Sunday, October 23, 2016
On Thursday and Friday, I had the pleasure and privilege of participating in a roundtable conference kicking off "The Tradition Project" (more information about the project is available here and here), which is a research project of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John's University and is being coordinated by MOJ-friend Prof. Mark Movsesian and our own Marc DeGirolami.
What a treat! For other reports on this gathering, see Paul Horwitz's post at Prawfsblawg and Rod Dreher's detailed reports at his own blog (here and here). There were (in addition to a keynote lecture by Prof. Michael McConnell) a series of Liberty-Fund-type discussions on, e.g., the idea of "tradition," the American religious tradition, the American political tradition, tradition and the common law, and tradition and the Constitution.
For me, flying home from the event, two questions kept re-presenting themselves: First, is "tradition" -- or, more accurately, is a "tradition" -- something that we inherit and pass on, or something that we, in a sense, "inhabit" -- is it an heirloom, or the air we breathe? Second, do traditions have authority (and if so, why?) or is more that they are valuable and useful resources, that would be foolish to turn down absent some good reasons for thinking they are not, for some reason or in a particular case, valuable and useful?
Other MOJ-ers were at the gathering, and I'll look forward to their thoughts!
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
As MOJ readers probably know, among the DNC emails hacked and leaked by Wikileaks (story here and here and here) are some exchanges among Clinton insiders that, among other things, call for a "Catholic Spring" and that express pretty clear disdain for "conservative" Catholics. Our own Robby George commented on these exchanges, in the Wall Street Journal, here.
A number of politically-left-leaning Catholics have pushed back against the idea that there's anything particularly troubling or anti-Catholic about these emails, including Michael Sean Winters (here), Anthony Annett (here), E.J. Dionne (here), and -- one of the participants in the exchange -- John Halpin (here). These and other commentators contend that, for example, the emails " tell a far more interesting tale about the struggles inside the Catholic Church in the period before the ascendancy of Pope Francis" (Dionne), that they simply reflect a "react[ion] in a private email to the arguments of leading conservatives who often misuse Catholicism to defend their agenda" (Halpin), that their discussion of a "Catholic Spring" should be seen as highlighting "the genuine need for a corrective balance" and "a call for something very much like the agenda of Pope Francis" (Annett), and that one participant's charge that "the right-wing attempt to co-opt Catholicism for the Republican Party [has] been a bastardization of the faith" is, well, right.
Certainly, it is not news that politically-left-leaning Catholics believe that politically-right-leaning Catholics are focusing too much on abortion at the expense of other issues, are insufficiently critical of the Republican Party (or insufficiently attached to the Democratic Party), are "co-opting" the Catholic Social Tradition and various bishops for "right-wing" purposes, etc. In my view, these beliefs are unwarranted (or, at least, held with a confidence and fervor that the facts do not justify). Nor, really, is it news that political-left operatives and activists like the people involved in this email exchange regard many of the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church with bemusement, if not contempt. (See, e.g., Halpin: "They must be attracted to the . . . severely backwards gender relations.") It's not news that Catholics are divided not only about the political implications of the faith but, more fundamentally, about what (and who decides what) "the Faith" is.
So, since it's all old news, maybe Winters is right that the "Catholic email scandal is no scandal" (indeed, maybe it's a no-doubt-unintended compliment!). In my view, though, it should be troubling -- to "progressive" Catholics as well as others -- that political operatives like John Podesta, who has been associated with Clinton campaigns and administrations for decades, admits that his organization set up (with funding from the Koch Brothers . . . I mean, George Soros) groups with the purpose of promoting a "revolution" -- a "Catholic Spring" -- "in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church." This is not a call for dialogue among Catholics about how best to live out the faith; it's strategy-and-tactics about how to co-opt and marginalize an opposing force.
This is not, contrary to the suggestions of some, simply a call for the full spectrum of the Catholic Social Tradition to be proposed to our politics, in the public square. The exchange was not just an intra-Catholic discussion about the possibility of changes in Church practices under Pope Francis, or a thoughtful corrective to the selective misuse or blinkered use by some "conservatives" of Catholic Social Teaching. The nature of the "revolution" to be hoped for, funded, and supported is to make the Catholic Church more like the Center for American Progress imagines itself to be (I say "imagined" because contemporary progressives' attachment to "democracy" is, well, complicated.)
