Sunday, February 28, 2010

Alasdair MacIntyre on John Henry Cardinal Newman and the Idea of a University

Alasdair Macintyre - Newman's idea of a university from Robert Verrill OP on Vimeo.


(Warning: the sound on this is not very good)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

St. Charles Lwanga and the Martyrs of Uganda (1868)

(An entry in celebration of Black History Month)

Catholic Online states:
For those of us who think that the faith and zeal of the early Christians died out as the Church grew more safe and powerful through the centuries, the martyrs of Uganda are a reminder that persecution of Christians continues in modern times, even to the present day.

The Society of Missionaries of Africa (known as the White Fathers) had only been in Uganda for 6 years and yet they had built up a community of converts whose faith would outshine their own. The earliest converts were soon instructing and leading new converts that the White Fathers couldn't reach. Many of these converts lived and taught at King Mwanga's court....

Charles Lwanga took over the instruction and leadership of the Christian community at court -- and the charge of keeping the young boys and men out of Mwanga's hands. Perhaps Joseph's plea for repentance had had some affect on Mwanga because the persecution died down for six months.

Anger and suspicion must have been simmering in Mwanga, however. In May 1886 he called one of his pages named Mwafu and asked what the page had been doing that kept him away from Mwanga. When the page replied that he had been receiving religious instruction from Denis Sebuggwawo, Mwanga's temper boiled over. He had Denis brought to him and killed him himself by thrusting a spear through his throat.

He then ordered that the royal compound be sealed and guarded so that no one could escape and summoned the country's executioners. Knowing what was coming, Charles Lwanga baptized four catechumens that night, including a thirteen-year-old named Kizito. The next morning Mwanga brought his whole court before him and separated the Christians from the rest by saying, "Those who do not pray stand by me, those who do pray stand over there." He demanded of the fifteen boys and young men (all under 25) if they were Christians and intended to remain Christians. When they answered "Yes" with strength and courage Mwanga condemned them to death.
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Hunter Baker: Stop Apologizing for the Crusades!

Just came across this terrific post at the First Things Evangel blog by my former grad assistant, Hunter Baker (PhD, Baylor 2007), who is associate provost and assistant professor of government at Houston Baptist University. Writes Hunter:


Perhaps a better title would be something like Don’t Allow the Crusades to be Thoughtlessly Added to a Parade of Christian Horribles without Knowing More about It, but I wanted to get your attention. 
Rodney Stark’s God’s Batallions is an outstanding book designed to help the educated reader (not only the academic reader) understand the Crusades. You know the routine. You want to talk about Christianity and the village atheist wonders just how you are getting past the horrors of the Crusades and the Inquisition. This book answers the question with regard to the Crusades. Stark brilliantly explains how the Crusades started, what happened in the course of events, and why they finally ended. All in all, the western church comes off pretty sympathetically. Readers who know Stark find it easy to trust him because he always questions excessive claims and makes sure to back his own assertions up with data. 
What becomes clear is that the Crusades failed for three reasons. 
First, despite the fact that the westerners regularly decimated their Muslim rivals in combat thanks to superior tactics and technology, they were always on the wrong end of a numbers game. The western armies arrived in the Holy Land already diminished from disease and harrying attacks along the way. They never had large enough armies to begin with. And whenever they secured their objectives, a substantial number of troops and/or nobles would return home leaving ridiculously small numbers to hold on, which amazingly, they did for decades at a time. 
Second, Crusading was expensive. Although it has been suggested the Crusades were about wealth, nobles didn’t get rich on them. They borrowed, scraped, and imposed heavy taxes just to be able to afford equipping, paying, and feeding their armies. When they captured an area, the land was not revenue-producing in the same way their European farm land was.
Third, the Byzantines never came through with the help they promised. Crusaders regularly expected help from the Comnenus family of rulers which began the Crusades by appealing to the pope for help. But the help was virtually never forthcoming. Had the Byzantine empire allied itself with the Crusaders, the Holy Land might still be in Christian hands today.
Read for yourself. I found the book highly enjoyable. Rodney Stark [Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences, Baylor University] has reached the point to which many academics aspire. He writes about things that interest him for a mass audience with the aid of a major publishing company (Harper). And the books come to us rather than sitting staidly in university libraries.

