Saturday, August 29, 2009

Arrogance of modern reason, which pretends to define the real within its own limits

In Zenit

RIMINI, Italy, AUG. 28, 2009 ( There were long lines of people at the entrance of the exhibition "Vocare -- Maria Zambrano, A Vocation to Knowledge," and a very crowded hall at its opening.

At the Rimini Meeting of Communion and Liberation, great interest was shown in Spaniard Maria Zambrano (1904-1991), a thinker considered in some circles on par with the her 20th-century contemporaries such as Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil and Edith Stein.

Pupil of philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, though shunning Marxism, she lived for a long time in exile from her native Spain (in Italy from 1954 to 1964) because of her opposition to the Franco regime. Returning to Spain in 1984, she won the prestigious Cervantes Award in 1988.

Innumerable are her works translated into Italian, among which is "For Love and Liberty" ("Per l'Amore e per la Liberta"), Marietti publishers, 2008.

In opening the exhibition at the Rimini Meeting on Wednesday, its creator Carmen Giussani said that "ideas do not meet, people meet" and "the exhibition has a most beautiful biographical section that enables one to know Maria Zambrano."

Giussani placed Zambrano's long life in the context of the drama of the 20th century, which also touched Spain and Europe.

The creator of the exhibition recounted that exile from Franco's Spain marked Zambrano's life intensely, specifying that her philosophy openly distanced itself from Communist Marxist thought.


In the introduction to the essay published by the Florentine Publishing Society, which runs through the exhibition, Giussani says that Zambrano supported a philosophical and artistic current known as Spanish realism, which did not simply copy reality, but rather showed an admiration for the world "without pretending to reduced it to nothing." The current expressed "being in love with the world."

Giussani also pointed out how in her works Zambrano criticized "the arrogance of modern reason, which pretends to define the real within its own limits."

"The novel and poetry are without a doubt ways of knowledge in which thought is diffused, sparse, wide, in which knowledge on essential, ultimate questions flows without being clothed in any authority, without being dogmatized," wrote Zambrano.

Maria Regina Brioschi, creator and curator of the exhibition -- together with Giussani --, which opened at the 2008 Madrid Meeting in April of that year, said that Zambrano "criticized Western philosophy that, beginning with Descartes, has ended by reducing reason to self-affirmation."

"In such a position, reason runs two risks," she added, "that of arrogance and of humiliation, which together lead to despair. This is the confusion in which 20th century man finds himself."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Interview with Peter Kreeft on the Dictatorship of Relativism

A conversation with Professor Peter Kreeft with John Mallon, a student of Kreeft.

The day before his election as Pope Benedict XVI warned the world about something he called “The Dictatorship of Relativism.” What did he mean? We decided to explore this with the popular American philosophy professor and well-known Catholic apologist, Peter Kreeft, who has written books on the subject.

Professor Kreeft, the day before his election Pope Benedict XVI warned the world about the “Dictatorship of Relativism.” What is he referring to and what are the dangers?

The danger is to think that relativism is an open minded and tolerant philosophy. In fact, it isn’t. Mussolini was a philosopher and he explicitly said that the origins of Fascism were in relativism. He said, from the fact that there are no eternal truths and no prophets qualified to announce these truths: that each person has the right to create his own truth and to enforce it with any energy that he can. He said that there is nothing more relativistic than Fascism.

The ancient Roman Empire was very relativistic and tolerant of all kinds of gods. It didn’t matter what you worshipped, but Jews and Christians were persecuted because they had the temerity to teach that their God was the true God. So the relativists cannot tolerate absolutism.

For some this might seem like a scholarly concept, but it is so fundamental as to be the very cultural air we breathe. How do you demonstrate that this is truly a matter of life and death, and the dictatorship is very real and not metaphorical, as we see in Political Correctness?

It’s hard to see at first. You just put two people into dialogue, a relativist and a religious person and eventually you will probably see the relativist’s true colors come out. It sometimes takes a while, because some people who think they are relativists are just skeptics or agnostics and are genuinely open-minded and are searching. But the real relativist is quite dogmatic and this is his religion and he simply cannot tolerate anything that he sees as intolerance.

When I was your student relativism was a recurrent theme, especially as we examined the work of C.S. Lewis. Was he a kind of prophet in this regard, seeing where this was going way back in the 1940s?

Yes, he was. The Abolition of Man, was, I think, one of the most important books of the twentieth century. It warned that the consequence of moral relativism is the abolition of our humanity, quite literally. Not physically, but spiritually.

If Jesus was not a fool, then a qualification for salvation is repentance. But a relativist can’t really repent, because there’s no absolute moral law to repent of violating. So relativism is not just a foolish doctrine, it is one that imperils salvation.

Well, can a relativist ever admit he’s wrong, and still be a relativist?

Yes. If he’s a skeptical relativist. If he says, “I haven’t found any absolutes yet, but I’m still looking.” That’s quite different from saying, “I’m quite certain that nobody is certain, and it is an absolute that there are no relativities and I dogmatically affirm that you can never be dogmatic.” Or, as Madonna put it, “Papa don’t preach”—very preachily.

How about your students? Are today’s students so embedded in relativism that they have difficulty recognizing it when it is pointed out to them?

I’m afraid so. Alan Bloom wrote a book, The Closing of the American Mind, which was a difficult and scholarly confused kind of book, but it was a best-seller because of its first sentence. It started out something like this: “If you’re a college professor in America today there is one thing you can be certain, or nearly certain of, and that is that every student, or nearly every student, will believe, or think he believes, that truth is relative.

He wrote that about twenty years ago. Has there been any improvement since then?

There has been a protest. Students of mine at Boston College, which I think are smarter now. They are not more informed, but they know they’ve been cheated of something, and they are looking for it. You were one of the few bright non-relativists of your time. For now, for every one like you there are probably ten more. So I think that things are definitely looking up.

