The book that grew out of the blog

August 31, 2012booksComments Off on The book that grew out of the blog

So I obviously haven’t been been blogging for a while – writing a book instead, in which Aquinas plays a starring role.

Check it out at Duomo Press!


Aquinas and the “New Athiests”

October 4, 2010faith and reasonComments Off on Aquinas and the “New Athiests”

Fr. Brian Davies OP, Aquinas scholar among other things, takes on the new athiests: Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens.

Good stuff. It’s an audio recording.

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Stephen Hawking and why is there something rather than nothing — Read More Philosophy!

September 11, 2010faith and reason, mysteryComments Off on Stephen Hawking and why is there something rather than nothing — Read More Philosophy!

From the Wall Street Journal book review of the new Stephen Hawking / Leonard Mlodinow book The Grand Design, in which he concludes that we don’t need the concept of God to answer the question, Why is there something rather than nothing?

“Mr. Hawking’s own major contributions have involved the spontaneous creation of the universe ‘from nothing.’ The basic idea comes straight from conventional quantum mechanics: A particle does not have some perfectly well-defined position but rather lives in a superposition of many possible positions. As for particles, the logic goes, so for the entire universe. It exists in a superposition of many possible states, and among those states is utter nothingness. The laws of quantum cosmology purport to show how nothingness can evolve into the universe we see today.”

I haven’t read the book, just the review, but I’ll take a crack at the issue anyway.

My understanding is that conventional quantum mechanics attempts to explain the behavior of existing matter at the atomic level (e.g., photons and electrons, etc.) that act both as particles and as waves. The “superposition” thing gets to this interaction – “to completely describe a particle one must include a description of every possible state and the probability of the particle being in that state,” (Wikipedia) which its wave characteristics define; the position of a photon or an electron while it’s being a particle is controlled by the wave characteristics of said photon or an electron.

But here’s the thing. Superposition is a characteristic of existing matter. These friendly little particles have to exist before they start popping into various positions in a defined way out of nothing; nothing is just one of the states of their existence.

The philosophical question of “why is there not nothing” has not been answered; superposition is a characteristic of “something” not “nothing.”

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Conversations of the future …

August 20, 2010intellectual life of the churchComments Off on Conversations of the future …

From the Commonweal Blog:

“The Fordham Conversation Project … brought together young professors of theology to discuss their emerging role in the Church and university at a time of evident polarization. In this regard the undertaking bears resemblance to the Common Ground Initiative launched by the late Cardinal Bernardin and Monsignor Philip Murnion.

“Here is how one participant describes their intense two days together:

“The concept of friendship, which obviously has a long theological history, was perhaps the central idea of the weekend.  If those who disagree actually make conscious choices to engage in practices to create the space to be friends then the disagreement is far less likely to fracture the relationship. And sometimes understanding grows in such a way that the disagreement fades away…or at least is much better understood.

“I think the focus on junior people allowed both of these ideas to flourish in our discussions because ‘our generation’ (1) hasn’t been formed by the culture wars of the 60s and by Vatican II and its aftermath and (2) generally haven’t yet fought the battles that define one’s self in opposition to another person or idea.  This allows friendships to flourish across divides.”

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“Cooperative Capitalism” – It Could Have Been “Catholic Capitalism”

July 11, 2010intellectual life of the church, power of the faithful, tradition recreating itselfComments Off on “Cooperative Capitalism” – It Could Have Been “Catholic Capitalism”

“Hertz: There are already companies that have a cooperative business model. Start-ups in Silicon Valley or the suppliers of open-source software are just some examples. These industries are not driven by Gucci capitalism. They work on principles that explicitly value collaboration, partnership, networking, relationships and social forces — values that were not really seen as having any economic worth. But we have seen that sometimes they can be far more successful than the old models.”,1518,685491,00.html#ref=rss

This is the kind of thing the Church should be advocating, instead of blathering on about condoms.


