The Personalist Project

Dignity of the person: theme of the modern period

… the dignity of the human person is written over this period as its objective theme, regardless of how many persons hold the right and valid notion of this dignity and its metaphysical basis. The present period is great, because the struggle that centers around the human person is ultimately a fight engaged under the banner of Christ.

Dietrich von Hildebrand, The New Tower of Babel

We believe:

1.     All children are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights. Adults are responsible to protect and cherish those rights.

2.     Every child is a unique individual. Praise and blame should be assigned to behavior, never to characteristics outside a child’s control. We reject pedagogical doctrines and methods that teach children to judge, shame, marginalize or denigrate themselves or others according to race or sex, economic status, or any innate trait.

3.     Parents are the first and primary educators of their children. Public schools are accountable to them. 

a.     Teachers and administrators must be promptly responsive to parents’ reasonable concerns. 
b.     All public school education materials and methods, as well as funding sources and expenditures, should be available for parents’ review upon request. 
c.     Any use of materials or methods that are protected by copyright (or any legal or bureaucratic device) from such review is strictly prohibited. 
d.     Parents must be given prior notice—with ample time to review—of any new materials introduced into the school curriculum. This includes library books and any electronic materials available to students through the school.
e.     Parents have a right to organize themselves and appoint representatives to conduct such reviews on their behalf.
f.      Any teacher, administrator or other public official caught deliberately withholding pedagogical materials or deceiving parents about what their children are being taught shall be fired for cause. 
g.     Parents have a right to veto by referendum the use of materials and/or methods they deem contrary to the welfare of their children.
h.     Parents have a right to terminate via referendum employment of any teacher, administer or staff member they deem to have violated the explicit or implicit terms of their office.
i.      Parents have a right to review any and all communications between school employees and students, including electronic and social media communications.
j.      Communication between school employees and students via avatar or pseudonym or by other methods meant to prevent parental review are strictly prohibited.
k.     Teachers and administrators may not address a child by any name or pronoun not known and agreed to by the parents.

4.     Humanity comes in two complementary sexes, equal in dignity and value, with recognizable, mutually enriching differences. Those differences should be appropriately respected in school policy and practice. We reject all sexism, androgyny, male-chauvinism, anti-male feminism, as well as gender ideologies that reduce sexual identity to subjective preferences. 

5.     Children have a right to sexual innocence, and parents have prime responsibility to guide and shape their children’s moral formation, above all in the area of sexuality. While basic biology and reproductive anatomy belong in the high school curriculum, sexual morality is outside the scope and purview of public school teachers and staff. 

6.     Any employee who exposes children to sexual content including explicit pictures or descriptions of sexual acts (outside the context of basic, age-appropriate anatomical instruction) is committing abuse and should be fired for cause, with parents being immediately notified of the reason. Any form of recruitment to sexual activity is criminal and should be criminally referred.

7.     Words are meant to reflect the speaker’s sense of reality. To require persons to conform their words or actions to someone else’s sense of reality is a form of abuse. Neither employees or students at public schools can be mandated to use pronouns or any other words that are at odds with their own sincere perceptions.

8.     In a pluralistic society like ours, religious and moral instruction is the prerogative of the home and houses of worship. Teachers and administrators who instruct students in alien doctrines and ideologies or in a manner that deliberately subverts the faith and values of their parents are out of bounds and should be fired for cause. 

9.     Like religious proselytizing, neither political activism nor gender activism belongs in public schools. Those who present themselves publicly—including via social media—as political or gender activists are ineligible for employment in public schools. Anyone who suffers from gender dysmorphia is likewise ineligible.

10.  Teachers and administrators are responsible to uphold by word and personal example virtues commonly recognized by local tradition and public consensus, such as honesty, integrity, respect, courtesy, kindness, personal discipline, service, love of country, hard work, etc.

Schools that fail with respect to the above items shall no longer be funded by public monies.

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A college-age friend recently asked us if we could offer a course again. We said we’d be happy to do it, if we can find 5 – 10 others to join her. 

If you’re interested or want more information, email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Feel free to forward if you know someone else who might like to join. 

