Thursday, March 18, 2010

New organization to advance Catholic Higher Ed

The Cardinal Newman Society unveiled on Tuesday their new research branch, the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education. This is a significantly expanded version of their previous research arm. It is under the leadership of Dr. David House, former President of St. Joseph College, Maine.

I am so glad they are doing this. I also hope that colleges and universities that have not embraced the CNS vision of Catholic higher education will at least enter into peer dialogue with them. They would be fools not to, because this is the future of Catholic higher education in America.

They also have a blog, Renovo, which will be featured in my blog roll (see above).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Two cool liberal arts programs

I've recently become aware of two nifty Catholic liberal arts programs at Catholic colleges. The first is the Liberal Studies major at Holy Cross College at Notre Dame, Indiana. It was developed and is run by Dr. Jeffrey Langan, a political philosopher. I especially like this one because it is progressive, moving from literature to history and politics to philosophy and theology:

We begin by developing our perspective through the lens of literature. The first liberal studies courses introduce us to the multifaceted problems of the human condition as we encounter them in literary works such as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey , and Fyodor Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov and Demons.

We next examine problems taken from history and politics. Students take three courses in which they will examine the foundations of politics. American politics will be examined first, in particular and democracies in general with works by authors such as Roberl Dahl, Alexis de Toqueville, and Orestes Brownson. Second, we will examine the problems of politics throughout history in the writings of Thucydides, Polybius, and Machiavelli. Third, we survey the birth and extension of modern political thought, in particular drawing from authors such as Thomas More, Pascal, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

After literature and politics, liberal studies majors will enter the world of philosophy. Philosophy helps students integrate their entire Holy Cross experience into a unified whole. Students will examine problems related to the human person, the soul, God and the world in three courses. First, in the course on the soul, they will examine the central questions about the meaning of human existence with authors such as Dante, Aquinas, Plato and Aristotle. Second, they will examine the problems associated God and politics through Augustine's the City of God, and Aquinas' political writings. Third, they will examine how the wisdom that they have gained from their liberal studies courses could provide principles for transforming society through meditation on Aquinas' Treatise on God as well as Plato's Republic and Laws.

You not only follow the sequence of courses, but you also have a concentration in another discipline (not exactly a major, but helpful in preparing for graduate school in a particular discipline).

The other program is the Humanities and Catholic Culture major at Franciscan University of Steubenville. According to one student of the program of my acquaintance, the founder is trying to recreate a medieval liberal education.
Over the course of four years, you’ll study history, theology, philosophy, literature, economics, and political thought, discovering how each has played an integral role in the creation and disintegration of culture through the centuries. You’ll also see how each has affected the human person—how man lives, sees himself, and interacts with others. Above all, you’ll come to see how religion has bound all the other elements of culture together, shaping it, directing it, and guiding it to its proper ends.
The keynote of the program is an integration in theological reflection on all reality.

[W]hat you’ll learn as an HCC major is how to see. You’ll learn to see the beauty and wisdom that comes from the integration of faith and reason. And you’ll learn to see the tragedy and terror that comes from the separation of faith and reason. You’ll learn how to see reality—to see man and the world as they truly are.

I would be happy to teach in either of these programs. I think this kind of education is necessary in our day to recuperate sane thinking (although I acknowledge with Fr. James Schall, S.J. that it is possible to get this kind of education through a rigorous reading program).

The body and relationships

Several streams of thought have converged in my mind. First, there is the Theology of the Body, which insists on the centrality of our body in our relationships with God and with each other. Second, there is Vicky Thorn's corroborating research on the role that chemistry plays in human relationships, especially sexual ones, and the negative impact that hormonal contraception and abortion has on the chemistry of love. Third, there is Chesterton's distributism, which emphasizes, among other things, working the land and with your hands--actually making things, not just manipulating ideas. He also emphasizes the superiority, for instance of making music over listening to it, dancing over watching dance, playing sports over being a spectator (Note: the superiority does not imply that you never watch--in only implies that watching is secondary, participation in primary in the leisure that is the basis of culture). Finally, my daughter sent me this quote from an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education called "Faux Friendship," by William Deresiewicz:

