From a London prayer group to the pro-life work of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference. See post at Jericho Tree.
Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category
True happiness and the real meaning of the moral life: see the post here at Jericho Tree by Sr Margaret Atkins.
I’ve been involved in a new Catholic website called Jericho Tree.
You can visit the site here. Do subscribe to the email list in the right-hand side-bar.
You can visit the Facebook page here. Please do publicise the site by liking the page.
If you’ve got any feedback it’s most helpful to leave it on the site itself - on the feedback page here.
Here is the blurb from the ABOUT page.
Jericho Tree is a magazine-style website bringing together articles and videos about faith, culture, lifestyle and news – from a Catholic perspective.
The title ‘Jericho Tree’ refers to the meeting between Zacchaeus and Jesus in Chapter 19 of the Gospel of St Luke. As Jesus enters Jericho, Zacchaeus longs to see him, but he is too short, and the crowds are too big. So he climbs a tree in order to get a better view.
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
“When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
“All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’”
The idea is to create a forum for great Catholic writing, mainly from a UK perspective, but with some international contributors as well; and to link to other articles and videos that take a fresh look at the world from a Catholic perspective. Quiet a few people have promised to write, and a few have already started. We’ll see how it develops over the next few months!
I had a ten minute interview with Jumoke Fashola on BBC London this Sunday morning. The topic was confession – what it means, how to go, and in particular why many Catholic churches are reporting an increase in the number of people going to confession over the last few months.
You can listen to the interview here, my bit starts at 3:08:40. [It's available until 14 Sept].
This is from the Telegraph article by John Bingham that got the discussion going:
An informal survey of clergy based in cathedrals across England and Wales found that two thirds had noticed an upturn in numbers taking part in the sacrament, something many of them attributed to a papal “bounce”.
The Church said that the greater willingness by people to “unburden” themselves and deal “issues” than in the past had also given the centuries old practice a new relevance for some, including those who might be put off by public services.
The polling of cathedral deans or priests-in-residence found that around a third had seen an increase which they attributed to a combination of the impact of the new Pope and the continuing impact of the Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain three years ago.
Respondents spoke of having to make special arrangements to accommodate extra demand for confession this summer.
One respondent replied: “Some people are coming in saying I don’t know what to say or do because they haven’t been since they were at school or for 30 years, and are asking for help with the words to say.”
Another said: “This summer there has been a marked difference in demand compared to last summer … We don’t usually offer confessions in August but have done this year.”
Take a look at the new promotional video from 40 Days for Life UK. Robert Colquhoun explains what the work is all about; there are stories from some of the volunteers who have been involved in recent campaigns around the country; and there are some beautiful photos of some of the mothers who have been helped by the campaigns – sitting with their new-born babies.
The next 40 Days for Life vigils start on 25 September. See the UK website here.
Posted in Art, Culture/Arts, Morality, Psychology, Relationships, tagged acting, authenticity, David Mamet, drama, emotion, experience, Method Acting, sincerity, Stanislavsky, the Great Actor, truth on May 26, 2013 | 9 Comments »
I’ve just finished re-reading one of my favourite books: True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, by playwright and director David Mamet.
At first glance, it’s a trenchant attack by an experienced and opinionated drama teacher on Stanislavsky and the whole theory of ‘Method Acting’. Method Actors try to get inside the mind and heart of the characters they are playing. The more they ‘become’ the character they are playing, and the more they identify with the experience of the fictional person they are trying to bring to life, then the more authentic – so the theory goes – their portrayal will be.
Mamet says this is just nonsense. The actor just needs to act. Their inner experience has nothing to do with the effectiveness of their acting. The good actor, as opposed to the ‘Great Method Actor’, simply plays the part, using all his or her skills and experience of the stage. The success comes through the strength of the writing, and the extent to which the actor can communicate the ‘practical’ intentions and concerns of the character: what they want, where they are going, what they are worrying about, why they are excited, etc.
It’s this dynamism that makes a character interesting. This is what makes drama dramatic. We are not moved by a character’s emotion (that’s a cheap response); we are moved by the dramatic situation that causes the emotion in the character. So the primary task of the actor is not to simulate the inner experience or emotion of the character, but to put his or her dramatic situation onstage in front of us. They are quite different tasks.
