Friday, April 20, 2018

Thirteenth Anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI First Homily (Mission Statement), After Mass, in Latin!


Pope Benedict's primary specific task, for which he vowed to work with clear and decisive acts is the unity of all believers into one, in Christ. Therefore, above all, his resignation must be read in that rubric.

Pope Benedict XVI's Papal resignation, a direct affront to papolatry, is a prophetic act of Christian unity. What the resignation says, loud and clear, is that no mere man, even any particular Pope, is indispensable. Pope's come and go, Saint Peter remains! And every man, not just the Pope, is responsible to the Lord.

Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum coetibus should also be seen as part of the same tireless effort for unity under the one true God, Jesus Christ, in one Body, His Church.

Here is the relevant text from that first homily, Pope Benedict's "Mission Statement."

"With full awareness,...at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty. He is aware that good intentions do not suffice for this. Concrete gestures that enter hearts and stir consciences are essential, inspiring in everyone that inner conversion that is the prerequisite for all ecumenical progress.

"Theological dialogue is necessary; the investigation of the historical reasons for the decisions made in the past is also indispensable. But what is most urgently needed is that "purification of memory", so often recalled by John Paul II, which alone can dispose souls to accept the full truth of Christ. Each one of us must come before him, the supreme Judge of every living person, and render an account to him of all we have done or have failed to do to further the great good of the full and visible unity of all his disciples."

Today is the 13th anniversary of that homily.

Monday, April 16, 2018

High School Theology Class Video

Dawn of "The Light to the Enlightenment," Joseph Ratzinger!


Happy Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI 91st Birthday!


An die Freude  / Ode to Joy

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere
anstimmen und freudenvollere.
Freude! Freude!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt*;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder*
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!

Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben
und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum siegen.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muß er wohnen.
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather let us sing more
cheerful and more joyful ones.
Joy! Joy!
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly One, thy sanctuary!
Your magic binds again
What convention strictly divides;*
All people become brothers,*
Where your gentle wing abides.

Who has succeeded in the great attempt,
To be a friend's friend,
Whoever has won a lovely woman,
Add his to the jubilation!
Indeed, who calls even one soul
Theirs upon this world!
And whoever never managed, shall steal himself
Weeping away from this union!

All creatures drink of joy
At nature's breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
[Even] the worm has been granted sensuality,
And the cherub stands before God!

Gladly, as His heavenly bodies fly
On their courses through the heavens,
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
Joyful, like a hero going to conquest.

You millions, be embraced.
This kiss is for all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your creator?
Seek him in the heavens
Above the stars must He dwell.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

"Our Moral Response to Moral Evil, the Critical Question Today" --Joseph Ratzinger


The Obligation of Bishops to Teach the Truth with Clarity

"...[T]he critical question facing us not only as church, but even as a human society, is our moral response to the pressing problem of evil in its legion forms."

"...[T]he bishop [is] a witness to the moral life of the church."

We teach what Christ teaches, what the Church believes, not our own ideas.

"To acknowledge Jesus as Lord, accepting his lordship over us, is to say not only to him, but to everyone we meet that it is he and not we, who is guiding our lives, making the ultimate decisions which count, calling the shots."

Christ will not abandon us. He is with us, our Good Shepherd. That is what the word pastor means, the one who feeds, leads and cares for the flock, and recovers the sheep when they get lost.

"In the area of moral teaching, what we teach must nourish our people. They must be able to consume, to take in what we teach. And so we have a real commitment to teach clearly in words and by our very lives... [M]ost of all, what we teach must be good for them... We must...feed the sheep. It is not an option. It is an obligation...for us an exceptionless moral norm. If we fail to do it, we are not pastors, we are not bishops. It is our very identity."


Dissent is an Intellectual Decision of Isolation.

Private dissent itself does grave spiritual damage to the dissenter who alienates himself from the body of believers.

But "[a] person who teaches [dissent] in the name of the church is taking what is basically a personal dissent and exaggerating its importance and its damage by propagating it...not simply...teach[ing] his dissent...but in the name of the church. It is odd that people who have grave misgivings about the right of the church to exist in any institutional form, seem to have no problem with the contradiction implicit in teaching in a Catholic school which, after all, is an institution. Integrity seems to me to require that the person who dissents should not, precisely because he cannot, teach in the name of the church or even give that impression."


Catholicity

The sensus fidelium (the mind of  the faithful) maintains the sensus fidei. "The single most salient characteristic of the sensus fidei is its catholicity. Catholicity does not simply imply a universality of place and time, but also a continuity in the community of faith which links the contemporary church to the apostolic church, the community of the believers in Jesus of Nazareth. This continuity is a sign which is always clear: If, as St. Vincent of Lerins said in his famous dictum, a belief has been held semper, ubique et ab omnibus, then, as we can see in light of Lumen Gentium (no. 25), that teaching makes a compelling claim on my belief."

"Widespread dissent is not a proof for the [legitimacy of the position] of the dissenting theologian, but it may be his fault."


Proportionalism

"The problem with proportionalism as a moral theological method seems to me to lie principally in its exclusivity...

"When used exclusively, proportionalism ultimately rests upon a presupposition which we cannot accept... [It] implies that what is good is not really good in itself, but is merely better. If masturbation and contraception were only physical or ontic or premoral acts, that is to say, without necessary involvement of the spiritual dimension of the agent, I doubt very much whether anyone would perform them. It is because the body and soul of the person interpenetrate one another that the hypothesis of a purely physical act represents a false distinction. It is precisely because of the personal involvement, with its personal goals and its personal effects, that masturbation and contraception cannot be seen as devoid of moral content in and of themselves."

Moral acts must be judged regarding the person committing them, as person, within his responsibility to God, to others and to himself, as persons.


The Duty of Catholic Unity

"I find it curious that we can find broad consensus for ecumenical unity, that is, unity between the various denominations into which Christianity has been split. We can see the scandal, the evil, involved in the fact that the body of Christ has been divided. But should not that same fervent desire for unity between the churches also result in a renewed appreciation for unity within the Catholic Church herself?"

"What the bishop does, and in fact how he does it, either nourishes and builds up the flock or deprives it and scatters it. The notion of unity is a key one here. A flock is a flock precisely because it is unified, not everyone wandering all over the countryside on his own."

For example, the post-conciliar liturgical reform was only possible because of the ecclesial unity which supports it.

Joseph Ratzinger, "Dissent and Proportionalism in Moral Theology," Address to the Bishops' Workshop, February 9, 1984, Dallas, Texas in "Origins," March 15, 1984, Vol. 13: No. 40, 666-669.

Smart Fine Dining


Here are ways to eat economically, even at the finest restaurants.

