Friendship: The Foundation of Reason

The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, October 16, 2014.

“I will always consider the possibility that I might be wrong.” So states the commitment to humility in the Center for Social Concerns’ “Virtues of Discourse” pledge. As one of the seven “virtues” in the pledge, humility means, “When I realize that I have been wrong, I will readily acknowledge it.”

This might bring to mind the humble Socrates, who was confounded when the oracle at Delphi announced that none was wiser than he. Conscious that he was “not at all wise,” Socrates thereafter began a search to find a man of greater wisdom. In his search, he discovered that “those with the best reputations seemed … nearly the most deficient … while others with more paltry reputations seemed to be … more fit in regard to being wise.”  Continue reading

On Business Degrees and Free Market Mysticism

The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, October 2, 2014.

“I don’t like to hire students who studied accounting. They tend to approach problems narrowly, as though they are clear-cut numerical issues with clear-cut, single-answer solutions. This just isn’t true.”

I was a bit surprised to hear this from a partner at a nationally recognized law firm that focused on business law. As a former philosophy major in a joint-degree program in law and Catholic Studies, I tended to see my lack of business knowledge as a liability in my job search. What this lawyer suggested, however, was that a technical or job-oriented degree could be an intellectual hindrance for those pursuing professional work. Continue reading

On Empty Classrooms

The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, September 18, 2014.

Willis Konick retired in 2007 as one of the University of Washington’s most sought-after professors.

For Willis, as his students called him, the classroom had changed over the years. According to the Seattle Times, ” [Willis] said teaching Dostoyevsky novels in the 1960s was easy because he didn’t need to explain radicalism to students. The students often came to class stoned – but he didn’t find that as annoying as today’s students, who often text-message during class.” Continue reading

Studying Death

The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, September 4, 2014.

When students first read how Athens put Socrates to death they either balk at the injustice of the Athenians or at the uncalculating stubbornness of Socrates. Socrates was charged with corrupting Athens’ youth and refused to yield when faced with death. I myself sided with Socrates as my PLS Great Books seminar grappled with the story. My professor helped me to understand the other side: “If your children were abandoning their jobs and educations to follow an old man around, asking bothersome questions to strangers, what would you do? What would Notre Dame do if a professor convinced a bunch of students to stop attending class and, instead, sit out on the quad and talk about being all day?”  Continue reading

The Awkward Avoidance of Biblical Interpretation

In contemporary biblical interpretation, much emphasis is placed upon such questions as: Which book or chapter was written first? Which stories have greater historical credibility? What other biblical stories or texts was this book’s author aware of? How far back did the oral tradition of this text go, and, consequently, how true are the words to the original?

In understanding the Bible in relation to Christendom, these are remarkably strange questions. They skip around the fact that, though these texts have long histories and stories surrounding their authorship, their significance for Christianity comes primarily from a selection of texts by a particular Christian community. That is, the relation of the texts to each other finds its significance more from the Christians compiling the Bible for a communal identity, than from the individual authors and histories of the texts themselves. Continue reading

Bosses in Bedrooms

Following today’s decision that Hobby Lobby would not be required to provide birth control to its employees, I did a google image search for “hobby lobby supreme court.” A few images came up from protestors on both sides of the case. In one image, a group of women hold up signs saying, “NO BOSSES IN MY BEDROOM.”

You might be surprised to discover that these women did not mean to show their support for the Christian craft store. I suspect they were confused (as we all are from time to time, especially when we’re carrying posters). Regardless of their intent, perhaps both Hobby Lobby and its past critics can come together in appreciating one consequence of today’s decision: one more boss is out of the bedroom.  Continue reading

Infantile Questioning and the Contemporary Theologian 

I recently attended a conference on women in the church. During one panel, two young Catholic women sought to present the Church’s teachings on women and gender through an orthodox perspective, offering advice and ideas on the roles of women in the Church. One woman stated that she would not be discussing the issue of women’s ordination, as it was not germane to her paper. Her co-panelist did the same, quoting Pope Francis’s statement that the door to women’s ordination “is closed”.  Continue reading

Justice and the Band of Robbers

In the early nineteenth century, the United States was seeking to establish a reliable system of property ownership. This was particularly difficult, given that much land was still inhabited by native Indian tribes, and these tribes attempted to give land grants that often conflicted with grants given by the United States government. An 1823 Supreme Court case called Johnson v. M’Intosh involved such a conflict, and the case was in part resolved by the American adoption of a longstanding European principle: that “discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase or by conquest”. That is, a nation may claim land as its own when that nation has either discovered that land or conquered its peoples. Continue reading