Friendship is devolving, in other words, from a relationship to a feeling—from something people share to something each of us hugs privately to ourselves in the loneliness of our electronic caves, rearranging the tokens of connection like a lonely child playing with dolls. The same path was long ago trodden by community. As the traditional face-to-face community disappeared, we held on to what we had lost—the closeness, the rootedness—by clinging to the word, no matter how much we had to water down its meaning. Now we speak of the Jewish "community" and the medical "community" and the "community" of readers, even though none of them actually is one. What we have, instead of community, is, if we're lucky, a "sense" of community—the feeling without the structure; a private emotion, not a collective experience. And now friendship, which arose to its present importance as a replacement for community, is going the same way. We have "friends," just as we belong to "communities." Scanning my Facebook page gives me, precisely, a "sense" of connection. Not an actual connection, just a sense.

We live in a highly technological society. We can't escape the plethora of virtual relationships. But we can make choices that lead us towards real relationships, friendships, etc.
  • We can call rather than text (hearing a real voice).
  • we can write a letter longhand, rather than e-mail (this allows for an exchange of chemicals!).
  • We can write in a paper journal rather than blog.
  • We can take a walk and look at the buildings in our neighborhood, rather than look at pictures of distant buildings, no matter how beautiful, on the Internet.
  • We can go to live lectures and discussions groups.
  • We can watch a play occasionally, rather than always go to the movies. live theater involved bodily interaction between the actors and the audience--any actor will tell you how important this is to a particular performance. In fact, I have gotten to the point of sensitivity about this issue that I can barely sit through a movie, but love to go to live theater.
  • We can get your money from a teller at a bank rather than from the ATM in the lobby.
  • We can admit that all those people on that list in Facebook are not really friends. Only a handful probably are, and they are the ones we either have or have had significant face-to-face contact and interaction with over a long period of time.
I'm not saying we have to avoid the less relational activity. I'm just saying we can always choose the more relational one. At least occasionally.

For the politically minded among you, this is one of the reasons for the often ignored principle in Catholic social teachings called subsidiarity. You may have heard the criticism of Hillary Clinton's book, It Takes a Village, that the Federal Government isn't a village. You may have also heard that this is just conservative and reactionary. Well, maybe it is, but it is also quite consistent with CST. A village, or community, as the article calls it, is a structure of interpersonal relationships reinforced by direct, person-to-person contact. Huge, impersonal entities, such as central governments or multi-national corporations, cannot respond in a personal way. If there is a social problem, the intervention should be on the lowest social level possible. That does not mean that there is no role for the Federal Government, for instance, to keep the huge corporations in check.

I wonder if a case could be made that the most successful large cities are ones that have a strong system of intentional neighborhoods. See Chesterton's Napoleon of Notting Hill for a fictional reflection on this idea. At one point a few years ago Minneapolis intentionally developed and encouraged "neighborhood identity." My sense is that it was both successful, and helpful especially in poor areas.

Ven. Cardinal Newman to be beatified!

Cardinal Newman Society announces that Benedict XVI will beatify Cardinal Newman in September in England at the Birmingham Oratory where Newman spent his life as a Catholic.

Newman is not the patron of "progressive" Catholicism that many people seem to think he is. A reading of Cardinal Dulles's book on Newman makes that abundantly clear. Although he was not Ultramontaine, he was definitely not anti-authority, the way so many contemporary "progressive" Catholics seem to be.

One thing I've notice recently is that when some Catholics make a list of what characterizes a "Catholic" culture or institution, they always list "sacramentality," "Incarnational principle," "Both/and, rather than either/or," etc. What is almost always missing, and what is definitely essential is the dogmatic principle. The best way to put this principle is that the authoritative interpreter of reality, including our own experience, is not us, but a divinely established authority. Cardinal Newman stood firmly on the dogmatic principle against what he called "liberalism."

An example: Who decides whether an act of contraceptive intercourse between a married couple is "loving?" Is it loving because I intend it to be loving or feel that it is loving? Or is its ability to be "loving" properly established by God, and expressed to us through His authoritative interpreter on earth--in this case, the Holy Fathers Popes Pius XI, Paul VI, and John Paul II? If I am not accepting the authoritative interpretation of the Church in this matter, I am not acting as a Catholic.

A similar point can be made about the Catholic university. Does the university as an institution accept the authoritative judgment of the Church on such matters as abortion, torture, contraception, capital punishment, homosexuality, etc. Do university policies reflect this acceptance?