Monday, May 23, 2005

W and the Arab democratic revolution

The US universities have been the centerpiece of opposition to President Bush and his leadership in the War on Terror. But two recent articles show the extent to which President Bush is starting to garner praise for the wisdom and power of his grand strategy.

The first of these comes from John Gaddis at Yale. Professor Gaddis delivers before Middlebury College a brilliant look at W's grand strategy. After much long and bitter debate, Gaddis has produced the single finest, most persuasive discussion what W has achieved in foreign policy. After all the polemics on both sides, one word: read it.

The second article comes from Fouad Ajami at Johns Hopkins. Ajami tours the Middle East, and cites locals as describing the "tsunami" that W's democratization policies have unleashed on the region. For those who think that Iraq was a mistake, there is no question of what the Middle East now thinks: democracy is coming to the region, and it is coming because W brought democracy to Iraq.

Filibustering for gay marriage

That is the plan for the Senate's Democratic leadership.

It has been clear for some time that the US Supreme Court is questing for the right case to establish gay marriage as the law of the land. The recent decision striking down sodomy laws in Texas was the warning shot across the bow. The Supreme Court is ready to make gay marriage the law of America as soon as it has a good case with which to do so.

How can the Supreme Court be stopped? Only by appointing justices to the Supreme Court that take a different view.

It is precisely that option that Harry Reid, John Kerry, and the US Senate Democrats are trying to shut down. The filibuster is the weapon of choice: it takes 60 votes to end a filibuster.

So: the US Supreme Court can establish gay marriage with a 5-4 vote. But appointing a Justice that might reverse that decision takes 60 votes in the US Senate under the current rules. The filibuster rule means that neither the US President nor the Senate have any effective check against the power of judicial dictatorship.

Who will take a stand? Not John McCain, who seems to be publicly announcing that he doesn't want to be the GOP nominee in 2008. Not Senator Hagel.

The leader now is George Allen--who is advertising on Hugh Hewitt, Instapundit, Powerline, Polipundit his stand to shut down the filibuster.

Smart: the only candidate out there right now who is reaching out to the blogosphere.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Patriotism and the New York Times

John Podhoretz offers some choice citations from the MSM over the hysteria surrounding the Newsweek scandal.

You saw [one reporter from] The New York Times get in on the action: "Are you asking [Newsweek] to write a story about how great the American military is? Is that what you're saying here?"

I don't know what exactly the White House meant to imply...but, yes, that's exactly the kind of story the NY Times should be writing.

When the New England Patriots win three Super Bowls, honest sports writers write stories about how great the Patriots are.

When the Yankees win yet another World Series, honest baseball columnists write about how great the Yankees are.

When Michael Jordan and the Bulls win six NBA titles, basketball reporters write about how great Chicago is.

And any newspaper reporters who don't realize that the American military has succeeded in defending freedom with a brilliance that makes any sports analogy look sorry--well, they should just burn their journalism degrees because they clearly haven't learned anything from them.

During the period of World War II, American reporters had no difficulty writing about how great the American armed forces were. America's fighting men were written up as the heroes they were, and the Pentagon was known as the Arsenal of Democracy. The American military had saved the world from Nazism, and American reporters were grateful and appreciative.

No more.

Since Vietnam, the American press has repeatedly pictured the Defense Department as only one step removed from fascism. The heroes that toppled a vicious dictatorship in Afghanistan in mere weeks were forgotten. The men and women who cleaned a genocidal dictator out of Baghdad in days were ignored. The press relabeled Iraqi terrorists as "insurgents", and looked for every opportunity to smear the military and sympathize with the terrorists. Heroism in the military was rarely covered, and got placed on the back pages when it did--Abu Ghraib was front-page headlines for weeks on end. That kind of slant was something that you never saw from the World War II generation of journalists--who knew full well that the military makes mistakes, but never allowed that to overshadow the honour, valour, and victories of America's armed forces.

We speak of the World War II generation as the greatest generation--and they were. But they had the privilege of fighting in an era when the press could be counted on to be loyal to the troops who died for the freedoms that the press celebrated. The truth is that FDR and his generals would have had an extremely difficult time defeating Nazism if they had had to deal on a daily basis with the current generation of journalists.

We are privileged in 2005 to be defended by an American military that has defeated the enemies of freedom with remarkable swiftness, with a casualty rate dramatically below that of World War II, and with unprecedented success at limiting the inevitable tragedy of casualties among the civilian population of the nations we are fighting.

That the NY Times now has reporters who think it incredible that American journalists should write articles about how great the US military is shows how far the MSM has slipped. This is a generation of journalists with graduate degrees, but little judgment; high intelligence, but low values. A generation ago, CS Lewis summarized their ethos perfectly: they think that the ultimate value in life is bread, and the ultimate source of bread is the baker's van; peace matters more than honour, and can be preserved by jeering at generals.

And their ethos explains much about why fewer Americans read or listen to or respect what the MSM says.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The new Star Wars and the postmodern crack-up

It is sometimes unconscious asides that tell us everything about what needs correction in modern culture.

In the recent round-up of Star Wars reviews Instapundit writes

UPDATE: I like this from Chris Suellentrop:


What's great about Star Wars—and one of the reasons I think it has greater appeal—is its acknowledgement, even celebration, of the irrational, the mystical, the religious. More than one friend of mine—OK, me and one friend of mine—sat in our separate backyards as children trying to move rocks with our minds. Star Wars isn't political, but liberals are now trying to adopt it as their own, by claiming that Revenge of the Sith is an allegory for the Bush administration. Um, does that mean that Osama Bin Laden is a Jedi?


The whole thing is amusing.


The boldface on the irrational is mine--and it summarizes in a nutshell exactly what is wrong with postmodern thinking. For Aristotle, belief in God is fundamentally about rationality not irrationality.

For rationality is fundamentally about the quest for causes. It is precisely the quest for causes that is the essence of what rational creatures do. Hume may have raised doubts about causality, but in the real world, if a living creature can't identify causes, it ends up as lunch for something higher up in the food chain.

For Aristotle, the network of causes that we see in the universe is not self-explanatory; it is precisely a critical analysis of causality itself that requires us to posit an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover, a God to explain the order of the universe.

Hence it is precisely human rationality that places us in contact with the divine.

More: it is in exercising our rational faculties that we are most divine, that we come closest to the rational God who rules the universe; in learning to think, we become like the gods.