That was my next question, do today’s students think right and wrong are simply equally valid “choices” according to one’s “lifestyle?” Or do they recognize the squalor that has been bequeathed to them? That something is not right?

They recognize the squalor until it has anything to do with sex, and that’s the problem area. In fact, the origin of relativism is certainly there, we didn’t start being relativists because we wanted to fight a few more wars or do a few more tortures or a few more insider tradings, or something like that.

Lewis clearly seemed to recognize the problem in his own day, while most of us today look back at his time as the good old days, but it was clearly there.

There were no good old days. Since the Garden of Eden and a certain incident with a snake and an apple.

I recall a story you once told of one of your students who thought you were hard on your opponent in a debate with another faculty member. She was surprised that it seemed like you were trying to win! She thought that in a debate everyone just expressed their viewpoint and then everyone went home.

That was my colleague, Father Ron Tacelli, who brought his students to a pro-life/pro-choice debate, and the pro-lifer thoroughly trounced all the pro-choicer’s arguments, and he asked the class whether their opinions were changed, and he found to his chagrin that many students changed their opinions and were more favorable to the pro-choice cause. He asked them why, and the answer was, “Well, we felt pity for the poor pro-choice person—“compassion!”

Lewis really articulated the concepts, as when I referred to the embeddedness of your students, Lewis referred to this as a fish not complaining of the water as being wet. Isn’t that the main problem we’re dealing with?

The main problem we’re dealing with is not just relativism but the ignorance of it. If you are aware that you’re a relativist and see the enemy as the dogmatist, then you become a Nietzsche or a Sartre and then the cat is out of the bag and people can identify you. That’s called truth in labeling. Those two philosophers have been great instruments in the hands of God. If anybody with a sound mind reads them they run screaming into the arms of the nearest priest.

But the nice mushy comfy relativism that disguises itself as compassion and love and openness and tolerance, that doesn’t recognize itself.

So does this basically come down to honesty, intellectual or otherwise?

Yes it does. Everything comes down to honesty. Maybe deliberate dishonesty is the unforgivable sin, because without light nothing else follows.

I recall Lewis saying anyone who attempts to invent a new moral code is sawing off the branch on which they are sitting.

They can only invent fake moral codes—like inventing a new color. Someone once asked Sartre why he writes books trying to persuade people of his nihilistic philosophy. If he believes, as he says he does, that nothing is intrinsically valuable and there’s really no meaning to life, and there’s no reason for doing anything, but we have to act anyway. And he said, “You’re trying to trick me. The meaning of life is the act itself, it has no end. It’s as if we’re a bubble, and the meaning of life is simply to blow up the bubble and to increase it.”

One thing I wonder about is how these people go on. Is life just blowing up a bubble forever?

Yes. They have silly slogans like “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” Which, as Lewis pointed out, is nonsense, because if you believe that, you never travel hopefully because there is no hope of arriving. For these people arriving is threatening.

It’s not just modern, there’s a verse in one of St. Paul’s letters, where I think he’s talking about skeptical Greek philosophers, as “ever learning and never coming any nearer to the truth.”

In Mere Christianity, Lewis spends an awful lot of time driving home the meaning of objective versus subjective truth. How does that play into relativism?

Let’s say there are three kinds of relativism. There’s relativism about religion, there’s relativism about morality and there’s relativism about all truth. Relativism about all truth is like the new age movement, you create your own reality, your god, the universe is whatever you think it is. If seriously believed, that is insanity—the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Relativism about religion is less radical than that; it’s a belief that nobody can find objective truth in religion so religion is just a mechanism of comfort—what works for you: I like rice, you like yogurt, I like steak, you like chicken—let’s just be tolerant. That’s not a total relativism, that’s just a relativism about God because a person who holds that view is skeptical about anybody’s ability to know God.

And then there is relativism about morality which is much more serious, I think, than relativism about religion, because God left everybody, no matter what their religious views, with quite a bit of moral knowledge. Conscience is pretty much the same thing whether you are religious or not, and if you are religious no matter what religion you are. There is not a great deal of difference between Christian morality, Jewish morality, Hindu morality, Muslim morality, Buddhist morality; although there’s a great difference in the religions. So to deny the verdict of conscience, that some things are really, truly, objectively good, and that other things are truly objectively evil is to deny a very deep part of yourself.

Budziszewski said, memorably, in the title of one of his books, “There are certain things you can’t not know.”

What about people who reduce the mind, the soul, conscience, whatever, are just a construct or the result of certain chemicals in your brain according to the evolutionary process?

Well, I hope people don’t act on that knowledge, because if they do, they’re not going to take their conscience very seriously at all. So there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do whatever they please. Why bow down to an evolutionary genetic accident?

They wouldn’t bow down to it, they would just say that’s all it is.

Yet, in their living, almost everybody does admit to claims of conscience.

Everybody bows down to something?

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who believed it was morally good to be a deliberate hypocrite, and not obey your own conscience. Everybody has something about conscience that they respect, even if their theory is that it’s nothing.

Even in the midst of denying them?


So, just to bring this around to the Holy Father’s warning, let’s take an example. In our own country, the United States, in the run up to the presidential campaign, these questions seem to be coming to bear a lot in the rhetoric of politicians, and even worse, the behavior of some politicians…

Well, our Supreme Court, has, in effect, has declared relativism to be the official philosophy of the United States of America. I think it was the Casey decision* ratifying Roe v. Wade, where Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the famous mystery passage—which has to be the silliest thing any Supreme Court judge ever wrote in history: At the heart of liberty is the right to decide for oneself the meaning of life and the meaning of existence. In other words, God move over, you are in my seat.

So if that has been adopted as a policy, what then is the future of society?

