October 31, 2011
Camosy on Singer, personhood, and Christianity
Prof. Charles Camosy, who blogs at Catholic Moral Theology (link), has a piece in the latest Commonweal on the "evolution" of Peter Singer. He writes, "[C]an Christian ethicists talk with Peter Singer—and can he talk with them? Are they even intelligible to one another? The answer, it turns out, is yes." Later in the piece, Camosy adds:
Until recently, Singer’s theory would have forced him to describe persons as merely self-aware bundles of contingent preferences, but his recent shift [RG: described in the essay] creates new space for models of personhood that are compatible with Christian ethics. According to one such model, persons are kinds of things that persist over time, require objective goods to have a happy and meaningful life, and are defined in morally significant ways by their relationships with parents, friends, spouses, and children. If Singer could accept that definition of personhood, or even just part of it, much of his disagreement with Christian ethics would disappear.
In my experience, Charlie is admirably eager to see the good, and the potential for good, in others' views. I have to say, though, that I think the "if" in that last sentence is a big one. It sounds a *bit*, as one friend of mine put it, like "If Singer could accept Christian moral anthropology -- which he does not and cannot -- then his disagreement with Christian ethics would disappear." But I think Singer's account of "speciesism" (which Camosy describes) is not reconcilable with the definition of "personhood" on which Christian ethics is built.
Thoughts? Note: Peter Singer's views on many issues are, in my view, horrifying. There's no need to observe, in the comments, that he has very very wrong views on some important questions. Let's stipulate that he does, and ask, first, whether Prof. Camosy is right when he says that "[t]he recent shifts in Singer’s thinking suggest that he and Christians may soon have more fruitful ways to talk about their disagreements. Meanwhile, there is already enough practical agreement for Christians and Singer’s followers to work together on problems that cannot wait until every theoretical question is settled." Next, let's ask whether, actually, cooperation with "Singer's followers" actually does have to wait until that cooperation no longer requires Christians to put aside the non-trivial matter that Singer's followers believe that severely disabled neo-nates, whose care is expensive, may (should?) be killed. On the one hand, of course Christians can and should cooperate for shared ends with people who are not Christians. But, are there limits? I'm not sure . . .
Are American law schools short-changing "reproductive rights" law?
There is a lot of (welcome and appropriate) interest in the question whether law schools' curricula are sufficiently comprehensive and doing enough to prepare law students to understand the legal enterprise and practice law in the 21st century. This essay, at Slate, suggests that law schools, among other things, "aren’t doing enough to educate future policymakers about reproductive rights issues." This is true, though probably not in the way that the author believes.
October 30, 2011
Accuracy in reporting...
The New York Times today reports:
But the truth of the matter is that they are really without something else, for the details of the report further state: “At least 2.3 million people across the Northeast found themselves without electricity after an unusual autumn storm dumped record amounts of snow.”
So, it’s electricity, not power, without which they find themselves. Let us pray for the restoration of their electricity. As for their power, well, that seems to be still within their grasp.
The Conclusion of the Conferences on “More than a Monologue
Earlier this semester, I did a second post [HERE] on the joint Fordham-Fairfield-Union Theological-Yale Divinity joint conference entitled “More than a Monologue.” As contributors to and readers of the Mirror of Justice may recall from the postings presented by several MOJ contributors on “More than a Monologue”, the conference was self-billed as “an unprecedented collaboration” designed “to change the conversation about sexual diversity and the Catholic Church.” Several of us wondered if the “change” mentioned was limited to “conversation.” Would it also include altering the attitudes of the public, including the faithful and modifying the teachings of the Church?
The Archbishop of New York (the see in which Fordham University is located) and the Bishop of Bridgeport (the see in which Fairfield University is located) expressed concerns about conference. Moreover, the concerns of these bishops take on further significance considering their ecclesial responsibilities as successors to the Apostles in these venues. On September 22 of this year, both ordinaries issued a joint statement announcing that they had each received “thoughtful expressions of concern from many of the faithful” regarding this four part series. They also stated that they had expressed these concerns as well as their own to the heads of Fordham and Fairfield. A major justification for the unease expressed focused on pre-conference publicity and advanced commentaries about the conference and the billed topics that were to be presented by the speakers. This publicity and these commentaries suggested the possibility of encouraging dissent from both Church teachings and the teaching authority of the Church. The ordinaries also mentioned that the presidents of Fairfield and Fordham indicated that they, the presidents, were aware of the concerns about “More than a Monologue” and brought them to the attention of the conference organizers. In due course, the presidents assured the ordinaries that, “while sensitive to the experience of the participants,” the presentations “will not be a vehicle for dissent.” One of the heads conveyed his confidence “that the Church’s teachings will be clearly stated and articulately defended” within a “spirit of dialogue that is proper to an academic setting.” It was further asserted that, “the strength of these teachings will be quite convincing, based as they are on revealed truth.”
