Addenda

10 Apr

When reason is detached from truth

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 04/10/17

Benedict XVI on what threatens true academic freedom 

“The idea of an integrated education, based on the unity of knowledge grounded in truth, must be regained. It serves to counteract the tendency, so evident in contemporary society, toward a fragmentation of knowledge. With the massive growth in information and technology there comes the temptation to detach reason from the pursuit of truth. Sundered from the fundamental human orientation toward truth, however, reason begins to lose direction: it withers, either under the guise of modesty, resting content with the merely partial or provisional, or under the guise of certainty, insisting on capitulation to the demands of those who indiscriminately give equal value to practically everything. The relativism that ensues provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk. While the period of interference from political totalitarianism has passed, is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are — subtly or not so subtly — constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals? What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded? What will happen if, in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots? Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable, but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble, and good.”

 — from Benedict XVI, “Address to Members of the Academic Community,” Prague, September 27, 2009, in A Reason Open to God: On Universities, Education, and Culture (Catholic University of America Press, 2013) 

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15 Feb

Fulfillment is ek-static

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 02/15/17

Maximus the Confessor (c.580-662) on the true nature of freedom

“St Maximus demonstrates that man does not find his unity, the integration of himself or his totality within himself but by surpassing himself, by coming out of himself. Thus, also in Christ, by coming out of himself, man finds himself in God, in the Son of God. It is . . . in God alone that we find ourselves, our totality and our completeness. Hence, we see that the person who withdraws into himself is not a complete person but the person who is open, who comes out of himself, becomes complete and finds himself, finds his true humanity, precisely in the Son of God. For St Maximus, this vision did not remain a philosophical speculation; he saw it realized in Jesus’ actual life, especially in the drama of Gethsemane. In this drama of Jesus’ agony, of the anguish of death, of the opposition between the human will not to die and the divine will which offers itself to death, in this drama of Gethsemane the whole human drama is played out, the drama of our redemption. St Maximus tells us that, and we know that this is true, Adam (and we ourselves are Adam) thought that the ‘no’ was the peak of freedom. He thought that only a person who can say ‘no’ is truly free; that if he is truly to achieve his freedom, man must say ‘no’ to God; only in this way he believed he could at last be himself, that he had reached the heights of freedom. This tendency also carried within it the human nature of Christ, but went beyond it, for Jesus saw that it was not the ‘no’ that was the height of freedom. The height of freedom is the ‘yes’, in conformity with God’s will. It is only in the ‘yes’ that man truly becomes himself; only in the great openness of the ‘yes’, in the unification of his will with the divine, that man becomes immensely open, becomes ‘divine’. What Adam wanted was to be like God, that is, to be completely free. But the person who withdraws into himself is not divine, is not completely free; he is freed by emerging from himself, it is in the ‘yes’ that he becomes free; and this is the drama of Gethsemane: not my will but yours. It is by transferring the human will to the divine will that the real person is born, it is in this way that we are redeemed.”

— from Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience homily, June 22, 2008
 

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27 Dec

The power of images

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Eve Ruotsinoja
Published: 12/27/16

Romano Guardini on the precious potential of limited images to reveal divine realities

“The altar is the threshold to God’s immanence. Through Christ, God ceased to be the Unknown, the Inaccessible One; He turned to us, came to us, and became one of us in order that we might go to Him and become one with Him. The altar is the frontier, the border where God comes to us and we go to Him in a most special manner.

