Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Friday, November 02, 2012
I'd like therefore to insert here this couple of pages on faith and natural law which I wrote for another occasion.
Sunday, September 30, 2012
I know of course that, to be elected, most of the time candidates show themselves to be better than they are, and promise more than they can maintain. Rarely, though, the way they present themselves has been as in the case of Obama so far from reality.
He has revealed himself strongly partisan and racially biased toward the father side of his being.
His supporters will object that it was his opponents' fault, forcing him into partisanship. And I will answer that this is a partisan way of reasoning.
To be post-partisan means to be able to assuage partisan contrasts, and so it goes for being post-racial. It requires to be utterly partisan not to see that the failure to do so means a lack of capability, or, worse, of will. In one way or the other such a lack made Obama's self-presentation in 2008 a total lie.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Saturday, August 11, 2012
In inviting President Barack Obama to the Al Smith Dinner, NY Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan has exposed himself to criticism on the grounds of inconsistency: if Notre Dame made a "big mistake" - as he was quoted as saying at the time of that kerfuffle - then someone might reasonably ask, "Why isn't it a 'big mistake' to invite the POTUS to the Al Smith dinner?'" Several reasonable responses to such a query are available, ranging from, "Well, I got it wrong the last time," to, "It's really apples and oranges you're comparing...and here are ten reasons why." In any case, I cannot bring myself to be bothered by the invitation. The following is an outline of a few reasons why, try as I might, I cannot be scandalized.
Put aside, for just a moment, the following pair of facts:
- Benedict XVI is not only the Successor to Peter and Vicar of God on Earth; he is also the greatest theologian of the post-Conciliar period.
- Barack Obama is not only the President of the United States; he is the person with the most radically pro-abortion views ever to stand in, let alone be elected to, the White House.
I ask you to put these aside for the time being, not because they are unimportant, but because they are of supreme importance and therefore need to come into the discussion at just the right moment.
Now, consider the following:
- There is a long tradition of inviting presidential candidates to the Al Smith Dinner in an election year.
- There is an even longer tradition of making French Chiefs of State honorary Canons of the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
In order for the argument to continue, I must introduce a premise (one that, I hope, will not be too controversial):
- The order of worship in Rome’s cathedral basilica is rather more important than the guest list at the Al Smith Dinner.
Now, if Pope Benedict XVI could make former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, who is not only a supporter of the permissive abortion status quo in France, but also a public adulterer, an honorary canon of Rome's cathedral basilica - and he did, on December 20th, 2007 - then the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York can have US President Barack Obama over to dinner.
Now, just as it would arguably have been "bad form" for the Pope not to make Sarkozy an honorary canon on his first official visit to the Vatican, so would it have been for Cardinal Dolan to refuse Obama the invitation.
Questions of form aside, one may say the invitation was out of order.
There are concerns over the propriety of giving the most radically pro-abortion President of the United States ever elected in the history of the nation a platform from which to advance his pro-abortion agenda. Anyone concerned about this has never been to (or YouTubed) the Al Smith Dinner.
I think back to the Notre Dame debacle. Many Catholic bishops and public intellectuals were extremely vocal in their criticism of ND's President, Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., who, in keeping with tradition, invited the newly-elected POTUS to commencement. Much of that criticism was in fact condemnation: of ND's president, of the university over which he presides, and of the person he invited – before, mind you, the POTUS had had a chance to do any of the awful things he eventually did, in violation of his public promises.
There were in that case some interesting parallels with an earlier incident involving a head of state, a prestigious university, and a controversial invitation of the latter to the former.
About a year before the ND invitation in 2009, a small group of disgruntled university professors led a somewhat larger, but still tiny (as a portion of the whole student body) group of radical, ideologically committed and agenda-driven students in raising cain over the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI to give the celebratory lecture at the Solemn Academic Act opening the academic year at Rome's La Sapienza university - this is the rough cultural equivalent of Commencement Day.
They succeeded in making so much noise, that the Pope decided not to go, but the overwhelming majority of public opinion in Italy and throughout Europe was against them. The rector (president) of the university read the Holy Father's entire lecture into the acts of the event, and the radical anti-clerical presence in Italian political culture did itself serious and lasting damage.
In military parlance, they rendered their strategic goals unreachable in a short-sighted attempt to press a tactical advantage. They took the ground, as it were, but lost the field as a result.
In the case of the La Sapienza professors and students, the loss was in public sympathy and prestige.
