April 30, 2012
International Conference on State-Sponsored Religious Displays
Track down some of those discount air fares to Europe in June....... (yeah, right), for this conference in Rome on June 22nd, on State-Sponsored Religious Displays in the U.S. and Europe, cosponsored by St. John School of Law's Center for Law and Religion and the Department of Law at the Libera Università Maria Ss. Assunta. MOJ'er speaking include Marc DeGirolami and Tom Berg, along with a host of international experts in these matters.
Some advice, from a student, for profs at Catholic Law Schools
One of my "Catholic Social Thought and the Law" students shared with me these thoughts about -- and this advice for -- professors at Catholic Law Schools:
My first day of law school and I’m sitting next to my new roommate in Contracts. Around us, students cement their plans for the weekend and complain about the reading, asking detailed and irrelevant questions like “But why did AutoZone sponsor the Professional Bull Riders?” There’s an undercurrent of anxiety in the room, an emotion that becomes so familiar to me over the next few months of on-call classes that I become almost desensitized. By third year I have the blasé expression of a Hindu cow. Those first few months, though, I could not only tell you what a Carbolic Smoke Ball is, I could give an impassioned entreaty on behalf of all misled influenza victims everywhere. I was a little bit of a gunner: I probably would have even made you one if you had promised me a good outline.
Class starts, and instead of the professor launching into the facts of the case (“WHO IS REGINA?”) or introducing himself (“Contrary to popular belief, I am not married to [professor with the same last name]”), our Contracts professor looks up and makes the Sign of the Cross. Like dominoes, sixty or so other students do the exact same thing. The rest of us either make eye contact with each other or stare intently at our laptops while he recites a section of Aquinas’ Prayer for Guidance. When it’s over, class begins. It takes about thirty seconds, tops, and it becomes part of our routine.
It’s an interlude between the hallway and the task at hand, but it takes on a different meaning when finals come around. I start calling it the “quick and keen,” because that’s all I remember outside of the classroom, and that’s what it becomes for me: “Lord, make me quick and keen.” First said to make a friend laugh, over the course of the semester it becomes my own prayer, something I say before I take an exam or interview with a potential employer.
As students, we rarely get moments of silence to reflect in law school; for most of us, life is a mix of classes and chaos. The “quick and keen” was different, it stayed with me. When people asked me why I decided to become Catholic during my third year, depending on how much time they have, it’s part of the story. We’ve all heard about the Butterfly Effect: a professor at a Catholic university starts his class with a prayer and two years later a student is baptized and confirmed in the One True Faith. That’s far-fetched, but I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere.
What I’d like to suggest to all Professors is this: if you’re at a University that allows you to be visibly Catholic, take advantage of that opportunity next semester (you can’t start mid-semester; that would be weird). It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic -- part of the strength of the Contracts prayer was that it was said without any hint of the theatrical, it just set the intention for a class where few of us felt “delicate to interpret or ready to speak.” From the perspective of someone who wasn’t always Catholic, this kind of prayer isn’t confrontational or in-your-face. It’s nice.
Catholic Social Thought and "The Hunger Games"
One of my "Catholic Social Thought and the Law" students shared with me these thoughts about Catholic Social Thought themes and "The Hunger Games":
Catholic Social Teaching in the Hunger Games?
At the stroke of midnight on February 28th, I was sitting in my dorm room, refreshing mockingjay.net for news on when movie tickets would go on sale while resident assistants hovered anxiously nearby. As an assistant rector at the University of Notre Dame, I had never witnessed such enthusiasm for a dorm event (and yes, that includes the Twilight premiere).
Pop culture sometimes serves as an excellent lens through which to examine faith. Almost every popular book series has garnered a Christian following (e.g., Harry Potter and Twilight). Some have compared Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, to Dorothy Day. While this might be a stretch, she does make several themes from Catholic Social Teaching accessible for readers young and old, Catholic and non-Catholic. Part of the Hunger Games’ success is probably that it appeals to our fundamental human questions about dignity and solidarity.