This is not to exclude the mystical--but mysticism is arational and super-rational; it is not irrational, and it is not contrary to reason. One of the strengths of Star Wars as a myth is that it does not accept a dichotomy between reason and the divine: the Jedi work simultaneously in a high-tech universe AND link themselves mystically with the divine. These two aspects of their lives are NOT in an Aristotelian perspective contradictory, but precisely two halves of one whole.

I stress this point because it highlights why the current generation does not understand the Declaration of Independence: the God whom the founding fathers declared to be the source of human rights is not the result of "irrational faith". He is rather the God accessible to human reason itself, whose existence is or should be "self-evident" to every thinking human, and who needs to be acknowledged in the public square as the source of human liberty because without him the survival of liberty cannot be secure.

Hence the recent debate over the "conservatism of faith" versus the "conservatism of doubt" is a false dichotomy based on the postmodern assumption that belief in God is fundamentally irrational. For Aristotle, what is needed in the public square is more confidence in reason, not less; and with that confidence in reason comes confidence in reason's roots in the God who rules a reasoned and ordered universe. That is the philosophical basis for the American Republic, and it is by reaffirmation of that basis that we restore reason to the center of public discourse.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Time to restore balance to the Force--the stakes in the filibuster fight

Very simply: the filibuster rule undermines democracy.

To overturn a law, the Supreme Court needs just 5 votes. But to check that, the US Senate needs 60 in order to stop a filibuster against a good judge. That places the balance of power in the hands of unelected, unrepresentative minorities--and puts the Constitution at risk.

HH has taken McCain and Chuck Hagel to task. Absolutely. They should be leading the charge--not fighting to undermine the constitution.

Kudos to Senator George Allen of Virginia--who understands what the GOP needs in a presidential candidate. And note that this would be a good place of Giuliani to take a stand--here he can pick up points with Catholics and evangelicals by emphasizing his loyalty to the Constitution. Condi will help her position with social conservatives by making it clear that she's loyal to her president.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Team America

I flew from Nicaragua to Miami to Newark to London/Heathrow, and then took the bus to Oxford where I'll spend the summer. I flew Virgin Air across the Atlantic, which I enjoy--in part because they seem to have the best in-flight movie selection in the industry.

The flight was excellent--only one thing went wrong: I decided to watch Team America. The one-line review is that it is the single most vulgar movie I can ever remember. I'm not even going to bother to explain why: I don't even feel like writing about 80% of the movie, the plot, the language, the scenes.

Did it have any redeeming features? Well, I rather liked the vision of Michael Moore as a suicide-bomber whose hatred of America causes him to blow up Mount Rushmore. And the withering blasts at the Film Actors Guild were systematic and well-earned.

But it makes me sad: during World War II, Hollywood responded with a slew of movies designed to bolster American morale, and help the country win the war against Nazism. The jewel in the crown was arguably the greatest movie Hollywood ever made: Casablanca. And it was inspired by the crisis of the war.

Now in the middle of perhaps our most serious war since then, Hollywood's contribution to the war effort is not inspiration, but
...total silence. As I write, terrorists are working around the clock to acquire nuclear weapons and to denote those weapons in Washington, New York, Los Angeles or some other major city. Yet Hollywood will not offer the defense of freedom even the whisper of an effort.

Team America has gotten some attention from some sympathetic conservatives. But this only highlights the ludicrous contrast between the eras: in the 1940s Hollywood produced Casablanca; today we get Team America. To steal a slogan from John Kerry: America can do better.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Star Wars and Democracy

Chrenkoff has a classic post on the new Star Wars film.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Aristotle, homosexual conduct, and the rule of reason

The last post was simply meant as a quick sketch of an Aristotelian critique of homosexual conduct. The key point was that opposition to homosexual conduct is rooted in reason, not religion. Interestingly, this point was debated explicitly in court in 1993.

The attempt was made to declare Colorado law unconstitutional on the grounds that opposition to homosexual conduct was rooted in theology and prejudice rather than reason. In the course of the trial, a prominent classicist named Martha Nussbaum was accused of lying in court about Plato in order to attack the rational case against homosexuality.

Lingua Franca carried a discussion of the trial.

John Rist of the University of Cambridge critiqued Nussbaum's effort to rewrite Aristotle's teacher, Plato.

John Finnis gives his own views of the trial.

The Martha Nussbaum scandal is covered in First Things.

As an addendum, see Touchstone magazine's look at the evidence that legitimization of homosexuality is leading toward legitimization of pederasty.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Aristotle and Homosexual Conduct

A recent note from a Princeton scholar on homosexuality:

Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, M.S., M.D., Department of Politics, Princeton University and Laboratoire de la Physique de la Matiére Condensée, Université de Nice USA, 203-221-0031 jsatinov@princeton.edu: "Any program, club, or curriculum that signals to students that homosexual behavior is 'just another lifestyle' places children at tremendous risk. Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that for boys and young men in North America who identify themselves as homosexual even if the identification is only temporary, which as has been documented in numerous large-scale sociological studies in America, France, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, as is the case with the majority of such self-identified homosexuals - the risk of being either HIV positive or dead by age 30 may now be as high as 65%."

Satinover here offers more evidence for what I would take to be a key part of an Aristotelian critique of homosexual conduct (at least among men): it is contrary to natural law, and it places those who practice it at severe medical risk. To put it differently, the medical risk involved in male same-gender conduct is vastly greater than that involved with cigarette smoking. Yet no one would accuse those who try to end smoking of being bigoted or prejudiced against smokers.

Brent Pickett offers a fair-minded article on homosexuality in history, including a discussion of homosexuality and Aristotle.

I offer here a number of points:
1. Pickett offers strong support for the point that "homosexual identity" did not exist until the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. Although same-sex conduct took place, there is no evidence that these persons thought of themselves as "homosexual"--indeed, the balance of the evidence suggests that these persons married and had families.
2. This is devastating for the widespread belief that humans have a gay identity caused by a "gay gene"--if this actually exists, it must not have been activated in the human population until about the twentieth century. While it would not be surprising if some cases of homosexual conduct are at least partially influenced at a genetic level, there is no evidence in ancient history for the notion that people are "born gay". The "gay identity" is a modern social construct that simply did not exist until very recently. There is no reason to think it is fundamentally caused by biology.
3. Aristotle's every reference to homosexual conduct is negative. There is a good round-up on his views in the Politics and in the Nicomachean Ethics. In light of the fact that his hero Plato roundly condemned homosexual conduct, there is every reason to believe that Aristotle shared Plato's views. When Aristotle differs from his teacher, his disagreements are usually clearly expressed. The suggestion that Aristotle's condemnation of homosexuality was less strong than Plato's is possible--but historically the less probable reading.
4. Jesus did not explicitly affirm or condemn homosexual conduct. But every ancient Jew on record condemned homosexual conduct (cf. Leviticus 18.22-30). If Jesus disagreed with this, he never said so as far as we know. When Jesus disagreed with leading Jewish interpretations of the Torah, he seems to have usually been very clear about it (Mark 7, Matthew 5.20-48). There is therefore every historical reason to believe that Jesus upheld every line of the Torah's condemnation of homosexual conduct: "Do not think that I am come to destroy the Torah and the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, not one letter nor one stroke shall pass from the Torah until all is fulfilled. Therefore whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, the same shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven". (Matthew 5.18-19).
5. There is no intellectually honest case for trying to evade the force of Paul's brutal condemnations of homosexuality and lesbianism (Romans 1.18-27). The attempt of some recent writers to minimize this represents a text-book case of ideological bias trying to corrupt scientific history.

