Friday, November 20, 2009

Abortion and Universal Human Rights

This fall, we continued our new dinner series for students, Bread of Life, which is designed to educate Notre Dame students in the mission of the Fund to Protect Human Life and to provide an opportunity for them to reflect upon and discuss their attitudes toward beginning-of-life issues. We particularly hoped to attract students who might not already be strongly committed to the Church's teachings on these issues but who were open to exploring them.

On November 19th, students and professors gathered under the beautiful vaulted ceilings of the Oak Room of the South Dining Hall to hear a thoughtful reflection by Paolo Carozza, associate professor of law at the Notre Dame Law School, on the emergence of the concept of universal human rights and the role of witness. Carozza traced the foundations of the concept of universal human rights to Christian scholastic intellectuals. He gave the example of Bartolomé de las Casas, a sixteenth-century Spanish Dominican priest, who argued for rights and respect for the native-American peoples. Carozza said the argument for universal rights for unborn humans is very simple. The premises are that all human beings deserve universal rights, and that unborn human beings are, in fact, human beings. These arguments are not enough, however, Carozza said. Only through our personal witness to affirming life will we be able to bring about change.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Close to Catholic: A Celebration of Kindred Spirits

This fall, the Center for Ethics and Culture hosted the 8th Catholic Culture Literature Series, with four lectures focused on prominent figures in the Catholic tradition. The event originated in the Center’s desire to expose Notre Dame undergraduate students - and the entire Notre Dame community - to the richness of the Catholic literary heritage. The theme was “Close to Catholic: A Celebration of Kindred Spirits,” and featured four influential authors, all lying outside the Catholic faith and yet authoring work that shares common threads with Catholic theology and philosophy.

Dominic Manganiello, a Professor of English Literature at the University of Ottawa, began the series by lecturing on T.S. Eliot. Dr. Manganiello’s research focuses on the culture of modernism as well as writers, like the Inklings, who return to the Middle Ages to locate the roots of Western culture. He emphasized the persistent influence of Dante Alighieri on Eliot’s work, shown in poems such as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Wasteland, and Ash Wednesday. Manganiello commented on Eliot’s slow progression of faith as going from “the empty chapel of The Wasteland to the chapel of Little Gidding” in Four Quartets. Manganiello traced Eliot’s closeness to the Catholic faith by examining his relationship with Dante, who acted, Manganiello noted, as an “exemplar of the affirmative way of love,” rather than an ascetic rejection of the world that Eliot at first favored. Eliot’s “Catholicism” is ultimately a mystery, since his choice to be Anglo-Catholic was deliberate although he talked extensively with Roman Catholic priests. He deeply respected and loved the Catholic Church, but refused to align with the one institution which would revive Western culture. It is ultimately his “wisdom of humility,” Manganiello commented, that makes us celebrate Eliot as a kindred spirit.

Ann Astell, Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, delivered the second lecture of the series on Simone Weil. Philosopher, mystic, and social activist, Weil’s life and works had a profound effect on many Catholic thinkers. Astell walked the audience through Weil’s “Prologue,” her account of the mystical experience she had in 1938, and for context referenced Weil’s letters to Father Perrin, a Dominican priest who was Weil’s spiritual director. In these writings, Weil appeared deeply torn in her relation to the Catholic Church. She professed belief in the dogmas of Catholic faith and practiced Eucharistic adoration, yet felt that Christ’s call to her in this mystical experience did not include sacramental baptism. Weil remained open to that possibility, commenting that if one day she were able to love God enough, she would receive the grace of baptism. She maintained a strong devotion to intellectual vocation but felt that ultimately intelligence must submit to love. Her writings about the Church’s relation to non-Christian religions played a crucial role in the texts of the Second Vatican Council, especially Nostra Aetate. Weil ultimately exemplified the Christian paradox of being chosen yet outcast, and remained on the threshold of the Church for her entire life.

