Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Capitalism is killing our morals, our future"

By Paul B. Farrell, at MarketWatch, ht Christopher. I'm no economist, of course - but there's no question at all, to me, that something very important has changed in our culture and ethos.   It seems to me that capitalism on the small scale - isn't that what "free enterprise" is? - has things to offer; I'm fairly certain it's responsible for bringing us - us, anyway - longer life and better medicine, for instance.  It seems to have helped bring much of the world out of extreme poverty.  And "free markets" - at least on the smaller scale - seem to be a good thing for freedom generally; better, at any rate, than imposing some arbitrary oligarchical system.

But it's clear that something important in the culture has changed.  Americans, in particular, have become dis-attached from reality (and from ourselves) in many important ways.  A simple example:  the market-driven journalism that keeps Americans focused on self-absorbed trivialities and totally unaware of what's going on elsewhere in the world.  Another:  the totally dessicated (and utterly politicized) form of religion - Christianity in particular - that we see all around us.   Another: no system exists any longer - outside of religion, where it's not functioning very well anymore, either - for people to address our own shortcomings and faults; instead, our very failings are exactly what "markets" exist to make money from.

Anyway, here's the article; I think it's beyond dispute that "our new dominating capitalist mind-set is crowding out 'nonmarket values worth caring about.'"   I'm not sure which came first, though - the mindset or the crowding-out.  I'm not sure it matters, either.

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (MarketWatch) — Yes, capitalism is working ... for the Forbes 1,000 Global Billionaires whose ranks swelled from 322 in 2000 to 1,426 recently. Billionaires control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, while the income of American workers stagnated.

For the rest of the world, capitalism is not working: A billion live on less than two dollars a day. With global population exploding to 10 billion by 2050, that inequality gap will grow, fueling revolutions, wars, adding more billionaires and more folks surviving on two bucks a day.

Over the years we’ve explored the reasons capitalism blindly continues on its self-destructive path. Recently we found someone who brilliantly explains why free-market capitalism is destined to destroy the world, absent a historic paradigm shift: That is Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the new best-seller, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” and his earlier classic, “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?”

For more than three decades Sandel’s been explaining how capitalism is undermining America’s moral values and why most people are in denial of the impact. His classes are larger than a thousand although you can take his Harvard “Justice” course online. Sandel recently summarized his ideas about capitalism in the Atlantic. In “What Isn’t for Sale?” he writes:

“Without being fully aware of the shift, Americans have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society ... where almost everything is up for sale ... a way of life where market values seep into almost every sphere of life and sometimes crowd out or corrode important values, non-market values.”

Sandel should be required reading for all Wall Street insiders as well as America’s 95 million Main Street investors. Here’s a condensed version:

In one generation, market ideology consumed America’s collective spirit

“The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation — an era of market triumphalism,” says Sandel. “The era began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom.”

And in the 1990s with the “market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving the public good.”

Today “almost everything can be bought and sold.” Today “markets, and market values, have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us,” says Sandel.

Over the years, “market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.”

Examples: New free-market capitalism trapped in American brains

Yes, it’s everywhere: “Markets to allocate health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, recreation, procreation, and other social goods unheard-of 30 years ago. Today, we take them largely for granted.”

Examples ... for-profit schools, hospitals, prisons ... outsourcing war to private contractors ... police forces by private guards “almost twice the number of public police officers” ... drug “companies aggressive marketing of prescription drugs directly to consumers, a practice ... prohibited in most other countries.”

More: Ads in “public schools ... buses ... corridors ... cafeterias ... naming rights to parks and civic spaces ... blurred boundaries, within journalism, between news and advertising ... marketing of ‘designer’ eggs and sperm for assisted reproduction ... buying and selling ... the right to pollute ... campaign finance in the U.S. that comes close to permitting the buying and selling of elections.”

Why should you worry? Capitalism breeds corruption and inequality

But the 2008 crash challenged our faith in free-market capitalism: “The financial crisis did more than cast doubt on the ability of markets to allocate risk efficiently. It also prompted a widespread sense that markets have become detached from morals.”

Then comes the big question: So what? “Why worry that we are moving toward a society in which everything is up for sale?” Two big reasons concern Sandel:

First, inequality: “Where everything is for sale, life is harder for those of modest means.” If wealth just bought things, yachts, sports cars, and fancy vacations, inequalities wouldn’t matter much. “But as money comes to buy more and more, the distribution of income and wealth looms larger.”

Second, corruption: “Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them ... markets don’t only allocate goods, they express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged.” Also “corrupt the meaning of citizenship. Economists often assume that markets ... do not affect the goods being exchanged. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark.”

Warning: Morals are new commodities auctioned to highest bidder

Sandel warns that our new dominating capitalist mind-set is crowding out “nonmarket values worth caring about. When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold,” they become “commodities, as instruments of profit and use.”

But “not all goods are properly valued in this way ... Slavery was appalling because it treated human beings as a commodity, to be bought and sold at auction,” failing to “value human beings as persons, worthy of dignity and respect; it sees them as instruments of gain and objects of use.”

Nor do we permit “children to be bought and sold, no matter how difficult the process of adoption can be.” The same with citizenship ... jury duty ... voting rights ... “we believe that civic duties are not private property but public responsibilities. To outsource them is to demean them, to value them in the wrong way.”

Many things should never be commodities.

America transforms from mere market economy to new market society

Sandel’s core message is simple: “The good things in life are degraded if turned into commodities. So to decide where the market belongs, and where it should be kept at a distance, we have to decide how to value the goods in question — health, education, family life, nature, art, civic duties, and so on. These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones.”

Unfortunately, we never had that debate during the 30-year rise of “market triumphalism. As a result, without quite realizing it — without ever deciding to do so — we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.”

And “the difference is this: A market economy is a tool ... for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It’s a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.” The difference is profound.

Not only did the debate never happen. It may never. Why? Because politicians aren’t up to debating values, may be pushing us past the point of no return.

Today’s “political argument consists mainly of shouting matches on cable television, partisan vitriol on talk radio and ideological food fights on the floor of Congress,” says Sandel, so “it’s hard to imagine a reasoned public debate about such controversial moral questions as the right way to value procreation, children, education, health, the environment, citizenship and other goods.”

Dysfunctional politicians pushing Americans past point of no return

Can we change? “The appeal of using markets to put a price on public values, is that there’s no judgment on the preferences they satisfy.” Debate is unnecessary. Markets don’t “ask whether some ways of valuing goods are higher, or worthier, than others. If someone is willing to pay for sex, or a kidney ... the only question the economist asks is ‘How much?’ Markets ... don’t discriminate between worthy preferences and unworthy ones.” Markets may never draw the line, but do politicians, in secret?

What is certain: Capitalism is eliminating moral values, as Nobel economist Milton Friedman and capitalism’s philosopher Ayn Rand had been preaching to the generation. As Sandel puts it: “Each party to a deal decides for him- or herself what value to place on the things being exchanged. This nonjudgmental stance toward values lies at the heart of market reasoning, and explains much of its appeal.”

But unfortunately, market capitalism “has exacted a heavy price ... drained public discourse of moral and civic energy.”

The good professor is a great teacher, with only one glaring flaw in his logic: he’s too idealistic, too quixotic. You don’t have to be a fatalist to know that without a total economic collapse, market capitalists — including 1,426 billionaires, Wall Street bankers, hedgers, lobbyists and every other special interest getting rich off the new market society — will never voluntarily surrender their control over the American political system.

Rather, they will blindly continue down their self-destructive path with an absolute conviction they are divinely guided by the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith, and perhaps even God.

Meanwhile, we have no choice but wait patiently till the collapse, anxiously aware that our bizarre political system will just keep degrading America’s moral values, pricing, buying, selling, trading morals like commodities, because in the final analysis everything has a price and everyone has a price in our hot new exciting Market Society.

"Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world...."

