Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Women and Work at the Vatican

MOJer Lisa Schiltz and I will be at a conference in Rome this weekend, sponsored by the Pontifical Council of the Laity-Women's division. Lisa will be among the 15 speakers from around the world (and I among the 80 participants). Lisa is on a panel discussing how to reconcile work and family commitments. Helen Alvare and Endow Founder, Terry Polakovic, are also speaking from the US. Other papers include discussion of neurological and psychological research on the differences between the sexes, women in leadership, care ethics, and educating girls. My favorite title is: "Women Work and They Have Always Done So," offered by the married Italian economists Stefano and Vera Zamagni. 

November 30, 2015 | Permalink

Arthur Brooks at Faith Angle Forum

Was happy to spend a couple of hours listening to Arthur Brooks and John Carr each present and then answer media questions at EPPC's Faith Angle Forum event earlier this month. Though I have yet to read Brooks' new book, The Conservative Heart, I am now more anxious to do so.  

Brooks' focus on issues of poverty from a conservative perspective is deeply needed today. The premise of his talk--and book, I believe--is that globalization, the free market and entrepreneurship--when properly confined by the rule of law and properly rights--are the forces which have brought billions out of poverty across the world. He is less sanguine about solutions for poverty at home, but his analysis of the state of things seems to me true: for the last several decades, including in debate about welfare reform in the mid-90s, both sides of the aisle have talked about the poor as though they were "liabilities to be managed," not "assets to be developed." Brooks asks: how do we "add value" to those who can be (who are) valuable? How do we help people develop themselves as persons with dignity? His answer is to find ways to help the poor develop themselves such that through their work, they can be needed. "There is something inherently human about becoming necessary to others through your work." More here


November 30, 2015 | Permalink

Remi Brague on "The Impossibility of Secular Society"

It's a few years old, but worth re-reading. Here's Remi Brague's First Things essay, "The Impossibility of Secular Society."  A bit:

. . . Our intuitive sense of the outer boundaries of living memory and concern finds expression in the field of law. One hundred years, what is known as the tempus memoratum, constitutes the longest possible duration for a contract. For example, the longest possible land lease holds good for ninety-nine years. Beyond that, one enters the field of the “immemorial,” rights held not by natural persons but by legal entities such as monasteries, universities, civic organizations, and of course the state itself. In a certain brocard, or common saying of ancient French law, “He who has eaten of the king’s goose gives back a feather a hundred years later,” which means that for crimes against the state there is no temporal limit. The king remembers forever.

What does all this have to do with the idea of a “secular” society? A great deal. The French language possesses two different adjectives meaning “secular”: on the one hand séculier, on the other séculaire. Séculaire means what lasts for more than one century—say, a tree, or a custom. Séculier originally designated a “secular,” a cleric who, as we have seen, doesn’t live according to the rule of a monastic or religious order but instead pursues his vocation in the world as a diocesan functionary. In the modern era, as Mill recognized and imported into English, it acquired the added meaning of an outlook, a person, or a body of people that renounces the transcendent. . . .


November 30, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Thursday, November 26, 2015

E.J. Dionne, Yuval Levin, and Ecclesiastes on Gratitude

Here.  The money quote is Levin's: “Ecclesiastes 9:11 should be stamped on luxury cars and Harvard degrees.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink

McConnell on refugees and religion

As a follow-up to (and big improvement on) my post, a few days ago, on the Syrian-refugee question, check out Michael McConnell, here, who says "Yes, We Should Consider Refugees' Religion:  It's Not Only Fair, It's Written Into Law":  

Americans have heard a lot of nonsense in the past week about the role of religion in our refugee policy – from both sides. Senator Ted Cruz has been derided, mostly justly, for saying that no Muslim refugees – but only Christians – should be admitted to this country from the killing fields of Syria and Iraq. But President Obama’s angry reaction that use of a “religious test” for evaluating asylum seekers would be “shameful” and “not American” is even more wrongheaded. “That's not who we are,” he said to an audience in Turkey, apparently in response to Cruz. “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

Except we do. It’s in the law.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which governs these issues, defines “refugee” as someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of “religion” – as well as race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. This certainly doesn’t let us use a religious test to filter otherwise-eligible immigrants out. But it does mean that when we’re deciding who to admit as refugees, religion matters.

