Sunday, November 20, 2005

New Center Tailgaters

In order to spend more time with our friends in a relaxed and festive setting, the Center this Fall inaugurated a series of “tailgaters,” which were held before three Notre Dame home football games: vs. Michigan St. (September 17), vs. Tennessee (November 5), and vs. Syracuse (November 19). These tailgaters took place in the Center’s conference room on the 10th floor of Flanner Hall. With plenty of fine food and cold adult beverages, Center director David Solomon, associate director Daniel McInerny, and assistant director Elizabeth Kirk, mixed and mingled with friends and benefactors, including some of our friends from campus and the South Bend area.

Each one of the three tailgaters featured at least one “special guest star.” For the Michigan St. tailgater the special guest star was renowned Catholic scholar Michael Novak, in town not only for the lecture he delivered at the Mendoza School of Business the afternoon before, but also to enjoy the football weekend with his son and daughter-in-law and their family. For the Tennessee tailgater our special guest stars were Gerry Bradley, associate professor at the Notre Dame Law School, and Philip Bess, professor in Notre Dame’s School of Architecture. A trio of special guests were featured at the Syracuse tailgater: Notre Dame’s Ralph McInerny, Grace Professor of Medieval Studies and professor in the philosophy department, Rev. Wilson Miscamble, CSC, of the history department, and Rev. Mike Heintz, rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral here in South Bend.

These tailgaters were a lot of fun, and have inspired us to make them a Center tradition.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Speaking Truthfully about Stem Cell Research and Human Cloning

There is at present no issue in biomedical ethics more fraught with misconceptions and exaggerated expectations than the field of stem cell research, especially research involving human embryos. To help us separate the facts from the fiction, the Center called upon Carter Snead, associate professor at the Notre Dame Law School, to deliver our semi-annual Schmitt Lecture, which was entitled: “Speaking Truthfully About Stem Cell Research and Human Cloning.” Professor Snead’s lecture was delivered on Wednesday afternoon, November 16, 2005, to a large crowd in the main auditorium of McKenna Hall at Notre Dame.

Professor Snead is uniquely qualified to discuss the moral, scientific and legal ramifications of stem cell research and human cloning. Before joining Notre Dame’s law faculty this year, Professor Snead was general counsel for President Bush’s Council on Bioethics. While serving on the Council, Professor Snead advised its members on the legal and public policy dimensions of numerous ethical questions arising from advances in biomedical science and biotechnology. He was the principal drafter of the Council’s 2004 report, “Reproduction and Responsibility: The Regulation of New Biotechnologies,” a comprehensive critical assessment of the governance (both public and private) of the activities at the intersection of assisted reproduction, human embryo research, and genetics.

In his energetic and engaging lecture, Professor Snead argued that, contrary to much popular rhetoric, science itself provides no answer to the moral question of whether it is licit to do research on human embryos or to clone human beings. He further claimed that the best moral argument for the maximal protection of the embryo was based on equality, claiming further that this was not a religious argument, but one accessible to all in the public debate.

The aim of the Schmitt Lecture Series—which in the past has featured such distinguished lights as Gilbert Meilaender, Mark Siegler, Paul Griffiths, Stanley Fish, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Michael Baxter—is to provide an occasion to reflect on the ethical, political and religious dimensions of science and technology. It is difficult to imagine a topic which answers more directly to the charge of the Schmitt Lecture than the topic discussed by Professor Snead.

The lecture was well-attended by Notre Dame’s Schmitt Fellows, those graduate students in the Schools of Science and Engineering who are the principal recipients of the generosity of the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation to the University of Notre Dame. It was for the sake of honoring that generosity that the Schmitt Lecture Series was founded.

A reception immediately followed the lecture in McKenna Hall, and then a special group of Center guests, including the Schmitt Fellows and a cross-section of Notre Dame faculty, convened at the Morris Inn for a dinner in honor of Professor Snead. After dessert, Professor Snead generously agreed to take more questions from the audience. In this lively question-and-answer period, we were especially pleased to see how many of those questions came from Schmitt Fellows, who found this topic deeply compelling. In the end, the day was a great success, and a fitting tribute to Arthur J. Schmitt’s desire to help form young persons in the fields of science and engineering not only as people of technical expertise, but also as moral leaders in their fields.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Valor, Fellowship, and Sacrifice: Tolkien's Catholic Myth

“Is there any pleasure on earth as great as the circle of Christian friends by a good fire?” When C.S. Lewis penned these words, he probably didn’t have in mind a large lecture room in DeBartolo Hall. Nevertheless, taking this warm image as an inspiration to consider the works of J.R.R. Tolkien during our annual Catholic Culture Series, the Center certainly expanded its circle of friends with record attendance at a series of lectures each Tuesday evening from October 25th to November 15th.

Each Fall since 2002, the Center has sponsored a week of evening lectures for undergraduates by experts on various aspects of the lives and works of particular Catholic writers. In the past three years, this series has spotlighted G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, and Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. This year, we changed the format of the series by spreading the lectures out over the course of a month, rather than holding them all in one week. This format seems to have worked quite well, as we had approximately 200 persons in attendance each week of the series, including many new faces from the local South Bend community.

The series opened with a lecture by Ralph Wood, the University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University, entitled “J.R.R. Tolkien: A Catholic Writer for our Uncatholic Age.” Professor Wood is a dear friend of the Center and has lectured at several of our past events. Once again, he enriched us all by providing reflections on how Tolkien “gave us such a deepened Catholic vision and understanding of the world.” According to Wood, Tolkien’s Catholic world-view, as depicted in Middle Earth, provides a powerful remedy to the ills of our anti-authoritarian and anti-sacramental modern culture. Tolkien depicts our modern culture in a unique way by using the image of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings.

