Sarkozy's Speech at the "Inauguration du Fonds Paul Ricoeur"

On May 27th, President of France Nicolas Sarkozy delivered a speech at the "Inauguration du Fonds Paul Ricoeur." Got to give it to the French: they take their philosophers seriously.

About the project: "The Fonds Ricoeur is a unique collection of documents that the philosopher bequeathed to the Library of the 'Faculté libre de théologie protestante de Paris' upon his death. It is made up of Paul Ricoeur’s private working library, his archives, all his books and articles, as well as the critiques of his work. The project will make this collection accessible to researchers and students from the whole world creating a haven of study, research and philosophical exchanges."

Image for the Weekend

Scorched remains of a statue of Mary that resided at Nagasaki’s Urakami Cathedral, which was destroyed by the atomic bomb on August 9, 1945. Mary's face now serves as a reminder of the costs of war, militarization and nuclear weapons. The story of this statue can be read here.

Bilbo in Russia

Fr. Timothy points me to this site that has some wild illustrations from a Soviet-era Russian version of The Hobbit.

Mythologizing the ACLU

Conor Friedersdorf holds up the mythmaking to the facts.

Archbishop José Gomez on Immigration

Morning's Minion directs my attention to an interview with the new coadjutor of Los Angeles.

Female Presence in Film

I found this video very interesting:



The Bechdel Test doesn't perfectly assess the active presence of women in movies - a film in which the only character is female would fail the test - but it helps reveal how many of our movies define female characters in relation to the male characters. It's a lot. In the worlds created in Hollywood, men are typically the center of women's identities.

Evolution and Human Sexuality

Is it possible that human beings could evolve into beings that reproduce, but not sexually? If not, why? If so, what would be the ramifications for culture, society, ethics, love, and self-understanding?

Pop Morality Question

Is it ever moral to use the law to require someone to sacrifice his or her own life? Asked more generally, may we morally use the law to compel heroism?

Texas Education and Divine Providence

At a Texas State Board of Education meeting on May 21st, member Cynthia Dunbar offered an invocation, at the end of which she proclaimed her liking to believe that we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion and that "as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country." What are we to make of this? Dunbar's statement here associates the United States and Christianity even more strongly than her remark earlier in the prayer that our country is a Christian land governed by Christian principles. Whereas this earlier statement speaks of the country's religious character by referring to its people and their actions, her latter statement refers directly to God and his actions. Our country exists by divine providence. She believes, or rather likes to believe, that the United States has divine protection as long as the people of the country retain the right religious spirit. The implication is clear: when great harm does come to us, it will be because we have forsaken the Christian spirit. Dunbar, of course, has spearheaded changes in the Texas school curriculum. Her invocation suggests one of her motives: keeping the Christian spirit alive in our school system as a means to keeping it alive in our country. It's pretty clear she sees herself as an instrument of providence, doing God's will. Her religious beliefs may well have an underlying influence on the school children of Texas. And, perhaps, beyond.

Memo to the Witch-king of Angmar

Consider grammatical gender when interpreting prophecies.

Not Feeling Epic?

Give your daily drudgery a dose of music by Two Steps from Hell: Heart of Courage, Freedom Fighters, or Protectors of the Earth should do the trick.

Memo to Maleficent

Have staff meetings more often than once every sixteen years.

The Balrog and the Potty

Before dinner this evening my son and I were playing with Lego blocks and play-mobile knights, reenacting the Balrog scene in Moria. My wife had made a teddy bear into the Balrog; its whip was a thin red bow. The boy kept to the text pretty well, reciting Gandalf's warning to the shadow and flame. Then he somehow segued into a scene in which Gandalf needed to go potty while also needing privacy from the Balrog. So he erected a Lego wall to keep the Balrog from seeing the wizard's personal business. Apparently though, the wall didn't do much to obstruct the orcs, and Gandalf had to break from his business to slay the orcs with Glamdring. The orcs, I dare say, learned not to meddle in the private affairs of wizards.

A True Conversation

My son to me: "When do I need to get in the shower?"
I to my son: "In a minute."
My son to me: "I want to get in now."
I to my son: "Okay. Get in."
My son to me: "Just a minute."

Memo to Rabbit

Tummies stuffed with fluff expand very quickly and digest very, very slowly.

My Favorite Film Scores

Disposed as I am to doing lists, I present my ten favorite film scores in alphabetical order. Click each entry for a sample. I started writing brief remarks on selection, but decided that it was better to let the music speak for itself.