You can apply this to so many different situations, and not just to acting – which is why I find the book so inspiring. It’s about discovering a different kind of authenticity from that which is normally on offer in our culture. To be authentic is not to go inwards, to summon up great depths of emotion, to express ourselves without self-restraint: this is authenticity as ‘sincerity’. To be truly authentic is simply to act for something worthwhile, to live a life worth living. It’s more objective, more matter-of-fact.
There is still a kind of transparency (which has a great currency in our culture), but this is because when you see what someone is striving for, it helps you to understand who they truly are. You don’t always need to go inward; you don’t need to get them on Oprah.
This is basically Aristotle. It’s the telos (the end, the purpose) that defines a person’s actions; and it’s the telos that defines the person. I don’t discover who you are by having you pour out your heart to me (although that might, in some situations, be an important moment in our relationship!); I discover who you are by seeing how you live and what you care about and who you love and what you would die for.
It’s the action, the life, that makes you the person you are, and makes you interesting or not so interesting. The inner commentary that you may offer me, or the emotions that you may experience, may help me to understand you a little bit better, but they won’t actually show me who you are. I need to discover that by the way you act. This is what Manet and Aristotle know.
Here are a few of my favourite quotations from the book:
Nothing in the world is less interesting that an actor on the stage involved in his or her own emotions. The very act of striving to create an emotional state in oneself takes one out of the play. It is the ultimate self-consciousness…
The good play does not need the support of the actor, in effect, narrating its psychological undertones, and the bad play will not benefit from it…
In ‘real life’ the mother begging for her child’s life, the criminal begging for a pardon, the atoning lover pleading for one last chance – these people give no attention whatever to their own state, and all attention to the state of that person from whom they require their object. This outward-directedness brings the actor in ‘real life’ to a state of magnificent responsiveness and makes his progress thrilling to watch…
Great drama, onstage or off, is not the performance of deeds with great emotion, but the performance of great deeds with no emotion whatever…
The simple performance of the great deed, onstage or off, is called ‘heroism’…
Preoccupation with effect is preoccupation with the self, and not only is it joyless, it’s a waste of time… Only our intention is under our control. As we strive to make out intentions pure, devoid of the desire to manipulate, and clear, directed to a concrete, easily stated end, our performance becomes pure and clear…
There is much, much more to this simple book – 127 pages, large print. Do take a peak.
I’ve just come across this Catholics in Healthcare blog, edited by Jim McManus.
Here is the ABOUT page:
Celebrating and supporting the Catholic contribution to health, social care and social action
Catholics are busy and engaged in Health and Social Care. We see the work of caring for others as a core part of being Catholic. From being informal carers and volunteers to pursuing careers in nursing, medicine, social care, research and policy, Catholics
There are well over 1.000 Catholic agencies and organizations in the UK providing some form of health and social care, from volunteer groups in parishes to local and national Catholic Charities , Religious Orders which specialise in nursing, health and social care; and official agencies of the Catholic Church at local level such as Diocesan agencies. The Catholic health and social care presence is large and diverse.
This blog is created by, about and for Catholic Christians working in Health and Social Care. The Blog will update you on the work of the Healthcare Group of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales as well as providing you with access to other resources and support.
Our Editor and contacting us
The editor of the Blog is Jim McManus, a member of the Healthcare Reference Group of the Bishops’ Conference.
I was at the Catholic Medical Association Annual Symposium on Saturday. I heard a talk by the barrister Neil Addison about the recent decision in favour of the Scottish midwives, who argued that their conscientious objection to abortion meant they should not be forced to supervise abortions.
Three points that emerged from the judgment stuck in my mind.
First, that ‘treatment’ includes not just the immediate procedure but the whole ‘support’ that is given to the person before and after the procedure; and that someone can therefore object on grounds of conscience to be involved in this wider aspect of treatment.
Second, that if someone is supervising any treatment then they are medically and morally involved in that treatment, even if they are at one stage removed from it.
Third, that if there is some doubt or disagreement, the law should if possible rule in favour of respecting someone’s conscientious objection, in order to avoid putting citizens in the position of having to choose between loyalty to their faith and the law.
This is my summary from memory. Here is the report from Neil Addison’s own blog about the ruling (sorry the text is messy – it hasn’t copied over very well. At least you can read it…).