The Center welcomed back Joseph Pearce, a veteran of the event, to lecture on C.S. Lewis. Associate Professor of Literature at Ave Maria University and a convert to Catholicism, Pearce also recently wrote C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, examining the perplexing fact that although Catholic in many aspects of his faith and devotion, Lewis never actually became Catholic. A self-proclaimed atheist at age 15, Lewis and his journey to faith were heavily influenced by his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien as well as G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. Pearce outlined the history of Catholic literary revival, beginning in 1845 when Cardinal John Henry Newman was received into the Church, and ending with the “Inklings period” of Tolkien and Lewis himself. Admitting the apparent strangeness of considering Lewis as part of this revival, Pearce nevertheless maintained that Lewis’ closeness to Catholicism lay in the fact that he sided with orthodox theology along with Chesterton, both acting as antagonists to theological modernism, which for Lewis, diluted Christianity. As an Anglican, Lewis remained deeply divided between, as Pearce noted, “his actual experience of Catholicism and the knee-jerk reaction of a good Protestant.” His Catholic tendencies – referring to “Mass” and the “Blessed Sacrament” as well as his habit of going to confession in the 1940s – contrasts with his ambiguous views on the position of the Blessed Virgin and the Pope. His autobiographical allegory, The Pilgrim’s Regress, may have shown his respect for T.S. Eliot, whose Anglo-Catholic views otherwise antagonized Lewis. Pearce also pointed to The Great Divorce as evidence of Lewis’ belief in a “Newman-flavored Purgatory,” which was influenced by Dante. The dialogue surrounding Lewis’ apparent Catholicism is complex, but may best be described by his insistence on, as Pearce noted, a “Church that does not move with the world, but a Church that moves the world.”

The last installment in the series’ dialogue was Robert Bird’s lecture on Fyodor Dostoevsky. Bird, Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of Chicago, focused on the deeply Christian themes hidden underneath the attacks on the institution of the Roman Catholic Church in Dostoevsky’s work. Following his exile in Siberia for his connections to a liberal intellectual society, Dostoevsky joined the Russian Orthodox faith. Bird looked at several letters and excerpts from Dostoevsky’s work to examine the aesthetics of his writing and his crucial role in documenting, revealing, and interpreting history. In a particular letter to his brother on December 22, 1849, the day he received the last-minute reprieve from the death penalty and was sent to the labor camp, he wrote, “Alongside of me will be people, and to be a human being among people and to remain so forever, not to grieve or falter whatever the misfortunes – this is what life is about, that is its purpose.” He struggled with the limits of literary expression, often quoting others instead of narrating his own experience. He wrote, Bird said, “as an existential imperative,” and realized the hazards of modern society. Although “spectacularly flawed,” Bird said that his ability to live dangerously was “where Dostoevsky found the strength for a powerful assertion of his art,” providing “a pledge of a new world.” His writings, based on his near experience of death, demonstrated “the need for faith and Christ,” as Dostoevsky himself said. Bird contended that his alleged hostility to Catholicism was actually hostility to the secularization of Catholicism, and in The Brothers Karamazov we can see an image of Christ pointing both East and West.

These lectures contained thoughtful insights on the relationship to Catholicism of these four remarkable authors. From the Anglo-Catholicism of T.S. Eliot to the passionate need for Christ in Dostoevsky, this year’s Catholic Culture Series examined the power of Catholic thought and theology, affecting even those lying outside the Church.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Summons of Freedom: Virtue, Sacrifice, and the Common Good

The Center for Ethics and Culture held its 10th Annual Fall Conference this year, entitled: "The Summons of Freedom: Virtue, Sacrifice, and the Common Good." It was inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks on the South Lawn of the White House during his apostolic visit to the United States last April:

“Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience—almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good, and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.”

Presenting papers on the wide variety of topics were the usual assorted distinguished intellectuals and magnetic newcomers. One newcomer, Rev. John Raphael, S.S.J., Principal of St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, LA started the conference off Thursday night, with his talk titled “Building a Bridge over Troubled Waters: Inviting African Americans into the Pro-Life Movement.” Father Raphael presented the difficulties as well as the necessity of building such a bridge. He said that bringing the African-American community into the pro-life movement has the potential to turn the pro-abortion tide and make America a truly pro-life country, but the road to wed the pro-life and African-American communities is difficult. “The great divide” that exists between the two communities is not based on fundamental disagreement about the morality of abortion, Father Raphael said, but rather “exists at a deep and complex level,” mainly because of an inability to communicate with each other and misunderstandings about each other. “A bridge must be built because African-Americans need the pro-life community, and the pro-life community needs African-Americans. Our future is being destroyed by the genocidal magnitude of abortion, and pro-lifers are saving the African-American communities from extinction,” Father Raphael said.

