Graduation Matters

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Image Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-gail-gross/10-inspirational-quotes-for-graduates_b_7508152.html

[Note: I like to post heavily researched articles with long quotations. But this year, my mental energy is spent more on tutoring and a other writing projects, so there are fewer articles, which is fine.

I thought it might still be fun to post shorter, more casual opinions on other topics. The best we can possibly do is to help others through the places that we have been–so I will try to post things that I know about….which is precious little.]

Here’s one: Graduation matters

I didn’t attend my undergraduate graduation exercises, and I regret it. I’ve heard other new graduates express that graduating wasn’t really an accomplishment–getting in was the hard part, and the rest was expected. I said something similar at my own high school graduation–that it didn’t matter because Virginia law required us to graduate. I crankily added that the ceremony was meaningless.

Well–those are wrong. Graduating does matter, and it’s not guaranteed. Yes, getting into college is hard. Yes, graduating high school is required. But it still takes work to get there–real work.

That diploma wasn’t guaranteed in the admissions letter; the law didn’t bestow a sealed diploma upon you because you turned 18. A lot of people drop out–of high school and college. Sticking with it requires discipline, effort, and showing up.

Showing up is highly underrated. Show up enough, and you get places and meet people. Stay home too much and you don’t. Often, it’s that simple.

It’s true that graduating isn’t the end of the road. There is no end. But even if it’s not an end, it’s a still a landmark worth slowing down and savoring. Seriously, if life is road trip, the destination is death–so enjoy the rest stops. Don’t say they don’t matter because they aren’t the end.

Further, by enjoy–I don’t mean total hedonism. I mean, look with gratitude at what you’ve done; what God has accomplished and ponder where he may be calling you next.

Enjoyment is where the ceremony comes in. It’s a ritual. Rituals are not empty, cult events. They are markers of culture and what a culture venerates as meaningful and worth remembering. How do we remember things as a group? Ritual. (That’s what the Catholic Mass is: a ritual that also, miraculously, serves to make present the reality we are remembering).

Rituals are not empty; they are us participating in a long line of tradition and culturally handed down values. No man is an island. Our culture and communities matter; they are not merely external to individuals, but an important component of who we are. The Aristotelian philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote about our interdependence in communities in his book “Dependent Rational Animals,” where he argued that human dependence on each other is an integral but often overlooked (in the Western tradition) aspect of the moral life, or what it means to live well.

The take-away: enjoy graduation. Savor the accomplishment–even while reflecting with gratitude on all the people and circumstances that helped you get there. While no one accomplishes much all on their own, each person’s unique contribution is an integral thread of the tapestry whose current pattern is an accomplishment.

Did you ever skip a graduation ceremony? Why or why not? Are you glad you went or didn’t go? Are rituals really empty?

Freelance: First Child Euthanized in Belgium-The Slippery Slope Morphs into Cliff

My full article at: http://truthandcharityforum.org/first-belgian-child-euthanized-slippery-slope-morphs-into-cliff/

“With these examples of non-terminal patients choosing death, and–startlingly–of children having death chosen for them, the protections around human life appear near to non-existent. Admittedly, the suffering involved is severe enough to give us pause, but as the slope of preferring death to life becomes steeper, I worry that the philosophical grounds undergirding these cases create more of cliff than a slope, a cliff that actually has no basis for affirming the value of life at all.”

In many countries today, terminal conditions are a requirement of the past in order to warrant euthanasia. In the Netherlands, “The suffering need not be related to a terminal illness and is not limited to physical suffering such as pain. It can include, for example, the prospect of loss of personal dignity or increasing personal deterioration, or the fear of suffocation.”

With these subjective guidelines, there are no longer functional, legal protections on any state of life in many states and nations. A person with severe Depression, for example, suffers great emotional anguish that he or she feels can only be resolved by death. There is nothing in principle to formally disqualify such a person from euthanasia. This actually happened to a woman only identified as Eva in Alexander Decommere’s documentaryEnd Credits.

If we cannot in principle rule out death for the physically sound, on what grounds do we have to argue for that any life is worth living?

I think we need to think very hard about what it is that makes life worth living even in the face of pain. Is a good human life really a life devoid of suffering? If not, what role does suffering play in human development?

5 Books that Led to My Conversion

Uc2JTTW9vaMCNine years ago, while I was an undergraduate, I converted to Catholicism. Most people know that about me, and a lot of people think it’s strange, and that’s okay. 

