« Kalanges on Radical Orthodoxy | Main | "Dang wabbit!" »

October 15, 2012

Confusion about separation

This blog post, "Of Babies and Beans," at The New Yorker, has already been noted at both First Things and Commonweal.  In the post, Adam Gopnik says some strikingly wrongheaded things (in addition to a variety of offensive and snarky things about various politicians he doesn't like) about abortion ("It is conscious, thinking life that counts"), but also characterizes as "disturbing and scary" Rep. Ryan's (I would have thought) unremarkable observation that “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life  from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything  we do.”  Here's Gopnik:

That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian “Ayatollahs” he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well.  Ryan was rejecting secularism itself, casually insisting, as the Roman Catholic  Andrew Sullivan put it, that “the usual necessary distinction between politics  and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.”  . . .

. . .  Our faith should not inform us in everything we do, or there would be no end to  the religious warfare that our tolerant founders feared.

Of course, Ryan did not say that the "distinction between politics and religion" or the distinction (which is different) between "church and state" "should not exist"; and there is nothing mullah-ish about the statement that faith "informs" people's public lives.  He didn't say that the positive law should enforce religious teachings or require religious practices, and there's nothing contrary to "secularism" (properly understood) in his statement.

 

Posted by Rick Garnett on October 15, 2012 at 02:35 PM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d834515a9a69e2017c328c1fc7970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Confusion about separation:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

A Mullah's answer? Not if you believe that Jesus Is The Christ, The Son of The Living God, and that you cannot be His Disciple if you do not abide in The Word of God to begin with.

Posted by: N.D. | Oct 15, 2012 3:43:07 PM

Rick,

You say: "He didn't say that the positive law should enforce religious teachings or require religious practices, and there's nothing contrary to "secularism" (properly understood) in his statement."

But it is Catholic teaching that positive law should forbid abortion, should not permit same-sex marriage, and (according to CDF documents) should not explicitly protect gay people through anti-discrimination laws. It is one thing to elect officials whose church tells them abortion is wrong and homosexuality is immoral. But is it not true that the Catholic Church goes further? It tells elected officials what the laws of their country ought to be. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae goes into scenarios about how legislators ought to vote! ("A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law . . . . ")

There are many reasons not to take Adam Gopnik's alarm seriously. But there still are questions about what one is at least *theoretically* voting for when one votes for a Catholic seeking high office (or a person of any religion, if their religion makes binding statement about what the law ought to be).

You wouldn't argue, would you, that an office holder's Catholicism puts no obligations on him other than the ones any conscientious candidate has? (Except, of course, for justice on the Supreme Court, whose Catholicism has no bearing on their decisions, according to Scalia.)

The thing is, many people thought the matter of a Catholic holding high office was settled with JFK's Dallas speech, but a number of "conservative" Catholics seem no longer to find Kennedy's position acceptable.

I guess the ultimate question is—When can the Catholic Church teach what the law ought to be in a pluralistic democracy where there is a First Amendment and people of many different faiths (or no faith)? It seems to me that the "five non-negotiables" for Catholic voters are all about things the law must prohibit.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 15, 2012 6:32:50 PM

David,

But the question is whether or not the "non-negotiables" are strictly speaking religious. Biden said that the teaching that life begins at conception is "de fide." That, however, is incorrect. It is a teaching that is knowable through reason. The same goes for the other "non-negotiables." So, Ryan is not seeking to imposes his "religion" on society.

Ryan was not arguing that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception must be enshrined in our nation's positive law.


Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Oct 15, 2012 6:46:35 PM

David,

The Church's teaching that the positive law should protect unborn children from violence is not a position that the positive law should enforce a "religious" teaching, any more than the Church's position that the positive law should outlaw racial segregation in schools is a "religious" teaching.

The position in the Kennedy speech is thought to be deficient by many people, not only "conservative" Catholics.

Scalia's position is that a (federal) judge's role is to identify the content -- which is supplied entirely by others -- of the positive law. And, he thinks that Catholicism does not add anything to that role (other than obvious "do your best and love your neighbor" kind of flavoring). If he is right about the judge's role, then his position about Catholicism's influence is fine. What's more, his position is not inconsistent with the claim that one's faith should "inform" what one does in "public", and in all other aspects of life. The *Catholic* view of a federal judge's role, I think, is that a federal judge should conscientiously strive to identify the supplied-by-others content of the positive law.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Oct 15, 2012 7:06:16 PM

Catholic Law Student,

You say, "It is a teaching that is knowable through reason. The same goes for the other 'non-negotiables.'"

