Archive for the ‘Faith and Work’ Category

Talk on Thursday, 11/6/14, at St. John Paul II Newman Center on Leo XIII and his On the Rights & Duties of Capital & Labor (Rerum Novarum)

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

I’ll be presenting a free talk entitled “Leo XIII and his On the Working Classes (Rerum Novarum),” for the School of Catholic Thought at the St. John Paul II Newman Center at 6PM Thursday, November 6, 2014, after evening Mass at the St. John Paul II Newman Center Library, 700 S. Morgan St. Chicago, info@schoolofcatholicthought.org, 312-226-1880. Here’s the announcement in PDF format.

Here’s a png version —

Announcement_LeoXIII_RerumNovarum_102814b

A podcast of the now completed talk is posted here. Here’s the link for Rerum Novarum, the great 1891 encyclical of Leo XIII.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

Podcast of the Seventh Class Session, Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church Course

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Here is the audio podcast of the seventh class session of the course The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church held on the evening of 4/22/14 at the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Chicago as part of the School of Catholic Thought.

Here is the Page for the course, containing links for previous session podcasts, along with notes.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

Talk on Margaret More Roper at 6PM on 6/24/14 at St. John Paul II Center in Chicago

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

I’ll be presenting a free talk entitled “Margaret More Roper: translator of Erasmus, bridge to More, homeschooler,” for the School of Catholic Thought at the St. John Paul II Newman Center at 6PM Tuesday, June 24, 2014, after evening Mass at the St. John Paul II Newman Center Library, 700 S. Morgan St. Chicago, info@schoolofcatholicthought.org, 312-226-1880. Here’s the flyer in PDF format.

Here’s a png version —

Announcement_MargaretMoreRoper_060514

Here’s the podcast of the talk.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church: A Noncredit Course

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

At the Blessed John Paul II Newman Center at UIC, I’ll be offering a free noncredit course on The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, as part of the work of the School of Catholic Thought, which was scheduled to begin today, 1/28/14.

However, due to the cold in Chicago, the JPII Center will be closed on 1/28/14, so the first class will be at 6PM next Tuesday, 2/4/14. I’ll post my first lecture here in a few days.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

Run-of-the-Mill Hedonism

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

After our youngest child went to college, we cut down to one car, and I began to take Chicago’s public transportation system, the CTA, more often. This led me back to some late nights on the bus and train, and has found me also schlepping my library books back and forth in canvas bags like the student I was years ago.

In these canvas bags are books culled from among some seventy libraries in Illinois. I order books electronically during the week, and pick them up at the university library before the weekend. The books rest beside me on the floor “on the CTA.” Also riding beside me may be the quietly desperate, the drunken, the pierced, the kindly, the overworked, or the preoccupied, many of whom are indeed busy with their phones. For part of my ride, I try to pray, despite the Blue Line’s urine scent. Sometimes in my reverie I try to imagine what relationship might exist between the books that I read and the people whom I meet.

The books I schlep are sometimes about high philosophical topics, the latest debates between believers and high-brow atheists. I suspect, however, that few, if any, of my fellow riders–say, the woman with the cursive cliche inscribed above her breast loudly discussing with her friend on the phone her desire to have her tattoos removed–pay much attention to the high-brow atheists in my canvas bag.

My public commutes have led me to reflect that the greatest impediments to religion are thus not so much outright rejection, but distraction, not so much disbelief, but forgetfulness, not so much disavowal, but abandonment.

Philosophers have sometimes asked, “What should we be doing?” and Peter Drucker decades ago queried, “What business are we in?” A very useful alternative question with the potential to “back us in” to a similar set of truths is: “What are we doing instead of what we should be doing?”

What are nominally Christian parents doing instead of taking their children to church on Sunday? Oftentimes, they are going to sporting and educational events. Having served on a number of Catholic school boards, I learned that even the board members with children were in some cases choosing sports over Mass.

It somehow still surprises policymakers that college students find other things to do besides studying. According to federal statistics, about a quarter of college students abuse alcohol often enough to hurt their academic progress.

What are many young urban adults doing instead of forming traditional male-female, two parent families? My answer may surprise you: They are not, except in the rarest of instances, forming same-sex parenting couples, who represent but a tiny statistical fragment in American society. Many young people instead join for a time the largest claimant families of all: street gangs, whose members number in the tens of thousands in many major American urban areas, and whose scope overshadows all other non-traditional aspirants to family standing. The street gang, with its false pose as “family,” is far and away the greatest physical threat to authentic family and religious life, and should be a national ministry priority.

