In Education, The End Depends On The Beginning.

Well said, Lion and Ox: ‘But rather than fit man from the very beginning to be useful to himself and to others- (which at first glance appears like a very laudable goal!) genuine Catholic education seeks to dispose each person to be a fitting vessel for Divine Grace. Following the maxim that “grace builds on nature,” genuine Catholic education proposes that by acquiring the intellectual habits of truth, the mind of the student is more apt for Divine Truth.’


Source: In Education, The End Depends On The Beginning.

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A neat analysis of what it means to analyze one’s response to a performance. I shared in both the particular experience, and in the general experience of loving to analyze.

A Grain of Salt

This weekend, I went to see a performance of the ancient Greek tragedy, Euripedes’ Iphigenia in Aulis. During the drive back, I talked the performance over with my friends. We came to conclusions about what was distracting, what worked well, and what was inspiring. These decisions were reached through a process called “analysis”.

I believe that if something is worth doing without complete understanding, it’s even more worth doing with understanding. Analysis is that rule of philosophy in action. It is the process by which we understand what is at first hidden.




Analysis comes from the Greek ana meaning “up” and luein meaning “loosen”. Together, the word means to take apart. To find the causes.

The first step is to observe. Watch something objectively. Note your reactions to the thing. Pay attention to the layers of causes in the thing and its many aspects. In the…

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The Loss of Moral Language

Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done? “The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.” (Analects of Confucius)

At the beginning of his now classic work After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre asks us to imagine a future society in our civilization has collapsed. (Not too difficult to do). The remnants of our scientific knowledge would be perhaps remain in textbooks and other resources, and these would be carefully preserved and taught. At the same time, the whole scientific infrastructure that allowed that the content of the sciences to have truth and coherent meaning would be gone. The scientific nomenclature would become a body of opinion which might correspond with reality, but might not. It would be what later generations could make of it.

AfterVirtueMacIntyre’s thesis in After Virtue is that this imaginary post-apocalyptic view of the sciences serves as an accurate image of the present state of moral discourse: “The hypothesis which I wish to advance,” he writes, “is that in the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in the same state of grave disorder as the language of natural science in the imaginary world which I described.” The problem is not then that we know what is right but fail to do it, the timeless problem of men everywhere. Rather, we no longer know the words to express the moral dimension of our experience.

In the Catholic school where I teach, I never cease to be impressed at the impoverishment of my students’ moral vocabulary. Many for example do not know the word gluttony. For them, the only “eating disorders” they know are psychological, not moral e.g. bulimia, anorexia. Neither do they know fornication, having grown up less judgmental terms like pre-marital sex or cohabitation. Correspondingly, few will know words such as woo or court. The whole language of courtship is a blank to them. One year, when I asked students for a synonym for “winning a woman’s love honorably,” a boy guessed “seduce” – probably because it was the only educated sounding word for that kind of activity he knew.

Many students can simply forget these things, even after they have been taught. But this task is rendered vastly more difficult by the countervailing trends in the larger culture. Christian morality has long ceased to inform our shared moral discourse. My students must feel that they are learning a foreign dialect. But of course, the bigger problem is not that this language has been lost by some great cataclysm, as MacIntyre’s scenario suggests. Our moral language has been intentionally destroyed.

JungleThe words we use shape our perception of the things we experience. When I was a boy, only ecologists used words like wetlands and rainforest. Ordinary folks used words like swamp and jungle. The language was changed to change our views about those things. Saving a rainforest sounds lovely – but who wants to save a jungle? Likewise, saving wetlands sounds considerably nicer than saving a swamp. This revision of language is particular evident in everything connected with the Sexual Revolution. Sodomy became homosexual and then gay. Prostitutes are mere sex workers. Living in sin is cohabitation and so on. Perhaps most notoriously, a baby is now a fetus, who is terminated in an abortion. Before Roe v Wade, only physicians used words like fetus or zygote. (It is hard to imagine someone asking a pregnant woman “Are you feeling your fetus kicking?”)