1. Amelie by Yann Tiersen

2. Final Fantasy: Advent Children by Nobuo Uematsu

3. Henry V by Patrick Doyle

4. House of Flying Daggers by Shigeru Umebayashi

5. I Am Legend by James Newton Howard

6. The Mission by Ennio Morricone

7. Lawrence of Arabia by Maurice Jarre

8. The Lord of the Rings by Howard Shore

9. Star Wars by John Williams

10. Willow by James Horner

Why It’s Important to Keep Ministry Resources Current

Language evolves…



From a book published in 1984. HT: Tammy

How Preference Motivates Morality

A reader commented on a recent post of mine that what I had written was the most shocking thing he had ever read on Vox Nova. I may be about to increase the electrical flow. I propose that, speaking practically, the theist has no more of a motivational basis for acting morally than the atheist. When both seek to act morally, both act based on what kind of world they would prefer to live in. To explain: the theist, in explaining his reason for acting morally, may posit the existence of a good God who established the moral order, and posit further that the world really is governed by an objective, moral law. He may say to the atheist that if God did not establish the difference between right and wrong, then such a difference is merely an arbitrary and mutable creation of man. Nevertheless, for the theist’s origin narrative to have motivational force, the theist must not only believe the narrative; he must prefer the world produced by morality to the world produced by immorality. In preferring one over the other, the theist acts, at this level, in basically the same way as the atheist who prefers a world with more happiness and less suffering. Preference underlies both their moralities.

Philosophy Blogging at the New York Times

What is a philosopher? Simon Critchley begins a new philosophy blog series at The New York Times website with that questions. The Stone will feature "the writing of contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless." If this proves to be a good series, The Times will go a little ways in redeeming itself for its terrible obituary of Jacques Derrida.

Favorite Big Screen Villains

My posts of late have touched on the questionable and controversial. I need a break from writing about such heavy topics, so now seems an opportune time to celebrate some cinematic sinners. I present below a hastily produced, not entirely spoiler-free list of my ten favorite villains from the movies.

10. Hans Gruber from Die Hard, played by Alan Rickman. No one has a voice like Rickman, and he put it to good use as the high-tech, murderous thief facing the unstoppable John McClain. I also enjoyed Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham.

9. Frank Booth from Blue Velvet, played by Dennis Hopper. The kind of villain you'd expect (yet never expect) to find at the end of an investigation beginning with the discovery of a severed ear in a seemingly peaceful town.

8. Eris from Sinbad, voiced delightfully by Michelle Pfeiffer. The effectively animated goddess of discord who fails to understand the heart of Sinbad.

7. The Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact, played by Alice Krige. Simultaneously sexy and repulsive. She almost makes you want to get assimilated. Yeah, I think she's even a better villain than the vengeful Kahn.

6. Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects, played by Kevin Spacey. The film explores the possible identity and existence of the master criminal though a blend of true and false narratives.

5. Mr. Hand from Dark City, played by Richard O'Brien. Creepy. Creepy. Creepy.

4. John Milton from The Devil's Advocate, played with fun and flare by Al Pacino. The devil heads a law firm. Go figure.

3. Agent Smith from The Matrix, played by Hugo Weaving. The voice alone makes him memorable.

2. Stansfield from The Professional, played by Gary Oldman, who knows how to play the villain. Here he's a devious, music-loving, psychotic, drug-addicted cop.

1. The Joker from The Dark Knight, played perfectly by Heath Ledger. I don't know how well he corresponds to the comic book character, and I don't care. Ledger's Joker doesn't just do evil, he discovers people's personal moral principles and places them in situations where, to break free, they must violate their most deeply held beliefs.

Operation Enhance Kyle's Ego: Mission 2010

We've come a long way since last October when Operation Enhance Kyle's Ego formally began, but we still have a long way to go. You can help enhance my ego by becoming an official follower of this blog through Google Friend Connect and Facebook. Signing up is easy: just click the "Follow" buttons in the gadgets to the right and follow the simple instructions.

Since the operation has begun, my Id and Superego, having gotten a bit jealous, have sought to enhance their scope and power. My Id is under the delusion that it really runs the entire show, and my Superego is a nominalist with an advantageous name. My psyche faces the danger of becoming imbalanced, and if my psyche becomes imbalanced, the universe becomes imbalanced. If that happens, who knows what disasters loom. Massive meteors threatening the planet? Plagues and pestilences? Pauly Shore movies? The possible horrors are endless, so please, heed Claudius's beckoning to Gertrude: "Follow!"

A Three-Year-Old's Take on the Ascension

After telling my son the story of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven two thousand years ago, he says, “Is there a You-tube of that? I want to see what it looked like!”

