Revisiting the Colloquium on Violence & Religion Conference…


Because of a scheduling conflict with another conference the topic of which is highly relevent to Gil’s  current writing project he is unable to attend this year’s annual meeting of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion in Madrid being held next week. Gil is a founding member of the COV&R organization and has given presentations at a number of it’s meetings. I thought revisiting one of those meetings, and Gil’s remarks from a decade ago might be of interest. Much to his chagrin, Gil’s remarks were the primary basis of an Amsterdam newspaper story on the conference at the time. One wonders why the reporter bypassed the many other learned papers and presentations at the conference to focus on Gil Bailie’s remarks. Included below is a letter he wrote to the editor of the Dutch newspaper…

I’m reporting from the 2007 Colloquium on Violence and Religion conference in Amsterdam, where I’m happy to be seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I was asked by the organizers of the conference to serve on the panel discussing the keynote address. The panel also included Dr. Abdulkarim Soroush, an Iranian Muslim, a visiting professor at the Free University of Amsterdam; Dr. Markha Valente, an American trained professor of history now also teaching at the Free University in Amsterdam; and Dr. Monjib Maati, a Muslim professor of history at the Université de Rabat in Morocco.

Prior to my formal remarks, I made brief reference to the keynote address by Ian Buruma, author of Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance, and to the response to the address by my old friend Wolfgang Palaver, a professor of Catholic Social Thought at Innsbruck University. I simply expressed my general agreement with what they had to say – not complete agreement to be sure, but I was in substantial agreement with them. To which I added something extemporaneous to this effect, anticipating the need for it:

Let it be said that in what follows the historical sins of Western culture – known in great detail by every 12-year-old in the West – are hereby acknowledged and, to the extent that I can be contrite for someone else’s errors, I hereby apologize.

I daily remind myself of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, that love does not gloat over the wrong-doing of others but delights in the truth, but the truth can be uncomfortable, and we are here today to search for it.

My Formal Remarks:

Believe me, it is not easy it is to say what I’m about to say, for I know it will be misunderstood. If I was confident that someone else might say it, I would happily to leave it to them to say. But I’m not confident of that, so I’m going to ask your indulgence as I put on my very best Jeremiah impersonation.

At the heart of the European crisis, as I see it, is a loss of faith – Europe’s loss of its Christian faith and then, as a predictable consequence, Europe’s loss of faith in itself. It is fundamentally a Christian problem, but today of course it has both a Muslim and a Jewish component.


One of the West’s greatest shortcomings is its aversion to accurately assessing its own cultural uniqueness and especially the religious sources of that uniqueness. The key to the kind of pluralistic and politically secular polity that the West rightly cherishes is the parallel cultural coexistence of a religious tradition whose faithful are taught to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s and to recognize the dignity of the person and his or her right to follow the voice of conscience.

The last time Europe lost faith in itself this profoundly was in the aftermath of World War I, and in a heartbeat the primitive gods were back, tricked out on that occasion in ideological disguises. Whatever these gods will look like next time, the European loss of self-confidence and Europe’s confusion over its historic identity will provide the occasion for their return. At issue, it’s important to remember, is the spiritual condition of the West itself: whether or to what extent it has lost its soul and in the process lost its way in history and is no longer willing to pass on its cultural inheritance to the next generation.

Nothing exemplifies Europe’s lack of faith in itself more than its reluctance to reproduce. As Mark Steyn put it: the future belongs to those who show up for it. A great number of European Muslims are going to show up, but they will be joined by only a relatively small number of European Christians and Jews and by a statistically insignificant number of European secularists. The future belongs to the fertile. Europe – radical jihadists worldwide now have reason to believe – will fall into their hands by mid-century. For many of the most radical, however, that seems too long to have to wait.

