August 2022

  • Alasdair MacIntyre’s God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition contains this passage, which I came across at some point thanks to Urban Hannon:

    “From [the standpoint of the atheists] a theist is someone who believes in just one more being than they do and who therefore has the responsibility for justifying her or his belief in this extra entity. But from the standpoint of the theist this is already to have misconceived both God and theistic belief in God. To believe in God is not to believe that in addition to nature, about which atheists and theists can agree, there is something else, about which they disagree. It is rather that theists and atheists disagree about nature as well as about God. For theists believe that nature presents itself as radically incomplete, as requiring a ground beyond itself, if it is to be intelligible, and so their disagreement with atheists involves everything.”

    God is not simply another creature or thing out there in the universe.

  • Bad, even in the best light

    I took this photo while at a red light on Leesburg Pike in Falls Church, Virginia near Bailey’s Crossroads.

    What we’re seeing is a whole built environment, an entire intentionally crafting landscape, in what is probably literally its best possible light. And still, nearly everything is still bad and suggests a lack of intention.

    A gargantuan, undistinguished, glum-to-look-at rectangular apartment tower, with another just off to the left. Super-tall highway-style street lamps. Traffic lights strung across suspension-wire. An intersection too large for the youngest and oldest living nearby to cross comfortably. A thin median offering no protection from oncoming traffic that might jump the meager curb height. A sea of asphalt.

    The trees and modest shrubs are arguably the only soft and attractive things in this scene. The apartment tower would look all the more titanic without those two large trees obscuring its lower floors.

    They’ll tell us this is normal, but all that has been normalized is banality.

  • Saint Teresa of Calcutta in Schwenksville

    Earlier this month we attended mass near Philadelphia at Saint Teresa of Calcutta in Schwenksville. It’s a newer church, one of the last of the expansionist wave of new Catholic Churches that were built in the past generation when population projections forecasting regional growth implied a similar growth among faithful Catholic church-goers. Unlike so many of the suburban churches that I’m familiar with, this one got its architecture right. The altar here is visually striking as the focal point of the sanctuary, and it is striking not for its novelty but for its ancient reverence in elevating our gaze toward God. In contemplating Christ crucified, we are called literally to raise our gaze higher—to the heavens and toward all those things necessary for divine filiation.

    Thanks be to God.

  • Hadley Arkes writes that although the U.S. Supreme Court has reversed Roe v. Wade, the cultural and moral logic of Roe has altered the American heart on abortion:

    With Roe, the Court removed abortion overnight from a thing to be abhorred and forbidden — and turned it into something that should be endorsed, celebrated, and promoted. Roe is gone, but that moral teaching remains strong, and it is now vibrant in the most populous states where abortions may now be performed massively, with almost no restrictions and inhibitions.

    We now find ourselves in our new version of the “House Divided,” and it is an unsteady balance. The power to tilt it one way or another will be in the federal government, and if one side does not reach for those powers, the other side surely will. And if the culture of abortion flourishes in the blue states, the decisive leverage may well fall to them. The pro-life side has become soberly aware now that the overruling of Roe has not diminished the burdens of their work or delivered several hundred thousand unborn children from lethal dangers.

    Earlier in the piece Arkes writes that although Dobbs “returned [abortion] to the political arena in the states,” it’s “a trick of the eye to see no role for the federal government any longer on this issue.”

    The Supreme Court’s relinquishing of exclusive control over abortion actually raises the stakes, as abortion must now be confronted directly by presidents, governors, and lawmakers just as directly as by those judges and justices who will continue to confront abortion-related litigation.

    Focusing on the states without providing clarity for those at the federal level, or simply hoping for the best from a future pro-life president, will not get the job done.

  • Shia LaBeouf speaks with Bishop Robert Barron on his new film on Padre Pio and his conversion to Catholicism:

    It’s a rich conversation, with many worthwhile moments. This is one of those moments:

    Shia LaBeouf: Latin mass affects me deeply. Deeply.

    Bishop Barron: How come?

    Shia: Because it feels like they’re not selling me a car. And when I go to some mass[es] with the guitars and stuff… there’s a lot of what feels like they’re trying to sell me on an idea. Whereas what I feel when I went to Oakland—and, by the way, there’s a very incredible version of that as well [the Novus Ordo], that’s super activating and super emotional—Christ the King in Oakland does a Latin mass every day of the week, and it feels like it’s not being done to sell me on anything. And it feels almost like I’m being let in on something very special… It activates something in me where it feels like I found something. It’s a little bit like a band. When a band is pushed on you, it doesn’t feel the same way as you finding it. When you find it, then you root for it. It feels like this special thing that you found, and you protect it and you hold it, and it’s yours. When somebody’s selling me on something, it kills my aptitude for it, and my suspension of disbelief, and my yearnings to root for it. There’s an immediate rebellion in me.