As Lewis points out, especially in his essay, The Poison of Subjectivism, and also in The Abolition of Man, No society in the history of the world has ever survived believing moral relativism. They all have some version of what he calls the Tao, the natural moral law. So there are only three possibilities. Either our society will refute one of the most firmly established principles in all of history, or we will persist in our relativism and perish, or we will repent of our relativism and survive.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Antithesis between creationism and evolutionism is absurd

By Benedict XVI

Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called "creationism" and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God.

This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man?

I believe this is of the utmost importance. This is what I wanted to say in my lecture at Regensburg: that reason should be more open, that it should indeed perceive these facts but also realize that they are not enough to explain all of reality. They are insufficient. Our reason is broader and can also see that our reason is not basically something irrational, a product of irrationality, but that reason, creative reason, precedes everything and we are truly the reflection of creative reason.

We were thought of and desired; thus, there is an idea that preceded me, a feeling that preceded me, that I must discover, that I must follow, because it will at last give meaning to my life. This seems to me to be the first point: to discover that my being is truly reasonable, it was thought of, it has meaning. And my important mission is to discover this meaning, to live it and thereby contribute a new element to the great cosmic harmony conceived of by the Creator.

If this is true, then difficulties also become moments of growth, of the process and progress of my very being, which has meaning from conception until the very last moment of life. We can get to know this reality of meaning that precedes all of us, we can also rediscover the meaning of pain and suffering.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vatican "prime minister" on Caritas in veritate

By Cardinal Bertone addressing the Italian Senate. An excerpt

An important message that comes to us from Caritas in veritate is the invitation to supersede the now obsolete dichotomy between the financial sphere and the social sphere. Modernity has bequeathed to us the idea on the basis of which, if we are to be able to operate in the field of the economy, it is essential to achieve a profit and to be motivated chiefly by self-interest; as if to say that if we do not seek the highest profit we are not proper entrepreneurs. Should this not be the case, we must be content with belonging to the social sphere.

This conceptualization, that confuses the market economy that is the genus with its own particular species which is the capitalist system, has led to identifying the economy with the place where wealth or income is generated, and society with the place of solidarity for its fair distribution.

Caritas in veritate tells us instead that it is also possible to do business by pursuing aims that serve society and are inspired by pro-social motives. This is a practical way, if not the only one, of bridging the gap between the economic and the social spheres, given that an economic activity which did not incorporate the social dimension would not be ethically acceptable. It is likewise true that a social policy concerned only with redistribution, that failed to reckon with the available resources, would not be sustainable in the long run: in fact, production must precede distribution.

We should be particularly grateful to Benedict XVI for wishing to emphasize the fact that economic action is not separate from or alien to the cornerstones of the Church's social teaching such as: the centrality of the human person, solidarity, subsidariety, the common good.

It is necessary to supersede the current concept which expects the Church's social teaching and values to be confined to social activities, while experts in efficiency would be charged with guiding the economy. It is the merit and certainly not a secondary one of this Encyclical to contribute to remedying this gap which is both cultural and political.

Contrary to what people think, efficiency is not the fundamentum divisionis for distinguishing between what is business and what is not, for the simple reason that "efficiency" is a category that belongs to the order of means and not of ends. Indeed, efficiency is indispensable in order to achieve as well as possible the purpose one has freely chosen to give one's action. The entrepreneur who gives priority to efficiency that is an end in itself risks being caught by one of the most frequent causes of the destruction of wealth today, as the current economic and financial crisis sadly confirms.

To expand briefly on this theme, to say "market" means saying "competition", in the sense that the market cannot exist where there is no competition (even if the opposite is not true). And there is no one who can fail to see that the fruitfulness of competition lies in the fact that it implies tension, the dialectic that presupposes the presence of another and the relationship with another. Without tension there is no movement, but the movement this is the point to which tension gives rise can also be fatal; in other words it can generate death.

If the purpose of economic action is not synonymous with striving for a common goal as the Latin etymology "cum-petere" would clearly indicate but rather with Hobbes' theory, "mors tua, vita mea" [your death is my life], then the social bond is reduced to commercial relations and economic activity tends to become inhuman, hence ultimately inefficient. Therefore, even in competition, "the Church's social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and not only outside it or "after" it. The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner" [15].

Well, the advantage by no means small that Caritas in veritate offers us is to give special consideration to the concept of market, typical of the tradition of the thought of civil economics, according to which it is possible to live the experience of human sociality within a normal economic life and not outside or beside it. This concept might be defined as an alternative, both regarding the concept that sees the market as a place for the exploitation and abuse of the weak by the strong, and the concept which, in line with anarchic-liberalistic thought, sees it as a place that can provide solutions to all the problems of society.

This way of doing business is differentiated from that of the traditional Smithian economy, which sees the market as the only institution truly necessary for democracy and freedom. The Church's social doctrine, on the other hand, reminds us that a sound society is certainly the product of the market and of freedom, but there are needs that stem from the principle of brotherhood that can neither be avoided nor be referred solely to the private sphere or to philanthropy. Rather, the Church's social doctrine proposes a humanism with various dimensions, in which the market is not combated or "controlled" but is seen as an important institution in the public sphere a sphere which far exceeds State control which, if it is conceived of and lived as a place that is also open to the principles of reciprocity and of giving, can construct a healthy civil coexistence.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cause and cure of moral relativism

By Peter Kreeft

What is the cause, and cure of moral relativism? The real source of moral relativism is not any argument at all, and therefore its cure is not any refutation of an argument. Neither philosophy nor science nor logic nor common sense nor experience have ever refuted traditional moral absolutism. It is not reason, but the abdication of reason that is the source of moral relativism. Relativism is not rational, it is rationalization. It is not the conclusion of a rational argument. It is the rationalization of a prior action. It is the repudiation of the principle that passions must be evaluated by reason and controlled by will. That is the virtue Plato and Aristotle called self-control. It is not just one of the cardinal virtues, but a necessary ingredient in every virtue. That classical assumption is almost the definition of civilization. But romanticists, existentialists, Freudians, and many others have convinced many people in our culture that it is oppressive and unhealthy and inauthentic. If we embrace the opposite principle, and let passion govern reason, rather than reason govern passion, there is little hope for morality or for civilization.