Today's Daily Office reading from Wisdom is a real corker!  It's yet another recapitulation of the salvation story - but told in an incredibly odd (and dramatic!) third person.  It's a tense that collapses every dramatic Old Testament event into two human beings, the "righteous man" - and his adversary, the cause of every  disaster!
A reading from Wisdom 10:1-21

Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world, when he alone had been created; she delivered him from his transgression, and gave him strength to rule all things. But when an unrighteous man departed from her in his anger, he perished because in rage he killed his brother. When the earth was flooded because of him, wisdom again saved it, steering the righteous man by a paltry piece of wood. Wisdom also, when the nations in wicked agreement had been put to confusion, recognized the righteous man and preserved him blameless before God, and kept him strong in the face of his compassion for his child. Wisdom rescued a righteous man when the ungodly were perishing; he escaped the fire that descended on the Five Cities. Evidence of their wickedness still remains: a continually smoking wasteland, plants bearing fruit that does not ripen, and a pillar of salt standing as a monument to an unbelieving soul. For because they passed wisdom by, they not only were hindered from recognizing the good, but also left for humankind a reminder of their folly, so that their failures could never go unnoticed. Wisdom rescued from troubles those who served her. When a righteous man fled from his brother's wrath, she guided him on straight paths; she showed him the kingdom of God, and gave him knowledge of holy things; she prospered him in his labors, and increased the fruit of his toil. When his oppressors were covetous, she stood by him and made him rich. She protected him from his enemies, and kept him safe from those who lay in wait for him; in his arduous contest she gave him the victory, so that he might learn that godliness is more powerful than anything else. When a righteous man was sold, wisdom did not desert him, but delivered him from sin. She descended with him into the dungeon, and when he was in prison she did not leave him, until she brought him the scepter of a kingdom and authority over his masters. Those who accused him she showed to be false, and she gave him everlasting honor. A holy people and blameless race wisdom delivered from a nation of oppressors. She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord, and withstood dread kings with wonders and signs. She gave to holy people the reward of their labors; she guided them along a marvelous way, and became a shelter to them by day, and a starry flame through the night. She brought them over the Red Sea, and led them through deep waters; but she drowned their enemies, and cast them up from the depth of the sea. Therefore the righteous plundered the ungodly; they sang hymns, O Lord, to your holy name, and praised with one accord your defending hand; for wisdom opened the mouths of those who were mute, and made the tongues of infants speak clearly.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

“Love was our Lord’s Meaning”

From Chapter 86 (the final chapter) of Revelations of Divine Love, St. Julian of Norwich (1393).
“Love was our Lord’s Meaning”

Statue of Julian of Norwich,
west front, Norwich Cathedral
(thanks to
THIS book is begun by God’s gift and His grace, but it is not yet performed, as to my sight.

For Charity pray we all; [together] with God’s working, thanking, trusting, enjoying. For thus will our good Lord be prayed to, as by the understanding that I took of all His own meaning and of the sweet words where He saith full merrily: I am the Ground of thy beseeching. For truly I saw and understood in our Lord’s meaning that He shewed it for that He willeth to have it known more than it is: in which knowing He will give us grace to love Him and cleave to Him. For He beholdeth His heavenly treasure with so great love on earth that He willeth to give us more light and solace in heavenly joy, in drawing to Him of our hearts, for sorrow and darkness which we are in.

And from that time that it was shewed I desired oftentimes to learn what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after, and more, I was answered in ghostly understanding, saying thus: Wouldst thou learn thy Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well: Love was His meaning. Who shewed it thee? Love. What shewed He thee? Love. Wherefore shewed it He? For Love. Hold thee therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same. But thou shalt never know nor learn therein other thing without end. Thus was I learned that Love was our Lord’s meaning.

And I saw full surely that ere God made us He loved us; which love was never slacked, nor ever shall be. And in this love He hath done all His works; and in this love He hath made all things profitable to us; and in this love our life is everlasting. In our making we had beginning; but the love wherein He made us was in Him from without beginning: in which love we have our beginning. And all this shall we see in God, without end.

Natural Law: A response to D.B. Hart

In Understanding Natural Law, R. J. Snell, an associate professor of philosophy and director of the philosophy program at Eastern University, responds to David Bentley Hart's original First Things article about natural law.

Here's the second part of Snell's article; the first part is a summing-up of Hart's original argument.  This is especially interesting to me at the moment; what's being said bears strongly upon what human beings can say about "morality" in language that doesn't depend directly on religious ideas, or on "revelation."   This is one of the basic conversations happening all around us now, and so much of what's said currently is entirely dependent upon unexamined premises.
Natural Law Doesn’t Derive Ought from Is

First, despite its centrality to Hart’s rejection, in no way does natural law theory derive what ought to be from what is; if anything, contemporary theorists are often criticized precisely for refusing to ground practical reason on theoretical anthropology or metaphysical claims about nature.

In Natural Law and Natural Rights, for instance, John Finnis writes that natural lawyers “have not, nor do they need to, nor did the classical exponents of the theory dream of attempting any such derivation . . . the most popular image of natural law has to be abandoned. The corresponding and most popular objection to all theories of natural law has to be abandoned, too, and the whole question of natural law thought through afresh by many.” “It is,” he continues, “simply not true that ‘any form of a natural-law theory … entails the belief that propositions about man’s duties and obligations can be inferred from propositions about his nature.’”

Principles of practical reason are not derived from factual claims about nature or metaphysics, not only because Hume was correct on that point, but because first principles are not derived from anything—they are entirely underived. Neither are they innate, although they are self-evident; grasping them entails “no process of inference” but rather an “act of non-inferential understanding.”

Such understanding is hardly supernatural, for it is the ordinary act of insight whereby we grasp what is intelligible. For Finnis, we begin with the data of our own inclinations and purposes for acting; some goods, we realize, are insufficient reasons for acting and thus merely instrumental—we do not brush our teeth as an ultimate good but as conducive to health, and do not seek money for itself but for what it allows—while other goods require no further explanation. I can intelligibly ask “why do you want the promotion?” in a way I cannot ask “why do you want to be happy?” The answer to both those questions might be “to be happy, of course,” indicating that happiness is ultimate in a way the promotion is not. But I’ve not inferred anything from nature in doing so; I’ve just recognized what it is that makes my action purposive.

Similarly, Martin Rhonheimer agrees that natural law does not “read off” morality from nature, a naïve physicalism. Natural law does not have physical nature (ordo naturae) as its measure, but rather the governance of reason (ordo rationalis) insofar as practical reason intends goods attainable by action. In desiring goods, practical reason directs action—Seek this! Avoid that!—and it is precisely these judgments (not deductions or derivations from nature) that are the natural law operative in voluntary action.

Unlike the Hart/Potemra version, Finnis and Rhonheimer never consider reading ethics off human nature but rather develop their anthropologies and metaphysics of human nature from their account of practical reason. Finnis, for instance, suggests in Fundamentals of Ethics that “epistemologically . . . human nature is not ‘the basis of ethics’; rather, ethics is an indispensable preliminary to a full and soundly based knowledge of human nature.” Likewise Rhonheimer, for whom knowledge of one’s own nature “cannot be derived from metaphysics or anthropology,” but rather “metaphysics and anthropology . . . are not even possible without” practical reason’s reflection on its purposes and inclinations. Hart and Potemra have it precisely backwards.

The Difference Between Practical Reasoning and Morality

Second, it is not the case, as Hart claims, that the natural lawyer “insists that the moral meaning of nature should be perfectly evident to any properly reasoning mind.” Not only is moral meaning not derived from nature, but the relation between principles of practical reasoning and principles of morality is more nuanced than Hart indicates, and it takes reasoning—not immediate and obvious intuition—to arrive at moral knowledge.

The first principle of practical reasoning is not as yet a moral principle, for the first principle of practical reasoning—“good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided”—directs us to intelligent and purposive choice without yet telling us the proper way to conduct that choice. The difference is subtle but substantial, implying that basic human goods are, as yet, pre-moral. While directing us toward purpose, practical reasonableness is in itself no guarantee of moral action, merely of intelligible action, and immoral action need not be senseless.