As a follow up to my post on 7th march 2012 regarding the case of the Scottish Midwifes who did not want to supervise Abortions the earlier decision has now been overuled and their right to conscientious objection recognised in Doogan & Anor v NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board  ScotCS CSIH_36This a unanimous decision by three Judges of the Inner House of the Court of Session (equivalent to the English Court of Appeal) and recognises in clear terms that the Conscientious Objection clause in s4 Abortion Act 1967 allows Medical staff to refuse to participate in ALL aspects of Abortion ”treatment”.The Court rejected the Hospitals suggestion that s4 only covered participation in the immediate act of Abortion and also rejected arguments based on inconvenience to the Hospital. The Court recognised that Abortion is a uniquely controversial aspect of Medical practice and that the right of Conscientious Objection is “a right” which Hospitals have to accommodate regardless of any managerial inconvenience it may cause.This covers a point I have been involved in as Director of the Thomas More Legal Centre where I have had to protect Nurses being pressurised to participate in Abortion especially the administration of Abortion inducing Drugs. Frequently Hospitals have suggested that s4 only applied to the actual giving of the Drugs but did not cover other aspects of Nursing work. This Judgment vindicates the Nurses I have represented who have refused to participate in any aspect of Abortion “treatment”Interestingly the Court also endorsed a South African Court decision Christian Education SA v Minister of Education (2001) 9 BHRC53 where the Judge had said“believers cannot claim an automatic right to be exempted by their beliefs from the laws of the land. At the same time, the state should, wherever reasonably possible, seek to avoid putting believers to extremely painful and intensely burdensome choices of either being true to their faith or else respectful of the law. “This case could therefore become an important decision in relation to issues of Religious Freedom extending beyond Abortion”I am also pleased that the Judgment agreed with a criticism I had made of the earlier decision in my Blog last year when I said
“the Judge in what is a rather sparsely reasoned decision decided that what they were doing in supervising the Abortion process did not in law amount to participation in Abortion. She mentions and in large part relies on the wording of the Nurses Contract and the guidelines issued by the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Royal College of Nurses which is somewhat peculiar in view of the clear wording of s4(1) that the right of conscientious objection overrides any ”contract or .. any statutory or other legal requirement”, that to my mind means that s4(1) should have been considered without any reference to the views of the NMC or the RCN or their guidance.”
In para 33 of the Judgment the court makes clear that even professional guidelines can be legally wrong and cannot overule statute, it says (my emphasis)” Great respect should be given to the advice provided hitherto by the professional bodies, but prior practice does not necessarily dictate interpretation. Moreover, when the subject of the advice concerns a matter of law, there is always the possibility that the advice from the professional body is incorrect. …….It also proceeds on the basis that a midwife has a duty to be non-judgmental and that to be selective is unacceptable, but this ignores the fact that the Act allows a degree of selectivity to those with a conscientious objection”Even though the Judgment is from a Scottish Court and Scotland is a different jurisdiction to England and Wales the judgment will apply in England and Wales. The Abortion Act 1967 applies in England, Wales and Scotland (but not in Northern Ireland) and wherever Scottish Courts have adjudicated on such “cross border” legislation their decisions have been accepted without question in England and Wales and vice versa.The Inner House of the Court of Session is equivalent in status to the Court of Appeal and therefore this case will be treated south of the border on exactly the same basis as if it had been a decision of the Court of Appeal.In the judgment it is noticeable that much of the case-law referred to was English but was treated as binding in Scotland because the Scottish Court was dealing with the same piece of legislation as the English Courts.
I just received this information from Comment on Reproductive Ethics about the One of Us campaign, an online petition in defence of the human embryo.
Here is the explanation – it seems well worth supporting.
1. The campaign idea and name was developed by the Italian Pro-Life Movement under the leadership of MEP Carlo Casini, and specifically as fruit of his lifetime commitment to working towards full protection for the human embryo.
The ‘One of Us’ campaign underlines the moment of conception as the beginning of human life, and aims to prevent any funding of activities which result in the destruction of human embryos, particularly focusing on areas of research, development aid and public health.
The initiative follows a recent European Court of Justice judgment (Brustle vs. Greenpeace (Germany)), which upheld the special nature of the human embryo.
