Thursday, May 21, 2015
Over at First Things, Mark Movsesian has posted some as-per-usual insightful thoughts on the recent Pew survey that, among other things, found that the number of Americans who identify as Christian, or with specific Christian denominations and traditions, is declining. He writes:
[I]t’s hard to see how the rise of the Nones is good for religious freedom. As people check out of organized religion, they are less likely to view it as important and worthy of protection. People with even marginal affiliations may still understand and endorse the importance of religious commitment. The fact that they affiliate at all shows that religion makes up at least some part of their identity. Once people cut their ties completely, however, they are much less likely to be sympathetic to religious communities. If the future of religious freedom depends on the ability of believers to persuade our fellow citizens that faith commitments deserve respect and protection, that task may well become more difficult in the years ahead.
Saturday, May 16, 2015
With Alan's permission, I am posting a version of a thoughtful comment he shared with the Law and Religion listserv:
“You shouldn’t worry about gay marriage and religious freedom,” I’ve occasionally been told. “In thirty years, pretty much nobody’s going to be religiously opposed to gay marriage, so gay marriage won’t interfere with anybody’s religion.”
The people who’ve told me this generally meant well, but I think their willingness to think this sort of thing—and to imagine that believers concerned about religious freedom would find it comforting—is a testament to the ignorance about religion that pervades certain parts of our society.
To begin with, few believers could possibly be comforted by someone saying, “You shouldn't worry about the long run because your religions will just change their minds on this issue anyway.” That statement suggests at least one of the following two ideas:
- that religious beliefs are entirely a product of time and culture, with no basis in any transcendent truth and no capacity to resist broader cultural movements.
- that religious beliefs opposing gay marriage are purely an irrational bias and, like religious opposition to interracial marriage, will gradually vanish as gay marriage becomes commonplace and believers' aversion to gay relationships is worn down by familiarity.
These ideas are too big for me to try to refute here, and certainly there are people who believe them. But if you’re among those people, I hope you’ll consider for a moment how they sound to believers who disagree with you. In essence, when you say, “Your religion will change on this issue,” you’re saying either, “The beliefs you've built your life on have no basis in reality” or “Your bigotry has led you to misunderstand your own religion.” True or false, these two thoughts are quite the opposite of comforting to a concerned believer; indeed, they’re likely to convince some believers that you really don’t understand religion and that you really are out to get them.
But there’s a more practical reason not to tell believers that their religions will soon abandon traditional Christian sexual ethics: if you do, there’s a good chance you’ll be wrong.
Partially I say this because the analogy between religious racism and religious heteronormativity is at most superficially accurate. Traditional Christian teachings about sex just have a much different place in the church than American Christians’ teachings about race ever did—theologically, practically, socially, historically, etc. These things are simply not the same. Ross Douthat wrote briefly (but I think accurately) about this here.
And partially I say this because religion has always been international in nature, and like everything else it's getting to be more so. The heart of Christianity is moving from Europe and North America to Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Within a few decades, China may be home to more Christians than any other country. American Catholicism has never been especially important to the Catholic church, and even we Mormons now have more members outside the U.S. than inside.
Although the gay rights movement is likewise an international phenomenon, it’s not likely to play out everywhere the same way it has here. There are some places where gay marriage will not be legal for the foreseeable future; there are others where legalization will not lead to the sort of pressure on traditionalists that has begun to be exerted here. So long as such places exist, their Christians are going to give some ballast to American Christian opposition to gay marriage. Indeed, to some extent it’s already happening—witness, for example, the ties springing up between conservative American Episcopalians and African Anglicans.
My prediction? I think religious opposition to gay marriage is going to be like religious opposition to premarital sex. The polls will move more rapidly than anyone used to think possible, and in a decade or two only 20% of Americans will think gay marriage is immoral. And then the graph will bottom out, and 20% of Americans will still be thinking that for a long time.