Why is Aristotle important? Because an Aristotelian perspective makes it clear that opposition to homosexual conduct is not based on theology--it is based on the design of the cosmos. Homosexual conduct places the human body at war with the laws of the cosmos in the same way that smoking does, or drug abuse, or alcoholism--or several other forms of socially destructive behaviour. This point is re-inforced by recent work, summarized aptly by Satinover.

Aristotle also suggests that policy against homosexual conduct is not (in the last analysis) based on bigotry, prejudice, intolerance, or homophobia: it is based on a reasoned analysis of the nature of homosexual conduct itself.

Finally, Aristotle promotes compassion and patience: no one suggests that crusades against cigarettes or drugs are based on intolerance or hatred toward smokers or drug addicts; they are based rather on reason and a concern for general social well-being.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Aristotle and the Beauty of the World

The husband of a faculty member has been pestering me for months to read Bud MacFarlane, Jr's novel, Pierced by a Sword.

I struck paydirt on page 132 where Father Chet is explaining to some gentlewoman:

Well, Aristotle and the classical philosophers all pretty much held that Beauty is what they call a transcendental. That's a fancy word for saying that a beautiful thing is a reflection of an absolute principle. I'm butchering this philosophy now, but Aquinas believed that God is All Beautiful, because He is the first principle, or the absolute, of existence, of everything. If there's no God, then nothing exists.


It follows that anything made in His image and likeness is also beautiful. In this sense, even the Elephant Man is beautiful because he was made in God's image. And so are you. In a way, a person who is physically beautiful, like my cousin Helen and you, even more perfectly reflects God's image. Am I getting too deep, here? Just call me on it, Beck.


I don't know anyplace in Aristotle where he says quite what Father Chet presents him as saying. But it is correct that Aristotle saw every life form as beautiful for reflecting divine design--there's a famous quotation that comes close:

We should not childishly complain against the study of the less noble animals, for in everything natural there is something worthy of wonder.
Heraclitus is reported to have said to some visitors who wished to meet him and who hesitated when they saw him warming himself at the stove: "Come in--be bold: there are gods here too." In the same way we should approach the study of every living thing without shame, for in all of them there is something natural and something beautiful." (Parts of Animals I.5).

Levada to CDF...and the hot rumour on SF

Levada now goes to CDF from San Francisco. So who goes to SF?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven--once more

A terrific take on the Crusades.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The universities as bastions of barbarism

There's no question that reform of the universities must be high on the list for Western cultural renewal. One recent book claims that 50% of evangelicals lose their faith at university--a figure I suspect is exaggerated, but troubling.

Meanwhile, students at Catholic universities are coming out less committed to Catholic values than when they entered.

Marx or Aristotle?--the price of liberation theology

The Bad Hair blog shows the effect of Marxist Chavez on Venezuela:

Chávez appears to have huge support from the poor: The Venezuelan poor seem to love Chávez's nanny state, and his extremely succesful public relations gimmicks. Fidel Castro is Chávez mentor in many ways, and Castro's pupil is exceeding his master. Sadly, as Revista Veja shows, things are a lot worse since Chávez took power:

----------------------------------Before Chávez--- Now
People below poverty level-------43%------------54%
Unemployment---------------------11%------------16%
Income per capita----------------$4,650--------$4,190
Number of industries------------11,000---------5,000
Foreign investment------------$2 billion------$1 billion
Inflation--------------------------11%-------------17%
Public debt------------------$27.5 billion---$44.8 billion

Source: Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas de Venezuela, and The Economist Intelligence Unit.

I had mentioned in a prior post that "poverty in Venezuela rose from 43 percent to 54 percent of the population during Chávez's first four years in office. And extreme poverty -- the percentage of the population that lives on less than $1 a day -- grew from 17 percent to 25 percent during the same period, the figures show." In case you wonder where those numbers came from, they came straight from Venezuela itself.

These numbers are even more dismal when you consider that the price of oil has increased by 600% since Chávez came to power.

Pope Benedict XVI led the fight against liberation theology in the 1980s. It's time for round II.

The scandal of homosexuality in the priesthood

The hard statistics come from an article by Clowes and Sonnier in the recent H&PR (May 2005) posted over at Free Republic.

The article documents what has been clear from the statistics: the priesthood scandal is not best termed a "pedophilia" scandal; it is more accurately a scandal of pederasty: adult men seeking teenage or near-teenage boys. Here are the figures:

Age.................Number......% male....% of all victims
Ages 1-7........ 487 victims.....42% male....5% of all victims
Ages 8-10......1390 victims.....71% male...14% of all victims
Ages 11-17....8410 victims....85% male....82% of all victims
Totals.........10,287 victims....81% male...100% of all victims
........................................................totals exceed 100%
........................................................due to rounding

82% of the victims come in the 11-17 year age range, and 85% of these victims are boys. This is the heart of the problem. Homosexual men in the priesthood are looking for teenage or near-teenage boys as partners.

This is not, of course, a new issue. In Aristotle's day, many Greeks would have considered this normal behaviour by a man.

It is not clear what percentage of American men think of themselves as homosexual. Clowes and Sonnier cite estimates of about 3%. In the CNN 2004 exit poll, 4% of voters identified themselves as gay. The percentage of men in the priesthood who think of themselve as gay may be higher.

But the general problem remains the same: the homosexual 4% is causing 80% of the problem. If we assume that 20% of priests are homosexual, it would still be the case that homosexual men in the priesthood are several times more likely to violate their vows with underage persons than the heterosexual men are.

That is a serious problem, and one that is likely to be addressed firmly under Pope Benedict XVI.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Atheist converts to Aristotle...