Which brings us to THE MUSLIM COMPONENT

Henri de Lubac pitied those who learned their catechism against something, and the worst way to revive the Christian spirit in the West is to do so in order to counter non-Christian influences, whatever they might be. That said, however, there is in fact a Muslim component to the present crisis, and it is rooted in a few uncomfortable but undeniable realities:

#1. Mohammad: The founder of Islam, whatever his other virtues, was a conquering warrior who spread his religious beliefs by the sword. One doesn’t have to be an expert in mimetic theory to recognize the salience of this or its contemporary relevance.

#2. Since Mohammad’s modus operandi was inscribed in the Qur’an and made normative in the sharia, the second uncomfortable but undeniable reality is that obligatory acts of violence enjoy the highest possible Islamic sanction, and are regarded by Muslims of the strict observance as unalterable and immune to more benign construals.

I am genuinely honored to share the dais with Islamic scholars who have tried to foster a more irenic understanding of Islam, and who have, no doubt, paid a personal and professional price for doing so. Unfortunately, those courageous few – they are both very courageous and very few – who have publicly and unequivocally resisted the jihadist revival have had their voices drowned out by the radicals, who cite Qur’anic authorizations the moderates appear unable to effectively refute. In any case, it is now clear that such reform efforts are better appreciated by Westerners – desperate for signs of Islamic moderation – than they are by the sea of radical Islamicists who now dominate the discourse in the Muslim world.

#3. Religious Tolerance: The first freedom is religious freedom.

How many instances are there of societies with a Muslim majority or an Islamic regime where anything remotely resembling Western religious freedom exists? As mosques sprout up like Starbucks in the West, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and native animists are being denied basic religious freedoms and/or physically intimidated and persecuted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Algeria, Yemen, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan, Iran, Indonesia and so on. In an Islamic society, can a Muslim cease being a Muslim without endangering his life? Can a Hindu or a Mormon try to convert a Muslim without endangering his?


It was fashionable not long ago to sagely observe that the Palestinians are the Jews of our time. The truth, of course, is that the Jews are the Jews of our time. Now as ever, the Jews are the canary in the European mineshaft, and to repeat the cliché that their predicament is reducible to “the politics of the Middle-East” is a species of the 1930s slander about Jews in the international banking system, and it is shameful.

In Europe today, Jews are once again having to be cautious and to avoid certain areas out of very legitimate fears for their safety, while imams both inside and outside Europe spew forms of anti-Semitism that would make the Nazis blush. No dialogue that ignores these matters deserves the name.

St. Peter admonished Christians to be prepared to give nonbelievers the reason for their hope, and he did so no doubt because there seemed precious little empirical evidence for it. My own hope is of that same sort. I actually am hopeful, but I can’t let on if I am to play the gloomy Jeremiah role all the way to the end. Nothing less than sober biblical hope will do. It’s the best kind anyway. There is reason to hope, wrote the historian John Lukacs, “that the New Dark Ages may not last hundreds of years; and there is reason to believe that their darkness will not be uniform.”

In the question and answer period, I was able to clarify a number of points, but I also found an opportunity to add something that was part of my formal remarks, but which was inadvertently ommited in the text I took with me to the auditorium:

The history of this century and beyond will be very largely determined by whether the West finds a way to reclaim and reaffirm its spiritual inheritance and thereby reenergize a culture that fosters the genuine flourishing of its people and to which others – whatever their race, creed, ethnicity, or background – will want to transfer their national allegiance, culturally assimilate, and contribute their part.

Embarrassed to have become the focus of the press attention, when my conference colleagues deserved much more attention for their much more substantial contributions to our deliberations, I decided to write to the editor of the Dutch newspaper. I left both the letter and the decision as to whether or not to send it to the newspaper with my Dutch friends.