The Hunger Games is set in post-apocalyptic America (renamed Panem), where annually, two children are selected from each district to fight to the death in an arena as punishment for uprisings years ago, and to provide entertainment for the wealthy capital. This is a frightening world where the rule of law has crumbled into rule by man and the vocabulary of the preferential option for the poor and human dignity has virtually become lost. Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the story, is selected one year and unexpectedly wins. However, her task does not end there. She becomes the mascot of a rebellion against the Panem government.
Much of the Hunger Games is set in impoverished District 12 (probably formerly Appalachia). Inhabitants are forced to poach for a living, and a vivid scene recounts how Katniss and her family nearly starved to death. Suzanne Collins paints with beautiful brushstrokes the lavish living conditions in the capitol city. Readers can almost taste the delicacies and feel the rush of hot running water for the first time with Katniss. The isolation of the wealthy in the capital is not far off from our world. We do not realize how segmented our world has become until we experience the culture shock accompanies service trips to the third world.
The frightening part of the capitol’s isolation is the distance the wealthy maintain from the poor. Viewers in the capital watch poor children fight like gladiators for entertainment. What Katniss succeeds in doing is unite the districts and help viewers connect to the desperation of the districts. Part of the rebellion’s strategy is to tap into the television feed of the capital and project raw images that the government has previously censored. This stirs up a compassion for the poor and capitol citizens awake to the true plight of their poor brothers and sisters.
Another poignant moment in the Hunger Games is when a fellow contestant, Peeta, tells Katniss that he does not want to compromise himself to win the Hunger Games. It is not until the third book that Katniss comprehends what Peeta meant. The Hunger Games had an eerie way of de-humanizing the contestants. The fight for survival (there can only be one winner) brings out the animal instincts of the children. The gamekeepers even used muttations (animals with the human eyes of contestants who had earlier been eliminated) to manipulate the remaining contestants. Peeta does not want to lose his sense of self, and his words would reverberate in Katniss’ mind as she realizes that the capitol has managed to subordinate its residents for so long only because they had removed their sense of dignity.
Finnis on Catholic Engagement in Public Debates
As we engage in the usual election-year tussles about the Catholic Church's role in politics, this passage from John Finnis's essay "Catholic Positions in Liberal Debates" (Collected Essays of John Finnis, Vol. V: Religion and Public Reasons, pp. 113-26) incisively makes about a dozen important points in the course of a single paragraph:
We should not be nostalgic for, and do not need to defend, the paternalism defended by Plato and Aristotle, or the religious intolerance of the mediaeval and post-mediaeval Catholic (not to mention Protestant) states. Nor should we accept other package deals, in which Catholicism might be yoked to a restorationist politics of conservatism or a liberationist politics of socialism or state capitalism, or whatever. So far as anyone can see, the Catholic Church is still near the beginning of its long journey to the end of the ages; its Augustinian, mediaeval, and subsequent experiments with harnessing state power were no more than a passing phase in which faith and benevolence were harnessed together without sufficient attention to differentiations which the faith itself suggests and, when developed, ratifies. If we make and insist upon those differentiations, we can peacefully and without even implicit threat affirm, in our own reflections and when and as appropriate in public, that the centre of human history is the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and that the truths which his Church conveys, even in periods when it is humanly speaking as decayed, confused, and weak as it at present is, are the true centre of the culture which can and should direct political deliberation in western liberal as much as any other kind of political society. The disarray within the Roman Catholic Church is surely a substantial cause (as well as a consequence) of the disarray within these societies, even those societies which for many centuries have had no reason to think (or have made it their business not to think) of Catholics as other than virtual strangers.
