Culture, Politics

That Sounds Like Something Hitler Would Have Said

That Sounds LIke Something Hitler Would Have Said(From November 30, 2016)

Yesterday morning, president-elect Donald Trump laid out his plans to build concentration camps around the United States in order to begin his work of exterminating all minority groups.

Actually, I’m lying.

In reality, Trump didn’t say anything like that at all. But anyone who’s read the rhetoric flying around on Facebook could be forgiven for thinking that he had.

It’s been three weeks since the U.S. elections brought an unexpected victory for “the Donald.” Video footage from across the country on November 9 showed weeping, hand-wringing Democrats lamenting what seemed to be nothing less than the end of the world. It was only a matter of time—and very little time, as it turned out—before the memes and articles comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler began popping up in Facebook news feeds.

The comparisons between the president-elect and the German dictator certainly came as no surprise. If the election had gone the other way, we all know that nearly identical memes targeting Hillary Clinton would have flooded social media just as heavily as those targeting Trump did.

In the United States, we love comparing our political opponents—or anyone else with whom we seriously disagree—to Hitler. Doing so is an easy way to discredit those we don’t like.

It’s also lazy. And dangerous.

Regardless of how you might feel about keeping new immigrants out of the country or about deporting those already here in violation of the law, it’s hard to deny that there is a world of difference between policies like these and the mass execution of millions of innocent people. To portray the two as morally equivalent is an insult to the countless victims of the Nazi regime.

Giving insult, however, is not the worst result of these shoddy comparisons. Far more serious is the fact that these associations desensitize us to what true dictators actually look like. It’s much like the story of the boy who cried wolf or that of Chicken Little making his claim that the sky is falling.

If we continue on this path of lazy arguments and quickly-generated memes, I’m afraid we’ll one day get to the point where most of us will brush aside or gloss over genuine concerns about a particular candidate or office holder. That’s definitely not a place we want to be.

In order to avoid getting ourselves into this situation, I think it’s important that we try to focus on and debate the actual issues at stake. Doing so might take a little more effort than making rash comparisons to Nazi dictators, but in the long run it will be much safer for everyone.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Natural Theology, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saints, Scholasticism, Theology, Thomism

Natural Theology & the Thomistic Synthesis

RGL on Thomism

Natural Theology

That which is, is more than that which can be, more than that which is on the road to be. This principle led Aristotle and Aquinas to find, at the summit of all reality, pure act, understanding of understanding, sovereign and good. But Aquinas rises above Aristotle and Leibnitz, for whom the world is a necessary consequence of God. St. Thomas shows, on the contrary, the reason why we must say with revelation that God is sovereignly free, to create or not to create, to create in time rather than from eternity. The reason lies in God’s infinite plenitude of being, truth, and goodness, which creatures can do noting to increase. After creation, there are more beings, it is true, but not more being, not more perfection, wisdom, or love. “God is none the greater for having created the universe.” God alone, He who is, can say, not merely “I have being, truth, and life,” but rather “I am being itself, truth itself, life itself.”

Hence the supreme truth of Christian philosophy is this: In God alone is essence identified with existence. The creature is only a capability to exist, it is created and preserved by Him who is. Further, the creature, not being its own existence, is not its own action, and cannot pass from potency to act, either in the order of nature or in that of grace, except by divine causality.

We have thus shown how Thomism is an elevated synthesis, which, while it rejects unfounded denials, assimilates the positive tendencies of current philosophical and theological conceptions. This synthesis recognizes that reality itself is incomparably more rich than our ideas of that reality. In a word, Thomism is characterized by a sense of mystery, which is the source of contemplation. God’s truth, beauty, and holiness are continually recognized as transcending all philosophy, theology, and mysticism, as uncreated richness to be attained only by the beatific vision, and even under that vision, however clearly understood, as something which only God Himself can comprehend in all its infinite fullness. Thomism thus keeps ever awake our natural, conditional, and inefficacious desire to see God as He is. Thus we grow in appreciation of the gifts of grace and charity, which move us, efficaciously, to desire and to merit the divine vision.

