Tuesday, November 30, 2004

New One-Credit Medical Ethics Course

Last fall, the Center organized a one-day medical ethics course designed to give undergraduates considering a vocation in health care the opportunity to engage in conversation with physicians, philosophers and theologians familiar with medical ethics. Using the small-group discussion format of our Medical Ethics Conference, over ninety students looked at real case studies and real situations they might encounter in practicing medicine in the future, from physician malpractice to end-of-life issues. The course was also an opportunity for students to form an on-going mentoring relationship with practicing alumni physicians.

Four alumni physicians who regularly attend the Philip and Doris Clarke Family Medical Ethics Conference and four other resource people gave their time and energy to make the course a huge success. Th e physicians were Dr. Paul Wright of Youngstown, Ohio, who initiated and generously funded the course, Dr. Paul McCauley, who runs a free clinic in Maryland, Dr. Mark Lindenmeyer, who currently practices law and works in an administrative capacity for three hospitals in the Cincinnati area, and Rev. Dr. Jim Foster, CSC, MD, who serves as an adviser to pre-med students at Notre Dame. In addition to these physicians, Prof. Rebecca Stangl of Notre Dame’s Philosophy Department, Prof. Kevin McDonnell, research fellow at the Center and professor of philosophy at St. Mary’s College, Prof. John Robinson of Notre Dame’s Law School and Center Director David Solomon served as resource people for the course.

The course, which took place on a Saturday, included a lunch at which Dr. Wright spoke about his experience as Blessed Mother Teresa’s personal physician. He encouraged the students to see Christ in their patients, and quoted Mother Teresa, who once told him that when working with patients, doctors must “remember Who it is they are touching.” The course filled to capacity within a matter of minutes during registration, and the students who signed up were not disappointed. “The course was amazing,” one student later wrote, “and … being surrounded by other pre-meds and by people who ‘made it’ was a huge boost for me.” Another student commented that “[the doctors’] sense of passion for medicine was easily noticed, as well as their faith. It was nice to bring past and present members of the Notre Dame family together.” One student even commented that it was “one of the most valuable classes [she had] taken at Notre Dame.”

We are grateful to all the resource people and physicians who attended, and especially to Dr. Wright for his generosity in funding the course. The Center hopes to make this course available every semester, starting this fall.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Epiphanies of Beauty: The Arts in a Post-Christian Culture

Since its inception, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture has sought to include within its influence not only those working within the academy, but also those who do work in other areas important to culture. As there are few areas of culture more important than that of the arts, the Center devoted its fifth annual fall conference on November 18-20, 2004, to the theme: “Epiphanies of Beauty: The Arts in a Post-Christian Culture.”

The phrase “Epiphanies of Beauty” comes from an open letter to artists written in 1999 by Pope John Paul II. The Letter to Artists is dedicated “[t]o all those who are passionately dedicated to the search for new ‘epiphanies’ of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world.” In the letter, John Paul II celebrates the arts as capable of generating epiphanies or manifestations of God’s glory. Indeed, the pope notes that part of what it means to be made in the image of God is to imitate God in being a craftsman of beauty. Of crucial moment to the Center’s mission and to the aims of the conference, the letter states, in a phrase the conference took as a kind of motto, that “[e]ven beyond its typically religious expressions, true art has a close affinity with the world of faith, so that, even in situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience.” To identify ways in which such a “bridge” ought best to be constructed was the central goal of “Epiphanies of Beauty.”

But why “The Arts in a Post-Christian Culture”? Not because Christianity in general, and Christian artists in particular, have ceased to maintain a voice in our culture. But rather because a secular outlook predominates in those areas — in business, politics, academia, the media, the entertainment industry — that exert the most infl uence upon culture. So the conference addressed itself to the issue of how the arts, and Christian artists most especially, can help build a bridge to religious experience in a predominantly secular world.

This fall, we were again honored by the presence of many distinguished speakers at the conference. The conference keynote, delivered as usual on the first evening of the conference, Thursday, November 18, was given by Gregory Wolfe, founder, publisher and editor of IMAGE, a journal of the arts and religion. Prof. Wolfe is also director of the Center for Religious Humanism in Seattle, as well as writer in residence and director of the MFA program in creative writing at Seattle Pacific University. Prof. Wolfe’s address was entitled “Shouts or Whispers? Faith and Doubt in Contemporary American Literature.”