These distortions are not so subtle, but others are. Sex has been replaced by the word gender. Many might feel that that gender in fact might be better to use, since it does not carry the possible innuendo that sex does. But “gender” was a word that formerly was only used in grammar to describe nouns, e.g. masculine, feminine or neither. Gender is cultural. The word for “sun,” for example, in some languages is masculine, while in others is feminine. These are cultural perceptions, not facts. Sexual differences on the other hand are natural. Male and female are biological realities that have a natural basis. By replacing sex with gender, we have turned human sexuality into a cultural construct. (As I write, Facebook lists 58 possible “genders” for its user’s profiles, including gender questioning, gender fluid and non binary[1]).

Closely allied with the word gender are the words role and norm. People once considered the respective duties or tasks of men and women, especially as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. If gender is a cultural construct, all these duties no longer have a natural basis – they are created. Hence, our modern age borrows from the language of theatre to describe the roles of spouses and parents. No actor is naturally related to his role – he may play many characters, good or bad, young or old. Similarly, men and women are not then seen as living out natural differences, but interpreting, even inventing, a culturally derived script.

Norm is a term borrowed from the realm of sociology. Norms are standards derived primarily from common practice. They are not prescriptive, establishing what people ought to do, but descriptive, stating what in fact most people choose to do. Hence, normal is not synonym for natural; indeed, cultures may create all manner of practices contrary to nature. And certainly, normal is not a synonym for moral, unless one believes that morality is mere opinion, free from a natural basis. Together, gender, role and norm collectively undermine any natural basis for family life as various arrangements contrary to nature are considered equally choice-worthy.

Another important shift, again subtle in its effect, has been the replacement of specific words such as love and friendship with generic words like relationship. Relationship fuzzes over the distinct ways in which people relate for the sake of making these relationships a purely creative project. Unlike “love,” which makes demands, relationships become whatever those involved want them to be.[2] Similarly, the word partner is used where, once upon a time, wife or spouse or mistress or lover would have been more appropriate. Again, the goal is to have a generic word that puts a multitude of moral conditions all on the same level. As Allan Bloom succinctly remarks, “All relationships have been homogenized in their indeterminacy.”[3]

Without doubt, the most pernicious word in our contemporary moral discourse is value. Just as norm is taken from sociology and role from drama, value is a word borrowed from economics. Value expresses the comparative worth of a good or service in a system of free exchanges. Value may imply some objective basis for this worth, as in the “labor theory of value,” which insisted that the value of a commodity was related to the amount of exertion that someone would give to obtain it. Even so, this basis still demanded a market, that is, a group of people who were willing to exchange and so validate this “value.” Market values are not simple statements of fact, and they certainly do not tell us what things should be worth more than others. “Values” state rather what most people believe the worth of things to be, expressed in terms of free exchange.

One of the first, if not the first philosopher to import the language of values into moral discourse was Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche denied an objective moral law based on human nature. Rather, Nietzsche insisted that morality is created from different elements within society. In The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche describes this process: “the noble, powerful, higher-ranking, and higher-thinking people who felt and set themselves and their actions up as good, that is to say, of the first rank, in opposition to everything low, low-minded, common, and vulgar. From this pathos of distance they first arrogated to themselves the right to create values, to stamp out the names for values.” (chap.2)[4] Simply put, the nobler elements of society see themselves as good, and hence their moral language is first and foremost self-affirming.

800px-Nietzsche187cOn the contrary, those who were ruled and dominated, the slaves of this aristocratic society create different “values.” On the bottom of the social ladder, they could only resent their place, and create a form of morality in which that lowliness has its own “goodness.” As Nietzsche explains, “The slave revolt in morality begins when the ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of those beings who are prevented from a genuine reaction, that is, something active, and who compensate for that with a merely imaginary vengeance.” (chap.10) For Nietzsche, the Biblical morality of the Jews is the very paradigm of “slave morality.” Dominated by the empires around them, the Jews turn their very victimhood into a virtue – the weak are “beloved of God,” the powerful are “evil.”

Most people who speak of “moral values” are completely unaware of this Nietzschean background. Yet it is important to note the implicit consequences that the word “values,” namely 1) morality is not based on a natural law which is universal for all men; 2) rather, morality is a free creation in response to natural drives and social circumstances; and finally 3) moral judgments therefore only provide psychological information about the people who hold them, but do not tell us how people should act.