This power of assimilation is therefore a genuine criterion whereby to appraise the validity and scope of Thomism, from the lowest material elements up to God’s own inner life. Economy demands that any system have one mother-idea, as radiating center. The mother-idea of Thomism is that of God as pure act, in whom alone is essence identified with existence. This principle, the keystone of Christian philosophy, enables us to explain, as far as can be done here below, what revelation teaches of the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the unity of existence in the three divine persons, the unity of existence in Christ. It explains likewise the mystery of grace. All that is good in our free acts comes from God as first cause, just as it comes from us as second causes. And when we freely obey, when we accept rather than resist grace, all that is good in that act comes from the source of all good. Nothing escapes that divine and universal cause, who without violence actualizes human freedom, just as connaturally as He actualizes the tree to bloom and bear fruit.

Let Thomism then be judged by its principles, necessary and universal, all subordinated to one keystone principle, not a restricted principle as is that of human freedom, but by the uncreated principle of Him who is, on whom everything depends, in the order of being and activity, in the order of grace and nature. This is the system which, in the judgment of the Church, most nearly approaches the ideal of theology, the supreme branch of knowledge.

– Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saints, Scholasticism, Theology, Thomism

Catholic Theology & Philosophical Foundations

Saint Thomas Aquinas the Angelic Doctor Background“As we will see, Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et ratio strenuously upholds the tradition of giving priority to faith in the question of the relationship between faith and reason. To do otherwise, of course, would be to flirt with rationalism. Faith, however, must be understood; it is always, to borrow from St. Anselm, “seeking understanding,” What rational tools will one use to understand one’s Christian faith? Of the many philosophies that human culture knows and has known, which one ought to be chosen to aid in the comprehension of faith? Is every philosophy equal to this task?

As is well-known, St. Thomas chose the philosophy of Aristotle for this task. He found that Aristotle’s thought served the faith well; he found, most precisely, that the metaphysics of Aristotle provided a strong foundation upon with to “think the faith.” In light of this, and in light of Pope Leo XIII’s Thomistic revival, theologians began to ask if Catholic theology must be forever wedded to the philosophy of Aristotle. Many said no and attempted to change the philosophical foundations of Catholic theology – none with great success.

The University of Fribourg’s eminent philosopher, I.M. Bochenski, sets the stage for an answer as to why this was so. He explains that modern philosophy, that is, philosophy during the time between 1600 and 1900,

“came into being with the decline of scholastic philosophy. Characteristic of scholasticism is its pluralism (assuming the plurality of really different beings and levels of being), personalism (acknowledging the preeminent value of the human person), its organic conception of reality, as well as its theocentric attitude – God the Creator as its center of vision. Detailed logical analysis of individual problems is characteristic of scholastic method. Modern philosophy opposes every one of these tenets. Its fundamental principles are mechanism, which eliminates the conception of being as integral and hierarchical, and subjectivism, which diverts man from his previous concentration of God and substitutes the subject as the center. In point of method modern philosophy turned its back on formal logic. With some notable exceptions, it was characterized by the development of great systems and by the neglect of analysis.”

The mechanistic and subjectivist a prioris of modern philosophy, along with a whole set of reductionisms in contemporary philosophy, simply do not provide a solid enough grounding for Christian faith.”

 

– Lucas G. Westman


*Taken From The Sacred Monster of Thomism

 

 

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Culture, Uncategorized

Lessons My Father Taught Me

Lessons My Father Taught MeSunday, June 18 is Father’s Day. While our modern society tends to celebrate this holiday with sales on gas grills and killer deals on power tools, there’s a lot more to being a father than all of that.

While I don’t have any children of my own, I do have a father, which I’m guessing is true of most people reading this. In honor of Father’s Day, I’d like to share and briefly reflect some of the valuable lessons I’ve learned from my own father over the years.

As I would imagine is true of most children, I learned a lot from my dad as I was growing up, and I owe much of who I am today to his influence. One of these lessons, however, stands out above all the rest in my mind. The best part is that my dad probably wouldn’t even know to what I am referring, as he likely has no idea that he ever taught me this lesson, but years afterward, it’s still vividly clear in my mind.

The story goes like this:

One day, when I was very young, my dad and I were in our family’s living room playing with the ubiquitous, little plastic army men. We had a lot of the tan-colored soldiers, but only a handful of the green ones. Without fail, my dad would always ask us—as a joke—if we’d rather be on the green side or on the tan side if we were fighting in that battle. All of us knew our part, and we’d jokingly respond that we’d rather be on the smaller, green side, after which we’d all laugh and carry on playing.

That winter day in the living room, however, something a little different happened. I asked my dad our usual question, but without even thinking about it, I changed the wording a bit. “Dad,” I asked, “if the tan guys were the bad guys and the green guys were the good guys, what side would you rather be on?”

