October 12, 2008
As we anxiously await the next movement of the financial markets, I conjure a vision of ancient villagers trembling at the base of a rumbling volcano. Awakened by its rumbling we listened to our high priests who interpreted the message and in response we have just sacrificed $70 billion worth of fatted calves to appease it. We await its response. Having derived great benefit from it, we now may be experiencing a foretaste of the disastrous consequences of living in such close proximity to the all-powerful.
So while we are worrying about the very real consequences of the market’s plummet, I think the time may be right to ask directly – Has the market become our god and, if so, what should we do about it?
Harvey Cox, author of The Secular City, wrote a provocative article several years ago suggesting that the market has functionally usurped the mystical and meaning-making roles of the Judeo-Christian God in our culture. After detailing how the market has taken on the properties of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence Cox cuts to his worries which I think are worthy of our consideration:
· Judeo-Christian tradition claims that everything is God’s. Markets suggest that we are the owners and disposers.
· Where our traditions celebrate the rootedness of communities, markets see human resources that should be as mobile as needed.
· The Judeo-Christian tradition claims an inherent dignity for each of us that is derived from God’s great love for us. To the market we are temporary, replaceable functionaries.
Cox closes his essay warning of the markets’ addiction to expansion and the inherent contradiction he sees with Judeo-Christian tradition that calls us to live well the life we are given. He closes by saying, “The Market that stops expanding dies. That could happen, If it does, then Nietzsche will have been right after all. He will just have had the wrong God in mind.”
· How close to the bone or close to the truth does Cox come? Have we made a golden calf while Moses was away? By the way, would we recognize “Moses” after such a long absence?
· What does our faith have to say to the real misfortune that has befallen so many and with little sign of relenting? How are we called to renewal through this situation?
· In what are we asking our students to hope? How are we witnessing to the advice we offer?
What do you think?
September 28, 2008
Engaging students in political discussion…. Are we more than voters?
From the apparent requirements expected by a good portion of the American people it appears that we are trying to identify more than a chief executive in this presidential campaign. We expect this person to be a technically proficient manager, a predictor of all important dynamics in the world, a chief protector against dangers known and unknown, a moral exemplar in what has become known as personal morality, and a person we feel understands our personal plights. As the saying goes, “there ain’t a Jesus who could do all that!” -- an expression that begs the question as to whether we are looking for a secular savior, or perhaps a scapegoat.
I think that this dynamic indicts us for wanting to shift responsibility away from ourselves. We have allowed so much attention to be paid to our November binary switch flip that we neglect the collaborative work of the citizenry to create a civil world that, in some measure, prefigures the kingdom of God. If citizenship has been reduced to an act that is little more than an opinion poll, we have allowed this political system to make us consumers rather than citizens.
Curiously enough, in their document “Faithful Citizenship” the US Catholic Bishops don’t list voting among the means listed by which we are called “to work for a just ordering of society” (it is however assumed) ---
“Forming their consciences in accord with Catholic teaching, Catholic lay women and men can become actively involved: running for office; working within political parties; communicating their concerns and positions to elected officials; and joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks, state Catholic conference initiatives, community organizations, and other efforts to apply authentic moral teaching in the public square.”
· Admitting the importance of the US presidency, does the intense focus on this vote distract citizens from other forms of political action?
· How do we inspire and affirm political action, guided by Catholic Social Teaching, that goes beyond voting?
· How do we include Catholic Social Teaching principles in our discussions of government, citizenship and public issues?
What do you think?
September 08, 2008
Engaging students in political discussion…
For better or worse, character has probably always played a role in political decisions, particularly in the election of presidents. And beyond a politician’s true character, we need to consider the representation of his/her character as mediated through advertisers and marketers. I’ll leave it to our friends in the Social Sciences Department to parse the issues around the importance of character for the American presidency but I do think that theology can offer some good questions to the conversation.
Clearly one of the most compelling aspects of last week’s Republican convention was the story of the refining of John McCain’s character during his time as a prisoner-of-war that he related during his acceptance speech. Regardless of how he fares in the upcoming election I think this chapter of his story is fertile material for important discussion. So, here are two thoughts and some questions:
Firstly, he displays his Episcopal catholic foundation with his story of self-transcendence leading to service. There is no new-age gospel of happiness and prosperity here – just a clear minded look into the depths of the human condition and some sober acceptance of responsibility. We should be pleased to belong to the same tradition.