2. The campaign will be taken forward using the vehicle of a European Citizens’ Initiative which is a newly established legal instrument which allows citizens across the EU to propose legislation if it falls within the scope of EU competency.
Such an initiative must have the support of at least 7 of the 27 member states and each individual state involved must collect a minimum number of signatures based on its overall population.
An overall number of at least one million European citizens must adhere to the proposal.
3. 54,000 signatures are required from the UK to fulfil our quota.
To take part in this campaign you must be resident in a EU State, be 18 or over and eligible to vote in the European Elections.
4. How to sign on:
We are focusing exclusively on online collection and this can be done easily at: http://www.oneofus.eu
Just click on ‘SIGN’ at the top of the page and follow the instructions, including clicking on the ‘support’ button, and ‘United Kingdom’ of course when asked for your country identification.
It takes 2 minutes from start to finish to register a vote in support of the humanity of the human embryo.
5. The petition deadline is November 2013 but we need to move very quickly to reach our quota.
Posted in Morality, Politics, Religion, tagged Cardinal Schönborn, communism, creative minority, culture, embryonic stem cell, ethics, ethos, evangelisation, Gospel, international theological institute, Pope Benedict, Pope-Emeritus Benedict, secularisation, secularity, society, stem cell research, witness on April 12, 2013 | 12 Comments »
I heard Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna give a talk in London recently. It was part of a promotional event for the International Theological Institute, an English-speaking centre of theology in Austria. See their website here.
He was speaking about the role of the Church in a Western culture that is increasingly secularised. He was somehow pessimistic and optimistic at the same time. I didn’t take detailed notes, so some of this might have my gloss on it.
The pessimism went like this, and he acknowledged that he was simply repeating themes elaborated by Pope-Emeritus Benedict over many years: There is no doubt that the cultural landscape in the West has become more secularised over the past fifty years or so. The Church seems to have less influence as a cultural and political force; and it has lost or is in the process of losing the big moral battles of the last two generations (abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, traditional marriage, etc).
On top of this, the Church itself has in many ways become more secularised. The ethos of many Christians (their attitudes and behaviour) is often not dissimilar from the ethos of the secular world around them. So the Church is both marginalised for being at odds with the culture, and ignored for having nothing significant to offer to the culture; it is both counter-cultural (in a way that is incomprehensible to most people), and yet too influenced by the culture to give a distinctive voice.
The optimism came as a result of the pessimism. Because the Church, in this analysis, has more or less failed in the mighty cultural struggles of the last fifty years, this failure gives it a new freedom to stop worrying about how influential it is on society and concentrate on just being itself and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Instead of trying to win a political argument, and putting all its energy and anxiety into resisting political and cultural change, it can choose to witness to the truth of Christian values on their own terms.
It’s as if we have been gripping the wheel too tightly, judging our worth by the measure of how effective our campaigns have been in particular ethical issues, of how many people we have managed to convince to change their views. Perhaps this is all misguided. Perhaps we should concentrate on purifying ourselves, and the witness we are giving, and leave the results to God. If the Church becomes less concerned about convincing the secular world, and at the same time less worldly herself, she will actually have more to offer the world in an authentic way.
Cardinal Schönborn quoted St Bernadette of Lourdes, when she was interrogated by the clergy and police after her visions, and one of them said to her, ‘You are not convincing us’. And she replied, ‘My job is not to convince you, but just to tell you’. It’s like Peter and John speaking to the elders of Jerusalem in Acts 4: ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard’.
I’m not 100% sure about all this! Yes, Christians need to have the confidence to witness to their faith, without over-worrying about how this witness is being received. Yes, the Church needs to be purified, converted, and each individual Christian needs to become less worldly and more focussed on Christ and his teaching. Yes, if we fail to convince or even challenge the culture, we shouldn’t give up. This is all true, and makes sense to Catholics who are confident in their faith, and have the support of a strong Christian community.
But there are other concerns too. When the Church loses its influence in society, this effects in a negative way especially the many ordinary Catholics whose faith is perhaps less strong, who don’t yet have the inner spiritual resources to self-identify as a confident and creative minority: those on the edges; the lapsed; those without the energy or time to engage in questions about Catholic identity. When the Church is no longer a strong cultural presence, and when Christian institutions are not nurturing the faith of ordinary people in quiet but significant ways, then the moral and spiritual lives of many people suffer.