So, when we think about religious refugees from the war-torn parts of the Middle East, who are we talking about? Right now Christians who are being singled out for religious persecution – beheadings, beatings, rape, forced conversions, enslavement. So also Yazidis, Mandaeans, and a few other smaller groups. Many Muslims are also displaced and suffering, but the Islamic State is not systematically targeting them for being Islamic. Our refugee policy should take that into consideration. This is not a “religious test.” It is a persecution test. . . .

Read the whole thing.

November 26, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Trump "Might Just Get Around to You..."

"... You'd better hope there's someone to help you [then]." This new John Kasich ad gives Trump everything he deserves for his shameful litany of bigoted statements.

November 24, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Love Trollope!

Thanks to Marc for posting about Anthony Trollope's The Warden, which is indeed a lovely novel. Trollope is one of my favorites, because his social criticism--which is definitely there--is tempered with a wryness and wide-ranging sympathy that often eluded Dickens. Trollope seems to trend every once in a while (I remember years ago when the series based on the Palliser political novels was big on Masterpiece Theatre). And according to Adam Gopnik recently in the New Yorker, he's trending again. Marc's post reminded me of Nathaniel Hawthorne's great assessment (which Gopnik quotes) of Trollope's novels:

“Just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting that they were made a show of.”

November 24, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Books | Permalink

Colorado School Choice Case: Cert Petitions and Supporting Amici

Three cert petitions were recently filed in the U.S. Supreme Court in an important case involving school choice and religious rights in Colorado. The local school district in Douglas County adopted a neutral program of scholarships for families to use for sending their children to any private school, religious or nonreligious. But the Colorado Supreme Court held that religious schools and families must be singled out for exclusion from this program; 3 of the 4 justices in the majority relied on Colorado's Blaine Amendment, the constitutional provision that prohibits aid to "sectarian" schools. The petitions argue that the Colorado court's ruling requiring this exclusion (1) ignores the 19th-century animus and prejudice against Catholics that motivated Colorado's and other states' anti-aid provisions, and (2) independent of this historical taint, violates the First Amendment by singling out religious choices for discriminatory denial of aid. (Here is one of the petitions, the school district's, with links to petitions by the state and by intervening parents.)

There's now an amicus brief from the Christian Legal Society, the Becket Fund, and others supporting the cert petitions. We expand on the argument about the prejudice-tainted background of state Blaine Amendments. We also show why the passage of time since their enactment does not immunize them from constitutional review based on their discriminatory motivation and the discrimination they are accomplishing today.

Finally, we explain why the Court ought to take this case: (1) among other things, state judges and other officials have (wrongly) come to think they have carte blanche to exclude people choosing religious options from generally available state benefits, and (2) the federal government bears partial responsibility for these discriminatory provisions because it pressured states joining the Union in the late 1800s and early 1900s to include such provisions as a condition of admission.

The University of St. Thomas Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic, which I direct, wrote the amicus brief. Thanks to my student Dan Burns for doing a significant amount of the drafting.

Fingers crossed on this case! It's obviously always difficult to get cert; and school choice cases are hard to bring before the Supreme Court. But the historical evidence of anti-Catholic animus in Colorado is as strong as that in any state. This may be the case that gets the Court's attention on how state constitutional provisions are being used to require insupportable discrimination against religiously grounded schooling.

November 24, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Monday, November 23, 2015

Are you following Mirror of Justice on Twitter?

Please do!  (Go here.)

November 23, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

A gloomy thought . . .

From James Kalb, in his recent First Things essay, "Technocracy Now":  "It is of limited use to push specific causes when the entire basis of public life is so radically defective."




November 23, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Stith on "Facing the Unborn"

A few months ago, Richard Stith had a really thoughtful essay in First Things called "Facing the Unborn."   This really jumped out at me:

Michael Kinsley, writing in 2006 in theWashington Post, expressed his utter bewilderment at opposition to embryonic stem cell research. “I cannot share, or even fathom, [the anti-research] conviction that a microscopic dot—as oblivious as a rock, more primitive than a worm—has the same human rights as anyone reading this article. . . . Moral sincerity is not impressive if it depends on willful ignorance and indifference to logic.”