Thousands more people get intoxicated and miss worship events than do miss them because they are reading Nietzsche. Alcohol and drug abuse aside, many people think they have something more fun and satisfying to do other than praying and serving others: watching or playing weekend sports, or simply going shopping.

All this leads me to propose that run-of-the-mill hedonism poses a graver threat to religion than does high-brow atheism.

Hedonism is not “all Animal House all the time” as it is life by the pleasure principle. Simple pleasures will do. To update Camus’ adage from The Fall, we can sum up our age: Modern men and women fornicated (often alone) and went on the Internet.

Despite the fact that many of today’s young adults went to sports, school, or gang activities most weekends instead of worship, drank their way through their college-age years (elite students confining their hedonism mostly to the weekends), live in a “boozetown” young adult entertainment district, engage in virtual violence, fornicate on the Internet, and rarely practice formal religion, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins had almost nothing to do with this result, and Nietzsche didn’t give them the idea except maybe by wafting words through the Zeitgeist by way of the arts, letters, and film, some of which are indeed produced by Nietzsche aficionados.

Run-of-the-mill hedonism, predating just about every atheist who anticipated his or her own eternal non-existence, appears to take its own course, amplified and extended by profiting media, now targeted and consumed individually. “Sexperts” and cultural provocateurs like Dan Savage ride this turbulent tide, which nevertheless would flow without them.

Does the believer take arms against this sea of troubles? There is little point for religion to argue with run-of-the-mill hedonism, since hedonism is about enjoyment—like Pinocchio on Fun Island—only while it lasts. Jiminy Cricket could not talk sense into Pinocchio, who had to find out for himself–after the cruel metamorphosis of a boy into a donkey–the consequences of the simple decisions that kept him a puppet.

The alternative to run-of-the-mill hedonism ever is God’s unfolding love, but where beyond the choir is that Gospel heard? Believers continue to refute both atheism and hedonism, but their messages are jammed by the crackling static of hedonism, through which only random sound bites and tweets appear to penetrate. The faith, hope, and love encyclicals of the recent popes contain inspiration, but who knows it? Benedict XVI overturned Nietzsche and reclaimed Eros for the Christian in Deus Caritas Est (extending John Paul II’s Theology of the Body), but who has heard? Pope Francis has said that, contra hedonism, no one person is disposable:

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 1, accessed 12/17/13.

Sometimes, Pope Francis’s words do break through the hedonic noise, drawing significant bandwidth and brain-width. How? Is it simply that, like St. Francis de Sales, Pope Francis offers beads of honey instead of barrels of vinegar?

To understand this Francis Effect upon hedonistic attention, we can consider in layers our responses to hedonism, from the high-brow on down. The high-brow response includes journals like First Things, which nobly strives to prevent Nietzsche aficionados from sowing more weeds. The middle-brow response, set at the level of the old Great Books discussions and of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, now dwells on the plateau of the PBS series–like Fr. Robert Barron’s numerous New Evangelization and new media efforts–and continually plows new ground. The low-brow response–wrestling in the mud with the hedonists–merely spreads around the mud.

But Christians have a fourth option. For this they must be willing to go “lower” than the hedonists, to go “no-brow.” In Pope Francis, Catholicism is once again reemphasizing this “no-brow” “rhetoric of the heart” (my son Mike’s phrase) that bypasses disputation through concrete personal acts of love and solidarity. Catholicism partially diverted from this approach after Vatican II when clergy became webbed within a pestilence of useless internal meetings during the era of “collegiality gone wild.”

The “no-brow” strategy includes the direct, personal living out of the Works of Mercy, both corporal (Matthew 25) and spiritual (I Thessalonians 5), and practices those good works (Romans 12) which take us directly beside another, and keep us there: to the hungry person who needs to eat, the sick person who needs care, the prisoner who needs a visit, the pregnant teen considering abortion, the student who needs to learn, the warrior regretting a war. Modernity has bureaucratized the work of the physician, the nurse, the teacher, the cleric, and the parent beyond recognition. But the “no-brow” stand of Christian personalism takes works of charity and justice back to immediate, direct human companionship, to “get beside” and “stay beside” another in joy. Hedonism has no answer, save slander and persecution, for the Beatitudes. That is in part how the message of Pope Francis continues to break through.

