Monday, September 27, 2010

Adler the Aristotelian

Here's a snippet of a reply I made in an online discussion about quasi-Thomist philosophers Jacques Maritain and Mortimer Adler.


One reason modern philosophers can't touch Aquinas is that the Dominican saint had a complete, coherent, and consistent system that accounted for everything. The distinctions of Aquinas were built on classical distinctions that can be traced back to Aristotle -- cosmology, rational psychology, metaphysics, political philosophy, philosophy of math, ethics, etc. -- and the same core principles apply across all the areas. Moderate realism is the key philosophy for opening the door to understanding all aspects of reality.

The modern philosophies are derived from the work of Descartes, and generally they are limited to epistemology, which is the theory of knowledge (i.e. what is knowledge? how do we know what we know? what is truth?). For the most part the modern philosophers simply ignore the other distinctions (e.g. metaphysics, logic). That by itself is a fatal flaw, but what's even worse is that their lopsided approach caused them to neglect considerations of the objective and stay fixated on subjective considerations. "What is true for you isn't true for me" and "that was true back then but not today" are nonsensical but typical cliches of the heirs of the modern philosophers. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre -- a classically trained Thomist who faithfully applied the tenets to moderate realism to the modern milieu -- had an adequate answer for that: "Rather than join you in modern error, I'll just wait until tomorrow when what I believe becomes true again."

When you understand the Thomistic core principles in one area, you have a solid foundation that can be immediately applied to help you make progress in the others. I observed this magnificent coherence myself when I was taking instruction to become a Catholic -- it was like someone suddenly turning on a brilliant light, and for the first time I could see vistas I never even imagined. This coherence and supreme reasonableness of Catholic thought was a profound influence on my decision to convert.

Regarding Maritain and Adler:

Jacques Maritain's specialty was political philosophy. The traditionally formed Thomists (e.g. Abp. Lefebvre) were suspicious of a number of his statements. Citations from They Have Uncrowned Him are illustrative.

Mortimer Adler became a Catholic late in life; he'd been close for a long time, and when he finally crossed the Rubicon I don't believe anyone was surprised. Though he gets credit for being a Thomisthe was really more of an Aristotelian. Aristotle did brilliant work, but there were flaws in his efforts that Aquinas corrected. A fellow could do still pretty well combating modern errors using just Aristotle; at the end of the day it would be imperfect, but it would be a big improvement on the nonsense we all live with because of Descartes, Kant, Hegel, etc. Adler's chief work was in the arena of rational psychology, or what is called the Philosophy of Man, which deals with the immortality of the soul, distinctions between man vs. animals, and a number of other elements that give fits to modern materialists.

So what do we make of Maritain and Adler? I'd rather read Abp. Lefebvre myself: that way I would be certain to get the classical Thomist treatment and nothing but. It could be useful to read the other two men to understand the historical development of modern debates in philosophy, and certainly their writings would have recognizable Thomistic themes; for my part I'd reply on a reliable authority as a guide.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Time and a Place

"If thou desirest too inordinately these present things, thou wilt lose those that are heavenly and eternal. Use temporal things, but desire eternal. Thou canst not be satisfied with any temporal goods, because thou wast not created for their enjoyment." - Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Ch. 16

Something might be good in and of itself, but it becomes bad when done in the wrong time or the wrong place. Brushing your teeth is a good activity, while brushing your teeth during a job interview is an excellent way to make sure you don't receive a job offer.

To know what we should make of any number of goods in this life -- e.g. food, exercise, sleep, speech --- which have to first know what are lives are supposed to be ordered to. Thus, "What is the meaning of life?" should be the first question one answers, not the afterthought.

The meaning of life is to love, serve, and obey God in this world so that we can enjoy supreme and unending happiness with him in the next. The many good things in this life are aids to help us accomplish this goal. When we lose sight of that goal, or when we treat the means as a goal unto itself (e.g. money), we fall into the tar pit.

"But I don't believe in your God or your notion of the afterlife or your philosophy," plenty of folks have informed me. Sure; say hello to Br'er Rabbit for me.

Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wisconsin's Declaration of Defiance

From 1859, when the state of Wisconsin declared that a ruling by the SCOTUS was "without authority, void, and of no force..."

