Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: Teaching the Moral Law, sort of; Letters and Amea on Catholicism; Genesis

Havin' me a standard late night. I got in yesterday evening from the weekend's Novak Family Reunion in St. Louis and through myself into the rest of the night in digging up comparative texts for today's lesson in the Moral Law/Tao – that universal phenomenon of some sort of independent and transcendent moral code to which all human cultures seem to relate. So I dug out Confucius' Analects and reviewed away. I pulled out the copy of the Bhagavad-Gita that I borrowed from Erik to read over Christmas Break (cough – in 1996) and followed Arjuna and Krishna through their touching on the matter, I experienced great joy in opening once again my copy of Penguin's The Last Days of Socrates – every undergraduate should read it – and skimmed through the text and all my marginalia in the Euthyphro, the Apology, the Crito and Phaedo, as well as similar mind-treats in The Republic.

Then, having received a shiny catalog on travel packages through Notre Dame's travel group, I left it all on my desk as I strolled over to class, excited at the thought of traveling to Antarctica next semester. Until I noticed the $5700 price tag, that is. There was also the "Faiths of the World" package at $43,000, traveling by private jet. Something a bit wrong with that picture?

So, I missed out on having all my concrete, tasty comparisons for the students, and simply stayed with the core conversational text of C.S. Lewis' "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe." The two sections took different tacks through the material, not surprisingly, but I tried to pull both of them to a point where they understood that his approach to noting a level of reality "beyond" or "behind" or "above" nature through the notion of the Moral Law was only one of a variety of notions or arguments of this sort. With the "transcendentals" of classical philosophy – Truth, Goodness, and Beauty as fundamental characteristics of reality – are a variety of approaches to seeing this reality behind nature, whether through Truth in ways involving physics or reason in the functioning of the mind, through Goodness in the Moral Law approach, or through an aesthetic argument in the mode of Von Balthasar using Beauty, these philosophical insights have a long and complex history beyond the popular radio audience version sketched by Lewis for the BBC.

Correspondence has again taken up a lot of time: I returned to 101 emails. A lot of that was junk mail, but it still had to be sorted through. I commiserated with Katie Ellgass, currently learning Spanish in Guatemala as part of a med-school field experience, and have had an interesting exchange regarding excessive Marian doctrines with amea in what is, alas, a locked entry. She had a few passages in the original entry – not about such excesses – that were particularly delightful. I enjoyed the following two paragraphs the most, the first of which is among her best (and this from a young writer of considerable promise – I copy utterly without her permission, because of the Fall):
This religion makes sense and doesn't make sense in all of the right places to make it feel genuine. It has awful people and it can bear up under awful people, and it has good people and makes them better. A religion that can't bear up under having awful people is horrible; that's why it no longer bothers me when people say things like, it would be neat to have never met a Protestant. I admire the Catholics for being able to have a priest who gives bad homilys and not needing to feel like they had to quit the locale to remain holy. If a Protestant has a bad sermon, that is all there is, the end for which we came is destroyed, and we should move on and leave. For the Catholic, it is five minutes of quiet disagreement before we can return to the real end, which is meeting the eternal.

The liturgy saves us from any particular man by making all men one. Isn't that what we really need, anyway? Who would respect a religion that depended upon the people in it, or a person who didn't get into a religion or, worse, did get into a religion because of the good people in it? And who would respect one that had no connection with the souls of the people who were in it? Is there really any place other than Catholicism where you can have both and yet neither?
I've spent the rest of the night with Genesis 1-11, preparing for Friday's session. This will be a little more focused a discussion than today's, where I let the students and their questions with the text set more of the agenda. I've really got too much to do. I'd like to deal with the nature of the text itself, explain and disarm the silly American Red Herring that is the "Creation vs. Evolution Debate," with its bad theology on the part of the Creationists and bad philosophy on the part of the scientists (or those journalists who presume to speak for them). I then really want to launch into the interpretive arc of later Jewish and Christian use of the Genesis creation texts (Psalms 8 and 33, Proverbs 6, Amos 4 and 5, John 1) so that they can see the growth, development and nuance with which such a fundamental text is used. I ought to do the same kind of arc with the notion of the Fall in Genesis 3. And I also need to take care of a seating chart now that my roster is finalized. All too much to do in 50 minutes, but I'll give some version of it the college try....
Tags: biblical studies, books, class-intro to theology, friends-marquette era, friends-notre dame era, historical, mysticism/spirituality, philosophical, quotations, students, theological notebook, von balthasar

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.