Per Caritatem

In her recently published book, The Acting Person and Christian Moral Life, Darlene Fozard Weaver provides a thoughtful, challenging, and theologically astute analysis of the Christian moral life. Having examined recent trends and debates concerning Christian ethics from both Catholic and Protestant theologians, Weaver highlights the inattention as well as the lack of serious theological analysis given to moral actions. Where personal moral actions have been discussed—for example, the critical dialogue in contemporary Catholic circles between “traditionalists and revisionists”—moral culpability takes center stage in ways that continue to downplay or obscure the crucial and too often bifurcated relation between (1) sin as a power, force, and orientation, and (2) individual sinful acts. Weaver applauds contemporary Catholic theologians who have drawn our attention back to sin as a power and personal orientation, as well as those who have cautioned against past and present theologies of sin that encourage or promote legalism. However, Weaver argues that a robust theology of sin must not de-emphasize personal sins and the role they play in our moral development and our relationship with God and others. Speaking to these concerns in the latter part of chapter two, Weaver writes: “attention to sins makes a theology of sin more concrete without losing sight of the power of sin or of sin’s roots in the person’s orientation. It recognizes that the person negotiates her relationship with God in the acts she performs” (59).

In addition to Weaver’s clarity and non-polemical tone, another attractive feature of her book is her aptly chosen “real life” stories, illustrating her theoretical insights and adding existential depth and affective energy to her analyses. For example, in chapter six, where she discusses the important differences between forgiveness and reconciliation, Weaver provides a fascinating and theologically sensitive commentary on the tragic school shooting in Nickel Mines in 2006. The horrific event occurred on October 2, 2006, when gunman Charles Roberts entered an Amish school, shot ten female students—killing five of them and seriously wounding the others—and then proceeded to take his own life. “Within hours of the shooting, an Amish minister and several Amish men went to visit Robert’s wife and children to express their forgiveness, and another Amish man went to see Roberts’s father” […] At Roberts’s funeral, half the attendees were Amish” (162). As Weaver explains, the Amish believe that forgiveness is commanded by God, and thus the community’s immediate forgiving response to Roberts’s acts of violence is understood as a willful act of obedience. This is no way suggests that such a response was effortless or that those who chose to forgive did not struggle with intense feelings of anger, sadness, and the like. Forgiveness is not a one time act; rather, it is process, even a struggle that continues throughout one’s life. Weaver brings the point home by recounting Herman Bontrager’s commentary on the features distinctive to the Amish community’s way of practicing forgiveness.

“[F]or the Amish forgiveness is immediate rather than forestalled until the victim is emotionally ready to forgive. Forgiveness in this remains something to live into. The emotional dimension of forgiveness is directed and facilitated by practice. Moreover, as Bontrager notes, the practice of forgiveness is corporate and communal. ‘The community assumes the responsibility to forgive. […] In an offense of this magnitude Amish would never expect the individual alone to extend instant forgiveness. The community took responsibility to practice forgiveness knowing that the individual victims were too crushed to do it’” (163, Bontrager, “Limits of Forgiveness,” 7).

Bontrager also recounts a powerful scene he witnessed two years after the shooting in Nickel Pines. He was visiting an Amish family in Nickel Pines—a family whose eight-year old daughter, Rosanna, permanently disabled as a result of two of Charles Roberts’s bullets fired at her head, was being held by Charles Roberts’s mother. As Bontrager explains, Roberts’s mother comes weekly to read to Rosanna, “[s]he [Mrs. Roberts] gives care, and hopes for healing for her own wounded heart. Mary Liz and Christ, though weeping for themselves and for Rosanna, offer Mrs. Roberts hospitality, a space to mourn her son” (164; Bontrager, “Limits of Forgiveness,” 13).

Through this story of a concrete Christian community’s experience of tragedy and loss, we come to understand profound communal dimensions of forgiveness and how both forgiveness and reconciliation are volitional actions into which we grow and heal in community and communion with others.

Although I have provided a very incomplete “mini-review” of Weaver’s book, she has gifted us with a balanced, scholarly, and challenging study of what it means to be an acting person in relation to God and others and “to better understand how, by our acting, we involve ourselves with God—our first and final good—and the material and social goods that make up the proximate end of human life” (195).

 

It is my pleasure to post the following book promotion for my very good friend and colleague, Peter S. Dillard. Below is Peter’s brief academic biography and a short summary (originally posted here) of his recently published book on St. Bonaventure. You may purchase the book from the Wipf & Stock website or from Amazon.com.