Scot McKight reviews Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity

(HT: Melinda Penner at STR)


Scot McKnight is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University, and I am proud to say an author of two books published by Baylor University Press, on whose faculty committee I sit. Although I do not always agree with Scot, I am an occasional reader of his blog, Jesus Creed. For he writes and thinks well. In fact, after reading his just published review of Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian (about which I wrote earlier today), I dropped Scot this note: "I just read your review of McLaren’s book on CT Online. Very nice work. You’re a much kinder soul than I am. You said all the right things in just the right way. You have a gift, and you use it well."


Here are some excerpts from Professor McKnight's review of McLaren's book:

The Wall Street Journal: The Beginning of the Reformation's End?

That is the title of Charlotte Hays' piece today in the WSJ. She writes:
On a recent evening, about 60 people—ex-Episcopalians, curious Catholics and a smattering of earnest Episcopal priests in clerical collars—gathered downtown for an unusual liturgy: It was Evensong and Benediction, sung according to the Book of Divine Worship, an Anglican Use liturgical book still being prepared in Rome.

Beautiful evensongs are a signature of Protestant Episcopal worship. Benediction, which consists of hymns, canticles or litanies before the consecrated host on the altar, is a Catholic devotion. We were getting a blend of both at St. Mary Mother of God Church, lent for the occasion.

One former Episcopalian present confessed to having to choke back tears as the first plainsong strains of "Humbly I Adore Thee," the Anglican version of a hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas, floated down from the organ in the balcony. A convert to Catholicism, she could not believe she was sitting in a Catholic Church, hearing the words of her Anglican girlhood—and as part of an authorized, Roman Catholic liturgy.

And that was not the only miracle. Although the texts had been carefully vetted in Rome for theological points, the words being sung were written by Thomas Cranmer, King Henry VIII's architect of the English Reformation. "He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel," the congregation chanted, "as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever."...

The recent liturgical evening in Washington was arranged by Eric Wilson, a 24-year-old layman and former Episcopalian. "I believe the Anglican Use is a model for meaningful ecumenism—insisting on the fundamentals of faith while providing charity in other areas," he said.

The service was conducted by Father Eric Bergman, a Yale Divinity School-educated former Episcopal clergyman who was ordained a Catholic priest in 2007. Father Bergman stresses that this is not an overture to effete Episcopalians who are angry about changes in their church and want to sneak into the Catholic Church bringing nothing more than their pretty music. Being "angry about Gene Robinson," he says of the openly homosexual bishop of New Hampshire, isn't enough reason to become a Catholic. There must be a real conversion to the tenets of Catholicism.

Father Bergman says he began his journey to the Catholic Church by thinking about something that has taken many liberal Catholics out of the church: contraception. He regards Anglicanism's 1930 embrace of contraception as a mistake: "Out of that came a confusion about the roles of men and women, a theology of androgyny," he says.

Father Bergman and his wife, Kristina, have six children. They and more than 60 members of his Episcopal parish came into the Catholic Church in 2005. He is now chaplain of the St. Thomas More Society in Scranton, Pa., which seeks to establish Anglican Use parishes.

Read the whole thing here.

(HT: Albert Mohler, Jr.)

Brian McLaren, the New Luther!

How do we know this? His publisher says so:
We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in the church. Not since the Reformation five centuries ago have so many Christians come together to ask whether the church is in sync with their deepest beliefs and commitments. These believers range from evangelicals to mainline Protestants to Catholics, and the person who best represents them is author and pastor Brian McLaren.

We've seen what happens when some budding rock star is dubbed "the New Dylan." He either becomes Bruce Springsteen or falls into the abyss of anonymity. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on McLaren in 10 years becoming "the new Steve Forbert." (Update: A former grad student of mine privately emailed me and asked, "Who the heck is Steve Forbert?" My answer: "Exactly!")

As luck (or providence) would have it, the Rev. McLaren will be speaking in chapel at Baylor in March. So, there is a chance that I, a new Catholic, may hear the new Luther in person. I promise I won't go medieval on him as long as he doesn't go postmodern on our students. A waste is a terrible thing to mind.

Unlike the original Luther, who merely sought a reformation, this new Luther has global aspirations of cosmic proportions: he calls for nothing short of a paradigm shift in the creedal and moral beliefs of Christian orthodoxy. You can say then that we've gone from a Luther who claimed our righteousness is dung to a new Luther who claims our righteousness depends on our embracing his shift.

Issues, Etc. at 4:00 pm CT

Today I will be a guest on the syndicated radio program, Issues, Etc. I will be on to talk about my new book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (IVP, 2010). You can listen online here.