1. Have an appetizers and drink(s) at home before going out.

2. Have no drinks at the restaurant, except, perhaps, a glass of wine. Drink the tap water.

3. Agree with your fellow diners to eat family style. That means that you will share each dish with everyone at the table. If the restaurant has an extra plate fee simply order dishes (entrées) enough for each diner, to avoid that fee. This is most effective when the menu is à la carte. Have each dish brought out separately in succession, so everything comes out hot and not all at once.

For example, if you are two diners, you may simply order two entrées, a pasta and a meat, both to be split in the kitchen and brought out separately as first dish (primo) and then second dish (secondo).

For dessert and coffee and digestif go to a coffee shop, ice-cream parlor or home.

4. Generously tip the waiter at least 20% of the bill to encourage friendly service! You should try not to be stingy, just smart. Frugal, generous and smart!

Your dining check will be less than half a normal dinner check. You will eat well and without too much excess food.

Syria Ambassador, Dr. Bashar Jaafari, to the United Nations: USA and Israel

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

French

Untranslated Arabic

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Easter Music





Monday, April 9, 2018

The God Fetus

Fetus two cell stage.

Annunciation Day, Incarnation Day, in the womb of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, God made Himself Man, today!

Transferred from March 25th (which this year fell on Good Friday).

N.B. "Fetus" in Latin means pregnant (syn.: gravidus, praegnans) and progeny, fruit. If you're pregnant it's a fetus! which means its a child.

Venite adoremus Deum Fetum hodie!



Quitting Facebook: Reason? Frivolous!

How to unsubscribe from Facebook

Click the drop-down menu on the top right of your Facebook page and select settings.
Click the General button.
Select "Manage Account"
Click "Deactivate your account"
Explain why.
Are you sure?
That's it. Now you're done. You'll end up back on Facebook's login screen. Stay away!

Don't waste time with idle curiosity, a vice opposed to the virtue of study.

Facebook is frivolous.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Anguish of an Absence


THREE MEDITATIONS ON HOLY SATURDAY
by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

30DAYS n. 3, 2006

MEDITATION 1
It is with increasing insistence that God is said to be dead today. The first time it was said, in Jean Paul, it was just a nightmarish dream: Jesus who is dead proclaims to the dead from the rooftops of the world that when he journeyed to the beyond he found nothing, no heaven, no merciful God, just infinite nothingness, the silence of the gaping void. It is still a horrible dream which is pushed to one side, wailing away in the waking hours, as a dream does, although the anguish it inflicts can never be cancelled for it was always lying in wait, sinister, in the depths of the soul.
A century later, in Nietzsche, it becomes a mortal seriousness which is expressed in a cry, shrill with terror: “God is dead! God will stay dead! And we have killed him!”. Fifty years later, it is discussed with academic detachment and preparations are made for a “theology after the death of God”, eyes search for ways to go on and men encourage each other to start preparing to take God’s place. The terrible mystery of Holy Saturday, its abyss of silence, has thus acquired a crushing reality in these days of ours. For, this is Holy Saturday: the day of God’s concealment, the day of that unprecedented paradox we express in the Creed with the words: “Descended into hell”, descended into the mystery of death. On Good Friday we still had the crucified man to look at. Holy Saturday is empty, the heavy stone of the new tomb is covering the dead man, it’s all over, the faith seems to have been definitively unmasked as fantasy. No God saved this Jesus who posed as his Son. There is no further need for concern: the wary who were somewhat hesitant, who wondered if things could have been different, were right after all. Holy Saturday: the day God was buried; is not this the day we are living now, and formidably so? Did not our century mark the start of one long Holy Saturday, the day God was absent, when even the hearts of the disciples were plunged into an icy chasm that grows wider and wider, and thus, filled with shame and anguish, they set out to go home, dark-spirited and annihilated in their desperation they head for Emmaus, without realizing that he whom they believed to be dead is in their midst? God is dead and we killed him: are we really aware that this phrase is taken almost literally from Christian tradition and that often in our viae crucis we have made something similar resound without realizing the tremendous gravity of what we said? We killed him, by enclosing him in the stale shell of routine thinking, by exiling him in a form of pity with no content of reality, lost in the gyre of devotional phrases, or of archaeological treasuries; we killed him through the ambiguity of our lives which also laid a veil of darkness over him: in fact, what else would have been able to make God more problematical in this world than the problematical nature of the faith and of the love of his faithful?
The divine darkness of this day, of this century which is increasingly becoming one long Holy Saturday, is speaking to our conscience. It is one of our concerns. But in spite of it all, it holds something of comfort for us. The death of God in Jesus Christ is at the same time the expression of his radical solidarity with us. The most obscure mystery of the faith is at the same time the clearest sign of a hope without end. And what is more: only through the failure of Holy Friday, only through the silence of death of Holy Saturday, were the disciples able to be led to an understanding of all that Jesus truly was and all that his message truly meant. God had to die for them so that he could truly live in them. The image they had formed of God, within which they had tried to hold him down, had to be destroyed so that through the rubble of the ruined house they might see the sky, him himself who remains, always, the infinitely greater. We need the silence of God to experience again the abyss of his greatness and the chasm of our nothingness which would grow wider and wider without him.
There is a Gospel scene which in an extraordinary way anticipates the silence of Holy Saturday and which again, therefore, seems to be a profile of the moment in history we are living now. Christ is asleep on a boat which, buffeted by a storm, is about to sink. The prophet Elijah had once made fun of the priests of Baal who were futilely invoking their god to send down fire on their sacrifice. He urged them to cry out louder in case their god was asleep. But is it true that God does not sleep? Does not the prophet’s scorn also fall upon the heads of the faithful of the God of Israel who are sailing with him in a boat about to sink? God sleeps while his very own are about to drown - is not this the experience of our lives? Don’t the Church, the faith, resemble a small boat about to sink, struggling futilely against the waves and the wind, and all the time God is absent? The disciples cry out in dire desperation and they shake the Lord to wake him but he is surprised at this and rebukes them for their small faith. But are things any different for us? When the storm passes we will realize just how much this small faith of ours was charged with stupidity. And yet, O Lord, we cannot help shaking you, God, you who persist in keeping your silence, in sleeping, and we cannot help crying to you: Wake up, can’t you see we are sinking? Stir yourself, don’t let the darkness of Holy Saturday last for ever, let a ray of Easter fall, even on these times of ours, accompany us when we set out in our desperation towards Emmaus so that our hearts may be enflamed by the warmth of your nearness. You who, hidden, charted the paths of Israel only to become a man in the end with men - don’t leave us in the dark, don’t let your word be lost in these days of great squandering of words. Lord, grant us your help, because without you we will sink.
Amen

