Declension and the City on the Hill

Father Timothy Heines sheds some light on the metaphorical phrase City on the Hill, which I mentioned in my recent post on Glenn Beck.  He writes:
"The City on the Hill" metaphor was used by Mather to speak of the Puritan's understanding of their role as creating an ideal theocratic society which would reflect the will of God in all things. Underpinning this idea was the classical Protestant notion of "declension." Declension meant simply that since the Fall, all of history is in decline, subject to corruption and destruction. The puritan experiment was meant to be a reaction to that, an attempt to create a society which would not be subject to that rot and ruin. However, in practice, the notion of declension is more than a fixed, historical reality -- it becomes a way of thinking. In other words, already in Mather's time, there is a sense that there is declension from the original ideals of the founders of the colony. Declension always presumes a Golden Age which is lost and a continual attempt to resist the inexorable slide into dissolution that must occur. This notion of a lost golden age, and a need to get back to it, a nostalgic sense of the "good old days" and that America is headed into the abyss is not endemic to our political understanding.
Read the whole thing. It's very illuminating.  Bottom line: "Declension is a potent idea and even though it is based in classical Protestant anthropology and cosmology, it even effects those who consider themselves traditional Catholics.  But it is not a Catholic idea, nor should it be a catholic one."

A World without My Ideological Opponents...

...Would be a poorer place.  Conor Friedersdorf succinctly states why I tend toward political pluralism rather than claim the left or the right as my ideological home:
In the course of American history, if either liberals or conservatives disappeared entirely from the American scene, leaving the right or left to pursue their best ideas and most flawed excesses alike, this country would be in far worse shape than it is today.

And anyone who thinks that completely vanquishing "the other side" in American politics would produce good results for very long is naive at best.

It is to our collective benefit that the competing ideological factions in the United States operate as the best versions of themselves. Criticism that helps them get there is the most useful. On individual matters, one or another faction occasionally ends up being definitively right (or catastrophically wrong). Still, on the whole our ideological opponents are more help than hindrances compared to a world where they didn't exist. This seems obvious to me, but I thought I'd state it since a lot of people disagree, or at least talk and act as if they do.

Glenn Beck: A Modern Day Paul Revere?

That's the assessment of Father Terence Henry, TOR, the president of my alma mater, who on August 26 prayed and reflected on the meaning of honor with radio and television showman Glenn Beck as a prelude to the Restoring Honor Rally.  Unlike the Republican surrogate Sean Hannity, Beck isn't a loyal partisan, and prizing honor is hardly an act of political tribalism, so I'm not completely surprised that a Franciscan priest and Catholic university president would associate with this rally.

What I find surprising, and not a little weird, is the lavish praise Fr. Henry bestows on the popular media personality and his overall views.  He compares Beck to Paul Revere, spreading alarm about where this country is going and "doing the job the press is not doing."  He expresses his admiration for Beck's sometimes "deeply emotional," chalkboard instruction about the importance of what is at stake, the first principles of our government, and the exceptionalism of our country.  America has a "destiny to be a bright shining city on a hill," says Fr. Henry, invoking the biblical metaphor for the disciples of Christ. 

Beck, we might remember, urged Christians to run away from their church and find a new parish if it used the words "social justice" or "economic justice," which he believes are code words for socialism, despite the concepts being a staple of Christian moral thought.  Beck's understanding of rights and responsibilities also runs counter to Catholicism's.  Beck, for example, denies that there exists rights to housing and healthcare. The political philosophy Beck espouses envisions a social order incompatible with that promoted by the bishops.  Indeed, Beck would call much of what the Catholic Church promotes as guiding us toward socialism.   I don't know if Beck knows enough about Catholic theology and philosophy to recognize this, but Fr. Henry surely should.   He might also be surprised to learn of Beck's moderate views on same-sex marriage, especially as he talked in his conversation with Beck about the threat posed by those seeking to change the meaning of marriage.

Finally, I wonder what Fr. Henry would think of this infamous statement by his modern day Paul Revere:
Hang on, let me just tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out -- is this wrong? I stopped wearing my What Would Jesus -- band -- Do, and I've lost all sense of right and wrong now. I used to be able to say, "Yeah, I'd kill Michael Moore," and then I'd see the little band: What Would Jesus Do? And then I'd realize, "Oh, you wouldn't kill Michael Moore. Or at least you wouldn't choke him to death." And you know, well, I'm not sure.
For the record, I would be equally surprised and creeped out if Fr. Henry praised the hat-wearing propagandist as a modern day Cassandra.

