As a few of you may know (and even fewer care), I attended the University of Notre Dame du Lac in northern Indiana in the late 1970s. I was in the Notre Dame Glee Club for four years under Dr. David Clark (“Coach”) Isele, majored in Accounting, and managed to graduate, going on to get my MBA at the University of Evansville, Indiana. Eventually I became Director of Research for the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) in Arlington, Virginia.
CESJ’s Core Values, Code of Ethics, principles, and programs are based on an Aristotelian-Thomist understanding of natural law, Pope Pius XI’s breakthrough in moral philosophy with the discernment of a particular “act of social justice” as analyzed by CESJ co-founder, the late Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D. (president of Chaminade College-Now-University in Honolulu, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, and chairman of Dayton University), and the binary economics of Louis O. Kelso. CESJ’s work has been praised by President Ronald Reagan and received the personal encouragement of His Holiness Pope Saint John Paul II during a private audience with members of Polish Solidarity, as well as a long list of clergy of other faiths as well as politicians from both sides of the aisle, at least when they were still speaking to one another.
Our book, Curing World Poverty: The New Role of Property (1994), for which I was a contributing author and served as assistant editor, grew out of a seminar we presented at the Vatican for heads of religious Orders, and was hosted by His Eminence Achille Cardinal Silvestrini. Curing World Poverty was published by the Social Justice Review, the official journal of the Central Bureau of the Catholic Central Union of America in St. Louis, Missouri, and sold enough copies (5,000) to qualify as a “small press bestseller,” not exactly Harry Potter, but nothing to sneeze at, either. These and other things are described in CESJ’s “Accomplishments Brochure.”
So why isn’t this more widely known?
Quick answer: As I will show in a couple of books that are scheduled for publication later this summer (one on “economic personalism” and one on what the heck happened to social justice), the general understanding of natural law (and thus Catholic social teaching and that of other faiths and philosophies based on the Aristotelian understanding of natural law) has been subverted by a paradigm of thought loosely defined by the labels socialism, modernism, and the New Age — the “new things” (rerum novarum) noted by Pope Gregory XVI in 1834 in the second social encyclical, Singulari Nos, and referenced by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 in his encyclical on labor and capital.
In plain English, that means people who pit their personal faith against reason. Less plainly, moral relativism has taken over as the result of a shift from the Intellect to the Will, creating a situation in which might makes right, so that a forceful false opinion trumps objective knowledge that is empirically valid or logically consistent.
CESJ’s “Just Third Way” based on objective reason and empirical evidence does not fit into preconceived notions based on subjective faith, and so tends to be rejected out of hand without being given a fair hearing — or any hearing at all, for that matter.
More involved answer: Academia, especially Catholic Academia, is morally bankrupt.
|University of Notre Dame Administration Building|
Now, that requires a little explanation. I am not just echoing others who have come to the same conclusion for one reason or another. My conclusion is based on personal experience and a number of attempts to interact and dialogue with academics at various institutions, both religious and secular. Not all institutions of higher learning, certainly. One in particular (that I will not name to protect the innocent) has been very open.
Because it is my alma mater, however, three experiences with Notre Dame proved especially disappointing — and you have to have experienced some aspect of the spirit of Notre Dame to understand just how deep and bitter that kind of disappointment is for an alumnus to admit.
I relate these experiences in general terms as an example of how what many (most of them admittedly alumni) consider the premier Catholic university in the world has fallen from the position it once held. It would also probably lead to reprisals of some kind were I to name names, which would serve no purpose other than to confirm me in my opinion, in addition to making life very miserable for some fellow “Domers.” I assure you, however, that these experiences took place, and I have the hard evidence sitting in front of me as I write this:
· An attempt to discuss CESJ’s Just Third Way with the university administration — based on work explicitly encouraged by a canonized saint, mind you — was brushed aside by a highly placed administrative official with the statement that they were not interested and would never be interested (!).
· A noted faculty member declared that CESJ’s “Pro-Life Economic Agenda” is contrary to Catholic social teaching because it is based on an understanding of the natural law discerned by reason, not by faith. When the noted faculty member was presented with explicit statements from Aquinas and the Fathers of the First Vatican Council regarding that point, the noted faculty member declared that the noted faculty member only accepted papal teachings. When the noted faculty member was provided with specific language from the popes in the encyclicals on that point, it was ignored.
· A meeting arranged by a member of the “Notre Dame Family” with the assistant director of an official organization on campus seemed to go well, even though the assistant director asked no questions (not a good sign), and ended with the assistant director saying, “We will have to work together.” Regular follow-up for nearly two years, including emails, telephone calls, mailings of books and materials, and so on, got no response or reaction.