I read a lot then and I read a lot now; here are five books that helped me on my way (in addition to the numerous actual people I observed and whose example and conversation affected me):

  1. The Confessions of St. Augustine
    1. Granted, this great saint and theologian was trained in rhetoric in the classical Roman educational style, but his language draws the reader right in. He is so forthright in telling his own wrong-doings, the thought-process of his conversion and in describing the nature of God and how he discovered it.
    2. It’s near-impossible not to be captivated by Augustine’s style and emotion as unfolds the story. There is a lot I identified with and a lot that I learned that Augustine puts into words rather well.
    3. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.”
  2. After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre
    1. A tour-de-force modern classic of philosophy that goes through the history of the Enlightenment moral philosophers to explain why moral/ethical discourse today has gone astray and why we often have difficulty just talking to one another about it.
    2. He criticizes the Enlightenment, destroys relativism as a fall-back and proposes a modern Aristotelianism.
    3. When I was pondering the casual relativism so rampant on college campuses, no other book dealt with the philosophical difficulties therein so well or so broadly. In many ways, this book was for me intellectual permission to set a stance, to reject the proposition that there is no truth, but while maintaining respect for others.
    4. Interestingly, MacIntyre was not Catholic when he wrote this, but he did later convert.
  3. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Continue reading

3 Principles for Pro-Faith Education (From T&C)

A recent piece of mine from the Truth and Charity Forum, “3 Principles for a Pro-Faith Education in the Modern Age,” in which I reflected on the most basic of basics of what I think kids need to learn in order to grow into thoughtful, curious, decent adults.

Where do they learn about reality? Their heritage? God’s love? In Nature, Art and each other, of course.

To see the elaborations; visit here

“As the social environment becomes more polarized, a need develops for education grounded firmly in the truths about life, its goodness and the human person. Catholic schools go a long way to meeting this need, but the foundations of learning are still worth considering as parents, the first educators of children and also for the sake of continual growth and reform in existing schools.”

Nature:

“The first step is going outside in the natural world, observing plant and animal life as well as geological phenomena, and learning about how it works. This comes innately to small children and adults, I think, and inspires wonder.

natureLater this serves as a foundation for hard sciences and math and also as an introduction to the wonder of God and creation.”

Art:

“Over time, the introduction of culture through poems, songs, prayers and art provides the foundation for all the humanities: literature, philosophy, history, languages etc. I even think that the love of one culture inspires not hatred for others, but curiosity because one has glimpsed the transformative and shaping power of language, beauty and thought.”

Love:

“Love of neighbor is much simpler; it is concern for others as equally worthy of love as we are. And it requires appropriate love of self because if we have no concept of our own lovableness before God despite our woundedness, we will be unable to see the lovableness of others despite their woundedness.”

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/3-principles-for-pro-faith-education-in-the-modern-age/

What did you think of this? What would/did you share with your children? Where did they/do you want them to go to school?

From T&C: The Communists are right! (About the family’s problems, but wrong about the solutions).

This article appeared originally on the Truth and Charity Forum of HLI.

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/the-communists-are-right-the-family-is-the-basic-cell-of-society-but-here-is-why-their-solution-is-wrong/

The Communists were right about a good many things, but often misguided in their solutions. In Friedrich Engels’ account of the family from “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,” accuses monogamous marriage as the beginning of class oppression in society, and he describes the family as “the cellular form of civilized society.” In the latter sentiment, he is correct: the family is the basic cell of society. But in the wider sense, the Communists have the answer painfully reversed.

Engels argued in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State:

The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male. Monogamous marriage was a great historical step forward; nevertheless, together with slavery and private wealth, it opens the period that has lasted until today in which every step forward is also relatively a step backward, in which prosperity and development for some is won through the misery and frustration of others. It is the cellular form of civilized society, in which the nature of the oppositions and contradictions fully active in that society can be already studied.

Viewing the family as a vehicle for power relations and nothing more, Marx and Engels argued for its dissolution.

familyIn the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote that “On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.”

Ironically, he rightly points out hypocrisy so present in upper-middle class families, i.e. the bourgeois, where adultery and use of prostitutes is present; and he is also right that family relations among the poor are looser with more children born out of wedlock, something we still see today. Marx’s solution is to abolish the family, or more accurately, he argued that it would disappear as private property was abolished.

Though their analysis is largely correct about problems in the family, it does not mean that the family is intrinsically bad or the source of disorder.

Precisely because the family is the basic unit of society, the answer to society’s problems is not to dismantle the family, but to heal it. Continue reading

MacIntyre Post #3: Emergence of the University

It was because the thirteenth-century European universities, developing out of conjunctions of the academic ambitions of masters, the desire for increased power by rulers, and the striving for upwards mobility by students, became scenes of intellectual conflict, places where the fundamental issues that divided and defined the age were articulated, that their history provides the setting for the emergence of the Catholic philosophical tradition (65).

Interesting. MacIntyre posits that this set of factors made philosophy important and laid the groundwork for arguments to happen about the nature of things. He lists student ambitions, professor ambitions and the ambitions of the rulers as the contributing factors because they intersected and conflicted.

This shows at least one thing that I hadn’t thought about before I read it: that universities were never pure palaces devoted to learning simply as a good in itself. It always involved ambitions of the players comprising the system, but still, I think there is a difference today.