And I’m also concerned about this apparent failure to engage constructively with the culture. If we do have something to say, shouldn’t it make sense to at least some people? And if it isn’t making sense, shouldn’t we find better ways of saying what needs saying? It’s about the continuing importance of dialogue and cultural engagement.
To be fair to Cardinal Schönborn, he was not suggesting that we should give up on dialogue and retreat into a self-justifying mode of ‘witness’. Quite the opposite. He explicitly said that the Church should step out more freely to engage with the world, with a new confidence. That was his point. If we worry less about results and influence, if we are less afraid of being a misunderstood minority, we can be more truly ourselves, more faithful to the gospel, more creative, more engaged, and more interesting to those who are genuinely searching for an alternative to the worldliness around then.
I agree. Catholics sometimes need to be counter-cultural, in a joyful and confident way; as long as we remember that we are part of the culture as well, and we need to use as effectively as possible all the opportunities that we have to influence that culture, opportunities that come to us precisely because we do still belong to it in so many ways. Let’s not use the category of ‘witness’ as an excuse to opt-out or as a defence if our appeal to reason seems incomprehensible. We need to continue in the struggle to make the Christian message comprehensible – which it is.
It was interesting that the very last comment from the floor was about the fall of communism. It wasn’t really a question, just a statement that we should really be more optimistic, because the greatest threat to faith in God and Christian freedom of the last century has actually been overcome: communism. We forget, said the member of the audience, what a terrifying foe this was in Europe and throughout the world, how much harm it did to the Church and to Christian culture, and how much worse things could have become. And yet it did not prevail, in part because of the struggles of Christian men and women.
Cardinal Schönborn agreed, and thanked this person for ending on a note of hope. As if to say: yes, let’s be a creative minority on the ‘outside’ of the secular culture, but let’s not give up on using the influence we still have through our historical Christian presence and trying to transform the culture from within. Which is exactly what Pope-Emeritus Benedict said in his speech at Westminster Hall.
Posted in Morality, Psychology, Relationships, tagged Arlie Russell Hochschild, childcare, children, commercialism, culture, decluttering consultants, elderly-care managers, hyper-personal services, love, nannies, online dating, outsourcing, outsourcing of the self, Relationships, The Outsourced Self, wantology on March 28, 2013 | 6 Comments »
When I was reading about Want-ology last week, I came across this wonderful phrase: the outsourcing of the self. It says so much, without needing to be explained; it gives enormous satisfaction by filling a definite lexicological gap.
This is how Rhys Blakely got onto the subject:
Look no further than the growing list of intimate tasks, or ‘hyper-personal services’, that can be outsourced to paid strangers in LA.
There are nameologists to name children, who are then potty trained by hired baby-whisperers; there are ‘elderly-care managers’ and professional graveside-visitors; there are love coaches and ‘decluttering consultants’, and I once met a banker who hired somebody to read his children bedtime stories down the phone.
So is it really surprising to learn that you can now pay someone to tell you what you want?
[Times2, p4, March 14, 2013]
It’s hard to believe some of this Californian excess, but there are plenty of more mainstream examples.
I don’t know if she actually coined the phrase, but Arlie Russell Hochschild is the author of The Outsourced Self. This is from a review by Judith Shuleviz.
In “The Outsourced Self,” Hochschild talks to love coaches, wedding planners, surrogate mothers, nannies, household consultants and elder-care managers, but also, and with deep empathy, their clients. A majority of these people are middle-aged or near middle age; the main thing is, they’re not young, which means they are not yet used to a virtualized and monetized social existence and can still express doubts about it. Most are women, who have long been the main providers of care, love and charity.
Hochschild’s consumers buy hyperpersonal services because they lack the family support or social capital or sheer time to meet potential mates, put on weddings, whip up children’s birthday parties, build children’s school projects, or care for deteriorating parents.
Or these folks think they just couldn’t perform such tasks as well as the pros. The providers sell their services because the service economy is where the money is, or because they take pleasure in helping others. Everybody worries about preserving the human element in the commercial encounter. Very few succeed.