Philosophy of the human person: a guided-reading seminar 

Over the course of 12 or 13 sessions, we will study seminal (primarily philosophical) texts to stimulate reflection and discussion about the nature, dignity, and vocation of the human person. The course is for personal enrichment, not academic credit. There are no tests or papers required.

Where and when: One evening 7 – 9:00 p.m. (which evening is TBD) every third week or so at our home in West Chester.

Who is eligible? We’ll start by offering it to young adults aged 18 – 30. You don’t need a background in philosophy to benefit from this course, but you do need to be willing and able to read and engage intelligently with some challenging texts and concepts. You can test your interest and aptitude by reading The Apology of Socrates. If you understand and enjoy it, you’re eligible. If you’re still not sure, feel free to come to the first session and decide after that. (If you’re over thirty and would like to join, let us know, in case we don’t get enough under-thirties.) 

Suggested free-will donation for the course: $50.00 per person. All proceeds will go toward our (still embryonic) local lay association. You will also need to purchase or borrow a few books along the way. Where we use passages rather than whole texts, we’ll provide copies.

The following gives an idea of major themes and their progression, but topics are not fixed and will likely need adjusting as we go.

Session 1: Intro to philosophy (Socrates, Guardini, von Hildebrand)

Session 2:  The transcendence of the human person (Josef Pieper)

Session 3: The medieval synthesis, the great disruption, and the roots of relativism (passages from various thinkers)

Session 4: Answering the challenge of relativism. The objectivity of truth and value (passages from various thinkers)

Session 5: Man as person and subject (Wojtyla, Crosby)

Session 6: Embodiment of the human person (various passages)

Session 7: The heart and emotions, against rationalism and a reductive or hyper-spiritual vision of the person (Von Hildebrand, et al)

Session 8: Conscience, illative sense, accompaniment (Newman)

Session 9: Intersubjectivity, persons as contingent, incomplete, interdependent (Buber, et al). 

Session 10: Nature of evil, master/slave dynamic, love vs. use. (Wojtyla, Scheler, et al)

Session 11: Man and woman, complementarity, reciprocity, the call to unity and fecundity (Wojtyla, von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, Grabowski)

Session 12: Community and corporate subjectivity (TBD)

Session 13: Theonomy, man as made for union with God (TBD)

 

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The dearth of posts across the last several months (not counting yesterday!) doesn't mean I've run out of ideas. Rather, the overwhelming flood of events has led to a bottlenecking of corresponding reflections. I sometimes feel I must shut down or explode. 

My core convictions have been deepening and strengthening apace.

The Church is in crisis, and the solution lies with the laity. Specifically, we have to move from the status quo, which involves a master/slave relation between clergy and laity, toward the reciprocal self-donation of complementary equals that is the essence of true communion and the source of new life among persons.

I almost can't read a passage of Scripture these days without being pinged, so to speak, by its application to the theme. Here's how it went at mass two weeks ago. The first reading was from Nehemiah chapter 8. It began:

Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly,

Ping! I'm immediately struck by the trinitarian structure: the agency of the priest in bringing the law, the objectivity of that law (which, of course, was formed by the word of another Agent), and the vibrant receptivity and agency of the people in hearing and responding. 

The whole scene fairly hums with a dynamism of reciprocity and mutual regard between priest and people. You can almost visualize the spark of divine light kindling, leaping and blazing among them.

Then, look at the next line:

which consisted of men, women,
and those children old enough to understand.

We're talking about all of the people here, not the religious scholars, not just the men—the leaders of tribes and households, the elites. He's addressing all of them and each of them as persons, capable of understanding and freely responding.

He opened the scroll
so that all the people might see it
— for he was standing higher up than any of the people —;
and, as he opened it, all the people rose.

Did you catch the equalizing motion? He wanted all the people to see it. He's calling them up, as it were, to his level. He's appealing to their own interior capacity for Truth. And as they see it, they spontaneously rise, as if to meet it. They are taking it up and allowing it to lift them higher.

The last line of the passage, too, stood out:

for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!