Distinctly moral principle is needed to determine how we are to keep the precept of practical reasonableness, “the way we are to pursue the good and avoid evil,” as William E. May articulates the distinction. The first principle of morality is not “do good and avoid evil”—for even immoral choices might do this—but rather “one ought to choose and otherwise will those and only those possibilities whose willing is compatible with a will toward integral human fulfillment,” a notion requiring yet additional specification of moral norms and even further application regarding issues such as abortion, lying, marriage, and so on.

In fact, if one reads very much of contemporary natural law theory, one finds that applying specific moral norms can be rather taxing, as, for example, when the norm “direct killing of an innocent life is always wrong” does not tell us if craniotomy is direct killing in cases when a physician attempts to save the life of a woman in delivery by crushing the head of the baby.

Rather than Hart’s “clear commands” for “any rightly attentive intellect,” contemporary natural law requires sophisticated casuistry, which perhaps explains why moral theologians most persuaded by physicalism sometimes accuse contemporary natural law theorists of permissiveness, since natural law theory readily admits the complexities and vagaries of the agent’s intentions. In short, determining the rightness or wrongness of concrete actions takes thought, not just a passive gaping at nature. That natural law theorists conclude that some acts are intrinsically evil, without exception, does not mean that conclusions are immediate, obvious, and attained without thought.

What’s Self-Evident in Natural Law?

Third, while it is true that the first precepts of practical reasonableness are self-evident, natural lawyers certainly don’t suggest wickedness or stupidity as the necessary cause when someone fails to reach proper conclusions about concrete actions. As articulated above, self-evidence means only non-inferred or underived, suggesting neither innateness nor immediacy.

The distinction between something self-evident “in itself” or “to us” is an old one: A proof in geometry may be perfectly self-evident in itself, as well as to one who understands, yet remain opaque to one who does not understand, not because the student is depraved or moronic but simply because he or she does not yet understand.

For theorists like Finnis or Rhonheimer, self-evidence doesn’t mean that we don’t require insights that help us understand our purpose in acting. These insights are not deductions, but neither are they intuitions or introspections by which all but the wicked or stupid have a god’s-eye view into themselves, or nature, or morality. In no way does self-evidence mean that either one immediately receives “clear commands” in “the content of true morality,” as Hart suggests, or that one is barbaric.

I cannot help but think that the commentators have assumed that the self-evidence of basic human goods somehow implies a corresponding belief that metaphysics, applied ethics, and public policy are also self-evident, but that’s not the theory. Natural law might be rooted in reason, but it’s still human reason. As for those persons of practical reason who cannot know the natural law without supernatural assistance and metaphysical enlightenment? I suspect they no more exist than do those unnamed straw men critiqued by Hart and Potemra.

Tomorrow I discuss the usefulness and danger of natural law, and argue that the skeptics’ very act of denying natural law demonstrates they are already following that same interior law, and, further, that human dignity is thereby revealed.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

"A Cloistered Life" (AKA, Regina Laudis and "that simplest of happiness")

Here's a great piece - a 1993 article written by one Simon Sebag Montefiore and published in Psychology Today.   (I added the images.)
 I have two images of a monastery: one is a sinister place of dank corridors, icy cells, and cold stone; the other a kind of medieval, Monty-Pythonesque farce. The Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, where I stayed for several days as a guest of the Benedictine Order, is neither. Entering this world is like stepping back into a quaint, rustic paradise that existed long ago-- in the age of oxen-yoked plows and horse-drawn carriages.

I visited the abbey--working with the nuns as they brought in their harvest--because it was the home of a romantic and true story of Hollywood, God, and Elvis that has mystified America for 30 years. In 1962, Dolores Hart was a 24-year-old movie star with Grace Kelly looks and 11 films already to her credit, including Where the Boys Are, Loving You, and King Creole. In the latter two she costarred with Elvis Presley. There were rumors of a love affair and, later, of a child born of the couple's supposed tryst. Then, in 1963, she gave it all up to become a nun--joining a cloistered monastery and disappearing from celebrityhood forever.

Ever since, Hart's exquisite beauty and her friendship with Elvis Presley in the fresh dawn of his fame have made her the subject of lurid legends. In a society that regards Hollywood fame as Heaven, we presume that someone who gives it all up must be either crazy, ungrateful, or tainted by some terrible scandal.

Her religious vows have prevented Mother Dolores (as she is now known) from answering such questions as: Did she have a love affair with Elvis? Did she bear the King's child--a Dauphin of rock 'n' roll? What kind of life does she lead today and does she ever regret giving up her star's crown for a nun's halo? More generally, why give up the routines of the rat race for the rigors of the monastery?

When an ex-lion tamer named Philip Stanic from Gary, Indiana, changed his name to Elvis Presley, Jr., in 1990, began a career as an Elvis impersonator, and claimed he was the fruit of Elvis's passionate affair with Dolores Hart in 1961, the press leapt on the story. Mother Dolores, banned from formal interviews by the Archbishop of Hertford, could not answer the accusations against her. Despite the attempts of a series of investigative journalists, they could not speak with her, nor even confirm that it was her they had seen while attending services at the monastery's quaint chapel. But as it seemed to me that she would want the truth told, I began a personal quest to speak with her that was almost as weird but ultimately as satisfying as Hart's own spiritual journey.

A combination of talent and looks--that cherubic innocence mixed with feline sensuality--made Hart a star almost overnight. She survived her turbulent family (her parents were alcoholics) by converting to Catholicism at the age of 10. At 18, in 1956, Paramount signed her to a seven-year contract.

Thirty-seven years later I called the abbey for the first time and asked to speak to her. The nun at the gate took a message but warned me that Mother Dolores was unlikely to return the call. Minutes later, my phone rang. It was a woman named Barbara Simon, who said she was calling "on behalf of the abbey" to say that Dolores Hart would not speak but that the allegations of the young man calling himself Elvis Presley, Jr., were lies. When I asked her where she was calling from, the phone went dead.

Now fully intrigued, I set out to enlist the help of another classic character of the silver screen: Patricia Neal, the stunning, Oscar-winning star of Hud and Breakfast at Tiffany's. Once Roald Dahl's wife, once Gary Cooper's lover, she had been felled in her prime by a near-fatal stroke. She recovered, I knew, with the help of...the Abbey of Regina Laudis.

THE FORMIDABLE MISS NEAL--charming, gravelly, and outrageous, met me in a New York City diner and told me that it was Maria Cooper, daughter of Gary Cooper, who introduced both her and Dolores Hart to Regina Laudis. She and Dolores spoke often and perhaps, if I was a good boy, she purred, she would mention me to Mother Dolores. "If you're lucky," the old screen siren added raffishly.

Days passed without a word. Just when it seemed my quest was over, the phone call came. I recognized the voice on the telephone the moment I picked it up. Even if I did not remember its distinctive trill from all those films, it was possibly the softest and most graceful voice I had ever heard:

"My name is Mother Dolores. I know that you called for me."

At once I asked if we could meet, but she reminded me that they were a closed order at the abbey: "The only reason I am talking to you is out of courtesy to your relationship with Patricia." Afraid that our conversation might end as abruptly as the mysterious Ms. Simon's, I wasted no time in asking her about Elvis Presley. Mother Dolores denied she ever had any love affair with him, quaintly calling him "Mr. Presley."

"I had a very good and sound and clean relationship with Mr. Presley; we were good friends. Mr. Presley was one of the finest persons I ever worked with in Hollywood. So no one can spoil our association. During the time we worked on it, we were good friends on the set and we had a good working relationship. We liked each other but we were not...we were never romantically linked. I was never in that kind of association with him."

I asked about the ex-lion tamer who claimed to be her son.

"There is no truth in what that young man has said," she answered. "He has abused both my name and Mr. Presley's. My name is not nearly as interesting to the press, but it does make a good story. So it is not right for this young man to try to create such an atmosphere in order to further his career."