So, the upshot of all this: don’t proclaim too loudly that the present controversies are temporary because we’re all going to agree about all of this very soon. It’s rude: it tells believers you don’t take their beliefs seriously. It’s counterproductive: it will only heighten the fears of people who see gay marriage as a threat to their way of life. And there’s a good chance that it will prove to be wrong, and that we’re stuck for the foreseeable future with the hard work of drawing distinctions and making compromises. The sooner we all commit to it, the better.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
What a treat -- I received in the mail today my copy of Pope Benedict XVI's Legal Thought, edited by my friends Andrea Simoncini and Marta Cartabia, and published through John Witte's Cambridge Law and Christianity Series. Learn more about (and buy) the book here. The description:
Throughout Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's pontificate he spoke to a range of political, civil, academic, and other cultural authorities. The speeches he delivered in these contexts reveal a striking sensitivity to the fundamental problems of law, justice, and democracy. He often presented a call for Christians to address issues of public ethics such as life, death, and family from what they have in common with other fellow citizens: reason. This book discusses the speeches in which the Pope Emeritus reflected most explicitly on this issue, along with the commentary from a number of distinguished legal scholars. It responds to Benedict's invitation to engage in public discussion on the limits of positivist reason in the domain of law from his address to the Bundestag. Although the topics of each address vary, they nevertheless are joined by a series of core ideas whereby Benedict sketches, unpacks, and develops an organic and coherent way to formulate a “public teaching” on the topic of justice and law.
I'm happy to announce, on behalf of the MOJ crew, that we're being joined by Erika Bachiochi, a prolific writer on bioethics, feminism, and Catholic thinking and teaching about these matters. For a taste of her scholarly writing, check out "Embodied Equality: Debunking Equal Protection Arguments for Abortion Rights." Welcome, Erika!
Monday, May 11, 2015
Hillary Clinton was in the news recently when she said, in a speech, that "deeply seated religious beliefs" "will have to be changed" in order to secure broader abortion rights, etc. Now, this story ("China orders Muslim shopkeepers to sell alcohol, cigarettes, to 'weaken' Islam") from China provides an example of a modern government seeking, for its own purposes, to weaken the hold of religious beliefs on its subjects. Here's a bit:
Chinese authorities have ordered Muslim shopkeepers and restaurant owners in a village in its troubled Xinjiang region to sell alcohol and cigarettes, and promote them in “eye-catching displays,” in an attempt to undermine Islam’s hold on local residents, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported. Establishments that failed to comply were threatened with closure and their owners with prosecution.
Facing widespread discontent over its repressive rule in the mainly Muslim province of Xinjiang, and mounting violence in the past two years, China has launched a series of “strike hard” campaigns to weaken the hold of Islam in the western region. Government employees and children have been barred from attending mosques or observing the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. In many places, women have been barred from wearing face-covering veils, and men discouraged from growing long beards.
Both stories, it seems to me, are reminders that claims about government "neutrality" with respect to religion are more aspirational than historical. Governments care about religious beliefs, and always have. And, governments are not limited to heavy-handed tactics like China's -- licensing requirements, accreditation standards, spending conditions, and (as we have been reminded recently) tax exemptions are available, too. I explored this idea, a decade or so ago, in this article, "Assimilation, Toleration, and the State's Interest in the Development of Religious Doctrine":
Thirty-five years ago, in the context of a church-property dispute, Justice William Brennan observed that government interpretation of religious doctrine and judicial intervention in religious disputes are undesirable, because when "civil courts undertake to resolve [doctrinal] controversies..., the hazards are ever present of inhibiting the free development of religious doctrine and of implicating secular interests in matters of purely ecclesiastical concern." This statement, at first, seems wise and fittingly cautious, even unremarkable and obvious. On examination, though, it turns out to be intriguing, elusive, and misleading. Indeed, Justice Brennan's warning presents "hazards" of its own, and its premises - if uncritically embraced - can subtly distort our constitutional discourse.