How absolutely true it is that rejoicing gives strength! And rejoicing is a natural function of lively communion. And, yet, where is it in parish life today? I remember it vividly from my college years in Steubenville—the immensity of our joy in God and in each other, especially at Mass. Typical parish life today, by contrast, is almost unbearably dull. Sometimes it's worse than dull; it's deadening. You want depth and you get superficiality. You're panting for beauty and you get kitsch. You're pining for fellowship and you meet strangers. You're hoping for consolation and you leave enervated.

You go anyway, because it's the Eucharist and because it's commanded. You make a point of acknowledging and thanking God for every good bit of it, all of which is an undeserved blessing. "Thank you, Father, for  that beautiful stained glass! Thank you that we have an organ in our parish! Thank you for an orthodox homily and good priests, who are so clearly sincere. Thank you that this many people in my town keep coming to Mass! It's all a gift. Please help me focus on You and not on the horrible music and the atmosphere of indifference and the wretched clericalism oozing all over the pews...Forgive me my faults that have added to this terrible situation. Show me how I can better serve you and help the poor Church...."

It is seldom a joyful experience. I have to make lots acts of faith. "Lord, though I FEEL depressed and discouraged, I know that I have heard your Word and received your Body and Blood and that these convey supernatural graces. You are at work in me and among us. I believe. Help my unbelief."

Now to the second reading, First Corinthians 12:12-30

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

What is the source of our unity and equality as Christians? Baptism. By that sacrament, the one/up, one/down condition of human relations since the fall is resolved. Jews are no better than gentiles; slaves are just as worthy as their masters. Women are on a par with men. It is a combination of shared faith in the truth and grace coming from God and the mutual respect and self-donation among the believers that causes a collection of disparately-endowed individuals to become one body.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 

What leapt out at me here was the fact that the exhortation is addressed first to the slavish mentality, not the master. Paul urges the lesser parts to recognize and rise up to their true dignity and calling within the body. 

Only then, secondly, does he remind the "privileged parts" not to consider themselves more important than the humbler parts. 

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you, “
nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are all the more necessary...
But God has so constructed the body
as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body,
but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.

I note, again, the equalizing motion. Our fundamental equality and mutual deference is the source of our unity, and we all must work to make ourselves more conscious of it. The lower must learn to raise themselves; the higher must learn to lower themselves.

The habits of hierarchy die hard. Not only do we have them "naturally", via original sin, but, perversely, we have been taught to associate them with virtue. 

I have to say here again that I am not calling for the abolition of all hierarchies, never mind the hierarchy of the priesthood. Rather, I am calling for our attachment to hierarchy to be properly relativized by a due appreciation for the more fundamental equality among us. And then I'm calling for that new sense to be worked out in in our ecclesial laws, customs and culture.

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I went to funeral last week at a Protestant church of unknown (to me) denomination. The building looks like a modern office. Its interior, too, is fitted out like a modern office, in the latest style. Here is a photo of the actual building.

The sanctuary is a literal theatre, with a stage and three big screens mounted behind it, a metal podium, several microphones, lots of stage lighting in the ceiling, and theatre seating for the congregation. I didn't see ANY of the usual markers of Christianity. No cross, no altar, no Bible, no stained glass, no hymnals, no candles, no sacred art, nothing like that. The pastor looked like she might have been an editor at Vogue Magazine—a tall woman in a tailored black suit and high heels with long, lush, Breck Girl hair. Kind of like this, but with glasses, plus a few more years and pounds. 

So it was weird for me. 

Here's the point I want to make, though. The "sanctuary", as they called it, took up only a small percentage of the church building. The rest was evidently for all manner of other communal purposes: ministries, meetings, gatherings, functions. It was enviable.

I don't know about you, but we don't have anything like that in our parish. We have the main church (which is beautiful, thank God), where large masses are said, and the basement chapel for daily mass or smaller masses. That's pretty much it for communal spaces. 