What's so, so wrong with Kinsley's statement is that it simply is not the case that we are talking, in this context, about something that is "a microscopic dot -- as oblivious as a rock, more primitive than a worm"; that's not what even the smallest and youngest human person is.  (For a smarter elaboration of this point, check out Robby George's and Chris Tollefsen's Embryo:  A Defense of Human Life.)


November 23, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture Fall Conference Recap—and a Model for Catholic Universities

The annual fall conference of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture was this past weekend, and, as Rick and I previewed last week, featured a blockbuster lineup of presentations. Nowhere in the Catholic world, I’d submit, is there a more robust annual academic event of such intellectual breadth and depth, and the Center’s Director, Carter Snead, and his staff should be commended for their hard work that results in such success.

Particular highlights for me were the opening address by Remi Brague on freedom and creation, a paper by Alasdair MacIntyre on justifications for coercion, Jonathan Lear (long one of my intellectual heroes) on Aristotle and Freud, Elizabeth Lev and John Haldane on modern art, a debate between Father Martin Rhonheimer and Thomas Pink on the interpretation of Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae, and a panel on vowed religious life and freedom with two good friends, Sister Maria Evangelista Fernandez, OSB and Brother Bryan Kerns, OSA. Rick, Father Thomas Joseph White, OP, and I participated in a panel on religious freedom—its natural law basis (White), the conditions for it in civil society (Garnett), and problems in defining what counts as a religious institution for purposes of legal exemptions (Moreland). Of course, there are also the joys of sharing meals and time together with hundreds of scholars and students from around the world.

And there is a larger point to be made about this moment at Notre Dame and in Catholic higher education generally. As I mentioned last week, I am spending this academic year on leave at Notre Dame as the Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow at the Center for Ethics for Ethics and Culture (and my wife, Anna Bonta Moreland, is the Myser Fellow in the Center this year). The Center for Ethics and Culture is a model for Catholic intellectual engagement with undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty at Notre Dame that other universities would be wise to explore and emulate. The Center’s Sorin Fellows program integrates undergraduates into the work of the Center and places them in contact with faculty (as an example, Anna and I hosted a dinner with four Sorin Fellows at our home last month). A Mission Hiring initiative identifies graduate fellows and faculty who can make vital contributions to Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.

There is a well-worn tendency to despair about the future of Catholic higher education, even at those schools such as Notre Dame where the commitment to Catholic identity seems to me exceptionally strong. Since I was an undergraduate at Notre Dame and then through graduate school at Boston College and in faculty and administrative roles at Villanova, I have seen more than 20 years of debate over curriculum, faculty hiring, and student life at Catholic universities. Those who would despair should light a candle rather than curse the darkness by creating and supporting initiatives such as the Center for Ethics and Culture—if such initiatives continue, then the future of Catholic universities in the United States is bright indeed.

November 23, 2015 in Moreland, Michael | Permalink

Sunday, November 22, 2015

On the Feast of Christ the King

In my experience, preachers in Catholic parishes don't know quite what to do with the Feast of Christ the King.  Usually, the day's "message" or "theme" has been (again, in my experience) something to the effect that we should ask if we are "putting Jesus first in our lives" (and, certainly, we should). 

And yet . . . especially in light of the emerging (and much needed) focus in the Church on religious liberty and the realities of both aggressive secularism and persecution, it's worth re-reading Quas Primas, the encyclical of Pope Pius XI that instituted the feast day in 1925, and remembering that this institution's purpose sounded more in political theology than in personal piety and devotion.  This feast -- which we celebrate, again, this Sunday -- is a reminder that government is not all, that there are things which are not Caesar's, and that everything, in the end, is "under God."

This one-page bulletin insert, "That He Would Reign in Our Hearts," put out this year by the USCCB, does a good job, I think, of tying together the "public" and "private" dimensions of the Feast. 

Viva Cristo Rey!

And, on that note, some great resources from Fr. Barron are available here.  I particularly liked this one, about the Cristero War.

November 22, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Syrian Refugees, National Security, and Catholic Legal Theory

A few correspondents have asked me (paraphrasing) "why haven't you blogged about the boiling debate over whether or not the United States should exclude Syrian refugees in the wake of the attacks on Paris and why haven't you written in response to the controversial things being said, done, and proposed by some politicians and candidates?"  Some of these correspondents seemed curious; some others seemed to be leveling an accusation of some kind.