For example, the Ring has the quality of deathlessness which has the effect of making the Ring-bearers live longer, but not necessarily of living, or dying, well. This quality of the Ring stands in stark contrast to the specifically Catholic ideal of a good and holy death, such as that made by Boromir. After the lecture, Professor Wood signed copies of his book, The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth (Westminster John Knox, 2003).

The following week, Joseph Pearce, Writer in Residence and Professor of Literature at Ave Maria University, gave a lecture entitled,,“Tolkien: Truth and Myth.” In his talk, Professor Pearce gave us the “key” to unlocking The Lord of the Rings. This key, he said, is found in the appendices of the text: March 25th, familiar to us as the Feast of the Annunciation, is the date of the un-making of the One Ring in Middle Earth. Professor Pearce explained how the One Ring—the “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”—is a symbol of the Original Sin which binds us all. In the Christian tradition, the Incarnation of Christ is the un-making of Original Sin. Professor Pearce used this key to unlock the Christian themes and Catholic imagery in The Lord of the Rings. After the lecture, Professor Pearce signed copies of his book, Literary Converts (Ignatius Press 2000). He has also written numerous other books, including Tolkien: Man and Myth (Ignatius Press 2001).

Notre Dame assistant professor of political science, Mary Keys, gave our third lecture, “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Literary Politics of Friendship and Humility.” Professor Keys focused on The Hobbit and its dialectic between justice and friendship. During this lecture, several of the questions from the audience revealed a frustration among common folk—us mere hobbits—with contemporary government and political administration. Professor Keys provided an admonition, on behalf of Tolkien, that may not be intuitive to the modern political mind, but is thereby even more persuasive: if you want justice, work for friendship; if you want friendship, set a high value on humility. Understanding the role of friendship and the virtue of humility are essential to unlocking the works of Tolkien, suggested Professor Keys, and are critical to establishing social and civic happiness in our own world.

In the fourth and final lecture, Greg Wright, Writer in Residence at Puget Sound Christian College in Everett, Washington, provided his reflections on The Lord of the Rings films in a lecture entitled, “Missing the Spirit: The Scouring of the Shire, Tolkien’s Catholicism and Peter Jackson’s Return of the King.” Mr. Wright’s critical analysis of the relationship between J.R.R. Tolkien’s work and Peter Jackson’s trilogy was a wonderful way to end our series, as it tied together many of the themes addressed by the other speakers, including Tolkien’s Catholicism, from a new perspective that all in the audience could appreciate—that of the wildly successful films.

According to Mr. Wright, the films’ significant departure point from the books is the failure to include the “Scouring of the Shire.” The victory at Mount Doom, suggested Mr. Wright, is meaningless if the hobbits could not fight evil in their own backyard. While acknowledging practical reasons for omitting the Scouring of the Shire from the film, Mr. Wright declared that in so doing, Peter Jackson missed Tolkien’s spirit. After the lecture, Mr. Wright signed copies of his book, Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings (Hollywood Jesus Books 2004). He has also written Tolkien in Perspective: Sifting the Gold from the Glitter (VMI Publishing 2003).

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Welcoming the Stranger

A sumptuous meal in the Notre Dame Stadium press box. One hundred Notre Dame students eager to talk about the Christian spiritual life. Rev. Mark Poorman, CSC, associate professor of theology and vice-president for student affairs.

Such were the ingredients for “Welcoming the Stranger,” the Fall 2005 edition of Breaking Bread, a dinner and evening of spiritual discussion shared by Notre Dame students, faculty and staff that took place on Wednesday, November 2, 2005. The theme of the evening’s discussion, the virtue of hospitality, was suggested by our special guest speaker, Fr. Poorman. And so, during the salad course, Fr. Poorman delivered some reflections meant to prompt discussion of this virtue. He talked of his experience in the novitiate with the Congregation of Holy Cross, and how his work with the poor challenged him to overcome complacency in order to better serve others in need. He also spoke of his sister’s decision to adopt two children from China, and how this act of generosity demanded that she lovingly upset the settled pattern of her life. In the remaining portion of the meal, each table—consisting of seven or so students and a member of the Notre Dame faculty or staff discussed how to live the virtue of hospitality and what changes one might have to undergo in order to live this virtue ever more generously.

Specific topics of discussion ranged from providing care to the homeless and poor, to asking whether Notre Dame was living up to its institutional call to welcome students from diverse backgrounds; from analyzing whether contemporary architecture, especially of the home, reflects hospitality, to questioning whether technology has had a negative impact on human relationships. Yet all conversations were inspired by Fr. Poorman’s stimulating reflections and centered on the Christian call to hospitality.

One participant’s reflections sum up the success of “Welcoming the Stranger”: “Not only was I moved by Fr. Poorman’s personal experiences and reflection, but it was so refreshing to hear the different perspectives from my peers. I participated in a summer service internship this summer, and it was the primary reason that I was interested in hearing Fr. Poorman. Not only did I find his speech relevant to my summer, but also to my overall experiences here at the University and out in the community. Additionally, I had the opportunity to speak with Fr. Poorman after the dinner, and found him to be so approachable, conversational, and genuinely interested in what I had to say. I would not only specifically recommend asking Fr. Poorman to speak again at this event, but to undoubtedly continue to promote this type of event and dialogue among faculty and students. I could not speak more highly about my Breaking Bread dinner experience.”

Breaking Bread is swiftly becoming a beloved Notre Dame tradition. The Center once again extends its profound gratitude to Mr. Fran McGowen,of Malvern, Pennsylvania, whose generosity makes possible this event.