Looking at the university nowadays, we still find that the students have ambitions (to get jobs), that professors often seek academic glory or at least prestige, and certainly the rulers seek to use universities to provide qualified candidates for jobs and generally to fix society. Legislators tend to think that if we can just get enough kids through college, all societal ills will evaporate.

Somehow, I don’t think these particular ambitions converge today to make the university a setting for philosophical conflict. Rather, students and rulers see it as a tool.

MacIntyre doesn’t think universities today deal with philosophy adequately either. What do you think? What factors would make the university a philosophically challenging place? Are they the same factors that did this in the Middle Ages?

Augustine: Does Happiness Require Truth? (God, Phil., Univ. Post #2)

The late-classical skeptics (just as their Greek predecessors) had denied that the possibility that anyone could know anything certainly. Augustine, then, poses this question to the skeptics, says MacIntyre:

in his Contra Academicos he posed the question of whether it is possible to attain happiness while still only a searcher for truth rather than as one who has achieved it. (25)

Augustine believed that true happiness could not be had while still uncertain of our actual goal in life or what true happiness consisted in.

Today, many people claim to believe that “everything is relative” or that we can’t really know truth. I think Augustine’s question applies well: What does it mean to be happy if we don’t know what goodness or happiness really are? Because if we can’t know truth or anything beyond relativism, how can we really know what those two concepts really mean?

Augustine responds further that somethings can be known certainly, even if the amount of certain knowledge is limited.

 “ ‘if I am deceived, I am.’ ….I am deceived neither in believing that I know nor in believing that I love. What I love may not be what I take it to be, but that I love it, whatever it is, is certain” (26).

Thus, there are always two things we can know: that we exist and that there is something outside of ourselves that our loves (or desires) are directed at.

Lastly, Augustine unsurprisingly posits that we need knowledge of God to truly be happy and know truth and this knowledge only comes through grace.

Interestingly, he notes the biggest obstacle to receiving this grace is our own capacity to distract ourselves.

“What deprives us of the knowledge of God also deprives us of self-knowledge: an indefinite capacity for distraction by external trivialities and a craving for self-justification, so that we either do not attend to what is within or, if we do, disguise from ourselves our thoughts and motives. And in areas where our sexuality exerts its power, we lose our capacity for self-examination” (28). (referenced Conf. 10.35-37)

How true is this? I can’t help but think of the internet and the myriad ways we distract ourselves nowadays from thinking about things that truly matter. And I’m sure I do it just as much as anyone else.

And without knowing God, he says, we cannot truly know ourselves.

To connect to the first post, I think distraction is a big reason we avoid philosophy and tell ourselves that it is irrelevant anyway.

God, Philosophy Universities: Why Philosophy Matters

I recently read, “God, Philosophy, Universities” by Alasdair MacIntyre, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame. In it, he examines the development of the Catholic philosophical tradition and calls for a renewal of philosophy that addresses real, human questions and which reigns in the university ideology-run-astray that all disciplines have nothing to say to each other and that philosophy is generally irrelevant.

This post is the first in a series in which I will present quotations from the book with a few thoughts. So, here goes:

“The warring partisans on the great issues that engage our culture and politics presuppose, even when they do not recognize it, the truth of some philosophical theses and the falsity of others. If we are to evaluate their claims, we had better know something about philosophy and, if we are Catholic Christians by faith and commitment, something about Catholic philosophy.” (Intro. P. 1)

“Plain persons in our society think of philosophers as very different from themselves—and about the professional teachers of philosophy in contemporary universities they are manifestly right. Yet the obvious differences between the two…should not be allowed to obscure the relationship between questions asked by philosophers and some of the questions asked by plain persons. All human beings, whatever their culture, find themselves confronted by questions about the nature and significance of their lives: What is our place in the order of things?…How should we respond to the facts of suffering and death? What is it to live a human life well?” (9).

Basically, philosophy really does undergird everything from political positions, to arguments, ideologies and ideas for how to structure society and our relationships with others, ourselves and of course, with God.

Yet, MacIntyre says (and I agree), we tend not to recognize this. Instead, we think of philosophy as something that doesn’t matter. The tragedy of this is that such an attitude makes us incapable of understanding, analyzing, criticizing and consciously choosing from the plethora of philosophical opinions out there today in the public square. Ie, what is Republicanism really based on? or Democracy? or secularism? or charity? or liberty? Are these ideas right? Are they completely right?

Additionally, a failure to examine these ideas and understand them critically makes us unable to see beyond the rigid and small categories that they create. Ie, could there be something besides Republican or Democrat? Is there a way of viewing society that is neither capitalist nor socialist?

These are examples drawn from public affairs, but I think they suffice to illustrate the point.

Our debate and dialogue is impoverished because as a culture we tend to reject the tools required to really take ideas apart and understand them–that is, philosophy.