Shuleviz gives this example:
Evan Katz is a love coach who teaches would-be online daters “How to Write a Profile That Attracts People You Want to Meet.” One of his clients is Grace (virtually all names have been changed), a divorced 49-year-old engineer who wants to search for love as methodically as she solves an engineering problem. Katz tells her “to show the real you through real stories.” When Grace comes up with a story about learning humility by scrubbing toilets at a Zen monastery, he reels her back in: “That might be a little too out there.”
On a mass medium like the Internet, the best “real you” is average, not quirky: “Everyone needs to aim for the middle so they can widen their market,” Katz says. He encourages daters to rate themselves from 1 to 10, and not to aim higher than their own rating.
On the other hand, he worries that daters will objectify themselves and others so zealously they’ll equate dating and shopping: “They want to quickly comb through the racks and snap their fingers, next . . . next . . . next. . . . You can be too efficient, too focused on your list of desired characteristics, so intent on getting the best deal that you pass over the right one.” Luckily, Grace escapes that trap when she agrees to go out with a tattooed, bald musician who doesn’t fit the criteria on her list, and falls in love.
We are outsourcing the self all the time. It’s part of what makes us human, that our personal lives are never completely separated from the culture, and that there is often a transactional element to this.
We share tasks; we give and take; we are responsible for each other in different ways. The line between what is personal, familial, cultural, technological, and commercial is always being re-negotiated. That doesn’t mean we can’t make mistakes or cross a line into a kind of existence that is almost depersonalised. This is the real question that Hochschild is raising.
I’m half-way through a lovely book by Leo Maasburg called Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait.
It’s an easy read, being simply a collection of anecdotes and stories. Here is the blurb:
Mother Teresa’s life sounds like a legend. The Albanian girl who entered an Irish order to go to India as a missionary and became an “Angel of the Poor” for countless people. She was greatly revered by Christians as well as Muslims, Hindus and unbelievers, as she brought the message of Christian love for one’s neighbor from the slums of Calcutta to the whole world.
Fr. Leo Maasburg was there as her close companion for many years, traveling with her throughout the world and was witness to countless miracles and incredible little-known occurrences. In this personal portrait of the beloved nun, he presents fifty amazing stories about her that most people have never heard, wonderful and delightful stories about miracles, small and great, that he was privileged to experience at Mother Teresa’s side. Stories of how, without a penny to her name, she started an orphanage in Spain, and at the same time saved a declining railroad company from ruin, and so many more.
They all tell of her limitless trust in God’s love, of the way the power of faith can move mountains, and of hope that can never die. These stories reveal a humorous, gifted, wise and arresting woman who has a message of real hope for our time. It’s the life story of one of the most important women of the 20th century as it s never been told before. Illustrated with photos.
This story really struck me, about the generosity of a newly married couple, told by Mother Teresa herself:
I never forget, some time ago, two young people came to our house and gave me lots of money. And I asked them, “Where did you get so much money?” And they said, “Two days ago we got married. Before marriage, we decided we will not buy wedding clothes. We will not have a wedding feast. We will give you that money.”
And I know in our country, in a Hindu family, what that means, not to have wedding clothes, not to have a wedding feast. So again I asked, “But why? Why did you do like that?” And they said, “We loved each other so much that we wanted to share the joy of loving with the people you serve.”
How do we experience the joy of loving? How do we experience that? By giving until it hurts. [p.68]
I’ve blogged before about the Wedding-Industrial Complex and the pressures on engaged couples to create the perfect wedding. This is such an impressive story because it is not about trying to fight the system for its own sake, but about being motivated by love to see things in a different perspective, and discover possibilities others would never have dreamed of. What a great way to start your marriage! (I hope/trust that the parents approved of the decision!)
Posted in Morality, Philosophy, tagged Alain de Botton, antonio del pollaiolo, atheism, atheist virtues, goodness, politeness, resilience, Ten Commandments, virtue, wickedness on February 13, 2013 | 12 Comments »
In case you missed these, here is Alain de Botton’s list of ten virtues unveiled in his Manifesto for Atheists.
1. Resilience. Keeping going even when things are looking dark.
2. Empathy. The capacity to connect imaginatively with the sufferings and unique experiences of another person.
3. Patience. We should grow calmer and more forgiving by getting more realistic about how things actually tend to go.
4. Sacrifice. We won’t ever manage to raise a family, love someone else or save the planet if we don’t keep up with the art of sacrifice.