The cure requires more than an argument

Obviously, the strongest and most attractive of the passions is sexual passion. It is therefore also the most addictive and the most blinding. So, there could hardly be a more powerful undermining of our moral knowledge and our moral life than the sexual revolution. Already, the demand for sexual freedom has overridden one of nature's strongest instincts: motherhood. A million mothers a year in America alone pay hired killers, who are called healers or physicians, to kill their own unborn daughters and sons. How could this happen? Only because abortion is driven by sexual motives. For abortion is backup birth control, and birth control is the demand to have sex without having babies. If the stork brought babies, there'd be no Planned Parenthood.

Divorce is a second example of the power of the sexual revolution to undermine basic moral principles. Suppose there were some other practice, not connected with sex, which had these three documentable results. First, betraying the person you claim to love the most, the person you had pledged your life to, betraying your solemn promise to her or him. Second, thereby abusing the children you had procreated and promised to protect, scarring their souls more infinitely than anything else except direct violent physical abuse, and making it far more difficult for them ever to attain happy lives or marriages. And thirdly, thereby harming, undermining, and perhaps destroying your society's future. Would not such a practice be universally condemned? Yet, that is exactly what divorce is, and it is universally accepted. Betrayal is universally condemned unless it is sexual. Justice, honesty, not doing other harms—these moral principles are affirmed, unless they interfere with sex.

We are designed for joy

The rest of traditional morality is still very widely believed and taught, even in TV sitcoms, soap operas, and Hollywood movies. The driving force of moral relativism seems to be almost exclusively sexual. Why this should be, and what we should do about it, are two further questions that demand much more time and thought than we have available here and now. But if you want a very short guess at an answer to both, here is the best I can do. I think a secularist has only one substitute left for God, only one experience in a desacrilized world that still gives him something like the mystical, self-transcending thrill of ecstasy that God designed all souls to have forever, and to long for until they have it. Unless he is a surfer, that experience has to be sex. We're designed for more than happiness; we're designed for joy. Aquinas writes, with simple logic, "Man cannot live without joy. That is why one deprived of true spiritual joys must spill over to carnal pleasures."

Drugs and alcohol are attractive because they claim to feed the same need. The lack the ontological greatness of sex, but they provide the same semi-mystical thrill: the transcendence of reason and self-consciousness. I do not mean this merely as moral condemnation, but as psychological analysis. In fact, though they sound shocking, I think the addict is closer to the deepest truth than the mere moralist. He is looking for the very best thing in some of the very worst places. His demand for a state in which he transcends morality is very wrong, but it's also very right. For we are designed for something beyond morality, something in which morality will be transformed. Mystical union with God. Sex is a sign and appetizer of that. Moral absolutists must never forget that morality, though absolute, is not ultimate. It is not our Summum Bonum. Sinai is not the Promised Land; Jerusalem is. And in the New Jerusalem, what finally happens as the last chapter of human history is a wedding between the Lamb and His bride. Deprived of this Jerusalem, we must buy into Babylon. If we do not worship God, we will worship idols, for we are by nature worshippers.

Finally, what is the cure? It must be stronger medicine than philosophy, so I can give you only three words in answer to this last and most practical question of all. What we can do about it? What is the cure? These three words are totally unoriginal. They are not my philosophical argument, but God's biblical demands. Repent, fast, and pray. Confess, sacrifice, adore. I know of no other answer, and I can think of nothing else that can save this civilization except Saints.

Please be one.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Embryo Ethics: Justice and Nascent Human Life

A Review of Robert George lecture in Murray Hill Institute. Reviewed by Glenn Statile, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, St. Johns University, Queens, New York

Almost forty years have passed since Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae in the summer of 1968. Since then the culture of death has been in the ascendancy in matters pertaining to sexual ethics, reproduction, abortion, contraception, and a whole range of related issues having to do with the status and dignity of the human person. The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once suggested that by the age of forty we all get the face that we deserve. Fortunately for us there are vigorous thinkers like Robert George who are doing their utmost to prove Wilde correct. For the culture of life, spearheaded by Humane Vitae and defended by Pope John Paul II, is finally beginning to realize the respect that it so richly deserves.

Professor George’s paper deals with the topical issue of embryo ethics. Readers would do well to bear in mind two important features from the outset.

1) The recurring use of analogy in the ethical literature. (e.g. #10 below)

2) The claim that science, reinforced by careful philosophical reasoning, and not theology −more specifically the theology of ensoulment−should form the basis of establishing the following claims, both of which are contested by the supporters of embryo-destructive research.

2a) Embryos are human beings.

2b) Embryos are persons who merit all the rights which justice confers upon them.

As for analogy, it is important to note that, logically speaking, analogies allow for only probable certainty at best; whereas the aim of the ethical arguments which employ them is to deductively persuade us beyond the shadow of a doubt. Nevertheless analogies do facilitate understanding and bring complex ethical matters into a kind of conceptual relief. And while it is true that the Catholic Church does not doctrinally declare conception as the moment of ensoulment, many of our root ethical assumptions and values cannot be severed so easily from our overall religious convictions and outlook. Professor George urges the scientific strategy as best suited to the subject matter of embryo ethics since any proclamation concerning the onset of ensoulment would itself need to be previously informed by the best scientific evidence available. Pope John Paul II demonstrates a similar respect for the role to be played by science in this matter in paragraph 60 of Evangelium Vitae in the context of his own ethical analysis of abortion.

With these things squarely in mind let us now look at how Professor George reaches the claims articulated in (2a) and (2b). He does so in the form of answers to two fundamental questions.

3) Who or what is an embryo?

4) What is owed to the embryo as a matter of justice?

