Spiritual Imperialism

January 13, 2010


It’s always fun to bemoan Western imperialism.  In fact, it’s become something of a fashionable pastime for most socially conscious Catholic pundits and homilists.  In the end, however, most such criticisms end up being a bit superficial.  We instinctively employ our own favored militaristic and market-based criteria.  Consequently, we end up focusing on foreign wars and cruel sweatshops, and we promote multilateral diplomacy and fair trade coffee in response.  In other words, we end up with distinctly American criticisms of America.

To its credit, the recent New York Times article on the “Americanization of Mental Illness” begins to go a bit deeper.  It still remains somewhat imprisoned within American plausibility structures, since it draws its criteria and evidence almost entirely from the statistical method of public health.  Nonetheless, the somewhat lengthy article brings up some interesting points:

  • Mental illnesses vary from culture to culture.
  • By universalizing the mental health categories developed to treat modern Western afflictions, America is indirectly exporting its own mental illnesses.
  • At least some mental illnesses (e.g., schizophrenia) are better treated by folk methods.
  • Western anomie may be partly to blame for both the incidence of mental illness and impotence of contemporary therapies.

These points are of interest mainly because they point to a deeper imperialism of the spirit. Read the rest of this entry »

Part I: Mimesis and Economics

August 6, 2009


Girard famously distinguishes two kinds of desire.  The first is “romantic” desire, the kind of desire most people take to be the normal definition for human desire. There are certain natural desires, and aggression is a distortion from outside of those basic human desires which need to be satisfied.  Thanks to modernity, the Self who has these natural desires can now be “liberated” to express them freely.  Girard calls this the “Romantic Lie.”

Instead, borrowing from Hegel, but also shifting his analysis, Girard thinks of human desire as mimetic.  This means that human desire does not actually know what it wants.  Human desire is shown what it wants by the desires of another person.  Desire is formed by observing what it is that another wants, and making that the object of one’s desire.  He asks us to consider any child’s play room.  Most kids grow quite uninterested in their own toys after a few days or weeks.  If, however, another child comes over and gets excited about what he sees, suddenly the owner will discover anew that he actually does “want” that toy after all, quite a bit.  Desire has been stirred by mimesis. Read the rest of this entry »

Benedict the Green

July 31, 2009


bv091_Benedict-02Blogging tends to be a grumpy medium.  The project of “unmasking” the incoherent or self-serving commitments of others allows the unmasker to indulge in one of the few socially acceptable displays of superiority.  Since the human race in its fallen condition is such a target-rich environment for peevish observations, blogging continues to amuse.  A Christian blogger, however, should at least occasionally evoke the beauty of the tradition that he has received, thus rendering an “account of the hope that is within [him]” (1 Pt 3:25).  In that spirit, I thought I would follow up my first thoughts on Caritas in Veritate and Human Ecology with some thoughts on the beauty of the cosmos conceived according to Christian doctrine. Read the rest of this entry »

Benedict and Darwin in 2009

July 14, 2009


It is an important year for Benedict to come out with a new social encyclical. Not only to look back at Populorum Progressio, but also to consider many of the effects of Darwin’s theory 200 years after his birth and 150 years after his publication of On the Origin of the Species. We can make this connection because of Benedict’s concern, as he says, to promote an “integral humanism.” A brief survey of the Introduction to Caritas in Veritate makes clear note of this. Read the rest of this entry »

Caritas in Veritate and Human Ecology

July 8, 2009



I won’t attempt a general appraisal of Caritas in Veritate.  However, I would like to comment on a single idea in the encyclical, a phrase introduced by John Paul in Centesimus Annus and developed by Benedict throughout his pontificate: the “human ecology” (or the “ecology of man”—but why make needless enemies?).  The phrase strikes me as a rather clever reintroduction of the patristic idea of the human person as microcosm, the one who sums up the diverse elements of creation—visible and invisible—in his own person.  Read the rest of this entry »