5. Politeness. Politeness is very linked to tolerance, the capacity to live alongside people whom one will never agree with, but at the same time, can’t avoid.
6. Humour. Like anger, humour springs from disappointment, but it’s disappointment optimally channelled.
7. Self-Awareness. To know oneself is to try not to blame others for one’s troubles and moods; to have a sense of what’s going on inside oneself, and what actually belongs to the world.
8. Forgiveness. It’s recognising that living with others isn’t possible without excusing errors.
9. Hope. Pessimism isn’t necessarily deep, nor optimism shallow.
10. Confidence. Confidence isn’t arrogance, it’s based on a constant awareness of how short life is and how little we ultimately lose from risking everything.
Why these? Why now? Robert Dex explains:
De Botton, whose work includes a stint as a writer in residence at Heathrow Airport, said he came up with the idea in response to a growing sense that being virtuous had become “a strange and depressing notion”, while wickedness and evil had a “peculiar kind of glamour”.
He said: “There’s no scientific answer to being virtuous, but the key thing is to have some kind of list on which to flex our ethical muscles. It reminds us that we all need to work at being good, just as we work at anything else that really matters.”
My own response, which I sent to the Catholic Herald last week:
I like this list of virtues. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s certainly helpful. It prods you into making a sort of ‘examination of conscience’, and reminds you that there are other ways of living and relating and reacting.
There are obvious borrowings from classical philosophy, the great world religions, English manners, and the self-help books that line the shelves at WH Smiths.
Apart from the obvious absence of ‘God’, they don’t seem to have a particularly atheist spin.
If both believers and non-believers lived by these virtues, the world would be a much happier place; there would be less shouting and more laughter; relationships would be more stable, and we’d get more done in an average day. That’s surely something to celebrate!
But Francis Phillips thinks there is an implicit Pelagianism at work here:
I understand why de Botton is preoccupied with the concept of a virtuous atheist and I do not mock him; indeed I take his yearning to counter the supposedly superior claims of Christianity very seriously. It is a noble ideal and society would indeed be happier and more civilised if more irreligious people of the “Me-generation” were to reflect on his ideas. But just as that selfless quiet heroine of the Great War, Nurse Edith Cavell, realised that patriotism was not enough, so a noble and enlightened atheism, however fine its aspirations, is not enough if individuals or society are to be regenerated or renewed.
The reason, as Catholic theology teaches us, is sin, original and personal, our own and Adam’s. We are not strong enough by ourselves to be good (as opposed to “nice”) without the grace of God. Politeness and resilience – indeed kindness and niceness – are not virtues in themselves; they are attractive characteristics of some people by nature; the rest of us have to fight against being “horrid”, like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead.
It is Pelagianism (and de Botton strikes me as something of a neo-Pelagian) to think we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and achieve virtue on our own.
Do you like them? What’s missing?
This is the accusation from Naomi Wolf, in an open letter to Zero Dark Thirty‘s director, Kathryn Bigelow:
Your film Zero Dark Thirty is a huge hit here. But in falsely justifying, in scene after scene, the torture of detainees in “the global war on terror”, Zero Dark Thirty is a gorgeously-shot, two-hour ad for keeping intelligence agents who committed crimes against Guantánamo prisoners out of jail. It makes heroes and heroines out of people who committed violent crimes against other people based on their race – something that has historical precedent.
Your film claims, in many scenes, that CIA torture was redeemed by the “information” it “secured”, information that, according to your script, led to Bin Laden’s capture. This narrative is a form of manufacture of innocence to mask a great crime: what your script blithely calls “the detainee program”.
What led to this amoral compromising of your film-making?
This is Bigelow’s defence:
I support every American’s 1st Amendment right to create works of art and speak their conscience without government interference or harassment. As a lifelong pacifist, I support all protests against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind.
But I do wonder if some of the sentiments alternately expressed about the film might be more appropriately directed at those who instituted and ordered these U.S. policies, as opposed to a motion picture that brings the story to the screen.
Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement. If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time.
This is an important principle to stand up for, and it bears repeating. For confusing depiction with endorsement is the first step toward chilling any American artist’s ability and right to shine a light on dark deeds, especially when those deeds are cloaked in layers of secrecy and government obfuscation.
