This domain closed: New Blog address

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My blog is now hosted by “WordPress Hosting” and is available at: Come and join us there for a glass of port and good chin-wag.

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Welcome news on Catholic School funding

As a parent about to embark upon the costly business of sending my children to a Catholic secondary college, this news is most welcome: Bi-partisan support for Catholic school funding:

Catholic education in Victoria received an early Christmas present on 9 November when the Labor Government announced that funding for Catholic schools would be increased to 25% of the cost of education in a government school if it wins the state election…

The Coalition pledged in 2008 to increase funding to Catholic schools to 25% of the cost of education in a government school if it is elected to government on 27 November.

The almost $200 million funding boost, also includes an additional $5m for teacher professional development

In welcoming the decision, Mr Elder said Labor’s commitment would particularly benefit Catholic families in disadvantaged areas.

…[CEO chief executive officer Mr Stephen Elder said:] “Catholic schools continue to serve families in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the state. I have no doubt the decision will be widely welcomed by Catholic school communities.”

…“The personal story of Australia’s first saint – St Mary of the Cross – is a powerful illustration of Catholic education’s mission to serve the most disadvantaged in our community. The announcement will provide funding to Catholic education to continue this legacy,” said Mr Elder.

School fees have been rising steadily, mostly due to a lack of Government funding. My own daughter’s fees for next year have risen about %10 from what we were told when we first enrolled her last year. Sending both my daughters to Catholic secondary college will cost me about 20% of my annual income.

If you do the sums you realise that parents who send their children to Catholic Schools are in fact (even under this new funding) saving the government 75% of what it would cost to educate their children in State Schools. I think we need some recognition of that.

All that being said, we are a long way from the days of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. One reason why Catholic schools are costly for parents today (although no where near the cost of other independant schools) is that we no longer have the “cheap labour” force that once supplied teachers for our systems, ie. religious sisters and brothers. What a boost it would be for the Catholic School system if St Mary’s vision were to become truly alive again today!


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An interesting but all too short interview with a Catholic Luther scholar

HT to Pastor Fraser Pearce for the link to this interview with Fr Jared Wicks. As I say in the title, it is interesting, but I want to know more. I should follow up on Wick’s writing on Luther to see what he has to say.


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Hypatia in the Athenian Agora

I have just finished watching At The Movies with Margaret and David, and of course they review “Agora” the new film about the legendary Alexandrian female philosopher Hypatia. Her murder by a Christian mob is one of those scandals, like the Galileo affair and the Spanish Inquisition, which the heirs of the Englightenment like to cite against the Church’s record.

Anyway, Margaret really liked it and gave it 4 stars, and David gave it 4.5. Both said that it had real substance and an important message. When I hear these two say that kind of thing, I usually find myself wondering if the message they are applauding is truth or ideology.

Ideology, it turns out in this case. I could write a fair bit here, but others have done the job already. Check out: Fr Barron’s piece
The Dangerous Silliness of the new movie Agora at the National Catholic Register; Mark Shea’s blog at the same place; “History of Violence: Agora, Hypatia and Enlightenment Mythology” at the Decent Films Guide; Sherry’s piece at the Catherine of Siena Institute; and Tim O’Neill’s “wry, dry, rather sarcastic, eccentric, silly, rather arrogant Irish-Australian atheist bastard” opinion at his blog “Amarium Magnum”.


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Peter Kreeft on What Christians can learn from Islam

I have written a review of Peter Kreeft’s book “Between Allah & Jesus: What Christians Can Learn From Muslims” for the issue of our Kairos magazine coming out this weekend. It is a book I highly recommend. You can read my review to find out what it is about.

Unfortunately, I think that Peter Kreeft will probably lose a few admirers because of this book. But that’s Kreeft for you. Just like Socrates, he isn’t interested in people liking what he writes. He is interested in the search for truth. This book emulates Socrates in another way too: it is in the form of a dialogue, which doesn’t give you the answer. You have work it out. Of course, it is pretty obvious which way Kreeft is leaning.