Two Years in Jail for Offending Religous Sensibilities?

I know next to nothing about Polish civil law or the pop sensation Dorota Rabczewska, who apparently makes some pretty raunchy videos, but I nevertheless find it very wrong that the singer faces trial and possibly two years in prison for saying the Bible was written by "people who liked herbal cigarettes and were drunks."  Not a classy or intelligent thing to say, granted, and if her offensive remarks cost her sales in the Catholic-heavy country of Poland, so be it.  Speech has consequences.  Jail time, however, is a ludicrous consequence for offending religious sensibilities.  In Poland, the Middle-east, or anywhere else.  (See, I'm not a relativist!)  Stories like this make me glad to live in the U.S., which, for all its problems, has perhaps the best track record of protecting freedom of speech. Let's keep that track record, please.

Hat tip: Thom at Ad Dominum

A Map of Safe, Inoffensive Places

John S. Wilkins has done humanity a welcome service by providing a function and map that shows where on the globe we may build religious institutions without offending anyone's sense of what counts as sacred space.

Husband Creche

I would be okay with this.  Better yet, a husband philosopher creche.

The Difficult Position of Same-Sex Marriage Opponents

Peter Suderman articulates why he suspects opponents of same-sex marriage are bound to lose: their opposition is based on intuition rather than rational justification. At least his opposition was. Suderman has since changed his mind on the prospect of this social change. When he tried to find support for his intuition that same-sex marriage was wrong and ought to be illegal, he couldn't do so. The arguments that came to mind he found wanting. He concludes:
Same-sex marriage opponents are no doubt failing in part because of their own inability to express a compelling rationale for their position, one that starts with the existing public understanding of what marriage is and should be and then argues that such an understanding is best served by keeping out same-sex couples. But in the long term, I suspect that the fight for equal marriage rights will succeed because millions of Americans will struggle with their intuitive opposition and decide, as I did, that they can not justify it to themselves.
I suspect Suderman will be proven right. It wasn't long ago that Willow and Tara's relationship in Buffy the Vampire Slayer marked U.S. television's first depiction of a lesbian couple. Now same-sex couples are commonly presented and accepted, and with each passing day the idea of same-sex marriage seems less radical and unthinkable. The meta-narrative about the homosexual lifestyle has also developed from a story of licentiousness and promiscuity towards a tale of love, sacrifice, and life-long commitment.

These changes in culture and the changes in law that have accompanied them put same-sex marriage opponents in a difficult position, not the least of which is being in the position of arguing against a conception of marriage that no one has ever, until recently, proposed and defended. The cultural acceptance of homosexuality is as old as the ages, but the idea of same-sex marriage is very new. There's no going back to the ancient Greeks or Romans to study how they philosophically argued against the notion of same-sex marriage as it's presented today.

Aware of this difficulty, Ross Douthat recently made a philosophical case against same-sex marriage, arguing persuasively for the preservation of a particular and ideal vision of marriage:
This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.
As many rebuttals have shown, Douthat's argument fails to explain how the social recognition of same-sex marriage prevents the preservation and "celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate." Andrew Sullivan, among the most vocal advocates for same-sex marriage, agrees with Douthat that lifelong heterosexual monogamy is unique, indispensable, and worthy of celebration. Sullivan's position is that society can recognize both as equal while acknowledging their differences.

In addition to proving Douthat's claim, opponents of same-sex marriage, if they want to have any chance of convincing their fellow citizens through rational argument, will in my estimation need to show, philosophically and persuasively, that the teleological meaning of human sexuality — procreation — is morally normative and that the difference between a heterosexual infertile couple and a homosexual couple is significant enough to justify allowing the former to marry while denying the right to marry to the latter. Proponents of same-sex marriage often note that we as a society recognize marriages of couples for whom procreation is a physical impossibility and that, therefore, the possibility for procreation is already not a definitive aspect of how we understand marriage. What same-sex marriage opponents need to do is show why the difference between a heterosexual couple's inability to procreate and a same-sex couple's inability to procreate matters.