There are real lives at stake in the present US public contest, not just public sympathies - though, as we are about to see, public standing is intimately related to political effectiveness - and whatever else this contest is, it is political: indeed, it is political in the deepest sense of the term, for it seeks directly to answer in important part the basic political question of how we ought to order our lives together.
In the case of Catholic bishops and public intellectuals, the best they could possibly have hoped for is that ND's president might have disinvited the POTUS, or that the POTUS would have voluntarily decided to withdraw his acceptance of the invitation - but the losses were infinitely greater.
They did not succeed in embarrassing ND and her president, though they did make the POTUS appear gracious in the face of rabid hatred and scorn.
They also burned all bridges with the White House. This is the loss of the field, the result of which was a seriously diminished capacity on the part of the bishops (whether singly or corporately) to press for enforcement of conscience exemptions and institutional autonomy, for the rights of Catholic schools to teach Catholic doctrine in social matters and maintain hiring and disciplinary practices in line with the Catholic vision of the human person and the true good of society.
The outcry never had more than the slimmest of chances to keep the President Obama off the dais on ND's Commencement Day, 2009. It did, however, succeed in placing Catholic health care facilities and schools at greater risk of government intrusion and prevarication, while simultaneously reducing the bishops' ability effectively to champion the rights and immunities of the Church and her organs. Said shortly: the outcry succeeded only in angering a vindictive Chicago pol, who happened at the time to be the most powerful man in the world.
In sum, the end result of the public outcry over ND was a Church with a weakened ability to defend human life from conception to natural death.
The present outcry cannot reasonably expect to achieve even such a victory as that, for which those who raised their voices over the ND invitation might have hoped. At the same time, the outcry risks further diminishing the ability of the Church and Her leaders to engage in effective public action - and this is a consequence neither the Church nor the country can afford.
So, perhaps I am scandalized a bit...by my fellow Catholics who would throw Cardinal Dolan under the bus in order to score a few sympathy points with the "home crowd" while simultaneously giving ammunition to the folks who think Christians generally and Catholics especially are unfit to participate in public life.
Friday, June 22, 2012
Out of metaphor, as far as the economy goes, POTUS doesn’t seems to know better than the European leaders. Moreover, he was elected as the harbinger of new hope, but it looks like he forgot that you can’t have hope without faith (and charity). So, once in office, he behaved like a father who knows best and is irritated when the children question his doings. Let the grownups work, he seemed to say, and have faith that they know what is good for you, and what to do about it. But people are not children, and, even with children in their process of growing up, it isn’t this the way that faith functions. It rather functions by inspiring people in knowing what is good by themselves, and empowering them to act on their own. It’s such an empowering that makes us speak of leadership.
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Are there scientific reasons for wishing the election as president of a candidate instead of another?
What the heck are you talking about? you may ask. What has the election of a president to do with science?
Should I say everything? Ok, perhaps “everything” is too much. There are interests at stake, concrete worries of people, like the state of the economy, by which it depends having work, with all that follows: salary, home, a decent life to live, in short the “pursuit of happiness”. Even ancient Aristotle recognized that it’s hard, as a matter of fact, to pursue the good life, fully consonant to a complete man (like himself, I might say, or his teacher Plato, devoted to theory, the fulfilling contemplation of the order of things, in which one might forget himself), rather it is impossible if one has to worry about the chores of life. Over against an aristocratic ethos, as this, that disdained busying oneself in work, today it might be enough for us having work, such, though, to leave us time free from worries: like the Christian Sunday.
I see that I am letting myself be taken astray by the thread of discourse. Back to the point, then. The practical matters which are of president’s concern, do not exhaust who he is. The president is also a representative figure: as Michael Novak aptly said, a chosen king. Chosen, because he’s able to represent something people recognize themselves in. But representation may be effective for some, and fail for others. Here politics takes me to epistemology: theory of knowledge, which, when it appears to us well grounded, we consider deserving the Latin name for what is indeed knowing, i.e. scientia.
Because someone, say a president (chosen king), represents people in something else. Should we say, not just their interests, but the knowledgeable understanding of the nature of things they may think (feel?) theirs?
Ok, let’s talk about epistemology then.
I wish it were possible. But we need to take it in an roundabout way. We can’t rush to epistemology. See how people take a stance on science and an usually corresponding stance on politics. How come?