As people of good will, these two bishops stated that with the assurances presented, we “must trust that the conference will turn out as intended: not as a criticism or questioning of the faith and morals of the Church, but as a sincere attempt to listen to those who are trying their best to believe and live it...”
Having participated in academic conferences where these and other neuralgic issues were discussed in the context of the Church’s teachings, I, too, would have hoped for the same outcome—i.e., discussion, learning, and an objective search for the truth of the matter considered within the context of respect for, cogent and reasoned explanation of, and adherence to the teachings of the Church. However, having listened to most of the presentations in archived broadcasts or during live streaming, I must respectfully disagree with the assertions made about the objectives of this conference by its organizers. It may well be that the ordinaries will, in due course, share views parallel to mine.
But the story does not end here.
The truth about this conference continues on several fronts. The first concentrates on the intentions of the conveners of and speakers at the conference. One principal speaker (who interestingly referred to my religious order that has some relationship with the Fairfield and Fordham as “the famously free-thinking Jesuit fathers”) contends that “the Catholic Church appears to be a community dramatically out of synch” with the topic of sexual diversity, and the Church’s work is affected by “a powerful political fear of moral contagion... Are bishops and Vatican officials afraid of moral relativism...?” Elsewhere, one of the organizers stated that the conferences will add “many more voices... to explore the implications of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. Many people... would like to see the church [sic] change its teachings on homosexuality.” In this context, this organizer cited current surveys on support of same-sex marriage. While contending that surveys themselves do not mean that the Church “will bend to such a statistic,” they point to a “gap” between Church teachings and “the apparent convictions of Catholics.”
Regarding whether the Church will change its teachings, this same person said that one cannot predict this outcome but also stated that, “one should never say never.” Elsewhere, this same individual has displayed his support for same-sex marriage and alteration of Church teachings on marriage. In this context, this person also argues that for Church teachings to “change,” they will do so because of a “theological justification.” But what is a theological justification, you may ask? The organizer provides an answer: “Those who believe such a change can or should occur focus on Catholic understandings of the goodness of creation, which includes the goodness of all human beings as God made them.” I am sure that some of the worst offenders of the Church’s teachings—and those who have dismissed the logic and objectivity of her teachings as well as the soundness general principles of law designed to promote the common good—take comfort in this “theological justification.” After all, it will justify their conduct, too.
For this “theological justification” to take root, the same organizer contends that the Church’s teachings based on “the natural law” remains the “biggest obstacle” to the reform of “Catholic sexual ethics.” As this person further states, “So if the teachings on homosexuality are to change, that will probably have to be part of a larger change in the way the church understands sexuality, which would also have implications for other hot-button issues in Catholic teaching like premarital or extramarital sex, contraception, sterilization and so on. Right now, there is no sign that the church [sic] is ready to make such a momentous move. But that is no reason to delay having an honest, open conversation about sexual diversity and the Catholic Church.”
A second point about this conference involves the support for it. It is clear that four institutions provided space and other resources to host these four gatherings. This is backing indeed. But other resources were needed to host such an elaborate series requiring transportation, housing, and transmission of presentations. In this framework, a large grant of $100,000 was provided by the Arcus Foundation (something which Mr. Thomas Peters brought to public attention [HERE] a while back) to the Fairfield’s organizers “to expand the current discussion on homosexuality within the Roman Catholicism [by including] diverse opinions of progressive Catholic thought leaders and theologians.” Interestingly the grant was not designed to provide for other kinds of “Catholic thought leaders” such as bishops, orthodox theologians, officials of the USCCB, or officials of the Holy See to attend and participate in the conference.
By reviewing the website of the Arcus Foundation [HERE], it is clear that this organization (which advances “pressing social justice and conservation issues...to advance LGBT equality, as well as to conserve and protect the great apes”) has a coherent plan to change Catholic thought and teaching by providing grants to “promote the moral and civil equality of LGBT people”; “to create a cadre of Catholic lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and their allies that would assume a leadership role within the Catholic community on issues related to gender, sexuality, reproductive health, and other justice issues”; to promote “support of a collaborative strategic planning process focused on building a pro-LGBT movement within the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.”; “to educate Maryland’s Catholic laity and lawmakers about marriage equality”; and, “to work with four leading Catholic LGBT organizations to conduct a messaging campaign and schedule interviews in the broadcast media that promote pro-LGBT messages in connection with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Washington, D.C. and New York City in April 2008.”