The important thing is in the title: this isn’t a book of what “Christianity can learn from Islam”, but what Christians can learn from a serious dialogue with Muslims, ie. the actual practitioners of the Islamic faith. It is a book all about dialogue. All through the book, Kreeft speaks about the importance listening as much as talking. I can’t quote the exact way he puts that, as I have given my copy to a Muslim friend to read and give his opinion on whether Kreeft’s Muslim character in the dialogue is a true reflection of what a Muslim would actually say. I thought it was, from my experience, but nothing like asking someone who actually knows. (By the by, I would like to see a similar book of dialogues between a Lutheran, a liberal Catholic and a magisterial Catholic…).

In any case, several reviews have misunderstood this point and seem to think that what Kreeft has done in “Between Allah & Jesus” is a part of the Karen-Armstrong-style “industry” that “tries to find common ground with Islam”. But that would be entirely out of character for Professor Kreeft, whose only object has ever been to seek for truth, and yes, Truth with a capital T too. I will take as an example of a misreader of Kreeft one reviewer, William Kilpatrick, whose review is called “Christian Misunderstanders of Islam” (note already in the title his mistake in thinking Kreeft’s book is about Christianity and Islam, rather than the necessary engagement between Christians and their Muslim neighbours).

Here are some selections from Kilpatrick’s review with my comments in [bold italics] writes:

Unfortunately, considering his wide appeal, Kreeft’s latest book is basically an apology for Islam. [No. It is an apology for the dialogue between Christians and Muslims.] Between Allah and Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims is devoted to the proposition that the things that we (Muslims and Christians) have in common are more important than the things that separate us. [No again. Kreeft never says this. At the very beginning of the book, he lists the major and essential differences. What he says is that NEVERTHELESS we have to have the dialogue and what we can learn from Muslims is not all negative, in fact there is much that is positive and challenging for Christians.] In fact, writes Kreeft in his Introduction, we have a lot to learn from Islam: “…I also say that Islam has great and deep resources of morality and sanctity that should inspire us and shame us and prod us to admiration and imitation.” [That’s just plain Nostra Aetate, ie. the Catholic magisterial position.] Instead of fearing Islam, Kreeft says that Christians should join together with Muslims in an “ecumenical jihad” against our common enemies, sin and secularism.

…In Between Allah and Jesus, the strongest arguments for traditional morality are made by the Muslim student, Isa (the Arabic name for Jesus.) In fact, throughout the entire dialogue Isa has all the best lines. [The fact that Kilpatrick can say this means that he is in fact acknowledging that a lot of authentic Muslim standpoints have appeal for him too.] Isa is not only a defender of the sanctity of all human life, he is also a strong defender of the Jews (the six million who lost their lives to Hitler were “martyrs”), and a great respecter of women (“…all I’m doing is defending womanhood and motherhood and families”). In his appreciation of feminine virtues Isa sometimes sounds more like a Victorian seminary student than a twenty first-century Muslim male. [That’s true and not true. The character of ‘Isa may not be your average Muslim in the streets of Mecca, but I know plenty of Muslim men who would speak just as ‘Isa does in the story. I think what this shows it that this reviewer is working from a characterisation and a generalisation of Muslim males, and has probably not actually met a lot of Muslim men, or engaged in dialogue with them.] Isa even makes the case that women in Muslim societies are happier and more contented than women in Western societies because “we let women be women,” whereas Western women are the victims of a sexual revolution which mainly benefits men. [Kilpatrick and other readers are free to disagree with what ‘Isa says – it isn’t Kreeft who says this, but his character- but this is also a commonly expressed opinion among the Muslim men I know.] One of Isa’s dialogue sparring partners, Libby (a liberated feminist), objects to all this with vehemence, but she is plainly no match for Isa. She spouts feminist slogans; Isa is a master of logical argumentation.