There was no reason to disbelieve her, since many of the nuns happily admit love affairs before taking holy orders--as well as temptations afterward. I asked her what kind of life she led there? Did she work or just pray?

"I do all sorts of work here. In fact, I would like to invite you to visit and stay at the abbey because you have certainly been gracious and kind to me. I would like to extend our hospitality. Monastic life is very simple. You'd have to come up and see. But I cannot promise you we would ever meet. Would you like to stay?"

THE FOLLOWING WEEKEND THE CROTCHETY, BESPECTACLED SISTER Mary Elisabeth picked me up at the bus station in a big, scarred station wagon and drove me toward the aptly named Bethlehem. Only seven of the 47 nuns ever leave the estate to do chores--such as collecting me. The rest spend the remainder of their lives there.

"I hope your cell's not too hot," said the sister. "We have no air-conditioning, and it's almost 100 degrees today. Hot for haymaking."

I stayed at a cottage for male visitors. My cell was tiny, hot, austere: exactly like the nuns' cells in their quarters. As I stood peering at the "enclosure"--a wall surrounding the sisters' living area--I heard the roar of a tractor as it whizzed by, just missing me by a hair--a determined and somewhat ancient nun at the wheel, driving at top speed.

Later, I heard bells ringing and saw a nun driving a chariot pulled by two oxen--my introduction to the bucolic pleasures of Mother Dolores' life after Hollywood.

WANDERING around the 400 acres, I found the most active nuns I could have imagined: Mother Stephen, head of the farm (she bears one of the abbey's splendid array of medieval titles: Land Master), was feeding cows, supervising strawberry picking, haymaking, and milking. She called each cow by its nickname and fed it by hand. When I asked her about Mother Dolores, she shrugged as she poured out the hay: "Everyone here is blessed with some special gift."

In between all this muscular activity, the nuns have a praying routine that fills up most of their days. They must also rise at 1:15 A.M. to sing Matins for an hour and then again at 6:15 A.M. for Lauds. Bells ring to summon them to prayer.

At 8 the next morning I attended Mass. The nuns were huddled on the other side of the altar, behind a wooden grille, singing like celestial canaries in incomprehensible Latin. I could not see whether Mother Dolores was there or not--the grille was too dense, the curtain too opaque.

By a rather bizarre coincidence that Mother Dolores would most likely call the "Will of God," Father-Abbot Matthew Stark's "early morning homily" (as the nuns call his sermon) began: "in a time when the word 'awesome' is used to describe a slice of pizza and it is said that Elvis lives while God is dead, it is easy to see how out of touch we are with the glory of the Lord."

After Mass I was summoned by the Guest Master (another medieval title), Mother Placid, who has been at the abbey since 1949. I walked to the edge of the enclosure wall and around the back of it to a little door. I knocked. A voice said "Enter.' There was another door on which a sign read SAINT PLACID. I knocked again and entered. The jolly and energetic nun sat on the other side of a wooden grill to enlighten me about the lives of the saints. It was so hot that both Mother Placid, who was 66 and of course wearing her full habit, and I were sweating profusely in the little parlor of Saint Placid.

She asked if I would like to work that day, and I told her I would like to help with the harvest. "Mother Stephen will be delighted," she smiled.

"And will I able to meet Mother Dolores?" I asked.

Mother Placid shrugged gaily. "She's very busy, but maybe you'll be lucky...."

THE SUN WAS BEATING down on the rich, golden fields. It was the hottest day of a record-breaking heat wave. Mother Stephen was driving a bale-making machine behind her tractor while I worked with some nuns and volunteers piling up the bales, throwing them onto trucks, and then unloading them into bales near the dairy cows. It was hard work. Mother Stephen insisted we drink every five minutes, and the nuns prepared huge vats of iced lemon juice to prevent us from getting heat stroke.

The scene was surreal if idyllic--something from another century. But the strangest part was that the nuns were harvesting in their black habits as if they were in chapel. Yet they worked very hard, sweating and laboring in the dust and heat as if they were farmers.

But there was still no sign of Mother Dolores.

I must admit that I had expected long, cold, stone corridors and nuns lamenting in Latin behind iron grilles--not this sort of rural paradise. These nuns were so muscular that they could throw bales of hay 10 feet in the air, to the very top of the stack. When I tried the same feat, I almost dislocated my arm. The nuns, their habits covered in hay stubble and earth, hooted with laughter at my lack of strength.

When I was summoned by Mother Placid a second time, it was the end of the day. I was tanned and aching from the work, and I was becoming anxious: Would I ever meet the enigmatic Mother Dolores? I knew it was unlikely but still, I hoped....

THE CELIBATE LIFE OF THE NUNS IS THE source of the most misunderstandings and humor about monastic life. I asked Mother Placid about the Benedictine Order's attitude toward female sexuality.

"Is that your favorite subject?" she chuckled. I blushed. It was the third time I had asked her about it.

"For us in the outside world, the celibacy is the most inexplicable part of your life. I mean, what's wrong with pleasure?"

"Outsiders think we're shocked by sex," she said. "We're not opposed to sexuality here, except when it is soulless and empty. Don't you ever feel empty inside if you have sex without the community of love and creation?"

Strangely enough, I admitted this had sometimes happened to me.

"There you are," she answered.

"But I'm not about to give it up. Don't you ever feel sexual desire here?"

"Of course. We are human. We also see the animals on the farm. We know temptation and sometimes it is a good test. But we have given up all selfish personal appetites. We have no property of our own. We don't say anyone else should live this life. Just that we have been selected to do so. Our vocation is to serve the Lord and devote all our energy to Him."

"What happens if you join and then feel you're missing out on sex?"

"That has happened. We've had nuns leave. Of course, it is hurtful and difficult. It is a great challenge and discipline. That is why we prefer our recruits to be at least 25, because we like them to know enough about life to make the decision to join us."

"Do you want them to be virgins? Can they know about love?" I was only partly thinking about Dolores.

"Of course they can. I was in love several times as a young girl. Why not? Besides, a couple of the nuns here are widows who joined when their husbands died. That's fine, too."

Then she smiled and asked: "Have you ever been in love?"

Since she had been honest, I saw no reason to lie. "No. I thought I was a couple of times, but when I look back, I'm not so sure I ever was."

Now she was asking the questions.

"You are an intelligent young man and I feel you have a lot of love to give. Do you have a girlfriend?"

"Not exactly a girlfriend. She's more like a lover," I answered.

"Never been in love," she muttered, almost to herself.


Then there was a knock at the door on her side of the grille. Was it Dolores Hart at last? Was this the end of the quest? The door opened....

MOTHER DOLORES'S full-lipped face with its high cheekbones and retrousse nose is unchanged by her 54 years. She also possesses an extraordinary calmness in her cherubic expression and that most lilting of voices. Certainly the face was redder than it bad been 30 years ago--she has worked out on the farm, haying and baling as I had that afternoon--but it is still a face of undeniable beauty. Her hair is covered by her wimple, but other nuns told me later that it is still a luscious blonde. Thirty years on, this is still undeniably the face to launch a thousand ships.

We shook hands through the old wooden grille as Mother Placid looked on beneficently.

"Welcome," Dolores said angelically, her face close to the grille. "I hope you are enjoying your stay and seeing how we live."

"I hope the trouble with the young man called Elvis Presley, Jr., is over," I said.

They both looked rather shocked at the mention of Elvis and the son he never had.

"It's gone quiet now, mercifully. The young man's real mother is looking for him and actually called here. It's unfortunate, but the mother said he won't respond to her because she knows Elvis was not the father. I feel sorry for him."

Our meeting, said Mother Placid, was almost over. Dolores said she was sorry we could not meet face-to-face, or for longer. She is busy. It is harvest. There is also the ban of the Archbishop.

"Obedience and stability," explained Mother Placid, "are the foundations of our Order."

Mother Dolores bowed to me again; when I peered through the grille that divided us, she was already gone.

