Wednesday, March 29, 2017
King's College philosophy prof Bernard Prusak has put together an interesting symposium on the ethics of cooperation and the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate. He has provided an overview of the contributions by three philosophers and a theologian:
[T]he three philosophers all reject the claim that giving HHS notice of opposition to the provision of contraceptives amounts to impermissible cooperation in wrongdoing. By contrast, Kate Ward [the theologian] concedes that “it is reasonable to regard even so seemingly insignificant an act as signing a document as formal cooperation in offering birth control to employees,” but the focus of her contribution is different: after observing that “determining whether an act is or is not cooperation is not sufficient for determining how one should proceed” and that “cooperation reminds us of the world’s moral complexity and the impossibility of avoiding any contact with evil,” she goes on to evaluate the Little Sisters’ case as an act of protest.
You can read the papers for yourself here.
That's the title of the book by Cathleen Kaveny that was published one year ago this month (Harvard University Press). Professor Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor at Boston College, where she holds a joint appointment (School of Law, Department of Theology).
On Friday, April 7, 1:30-5:00 PM, at the McMullen Museum of Art, 201 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, there will be a program, focused on Professor Kaveny's book, entitled "Prophecy Without Contempt: A Conversation About Religion, Identity, and Exclusion in Our New Political Era". The three speakers are an extraordinarily impressive group: Jonathan Lear, John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor, Committee on Social Thought and Department of Philosophy, University of Chicago; Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, McGill University; and Rowan Williams, 104th Archbishop of Cantebury and Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. Professor Kaveny will respond. The program is presented by The Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy, Boston College.
With the helpful guidance of Richard Reinsch's Brownson anthology, I have lately begun trying to understand the constitutional thought of Orestes Brownson. I am interested in the nature of our Union, and Brownson promises to be very helpful in arriving at clearer thinking on that topic.
Through something of a roundabout way, I recently found myself reading Brownson's 1843 oration at Dartmouth College, "The Scholar's Mission." This mission, he says, is nothing less than "INSTRUCTING AND INSPIRING MANKIND FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THEIR DESTINY."
It seems to remain a matter of some dispute what the precise source of JFK's "ask not" exhortation may have been. Some hear echoes of an Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. speech, and others of Warren G. Harding. Yet another possibility identified by others is this Brownson oration. It includes the exhortation: "Ask not what your age wants, but what it needs; not what it will reward, but what, without which, it cannot be saved; and that go and do, do it well; do it thoroughly; and find your reward in the consciousness of having done your duty, and above all in the reflection that you have been accounted worthy to suffer somewhat for mankind."
Monday, March 27, 2017
So argues Thomas Groome in today's New York Times. He writes:
By tradition and by our church’s teaching on social justice, many Catholics could readily return to voting reliably Democratic. But for this to happen, their moral concerns regarding abortion must get a hearing within the party, rather than being summarily dismissed. How might that happen?
To begin with, Democratic politicians should publicly acknowledge that abortion is an issue of profound moral and religious concern. As a candidate, Barack Obama did just that in a 2008 interview, saying, “Those who diminish the moral elements of the decision aren’t expressing the full reality of it.”
Democrats should not threaten to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal funds to be used for abortion except in extreme circumstances. They could also champion an aggressive program to promote adoption by strengthening the Adoption Assistance Act of 1980 and streamlining adoption procedures. The regulations in many states seem designed to discourage it.
Democratic politicians should also continue to frame their efforts to improve health and social services as a way to decrease abortions. The abortion rate dropped 21 percent from 2009 to 2014. That downward trend would most likely end if Republicans eliminate contraception services provided through the Affordable Care Act.
As I see it, these called-for developments -- while they would be welcome -- would not really do much to change the minds of those who regard, perhaps with regret, the Democratic Party as "the Abortion Party." The first proposal -- "acknowledge that abortion is a matter of profound . . . concern" -- is obviously sound, but it need not be accompanied by any changes in platform or policy. The second -- don't repeal the Hyde Amendment -- is also welcome, but it really involves simply maintaining a 40-year status quo. And the final one -- "continue to frame efforts" -- is about messaging, not policy. It seems to me that what could make a difference (but is very unlikely to happen, given the political givens) would be if the Democrats decided that their positions on abortion should roughly track those of the population as a whole.