I do not know as much as I should about the law and policy relating to immigration and asylum.  I'd welcome my fellow MOJ-ers who do to weigh in.  My own view is that the "debate" that's been happening in my Twitter feed, on Facebook, on op-ed pages, and in the public square has been, for the most part, frustrating, unedifying, and simplistic.  

It seems pretty clear to me that (a) ISIS (etc.) pose a serious national-security threat, one that our government and other governments should take very seriously and respond to with both prudence and resolve; (b) the United States should -- the attacks in Paris notwithstanding -- welcome refugees (of all faiths and none) from conflicts in Syria and elsewhere, after appropriately careful screening and investigation, in appropriately managed numbers, and state governors and other politicians should not grandstand or engage in demagoguery about excluding (or worse!) refugees; (c) that it is not xenophobic or racist, but rather entirely reasonable, to take seriously and to respond intelligently to the possibility that some people will exploit the refugee crisis and attempt to use refugee status for bad purposes; and (d) that it is not an "un-American" "religious test" to place special (again, not exclusive) emphasis on providing a safe refuge for religious minorities who are the victims and targets of persecution because of their religion.  (One more:  It also seems clear to me that arguments that take the form of "If you/we do [something about which I wish to express disapproval] then you/we will be doing exactly what ISIS wants you/we to do" are overused.)

I'd welcome, as always, others' perspectives.  I'm reminded of the careful and balanced approaches to the immigration issue that folks like Mary Ann Glendon and Michael Scaperlanda have proposed over the years.

November 21, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

"For Freedom Set Free" Conference at Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture

One of the highlights of the academic year at Notre Dame is the Center for Ethics & Culture's annual Fall Conference, which is going on now in snowy South Bend.   Ably led by my good friend and colleague Carter Snead, the Center's contributions to Notre Dame's mission are incalculable.   To pick out just one highlight, last night featured a pointed and provocative back-and-forth between Fr. Martin Rhonheimer and Dr. Thomas Pink on Dignitatis Humanae, coercive authority, doctrinal development, and other good stuff.  (Watch it here.)

Later this afternoon, MOJ-er Michael Moreland and I are participating in this panel:

Religious Liberty: Theory and Freedom of the Church
"The Infrastructure of Religious Freedom," Richard Garnett (University of Notre Dame)
"When Is a Religious Institution a Religious Institution?" Michael Moreland (Villanova University)
"Religious Freedom and the Secular State: Natural Law and Natural Ends," Rev. Thomas Joseph White, O.P. (Dominican House of Studies)
Conference Center Lower Level

Come say hello!

November 21, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Friday, November 20, 2015

Arkes, Franck, natural law, the Constitution, and judging . . . again

Returning to a subject that has often been addressed here at Mirror of Justice:  There's a lively exchange going on, in various places, between Prof. Hadley Arkes and Matthew Franck on (among other things) the extent to which federal judges, in the course of interpreting the particular legal text that is the Constitution of the United States, may, should, or inevitably must interpret and apply the natural law.   

As I've written here many times (here, for instance), I do not agree with Prof. Arkes's position on this question.  

November 20, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A misplaced and unwarranted criticism of Catholic University of America (and, yet again, on public-sector unions)

At dotCommonweal, Anthony Annett has this post, "Catholic University's Business School Again," in which -- in the course of making some entirely sensible points about the tension between certain forms of "libertarian" "individualism" and Catholic Social Teaching -- he lodges what I think are some unfounded and in places unfair criticisms of Catholic University and its President, John Garvey (full disclosure:  Pres. Garvey is a friend and mentor of mine).  

First, Anthony objects to the fact that, at Catholic University's Business School, there was on display a poster that included an image of the headline of this op-ed, which Pres. Garvey co-authored a little while back and which defends (quite persuasively, in my view) the University's decision to accept a $1 million contribution from the Charles Koch Foundation to hire researchers on the role of "principled entrepreneurship."  The headline included this subtitle: “This Catholic university won’t cave to demands made by the liberal social justice movement.”  Anthony then writes:  "I am well aware that op-ed authors don’t often write their own titles and subtitles. But do Garvey and Abela seem remotely embarrassed by this title? Not in the slightest."  

