Friday, September 5, 2014

if it's good enough for the students, it's good enough for the blog readers

I teach college.  I've been at it for about twenty years.  It was and remains the one job I've sought and desired.  Some kids grow up wanting to jump out of airplanes, quarterback a football team, or become President.  Once I arrived at Wabash, I knew I wanted to follow in the footsteps of those teaching me.

Cutting to the current semester, my Ethics and Values students will be contributing posts to a course blog.  (Sorry--this will be a private, students-only blog not available on Blogger or anywhere else.)  To give them some idea of what I had in mind, I drummed up the following.  It runs on *much* longer than what they're expected to do, but it hopefully establishes some parameters.

For those who find this stuff interesting, please add a comment.  Before you get angry, though, do remember here I'm blogging for a student audience.

If you want something done right....
do it yourself.  Or at least show folks what you have in mind.

So here goes. Curious about this blog assignment?  Read through this once or twice and then construct your own.  My first post (because who knows? maybe I'll post a couple more...) will be longer than your 150-250 word requirement.

First, a couple things:  a) social media--if you're on Facebook and/or Twitter, feel free to connect at and @SpiritualDiabet.  I have another blog at  You are not required any of these.  Just FYI...  b) keep the old 1980s song in mind: "Show me, Don't Tell me";  work on weaving together your argument with the sources you use.  Embed your link (so we can access it) and then start commenting.  That's the "show";  if it's just a rant, then you're merely "telling."

Second, OK, so much in the news to discuss and so little time and space.  Sorry, there will be no discussions of Taylor Swift's switch to pop music or comments about the Kardashians. (Hint--you shouldn't either.)  Here are two article to mull over.  First, Dr. Tim Muldoon at Boston College muses about the new semester's beginning, and particularly so at a Catholic university.  "Catholic education," broadly speaking and, this is important, regardless of major, should do more way more than make us employable.  It should make us free.  Free from:
  • Popular opinion
  • Childishness
  • The myopia of the “now”
  • Slavish dependence on technology for happiness
  • [The student's own] undisciplined desires
  • Approval of others
  • The hope for wealth
At first glance this seems to me a long way of saying "being free means growing up."  7th graders live in the eternal now;  once you hit 18 (or perhaps earlier) and have one wit of maturity you realize you can't always live in ignorance of what your actions might bring.  Further, it shouldn't take much to understand we all have undisciplined desires and that, jeez, maybe we should try a little (self) discipline.  Muldoon is not the stereotypical cranky conservative Catholic.  Far from it--but he does make an important point about self-realization.  The same applies to freedom from popular opinion and external approval.  Regardless of religion or lack thereof, we all basically "get" the insight that we all need to develop the strength of conviction to do what's right.  Without, of course, falling into plain old stubbornness.

Catholic education should, Muldoon adds, also free us for:
  • Giving of themselves to others
  • Authentic friendship
  • Civic responsibility
  • Self-understanding
  • Indifference toward money
  • Understanding of the world and history
Hard to disagree with that list, too.  Being moral and studying ethics should lead to both renewed (or perhaps re-appreciated) internal (friendship) and external (civic responsibility) relationships.  It's supposed to make us "better," isn't it? 

Feeling allergic to the "Catholic" part?  Not to worry--that's part of Muldoon's argument.  That word--"catholic"--means "universal" in Greek, and implies a broad inclusivity.  That is, lots of people can do this...and should.  Notice how his list is devoid of any specific reference to Christian faith.  Can Catholic education bring about conversion?  You're darned right it can--and in fact it should, but, and this is the important point, it does so through the pursuit of more important "first things:"  virtue, justice, prudence, temperance, courage, mercy, hope.  So you can major in whatever you majoring in (business, education, health sciences, etc.) and still benefit from these freedoms.  Not everybody needs to or will discern a vocation to religious life.  In fact, Catholic education, you'll see Muldoon arguing, education works best when students go onto different jobs and careers.  The key, he notes, is discernment.  For those who believe wondering if I've gutted the religious component, fear not.  First, note Muldoon's reliance on St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), a great reformer and spiritual guide, indicates a judicious balance between Christian spiritual goals and an imminently practical "how can we make this work?" groundedness.  (Also, in case you didn't know, Pope Francis is a Jesuit, a member of the Society of Jesus, which St. Ignatius founded.)  Second, as you'll see later this semester, Roman Catholic Christianity advances a nuanced argument about truth that involves philosophical and theological/spiritual paths.  So something "Catholic" will be, simultaneously, inclusive/universal and particular (Christian!).

Read more:

ALSO--and did I not tell you this would run on much longer than what you're required to do?--how about religious violence in the Middle East?  The jihadist terror group ISIL has made several headlines for their barbaric practices of beheading or crucifying victims (Americans, yes, but Iraqis and Syrians).  But how to respond?  Again, as we'll see later this semester, there is a long-standing "just war" school of thought that lays out--along both philosophical and Christian theological guidelines--parameters for sanctioning fatal conflict.  (If you've watched movies ranging from Black Hawk Down to Generation Kill, you'll recognize the references to the ROE--"rules of engagement.")  Some Christians would rather take the Bible's "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9) so literally that rules out any sort of "fighting back."  Thus Rod Dreher's recent post at The American Conservative.  He's not at all convinced that pacifist options like embargoes and negotiations will stop "religious fanatics who behead children and crucify people for the greater glory of Allah."(his words, not mine)  Dreher concludes:

To be clear, there are plausible prudential arguments against the United States involving itself directly in a military capacity against ISIS. But the idea that pacifist strategies are sufficient to stop berserkers like ISIS strikes me as crackpot. I can only imagine how this sort of thing sounds to refugee Christians in the region.
 Sometimes, war is the answer. It may not be the answer for the United States in this particular situation — I am not convinced that it is; Pat Buchanan has some wise words about US policy on this matter — but there will be no stopping ISIS without somebody taking up arms and shooting them all. War is the answer when all other possible answers have been tried and failed, but there really is such a thing as just war. If war against ISIS is not a just war by Christian standards, then what on earth is?

Now this is not the time or place to start a long argument about American military involvement since Vietnam.  Rather, Dreher's argument represents one (and only one) attempt to do what we're studying in our ethics course:  look at a current situation (in this case, a particularly frightening and violent one) and, with the benefit of our own experiences plus the insights from several traditions, discern (there's Muldoon again) a plan of action that makes sense to ourselves and others.  Sometimes the conclusions, you see Dreher admitting, will assuredly result in death.  Still, something, something effective, must be done.

And that's it!  Remember you need only post about 150 to 250 words.  Just remember, to be polite and prudent...and cite your sources!

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