And this is Slavoj Žižek’s response to Bigelow’s response:
One doesn’t need to be a moralist, or naive about the urgencies of fighting terrorist attacks, to think that torturing a human being is in itself something so profoundly shattering that to depict it neutrally – ie to neutralise this shattering dimension – is already a kind of endorsement.
Imagine a documentary that depicted the Holocaust in a cool, disinterested way as a big industrial-logistic operation, focusing on the technical problems involved (transport, disposal of the bodies, preventing panic among the prisoners to be gassed). Such a film would either embody a deeply immoral fascination with its topic, or it would count on the obscene neutrality of its style to engender dismay and horror in spectators. Where is Bigelow here?
Without a shadow of a doubt, she is on the side of the normalisation of torture.
I saw the film at the weekend, and I think Wolf is right.
It’s not, as Žižek argues, the supposed neutrality of the depiction; some of the most powerful indictments of evil have come about through stark, cool-eyed, non-judgmental descriptions of the reality of what has taken place – bringing the horror into the moral daylight, even without explicit moral comment.
Nor is it, as Wolf herself writes, the factual question about whether torture was or was not effective in helping the US to locate Bin Laden.
It’s much simpler, and it’s to do with the nature of film and not with arguments about historical truth. It’s the fact that in the dramatic arc of the film, torture is justified; whatever ethical unease we may have as thinkers and moralists, in cinematic terms, we identify emotionally with the protagonist, the heroine, so that the plot device (in this case torture) becomes – whether we like it or not – emotionally justified.
The plot is very simple: men are captured; men are tortured; some of them give information; Maya, the intrepid CIA agent, won’t give up on her hunt for Bin Laden; some of this information, combined with other information, leads Maya to discover the whereabouts of Bin Laden; Bin Laden is killed. Even if your conscience says that torture is always wrong, even if the horrific portrayal of torture in this film actually makes you firmer in your opposition to torture, at an emotional level you can’t help wanting Maya to find him (this is what we do in films, we root for the protagonist, we long to find the ‘MacGuffin‘), and as a viewer caught up in the chase, you can’t help being grateful that the information was finally found – whatever the means.
As a film, it’s gripping and beautifully produced, but still slightly disappointing. There is very little context or background; we never really understand what makes Maya tick; it’s two-dimensional.
Another moral issue, equally important, gets completely ignored in the film: whether it is right to assassinate someone in these circumstances. Everyone in the film, on Maya’s side, wants to find Bin Laden and kill him; no-one asks whether this is justified, morally or legally. I’m surprised and even worried that reviewers don’t seem to have commented on this (but let me know if you have seen a review that has).
I was a guest blogger at the Tablet this week, writing about New Year’s resolutions:
I spent the last three days of the year helping on a retreat for young people in south London. On New Year’s Eve we had a discussion session, and I put this question to them: If you knew the world was going to end in exactly one hour, what would you do with the time? I was thinking, of course, about the Mayan non-apocalypse of 21 December 2012, when the world was meant to end but didn’t.
I was also remembering a provocative Canadian film from 1998 called Last Night. Here, the coming apocalypse is scheduled for midnight. The film doesn’t explain what form this will take, so instead of this being a disaster movie it’s a psychological study of what people choose to do with their last few hours.
Most people are partying in the streets; a dysfunctional family tries to celebrate a non-dysfunctional Christmas dinner, which of course goes wrong; two lovers form a suicide pact in an attempt to show that their lives will not be taken from them; a young woman who has never known love knocks on the door of a stranger. There is not much faith and not much hope.
What did the young people on retreat choose to do with their last hour? I prodded them a bit, not to give a particular answer, but to think about the question in a particular way. First, to reflect on this in the light of faith: it’s not just about the end of this world, but the beginning of another. How does that affect your answer? Second, it’s not just your own personal end, it’s the knowledge that everyone else is going to meet their own end as well.
What did they say? Well, you can go and read the whole post. But I ought to copy the final paragraph about what this rambling reflection has got to do with New Year’s resolutions:
Here is my advice: think about what you would do, in the light of faith, if you and everyone else only had one hour left. And then resolve to do that soon, or at least in the next year …