Mere Materialism: Chronicles of Nonsense

That is the title of my review of Victor Reppert's book, C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason (InterVarsity Press, 2003). Originally published in 2004 in Christian Research Journal (27.3 [2004]: 46-47) my review has been posted on my personal website for several years. I reproduce it below for the readers of the Return to Rome blog:
Supporters of the current dominant understanding of the origin of the universe and life assert that all existing things are ultimately material, which includes you, me, the mountains, the streams, the cell, and your pet. They also claim that undirected material processes unencumbered by an intelligent agent account for everything. The intricacies of the human eye, for example, can be explained by natural selection: the eye is the result of random mutation working on a primitive light patch possessed by a less-developed nonhuman ancestor with far fewer cells and far less information content in its DNA than we, its legacy, possess today.



Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

March 2 Brooks Residential College talk on Politics for Christians

On March 2, at 4 pm, I will be giving a talk at Baylor University's Brooks Residential College. I will be discussing my new book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (InterVarsity Press, 2010)

If you are a prospective Baylor student, feel free to attend this event. (Of course, the event is open to the entire Baylor community, including its present students!!!)

Christopher Wolfe, "Can (and Should We) `Legislate Morality'?"

In this outstanding paper, political philosopher Christopher Wolfe offers a Thomistic understanding of the question of morals legislation, an issue I discuss in my new book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (InterVarsity Press, 2010). Here are some excerpts from Dr. Wolfe's paper (notes omitted):
Contemporary liberals argue that it is not possible to legislate morality, giving both theoretical and practical reasons. First, virtue is a matter of free will, and therefore it cannot be coerced, so the attempt to coerce people into being virtuous is self-contradictory. Second, it is not possible to enforce legal restrictions, as the example of Prohibition demonstrates, and so attempts to enforce morality are unrealistic.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Melinda Penner (of Stand to Reason) on Brian McLaren's new book, A New Kind of Christianity

Here are some excerpts:

This is the one book I’m very glad Brian McLaren has written because he’s finally clear about what he believes and what he thinks Christianity should be. He’s quite explicit that it’s Christianity he recommends change; he’s not simply reporting to us what he believes. He’s suggesting A New Kind of Christianity for all of us. His project is transformation of the faith. Alas, he fails because his conclusions aren’t new; they’re quite familiar 20th century Christian liberalism. Finally we have clarity on what McLaren believes, what he thinks Christianity is or should be, and that we’re all talking about what we believe is the true and correct expression of the faith, not just our private beliefs....
McLaren tells us that historic Christianity has imposed a Greco-Roman narrative on the Bible, leading to all of the errors of doctrine and practice, which have plagued the church for at least 1500 years. He reduces traditional Christian doctrine to a six-part diagram that has been imposed on the Bible: Eden, Fall, Condemnation, Hell/Damnation or Salvation and Heaven. This, he tells us, has been imported from the culture and distorted our understanding of the Bible. McLaren offers no argument for this claim, he simply tells a good story of how he thinks this happened.


It's snowing in Waco!


That's a statute of "Judge Baylor" in the middle of the Baylor campus.

U.C. Hastings College of Law v. the Christian Legal Society

The U. S. Supreme Court has set a date, April 19, to hear oral arguments in the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. According to a Washington Times editorial:
The case's facts are straightforward. U.C. Hastings denied the status of "Registered Student Organization" (RSO) to CLS. This incident is the only time the school has ever denied such recognition to a club that applied. Without RSO status, clubs lack the right to meet in university rooms for free, or to use ordinary campus means of communicating with other students such as the school newsletter, bulletin boards or university e-mail lists. Federal courts consistently have recognized that denial of these ordinary ways of communication constitutes a problematic burden on student organizations.

U.C. Hastings objected to the Christian group because it requires its voting members and officers to abide by an extensive, faith-based pledge that includes a prohibition on all premarital and extramarital sex. Anybody can come to the group's meetings and participate, but only those - heterosexual and homosexual alike - who adopt the Statement of Faith can serve as officers and actually lead the Bible study. The university administration decided that a prohibition on sexual activity applicable to all voting members somehow discriminates specifically against homosexuals. (Secondarily, it said CLS discriminates on the basis of religion.) On those grounds, the school refused to register the group.

The school's stance is unacceptable. As a religious organization, CLS has a constitutional right, confirmed in a series of court cases, to determine its own standards of conduct and rules for membership. This right also applies to nonreligious groups by virtue of the right of "expressive association," but the protection for religious groups is arguably stronger.