She had only stayed a minute or two. But it reminded me of our earlier phone conversation, when I asked if she had enjoyed her fame.

"Oh, by all means," she'd replied without any hint of regret.

"But how and why did you decide to leave Hollywood?"

"Only soul-searching brings a knowledge of what your life will be. It only sounds sudden when you announce it because people don't know what has gone on before."

"Don't you ever want to go back to being an actress?"

"There's always continuity. In the dimension of monastic life, there is a role in prayer that certainly keeps me very much a part of it. You see for me being a nun is being an actress."

That was when I understood that the answer to the riddle of Mother Dolores is as simple as this: You only have to experience the richness of the austere life at the abbey to understand how Dolores Hart gave up Hollywood to come here.

THAT NIGHT was my last at the abbey. I felt absolutely rejuvenated and sorry to leave after so short a stay. I retired to bed early after dinner as is the way there. My prickly, driven tension had been massaged into a generous goodwill towards the world that surprised me more than any one. I felt an intense calm.

Mother Dolores had neither said much nor stayed long, yet the riddle of why she left Hollywood was suddenly selfevident: The happiness of the nuns speaks for itself.

Like many others, I could not imagine how anyone could give up the pleasures of being a movie star to live and work in a monastery. Yet when Mother Placid talked to me about love, which she said she felt all around her, I could see that she experienced it in its most austere yet warmest sense. And she could see that while I was bathed in sensualism, I had quite forgotten about love.

I HAD GONE TO THE ABBEY TO SEARCH FOR Dolores Hart. But I did not discover any lurid secret about Hollywood or Elvis Presley. Instead, I discovered a warm and neglected part of myself.

I did not become religious. No one tried to convert me to anything. Looking back, I realized that when I left I took something with me and left something behind. Somewhere amongst the golden fields and the flying bales, the giggling nuns and the relentless embrace of the sun, I had left a bit of myself that will always be there. And when the reservoir of that simplest of happiness gets low again, I might go back and visit them.

If I ever do return, I am sure I will find it there again, untouched, just where I left it.

It is late at night. My tiny cell in the cottage called "Saint Joseph's" is stiflingly hot. I cannot sleep. I wait for the bell to ring for Matins.

The old-fashioned telephone begins to ring in the very still night. It makes an archaic "dring-dring" sound like a phone in an old Dolores Hart film from the Fifties.

I pick it up.

It is Mother Placid.

"You touched my heart when you said you had never been in love," she says. "Please could you tell me what is the name of the girl who is your lover. I know your name already. All I need is her first name."

"Her name is Nicola. Why do you ask?"

"So I can pray for you both," she says. "Good night."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Natural law," and all that....

Ever since a session in a writing class I took about 25 years ago, during which the Professor expressed her incomprehension of "Natural Law," I've been trying to understand the concept.

Somehow I stumbled on Edward Feser, a philosophy professor at a California college (and a Catholic), who likes to write about it.   Feser has been engaged for at least a couple of months now in an online debate about "Natural Law" with David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian.  This is the most recent post about all this from Feser's blog:
In a widely discussed piece in the March issue of First Things, theologian David Bentley Hart was highly critical of natural law theory.  I was in turn highly critical of his article in a response posted at First Things (and cross-posted here).  Hart replied to my criticisms in a follow-up article in the May issue of First Things.  I reply to Hart’s latest in an article just posted over at Public Discourse.

For related recent posts, see my responses to Hart’s defenders Rod Dreher and Thaddeus Kozinski.

I'm slogging my way through these things at this moment.  I don't have a single bit of training in philosophy, so a lot of what is said simply eludes me.  Slowly, though, a little bit of light is getting through, and I don't feel as ignorant about it all as I used to.

As far as I can tell, the basic assumption of "Natural Law," is the (widely and often disputed) premise that you can, in fact, "derive an ought from an is."  That is to say, Natural Law assumes that we can reason out "morality" from what we find in "nature."  

It's seemed to me for a long time, after I first got an inkling of the outlines of what "natural law" was, that it's really a statement coming from a particular point of view that describes, basically, "the way we think things ought to be."  There seems, in other words, to be a lot that's just plain subjective about the whole thing - and that you could come up with diametrically opposed premises, depending in particular upon what you wanted to emphasize as "the good." 

I've just finished reading the Hart article in the May First Things; below are the last three paragraphs.   I think he's saying something really interesting here in the last paragraph, about what sorts of things we all bring to bear on understanding reality and "how we ought to live."  I don't know if what he's saying is new, or if it's a commonplace, though.  Probably you should go read it all - but this is a powerful section that I think can stand on its own.
The question relentlessly left open in all of this is what “reason” really is. It is perfectly possible to believe that the whole natural dynamism of our reason and will is toward the good, and even to desire a true moral cultural renewal, and yet still to deny that natural law theory provides a sufficiently rich or logically coherent model of how the intellect can know moral truths. There is nothing scandalous in this unless one creates a false dilemma by imagining a real division between the discrete realms of supernatural and natural knowledge. Feser thinks of revelation as an extrinsic datum consisting in texts and dogmas, and of the supernatural as merely outside of nature, and believes there really is such a thing as purely natural reason. From that perspective, one cannot deny philosophy’s power to demonstrate objective moral truth without denying reason’s intrinsic capacity for the good. Like a Kantian (the two-tier Thomist’s alter ego), one must believe that philosophical theory’s limits are also reason’s.

These divisions are illusory. What we call “nature” is merely one mode of the disclosure of the “supernatural,” and natural reason merely one mode of revelation, and philosophy merely one (feeble) mode of reason’s ascent into the light of God. Nowhere, not even in the sciences, does there exist a “purely natural” realm of knowledge. To encounter the world is to encounter its being, which is gratuitously imparted to it from beyond the sphere of natural causes, known within the medium of an intentional consciousness, irreducible to immanent processes, that grasps finite reality only by being oriented toward a horizon of transcendental ends (or, better, “divine names”). There is a seamless continuity between the sight of a rose and the mystic’s vision of God; the latter is in fact implicit in the former, and saturates it, and but for this supernatural surfeit nothing natural could come into thought.

It does not then represent some grave failure of natural reason that philosophy cannot achieve definitive moral demonstrations, or that true knowledge of the good is impossible without calling upon other modes of knowledge: the (ubiquitous) supernatural illumination of a conscience—a heart—upon which the law is written, Platonic anamnesis (of the eternal forms or of what your mother taught you), cultural traditions with all their gracious moments of religious awakening (Jewish, pagan, Christian, Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, and so on), prayer, inspiration, the cultivation of personal holiness, love of the arts, and so on. There is no single master discourse here, for the good can be known only in being seen, before and beyond all words. Certain fundamental moral truths, for instance, may necessarily remain unintelligible to someone incapable of appreciating Bach’s fifth Unaccompanied Cello Suite. For some it may seem an outrageous notion that, rather than a collection of purportedly incontrovertible proofs, the correct rhetoric of moral truth consists in a richer but more unmasterable appeal to the full range of human capacities and senses, physical and spiritual. I, however, see it as rather glorious: a confirmation that our whole being, in all its dimensions, is a single gracious vocation out of nonexistence to the station of created gods.

From what I understand and have read myself, Catholic teaching does use "natural law" - does, that is, use reasoning (perhaps from Aristotle via Thomas Aquinas?) that "derives ought from is."   You can find the phrase within the Catechism itself; for instance, paragraph 1952 says:  "There are different expressions of the moral law, all of them interrelated: eternal law - the source, in God, of all law; natural law; revealed law, comprising the Old Law and the New Law, or Law of the Gospel; finally, civil and ecclesiastical laws."

And in Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus Caritas Est, you find this statement:  "The Church's social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being."

So, I'm trying to find out more about this.  What's actually quite interesting here, when you think about it, is that First Things - a Catholic publication - is giving space to David Bentley Hart - an Eastern Orthodox theologian - in a dispute over one of the basic underpinnings of Catholic teaching.  This is the way things ought to be!