MEDITATION 2
God’s concealment in this world constitutes the real mystery of Holy Saturday, the mystery already transpiring in the enigmatic words telling us that Jesus “descended into hell”. At the same time, the experience of our era has offered us a completely new approach to Holy Saturday, given God’s concealment in the world, which belongs to him and which should proclaim his name in a thousand languages, the experience of the powerlessness of God who is yet omnipotent - this is the experience and the wretchedness of our age.
But even if Holy Saturday has drawn deeply near to us in that way, even if we understand the God of Holy Saturday more than the powerful manifestation of God in thunder and lightning of which the Old Testament speaks, a question remains unresolved - that of knowing what is really meant by the mysterious phrase that Jesus “descended into hell”. Let’s be clear about it: no one is really capable of explaining it. Nor does it become clearer by saying that here “hell” is a bad translation of the Hebrew word shêol, indicating merely the whole kingdom of the dead and so the formula would originally have meant only that Jesus descended into the profundity of death, that he really did die and he shared in the abyss of our destiny of death. In fact, the question here is: what is death really and what really happens when we descend into the profundity of death? We must be mindful of the fact that death is no longer the same as it was before Christ endured it, before he accepted and penetrated it, just as life, being human, is no longer the same as it was before human nature, in Christ, was able to come in contact with - and it truly did - God’s own being. Before, death was just death, separation from the land of the living and, albeit at differing degrees of profundity, something like “hell”, the nocturnal side of living, impenetrable darkness. But now death is also life and when we pass over the glacial solitude of the threshold of death, we always meet once more with him who is life, whose desire is to become the companion of our ultimate solitude and who, in the mortal solitude of his anguish on the Mount of Olives and of his cry on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, became a partaker of our solitudes. If a child had to venture out alone through a wood on a dark night, he would be afraid even if he were to be shown a hundred times that there was nothing to fear. He is not afraid of anything specific, to which he could put a name, but in the dark he feels insecure, an orphan, he feels the sinister character of inner existence. Only a human voice could console him; only the hand of a person he loves could banish the anguish, like a bad dream. There is an anguish - the true kind nesting in the profundity of our solitudes - which cannot be overcome by reason but only by the presence of a person who loves us. This anguish, in fact, doesn’t have an object to which we could put a name. It is the terrible expression of our ultimate solitude. Who among us has not felt the awful sensation of this state of abandonment? Who would not hear the blessed, comforting miracle worked in these circumstances by an affectionate word? But wherever there is such solitude as to be inaccessible to the transforming word of love, then that is the place we call hell. And we know that not a few men of our time, so apparently optimistic, hold the view that every encounter remains superficial, that no man has access to the ultimate and true profundity of another and that, therefore, in the ultimate depths of every existence lies desperation, even hell. Jean-Paul Sartre expressed this poetically in one of his plays and at the same time he exposed the nucleus of his doctrine on man. One thing is sure: there will come a night when no word of comfort will penetrate the dark abandon, there will be a door which we must pass though in absolute solitude: the door of death. All this world’s anguish is, in the final analysis, the anguish generated by this solitude. This is why in the Old Testament, the word indicating the kingdom of the dead was identical to the word for hell: shêol. Death, in fact, is absolute solitude. But this solitude which can no longer be illumined by love, which is so profound that love can no longer reach it, is hell.
“Descended into hell” - this confession of Holy Saturday means that Christ passed through the door of solitude, that he descended into the unreachable and insuperable depth of our condition of solitude. This means, however, that also in that extreme night which no word penetrates, when we will all be like children, banished, weeping, there will be a voice that calls to us, a hand that takes our hand and leads us on. Man’s insuperable solitude was overcome from the moment He entered it. Hell was beaten from the moment love entered the region of death and the no man’s land of solitude was inhabited by him. In his profundity, man does not live by bread. In the authenticity of his being he lives by the fact that he is loved and is himself given the faculty to love. From the moment there is the presence of love in death’s sphere, then life penetrates death: life is not taken from your faithful, O Lord, but transformed, the Church prays in its funeral liturgy.
In the final analysis, no one can measure the portent of the words: “descended into hell”. But if at some time it is ours to draw near to the hour of our ultimate solitude, we will be given to understand something of the great clarity of this dark mystery. In the hopeful certainty that when the hour of extreme solitude comes we will not be alone, we can already, now, presage something of what will happen. And in the throes of our protest against the darkness of the death of God we begin to be grateful for the light that comes to us from this same darkness.

MEDITATION 3
In the Roman Breviary, the liturgy of the sacred triduum is structured with special care; in its prayers, the Church’s real desire is to transfer us, so to speak, to the reality of the Lord’s passion and, beyond the words, to the spiritual core of what happened. If we were to try to give expression to the liturgical prayers of Holy Saturday in just a few words, then we would have to speak first of all of the effect of profound peace which transpires from it. Christ has penetrated the concealment (Verborgenheit), but at the same time and in the very core of the impenetrable dark, he has penetrated the safety (Geborgenheit). Indeed, he became the ultimate safety. Now the psalmist’s words of courage have come true: and even if I wanted to hide in hell, you are there, too. As the liturgy proceeds we see more and more of the first lights of Easter shining in it, like the aurora of the dawn. While Good Friday sets before our eyes the disfigured figure of the crucified man, the liturgy of Holy Saturday reflects more the image of the cross dear to the Church of old: the cross surrounded in rays of light, the sign of death and resurrection at one and the same time.
Holy Saturday thus reminds us of an aspect of Christian pity which has been lost, perhaps with the passage of time. When in prayer we look to the cross, we often see in it just a sign of the historical passion of the Lord on Golgotha. But the origin of devotion to the cross vary: as they prayed Christians faced the East to express their hope that Christ, true sun, would rise up over history, and in this way they also expressed their faith in the Lord’s return. Firstly, the cross is directly linked to this orientation in prayer. It is represented as a banner, so to speak, which the king will raise on his coming; in the image of the cross the vanguard of the cortège has already arrived in the midst of those who pray. For ancient Christianity, then, the cross is above all the mark of hope. It implies not so much a reference to the Lord of the past as to the Lord who is about to come. Of course with the passage of time, it was impossible not to feel the intrinsic need to look back at the event that happened: against all escaping within the spiritual, against any misunderstanding of the incarnation of God, it was vital to defend the unimaginable prodigal nature of the love of God who, for love of the wretched human creature, became a man himself, and what a man! It was vital to defend the holy stupidity of the love of God who chose not to proclaim something powerful but to travel the road of powerlessness to send our dream of power to the gallows and defeat it from within.
But in all this haven’t we been a little too forgetful of the bond between cross and hope, of the oneness of the East with the direction of the cross, between the past and future in Christianity? The spirit of hope which breathes on the prayers of Holy Saturday should penetrate all our Christian state of being once more. Christianity is not just a religion of the past but, in no less a way, of the future; its faith is also hope, since Christ is not just the dead and risen one but he who is about to come.
O Lord, enlighten our souls with this mystery of hope so that we recognize the light which your cross irradiates. Grant us that as Christians we will press on towards the future, towards the encounter on the day of your coming.
Amen .

Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, in the darkness of death You made a light shine; in the abyss of the deepest solitude the powerful protection of Your love now lives for ever; in the throes of Your concealment we now can sing the hallelujah of the saved. Grant us the humble simplicity of faith, which does not let us stray when You call us in the hours of darkness, of abandonment, when all seems difficult; grant us, at this time when a mortal struggle is being waged around You, light enough that we will not lose You; light enough for us to give to all those who still have need of it. Make the mystery of Your Easter joy shine, like the aurora of the dawn, on these days of ours; grant that we may truly be men of Easter in the midst of history’s Holy Saturday. Grant that in the course of the days of light and dark of this age we may always with happy hearts find ourselves on the pathway to Your future glory.
Amen.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Friday, March 30, 2018

Atheism Anti-Clericalism: War Against God, Against Catholicism


"The Chief Shepherd: Go forth and feed my--lambs!"

In the picture a priest taking care of a swineherd.
You can read on the pigs “Rape, sadistic orgies in monasteries,”
“Sins against nature in religious houses” and
“Abuse of children and the mentally ill."

Satire of "Das Schwarze Korps" (The Black Army)
newspaper of March 6, 1937
The official newspaper of Hitler's SS
(Schutzstaffeln, "Protection Squadron") of the NSDAP
Die Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei:
The guardian of the true National Socialist doctrine.

Source: nsokkultismus.tumblr.com accessed March 30, 2018;
Photo also published in Anonymous,
The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich:
Facts and Documents
, London: Burns Oates, 1940, 64-65.
There the the date given for the "Das Schwarze Korps" satire is May 6, 1937.

“When people want to destroy religion they begin by attacking the priest; for when there is no priest, there is no sacrifice: and when there is no sacrifice, there is no religion.”

— St. John Vianney


Wherein the Cure d'Ars is indicating the centrality of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for true religion.
If there were no priest there would be no Mass. If there were no Mass there would be no Real Presence of Jesus Christ on the earth today, hence no real religion.
Also, he who rejects and despises those sent by Christ rejects and despises Christ Himself and thereby rejects and despises the one true God Himself.

"He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me." Luke 10:16

Just a thought for Good Friday 2018 of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Metaphysics of Democracy


First Things
Thomas Joseph White
February 2018

Liberalism began as a political project that sought to curtail the role of religion in public life. Religious impulses haven’t proven easy to expel, however, even in secular societies. Contemporary secular liberalism aspires to be a universal project that supplants traditional religion and relegates it to the private sphere. Paradoxically, this process frustrates the spiritual desires of many modern secular people, who are unsatisfied with thin consumerism and wish to participate in something greater than themselves. Their mounting rejection of the liberal project has precipitated a crisis, one felt most acutely in the political realm. It has taken the form of a resurgent nationalism, an inchoate response to the suppression of faith that is inadequate and perhaps dangerous. We need to address the weakness of liberal modernity differently, which means metaphysically. No doubt, an appeal to metaphysics strikes many as strangely abstract and inconsequential. Politics is the realm of action, and people want to see church leaders, politicians, lawyers, and columnists fighting for religious causes. One can sympathize with this instinct, but it ignores the deeper problem. The dispute over metaphysics was the concrete issue from the beginning. It always has been.

One story of modern democracy goes like this: The conflicts over religious absolutes in the pre-Enlightenment Christian period of European civilization gave rise to the realization that our public life should not be constituted by absolutist commitments. In order to persist in a pluralistic, peaceful way, democratic governments need to surrender their alliance with religious creeds and distance themselves from robust metaphysical accounts of reality and human purposes. The space for mutual human concord arises only when there is a public square where metaphysical rivals can live in mutual toleration. Today, this view translates into a simple theoretical principle. The modern state should practice an “ecumenism” of theoretical minimalism: It affirms no one particular creed so as to allow for the multiple beliefs of all those who inhabit public space. Liberal modernity functions through asceticism, restraining our strongest metaphysical judgments, rather than saturating public life with them.

John Henry Newman took a different view of modern democratic liberalism. He famously declared in his “Biglietto Speech” the night before he was made a cardinal, “For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. . . . Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily.” In an extensive note in the Apologia he offers a definition of liberalism in which he presents its principles in the form of a creed consisting of eighteen propositions. These function as a system of secular faith and give orientation to modern politics in England, not unlike the Thirty-Nine Articles did in the seventeenth century. Basic to this view of the world is the primacy of what Newman calls the “principle of private judgment” in all matters religious, moral, and philosophical. The modern person is free to define his own meaning, and to do so he must be free from the influences of religious authorities. But this comes at a cost: Modern society must distance itself from any collective account of meaning and from all authorities who articulate such claims. When it comes to defining or defending the meaning of life, it’s every man for himself.

The first view of democracy is more libertarian, of course, and it is compatible with Christian ideas in some important ways. The second view of democracy is less so and suggests that at the heart of the modern world, there is an implicit theological debate that rages (now joined by Islam) about whether and to what extent traditional religious faith is compatible with modern democracy.

Contemporary secular progressivists seem to fit Newman’s description in that they are animated by a creed that is both anti-Christian and absolutist, and they stridently promote it. However, the secularism of our time is rife with sectarianism and marked by ideological disagreement and heterogeneity, which doesn’t tally with Newman’s version of liberalism as a “catholic” movement with a unified doctrine. The intellectual turmoil is evident when one considers the three metaphysical visions of reality that secularists promulgate, each one incompatible with Christianity and with one another.

One of these views derives from classical liberalism—Locke, Kant, and Rawls. It emphasizes the metaphysical primacy of freedom of choice in the individual subject. Its battle cry is autonomy, and its fruits are the ethics of authenticity. Each person has the right to define the meaning of his life, his sexuality, his way of participating in civic space, and his consumer opportunities. From this metaphysics we get the culture of rights talk, and the notion that sincerity of conviction serves as a moral warrant for the views that one holds.

Alongside this, there is the rival vision of the postmodern theorists who follow Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Foucault in outlining the ways that deep currents in human culture inform our mentality, structure our pre-reflective interpretation of experience, and privilege or disempower us in ways we fail to see. The metaphysics of Nietzsche are about power, not rights or the individual autonomy of each citizen. When one overturns social conventions that are arbitrary and oppressive, one makes room for artistic creativity and Dionysian freedom in a world marked by bourgeois convention and aesthetic mediocrity. From this strand of thinking we get the discourse of prophetic denunciation, militant calls for radical cultural transformation, and the politics of identity.

Finally, there are the scientistic materialists, who think that the great philosophical and religious visions of the past must be discarded after the modern scientific revolution. Their battle cry is progress. Modern science lays bare the illusion of our religious past and makes room for a better society and a more rational world. The twin motors of progress are scientific knowledge and better technology. Real humanism is material: better medicine and food, the fight to prolong life and fend off death. Typically, these advocates of democratic liberalism follow the New Atheism and favor a political internationalism that advances universal education in the sciences and the use of life-enhancing technologies.