This seems quite unfair to me.  As we all know (and many of us who have written for newspapers have been frustrated by this), the titles to our op-eds are very rarely written by us.  There's absolutely no reason to think Pres. Garvey and then-Dean Abela wrote this subtitle and there's no evidence provided for the suggestion that they were or are unbothered by it.  How, exactly, were they supposed to manifest their embarrassment or irritation?  And, in any event, Pres. Garvey has a long and productive history as a scholar and a public intellectual (I mention him, and not Dr. Abela, only because I don't know the latter or his work) and that history does not provide any reason to think that Pres. Garvey has any reservations about the fact that -- as Anthony writes -- "'[s]ocial justice' is central to Catholic social teaching, and its tenets are non-negotiable."  (Indeed, that history is rich with reasons to think otherwise.)

Anthony writes later:

And in a speech in Bolivia this summer, Pope Francis had this to say: “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right. The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property.”

This is the very antithesis of the Kochs’ ideology. It is highly traditional Christian teaching. But would Garvey and Abela view these as demands coming from the “liberal social justice movement”?

Whatever the flaws (and I concede the flaws, of course) in "the Kochs' ideology" (and putting aside, for now, the near-obsession in some quarters with "the Koch Brothers" and the tendency to allow the mere invocation of their name to function as an argument) there is, again, no reason to suggest that Garvey and Abela would dismiss the words of Pope Francis, or the traditional content of Catholic Social Teaching, as "coming from the 'liberal social justice movement.'"  Again, it just doesn't seem fair.  If one thinks that CUA should turn down money from the Koch Brothers because they hold some unsound views . . . fine.  But the arguments that Garvey and Abela made for adopting a different conclusion are reasonable and do not remotely rest on or reflect a "libertarian" rejection of Catholic Social Teaching's tenets. (They do reflect, I suppose, an assumption that the role of "principled entrepreneurship" in a market economy is an important and worthy topic . . . and they are right.  Catholic Social Teaching certainly permits, and I think it supports, what John Paul II called a "market" or "free economy" -- which is, obviously, a well-regulated, humane economy that recognizes the important limits on the domains of markets.) 

Finally, Anthony takes issue with Garvey's and Abela's brief discussion of the Koch's opposition to public-sector unions' activities, and writes:

Garvey and Abela pull out the favored talking point that the Church has never spoken explicitly about unionization in the public sector. But neither has it said anything explicitly about unionization in any other sector! A natural right to association does not cease to be a natural right because the employer is public rather than private.

As I've written here at MOJ many (many, many) times, it is not, at all, the case that the Church's teachings on labor, the dignity of work, and the natural right of association entail support for, say, closed-shop arrangements and the details of collective-bargaining agreements between public-employee unions and state and local governments.  Of course public employees have the right to associate and of course they and their work are dignified.  It simply does not follow, though, that there are not important and policy-relevant distinctions to be drawn between the relationship between governments and public employees, on the one hand, and the relationship between private employers and their employees, on the other.

I am not disagreeing with Anthony's premise that, sometimes, the appropriate response by a Catholic university to a donation from a bad actor, or to funding that comes with unacceptable conditions, should be to say "no, thank you."  This could be a good way, sometimes, to bear witness to the Truth.  But I do think, again, that this post was needlessly unfair to Pres. Garvey and to then-Dean Abela. 

November 19, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Barry Sullivan on Access to Information and Catholic Social Thought.

This paper looks interesting:

Access to Information: Citizenship, Representative Democracy, and Catholic Social Thought

Barry Sullivan

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

November 4, 2015

From Democracy, Culture, Catholicism: Voices from Four Continents (Fordham University Press 2015)


This essay discusses the relationship among government transparency, human dignity, democratic theory, and Catholic social teaching. The essay argues that citizens in democratic societies such as the United States have a right to the information necessary to make informed decisions about public policy and those they elect to enact such policy. The citizen’s claim to such information is based on the belief that each citizen is respected and dignified as a human person when able to participate in this democratic form of governance and decision-making. This right, and the dignity it is based on, finds support in and through the insights offered by Catholic social teaching and in the work of the French philosopher Jacques Maritain. The difficulty arises, the essay maintains, when the Church supports human dignity and transparency as applied to others, but not to itself. That stance compromises its effectiveness in promoting the democratic right to information and the rights to respect and dignity.


