Friday, March 25, 2011

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on the state of the Church in Ireland

The ever eloquent and clear-sighted archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, recently delivered an address to Cambridge University on the state of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the radical transformation it is undergoing. The full address is available here. An excerpt:

"The paradoxical thing is that the farther the Church goes in adapting to the culture of the times, the greater is the danger that it will no longer be able to confront the culture of the time.   It will only be able to speak the language of the culture of the day and not the radical newness of the message of the Gospel which transcends all cultures.  It could become a type of civil religion, politically correct, but without the cutting edge of the Gospel.  There is a difficult path to tread between a fundamentalism which would pretend that the Church can have its own answer to all questions and a lack of courage to take up positions which may be culturally unpopular.  The conformism of the mid-twentieth century remained unchallenged because it had support.  Every generation has to allow the Gospel to challenge conformism, even a conformism which calls itself progressive....
When I was received by the Pope on the occasion of the ad limina visit four years ago, I arrived well prepared with all my statistics and my analysis of the bright spots and the shadows of Catholicism in Dublin.  I had statistics about priests, about institutions, about Mass attendance.  After greeting me the Pope started the conversation immediately by asking me “where are the points of contact between the Church in Ireland and those areas where the future of Irish culture is being formed”.  Instead of asking me about the number of parishes he quizzed me about the relationship between faith and universities, and media, as well as literature and the arts and the fundamental ethical issues on economy and society.

How can the Church in Ireland better foster interaction between faith and culture?  The Church has an undoubtedly a contribution to the improvement of society.  But that contribution cannot simply be that of being just a political commentator.  The principal contribution of Church institutions in an increasingly secular society is, as Pope Benedict noted in an interview of some years ago, “to witness to God in a world that has problems finding Him… and to make God visible in the human face of Jesus Christ, to offer people access to the source without which our morale becomes sterile and loses its point of reference.”"

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Winter 2011 Newsletter now posted

Our Winter 2011 Newsletter, Ethics & Culture, is now available on our website here. Read all about our Fall 2010 semester events!

Monday, March 21, 2011

An Interview with Matt Levering

Our 2006-2007 Myser Fellow, Matt Levering, recently gave an interview to the blog Vox Nova. He reflects on the vocation of a Catholic theologian, the relationship between academic theology and popular apologetics, and his forthcoming book on predestination.

An excerpt:
"...the development of doctrine is not the theologian’s first task, and is not something that a theologian sets out at first to do.  The situation at present requires emphasizing this point even more.  The task of contemplating and handing on the faith is the central labor of the theologian.  Only in this way can a sense of revealed truth be retained."

Read the full interview here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Revolution of Solid Love in Argentina

One of the most remarkable developments in student culture in recent years has been the revival among small and energetic groups of students of an enthusiasm for traditional conceptions of human sexuality.  These groups rely for the most part on arguments rooted in human reason and the social sciences, eschewing what some regard as the narrower theological reasons to which one might expect them to appeal.  Princeton’s Anscombe Society, founded in 2005,  was among the first such student groups, but the interest in forming similar groups has spread to a number of universities across the country, including Notre Dame.
                The movement now shows signs of going international with student interest popping up in Europe and South America.  Ignacio Ibarzabal,  a 25 year old Argentine lawyer and a very good friend of the Center, is one of the leaders of the movement in Argentina.   He is the founder and Executive Director of Grupo Sólido, an NGO that is leading  the so called "solid love revolution" among young people in Latin America. After studying part of his career in Rome, he graduated at Austral University, Argentina, where he is assistant lecturer of Civil and Family Law. He also worked at the Buenos Aires City Government and served as an advisor to a national congressman.
                Ignacio published an opinion piece in La Nacion—the most important newspaper in Argentina—on February 8th of this year describing the goals of Grupo Solido.  With Ignacio’s permission we are posting a translation of his very interesting article.  Here at the Center for Ethics and Culture we have a file for pieces like this.  It is labeled “Very Good News.”

The uprising of solid love

                Ignacio Ibarzábal
                For LA NACION

                Tuesday February 8th, 2011 | Published in the printed edition

                Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish sociologist, has achieved great editorial success describing our “liquid” society. On his book “Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds”, he captures the postmodern outlook regarding relationships: In these days, bonds among people are fragile, weak, almost ethereal.

                Liquid love is the legacy we inherited from the sexual revolution. And while adults may believe that young people comfortably swim in its waters, many of us are filled with dissatisfaction. In fact, a reaction is about to start.