Friday was packed full of a broad conglomerate of sessions ranging from Augustine, to business ethics, to Notre Dame's invitation of President Obama, to MacIntyrian Ethics. The first group of invited speakers included long-time conference participant, H. Tristram Engelhardt of Rice University, on “Freedom, Goods, and Persons: Christian Responsibility in a Post-Christian Age,” Notre Dame's own Mary Keys on “Why Justice Is Not Enough: Aquinas and Wilberforce on Mercy, Love, and the Common Good,” and loyal Center supporter Michael Novak on “Three Precisions: Social Justice, Common Good, Personal Liberty.”

Saturday brought with it Alice von Hildebrand's talk on “Man and Woman: A Divine Invention.” All were intrigued by her presentation that borrowed from the thought of "beloved Plato," as she called him. Some memorable quotes include, "To become famous, you don’t have to find the truth, but to formulate an error in a new way,"and "God has set limits to our intelligence, but not to our stupidity," and "spending life in academia is an ideal place to hear stupid things." However, Hildebrand wasn't just trying to make the audience laugh, she also presented the audience with the challenge of being a saint. She said that the way for man to become a saint is to become unified. She described the relation between the soul and body, and what brought about a separation. "The body is elevated by the union with the soul. We are not irrational animals. Man is a person incarnated in a body. If so, all organs differ from those of a purely animal body. All parts of the body are elevated. Into this reality comes original sin, and because man revolted against God, the body revolted against the soul. Augustine’s solution to this problem is prayer, humility, and accepting grace." This relates to human beings as male and female Hildebrand says because "the plenitude of human nature is never realized when male and female are at odds or divorced." Rather unification is seen between human beings as male and female when the "man is enchanted with the woman, and the woman is filled with admiration (awe, and gratitude) when she meets a male worthy of the name ‘human being.’”

Later in the day, Rick Garnett of the Notre Dame Law School spoke about religious freedom in America. Garnett posed the following question to the audience: “How goes the progress of the American model of religious freedom today? Have we betrayed our trust with our efforts? Or as Madison hoped, and as the Holy Father seems to believe, has our American model of religious liberty added luster to our country?” Professor Garnett then described the role of religious liberty in the United States as “both vital and vulnerable…robust, but incomplete” […] “Our church-state relationship is exemplary, but confused.” But, he pointed out, what remains as true today as when our country was founded is “that there are many different models or ways of thinking about freedom of religion, under and through law.” Garnett offered an overview of American religious liberty law and of the American model of “healthy” or “positive” secularism. In so doing, he provided the audience with an outline of some of the different forms of religious freedom and his idea that these different forms create a “competitive dialectic” in the American method.

The final two speakers were the brilliant independent scholar and author Lucy Beckett presenting on “Tragedy as the Unconcealment of Being: a Literary Reflection on Sacrifice and the Common Good,” and the University of Notre Dame's Michael Baxter presenting on “God, Notre Dame, Country: Rethinking the Mission of Catholic Higher Education in the United States.” Professor Baxter's talk left the audience questioning what it means to be a Catholic American. In the question and answer round afterward there didn't seem to be a clear consensus as to the answer, although per usual, lively discussion took place.