This has been going around the internet for some time now, but recently got picked up at the Corner. Antony Flew, for decades perhaps the most influential and distinguished atheist in contemporary philosophy, announced in December 2004 that he now believes in God. To those who have followed his career, this is rather on a level with Michael Moore announcing that he has become Republican.

HABERMAS: Tony, you recently told me that you have come to believe in the existence of God. Would you comment on that?
FLEW: Well, I don’t believe in the God of any revelatory system, although I am open to that. But it seems to me that the case for an Aristotelian God who has the characteristics of power and also intelligence, is now much stronger than it ever was before. And it was from Aristotle that Aquinas drew the materials for producing his five ways of, hopefully, proving the existence of his God. Aquinas took them, reasonably enough, to prove, if they proved anything, the existence of the God of the Christian revelation. But Aristotle himself never produced a definition of the word “God,” which is a curious fact. But this concept still led to the basic outline of the five ways. It seems to me, that from the existence of Aristotle’s God, you can’t infer anything about human behaviour. So what Aristotle had to say about justice (justice, of course, as conceived by the Founding Fathers of the American republic as opposed to the “social” justice of John Rawls (9)) was very much a human idea, and he thought that this idea of justice was what ought to govern the behaviour of individual human beings in their relations with others.
HABERMAS: Once you mentioned to me that your view might be called Deism. Do you think that would be a fair designation?
FLEW: Yes, absolutely right. What Deists, such as the Mr. Jefferson who drafted the American Declaration of Independence, believed was that, while reason, mainly in the form of arguments to design, assures us that there is a God, there is no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God or for any transactions between that God and individual human beings.

Flew throws out any number of things that would call for comment. I want here to focus on just a few:

1. Flew focusses on the power of the argument from design, an argument that has had increasing influence since the work of Tipler and Barrow on the anthropic principle in the 1980s. In nutshell, this work shows that the laws of physics have been designed to allow the evolution of intelligent life with a precision that is all but inexplicable unless we allow an intelligent mind as the fundamental force behind the universe. This does not deny Darwin, but rather reframes his theory: evolution produces intelligent life because the cosmic dice are loaded.
2. This fundamentally Aristotelian approach to human civilization was the centerpiece of Vaclav Havel's celebrated address in 1994. Delivered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the president of the newly liberated Czech Republic declared: "The Declaration of Independence states that the Creator gave man the right to liberty. It seems man can realize that liberty only if he does not forget the One who endowed him with it." Here Havel concurs with Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Thomas Jefferson on belief in God as foundational for democracy and human rights.
3. This renewed philosophical commitment to God as the source of human rights--what we might call postmodern Aristotelianism--is diametrically opposed to the current values of key leaders of the Democratic party. Thus when Clarence Thomas was hailed for his commitment to interpreting the Constituion in keeping with the principles of the Declaration of Independence, The Washington Monthly dismissed him as an embarrassment: "Coming from a priest or a preacher, this would be fine. Coming from a Supreme Court justice who's supposed to interpret the constitution on secular grounds, it's an embarrassment."
4. This fierce opposition to the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence shows how far Democrats have come in the space of a generation. Here is Democratic party hero John F Kennedy's Inaugural Address in 1961:
[We] observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning—signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution.

But of course, it is precisely this that the new leaders of the Democratic party no longer believe. If you say in 2005 what JFK said in 1961, you will be accused of being a theocrat. Or more mildly: "an embarrassment."
6. The key issue here is not religious and it is not theological. It does not have to do with any religious faith--it is precisely about reason, not faith. It is about the power of human reason to know that there is a god and that violations of human rights are an assault on the fabric of the cosmos.
7. As such it is diametrically to the false dichotomy of "Conservatism of faith" vs. "Conservatism of doubt" that has recently provoked some discussion. What Aristotle provides, (and through him the Thomistic tradition) is a public policy of God, reason, and democratic values. Thomas Jefferson understood this clearly. Our current generation of leaders would do well to understand that as clearly as Vaclav Havel has.

Are Americans getting smarter....?

So says the New Yorker:

Twenty years ago, a political philosopher named James Flynn uncovered a curious fact. Americans—at least, as measured by I.Q. tests—were getting smarter. This fact had been obscured for years, because the people who give I.Q. tests continually recalibrate the scoring system to keep the average at 100. But if you took out the recalibration, Flynn found, I.Q. scores showed a steady upward trajectory, rising by about three points per decade, which means that a person whose I.Q. placed him in the top ten per cent of the American population in 1920 would today fall in the bottom third.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Pope Benedict and Sola Scriptura--unbelievable...

What I mean by unbelievable is the quality of the discussion over at Dawn Eden. Stunning. This might be the finest discussion and the most thought-provoking discussion of the issue that I've ever read. Click the comments when you go to the post and start reading.

This is important because this is potentially a key area where Pope Benedict XVI has an excellent opportunity to build bridges between evangelicals and Catholics.

A few comments here:
1. The first person that I know of in Church history to use the phrase sola scriptura is St Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on John: sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei--the canonical scriptues alone are the rule of faith.
2. St Thomas consistently affirms that the Bible itself gives to the bishops standing in apostolic succession the authority to make final rulings on the meaning of scripture (cf. Mt 16.18, Acts 6.1-6, Acts 14.23, 1 Tim 4.14, 2 Tim 1.6, 2 Tim 2.2). Hence any denial of the Church's authority to issue binding rulings on the meaning of scripture is contradicted by the Bible itself.
3. The Reformers used the term sola scriptura in a variety of conflicting and mutually exclusive ways. The most balanced use of sola scriptura was not that all doctrine could be derived from scripture, but that all doctrine necessary for salvation could be found in scripture. This moderate view would appear to be consistent with the Catholic faith.
4. Most remarkably, this appears to be also the view of Pope Benedict XVI: A dogma by definition is nothing other than an interpretation of scripture. I'm citing from memory--I will try to get the exact citation up later tonight.
5. It is for this reason that Pope Benedict as the theologian Joseph Ratzinger regularly made it clear that in his view sola fide, sola gratia, and sola scriptura are areas where Catholics and Protestants are in basic agreement. That is very important since these issues have often been taken as the theological causes of the schism at the time of the Reformation. For Pope Benedict to make it clear that these issues are bridges, rather than causes of division, is potentially very constructive for evangelical-Catholic alliances.

Finally: my own professional work is largely with the ancient biblical papyri. In my judment, any strict view of sola scriptura is untenable, simply because the originals of the bible do not exist and have to be reconstructed out of the manuscript tradition. Every evangelical New Testament textual scholar that I've ever discussed the issue with has agreed with me on this point. The more moderate view of sola scriptura sketched in point 3 above would in my judgment be consistent with both Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism.

