Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Allen on the Italian crucifix case

Here's John Allen, weighing in on the Lautsi case, which has already been mentioned several times here at MOJ.  He writes, of the decision:

The outcome could recalibrate Catholic attitudes towards secularism at the gut level, providing a powerful boost for the “open door” approach. For bonus points, it’s also generated fresh ecumenical and inter-faith momentum … not bad for a day’s work. . . .

The decision represents a victory for the view that when faced with what seems like incomprehension and hostility, the best response is to make arguments rather than to hurl anathemas. Especially at a time when Benedict XVI has called for a “New Evangelization” in the West -- which sort of presumes an “open door” psychology -- that’s no small thing. . .

Now, I agree that arguments are to be preferred, as a vehicle for engagement, to anathemas, but -- with all due respect to Allen, who certainly knows the lay of the Church's land better than I do -- this comparison felt a bit forced to me, a bit aimed at a straw-man.  It's not been my (limited) experience that many serious Catholics -- "conservative" or "liberal" -- insist that, no, best just to not engage and to instead "hurl anathemas."  More "in play", it seems to me, is the disagreement between those who want to engage, in arguments (not anathemas), on certain sensitive / divisive / controversial issues with respect to which the Church's teachings are something of a scandal, and those who think that arguments about such matters should be shelved, and common ground sought elsewhere.  It seems to me that the answer to this disagreement is (something like) "both"; that is, look for (through arguments, not anathemas), find, and enjoy common ground wherever it is to be had but also propose uncomfortable and challenging truths (again, in and through arguments).


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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Rick, thanks for the link and comments on the piece. For what it's worth, and insofar as my own anecdotal evidence is of any value (it may well not be), I don't think that this decision has changed much as respects the culture wars. Those on both sides continue to believe that they are right. Those that disagree with the decision reject the arguments. Those that agree with the decision support the arguments. I think that the decision itself could have been stronger had it delved into certain contested territory, but I also recognize the virtue of minimalism in a case like this.

I guess that minimalism makes some sense to me because of my own doubt that thick arguments will do much to change people's minds on a case like this. It would be nice to imagine that people really do change their minds in response to forceful arguments, and in my more sanguine moments, I do think that is possible. But the power of arguments in these sorts of cases has limits, and I am deeply skeptical that anything in Lautsi (or any ECtHR decision, or any Supreme Court decision) will fundamentally change the way large numbers of people think about certain issues.

Thanks again for the thoughts. Marc

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Mar 31, 2011 3:51:31 PM