~ Archive for Culture ~

God Got Here Before Theology


God is first a subject of philosophy. Later, he’s a subject of theology. Philosophy is the love of wisdom … more precisely, the study of first things: who we are, where we came from, where we’re going. God is part of that study, the only logical answer, mind-boggling as it may be, to “where we came from”. Theology is the study of God’s revelation of himself to humankind: like talking from the clouds, and inspiring prophets, and Jesus.

I think it’s important to distinguish between philosophy and theology now that most media are totally clueless about the distinction. They wrap them both up in one messy package, as if you had to believe in the resurrection of Jesus in order to believe in God. Ah … you don’t “believe in” God in the same way some of us have gone on to believe in the resurrection from the dead … first you know God through plain old reason–he has to exist, and since he exists he has to be all-good, and since he’s all-good, he has to somehow reward good and punish evil. That’s philosophy. You may go on to be helped by faith to know the things he’s said and done that can’t be deduced from reason’s findings of “first things”, but they’re not unreasonable. That’s theology.

Leisure, the Basis of Culture


From Benedict XVI, VATICAN CITY, AUG. 20, 2006 (Zenit.org)… It is necessary to pay attention to the dangers of excessive activity, regardless of one’s condition and occupation, observes the saint (Bernard of Clairvaux), because — as he said to the Pope of that time, and to all Popes and to all of us — numerous occupations often lead to “hardness of heart, … they are no more than suffering for the spirit, loss of intelligence and dispersion of grace”. … The message that, in this connection, Bernard addresses to the Pontiff, who had been his disciple at Clairvaux, is provocative: “See where these accursed occupations can lead you, if you continue to lose yourself in them — without leaving anything of yourself for yourself”.

Giving Charity a Good Name


… This debate over charity and philanthropy is crucial for America’s foundations. A new and perhaps surprising figure entered the debate in January, when Pope Benedict XVI issued his first encyclical, Deus caritas est (“God is love”), and insisted that there is no substitute for charity—for the direct, personal involvement of individuals and communities in the lives of those who are suffering, those in need of material or educational assistance, or those simply needing the consolation of human contact. Deus caritas est is not, to be sure, a broadside aimed from one side at another in the philanthropy wars. It has things to say, however, that deserve reflection by all concerned, because they challenge us to re-examine our understanding of modern philanthropy…


Transparency and Truth


We picked this up to go beyond policy and into philosophy. For some of us in international development, where “transparency” is an established buzz-word, the last sentence cited is unsettling.

PRI Weekly Briefing, 11 April 2006, Vol. 8 / No. 15

[At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast] President Bush spoke … but with all due respect to the President, Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wis. gave a much more interesting speech. The gracious President pointed out that Chief Justice John Roberts was present. When this was mentioned, Roberts received louder applause than the President had when he was introduced. “I appreciate so very much the Chief Justice joining us,” said President Bush. “I’m proud you’re here, Chief Justice.”

[Bishop Morlino] noted that glaring inconsistencies in American life and law are not aberrations, but are part and parcel of relativism. After all, there is no imperative for a relativist to be consistent. “This inconsistency is especially neuralgic because the civil law is our teacher,” he said. “We have the very same individuals protesting against warrantless surveillance of possible terrorists’ activities, and then in the northwest, affirming warrantless surveillance of people’s garbage containers to ensure that no recyclables are to be found. On the one hand, warrantless surveillance with regard to possible terrorism is politically incorrect while warrantless surveillance of personal garbage is politically correct. . . .
A second example of this inconsistency has to do with killing of a mother who is carrying a child. In certain instances, the murderer is charged with the death of two human beings, both mother and child. However, if a woman exercises her alleged reproductive rights and has an abortion, the law clearly determines that no crime of murder has been committed. Thus, a human life is precious when someone thinks it is, be it a parent or be it a civil court, and when that life is deemed not to be human or otherwise be without value, then it is expendable.”