As to the nature of an embryo Professor George contends that a genetic causal continuity exists throughout each stage of genetic development from the moment of conception onwards. He documents this claim with embryological evidence and by demonstrating the extent to which the developmental immaturity characteristic of the embryo still does not demand that it be viewed as different in kind from a human being. Embryological evidence convincingly shows that the maturation and development of the embryo is driven from within and proceeds along a pathway best described as the “gapless continuum” of a human life. The embryo, according to Professor George, is not an intermediate form on the way to human status. It is already human life, whether resulting from fertilization or Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (cloning). This is in contrast to the status of the gametes which serve as but parts contributed by potential parents.

Professor George now turns to the second of his two questions. Any claim to the effect that embryonic human beings can be denied full respect entails that “not every human being deserves full respect.” And this in turn leads to the inference that those who do merit full respect do so for reasons in addition to the type of being they are. Professor George stresses that such additional features for conferring full respect on the embryo, such as conscious reasoning and the capacity to make choices, need not be fully actualized as they lie dormant in persons who are asleep or incapacitated by a reversible coma. And surely people in such situations merit full moral respect. While it is true that embryos lack these higher mental capacities in any actual sense, they possess them in root form because of the kind of beings they already are.

This leads Professor George to distinguish between two meanings of the term “capacity.” A capacity can be “immediately exercisable” or a “basic natural capacity” which emerges over time. It is the second of these two meanings which, according to Professor George, provides the justificatory basis for regarding embryos as worthy of full moral respect and the rights which follow from it. It is our rational nature as humans, which embryos possess in full as a basic natural capacity, and not its mere application or exercise that is sufficient to procure full moral status. Professor George offers three main reasons in support of this claim.

5) Humans reach maturity gradually. If complete maturation was required for achieving full moral status then six-week-old infants would not qualify.

6) The difference between the two types of capacities is only one of degree. Having more of what already qualifies as worthy of full moral respect does not come with any additional moral cachet.

7) If the degree to which the rational capacity is exercised were to be the basis for allocating full moral respect then the basic rights of humans would be accorded in varying amounts. This is not the case.

Professor George concludes by addressing and countering four of the stronger arguments in favor of denying human embryos their full quotient of rights.

8) Argument — Every cell in the human body has as much potential for development as any embryo. Therefore, embryos have no greater moral status than ordinary cells. (Ronald Bailey)

Response — While a somatic cell can be used to generate a new organism, it is not already such. Both somatic cells and embryos possess the potential to develop into a mature being, but the potentiality of the former is passive, requiring something to be done to it, while the potentiality of the latter is self-directed.

9) Argument — While the embryo possesses the full human genome, it lacks personhood and hence full moral status since personhood requires full development of the brain. If modern medicine equates the death of the brain with the death of the person, then no person can pre-exist the development of the brain. (Michael Gazzaniga)

Response — What brain death signifies is loss of the ability for self-directed integral organic functioning. Prior to full brain development the embryo nevertheless is a unitary organism which directs its own development. It is not a potential life, but a “life with potential.”

10) Argument — Embryos differ in kind from human beings, just as acorns differ from oak trees despite their developmental continuity. (Michael Sandel)

Response — To defend the killing of an embryo by analogy with the felling of an oak tree, or sapling, misconstrues the kinds of entities they are. While the embryo possesses inherent worth and dignity, the oak tree or sapling only furnishes instrumental value on the basis of accidental properties.

11) Argument — Monozygotic twinning demonstrates that the embryo in the first several days after gestation is not yet a human being.

Response — Such a claim does not establish that the embryo was not a self-directed and fully integrated mass of cells prior to fission. One example showing this is the case of the flatworm in which an acknowledged whole organism can split into multiple organisms. Sometimes it is argued that the embryo does not become a human being until implantation in the womb of the mother, as it does not achieve self-directing status, or even a basic body plan, until it receives the requisite set of maternal signals. Such signals are thus said to transform the disparate bundle of cells into a unitary organism. But medical evidence about the onset of such maternal signaling is in dispute. Moreover, if the individual cells within the embryo before twinning were each independent of the others, there would be no reason why each would regularly develop on its own. The case of twinning thus backfires on those who use it to deny the human and humane status of the embryo.

The presentation summarized in this review will appear as an article by Prof. George in a forthcoming issue of Daedalus.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cory Aquino: what of my life as president I want to see continued

By Corazon Aquino. Delivered at the UNIV Conference, Rome, Italy
April 5, 1993

I was asked in a small gathering of university students recently what of my life as president I would like to see continued. Without hesitation, I answered the habit of prayer.

By prayer, one acknowledges the weakness of the human person, no matter how high the office he or she may hold and how great the authority they wield. The higher the office, the greater the power, the more one should pray.

I can see the smiles on some faces. Yet, without going into the question of whether there is anyone up there listening to our prayers, a person who prays shows wisdom. By praying he admits his weakness and fallibility; and thereby shows his fitness for command in an important respect. If anyone, it is Europeans who should appreciate the value of humility in high places. For they have suffered more that any people from the sense of self-importance of those whose limitations were only too evident. A European has only to remember the pride and vaunted knowledge of those who lost so many men in Gallipoli, the Somme and Caporetto.

An English king boasted to his men before battle that the fewer of them there were, the greater share of glory would go to each. Yet when he learned he had won against overwhelming odds, he fell on his knees and said: “Praised be God and not our strength, for it.” The effect of prayer is to add wisdom to daring.

The great of the world should pray, if only for the sake of those who must endure their greater capacity for tragic errors. What more the small who must suffer them?

Prayer upheld me in power. It was prayer that sustained my husband in prison. There he was reduced to nothing. Like Thomas More, his books were taken from him. He was denied even pen and paper on which to write. He was denied the company of friends; and the love and solace of his family, who were also barred from seeing him.