Believers hold that there is a truer joy in parting from hedonism. Happily one point of “finding out for ourselves” remains both divinely and naturally ordained: Because youth is ever fleeting, the same words that thirty-something Augustine was urged to tolle, lege, ever speak to us:

“Do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:11-14 [from NAB])”

At the bottom of my canvas bag, each week I put several meal bars, in case I should encounter one of the “brothers Christopher”–a lovely old phrase indeed.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

Prelude to a Just and Merciful Society

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

The problem of sustaining not only the continuing existence of human society but also of a just human society has challenged both dreamers and those who consider themselves realists.

This second group, so-called and sometimes self-appointed realists, is comprised to a great degree also of dreamers who happen to be unaware about essential skills and knowledge they themselves and society in general do not possess which may apply to the very problems they propose to solve.

The present paradox of achieving social justice involves theoreticians and political actors who think political power can directly achieve justice, when power, exerted over time to sustain continuous human systems instead more likely forms institutions and therefore bureaucracies which, sometimes very usefully, slow the effects of power and sometimes stop power dead in its tracks, for the principal reason that the power-wielders very often lack the foresight, knowledge, and skills to properly construct and lead the institutions and bureaucracies. This is another manifestation of what I (not originally) call the political illusion, an illusion that assumes that political power can in an of itself solve human problems over the long term.

Political power, since it must be sustained in one way or another–even in a dictatorship–by the consent of at least an elite in the population, tends to turn long-term capital assets, principally buildings, infrastructure, and institutions, into short-term political assets, and thus to exhaust the potential of these assets to sustain a just society.

Political power-seeking is thus the very enemy of sustainabilty, because sustainability properly treats long-term assets as long term assets, while political action generally doesn’t.

The phenomenon of the serial ribbon-cutting politician who immediately loots a new project for the next round of supposed innovations elsewhere in an endless and decaying series of unsustainable promises is only but one example. In general, few public projects are established with the supply chain of resources to sustain themselves over time, since politicians tap cash from all sources for their next series of promises or for their next inevitable crisis.

Political infrastructure thus differs from real infrastructure the way a Wild West movie set, composed of facades, differs from a real town. Self-styled political realists to a great degree dwell in the Wild West movie set version of reality, which is useful for media photo-ops but not for when it rains.

To build an unsustained, unsustainable public institution may one day be considered a crime. Some day, we will view unsustained public housing, public hospitals, public schools, and public infrastructure as public acts of injustice.

Community and political movements nevertheless often try to build institutions that may outlast themselves, schools and places of employment being a common example.

But theorists, writers, and activists too often, if not always, lack the practical skills of institutional organization, know little of what Peter Drucker called the liberal art of management, and know even less of the practices of continuous organizational improvement, many of these based upon science and engineering, so their institutional innovations become like many others, mired in their own bureaucratic processes and procedures. This predicament leads to diminishing returns and to an endless series of unrealized bright ideas, and eventually, inertia or cataclysm.

Of the many challenges facing our global society in its history, one foundational challenge remains: how to feed, clothe, shelter, heal, and transport each other within a variable natural system subject to weather, accident, and disaster.

Upon this shifting foundation, the even more shifting patterns of human demography manifest themselves. And if there are not enough healthy people, questions of economic growth and social progress become moot.

While this outline may seem elementary, political activists often forget that a community is built upon a population that in the end depends on nature, and that the effective distribution of resources within this sphere depends as much, if not more, upon accumulated knowledge of science and engineering, as especially applied in contemporary agriculture, as it does upon politics. Informed, competent action thus comes into play.

Political power can, for a time, seem to defy the forces of natural, demographic, or economic “weather” or “gravity,” but inevitably these fundamental forces break through, and negate the effects of political power, because political power cannot direct weather or the force of gravity.

The initial economy, literally the translation of the original word, is the human household, predominantly composed as the family when a male and a female bond for life. From natural resources and human demography grow culture (religion, folkways, arts and letters, leisure, etc.) and economic activity, upon culture and economy grow institutions and organizations with their accompanying communications, science and engineering, public health, law, and politics.

None of these cumulative societal actions could exist without continuous human mastery of the necessary skills and knowledge leading to effective action, be that action successfully producing a crop, a road, an automobile, or a classroom of literate students.

None of these cumulative forms of organization could endure without the various methods that society has learned to hedge and to insure, and therefore immunize itself, against natural disasters and failures of crops, production, supply, and of public health.

And none of these activities could continue without the establishment of basic forms of trust throughout society, which ensures communication, continuity, and freedom of innovation. Religion, the arts, leisure activities, and other manifestations of culture play a key binding role in the establishment of common human references, and thereby trust.

Human mercy plays an even more critical role in sustaining human trust. The mercy of a U.S. Grant, inspired by Lincoln’s “with malice toward none,” on a Robert E. Lee and his soldiers spared a nation from guerrilla warfare, and thereby saved it.