I now return once again to the statement of Archbishop Dolan and Bishop Lori and the representations given to them about the integrity of the conference. I must respectfully but vigorously disagree with those who contend that the Church’s teachings at these four conferences were “clearly stated and articulately defended.”
They were not.
Instead, these four renowned institutions have demonstrated a rejection of the objective reasoning that underpins not only Catholic thought and teaching but also sound human law on the matters discussed. In place of objective reason, they have in large part relied on the mystery passage of Planned Parenthood v. Casey to justify their interesting views on the nature and essence of human sexuality. I do not think I am alone in contending that this justification is not sound on legal or theological grounds.
Constitutional Pressure Points
Here's a series of events I found interesting. This story reports that in 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had been awarded a government contract for the provision of assistance to victims of human trafficking. These contracts are awarded pursuant to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Earlier this October, the contract with the USCCB was not renewed by the government and it was awarded to three other non-profit organizations. There is some speculation in the story that the reason the contract was not extended was the USCCB's unwillingness to refer victims to abortion providers or supply birth control, but the government did not explain its decision.
In related news, in 2009, the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a federal action in the District of Massachusetts against the federal government alleging that its decision to award this contract to the USCCB violated the Establishment Clause.The claim is that the government has permitted the USCCB to impose a "religion-based restriction" on the distribution of taxpayer-funded services. In March 2010, Judge Richard Stearns denied the defendants' motion to dismiss on the basis of lack of standing, holding that the Flast exception (as glossed by Hein) applied. See ACLU v. Sebelius, 697 F. Supp. 2d 200 (D. Mass 2010). Here is the conclusion of Judge Stearns' opinion:
In closing, I do not pretend that Hein offers clear direction to lower courts as to how to draw the line between just enough congressional involvement to confer taxpayer standing and too little so as to deny it. I further recognize that the distinction between congressional and executive spending propounded in Hein may be unrealistic given the complexities of modern interactions between Congress and the Executive Branch. I have no present allegiance to either side of the debate, only a firm conviction that the Establishment Clause is a vital part of the constitutional arrangement envisioned by the Framers, and perhaps a reason we have not been as riven by sectarian disputes as have many other societies. I also agree that a rule that has no enforcement mechanism is not a rule at all. Taxpayer standing may not be the best or the most desirable or even a necessary means of enforcing the separation of church and state, but unless the Supreme Court decrees differently, it is one of the principal tools available. The uncertainty of the scope of taxpayer standing necessarily invites decisions lacking in consistency. I have no doubt that many of my colleagues would (and will) in all good faith draw the line differently than have I. But until the Supreme Court gives definitive guidance, judges will have to decide using their best understanding of the law as it exists. That is what I have attempted to do here.
Id. at 212. Oral argument on the merits occurred on October 18. One other little footnote about the court's decision -- William Wilberforce was described by Judge Stearns as "an English politician and social reformer whose campaign to suppress the slave trade led to the passage by Parliament of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, ending the institution of slavery in the British Empire." Id. at 201 n.3. Wilberforce's religious background and motivations were not noted.
It may well be that the reason the contract with the USCCB was terminated was that the government determined that the provision of abortion and contraceptive services simply was a vital part of what its contractor needed to offer the victims of human trafficking. It might also be that the government determined that giving the contract to other organizations without the conscience clause needed by the USCCB was an effective way to neutralize the ACLU's Establishment Clause lawsuit, and at no cost to its favored policies.
It seems likely that both reasons operated in tandem in this case to make the decision to award the contract to other organizations an extremely easy one for the government. The news story reports that the ACLU issued this statement in response to the government's decision:
"We applaud the federal government for recognizing that trafficking victims need reproductive-health series [sic] and making awards based on those needs,” Brigitte Amiri, an attorney for the ACLU, said in an interview. “This has little to do with religion and everything to do with what the trafficking victims need.”
All's well that ends well, I suppose. But it obviously is not the ACLU's position in the lawsuit that decisions about who receives these government contracts have "little to do with religion[.]" To the contrary, for the ACLU, the initial decision to award the contract to the USCCB had everything to do with an impermissible religious establishment, so much so that it sued.
For one reason or another, the Establishment Clause claim has now served its purpose, either because the Obama administration decided on its own and for its own reasons to change course, or because it was motivated by the lawsuit to do so, or (most likely) both. But to claim now that the controversy has "little to do with religion" strikes me as disingenuous, particularly because it was the ACLU that squeezed the Establishment Clause pressure point in the first place, got a ruling which deployed the well-worn worry about the possibility of "sectarian" divisiveness to vindicate "the separation of church and state," and by hook or by crook rode that ruling to policy victory.