I fully expected my dad to jokingly say he’d rather be on the larger, tan side, after which we’d laugh about it and keep playing, per standard practice. Instead, he looked at me and with uncharacteristic seriousness, he said: “I’d rather be on the good side even if I was the only one on it.”

I was dumbfounded for a moment, mulling over the words I had just heard. My dad, the person who I knew had all the answers, had just told me that it was always better to do the right thing, even if you knew you were going to lose.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve paused to reflect on these words over the years, either to guide me in making the right decision…or to rebuke me for making the wrong one. While I have without a doubt fallen short of this ideal far too often, it’s a principle that I hope will guide me for the rest of my life. It’s a lesson my father taught me.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Scholasticism, Theology, Thomism, Traditionalism

The Sacred Monster of Strict-Observance Thomism

RGL PhotoStrict-Observance Thomism

The first chapter of Helen James John’s The Thomist Spectrum is entitled “Garrigou-Lagrange and Strict-Observance Thomism.” She notes that the qualifier “strict-observance” was coined in “a half-joking fashion many years ago, but has now become a standard way of speaking about the Thomism taught in the Roman universities up to the Second Vatican Council”; it is a double-entendre – playing on the strict-observance faction present in many religious orders. In her judgment, St. Pius X’s condemnation of Modernism in Pascendi was the single-most important factor to highlight for the explanation of this type of Thomism because, in its wake, “the reaction against Modernism became the leit-motif for a total interpretation of the thought of St. Thomas.” Garrigou-Lagrange would become the leading proponent of Strict-Observance Thomism; and with the Sacred Congregation for Studies’ publication of its “Decree of Approval of Some Theses Contained in the Doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas and Proposed to the Teachers of Philosophy” on 27 July 1914, this version of Thomism “found a quasi-official formulation.”

To simply a host of issues, Strict-Observance Thomism is at great pains to protect the metaphysical foundations of Catholic theology; part and parcel of this ‘protection’ is a demonstration that the Aristotelian heritage in metaphysics has neither been transcended nor shown to be seriously wanting. In this section, we will examine the philosophical underpinnings of Strict-Observance Thomism; we will see that many of the issues that we explored in reference to Garrigou’s disputes with the philosophes of Henri Bergson and Maurice Blondel will come into clearer focus. Since Strict-Observance Thomism is most interested in combatting Modernism, the following insight is helpful in setting the stage for understanding Garrigou’s passionate engagement with the question:

“The philosophical aspect of Modernism lay in the position that the doctrines of faith must be regarded not as stable truths of the speculative order, but as ‘symbolic’ expressions of man’s religious needs, whose content required radical reformulation to adapt it to the changed circumstances of successive eras of Christianity. The import of this position, which retained the traditional expressions of faith while denying their truth, has been aptly, if flippantly, summed up in the proposition that ‘There is no God and the Blessed Virgin is His Mother.’”

Of utmost importance is that Strict-Observance Thomism holds that the truths of Christian faith are expressions of realities that transcend the religious longings of the human person. These truths are held to have been revealed by God: they are not accounted for by a mere inspection of the workings of the human heart. This point must be insisted upon: Strict-Observance Thomism, while employing what might today strike many as obscure philosophical concepts, places its priority squarely on revelation. There is no equivocation in its doctrine that God has revealed certain truths and that these truths cannot be known apart from the gratuity of divine revelation. While it is true that these truths can be rationally analyzed and can be shown to be ‘reasonable’ and can even be shown to respond to the deepest needs of the human person, they cannot be accounted for without reference to the God who has deigned to reveal them.”

 

– Lucas G. Westman


*Taken from The Sacred Monster of Thomism, Pg. 119 – 121

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Apologetics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saints, Theology, Thomism

Pope Leo XIII on Saint Thomas Aquinas – Aeterni Patris

Taken From the Encyclical – Aeterni Patris:

St Thomas Aquinas Framed and Labeled TSC17. Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because “he most venerated the ancient Doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all.”[34] The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith. With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a lover of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching. Philosophy has no part which he did not touch finely at once and thoroughly; on the laws of reasoning, on God and incorporeal substances, on man and other sensible things, on human actions and their principles, he reasoned in such a manner that in him there is wanting neither a full array of questions, nor an apt disposal of the various parts, nor the best method of proceeding, nor soundness of principles or strength of argument, nor clearness and elegance of style, nor a facility for explaining what is abstruse.

