Addenda

18 Jul

The fountainhead from which perversions gush

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/18/16

Josef Pieper on how refusing to acknowledge the spiritual core of our true nature leads to a “roaming restlessness of the spirit”

“[According] to an ancient thought of Western wisdom, . . . ‘sloth’ . . . as acedia, is habitually counted among the seven capital sins (vitia capitalia). But present-day popular understanding has perverted the original concept of ‘sloth’ as a Capital sin into nearly its opposite. In ordinary usage ‘sloth’ seems to have settled into the domain of work — understood as lack of diligence, laziness, lack of pleasure in work. But when the great masters of Western Christendom named this ‘sloth of the heart’ a sin, it was not meant to be an approval of the ceaseless activity of the capitalist work establishment. Rather, acedia means that man does not ‘collaborate’ or work together with the realization of himself; that he refuses to add his conscious contribution to his very own, truly human existence. It is not at all a question of external activity but of the full realization of the self, to which we know we are silently but unmistakably summoned. And not to accept this summons, to respond to it with ‘no’: this is precisely the essence of ‘sloth’, of acedia. Through the sloth that is sin, man barricades himself against the challenge handed to him by his own dignity. He resists being a spiritual entity endowed with the power to make decisions; he simply does not want to be that for which God lifted him up above all natural potentiality. In other words, man does not want to be what  he nevertheless cannot stop being: a spiritual being, truly satisfied with nothing less than God himself; and beyond that, ‘son of God’, rightful heir to eternal life. . . .

“It was already said that sloth, acedia, was considered a capital sin in the ancient wisdom. Caput means source. Vitia capitalia are those perversions from which, as from a fountainhead, more perversions gush forth. Thus it is meaningful and necessary to speak not only of the source itself, but of the whole length of the river nourished by it. If one proceeds in this manner, from the river’s mouth to its source, to the source-sin of sloth, then its relationship to the existential mode of man in our time suddenly becomes very apparent. It is totally impossible to overlook.

“From not-wanting-to-be-oneself, from the refusal to collaborate with the completion of one’s own being, from this innermost conflict of man with himself, from this sloth (in a word), as the ancients say, springs the ‘roaming restlessness of the spirit’. He who is in conflict with himself in his inmost dwelling, who consequently does not will to be what he fundamentally is anyway, cannot dwell within himself and cannot be at home with himself. He has to make the vain experiment of breaking out from his own center — for example, into the restlessness of working for work’s sake or into the insatiable curiosity of the lustful eye, which does not really seek knowledge but only an ‘opportunity to abandon oneself to the world’ (Heidegger), which is an opportunity to avoid oneself.

“It must further be realized that both manifestations — the systematic establishment of the work ideal as absolute and the degeneration of the lustful eye — surround themselves with the immense effort of a forced optimism, of a radiating trust in life, of a noisily proclaimed ‘progress’. Everyone knows that belief in progress is declared a social duty in the world of nothing but work. It is also known that keep happy and happy end belong from the start to the basic elements of this world of illusions, in which the greedy eye has created for itself a replacement for the ‘fullness of life’.

“For all that, these optimistic attitudes provide no final meaning in the face of the despair that is their source — even though this source is safely enclosed in the innermost chamber of the heart, so that no cry of pain penetrates the outside, most likely not even to its own consciousness.”

— from Joseph Pieper, “The Obscurity of Hope and Despair,” in Josef Pieper: An Anthology (Ignatius Press, 1989)

(Click here to read an excerpt from R. J. Snell’s Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire.)

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13 Jul

Only domesticated religions are safe to be free

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/13/16

Stanley Hauerwas on why “freedom of religion” carries subtle temptations

“The First Amendment, when interpreted against the backdrop of political liberalism, has had disastrous results for church and society. I do not want to take the sting out of the argument to follow, but I hope it will be clear that I am not suggesting we repeal the First Amendment. The First Amendment could be a politically significant way for a state to acknowledge those public enterprises so essential to the public weal that they should be protected from command of the government. It is the brunt of my case, however, that for a complex set of reasons the First Amendment does not serve that end in our society. Moreover, my concern is not with the failure of American society in this respect, but with the failure of the church to hold the society to be true to its own best commitments.

“Because Christians have been so concerned with supporting the social and legal institutions that sustain freedom of religion, we have failed to notice that we are no longer a people who make it interesting for a society to acknowledge our freedom. Put differently, in such a context, believer and nonbeliever alike soon begin to think what matters is not whether our convictions are true but whether they are functional. We thus fail to remember that the question is not whether the church has the freedom to preach the gospel in America, but rather whether the church in America preaches the gospel as truth. The question is not whether we have freedom of religion and a corresponding limited state in America, but whether we have a church that has a people capable of saying no to the state. No state, particularly the democratic state, is kept limited by constitutions, but rather states are limited by a people with the imagination and courage to challenge the inveterate temptation of the state to ask us to compromise our loyalty to God.