In any case, and for what it might be worth, here is the letter:

To: Editor, NCR Handelsblad

The article in the July 8, 2007 edition of your paper about the conference of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion dwelt on a few remarks I made as one member of a four-person panel at the opening session of the conference at the Free University of Amsterdam. The quotations were accurate and fairly characterize the points I wanted to make. I stand by them. However, what gave my remarks their pertinence was their context within the much broader discussion which the conference was organized to foster. Taken out of that context and highlighted as they were in the piece by Maarten Huygen, my comments lose their relevance to the larger discussion of which they were a part.

The conference – co-sponsored by Pax Christi The Netherlands, the Blaise Pascal Institute, and the Free University of Amsterdam – was a rich and multifaceted exploration of the very complex challenge now facing Europe and much of the rest of the world: How to continue to honor the historic commitment to cultural openness and generosity without eviscerating the religious and moral sources of that very generosity? My rather candid remarks were made simply as a small contribution to that much larger discussion and should not be taken as emblematic of it.

Gil Bailie,
The Cornerstone Forum

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Every revival of paganism involves a lessening of intellectual vigor, or, at best the substitution of a formal intellectual virtuosity for a more substantive and productive exercise of intelligence. On the contrary, each new step in the on-going discovery of the scope and ramifications of Christian truth is accompanied by an intellectual surge capable of bearing fruit in virtually every field of learning to which it might turn.

Henri de Lubac



“The faith which is born in man liberates him from superstition,” says Henri de Lubac, and the liberation is accompanied by “an illumination of the intellect.”


Not only does the converted subject recover his “ontological moorings,” but, both spiritually and intellectually, he becomes like the one Jeremiah described who is planted by the waterside. He sinks his otherwise parched roots into the world’s great source of moral and intellectual vigor. His own sinfulness will mar all his attempts to draw upon that source, but all his failures will be superior to the most altruistic of his moral accomplishments and the most brilliant of his intellectual ones performed prior to his conversion.

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Some thoughts to keep in mind as we prepare to celebrate the 241st anniversary of the birth of the United States of America this July 4th…


Premodern philosophers viewed freedom as a prerequisite of human virtue. … Freedom is the means that allows human beings to become virtuous; it allows order to be instilled into human nature. If happiness qua virtue is the telos for man, then freedom is instrumental to – but does not constitute – that end.

John Safranek

To imagine that freedom has no telos, no purpose other than itself, is precisely what we call nihilism, and we are drowning in it today.


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Post-Father’s Day reflections….

The recent hiatus in posting to this blog page was due to my current dual role of Cornerstone Forum’s chief cook and bottle washer, as well as grandpa and helper to my daughter’s family in Maryland as they awaited the arrival of their second child. The long days of waiting ended on Wednesday of last week with the birth of their son. Mother and baby are doing fine. Grandpa and Grandma are very happy and grateful all went well.

On the the other side of the continent Gil Bailie has been working on extracting his next book from notes collected over the past twenty years. I will be sharing bits of his drafts here as they become available. However, Gil took some time over the past days to post on the Cornerstone Forum Facebook page the following quote from Charles Péguy and a reflection….

Charles Péguy

“There is only one adventurer in the world, as can be seen very clearly in the modern world, the father of a family. Even the most desperate adventurers are nothing compared with him. Everything in the modern world, even and perhaps most of all contempt, is organized against that fool, that imprudent, daring fool … the unruly, audacious man who is daring enough to have a wife and family. Everything is against him. Savagely organized against him. Everything turns and combines against him. … Everything is against the father of a family, the pater familias; and consequently against the family. He alone is literally “engaged” in the world, in the age. He alone is an adventurer. The rest are at most engaged with their heads, which is nothing. He is engaged with all his limbs. The rest suffer for themselves. In the first degree. He alone suffers through others. He makes others suffer; he is responsible. He alone has given hostages, wife and child, so that sickness and death can strike him in all his members. The others can take in their sails. He alone is exposed, constrained to expose an enormous spread of canvas, to the storms of the sea. And whatever the weather, he is bound to sail with all sails set.”

A father is only as happy as his least happy child.