The Catholic Church claiming that certain of its teachings are knowable through reason alone does not make it so. We do not look to religion to tell us what can be known by reason. We look to reason.

You say: "Ryan was not arguing that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception must be enshrined in our nation's positive law."

Did it strike you, in reading my question to Rick, that I said, or even thought, anything of the kind?

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 16, 2012 1:34:09 AM

Rick,

You say: "The Church's teaching that the positive law should protect unborn children from violence is not a position that the positive law should enforce a 'religious' teaching, any more than the Church's position that the positive law should outlaw racial segregation in schools is a 'religious' teaching."

The Church teaches that abortion *must* be prohibited by positive law because it teaches that a "a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life." (Also, "Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.") That is Catholic teaching. It is not, for example, Jewish teaching. Of course, the Church does not require that somehow a Catholic politician enshrine in positive law the teachings of the Church itself. However, the Church does require that the Catholic politician, in the case of abortion, act on the premise that the Church's teachings are true, and in so doing enact laws based on premises that many who are not Catholic do not accept.

I am quite sure that Catholic politicians (or politicians of any other religion) will gain absolute control over abortion, so this is hypothetical. But it does seem to me that it would be the obligation of a Catholic politician to deny abortion to Jews even in situations where Judaism not only permitted it but arguably required it.

It seems to me that sometimes Catholics wish to have it both ways—to argue on the one hand that it would be bigoted to vote against a Catholic because he or she was a Catholic, and on the other hand, to argue that the fact that an office holder is Catholic *should* make a difference in the way that person performs in office.

In the vice-presidential debate, we had the following exchange:

MS. RADDATZ: I want to go back to the abortion question here. If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?

REP. RYAN: We don't think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people, through their elected representatives and reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process, should make this determination.

But that is not really what Ryan is obligated as a Catholic to believe. Actually, it seems to me that Ryan or any pro-life Catholic would be quite willing for the Supreme Court to rule, say, that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits abortion. And should it be determined through "the democratic process" (which apparently excludes court rulings) that abortion should be legal, Ryan and other pro-life Catholics would be obligated to attempt in whatever way they could to reverse or overturn the democratic decision of the people.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 16, 2012 2:13:23 AM

As usual, David, you miss the point. Either we are all part of the political process or certain segments are not allowed to be part of it. Should felons be allowed to vote? Should felons be allowed to express their opinion?

Gopnik is lost because he condemns religion as a whole. "Religion bad!" is his argument. Yet history teaches us that Iranian mullahs, e.g., did not invent dictatorship. We humans manage to do that all by ourselves without any help from God, sometimes with loud cries of "Religion must be ended."

"If religion, then dictatorship," is simply not true. Of course we are all informed by our beliefs. That is a tautology. They would not be our beliefs if we didn't let them inform us. Let us argue about the rationality of those beliefs not about the source. The latter is simply ad hominem.

And reason, rationality, is useless unless we start with certain assumptions. Let us in particular discuss those assumptions, which cannot be rational, as they inform our differences. There will we find the heart of our disagreements and raise our understanding. Gopnik's implied, "My assumptions are right and yours are wrong," without the possibility of correction is more readily identifiable as the source of dictatorship.

Posted by: Mike Melendez | Oct 16, 2012 9:05:04 AM

" . . . the Church's position that the positive law should outlaw racial segregation in schools is a 'religious' teaching"

Rick,

Not to go off on a tangent, but where does the Church teach that positive law should outlaw racial segregation in schools? Archbishop Rummel of New Orleans is often invoked as a hero in the matter of school integration, but the Catholic schools of his archdiocese were integrated only after Brown v Board of Education and the integration of the New Orleans Public School System. The Catholic Church was nowhere near as involved in trying to end racial segregation and discrimination during the 1950s and 1960s as it is now with respect to the "five non-negotiables."

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 16, 2012 9:15:52 AM

David, The Catholic Church has always taught that from The Beginning, God created ever human individual, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as male and female. The fact that there are some who do not respect this truth that can be known through Faith and reason, does not change the truth about the personal and relational essence of the human person.