18. Moreover, the Angelic Doctor pushed his philosophic inquiry into the reasons and principles of things, which because they are most comprehensive and contain in their bosom, so to say, the seeds of almost infinite truths, were to be unfolded in good time by later masters and with a goodly yield. And as he also used this philosophic method in the refutation of error, he won this title to distinction for himself: that, single-handed, he victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put those to rout which might in after-times spring up. Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason from faith, while happily associating the one with the other, he both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each; so much so, indeed, that reason borne on the wings of Thomas to its human height, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.

19. For these reasons most learned men, in former ages especially, of the highest repute in theology and philosophy, after mastering with infinite pains the immortal works of Thomas, gave themselves up not so much to be instructed in his angelic wisdom as to be nourished upon it. It is known that nearly all the founders and lawgivers of the religious orders commanded their members to study and religiously adhere to the teachings of St. Thomas, fearful least any of them should swerve even in the slightest degree from the footsteps of so great a man. To say nothing of the family of St. Dominic, which rightly claims this great teacher for its own glory, the statutes of the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Augustinians, the Society of Jesus, and many others all testify that they are bound by this law.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

 

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Culture, Philosophy, Traditionalism

The Beauty of Tradition & An Important Lesson in Humility

Jesus & the ApostlesMy diocese recently endorsed the idea that local parish communities should form teams of street evangelists. I was very excited when I heard this news because street evangelization is something I have been very interested in ever since becoming Catholic. Without hesitation I volunteered to go and receive training to be a fisher of men. During the training session, God showed me something that humbled me to the core. While I was listening the speaker give his lecture on the importance of street evangelization, and how badly people need the healing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God showed me patterns of sinful pride in my intellectual habits. Then it dawned on me in a powerful way that God doesn’t need me to come up with great ideas or devise a grand vision for my life, and he definitely doesn’t need my personality, which can be annoying even for myself at times.

God doesn’t need my personality, my ideas, or my vision. I know, big breakthrough, right? Well, it can be an important corrective that God reveals to us in case we start to puff ourselves up in any way, thinking we are more important than we actually are. It is very easy to start believing that the Church needs original ideas, renewed creativity, or glowing personalities. The desire for renewal with “fresh ideas” is a ruse. The Church needs none of this, but I had fallen into the trap of thinking that I could bring something important to the Church. Now, I would never explicitly believe for a moment that God needs me. I am totally dependent upon His loving grace, and it is I who needs Him above all things. And while I have never intentionally pursued these kinds of thought patterns, that God might need me, the self-important prideful mentality can quite easily become actualized if humility is not energetically pursued each and every day. To properly fight against the sin of pride we have to fight to remain humble. Pride is an unfortunate potentiality of our fallen nature expressed through the patterns of concupiscence.

Being confronted by these truths, tears began to well up in my eyes as I realized how arrogant, selfish, and prideful I can be. It is truly a foolish mentality to think that God needs anything from us when the fact is that whatever we do have is a gift received from our Creator. As I wiped away my tears, embarrassed of my immaturity, God pressed upon me what it is He desires of me. It is as beautiful as it is simple.

I am called to love God and love my neighbor.

Be faithful to God, to Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of God, and to the deposit of faith given to the Church. Trust in the wisdom of the Church guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. Focus on leading my family through the sacramental vocation of marriage. Work to building up my local Parish in any way that I can. This is what God desires of me; that by loving Him I might love those around me, and by loving those around me in the name of Jesus Christ, God is glorified.

And here is what all of this means for someone like me who lives quite a bit inside my own head – I am never going to come up with something better than or something that adds to the genius of the Thomistic tradition of thought. I will never be smarter, more creative, or more original than the Sacred Tradition I have inherited from those who came before me. I am blessed to have the opportunity to participate in these traditions, to articulate its wisdom against the enemies of the Church, and by the grace of God to bring people into its inheritance so that they might also know Christ, His Most Holy Mother Mary, and the sacramental life of the Church. Admitting this of my prideful self exposes the futility of pursuing “new ideas” or creating “new movements” in the Church to spark emotional excitement about her teachings. If Catholics cannot get excited about what is ancient in the Church, then the new will fade away just as quickly for it is the Gospel itself that is ancient, and we should never tire from hearing of its truth, its beauty, and its goodness.