Authorities and Reasons

Some Catholics have a track record of relying on the declarative statements of teaching authorities in the Church when making arguments for how one should think or act. It is not uncommon to see Catholics cite biblical passages, papal encyclicals, or church documents when formulating their cases, but it is not the mere citation of such authorities to which I wish to draw attention. In debates among Catholics, it makes perfect sense to cite authorities that all those in the discussion hold as authorities. Moreover, the traditional "appeal to authority" can add a persuasive layer to an argument. Invoking or citing authorities doesn't necessarily mean relying on authorities. The reliance occurs when the invoking of authorities ceases to be a supplement to thought and comes instead to supplant thought. It occurs when we repeat without even trying to understand, when we allow others, even others we trust, to do our thinking for us. Rodak, one of my regular readers, says that Catholics too often recite without using their reason. He's not wrong. However, recitation without reasoning is no more a proper Catholic action than other forms of unthinking. The Church proclaims that faith and reason are compatible; its proclamation here translates into an invitation and an obligation to think about what Church authorities teach. Thinking involves testing, challenging, exploring, questioning and, to be sure, thinking otherwise.

More on Interpretation Theory

Henry Karlson makes a case against a fundamentalist interpretation of the bible, arguing that such an approach fails to reveal the true God, but instead creates a false and monstrous image of God, a "monster which we see proclaimed by fundamentalists the world over."

Memo to the Vampires in Sunnydale

Stake-proof armor can't be that hard to come by. Get some.

SCOTUS Question

Given that Supreme Court justices serve a life-long appointment and almost never get impeached or risk their job security over decisions they make, what incentivizes them to stay true to their oath of office and to render just decisions?

More on Inerrancy

Joshua B joins the discussion:
I think we need to be careful about discussing inerrancy, which has an important place in magisterial texts prior to VCII, but is curiously absent from Dei Verbum. DV says that ”the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation,” but it does not teach that the texts are inerrant in faith and morals. Furthermore, verification of error generally requires some sort of empirical fact check. This simply cannot be done in regard to the Bible. There is a Truth which is taught without error in the Scriptures, but what that is precisely is left unanswered by the Council. This does not seem to support to semi-fundamentalist understanding of inerrancy which is often put forth. For example, in 1 Sam 15:11 God tells Samuel, “I regret that I made Saul king,” but in verse 29, Samuel says to Saul “The Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal that he should change his mind.” In Hebrew, the words for “regret” and “change his mind” are the same word. Clearly we must be cautious in how understand inerrancy and in how we draw grand theological ideas from these complex texts.

Memo to Padmé

Relationships with men who brood about slaughtering women and children and whine about being held back seldom end well.

Thank you, Freud and Nietzsche

One of these days I'll write a post that won't result in raised eyebrows from the 'sphere's self-appointed heresy examiners. Today probably won't be one of those days. I'm of the opinion that religious thought and practice today needs to take seriously the criticisms of religion offered by Freud and Nietzsche. In his book The Conflict of Interpretations, Paul Ricoeur describes their criticism as follows:
For Nietzsche and Freud have created a kind of hermeneutics which is completely different from the critique of religion that is rooted in the tradition of Britism empericism and French positivism. The problem for them is not that of the so-called proofs for Gods existence, nor do they criticize the concept of God as something devoid of meaning. They have created a new kind of criticisn, a critique of cultural representations considered as disguised symptoms of desire and fear.
What Freud and Nietzsche show me, in their different ways, is that, at the very least, not all of what I call religious faith really is religious faith - really is a response to a God who reveals. What I classify as religious faith because it appears to be a response to a holy text, a sacred event, or another religious experience, may in fact be an expression of ressentiment, or a fiction created to comfort, or an inexpensive drug offering escape, or a cultural means of working out neurosis. It may be an illusion or an idol or a wish.

Their critique offers both a way forward for religious faith, but also a humbling anchor. On the one hand, I have at my disposal methods and instruments for analyzing my religious faith to see whether it is a particular cultural representation disguising symptoms of desire and fear. I can examine my psychology and sociology, my consciousness and, to a lesser extent, my unconsciousness. I can reflect or allow others to reflect on my desires and my fears and on the ways in which I deal with them. On the other hand, however, even if I can come to a strong conviction that my faith is really a response to an experienced divine presence, or at least even if some part of what I call my faith survives Freud's and Nietzsche's criticisms, I am left less than absolutely certain that I am really at all responding to a God who has revealed. It remains possible that I remain self-fooled, that, at the core of my being, one would find something non-religious or non-sacred motivating my religious disposition and beliefs. That's a possibility I keep in mind often, and why I am prone to reject quickly and without apology conceptions of God and interpretations of revelation that clash with what I know via science, history, moral reasoning, and other rational pursuits. (VN)

Ricoeur on the "Adamic" Myth

"By the myth anthropology is invited, in the first place, to gather all the sins of the world into a sort of transhistorical unity, symbolized by the first man; then to put the stamp of contingency on that radical evil; and finally to preserve, superimposed on one another, the goodness of created man and the wickedness of historical man, while 'separating' the one from the other by the 'event' which the myth tells of as the first sin of the first man."