Kreeft advises his readers that he “does not necessarily agree with everything said by Isa as a Muslim,” but his sympathies clearly lie with Isa. [he has sympathies for his character ‘Isa, but if you want to know where Kreeft himself stands, you have to listen to Fr Hereema, the priest character in the story] For example, Fr. Heerema, who represents the orthodox Catholic position in the dialogues, usually finds himself in agreement with Isa. [So? I’m an orthodox Catholic too, and I often find myself in agreement with my Muslim friends – more so than with my rather secular friends, anyway.] Moreover the sentiments expressed by Isa are quite similar to those expressed by Kreeft in his Introduction: for example, says Kreeft, one of the most important things Christians “should learn from Muslims or be reminded of by Muslims” is “the sacredness of the family and children.”

“Sacredness of the family?” In this and in other parts of his book, Kreeft seems to be inadvertently transposing Christian notions into Islam. [As far as I know, ‘Isa doesn’t call the family “sacred”. What Kreeft is saying is that the Muslim emphasis on the importance of marriage and family life can be a reminder to Western Christians that Christianity actually teaches the “sacredness of the family” over against “the sacredness of the individual”.] While there may be some highly spiritualized Sufi sect somewhere that looks at marriage and family in this light, this is not the picture of family life that emerges in the accounts of ex-Muslims such as Nonie Darwish, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Wafa Sultan. [From here on Kilpatrick spends a number of paragraphs demonstrating that there are plenty of Muslims that show characteristics which contradict ‘Isa’s standpoint. That’s true. But Kreeft isn’t talking about Islam or Islamic society. He is allowing the Muslim character to express his point of view.]

…But, as any objective scholar of Islam can attest, this is sheer nonsense. Islam didn’t sell itself through tenderness but through terror. Once, when a Jewish tribe surrendered to Muhammad’s forces, he ordered the beheading of over 700 of the captives. On another occasion he ordered that some captured thieves have their eyes gouged out, and their arms and legs cut off on opposite sides. Inquiring students at places such as Boston College, Calvin College and Wheaton might want to supplement their Kreeft with some samplings from the Hadith and The Life of Muhammad. [In this book, Kreeft is not dealing with what Kilpatrick seems to think is “objective” scholarship about Islam. He is dealing with one particular Muslim dialogue partner. Kreeft is also very aware that there is an “Islam of the sword” and that in many cases this kind of Islam has had the upper hand. But he is honestly trying to dialogue with the many Muslims that we in the West have as neighbours: honourable, gentle, virtous people who do not deserve to be labelled as violent or hateful or dangerous.]

Kreeft’s tendency to confuse Islamic concepts with Christian beliefs continues in his treatment of jihad. The secular media, says Kreeft, has created the false impression that jihad is a duty to wage war against unbelievers. But, according to Isa, jihad, is, in reality, “the inner struggle against evil.” The trouble is, the evidence for this interpretation is minimal. In one Hadith—the one which Isa quotes—Muhammad is reported to have said, “the most excellent jihad is for the conquest of self.” But this is from a Hadith of doubtful provenance and, in any event, the Koran makes it quite clear in several places which is the more excellent jihad. For example: “Do you pretend that he who gives a drink to the pilgrims and pays a visit to the Sacred Mosque is as worthy as the man who believes in God and the Last Day, and fights for God’s cause? These are not held equal by God.” (9. 19-20) [Again, none of this is relevant to Kreeft’s book of dialogues. The only relevant fact is that this is what many Muslims tell us Jihad is. Every Muslim I have ever spoken to tells me this. Perhaps Kilpatrick speaks to different Muslims. Or does he only read about them?]

