The Long View 2006-01-26: Paranormal Ed; Persian Apocalypse; PA Demographics; Deus Caritas Est

Deus Caritas Est

Deus Caritas Est

Twelve years later, let's re-read my favorite of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's encyclicals.

Paranormal Ed; Persian Apocalypse; PA Demographics; Deus Caritas Est

Education promotes belief in the paranormal, if you believe this study:

The new study was done by Bryan Farha at Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward Jr. of the University of Central Oklahoma...

While 23 percent of college freshmen expressed a general belief in paranormal concepts—from astrology to communicating with the dead—31 percent of seniors did so and the figure jumped to 34 percent among graduate students...

"As people attain higher college-education levels, the likelihood of believing in paranormal dimensions increases," Farha and Steward write.

I marvel that anyone should be surprised. Skepticism is by no means the same as materialism. Ideological materialism is grist for the postmodern mill. So was science, unfortunately, at least in the 1990s.

* * *

Is President Ahmadinejad trying to end the world? I rather doubt it. At any rate, I don't see how Twelver eschatology fits with his foreign policy. Still, Kenneth R. Timmerman has favored us with another warning that the millenarians are coming. The interesting point about this piece is the argument that the Shia religious establishment may be striking back:

[T}he attack may have been part of a plot to remove the Iranian president by a faction within the ruling clergy. At least, so believes a Western source who has just returned from talks with top officials in Tehran.

They believe that his frankness dangerously exposes them to attack from the United States, Israel or both...

"This guy is not a politician," the source quoted one top Iranian official as saying. "He is certifiably insane. And he is obsessed with the Imam Zaman," the legendary 12th imam, or Imam Mahdi, whom many Shiite Muslims believe will return in the "end times" after a period of horrific battles, famine and pestilence...

Reports in government media outlets in Tehran have quoted Ahmadinejad as having told regime officials that the 12th imam will reappear in two years. That was too much for Iranian legislator Akbar Alami, who publicly questioned Ahmadinejad's judgment, saying that even Islam's holiest figures have never made such claims.

But hints of "regime change from within," carried by emissaries to Washington, may not be enough to deter the United States and Israel from using military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons...

So, here we have anonymous sources suggesting that a hostile regime could implode any minute. A suspicious man might think that the regime is planting those rumors itself, the better to create wishful thinking among its opponents and consequently to discourage action.

* * *

Speaking of wishful thinking, Caroline Glick at the Jewish World Review notes that:

ISRAEL'S REFUSAL to contend politically with the fact that both Fatah and Hamas are dedicated to its destruction stems mainly from domestic considerations. The most remarked of these is the Israeli fear that in just a matter of years there will be an equal number of Arabs and Jews living in Judea and Samaria and sovereign Israel.

The piece then says that no accommodation is necessary because, according to a new study, the accepted demographic projections are more than usually unreliable:

[T]he team found that Israel had been basing its policies regarding the Palestinians on faked numbers concocted in 1997 by the PA Bureau of Statistics. The Palestinians had managed, by double-counting Arab residents of Jerusalem, counting Palestinians who moved out of the areas, inflating immigration statistics and birth rates and deflating death rates, to artificially add more than one million people to their count...the ICBS ignored the fact that over the past several years, fertility rates among Israeli Jews have been rising and that fertility rates among Arabs in Israel, Judea and Samaria have been decreasing. That is, the ICSB's data do not reflect current population trends. The team reconfigured the projections for growth among Israeli Jews and Arabs in Israel, Judea and Samaria, based on current rates, and found that most likely, in 2025, inside Israel, Jews will comprise 77 percent of the population (as opposed to 81 percent today); and taken together with Judea and Samaria, Jews will comprise 63 percent of the population as opposed to 67 percent today.

I am perfectly willing to believe that the projections for the next generation don't mean much. I am slow to belive, though, that the Palestinians have been as grossly overcounted as this study appears to say.

* * *

Deus Caritas Est. "God is Love," is the title of Benedict XVI's first encyclical. The text is here. It bears reading.

The encyclical has the neoplatonic flavor that has been characteristic of Joseph Ratzinger. The argument flows a from a transcendent reality and down through the chain of being to current concerns. What is interesting about Benedict, though, is that he never gives the impression that metaphysics is just a prolegomenon to a practical topic that was all he really wanted to talk about. Quite the opposite: the mystical theology is the point. Only in retrospect does the reader see quite how many practical questions the high theory has decided.

As the title of the encyclical suggests, it starts with the nature of God and then moves on to an account of the divine interaction with mankind. This the pope sees as a dialectic in which agage and eros converge. Thus:

"In the saints one thing becomes clear: those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them."

Having established that the love of God has an inherently social dimension, we might perhaps be reminded that His Holiness is a German of the old school:

"As a community, the Church must practise love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community."

At any rate, we might perhaps be so reminded if that idea is indeed Benedict's. The second part of the encyclical, the part dealing with social questions, was drafted by John Paul II: we don't know who is responsible for what.

In any case, the discussion finishes with a quite interesting explanation of the distinction between social work and the charitable work that the Church is required to do by the Church's own nature. The pope notes that if you think you are going to change the world by doing this work you are kidding yourself. Social justice is an important issue, but in the final analysis it is beside the point:

“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (v. 3). This hymn must be the Magna Carta of all ecclesial service; it sums up all the reflections on love which I have offered throughout this Encyclical Letter. Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ.

Some of the more foolish theological liberals have already begun to praise this encyclical on the grounds that it shows the pope is so interested in mysticism and good will that he will not much bother about enforcing dogmas and rules. I have no way of knowing what disciplinary measures Benedict XVI may plan, but it would be a grave misreading of Deus Caritas Est to see it as a sign that the pope has moved beyond dogma. In fact, the encyclical's exegesis of scriptural bridal imagery settles, on an ontological level, pretty much all the questions of sexual ethics and church discipline that religion editors like to write about.

Neoplatonic argument is gentle, but the logic is as implacable as entropy, which in some ways it resembles. The truth radiates from a changeless, perfect world. We can attend to that radiation more or less, as circumstances suggest, but but you can no more argue with it than you can argue with the sun.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site