The three strands of thought are incompatible with one another in important and basic ways. Materialism and scientism accept the objectivity of modern scientific knowledge and the physicality of the human animal, but no materialist accounts of the human person provide an adequate basis for the affirmation of freedom as an irreducible element in the human person, let alone the autonomy of the liberal person as an ethical subject of rights. Nietzsche and Foucault have no place in their thought for a Kantian theory of rights, nor for a theory of universal political morality of the kind mainstream modern liberalism presumes. On the contrary, their projects lead one to treat the pretensions of Rawlsian liberalism as an arbitrary imposition of the will to power. They argue that the philosophies of liberal secular elites are metaphysically groundless, once sundered from ancient religious beliefs. In truth, they say, secular liberalism aims at the establishment and maintenance of an arbitrarily willed system of secular capitalism and sexual conventionalism (and note that this can be true even when the conventions change). These figures do not argue that modern scientific knowledge is false, only that knowledge of physical structures alone is never enough to procure moral norms or deeper metaphysical claims about meaning. They would perceive in the “aims of progress” of a person such as Richard Dawkins a kind of theoretical incoherence and moral hypocrisy.

Secular progressivists have made little real progress in making these divergent strands of secular thinking cohere with one another. The incoherence has real consequences because it thwarts their efforts to motivate sustained political commitments. In contrast to their Marxist forebears, today’s secularists have no profound understanding of the human condition to offer their peers. Marxism may have been deeply errant and deadly on a massive scale, but it laid out foundational conceptions of nature and history and man. Contemporary secular metaphysics is hollow to the core. When pressed on these incoherent strands of thought, defenders of the secular orthodoxy fall back upon the key dogmas of progress, autonomy, and inclusivity as a way of uniting the disparate sects. A tenuous political pragmatism allows them to unite despite their metaphysical differences, often fueled by what they are against (the Christian intellectual heritage, the pro-life movement, traditional concepts of sexual complementarity).

Aquinas speaks of the virtue of pietas as that dimension of justice by which we are inclined to acknowledge our dependence upon a reality greater than ourselves. We show gratitude or piety to our parents who gave us life, love, support, and education. We show deference and love for the state, or the patria, which ensures political and cultural well-being. Pietas toward God stems from the recognition that all that we have and are derives from the creative act of God, who sustains us in being and governs the world by his divine providence.

Pietas can be eclipsed but not eradicated. The human thirst to belong to something greater than ourselves haunts the modern post-Enlightenment state. In a world in which family life is deeply attenuated (after the sexual revolution) and the public practices of religion are alien to many, pietas crystallizes around the state, which now assumes the burdens of providing meaning in life. For the state to become a religious and all-inclusive project, it typically needs to assume universal horizons, which means that patriotism has to diminish and a kind of messianic internationalism must advance. Each state is now part of a larger secular order of universal political history. Some states are more dynamic advocates of the new liberal order than others, but all are implicated. Every sincere secular liberal is a prophet ushering in the future. This vision is already manifest in Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. The religious horizon of the enlightened modern man should be political and this-worldly. The universal ethics of peace, the spread of constitutional democracy, a free press, secular limits on religious engagement in public life, and a cosmopolitan ethics of internationalism—these are the aims of the new man. He has a cosmology without transcendence, where the highest aim is the distribution of goods (both material and educational) to the many through market economies, international state accords, and bureaucratic oversight.

The liberal outlook has enjoyed a remarkable success among the elite in Western Europe and North America for at least two generations. However, we can also observe countervailing tendencies: populations that find insufficient sustenance (both spiritual and material) in the modern liberal vision. This anti-internationalist dynamic has taken on diverse forms in the past years, in Russia, England, Turkey, or the U.S., because national traditions are distinct. In each case, however, the rebellion against the liberal vision has taken on a primarily secular form, one marked by an alternative form of pietas that reaffirms the primacy of patriotism over the internationalist aspirations of secular modernity. This dynamic has shocked many of us, but perhaps it shouldn’t have. The state is, after all, a feature of human nature, even if a somewhat ontologically vague and historically unstable kind. It consolidates and manifests a coherent cultural unity, a covenant that binds people together. Measured patriotism is natural, not evil, and its cyclical reassertion in human history is inevitable.

But liberals are not entirely wrong to mistrust it. Nationalism can indeed turn in on itself, fueled by irrational racism. We also must make sure that patriotism accommodates genuine respect for the natural human family, which is the basic cell of human culture, and for freedom of religion, including the ethical universalism that the Church provides. A nationalism (or cosmopolitan elitist liberalism) that substitutes itself for the family becomes totalitarian. When the state seeks to provide ultimate orientation in religious matters, it becomes the unwarranted pseudo-theological censor of the free mind. Truth be told, it is only the Catholic Church in human history that has shown any real long-term success in sustaining in concord the twin principles of balanced nationalism and ethical universalism. The caricature-substitutes of secular modernity that vie against the Church always err on one side or the other, usually to the detriment of both.

Democracy is not a problem per se. It is a means toward an end. The end in question is the political common good, the collective life of individuals, families, and organizations that are sustained within a larger whole in which they can flourish. As a means of government, democracy has its advantages. It encourages the participation and responsibility of the populace as a whole, provides measures to protect their freedoms, allows for the subsidiarity of smaller groups, and wards off tyrants and ideological despots. By its very nature it is anti-elitist, and this brings with it a variety of vulnerabilities. Democracies are subject to the whims of superficial collective ideologies: indoctrination of the masses based on television values, demagogy, political correctness, and the influences of plutocracy. In a democracy, the rich can purchase their influence. Political parties tend to stay in power by galvanizing massive financial resources on an ever-greater scale.

When Robert Bellarmine writes about the ideal form of government for the real world which is marked by human selfishness, he advocates for a balance of powers. His vision is that of a mixture of monarchy, aristocratic nobility, and representative democracy. The three forms of classical government each serve the common good in their own way and seek to maintain a check on the pretensions to absolutism that might arise in the others. This ideal is represented better by early modern forms of European government than twenty-first-century American constitutionalism, but it is not a world away from us. Aquinas also has surprisingly relevant thoughts on this issue. When he weighs in on the question of monarchy and the transfer of power, he asks whether a people should elect their king. His answer is affirmative. The best forms of government make the royal or executive branch directly accountable to the subjects of the state. This assures greater loyalty on the part of the subjects and greater accountability on the part of the royals. In another place, Aquinas asks whether a Christian people can obey an apostate or a pagan ruler. The question was not hypothetical for St. Thomas, since Emperor Frederick spurned the Catholic faith and promoted Islam as a purposeful affront to the pope of the time, with whom he was in open civil warfare. Two brothers of Aquinas were killed by this ruler. Aquinas answers that the Christian may live under a non-Christian ruler without disobedience to the faith, so long as the ruler in question is willing to recognize the natural law and permit his subjects to observe it.