“Freedom of religion is a temptation, albeit a subtle one. It tempts us as Christians to believe that we have been rendered safe by legal mechanisms. It is subtle because we believe that our task as Christians is to support the ethos necessary to maintaining the mechanism. As a result, we lose the critical skills formed by the gospel to know when we have voluntarily qualified our loyalty to God in the name of the state. We confuse freedom of religion with freedom of the church, accepting the assumption that the latter is but a specification of the former. We thus become tolerant, allowing our convictions to be relegated to the realm of the private. . . .

“The religion we have [in America] is one that has been domesticated on the presumption that only a domesticated religion is safe to be free in America. Rather than being a church that could be capable of keeping the state limited, Christianity in America became a ‘religion’ in the service of a state which then promised it ‘freedom.’ For what free means is the right to entertain personally meaningful beliefs that have only the most indirect relation to the state. The state by definition is just since it provides for freedom of religion. The inability of Protestant churches in America to maintain any sense of authority over the lives of their members is one of the most compelling signs that freedom of religion has resulted in the corruption of Christians who now believe they have the right religiously to make up their own minds. There is every sign that this is now also happening among Roman Catholics. As a result, neither Protestants nor Catholics have the capacity to stand as disciplined people capable of challenging the state.”

— from Stanley Hauerwas, “Why Freedom of Religion is a Subtle Temptation,” in After Christendom: How the Church is to Behave as if Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation are Bad Ideas (Abingdon Press, 1991)

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12 Jul

Free for obedience

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/12/16

Glenn W. Olsen on Augustine’s understanding of freedom

“Augustine developed an understanding of freedom that was intrinsically important and had great historical influence. For him freedom of the will was not something that existed as an end in itself, but as something necessary for love to exist, love’s precondition. Indeed, for both Augustine and Aquinas, will is identified with love of goodness. That is, human life was to aim at becoming God-like, at becoming a wise lover, and to this end mankind had been given freedom of the will. This was to be exercised in community, that is communally, for humans were made for social life. R. A. Markus quite seriously misinterpreted Augustine when he held that Augustine believed in a neutral saeculum. Augustine was no modern liberal. For him freedom, properly exercised, brings one into conformity first with God, and then with neighbor. Freedom exists not to do as one pleases, but as God pleases. Thus the paradox that the most liberated human is he who renounces his own will at every point where it conflicts with God’s will. This of course is a paradox only to a person who accepts the redefinition of freedom of the modern centuries, when freedom is less and less understood as a precondition for living a proper human life, and more and more understood as the very goal of life. Augustine’s view was almost the opposite of what probably the majority since the Enlightenment have meant by liberty.”

—from Glenn W. Olsen, “The Church in History: Status Viatoris” (Communio, Summer-Fall 2013)
 

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12 Jul

Creating oneself? Or destroying oneself?

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/12/16

Pope Benedict XVI (and Rabbi Gilles Bernheim) on the anthropological revolution that destroys the family

“The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means — is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: ‘one is not born a woman, one becomes so’ (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term ‘gender’ as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: ‘male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female — hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.”

—from Pope Benedict XVI, “Christmas greetings to the members of the Roman Curia” (21 December 2012)

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12 Jul

The heaven of the materialists

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/12/16

George Parkin Grant on how sex drives out love

“Of course the beauty of the world manifests itself most intensely for us in the beauty of other people. The manifold forms of love, for example sexual and parental, friendship and admiration, take in each case many forms themselves. Who could in a lifetime write down the ways in which sexual love penetrates every moment of our consciousness and is never absent in any loving of the beautiful present even when that love is universal?

“Indeed the manifold ways in which sexual instinct and love are held together and detached from each other make up much of our existing. On the one hand, sexual desire can be the recognition of others as beautiful; on the other hand, it can be the occasion of such calculated self-engrossment that other people are made instruments for producing sensations. Sexual desire can be the occasion when we see the truth of what others are, in the flame of its attention; or it can lock us in the madness of ourselves so that nothing is real but our imaginings. So intense are the pleasures of sexuality, so pressing its needs, so detached can the bodies of ourselves and others be from any humanity, that sexual desire can drive love out from its presence. It can become the rock of ‘reality’ on which the search for the beauty of the world founders. 

“In an age in which the paradigm of knowledge has no place for our partaking in eternity, it is understandable that orgasmic fulfilment has been made out to be the height of our existing—indeed that which gives our existing some kind of immanent justification. The materialists have taken it as their heaven. But this modern union of individuality and materialism has meant a transposition of older beliefs about the relation of sex and love. In the older beliefs sexual desire was one means through which love between human beings could abound; in our era love seems sometimes to be thought of as means for the abounding of sexual enjoyment. 

“Because sexuality is such a great power and because it is a means to love, societies in the past hedged it around with diverse and often strange systems of restraint. Such restraints were considered sacred, because their final justification (whatever other justifications were present) was the love of the beautiful, and that was considered sacred. Modern social scientists have changed the original meaning of ‘taboo’ into the socially and psychologically ‘forbidden’, in the attempt to teach us that restraints are not sacred. This is of course useful to a capitalist society because everything must be made instrumental to the forwarding of ‘production’, and the sacred restraints cannot be made instrumental. Social scientists follow their creator, because social science was created by capitalist society.

—from George Parkin Grant, “Faith and the Multiversity,” in Technology and Justice (University of Notre Dame Press, 1986)

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