Those with a little understanding of human nature, and who have absorbed the lessons of George Orwell’s 1984, know that law and action follow language. “The second weapon in the arsenal of those who would dictate relativism to the rest of us consists in a series of linguistic redefinitions, euphemisms, and other anomalies,” Bishop Morlino pointed out. “Language, as the philosopher Heidegger said, ‘is the house of being.’ If our language is contorted and deconstructed through euphemisms, redefinitions and other anomalies, then the being housed by language becomes indeterminate. There are no fixed meanings, that is relativism pushed to its pinnacle, nihilism itself. . . . Our society speaks of openness and tolerance as almost supreme virtues, but to be open means precisely to be closed to the objective truth. If one would claim the existence of objective truth, one is considered closed and arrogant, rather than open and tolerant. So go the language games. The euphemistic approach is perhaps best captured by the words ‘late-term abortion.’ This term covers up the fact that a partially-born human being is brutally murdered in the process of being born.”

“Choice” has long been a term of great power, appealing to many Americans, but curiously, it is consistently applied to only one issue. “I’ve never heard anyone defend a pro-choice position with regard to bank robbery,” Morlino noted. “The only time this expression is used without reference to what we’re pro-choice about is when the most innocent and helpless human being is at stake. Pro-choice is synonymous with pro-abortion because no one speaks of pro-choice in any other context. Pro-choice is a euphemism that causes us to forget the baby.”

Even the very word “truth,” said the Bishop of Madison, seems to be giving way to the word “transparency” as a goal of public discourse.

Facing the Facts of Europe’s Suicide


PRI Weekly Briefing, 3 March 2006, By Joseph A. D’Agostino

Will the Muslims inherit Western Europe?  “If [Western people] don’t do something, probably,” replies Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Senior Fellow in Economics at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.
“That’s a very probable outcome.  The West doesn’t believe in itself.”

After decades of overpopulation hysteria, the realization has firmly dawned on almost everyone paying attention that global birthrates have fallen fast and far, and that Western European nations’ are suicidally lower than replacement level—though their increasingly radical Muslim immigrants’ fertility is high.  It hasn’t dawned on quite everyone, or perhaps British diplomats don’t pay attention to such matters, since the UK’s ambassador to the Holy See dismissed demographic concerns at a recent conference on the family and Centesimus Annus sponsored in Rome by the Acton Institute.  Possibly heralding a new emphasis on the issue, Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council on the Family and keynote speaker at the conference, admonished Amb. Francis Campbell about collapsed European birthrates when the latter said that birthrates are cyclical, and that therefore there is nothing to worry about.

Cardinal Trujillo has spoken about Europe’s fertility decline before, but it is rare for a Vatican cardinal to intervene so firmly at a public event like Acton’s “The Family in the New Economy: Reflections on the Margins on Centesimus Annus,” held January 21 at the North American College.
Trujillo is thought to be especially close to Pope Benedict XVI, who intends to make the meta-problem of modern Europe’s rootlessness and self-destruction a central theme of his papacy…

Global Fund Gets Facelift


The Global Fund has a great new look, and new content. Check it out, as usual, by clicking on the title or on this: globalfund.org.

Richard Penn Kemble, A Tribute


from Democracy Digest, Dec. 14, 2005

Many readers will be aware that Penn Kemble, co-editor of Democracy
, recently passed away following a brave struggle with brain cancer.
Penn’s death generated some remarkable tributes and obituaries, marked not only
by sincerity of sentiment but a notable political diversity, attesting to a life
spent transcending sectarianism and building cross-party coalitions.

A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman,
of the next generation,” said James Freeman Clarke. Penn conceived a
recent conference on the legacy of Sidney Hook
at which it was noted that he shared Hook’s belief “in the power of ideas in the
political marketplace.” In a city overly preoccupied with daily headlines,
political fads and personal fortunes of the Who’s-in?-Who’s-out? variety, his
core conviction lay in building political movements around an intellectual
analysis and a set of values, and through a vision in which ego and ambition had
no place.