Indeed he was stripped down to his underpants and thrown into a windowless cell. He feared that one night he would be taken from his cell to dig his own grave in the dark – as so many critics of the government before him.

Yet, it was when he had lost everything that he found it all, through a door that opened to a wider world than he had been shut from.

Prayer was that door, a tiny one. In his youth, he would have overlooked it. For he was riding then on the crest of an enormous popularity as the youngest and most accomplished politician of the age and the most likely successor to the man who would throw him in prison, cast him into exile, and cut him down in the prime of his life, the president and dictator.

In the loneliness of his prison cell, it was natural that he should come to see the extreme vulnerability of man. In the solitariness of his protest against the dictatorship, it was inevitable that he should realize the brittleness of popular support and the fleetingness of glory.

It would have been something if prayer rather than adversity had opened his eyes, while he was yet riding high in the politics of his country. But he realized the weakness and loneliness of man, only when his followers had deserted him; and the fickleness of fortune, when the wheel had already turned.

Prayer might have revealed these truths to him about the futility of building a fortress out of sand or erecting a perdurable power from achievements of the moment. But these truths were not revealed to him until he had lost everything, and the four blank walls of his cell were all he had left to look at.

So when prayer came, it was not to teach him humility. Adversity had already imparted that. It came to lift his spirits and fill him with a holy pride. It did not come to prove yet again the insufficiency of human power, but to reveal a greater power yet to be found in the most extreme condition of weakness.

Just when he had lost everything, he told me, he found it all. Prayer gave it to him.

And I think, the proof of this new-found power was that, while he thought of giving up in the first year of prison, he fought on for seven years after finding strength through prayer. He never complained about the sacrifices he was making. For just when he thought that he must be the sorriest of men, prayer showed him that he was imitating the greatest of them.

He who follows me can never walk in darkness, says Christ. Indeed, said Thomas a Kempis, “if we want to see our way truly, with never a trace of blindness left in our hearts, it is his life, his character that we must take for our model.” So when he went on a hunger strike to protest his trial by a military tribunal, he stopped only on the 40th day because his friends implored him not to outdo our Savior’s fast in the desert. Prayer had given him such strength.

After seven years in prison, he went into exile. But returned three years later, when the danger to him was greatest. As many of you know, he was assassinated at the airport – a bullet in the back of the head delivered by his military escort, as part of a military operation that involved 2,000 men.

On the plane, he told journalists of his premonition of death. He advised them to be especially attentive, for when it came, it would go fast.

When the military escort entered the plane cabin, he stood up to identify himself and went with them. One of them was the gunman.

Prayer gave him the equanimity to describe the manner of his own death, and the courage to rise and meet it.

Prayer gave me the strength to hold myself together when the news reached me. I had to, for his sake, for the sake of our children. Most of all for the sake of what he believed in, which my behavior would reflect upon.

From that moment, I depended more than ever on prayer. I had relied on it to see me through his unjust imprisonment. I used it to fill the hours, days and weeks between the occasional visits the military would permit me. I prayed not be embittered by the mockery of his trial. I prayed not to be too deeply affected by the humiliation I endured – the body searches, the TV camera in the room, and having to plead for things we take for granted as our right.

But I needed prayer more than ever to live through the brazenness of the assassination, and the shamelessness of the government’s attempt to blame it on a man who was already dead before my husband arrived. I needed prayer to be able to contemplate the final victory of evil without losing hope. I needed prayer not to fall into the last temptation of despair.

At times, I was not sure what I was praying for. I could not pray for my husband’s safety, for he was beyond harm. I could not pray to show my love, for he was cradled in a greater love. So, I suppose, I prayed because that was all that was left to me. I was beyond human power to help.

On reflection, I think I finally prayed for just the strength to accept God’s will, which was moving in ways very hard to take.

I received that strength, and something more besides. I would not admit it, even to myself, but the human side of me craved for some tangible expression of support, some evidence that my husband had not died in vain. God heard that spoken prayer, too.

Two million people, all told, attended the funeral of Ninoy Aquino – the greatest funeral since Gandhi’s. It was the first and greatest outpouring of sympathy and support that any person or cause had ever gotten in any nation’s history at a single moment.

It was not the end of the dictatorship; but it might be the beginning of the end. What was clear was that it was the start of something new. It would be called People Power.

It would redefine the standards and practices of politics as we had always known them. It would set the pattern of freedom movements throughout Eastern Europe. It would culminate in the people power demonstration that stopped the coup in Moscow and shamed the government in China. It would define the new and higher aim of politics: the empowerment of the people for the attainment of their goals.

It was certainly the agency that restored freedom to my country, and faith in the power of prayer to my people.

Prayer and the leadership of the Catholic Church emboldened millions to stand up to the dictatorship, to vote in overwhelming numbers against it, and to denounce its fraud.

If one cannot suspend one’s disbelief in miracles, can one deny the testimonies of millions throughout the world who saw on television a people praying and the tanks that stopped right in front of them. Before the famous newsphoto of the Chinese man with a briefcase holding up a column of tanks going to Tienanmen Square, there were the images of Filipinos kneeling directly in their path.

So I had lost my husband; I led an uphill fight against an entrenched dictatorship; and I ran in an election riddled with massive fraud; yet in the end I won.

I assumed the powers of the dictatorship, but only long enough to abolish it. I dissolved the dictator’s puppet parliament, I banished the judges of his corrupt courts, I abolished the dictatorial constitution whereby they were able to commit abuses under the color of legality, and installed a democratic government in its place.

I had absolute power, yet ruled with restraint. I created independent courts to question my absolute power, and finally a legislature to take it from me.

I implemented painful and unpopular reforms, while having to beat down repeated attempts by rightist officers to overthrow the government. When the presidential palace came under air attack, I refused to leave it, firmly convinced that the issue rested entirely with God. In the last election in my country, I defeated a restoration attempt by elements of the former dictatorship.