The integration and advancement of human society in all of these fields of endeavor could also not exist without the accumulating and exchanging nature of the city, and its meeting places and crossroads of transformation and regeneration, whether these be houses of worship, theaters, studios, or ultimately universities, which bring together and sustain science, engineering, agriculture, arts and letters, law, medicine, and all the other disciplines of human mastery that fan out and populate families, businesses, schools, hospitals, labs, farms, mines, and all forms of active human enterprise.

Human society is thus composed of many interacting and composite goods, but it is fundamentally grounded upon natural resources subject to variability manifested by growth, decay, change, and disaster.

These processes of variability and especially decay echo throughout every human system, and must be thoroughly understood and mastered within each human context for a just and sustainable society to thrive. The mastery of the processes of variability and of decay is fundamental to human competence.

The political illusion lives as if nature or demography or economy would never break through and undermine societal stability, but inevitably they do. The political illusion is not so much devoted to progress as to the self-perpetuating of a given elite, in coalition with trailing elites. The political illusion claims to be about the many, but in the end, it is almost always about the few.

The principal political and economic theories of the past two hundred years, be they Marxist or capitalist, have represented wishfully dangerous and destructive short-cuts to human progress by promising their own particular leap over the practical challenges inherent in managing land, labor, and capital resources in putatively just and fair ways.

These short-cuts, framed as political ideologies, have subsumed art, religion, science, and culture into their domain as mere cheering sections, and have thereby weakened and corrupted these as independent, useful, and also transcendent societal assets. These political ideologies have killed millions upon millions of human beings, and in the end, have merely established flawed institutions and bureaucracies that to this day remain un-mastered, uninformed, inefficient, and ineffective.

Bureaucracy, in spite of itself, plays a useful role, as well. Bureaucracy manages critical information and resources, and accumulates, implements, and moderates law and regulation. Bureaucracy is therefore necessary for human survival, and is a principal pattern seen in mediating institutions.

But bureaucracy is also where everyone’s pet idea for reform goes to die. Politicians continue to give bureaucracy its (usually unfunded) mandate, and then they, who often manufactured bureaucracy in the first place, are reduced to haphazardly bullying it since nothing else, from their perspective, appears to work.

The problem of the 21st century is therefore, pace W.E.B. DuBois, not so much the color line, but un-mastered bureaucracy, and in general, lack of mastery of our own work and professional activities. Or to put it bluntly, the problem of the 21st century is our own incompetence.

It is therefore not progressives and not capitalists, but incompetent progressives and incompetent capitalists, who are the enemies of human progress.

None of us, from the digger of ditches to the President of the United States, really comes to their job well prepared to do it. We have met the incompetents, and they are we.

To build a just society, I therefore propose that we do not carry the discussion forward at this point from the point of view solely of political economy, which can come later, but to begin considering the dignity and capability of each human person, which for a Catholic like myself is usually the starting point.

Not only must each human person have the capacity to be good (meaning, morally good) for society to be good, as the mythical traveler Raphael Hythloday stated in Thomas More’s Utopia, but each human person must be informed and skilled enough to effectively do good.

Yet another virtue is needed. Each of these good and competent persons must have what Alexandr Solzhenitsyn called “civic courage,” the willingness to speak out when something wasn’t right. Without civic courage, our knowledge of what could be improved would be lost, and our society would also not be free.

Recently, when Cuban human rights blogger Yoani Sánchez was challenged by someone who pointed to the availability of food, shelter, and health care in Cuba, she didn’t stop to blink. Ms. Sánchez stated that a bird in a cage has such things. Civic courage makes such a discussion, but also a free society, possible.

Finally, each good person must be not only morally good and just, but merciful. The relationship of mercy with justice, one of the most profound contributions of Blessed John Paul II, is often the most overlooked aspect of a just society. [I write these words on 4/7/13, Divine Mercy Sunday. Here’s a reference to Pope Francis’s homily for the day.]

It is to the topics of moral goodness, competence, civic courage, and mercy in a free and just society that I will turn when I next have the chance to continue this essay.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

Two Unsustainable Political Illusions

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

One point of view of this Sanity and Social Justice blog is that both the public policy program of the Left and the program of the Right present unsustainable illusions. Both distort economic reality with partisan propaganda and spin. Both engage in wishful thinking. The same intensity of criticism should be focused on both the Left and the Right, but rarely is.