When one successfully brandishes the pointy stick of constitutional law to get what one wants, one ought at least to acknowledge the sharpness of the weapon. [Thanks to my colleague Rosemary Salomone for pointing out the story]
October 29, 2011
More on the Pope's recent Address to the Bundestag
Before expressing my respectful disagreement with some of the personal theological opinion Pope Benedict shared in his Address to the Bundestag on September 22, 2012, I would underscore the importance of the Holy Father's calling the German government and people back to the touchstone of the natural law. The Pope is certainly correct that "[i]dea of natural law is today viewed as a specifically Catholic doctrine, not worth bringing into the discussion in a non-Catholic environment, so that one feels almost ashamed even to mention the term." I am grateful for the Pope's reminder to the Germans -- and to all of us -- of the truth that "[m]an too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipuate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rights ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled." This language enjoys the clarity and precision we have come to expect from Ratzinger-Benedict, and while I would have preferred for the Pope to return to the natural law in his exposition of the conditions of human freedom, there is, in my view, nothing to quarrel with in the quoted language. It reflects Catholic teaching about matters that are true not *just* for Catholics.
On the other hand, however, I have some serious questions about the *truth* of the following assertion made by the Pope in the same Address: "Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law . . . ." While I concede that the common English translation I have just quoted is not adequate to the (gramatically odd) German text
("Wie erkennt man, was recht ist? In der Geschichte sind Rechtsordnungen fast durchgehend religiös begründet worden: Vom Blick auf die Gottheit her wird entschieden, was unter Menschen rechtens ist. Im Gegensatz zu anderen großen Religionen hat das Christentum dem Staat und der Gesellschaft nie ein Offenbarungsrecht, eine Rechtsordnung aus Offenbarung vorgegeben. Es hat stattdessen auf Natur und Vernunft als die wahren Rechtsquellen verwiesen – auf den Zusammenklang von objektiver und subjektiver Vernunft, der freilich das Gegründetsein beider Sphären in der schöpferischen Vernunft Gottes voraussetzt."),
serious questions remain, at least for me. Specifically, has the Church not *authoritatively* taught that Christ is king over all peoples and a giver of law that all those to whom it is promulgated must obey? Here is what the Magisterium taught in Quas primas (1925):
"17. It would be a grave error, on the other hand, to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power. Nevertheless, during his life on earth he refrained from the exercise of such authority, and although he himself disdained to possess or to care for earthly goods, he did not, nor does he today, interfere with those who possess them. Non eripit mortalia qui regna dat caelestia.
18. Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. To use the words of Our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII: "His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ." Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society."
Prescinding from questions of theology and philososphy for now, I think it's demonstrably *historically* false that the Church has not "proposed a juridical order derived from revelation." On the contrary, the Church has taught that the laws of civil society should be shaped in part by the divine positive law (e.g., the state's law of marriage should respect the Pauline privilege), recognizing, of course, that in countries where Catholics are not in the majority, this is not likely to happen.
I do not discover in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council any language that undertakes to contradict the language I have quoted from Quas primas.
October 28, 2011
Three more days left to celebrate!
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month! Do yourself a favor and spend some time with a friend with Down Syndrome this weekend.
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris the lucky mom of a kid with Down Syndrome, is co-chair of the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus. Just this past Tuesday, they hosted a briefing on Down Syndrome research. The event featured six leading researchers who discussed the unique biology of Down syndrome, the status of current research, and barriers to future research. The panel also heard from two leaders of the Down syndrome community who discussed how today’s findings could improve their advocacy efforts. You can watch most of the hearing here.
David Luban and Human Dignity
Let me begin, in the spirit of the New Roman Missal, for an apology for "what I have failed to do" -- namely post in a quite a while. Here goes, "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault....."
OK, on to business. The Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy just finished hosting Georgetown's David Luban for a two-day visit. As part of our ongoing Human Dignity Lecture Series, Luban presented the draft of a new piece he's working on: "The Dignifier and the Dignified: Human Dignity from Autonomy To Relations." It's a characteristically brilliant and engaging attempt to locate a common understanding of the concept of human dignity in the practices of those who fight for human rights, focusing not on some intrinsic human property, but instead in the relationship between the dignifier and the dignified. In the tradition of this lecture series, Luban presented his work in a public lecture, followed the next morning by an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional seminar to explore the work more deeply. Our seminar this morning was attended by faculty from UST's Catholic Studies, Philosophy, and Theology departments, as well as Law School faculty including MOJ'ers Tom Berg and Rob Vischer; Brian Bix from the University of Minnesota Law School, Marie Failinger from Hamline, and Russ Panier from William Mitchell. We plan to publish all the papers in this series as a book, eventually, but in the meantime, for a bracingly non-natural law attempt to grapple with the concept of human dignity, I'd highly recommending contacting Luban for a draft (or better yet, convince him to come to your school to present it).
