Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bubbling wisdom and self-emptying love

Great story I hadn't heard before, with meme, via TopekasNews.
Shorter David Brooks, "Pope Francis, the Prince of the Personal", New York Times, Septemer 22 2015:
I can't understand why all these people get so excited over the stuff the Pope says. Surely, when we encounter a person of such deep spiritual wisdom we should focus not on his ideas but on what a nice person he is.
And a (relatively minor) David Brooks Plagiarism Watch below the fold:

Ed Kilgore, you know, has a pretty interesting discussion of why we should stop working so hard to parse the leftness-vs.-rightness of the Pope's message as he visits the US and keep in mind that the primary purpose of the visit isn't political but pastoral, and Francis's views don't break down in that simple way, since they are the views of the church, whether it's about abortion or capitalism, which his two predecessors have entirely shared. But I can't help feeling there is something different in the way he emphasizes compassion over judging (especially for the woman who's had an abortion—"I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal"), and also reading the fierceness of his critique of inequality—I know this is some kind of projection—as connected to feelings of contrition, or let's say compunction, over his failure to act on behalf of the oppressed in the years of rightwing terror in Argentina 1976 to 1983.

Of course Kilgore knows a lot more than I do about politics and theology both, and thus another order of magnitude more than Brooks does. Brooks really has nothing to do with the subject other than dropping His Holiness into that box alongside St. Augustine and Dr. Johnson and Secretary Perkins and Bayard Rustin, of people who are, or might as well be, chapters in his book, and whose political and philosophical views are a little scary but whose biographies make him feel good.

So he lifts a little material from Austen Ivereigh's The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (2014, out in paperback last month),  on Alessandro Manzoni's great 1827 novel, I Promessi Sposi:
One of Pope Francis’ favorite novels is “The Betrothed” by Alessandro Manzoni. It is about two lovers whose longing to marry is thwarted by a cowardly and morally mediocre priest and a grasping nobleman. A good simple friar shelters the suffering couple.
Then a plague hits the country, reminding everyone of their mortality and vulnerability, and also bringing about a moral reckoning.... In the end there are heart-wrenching scenes of confession, forgiveness, reconciliation and marriage.

One cardinal remonstrates the cowardly priest. “You should have loved, my son; loved and prayed. Then you would have seen that the forces of iniquity have power to threaten and to wound, but no power to command.”

I mention this novel, which Francis has read four times, because we in the press are about to over-politicize his visit to America.
Actually he mentions it because it's early in Ivereigh's book, which he gets around to mentioning—in the usual pattern, to make it look as if the foregoing material is the fruit of his own knowledge—in paragraph 5, lifting a little sweat from the brow of Francis himself:
As Austen Ivereigh notes in his biography “The Great Reformer,” Francis has consistently criticized abstract intellectual systems that speak in crude generalities, instrumentalize the poor and ignore the rich idiosyncratic nature of each soul and situation. He has written that many of our political debates are so abstract, you can’t smell the sweat of real life. They reduce everything to “tired, gray cartoon-book narratives.”
Getting it wrong, of course, it's not the sweat of some imagined "real life" but the sweat of real in-the-streets activism as opposed to theory.

Then he turns to an interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, for an acknowledged quote and two paragraphs of unacknowledged quotes (on the "sanctity of God's people" and the difference between knowing who Mary is and knowing how to love her), and then back for another unacknowledged quote to Ivereigh quoting Dostoevsky:
He is fond of quoting Dostoyevsky’s line from “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Whoever does not believe in God will not believe in the people of God. … Only the people and their future spiritual power will convert our atheists, who have severed themselves from their own land.”

Where it's not clear whether the pope is literally "fond" of it or not.

Then some Brooksian babble hovering perilously over Kathryn Jean Lopez territory—
Only by being intimate and loving can you match the authority that comes from church teaching with the democratic wisdom that bubbles from each individual’s common sense....
The best part of this week will be watching him relate to people, how he listens deeply and learns from them, how he sees them both in their great sinfulness but also with endless mercy and self-emptying love.
—and we're done.

Most of the thefts in the column are of the Pope's language, in quotation marks; the only seriously misappropriated words are those of Manzoni's heartrending scenes and Francis's views on sweat, so I'm not sure how much plagiarism we have here in the letter-of-the-law sense, but the column is certainly in plain violation of the cheating code of one of Brooks's employers, Yale University, which I have quoted in this context before:
In all situations, students who are confused about the specific punctuation and formatting must nonetheless make clear in written work where they have borrowed from others—whether it be a matter of data, opinions, questions, ideas, or specific language.
Don't empty yourself unless you have a tub or something handy, and g'mar tov (I'm in my pagan phase and not even imagining fasting, but always Jewish enough to feel guilty; David Brooks is virtually advertising his conversion to Catholicism, with that K-Lo gush, without any evident awareness that it was the eve of Yom Kippur, which is worse).

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