Imagination, Narratives, and Spirituality

Timothy Heines writes an insightful post about the role of imagination in creating the narratives by which we understand ourselves and our relation to God:
My working definition is that the imagination is the faculty wherein we take the images that present themselves to us and "make sense" of them, of giving them names so that we may have dominion over them. The imagination does not create the narrative but instead presents the raw materials that we use to do so. And what is the narrative-- it is the name we give to the process of making sense of our lives, of our story, of our place in the world. As I mentioned during the Lenten and Easter seasons, it seems to me that much of the dying and rising language used therein speak to the destruction and construction of narratives.

Words are a key part of this process. Words define-- from the Latin for "give limits." But as they "give limits" they chop off the ends. This is where we get the word "terms"-- a word we use both for word-concepts and for limitations ("the senator has a six-year 'term' of office"). In the Christian system, Christ is the Word, and his words give a new vocabulary to our lives, creating new systems of understanding and meaning. The narrative of Christ should be seen as the New Narrative, the story of the New Adam and his terms and term must supplant that of the old.

The imagination is the place where our Catholic belief in a sacramental reality can be mined for meaning. As we encounter "that which is not us" we take these raw materials in and attempt to make sense of the pieces in our attempt to say, "This is who I am, this is what I do, this is why things are the way that they are."
Read the whole piece.

Fire Whirl

Ever see a tornado of fire?  It looks like something Gandalf would conjure.   

Hiding the Truth or Ignoring It?

That's a question that could be asked of many "news" programs and networks, which often have financial, political and other incentives to keep public attention on particular fictions dressed as reasonable, newsworthy narratives.  The comedians at the Daily Show debate the question in regards to yesterday's episode of Fox and Friends, in which guest Dan Senor voiced suspicions about one Alwaleed bin Talal, depicting him as a dubious figure who has in the past funded Imam Rauf, the Muslim leader spearheading the building of Park 51 in New York City.  Insinuation: bin Talal, who has funded Muslim schools around the world, may be one of the unknown financial contributors to the controversial Islamic center.  Neither Senor nor the hosts of the show actually named or showed an image of the questionable Saudi behind the money.  The friends kept his identity in the shadows, noting little more than that he heads the Kingdom Foundation and had a gift of millions returned to him by Rudy Gulliani following the 9/11 attacks.  The irony: Alwaleed bin Talal is the second largest shareholder of News Corp., the parent company of none other than Fox News.  Are the hosts and guests of Fox and Friends ignorant of this little narrative-shattering fact or are they aware but determined to use whatever and whomever they can to perpetuate their desired narrative?  Jon Stewart, Wyatt Cenac and John Oliver discuss.

Video after the jump.

Grilled Waitress

Prompted by the outbreak of salmonella linked to eggs, U.S. News and World Report has published an article on four easy steps you can take to help prevent the infectious and sometimes deadly enterobacteria from invading your body through everyone's favorite little white and yellow oval meal. Anyone who attended health class in high school should already be aware of these precautions – none of them were news to me – but a plank on the fourth step caused me a momentary loss of balance. Allow me to explain. The fourth step begins:
“‘Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs.’ This may be a bit tough because it requires you to grill your waitress, who may have to go into the kitchen to ask the chef, who may be less than thrilled.”
Yes, I assume that the chef would be less than thrilled to grill the waitress, or even let you grill the waitress. Even if the chef is open to the grilling, the restaurant owner probably isn’t. Cooking waitresses has never been good for business. You create negative incentives for employment and have to deal with inevitable criminal investigations, which just aren’t worth the hassle even if you get to meet Mulder and Scully. Plus, cannibalism is known to have its own health risks. It can cause neurological diseases, for example. (Please don’t ask me how I know this). So an owner who allows the grilling of waitresses also has to deal with likely lawsuits when customers go a little mad, but not too mad to sue.

Anyhow, if avoiding food poisoning is your game, I recommend following the safety steps for egg consumption suggested by U.S. News and World Report, with, however, the caveat that you stay clear of restaurants that require the grilling of waitresses in order to avoid dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs. Such places don’t deserve your business and are probably in league with the law firm Wolfram & Hart. Trust me: you don’t want to go up against those lawyers. If, however, you have a hankering for grilled waitress, then Wolfram & Hart may be a good place to apply for a job. Just so long as your mind and immortal soul aren’t too precious to you.

Scott Adams on Paying More for Less

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame longs for a world with fewer options.  He's even willing to pay more for products with fewer features so that he has fewer choices to make when using them.  They say variety is the spice of life, but they also advise us to keep it simple.  Adams prefers simplicity.  Software apps, movie theater seats that move with onscreen action, complex travel planning websites: these do not conform to his style.