Oh, come on. You must be kidding us. Before you say one thing, and next moment you say the opposite. You had almost convinced us: we must go from politics to epistemology. We may grant it: after all, what else do we have to go about but science? And now you turn things around, asking to look at politics first. Either you don’t know what you are talking about, or you want to play some trick on us.
No trick. Just an invitation to look at the way the epistemological question of science plays in politics.
Speaking of this, I’d like to recollect that when I came for a doctorate to the United States in 1971, and stayed there for a few years feigning myself as a sort of field anthropologist, I was hit by the difference in American politics with respect to Italy, my home country, or, let’s say more generally, to Europe. It still seemed then, at least to my at the time rather naïve eye, that political discussions in the States turned primarily around those practical matters and morality. Nothing like what we used to call “political” at home: meaning something that involved the overall understanding of the nature of society. One could translate that impression, by saying that politics in the States appeared to me much less ideological than at home. Or perhaps the fact is that ideology took a different garb.
However it was then, I should add now that the difference has vanished.
Some authors have indulged in saying that we had in the meantime the “end of ideology”, but it is more right to say that the garb of ideology was changed by what happened in the last forty years along similar lines: on both sides of the Atlantic, it became a matter of conforming or not conforming to that funny kind of moral stance which has been called, starting from the States, political correctness. What this is, could be briefly described as the assumption of a biological and psychological standard, presumed scientific, in assessing human affairs, with the exclusion of everything that smacks of cultural (or, worse, religious), presumed non scientific. But, are we speaking here of science, or of ideology?
Here you are! This is because you promised not to play tricks! And what is it that you are doing, with that presumed of yours? We were to talk about science and politics, but it looks like that you want to smuggle back in religion.
No, I can’t smuggle on you something I don’t know what it is; or, to be plain about it, of which I think that simply doesn’t exist. But you are right, by saying so I am playing some kind of trick, the one represented by the quotation marks with which “religion” is here to be taken, to mean that we so currently call something we’d like to keep separate from “science”, and thus from “politics”. Well, I know nothing of the kind. I only know different people who claim to have a knowledgeable understanding of the world, in the name of which they claim to be authorized to govern the world. Call advancing this second claim politics, then you have that it is advanced through the first, you may call it a claim to science. Here you have what is at stake in the pro o con the political correctness so called, in America as well as in Europe.
The previous POTUS, George W. Bush, was loathed by the American intelligentsia, made of university professors, main stream media operators, Hollywood actors, etc.. By the time of the end of his second mandate, his popularity was measured by polls down to a scanty 30% or thereabout, being charged for all the dissatisfaction that the course of events (internal and foreign) was creating in the country. That’s why the son of an American caucasian woman and of a Kenya man was hailed by many as a kind of savior, come to free the country from the oppressive Bush atmosphere. But actually it wasn’t what he did that made Bush loathsome to them.
Conservative commentators have always lamented the double standard of the left in assessing facts, e.g. actions by man in power. Actually, there might be some reasons for assessing differently the same acts: after all, their meaning depends on the circumstances (let’s think, now days, of a caress given to a child). The trouble is, though, that such difference is passed under silence, which justifies scathing remarks as these of Victor Davies Hanson:
Those actions were denounced as evil because done by Bush. Why? is my question. To which I expect an answer that, in whatever fashion, would essentially mean this: Bush wasn’t one of us.
You see? You are biased. I also expect to be told. You take sides with conservatives. No, I reply; or yes, if you like, but for a reason: that I want a reason given for the difference of assessment.
Who is then the “us” who resounded to me as excluding Bush from their rank? This question takes us back to the original question: the capability of giving reasons for whatever it is stated should be the mark of what we call “science”. Instead of reasons, though, if I ask what is science, I receive replies that take the answer for granted; like: “science” is what scientists do, and it excludes any God talk, which belongs to “religion”.
Really? I say. Then the great Isaac Newton wasn’t a scientist.
Of course not! We mean, of course he was a scientist, of the greatest. It’s is enough to keep distinct in his work science and religion, as we do.
There is the point. We should judge a president by his capability of representing a knowledgeable understanding of the world. This in turn is to be judged, by giving reasons. But these cannot consist in appealing to the current distinctions – of science, religion, culture, etcetera. Taken for granted, they become no more than factors of identification, defining the “us” to which one has to belong to be politically correct.