When completely victorious, as in the one-party rule of Chicago and Illinois, the Left descends into inefficient corruption and factionalism, fulfills few of its economic promises, and produces disorder if not financial and social ruin. When completely victorious, as for a time in the Reagan Era, the Right similarly lacks the discipline to fulfill its own economic commitments, engages in wishful thinking such as Jack Kemp’s (joined by Democrats) over-extending home ownership to an unsustainable percentage of the population, and descends into cronyism. Neither partisan platform ever fully realizes its economic vision. Each over-promises to critical, if not tragic, proportions.

It thus is something of a puzzle why people continue to believe that politicians can achieve economically what they say they will, when history perennially demonstrates that they consistently do not, and why people continue to treat political belief with a passion that surpasses religious devotion to the point of idolatry.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that our political beliefs do not represent historic or economic fact so much as they represent our own concept of ourselves, our own “identity maintenance,” as I have long called it. Also, since both the Right and the Left have consistently descended into cronyism, one can conclude that political passion depends in the end on that group of political cronies with which one wishes to throw in one’s lot. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in unrealized and probably unrealizable political ideas, but in our own self-concept and self-interest, framed as the public good.

Against a world of illusory political discourse, one can respond with competence and effectiveness, the Aristotelian Ergon and Arete of Work seeking Excellence. The teacher acts as a good teacher, the doctor or nurse as a good doctor or nurse, and by extension the school or university is a good school or university, the hospital is a good hospital, etc., and it is to be hoped that the society is a better society as a result.

For centuries, heady and trendy intellectuals have tried in vain to transcend Aristotle only to confirm him. I’ve said before that Stanley Fish has labored mightily, and brought forth in the end a few two-thousand-plus-year-old lines from Aristotle. Modern political thought has bypassed Aristotle to its peril.

Political economy is grounded on the variable strata of the physical world of natural resources as moderated by meteorological forces, of long-wave demographic trends, of cultural tectonics, of shorter-term markets, of sudden and disruptive innovation and disease and disaster, and of shifting public policy interventions. To a certain extent, politicians must practice the art of taking credit for the weather and for the prosperity that comes from the occasional financial bubble as their own personal artifacts. To do so, they must artfully lie with consistency about both economics and history.

Political partisanship, however, does sometimes fulfill its promises on non-economic issues. The Germans voted in politicians who did in the end kill Jews, and the West has voted in politicians who did in the end kill babies.

For a Catholic like me, the present political choice is sometimes falsely cast as the choice between social compassion (the Left) and Pro-life (the Right), as if the Left could actually deliver on social compassion, or the Right could actually carry through on Pro-life. Both promised political products are highly unlikely.

It is however very likely that the Left will continue to kill the unborn, so in this particular regard the Left must be vigorously opposed. But it is not likely that the Right will endure in consistently defending the unborn, either. Killing the unborn is based upon selfishness, which is an enduring human constant.

My political critique is not naive cynicism, but is grounded in history, science, and common sense. Against the political illusions of both the Right and the Left, I suggest that we concentrate our resources on building a society based instead upon professional and institutional competence and effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability imbued with human compassion, and informed by science. This approach is based upon trust and hope in what truly endures in human society.

Morally-committed and scientifically-informed professions and institutions promulgate order, and outlive politics. I pity the partisan true-believer, who presently lives in a spinning, self-referencing Twitter-cloud-dream uninformed by history or by economic science, or, for that matter, by perennial philosophy and theology.

The first step away from this illusory world-view is to consistently direct one’s critique in one’s own direction to the same degree that it is directed toward one’s adversaries. This is an ancient Christian principle (Matthew 7:3) that extends well to politics.

For more on my analysis of the commonsense propositions that underlay political discourse, please see chapters 2 and 3 of my dissertation.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

St. Thomas More on Faith with a Working Love

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Many of the key words of St. Thomas More remain unfamiliar to modern readers. Here’s an important sample —

“To believe meritoriously, so as it shall be rewarded with salvation, may not be faith alone, but faith with a working love. Nor it may not be a bare believing of Christ, but it must be a believing in Christ, that is, as St. Augustine saith, not an idle dead standing belief, but a belief lively, quick and stirring and by charity and good works ever walking and going with Christ.”

From The First Part of Poisoned Book, contained in The Workes of Sir Thomas More Knyght, sometyme Lorde Chancellour of England, wrytten by him in the Englysh tonge, 1557, edited by William Rastell, pg. 1050, as reproduced in The Heart of Thomas More, Readings for Every Day of the Year, edited by E. E. Reynolds, 1966, Springfield, IL, Templegate, pg. 25.

More’s lively spirit echoes in these words!

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share