…Isa’s attitudes may be unrepresentative of Muslims but, unluckily, Kreeft’s favorable disposition toward Islam is representative of many influential Christians. [Kreeft’s “favourable disposition” is ultimately not towards Islam, but towards the many honourable adherants to Islam. And ‘Isa’s attitudes are not all that dissimilar to those of the many Muslims I know.] He is not alone in his attempt to “reach across the aisle” and find common ground with Islam. Despite the increasingly bloody persecution of Christians in the Muslim world, many Christian leaders still cling to the pious hope that there is some slight misunderstanding between Islam and Christianity that can be cleared up by more dialogue. [Religions don’t dialogue, people do. Islam and Christainity may be ultimately incompatible – but human beings can always dialogue, and where there is dialogue there will always be a better outcome than where there is war.] Dialogue with Islam has, in fact, become something of a growth industry. It’s no longer confined to high-level theologians: it’s become the in-thing for parishes and congregations. In the last few years, numerous Christian churches across America have invited Islamic speakers to come in and explain Islam to them. The rationale is that “people fear what they don’t understand,” and once we understand Islam we will see that there is nothing to fear. [So what is Kilpatrick’s point? Does he want to make sure that we stay afraid? Whatever happened to “perfect love casts out fear”?]

Kreeft shares that hope. As he puts it, “I think this high and honorable dialogue between two high and honorable faiths will continue…and that something great will come of it.” But what if he’s wrong? …We are in a high stakes struggle with Islam. It’s one that doesn’t allow for much margin of error. [ie. don’t dare to come to agreement on anything!] You can misinterpret or completely ignore the beliefs of Jains or Buddhists, and still rest secure that your life will go on as before. But misinterpreting Islam could turn out to be fatal mistake. If it turns out that jihad is not, after all, an interior spiritual struggle, but rather a serious obligation to subdue non-Muslims, a lot of Western Christians are going to be woefully unprepared for the kind of things that are already happening to Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Nigeria. [Note that fear is the overriding theme here.]

Peter Kreeft has written some of the finest works of Christian apologetics of the last four decades. But he’s off base with this one. Seeing that Kreeft has been highly influenced by C.S. Lewis, and is considered by many to be a worthy successor to Lewis, he might want to take a second look at Lewis’ views on finding common ground with an alien faith. In The Last Battle, Lewis’ fictional account of the conflict between the Christian-like Narnians and the Muslim-like Calormenes, the Narnian have been deceived into believing that their God, Aslan, and Tash, the demonic God of the Calormenes actually have much in common. “Tash” and “Aslan” they are told are only two different names for the same God. In reality, “Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.” After a while, the hybrid God is simply referred to as “Tashlan.” As time passes, however, the worship of Tashlan becomes simply the worship of Tash, and the Narnians find themselves enslaved by the followers of Tash. [Ironically, it is exactly here that Kilpatrick seems to have failed to understand Lewis. In the final moments, one honourable Calormene (yes, there is one! Maybe his name was ‘Isa?) discovers all along that the “Tash” he thought he was worshipping was in fact truly Aslan. Kilpatrick takes hold of one side of Lewis’s picture and loses the other. As Kreeft says, our common enemies are demons, not eachother. Tash is a demon. Those who seek to worship the true God will always find him.]

I am currently reading Hans Urs von Balthasar’s “Theology of Karl Barth”. That might seem a million miles away from Kreeft’s book on Muslim and Christian dialogue, but perhaps not. Here is what he says about the importance of dialogue:

Most polemical confrontations never become real encounters, not because they are polemical and fail because people disagree, but because they really want to meet: because everyone wants to encounter the other rather than be willing to be met. Certainly in many cases we feel that Barth has not really met us, because he doesn not really see where we stand. But still, I hardly know any Catholic writing where Barth would have to admit he has been met, although he has certainly tried to hear what we have to say. But, in a dialogue a willingness to hear out the other is more important than talking. Such eagnerness to listen is in fact a dimension of our very faith and thus our obedience and our prayer, all of which form an indissoluble unity.