The conference ended with Mass in the Basilica followed by a dinner. At the Mass the Center's long time friend Bishop John D'Arcy concelebrated with the newly announced Bishop Kevin Rhoades. In his address to the congregation after Mass, Bishop Rhoades acknowledged the Center for Ethics & Culture conference taking place over the weekend on campus, citing it as example of the contributions Notre Dame can make to the church. He said a review of the conference schedule "revealed the depths of study and reflection that you've been engaged in." At the dinner, David Solomon estimated the conference to be "our best one yet." We are hoping for yet another great conference next year!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Center supports NDResponse during Commencement

In May the Fund to Protect Human Life was used to support the efforts of the undergraduate Right to Life club as it participated in NDResponse, the student coalition that united to affirm that Catholic identity of Notre Dame amidst the commencement controversy. During commencement weekend, NDResponse hosted a number of prayerful, respectful, and peaceful activities, all in celebration of the dignity of human life. On Sunday afternoon, approximately 3000 people gathered for an outdoor Mass and rally on South Quad. Speeches were given by:

• Fr. Bill Miscamble, CSC, ND ’77 (M.A.), ’80 (Ph.D.), ’87 (M.Div.), Professor of History at University of Notre Dame.
• Chris Godfrey, ND Law ’93; Life Athletes (Founder and President), starting offensive guard for Super Bowl XXI Champion New York Giants.
• Elizabeth Naquin Borger, ND ’78, Former Chairman of the Board of the Women’s Care Center.
• Lacy Dodd, ND ’99; Room at the Inn, Board of Directors, Charlotte, NC.
• Fr. John Raphael, SSJ, ND ’89, Principal of St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, LA.
• David Solomon, Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Notre Dame; W.P. and H.B. White Director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture; Chair of the steering committee for the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life.

Bishop John M. D’Arcy, who declined to attend the University’s official graduation ceremony, chose to join the rally hosted by NDResponse students and publicly thanked the coalition’s students for their constructive and respectful witness, calling them “heroes.” Following Sunday’s rally, nearly 40 graduates who had decided to boycott their own commencement ceremony gathered in the University’s Grotto for a prayer vigil and to listen to a meditation given by Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life. These students were joined at this vigil by over 800 people, including their parents, siblings, and families.

Friday, May 1, 2009

An Evening of Angelus at Notre Dame

In June of 1941, in Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a young Irishman from County Mayo was ordained a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross. This young priest’s name was Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., and for the next fifty years he faithfully served the Church, especially through his pioneering use of radio, television, and film to promote the Gospel and devotion to Our Lady in the Rosary. The coiner of the famous slogans, “The family that prays together, stays together,” and “A world at prayer is a world at peace,” Fr. Peyton brought Hollywood legends such as Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien, Loretta Young, Grace Kelly and James Cagney to his legendary radio program, “The Family Rosary Crusade,” in order to pray the Rosary with him—and the world.

In 1947 Fr. Peyton launched a new initiative, Family Theater Productions, as a means of putting the modern mass media at the service of the family. Located on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California, Family Theater Productions is still going strong after 52 years. Now directed by another Holy Cross priest, and the Center’s good friend, Fr. Willy Raymond, C.S.C., Family Theater Productions continues to sponsor films, documentaries, and other events that, in the spirit of Fr. Peyton, seek to evangelize our culture through the media. In 1996, Family Theater Productions began a new outreach program, the Angelus Awards Student Film Festival. The Angelus Awards honors student filmmakers as they explore and create works that respect the dignity of the human person.

Since 2007, the Center has invited the Angelus Awards to make Notre Dame one of the stops on its annual promotional tour. Each year, Fr. Willy and the director of the Angelus Awards, Monika Moreno, travel the globe with a group of Angelus Awards winners in order to showcase the work of these young artists and to promote the transformation of culture through the mass media. In 2009, the Angelus Awards hit the road for stops at the Sundance Film Festival and Rome, Italy. After mucking about in these cultural backwaters, the Angelus roadshow finally arrived in late April to the state-of-the-art Browning Cinema in Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center for an event that has come to be known as An Evening of Angelus at Notre Dame.

This year’s event included a screening of four of the award-winning short films: In The Name of the Son (written and directed by Harun Mehmednovic); Deface (written and directed by John Arlotto); Old Days (written and directed by Matt Shapiro); and Small Change (written and directed by Anna McGrath). Anna McGrath, a native of Australia, couldn’t make it to the event, but after the screening the audience was able to hear from the three other filmmakers as they took part in a panel moderated by Monika Moreno.