Just as a reminder: Here's Sandy Newman, sounding pretty much like Paul Blanshard or Loraine Boettner:
There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in > which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and > the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the > Catholic church. Is contraceptive coverage an issue around which that could > happen. The Bishops will undoubtedly continue the fight. Does the Catholic > Hospital Association support of the Administration's new policy, together > with "the 98%" create an opportunity? > > Of course, this idea may just reveal my total lack of understanding of the > Catholic church, the economic power it can bring to bear against nuns and > priests who count on it for their maintenance, etc. Even if the idea isn't > crazy, I don't qualify to be involved and I have not thought at all about > how one would "plant the seeds of the revolution," or who would plant them. > Just wondering . . .
"The economic power it can bring to bear against nuns and priests who count on it for their maintenance, etc." No, this isn't just a call for Catholic Social Thought in the public square. It's ignorant, and it should be offensive . . . to "progressives" and "conservatives" alike.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
From Weigel's recent piece at First Things:
[T]he sickness in our political culture is serious and it reflects the pathogens that have been at work for some time in the general culture.
What are they?
• A raw individualism that conceives “freedom” as radical personal autonomy because it thinks of the human person as a twitching bundle of desires, the satisfaction of which is the full meaning of “human rights” and the primary task of government.
• A lack of commitment to the common good, which shows up in everything from bad driving habits to declining volunteerism to tax cheating to declaring a pox on politics and sitting out elections.
• The vulgarization of popular culture and entertainment, which has so deeply wounded our politics that they’ve become another form of reality TV, producing a spectacle that should shame us into a collective examination of our consciences as consumers.
• The confusion of “success” with sheer wealth by individuals, businesses, and corporate boards, which empties economic life of its vocational nobility and inculcates a counter-ethic of beggar-thy-neighbor competition that’s a grave danger to markets and a threat to the capacity of free enterprise to help people lift themselves from poverty.
• A grotesque misunderstanding of “tolerance” and “fairness,” rooted in an even more comprehensive delusion about what makes for human happiness, which isn’t “I did it my way.”
The list could be extended ad nauseam, but perhaps the basic structure of our situation is in sharper focus. We must rebuild American political culture so that, at its presidential apex, it is far less likely to produce such a mortifying choice as the one created by this election cycle. That requires the rebuilding of our public moral culture. And that is a task for several generations, which must begin now, at the retail level.
A tall order. But this sounds right.
Thanks to the good folks at the Religious Freedom Institute for organizing this multi-faith letter to President Obama, Rep. Ryan, and Sen. Hatch, urging them to "renounce publicly the claim that 'religious freedom' and 'religious liberty' are 'code words' or a 'pretext' for various forms of discrimination. There should be no place in our government for such a low view of our First Freedom—the first of our civil rights—least of all from a body dedicated to protecting them all." Amen. Read the whole thing (it's not long).
UPDATE: The USCCB's press release about the letter is here.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
John Halpin, of the "Center for American Progress", highlights the vital need for "Mirror of Justice."
Thursday, October 6, 2016
I was pleased to sign this (Download Smith brief) "Brief of Amici Curiae Legal Scholars in Support of Equality and Religious and Expressive Freedom," which was authored (and wonderfully written) by Prof. Steven Smith (San Diego) and signed by about two dozen scholars, including our own Kevin Walsh, Michael Moreland, Robby George, Michael Perry, and Marc DeGirolami. It's well worth a read.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
It is striking, as some others have noted, that the first time "social issues" or "faith and politics" came up in this cycle's "debates" was at the tail-end of the (widely regarded as irrelevant) debate between the vice-presidential candidates. I expected there to be some discussion (that is, I expected Sen. Kaine to bring it up, even if the moderator didn't) of the RFRA controversies -- especially given the experience in Indiana -- and of the ongoing debates about the sharpening conflict between antidiscrimination law and religious freedom. It strikes me that the lack of attention to (or interest in) these matters says a lot of not-encouraging things about the fate of these issues after the election is over, Sec. Clinton is President, and the Republican Party rebuilds (or not) after Trump.
Sen. Kaine's answer on the "faith and politics" question was unsurprising, but still inadequate. If one has reasons for being "personally opposed" to abortion, then those reasons are also reasons why abortion should, at least presumptively, be discouraged and regulated. Kaine's position treats opposition to abortion like an aesthetic preference, regarding which de gustibus non est disputandum. What's more, even a candidate inclined to resign him or himself to legal abortion -- thinking that it's not practical or feasible to ban abortion, ours is a pluralistic society, we disagree on the morality of abortion, etc. -- need not earn a perfect rating from Planned Parenthood, oppose late-term bans, or support the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. Gov. Pence (appropriately) expressed respect for the sincerity of Kaine's faith, but was effective in pointing out (as so many have) the flaws in the Cuomo position.
Sunday, October 2, 2016