Penn personified the committed social democrat for whom democracy is a “way of life”
and, as Carl Gershman argues, who puts the democratic mission
above ego or self-interest, and is “prepared to recognize, analyze, and confront
honestly and with integrity every obstacle that lies in the way of its

Penn devoted his last energies developing Democracy Digest and this
trans-Atlantic network to connect American and European activists and
intellectuals, policy-formers and opinion-makers, in forging a common agenda for
democratic reform, particularly in the broader Middle East. Typically, at a time
when trans-Atlantic relations were at a nadir, he felt the urgency of promoting
dialogue and action around common values, and transcending ephemeral differences
by focusing on fundamentals, thinking strategically and confronting the next
frontier for expanding freedom and democracy. With a new generation of cynical
realists and isolationists emerging on both left and right, committing ourselves
to advance Penn’s legacy of progressive democratic solidarity is not only an
honorable vocation but a political and moral imperative.
See our previous blog (Oct. 24, 2005)  on our friend, Penn Kemble.

Ecce Homo Oeconomicus: DOA


By John D. Mueller,  Director, Program on Economics and Ethics,  Ethics and  Public  Policy Center

Starting in 1972,
economics departments at major American universities abolished the
requirement that students learn the history of economics before being
granted a degree. This accounts for much of the confusion in public
discussion of economic policy. Today’s neoclassical economic theory
rightly develops three elements that can be traced to Aristotle and
Augustine (the theories of utility, production and exchange). But it
neglects the most fundamental element (final distribution), and poses
models of economic behavior that fail to capture the realities of
personal, family, and political life. …

Personal economy. Modern
economic theory inaccurately posits individuals who always act
selfishly (even when being “altruistic”) and narrows all economic
choice to the means of self-gratification. …

Family economy. Modern
economic theory begins by inaccurately assuming hypothetical sexless
adult individuals who interact solely by means of explicit or implicit
exchanges. …

Political economy.
Aristotle’s exploration of the two forms of justice, “justice in
exchange” and “distributive justice,” remains the indispensable
starting point for addressing basic questions of economic fairness. …
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is
a fairly accurate description of the family—but not the government, to
which Karl Marx mistakenly applied it.

Divine economy. While good
government is a blessing for saints and sinners alike, Augustine noted,
it must not be mistaken for the City of God, whose goal lies beyond
this life. Yet from Augustine’s “divine trace of equity stamped on the
business transactions of men” to Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand”
of Stoic pantheism, economics has always been essentially a theory of
providence, divine as well as human.  …

A Light Unto the Dismals. To be fair, even the Nobel awarders began to glimpse some of this 15 years ago.

Penn Kemble, A Man


He was … In Lawrence of Arabia,
the Anthony Quinn character is Auda Abu Tayi, a real man. In the desert night, he
shouts out to the Arab and English war lords and to his adoring
tribesmen that he has suffered so many wounds, lost so many friends,
gained so many friends, and won so many battles. “And yet I am a poor
man! Why? Because … I AM A RIVER TO MY PEOPLE!” The crowd goes wild.

Click on the title, as usual, to find out more.

Penn Kemble: Converging Views of Conscience and Reason


We knew him–wish we had known him for years. Here are two tributes to him from publications that are at least … different. (This is not a moment for arguments.)

(From The New Republic)


Penn Kemble died of brain cancer on Sunday at age 64. He was a hero of American liberalism, even if many American liberals mistook him for something else. In 1972, after George McGovern led the Democratic Party to catastrophe, Kemble, a former activist in the Young People’s Socialist League, launched the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, which fought to repudiate the isolationism of McGovern’s followers. In the 1980s, he organized Democrats who wanted to oppose communism in Central America more forcefully, and, in the ’90s, he helped run the U.S. Information Agency. Kemble’s ideological trajectory paralleled that of many neoconservatives, but he never became one himself, remaining a social democrat to the end. Indeed, while he was already sick, he worked to prepare a conference paying tribute to the legacy of Sidney Hook. His ulterior motive, as all the participants understood, was to revive the social democratic spirit. As news of his illness spread, the event–which drew liberal academics, activists, and leaders–turned into a tribute to Kemble, one he richly deserved. He was a contributor to these pages during some of their most disputatious days, and he was a kind and smart and important man. We will miss him.