After generously engaging in some final Q&A with the large and enthusiastic audience, the filmmakers repaired to a reception in their honor just outside the Browning Cinema. Given the connections between the University, Fr. Peyton, and the Congregation of Holy Cross, it is entirely fitting that An Evening of Angelus at Notre Dame continues to grow as an exciting new Notre Dame tradition. A beautiful day that traditionally begins with a Mass said by Fr. Willy in Notre Dame’s Log Chapel, continues with a lunch in The Morris Inn that affords a chance for Notre Dame students to meet the Angelus filmmakers, and culminates with the screening and panel in the Browning Cinema. An Evening of Angelus at Notre Dame is an exciting event that helps fulfill the Center’s mission to help transform all of culture with the light of the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition. Fr. Peyton, whose cause for sainthood was opened in 2001, is now, like Pope John Paul II, honored by the Church with the title, “Servant of God.” May he intercede for us at the Center and for An Evening of Angelus at Notre Dame!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Come, and You Will See

Our semiannual Breaking Bread event continues to be a popular and cherished tradition for Notre Dame undergraduates. This dinner and evening of spiritual discussion draws the interest of a great many students, as well as professors, enticed by the promise of food for both the body and soul. Students and professors enjoy the opportunity to listen to a thoughtful speaker and share an excellent meal and discussion.

At this spring’s Breaking Bread on April 28, 2009, Prof. John Staud delivered a thoughtful and encouraging reflection on saying ‘yes’ to God in our lives. Staud, the Director of Pastoral Formation and Administration for the University of Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education, began by reading the account of the calling of the first disciples from the Gospel of John. Jesus responded to the disciples’ questions by saying, “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39). There is always uncertainty whether we are truly following God’s will, Staud said, but “miracles happen when we make commitments.” Saying ‘yes’ in our lives also means saying ‘no’ to other things, said Staud. He emphasized to the students the importance of thoughtful and prayerful discernment, and the value of the wisdom of family and friends, in making the big decisions regarding their majors, professions, and spouses. Staud shared an anecdote from his own process of discernment, and cited the value of advice from his good friends and family—those that knew him best. Staud also cautioned students that saying ‘yes’ to God is not often easy. “To be a recipient of Christ’s cross costs nothing, to follow it costs everything.” He also reminded students that they are called to lives of service. Staud concluded with a quote from Mother Teresa. “We are called not to be successful, but to be faithful.”

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bill McGurn: "A Notre Dame Witness for Life"

Of course, things heated up on campus in late March with the announcement of the choice of President Obama as the commencement speaker and honorary law degree recipient. In April, to contribute to the dialogue on campus about the invitation and its impact on the University, the Fund sponsored an evening lecture by Bill McGurn, Wall Street Journal columnist and former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, entitled “A Notre Dame Witness for Life.”

A small excerpt:
For most of her life, Notre Dame has served as a symbol of a Catholic community struggling to find acceptance in America – and yearning to make our own contributions to this great experiment in ordered liberty. We identify with those who are poor and downtrodden and on the margins of acceptance because that is where the Gospel points – and because we remember whence came our own parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. If we are honest, however, we must admit that in many ways we – and the university that nurtured us – are now the rich and powerful and privileged ourselves. This is a form of success, and we need not be embarrassed by it. But we must be mindful of the greater responsibilities that come with this success.….

I appreciate that for some people, the idea of Notre Dame as an unequivocal witness for the unborn would be a limit on her work as a Catholic university. The truth is just the opposite. The more frank and forthright Notre Dame’s witness for life, the more she would be given the benefit of the doubt on the many judgment calls that the life of a great university entails. At this hour in our nation’s life, America thirsts for an alternative to the relativism that leaves so many of our young people feeling empty and alone. This alternative is the Catholic witness that Notre Dame was created to provide … that Notre Dame is called to provide … and that in many ways, only Notre Dame can provide.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Science and the Human Good: How to Think Philosophically About the Place of Values in Science

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon on Tuesday, April 21, a group of eager undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members gathered in the auditorium of McKenna Hall hoping for an engaging lecture. Professor Don Howard, Director of the Program in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame, did not disappoint. Professor Howard delivered the spring 2009 installment of the Arthur J. Schmitt Lecture Series in the form of a presentation entitled “Science and the Human Good: How to Think Philosophically About the Place of Values in Science.”