This Article provides a careful and close examination of the statement's premises and implications, and concludes that, far from being a "purely ecclesiastical concern," the content of religious doctrineand the trajectory of its development are matters to which even a secular, liberal, and democratic government will almost certainly attend. It is not the case that governments like ours are or can be "neutral" with respect to religion's claims and content. As this Article shows, the content, meaning, and implications of religious doctrine are and have long been the subjects of government power and policy. Secular, liberal, democratic governments like ours not only take cognizance of, but also and in many ways seek to assimilate - that is, to transform - religion and religious teaching. And, it is precisely because such governments do have an interest in the content, and, therefore, in the "development," of religious doctrine - an interest that they will, if permitted, quite understandably pursue - that authentic religious freedom is so fragile.
Friday, May 8, 2015
Monday, May 4, 2015
Last week, the University of Notre Dame hosted a conference called "Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal." I participated, along with a number of other people who are familiar to MOJ readers, and had some really great conversations along the way.
You can watch the video of the opening session -- which includes remarks by Michael Sean Winters in which he refers to my love of Duke Basketball as "crazed and heretical" -- here. And, here is the "Conference Rationale":
Universality (that is, small “c” catholicity) and, therefore, unity amid diversity, are acknowledged as fundamental characteristics of Roman Catholicism. But in recent years issues that are by now all too familiar to each of us have rent the Catholic Church in the United States—with the resulting divisiveness and vitriol playing out both in local churches and in public politics. Rather than the healthy debates characteristic of a living tradition, we have witnessed in our public politics—and often, also in the local contexts of everyday lives—an absence of genuine engagement and dialogue. Catholics of good will are alienated from one another. Sean Cardinal O’Malley has described the current climate of polarization as “a cancer in the Church.” This is a disturbingly apt metaphor applied to the Church as the body of Christ.
The premise behind this conference is that, although particular “hot button” issues, including those surrounding issues of gender, sexuality, and authority, have divided American Catholics, there is much that yet binds us together as both Catholics and citizens. In fact, despite the magnified influence those at the poles can exert, sociological studies of polarization suggest that only 20% or less of the population occupy truly polar positions on these contested issues. Our goal, then, is to better understand the social and religious underpinnings of our divisions, to explore how our common beliefs and aspirations can help us heal some of the hurts that the divisions have caused, as well as how open dialogue with those with differing views of issues that have proved contentious might challenge us to revise and incorporate new understandings of them that might help bring healing and hope—unity in our diversity.
At this event we will provide both public and private opportunities for individuals to tell stories of wounding and brokenness. We will all hear from a genuinely diverse group of voices in the U.S. Church. We will engage the latest sociological data and use tools of social and political analysis to set the scene for theological reflection upon the present climate of moral and political polarization among Catholics. This will allow us to begin a dialogue about the “signs of the times.”
In so doing, we can then begin to think creatively about concrete steps we can take to contribute to the healing of the U.S. Catholic Church. In that process, we will listen to, and consider, members of groups within the Church—especially the Millennial generation and the growing number of U.S. Hispanic Catholics—that will comprise its faithful and its leadership in the next generation, since it is upon them that the Church will depend in shaping a vital and faithful witness in the world of the twenty-first century.
—Mary Ellen Konieczny and Charles Camosy, February 2015
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Prof. Carl Esbeck has a thoughtful piece up at Public Discourse called "Redefining Marriage Would Erode Religious Liberty and Free Speech Rights of Citizens and Churches." A bit:
. . . [A] decision declaring state marriage laws void for animus would disparage those religious organizations and persons who believe deeply in marriage. Such a decision would stigmatize them as bigots akin to racists. That stigma would impede their full participation in democratic life, as their beliefs concerning marriage, family, and sexuality are placed beyond the constitutional pale. Because religious people cannot renounce their scriptural beliefs, a finding of animus would consign believers to second-class status as citizens whose doctrines about vital aspects of society are deemed presumptively illegitimate. The misattribution of animus would deprive believers and faith communities of their rights to the free exercise of religion, free speech, and democratic participation. Assaults on religious liberty, already under pressure, would intensify. . .
I made a similar suggestion in Commonweal, in this piece, after the Windsor decision.