David Bentley Hart: "Christianity and Its Fashionable Enemies"

I don't know if anybody's got any energy for the "new atheists" debate any longer, but here's a lecture given (somewhere) by David Bentley Hart at least a couple of years ago on the topic .  (He speaks of Christopher Hitchens in the "is" tense, so it was before he died.) It's an interesting discussion, if a bit dated now; I'm thinking this talk was probably part of a promotion for his 2010 book.

For me, one highly entertaining moment comes when Hart describes exactly how Richard Dawkins constructed his "proof" against the existence of God!  Hilarious, and worth listening to, I think, if only for that.  But there's something interesting stuff about Nietzsche, too.

HT All Manner of Thing.

"The Society of St. Julian"

How does that grab you as the namesake and patron for our new lay religious society?

I'd wanted to be a bit more "ecumenical" - that is to say, to avoid a specifically English slant on the thing.  But then, if I'd chosen St. Francis it would be an Italian slant.  If St. John of the Cross (definitely another possibility) it would be a Spanish slant.

So one way or another, we're going to have to deal with geographyPerhaps The Society of St. John and St. Julian?  That way we mix it up a bit - and "reform" comes into the mix, too.

I really have to finish Revelations of Divine Love, though!  It's actually a little bit embarrassing that here I am proposing to name a society after her - and I haven't even read all the way through her only work.  I'm in the middle of reading it now - but I have read a lot of St. John, so I've at least got that going for me. 

Full Homely Divinity uses St. Julian as an unofficial patron - and our old friend The Postulant has written liturgies based on her writings.  I'm pretty sure that's good enough for me.

What about you?  I do hate to leave St. Francis out of it, but some guy already went there this year, so maybe that's enough....

Friday, April 19, 2013

"Why Gregorian Chant Rocks"

Just for the sake of pure enjoyment, here's a nice article by Judy Keane, in The Catholic Exchange:

Today we can scarcely go to a clothing store, a health club or even a gas station without being besieged by a variety of thumping, agitating and jarring music blasting from speakers above. While I appreciate a variety of music, I have found that Gregorian chant stands in stark contrast to the fatigue of today’s popular tunes which tends to dominate music charts across the globe. By its very nature, Gregorian chant supersedes the entertainment value of music by allowing us to step out of our fast-paced world and instead focus on the sacred. Standing the test of time, this early Christian song continues to enrich our Catholic culture and rouse the soul with holy inspirations. Originating as a form of plainchant, this great treasure of the Church began under the auspices of Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) who referred to it as “the song of Angels.” Early art depicts Pope Gregory as a music loving saint who received the gift of chant from a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, who came to sit upon his shoulder and began to sing in his ear. Born in the Church, its lyrics come from the Latin Vulgate, Mass ordinaries, divine office hymns, antiphons, and responsories. For centuries it has been sung in Latin as pure melody in unison without musical accompaniment, meter or time signature. It is music composed for the soul in which the words of God are lovingly sung back to him.

Gregorian chant continues to be kept alive in monasteries, convents, and some cathedrals while also remaining a subject of study among a small group of dedicated academics. Over the past few decades, the world has seen a resurgence of chant. In the 1990’s, an album aptly named Chant, performed by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos (Spain) became the best-selling record of Gregorian chant ever. Emerging in 1994 as an antidote to the stress of modern life, Chant peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 chart. Similarly, the Cistercian Viennese Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, also shot to the top of classical music charts with their #1 selling album which also hit number nine on the pop charts!

So why does Gregorian chant rock? One reason is that it conveys the sacred to the secular. Contrary to the agitating sounds of hip hop, hard rock and heavy metal, Gregorian chant is instead a soothing balm for weary souls and a source of comfort for unsettled hearts. Inspiring and edifying, simple and poignant, this music of paradise slows our racing minds, renews our vigor, and eases the tensions of a harried world. It ethereal quality elevates us from the temporal and transports us to the spiritual.

Dr. Alan Watkins, a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London noted that “the musical structure of chant can have a significant and positive physiological impact,” and that chanting has actually been shown to “lower blood pressure, increase levels of DHEA and also reduce anxiety and depression.” Similar studies also suggest that Gregorian chant can aid in communications between the right and left hemispheres of the brain more effectively, therefore creating new neural brain pathways.

Benedictine nun, Ruth Stanley, head of the complementary medicine program at Minnesota’s St. Cloud Hospitals also says she’s had great success in easing the chronic pain of patients by having them listen to chant. “The body can move to a deeper level of its own inherent, innate healing ability when you play chant. It’s quite remarkable.” In a 1978 documentary called “Chant,” French audiologist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis, related how he was called upon to help the monks of a Benedictine monastery who suffered from fatigue, depression, and physical illness. He found that they usually took part in six to eight hours of chanting per day but due to a new edict, their chanting was halted. When Tomatis succeeded in re-establishing their daily chanting, the monks regained their well-being and were again full of life. His conclusion was that Gregorian chant is capable of charging the central nervous system along with the cortex of the brain thus having a direct effect on the monk’s overall happiness and health.

Aside from noted physical, spiritual and metal benefits, Gregorian chant may even aid in the conversion of hearts. It is believed that well-known author and philosophy professor, Peter Kreeft listed the angelic chant music of Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina as one of the reasons he is Catholic today. Beyond this, Gregorian chant inspires and instructs. It allows us to regain our strength, our clarity and our focus on what is truly important in life. In his letter read at the 100th anniversary of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, Emeritus Pope Benedict spoke about the vital role Gregorian chant has played in Church history along with countering the argument that Chant is a thing of the past. Instead he praised Gregorian chant as being “of huge value to the great ecclesial heritage of universal sacred music,” and that “Mass must convey a sense of prayer, dignity and beauty.” The Second Vatican Council also noted that Gregorian chant should be given “pride of place” in liturgical music. Unfortunately, finding a church where chant is still sung is a daunting task.

On a personal level, I listen to Gregorian chant regularly at home, at work and while driving. I’ve found the more I listen to it, the more I recognize its spiritual and mental benefits. It calms me and lifts my mind from the challenges of the day to what is above. I even noticed my pets are calmer and more relaxed when chant fills my home! A friend of mine says it peacefully lulls her baby to sleep. Still others find playing it at home creates a tranquil family atmosphere in which to converse, eat, pray and live. Like the rhythm of a calm heartbeat, Gregorian chant fosters peace within ourselves and those around us. It is not music for the sake of music – but rather prayer that inspires prayer.

If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to enjoy the many benefits of Gregorian chant, there are some great CD’s and downloads available including those mentioned in this article. Why not give it a try! In comparison to much of today’s music, Gregorian chant is music that aims for heaven, the greatest goal of all! And because of that – it rocks!

Not to toot our own horns, but we've talked about the health benefits of chant and the psychological benefits of worship before!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Another sexting tragedy"

What is this madness? That’s the question I’ve heard over and over on Friday from people who care about the lives and health of teenagers. This week, Canada is in an uproar over whether a group of boys should be prosecuted for sending around humiliating photos of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, a girl from Halifax who said the boys raped her. And on Thursday, three 16-year-old boys were arrested in San Jose, Calif. for sexually assaulting 15-year-old Audrie Pott, who was also humiliated by online photos.

The worst of the awful similarities in these stories is that both girls killed themselves. Audrie hanged herself about seven months ago, eight days after the assault. Rehtaeh hanged herself last weekend, months after the police said they would not prosecute anyone. On Friday afternoon, the Halifax police, citing “new and credible information,” said they would reopen the case.

That is a relief. Still, as we pick through the wreckage of these sad stories, I’m trying to think about a better way to get at some of the harm.

Set aside, for the moment, the alleged assaults. There is a long-standing problem of proof when allegations of rape are made, especially among people who know each other and when drinking or drugs are involved—though the convictions in Steubenville, Ohio, show it can be done.

Maybe the Steubenville result, in which a judge found the boys guilty for a sexual assault that the victim could not really remember, will wind up being the just ending to Audrie and Rehtaeh’s cases, too.

