Addenda

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:

11 Nov

“Let us live to make men free” (in a specific way)

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 11/11/16

Patrick Deenen on the molding of the liberal soul

“While there is a long tradition among political theorists and legal scholars who insist that liberalism is defined above all by a neutrality regarding conceptions of the Good, many thinkers — both critics of liberalism, as well as its most enthusiastic proponents — have insisted that liberalism itself embraces and promotes a deeply-held set of substantive commitments. These commitments arise from liberalism’s fundamental basis upon individual liberty, understood as liberty as a right to believe, act, or choose as one wishes where (to cite the proto-liberal, Thomas Hobbes) ‘the law is silent.’ The liberal political theorist Stephen Macedo has forcefully — and, with honesty and forthrightness, admirably — acknowledged that the liberal commitment to this form of freedom does not, finally, take the form of neutrality, but rather an active society-building and culture-shaping effort that molds the soul of man under liberalism. In a 1998 article entitled ‘Transformative Constitutionalism and the Case of Religion: Defending the Moderate Hegemony of Liberalism’ [in Political Theory 26, no. 1 (February 1998): 69], Macedo has argued that liberal constitutionalism is, and rightly should be, ‘a pervasively educational order,’ and not one that is neutral toward various forms of education. Among the shaping powers it does and should employ is the effort to diminish, weaken, attenuate, and even reduce if not outright eliminate non-liberal groups and entities within the liberal order. At a most basic level, he argues, liberal law and practice aims to ‘shape people to help ensure that [liberal] freedom is what they want.’ That is, far from being ‘neutral’ or ‘indifferent’ about whether liberal freedom is, or is not, the proper way to understand and animate human life and choices, Macedo acknowledges that a liberal order appropriately and actively seeks to ‘make men free’ in accordance with the liberal understanding of freedom. To do this, it must not only order the public realm in accordance with full access to liberal rights to free and unencumbered choice — it must, he writes, also ‘constitute the private realm in its own interest.’ Of central concern, then, is an area that many regard as liberalism’s attitude of indifferent toleration: religious belief, and the ways that religious belief is shaped and guided within the private associative realm of the family and church. Macedo argues that liberalism can ill-afford to leave this vital area untouched by liberalism’s soul-shaping and comprehensively educative efforts, and highlights, in particular, the success that liberalism has had in re-casting Catholicism in its image. 

“Macedo points, among other pieces of evidence, to the ‘ritual which Catholic judges and candidates for president have had to pass through in their quest for higher office.’ Citing Sanford Levinson, he approvingly notes that ‘Catholics have effectively “been forced to proclaim the practical meaninglessness” of their religious convictions as a condition of being allowed to serve.’ Macedo suggests that ‘such rituals are bound to be educative’ — that they have a shaping power for society at large. In particular, Catholics are effectively disallowed, through disapproval and dismissiveness of the liberal order, from a robust opportunity to express the substance of Catholic teachings, and even from a receptive hearing, by the order shaped by the deepest liberal assumptions. To the extent that Catholicism rejects the liberal conception of freedom and the basic anthropological assumption of radical autonomy on which it is based, Catholicism stands as a non-liberal competitor that must be effectively overcome by liberal philosophy and liberal pedagogy. Public claims of the validity of its belief must be effectively (perhaps legally, but most often informally) disallowed, and rather may be retained only as forms of private belief. As Macedo argues, ‘the healthy course of things in a healthy liberal democracy will be that beliefs in tension with fundamental liberal democratic commitments will be diminished in importance.’

“Moreover, such belief must be limited in its scope of influence not only in the public realm, but even as a shaping force in private life. For example, Macedo argues that liberalism cannot be indifferent to the education of children — liberalism has a civic interest in the shaping of properly liberal souls, ones that will ensure that it is ‘freedom that they want.’ Thus, ‘if parents want their children always to be guided solely by sectarian religious teachings both in politics and elsewhere then their view of good citizenship is at odds with the liberal one. We have good reasons to hope that there will be fewer families raising such children in the future.’ Far from offering a ‘level playing field’ of belief, per claims for liberal neutrality, Macedo forthrightly acknowledges that liberalism actively seeks to advance a view of freedom that is distinct from that view of ‘true freedom’ — a freedom in conformity to the Truth. . . . With refreshing honesty, Macedo acknowledges that liberalism seeks to be hegemonic, fostering, among other things, a ‘certain religious homogeneity’ that finally accords with the definition of freedom at the heart of liberalism.”

— from Patrick J. Deneen, “Religious Liberty after Liberalism: Re-thinking Dignitatis Humanae in an Age of Illiberal Liberalism,” in Communio (Summer-Fall, 2013) 

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