The Display of Catholic Images at The Catholic University of America
It is hard to know what to make of this story (h/t Professor Bainbridge). What is most curious about it to me is the allegation by Professor Banzhaf that Muslims were compelled to "perform their prayers surrounded by symbols of Catholicism -- e.g., a wooden crucifix, paintings of Jesus, pictures of priests and theologians which many Muslim students find inappropriate." Later in the story Banzhaf is quoted as saying that Muslim students have no choice but to pray "surrounded by pictures of Popes."
It seems to me that there are two issues: (1) are there rooms on the CUA campus which do not contain such images or items (and, I suppose, were students prevented from gathering to use them for prayer)?; and (2) is the reference to these items' "inappropriateness" one which is specifically limited to their inappropriateness as places of Muslim prayer, or is it a more general sense that displaying these images and items at CUA is inappropriate per se?
As to the first question, in my wonderful year at the law school at CUA, I can think off-hand of several rooms which did not display the complained-of images and items. Indeed, I can even think of a few such rooms at the Salesian house near campus where I was lucky enough to sleep. It does not seem to me that it would be difficult to find such a room on the CUA campus, though perhaps the claim is that the University willfully barred the students from access to these rooms.
As to the second question, I can understand that Muslims might not want to pray in a room bedecked with Catholic images. On the other hand, if the claim is that these images are "inappropriate" for display tout court, I am not sympathetic to that claim.
UPDATE: Please see the letter by President Garvey linked to in the comments, which clears many things up, including the fact that it seems that not a single Muslim student has complained to the University. Not one. And see also the Banzhaf press release on this matter referenced by David Nickol. As I've observed about Maureen Dowd's columns, this may be a case of mixing together a few too many utterly disparate animadversions.
FURTHER UPDATE: It gets worse. See also this story, which reports that no CUA student has complained to Banzhaf either, notwithstanding his ongoing attempts to solicit plaintiffs for the complaint. Good grief.
October 27, 2011
A Supranational Authority—a Catholic perspective
Since the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issued its Note on Financial Reform, Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Policy (the Note), commentators, including members of the Mirror of Justice have expressed views or commented on others’ views about this text.
As the Note relies on the work of Blessed John XXIII in his encyclical Pacem in Terris, it might be instructive to consider side by side the treatment which Pope John and the Note give to supranational authority.
Both documents begin with the recognition that the common good has a key role in the welfare of the peoples of the nations and the world. Moreover, both texts acknowledge that it is the responsibility of any public authority to advance and sustain the common good of everyone. Moreover, both texts emphasize the importance that the public authority being advanced must be developed without compulsion but accepted by reasoned agreement. Imposition by force would suggest that the authority is promoted by the stronger over the weaker nations; thus, the skepticism that the authority would serve the interests of the stronger but not the weaker is understandable. However, there are several distinctions between the two texts that need to be acknowledged.
The first distinction is that Blessed John XXIII saw the public authority as one geared to advancing the common good that is clearly linked with the moral order. The Note does not mention this in the same fashion. Of course the Note could assume this by its reference to Pacem in Terris, but it would have been better to state this clearly so that there would be no ambiguity.
Second, it is clear that Blessed John XXIII spoke about a general kind of public authority having power, organization, and means that would be co-extensive with the problems—presumably any problem—threatening the universal common good. The public authority identified by the Note is more specialized in that it is geared to addressing those situations where free and stable markets promote the existence of efficient and effective monetary and financial systems.
Third, John XXIII was clear about the universality of the agreement that undergirds the establishment of the supranational authority. In short, no authority can exist without the consent of all nations. The Note is less clear on this point because it suggests that universality may not be required in that the consent need to establish the organization “should involve an ever greater number of countries that adhere with conviction, through a sincere dialogue that values the minority opinions rather than marginalizing them.” Monitoring the pulse of countries is important, but it seems that the supranational authority may come into existence without universal endorsement.
Others may have a different take on the existence or significance of these differences. In any case, it is important that both documents be carefully reviewed. A final common denominator they share is that, when promulgated, they caught the attention of many people of good will.