Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democrats' candidate for Vice-President, is a practicing Catholic, and his position on abortion has been described in some quarters as "nuanced," because, in the past, he signed legislation allowing modest regulations (like parental notice) and limiting partial-birth abortion. Apparently, though, only a month after telling a magazine that he supports the Hyde Amendment . . . he no longer does. The new Democratic platform is, with respect to abortion, the most aggressive and radical its ever been -- and this in a year where the VP candidate is described by some as a "Pope Francis Catholic." (I imagine the Holy Father would say, "well, sure: like me, and like all of you, he's a sinner.)
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
I appreciate Tom's response to my recent post . Although, unlike Tom, I tend to think that most of the policy positions associated (at least, associated until recently!) with the Republican Party (though not with the current nominee!) better serve, on balance, the common good than those associated with the Democratic Party, I agree with very much of what he says in his post.
I agree, to be clear, that Donald Trump "exhibits a narcissistic disorder, obsessed with his own status and avenging slights, and reflexively doubling down in response to any criticism or challenge." I agree that many of his statements "have been especially erratic, and toxic both in the immediate sense and to the long-term health of public discourse." And, I agree that (quoting my earlier post) the "state of affairs that is likely to come to pass as a result of the election of [Donald Trump]" will almost certainly include many such statements and many erratic actions. I suggested in my post, and I continue to think, that "Congress, the courts, the press, the bureaucrats, [and Trump's] laziness and ignorance" would meaningfully constrain him, were he elected, but I agree they would and could not completely constrain him. It's a bad, bad situation.
All that said, I'm not convinced by what Tom says here:
So ... if the argument "I don't will the bad things in Trump" depends upon a prediction that others will prevent those bad things, then one is in fact willing the day-to-day outrages and fiascoes that clearly, by nature, cannot be prevented.
It seems to me that it could be that what one "wills" (I guess I'm thinking Model Penal Code-type "purpose" here) when one votes for Trump is simply and only that the agenda of a Clinton Administration (which would be much less constrained by the press and by presidential laziness) be stopped. What one "wills" need not include, it seems to me, the erratic behavior and offensive statements that one (with regret) expects. (Cue the arguments among those who are smarter than I am about whether one "intends" what one "knows", etc. . . .)
I also think, in response to Tom's statement that Clinton's "flaws are not in his category," that while Clinton's set of flaws is different than (though it overlaps with) Trump's, they are numerous, serious, and pervasive enough to make her (like him) unworthy of the office she seeks. It's a shame, in my view, that, perhaps because of entirely justified disapproval of Trump, many seem to be accepting the notion that Clinton is simply a garden-variety politician with the usual flaws, slip-ups, and imperfections. I don't think the evidence supports that view. But, that's another issue . . .
Friday, July 22, 2016
My friend Matthew Franck has a depressingly timely piece over at Public Discourse, in which he maps out his thinking regarding the question "what to do with my vote in November, given the two awful major-party candidates?" (As I've said here at MOJ before, both candidates are awful -- for various and varying reasons -- and one of many reasons each is awful is that each has the effect of inducing members of the opponent's political party to rationalize or normalize or minimize their own candidate's awfulness.)
I agree with much of what Matt writes. I'm not sure about this, though:
[M]y conscience is more important to me than the outcome of this presidential election. I cannot in good conscience vote for either Clinton or Trump. What matters for me is that I cannot bring myself to intend, to will the victory of either of these ludicrously unacceptable presidential candidates. And that is what a vote for one of them would be—an act of willing that Clinton or Trump be president, carry out her or his stated policy aims, and bring his or her fundamentally bad character to the highest office in the land.
My hesitation is prompted, specifically, by the suggestion that voting for candidate X is "an act of willing that [candidate X] . . . carry out her or his stated policy aims[.]" This seems wrong . . . or at least not necessarily true. One could reasonably think (and, to be clear, I'm not saying that this is what I think) something like this: "Look, candidate X has said all kinds of stupid and offensive things and also proposed stupid, dangerous, and immoral policies. But, it is not the case that, if candidate X were elected, those policies would become operative because Congress, the courts, the press, the bureaucrats, candidate X's laziness and ignorance, etc., would prevent or obstruct them, or at least most of them. Candidate Y, on the other hand, is smart and ideologically motivated, and would enjoy the support of the press and other opinion makers, and so would very likely be able to make operative a number of candidate Y's stupid, dangerous, and immoral policies. So, I prefer candidate X, not because I intend that candidate X 'carry out his or her stated policy aims' but because I intend to do what I can to prevent candidate Y from carrying out his or her policy aims."
This is different, I think, from the usual "lesser of two evils" argument, because it is focusing more on the "state of affairs that is likely to come to pass as a result of the election of candidate X or Y" than on the merits of X and Y's character or proposals.
A wonderful story about the Alliance for Catholic Education and Vocations . . . in the New York Times!