But there is also the circulation of the compromising photos, which created a trail of digital evidence. In light of that, we should have a clear way to bring charges against the instigators—a way that recognizes that the boys involved were teenagers, not adults.

Whoever is responsible for circulating the photos of Rehtaeh could be charged under Canada’s child pornography laws. A conviction would come with a mandatory minimum sentence, Canadian Attorney General Rob Nicholson emphasized in a statement about Rehtaeh’s case Thursday.

In a situation like this, where outrage is understandably everywhere, it’s hard to think about tempering justice with mercy. Believe me, I know that. And for these boys, child pornography charges may well be warranted. But most of the time, charging teenagers as child pornographers shouldn’t be the only option. We should have laws that offer a middle ground between no charges at all and heavy prison sentences with a lifetime on the sex-offender register. We should have laws that specifically and deliberately address teen sexting.

The key is to distinguish between one kid consensually sending one other kid a sexual photo and one kid sending out a photo that the pictured teenager has not consented to at all. It’s not that the first kind of sexting is a good idea—it’s that kids shouldn’t get caught up in the criminal justice system for it, whereas nonconsensual sexting is a different story. “We should draw the line between my daughter stupidly sending a photo of herself to her boyfriend and her boyfriend sending it to all his friends to humiliate her,” Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center told me. “The first is stupid. The second is more troubling and should be criminal.”

In the U.S., states have been trying to sort out sexting laws for the past few years. Levick says that not enough lawmakers are picking up on the distinction she makes. Pennsylvania, for example, passed a law with criminal penalties for juvenile sexting with malicious intent—helpful—but also made consensual sexting a misdemeanor.

I am in total agreement with the thought that society's values should be expressed in good, workable laws that protect the vulnerable.  This is very, very important. The problem is always going to be, though, that creating law is a reaction to events that have already occurred.  And events are going to continue to occur, in all kinds of ways we cannot envision or predict.  People are always going to be tormented from within or without, in millions of different ways.

Furthermore, it is just a fact of life that in many cases, there is no solution in the law.  What can the law do, for instance, about helping people overcome terrible events in their lives - or even just their own flaws?  How can the law help anybody learn how to live?  How can the law prevent the descent into alcoholism or addiction or madness, when a person is overpowered by some tragedy in their lives?  How can the law help people find their equilibrium when people they love die?  What can the law do, in fact, to prevent people from ruining their own lives in any of a thousand various ways?   How can the law prevent almost any kind of personal cruelty you can name?

How, in other words, can the law help people thrive at times they feel they can't even stay alive anymore?

I saw a better way on Sunday:  a notice about "The dangers of sexting" in the parish announcement bulletin.  This is to be a presentation designed for "all kids in Sixth through Ninth Grades," offered from 10:30-11:45 a.m. on Sunday, in the parish hall, after the main service and during the late service.   The priest will speak "to the sacred ground of our personal bodies that have been given to us by God." 

Can you find anything like that anywhere except in the church?  Well, no - I don't think so.

The question ends up being, then:  how do people outside the church help their kids to find something like this, a kind of protection that no law can ever offer?  And how, further, can they do this for any of the thousands of other problems their kids are going to face in growing up?

Aggressive secularism is simply failing kids when it attempts to dismantle religion (at worst) or to belittle it (at best).    Can people really not see the direct connection between a loss of the protection of the spiritual life  - and the question asked in the article above,"What is this madness?"?

Of course, the church itself is also implicated in failure, as it inflicts its own pernicious kind of cruelty on kids who happen to be gay.  It is, effectively, casting gay kids and adults out from the kind of basic protection it should be offering them.

The "Weekday Propers Sung," according to the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood

I've taken an entire page from the LLPB site, and cut-and-pasted it here, for now; the links open audio files housed on the LLPB site.    Apparently the LLPB idea is to sing these responsories, versicles, hymns, canticles, and etc. each feria of the year outside of the seasonal listings they provide.  I'll see if I can find out more about this on the LLPB site.  

I've labeled each hymn with its name below (in green, so you can tell which are my additions).   With only a couple of exceptions, these "ordinary time" hymns match up exactly with the Sarum hymns prescribed for the period "From the Octave of the Epiphany until the 1st Sunday in Lent."  Sarum, apparently, saw a difference between that stretch of the Great Church Year (which I'll call "Ordinary Time Period I") and The Sarum Office Hymns "From the Octave of Corpus Christi until Advent" (AKA "Ordinary Time II").   The Roman Catholic Church, and, I'm assuming, the Lutherans, do not make such a division; the set of hymns below are used, as far as I can tell, in both periods.

(At the moment, I can't find a list of the hymns currently used in the RCC Divine Office for Ordinary Time - but I have seen such a list, and as I remember, they use the same hymns during both periods of "Ordinary Time."  I'll come back, once I find the list, and edit this post.)

I haven't listened to all the Responsories and Versicles linked below, but it does seem these are different for each day of the week.  I'll be back to talk more about these and the other items as well.  Meantime, you can explore these items - and learn and sing them in your own daily prayer practice, if you like.

Many thanks as always to the LLPB!  They are really doing some great things for the Daily Office tradition and those who practice it - and they offer it all, as they note below, free for all of us.

These free high-quality MP3 recordings may take a few minutes to download, or you may contact us for the purchase of a CD.

Sunday: Morning Prayer

Hymn - ("Father, We Praise Thee" (Noc­te sur­gent­es))
Benedictus with Antiphon Tone VII

Sunday: Daytime Prayer


Sunday: Vespers

Hymn - ("O Blest Creator of the Light" (Lu­cis Cre­at­or op­ti­me))
Magnificat with Antiphon Tone IX

Monday: Morning Prayer

Hymn - ("O Splendor of God's Glory Bright" (Splen­dor pa­ter­nae glor­i­ae))
Benedictus with Antiphon Tone VI

Monday: Daytime Prayer

Da Pacem
Antiphon For the Church

Monday: Vespers

Hymn - ("O Boundless Wisdom, God Most High" (Immense caeli Conditor))
Magnificat with Antiphon Tone VIII

Tuesday: Morning Prayer

Hymn - ("The winged herald of the day" (Al­es diei nun­ti­us))
Benedictus with Antiphon Tone VII

Tuesday: Daytime Prayer

Da Pacem
Antiphon For pastors and theologians

Tuesday: Vespers

Hymn - ("Earth's Mighty Maker" (Telluris ingens Conditor))
Magnificat with Antiphon Tone I

Wednesday: Morning Prayer

Hymn - ("Ye Clouds and Darkness" (Nox et ten­e­brae et nu­bi­la))
Benedictus with Antiphon Tone I

Wednesday: Daytime Prayer

Da Pacem
Antiphon For Rulers

Wednesday: Vespers

Hymn - ("Most Holy Lord and God of Heaven" (Coeli Deus sanctissime))
Magnificat with Antiphon Tone V

Thursday: Morning Prayer

Hymn - ("Lo Golden Light rekindles day" (Lux ecce surgit aurea))
Benedictus with Antiphon Tone VII

Thursday: Daytime Prayer

Da Pacem
Antiphon For our Enemies

Thursday: Vespers

Hymn - ("Almighty God who from the flood" (Magnae Deus potentiae))
Magnificat with Antiphon Tone VII

Friday: Morning Prayer

Hymn - ("Eternal Glory of the Sky" (Aeterna coeli gloria))
Benedictus with Antiphon Tone VIII

Friday: Daytime Prayer

Da Pacem
Antiphon For Prisoners

Friday: Vespers

Hymn - ("Maker of Man" (Plasmator hominis, Deus))
Magnificat with Antiphon Tone IV

Saturday: Morning Prayer

Hymn - ("The Dawn is Sprinkling in the East" (Au­ro­ra jam spar­git po­lum))
Benedictus with Antiphon Tone VIII

Saturday: Daytime Prayer

Da Pacem
Antiphon For the Word and Faith

Saturday: Vespers

Hymn - ("O Trinity of Blessed Light" (O Lux Beata Trinitas))
Magnificat with Antiphon Tone VII

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest (Sursum Corda)

Another wonderful hymn we had the privilege of singing today - and the tune, "Sursum corda," is beautifully played in the video below.  How splendid the first stanza especially - and how lovely the Easter season!  I had tears in my eyes during Communion....