I survived and did more than the experts thought was possible. All these things I owe to the power of prayer and the special protection of Our Lady.

It wasn’t all prayers of course. Grace needs good works to work redemption. But if I were to list what else I want continued from my presidency, they would sort of things that flow naturally from prayer: such as sincerity, integrity, the solidarity reflected in communal character of worship, and the necessary universality of prayer. For we should not pray for things we don’t want others to have as well – such as power we will not share, rights only for ourselves, and advantages that would be meaningless if everyone enjoyed them.

Being sincere is to be simple. It is the same with sincerity in power: be yourself completely.

It is to be truthful, not least about one’s own limitations, so that you know how far to trust yourself with the fate of others. It is, of course, to be truthful about others.

I have always found it difficult to relate with people who trifle with the truth, even in the smallest particular. The habit of lying is like a snowball. It grows as it rolls.

While in the opposition, I tore into the lies of the dictatorship. In government, I demanded openness in official acts, full disclosure of government transactions, and transparency, especially in anything and everything to do with money.

I distanced myself from those with a hidden agenda, however winning were their ways. I defended those whose first priority and greatest concern was for the public interest, however unpopular the duties they must carry out. From everyone in government, I asked, if not consistently successful performance, a total commitment and a genuine effort to give the best of oneself.

Principles impart coherence to a man’s life, they give it structure. Without them, one is just a bundle of desires and dislikes. Compromise on principle, and there is no halting the slide to unbridled opportunism.

So it is with the body politic. Principles give coherence to a government; they are the reference point for all the people’s relations with their government. The lack of them aptly defines a government or an official as unprincipled, a word that says it all.

Without principles, the ethical framework for decision-making disintegrates; actions spill out, and seek, like water, the lowest level.

A government without principles ends up pursuing peace without justice, merely to maintain stability while it commits abuses. Merely for political addition, it will seek a reconciliation between the people and those who had hurt the country when they were in power, without asking for restitution. More than the commission of wrongs, it is the deliberate refusal to punish them that tears most at a nation’s moral fabric.

No one, of course, should be self-righteous. Who can say she is beyond reproach? God knows, we have all made mistakes. The morals of a saint should be, but in the nature of things, cannot serve as a qualification for public service. Yet we should not lose the sense of right and wrong, or push and pull the moral code to squeeze in a useful political alliance. Convenience must finally yield to the right, whereon a person or a government must stand and be willing to fall.

Government is not just about getting things done, whatever they are. They are about getting the right things done, for the right reasons and with the right people. The first virtue of political institutions is justice, not convenience.

When I was campaigning, the dictator accused me of something I had never thought was a crime. He said I was just a housewife and unfit to govern a country. Yet I must say that I never ran up a twenty-six billion dollar bill in all the years I shopped for the household, nor did I pocket money intended for something else, nor, I might add, did I shoot the bill collector.

Yet, to humor him, I said I should have no problem finding 50 competent and dedicated people to help me run the government when he stepped down.

I found the 50. Indeed, there were more volunteers than I could count after I became a president. But I found that competence and dedication were not enough. Team work too was important. As no single individual could carry the whole burden of government by himself, it was important that the great number required to do it must be able to work harmoniously together.

The ability to work well with others, to listen to different points of view, to credit such views with a sincerity equal to one’s own, and to have the flexibility to accommodate the valid concerns of others: this is an important quality for anyone who wishes to serve the people. It is an expression of the spirit of service. Indeed, how can anyone claim to have a genuine spirit of solidarity with the people in general, if he is incapable of an operational solidarity with those he must work closely with?

The seven years of my husband’s incarceration had been difficult, made more so by the feeling that we were so few carrying on so great a struggle. After my husband’s assassination, it became clear that we were far from alone: there were multitudes who held the same ideals just as passionately. There were legions who grieved as deeply over the condition of our country. More importantly, they were prepared to do something about it, at whatever cost. The funeral of Ninoy Aquino established the national character of the struggle. The outpouring of sympathy in the last stages of the struggle against the dictatorship, from peoples and governments all over the world, established its universality. Courage, said Malraux, is a second fatherland, where all the brave feel they belong.

For four days in February, when the Filipino people faced the tanks with nothing in their hands, all the brave throughout the world were Filipinos. Ich bin ein Berliner, Kennedy said at the Wall. We are all diminished by the suppression of anyone, all exalted by the courage of someone, somewhere, making a stand for freedom.

We are all Filipinos, said the friends of democracy everywhere – as the drama of the people-powered revolution unfolded.

And when the pattern was repeated all over Eastern Europe, we joined the free and brave everywhere who cried: We are Berliners, we are Czechs, we are Poles and Hungarians, we are Russians on the steps of the Russian White House, we are Chinese students at Tienanmen Square. We are of the family of freedom, and the fraternity of the brave. We belong to a single world, and share the responsibility to make it better – as much for others, be they Africans or the people of Myanmar, as for ourselves.

The sense of universality enters also into this: they will govern well who ask no more for themselves than they will give to others. The universal maxim, the golden rule. It is an infallible guide for official decisions – to impose no hardship one is not prepared to bear; to exact no sacrifice one is not prepared to make. In brief, to lead by example – first into the fray, and last out of it. It is the best way to achieve results and gain respect.

The spirit of universality has redefined politics, and lifted it from the machinations of a few for their own advantage, to the struggle of the people for their own empowerment and the general welfare. And that requires a qualitative improvement in the character and skills of the people. The multiplication of hands does not result in the improvement of production. It is the enhancement of skills that achieves that. The counting of heads does not enhance the quality of political decisions, it is the illumination of the popular mind that will produce that.

The universality principle requires improving the people’s capacity – in the spiritual and intellectual sense – to govern themselves, for themselves. Without the right values in the people, a democracy is only a confederacy of fools.

If I were to be asked what of my presidency I would want to continue: it is these intangibles more than any policy I think, at the moment, is correct for the country. Circumstances change and international trends can shift direction; new approaches may serve the country’s interests better than those I laid down.