Wisconsin's Declaration of Defiance

Whereas, The Supreme Court of the United States has assumed appellate jurisdiction in the matter of the petition of Sherman M. Booth for a writ of habeas corpus, presented and prosecuted to final judgment in the Supreme Court of this State, and has, without process, or any of the forms recognized by law, assumed the power to reverse that judgment in a matter involving the personal liberty of the citizen, asserted by and adjusted to him by the regular course of judicial proceedings upon the great writ of liberty secured to the people of each State by the Constitution of the United States:

And, whereas, Such assumption of power and authority by the Supreme Court of the United States, to become the final arbiter of the liberty of the citizen, and to override and nullify the judgments of the state courts' declaration thereof, is in a direct conflict with that provision of the Constitution of the United States which secures to the people the benefits of the writ of habeas corpus: therefore,

Resolved, The Senate concurring, That we regard the action of the Supreme Court of the United States, in assuming jurisdiction in the case before mentioned, as an arbitrary act of power, unauthorized by the Constitution, and virtually superseding the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus and prostrating the rights and liberties of the people at the foot of unlimited power.

Resolved, That this assumption of jurisdiction by the federal judiciary, in the said case, and without process, is an act of undelegated power, and therefore without authority, void, and of no force.

Resolved, That the government, formed by the Constitution of the United States was not the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; but that, as in all other cases of compact among parties having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.

Resolved, That the principle and construction contended for by the party which now rules in the councils of the nation, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism, since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the Constitution, would be the measure of their powers; that the several states which formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a positive defiance of those sovereignties, of all Unauthorized acts done or attempted to be done under color of that instrument, is the rightful remedy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Corrected Maternal Death Count


A few months ago the WHO reported that annual worldwide maternal deaths were at about half a million. This number was used to support efforts to gain $169 billion in new funding for UN maternal health initiatives.

An independent study at The Lancet contradicted the WHO conclusions, saying that the number was actually 350,000. After initially trying to get the Lancet researchers to modify their findings, the UN was obliged to corrected its previous report.

From the article:
"UN researchers and women’s rights groups confronted the authors of the Lancet study at a meeting in Washington last June, asking them to get in line with UN statistics so as not to confuse the media and big donors,"
"UN scientists say they have to balance publishing their findings with gaining support for UN policies."

Nothing like cooking the books and then silencing dissenting voices from the prevailing ideology.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Good Examples and Sushi

When I was first investigating Catholicism, I had an awful time getting my mind around why Catholics gave so much attention to Mary. I wasn't being contrarian or difficult, I simply could not grasp the point. For many converts a tough issue is the True Presence, but I didn't bat an eye at that. Devotion to our Lady, however, was a very long time coming.

The cause of the hardship was rooted in part in the Protestant notion of a sinner's absolute helplessness and worthlessness. Because of sin, the Protestants say, we are utterly hopeless; we cannot do the first good thing without God's grace -- we cannot merit His mercy or even His attention. In theological terms this Protestant doctrine is called "Total Depravity." Thus, asking Mary (or any saint) to intervene with God for us accomplished no good: our sins make us as unclean rags, and nothing but a completely gratuitous act of gracious mercy on God's part mattered. For Protestants, there is simply no such thing as meriting anything from God; you could only look immediately and exclusively to Jesus Christ and hope for the best.

One helpful Catholic offered, "If I asked you to pray for me, would you do it?"

"Sure," I replied.

"It's the same with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven: just as I might ask you to pray for me, I ask them to pray for me."

This made only a modest impression. I would pray for my friends out of affection and to express support and concern, but praying to an individual not present was something else again. Praying to saints also had an eerie resemblance to praying to God -- on a surface level it seemed to be attributing to them the characteristic of ubiquity that should be reserved to the Deity.

"Do you believe in angels?" was another question.

"Of course. Hebrews says they are ministering spirits sent to aid those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14).

"So asking saints to pray to God for you is no different than asking angels to help us."

Only Protestant don'
t pray to angels. Protestants routinely ask the Almighty to send His angels on various errands, but there are no colloquies with them.

Like other Protestant errors, this one was rooted in an ignorance of Christian teaching and a misunderstanding of the Scriptures. God is the Lord of Love: He did not leave His children to wander through the wild world and stumble about in darkness, He gave us numerous lights to help guide us back to Him. We not only can rely on saints and angels and the Mother of God as aids on the path to Heaven, we are supposed to.

St. Paul made this point repeatedly.

"I beseech you, be followers of me as I also am of Christ." - I Corinthians 4:16

"Be followers of me, brethren: and observe them who walk so as you have our model." - Philippians 3:17

"You became followers of us and of the Lord..." - I Thessalonians 1:6

"You ought to imitate us...that we might give ourselves a pattern unto you, to imitate..." - II Thessalonians 3:7, 9

Some habits die hard: though I could see no harm in praying to Mary, I could not grasp why one would do it. If you can go directly to the omnipotent Christ in prayer, what's the point of trying to augment the work of the all-powerful?