DeGirolami on Punishment Theory
Marc DeGirolami already alluded to his recent presentation at UST, the latest offering in the Murphy Institute's "Hot Topics: Cool Talk" program, but I wanted to call your attention to the fact that the video of his wonderful exploration of the question: "Why Punish?" is now online. As Marc pointed out, the program was a dialogue with Judge Richard Sullivan, U.S.D.J., S.D. N.Y. The exchange between these two speakers was a rather ironic display of some of the bridges that actually exist over that oft-described "gap between theory and practice." Judge Sullivan began his remarks with a witty comment about how he never thought of either Aquinas or any of the litany of punishment theorists Marc had referenced in his talk when he sentenced anyone. However, a few minutes into the talk, Judge Sullivan casually referenced ideas from a book Marc had pointed out in his talk -- Peter Karl Koritansky's Thomas Aquinas and the Philosophy of Punishment.
The Murphy Institute's program was part of an excellent day-long UST Law Journal symposium organized by Mark Osler, on "Sentence Commutations and the Executive Pardon Power." The whole day was fascinating (see this post from participant P.S. Ruckman in his Pardon Power blog), but I personally think the most gripping panel was the final one, consisting of an exchange among Serena Nunn (a recent graduate of Michigan Law School who served about 7 years in federal prison before having her sentence commuted); Judge David Doty, U.S.D.J., D. MN (the judge who had sentenced Ms. Nunn, voicing at the time of sentencing his frustration over the sentencing guidelines, and later drafting a letter in support of the commutation); and Judge Denis D. Reilly, MN Dist. Ct. (who, as former Assistant U.S. Attorney had prosecuted Ms. Nunn).
Movsesian on the Tanzimat
My colleague, Mark Movsesian, has posted a short, highly readable, and instructive piece about an important episode in nineteenth-century religion-state relations in the Middle East, The Price of Ottoman Failure. Here's the abstract:
This essay, written for a symposium on secularity in the contemporary Middle East, explores the dangers secularization may pose for non-Muslims, especially Christians. It looks to a historical example, the 19th Century Ottoman reform movement known as the Tanzimat. The Tanzimat aimed to modernize the empire and revise its law to reflect secular European models. One major reform gave legal equality for the first time to non-Muslims. Equality contradicted classical Islamic law and contributed to a violent backlash against Christians that set the stage for genocide in the 20th Century. Of course, the story of the Tanzimat’s failure is complex. Factors other than religious law were also involved, and one cannot draw a direct analogy to events that occurred 150 years ago in a different society. Nonetheless, the story of the Tanzimat and its failure suggests that secularization in the Middle East is a delicate matter that poses risks for Christian communities.
A law student's thoughts on proposals in Ireland to compromise Confession
Here are some thoughts, from a student in my "Catholic Social Thought and the Law" seminar, on proposed legislation in Ireland:
Sending Priests to Jail for… Well, being Priests: A Defense of the Sanctity of the Confessional and of the Church
According to a news article issued April 27, 2012 (full story available here: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/irish-bishop-reaffirms-seal-of-confession-amid-legal-controversy/), Catholic priests in Ireland will soon potentially face criminal sanctions if they refuse to violate the sanctity of the confessional, due to pending legislation. Specifically, priests will face up to ten years in prison if they fail to report sex crimes. Irish Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, attempted to justify the proposed legislation by indicating that he does not, “know how anyone could live with their conscience” if they did not report a sex offender to the gardai (Irish police). Although the Federal Rules of Evidence in the United States allow members of the clergy to invoke privilege to refuse to testify about communications that take place under the seal of the confessional, this blatant disregard for the teachings of the Catholic Church in Ireland is quite concerning. In fact, should the legislation pass, not only would the Irish prisons become saturated with Catholic priests, but the entire sacrament of confession (not to mention thousands of Catholic souls) would be compromised.
According to the Catholic Church as indicated in the Council of Trent, the sacrament of confession, “as a means of regaining grace and justice,” is “necessary at all times” in order to safeguard our souls from sin. Importantly, according to the Council of Trent, this sacrament is as necessary to salvation as is Baptism. It is vital to the functioning of the Catholic Church that the sins confessed during this sacrament are kept, at all times, confidential by the priest to whom the sinner has confessed. If the confessor knew that the priest would be compelled to turn him or her into the police, the person would be far less likely to partake in the sacrament. Moreover, many priests would rather abide by the seal of the confessional than adhere to the law of man, thus exposing many priests to criminal sanctions. Thus, numerous devout but human (and therefore sinful) Catholics would be dissuaded from confessing their sins if the proposed Irish legislation were to become commonplace. Consequently, their souls will be jeopardized and priests will be put in the position either to face 10 years in prison or be excommunicated from the Church. This proposed legislation is insulting to the Church, as it disregards the sanctity of Her sacraments and trivializes the role of Her priests.