Secondly, he’s the first political leader in my memory who has spoken so openly about being broken and, through that experience, finding a purpose greater than himself. Such a story lends credibility to his call for Americans to answer the call to serve. The quotation that stays in my memory is "nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself."
So, here are a few questions to mull over while the media is skating on the surface of such issues:
· How is self-transcendence (devoting oneself to a cause greater than oneself) different from ceding responsibility for one’s life to an entity beyond oneself?
· In our tradition we hold up self-transcendence when the cause to which we devote ourselves is the Kingdom of God. What are the virtues and dangers of treating one’s country as that cause? How can these two causes relate to one another?
· What works to inspire young people to service today? How do our lives serve as examples? How well do we share our stories?
· How can we respond to the packaging of candidates and the cynicism that it breeds? How do we relate to this process as we try to cultivate strong character and Christian witness?
August 31, 2008
Engaging students in political discussion…
Effective politicians, and leaders, must be able to marshal symbolic language to capture the sentiments of their followers and to lead them, hopefully wisely. The enormous consequence of the American presidency makes aspirants to the office the most watched conjurers of symbols in the world, with the possible exception of the pope. Political advertising unfortunately often eclipses the candidates themselves and offers us partial representations of the candidates, often pandering to our fears.
That’s one reason why political conventions are important. While highly orchestrated, they offer us some significant views of candidates.
Barack Obama conjured “America’s Promise” in his history-making acceptance speech this week – a riff on what is more commonly called the “American Dream” – the dream that Americans can create their own destinies regardless of their initial conditions. Any Pius student who has taken American Mythology as a sophomore or The American Dream should be able to engage this topic.
Regardless of one’s political leanings, this moment in the election cycle offers a pregnant opportunity to engage each other, and our students, in a discussion of life’s purposes, government’s purposes and communal action. So as Catholics who have been immersed in the symbolic much of our lives let us use our experience and consider any of the following questions:
· How much of the use of the American Dream symbol is an attempt to lead and how much is an invocation of a sentimental and usefully vague concept to attract voters? Does the dream need to be revised or rearticulated? Is the vagueness of the image good, bad, useful, necessary?
· How does the American Dream, or Obama’s in particular, or yours, jibe with images of communal living found in the New Testament such as those in Acts?
· How does the American Dream, or Obama’s in particular, or yours, jibe with principles of Catholic Social Teaching?
· What vision of society are we, implicitly or explicitly, communicating to our students and what is the foundation for that vision?
· What are the risks and benefits of rallying millions around symbols rather than analysis of policy?
What do you think?
March 12, 2008
Weekly thoughts on faith, learning and mission
With the primary tomorrow the time feels right to comment upon the relationships between faith, the Catholic tradition and political participation.
Why be involved?
Having an opinion is not a moral act. When Jesus speaks of separating the sheep from the goats, the criteria for separation are not beliefs but actions. Since government is a major vehicle through which we, as citizens of this democratic republic, work towards the common good, dismissing opportunities to participate may come close morally to the actions of the “goats” who saw Jesus hungry and did not feed him or saw him ill and did not care for him.
How to be involved?
Voting represents an important, if minimal, responsibility for people of faith. Consider the benefits and fun of other involvements:
- Engaging in thoughtful & respectful discussions with peers or students regarding political choices;
- Working on a campaign for a candidate whose values you support;
- Communicating with candidates or elected officials regarding issues of moral importance;
- Educating yourself by reading, listening and even attending debates;
- Joining other faithful people in organizing to seek influence on legislation with great moral import.
How to make choices
The US Bishops issued a statement in 2007 entitled “Faithful Citizenship” which offers some guidance regarding our responsibilities for the common good. A few important thoughts from the document:
- Catholics are called to form their consciences upon the bedrock belief in our “fundamental obligation to respect the dignity of every human being as a child of God”.
- The Bishops call upon us to oppose all threats to the dignity of human life such as euthanasia, genocide, abortion, racism, torture and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war.
- We are also responsible to do good such as providing for everyone’s intrinsic rights to housing, health care, education and meaningful work.
Politics is a messy business and we are called to use our prudential judgment to guide our political involvements and choices to work towards the goals of Catholic Social Teaching. (More on the themes of these goals in subsequent notes)
What do you think?
If you have a comment about these weekly thoughts or if you would like to suggest a topic, we welcome your ideas.tio