Later I would comprehend that what is amplified by such requests is not the virtue of the response but the efficacy of the request. In the short term, however, the answer I stumbled on was both simple and radical: I would ask for help from the Blessed Virgin Mary because it pleased My Lord.

Even after I had that epiphany, I still had to develop the habit and the attitude to follow through. This I acquired, curiously enough, by praying the Rosary.

Why would I do such a thing, given that I didn't see the point? Because I was keen to show these Catholics that I wasn't afraid of their devotions.

Did I expect anything to come of it? Of course not.

But I conducted the matter as an experiment -- not unlike I did when trying sushi: I didn't care for the idea of it; the flavor didn't appeal to me; the texture was all wrong; the experience was hardly pleasant. But after I'd eaten it enough times I could stop eating it and say with a note of triumph, "I tried your sushi, and it's not for me. No more lectures please about how I need to broaden my horizons -- I did my due diligence, and I did not develop a taste for it."

Only the Rosary experiment did change me. I found that my objections and intellectual reservations rather suddenly didn't seem significant after all; the hesitation was gone; the mental block evaporated. I didn't have any new information; no miracles took place that I was aware of; I couldn't articulate my understanding any better. The darkness had passed, however: without knowing why, everything seemed to be the way it should be. I've likened the experience to eating a tasty dish made from ingredients I could not name: "I don't know what this is called, but this is the best meal I've ever feasted on."

Mulier, ecce filius tuus.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anne Roche Muggeridge, RIP


Anne Roche Muggeridge passed away last Tuesday in Toronto; she was 75. The funeral Mass was yesterday morning in the Toronto Oratory.

Anne is best known for two books, The Gates of Hell (1975) and The Desolate City (1986 and 1990), that detail the rebellion within the Catholic Church -- covert at first, and then blatantly abusive -- to subvert and overthrow 2,000 years of Divinely instituted teaching and practice. In a shockingly brief time, God was kicked out of the sanctuary and the cult of man came to hold sway.

As a result, millions and millions of Catholics lost their Faith, seminaries emptied, dissension and scandals spread, innocent souls were grievously harmed, and the Church of Christ suffered its worst ordeal since the Crucifixion.

In the midst of the horrible modernist darkness that kills souls, stupifies intellects, sterilizes culture, and topples civilizations, Anne carried a light of faith through her books.

Requiescat in Pace

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Retreat + Four More Caps

This week I'm on an Ignatian retreat in Ridgefield, CT. I've wrapped a trip around the pilgrimage to take in four more state capitols -- see my route at

An Ignatian Retreat consists of a series of spiritual conferences, structured meditations, and an opportunity to make a general confession. Silence is kept throughout the retreat, though the retreatants have the opportunity to speak with a priest for spiritual advice. Since 1533, the spiritual exercises of
St. Ignatius of Loyola have been used by millions to deepen their Christian life.

Fr. Ludovic-Marie Barrielle, C.P. CR.V. was an illustrious preacher of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. He became the Spiritual Director at the International Seminary of the Society of St. Pius X (the traditional Catholic missionary society of which I am a tertiary) in Econe, Switzerland, where he condensed the 30-day retreat into five days for laymen.
Fr. Barrielle, C.P. CR.V.
"In the Retreat of Manresa, St. Ignatius learned from the Mother of God herself how he should fight the combats of Our Lord. It was as from her hands that he received this code so perfect, and in all truth we can so call it, of which every soldier of Jesus Christ ought to make use. We are speaking of the Spiritual Exercises, which according to tradition, were given from Heaven to Saint Ignatius. Not that we should not esteem other spiritual exercises, but that in those organized according to the Ignatian method, everything is disposed with such wisdom, everything is so well coordinated that, if man does not oppose Divine Grace, they renew him completely and render him fully submitted to Divine Authority..."
- Apostolic letter Meditantibus Nobis of Pope Pius XI (3 December, 1922)

Pope Pius XI

Friday, September 10, 2010

To Burn or Not to Burn

The pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL, Terry Jones, has vowed to burn copies of the Quran on September 11 in commemoration of ninth anniversary of the attacks in New York city.

