Criteria for Internet Communications

On occasion of the 45th World Media Day, Pope Benedict XVI gave a diagnostic of the world of communications and some outlines of how they should be used ethically. The Pope did not mention Facebook directly, but certainly alluded to social media and the latest technologies. In the positive the Pope certainly highlighted the great capacity that modern internet communication has, the potential for friendship and information, and for transmitting the Gospel, values and ideals. Consistent with his message, the Pope recently aired on Vatican TV and now YouTube in an address to the Universidad Santo Tomas in Manila, the oldest in Asia, on the importance of faith and reason. See below.

Also the Pope warned of the dangers of dispersonalization, manipulation of emotions, monopolization of views, and inauthenticity. Ultimately, no communication can replace that of direct human contact. Since in this day and age, almost everyone uses the internet as a source of communication, even the most die-hard nostalgic environmentalists (see this bizarre article on paleo diets), the Pope affirms there is a “Christian way of being present in the digital world”. To find out more, read the full Pope’s address here.

Habermas, Ratzinger and the Kantian divide

Over the last week I have been struggling to understand the basic architecture of German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, perhaps the most famous philosopher of his generation. While by no means do I claim a organic understanding of his work, but Summary Jurgen Habermas which summarizes his position and approach to modernity, via reason and rationalization, and democracy and politics. It is mostly based on the Theory of Communicative Action (click here to download) and “Three normative models of democracy” (click here) The questions at the end of the paper are a good exercise in comprehension, and if you have answers, please post them in the comments section.

Why is any of this important to faith and how relevant is it to the environment. Well, it is important to Catholics and the current situation of philosophy and intellectual exchange because Habermas had an interesting dialogue with Cardinal Ratzinger in 2004 about secularization, modernity and the relationship of faith and reason. You can read about their discussion in a book called “The Dialectics of Secularization: On reason and religion”, by Ignatius Press. Habermas is interesting because (among other things) he sees that reason and communication can be great motors of authentic social and political development, and Habermas lives to these standards. He is a philosopher who is open and changes his positions as he is influenced by other peoples better arguments. As you can see in my paper, Habermas finds some difficulties to make his theory of democracy and communication actually work; such as multiculturalism, the ethical self understanding of nations and cultures, religious pluralism in democratic societies – which all point to the very foundations of Habermas’ work: Kant. The Kantian understanding of morals and epistemology effectively limits Habermas’ thinking and ability to engage in any form of metaphysics and greater commitments to truth.

In a famous speech in Mexico, Cardinal Ratzinger, effectively pointed this out, coming from a different direction: theology. Nonetheless he engages in similar issues as Habermas starting from Marxism (in its Catholic version as liberation theology), through politics, post-metaphysics and concluding in Kant’s limitations for philosophy and theology, all in the context of modern relativism. This is a must read classic, find it here. This text explains why all this is relevant to the environment as well. Without a commitment to Truth which Kant prevents, an intellectual approach such as Reconciliation can never be connected to its deepest roots, as revealed by God in Christ and understood theologically. As Ratzinger says, philosophy and reason must open up in order to engage theology and connect human reason to what is searches for.

Climate Change and Reconciliation

There are 2 good posts/articles that talk about reconciliation related to climate change, though in different and indirect ways. The first one, which touches on the Copenhagen Climate Summit, comes from a clearly Catholic perspective but indirectly calls for the reconciliation of human beings with themselves. Applebaum does a great, and simple, job of showing the anti-human sentiment that is tied to climate change debates. Read it here.

The other post is from a scientist, or group of scientists, that are meeting over the next few days in Lisbon, Portugal. The title of their conference is “Lisbon Workshop on Reconciliation in the Climate Change Debate”. Judi Curry is honest that she is not clear on what this means, and it doesn’t seem that conference organizers are aware of the theological implications of reconciliation. But it certainly seems like a positive approach, and maybe a theologian could give some insight into the full extent of reconciliation. Next week I will pick up on this and post on the theology of reconciliation.