By contrast, philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, and the Christian tradition that appropriated their moral insights along with biblical revelation, know nothing of “values.” They speak rather of virtues, habits of the soul that perfect man’s nature, raised further by the gifts of sanctifying grace. Virtues are grounded in human nature, while values arise from human creativity. Yet so pervasive is the language of values that even Church documents today will speak of “authentic values” or the “proper hierarchy of values.” As Allan Bloom observes, “Even those who deplore our current moral condition do so in the very language that exemplifies that condition.”[5]

The replacement of virtues by “values” is the root and foundation of the confusions that pervade our modern language. The various ways in which the Sexual Revolution has sent words like fornication and sodomy into oblivion, and made family arrangements a matter of social invention by terms like gender and role would be unthinkable if not for the previous uncoupling of morality from nature. Centuries ago, Confucius insisted on the rectification of names. “If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.” Our language no longer reflects the moral realities of human life, but rather the revolutionary aspirations of the post-Christian world. If we are to recover the moral understanding we once had, we must recover the language that embodied that understanding. C. S. Lewis put it best when he observed “Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten to say.”[6]


[2] The tendency toward abstraction in language in democratic societies was well explained by De Tocqueville: “Men living in democratic countries are, then, apt to entertain unsettled ideas, and they require loose expressions to convey them. As they never know whether the idea they express to-day will be appropriate to the new position they may occupy to-morrow, they naturally acquire a liking for abstract terms. An abstract term is like a box with a false bottom: you may put in it what ideas you please, and take them out again without being observed.” (Democracy in America, pt.II, chap.16, “The Effect of Democracy on Language”)

[3] The Closing of the American Mind, p.132

[4] The relation between “language” and “power” has never been better illustrated than by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s exchange with Humpty Dumpty:

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’

“But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

(Through the Looking Glass, chap.6 “Humpty Dumpty”)


[5] The Closing of the American Mind, p.141

[6] “The Death of Words” from On Stories, p. 107

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Moral Education with “The Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” still stands as one of the most persuasive pieces for the cause of desegregation. Its rhetoric still  has power today, with memorable phrases like “justice too long delayed is justice denied” and “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.” But the heart of his argument — that man-made laws are just only if based on the moral law — conflicts with modern denial of a “moral law.” For man today, morality is seen as cultural or emotional or utilitarian; “moral law” is the leftover of outdated religion. But if this central pillar is removed, the force of King’s “Letter” collapses.

When Dr. King demonstrated in Birmingham, local clergy criticized his involvement as an “outsider” in activism they considered “unwise and untimely.” “Untimely,” because they were hopeful of a gradual integration for blacks in society; “unwise” because King’s followers were breaking the law by “parading without a permit,” a permit denied by the segregationist establishment. King points out that American blacks are tired of being told “Wait.” (Indeed, King’s later book about the Birmingham demonstrations was entitled Why We Can’t Wait). Blacks have suffered lynchings, bombings, police brutality, voter intimidation and constant social humiliation. His activism is not “untimely.”

More importantly, King argues that his disobedience should not distress his critics. We are bound to follow just laws, but not unjust ones. “An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” Since one of King’s critics was a Catholic bishop (Joseph Durick of Mobile), King cites St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” If racial segregation with its train of injustices offends the natural law, then it cannot compel men in conscience to obey.

Modern people would be quick to agree with the injustice of Jim Crow, but would feel distinctly uncomfortable with phrases like “moral law,” “law of God,” and “natural law,” phrases that King uses reflexively and confidently. Racism is wrong, but wrong because racial harmony is the mark of an “enlightened society,”  of equal rights and the democratic outlook.  In other words, racism is wrong because we as modern people all agree that it is wrong. There is no “natural law” or “law of God” declaring it so.