Admittedly, Notre Dame is not alone in this sort of thing, nor are those the only instances at Our Lady’s University. It is, sadly, no different from the (non) response we have gotten from Georgetown or the Catholic University of America, as well as a number of smaller Catholic colleges and universities scattered across the country.
So why pick on Notre Dame?
|"J.M.J. Dear Dr. Sterba of Notre Dame: You cannot logically prove the existence of non-existence. Yours, Fulton J. Sheen."|
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, there was an amusing little piece about two writers named James Paul Sterba, “I’m Jim Sterba, and So Is He” (07/10/19, A-17), one of whom writes for the Journal, the other who teaches at Notre Dame. There had never been any confusion between the two, however, until the coming of social media. J.P. Sterba wrote his column for the Journal to avoid what he considers unnecessary flak and fallout because —
. . . the other James P. Sterba [of Notre Dame] is about to publish his 18th book, “Is a Good God Logically Possible?” His answer: No. In an email, he wrote: “I argue for the view that the all good, all powerful God of traditional theism is logically incompatible with the degree and amount of evil in the world. This is an unusually strong stance . . . [that] adds a brand new arrow to the atheist’s quiver.” Remember, this guy teaches at a Catholic university. He expects an uproar from various God squads. And some of the fallout will rain down on me.
Now, anyone who has taken even an introductory course in logic or philosophy can shred the argument of Notre Dame’s J.P. Sterba in minutes. Anyone who has a modicum of common sense without the benefit of an education at a Catholic institution of higher learning could do it in seconds. The Anglican apologist C.S. Lewis did it in an essay. Fulton Sheen did it in one sentence. The argument that the existence of evil disproves the existence of God is as old as atheism itself, and its refutation only a little younger.
(The Big Logical Reason why J.P. Sterba’s logic isn’t logical is that it violates logic: you cannot logically prove the existence of non-existence. You can’t prove that God or anything else does NOT exist. You can only prove that God exists, and then only if you accept the argument. D’oh.
(And the quick explanation why Notre Dame’s J.P. Sterba is full of hot air? Free will. “Good” is that which is in conformity with nature. “Evil” is that which is not in conformity with nature. An all good God cannot prevent evil because that interferes with free will, and coercion is not good, but evil. Besides — if there is no all good God, how do we know that good is good, or evil is evil? Maybe all the things we think of as evil are really good, and all the things we think of as good are really evil! Who’s to say? An academic churning out a publish-or-perish piece of hack work to try and stir up a little controversy and cash in on it?)
|Father William J. Ferree, S.M.|
So, if this is what “the” Catholic university is inflicting on its students and the public, what hope is there for anyone else? And if that is the kind of thinking coming out of Academia, Catholic or otherwise, no wonder “they” don’t want to hear anything as logical and reasonable as CESJ’s Just Third Way. . . .
Is there anything that can be done, however? We here at CESJ think so. After all, one of the principles of our understanding of social justice is that (speaking in social justice terms) nothing is impossible. As Father Ferree put it,
No problem is ever too big or too complex, no field is ever too vast, for the methods of this social justice. Problems that were agonizing in the past and were simply dodged, even by serious and virtuous people, can now be solved with ease by any school child. (Rev. William J. Ferree, Introduction to Social Justice. New York: Paulist Press, 1948, 47.)
|John Henry Cardinal Newman|
Over a century and a half ago, John Henry Newman (1801-1890) inquired into the purpose of education when he was asked to become Rector of a new Catholic university. As he explained in the discourses, lectures, and essays that became The Idea of a University (1859, 1873), a university education must —
· Teach universal knowledge,
· Be distinct from instruction for a vocation or a profession, and
· Assist people in becoming more fully natural persons.
Newman’s term for this last was “Gentleman,” which requires some explanation. He meant someone (an adult human male, obviously) who has cultivated his capacity to acquire and develop the natural virtues, especially justice. By including all people instead of limiting it to adult males — to which we think Newman would not have objected — we at CESJ can fully agree.
We can therefore without hesitation subscribe to Newman’s “idea of a university” on the three main points, if our modification of “Gentleman” to “everyone” is admitted. For this reason, and because we believe that everyone has the potential to become morally virtuous, we propose the formation of a “new” type of university consistent with Newman’s points or (at the very least) that existing institutions bring themselves into alignment with them.
We at CESJ, in fact, have been discussing the idea of “Justice University” that might breathe new life into Academia the way Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books” program took the academic bull by the horns. It’s at least worth looking into, and a bit more relevant than yet another book — even from Notre Dame — that just has people rolling their eyes and shaking their heads in despair or wonder.