As was noted in the brief by Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty, the right to determine one's own membership actually does more to protect than to harm "disfavored and disenfranchised minority groups," by protecting their own right to freely associate. Moreover, "Hastings College of Law has adopted a system of compulsory association. ... The oppressive and irrational impact of this policy [would block] CLS [from] communicat[ing] its distinctive beliefs in a speech forum created for diverse student expression." That's why, according to the homosexual group, "Hastings' policy is both self-defeating and unconstitutional."
Read the whole thing here. (Full disclosure: I am one of 24 former presidents of the Evangelical Theological Society who signed an amicus brief in support of the CLS. You can read the brief, here). For links to other amicus briefs that support CLS (including the one from Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty), go here. Also, CLS is ecumenical, and thus includes Catholic and Protestant members.

The Waning of Materialism

Edited by Robert C. Koons (Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas) and Geoge Bealer (Professor of Philosophy, Yale University), The Waning of Materialism (Oxford University Press, 2010) is set for release on March 10. For those looking for a serious treatment of philosophical materialism this looks like a tour de force.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Baylor University's New Starr

An outstanding essay was just published on the First Things website by my Baylor colleague, Thomas S. Hibbs, Dean of our Honors College. I reproduce it below in its entirety.


On a Wednesday afternoon I made my way from my office on the Baylor University campus over to the central administration building to begin the process of reviewing candidate files for the next president of Baylor. I had no idea what I would find. As a member of the advisory committee, I had been involved in initial conversations with the regent search committee about the desired qualifications of the new president and in a listening session with the group I represented, the Council of Deans. That was months ago. The regent committee had held its silence. There had been no leaks. Rumors, mostly from those mistrustful of the board, had circulated. There were no good candidates; the board was not doing a serious search, certainly not a national search; the board wanted a toady; the board was planning to appoint one of its own.

St. Anthony Messenger story on my Catholic reversion

I was interviewed for this story by Barbara Beckwith (no relation), managing editor of the St. Anthony Messenger. It is the feature article in the March 2010 issue, which you can read online here.

Politics for Christians - Table of Contents

My latest book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft, was released by InterVarsity Press last week. Below is the Table of Contents, followed by an overview of the book's contents from the introduction (notes omitted):
Acknowledgments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1 The Study of Politics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2 Liberal Democracy and the Christian Citizen . .
3 The Separation of Church and State . . . . . . . .
4 Secular Liberalism and the Neutral State . . . .
5 God, Natural Rights and the Natural Moral Law. . . . . . .
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Suggested Contemporary Readings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
About the Author. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sunday, February 21, 2010

J. Budziszewski: "The Natural, the Connatural, and the Unnatural" (Update)


(Update: I failed to mention in the earlier version of this post that a version of Professor Budziszewski's article forms one of the chapters in his recent book The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction [ISI Books, 2009]. I should have told you this, since I endorsed the book!)


The following are excerpts from an illuminating essay authored by University of Texas Professor of Philosophy and Government, J. Budziszewski (notes omitted):


St. Benedict the Moor (1526-1589): Patron Saint of African Americans

(An entry in celebration of Black History Month)
Here is his biography, as found on Catholic Online:
There is a saint called Benedict the Black or Benedict the Moor. He was born a slave near Messina, Italy. He was freed by his master and became a solitary, eventually settling with other hermits at Montepellegrino. He was made superior of the community, but when he was about thirty-eight, Pope Pius IV disbanded communities of solitaries and he became a Franciscan lay brother and the cook at St. Mary's convent near Palermo. He was appointed, against his will, superior of the convent when it opted for the reform, though he could neither read nor write. After serving as superior, he became novice master but asked to be relieved of this post and return to his former position of cook. His holiness, reputation for miracles, and his fame as a confessor brought hordes of visitors to see the obscure and humble cook. He died at the convent, was canonized in 1807, and is the patron of Blacks in the United States. The surname "the Moor" is a misnomer originating from the Italian il moro (the black). His feast day is April 4th.

