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Lecture focuses on Catholic teaching

| Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fr. Bill Dailey, lecturer at Notre Dame Law School and rector of Stanford Hall, examined the conflict between Catholicism and modern cultural trends in a lecture titled “Hope for Hollow Men? Moving Beyond Illusory Autonomy toward Genuine Freedom” as part of the Edith Stein Project Conference on Saturday in McKenna Hall.

Dailey began the lecture by asking the audience to raise their hands if they disagreed with Church teaching on the human person and sexuality. Noting that only a few hands were raised, Dailey said the audience represented an unusual segment of both the American public and American Catholics, as many have views in opposition to the Church on social issues such as contraception and abortion.

After playing a recording of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men,” Dailey said the morbid content of the poem, although commonly associated with the devastation of World War I, is applicable to the spiritual hollowness of today.

“We still wrestle with bleakness as a culture,” he said.

Dailey said he sees Eliot’s image of hollow men filled with straw as a metaphor for humans using substitutes for God like power and pride. Dailey said we must empty ourselves of this straw before we can be open to God.

“Christ emptied himself,” he said. “The only ones who can cling to this hope are those that empty themselves.”

This absence of God is evident in the existentialist movement of the 20th century, Daily said, citing Albert Camus’s allegory of the continuous struggle of Sisyphus to push a boulder up a hill as a representation of futile human endeavors to find meaning in life.

“You have to get a sense of where does ethics get off the ground, where it comes from, and the answer is always filled with defensive adverbs like ‘personally,’” he said.

As a teacher in ethics classes, Daily said he repeatedly encountered students who prefaced any moral statements or judgements with the disclaimer “personally.” He said the work of René Descartes and Immanuel Kant, who argued that autonomy is the fundamental essence of being human, has indirectly led to relativism apparent in rhetoric across a wide variety of issues.

“The word ‘choice’ is the fulcrum of the abortion debate,” he said.

Quoting Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Dailey said “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”

This admiration of autonomy has led to negative opinions about humility, Dailey said, and now many people say they would rather die than live as a disabled person without use of their faculties.

“Humility is in its own way an inversion of the autonomy that is illusory,” he said.

Dailey concluded by referencing a famous maxim from Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Dailey said Augustine is the perfect example of a man who kept filling himself with straw until he was able to empty himself to find God.

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