So the semester has started. Some adjustments for me. I am teaching USU 1320 “Civilizations”, which is a first for me. Aside from all of work involved in new class prep, I am looking forward to the class. I am doing a survey of great books from western civilization. The class just covers fragments of various texts, and since we’ll give around 50 minutes per text, it will be a ridiculously superficial overview of the great writers and ideas that have shaped the western intellectual tradition. Still, as a first exposure it will be, I think, useful and interesting for students. I am also teaching Ethics, Social Ethics, and Business Ethics.
Speaking of the western intellectual tradition, George Weigel reflects today on Pope Benedict’s pending visit to Great Britain and the need to have a serious conversation about the West, a culture and civilization that is fast committing cultural suicide. It is worth excerpting from the article:
“The key to grasping Ratzinger’s analysis is to see that he thinks of Europe’s contemporary crisis of cultural morale as a matter of self-destruction. Or, as he put it in an earlier version of his address to the Italian Senate, it is impossible not to "notice a self-hatred in the Western world that is strange and can even be considered pathological". For as "the West is making a praiseworthy attempt to be completely open to foreign values…it no longer loves itself. [Indeed], it sees in its own history only what is blameworthy and destructive [and] is no longer capable of perceiving what is great and pure."
Which, as Ratzinger surveys contemporary European high culture, brings us to yet another irony: the inability of the rationalism proclaimed by the Enlightenment to sustain Europe’s confidence in reason. As the late John Paul II saw it, and as Benedict XVI sees it, "Europe" is a civilisational enterprise and not simply a zone of mutual economic advantage. That civilisational project rests on three legs, which might be labelled "Jerusalem", "Athens", and "Rome": biblical religion, which taught Europe that the human person, as child of a benevolent Creator, is endowed with inalienable dignity and value; Greek rationality, which taught Europe that there are truths embedded in the world and in us, truths we can grasp by reason; and Roman jurisprudence, which taught Europe that the rule of law is superior to the rule of brute force. If Jerusalem goes – as it has in much of post-Enlightenment European high culture – Athens gets wobbly: as is plain in the sandbox of post-modernism, where there may be your truth and my truth, but nothing properly describable as the truth. And if both Jerusalem and Athens go, then Rome – the rule-of-law – is in grave trouble: as is plain when coercive state power is used throughout Europe and within European states to enforce regimes of moral relativism and to punish the politically incorrect.””
An interview here with Msgr Stuart Swetland (professor of moral philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University) on the political tone of gay marriage debates. He identifies a tendency that has been the occasion for considerable frustration on my part when engaging people on this issue. As he says, “This is something completely new and very recent, where any opposition, expressed in any way, to those particular [homosexual] sexual acts becomes, in the minds of those who don’t agree with us, tantamount to bigotry.”
And on the same topic, commentator Charles Krauthammer writes in a Washington Post editorial about how ugly liberalism can be when it is under siege. When liberals have lost in the court of public opinion (which is becoming evert more frequent), the now knee-jerk response is to accuse those who disagree of being homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, bigoted, nativist, etc. He writes, “It is a measure of the corruption of liberal thought and the collapse of its self-confidence that, finding itself so widely repudiated, it resorts reflexively to the cheapest race-baiting (in a colorful variety of forms). Indeed, how can one reason with a nation of pitchfork-wielding mobs brimming with "antipathy toward people who aren’t like them" — blacks, Hispanics, gays and Muslims — a nation that is, as Michelle Obama once put it succinctly, "just downright mean"?”
On a lighter note, hat tip to Mike Linford for this piece on beards. The thesis: “We have come to the conclusion that the practice of shaving is alike ridiculous and absurd, and that it violates one of the laws of nature.”