You can read more about St. Benedict on the EWTN website here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Politics for Christians has been released

InterVarsity Press has just released my latest book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft. It is one of several books in a series for which my friend J. P. Moreland and I are general editors. It is called the Christian Worldview Integration Series and you can read about it on the IVP site. Here are my book's opening paragraphs:
"Politics” is derived from the Greek word for city, polis. The study of politics is, therefore, an attempt to understand “the city,” the inner workings of a community and the way by which it governs itself over time. The governed are called “citizens,” and those who do the governing are part of the government, the entity that makes, enforces and applies the laws. So, students of politics must concern themselves with knowing what it means to be a citizen as well as whether the government under which these citizens live is just or unjust. Because the Christian tradition—both in its Scripture and in the writings of its great teachers—has addressed questions pertaining to citizenship and the administration of justice, Christian students of politics have a reservoir of wisdom at their disposal.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

St. Martin de Porres

(An entry in celebration of Black History Month)

The feast of St. Martin de Porres happens to also be my birthday, November 3. Here is the Catholic Online account of this great Catholic saint:
St. Martin de Porres was born at Lima, Peru, in 1579. His father was a Spanish gentleman and his mother a coloured freed-woman from Panama. At fifteen, he became a lay brother at the Dominican Friary at Lima and spent his whole life there-as a barber, farm laborer, almoner, and infirmarian among other things.

Martin had a great desire to go off to some foreign mission and thus earn the palm of martyrdom. However, since this was not possible, he made a martyr out of his body, devoting himself to ceaseless and severe penances. In turn, God endowed him with many graces and wondrous gifts, such as, aerial flights and bilocation.

St. Martin's love was all-embracing, shown equally to humans and to animals, including vermin, and he maintained a cats and dogs hospital at his sister's house. He also possessed spiritual wisdom, demonstrated in his solving his sister's marriage problems, raising a dowry for his niece inside of three day's time, and resolving theological problems for the learned of his Order and for bishops. A close friend of St. Rose of Lima, this saintly man died on November 3, 1639 and was canonized on May 6, 1962. His feast day is November 3.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Does Jay Richards prove Stephen Barr's point?

Stephen Barr, last week on First Things On the Square:
None of this is to say that the conclusions the ID movement draws about how life came to be and how it evolves are intrinsically unreasonable or necessarily wrong. Nor is it to deny that the ID movement has been treated atrociously and that it has been lied about by many scientists. The question I am raising is whether this quixotic attempt by a small and lightly armed band to overthrow “Darwinism” and bring about a new scientific revolution has accomplished anything good. It has had no effect on scientific thought. Its main consequence has been to strengthen the general perception that science and religion are at war.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Ralph McInerny Saw in St. Thomas Aquinas

Over at First Things On the Square, John R. Upton has published an informative essay on what the late Ralph McInerny saw in Thomas Aquinas. Here are some excerpts:
The Catholic intellectual world (and beyond) is no doubt still mourning last week’s passing of Ralph McInerny. McInerny’s death, aside from providing an opportunity to reflect on his own legacy, also invites us to reflect on the body of learning known as Thomism....

Aquinas unfailingly maintained humanity’s need for grace. While he remained generally optimistic about man’s natural capacities, Thomas knew that man is destined for much more than a purely natural relationship with God as first cause. The human creature is destined for a relationship with God as adopted son or daughter through grace. Thus, Thomas was careful to maintain a clear distinction between the natural order and supernatural order, a distinction that never confused God’s agency with ours.

This distinction between the supernatural and natural orders has become incredibly blurred in contemporary theology. The consequences of this approach, which is certainly not novel, can be seen in the failed theological projects of Western theology.

Pelagius maintained that supernatural help is unnecessary to reach God, exalting nature and depreciating man’s need for grace. Luther denied the natural order to the benefit of the supernatural, but grace became completely alien to the human creature. These two extreme positions are found again and again throughout the course of Western theology, and both are popular in various incarnations even today. The Thomistic approach seeks a via media between these extremes, which preserves both man’s capacity for grace and his fundamental inability to produce it or its effects himself.
You can read the whole thing here.

Sister Mary Ann and the Conversion of Baptists

Over at Chris-tocentric (clever name), Chris Castaldo shares this humorous story:
Sister Mary Ann, who worked for a home health agency, was out making her rounds visiting homebound patients when she ran out of gas. As luck would have it, a Texaco Gasoline station was just a block away.

She walked to the station to borrow a gas can and buy some gas. The attendant told her that the only gas can he owned had been loaned out, but she could wait until it was returned. Since Sister Mary Ann was on the way to see a patient, she decided not to wait and walked back to her car.

She looked for something in her car that she could fill with gas and spotted the bedpan she was taking to the patient. Always resourceful, Sister Mary Ann carried the bedpan to the station, filled it with gasoline, and carried the full bedpan back to her car.

