The Thomistic Institute held held a symposium, named above, at New York University’s Catholic Center. Your roving reporter was there. Here is a brief, a very brief, account, of course shaded by my interests.
First and importantly, and because the Big News of Pope Francis’s latest tome had only come out only the day before, none of the speakers or moderators said anything1, except in passing, about Amoris Laetitia. It was in the air, however.
Philip Munoz: “God, Catholicism and the American Founders”
Munoz, a lawyer, has been arguing with what he called “neo-Catholics” or “paleo-Catholics”, folks who hold the position that the rot we see about us was present in the foundation of America. Munoz countered by showing documents from Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and so on, in which words like “Creator” and “Providence” appeared.
Munoz claimed that the presence of these words indicated that our political system was constructed on the stones of objective truth, natural law, and teleology. All of these, it is emphasized, Munoz agrees are necessary for the functioning of a moral and civil society and which are now missing.
In the examples Munoz selected, Hamilton came out best, and, as readers might expect, Jefferson worst. Munoz, though, thought Jefferson’s use of Christian-like terms meant that Jefferson believed in the ideas behind these terms. But could Munoz have read Jefferson’s version of the Bible, in which all the bits which tie Jesus to objective truth, natural law, and teleology have been stripped away, leaving only a social justice warrior’s primer? Plus, Jefferson, and Munoz, were rather too keen on equality, a difficult subject (about which more Wednesday).
A goodly portion of the audience did not think Munoz made his case. But, again, Munoz was entirely with the room on our present dismal state and on the necessity of the metaphysical troika.
George Weigel: “Murray’s Critique of the American Future”
Murray was the Jesuit priest John Courtney Murray who (as Wiki puts it aptly) “was especially known for his efforts to reconcile Catholicism and religious pluralism”. His work, in the 1960s, on “religious freedom” caused many to “fear that lay Catholic faith would be weakened.”
Weigel, a well known Saint John Paul II scholar, said “metaphysical boredom” leads to nihilism, which is now widespread. Laws, once the provenance of Congress, have been replaced by “judicial usurpation.” Particularly in the case of Obergefell vs Reality, in which the latter was pierced through by our so-called Supreme Court. Weigel named the author of that opinion, but did not remind the audience that this author self-labeled as a Catholic—perhaps one in the tradition of Murray?
The principle of subsidiarity, making decisions at the lowest possible level, and solidarity, JPII’s idea of “civic friendships”, were on the ropes in our march toward centralization and bureaucratic tyranny. Both the State and a majority of citizens now believes that citizens are a “twitching bundle of desires, and that it is the function of the State to satisfy those desires.” Hence gmarriage.
How to change this? There are not many options. As Christians, we should remember our baptismal date and live as the first Christians did, hoping our example will be to people now what it once was to people two thousand years ago.
Weigel was friendly to “religious freedom”, but it is to be wondered whether, if a sect of Baal worshipers set up shop asking for the freedom to conduct ritual sacrifice, he would be as keen. And don’t forget, dear reader, that Satanists are using “religious freedom” to move into the political sphere.
Michael Hanby: “Technocracy and the Future of Christian Freedom”
Hanby’s work we’ll come back to at a later date, as it is consonant with our main subject, the philosophy of science.
Education is now “dedicated to not thinking about the purpose of our being.” About the tumult in civic life, he quipped, “Who needs a Stasi when you have a neighbor with an iPhone [or other device] handy and ready to destroy your life?” Hanby didn’t mention Murray, but he did say the fears of Murray’s (and of the “spirit” of Vatican II’s) critics, of Christianizing liberalism leading to liberalizing Christianity, have been realized.
Hanby tied our post-political totalitarianism into the sexual revolution. How he did so can only be crudely sketched here. He correctly noted that now there are “no bearers of political responsibility”, and that we are instead ruled by a coupled technocracy-bureaucracy. Why?
Nature itself is seen as an artifice, like the device on which you are reading this is. There are “no depths to contemplate, only facts to memorize” (we’re back to the missing metaphysical troika). If you notice manipulating X leads to Y, which further leads to Z, then you don’t need to understand the nature of cause. These (X, Y, Z) just are. (Yours Truly almost jumped up on his chair with an Amen! at this point.)
This applies to the sexual revolution. Once we developed a mechanistic understanding of the human body, and abandoned the understanding of human nature (essence), “we opened the door to the dualism of sex and gender”. Gmarriage was “unthinkable [until] we figured out the mechanism of reproduction.”
Again, more Hanby later. Perhaps his most prescient phrase was “hidden martyrdom”, perhaps the coming fate of many.
Russell Hittinger: “The Social Vision of Leo XIII in the 21st Century”
Leo XIII, “no fan of democracy”, was like the Owl of Minerva. The famous Hegelian phrase is, “the owl of Minerva begins its flight only when the shadows of night are gathering.” Similarly, Christians say prophecy is only understood as, or after, it is fulfilled. Leo, in other words, was there at the close of the old age, and only saw it for what it was as it was fading.
In Rerum Novarum, Leo said “there is nothing more useful than to look at the world as it really is.” Still, Hittinger said Leo and popes up through World War II did not fully recognize or acknowledge the meaning of global capitalism. Leo did grasp that the three great institutions, marriage and the family, the polity, and the church are fundamental. For this reason, Leo thought schools, which is to say Catholic schools, were of prime importance.
Today, as readers know, many institutions of “higher learning” which call themselves Catholic have all but abandoned the faith in their race to emulate secular “success”.
Political life, Hittinger said, has been “reduced to social contract.” And contracts “might be revoked by those that made them.” How often have we heard marriage called a “contract”? There is no philosophy behind a contract: there are only lawyers. Hittinger called this thinking “negative anthropology”
Pope Francis was the first pope to truly grasp the global aspects of capitalism, Hittinger claimed. Under globalism, States have been suborned to the economic system, which explains Francis’s suspicion of capitalism and of “mediating institutions”. Francis would have the polity subordinate to movements.
Hittinger thought our current pope was a Cassandra. “There is not a Minervian bone in Francis’s body.” “I see signs of Peronism” in the Pope, he said in answer to a question. By which he meant the Pope would have movements, outside the hierarchy and its legalisms, “side with good people. Not the people, but good people.”
But who picks the “good people”? This makes us wonder if the Pope knows that unleashing the mob has seldom led to great things.
1 Neither did any speak about the Pope extending the validity of confessions of SSPX priests beyond Year of Mercy, because this wasn’t known at the time.