Simply to say a piece is "by Steve Smith" is to recommend it. Check out this short piece, from a few weeks ago, at the Cornerstone blog, called "Obergefell and the Reconstituting of American Community." It ends with this:
The Christian legacy is manifest as well in the American approach to religious freedom, with its recognition that there are things we owe to Caesar and other things we owe to God. Over the latter category, Madison famously reasoned, civil society and government simply have no “cognizance” —no jurisdiction. This understanding has been central not only to religious freedom but, more generally, to our conception of our political community as (to quote Lincoln, and the Pledge of Allegiance) “one nation under God.” But that conception is today effectively renounced, even by many proponents of religious accommodation, and most vehemently by the opponents of such accommodation.
In sum, modern developments in the areas both of sexuality and of religious freedom are connected in a sustained campaign to reverse the fourth century transformation—to reconstitute the community by rolling back the Christian or biblical legacy that has been central to the American political tradition. “Progressivism” is in that sense profoundly reactionary. On its face, Obergefell was about marriage, but at a deeper level, given the cultural importance of marriage, the decision was a major symbolic victory for that reactionary campaign.
And yet such transformations are not accomplished overnight, and surely not at the command of morally and intellectually insubstantial figures like the author of Obergefell. So we can expect the conflicts to persist for a long time to come.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
A few years ago, the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School hosted a day-long roundtable conversation on Prof. Nicholas Wolterstorff's then-pretty-new short book on political theology, The Mighty and the Almighty. It was really engaging, and brought together a great group of historians, theologians, philosophers, and prawfs. Each participant wrote up a short reaction/reflection paper -- a kind of "admission ticket" -- and now (finally?) they are all out in print. Here, in Vol. 4 of the Journal of Analytic Theology are papers by Marc DeGirolami, Chris Eberle, Kevin Vallier, Paul Weithman, and Terence Cuneo (and a response by Nick). And here, in the Journal of Law and Religion, are the contributions of Robert Audi, Jonathan Chaplin, Dana Dillon, Brad Gregory, John Inazu, Anna Bonta Moreland, Michael Moreland, Mark Noll, and Gladden Pappin. The book, and the tickets, are -- like the man says -- "highly recommended"!
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
My friend and former student, Matt Emerson (whose faith-and-education-related writing MOJ readers have probably encountered online before) has published a book, Why Faith? A Journey of Discovery, that I am pleased to recommend . . . especially to those (of us) with teenagers!
Why Faith?: A Journey of Discovery for the Modern Pilgrim tries to help men and women, particularly young adults formed by the modern world, work through some of the big questions and topics in faith that in the author's experience are especially pressing. It tries to meet someone in the midst of his or her confusions and struggles, rather than presupposing deep theological interest or knowledge. It addresses some specific theological matters (e.g., "How do I know God's will?") but it also addresses matters that are more philosophical or preliminary, for example: Why should I have faith at all? What is the basis for entrusting ourselves to something we cannot verify with certainty? Highlights: * It focuses on questions and the doubts of modern believers * It is grounded in the context of the 21st century; all the influences and distractions of the modern world, the allure of science, the rise of the New Atheists, etc. * It is not a work of apologetics or a general introduction, but it's more of a series of reflections that will help people better understand the Catholic, Christian faith * It doesn't presuppose theological knowledge; it's written for the average layperson, not an expert or a student of theology * It's accessible, and the chapters are short enough for dwindling attention spans.
Monday, July 11, 2016
I've been carping for more than a decade here at MOJ about what I see as the central importance of Christian moral anthropology to the "Law and Catholic Social Thought" thing. Here's another little gem from Walker Percy (taken from a 1986 interview):
. . .
Could you tell me how you feel about your inspiring beliefs, how faithful you have remained to them?
If you mean, am I still a Catholic, the answer is yes. The main difference after thirty-five years is that my belief is less self-conscious, less ideological, less polemical. My ideal is Thomas More, an English Catholic—a peculiar breed nowadays—who wore his faith with grace, merriment, and a certain wryness. Incidentally, I reincarnated him again in my new novel and I’m sorry to say he has fallen upon hard times; he is a far cry from the saint, drinks too much, and watches reruns ofM*A*S*H on tv.
. . .
Is it possible to define your Catholic existentialism in a few sentences?
I suppose I would prefer to describe it as a certain view of man, an anthropology, if you like; of man as wayfarer, in a rather conscious contrast to prevailing views of man as organism, as encultured creature, as consumer, Marxist, as subject to such and such a scientific or psychological understanding—all of which he is, but not entirely. It is the “not entirely” I’m interested in—like the man Kierkegaard described who read Hegel, understood himself and the universe perfectly by noon, but then had the problem of living out the rest of the day. It, my “anthropology,” has been expressed better in an earlier, more traditional language—e.g., scriptural: man born to trouble as the sparks fly up; Gabriel Marcel’s Homo viator.