As she was pouring the gas into her tank, two Baptists watched from across the street. One of them turned to the other and said,
‘If it starts, I’m turning Catholic.’

Monday, February 15, 2010

Christianity Today on John Paul II's practice of self-flagellation

(HT: Chris Castaldo, who is quoted in the CT piece). Read it here. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Pope John Paul II projected a warm, grandfatherly image to the adoring public who flocked en masse to hear his homilies or watched on TV from home as he traversed the globe. So there was no small shock when a recent book revealed that the pope, who died in 2005, whipped himself with a belt and sometimes lay prostrate all night on the floor.

The pope apparently did not want aides to investigate his sleeping habits, going so far as to make his bed appear used by tossing around the sheets. Yet Monsignor Slawomir Oder, who is presenting John Paul II's case for canonization, detailed the behavior in an Italian-language book, Why He's a Saint: The Real John Paul II According to the Postulator of His Beatification Cause. Oder explains that the pope believed these acts of penance would affirm God's primacy and help him seek perfection.

While self-inflicted physical suffering is unusual among Catholics, other notables have pursued holiness in this manner. Mother Teresa wore a cilice, a strap secured around the thigh that inflicts pain with inward-pointing spikes. Catholics are quick to point out, however, that these practices bear little resemblance to the bloody, masochistic flogging so graphically portrayed in the movie based on Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code.

So how do Catholics explain self-flagellation, a practice so foreign to Protestants, let alone non-Christians? Several writers have defended the late pope. Writing for the National Catholic Register, Jimmy Akin faults a "pleasure-obsessed culture" for portraying the pope's behavior as repulsive.

"Self-mortification teaches humility by making us recognize that there are things more important than our own pleasure," Akin writes. "It teaches compassion by giving us a window into the sufferings of others—who don't have a choice in whether they're suffering. And it strengthens self-control. As well as (here's the big one I've saved for last) encouraging us to follow the example of Our Lord, who made the central act of the Christian religion one of self-denial and (in his case) literal mortification to bring salvation to all mankind."

Read the whole thing here. Jimmy Akin's piece in the National Catholic Register may be found here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Roger Scruton on the decline of laughter

My former blog-brother on the now defunct, Right Reason, Roger Scruton, has penned a marvelous essay on the decline of laughter. Here is an excerpt::
A society that does not laugh is one without an important safety valve, and a society in which people interpret crude humor not as the first step toward friendly relations, but as a mortal offense, is one in which ordinary life has become fraught with danger. Human beings who live in communities of strangers are greatly in need of laughter, if their differences are not to lead to civil war. This was one of the functions of the ethnic joke. When Poles, Irish, Jews, and Italians competed for territory in the New World to which they had escaped, they provisioned themselves with a store of ethnic jokes with which to laugh off their manifest differences.

You can read the whole thing here.

The humor-deficit of which Roger writes is most apparent in the academic world.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My thoughts on the recent ID thread at First Things



Go to the thread here.

Bob Dylan at the White House, Feb. 9 (Update: video included)

(An entry in celebration of Black History Month)

(Updated and pushed up)

Tonight this will be broadcast in its entirety on PBS. Bob Dylan, along with a number of other performances, were at the White House for a special concert celebrating the music of the Civil Rights Movement. Thank you, President Obama, for this wonderful event!

St. Thomas Aquinas: That Divine Providence Does Not Exclude Fortune and Chance

From the Summa Contra Gentiles
THAT DIVINE PROVIDENCE DOES NOT EXCLUDE FORTUNE AND CHANCE
[1] It is also apparent from the foregoing that divine providence does not take away fortune and chance from things.
[2] For it is in the case of things that happen rarely that fortune and chance are said to be present. Now, if some things did not occur in rare instances, all things would happen by necessity. Indeed, things that are contingent in most cases differ from necessary things only in this: they can fail to happen, in a few cases. But it would be contrary to the essential character of divine providence if all things occurred by necessity, as we showed. Therefore, it would also be contrary to the character of divine providence if nothing were to be fortuitous and a matter of chance in things.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't Know Much About Thomistic Philosophy


That's the conclusion drawn by Eastern University philosophy professor, R. J. Snell, about some of the Reformed critics of the Manhattan Declaration. In an essay entitled, "Bad Reason and the `Manhattan Declaration,'" Professor Snell writes:
In issuing the “Manhattan Declaration,” Christian leaders across the nation declared their intent to stand for the dignity of the unborn and the institution of marriage even up to the point of civil disobedience. Unsurprisingly, this declaration has spurred much commentary, not all of it sympathetic. One could predict the standard objections from groups and persons committed to the culture of death, but more noteworthy are objections rising from a camp one might expect to agree with the document: namely, a certain kind of conservative Protestant, often, although not always, of a strongly Calvinistic tendency.