November 19, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A very disturbing development in Australia:

The story is here:

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has denounced as “astonishing” and “alarming” the prospect of a Catholic bishop being dragged before a tribunal simply for stating the Catholic view on marriage, suggesting that it would constitute a betrayal of freedoms long valued in Australian democracy.

The archbishop made the remarks in the wake of news that Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart might be hauled before Tasmania’s anti-discrimination tribunal for distributing a booklet explaining Catholic teaching on marriage to families within Catholic schools. . . .

What's most "alarming", I suppose, is that it really isn't all that "astonishing" (with all respect to Archbishop Fisher), given all the givens, that some would seek to employ antidiscrimination laws in this way.  I imagine we'll see more of this, even if not in the United States (given our -- for now -- more "libertarian" free-speech doctrines).

November 18, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Reimagining Care for the Poor at Ave: Our Conversations

I was grateful to take part in an inspired and productive all-day meeting on "Reimagining Care for the Poor" at Ave Maria University with some really terrific out-of-the-box thinkers earlier this month. We came together to discuss--and really reconceive--parish-based solutions for caring for the poor. The day included a luncheon panel for students and the evening before featured Institute for Family Studies scholar David Lapp's keynote address, "A Poor Church for the Poor." David offered a moving reflection on the work he and his wife, Amber, are doing living among the disadvantaged in a poor town in southwest Ohio. He offered nine suggestions for accompanying the poor: 

  1. Be intentional about where you live. Truly encounter the person in need; thank those that serve you, and greet them with a look of love.
  2. Don’t judge. The real tragedy is not the possibility that the stranger might take advantage of you, but that you would harden your heart in distrust.
  3. Respect blue-collar culture. The sense of community and the deep valuing of family relationships are things to respect.
  4. Advocate for the worker. We need to recover from ideologies the unity of Catholic teaching on the dignity of the worker.
  5. “Waste” time with people. Real conversations happen when you shoot the breeze.
  6. Honor the suffering. In the words of Gregory Boyle, we should stand in awe of what the poor have to carry, rather than in judgment of the way in which they carry it.
  7. Look for redemption. No matter how messy a person’s life, there are places where God is at work.
  8. Discover mutuality at the margins. As Mother Teresa said, we need the poor more than the poor need us.
  9. Discover your own poverty. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, in a Christmas Eve homily, reminds us that Jesus calls together all who are marginalized; none of us can say that we are not marginalized.


November 18, 2015 | Permalink

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A stunningly unfair attack on religious exemptions . . . and the creeping danger of "scare quotes"

In today's New York Times, there's this from Katherine Stewart (author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children."  Nice.)  According to Ms. Stewart, the longstanding practice in the United States of accommodating religion through exemptions turns out, actually, to be part of a plan to create a theocracy and, maybe, commit genocide.  Here's one of the more measured passages in the piece:

 When they hail religious liberty, they do not mean the right to pray and worship with other believers. Instead, the phrase has become a catchall for tactical goals of seeking exemptions from the law on religious grounds. To claim exception from the law as a right of “religious refusal” is, of course, the same as claiming the power to take the law into one’s own hands.

I suppose that the re-branding of religious freedom as "religious refusal" will be useful to the efforts and goals of some.  Of course, to claim exemption is not to "take the law into one's own hands" but is instead to invoke the law's protections; it is "the law" itself which has provided for the (legal) right to claim the exemption.  (To say this is not to say that religious freedom is a gift or concession or is not a human right; it's simply to point out that, again, in this country, our positive law itself provides a mechanism for claiming religion-based exemptions from the positive law.  As it should.)

