Day: March 8, 2009

What we can learn from Reinhold Niebuhr

Andrew J. Bacevich, in his introduction to the republished edition of Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History, calls it “the most important book ever written on US foreign policy.” Certainly it would be hard to think of another book from the 1950s that retains, nearly sixty years later, both its compulsive readability and so much of its relevance. The elegance, strength, and charm of Niebuhr’s writing invite quotation at every turn. And behind the prophetic style lie wisdom, Christian charity, and a profound understanding of both history and the ways of human beings, individually as well as in groups

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Tails I win, Heads you lose

One would ordinarily have thought our way of understanding other people’s mental states, say, whether someone did something intentionally or unintentionally, should be somehow independent of morality. What our research is showing is that instead our initial moral judgments are actually changing our very understanding of whether the person did it on purpose or not on purpose.

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Giving up technology for Lent

Christians are annually asked to refrain from eating meat on Fridays and to pray more regularly during Lent, but the church has apparently gotten hip to the hold that technology has on its brethren. The diocese of Modena-Nonantola in Italy in particular is calling for text-messaging-free Fridays as a way for the faithful to at least temporarily rid themselves of reminders of “material wealth,” but the church is also calling for such digital abstinence in the name of human rights.

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Vatican backs Brazilian bishop

A senior Vatican cleric has defended the excommunication in Brazil of the mother and doctors of a young girl who had an abortion with their help. The nine-year-old had conceived twins after alleged abuse by her stepfather.

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Peter Singer on affluence and ethics

Suppose you see a small child drowning in a pond. If you save him you will ruin your expensive suit. Do you save him? Of course you do. Now think about the world’s extremely poor children who are going to die unless you give enough to a charity designed to help them, such as Unicef or Oxfam. Do you save them? Not often enough.

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Coming home to Lent

Now, a week later, after a wonderful whirlwind weekend of teaching, barely recovered from jet lag, I look back on that time on the patio as a quiet example of what the Transfiguration story gives us: a lamp shining in the darkness, the letter of Peter calls it; a moment on the summer patio, sipping tea, resting in the quiet of a Sabbath morning on the harbor, reflecting on what it means to be invited into the presence of the living Christ and seeing, just for a moment, that it’s all true.

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Leaving self behind

These are the words of Jesus taken from St Mark’s Gospel: ‘Anyone who wishes to be a follower of mine must leave self behind; he must take up his cross and come with me.’ Now we meditate to do just that: to obey that absolutely fundamental call Jesus makes, which is the basis of all our Christian faith, to leave self behind in order that we can indeed journey with Christ in His return to the Father.

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