Posted by: N.D. | Oct 16, 2012 9:33:53 AM

David,

Whether or not you agree or disagree with the Church on an issue, doesn't mean that the Church's argument becomes "religious." You might point to what you see as flaws in the Church's reasoning, but that does not mean that the Church's reasoning is "religious." Or that, if the majority agree with the Church in Maryland, or Minnesota, that the majorities in those states are "imposing their religion" on the rest of the state.

Again, we aren't talking about mandating Sunday Church attendance or belief in the Resurrection.

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Oct 16, 2012 1:49:57 PM

Catholic Law Student,

You say: "Whether or not you agree or disagree with the Church on an issue, doesn't mean that the Church's argument becomes 'religious.'"

Above I quoted from the Catechism. Let me expand:

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person -- among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.(71)
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. (72)
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth .(73)

71. Cf CDF, Donum vitae I,1.
72. Jer 1:5; cf Job 10:8-12; Ps 22:10-1 1.
73. Ps. 139:15.

It does not seem to me that a teaching footnoted with supports from Donum vitae, Jeremiah, Job, and the Psalms can plausibly be called "not religious." Would you claim those are scientific statements, or matters that can be known by reason alone?

It is simply a fact that the teaching that personhood begins at conception is a religious teaching.

If it is indeed *not* a religious teaching, but instead a scientific one, that personhood begins at conception, then it is not binding on Catholics. The Church claims no expertise in medicine or embryology—only in faith and morals.

You say: "Again, we aren't talking about mandating Sunday Church attendance or belief in the Resurrection."

No, and I didn't suggest we were, so I don't know why you keep making comments along those lines. However, it seems to me what we do have is something like "blue laws" or "Sunday closing laws." I am old enough to remember when almost no stores were open on Sundays. The old Sunday closing laws did not require anyone to believe that God commanded that no work be done on the Sabbath (or that Christians had the authority to move the Sabbath), but it did prevent people from shopping, and store owners from selling, on Sundays, whether or not they believed Sunday was the Sabbath or not. Not selling or shopping on Sunday isn't imposed religious behavior. However, those laws were nevertheless unconstitutional impositions by those who believed in observing in certain ways Sunday as the Sabbath on those who did not believe in Christianity and Sunday observance.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 16, 2012 2:36:28 PM

Mike Melendez,

You say: "As usual, David, you miss the point."

Well, then you will not be surprised if, true to form, I miss the point of your starting a response to me—someone trying to engage in a civil, reasoned, respectful discussion—with, "As usual, you miss the point."

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 16, 2012 2:45:18 PM

The point is, even in a democratic society, people should not be voting on the self-evident truth that a human person can only conceive a human person because truth is not a matter of opinion.

Posted by: N.D. | Oct 16, 2012 4:20:03 PM

F.Y.I.-
catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0566.html

Posted by: N.D. | Oct 16, 2012 4:37:46 PM

That should read:
http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0566.html

Posted by: N.D. | Oct 16, 2012 4:40:44 PM

David,

Is the Church's teaching that murder is wrong knowable through reason or is it an article of faith? I would submit that we can know by reason that murder is wrong. I am not sure how that would make it any less binding on Catholics.

There are truths that are knowable through reason that are also "religious" in that they are contained in the Bible and Catholic tradition. That does not make any less binding on Catholics and it does not mean that if one seeks to outlaw murder one is imposing one's "religious views."

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Oct 16, 2012 5:59:40 PM

Joe Biden said in the debate: “My religion defines who I am. And I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life. It has particularly informed my social doctrine." In response to the same question, Ryan made the statement that so riled Gopnik: “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.” The two statements are, in terms of the principle involved (Catholicism informing a Catholic government official's views of right and wrong), indistinguishable. Yet Gopnik tees off on Ryan only. Gee, I wonder why. And what, by the way, informs Gopnik's views? Atheists in this regard have a far greater problem than do Catholics or other theists. For, as Dostoevsky put it so succinctly, "If God does not exist, everything is permitted."

Posted by: Dan | Oct 16, 2012 6:13:57 PM

Catholic Law Student,

You say: "Is the Church's teaching that murder is wrong knowable through reason or is it an article of faith?"

Since murder is wrongful killing, if the Church teaches that murder is wrong, it is stating a tautology. I believe I am correct in saying that the prohibition against killing in the Decalogue is really a prohibition against killing a fellow Israelite. I just reproduced this note to "You shall not kill" from the New American Bible somewhere. Forgive me for the repetition if it was here.