I know that with this I haven’t said much about what is science. But perhaps I have suggested that, whatever it is, it cannot be an affirmation of unreasoned tribal superiority. Whichever tribe has its knowledgeable understanding of the world – call it, if you like, culture and religion – and science, to be such, cannot explain it away, without accounting for the experience anywhere so represented, lest it becomes itself a tribal manifestation.
You may surmize, however, which party on the public scene I judge less tribal.
Friday, April 06, 2012
I was planning to comment on the two excerpts from Pope Benedict’s Mexican and Cuban homilies, when I run into a piece of news that made me jump.
Some Mr. President must be quite desperate to belie the whole Constitution of the United States. Perhaps because he is afraid that he already did it. I read in fact that Barack Obama made a scathing remark against the possibility that a “non elected group” of people might revoke a law legitimately made and voted by a solid majority of the Congress “democratically elected”.
It looks like that he was thus expressing his worry about the possible destiny of his much debated Obamacare. Or was he warning the Supreme Court from erasing it?
However we interpret it, this remark shows how little such Mr. President understands the ground of the USA constitution as defined by the Constitution.
The only excuse for him is that the same mistake is widespread: the belief that democracy essentially consists in determining governance by way of elections. Well, elections are undoubtedly important to decide who in turn enjoys the favor of the majority, to govern and make laws. But it isn’t enough the rule of the majority to make democracy – if we want to keep to the name an acceptable meaning!
What is needed is the rule of law: a law that no majority can make or change. That’s why sovereign is the Supreme Court, the non elected Justices in charge of reviewing the laws the Congress makes. Neither it is them, however, who by their decisions make the law: above them is the Constitution, before the Constitution the Declaration of Independence, and still before this a tradition of natural law that informed it.
This takes me back to the excerpts from Pope Benedict’s homilies I wanted to comment upon.
The freedom of which Benedict spoke in Cuba is now at danger: in America, as well as in Europe, where it might be already gone.
In Europe we are playing ostrich, and hide our head under the sand, feigning that religion does not concern the public space. The sand I speak of is that of willful ignorance, not wanting to know the facts of history, which show that religion always defined the public space, so that people recognized themselves as true men by belonging to a certain kingdom. Only a King who declared that his kingdom was not of this world, made them free to recognize their same humanity beyond all borders.
By choosing to ignore that King, we tend to idolatrize the kingdom that, literally, de-fines our humanity: call it, if you like, EU, or USA – if these were to be plied to the desires of the intellectual class that made the President. For all its pretence to be utterly open to anybody, whichever his/hers religion and culture and sexual preferences, it fails to understand anybody who declares that such things do actually make a difference with regard to the recognition of a common humanity. So, we could even have laws made (against, say, “omophobia” or “islamophobia”, or deciding what is good for you) to silence people who don’t agree with the undifferentiated view of man held as normative for democracy.
Friday, March 30, 2012
I’d like to relate these two passages, the first from the homily Pope Benedict gave in Mexico, the second from the one in Cuba:
Dear brothers and sisters, by coming here I have been able to visit the monument to Christ the King situated on top of the Cubilete. My venerable predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II, although he ardently desired to do so, was unable on his several journeys to this beloved land to visit this site of such significance for the faith of the Mexican people. I am sure that in heaven he is happy that the Lord has granted me the grace to be here with you and that he has blessed the millions of Mexicans who have venerated his relics in every corner of the country. This monument represents Christ the King. But his crowns, one of a sovereign, the other of thorns, indicate that his royal status does not correspond to how it has been or is understood by many. His kingdom does not stand on the power of his armies subduing others through force or violence. It rests on a higher power than wins over hearts: the love of God that he brought into the world with his sacrifice and the truth to which he bore witness. This is his sovereignty which no one can take from him and which no one should forget. Hence it is right that this shrine should be above all a place of pilgrimage, of fervent prayer, of conversion, of reconciliation, of the search for truth and the acceptance of grace. We ask Christ, to reign in our hearts, making them pure, docile, filled with hope and courageous in humility.
Furthermore, the truth which stands above humanity is an unavoidable condition for attaining freedom, since in it we discover the foundation of an ethics on which all can converge and which contains clear and precise indications concerning life and death, duties and rights, marriage, family and society, in short, regarding the inviolable dignity of the human person. This ethical patrimony can bring together different cultures, peoples and religions, authorities and citizens, citizens among themselves, and believers in Christ and non-believers.
Is it clear enough why I relate them? If not, perhaps a look at our last posts should do.