The point of these examples is to signal, first, that there exists no perfect age. Human beings contest with the consequences of original sin under every political regime, even if some are healthier than others. And second, the principles of political realism that emerged among Catholic thinkers in previous, less democratic ages still apply fairly directly to our own. The idea of Catholic democracy poses no problem in principle. There are demons that haunt every democracy, but that is because there are demons in civic polity more generally. They are not defeated once and for all by any one form of human political self-organization. This type of demon can only be driven out by prayer.

What is needed today is a Catholic metaphysics of democracy. Cosmopolitan liberalism is inherently unstable, but so is the current Catholic response to it. The Church’s engagement of democracy as a positive good comes in two historical stages, each recent and limited in success. The first came after World War II: the demise of the totalitarian regimes and the advent of Christian democracy in Western Europe. It provided the cultural space and fueled the optimism that made the Second Vatican Council possible. We may be accustomed to thinking about the secularization that followed the council as a sign of its ineffectiveness, despite all good intentions. But things could have been much worse. The positive vision of Christian humanism that the council articulated was inspirational in Western Europe at a critical moment. The Church was able to develop a complex social doctrine in a democratic context just at the time that it mattered, in response to the rival system of totalitarian communism, which risked engulfing the larger political order of world history.

The second stage took place during the pontificate of John Paul II, first in direct confrontation with communism and, subsequently, in the wake of its defeat. Democratic market economies succeeded and communism crumbled, but the end of the Cold War was treated by many as a triumph of capitalism alone, not of the spirit. The Church found herself in a paradoxical situation. She advanced a system that now has no need to reference its own religious roots and is indifferent to them.

There was a time when the leaders of the Church could continue to promote democratic values as part of a strategy of forming the future of the modern West. That strategy has lost its force, and the Church now risks becoming a sociological ghetto, or worse, an archeological museum of ideas. Today it seems that three options remain. One is to re-emphasize the identification of Catholicism with modern liberal culture. The Church should reinvent herself as a flexible church of permission, one that embraces the metaphysical indetermination and moral fluidity of modernity. Our liquid culture can be genuinely spiritual and implicitly Christian just so long as each person chooses his options in a sincere way. Grace presupposes and builds on sincerity.

This is the option of much of the northern European Catholic hierarchy. Its end is foreshadowed in the fate of modern liberal Protestantism. The social services of the state are already accomplishing the main political aims of this version of Christianity, and the state handily instrumentalizes the Church in view of its own ends. The sociological outcomes are predictable. When people are invited to participate in Christianity merely so as to educate themselves in what Newman took to be the doctrines of liberalism, set to an accompaniment of polyphonic music, they stay home and watch soccer instead.

A second option is to cultivate a creative minority that preserves and promotes the forgotten ideals of Christian humanism. This aim can be more or less countercultural. In recent decades a kind of dual rhetoric has emerged: one of accompaniment and one of strategic provocation. When John Paul II visited France for the first time as pope, his opening words were “First daughter of the Church, what have you done with your baptismal promises?” But he also strongly emphasized the core referents of the post–World War II period: modern human rights and the democratic market economy.

The third option is to acknowledge that we are entering new territory. Christianity is now alien and almost culturally inaccessible to most Western liberals, even when they think they know something about it. And modern secular democracy is failing. Not materially or practically, but spiritually, because it is not providing an adequate depth of meaning and cohesive kind of social unity. The trend toward nationalism will not be adequate to fill the void. Rightly understood, our new situation in fact represents an opportunity. The Church needs to emphasize the deeper meaning of things, against the various sectarian dogmas of modern secular liberalism, and by offering a rival version of modernity.

If we follow in the footsteps of Newman, what are the key metaphysical principles of the Catholic religion that should be promoted in the modern democratic context? Consider first the doctrine of Leo XIII in his 1888 encyclical Libertas. A fundamental priority of the Church in the modern world is to uphold the truth that the human being has a spiritual soul that is not subject to corruption at death and that has an eternal destiny, either for perennial happiness with God or for misery in perpetual alienation from God. As Leo noted, this teaching has a number of important effects in a modern context. It underscores the irreducible dignity of the human being as distinct from other animals. It affirms man’s true moral autonomy and freedom against all temptations to fatalism or materialism. It provides a fundamental metaphysical explanation of universal human equality and irreducible personal dignity. It shows that the temporal secular state cannot have final dominion over the destiny of the human person or over the competence of the Church. Most importantly, it establishes that man’s true purpose is found in something that lies beyond the horizon of temporal existence in this life, beyond political life in civic society and the realm of empirical measures and sensate pleasures.

So long as the Church’s message to the modern world is one of accompaniment in view of purely material ends (clean drinking water, a more just distribution of resources, the stability and harmony of families), her services to the state may be welcome, but they will never be essential to human flourishing. What is not essential is optional, and what is optional over time will fade to oblivion. If the Church does not offer the human being more than life in this world, she offers the human being nothing that he cannot find elsewhere. By contrast, if there truly is a spiritual dimension to the human person, then not only is the spiritual adventure of human existence invested with transcendent purpose, but also that purpose is to be found in the smallest details of temporal and civic life. As Solzhenitsyn noted in his famous speech at Harvard in 1978, religion can subsist without democracy, but democratic polity in its modern form becomes hollow and fragile without a reference to religious transcendence. The capacity to name evil and seek the good requires a moral code. A culture that cannot name God ceases to be able to name evil for what it is, and loses its capacity to name the ultimate good that can unite the aims of human beings to one another. Real progress is not measured by material technology, but by the advance toward spiritual life.

This leads to a second metaphysical principle, one regarding the true purpose of freedom. Traditional Christianity affirms that human freedom is spiritual and real. But it is not a mere capacity for autonomy, nor is it characterized primarily by the will to power. Human beings value their autonomy, and there are dialectics of power in human culture, but these “moments” in the life of freedom are neither first nor last. What is first and last is truth: truth regarding what is authentically good and the activities from which we derive real human happiness. In response to the orthodoxies of modern liberalism, John Paul II rightly emphasized that human freedom develops in its depths in reference to the mystery of God and to the grace of Christ. Real freedom is freedom for God and for grace. Constructive autonomy comes from the pursuit of a life of holiness. If this is true, then the dogmas of the Church, and her metaphysical teachings regarding grace and human personhood, remain the key to unlocking human freedom.

Third, there is the issue of knowledge of God. The most fundamental conflict between Catholicism and liberalism stems from the modern prohibition of public appeals to any real knowledge of God, whether natural or revealed. Kant’s theoretical agnosticism, Nietzsche’s diagnosis of Christianity as a repressed will to power, the materialist dismissal of religion as a social pathology—these three incompatible systems of thought share in common the conviction that all claims to real knowledge of God are intellectually dishonest. These rival versions of secularism are all profoundly in error on this fundamental point. The most basic claim of Catholic metaphysics that requires public defense and promotion in the modern context is this: that God exists, that monotheism provides the ultimate realistic explanation of reality, and that God can be known by human beings, both naturally and supernaturally. Truths about the human person and public life follow from this knowledge, which is reinforced by way of religious life, liturgical worship, and sacrifice.