  • EWTN profiled Sacred Art School Firenze in a segment that aired while MaryKate and I were there this summer:

    I spent the month of July working remotely while my wife completed the Sacred Art School‘s summer painting program alongside two friends from Fransiscan University of Steubenville and others from all over.

    Sacred Art School offers summer programs focused on painting, sculpture, and gold smithing, as well as three-year masters-style specializations in each of those areas.

  • The late Roger Scruton on the “metaphysical nature of our city temples and tombs:”

    Adolf Loos, founding father of architectural modernism, maintained that only in two of its applications is architecture an art—in the temple and the tomb. For it is only in these structures, built to house the non-existent, that architecture escapes from its everyday function as a shelter against an inhospitable reality. …

    Tombs, temples, and memorials form the heart of our ancient settlements, marking the public squares, the crossroads and the places of pilgrimage. They are the nodes of the urban network, and the streets radiate out from them, carrying the message of belonging to the furthest reaches of the city. Every town in Europe is built around a church, and public spaces are marked by monuments and chapels, reminding us that the place has a meaning more durable than the people who reside there. …

    People moved out to the suburbs, and into the suburbs from the fields. And yet no new places were created. The suburbs were no-places, and the city itself became a concrete platform, on which the glass boxes could be shifted back and forth like pieces on a chess-board. In an astonishingly short time, many of  the places that we knew had disappeared, and no places had come in their stead.

    … I have been even more struck by a deeper metaphysical difference. The old buildings belong in the places that they create; the new buildings typically belong nowhere, and create a nowhere wherever they are constructed. Physically the old city center is a space; metaphysically, however, it is a place, a somewhere to which buildings, people and the institutions that unite them can belong. But the new developments are spaces that refuse to be places, spaces where nothing belongs. …

    How does the peculiar experience of belonging enter human consciousness, and to what end?

    These questions return me to Adolf Loos’s observation concerning the temple and the tomb. In constructing these memorials to the non-existent we are fixing ourselves to a space. Temples and tombs are massive, immovable, as though the spirit contained in them has been fixed forever to the ground. The god and the hero cling to their allotted space with all the force of the imagination, and this causes us to reimagine that space as a somewhere to be shared and defended. In a space that has become a place it is not the body only but also the soul that finds a home. So much recent attempt at placemaking fails because it bypasses those core emotions. Yet how can you make a place for people if you do not first make a place for their heroes and their gods? We settle down by inviting our gods and heroes to settle beside us. And in that way the place is sanctified as ours.

    When the Antifa activists gather in the squares to pull the statues from their pedestals and the busts from their plinths, they are sending the message that this place is not ours, that we do not belong here, and that we want to start again outside the community that brought us into being. And the result of their destructive pranks will surely be no different from the result of so much modern building—the replacement of somewhere by nowhere. And I suspect that that is where we are going.

    I like Ave Maria so much because it is a space that strives to be a place—a place with Our Lord at its center and with the life of the community radiating from the reality of his Eucharistic presence.

  • Pre-dawn run in Miami

    I’m back in Washington after a restorative weekend in Miami. Late August weather in South Florida is exactly what I like, and I was able to go for some good runs—including an early morning run yesterday at 5:30am before catching my flight back.

    The sunrise from the Uber to the airport was a reminder of why this part of the country is so great.

  • Reading in Miami

    Reading in Miami

    I’m reading John Garvey’s The Virtues while I’m in Miami. It’s an accessible book and worth reading, probably annually.

    From the book’s Amazon description:

    An ancient question asks what role moral formation ought to play in education. It leads to such questions as, do intellectual and moral formation belong together? Is it possible to form the mind and neglect the heart? Is it wise? These perennial questions take on new significance today, when education ― especially, higher education ― has become a defining feature in the lives of young people.

    Throughout his more than 40 years in academia, John Garvey has reflected on the relationship between intellectual and moral formation, especially in Catholic higher education. For 12 years as the President of The Catholic University of America, he made the cultivation of moral virtue a central theme on campus, highlighting its significance across all aspects of University culture, from University policy to campus architecture.

    During his two decades of presiding at commencement exercises, first as Dean of Boston College Law School and then as President of The Catholic University of America, Garvey made a single virtue the centerpiece of his remarks each year. The Virtues is the fruit of those addresses. More reflective than analytical, its purpose is to invite conversation about what it means to live well.

  • Miami for the weekend

    I’m heading to Miami for the weekend, for a few days away. I’ll be working remotely today and tomorrow, but enjoying the change in climate and scenery and spending as much time outdoors as possible.

    It’s the simple things. Views like these never grow old.