(From the Washington Times)

Role model for Democrats

By R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., October 21, 2005:

What Pat Moynihan once called the Party of Liberty lost one of its most energetic friends last Saturday when Penn Kemble breathed his last after a valiant battle with brain cancer. The Democratic Party, too, lost a friend in Penn.
What kind of man was he? In his college days in 1964, inspired by the causes of civil rights cause and social democracy, he got pictured on Page One of the New York Times, blocking Triborough Bridge traffic in protest of school conditions in Harlem. He and his East River Congress of Racial Equality compatriots were about to be hauled off to the calaboose. His mother, picking up her copy of the Times back home in Lancaster, Pa., was shocked.
She would not be shocked many more times by Penn. Ever the friend of racial equality, labor unions and all elements of democracy, he moved to more peaceful protests, not out of timorousness but commitment to reasoned debate. No one could question his courage, but he was eminently reasonable.
The last time I saw him on his feet was a few months back. He was competing at his favorite sport, handball. To my astonishment, however, he wore a helmet.
Was this one of his jokes? Penn had a puckish sense of humor, but this was not one of his jokes. After an unexpected grand mal seizure, doctors drilled into his skull and removed a tumor. That would not stop him from driving a handball 50 miles an hour on the court against those of us who wanted to beat him. Penn was a very tough guy.
His toughness was behind all the political activities that filled his life, along with his high intelligence. In 1972, he was a founder of the Social Democrats, U.S.A. He became a Scoop Jackson Democrat, campaigning for the pro-defense anticommunist senator’s doomed attempt to wrest the Democratic presidential nomination. Aware the McGovernites were shanghaiing the Democratic Party into a lala land of anti-Americanism and narcissistic utopia, he became executive director of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM).
Had the CDM taken control of the Democratic Party in the 1970s, it would have remained on the path hewn by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. It would have remained a vibrant center of American values and avoided much of the foolishness that has led to its decline.
CDM efforts proved futile and liberal Democrats such as Jeane Kirkpatrick and William Bennett drifted to the Republican Party. Penn remained a Democrat to the displeasure of his old friends, who were now called neoconservatives. Doubtless that hurt Penn, but he was committed to the Democratic Party and the trade union movement.
However, like his friend, the philosopher Sydney Hook, being a Democrat did not prevent him from vigorously fighting communism. He was with the Reagan administration heart and soul in advancing democracy in Central America. That offended many of his fellow Democrats, but Penn was his own man. He made neocons uneasy. He angered the Democratic elite. But he followed his conscience and continued to establish organizations opposing tyranny and intolerance worldwide. When the Clinton administration made him deputy director of the United States Information Agency it made a shrewd choice.
In all the years I knew Penn, he kept everything in perspective. In a city, Washington, and a pursuit, politics, where baseness is often the norm and too often the key to power and fame, Penn has been the soul of honor, intelligence and all the virtues of the timeless liberal. He achieved great things for human rights and the dignity of working people but never drew attention to himself or did anything cheap. There was a “tough guy” quality to his speech, which I always relished; for though he really was a tough guy he was always the perfect gent.
We never had a cross word in any disagreement. We had many ironic and amusing words. In sum, I rise to say Penn is one of the finest men I have known. He is one of the guys you would want with you in the foxhole during any battle. There he would get to the business at hand, accomplishing it with a few gruff laughs thrown in.
Once the shrieks and whines of their present leadership is abjured, sensible Democrats will realize Penn Kemble’s life is the blueprint for the Democratic Party’s return to relevance.

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