Aristotle's virtue and the Big Mac tax

Two key terms for Aristotle are virtue and happiness. Virtue is the Greek word arete, (ar-e-TAY) which is better translated excellence. Happiness is the Greek word eudaimonia (you-die-mo-KNEE-a), which is better translated as as flourishing. That is, Aristotle, always the biologist, studies humans as a biological species, and wants to know what promotes human flourishing.

We might turn the question around, and ask: what kills humans? Here is a chart that I posted in January:

Number of deaths--and the cause
1.3 million--US abortion deaths in 2004 (est)
700,000--US heart disease deaths
560,000--US cancer deaths
107,000--US deaths in accidents
30,000--US suicides
20,000-US homicides
15-17,500--civilian deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war
14,000--US AIDS/HIV deaths
1371--US military deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war
59--death penalty executions in the US 2004

You'll notice right away that what kills people in the US does not correspond in any meaningful way to the usual liberal/conservative divisions in American politics. Abortion is the leading killer--which pro-life groups emphasize. But look at the next two: Heart disease and cancer. How much debate in the 2004 election focussed on cutting heart disease and cancer? Precious little.

Comes now the city of Detroit with a Big Mac tax. In light of the US death figures, and the extent to which cancer and heart disease are caused by ghastly US eating habits, the tax makes good sense as a health-care measure.

But this tax has roundly offended at least one well-known libertarian--on the standard grounds that all tax increases are bad. Now it is certainly good economics to keep taxes low. Aristotle refuted Marxist approaches to economics two thousand years before Marx was even born. And Reagan proved the validity of free market approaches in the 1980s. Private property and free markets--in W's catchy phrase, the Ownership Society--were central to Aristotle in the fourth century BC.

But unless you abolish government altogether, you've got to tax something. What you tax, you get less of; what you subsidize you get more of. In the US we tax work, income, savings, enterprise, and thrift. We subsidize non-work and welfare. If you tax things that create wealth and jobs, and then leave as tax-free foods that kill people, you shouldn't be surprised if your economy is lack-luster and if Americans have an obesity problem.

Of course, any tax can be overdone, and legislators need to avoid creating a black market. But it makes a lot more sense to tax Big Macs than to tax work, labor, and investment. An Aristotelian approach to taxation would involve reducing taxes on things that create wealth and shifting the tax burden toward those activities that are fundamentally harmful to human flourishing. It's not a magic bullet--but it's one small step toward a more rational human society, a civilization more in harmony with the design of the cosmos.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Fr Reese and the Reform of the Jesuits

The irreplaceable John L. Allen confirms that Tom Reese, SJ, was forced out of his position as the editor of America magazine by the Vatican.

Some years ago, when I was thinking about becoming Catholic, I read Reese´s Inside the Vatican, a fair-minded, thoughtful look at the Vatican from the perspective of political science. I have deep disagreements, and deep respect, for Reese and his views.

The firing of Reese will certainly raise concerns about a possible purge of the Jesuits. While a purge may or may not be in order, reform of some kind is long overdue.

The truth is that the Jesuits have been led for nearly forty years by what on any account must be held to be the least capable leaders in Jesuit history. Since the early 1960s, the number of Jesuits has fallen from over 40,000 to about 20,000. The number of seminarians studying to be Jesuits has dropped by 90%.

In any business with that level of failure, the leaders would have been fired by the stockholders 35 years ago. If any US bureaucracy had failed that miserably, its leaders would have been dragged before a Senate committee, grilled over a long slow flame, and ignominiously dispatched. What is astonishing is not that on occasion the Jesuits have run into trouble with Rome; what is astonishing is Rome´s patience with the Jesuits, her hope that the Jesuits would reform on their own without meaningful action from the Vatican.

The firing of Reese may well be a signal that that patience has run out. The evidence of the last forty years is irrefutable: the Jesuits are clearly incapable of reforming on their own, and will have to be dealt with from outside the order.

At a human level, I feel sad for Reese, who seems to be handling a difficult situation with dignity and class. One hopes that American Jesuits will think seriously about the history that has brought the Jesuits to their current state--and that the process of reform can begin.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven: atheism and tolerance

Came back this afternoon from watching Kingdom of Heaven. The one-line review is that it's two hours of anti-Catholic propaganda.

This shouldn't be too much of a surprise--Dawn Eden tracks how the screenwriter's anti-Catholicism goes back some years.

As history, the movie is said to be nonsense: "Prof Riley-Smith, who is Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University, said the plot was "complete and utter nonsense"...."It's rubbish. It's not historically accurate at all. They refer to The Talisman, which depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilised, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality."

Worse, it's pro al-Qaeda nonsense: "Dr Philips [of the University of London] said that by venerating Saladin, who was largely ignored by Arab history until he was reinvented by romantic historians in the 19th century, [the director] was following both Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad, the former Syrian dictator. Both leaders commissioned huge portraits and statues of Saladin, who was actually a Kurd, to bolster Arab Muslim pride.

Prof Riley-Smith added that Sir Ridley's efforts were misguided and pandered to Islamic fundamentalism. "It's Osama bin Laden's version of history. It will fuel the Islamic fundamentalists."


So: we have pro-Al Qaeda, anti-Catholic nonsense. A faculty member asked me if Catholics ought to picket? I don't think so. It's a thoroughly mediocre movie--there's no point in Catholics giving it free publicity. Leave them alone: they are the blind leading the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a ditch.

The movie is the product of the kind of anti-intellectual contempt for religion that is so characteristic of the dictatorship of relativism: religion leads to wars! atheism is the foundation of tolerance. A position one can only hold if one drops the history of the twentieth century into the memory hole of Orwell's 1984.

The antidote for this is some serious study of Marxism--the leading test case for what happens atheists get control of governments.

Catallarchy gives the facts on the number slaughtered by Marxists in the twentieth century: "the total mid-estimate is about 110,286,000, an incredible total. It is around 65 percent of all democide over the same period, and is about three times greater than all the international and domestic war deaths, including the two world wars, Vietnam, Korea, and the Iran-Iraq War, to mention the bloodiest. This is the Red Plague driven by ideological fervor. The Black Plague, carried by fleas from rats and not by ideology, killed a quarter of the number the communists murdered."