I think Kreeft has tried, in “Between Allah & Jesus”, to bring his readers to a point where they really meet the Muslim, and to give us a chance to listen to them. He has tried to help his reader see where the Muslim dialogue partner stands, and to realise that it is not impossible for us to stand together.

If you have the time to sit and watch it, this may be of interest.


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Summer Retreat for Chant

Okay, this needs highlighing. Thanks to Br. Paul for letting me know about it. Huge grudge against the organisers for limiting it to 18-35 year olds, but hey, let’s face it, it is the new generation that really “digs” this stuff, not the old fogies.

Summer Retreat for Chant
27-30 January 2011 – St Dominic’s Priory, Camberwell (Victoria)

The Dominican friars in Camberwell Victoria are inviting young people aged 18-35 to an extended weekend retreat to learn a little of the riches of sacred chant. The retreat is being held at St Dominic’s Priory Camberwell from 27-30 January 2011. We hope you will come

For full details, see here.

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Bishop Silk to Enter Catholic Communion

Well, this is a bit of a surprise. In the latest news that five Church of England Bishops have announced that they will enter the Anglican Ordinariates in full communion with the Catholic Church, there is one surprise: Bishop David Silk is among them. I know Bishop Silk personally from the days when he was Bishop of Ballarat. At that time, he was also the President of the Victorian Council of Churches, when I was the Lutheran member of the executive. We attended a lot of meetings together, and always found we had much in common. I well remember the day when he ordained my friend Tony (who sits at this table sharing the port bottle on occasion) as an Anglican Deacon. I attended the event vested as a Lutheran Pastor. Well, we have all moved on since then, and now it seems that +David is moving on too. (Tony, it’s not too late for you, you know!).

Just one observation from the statement from the five resigning bishops: they see Anglicanorum Coetibus as an “ecumenical instrument”. Bishop Silk was always ecumenically motivated – that is why he was president of the VCC. The thing is that now they confess that the unity of Christians is only possible “in eucharistic communion with the successor of St Peter”:

This is both a generous response to various approaches to the Holy See for help and a bold, new ecumenical instrument in the search for the unity of Christians, the unity for which Christ himself prayed before his Passion and Death. It is a unity, we believe, which is possible only in eucharistic communion with the successor of St Peter.

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A Clip of Papa Benny consecrating La Sagrada Familia

Our Archdiocesan website has this clip on it. You may enjoy it. It gives a good view of the interior of the “Minor Basilica” (which is what it is now classed as) of La Sagrada Familia. I thought the Pope’s homily had some interesting points too. Especially the bit about Gaudi’s confidence that “St Joseph” would complete this church!


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The “Second Coming”??

Well, not quite. I will be “coming again” to St Benedict’s in Burwood this Saturday to continue the Anima Education course on Eschatology (“The Last Things”). All are welcome. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t come to the first half, in which we dealt with teachings of the Kingdom of God, body and soul, death, Heaven and Hell. This Saturday, we will be continuing with Purgatory, Resurrection, the Second Coming, the Judgement and the New Creation. So there is still plenty to get out of this one day seminar. We start at 10am (after the 9am mass in the chapel at St Benedict’s) in St Benedict House, a few doors down from the Church (at 301 Warrigal Rd. Burwood), and go through to 3:30pm. There is a small fee ($10 I think) to cover expenses. It should be a great day. Full details here.

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Can’t see this “open letter” having much effect

There is, apparently, an “open letter” to Anglican “dissidents” considering entering the Church through Anglican Ordinariates in the Tablet. The irony is that it is not on-line, so not very “open”, eh? Still, thanks to Catholica for posting it. I don’t think it will have much effect on those considering entering the Ordinariates, since “the deeply anti-modernist thinking (and pessimism towards modern culture) which has obsessed Pope Benedict XVI” is exactly what is attracting these folk away from the Anglican communion towards communion with the Catholic Church.


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