I'm reminded of this quote, which a friend shared with me a few days ago:

"There are many ways of bracketing the normativity of normative concepts: . . or by ironically desiccating even the values of one's own culture, putting 'scare quotes' around value terms and sucking out their normative juices so that there can be no claim on one's life."
William Lad Sessions, Honor for Us: A Philosophical Analysis, Interpretation and Defense (Bloomsbury Academic, 2010)

November 17, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

In Search of Civil Discourse

Randall Smith's two-part Public Discourse essay on our superficial and yet increasingly contentious civil discourse is well worth the read. His diagnosis is rich in reasoning borrowed from Alasdair MacIntyre, but even more compelling is his suggested course of remediation. He calls for a strong appreciation for "the logic of ordinary language" and the principles of classical rheteric--but also, importantly, for intellectual humility. How I wish we saw more of this across the board: 

We should want to be questioned by others, the way Socrates and his compatriots questioned one another repeatedly—about the strength of our arguments, about the ways in which we are using our words, and about our presuppositions. There is no doubt that “such waltzing is not easy,” to borrow a line from the poet Theodore Roethke. It can only be achieved by instilling in our students a love of the truth and the intellectual humility necessary for fruitful argument.

We are all limited. We all have presuppositions, many of them unexamined. And we can rarely predict the full scope of the consequences any of our proposals will have. This is why engaging with others is not only helpful, it is essential. And yet, to engage with others fruitfully, we cannot begin by dismissing them as unworthy of our rational attention.

We would be better off recognizing that what so often happens with all our proposals, no matter which side of the ideological divide we are on, is that we see clearly the good we want to achieve. What we don’t see as clearly, given the finite character of human imagination and our inability to see all the consequences of our actions, are the trade-offs and unintended consequences we don’t intend. This is where our intellectual sparring partners could do us a great service, if we let them, and if we could approach each other in good will. They may see precisely the problems that our own elaborate intellectual constructions are hiding from us.

So instead of merely “unmasking” the “hypocrisy” of others, what we should be cultivating self-awareness about are the potential weaknesses and limitations of our own proposals. This sort of humility differs from the moral relativism that tries to insist my position is no better or more true than anyone else’s. That attitude merely exacerbates the postmodern obsession with unmasking....

I often wonder at people who set up a straw man only to knock it over and then declare victory. How much better to have faced your opponent at his strongest and to have convinced him by the wisdom of your arguments and your witness to the truth of your position. It is perhaps better still to have learned from him the places where your own argument was weak. Best of all would be for both to have guided one another a step closer to the truth of things.

And then this on compromise: 

“Compromise” need not be a dirty word. It should involve the effort to search out what are the deepest and most important goods that one’s opponent is seeking. Compromise can be the art of seeing whether the goods that my opponent is seeking and the goods I am seeking can be reconciled and preserved, if not fully, then at least partially...

He concludes: 

If we want things like “peace” and “justice,” then these words had better stop being mere slogans we use to beat our opponents over the head with. “Peace” and “justice” begin with us and how we treat our opponents. To find them, we must achieve what the poet Wilfred Owen called “the tenderness of patient minds,” and resolve to listen carefully, judge fairly, and speak charitably,especially about those with whom we disagree.

I couldn't agree more. 

November 17, 2015 | Permalink

Monday, November 16, 2015

Coddling in Higher Ed vs Classical Education

So glad Mike posted Ross Douthat's provocative piece on the university earlier today. The Atlantic published an equally insightful article in September entitled, "The Coddling of the American Mind." In it, constitutional lawyer and President/CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Greg Lukianoff, and social psychologist and NYU professor, Jonathan Haidt, look beyond the myriad ways in which "trigger warnings" and the like are short-circuiting the university's authentic mission to teach college students to search for truth among competing ideas. Instead they focus on the consequences of this new ethic to the students' emotional well-being, concluding that this sort of "vindictive protectiveness" is simply bad for mental health. 

Here is the list of "cognitive distortions" they analyze throughout the article, offering plentiful examples from universities across the country. (This list is included at the end of the piece.)

1. Mind reading. You assume that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts. “He thinks I’m a loser.”

2. Fortune-telling. You predict the future negatively: things will get worse, or there is danger ahead. “I’ll fail that exam,” or “I won’t get the job.”

3. Catastrophizing.You believe that what has happened or will happen will be so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it. “It would be terrible if I failed.”

4. Labeling. You assign global negative traits to yourself and others. “I’m undesirable,” or “He’s a rotten person.”

5. Discounting positives. You claim that the positive things you or others do are trivial. “That’s what wives are supposed to do—so it doesn’t count when she’s nice to me,” or “Those successes were easy, so they don’t matter.”