So: more people were murdered by atheists in the twentieth century than died in all the wars of the twentieth century combined. That's a fact worth committing to memory. Talking point #1 for those who think that atheism leads to tolerance is the brutal history of the twentieth century: ideas have consequences, and no idea has murdered more people than atheism--over 100 million.

The Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn bore witness to this truth in his 1983 Templeton address: It was Dostoevsky, once again, who drew from the French Revolution and its seeming hatred of the Church the lesson that "revolution must necessarily begin with atheism." That is absolutely true. But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot.

The point here is not merely religious--it is philosophical. Atheism requires a deliberate shutting of the eyes and closing down of the brain, a refusal to face squarely the facts of the universe and the principle of causality. Aristotle saw it clearly over two thousand years ago:

If there were men whose habitations had been always underground, and if the earth should open, and they should immediately behold the sun, and observe his glory and beauty; the heavens bespangled and adorned with stars; the moon as she waxes and wanes; the rising and setting of all the stars, and the inviolable regularity of their courses…When they should see these things, they would surely conclude that there are Gods, and that these are their mighty works.

Maimonides and the Global Democratic Revolution: a guide for the perplexed

Who???
Maimonides (pronounced: my-MON-i-deez). Perhaps the greatest Jewish rabbi of all time (1135-1204). Known affectionately to later rabbis as Rambam.

No, no, no, no--not Rambo, Rambam. But if you think of him as the Sly Stallone of rabbis, covered in a coat of intellectual muscles--well, you won't be too far wrong.

So what's Rambam got to do with the price of matzah?

Everything. Maimonides was a key leader in the Aristotelian revolution of the medieval period. Muslims such as Avicenna (980-1037) made Aristotle a philosophical cornerstone of the Islamic mind. For the Catholic Thomas Aquinas (1224/25-1274), Aristotle was "The Philosopher". So the brilliance of Aristotle as a philosopher was a point of unity between three very different religious traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

That's important at a time when we see democracy sweeping the globe--but little consensus on what democracy is or what its foundations are.

The postmodern option says that democracy has no foundations, and has no reasons. Since everything is relative, democracy presumes that there are no fixed moral values. But if there are no fixed moral values, what we reasons can we give for why Nazi Germany was wrong? The postmodernist answers: we can't give any reasons. Then how would you deal with Hitler? Answer: "Try to josh him out of it." Hence the very strong belief among many philosophers that postmodernism undermines democracy itself.

The basic alternative to postmodernism is the option of the Founding Fathers: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Human rights are said to derive directly from the fact that we owe our existence to a Creator. The founding fathers do not appeal to the bible or the Koran for proof of this: this truth is "self-evident", that is to say, derived from philosophy.

It is here that we confront the grand canyon that separates the Founding Fathers from postmodern relativism: for a postmodernist, the notion that philosophy bears witness to the existence of God is simply laughable. Hence any reference to God can only be based on "faith" or "theology". And since democracy cannot impose religious belief, it follows that any reference to God in public life is a form of intolerance, a prelude to theocracy, an attempt to force faith down other people's throats.

By contrast the Founding Fathers stood strongly in the classical tradition of Western philosophy: the existence of a supreme God who reigned over the universe was not an article of faith but a philosophical fact amply attested by over two thousand years of the greatest minds in Western philosophy. God's existence was a truth of reason, fully open to any critical inquiring mind. Denying his existence was both bad philosophy, and ultimately a threat to public morals.

Hence the distinction drawn by the Founders: God was a fact; but "religion", or how we worship this God, was a matter of faith, and to be left to private judgment. This meant that Thomas Jefferson could say both that the Constitution established separation of Church and State AND write a Declaration of Independence that openly declares God to be the source of human liberty.

But if the God made know to human reason is the basis of democracy, then we need some sound philosophical basis for understanding that God. And it is here that Maimonides plays a key role. He and his colleagues of divergent faiths showed how it was possible for quite different religions to nonetheless reach agreement of key aspects of the God who rules the universe.

As the philosophical contradictions of postmodernism become ever more glaring, citizens in democracies everywhere need a way to understand God that is rooted in reason, and available in principle to thoughtful democrats across the globe. The thesis here is that the 21st century is destined to be the age of Aristotle, a renewal of the philosophical conviction that there is one God who rules the universe, and that this God can be approached on the basis of reason.

For this sabbath night, Maimonides is a good place for the road to begin.


Friday, May 06, 2005

The Dioscuri of the Atlantic Alliance: Blair & Bush

The Dioscuri were the twins Castor and Pollux; heroes in the ancient world, honoured in temples in Rome, celebrated in the star of Gemini in the sign of the zodiac. A pair of heroes set in the stars.

As Tony Blair sweeps to a record third victory, it is worth thinking back to the grace given by Providence to what used to be called the Atlantic Alliance. In the 1940s, it was given to Churchill and FDR to bring down the Nazi Third Reich and lay the foundations for a democratic Europe. In the 1980s, Thatcher and Reagan, teamed with Pope John Paul II, brought down the Communist empire of Eastern Europe without firing a shot. At the dawn of the third millenium, Tony Blair and George W. Bush have launched a democratic revolution that has liberated Afghanistan, brought democracy to Iraq, forced the Syrians out of Lebanon, and shows hope of bringing democracy to the Arab world.

We cannot at any level underestimate the boldness of their dreams, the courage of their leadership, or their tenacity in the face of tremendous obstacles that would have broken the will of lesser men. For Blair and Bush are the first leaders of any stature to say that the Islamic world can, should, and must democratize. In doing so, they are calling for a revolution not merely in a bloc of nations, but in an entire civilization--and one of the great civilizations of human history.

For the rise of Islam in the seventh century AD was one of the great watersheds in the course of civilization. For centuries Islam held a standard of education and culture that could not be matched either in Europe or anywhere else in the world. Yet Islam ultimately fell behind in developing institutions of freedom; fell behind in science, technology, and economics. By the nineteenth century, the Islamic world was defenceless against the imperialism of the West.

For some, the absence of democracy in fourteen centuries of Islamic history was an indictment of Islam itself. Islamic societies, it was held, could not democratize.

It fell to Tony Blair and George W Bush to challenge that thinking head-on. The temerity of their endeavour brought to mind the old quotation from George Bernard Shaw that Robert F Kennedy so often quoted: "Some see things the way they are, and ask why? I dream dreams that never were, and ask why not?" Bush and Blair dreamed of raising the flag of democracy from Tehran to Tripoli. They dreamed not of armies marching in conquest through the streets of foreign capitals--they dreamed of citizens in the Near East marching through the streets of their own cities to voting booths; they dreamed of Near Eastern parliaments electing their own leaders, and choosing their own governments. That dream was answered in the elections in Afghanistan in October 2004, in the brave ink-stained fingers of the Iraqis in January 2005, and the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon with its flags waving over the cheering crowds of workers and students.

