai Motor America
P.O. Box 20850
Fountain Valley, CA 92728 – 0850

Re: offensive Hyundai advert

Dear Mr. Krafcik:

Your company has recently released a television advertisement to air during World Cup matches, in which certain rites of Catholic religion are parodied.

The advertisement is offensive.

The advertisement depicts the following: a soccer ball crowned with thorns (a symbol of Our Lord's passion); a glowing soccer ball in place of the Blessed Sacrament (Christ really and truly present in the species of bread); a mimickry of the Rite of Communion, in which the Eucharistic Bread is replaced with pizza.

In all these, your company's advertisement passes out of the realm of mere irreverence, and into the realm of blasphemy.

I am quite willing to understand that it was not Hyundai's intention to offend Catholics, though even if you were sincerely to offer proof of the most absolute lack of malice, you could not remove the objective insult to our Faith and to our God, which your advertisement has given and continues to give.

I ask that you remove the ad from circulation immediately, and publish an apology as soon as practicable.

Yours Truly,

Christopher R. Altieri

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Again about science

I'll try to be, if I can, less esoteric.

Someone describes to me an experiment he made, e.g. by throwing some objects from the Tower of Pisa. You see, he adds, this proves that… whatever. If you repeat it, and reach the same results, then you'll have to agree with me. And all triumphant concludes: that is science.

Good, I say, I understand. If, by repeating the experience others relate, we prove the same thing, then we have science.

That's right.

I knew it. I followed the way my parents showed me in their model of love story, and I found marital bliss. That why the Gospels recommend to follow Christ' example: to acquire the true science of life.

No, no, no! You got it all wrong. Love stories are literature, the Gospels are religion. They are not science.

Why not? I thought I was only drawing conclusions from what you just approved.

Whatever answer he might give at this point to my question, it would be the equivalent of a blunt "because I say so!".

Or, at least, I so wrote this fictional dialogue, because I haven't heard a different answer yet.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Not other

Perhaps my previous post was a bit sibylline. Let me add some gloss, hopefully less sibylline.

I'll start from this:

An eminent philosopher theologian of the XV century, by the name of Nicholas of Kues or Cusanus, wrote a book entitled Non Aliud, "The not other": meaning God.

Interesting, considering that we tend rather to speak of Him as "The wholly other" – actually so other, that we are tempted to consider Him inaccessible to us, to the point of falling into agnosticism.

A Jesuit friend of mine once gave me a clue to understanding Cusanus with this maxim:

I am other than God; God, is not other than me.

Whao. Then all my being is in God, is God's being!

The same exclamation came from a student of mine, lost after Nieztsche, but with enough esteem of me to ask me what I thought about it.

I tried to explain to him, against the grain of our current culture, that we are "social animals", and what this implies. I used to do it, the set theory today widely used to teach mathematics. Society, I said, isn't anything empirical. Empirical are the subsets of society, all the different definable groups to which we happen to belong; while society, well, is the most encompassing set, that we can name but not define (there is nothing in fact to which we could oppose it, so to define it): like being.

My student got the point, and exclaimed: you mean then that we are in God?!

Well, yes.

Not just us, but everything. Of which we have knowledge because in society we transcend anything definable, hence corporeal.

A corollary concerning science:

There are sciences of bodily things, but what makes them sciences is our capability to look at things defined in the light of the indefinable – shed on us, I repeat, because we enter the world in society.

Here you have the science I asked for (without which there is no science): the science capable of accounting for the knowledge professed by, and in favor of, the practitioners of all other subordinate sciences, so called; as well as, moreover, for the knowledge professed by all peoples who equally bear witness of what knowing means.

Because of the kind of evidence you could call it cultural anthropology.

Because it concerns noantri (literally "us other"), they would say here in Rome, meaning who we are in comparison we all the rest of us, so as to be able to give each his due, you could call it political science, or, more classically, episteme politike.

Because it involves the Non Aliud, call it simply theology.


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Absence of science

I have a fixed idea: that our western world is plagued by a very serious sickness. It is like the virus HIV, that makes the organism incapable to defend itself.

Let's call it lack of rationality, absence of science.

How can you say that? Don't you know that ours is eminently the world of science?

May be, but I have a question: apart from having given to a certain kind of research practices the name of science, do we have cogent rational arguments for so calling it, with a name that just means knowledge? as if outside of it there were nothing of the kind: no knowledge but simply opinions?

I can hear the appalled answer: of course there are! And it stops at that. May be adding a few platitudes, explaining how rational science is in opposition, say, to magic or religion.

Fine, I retort. But you didn't really answer my question. You keep on assuming which research practices are science, while my question was why we should grant only to them the name of knowledge.

There are, as a matter of fact, people claiming that the only harbinger of knowledge is religious experience. Appeal to science, so called, is of no avail with them.

If you can't justify your giving the name of science, then there is no science (QED).

Science is lost for our social discourse, if we aren't able of giving reasons for it. And we end ailing for lack of any reason, if we leave out what matters most to us: let's call it religion.