"Sursum corda" was written by Alfred Morton Smith; the words below are by George Wallace Briggs (both 20th C.). Sing, sing!
Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest;
nay, let us be thy guests; the feast is thine;
thyself at thine own board make manifest
in thine own Sacrament of Bread and Wine.

We meet, as in that upper room they met;
thou at the table, blessing, yet dost stand:
"This is my Body"; so thou givest yet:
faith still receives the cup as from thy hand.

One body, we, one Body who partake,
one Church united in communion blest;
one Name we bear, one Bread of life we break,
with all thy saints on earth and saints at rest.

One with each other, Lord, for one in thee,
who art one Savior and one living Head;
then open thou our eyes, that we may see;
be known to us in breaking of the Bread.

"Gelobt sei Gott im höchsten Thron"

This video comes from Cologne Cathedral's Easter Vigil in 2010; the title in English is "Praise God on his most high throne."  We sing it as "Good Christians all, rejoice and sing"; the words in German and English are below. (They are really two  completely different texts, though.)   The music is by Melchior Vulpius (~1560-1615); English words by Cyril A. Alington (1872-1955).

It's a great set of words in English!  Was very happy to sing this today; for a variety of reasons I haven't been to services since Good Friday.  Here's another great thing about the church:  walk in during Easter season for the first time, and you are instantly reminded about the most pure, clear, holy joy imaginable....


Gelobt sei Gott im höchsten Thron
samt seinem eingebornen Sohn,
der für uns hat genug getan.
Halleluja, Halleluja, Halleluja.

Des Morgens früh am dritten Tag,
da noch der Stein am Grabe lag,
erstand er frei ohn alle Klag.
Halleluja, Halleluja, Halleluja.

Der Engel sprach: "Ei fürcht? euch nicht;
denn ich weiß wohl, was euch gebricht.
Ihr sucht Jesum, den findt ihr nicht.
"Halleluja, Halleluja, Halleluja."

Er ist erstanden von dem Tod,
hat überwunden alle Not;
kommt, seht wo er gelegen hat.
"Halleluja, Halleluja, Halleluja.

Nun bitten wir dich, Jesu Christ,
weil du vom Tod erstanden bist,
verleihe, was uns selig ist,
Halleluja, Halleluja, Halleluja.

O mache unser Herz bereit,
damit von Sünden wir befreit
dir mögen singen allezeit:
Halleluja, Halleluja, Halleluja.

Good Christians all, rejoice and sing!
Now is the triumph of our King!
To all the world glad news we bring:
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The Lord of life is risen today!
Sing songs of praise along his way;
let all the earth rejoice and say:
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Praise we in songs of victory
that love, that life which cannot die,
and sing with hearts uplifted high:
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Your name we bless, O risen Lord,
and sing today with one accord
the life laid down, the life restored:
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

More "Why the Church?"

This post is a continuation of the discussion of my own reasons for belonging to the church.  I've realized, though, that since I've been talking about this from my own point of view, I'll have to look at a couple of the conditions in my life that are unique to me.

For instance, when I came to the church, I had some evidence in hand already:  I was already an A.A. member, and was for that reason already thoroughly convinced of the beneficial power of the spiritual life.  I saw it as a total good.  Further:  I had a reason to seek out the church; probably most people don't worry so much about "the maintenance of their spiritual condition" - something I find absolutely essential.   So these may not necessarily be good or convincing reasons for church membership to others, I admit.

But don't most people desire emotional equilibrium (AKA, "the peace that passeth understanding")?  Don't most people need a way to settle themselves when things disturb them, either mentally or emotionally?   Don't most people desire to find a good way to live?  It's kind of the same thing, isn't it?   My desire for these things might feel mandatory, to me - but I've often seen people return to the church after their spouse's death or when they've lost a job or when they've gotten a scary medical diagnosis.  (I do in fact know that some people - not addicts, as far as I can tell - understand and feel the need to "maintain their spiritual condition" at times of powerful stress in their lives; I can tell this from what they say about their felt need to develop a strong, habitual prayer life.)

So even if my situation is a bit more extreme than most, it seems to be a difference in degree and not in kind.

Then, second:  my sense of "being called."  Yes, I had a little encounter with Jesus, all right - and (as I said before) that kept me coming around even in spite of the church itself, and all its mishegoss.   It fascinated me - and deeply, I mean, in the mysterium tremendum et fascinans sense - and kept me a bit on edge and in anticipation of something more:  deeply curious, that is, about what the full meaning of this actually might be.  And I do think that is unusual.  There's no doubt in my mind that I'm sort of wired for "spiritual experience"; I know there are others who just aren't.  So, I guess this one can't be used to communicate to others, necessarily; at least some people will need to be convinced about the church in some other way.  (On the other hand:  this is definitely a good reason to work at inducing religious experiences in those who are hard-wired for them and who are actively seeking them!   And it's funny, but I do believe that's what the liturgy has been trying to do, all this time; in fact, I think this is what it's actually for....)

Good news, in any event, though!  According to Theo Hobson, "Richard Dawkins has lost: meet the new new atheists":
The atheist spring that began just over a decade ago is over, thank God. Richard Dawkins is now seen by many, even many non-believers, as a joke figure, shaking his fist at sky fairies. He’s the Mary Whitehouse of our day.

So what was all that about, then? We can see it a bit more clearly now. It was an outpouring of frustration at the fact that religion is maddeningly complicated and stubbornly irritating, even in largely secular Britain. This frustration had been building for decades: the secular intellectual is likely to feel somewhat bothered by religion, even if it is culturally weak. Oh, she finds it charming and interesting to a large extent, and loves a cosy carol service, but religion really ought to know its place. Instead it dares to accuse the secular world of being somehow -deficient.

The events of 9/11 were the main trigger for the explosion of this latent irritation. There was a desire to see Islamic terrorism as the symbolic synecdoche of all of religion. On one level this makes some sense: does not all religion place faith above reason? Isn’t this intrinsically dangerous? Don’t all religions jeopardise secular freedom, whether through holy wars or faith schools? On another level it is absurd: is the local vicar, struggling to build community and help smelly drunks stay alive, really a force for evil — even if she has some illiberal opinions? When such questions arise, a big bright ‘Complicated’ sign ought to flash in one’s brain. Instead, in the wake of 9/11, many otherwise thoughtful people opted for simplicity over complexity. They managed to convince themselves that religion is basically bad, and that the brave intellectual should talk against it. (This preference for seeming tough and clear over admitting difficult complexity is really cowardice, and believers are prone to it too.)

The success of five or six atheist authors, on both sides of the Atlantic, seemed to herald a strong new movement. It seemed that non-believers were tired of all the nuance surrounding religion, hungry for a tidy narrative that put them neatly in the right.

Atheism is still with us. But the movement that threatened to form has petered out. Crucially, atheism’s younger advocates are reluctant to compete for the role of Dawkins’s disciple. They are more likely to bemoan the new atheist approach and call for large injections of nuance. A good example is the pop-philosopher Julian Baggini. He is a stalwart atheist who likes a bit of a scrap with believers, but he’s also able to admit that religion has its virtues, that humanism needs to learn from it. For example, he has observed that a sense of gratitude is problematically lacking in secular culture, and suggested that humanists should consider ritual practices such as fasting. This is also the approach of the pop-philosopher king, Alain de Botton. His recent book Religion for Atheists rejects the ‘boring’ question of religion’s truth or falsity, and calls for ‘a selective reverence for religious rituals and concepts’. If you can take his faux-earnest prose style, he has some interesting insights into religion’s basis in community, practice, habit.

More at the link.  And still more to come from me on "Why the Church," too....