Both the Péguy quote and Gil’s pithy sentence on one aspect of a father’s happiness resonate with my experience as a father and grandfather. I will end this with a kind of ‘father’s prayer’ by Leonard Cohen that echos my feelings on yesterday’s dual celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi and Fathers Day:

You who question souls, and you to whom souls must answer, do not cut off the soul of my son on my account. Let the strength of his childhood lead him to you, and the joy of his body stand him upright in your eyes.

May he discern my prayer for him, and to whom it is uttered, and in what shame. I received the living waters and I held them in a stagnant pool. I was taught but I did not teach. I was loved but I did not love. I weakened the name that spoke me, and I chased the light with my own understanding.

Whisper in his ear. Direct him to a place of learning. Illuminate
his child’s belief in mightiness. Rescue him from those who want
him with no soul, who have their channels in the bedrooms of the rich and poor, to draw the children into death. Let him see me coming back to you. Allow us to bring forth our souls together to make a place for your name.

If I am too late, redeem my yearning in his heart, bless him with a soul that remembers you, that he may uncover it with careful husbandry. They who wish to devour him have grown powerful on my idleness. They have a number for him, and a chain. Let him see them withered in the light of your name. Let him see their dead kingdom from the mountain of your word. Stand him up upon his soul, bless him with the truth of manhood.

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More on the Epistemology of Faith . . .

During his 40 days in the desert, Jesus was tempted to do things that would make the truth of his claims and the meaning of his existence irrefutable. He declined. His followers down through the centuries have sometimes tried to do what Jesus refused to do.

But irrefutability is overrated. Christian faith appeals to freedom and to love, both of which require the absence of irrefutability, what Hans Urs von Balthasar calls “the purely worldly power of persuasion.” The truth of Christianity is simply Christ — the Way, the Truth, and the Life — the Truth that will set you free.


The kind of evidential power with which God manifests himself must be of the highest kind, precisely in virtue of the fact that it allows freedom because it makes men free. And it wants to overpower a lover that answers in freedom only in its own way — by the evidential power of love …

Balthasar cites Blaise Pascal as the thinker who best understood this, quoting this from Pascal’s Pensées: “Perfect clarity would please reason but harm the will. The proud man must be humbled.”

Balthasar goes so far as to say the “only that person can truly recognize the Messiah who knows how to keep his secret.”

This is not of course to ignore the command to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Rather it is to realize that the value of that preaching will depend primarily on how faithfully the lives of those who preach it have been conformed to Christ and only secondarily on how objectively persuasive their argumentation might be.

The secret that must be kept is an open secret, but it will elude those who try to discover it solely on the basis of a “purely worldly power of persuasion.”

(This was originally posted on in May 2007)

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The Science of Facts & The Epistemology of Truth

Benedict XVI

A number of very smart people have made very conspicuous fools of themselves lately by not recognizing a truth expressed with such lapidary economy by Benedict XVI in his marvelous book, Jesus of Nazareth:

The highest truths cannot be forced into the type of empirical evidence that only applies to material reality.

For an extended meditation on this insight, see Leon Kass’ essay in the April 2007 edition of Commentary, “Science, Religion, and the Human Future” . Two of my most trusted friends, Ron Austin and Tom Olp, recommended Dr. Kass’ article to me.  Benedict gets the nod for succinctness, but Leon Kass draws out the implications of the Pope’s remark.

Leon Kass

“The substantive limits of science follow from certain fundamental aspects of scientific knowledge and from science’s assumptions about what sorts of things are scientifically knowable. They stem from science’s own self-proclaimed conceptual limitations — limitations to which neither religious nor philosophical thought is subject. This is not because, science being rational, it is incapable of dealing with the passionate or sub-rational or spiritual or supernatural aspects of being. It is, on the contrary, because the rationality of science is but a partial and highly specialized rationality, concocted for the purpose of gaining only that kind of knowledge for which it was devised, and applied to only those aspects of the world that can be captured by such rationalized notions. The peculiar reason of science is not the natural reason of everyday life captured in ordinary speech, and it is also not the reason of philosophy or religious thought, both of which are tied to—even as they seek to take us beyond — the world as we experience it.”