Max Scheler's observation that modern culture values the attainment of a minimum amount of pleasure and use from a maximum number of things, rather than the old ascetic ideal of acquiring a maximum amount of pleasure and use from a minimum number of things, still holds true today in our postmodern era.  Perhaps more so.

We have more options than ever, but are we any more free? Does freedom correspond to the range of options? I, like Adams, think not.

Sharing a Sacred Space

Paul Moses provides an anecdote:
In this case, the sacred ground was Manger Square in Bethlehem, where Pope John Paul celebrated Mass on March 22, 2000.

The pope had just finished his homily, ending with “Assalamu alaikum,” when the Muslim call to prayer broke forth from the loudspeakers at a mosque that bordered on Manger Square. It seemed, at first, like a rude intrusion on the historic Mass the pope was celebrating in the Jubilee year. But John Paul sat quietly and listened as the muezzin sang God’s praise; he seemed to be savoring the moment. It was as if the Muslim prayer mingled with the Mass.

Just before the Mass ended, it was announced that church and mosque officials had coordinated the call to prayer, which had been delayed to accommodate the pope’s homily. It was a small matter, really, but this cooperation stirred the crowd, mostly Arab Christians, to cheers, applause and even to tears. A sacred space had been shared, and everyone was the better for it.

Stabs in the Heart and Muslim-Free Zones

According to Sarah Palin, a large publicly visible sign and structure of Islam close to Ground Zero "feels like a stab in the heart to, collectively, Americans who still have that lingering pain from 9/11." Stated explicitly, Park 51 feels like a knife separating the skin, rupturing the flesh, and piercing the very source of life. It is no coincidence that Palin illustrates the building project of Iman Rauf as a weapon and fatal act of violence. Indeed, she has gone so far as to call it the "9/11 Mosque," using the name of an event of fanatical mass murder as an adjective to delineate a house of religious assembly. She's not the least bit shy about manipulating language to play on people's fears, but then, her use of language reveals a likely perspective: Palin literally sees Park 51 as an act of violence. It's not merely insensitive in her book; it's like the threat of a knife-wielding enemy. At least, it feels that way.

To protect the U.S. against this alleged enemy violence, Palin wants the area around Ground Zero free of impressive signs and structures of Islam. She desires, to use Glenn Greenwald's expression, a Muslim-free zone, and she's not alone. I don't mean that Palin doesn't want Muslims at all present in the area at and around Ground Zero. She clearly desires, though, that Muslims assemble and worship elsewhere, at a location where she and others won't feel stabbed in the heart and the lurking presence of Muslims.

Palin's appeal to emotion plays on the fears Americans have about a religious people we don't understand. Most Americans, for example, couldn't explain the difference between Shia and Sunni, note the reasons why Iman Rauf's Sufism matters, describe the ways the different cultures in Iran and Somalia shape religious interpretation and practice, or locate Mecca on a map. Islam is a subject with which we're mostly ignorant. We're largely Christian and we have trouble understanding relatively similar Christian denominations! How many Protestants could accurately explain the Catholic appreciation of the Virgin Mary? Heck, how many Catholics could accurately explain why they pray the Hail Mary and where the prayer comes from? If we're in the dark about the diversity in Christianity, how much more are we in the dark about Islam? Most of us are not even in a position to assess whether some Muslim (or former Muslim) expert on Islam really knows what he or she is talking about. We may think we're listening to an trustworthy authority on Islamic orthodoxy when we're really taking lessons on True Islam from a Muslim version of Garry Wills.

The last thing Osama bin Laden wants is a friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims. He wants us all afraid, ignorant, and at war. The way to fight against bin Laden (aside from bringing him and his accomplices to justice) is to work against the grand narrative of civilizational warfare he promotes through propaganda and terrorism. We do that by welcoming Muslims into our homes and hallowed ground, teaching about ourselves and learning from one another, and encouraging each other in our respective faith practices. Would Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia also benefit from such a hospitality? I have no doubt, but we don't really have the power to promote religious hospitality there. We do have the power here. And the obligation to do so. Plus, doing so would really piss off the brute Osama bin Laden.

So, seriously, let's cut the fear-mongering. Be not afraid and all that.