Micro Finance and Development

Below is a guest post by Trey Malone on micro finance and its relationship to development. Soon he will follow up with reflections on micro finance and the Pope’s economic ideas as explained in Caritas in Veritate. Please write your comments, support and criticism on the blog comment interface and Trey will eagerly respond. Thanks Trey.

In the development discussion, various schools of thought arise from those in the “developed” world.  Some theories advocate the environmental resources protection while others promote life destruction through maintaining an artificially low birth rate.  Others still, such as that of the “Shining Path” Communist Party in Peru, advocated governmental central planning.  Some favor a “hands-off” approach while others, such as the IMF, request quite a bit of leverage in any developing country before they will assist.  With each philosophy, though, the fundamental question to be answered is the same – how can resources be efficiently distributed to provide the greatest good for the greatest amount of people?

About twenty-five years ago, however, Nobel laureate economist Mohammed Yunus (Biography) created a new tool to provide assistance to the bottom half of the bottom half of those impoverished – microfinance.  The concept is simple – Microfinance Institutions (MFI’s) lend small amounts of money to a would-be entrepreneur who only has the collateral of his good name (social capital).  That entrepreneur has a unique competitive advantage – the knowledge he or she has accumulated about the society in which she exists.  That knowledge, while ignored in the context of many quantitative theories, cannot be forgotten (Hayek: The Use of Knowledge) and must be valued.  To protect the culture, development should be based within a community, and microfinance creates a unique opportunity for precisely that.  Generally, MFI’s require its lenders to form a sort of accountability group, and will regularly offer business assistance to those who have received the loan.  The success of the Yunus model for micro-lending, while difficult to quantify, has led to various life improvements in more than 100 countries today – including the United States.  The system does, however, provide one important debate topic in today’s patriarchical society (defined as a society where economic authority is held primarily by the paternal figure) – generally MFI’s try to lend to women.

The decision to lend primarily to women comes from many quantitative studies on family budgeting.  According to Catholic Relief Services,

“Studies indicate that women are more likely to use their loans and profits to benefit their families by investing in their businesses and using additional income to meet household needs such as purchasing more and better quality food, improving family housing and health care, paying children’s school fees, and saving for emergencies.”  (CRS)

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Academia, crisis of thought and anthropology

There are two very interesting articles that severely critique the current academic setting and highlight our modern crisis of thought.The first article is by Martin A. Mills, a senior lecturer in the anthropology of religion, University of Aberdeen. You can find the full article here.

Mills, among many other things, speaks of the need for the reconciliation of scientific and social science. His argument and illustration about the limitations and poverty of science to explain important aspects of reality, is clear and convincing. As the central theme of the need for a new vision of mankind. Pope JP II said something very similar in a historic address in 1978 in Mexico, on how anthropology was the key issue of our times. The anthropological view we take will determine to a large degree what we will do to ourselves.

Another interesting article Pierre Bourdieu also shows the limitations of science, scientism and modern academia. Bourdieu is quick to identify the false antinomies that lie deeply embedded in our life and thought, as well as the academic formalism and superficial conformism that dulls our thought. A worthwhile read.

The point is that if we can’t think straight, we cannot understand reality, and we cannot understand nature, the environment and the environmental problem. As long as reason is weakened, and unable to reach its object, truth, theology is also suffering for reason cannot open itself to something greater. If we cannot understand the environmental problem(s) for what they are, reconciliation cannot become a relevant solution.

Galapagos Mission

I am back from my travels in Ecuador and the Galapagos Mission trip. It was an incredible experience, as you can see in the pictures below. Apart from the Galapagos, we spent time in Guayaquil and the unforgettable Mondragon Island, home to pirates, poverty and many diseases. All true. We survived Mondragon, with some wounds that healed, and headed to the Galapagos. Certainly there were some coordination issues, as expected for a first trip, but in all the experience was very positive. I foresee a great academic potential for the Galapagos and a great case study for Reconciliation. The future awaits…

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