The bottom line is that I, nor will anyone else, ever outsmart or outdo the wisdom of Sacred Tradition and the fiery trials of concrete historical experiences. And as a self-avowed traditionalist, a healthy amount of shame consumes me to even admit that this “renewal” mentality crept into my thinking.

Instead of renewal, the contemporary Church needs to be awakened to her traditions.

The Church, full of the Holy Spirit and by the authority of Christ the King proclaimed the New Covenant.

The Church, by her divine authority defined the Incarnation, the Blessed and Holy Trinity, and gave us the canon of the Sacred Page.

The Church broke through centuries of violent persecution to evangelize the world and develop an organic Christian society called Christendom.

The Church, in the tradition of Christian Wisdom synthesized the ancient philosophies with Patristic devotion, leaving us with the Scholastic heritage of theology and philosophy.

The Church, to guard against revolutionaries, gave us the Council of Trent and showed us the way to defend the Church with the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Universal and Angelic Doctor.

The Church, lead by many courageous Popes, provided encyclicals exposing the enemies of the faith and armed us with the spiritual weapons needed to defeat these diabolical foes.

The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has provided the soldiers of the Church Militant with an apostolic wisdom powerful enough to convert the nations.

It is our job now, as good soldiers loyal to the King of kings, to take this wisdom and baptize the nations through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church and her traditions do not need renewal, they need to be awakened so that the world may be renewed by her.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

 

 

 

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Culture, Political Economy

Our Land of Plenty

Our Land of PlentyWalking through those doors is always a mind-blowing experience. I’m not exaggerating when I say I believe the sight behind those glass gates is one of the most incredible our country has to offer.

I am talking, of course, about the grocery store.

“The grocery store?” you ask. “That seems a bit melodramatic, don’t you think?”

“No,” I reply. “I don’t think so at all.”

While I have perhaps exaggerated a little, I’ve only done so in the sense that my mind isn’t always blown every time I pass through the doors of the local Cub Foods or Hy-Vee. But this is only because I, like most Americans, have become so accustomed to the superabundance of food with which our nation has been blessed that I often take it for granted. When I stop and think about it though, I am truly amazed.

Walking down the breakfast aisle alone, I count over 200 kinds of cereal, 97 kinds of jelly and jam, and nearly 30 varieties of peanut butter. Then there’s the produce section, overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, even in the middle of winter with subzero temperatures outside. There are fresh oranges from Florida and fresh bananas from Guatemala. There are sweet potatoes from Canada and berries from Mexico.

There is also the meat section, with every cut imaginable, both fresh and frozen. There’s beef and pork and poultry and seafood. If I so choose, I can purchase and consume filet mignon or lobster or ribeye or octopus.

My point is that we in the United States today have access to a greater amount and greater variety of food than the people of any other civilization in the entire history of the world. For the last several thousand years of human existence, most of mankind—or rather all of mankind—has only been able to dream about the variety of foods on the shelves in our grocery stores.

Let’s be honest, we are living like kings. Even the poorest among us can eat better than many of the wealthiest men of ages past.

A case in point is meat. It used to be that most people didn’t get to eat meat on a regular basis because it was too expensive. In many societies it was considered a luxury item to be consumed only on special occasions. Today, however, we get to eat meat, if not every day, at least multiple times a week. Even dirt-poor history teachers can pick up a Big Mac or throw some pre-pattied burgers on a $10 mini-grill from Walmart.

It’s hard to deny that we have it pretty good. While our ancestors used to have to go out and hunt and forage if they wanted to eat anything, we today can simply pick up the phone, order a pizza, and have it delivered—hot and delicious—right to our doorstep.

I’ll say it again: we in the United States today have access to a greater amount and greater variety of food than the people of any other civilization in the entire history of the world.

And how do we celebrate this superabundance of food?

Well, by wasting a lot of it, unfortunately.

It’s estimated that Americans throw away 6 billion pounds of food every month. That’s about 20 pounds of food per month for every man, woman, and child in the country. Of course not all of this waste happens at the consumer level. Plenty of food gets discarded at the source or at the retail level as well.

Still, that’s a pretty astonishing amount of waste.

I think a big part of the problem is the need for Tort reform. Many caterers, for example, won’t even let their own customers take home leftovers for fear of being sued if they happen to become ill after eating them.

Even more important though, I think, is a change in attitude. We need to stop taking this abundant food supply for granted. Most people in history haven’t had nearly this level of prosperity, and we might not always have it either. We need to be more grateful for it. And more amazed by it.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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