[20:13] Kill: as frequent instances of killing in the context of war or certain crimes (see vv. 12–18) demonstrate in the Old Testament, not all killing comes within the scope of the commandment. For this reason, the Hebrew verb translated here as “kill” is often understood as “murder,” although it is in fact used in the Old Testament at times for unintentional acts of killing (e.g., Dt 4:41; Jos 20:3) and for legally sanctioned killing (Nm 35:30). The term may originally have designated any killing of another Israelite, including acts of manslaughter, for which the victim’s kin could exact vengeance. In the present context, it denotes the killing of one Israelite by another, motivated by hatred or the like (Nm 35:20; cf. Hos 6:9).

I suppose I would say that it can be arrived at by reason that the deliberate killing of an innocent person is wrong, but refining such a basic statement so it applies to situations like revenge, crimes of passion, self-defense, killing in combat, abortion, capital punishment, burning heretics, and so on are not so much matters of reason as cultural or religious beliefs. God, in the Old Testament, commands a great deal of killing that most of us consider abhorrent today.

In any case, wasn't the question whether the Church's teaching that a person exists from the moment of conception is a scientific or a religious teaching? It seems to me that the way it is presented by the Church, it is a religious teaching, and as I said, if it is a scientific question, then the Church has no special competence in answering scientific questions. That doesn't mean that if the Church speaks on a scientific issue that it is wrong. It just means that it has no authority to compel Catholics to assent to a teaching that is in the realm of science, or in any other realm other than faith and morals.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 16, 2012 6:28:42 PM

David,

The Church proposes that its moral teaching as accessible to all people of good will.

I guess you simply disagree with this.

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Oct 16, 2012 7:40:03 PM

"The Church proposes that its moral teaching as accessible to all people of good will."

Catholic Law Student,

Where is the evidence that all people of good will agree with the Church's moral teachings? Where is the evidence that all *Catholics* of good will agree with the Church's moral teachings? How could it be that the overwhelming majority of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control concluded that contraception was not intrinsically evil, and yet Pope Paul VI did not agree in Humanae Vitae?

Why does a Church that claims its moral teachings can be arrived at by reason need to declare itself infallible on questions of morals? Why does it need to speak "authoritatively" if it can speak convincingly?

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 17, 2012 8:54:36 AM

I never said (and the Church has never said) that all people of good will would agree with the Church. But that the reasoning that the Church uses is accessible to them. But the fact that people disagree does not make the reasoning "de fide" or necessarily "religious" in character.

John Breen picks up on these themes in his post today. So, I'm going to sign off.

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Oct 17, 2012 9:28:48 AM

Catholic Law Student,

It is my understanding (which I am certain I can document, although not right now), that the Catholic Church claims that the morality it teaches is binding on all, and can be known by all to be true. It's "natural law." So when the Church teaches that artificial birth control is immoral, that means that no one may use it. It's not a matter of Catholic faith that artificial birth control is wrong. It is a matter of natural law. The Church claims that it is simply apprehending reality when it determines right and wrong, and "non-Catholics" should be able to apprehend morality as well. Morality is not a matter of divine revelation.

The fact that there is not universal agreement that Catholic moral teachings are universal of course raises the question why not everyone agrees with it. It raises the question why a large group of experts advising Pope Paul VI were wrong and he was right, or why Humanae Vitae has been so widely rejected.

It also raises the question, in my mind at least, how Catholic politicians or rules, who believe they know with certainty what is right and wrong, are supposed to determine which evils to tolerate and which to suppress. The Church, for example, believes that positive law must prohibit abortion, but apparently not contraception. Positive law must not permit same-sex marriage, but it seems now to be noncontroversial that positive law may permit "divorce," even though marriage is indissoluble.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 17, 2012 12:48:08 PM

David,

Your first paragraph is accurate--I think--as a statement of the natural law position. Your second two paragraphs seem to ask to what extent the natural law and positive law should be co-terminus--a big question indeed!

I would bet (but haven't done the research) the bishops (or the Pope) are on the record that no fault divorce is violative of the institution of marriage and similarly with regard to contraception so the law should discourage their use. I would doubt that there has been a call for an outright ban of either in recent years

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Oct 17, 2012 1:18:19 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.