Looks like Aquinas’ question is answered …

July 8, 2010UncategorizedComments Off on Looks like Aquinas’ question is answered …

… courtesy of


A challenge to old progressives: Fixing the loss of collective memory

June 4, 2010intellectual life of the church, loss of the sacred, tradition recreating itselfComments Off on A challenge to old progressives: Fixing the loss of collective memory

An article at National Catholic Reporter called A challenge to old progressives by Jamie L Manson (May. 06, 2010) struck home, about the gap between my generation of Catholics and those coming of age in the Church now. I think she nailed it. Quotes from the article below; full article at:

A challenge to old progressives

But what happens to the other baptized Catholics whose faith isn’t nourished by centuries-old devotions, the Latin Mass, and absolute subservience to an all male, celibate hierarchy and clergy?

Where will they find their spiritual home? Where will they find community in a time when face-to-face socialization is quickly disappearing? Where will they find guidance that will help them make meaning during times of sorrow and loss? Where will their values and ethics be challenged and molded so that they can find resources to help them make their marriages work and raise their children? Will they, too, like the other 30 million baptized Catholics in this country who do not attend church, be relegated to the pop spirituality, wellness seminars, life coaching, and new age therapeutics touted on “Oprah”?

Unlike the generations of progressive Catholics who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, young Catholics are not willing to fight for the soul of the church. The church has lost its influence over the consciences of new generations. Our imaginations were not formed by its rituals and our morality was not created by its figures of authority. We were not raised by a church that held absolute authority over the state of our souls — both in this life and the next.

As a result, many of the symbols of the Catholic church, most especially the priesthood, the parish, and the Mass, have lost their power for many young Catholics. Though these symbols are dying out, the need for the meaning, ethical guidance, and spiritual development embodied in the symbols is stronger than ever.

This, I believe, is where older progressive Catholics can be an extraordinary resource. These reformers spend a lot of time and energy worrying, analyzing, writing about, and arguing with the institutional church. I believe they would do well to take some of the energy behind their righteous anger, and engage those who are struggling to find meaning and spiritual development in a rootless world. This might be a better — and certainly more life-giving — use of their time than simply fighting a self-destructive institution.

Together we need to explore the ways in which we are already church, and to enhance the opportunities to become more fully church. We need to discover what sacred experiences we are hungering for and what brings us the more abundant life that Jesus taught us to seek. The more the institutional church starves us, the greater the call should be for us to feed one another by breaking bread together — literally and symbolically.

Younger generations need this support to help them find roots. Older generations need strength and new life from the roots that they planted decades ago. If we begin to think creatively outside of the institutional church and imagine smaller, more intimate ways of sharing community, we all might begin to realize the church as it was in its beginnings.


Tradition in the Act of Recreating Itself

March 22, 2010tradition recreating itselfComments Off on Tradition in the Act of Recreating Itself

This, from a Commonweal blog post on the topic of the loss of the old-school Catholic culture and what that means for the future:

“Every single 60-ish or 70-ish year old Commonweal Catholic can tell you of memories of various thick, ‘ghetto’ practices that imprinted Catholicism into their DNA. The felt banners and coloring books of my generation’s Catholicism neither inspired nor repelled; they just made Catholicism trivial and easily surrendered, for they never made a substantial claim in the first place. The irony is that such a culture–which is ‘given,’ automatic, un-self-conscious, atmospheric, osmotic–now has to be intentionally and consciously constructed so that it can be organic and automatic in the future.”

How do we go about that, constructing something that is automatic and not self-conscious, in an intentionally self-aware way? It seems impossible on the face of it. Yet we have a model.

Think about the way we treat traditional, ethnic music, like for example how the Chieftains play Irish music. They play all the old tunes in an authentic way, but do it consciously. They don’t play Irish music on traditional Irish instruments because that’s all they know or because they only have one fiddle. They do it because they want to. They have many alternatives but choose to make this music. They’ve learned about it and play it in a way that’s both authentic yet unique to our time, with other artists like Sting or the Rolling Stones, Sinéad O’Connor, and Tom Jones (in their album The Long Black Veil), or fusing it with other musical styles to create something new yet recognizable as part of the tradition.

