I recently came across some of my old readings from college. For the most part, I find myself scandalized when I look back at the some of the material I was required to read back then. I can’t help but also feel some sense anger and betrayal at those who required me to read them. Those undergraduate years were, after all, my formative years in that I hadn’t the faintest clue about theology or philosophy and where I took everything in at its face value. Every philosophy and theology reading was almost like gospel truth, since I did not feel the need, nor did I have the capacity, to detect their fine philosophical errors. I took it for granted that I was in a Catholic school. I thought I was safe. Ateneo, yes AdMU, is (or was – are Jesuits still Catholic?) a Catholic school so I assumed that the readings brought people closer to the faith. I was wrong. I can remember some times in my philosophy of religion class where we even talked about Dawkins, Harris and the New Atheists. My professor told us about the idea of “Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA),” which thinks that science and religion are in constant conflict. Now, I have only anger at my ignorance for those times where I just drank the koolaid, sitting in my armchair without the slightest clue of how to respond. This was pure paganism coming out of the mouth of my professor and I had no idea. When I had naively thought my professor was Virgil, hindsight was the only one so kind as to show me how mistaken I was. The anger comes not so much at having been exposed to so many errors, but also that the presentation seemed to be skewed in their favor – it wasn’t a fair fight. Aquinas, for example, was just a hiccup with an hour and a half of class time for his Five Proofs.
Then there’s theology. In Th151, which has as part of its course description “Through guided study and research activity, the course leads college seniors toward a personal interior assimilation of Christian faith in their lives. This is done through the exercise of developing a personal integral faith synthesis, centered around a core theme, and selected from a plurality of suggested doctrinal, moral, or liturgical prayer topics or themes.” Whatever that means. In that class my professor had us read Timothy Radcliffe’s What is the Point of Being a Christian? Only recently did I see Radcliffe’s name again in the news with the headline “Vatican appointee says gay sex can express Christ’s ‘self-gift’” I promptly junked his book along with Fr. James Martin’s book of finding God in all things.
Apparently, even the theology department has its own dose of the social justice bug. To have a class of young, impressionable men and women at one’s disposal is just ripe for any professor to cram his or her liberal, social-justice agenda down their throats and grade those poor students on how well they can regurgitate the same. It started with liberation theology, then feminist theology, and now queer theology – all trying to mix and match God and some leftist agenda as if it was some damned combo meal at a food court. Looking back only infuriates me since I know I was in that same position – a fresh mind without any formal training who gobbled up all their ideas like a sponge. Meanwhile, God takes a backseat while the car drives off over the cliff of social activism.
More and more I think that the deliberate pushing of the liberal, social justice agenda in subjects like theology is intellectual dishonesty. For example, I remember how one of my theology professors remarked with disdain at the “Pre-Vatican II days” of how it was only because of that council (Vatican II) that we can now see the priest in mass. Back then, I didn’t even know that there was an old rite to begin with, much more question the validity of a rite that I was born into. Then it was only a few days ago when I read Benedict XVI’s Spirit of the Liturgy, and this passage appeared: “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself. The common turning toward the east was not a ‘celebration toward the wall’; it did not mean that the priest ‘had his back to the people’: the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together ‘toward the Lord.'” (195 of 582, ebook). This was never brought up by any of my theology professors. What a shame. What a waste.
The words of T.S Eliot continue to haunt these last moments of my law school sojourn. Time and again I ask: will these four years of toil end with a bang, or whimper? For now, at least, it most likely seems to be a shrug. My classes this last semester mostly fall and end late at night, which fortunately means the drive back home is easier due to the light traffic. The classes are all review classes and, consequently, all ineluctably boring. Only at the end of these four years did I realize, however, that skepticism is a virtue when it comes to a prof’s lessons. An example: for three years we have been discouraged to answer questions with: “It depends.” Now, in one class that is the answer in several questions on recitation. So what’s the deal? For what it’s worth, this pivot did result to an insight in the profession that I will soon be joining: that it is in many ways still an art. Many professors these past three years have indulged in their teaching the law as a science that seems to lend it an aura of precision and mathematical certainty. For a large part of the past three years, studying law was mainly finding answers to questions, which, to be fair, is probably the most expedient way to formulate and check exams. But what about that skill of producing answers to questions? The writing of pleadings in itself is a craft – something that I hardly had any experience in – and something that I expect to be immersed in soon. In undergrad this production of answers was derogatorily referred to as bola, but whatever we call it – that was precisely what won Grace Poe’s case on citizenship. During those hour-long drives to school, I go through recordings of the oral arguments in Poe-Llamanzares v. COMELEC just to observe how these counsels made and delivered their argument (with, of course, the benefit of hindsight). It was truly a treasure to go through the interpellations once again.
Perhaps it is this act of production that draws the cloud of suspicion on lawyers, and perhaps justifiably so. Persuasion, after all, is a powerful skill and more so if the effects of such persuasion can contribute to the formulation of law. But the brute fact remains that some people just have a propensity to lie. Hell, even in law school people lie all the time. But I suppose nothing of that is new or even scandalous these days.
In light of the monotonous and dreadfully boring classes and hours spent on bar review this semester, I was fortunately referred by a friend to a book on Christian philosophy. With the abrogation of true electives such as Roman Law, it is hardly a surprise that law schools these days have turned into veritable factories that produce docile bar-takers. Whatever grandeur, culture, or grace that the law had was probably lost ages ago no matter what that damned signed says in the entrance to Malcolm Hall. Sure we’ve heard Manresa and Sanchez Roman mostly in passing (whether jokingly or not) by the older professors. But what about Homer, Cicero, Aristotle, or Aquinas? Those names were probably all relegated to some weeks of recitations in Legal Theory and then lost right after the semester ended. It was largely due to the discontent with the monotonies of classroom study and the lack of any interesting electives that I decided to read up on other subjects.
So can one self-study metaphysics? I laughed the first time I thought about it. It seemed ridiculous. But the ridiculous ideas are usually the most entertaining ones: so I tried it. Owing to perhaps G.K. Chesterton’s biography on St. Thomas and a few chapters of the book in the picture above – I can say that I won’t be putting it down anytime soon. It is quite a relief to wrestle with ideas like this on a Sunday – call it a break from the day-to-day pressures of being “productive” or “useful”. In that sense I can savor what is left of weekends before I re-enter the workforce next year. Ciao!