The Court heard oral arguments today in a case that has very important religious-freedom and church-state dimensions and implications but has "flown under the radar" in the public conversation. As SCOTUSblog describes, "Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton (consolidated with two other related cases), . . . asks whether the Employee Retirement Income Security Act’s exemption for church plans applies to pension plans maintained by church-affiliated organizations." Here is the brief of the USCCB, which is well worth a read.
A few days ago, John Gehring, of "Faith in Public Life," wrote a kind of "what I saw behind the scenes" piece about a "conservative Catholic gathering in DC's Trump Tower." Among other things, the piece offered what was characterized as an account of some remarks by my friend and colleague, Carter Snead, who directs the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture. Based on Gehring's account, Gary Caruso -- who works in the Department of Homeland Security and who has a regular column in The Observer (the student-run newspaper at the University of Notre Dame) -- wrote a critical, indeed more-than-a-little snarky attack on what he called the "near-sighted vision" of the Center.
As regular MOJ readers might remember, I'm a huge fan of the Center's work on campus and beyond. The annual Fall Conference the Center puts on is one of the highlights of the academic year. And, it turns out -- as Snead carefully and charitably sets out here -- that Gehring's account, and Caruso's attack, were misleading and misguided. Snead concludes with this: "We welcome everyone of good will who shares our love of civil discourse, Notre Dame, the Church and its much-needed countercultural teachings on human dignity and the common good."
Friday, March 24, 2017
I've just finished reading Ryszard Legutko's The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies (2016). "Hostility to Christianity in modern liberal democracies raises the question," according to Legutko, "of how religion should manifest itself in public life." After considering two "strategies," one "conciliatory" and the other "capitulary," Legutko continues:
No doubt the basic objectives of Christianity remain outside politics, and it is these objectives that the churches and the faithful should pursue. But this otherwise obvious statement fails to address one crucial fact: the growing infiltration of liberal democracy into religion. Liberal democracy, like socialism, has an overwhelming tendency to politicize and ideologize social life in all its aspects, including those that were once considered private; hence, it is difficult for a religion to find a place in a society where it would be free from the pressure of liberal-democratic orthodoxy and where it would not risk a conflict with its commissars. Even the issues generally thought to be remote from politics become censured by the punctilious scrutiny of those who watch over ideological purity. To give an example: the Vatican declaration Dominus Iesus sparked anger in many groups -- more among secular and even atheist than Protestant and Orthodox -- and the direct cause was the following sentence: "Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (Ch. IV, clause 17). Those who protested claimed to defend the non-Catholics who presumably could not -- in light of the Declaration -- achieve salvation, and thereby had their eschatological status unfairly diminished in relation to the Catholics. Why the atheists were so indignant about the fact that they would not achieve salvation, in which they did not believe, through God, whose existence they denied, can be explained only by a case of total subjugation of the mind by politics and ideology: they did not see salvation as a theological problem but as the Catholic Church's political instrument, cleverly camouflaged by theological rhetoric, to justify her domination over other religious and nonreligious groups. In addition, the sentence in question offended their egalitarian sensibility: salvation, like anything people desire that is not recognized as a human right and distributed equally, must have appeared to them ideologically suspect. (165-66)
The Church, of course, does not teach that only Catholics can be saved, and Dominus Iesus does not remotely suggest such a thing. For that reason, among others, I'm not at all convinced that "the basic objectives of Christianity remain outside politics." Politics, as I understand it, can help but also can hinder people's capacity to do what God asks of them to be saved, and if Christianity has "objectives" at all, its transcendent objective is that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Christianity offers -- indeed, has a right -- to correct and transform politics exactly for the sake of the salvation of as many as possible.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
This is, I think, a very troubling (and revealing) development:
Faced with mounting criticism for its decision to give a major award to the Rev. Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and one of the country’s best-known conservative Christian thinkers, Princeton Theological Seminary has reversed course and said Keller will not receive the honor.