In his lecture, Professor Howard described the many ways in which values affect the way that science is practiced. He argued that, “Science, like any human practice, lives in a historical, cultural, social, political, and economic context,” and that these factors affect the structure of scientific institutions, as well as the psychology of individual scientists. Professor Howard then argued that, given these facts, values play an indispensable role in the way that science is practiced, and that values are essential in determining how research funds should be allocated and in shaping research methods.

Professor Howard supported his claims with a number of examples from the history of science. He used examples from the lives and work of such scientists as Pierre Duhem, Galileo, and Albert Einstein. This fascinating lecture was followed by a reception. Afterwords thirty invited guests, including many graduate students who are Schmitt Fellows in the Schools of Science and Engineering, joined Dr. Howard and Center Director David Solomon at the Morris Inn for a dinner in honor of Dr. Howard. The evening was filled with more spirited discussion of Dr. Howard’s ideas. The food was delicious, the company friendly, and the conversation lively.

The charge of the Schmitt Lecture Series is a broad but essential one: to reflect on the ethical, political, and religious dimensions of science and technology. The Schmitt Fellows 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. We would like to thank Professor Howard for his lecture, and we would like to thank the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation for their generous and continuing support of this lecture series.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bread of Life: Abortion and Social Justice

Since its establishment last fall, the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life has had a fruitful year which promises to serve as a strong foundation for the future. This spring, following in the steps of the Center’s enormously successful dinner/reflection series, Breaking Bread, the Fund began a new dinner series for students entitled, Bread of Life. Through this event, we sought to draw students into reflection on their attitudes to beginning-of-life issues. We particularly hoped to attract students who might not already be strongly committed to the Church’s teachings on these issues but who were open to exploring them.

The inaugural reflection was given by Professor Carter Snead, a member of the committee overseeing the fund. Snead spoke in his reflection of the false dichotomy in today’s political climate between issues of social justice and issues surrounding a culture of life. Citing abortion as the targeting of an entire group of people for discrimination, Snead affirmed the right to life of the unborn child as one of the fundamental social justice issues of our time. Similarly, he characterized the issue of embryonic stem-cell research as the harming of one group of persons to the benefit of another group, noting that such a practice is ultimately “self-destructive.” He also touched on questions surrounding legal personhood, asserting that a new, genetically unique and self-directed life is created at the moment of conception. He concluded with a challenge to the students, as future leaders, to be mindful of issues of social justice, and to remember that such issues especially include the rights of the unborn.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Family in Film

The inspiration for this spring’s Catholic Culture Film Series came from a panel at our Family conference in the fall which focused on literary and cinematic perspectives on the family. A talk by one of ND’s own Theology grad students, Kevin Haley, explored the theme of family in the 2006 Danish film by Susanne Bier, After the Wedding. His presentation was so engaging that a line of people eager to jot down the title of the film and share their own insights formed immediately after he finished. Clearly, showing this movie and discussing it afterwards was sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Pairing After the Wedding (which is an intensely dramatic story) with the more quirky and humorous 2001 Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums, we modeled the event on “Theology on Tap,” staging it at Legends with a spread of hot hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar stocked with beer and soda. After the Wedding was shown on the evening of March 23rd with Kevin Haley as the discussion leader. Kevin gave a brief introduction in which he told the audience to look for specific cinematographic techniques (such as the numerous extreme close-ups on the characters’ eyes) to help us to discuss the director’s method of conveying her themes. The emotional grip of the story had everyone leaning in toward the screen the entire way through. A quick pan of the crowd found eyes riveted and mouths halted from quesadilla-chewing out of awe or the phenomenal acting. Any revelation of plot details in this article would be a mistake, for the narrative contains so many important surprises and turns.