Or as Hans Urs von Balthasar put it half a century ago:

“To an epoch in which anthropology has been recognized as the key to philosophy, it is self-contradictory to foster an intelligence that approaches things from a merely rationalistic and technical point of view, indeed it completely misunderstands its own being. … In the anthropological period the highest objectivity can be attained only by the highest personal risk of man himself.”

Balthasar comes close to matching Benedict in succinctness when he writes:

A theory of knowledge that resolutely starts from the case that sets the norm of all knowledge, i.e. the meeting between persons, saves itself a good many problems.

(This is an edited version of a post that was originally on in May 2007)

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Some Thoughts on The Common Good, The Catholic Church and The World…

Jean-Luc Marion

“The common good requires that we offer to all what Revelation has given us—and has given us to comprehend. Today, intelligence becomes a duty of charity. It is up to us, to us and to no one else, to transmit the light that we claim to have received—in vessels of clay, yet we really have received it. When a Church dies in a nation, it is never primarily its adversaries’ doing, but that of its members, who lose courage and faith, and thus intelligence.”

“The often antagonistic relation between what the Catholic Church says and the majority opinions of our civil societies does not imply that Catholicism no longer plays any positive role; to the contrary, its contribution lies precisely in the capability it demonstrates of saying the very word that contradicts the predominant opinion head-on and openly, and at the very least renders society the invaluable service of showing that this opinion is not self-evident, that it involves infinitely serious presuppositions and runs the risk of falsification. Even when the world contradicts Catholicism, it still needs it in order to avoid merely proclaiming platitudes. The world might not even become conscious of its innovations and its declines if Catholicism had not been there with enough courage to awaken its bad conscience—for a bad conscience remains still and first of all a conscience. Catholicism can lay claim to such a role, one that is already as remarkable and respectable as many others.”

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Memorial Day

For the past eleven years just prior to the Memorial day weekend, Saint Vincent High School in Petaluma, California has set aside one day to remember one of its graduates who died August 25, 2005, while serving with the US Army Rangers in Iraq. They call this Tim Shea Day.

Timothy Magnus Shea is the son of William and Mary Shea. William Shea has been a close friend of Gil Bailie and the Cornerstone Forum for over 40 years, serving as a trusted advisor and board member. Until recently I worked for William Shea as his legal secretary and witnessed the undercurrents of grief and sorrow mixing with the love, hope, and faith that have sustained him and his family.

I only met Tim once that I recall but have heard many stories retold by his family and friends of his exploits as a youth, adolescent, and young man. ‘Full of life’ is a phrase that comes to mind when I think of Tim. He and his family remain in my prayers this day along with all those whose names I’ll never know whose lives on earth were swallowed in war. God have mercy.

Randy Coleman-Riese



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Message in a bottle….

Ten years ago Gil Bailie spent time reading University of Pennsylvania scholar Philip Rieff’s works with the following results…

To Whom It May Concern:

[To European culture today — while it can still be spoken of in the singular — and to North American culture in the near future]:

From Philip Rieff:

“A multiculture is an anti-culture. … the historical task of a culture is always and everywhere the same: the creation of a world in which its inhabitants may find themselves at home and yet accommodate the stranger without yielding their habitus to him.”

T. S. Eliot’s “where there is no temple, there shall be no homes” finds its perfect echo in Rieff’s “Where there is nothing sacred, there is nothing.”

Lest the word “sacred” trigger in my fellow Girardians a needless knee-jerk reaction, what both Eliot and Rieff are saying is simply that all culture is rooted in cult, and that without reference to transcendence made vibrant and materially manifest in the culture, the culture will succumb to the iron law of both human affairs and physics, namely, that nature abhors a vacuum.