One might expect this group to value traditional marriage, oppose abortion and embryo-destructive research, and defend religious liberties strongly, and they do, and yet many in this group have reacted quite negatively to the document. The reaction intensified, at least in the blogosphere, after a New York Times Magazine piece on Robert P. George, one of the leading signers of the declaration.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stephen M. Barr, "The End of Intelligent Design?"

Over at First Things, one of my favorite thinkers, Stephen M. Barr, has published an important essay on the future of the intelligent design movement, "The End of Intelligent Design?" This piece dovetails nicely with my soon-to-be-published article in the University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy, "How to Be an Anti-Intelligent Design Advocate," as well as my forthcoming series of blog posts that will appear on the BioLogos blog, Science & the Sacred. Here is a large excerpt from Professor Barr's essay:

Rodney Stark on the Catholic Church and Slavery

(An entry in celebration of Black History Month)


In 2003, my esteemed Baylor colleague, Rodney Stark published an article in Christianity Today, "The Truth About the Catholic Church and Slavery." Here are some excerpts:
Some Catholic writers claim that it was not until 1890 that the Roman Catholic Church repudiated slavery. A British priest has charged that this did not occur until 1965. Nonsense! 
As early as the seventh century, Saint Bathilde (wife of King Clovis II) became famous for her campaign to stop slave-trading and free all slaves; in 851 Saint Anskar began his efforts to halt the Viking slave trade. That the Church willingly baptized slaves was claimed as proof that they had souls, and soon both kings and bishops—including William the Conqueror (1027-1087) and Saints Wulfstan (1009-1095) and Anselm (1033-1109)—forbade the enslavement of Christians.

Since, except for small settlements of Jews, and the Vikings in the north, everyonewas at least nominally a Christian, that effectively abolished slavery in medieval Europe, except at the southern and eastern interfaces with Islam where both sides enslaved one another's prisoners. But even this was sometimes condemned: in the tenth century, bishops in Venice did public penance for past involvement in the Moorish slave trade and sought to prevent all Venetians from involvement in slavery. Then, in the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas deduced that slavery was a sin, and a series of popes upheld his position, beginning in 1435 and culminating in three major pronouncements against slavery by Pope Paul III in 1537.
It is significant that in Aquinas's day, slavery was a thing of the past or of distant lands. Consequently, he gave very little attention to the subject per se, paying more attention to serfdom, which he held to be repugnant....
The problem wasn't that the Church failed to condemn slavery; it was that few heard and most of them did not listen. In this era, popes had little or no influence over the Spanish and the Portuguese since at that time the Spanish ruled most of Italy; in 1527, under the leadership of Charles V, they had even sacked Rome. If the pope had little influence in Spain or Portugal, he had next to none in their New World colonies, except indirectly through the work of the religious orders. In fact, it was illegal even to publish papal decrees "in the Spanish colonial possessions without royal consent," and the king also appointed all of the bishops.
Read the whole thing here.

Barry Arrington on hubris, Enlightenment and otherwise

Barry Arrington is one of Bill Dembski's co-bloggers on Uncommon Descent. Mr. Arrington writes in a blog post entitled, "Pride Comes Before a Fall":
Intellectual hubris drove the Enlightenment project from its beginning, and many Enlightenment thinkers even believed that “reason” was an all-powerful force with which man could unlock all of the secrets of the universe.
Arrington writes elsewhere in his blog post:
Consider the question of the existence of God. Aquinas believed that God’s existence could be demonstrated with certainty through reason. He was wrong. Kant demolished every one of Aquinas’ five “proofs.” [sic]
Kant, of course, was an Enlightenment thinker. So, apparently, Enlightenment hubris is acceptable if it is transferred from Kant to the keyboard of a 21st century internet blogger. If Kant had claimed that his own arguments had demolished St. Thomas' "Five Ways" (not proofs), it would, apparently, be an instance of "Enlightenment hubris." But if Mr. Arrington claims that Kant's arguments have demolished St. Thomas' "Five Ways," it is, in his words, "approach [ing] the whole business of `knowing' with humility."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Martin Cothran goes medieval (in the good way) on Richard Dawkins

Over at Vital Remnants, my friend Martin Cothran performs intellectual vivisection on Richard Dawkins' most recent anti-Christian rant. Here's how Martin begins:

I am now officially propounding Cothran's Rule of Moralistic Proportion: The less rational justification someone has for his moral beliefs, the more moralistic he becomes. One of it's corollaries (I'm sure there a many, I just haven't thought of them yet) is that the more someone rejects the Judeo-Christian moral system, the more likely he is to apply it himself, all the while denying that he is.