                In the past few years, everywhere around the world we have seen young-led initiatives coming up against the manipulation of sexuality. The stronger movement sprouted in the United States. It started in February 2005 at Princeton University with the launching of the Anscombe Society. This society has gathered a group of students that—as Ryan T. Anderson, one of its founders, reports—were tired of the dehumanizing campus culture, and hoped to point to an alternative, a better way of celebrating human sexuality. The news spread rapidly, and the model was quickly mirrored on other campuses. Today we have similar groups in more than 30 universities and a new organization, the Love and Fidelity Network, has been created just to furnish resources and training to help these students to articulate and promote their values in the midst of hostile environments. In fact, similar groups are appearing all over the world, including here in Argentina.

                All these young people agree on a common set of ideas, unbeknownst today for too many adults. They believe sexuality is a human dimension to be celebrated. It should never be repressed, but it cannot be either reduced to the use of a partner as a means of pleasure. In this light abstinence acquires meaning and marriage stands out as an act of fundamental freedom that qualitatively enhances the ability to love. These youngsters—the first massive generation of children born from divorced parents–—see the family as a source of unconditional love, as a support for a healthy development of personality, and as a cradle of proactive and responsible citizens.

                The vital notion is that sexuality is where love flows naturally and that sexuality without true love cannot fulfill the hopes and aspirations of human beings.

                Nevertheless, the radical novelty is that these groups do not rely on theological reasons, but rather on human sciences. Which is why they dare to challenge and counter argue the dominant discourse of academia.

                An inattentive observer could claim that this vision contradicts facts. That the hook up culture, the fall of marriage rates, and the increase of divorces are unequivocal proofs that young adults are indeed liquid.

                And he would be partially right. But he will miss the point that social changes are the consequence of creative minorities and not of passive majorities. And these young minorities are longing for an uprise. They no longer face a family authority against to which rebel, not even a sexual ethic to mock at. Today we can only rebel against licentiousness, disorientation and the pain arisen from what Erich Fromm called separateness. Will we let this opportunity go by?

                We stand at the crossroads. Writers and academics continue to fill novels and papers with ink that smells of May 1968; sympathetic governments impose those ideas through public policies; and a legion of journalists, inspired by such breeze of uniformity, believe to be the carriers of the latest news while reporting the ultimate sigh of a revolution that already smells like naphthalene.

                But while the crowd looks at the domes of universities, governments and media, outside those walls new ideas are being born and a counter-reformation is being prepared. When everybody stares amazed at the achievements of the so called sexual freedom, a more attractive freedom settles down in the heart of thousands of young people. And it settles, with the tenacity that arises from the consciousness of being unfairly censored by political correctness.

                Far from winning the cultural war, the sexual revolution has begun to realize that its age is coming to an end, and while at the time it enjoys the rewards earned in the battles of the past, it faces the defeats which are the source of its future extinction. We, young people who were not even born in the sixties nor in the seventies feel tired when adults that were once our age—and alas, they have now become old—put in our mouths words that no longer can be theirs.

                So, while Simone de Beauvoir lies in her deathbed with a smile, contemplating tons of news and thousands of laws putting her ideas into practice, some of the children still unborn are already imagining a different culture. Be sure that they will reap new public policies from the seeds sown by the young people of today, who with the force of their reasons, are already attracting hearts to participate in a new revolution: the revolution of the faithful, true, responsible love. The revolution of solid love.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Stripper, Her Doctor, and the Case for Virtue Ethics

In the latest edition of the Irish Rover, Notre Dame's independent student newspaper, you can find a column by our Events Planning Coordinator, Greer Hannan, who is also the Executive Editor Emerita of the Rover:

"A Stripper, Her Doctor, and the Case for Virtue Ethics"
by Andrew Haynes ND '09, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus
and Greer Hannan ND '09, Executive Editor Emerita

You’re a hot-shot doctor. (Don’t worry, pre-meds, you’ll make it eventually.) Jill, a 19-year-old young lady, comes to the hospital. Despite being only somewhat conscious and slightly delusional, she is complaining about a sharp pain on her lower right side. After a few tests, you diagnose perforated appendicitis. Her appendix has torn from the growing inflammation, and the infection has started to spread throughout her body. Left alone, Jill will probably die. Yet new forms of minimally-invasive, low-risk laparoscopic surgery mean you can help. An emergency surgery can save Jill’s life, leaving her with only a small scar.

Unfortunately, you have not had a meaningful conversation with Jill because of her confusion. Whenever you get close to her bed, she pushes you away and refuses any treatment. She clearly doesn’t understand what is going on. Wanting to help, you wonder whether you should perform the surgery despite her apparent refusal.

Living in a society dedicated to personal autonomy, you understand that liberty rules the public sphere, and medicine is no exception. You are obligated to respect Jill’s wishes unless you determine that she lacks the capacity to make decisions. Fortunately, you remember back to your ethics training. To have “capacity,” the patient must (1) understand the facts of the situation, (2) appreciate the significance of the decision and the risks involved, (3) rationally weigh the options, and (4) communicate a decision based on that reasoning.