We are witnessing a revolution of a magnitude that has not been seen in Islamic civilization for over a thousand years. The transformation of a civilization nearly a millenium and a half old calls for comparison with the fall of Nazism in Germany and the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. No doubt much remains uncertain, and more fiery furnaces remain to be traversed. No doubt too, the ultimate credit for what has been achieved so far must go to the brave men and women in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon who have placed their lives on the line in their quest for liberty. But justice requires us to note that it is not likely that any of this would have taken place without the leadership of Prime Minister Blair and President Bush.

President Bush received his reward at the American ballot box in November. Now Tony Blair has received his as well. It is not clear yet how long he will serve, and it is certain that many difficulties lie ahead. Yet already there is reason to believe that when he leaves office, the pair of Bush and Blair, Reagan and Thatcher, Roosevelt and Churchill, will be remembered in the same breath--as Dioscuri of the Atlantic Alliance.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Guardian's cool map of UK election

The hard-left British newspaper updates regularly here.

The tally for seats is here.

Labour is currently expected to win--but with its majority reduced to 68, a loss of nearly 100 seats; the Conservatives as the leading benefactors, but not without Liberal gains.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The real story in Iraq

It was Clausewitz who pointed out that the purpose of war was not to kill people, but to break the enemy's will to resist.

The last year and a half has been a determined effort by terrorists in Iraq to break the American will to resist, aided by a mainstream news media determined to publish every scrap of bad news available and browbeat the American people into retreat. That strategy collapsed when the American people stood up for W on 2 Nov 2004; it took a further blow when the US military swept the terrorists out of Fallujah; and was dealt what was probably the coup de grace on 30 Jan 2005 when the people of Iraq stood proudly for democracy.

Comes now two stories that summarize the state of the will of the terrorists and the will of the American soldiers: Zarqawi is told that the morale of his terrorists in collapsing.

And despite the challenges of battle, American soldiers continue to re-enlist at astonishing rates.

Clausewitz would wonder if this is the writing on the wall...if it's not, it's at least the first draft.

How to lose the War on Terror: Step 1

Don't bother to learn Arabic. Don't bother to learn any of the languages actually spoken in any of the key battlefield countries. If English was good enough for the King James Bible, it's good enough for us. FBI agents don't need to learn Arabic, they can rely on translators. CIA agents don't need Arabic either.

Sigh.

If we want to understand why our strategy in the War on Terror has sometimes gone awry, might it not be linked to the fact that we have yet to put any one in charge who can actually read the Koran?

So we find today a nice piece of good news:

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Pentagon leaders "increasingly see foreign-language skills not as a peripheral part of the military's mission, but as crucial to the success of American forces abroad."
In the future, officers could be required to have some familiarity with a second language; enlistees might receive language instruction during basic training. No decisions have yet been made. Yet when the Pentagon released its Defense Language Transformation Roadmap last month, it made clear its view that security in a post-Sept. 11 world requires not only a military capable of deploying to the remotest corner of the world at a moment's notice, but also soldiers capable of coping with the cultural and linguistic challenges they meet when they arrive there.


Exactly. Imagine trying to man a roadblock if you don't speak the native language. Imagine trying to do a house-to-house search without being able to understand the locals.

It's good to see that the brass is catching on. But why wasn't this figured out three years ago?

Petition for John Paul the Great

John Paul II will be acclaimed John Paul the Great....by acclamation. It's done by petition.

So sign the Petition for John Paul the Great.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Reality TV hits Benedictine Monastery!

This is too good to be true. But it comes from Britain's Daily Telegraph (the leading Conservative paper)--with hat tips to Angry Twins and The Meandering Mind of a Seminarian.

So Cardinal Ratzinger's choice of the name Benedict proves inspired? 40 days in a Benedictine monastery turns sinners into saints.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Aristotle and the European Meltdown

I: The Burial of the Dead

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.


It was Oswald Spengler who seems to have seen it first, TS Eliot who saw it most clearly: the death of Europe and European civilization. When Eliot wrote The Waste Land in 1922, he saw the life of a great culture, a great continent, sinking down into mud and dead branches.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.


Eliot came in the role of the Old Testament prophet, a new Ezekiel who had seen his wife die (emotionally and mentally in Eliot's case), and had never shed a tear; a man face to face with a god whom he did not understand, and an avalanche of violence and desolation that swept away everything he loved. Only now was the aftermath--the arid waterless dessicated dryness of spirit, a heart as hard and dry as a burnt potsherd on a desert at high noon.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.


The language was Dante's, the vision Bertrand Russell's--it was a vision that came to Russell on the streets of London, one he says he shared with Eliot. For Eliot and Russell had been joined together in the Bloomsbury circle--Russell had taken Eliot's wife as a prize, taken her within two weeks of her returning from her honeymoon with Eliot. Soon Russell offered the apparently unsuspecting Eliot space in his house for Eliot and his wife--the better to control his prey. Russell was then globally famous as a philosopher, had led the destruction of post-Kantian Idealist philosophy, and was laying the foundations for the analytical philosophy that would soon control the philosophy departments of most of the English-speaking world. For his part, Eliot had written a doctoral dissertation on Idealist philosophy at Harvard, but would never join the analytical movement: the philosopher who succeeded in putting himself in Eliot's wife's heart never succeeded in putting his philosophy into the heart of Eliot.

II The Game of Chess
I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.


Eliot's marriage had become a purgatorio; Eliot's wife became increasingly unstable and she would die in an insane asylum. The years after World War I were a time of melting marriages and widespread abortion, abortions both outside marriage and within: "The chemist said it would be alright," says a character in The Waste Land, "but I've never been the same." Nor has Europe.

"[The] most dramatic manifestation" writes George Weigel, "is the brute fact that Europe is depopulating itself.

Europe's below-replacement-level birthrates have created situations that would have been unimaginable when the European Common Market was being created in the 1950s. As recent demographic studies show, by the middle of the 21st century, 60% of Italians will have no personal experience of a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle or a cousin; Germany will lose the equivalent of the population of the former East Germany; and Spain's population will decline by almost one-quarter.

Europe is depopulating itself in numbers greater than at any time since the Black Death of the 14th century."

The metaphor is striking: the Black Death of postmodern philosophy, slaughtering more souls than anything since the plagues of the middle ages.