[...]

"But the same myth that focuses the 'event' of the fall in one man, one act, one instance, also spreads it out among several characters--Adam, Eve, the serpent--and several episodes--the seduction of the woman and the fall of the man. Hence, a second reading offers itself, in which the 'passage' from innocence to fault gets the sense of an insensible transition and no longer that of a sudden occurrence. The myth is both the myth of the caesura and the myth of transition, the myth of the act and that of motivation, that myth of an evil choice and that of temptation, the myth of the Instant and that of a lapse of time."

- Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil

Reading Amalek as a Symbol of Evil

My fellow contributor at Vox Nova, Nathan O'Halloran, SJ, follows up on my posts about God's apparent ordering of genocide. He interprets 1 Samuel 15 as "symbolic prophetic history" and argues that his interpretation of the text is faithful to a proper literal reading of Scripture. In O'Halloran's reading, God did not actually command the annihilation of Amalek; instead, Amalek serves as a symbol of the enemies of Israel, a symbol that reveals God and his plan for Israel as incompatible with evil.

Memo to Macbeth

When your wife wants to be unsexed, you've got a problem.

The Significance of Saying that God Commanded Genocide

Violence is no stranger to the Christian story, but we find it on the side the antagonist rather than the protagonist. Unlike heroes in most mythical tales of good versus evil, Christ does not conquer evil by inflicting violence. He triumphs over sin and death by suffering violence, by sacrifice, by paying the price for our sins in order to achieve our redemption. His response to evil is the sacred sacrifice of divine love and the giving of undeserved sanctifying grace.

A recent post here witnessed a debate about whether or not God as depicted in the Old Testament truly commanded the Israelites to commit genocide. Rather than continue that specific debate, I would like to consider the narrative meaning of a God who ordered genocide and its significance for the Christian story and for the narratives of those who seek to justify violence today.

According to one reading of the Old Testament, God needed to order genocide for the preservation of his chosen people, who could not survive the influences of certain others, so that the way would be made for the coming of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Kingdom. The eternal salvation of everyone in every time and every place depended on the Israelites maintaining their purity as the chosen people. God’s response to those who threatened to pervert and corrupt his chosen people was annihilation: God commanded the killing of men and women, infants, newborns, and livestock. The other had to be obliterated to preserve the same. It was a horrid but necessary order, one that is, according to this reading, no longer necessary. Obsolete, one might say. Christ made the world anew, and so God has no need to give such orders again.

What significance does this conception of God have for the Christian story? It elevates the role of violence in the grand narrative. Salvation is now not merely dependent on God’s suffering of violence, but on humankind’s obedience to the role of annihilator, a role that purifies the way for Mary’s “Yes” and the Incarnation, Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It grants the infliction of violence a salvific role—a necessary part to play in salvation history. Purifying violence becomes a prerequisite for redemptive suffering.

The consequences of this elevation of violence extend beyond the specific boundaries of the Christian myth: it is not only violence within the narrative leading to the Christ-event that takes on a salvific role. The idea of violence itself has become united with the idea of salvation: salvific violence is one kind of violence, a legitimate kind, even if the particular violence amounts to genocide. Conceiving God as one who commands genocide gives rise to thought about violence and salvation. We have before us an instance of genocide being morally legitimate, countering all condemnations of genocide as intrinsically evil. Indeed, the morality of genocide in this instance isn’t a question of right and wrong, but of power and necessity. God, the all-powerful, orders genocide because it is necessary. Genocide has been and therefore can be morally licit. What is needed to make it licit again? Necessity.

The idea that Christ made the world anew may be used to close the door on the acceptability of genocide today, but the line of thought outlined above creeps through the cracks. The idea of genocidal violence has become united with the idea of salvation. This union gives rise to new thinking. Indeed, we hear today the administration of mass death thought of as a necessary means of salvation. We uphold military might as a solution to the problem of evil. Presidential candidates promise to seek out and defeat evil in the world by destroying those said to be evil. We fight wars to bring “an end to evil” and justify the killing of infants and newborns when such mass killing is necessary. Those today calling for the annihilation of evildoers may or may not believe that God once ordered genocide, but the idea that God once did so gives a theological backing for their call. Genocide was once necessary, so it may be again. The argument that Christ made the world anew, thus making mass violence an obsolete means toward salvation, might appeal on an abstract, theoretical level if one assumes a particular understanding of “made anew,” but on the practical level of concrete action and justification, it has little force. The violent will use what justifications they can to legitimize their violence; the conception of God commanding genocide serves their purpose. (VN)