There's rectory with the parish office, and an attached school, too, which is entirely in the charge of the principal nun, who was appointed by the bishop. It's her domain, not ours. And then there's a secondary cinderblock building comprised of offices, a second gym, and a few basement classrooms, all of which spaces are extensions of the school and/or the parish office. No one can get into them without a key pass. Nor can anyone volunteer for any ministry in our parish without first getting fingerprinted, undergoing a criminal background check, and attending an abuse awareness seminar. I know because I served as an assistant catechist for a few years. To spend a couple of hours a week volunteering in an Atrium that had been put together by parish volunteers, I had to be fingerprinted. I had to have a criminal background check. I had to prove that I had attended an hours-long seminar on child abuse. Then, every week, I'd have to enter the premises by buzzing at the school door and announcing myself into an intercom. Then I had to go to a computer to type in my name and purpose for being there, so I could have a name tag printed to wear at all times. Then I'd have to go to the religious education office to obtain a key pass to wear around my neck, so that I could then tramp across the parking lot to get into the other building. 

It's grotesque.

Picture a marriage where the wife has to get her husband's permission to make a withdrawal from their common bank account. (To make the analogy even more apt, imagine that the bank account is filled with money she has earned through her job. The husband lives off her salary.) And she has to explain and justify to him her plan for using the money before he signs off on it. Or picture a home where all the doors are always locked, and the husband keeps the keys. To use one of the rooms (say she wants to have some friends over for coffee), the wife has to get his permission. She has to explain why she wants to use the room; she has to provide him with a list of the names and numbers of all the prospective guests, so he can do background checks on them first.

It's disgusting. It's abusive. And it's the status quo in much of the Catholic Church.

Please don't defend it by reminding me that these measures are necessary because of the zero tolerance abuse policies that were established in the wake of the clerical sex scandals. That would be like saying that since a number of parents (never mind that it's ninety percent men) have been found to have abused their children, it's now necessary for husbands to police their wives more strictly, as a preventative measure.

You don't have a marriage without mutual deference and co-responsiblity. Nor can you have family life without a family home.

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Re-reading an old post, I noticed a link in the comments I'd neglected to follow up on. It goes to a 2020  America Magazine article about newly-issued Vatican instructions regarding the role of the laity in parishes, particularly in places where there is a shortage of priests.

I haven't yet read those instructions, but I can say that this article generally reinforces the sense I have been working to articulate these last several years. Take this: [my bold]

"Given that the church is mandated by Christ to be missionary, evangelizing and outward-looking, a reform of her structures is continuously required in order to respond to the challenges of the day," the monsignor wrote.

And this:

"Dropping plans upon the people of God from above, without their involvement, should be avoided," Msgr. Ripa said in his written presentation.

Ya think? And yet, that's what we get. The priests decide, sometimes in consultation with laity they employ or who sit on their advisory councils, but never with the body of believers as a body of believers. We have no say. In some places, we have less than no say, in as much as our attempts to speak up are treated by clergy as a burden or a vicious, uncharitable rebellion. (Case in point: When I not so long ago respectfully approached our pastor to explain to him my deep objection to wearing a mask at mass, he got mad at me. He got so mad, he was visibly shaking. "I can't understand or respect that view at all," as he tried to get away from me. I said, "It's my conscience," and he snapped, "Then I question how you formed your conscience." There was more. Right after that "conversation", he posted signs on all the parish doors announcing that masks were now mandatory. Never mind that our Archbishop had explicitly said that no one is to be turned away from the sacraments for not wearing a mask. He, the pastor, asserted that there is room for individual pastors to make a different decision. But no room, apparently, for individual Catholics to make a different personal decision, no matter what the documents and our bishop say about our rights.)

Here is what I want us all to realize: We will continue to have no say in the affairs of the church until we organize and embody ourselves as a communal subject, an association of lay believers in our respective localities. In effect, we have to unionize—not in a political sense, but in a personalist sense, which is to say, as I've said before, not adversarially, but spousally. The aim is to establish proper complementarity for the sake of love (which is the mutual self-donation of complementary opposites), not to establish opposition for the sake of snatching at power.

God, come to our assistance. Lord, make haste to help us.

Talking about this yesterday with Jules, I stressed again that the "formation", the corporate embodying of the laity I'm calling for must be accomplished under the grace and power of the Holy Spirit given to us in our baptism and confirmation, and by which we have a share in the offices of "priest, prophet and king."

Unless the Lord build the house, the builders labor in vain.

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