You go back into Jill’s room and decide that she fails all four parts of this “decisional capacity” metric. Jill cannot communicate a choice, let alone understand the situation, reason through options, or appreciate the significance of the risks. Because it is an emergency situation, you perform the surgery.

She recovers in three days and thanks you profusely.

The following week, you find yourself in a shockingly similar situation. Jane, also 19, comes to the hospital with the same complaint. Her diagnosis is identical. Fortunately, Jane is lucid and able to communicate. You recommend surgery. To your surprise, Jane tells you that she is in the adult entertainment business, an erotic dancer, and refuses any treatment that will give her a scar.

Unable to convince her, you ask for help. Her nurses, a psychiatrist, and the ethics committee of the hospital all intervene to no avail. The stalemate continues. Jane clearly understands her situation, including the simplicity of the procedure and the small size of the scar. She rationally argues, in multiple conversations, that her physical image and her dancing career are so important that she prefers the risk of refusing surgery.

No scars, she says.

You understand that you cannot perform the surgery against her will, even though you feel it would be in her own best interest. You back down, give her antibiotics, and hope for the best. Tragically, she dies the next day. [Jane’s story represents a real case from a large Midwestern hospital.]

Was the best moral conclusion reached? Certainly not. Yet although the conclusion was tragic, Jane’s right to liberty and self-determination prohibit her doctors from paternalistically performing a forced surgery that would have lead to a better outcome. The US Supreme Court has affirmed the rights of informed refusal in cases like Jane’s: Forced medical treatment legally constitutes battery.

On the other hand, Jane’s conception of her own human good is obviously stunted, leaving her with a half-baked moral system in which she wrongly values her physical appearance and her career over her life. Because she is not morally well-formed, Jane is not fully equipped to make medical decisions about her welfare, even though she fulfills the four criteria for decisional capacity. Weighing the benefits of alternative choices requires both a good system of values and a clear vision of how those values contribute to a flourishing life.

In our society, we raise our children to listen to the dictates of their consciences. Generally, they know what is right and what is wrong. We do not, however, teach them to question how their consciences have been formed or how their moral principles contribute to a good and happy life. As a result, our children grow to become people who have lists of moral principles in their heads, but no systematic understanding of how to balance them or what grounds their values.

Catastrophic situations, such as serious medical crises, can cause us to question our long-held moral precepts and values: Is life still worth living if a certain quality of life has been lost? With only a list of moral principles, and no systematic understanding of the sort of flourishing to which those principles are intended to contribute, we are stuck. We are left unable to determine which principles should be privileged when they come into direct conflict.

Virtue ethics provides one such systematic understanding of the good life and how to attain happiness. It emphasizes the appropriation of the virtues rather than adherence to lists of precepts. Virtue ethics presents a conception of the good life as one in which moral principles are so deeply internalized that they determine one’s whole posture toward life. Living justly and temperately becomes a matter of habit because one’s desires and sympathies have become ordered to a life of virtue by reason and acculturation.

As Will Durant once summarized Aristotle’s understanding of virtue, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” The formation of good habits requires rigorous discipline, much like the repetition of athletic training. Raising our children this way will at first look like the training of Pavlov’s dog, but it will not be complete until it has lead them to careful reflection on what the good life for man is and how the virtues contribute to it, individually and in concert.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that these debates are just for philosophers and doctors. It is likely that you will be faced with a difficult decision about critical medical care either for yourself or for a loved one whose wishes are unclear. More crucially, Jane and Jill had parents; parents who, in Jill’s case, formed in her a rightly-ordered attitude to life so that she could express gratitude for a surgery she was incapacitated to choose. Jane’s moral formation went tragically wrong; her lack of the virtues and of a well-formed conception of human flourishing cost her her life. How are you going to raise your children?

Andrew is a second year medical student at Northwestern and Greer is the Events Planning Coordinator at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. They can credit the back roads of Ireland for their friendship. There are some things you can’t go through together without becoming the greatest of friends: breaking your arm cycling through Co. Kerry is one of them.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An Interview with Dr. Bernard Nathanson

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former abortionist, who once ran the world's largest abortion clinic before converting to a pro-life commitment and being baptized in the Catholic Church, died last week at the age of 85. He is now remembered for his pro-life advocacy, particularly in producing and narrating The Silent Scream, a documentary of the abortion of an 11-week old unborn child. An interview he gave in 2008 is now available here. An excerpt:

"I didn’t always look for the truth. It’s only been the latter part of my life which I have spent looking for the truth. I spent the first half of my life being driven by hedonistic motives. Then I changed. Philosophy is the search for the truth. The truth lies at the bottom of a bottomless pit. It seems that truth is not absolute, as if ‘my truth is not your truth’. But there is a profound and eternal truth: life itself."