Such a view cannot be squared with the language of the letter. Everywhere, King speaks as if there moral knowledge that people should have as human beings, and that they are blameworthy when they act against this knowledge. The clergy who criticize him, King grants, are men of good will. Open racists like Eugene “Bull” Connor are men of “bad will.” How can the will be “good” or “bad” if goodness and badness is merely a matter of emotion or culture? The goodness of the will only makes sense with some objective rule of “goodness” apart from the man-made law.

This is also evident in the way that King explains conscience. While it is common to think of “conscience” as one’s individual feelings of right and wrong, King relates conscience explicitly to law: “an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.” Conscience is not a free creation of the individual, but rather the personal submission of the mind and will to a law not made by men.

King, arguing from the “personalism” of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, declares that segregation is unjust because “[i]t gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.” But if it is not true that “all men are equated equal,” then how there be a “true” or “false” sense of superiority? There would be no standard by which one could say that men are better or worse, equal or unequal.

In sum, the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” rests on a basis that most modern people, especially the educated, reject. The barrier for them is not only the Letter’s predictable religious language, which one would expect from a religious leader writing to religious leaders. Rather, it is the more fundamental assumptions which the Christian tradition shares with the pagan philosophers who preceded it.  King’s “Letter” condemns racism in view of a moral code based on human nature and the God who made it. This code is not distinctively “Christian” or “Jewish” but human. If this code is denied, the rhetoric of King is ultimately empty. King’s views are objectively no better than the segregationists in Birmingham who opposed him. King, who sought like Socrates to liberate men from prejudice, was after all, only persuading society of his own.

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Two Ways of Staging the Marriage of Figaro

‘As I once wrote, “Mozart’s (and Da Ponte’s) Così fan tutte and Le Nozze di Figaro sparkle with comic brilliance on the surface, but under the surface is a deep sadness, and an unbearable pain.”’

Worth reading: Two Ways of Staging the Marriage of Figaro

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Is Morality Determined by Culture?

Many consider “cultural relativism” a new phenomenon. But people have long recognized that cultures differ in their moral beliefs and practices. It was not a modern anthropologist, but the Greek historian Herodotus who observed, “if one were to offer men to choose out of all the customs in the world such as seemed to them the best, they would examine the whole number, and end by preferring their own; so convinced are they that their own usages far surpass those of all others.” (Histories, III.38) Pindar before him had declared, “Custom is king over all.”

For many people today, the mere fact of disagreement between cultures provides sufficient evidence against universal moral judgments. They believe themselves to be following laws that are arbitrary, that could be totally different if they were living in a different time or place. The initial acceptance of cultural relativism, that is, different standards for different cultures, easily turns into a cultural determinism that is, the belief that people are not free to have moral beliefs different from their own culture. People, on this view, could not question or reject the customs in which their culture has formed them.

Certainly as a general rule, many follow their own culture in an uncritical way. But every culture has its dissenters and innovators. Socrates provides a well-known and easily understood example. Although he has been raised in Homeric polytheism of ancient Greece, it has become questionable to him as an adult. When Euthyphro tells Socrates of the stories of warfare among the gods, of the stories of Zeus and Cronos who mutilated their fathers, Socrates asks “Is not this, Euthyphro, the reason why I am being prosecuted, because when people tell such stories about the gods I find it hard to accept them?” (Euthyphro 6A) Socrates’ dissent brought a charge of atheism against him, and he was eventually convicted and executed.

Widowburning2Despite the widespread acceptance of cultural relativism in anthropology, modern research provides numerous examples of cultural dissent. UCLA anthropologist Robert Edgerton treats several such cases in his provocatively titled work Sick Societies. In eastern India, for example, high class women are expected to burn themselves on the funeral pyres of their departed husbands (called “sati” or “suttee”) While some women follow this custom even today, a minority of women do so, and it has always people within Bengal who condemned it. Indeed, one of the goals of the so-called “Bengali Renaissance” under leaders such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the abolition of widow-burning. While some of the influence against widow-burning no doubt came from the British who ruled India in the 19th century, Roy argued against the practice using traditional Hindu texts.

Edgerton also relates the research of F J Porter-Poole among cannibal tribes in the highlands of New Guinea. The practice stopped after western intervention, and researchers were surprised to the degree to which the tribesman welcomed the change. According to Porter-Poole, many of those whom he interviewed and who admitted to cannibalism “acknowledged ambivalence, horror and disgust at their own actsSickSocieties.” Some simply could not or would not conform – they vomited or fainted.