6. Negative filtering. You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives. “Look at all of the people who don’t like me.”

7. Overgeneralizing. You perceive a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. “This generally happens to me. I seem to fail at a lot of things.”

8. Dichotomous thinking. You view events or people in all-or-nothing terms. “I get rejected by everyone,” or “It was a complete waste of time.”

9. Blaming. You focus on the other person as the source of your negative feelings, and you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. “She’s to blame for the way I feel now,” or “My parents caused all my problems.”

10. What if? You keep asking a series of questions about “what if” something happens, and you fail to be satisfied with any of the answers. “Yeah, but what if I get anxious?,” or “What if I can’t catch my breath?”

11. Emotional reasoning. You let your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. “I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working out.”

12. Inability to disconfirm. You reject any evidence or arguments that might contradict your negative thoughts. For example, when you have the thought I’m unlovable, you reject as irrelevant any evidence that people like you. Consequently, your thought cannot be refuted. “That’s not the real issue. There are deeper problems. There are other factors.”

The authors offer a few solutions, one of which is to educate incoming students in methods of cognitive behavioral therapy. Those with a Catholic imagination who are teaching in and leading Catholic universities would, I think, be able to come up with far better.

But the formation in mind and character that college students need to respectfully engage and evaluate competing ideas must start much earlier. Classical schools today--Catholic and Protestant, primary and secondary--are taking this effort very seriously. Here's the aspirational list we offer in our Academic Vision at St. Benedict's, a K-6 Catholic classical school I helped to found in South Natick, MA. 

So, what might children educated in the Catholic classical tradition look like?

They are able to discern beauty—in writing, in art, in music.

They are captivated by great books and the engaging characters and stories therein, rather than feel the need always to be entertained by electronic stimuli.

They can engage and take interest in ideas and principles, and the lifelong search for truth, rather than being consumed only by the acquisition of things.

They have an understanding of the historical context in which they live, instead of a bias toward the present and a false idea that moral progress is inevitable.

They can stand up and articulate the bedrock principles of Western civilization and of the American experiment in ordered liberty, rather than believing that assertion of feeling constitutes authentic argument.

They understand how characters are formed and good leaders borne, rather than being pulled by cultural trends and what’s popular.

They can disagree with others without being disagreeable.  

In a word, classical (or “liberal”) education helps one become free to pursue the truth and so become the person God intends them to be.

If schools like St. Benedict's can really do this--indeed, they are springing up across the country and showing excellent results--we will be offering to the Western world the building blocks of a cultural renaissance.  It is one that is much needed.

November 16, 2015 | Permalink

Douthat on Universities and a Challenge for Catholic Higher Education

I thought this "student-protesters-have-a-point" piece in the New York Times yesterday by Ross Douthat was especially insightful amid these fraught times on campuses. As Douthat puts it in his quick summary of the history of American higher education:

Over this period the university system became increasingly rich and powerful, a center of scientific progress and economic development. But it slowly lost the traditional sense of community, mission, and moral purpose. The ghost of an older humanism still haunted its libraries and classrooms, but students seeking wisdom and character could be forgiven for feeling like a distraction from the university’s real business.

Fast forward to the contemporary university, Douthat writes, and "the university’s deeper spirit remained technocratic, careerist and basically amoral."

But it seems to me there is an opportunity here for Catholic universities to respond to this challenge. Some of the most interesting passages (in Chapter Three, for example) of Laudato si' speak to the concern about technocracy run amok, and--at their best--Catholic universities maintain a commitment to the liberal arts and humanistic learning (even in professional schools of law and business!) that leavens the loss of moral purpose of the university. It may be that Catholic universities can help give the university back to itself. To do so would entail discerning those trends in the modern university that have been destructive of the aims of higher education (pick your favorites) and providing a witness to the possibility of something better--a stronger sense of community, moral and intellectual seriousness, and student formation for a life worth living.

November 16, 2015 in Moreland, Michael | Permalink

"The Present and Future of Religious Freedom" event in Chicago

Details here.  Come see/hear our fellow MOJ-er Michael Moreland and super-lawyer Noel Francisco on Dec. 10.

November 16, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink