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!