Similarly, anthropologists working among tribes that had traditions of constant warfare were surprised to discover how relieved the warriors were to leave this behind. For example, Yanomamo tribesman in the jungles of Brazil “whose culture exalted ferocity and perpetual warfare, frankly admitted that they disliked having to live in fear of violent death.”

While Pindar and Herodotus are right to emphasize the importance of custom in human life, it is verifiably untrue that all people passively accept what their culture gives to them. Many will avoid carrying out their cultural dissent in a visible or revolutionary way. Indeed, they simply hide the disagreements they have with larger culture, confiding them to a few or none at all. But clearly there is some other source of moral knowledge besides that which culture gives. Human beings are not merely plastic to the exertions of customs. Apparently, something within human nature provides limits, even the strength to resist.

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Moral Judgments – Facts or Opinions?

Allan Bloom began his Closing of the American Mind with this memorable observation: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, Closing coveror says he believes, that truth is relative.” (25) College education does not make these students relativists – they come to university that way. This is what I have seen myself from high school students over the last ten years.

This becomes evident during an exercise I give to them in which they are asked to distinguish “facts” from “opinions.” I give them twenty statements, such as “Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa” and “Goodnight Moon is the best children’s book ever” and have them label these as one or the other. Among the twenty statements are three moral statements: “Sexual exploitation of minor children is immoral,” “it was unjust for the Nazis for persecute the Jews” and “human sacrifice should not be allowed as a form of religious freedom.” Overwhelmingly, students will label these as “opinions.”

Why? They consider statements “facts” which are provable by observation and experiment, and therefore carry widespread assent. Moral statements are to them disputable and unprovable. They are “intangible” or “emotional” or “cultural.” This makes them opinions. There is almost no crime so heinous – genocide or child molestation or ritual sacrifice – that they will not shrug and say, “but the people who were doing it thought it right.” For them, nothing offers a basis for argument or proof in moral questions. All views have equal weight.

In recent years, I have introduced statements such as “it is a violation of basic human rights for Muslim countries to execute homosexuals.” A minority of students will think that this is a “fact” because it appeals to “rights.” Why? They believe that there is widespread consensus on “rights.” After all, there is a U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. I then offer the following challenge – why is the United Nations belief in “rights” a fact, when traditional Muslim societies disagree with it? Why is the UN right and the Muslims wrong? Students are puzzled by this, and some pipe up that those who called human rights “facts” are being inconsistent.  “Human rights” is just another way of talking about “justice” which is merely another moral and hence “unprovable” belief.

It is a fair question to ask whether students can be broad minded about these forms of injustice because they are in fact well to do suburban kids surrounded by decency and prosperity. Questions of injustice by and large are remote from their lived experience. To put it bluntly, their moral relativism costs them nothing. One has all the comforts of a liberal and non-judgmental outlook without its disturbing repercussions.

One way that I have tried to raise these issues more concretely is by having students read two articles on “honor killings.” This is the old world practice of killing a family member who has in some way disgraced the family; usually the victim is a young woman who has breached a strict code of purity and modesty. While the practice is old world, the stories take place in the new. One girl, Noor al-Malaki was killed by her father in Arizona, after she moved out of the home and adopted a more “Western” way of life. The second, Jessica Mokdad, was gunned down by her stepfather in Michigan for similar reasons. What happens when these different moral “opinions” are among us, not halfway across the planet?


Students are perplexed by what they see as a dilemma. On the one hand, they are of course horrified at teen girls being shot or run over for listening to Beyoncé and wearing blue jeans. These girls are not much older than my students. But on the other hand, they believe the fathers to be following their “culture” or “upbringing” and hence not accountable for their acts. They are uncomfortable with one group of people imposing their “morality” on another – yet they also accept the state’s right to imprison them for their murders.

At bottom, their moral relativism seems to flow from a hidden moral absolute: “Thou shalt not be judgmental.” If I say that my moral code is better than yours, then I am arrogant. Bloom observed among his college students “Relativism is necessary to openness, and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating.” (26) In my case, the students do not receive this from their previous schooling, but largely from the society around them. They absorb it through their music and movies, through their television shows and social media. This often has, I am sorry to say, more impact that what happens in a classroom, for it shapes their emotional responses in ways that school learning does not.

At the same time, this formation in “tolerance” and “openness” can begin a conversation about the basis for those beliefs. For they treat these qualities as moral “facts” not as mere opinions. Indeed, some of the students who are the most dogmatic about relativism are the most indignant when that “openness” is violated. The attempt to cast out nature in place of changing “conventions” is in fact the most insidious of conventions.







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Macbeth’s Porter

I love directing Shakespeare’s plays. Since the words mean everything in a successful performance, I am always faced with the challenge of interpreting every speech, every difficult passage, every seemingly insignificant scene. I delight in discovering the dramatic impact of different possible interpretations in practices with the actors. I assume that every word is pregnant with meaning, both in its immediate context and with respect to the whole, and I am nearly always rewarded. No word is without the touch of the artist, though it take patience and thought and trial to discover it.

This summer I didn’t direct, but I was given the opportunity to portray the Porter in Macbeth. The Porter’s appearance at the beginning of II.3 is a ridiculously comic interlude – the only comic episode in the play – that shockingly interrupts the tension-filled, gory portrayal of the murder of Duncan and its discovery. The drunken Porter comes on to stage with no break in time (the knocks that wrench “Wake Duncan with thy knocking” from Macbeth do waken the Porter), rambles on about hell, equivocators and tailors, then enters into a stand-up routine on drunkenness and lechery with Macduff as his straight man. When Macbeth enters, the Porter is no more heard from. For all of his nonsense, the Porter makes his mark: “I pray you, remember the Porter,” may be ignored by Macduff, but not by the audience.

Some say Shakespeare needed an interlude to give the actor portraying Macbeth time to get the blood off his hands and a costume change, and perhaps he felt it a good opportunity to momentarily relieve the tension of the play, so the words of the Porter need not have any deep connection with the rest of the play.  But this account goes against all my instincts as a reader of great authors and a devotee of Shakespeare. And if one can look past the comic presentation, the Porter’s explicit mention of Hell makes evident what the Macbeths have done to their beautiful castle: Lady Macbeth’s invocation of the demonic spirits has turned to Hell what Duncan and Banquo had admired as a castle wafted by “heaven’s breath”.

Could not equivocate to heaven

As I went over and over the lines, and played through the role many times in rehearsal, I developed a feeling for the moment that resonated well with the rest of the play. The Porter explicitly welcomes three characters into his make-believe Hell. The first two might be the source of news and gossip – a suicide and a religiously motivated traitor who used Jesuit techniques of mental reservation to unsuccessfully try to win acquittal from an Anglican court. But the third one’s sin is so slight – just skimping a little on the advertised quality of goods (“an English tailor come hither for stealing out of a French hose”) — that it might never have been noticed, yet  so common that very few businessmen would be free from its guilt. Here the Porter begins to make the audience uncomfortable. Immersed in the horrendous evil of the murder of Duncan, they naturally would condemn the Macbeths and instinctively flee in horror from their sin. But the Porter points out that Hell is the final resting place not only for horrific betrayers but also for petty thieves. And though he does not go on, the Porter makes calls out “all the professions that go the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.”

The Porter is funny, and laughs himself as he pretends to welcome others into Hell. In his interchange with Macduff, he shows himself to be a prime candidate for hellgate. He jokes about lechery and drunkenness, but shows himself guilty of them. Unwittingly, he shows himself to be as much a victim of the equivocating fiend as Macbeth. We laugh with him and at him, but he disturbs our comfort – are we also losing our everlasting soul to the deceptions of the devil? Will we join Macbeth the “hell-hound”? Will we discover with Lady Macbeth that “Hell is murky?” The Porter must begin to — Shakeespeare gives no direction for the Porter to exit, so he must suffer the news of Duncan’s murder through his drunken haze.








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Are there answers for human life apart from science?