Finally, there is the core ethical principle that follows from those noted above. Augustine notes in the City of God that the essence of the Church is sacrifice, which he defines as any act of the human person that is motivated by genuine love of God. Sacrifice, in other words, is mystical, and has to do with the union of human beings with God by love. Its center is found in the Mass, where the Church offers the unique sacrifice of Christ to the Father. Our modern world is not a culture without sacrifice, as many imagine. It is a place where human beings make important sacrifices in their lives, but often for things that are ephemeral. Metaphysical realism foretells the twilight of the idols, and disposes us to offer true sacrifice to the living God alone.

In 1965 Jürgen Moltmann wrote a letter to the aged Karl Barth, who had challenged the theological warrant for Moltmann’s Theology of Hope. Moltmann responded to Barth by noting that the culture that was emerging in their period was one in which the political theology of Joachim of Fiore had much more importance than that of Augustine of Hippo. Joachim was a twelfth-century Cistercian monk who famously claimed that there would be a third age that would emerge after the time of Israel and the time of the Church: that of the Spirit. After the era of visible institutions, there will be a new age of deinstitutionalized spirituality, one that is purer than the time of the visible Church with her fixed creeds, sacraments, and hierarchy. Henri de Lubac’s last book consisted in a massive study of Joachim’s heretical idea and of the myriad historical echoes of it in the modern age, marked by the theology of historical progress from Marx to Nietzsche to the liberalism of the post–Vatican II period.

Today the dogmas of liberalism that Newman identified animate the historical narrative of progress, or the “Joachimism” of the secular ethos. Catholics are naturally tempted to join in this spirit of fluidity as a means to advance the kingdom of the spirit, razing the bastions of institutional stability and references to traditional authorities. We should go back and contradict the problematic affirmation of Moltmann. In fact, the great political theology of our age should be that of Augustine in the City of God. The Church neither conforms to the world artificially nor retreats from the world. Instead, she bears witness across time, in every age, to the perennial truths that endure: the dogmas of the Church, principles of metaphysical realism, the ethical norms of human virtue and happiness. This stance does not produce historical revolution but a continual consideration of the metaphysics of the things that remain. God is our eschaton, not the profane aims of the Gentile nations.

The future belongs to the tribe that can articulate correctly the human orientation toward transcendence that cannot be eradicated and that remains at the heart of modernity, and especially at the heart of modern democracy. Newman was right to see in modern liberalism a theological adversary. Today we need to formulate a Catholic view of democracy that is not based on the dogmas of liberalism. Our task is to challenge the premises of Kant and rediscover the basic claim of Aristotle: “First philosophy” is not politics or ethics. It’s metaphysics.

Thomas Joseph White, O.P., is director of the Thomistic Institute at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"Co-Workers of the Truth" Links Love and Truth


"Love" and "community" are not enough. Thugs are a community. We need unity. But the foundation of the unity must be the truth, or else the unity is merely external.

Essential to the truth is being "with." That is what "co-worker" means in 3 John 8. It means that the task of the bishop is to act "not...in his own name but [that he] is always and totally linked to a 'with'. Only when he acts 'with' Christ and 'with' the whole believing Church of all times and all places does he do what he is meant to do."

"A mere community of interests without truth would be just a drug, not a healing. Perhaps, in the last analysis, the crucial element in the unfathomable expression 'co-workers of the truth' is the relationship between truth and love."

With this phrase Saint John "...cautions against the self isolation of communities that regard themselves as closed circles; he equates the refusal to offer hospitality to missionaries with a rejection of catholicity and a repudiation of the truth. By comparison, the act of love whereby the faithful provide food and shelter for itinerant messengers of the Faith is a service to the truth."

"Christ is the Way because he is the Truth (Jn 14:6)."

Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1992, 5-6.

Right dogma and right hospitality are two sides of the same Catholic coin!