The Royal Tenenbaums was shown and discussed on April 14th. For many of the viewers, it was their first time ever seeing the movie or any other of Wes Anderson’s films. His cinematographic world is unlike any other in its combination of darkness and whimsy. In the introduction to the story (set to a very lively version of “Hey Jude”), the narrator bluntly lays out the state of the Tenenbaum family as one marred by “two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster.” But what is so refreshing about this film is that it does not glorify dysfunction as so many others do. Rather, one senses the longing in each character for the traditional family structure founded on love. The Center’s new Program Coordinator, Kathryn Wales, led the discussion that followed. The audience seemed most interested in the character development of the family patriarch, Royal, wondering at such elements as the movie’s title and the hilariously absurd epitaph that winds up on Royal’s tombstone. Everyone’s participation made for a very fruitful and enjoyable talk.

One student shared his impressions of the event: “Film plays a prominent role in our society, and we often leave the theatre dazzled by the imagery but largely unreflective on the complex morals and lessons provided in the story and characters. I think the Catholic Culture Film Series addresses this tendency by presenting thought-provoking films and allowing students the opportunity to think about and discuss the issues and problems presented in these great works of cinema.”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An Insider's Look at Hollywood: An Intimate Conversation with Dick Lyles, CEO of Origin Entertainment

On Tuesday April 7, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture sponsored an event called “An Insider’s Look at Hollywood: An Intimate Conversation with Dick Lyles, CEO of Origin Entertainment.” The event was meant to supplement the Center’s Catholic Culture Film Series, which reflects on ways in which the cinema plays a substantial role in our culture and how Catholics can use the industry to exert a positive influence. Besides being CEO of several companies, Lyles developed training programs for businessmen that cover six continents and wrote the bestseller Winning Ways. As CEO of Origin Entertainment, he helps ensure the making of films that are skillfully crafted while conveying meaningful ideas.

“We are at a critical point in what’s happening in the world right now,” Lyles began. He briefly outlined the economic history of the 20th century, beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s prediction in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum that communism would ultimately fail and be replaced by the triumph of capitalism. A century later in 1991, Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical Centesimus Annus which confirmed capitalism’s success, but warned of the threats associated with this victory.

Capitalism depends on the Catholic principles of liberty and personal freedom, which can be abused if people choose selfishness and irresponsibility. The encyclical further included the fear of those putting themselves above the common good. “Are we seeing this today, twenty years later?” Lyles asked, “It’s everywhere, in all major institutions.” Government and business are among those institutions that are “wounded,” Lyles explained—reflected in the disappearance of politicians who nobly pursue the common good and as evidenced in the current economic crisis. The destruction extends to journalism, which gave up on its old goal to “report and describe” in favor of strongly pushing an anti-Christian agenda, Lyles explained as he held up a cover of Newsweek bearing the title, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.”

Lyles moved on to Hollywood, another one of these broken institutions. In fact, its dysfunction is a major issue. Hollywood is an organization that “shapes how people view the world and shape their values,” Lyles commented, “It is a Church of the Masses,” endorsing a theology of narcissism, self-gratification, and greed. “It threatens Catholics and Christians, as well as anyone who cares about free enterprise, capitalism, respect for self, humanity, and our world in general,” Lyles said, “That’s why we should care that it’s broken.” Because Hollywood promotes narcissistic self-indulgence and greed, general incompetency has tarnished the foundational principles of craftsmanship and quality of work. “It’s a people-centric business where few people know how to be effective in their interactions with other people,” Lyles stated. Movies are made which have several excellent features, but fail to come together in an integral whole. Lyles held the egocentricity of actors, directors, and producers alike responsible in part for this failure. “Hollywood lacks cohesive leadership discipline,” Lyles continued.

The biggest testament to Hollywood’s incompetence? The kinds of movies that get made. G-rated films gross $78 million, PG-rated $28 million, and R-rated $4 million. Yet 95% of the films Hollywood creates are R-rated because “that’s what people want to watch.” In these chaotic times, Lyles urged us to think of the implications of not acting. “The culture around us is changing to the point that it’s becoming toxic to the very foundations of our society, and we’re letting it go by,” he said. “We have to make a difference.” Lyles pointed to a rediscovery of the Judeo-Christian tradition and ethic, which he believes was responsible for American cinema’s “golden days,” producing actors like Charlton Heston and Meryl Streep and films such as Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Christians must somehow project their values into the world in an effective way. Lyles’ solution to this is companies like Act One, an organization that trains Christians for Hollywood careers in screenwriting. He also emphasized the need for groups like the Genesis Initiative, a non-profit organization that will ensure the re-establishment of a Catholic presence in society for future generations via movie and television projects. “We’re in a values culture war without ammunition,” Lyles stated urgently, “so as Christians we need to learn about our values and how we relate to them.”