We can never recreate the “thick, ghetto practices” (and who would want to) that gave us the old school atmospheric, osmotic Catholicism of old, but we can understand and take from the riches of the past to recreate the best of the past today, in a way that is true to our time yet yet recognizable as part of the Catholic tradition.

These new traditions may never be “un-self-conscious” but there’s no reason they can’t be atmospheric: as  rich in metaphor, aura and beauty as anything in the past.

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The sad state of truth-telling and the high state of lie-receiving

March 15, 2010power of the faithfulComments Off on The sad state of truth-telling and the high state of lie-receiving

The line is from the 3/15/10 edition of Sightings, Martin E. Marty’s weekly newsletter, and it describes one of the ongoing lunacies of Glenn Beck. “The fact that Mr. Beck charms millions of devotees tells more about the sad state of truth-telling and the high state of lie-receiving than civil citizens should want to hear.”

When reading the John Allen interview in NCR with Mother Clare Millea, who is heading up the Vatican “investigation” of American religious women, this patient and sane-sounding woman says the following in answer to John Allen’s question about the reaction the visitation has generated:

NCR (aka John Allen): A year into this process, are you in a better position to understand some of the fear and resistance it’s generated?

Mother Clare Millea: Initially I got many reactions along the lines of, “We were not consulted, we were not warned, this was just thrown on us.” That’s certainly foreign to our American mentality, and our way of doing things. … One time I said to a major superior who lives in Rome, “You and I both live here, and we know this is what happens. Why don’t we just get over it?” She laughed and said, “You’re right. Let’s do it.”

Here in the third millennium, the Church has a structure of governance that is a divine-right, absolute monarchy. It is grossly unrepresentative, lacks checks and balances, deadens the global and national voice of the bishops, excludes the sense of the faithful, compromises liturgy, paralyzes needed development in canon law, ignores the lessons of modern jurisprudence, is obsessed with obedience and secrecy, conflates traditional doctrine with papal opinion, and compromises the intellectual life of the Church. The sexual abuse scandal has shown time and time again that the hierarchy will value the institution over the safety of innocent children, rotting the Church spiritually (and financially) from within.

Yet otherwise sane people continue to accept this governance structure. As Mother Clare Millea said, “You and I both live here, and we know this is what happens. Why don’t we just get over it?”

Little will change in the Church at the top. When it happens, it will happen from the bottom when people like Mother Clare Millea refuse to accept that “this is what happens” and start exercising some civil (i.e., papal) disobedience instead of just getting over it.

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Cool Bits: Space-Time

February 24, 2010random ramblingsComments Off on Cool Bits: Space-Time

While he doesn’t use the words, I get a strong sense of the idea of space-time from Aquinas, with us being stuck in space-time and God, having created it, being outside and uncontained by it, and therefore essentially mysterious to those of us inside it. And then, whamo, the Incarnation, and God is inside space-time. Very interesting.


Sex, Natural Law and Intellectual Corruption

February 24, 2010intellectual life of the churchComments Off on Sex, Natural Law and Intellectual Corruption

Every time the hierarchy takes a stand on anything related to sexuality (e.g., the ban on artificial contraception, the ban on IVF, the attitude towards gays, the issue now manifesting in Wash DC with the withdrawal of adoption services from Catholic Charities), the term “natural law” pops up. Yet the logical relationship between natural law and the particular stand in question is never made clear.

My understanding of natural law is as follows:

It’s natural for existing, living things to flourish and grow and the measure of this growth and flourishing is what we call goodness. So the primary natural law, upon which all other laws must be based, is that good be done (i.e., flourishing occur) and evil avoided.

Natural law is supposed to be founded in our nature and revealed to us by our reason. It should, then, by it’s very nature be *understandable.* Yet it seems that whenever it’s trotted out by the hierarchy as the rationale for a stand, it is the endpoint of the argument, not the beginning. It is garbed in this gnostic, magical aura which we are all just supposed to accept (e.g., revealed, esoteric knowledge necessary for salvation, etc.).