III. The Fire Sermon
Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.


Homosexuality had become the vice of choice for much of the Bloomsbury Circle. There are rumors that there were periods in Eliot's life when he himself did not succeed in stopping his ears to the voice of the Siren call. For Eliot in 1922, a weekend at the Metropole is only an affair--it is not yet a honeymoon suite.

When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.


A previous generation of fallen women might have collapsed in grief, tears, and shame. For the flappers of the 1920s, losing one's virtue is all in night's work--and not very exciting work at that.


To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest

burning


The verses comprise lines from both Buddha and Augustine's Confessions. It was Augustine whose turn from dissolution to virtue was the classic conversion narrative of European civilization. Yet is a narrative that 20th century Europe had burned, plucked, and discarded; a fire sermon no one wanted any longer to hear.

IV. Death by Water

PHLEBAS the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.


Eliot's Phlebas captures both economic success and spiritual death--the waste land of the postmodern west. So Weigel: "When an entire continent, healthier, wealthier and more secure than ever before, fails to create the human future in the most elemental sense — by creating the next generation — something serious is afoot." And again: "Europe began the 20th century confidently expecting unprecedented scientific, cultural and political achievements. Yet within 50 years, Europe produced two world wars, three totalitarian systems, a Cold War that threatened global destruction, mountains of corpses, the gulag and Auschwitz. What happened? And why?" Eliot foresaw what Weigel witnesses...a culture that wouldn't listen to what the thunder said...


V. What the Thunder Said

What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
Unreal


Eliot listened to the thunder. Within five years of writing The Waste Land, Eliot would convert to Anglo-Catholicism. The program was specific and clear. Europe was collapsing because it had rejected its own greatest achievements: the philosophy of St Thomas and the spirituality of St John of the Cross.

Eliot became friends with the French Thomist Jacques Maritain, and published Maritain's work in the pages of the Criterion. Maritain, coupled with the brilliant Dominican Garrigou-Lagrange, promoted Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy as a way of life which reached its consummation in the mysticism of St John of the Cross. These two, St Thomas and St John of the Cross, became Eliot's spiritual masters.

Eliot retreated into his flat in London. He spent his nights praying the rosary and memorizing verses of scripture. He appears to have remained celibate during the decades of his wife's confinement to an asylum, and he remarried only after her death. His poetry underwent a spiritual revolution. He wrote essays defending Christianity, and promoted Thomists such as Maritain and Josef Pieper as the key to European recovery. If he never became a saint, he seems to have become what he never was before: a moderately stable and happy man.

Europe admired Eliot's poetry and rejected his message. But one man listened.

That man was Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II. In the dark night of Nazi-occupied Poland, he surrendered to the call of the priesthood. Loyal to the leadership of the Catholic Church, he became a master of the philosophy of St Thomas. Influenced by the Carmelites and a home-town mystic, he became a student of St John of the Cross.

After the Communists swept out the Nazis and began the new Marxist version of hell on earth, Karol went to Rome. He finished a doctoral dissertation on St John of the Cross under Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, the Dominican who had also been the teacher of Jacques Maritain.

Meanwhile Maritain had moved to the USA, and had begun explaining to Americans and the Catholic Church why St Thomas was the philosophical cornerstone for the democratic values of the American Declaration of Independence. Karol Wojtyla was closely tied into this intellectual network, and began in Poland promoting St Thomas, democracy, and human rights.

Hence the great battle of the twentieth century saw the Catholic Church pitting the philosophy of St Thomas against the philosophy of Karl Marx. It was Marx who once stated that philosophers had only interpreted the world differently; the point however was to change it. The world would soon see which philosophy would better achieve lasting change for humanity: Marxism or Thomism.

The victory would come in the papacy of John Paul II. The pope called a collapsing civilization to repent before the cross of Christ and the wisdom of St Thomas. That philosophy was meant to lead to the mysticism of St John of the Cross, and a society based on human rights. The Catholic Church, long thought to be opposed to democracy in principle, led what political scientists sometimes call the third wave of democratization: democracy swept across the world from the Philippines to Latin America to Eastern Europe.

There the unreal cities of communism fell: Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, Moscow. Led by a pope who lived out in the eighties and nineties what TS Eliot saw in the 1920s: the Aristotelian/Thomistic synthesis in philosophy and the mysticism of St John of the Cross.

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces

...which is to say, after the Garden of Gethsemane and the Passion.

There is much to do. We are a generation in recovery. The intellectual corruption of the last generation runs deeper than most of us know or realize. The spiritual regeneration of a lost generation can be long and slow.

We might begin with Josef Pieper's astonishing little book on the sabbath rest as the basis for all true philosophy: Leisure, the basis of culture; to which TS Eliot wrote an introduction when it was translated into English (but missing from some reprints). Pieper's classic works on Thomism are The Silence of St Thomas and Guide to Thomas Aquinas. Do not miss his guide to mysticism, rooted in Aristotle: Happiness and Contemplation.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange must have been an amazing teacher to have two students the likes of Jacque Maritain and Pope John Paul II. His works on mysticism and St Thomas are available on-line for free at the EWTN library.

Perhaps the best way into St Thomas directly is Peter Kreeft's Summa of the Summa. It should be read slowly, about ten pages per day--and will give you the basics of Thomism in an easy and charming style.

GK Chesterton wrote a dynamic and compulsively readable introduction to the life of St Thomas, Thomas Aquinas: the dumb ox. The paperback is available for about $10.00. The copyright is expired and the book can be found on-line for free.

The evangelical Protestant Norman Geisler has written a superb (and appreciative) introduction for Christians of all denominations: Thomas Aquinas: an evangelical appraisal.


An excellent introduction to St John of the Cross is Kieran Kavanaugh's John of the Cross: doctor of light and love.

Aristotle's pope: the legacy of John Paul II
One of my students here in Nicaragua came up to me, a very devout young woman. She said simply, "He believed in us. Some older people lecture young people. But he believed in young people."

He did indeed. And young people responded. One saw it at the global World Youth Days. One saw it in the great tides of young men who flooded into Catholic seminaries to become priests: seminarians nearly doubled in the pontificate of John Paul II. Conversions to Catholicism in the US hit over 160,000 per year--an all time high.

John Paul II believed in young people because he had seen hearts with the courage to turn to Christ and the grace to make a difference. The young men and women who answered the call of Christ in the 1940s saw the fall of Marxism in the 1980s.

This generation can do the same. Those of us who are now teachers have the responsiblity to put before them the life of John Paul II--and the Jesus Christ to whom he bore witness.

In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: be not afraid of Christ!