Monday, March 26, 2018

iPhone Generation Crisis


The Deficits of the iPhone Generation

 
Members of iGen suffer from serious intellectual and moral deficits: they are ill-informed, uninterested in pursuing relevant information, passionate without being active, afraid of debate with those who disagree, and uninterested in learning or exploration.
“iGen” is both the title of Jean M. Twenge’s most recent book (subtitle: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood), and the name she has coined for the generation succeeding the Millennials. Twenge, who has been studying generational differences for a quarter century, includes within iGen those born between 1995 and 2012, plus or minus a bit. What ties this generation together? It is their hitherto unknown relationship to social media and its technological platform: they are “the first generation to enter adolescence with smartphones already in their hands.”
Twenge sees that smartphone as the thread running through ten features of this generation: heavy internet use, decline in person-to-person interaction, a rise in mental-health issues, a decline in religiosity, a concern with safety, a lack of civic involvement, income insecurity, “new attitudes towards sex, relationships, and children,” inclusivity, and political independence. While her effort is primarily descriptive, she does see normative differences. She shows real concern over what she sees as a mental-health “crisis” but praises iGen for “leading the way toward more equality and acceptance” on LGBT issues.
Despite her attempt at a balanced assessment, however, I think the verdict to render on iGen on the basis of Twenge’s book is even more negative than she does. I see it as a catalogue of deficits, of which four stand out.
Mental Health and Meaninglessness
First, as Twenge argues extensively, there is a mental-health deficit, one clearly correlated with screen time: “teens who spend more time on screens are more likely to be depressed, and those who spend more time on nonscreen activities are less likely to be depressed.” This, in turn, leads to a higher risk of suicide. One reason for the connection between smartphone/internet use and depression is the predominance of cyberbullying. Another is the negative impact that excessive smartphone use has on sleep. And surely yet another is the simple disconnectedness from real things and real people that is experienced by those whose primary forms of personal interaction are mediated by a screen.
Twenge’s advice in response to this is admirably direct: “Put down the phone.” This is exactly right. But this will never happen unless parents are smarter about when to introduce smartphones in their children’s lives. I was interested recently to hear of a “Wait Until 8th” movement, attempting to convince parents not to allow their children to use smartphones until at least eighth grade. That is a start, but what eighth-grader really needs constant access to the internet? “Nein until 9th” or “When? 10th” would be even better.
Second, there is a deficit of meaning. This deficit shows up in several places in Twenge’s book. The smartphone and its virtual spaces seem to be the primary place where teens spend time together. Their capacity for and interest in serious personal relationships with others is deeply impaired. Another example: Twenge devotes a chapter to the declining religious participation of iGen. According to Twenge, by 2016, “one out of three 18-24 year olds said they did not believe in God.” Twenge attributes this in part to “American culture’s increasing focus on individualism,” and this seems plausible. A third example: Twenge describes the attitude of iGen students entering college as “money is in, and meaning is out.” Academics located in humanities departments will hear this as a familiar refrain, linked as it now is to the imperative, if you are teaching history, philosophy, or English literature, to show that the knowledge you are imparting can be made “to pay.” The idea that some activities, including the pursuit of knowledge, are valuable for their own sake is uncommon, and results in a massively instrumentalizing attitude toward the value of a university education.
All three of these examples, and more, add up to a deficit in iGen of interest in genuine human goods for their own sake. Similarly, members of iGen are not particularly interested in marriage or meaningful work. Anecdotally, I have found recent college students, for the first time in my career, to show actual interest in plugging in to Robert Nozick’s famous “experience machine.” It could provide one with a lifetime of pleasure or the illusion of great activities, were you to plug in for good, but at the expense of any real personal relationships or genuine projects and pursuits. Nozick thought it obvious that one should not plug in; today’s students, not so much.
Seeking Safety, Avoiding Risk
A third deficit is one of responsibility. Repeatedly, Twenge tells us that iGen is not interested in “growing up,” nor does there appear to be any pressing need to do so. Far fewer teens are driving, or working; their parents are apparently willing to drive them where they need to go and provide what money they require. The aversion to driving is, in turn, linked at least in part to an overwhelming interest in personal safety. There are certainly benefits to this: today’s teens are safer, affording to Twenge. But the aversion to risk demonstrated by iGen extends beyond the physical to “intellectual, social, and emotional risks.”
It is here that Twenge locates the dismal recent phenomenon of “safe spaces” on college campuses. In a survey conducted by Twenge on her own campus, “three out of four students agreed” that safe spaces should be created on campus when controversial speakers were invited to speak. She notes further how increasingly common is the equation of speech with physical violence, and concludes that “all this focus on protection, safety, comfort, and home is the downside of teens growing up more slowly: they are unprepared to be independent and thus want college to be home.”
Linking the theme of safety with the instrumentalization of higher education previously mentioned, Twenge writes:
To Boomer, GenX’er, and even many Millennial faculty and administrators, college is a place for learning and exploration, and that includes being exposed to ideas different from your own. That, they believe, is the whole point of going to college in the first place. iGen’ers disagree: college, they feel, is a place to prepare for a career in a safe environment.
As I mentioned earlier, iGen is largely descriptive, yet Twenge shows admirable awareness of the ways in which these generational characteristics are negative. That is easy enough with impaired mental health, but Twenge is alive to the fact that the loss of meaningful activity and the hyper-concern for safety are also deficits, as I have described them. Yet it seems to me that Twenge allows ideological agreement to trump sober assessment where a fourth deficit is concerned.
The Downside of Inclusivity
iGen is, Twenge says, “inclusive.” They are deeply supportive of LGBT issues, including same-sex marriage, and their inclusivity is tied even to the decline of spiritual and religious interest and activity. After all, religion has “too many rules,” many about sex. iGen’ers are not terribly interested in sex itself—porn is “safer.” But they are resolutely opposed to anyone telling anyone else how to live their lives. At the same time, they are themselves not terribly tolerant of controversy and disagreement: as we’ve seen, they favor safe spaces and trigger warnings, and share a suspicion of microagressions.
They are, Twenge writes, politically independent (though she also accurately describes them as libertarian); but they are also fairly uninvolved, politically. They are suspicious of government, and, despite talking a good game, are “less likely to take political action: political participation reached all-time lows in 2014 and 2015.” Your average iGen’er is, in Twenge’s words “Not a huge news fan,” and they are “considerably less informed than their predecessors.”
Twenge is alert to some of the dangers here. iGen’ers are as polarized as the rest of the nation, and their smartphone dependence is a contributing factor. This could lead, she thinks, to “more candidates resort[ing] to the politics of celebrity to get iGen’ers’ attention, with fame and bombastic proclamations the key to leading in the polls.”
Yet she also sees some virtues:
iGen’ers are finding new ways to move for social change, from changing their Facebook profile picture to an equality sign to hashtagging a tweet about a cause. It might not be marching in the streets, but – as the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage showed – such pervasive awareness can start to shift the opinions of average Americans and eventually the law. Much of the awareness of Black Lives Matter spread online. That is where iGen’ers shine – not in traditional political action but in spreading the word about a new issue.
Elsewhere, she describes iGen as “leading the way toward more equality and acceptance.”
Let’s grant this as a descriptive matter. iGen is, in Twenge’s words, “exquisitely tolerant,” and has plausibly played an important role online in changing social attitudes—or at least in making life difficult for those whose attitudes have not yet changed. Suppose that we were to agree with Twenge in thinking that change of attitudes a good thing, and the social changes that have emerged from those attitudes as progress. Should we think it a good thing that iGen has played the role it has? Should we be pleased that they are “leading the way”?
I do not see how such sentiments could possibly be in line with the rest of the data Twenge has provided. iGen suffers intellectual and moral deficits: they are ill-informed, uninterested in pursuing relevant information, passionate without being active, afraid of debate with those who disagree, and uninterested in learning or exploration. “Hashtagging a tweet for a cause” and using social media to stigmatize those who disagree are not laudatory actions, they’re symptoms of precisely these ills.
Who should be concerned with these symptoms? Everyone. But I suggest that those who should care the most are those who agree with the substance of iGen’s views. If you are, like most iGen youth, a great supporter of LGBT acceptance and same sex marriage, they are the last people you should want as the voice of your cause, for their position is born not of study and argument but of unreasoned sentiment and intellectual torpor. These are the last grounds on which a defender of a cause—any cause—should wish them settled. Just causes should be settled by the truth, and by their defenders’ reasoned acceptance of that truth.
And this, to mention just one further issue requiring more words than I have here available, brings me to Twenge’s all-too-brief discussion “iGen’ers in the Classroom.” As she notes, college students come to the classroom with little experience reading books “or even long magazine articles.” A video of more than three minutes length is likely to tax their attention spans. What can be done to bring them to the point at which they can be intellectually informed participants in debates of national and international significance?
I have no silver bullet solution, but I worry that Twenge’s suggestions are too capitulating to iGen’s deficits: textbooks should cover less, classrooms should have more discussion, instructors should rely more on videos to capture students’ attention. Against this, I can offer only the recommendation of a colleague of mine in English who has said that a professor must sometimes “dare to be boring”. Looking back, I see that I have quoted that colleague once before in Public Discourse, in a 2009 essay marking the first anniversary of this journal, in a discussion of the requirements for reasoned “public discourse.”
The topics of education, public discourse, and politics are deeply intertwined. If Twenge’s descriptions of iGen are accurate, then the health of all three is in real jeopardy.
Christopher O. Tollefsen is College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina.
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