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Archives for February 2009

An elderly man walks into a confessional

An elderly man walks into a confessional.

The following conversation ensues:

Man: ‘I am 92 years old, have a wonderful wife of 70 years, many children & grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Yesterday, I picked up two college girls, hitchhiking. We went to a motel, where I had sex with each of them three times.’

Priest: ‘Are you sorry for your sins?’

Man: ‘What sins?’

Priest: ‘What kind of a Catholic are you?’

Man: ‘I’m Jewish.’

Priest: ‘Why are you telling me all this?’

Man: ‘I’m 92 years old… I’m telling everybody.’

Friday Mailbag: Kierkegaard in a Nutshell

The following message from a high school teacher lapsed Lutheran friend of mine landed in my inbox this morning:

Hey! I have a question for you. In my senior English class we got on a tangent about nihilism, existentialism, and other happy thoughts, and I mentioned that some Christian theologians were influenced by and responded to these intellectual movements. However, I skipped Big K and others, and I was wondering if you could give me some insight into the nature of their thought.

In other words, I’m too damn lazy to go to the library and actually read him . . .

Well. I’ve read a fair amount of Kierkegaard, so I could try. Other relevant figures (I know a lot less about) are Gabriel Marcel, Karl Jaspers, Heidegger, Buber. I think they were all more or less theists. Marcel was a Catholic convert, Buber was a Zionist of sorts, Heidegger was a Nazi, unfortunately, and I guess it’s debatable whether his concept of Being is of a piece with theism.

Kierkegaard is the big one, obviously, and could kick everyone’s ass from here to eternity, in my opinion. He was also a pretty cagey writer and a hard one to pin down, writing under multiple pseudonyms and points of view that were not precisely his own. He considered these his “aesthetic” works and they were often published in conjunction with shorter works (under his own name) of a more straightforward theological or edifying nature. Part of the impetus behind the aesthetic works was his notion of indirect communication as a way of seducing the reader forward towards the ethical and the religious spheres. The three spheres–aesthetic, ethical and religious–form a basic structure in his work, with the faith of the individual in a direct one-on-one connection with God (the leap of faith) being the highest, most severe, thorniest, and ultimate sphere of existence–characterized chiefly by suffering but also perhaps (simultaneously? paradoxically?) losing and gaining everything. He was pissed at Hegel for putting the intellect and the ethical above faith (and so misplacing faith in the realm of the aesthetic, i.e. a school girl sort of innocence, which is not the stunning piercing thing that is real faith); and he was pissed at “Christendom” for misplacing faith by taming it and making of it a sort of socially acceptable Rotary Club mockery of true faith. So he aimed some pretty sharp blows at Hegel and Christendom and in the process became the father of Existentialism–focusing on the individual existence. Hegel, said Kierkegaard, built a grand palace, his philosophical system, but there was no place for Hegel himself as a man to live and die there. He lived, as it were, in a shack outside the gates of his own system. Walker Percy, the 20th Century Catholic novelist (who was led to Catholicism via Kierkegaard) applied the same critique to the scientism of our own times. When science has explained everything, the individual human life, and how to get through a Wednesday afternoon, is left out. The scientist is a left-over from his own science. Ultimately, according to Kierkegaard, the individual cannot arrive at the truth that is of ultimate concern to him through intellect or logic or science but must make a subjective leap of faith. The act of leaping, of committing oneself in passion, is more important than the intellectual content of that faith. On the other hand, Kierkegaard believed that there was specific content delivered to humanity authoritatively via Christ primarily and the Apostles secondarily. He made this clear in an essay called, “On the Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle.” The genius knows all about the mechanics of the world, but the apostle has been given a message to deliver with authority that speaks to us in our existential predicament and could not have been figured out by logic or intellectual prowess or science. This view of authority vs. intellect is a side-note for K, but an important one, and it accounts for why some have been led to Catholicism by K. The protestant theologian Karl Barth (also hugely influenced by K) thought K would have become a Catholic had he lived longer.

That’s a mess of a paragraph, sorry. Let me know if that sorts anything out for you. Like I said, K is hard to pin down, impossible to summarize, really. If you want to read a primary text that’s not too daunting and gives you a good flavor of the whole range of Kierkegaard’s writings, Fear and Trembling is a good one to grab. Don’t let the title put you off. It is a beautiful little book, and fairly accessible. If you’re more ambitious, The Concluding Unscientific Postscript would be the next one to grab. Go for it! Summer reading!

Here’s a pretty good intro that expands on some of what I’ve touched on here: Kierkegaard for Grownups.

Good luck to you and your students. I’ll pray for you.

What Catholics Have On Their Minds; Slut Bearing Astroids Bear Down On USA

More From The Onion, This Time on the National Money Hole

Are Violent Video Games Adequately Preparing Children for the Apocalypse?


Are Violent Video Games Adequately Preparing Children For The Apocalypse?

John Hinderaker of Powerline on "Soaking the Rich"

This has to mean that you and I too will pay. And pay and pay.

confess your sins so that grace may open your hearts

Dear children! In this time of renunciation, prayer and penance, I call you anew: go and confess your sins so that grace may open your hearts, and permit it to change you. Convert little children, open yourselves to God and to His plan for each of you. Thank you for having responded to my call.

[source]

What Are We, Christians?

Someone asked if you could add something instead of give something up for lent. How about adding children?

I’m not sure I would rush out and buy this book, but the review itself makes some good points. These two paragraphs particularly ring true for me:

Children give us a chance to see the world through fresh eyes. We rediscover the delight of a winter snowfall, spring blossoms, the wonder of a bulldozer and a ballerina.

But children also bring us happiness in a way our culture no longer understands. The ancient concept of happiness, which Aristotle termed eudaimonia , meant “an activity of the soul expressing virtue.” Having children is an opportunity for us to learn selflessness, to serve others, and sometimes to see our sinfulness on display in a way that makes us want to change.

“Sinfulness on display”! Yes, just about every single day. And all that good stuff, too.

Can’t resist…

…one last post before the clock strikes Lent…

The NYT has a review of Brad Gooch’s biography “Flannery” here, and the reviewer busts out this gem: “And she combined the sexual knowingness of a 12-year-old with a gender-bending fusion of Southern gothic and luridly medieval sensibilities in her mordant, theologically inspired storytelling.”

Oddly enough, JOB today reminded me of one of my very favorite O’Connor bits, one which neatly displays her 12-year-old’s sexual knowingness and luridly medieval sensibilities: “”If the average Catholic reader cold be tracked down through the swamps of letters-to-the-editor and other places where he momentarily reveals himself, he would be found to be more of a Manichean than the Church permits. By separating nature nad grace as much as possible, he has reduced his
conception of the supernatural to pious cliché and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms, the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former, while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him. HE forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of
sentiment usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence, and that innocence, whenever it is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, tends by some natural law to become its opposite. We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite. Pornography, on the other hand, is essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purpose, and so far disconnects it from its meaning in life as to make it simply an experience for its own sake.”

Not By Bread Alone

Not that it will make much difference here, but I’ll going offline for Lent. See y’all after the Resurrection!

[Photo taken in the Chapel of the Corporal, Orvieto Cathedral.]