Two Defenses of Michael Voris [Updated]

My co-blogger Sam Rocha offers a “hesitant defense” of Michael Voris’ now deleted (!) video in which the RealCatholicTV host argued for a “benevolent dictatorship” and for granting only virtuous Catholics the right to vote. Sam acknowledges that Voris is “very confused” and “wants an America that never was: a Catholic Nation.” He also rightly considers the frightening possibilities of how Voris might separate “the sheep from the goats” and radically transform our democracy. Sam, however, also wants to acknowledge some legitimacy to Voris’ position: namely, that political freedom divorced from love results in its own kind of dictatorship. “I feel that we can forget that democracy and freedom are empty—and dangerous—without Gospel love,” he writes.

I agree with Sam that freedom without love is empty and dangerous and that love ought to guide our political decisions. I disagree with him, however, when he says “we need a Catholic Government.” At least, on the surface we would seem to disagree, as I suspect our positions may not be as radically divergent as they appear at first glance. A government does not need to be confessional in order to be ordered to something higher than itself. Morality, after all, is knowable through unaided reason. So are the dictates of love. A secular state, therefore, can be ordered toward love just as much as a theocratic state, and perhaps even more so. Rather than say we need a Catholic Government, I would say we need a moral government guided by and directed toward love.

Michael Voris himself acknowledges that he could have been a little more precise in the video he has since deleted. Specifically, he says that it would have been better for him to use the term “Catholic Monarchy” rather than “benevolent dictatorship.” He then says that his previous video was not meant to provide a battle plan for overcoming our secular humanistic government, but to point out that we already live under a “dictatorship of relativism.” He then spends the rest of his defense on a long, distracting rant about all the vile responses he received from what he calls “boo-birds” and “angry atheists.” He doesn’t address their actual arguments, nor does he acknowledge arguments against his video that came from Catholics. Most notably, Voris ignores the fact that he had said this hogwash in his previous video:
The only way to prevent a democracy from committing suicide is to limit the vote to faithful Catholics. Only a true Catholic nation, in fact, will survive — can survive — because only truly Catholic people will be the ones looking at God and not staring in the mirror. When they cast their votes, they cast them with an eye to what God desires, not fallen human nature.
With his silence here, Voris remains a defender of the power necessary to radically and fundamentally restructure our entire political system—and to decide who qualifies as a virtuous Catholic and can therefore possess voting rights. He remains, therefore, despite his clarification, an apologist for dictatorial power.


Michael Voris has, since the publishing of this post, apologized and further clarified what he meant to say in his initial video, though his clarification seems more of a nearly complete change of story than a clarifying revision.

Religious Freedom vs. Theocratic Dictatorships

Glenn Greenwald, typically a fierce critic of President Obama's policies affecting civil liberties, rightly commends the president for his politically risky reminder that the United States is a country committed to religious freedom for everyone--Muslims included. Obama has since clarified his statement by noting that he was not commenting on the prudence of building a mosque and community center near Ground Zero, but his initial point remains. As I've written before, those who wish to practice their religion tomorrow would be ill advised to deny or limit the religious freedom of others today, fearing that the other's religion looks poised to increase its sway within society. It does no good to diminish or remove another person's freedom of religion fearing that the other will someday diminish or remove our own. We all share the same religious freedom--a freedom meant to protect the minority against the majority.

While media attention has focused on the proposed building near Ground Zero, we've seen protests against proposed mosques across the country. I've read comments ranging from an assertion that Muslims have the right to practice their religion in their own countries, but not in ours, to expressed concerns that Sharia law might one day supersede our civil laws. I agree with John Henry that the former is a very marginal view. The latter is more common and understandable, given events in other countries, though I don't see that the demographics here warrant so strong a concern. Besides, building mosques doesn't establish Sharia law, even if the builders wish to impose Sharia law using the coercive power of the state. We as a society can therefore welcome Muslims and their places of worship while also insisting that we remain now and always a country hospitable to people of all faiths and none. We should encourage respect for religious pluralism. By refusing to give Muslims their rights to assembly and worship, even in one instance, we encourage the denial of religious freedom for those we perceive as a threat. We do to them precisely what we fear they will do to us. That's hardly a prudent course of action.