His remarks depicted a contrast between, on the one hand, those writers who made up what has come to be called the Catholic literary revival in the mid-20th century (such as Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor), and on the other hand, present-day Christian writers who wish to explore questions of faith in the midst of an increasingly fragmented, postmodern world. The earlier set of writers, Wolfe argued, chose to create characters who make what Wolfe called “the grand gesture” as a response to drastic secularization — such as the martyrdom of the whisky priest in Greene’s The Power and the Glory. But given “the form and pressure” of the present age, Wolfe contended, it is more suitable for writers interested in exploring questions of faith to prefer “the quiet gesture.” For in our fragmented world, the intimate is the only place where communication can occur. The writers Wolfe discussed portray “grapplers,” characters either not perfectly situated in faith, or who live it out in fear and trembling.

Among the other invited speakers was Barbara Nicolosi, founder and executive director of Act One, a non-profit organization located in Hollywood, Calif., founded to train people of faith for careers in mainstream fi lm and television. Her talk, entitled, “Isolation, Community and the Artistic Life,” was an attempt to delineate a spirituality of the artist’s life, specifically in regard to its essential loneliness and consequent need for a supporting community.

Leo Linbeck III, president and CEO of Linbeck Construction in Houston, Tex., delivered a provocative and very humorous talk called “First, Kill All the Lawyers: Intellectual Property and the Re-Feudalization of Culture.” David Lyle Jeffrey, provost of Baylor University, spoke on “Epiphanies, Beauty and a Father’s Love,” and H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. of Rice University reflected on beauty and liturgy. The Center’s Senior Research Fellow Alasdair MacIntyre gave a lecture on the question “What Makes a Painting a Religious Painting?”, in which he compared and contrasted the work of El Greco and Mark Rothko. The conference also featured talks on architecture from Notre Dame architecture professors Philip Bess, Thomas Gordon Smith and Duncan Stroik, and a panel on fi lm with Thomas Hibbs of Baylor University and Jorge Garcia, professor of philosophy
at Boston College.

Yet one of the chief aims of the conference was not just to present academic discussions of the arts, but to put academics into conversation with working artists who would be present to showcase and discuss their work. And indeed throughout the weekend approximately 25 artists displayed their works around the conference venue, Notre Dame’s McKenna Hall, for all to enjoy between sessions. This goal also inspired a wonderful session in which Notre Dame alumnus and artist William Schickel, whose painting “Spring Morning” was used as the conference logo, talked about hisown work and the influence of his background in T omist philosophy. He was joined in the session by Gregory Wolfe, who had written a biography of Schickel and who helped to elucidate further his artistic style and influences.

As usual, the conference culminated on Saturday evening with a festive banquet in McKenna Hall, with Center Director David Solomon providing the after-dinner remarks.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

St. Augustine, Harry Potter, and the Confrontation with Evil

This fall, on November 3, 2004, Prof. Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago, delivered a talk entitled “St. Augustine, Harry Potter and the Confrontation with Evil.” She began by speaking about St. Augustine’s notion of evil as the absence of good. Evil, according to Augustine, is not an active principle; rather, it is parasitic, feeding off of good. Only goodness can have depth, whereas evil is shallow, flattening out the world and making it ever more one-dimensional. Evil-doing is not glamorous but hollow, and it prevents a person from achieving his potential, making him like a shell of himself.

Elshtain then compared this Augustinian notion of evil and that presented in J.K. Rowling’s popular Harry Potter books. Elshtain explained that she was introduced to these books through her young grandson, and despite the controversy they have created in many Christian communities, she believes that they are eminently suitable for children. The Harry Potter books, Elsthain contended, present a serious picture of a moral universe where bad things really do happen, but one is never left without the tools to fight evil. This is important in a children’s story, because if stories present an overly sanitized world, then there is no contrast by which to understand good and evil and the struggle between the two that children will confront in real life.

Elshtain’s talk was well-attended by the Schmitt fellows and many in the Notre Dame community, and we were honored by the presence of several members of the board of the Schmitt Foundation.