Read the whole thing here.

St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947)

(An entry in celebration of Black History Month)
From americancatholic.org:
For many years, Josephine Bakhita was a slave but her spirit was always free and eventually that spirit prevailed.
Born in Olgossa in the Darfur region of southern Sudan, Josephine was kidnapped at the age of seven, sold into slavery and given the name Bakhita, which means fortunate. She was re-sold several times, finally in 1883 to Callisto Legnani, Italian consul in Khartoum, Sudan.

Two years later he took Josephine to Italy and gave her to his friend Augusto Michieli. Bakhita became babysitter to Mimmina Michieli, whom she accompanied to Venice's Institute of the Catechumens, run by the Canossian Sisters. While Mimmina was being instructed, Josephine felt drawn to the Catholic Church. She was baptized and confirmed in 1890, taking the name Josephine.

When the Michielis returned from Africa and wanted to take Mimmina and Josephine back with them, the future saint refused to go. During the ensuing court case, the Canossian sisters and the patriarch of Venice intervened on Josephine's behalf. The judge concluded that since slavery was illegal in Italy, she had actually been free since 1885.

Josephine entered the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa in 1893 and made her profession three years later. In 1902, she was transferred to the city of Schio (northeast of Verona), where she assisted her religious community through cooking, sewing, embroidery and welcoming visitors at the door. She soon became well loved by the children attending the sisters' school and the local citizens. She once said, "Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!"

The first steps toward her beatification began in 1959. She was beatified in 1992 and canonized eight years later.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My wife's mother, Peggy Dickerson: 1924-2010

From today's Las Vegas Review Journal:
Peggy “Coween” Dickerson of Las Vegas, Nevada passed away January 27, 2010. She was born August 31, 1924 in Los Angeles, California, soon moving to Somerton, Arizona near Yuma. She remained there through high school with her parents, one sister and one brother. 

Peter Kreeft on four of St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways

Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft offers a clear presentation of four of St. Thomas Aquinas' famous Five Ways argument for God's existence. Here's an excerpt:
Now the whole universe is a vast, interlocking chain of things that come into existence. Each of these things must therefore have a cause. My parents caused me, my grandparents caused them, et cetera. But it is not that simple. I would not be here without billions of causes, from the Big Bang through the cooling of the galaxies and the evolution of the protein molecule to the marriages of my ancestors. The universe is a vast and complex chain of causes. But does the universe as a whole have a cause? Is there a first cause, an uncaused cause, a transcendent cause of the whole chain of causes? If not, then there is an infinite regress of causes, with no first link in the great cosmic chain. If so, then there is an eternal, necessary, independent, self-explanatory being with nothing above it, before it, or supporting it. It would have to explain itself as well as everything else, for if it needed something else as its explanation, its reason, its cause, then it would not be the first and uncaused cause. Such a being would have to be God, of course. If we can prove there is such a first cause, we will have proved there is a God.

Why must there be a first cause? Because if there isn't, then the whole universe is unexplained, and we have violated our Principle of Sufficient Reason for everything. If there is no first cause, each particular thing in the universe is explained in the short run, or proximately, by some other thing, but nothing is explained in the long run, or ultimately, and the universe as a whole is not explained. Everyone and everything says in turn, "Don't look to me for the final explanation. I'm just an instrument. Something else caused me." If that's all there is, then we have an endless passing of the buck. God is the one who says, "The buck stops here."...

Many [philosophers] say the proofs don't prove God but only some vague first cause or other. "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the God of philosophers and scholars", cries Pascal, who was a passionate Christian but did not believe you could logically prove God's existence. It is true that the proofs do not prove everything the Christian means by God, but they do prove a transcendent, eternal, uncaused, immortal, self-existing, independent, all-perfect being. That certainly sounds more like God than like Superman! It's a pretty thick slice of God, at any rate—much too much for any atheist to digest.

Read the whole thing here.