Tag Archives: rights

9 February: Creatures of illusion.

beach.pebbles

An outsider would be forgiven for thinking that Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set of writers and artists led charmed lives. Not so. If we are to believe Woolf herself, it was all a lie: a veneer of self-confidence, achieved by despising other people.
Life for both sexes—and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement— is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to one self. By feeling that one has some innate superiority—it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney—for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination—over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the chief sources of his power.”
{from “A Room of One’s Own (Wisehouse Classics Edition)” by Virginia Woolf, available on Kindle}
Woolf, of course, lived at a time when ‘half the human race indeed’ in the West was gradually gaining what we now call human rights: the vote, schooling and higher education, owning and administering property and so on. Woolf was far better placed than most women to grasp these opportunities, but she seems to have felt, if not to have totally acknowledged, that she was to an extent living a lie. How else can we describe ‘the feeling that one has some innate superiority’ over others?
Her suicide could be construed as a rational response to the despair such a position masks; rational if you see no God, no created order to show that you are as a little child, to offer sustaining help. 
Let us pray for all who feel desperate:
Lead Kindly Light amid th’encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on,
MMB
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June 7. Justice III: Justice and the Other

syrian-gathering

Photo: L’Arche.

A theme underlying the Catechism’s teaching on the virtue of justice, but which could easily be missed, is that justice is a virtue by which we focus on others’ rights and claims.

We are perhaps encouraged by our culture to be aware of justice or injustice in the political sphere. But apart from that, our culture today teaches us to be most aware of injustices done to ourselves. We are taught to ask “what about me?” rather constantly. Granted, in a world where we can easily be victimised by entire systems of injustice, this is an important and necessary question to ask. The virtue of justice does not require us to be victims. On the contrary, this virtue is about opposing injustice wherever we find it. But, it is possible to go overboard here. It is the justice of the nursery, of the two-year-old, and of the ghetto, that regards everyone as a potential robber and enemy. It is important to grasp that in the virtue of justice, its principal act is to honour the legitimate rights and claims of others.

So then, St. Thomas Acquinas tells us in his Summa Theologica (II.II, Q.58:1): ‘It is proper to justice, as compared with the other virtues, to direct man in his relations with others.’ The other virtues – prudence, courage and temperance – are formed within the mind and emotions of the individual. They may involve other people, but they may not. Justice, on the other hand, exists in relation to others. It works to maintain a certain equity between a need and the fulfilment of that need. The obvious example is in the payment of a just wage for a service rendered. But there are deeper and more subtle considerations relative to justice, which we shall explore in the coming posts.

SJC

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*21/2 Reflections on Freedom and Responsibility I.

gate,roman

Lincoln: the Roman Gate. MMB.

What is freedom?
How wonderful an unexpected day off work can be! To have our responsibilities suddenly suspended makes us feel so light-hearted and free. Perhaps that is the way we think of freedom: being released from our cares and obligations, being free of restrictions on our time and desires. Or, perhaps our thoughts move in the direction of our political rights. In our day, this is being challenged as terrorists have made violent attacks on free cities in free countries. In this sense, freedom would mean freedom from oppressive and violent regimes.

But freedom in the spiritual life has deeper aspects than these.

Before even asking what freedom is, we should first turn to a more fundamental question: what is the human person? Psalm 8, in a song of joy, asks of God himself, ‘What is man that you should be mindful of him, mortal man that you care for him? You have made him little less than a god, with glory and honour you crowned him.’ On the one hand, we are god-like; we are beings capable of greatness. But, on the other hand, there is a strangeness about being human, a deep instability, for we are capable of descending from glory into a debased condition of moral corruption that seems almost limitless. Psalm 114 declares flatly, ‘Every man is a liar.’ Why are we like that? Because we are free. But is our freedom only about being “bad”? Absolutely not, but if we are to look at the question of freedom fully, we cannot avoid seeing that it seems to be about these two poles of human existence: our greatness and our wretchedness.

SJC.

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