Protests have come from numerous quarters, both Muslim and non. One expects the Muslims to object to the burning of the chief text of their creed. The protests from the non-Muslims, however, are of a different stripe, and are from people all over the religious and political spectrum. What they generally share in common, however, is a manifestation of fear of Islam: they are terrified of the consequences of this act of provocation.

Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you that Christians are no different from anyone else when it comes to committing acts of violence against those who differ from them. How many Christians over the years have gone on rampages when the writings, symbols, and rituals of their faith are publicly ridiculed, mocked, and desecrated by the bigoted NEA, who provided funding for the morally reprehensible displays of Christian-haters like Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Annie Sprinkle?

On that note, I like Paul Clark's suggestion: Pastor Jones should repackage the burning of the Koran as conceptual art for an NEA grant application.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Film and TV Conversations

"You don't own a television?" my friend asked incredulously.

"It's true," I said.

"Don't you feel like you're...missing out?"

“On what?”

He just raised an eyebrow and moved on to another subject. The next several times we got together he’d grill me on whether I’d heard some bit of local news or headline; the times that I hadn’t, he’d observe, “Ah, not keeping up, are we?”

Being a chap who makes his living on web sites, I then started keeping tabs on news in my pal’s part of town via online channels; then I would ask him about it. After a few exchanges when it became apparent that I knew more about his local news than he did, the harassment coming back my way stopped.

It’s easy to keep up with events without recourse to a tool that transforms you into a passive receptacle.


Another time a colleague queried me about my taste in items from the cinema after I talked about enjoying one of the Tolkien movies.

“Sean, you like war films,” she began, “but you stay away from movies that romantic scenes between couples.”

“That’s true enough,” I replied.

“Don’t you see the inconsistency in that?”

“How so?” I asked.

“They both are realistic depictions of life events, but you object to only one of them. Why do you boycott one and not the other?”

“I certainly don’t like gratuitous violence,” I said. “But fight scenes are still dramatized things; it’s not hard for me at least to recognize the acting of a combat scene.”

“But can’t you say the same thing about love scenes between couples?”

“Well,” I replied, “not really. After all, you can pretend to be dead; you can’t pretend to be naked.”

I won the round, though my friend kept on with her preferred entertainment choice.


Folks close to me recognize that I seldom go to the movies anyway, and when I do my taste in films is, compared to theirs, sedate. I try to take a polite interest in their movie-going – it’s natural enough with folks you care about to ask what they’re up to and how they enjoyed some outing or activity.

One person, though, got into the habit of telling me. “Let’s not talk about this Sean – you’d be offended by this movie.”

Optimistically this change of subject was an act of courtesy towards me. It also put the onus on me as the killjoy. But I was having none of it: that some people have so saturated their appetites with a taste for amoral worldly themes was a reflection on their compromised preferences, not on any undue sensitivity on my part. So after receiving this treatment a few times, I finally answered, “Well, I’m offended only by offensive things.”

Ever since the change-of-topic mantra is now simply, “I don’t think this is a film you would enjoy.” Fair enough; I can live with that.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Exterminating the Parasites

Feast of Pope St. Pius X

James J. Lee was shot to death by police after a standoff involving hostages at the Discovery Community building in Silver Spring.

Lee was a militant environmentalist schooled in the doctrines of Al Gore's
An Inconvenient Truth, a misanthrope from the political left who declared that “humans are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures” and who was agitating for “stopping the human race from breeding any more disgusting human babies.” He had a grudge against Discovery, and brought a gun and explosive devices to their office to draw attention to his personal jihad.

Lee is from the more polemical wing of the zero population growth crowd (an example of the sort is
this outfit), entities who normally show more tact in their greening of bigotry and hate (after all, when the Zero Pops start talking about unwanted children and describing humans as parasites, they're pretty much always talking about the populations of third world countries).

Damage control efforts are already underway to ensure that Lee doesn't become the poster child for his clan -- the Lee Coterie? Fair questions to ask folks of that ilk remain, however: Are you a member of the undesirable population? If not, how do you know?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

BBC Bias


Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, confessed in an interview with Spectator magazine that the BBC has historically been guilty of a "massive bias to the left."

That was then, this is now, Mr. Thompson said: the BBC of today has "much less overt tribalism among the young journalists."

If hard-core leftist bias is now replaced with soft-core leftist bias, I suppose that's an improvement of sorts -- the unfair coverage and misrepresentation of the issues no doubt remain, but perhaps the enthusiasm has cooled. The fury of the revolution, after all, has been institutionalized: it's time to become respectable.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Irish Take on Money

If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at who He gives it to.
- Irish Sayings & Wisdom