The wish to politicize religious laws isn't spoken just by some Muslims, though. Michael Voris of RealCatholic TV has a new interestingly-timed video out in which he argues for a "benevolent dictatorship" ruled by a virtuous Catholic monarch. How Voris thinks we could possibly achieve his ideal political system he doesn't say. I suppose he speculates that when democracy fails in a suicidal fall (like a vortex?), which he thinks is sure to happen unless worthy Catholics are the only ones allowed to vote, his shining wielder of absolute power will rise from the ashes of the cataclysm, bible and catechism in hand. Maybe Voris can be his Karl Rove. He's already proven himself quite the apologist of power. Anyhow, I'm grateful that Voris' political theology isn't shared by most Catholics. I'll take religious liberty, thank you.

Dream a Little Dream of Me

Performed by Zooey Deschanel:

Sleep Disorders in Sleeping Beauty

You know, I think I've finally figured out what makes Maleficent, the Mistress of All Evil in Disney's Sleeping Beauty, so wickedly antagonistic to Flora, Fauna, Merryweather, King's Stefan and his court, his thrice-blessed daughter Aurora, and the dashing Prince of few words Phillip.  She suffers from a sleeping disorder.

She says as much to her raven minion upon capturing Phillip: she'll actually sleep well that night, for the first time in sixteen years.  If she hasn't slept well for sixteen years due to obsessive-compulsive thoughts about cursing Aurora, she most likely hasn't slept well her whole life.  People deprived of sleep get cranky.  And sloppy too.  It took her sixteen years to discover her goblin ranks hadn't considered that Aurora would age as their many years of searching progressed.  For sixteen years they were looking for a baby!  Seriously, Maleficent, have regular staff meetings and ask a few questions here and there.  Being magnificently evil is no excuse for poor management, though, admittedly, the two seem to go together sometimes. 

I mean to make no excuses for Maleficent's vile and sinister behavior.  She may be misunderstood, but she's still evil.  And that eerie green glowing light thing?  Yeah, way scary.  I just want to suggest that had Maleficent had the benefits of modern medicine or contemporary psychoanalysis, she may have turned out less cruel and adversarial and may not have died a falling, fire-breathing dragon.  And even if those instruments of modernity didn't provide her with a better path to sanity and civility, she could still have made a competitive populist presidential candidate.  Granted, she'd have to work extra hard to win the vote of the Spinning Wheel Maker's union.

The Faith of the Faithless

Writing over at The Stone, Simon Critchley suggests that the true nature of the faith Christ sought to proclaim is better revealed by the faith of non-Christians, by those whose faith "is not supported by the supposed guarantee of baptism, creedal dogma, regular church attendance or some notion that virtue will be rewarded with happiness if not here on earth, then in the afterlife." Critchley goes on to say that it is the particular faith of the faithless that truly meets the criteria of strenuous rigor he, following Kierkegaard, associates with the faith illustrated in the Gospels. Christ, for example, praised the belief of the unbelieving centurion: "Be it done for you, as you believed."

I grant Critchley that what some Christians call faith may be better called a false certainty or presumption about one’s standing with God. For some faith may act more as a security blanket than as a rigorous response to a revealing God, and I think especially of those public Christians quick to proclaim authoritatively and without a shred of doubt that some historical event, often a tragedy, was an act performed or allowed by God for such and such a purpose. These faithful speak as though they’d received a text message directly from God explaining his ways and purposes and designs, making me wonder whether they have a God’s Voice App on their smartphones. Aside from these examples, though, I wouldn’t say that baptism, creeds, moral theories and regular church attendance support faith in a way that makes faith more secure and less rigorous. I’m baptized and believe creeds and celebrate liturgies, but, in the words of John Caputo following Augustine, I do still not know what I love when I love my God.

I second what James K.A. Smith writes in response to Critchley:
But tell me again: how is it, exactly, that, say, the Christian's faith is "guaranteed" and "secured?" How does doctrinal specification take the heat off the undecidability of faith? Do you simply mean that they have hope? That seems quite a bit different than a secure guarantee. Even the hope for a "reward" (which, let's note for the record, is not generally the way Christians talk, despite what you might guess from journalistic sketches)--such a hope would be constantly subject to undecidability, even if it holds out hope for a kind of eschatological verification. But in the here-and-now, such verification is not forthcoming.

And it's not at all clear that doctrinal specification somehow lets faith off the hook of undecidability. It can, in fact, raise the stakes. Given the daily deluge of both horrendous, global evils and local, close-to-home heartbreak, faith that God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself is a belief that requires a certain madness, Kierkegaard would say. I don't see how some generic faith in "love" is any more difficult.

