Saturday, February 28, 2009
This essay, by Christopher Tollefson, is well worth a read, and should be of particular interest to Catholics engaged with religious-liberty questions. It is also, or might be, responsive, to questions that Steve Shiffrin has raised, most recently, at the Scarpa Conference a few days ago. A bit:
Contemporary culture is often hostile to the idea of authority in general and to religious authority in particular. Religious liberty, on the other hand, is readily grasped as a core value of the West. How the two can be harmonized strikes many as an insurmountable difficulty. But properly understood, religious authority need be in no conflict with religious liberty. That proper understanding, however, requires a prior appreciation of the distinctive value of religion. . . .
Now it appears that, under these conditions, it is not the case that a non-coercive religious authority—that is, an authority which cannot punish with the sword—is ever in a position to violate the conscience or religious liberty of its members or its alleged members. For those members are either believers, in which case they look to the magisterial authority for guidance and, receiving it, take it to be authoritative for the formation of their conscience, or, they are not believers, perhaps because, having consulted their consciences and exercised their reasoning capacities, they no longer believe in the privileged epistemic position of the magisterial authorities. These agents, whom the magisterial authority is unable to coerce, are free to leave the set of believers, or accept what non-coercive—because avoidable at will—punishments, such as excommunication or lighter discipline the ecclesial authority may mete out, just as agents in any other voluntary association are free to leave, or accept that association’s non-coercive punishments.
At the same time, it is also clear, based on what has been said, that a mingling of religious authority and political, or coercive authority, is inappropriate, given the nature and importance of conscience and the good of religion. Yet it is important to see this as the locus of abuse, not the exercise of magisterial authority as such. Religious authority that is exercised with genuinely coercive power—the sort of power characteristic of the political state—is a perversion of both religious and political authority, and is inadequate to the tasks of either. Magisterial authority need pose no threat to religious liberty; and if the claims of some magisterial authority are true, then such authority must be considered essential for the fullest participation in the good of religion.
Elections have consequences, and so I'm resigned to the fact that any number of policies pursued by the current Administration and Congress will be, in my view, misguided. This one, though, seems particularly regrettable. According to the Chronicle on Philanthropy:
Some charities and nonprofit experts are worried that President Obama’s proposal to impose new limits on charitable tax deductions for wealthy people would dampen giving at a time when charities are under severe strain because of the recession.
"Wealthy people", in this context, refers to households with incomes about $250,000. Put aside doubts one might have about the economic merits of tax increases on such households in times like these. For purposes of this blog, a particularly pertinent question would seem to be whether we should worry about policies -- like this one -- that threaten to expand the state-sector at the expense of the non-profit, charitable, and religious sectors. Now, people with expertise in these matters have suggested to me that churches are less likely to suffer from a change like this than are other charitable organizations. If true, I suppose that's good news. (But what about, say, private scholarship funds for children in Catholic schools?) But, we are hearing hosannas from some quarters about the extent to which Pres. Obama's budget and economic agenda are increasing dramatically the role and energy of government. Some think that's a good thing. Fine. But, need this increase come -- should, from a Catholic perspective, it come -- at the expense of civil society and religious institutions?
Friday, February 27, 2009
President Obama is looking to rescind the federal conscience rule adopted at the end of the Bush Administration. As MoJ readers are probably tired of hearing, I'm not a big fan of sweeping government conscience laws, but I'm hoping that Obama does not head to the opposite extreme via a sweeping government anti-conscience law.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The periodical Theological Studies is published by Theological Studies, Inc., for the Society of Jesus in the United States. In the March 2009 issue (Vol. 70, No. 1), there is a review (at pp. 231-33) of this new book:
A Just and True Love: Feminism at the Frontiers of Theological Ethics. Essays in Honor of Margaret A. Farley. Edited by Maura A. Ryan & Brian F. Linnane, SJ. University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.
The review begins with these words: "This Festschrift [is] for a giant [Sister Margaret Farley] whose work has changed the shape and manner of doing theology and theological ethics ..."
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
UPDATE: Rep. Joe Donnelly (D), my Catholic, Democrat representative, voted against the omnibus bill, which contains the anti-voucher provision. Good for him.