Academic Biography

Peter S. Dillard received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Heidegger and Philosophical Atheology: A Neo-Scholastic Critique (Continuum: 2008) and The Truth about Mary: A Theological and Philosophical Evaluation of the Proposed Fifth Marian Dogma (Wif & Stock: 2009), as well as articles in philosophy and theology. Currently he is working on a book about the Christian Platonism of Hugh of St. Victor.

Brief Book Summary

St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio’s The Soul’s Journey into God is a masterpiece of thirteenth-century Scholasticism. Unfortunately no comprehensive analysis of Bonaventure’s seminal treatise exists that is accessible to contemporary audiences. Reinvigorating the medieval tradition of critical commentary for the twenty-first century, Peter Dillard’s, A Way into Scholasticism: A Companion to St. Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey into God, introduces readers to basic Scholastic concepts and arguments by expounding and evaluating Bonaventure’s speculative system. Dillard also highlights the relevance of Bonaventure’s thought for contemporary philosophical theology. The book will appeal to a wide audience including seminarians, clergy, brothers and sisters of religious orders, students at the advanced undergraduate or graduate levels, professional scholars, and anyone seeking a better understanding of the Scholastic intellectual tradition.

 

Although this post is written informally and seasoned with irony, humor, and sardonic flare, it is nonetheless substantive and speaks to issues of which I care deeply, assumptions that need challenging, and claims that ought to be deconstructed. As a female in a (white) male-dominant profession, viz. philosophy, I often find myself in the company of my (white) male colleagues in the workplace, at conferences, etc., engaged for the most part in intense, intellectually stimulating conversation. However, there are those awkward moments, which, honestly speaking, baffle, and, truth be told, frustrate me completely. For example, my otherwise savvy, thoughtful male counterparts somehow believe that being a woman or being a person of color gives one a free pass when it comes to academic positions, interviews, and the like.  Here are some common assertions that I encounter on a regular basis: (WM= white, male colleague) (WTF?= I assume that this is fairly clear. If not, google it.)

  1. WM: “I didn’t get the job because they gave it to some woman, and these days the women, African Americans, and other minorities get all the jobs.” Me: “And where did this ‘woman’ earn her Ph.D.?” WM: Notre Dame.  Me: “That is, after all, an excellent institution. Has she published anything?” WM: “She’s published 5 or so journal articles in peer-reviewed journals.” Me: “And have you published anything?” WM: “I’ve been working on this piece for 3 or so years; it’s just not ready for submission yet.” Me: “Perhaps this ‘woman’ was given the job because she earned it and not simply because she is a woman.” WM: “Look, I know that you get upset with the whole ‘woman’ issue and that you are a feminist. So let’s just talk about something else.” Me: (Baffled, but silently thinking—is this not a classic example of a red herring?)
  2. WM: “If my last name were ‘Sanchez’ or ‘Hernandez,’ then maybe I’d have a chance on the academic market.” Me: (Silently thinking, “I can’t believe he just said that. That’s incredibly racist.”)
  3. WM:  “This is my friend, Cynthia Nielsen. She recently accepted a position at Villanova. Being a woman and all, she was kind of a shoe-in.” Me: (Baffled, but silently thinking, WTF does that mean?)
  4. Me: How’s the job hunting lately? WM: It’s not going well. How about you? Me: I submitted 50 applications and had 4 interviews. WM: “Wow, you had four interviews this year. Well, I guess that makes sense given that you are a woman and all.” Me: “Could it be that the institutions actually value my work and  have a genuine interest in my past and current research projects? Would you say to your African American or Latino colleague, ‘you got the job/interview only because you are black/Latino?’ WM: “Oh, I forgot that you are really hypersensitive about these kinds of issues. Just calm down.” ME: (Baffled, but silently thinking, WTF?)

I would love to hear from my female colleagues and from people of color in the academy who have had similar experiences.  I would especially like to hear how you respond to awkward moments of this sort and whether any of your critical conversations with male colleagues have had positive results.

 

The following is a guest post by Michael Brennen, who recently translated Italian philosopher, Luigino Bruni’s new book, The Wound and the Blessing. Michael has had a long career in software and technology, eventually deciding to pursue a long-smoldering interest in philosophy.  In 2010 he graduated from the the University of Illinois, Springfield with a BA in philosophy, summa cum laude, and is presently working on an MA in philosophy of economics at UIS, focusing on the ethical dimensions of economics.  He has a particular interest in contemporary Italian economic thought developing reflections on a largely unknown mid-18th century school of political economy centered around Naples.

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In his book The Wound and the Blessing: Economics, Relationships, and Happiness, recently published in English by New City Press, Luigino Bruni, an Italian philosopher of economics at the Milano-Bicocca University in Milano, considers happiness in economics and how people relate in markets; I had the privilege of translating the book.  Drawing from Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas est, in which Benedict explores the necessary and complementary nature of eros, philia, and agape in human relationships, Bruni presents a startling analysis of markets in terms of tripartite love and an unusual proposal for consideration.

Regarding the current globalizing economy, one can frequently find two positions.  On the one hand, there is the demand to involve the entire world in market relationships; on the other, there is the demand to do away with markets, as the market itself is seen as the source of societal and structural evils.  Bruni argues for balancing these competing demands.  He considers the market as a positive triumph of modernity; markets, as places in which people can meet and exchange as peers, can be a cornerstone of civilization.  In short, we need markets; without them we cannot live well, yet neither can we live well by reducing all social relationships to market relationships.  Bruni works within the eudaimonist tradition, and he balances these two positions against that backdrop.

For Aristotle, for whom civil, political and economic society was a whole, one cannot be happy without friends whom one values intrinsically.  One cannot live a fully human and happy life without friends, but the risk is that those same friends can be the source of one’s most painful relational wounds.  Aristotle’s response to limit this risk was that one’s friends should be few, and like oneself.

For Adam Smith and other 18th century philosophers working in political economy, markets were places where people could meet and exchange as peers rather than being dependent on the benevolence of one’s superiors in a hierarchical feudal society.  Smith, deeply influenced by Stoic thought, saw the common good emerging as an unintended consequence of self-interested action.  Markets mediate independent relationships in which buyers and sellers exchange in self-interested and impersonal, though cordial, encounters; one’s personal relationships should be pursued outside the market.

In contrast with Aristotelian thought, modern market relationships are thus instrumental: the other is useful as a means to one’s own ends.  Through this relational mediation, most market encounters happen such that the risk of relational injury is minimized.  With risk minimized in the larger market, it might seem that privately consuming and enjoying one’s increasing objective wealth should increase one’s happiness.

Paradoxically though, recent studies in the economics of happiness by Richard Easterlin and others show that, above a certain threshold, increases in income can result in unchanged or even diminished levels of subjective happiness.  In the market one must constantly compete against others for scarce work; with increased income comes additional responsibility and stress.  Due to hedonic adaptation, increasing consumption is required to maintain one’s sense of satisfaction with one’s standard of living.

For Bruni this “paradox of happiness” is one consequence of the loss of intrinsically valuable relationships in the market; as Bruni noted in an interview, markets designed to separate people do separate people.  To formulate his response to this paradox, Bruni considers the market analogues of eros, or erotic, romantic love, philia, or friendship love, and agape, or self-giving love.

Bruni proposes that we understand the contract as an analogue of eros, as the quintessential market instrument of self-interest.  Parties to a contract seek to maximize their gains and advantages and minimize their costs and risks; the contract establishes the relationship among the parties, and each party is concerned only with its interests.

For philia, Bruni proposes that associations and cooperatives—perhaps more diversely and fully developed in Europe than in North America—are market expressions of a relationality that considers self and other.  In such productive organizations, people live more fully in an awareness of interdependence and mutuality.

Bruni finds no market analogue of agape, or selflessness, in markets.  He notes that love, in economic terms, is even sometimes seen as a scarce resource that one should reserve for private relationships rather than dissipating it in the market.

His proposal to fill this dearth of agape in markets is gratuitousness, arguably the key term in the book; by that he means a willingness to exchange in free and open reciprocity—not altruism—that, though one may have an interest in the transaction, does not demand a return of equal value.  In economic terms, relationships themselves become goods with intrinsic value, apart from the goods exchanged.  Living in gratuitousness requires living in the awareness that another will eventually betray one’s trust, resulting in a relational or even material wound; finding the strength to transform those wounds into blessings can be at once a great challenge and a source of deep fulfillment.

Bruni closes with a reflection on the role of charisms in transforming market institutions toward more human, humanizing, and fulfilling relationships.  It is here perhaps that his deeply felt passion is most evident; economists do not normally talk about spiritual charisms in markets.  This discussion is far more than theory for Bruni; he has long been closely involved with the Economy of Communion (EoC,) in which for-profit businesses devote part of their earnings directly to aiding the poorest of the poor.  His experiences seeing people’s lives changed through mutual market relationships infuses his writings with a vigor not typical of economic texts.

Finally, it may also be of interest that Bruni and his co-author Stefano Zamagni were a significant influence behind Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate; further insight can be found on The Tablet, an EoC publication.

Michael Brennen

http://michaelbrennen.com/