Critchley's argument, while rightly noting that those without "denominational" faith are nonetheless believers, bites off more than it warrants when he attempts to then valorize "faithless" faith as somehow more faith-full. He continues to work with a tired dichotomy and straw man: the faithless are portrayed as more faithful because they're less secure, they take more risks. But nowhere is this claim warranted; and I think one could straightforwardly argue that the opposite is true.

The Meaning of "Cordoba"

Carl Pyrdum, a scholar of the medieval world, responds to Newt Gingrich's statement on the proposed Corboda House by providing some historical context for interpreting the meaning of "Cordoba":
So what should modern Christians think when they hear a Muslim use the word "Cordoba"? Well, I know that Newt hasn't been a Catholic for very long now, but maybe his priest ought to direct him to read a little thing called "The Catholic Encyclopedia".  Allow me to quote from the 1917 edition (which has the virtue of being in the public domain and easily searchable) and its entry on Cordoba:
In 786 the Arab caliph, Abd-er Rahman I, began the construction of the great mosque of Cordova, now the cathedral, and compelled many Christians to take part in the preparation of the site and foundations. Though they suffered many vexations, the Christians continued to enjoy freedom of worship, and this tolerant attitude of the ameers seduced not a few Christians from their original allegiance. Both Christians and Arabs co-operated at this time to make Cordova a flourishing city, the elegant refinement of which was unequalled in Europe. 
The article then discusses the persecution of the Christians under Abd-ar-Ramman II, which included the martyrdom of St. Eulogius.  Then it continues with the rule of those rulers who expanded the Mosque:
In 962 Abd-er Rahman III was succeeded by his son Al-Hakim. Owing to the peace which the Christians of Cordova then enjoyed [...] the citizens of Cordova, Arabs, Christians, and Jews, enjoyed so high a degree of literary culture that the city was known as the New Athens. From all quarters came students eager to drink at its founts of knowledge. Among the men afterwards famous who studied at Cordova were the scholarly monk Gerbert, destined to sit on the Chair of Peter as Sylvester II (999-1003), the Jewish rabbis Moses and Maimonides, and the famous Spanish-Arabian commentator on Aristotle, Averroes.
So it's easy to see why a group of Muslims creating a community center in the heart of a majority Christian country in a city known for its large Jewish population might name it "The Cordoba House" They're not, as Gingrich hopes we would believe, discreetly laughing at us because "Cordoba" is some double-secret Islamist code for "conquest"; rather, they're hoping to associate themselves with a particular time in medieval history when the largest library in Western Europe was to be found in Cordoba, a city in which scholars of all three major Abrahamic religions were free to study side-by-side.

Environmental Hermeneutics Blog

The relatively new field of philosophy called Environmental Hermeneutics has perhaps only a few handfuls of people devoted to its exploration, but it's nevertheless gaining recognition with delivered papers and published articles. Lead scholars in the field Brian Treanor, David Utsler, Forrest Clingerman and Martin Drenthen have recently started an Environmental Hermeneutics blog which promises to bring their work and the work of others in the field to a larger audience. The blog "reports news of the intersection between philosophical hermeneutics and environmental thought." Its area of study "has variously been called 'ecological hermeneutics,' 'environmental hermeneutics,' 'hermeneutics of place,' 'hermeneutics of landscape,' and 'biological hermeneutics.'" The blog "also serves as a clearinghouse for information on an electronic seminar devoted to the topic, to be held during the 2010-11 academic year." Those interested in hermeneutics, environmentalism, justice, identity, biology, ecology, and philosophy in general would do well add the blog to their reading list.

The Media is My Friend!

I have to give credit to Sharron Angle for her honesty about what she wants from the media.  The nominee for the U.S. Senate seeking the seat held currently by Harry Reid told Carl Cameron of Fox News that she wants the press to be her friend, to ask the questions she wants asked, to report the news the way she wants it reported, and to allow her to mention her website so she can collect more donations. 

Cameron questions whether she was being naive, but really her expectations of the media are not that unreasonable.  Not a few members of the press yearn for and actively pursue professional and, yes, personal access to those in power.  After all, this is the same media that obsessively covers the wedding of a former U.S. president's daughter when more pressing matters demand their serious attention.

Ricoeur Studies

An online academic journal devoted to the study of the works of Paul Ricoeur!  I may just have to submit something. 

Playing Like God

Overheard from my son while he played with his Buzz and Woody toys:
"Don't worry you two.  I'll save you from the thunderstorm.  I'm like God, except I'm another guy."