I would love to see some of our more learned friends take apart these alleged natural law claims, since the whole point of natural law is that it is in fact understandable and thereby debatable via reason. The foundation of so many of the hierarchy’s stands about things sexual are intellectually corrupt, it would be a blessed relief to see them lanced once and for all.

The Church has not gotten its stand on sexual matters wrong, the hierarchy has. This is because the hierarchy has not taken account of the ‘sense of the faithful’ (e.g., starting the whole recent mess was Paul VI’s removal of the topic of birth control from the agenda of Vatican II so the bishops – never mind the rest of us – could not weigh in on it). The faithful have steadfastly refused to accept the hierarchy’s point of view.

The hierarchy’s stands about things sexual fail the test of reason not because the arguments don’t hold up but because they aren’t made at all; they are intellectually bogus because they end with natural law rather than begin with it. Also, they fail the test of the fullness of evidence. Look at the footnotes in the latest USCCB letter on marriage — all previous papal documents — like that’s the only reality that needs to be looked at. And look at the difference in the scope of evidence in the Commission on Birth Control’s Majority vs. Minority report. Finally, and most importantly, they fail the test of compassion.

Is natural law another one of those things, like canon law, that progressives blow off because it’s not progressive enough? I was quite surprised to read in Ladislas Orsy’s Receiving the Council that just like the Council failed to create any serious ongoing structures for collegiality, it seems the progressives pretty much blew off the whole domain of canon law. “Opus Dei, on the other hand, fostered the cultivation of this discipline; the University of Navarre became the seedbed for a school of canonists, and from the very moment of the creation of the Committee on the Revision of Canon Law, Opus Dei took an active role in it.” (p. 86)

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Justice and the Structures of Governance in the Church

February 24, 2010churchComments Off on Justice and the Structures of Governance in the Church

Here’s an interesting piece from the Wikipedia article on Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience on the question of the morality of structures of governance. He’s talking about the state here but it relates to the structures by which the Church chooses to govern itself.

Read Church instead of State and it points to an interesting future. (And no, I do not consider current Church governance “an act of God.”

Because government is man-made, not an element of nature or an act of God, Thoreau hoped that its makers could be reasoned with. As governments go, he felt, the U.S. government, with all its faults, was not the worst and even had some admirable qualities. But he felt we could and should insist on better. “The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual.… Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”


Organizational or Corporate Culture of the Church

February 24, 2010churchComments Off on Organizational or Corporate Culture of the Church

Besides its structures of governance, the organizational or corporate culture of the Church obviously makes a huge difference in the way the Church is run.

From Wikipedia:

“Organizational culture is an idea in the field of Organizational studies and management which describes the psychology, attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values (personal and cultural values) of an organization. It has been defined as “the specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization.”

“This definition continues to explain organizational values also known as “beliefs and ideas about what kinds of goals members of an organization should pursue and ideas about the appropriate kinds or standards of behavior organizational members should use to achieve these goals. From organizational values develop organizational norms, guidelines or expectations that prescribe appropriate kinds of behavior by employees in particular situations and control the behavior of organizational members towards one another.”


The Power of the Faithful: Thoreau and Civil (Papal) Disobedience

February 18, 2010power of the faithfulComments Off on The Power of the Faithful: Thoreau and Civil (Papal) Disobedience

In Thoreau’s 1849 essay Civil Disobedience, the driving idea was that one does not necessarily have to physically fight the government, but one must not support it or have it support one (if one is against it). This essay has had a wide influence on many later practitioners of civil disobedience. In the essay, Thoreau explained his reasons for having refused to pay taxes as an act of protest against slavery and against the Mexican-American War.

Quoting from Wikipedia:

Thoreau argues that people should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that people have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice.

Thoreau tells his audience [in relation to slavery and the Mexican-American war] that they cannot blame this problem solely on pro-slavery Southern politicians, but must put the blame on those in, for instance, Massachusetts, “who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may.… There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them.”