So, finally, Philip Rieff: “As teaching agents of sacred order, and inescapably within it, the moral demands we must teach, if we are teachers, are those eternal truths by which all social orders endure.”

(This was originally posted on in May 2007.)

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A Look Back At – Tradition






The word “tradition” and the word “treason” come from the same root.

The very name “modernity” self-consciously used to describe the period of the last several centuries in Western cultural history clearly exemplifies the spirit that has dominated these centuries, and the “postmodernism” that has lately been offered as its sequel — as its name makes obvious — is nothing more than the same spirit, in Shakespeare’s words, having eaten everything else in sight, at last, is eating up itself.

The spirit that animates both these phases of our cultural history is an anti-traditional spirit, rooted in the assumption that liberation from the past is the key to happiness and progress. This “liberationist” spirit has fostered a remarkable degree of economic and political improvements, but it must be said that the most impressive of these are due more to the residual presence of a Judeo-Christian ethos than to the forces that have insisted on its irrelevance.

Slowly but surely, however, the underlying presuppositions of the modern and postmodern eras have led to a loss of cohesion and cultural integrity, resulting in a situation today in the West which is little more than licensed autonomy enforced with increasingly draconian methods, all aimed at neutralizing or penalizing the public presence of traditional religious or moral judgments: what Pope Benedict called “the dictatorship of relativism.”

All of this plays out as the culture war, which, however reluctant one is to enter its lists, can no more be avoided than can other kinds of war. The bumper sticker which reads: Stop the War, for instance, seems to presuppose that this can be done by simply laying down one’s arms. Which, in a way, is true, for it would simply concede the contest to those who have not laid down their arms, thus bringing the war between them to an end. One doesn’t have to be a political philosopher, much less a member of some neo-con cabal, to realize that war ended on those terms might lead to a very unhappy state of affairs.

So … the unavoidability of the culture war. The passions aroused by that war, however, should not blind us to our responsibility to our descendants. I am even tempted to describe the belligerents in today’s culture war as those who are primarily concerned with making the culture more congenial to their own impulses, desires, aptitudes, and preoccupations, on one hand, and, on the other, those primarily concerned with the cultural, moral, and spiritual needs of those who will come after them. I know howls of protest will be forthcoming about that, but I must say this is exactly how it seems to me.

The precise point I want to make is about the very nature of both tradition and culture. Both are received from the distant past, not concocted in the present or in the recent past. That is why we must try to resolve any differences between ourselves, our contemporaries, our ancestors, and our descendants in favor of our ancestors. Paradoxically, that is the only way we can resolve them in favor of our descendants. For what our descendants will most desperately need is an inheritance, a tradition, a moral, religious, and cultural patrimony that has the weight of centuries of affirmation, reflection, scrutiny, and living experience. Anything less ballasted than that will surely be washed away in the cultural tsunamis which are doubtless coming in the decades just ahead.

To hand on to the next generation a culture cobbled together out of the fashions and ideological enthusiasms of the last few decades is to betray them in the most irresponsible way, for such a culture is no culture at all, and it will do them no good. This is why the New Testament warns against the “spirit of this age,” not because of the peculiar toxins at work in the late-first century Greco-Roman culture when the New Testament was being written, but precisely because every age produces its own unique myths and rituals for warding off the truth that Christians are charged with announcing to the world, and Christians are warned to be wary of them, in season and out.

What makes a tradition a living tradition is not that it has been recently updated to conform to the latest fashions, but quite the contrary, that it brings into play longstandng moral and spiritual realities to which the world will forever be hostile and for lack of which it will become mad and murderous. If such a tradition is to remain alive, it will do so, not by customizing itself to the point of being indistinguishable from its surrounding society, but by delving ever deeper into its reservoir of truth and bringing forth fresh new ways of understanding these truths.

We owe our children and our children’s children nothing less.

(This was originally posted on in May 2007)

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