There are always students at the beginning of my Moral Theology course who wonder why the class matters. To them, “moral theology” is perhaps a pretentious way of getting immersed in a set of rules dictated by the Church. For a significant number of these students, science offers real knowledge and real answers about the world – definite, quantifiable and widely accepted. But is important for them to understand that science cannot provide all the answers necessary for human life.

Any science textbook worth reading will help the student to see this important point. In the biology text we use at our school, the authors explain that “Pure science does not include ethical or moral viewpoints” and “science can tell us how technology and scientific knowledge can be applied but not whether it should be applied in particular ways.” (Miller & Levine) The beginner of course can read these words without understanding their significance. Examples are necessary.

In 1939, speech researcher Wendell Johnson of the University of Iowa directed experiments on orphan children. Intrigued by the effect of social environment on the development of speech, eleven orphans with speech problems were treated with love and support, while another eleven with no speech problems was belittled and criticized until they stuttered. Science can tell you about the ways in which social environment affect speech development – it cannot tell you not to abuse orphans to obtain that knowledge.

Another example: over a period of four decades, researchers for the U. S.  Public Health Service in collaboration with Tuskegee Institute in Alabama studied the effects of syphilis on a group of infected blaTuskegee_syphilis_experiment_venipunctureck Americans. The researchers claimed to be providing free treatment to the subjects, when in fact the whole goal of the study was to identify the long term effects of untreated syphilis. Many of the men were never told they had syphilis. The study was only stopped after it was leaked to the press in 1972. Science can tell you the long term effects of syphilis – it cannot tell you that human subjects should not be deceived into providing that data.

A third example: one time head of the American Psychiatric Association Donald Cameron carried out a series of experiments on mental patients to “depattern” them, that is, break down their personalities and “rebuild” them. (It is the kind of treatment implied in Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Identity novels). These experiments involved electroSleep Room Collilns-shock therapy, sensory deprivation and hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD. Although the experiments took place in Canada in the early sixties, they were funded secretly by the CIA (In the Sleep Room: The Story of CIA Brainwashing Experiments in Canada by Anne Collins).

I use these three examples because they did not take place in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan or Communist Russia. They did not happen during the 1700s or the 1800s. These experiments happened during the 20th century in America or with American government funding. Contemporary examples are also available. Witness the experiments of various kinds on human embryos, human persons in their earliest stages of development.

People are repulsed by harmful experiments on human subjects, especially when they belong to vulnerable populations such as orphans, impoverished blacks or mental patients. They take the moral treatment of these groups for granted. But the dogma that the only knowledge that counts is scientific knowledge undermines the very basis of these restrictions.  The principles that declare some forms of experimentation on human subjects as “moral” or “immoral” do not come from science.

The Second Vatican Council rightly expressed anxiety about the sufficiency many feel for science in human life: “today’s progress in science and technology can foster a certain exclusive emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism about everything else. For the methods of investigation which these sciences use can be wrongly considered as the supreme rule of seeking the whole truth.” (57§5) This is evident in many of our young people. Unless a “fact” is a scientific fact, it is for them no fact at all. For a society that enthusiastically directs its best and brightest into STEM programs, it is a worrisome thing to realize that many of these students have no firmer basis for their moral beliefs than emotion or public opinion.

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John Jenkins qualifiedly reaffirms Land O’Lakes

In reflections on the Land O’Lakes document, Notre Dame President John Jenkins explains its vision of faithful Catholic education, which he thinks has been largely ignored, critiques its assumptions about the possibility of theological scholars providing integrating leadership, and suggests that Notre Dame has been a model of what the authors of the document hoped to achieve:

The document’s limitations left questions to be addressed, but the vision in broad outline is one that makes truly serious Catholic research universities possible for our time. It has the vision that has helped shape the University of Notre Dame for the past 50 years.

I am interested in what others think about his article. Perhaps if Catholic institutions had the commitment honored by this take on LO’L, it could have worked.

A common key to remaining faithful for both older and newer schools is hiring faculty who are not merely baptized Catholics, but who are also committed to their faith, letting it shine through their lives and their work.


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