Visit for more information about Dick Lyles and his endeavor.

Monday, March 30, 2009

24th Annual Clarke Family Medical Ethics Conference

On March 27th-29th, 2009, approximately one hundred doctors, nurses, medical students, medical ethicists, and Notre Dame undergraduates came together for our 24th annual Notre Dame Medical Ethics conference. As usual, the Notre Dame Alumni Association joined the Center in sponsoring the conference, which took place on campus at the Center for Continuing Education in McKenna Hall. The conference is designed to serve current and future medical professionals, providing them with an opportunity to join with others to reflect thoughtfully on the often complex ethical questions and problems that arise in medicine. Among medical ethics conferences, our conference is distinctive in encouraging theologically-informed discussions and in placing emphasis on small-group discussions of physician-submitted cases.

The first session of our conference dealt with challenges associated with finding a workable, accurate, medical definition of death. As the discussed cases made apparent, both which definition is chosen and who is deemed to have the authority to choose will have serious practical consequences for issues such as organ donation eligibility as well as treatment continuance and cessation. Two of the discussed cases also brought out some practical difficulties associated with applying the now widely-accepted brain-death criterion of death: for one class of persons—newborns—very rarely are physicians able to verify brain death.

On the first evening of the conference, we held our annual J. Philip Clarke Family lecture, a lecture open not only to our conference attendees but also to the Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and greater South Bend communities. This year’s speaker was Edmund Pellegrino , M.D., Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Medical Ethics at the Center for Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center. This was Dr. Pellegrino’s third time giving the Clarke Lecture, and the title of his address was “A Moral Foundation for the Helping Professions: Medicine, Law, Ministry, and Teaching.”

Following the Clarke lecture, Dr. Pellegrino participated in a book signing for two recently-published books: The Philosophy of Medicine Reborn: A Pellegrino Reader, which was published in the Center’s book series, and Medical Ethics at Notre Dame: The J. Philip Clarke Family Lectures 1988-1999, a collection of the first twelve Clarke lectures with responses. During the third session, participants tackled problems of obtaining informed consent. Physicians discussed both what is required for full and proper informed consent and who is capable of giving true consent. They considered whether doctors are obligated to volunteer information about which hospitals and doctors can provide patients with the best treatment. The participants also discussed tough cases of consent to treatment involving minors and the very poor participating in medical research for pay.

For the fourth session of our conference, we welcomed Notre Dame Economics Professor Bill Evans, who gave detailed assessments of both the current state of the United States health care system and President Obama’s proposals for health care reform. At the request of several conference attendees, the slides from Prof. Evans’ lecture are available online at the Center’s website.

In the fifth session, “Medicine and Money,” participants considered problems that have arisen in the health care delivery system as hospitals, governments, and individuals have tried to deal with the realities of limited financial resources. One of the most provocative cases involved hospitals, including at least one Catholic facility, that have resorted to deporting indigent,
uninsured immigrants in an effort to balance their budgets.

On Saturday afternoon, participants had a choice of attending one of three panel discussions. The topics for these discussions were: the recent document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dignitas Personae, a document on a series of recommended changes to resident duty hours that the ACGME (the organization that accredits medical schools in the U.S.) is now considering; and the appropriate response of health care professionals when they conflict with their colleagues on when and how to prescribe pain medication. dimensions of science and technology.

On Sunday morning, we had our usual “roundtable discussion,” a wrap-up session in which participants are invited to raise questions for all present to consider. These questions can be on topics discussed in previous conference sessions or on entirely new topics. Some of the most memorable discussions in this year’s roundtable were prompted by physicians seeking advice on how to handle some of the tough cases they had encountered in their own practices.