He exhorts people not to just wait passively for an opportunity to vote for justice, because voting for justice is as ineffective as wishing for justice; what you need to do is to actually be just. This is not to say that you have an obligation to devote your life to fighting for justice, but you do have an obligation not to commit injustice and not to give injustice your practical support.

Paying taxes is one way in which otherwise well-meaning people collaborate in injustice. People who proclaim that the war in Mexico is wrong and that it is wrong to enforce slavery contradict themselves if they fund both things by paying taxes. Thoreau points out that the same people who applaud soldiers for refusing to fight an unjust war are not themselves willing to refuse to fund the government that started the war.

In a constitutional republic like the United States, people often think that the proper response to an unjust law is to try to use the political process to change the law, but to obey and respect the law until it is changed. But if the law is itself clearly unjust, and the lawmaking process is not designed to quickly obliterate such unjust laws, then Thoreau says the law deserves no respect and it should be broken.

Existentialist Martin Buber wrote, of Civil Disobedience

“I read it with the strong feeling that here was something that concerned me directly.… It was the concrete, the personal element, the “here and now” of this work that won me over. Thoreau did not put forth a general proposition as such; he described and established his attitude in a specific historical-biographic situation. He addressed his reader within the very sphere of this situation common to both of them in such a way that the reader not only discovered why Thoreau acted as he did at that time but also that the reader– assuming him of course to be honest and dispassionate– would have to act in just such a way whenever the proper occasion arose, provided he was seriously engaged in fulfilling his existence as a human person.

The question here is not just about one of the numerous individual cases in the struggle between a truth powerless to act and a power that has become the enemy of truth. It is really a question of the absolutely concrete demonstration of the point at which this struggle at any moment becomes man’s duty as man.…
—”Man’s Duty As Man” (1962)

Some interesting food for thought here for approaching how the faithful might use money and voice to affect positive change.

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The Power of the Faithful

February 18, 2010power of the faithfulComments Off on The Power of the Faithful

It’s entirely possible that passion is getting the best of intelligence here, but of late I have been coming to two realizations: the first is the true extent of the damage the current structures of governance are perpetrating on the Church, and the second is the additional damage done by the acquiescence of the faithful to the situation. It’s one thing to be fighting the good fight and failing, and another thing to assume the situation is hopeless and just go about your business. I even sense a bit of self-satisfaction in the post-Vatican II church, like we’re all so cool because we have girl altar boys. None of this is to say that what goes on is bad, it’s not, it’s marvelous. Girl altar boys are marvelous. It only looks bad in comparison to what it could be if certain things were changed. Like the ordination of women priests to go along with those girl altar boys.

The faithful will be the source of change in the church; it will not come from the top. We don’t run the joint yet but we are not powerless: we have money and voice. We just need to get off our butts and figure out how to use our money and our voices appropriately to initiate change for the good.

I think the first step is being realistic about the kind of relationship the faithful often have with the Vatican and the bishops. As the “visited” sisters are finding out, it is not one necessarily based on respectful communication (which you’d hope) but one often based on power and control. If the Vatican was really intent on helping the nuns for example, they could have just talked with them and listened to them. This is not rocket science. Rode was not interested in this; he admits he was concerned about “feminism” and “secular influence.” So rather than a useful conversation the sisters got an exercise of power: a million-dollar visitation, intrusive, secretive, intimidating, the exact opposite of a respectful conversation. In effect, a punch in the nose. How does one respond to a punch in the nose? I think the first thing is to recognize that you have in fact been punched in the nose.

I think in the Church today (incoming generalization) we’ve become benumbed so much through lack of hope for change that we tolerate the intolerable. To haul out a trope from the 60s, I think we need another consciousness-raising so we can act accordingly if we have the opportunity. In our networked world, consciousness of injustice makes a difference. The alternative is being complicit in the downward spiral of the Church.

I also think it important to see questions of collegiality, centralization, sanctions, etc. as questions of power, not theology. Theology (and common sense) point to a much different structure of governance than the one we got. This is why I think the faithful should consider options such as alternative funding structures and acts of “papal” disobedience as a means of forcing change.

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