Brad Gregory, on "The Unintended Reformation," at the Lumen Christi Institute
This event, on May 8, should be great:
Tuesday, May 8, 4:30 PM
The Unintended Reformation
Brad Gregory, University of Notre Dame
Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame
Rachel Fulton Brown, University of Chicago
1010 E. 59th Street
Co-sponsored by the Department of History
In his latest book, The Unintended Reformation, Brad Gregory identifies the unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation and traces how it has shaped the modern condition. He argues that hyperpluralism, an absence of a shared sense of the common good, and the triumph of consumerism are each the long-term effects of a distinctive religious movement that marked the end of a period of history in which Christianity provided a framework for a shared intellectual, social, and moral life in the West.
Witte on Marriage
Upon publication of a second edition of John Witte's magisterial From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition, Liberty Fund has posted a podcast of an interview with Professor Witte about the book and the theological and historical understanding of marriage in the West.
Soccer clubs' logos, religion, and international business
A student of mine, in my "Catholic Social Thought and the Law" class, shared with me this interesting post:
Recently, one of the most established football (soccer) clubs in Europe, Real Madrid, made a very slight change to their official logo. Here is an old and new version. Can you see it? Maybe if you give it a really hard look? Still not seeing it? Check out the difference a little more closely. What’s missing is the cross that adorned the top of the Real Madrid logo. The cross resided there since 1920, when King Alfonso XIII granted the title Real, or Royal, to the Madrid Football Club. Granting the royal title to the club transferred the royal coat of arms of the King of Spain to the club, including the globus cruciger at the crest of the crown. The globus cruciger has long served as a reminder (especially to upstart monarchs of the Middle Ages) of Christ’s dominion over earth. It also serves as a reminder that the monarchs were supposed to be God’s representative and subordinate on earth. Thus, symbols such as these were fairly common throughout European Christendom.
While a symbol like that would likely have been ferociously defended as of twenty years ago, it is suddenly stricken. Why? That appears to be the cost of doing business for Real Madrid. No longer so much a representative of the crown and of Spain, the club is now a business, and a booming one at that. It is currently the most profitable football club (and sporting team overall) in the world. But a business must grow and find new markets. And it just so happens that the hottest new market for football is in the Middle East. What the Middle East happens to have is a ton of money from oil and natural gas. A billion dollars, in fact, will go to build the Real Madrid Resort Island in the Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates. There was a stipulation to the financing, however. The ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr al Qasimi, required the removal of the cross in all materials related to the resort. Similarly, items related to the club sold in the Middle East will be sans cross.
What does that say about Real Madrid, Spain, and Europe on the whole? Religiosity has long been declining in Europe, but Spain has still been seen as a bastion of religious, namely Catholic, influence. One may come to the conclusion, however, that symbols of a nation’s heritage are ultimately up for sale in an international, multicultural world. Presumably, the current Spanish King, Juan Carlos I signed off on this change, trading a piece of the Catholic history of his nation for increased revenue for the royal club. And it is the royal club. Lest anyone forget, the Spanish monarchy has its own premier box seating at Real Madrid’s stadium.
Is this simply a one-off situation, or indicative of a larger change, particularly one of abandoning all signs relating to Christianity at the first sign of cold, hard cash? Perhaps a look at Real Madrid’s chief rival, FC Barcelona’s new logo will help answer that question. You will see that St. George’s cross has been excised of its horizontal beam (making it no longer a functional cross). What caused this change? Surprisingly (or not), it involved FC Barcelona signing a $200 million dollar sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation and fielding complaints from Saudi Arabia that the St. George’s Cross was painful for Muslims because it evoked images of the crusades.