“At this point a few remarks about the images used to express sacred mysteries are in order. The images unlock the storehouse of God’s riches, and they help us to concentrate on particular aspects of divine reality with all our power. When we consider the altar as a threshold, we see one particular trait, leaving out of consideration any other, such as that expressed by the concept ‘table.’ The images used are necessarily taken from objects of our own experience. But, since we are not cut off from God and His life as is one room in a house from another, we must not put too much emphasis on the inability of images adequately to express divine realities. If we do, we lose something precious, something essential. Images are not makeshifts handy for children and the vulgar crowd, which the cultured elite, wrestling with ‘pure’ concepts, should despise. When Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, woke from his great dream, he cried: ‘How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven’ (Gen. 28:17). And St. John writes: ‘… and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the former voice, which I had heard as of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “come up hither, and I will show thee the things that must come to pass hereafter”' (Apoc. 4:1). Now if we were to say that ‘door’ is here only a figure of speech suggesting that God is invisible yet near, that no one can reach Him, but that He can draw us to Himself, we would be correct but we would fail to grasp the basic meaning of John’s words. St. John wrote ‘door’ because he meant door—and not only poetically. The intellect may attempt to express in concepts and sentences all that the image ‘door’ implies; but such concepts are mere props to the essential, not more. The truth is the other way around: it is the image that is the reality; the mind can only attempt to plumb it. The image is richer than the thought; hence the act by which we comprehend an image, gazing, is richer, more profound, vital and storeyed than the thought. People today are, if the word may be permitted, over conceptualistic. We have lost the art of reading images and parables, of enacting symbols. We could relearn some of this by encouraging and practicing the power of vision, a power which has been neglected for too long.”

— from Romano Guardini, from Meditations before Mass (Newman Press, 1956)

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22 Dec

Sofa as church

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 12/22/16

David Thomson on the formative powers of television

“It’s older than most of us, parental yet uncritical, if not unconcerned. It poses as some kind of comfort, but you can’t kid yourself it cares. So when did you start to think about television?

“I admit ‘thinking’ may be an inadequate word for what happened between you and this medium. So much that is formative in television has to do with the loose textures of ease or unthinking — ‘I’ll go home and I’ll watch . . . and then I’ll feel all right.’ As if you hadn't felt all right out in the world. How could you, with that horizon getting grimmer from 1914 onwards? But television’s magic has always embraced safety, the possibility of ‘useful’ intimate company, and the thought of time elapsing restfully but constructively. It’s the sofa as church. Or rather, it is church reduced to the soft status of a sofa, minus guilt, redemption, or moral purpose.

“There is this added, rueful comfort: Whenever you started thinking, it was too late. For the thing we used to call television doesn’t quite exist now. The sacred fixed altar (the set) has given up its central place of worship and is now just one screen among so many, like the dinner table kept for state occasions in a life of snacking. The appointment times of TV have eroded; the possibility of a unified audience (or a purposeful society) has been set aside. In the dire 2015–16 presidential election campaign, it was obvious that the thing — the talent show — had found the frenzy of other game shows, with drastic but meaningless dialogue and monstrous celebrity better suited to daytime soap operas. As a democratic process it was not just shaming; there was the portent of worse to come, even a fear that ‘the vote’ might be buried in some instant TV feedback derived from American Idol. ‘You like to vote — let’s do it all the time.’ The more debates, the less subjects were debated. Journalists were alive with jittery, spinning self-importance. They said the election was the most important ever — that sweet dream. We knew it was just a nightmare show our trance had allowed.”

— from David Thomson, Television: A Biography (Thames and Hudson, 2016) 

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In this special release from our archives, political science professor, Robert P. Kraynak, argues that modern Christians too easily subscribe to a “gospel of democracy,” which mandates that liberal democracy is the best and only legitimate form of government. Kraynak accounts for this preference in part due to a new interpretation of the Christian notion of human dignity that is influenced heavily by modern notions of social autonomy and natural rights. While it is true that because humans image God, they have dignity, “to what extent,” asks Kraynak, “does the Christian conception of human dignity imply or entail our modern concept of human rights?” Instead, Kraynak wants to challenge Western Christians to rethink their presuppositions about freedom and authority and to recover an Augustinian understanding of government that maintains a distinct, but not separate, relationship between temporal and eternal authorities.

Login now to hear this extended conversation from Volume 54.

Part II of this release features an archive interview from Volume 15 of the Journal with ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain on the dangers that cynicism poses to democracy.

(MHA uncut is available to current subscribers for a limited time and is a feature of the Fresh Tracks section in Addenda. MHA uncut previews unedited interviews of guests who will later appear in the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal.)

Other releases of MHA uncut include:

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