But what doesn’t change are the elements that go to make up good decisions and right policies: sincerity, integrity, solidarity, universality, and of course – in recognition of the historic verity that man proposes and God disposes – prayer.

Prayer, whereby the great make themselves humble and fitter to govern men. Prayer, which gives strength to the weak and pride to the humble. There are languages that are said to be better suited than others for certain things. English for law and banking, French for diplomacy, Italian for poetry, Spanish for piety, German for technology, Japanese for trade, and Chinese – it is said – for everything in the future. Yet there is only one language for accessing the greater reality behind this one. It is prayer, for speaking to God. It comes in any of the languages I have mentioned, because it has less to do with the sound of the voice than with a habit of the heart and a posture of the spirit. It is the thing that prepares you for any eventuality, and enables you to cope with whatever might take you unpleasantly by surprise. It is the first thing you learn after you’ve come into the world, and the last you will say when you leave it. It may seem like a trifle, at this moment when you find support in being over a thousand strong in this hall. But each of you will find himself alone at critical moments, as I did. Yet, with nothing in your hands, you will find it full with prayer.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Falling in Love with God: The Greatest Romance

By Jennifer Hartline in Catholic on line

To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances, to seek Him the greatest adventure, to find Him the greatest human achievement. (St. Augustine)

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - There are days when I do battle with a deadly spiritual malady, a form of spiritual heart disease. It comes in two forms, both rather sneaky in how they creep up on me and worm their way into my heart. They are cynicism and indifference. It’s not so much that I choose them; it’s that I make no effort to refuse them.

Clearly, many of us are suffering this malady. This is the disease that zaps our energy and steals our excitement. It leaves us weary and lazy and full of handy excuses. It eats away at devotion and leaves our souls empty. Christendom in America is deeply infected with this life-sapping sickness. It is why so many Christians have been enticed and beguiled by power and popularity and persuaded to compromise. Without passion, without zeal, without fervor, we are lifeless and faith is so easily cast aside.

St. Augustine prescribes the cure: We need a new romance. "To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances, to seek Him the greatest adventure, to find Him the greatest human achievement." What the cynical and indifferent heart needs is a healthy dose of romance.

We have every reason to be enthralled in romance! The greatest gesture of love known to the universe was made toward each of us by the Author of True Love. We are not simply liked and enjoyed; we are passionately, deeply, obsessively loved!

How does it go again?

“God so understood the world…”
“God so cared for the world…”
“God so respected the world…”
“God so accepted the world…”
“God so disdained the world…”
“God so rejected the world…”

No…God so LOVED the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. God made a bold and unflinching proclamation of abiding, endless love to all mankind, and Jesus came to be made a fool of, all in the hope that He would win the hearts of His beloved ones. Only a passionate lover is willing to look foolish for his beloved.

People, we desperately need a new romance. We need to take a good, long look with fresh eyes at the Lover of our souls and internalize the high price He paid for the chance to be reunited with us. I hope we have not stared at our painted images of God for so long that we are no longer impressed by what we see, for it’s not the typical picture of enchantment. Unadulterated passion and pure, ambitious love are not presented to us in flowers and sunsets, but in straw, wood, nails and blood.

I wonder in our day if we can even comprehend the nature of real love. Do we spend much time anymore contemplating a love that isn’t sexual or pleasure-oriented? Are we even inclined to pursue an endeavor that demands self-sacrifice?

“There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” 2 Tim 3:1-5

We have lost the fervor of our affection for God because we have become deadened to the meaning of real love. Love gives. Love is not self-seeking. Love cannot keep anything for itself. This kind of love is increasingly foreign to us. Like some kind of Dead Sea that only receives and never gives of itself to anyone else, we die inside because we don’t love. We must make a concerted effort to dwell on this crazy, extravagant love of God until it captures us again in the flush of romance. We need to fall in love with Jesus. It is the only cure for the cynical and indifferent heart.

We need that love to make us fearless in our devotion. We need the kind of passion that turns us into willing fools, people who couldn’t care less what the world thinks of us. I want the kind of passion and love for Christ that is oblivious to everything but Him. If He holds my heart, I need nothing else. The sound of His voice makes my heart pound, and there’s no room in my ears for any scorn or insult. I say I want this kind of passion and love because I’m not quite there yet. But I’m being wooed, and the more I attend to His affection, the more this romance grows, and the more my heart longs only for Jesus. I want the love described in the Song of Solomon: “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.”

This is the love that turns ordinary people into saints! This is the love that turns you and me into the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. This is the love that softens the most hardened of hearts, the love the world simply cannot ignore. It is this love that gives us courage and compels us to be faithful no matter the cost.

The heart in love with Jesus has no room for compromise or deception, since it only desires more of Jesus. The moral courage and conviction we lack, the absence of zeal and fervor in our faith is easily cured, if we will purposely incline ourselves toward Him. It is a sweet romance that beckons to us…let us fall in love again!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Without truth...

By Benedict XVI in Caritas in veritate. Benedict used the phrase "without truth" several times.

Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space.

Without truth, charity is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is excluded from the plans and processes of promoting human development of universal range, in dialogue between knowledge and praxis.

Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present.

Without truth, it is easy to fall into an empiricist and sceptical view of life, incapable of rising to the level of praxis because of a lack of interest in grasping the values — sometimes even the meanings — with which to judge and direct it. Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development. For this reason the Church searches for truth, proclaims it tirelessly and recognizes it wherever it is manifested. This mission of truth is something that the Church can never renounce. Her social doctrine is a particular dimension of this proclamation: it is a service to the truth which sets us free. Open to the truth, from whichever branch of knowledge it comes, the Church's social doctrine receives it, assembles into a unity the fragments in which it is often found, and mediates it within the constantly changing life-patterns of the society of peoples and nations.