April 18, 2011
Nathan’s post on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ last year generated a lot of discussion and ended with an intriguing question: “Why does Pilate always get so much empathy from us?”
It would be easy, at this point, to start tossing around charges of anti-Semitism, charges which would allow us to feel a certain measure of moral superiority over those less enlightened than ourselves. Then we could pray like the righteous Pharisee, “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, anti-Semites like Mel Gibson over there” (Lk 18:10).
Throwing around such charges is a way of doing precisely the same thing that blaming the Jews for the crucifixion once did: deflecting guilt from ourselves. I would suggest a far more troubling answer to the question, “Why do we empathize with Pilate?”
Because Pontius Pilate is the character in the Passion who is most like us.
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May 3, 2010
Instead of heading south for spring break this year, as most sensible people do, I went to South Dakota. I didn’t go for the beaches, but instead to visit the Jesuit community on the Rosebud Reservation. The cultural milieu of the “Rez” is fascinating, and the Jesuits who live there are fine hardworking men.
One conversation in particular got me thinking. We were discussing the summer Sun Dances, native religious rituals in which men dance—sometimes for several days without sustenance—and pierce their skin as a way of offering sacrifice to the divine. Someone remarked that at a Sun Dance he had visited the previous summer there were more German tourists than Lakota worshippers.
I found the incident disturbing in different ways. Though obviously not a practitioner of non-Christian “traditional” religion myself, I couldn’t help but feel that the practices of those traditions had been somehow cheapened when reduced to a spectacle for tourists.
For me the more disturbing question, however, is what the phenomenon of the Teutonic Sun Dance says about the spiritual grounding of Westerners. Is part of the reason so many German tourists find the Sun Dance so alluring the lack of spiritual sustenance in their own culture? Read the rest of this entry »
March 23, 2010
If anyone has both the ambition and the ability to complete a critical history of God, philosophy, and universities in 193 pages, who better than Alasdair MacIntyre? Now a hair over eighty and still teaching a very-hard-to-get-into undergraduate seminar at Notre Dame, the Scottish-born philosopher and trenchant critic of modern morality has done just that in God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition.
I have been a fan of Alasdair MacIntyre since he made a guest appearance in one of my undergraduate ethics courses and warned the roomful of over-eager philosophy majors not to let our minds be ruined by philosophy. Though he admits God, Philosophy, Universities is by no means a comprehensive history of any of the three, MacIntyre’s insights into all of the above are worthwhile. What is particularly valuable is MacIntyre’s conviction that the three should somehow fit together.
As one might expect, many sections of the book are dense, summarizing centuries of philosophical arguments in a few paragraphs. MacIntyre delivers a succinct summary of Aquinas’ metaphysics in a single memorable chapter, and his treatment of Pascal, the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld, and the soul/body problem is enlightening. He quotes Newman on conscience—“Conscience implies a relation between the soul and a something exterior, and that moreover superior, to itself”—and even draws on Nietzsche’s criticism of the presuppositions of philosophers.
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February 22, 2010
It has been wonderful to page through First Things 20th Anniversary Issue—and not only because of its priceless, circa-early-90s pictures of the neocon clan. The issue also features some excellent First Things essays which I have never read, like Joseph Bottom’s “Christians and Postmoderns” from February 1994. Alas, I wasn’t a ROFTER at age ten.
Reading the essay caused some latent neurons in my head to refire as I began again to consider a question I have often mulled over: Which poses a greater threat to Christianity, modernity or postmodernity?
Were I submitting this essay to a professor for a grade, I would need, at this point, to stop and define what I mean by modernity and postmodernity. But since I am not handing the essay in for a grade and want to avoid writing a many-thousand word blog post, let me omit positing a definition of modernity—and trust that the term is more or less clear—and proceed straightaway to the difficult task of grabbing the slippery fish of postmodernity and holding it still long enough to slap a definition on it. Read the rest of this entry »