In an email to faculty and students on Wednesday morning (March 22), the president of the venerable mainline Protestant seminary, the Rev. Craig Barnes, said he remains committed to academic freedom and “the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community.”
But he said that giving Keller the annual Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness – named after a famous Dutch neo-Calvinist theologian – might “imply an endorsement” of Keller’s views against the ordination of women and LGBTQ people.
Now, I happen to agree that institutions of higher education should carefully about whom they honor and about the meanings of the awards they confer. But, Tim Keller is eminently worthy of being honored. Yes, my understanding is that he has traditional Christian views regarding marriage and sexual morality. He also is admirably charitable and civil in addressing these and all other matters. So, I agree with the principle that this statement reflects:
“Yes to academic freedom. Yes to listening to others whose opinions are different from our own (no matter how distasteful they may be),” Smith wrote on her blog, where she had initially blasted the award to Keller as “offensive.”
“No to giving large fancy prizes that can be confused with endorsement. Some may not be satisfied with this response. I think it’s a great compromise.”
I am not convinced, though, that it was appropriately applied in this case.
Here's a quick take, from me, at the Religion and Politics site. A bit, from the end:
Religious freedom is, still, our “first freedom.” If our most sacred things are not free, then nothing else that matters is, either. A government that imagines itself competent to re-arrange or supervise our beliefs about the transcendent is certainly not to be trusted when it comes to respecting our privacy or property. Religious liberty is not special pleading, and it is not a luxury good. It is foundational to our constitutional order and democratic aspirations. The Supreme Court can safeguard religious freedom, for everyone, but it matters at least as much that a commitment to human dignity is deeply rooted in politics, legislatures, and neighborhoods. Judge Neil Gorsuch’s record suggests that he understands this.
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Middlebury prof Laurie Essig has published an essay in The Chronicle that attempts to complicate the portrayal of the Charles Murray debacle as a regrettable blow to free speech. This strikes me as the paragraph that does the heavy lifting of her analysis:
The Murray event’s organizers encouraged us to debate his ideas and to counter his eugenicist arguments with evidence and pointed questions. To be fair, many at Middlebury, including the president and the political-science faculty, were worried about censorship and committed to the idea that we must be able to hear ideas we find disagreeable. For people who feel threatened in the current political climate, however, polite debate about disagreeable ideas is a luxury they can no longer afford. We live in dangerous times, when immigrants fear expulsion and hate crimes are on the rise. Personal vulnerability drowns out the fear of censorship.
Under what circumstances should polite debate be deemed a luxury we can no longer afford? If Essig had written that relying solely on polite debate and eschewing other forms of action may be a luxury we cannot afford at certain times, I'd agree wholeheartedly. But unless we're in an emergency situation when polite debate is not a wise investment of time, I struggle to think of a context in which polite debate must be rejected as an unaffordable luxury. Contrary to Essig's assertion that "[t]he right became its own precious snowflake when [Milo] Yiannopoulos talked about teenaged boys as sexual subjects who could consent to sex with adult men," I don't think that CPAC's withdrawal of an invitation to Yiannopoulos shows that conservatives also believe that certain beliefs are inappropriate for polite debate. There are legitimate questions surrounding the wisdom of an organization's decision to provide a platform to a particular speaker, but that does not mean that it's categorically wrong to engage in a polite debate about having sex with boys. There was nothing wrong with members of the Middlebury community condemning the decision to invite Charles Murray to campus; the problem is what happened after the invitation was extended and accepted.
Essig is right to point out that we have to be attentive to ensuring that those impacted by the views being expressed are equipped to participate meaningfully in the debate. The proper response to such concerns is to remove barriers to participation and empower traditionally marginalized members of the community; the proper response is not to dismiss polite debate as an unaffordable luxury.