Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Public Faith: A Christian Voice for the Common Good"

Some thoughtful and committed folks, mostly younger evangelicals, have announced this venture and issued a vision statement responding to our current situation, which they describe as follows:

In the midst of another divisive election and a political culture that thrives off of conflict, many Christians and other Americans are tempted to check out and claim the posture of a conscientious objector or to dig in for even greater political hostilities. We believe that neither political withdrawal nor reinvigorated culture wars by Christians will help our nation and communities through the difficult challenges we face.

The headings in the statement include (A) "Pluralism and 21st-Century Religious Freedom"; (B) "Poverty, Stewardship, and Caring for the Most Vulnerable"; and (C) "Strengthening Families and Reducing Abortion."

Check it out.

August 29, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"What Became of the Christian Intellectuals?"

Today, while in Boston visiting potential colleges with our son, we toured the JFK Presidential Museum. It's fascinating set of exhibits with artifacts, news footage, audio interviews, letters, etc.--well worth an afternoon when you're in town. One artifact was a marked-up invitation list for a 1962 White House state dinner honoring Andre Malraux, then France's Minister of Cultural Affairs. Here's the first page of the list:

JFK Museum - Dinner Invite List

They would have been decent table company, no? (I'll take the list as an official White House recognition that Murray and Niebuhr, as I've argued, should go together--even if the Niebuhrs for whatever reason were crossed off this dinner.)

So I came back to our B&B thinking about the decline in public prominence of Christian intellectuals in America since 1962, and a friend pointed me to Alan Jacobs' new essay in Harper's--subtitled "What Became of the Christian Intellectuals?" Unsurprisingly with Jacobs, it's a great read. Here's a taste of his explanation (which, in full, touches on the careers of, among others, T.S. Eliot, Maritain, Niebuhr, Auden, Richard Neuhaus, Cornel West, and Marilynne Robinson): 

It was the Sixties that changed everything, and not primarily because of the Vietnam War or the cause of civil rights. There were many Christians on both sides of those divides. The primary conflict was over the sexual revolution and the changes in the American legal system that accompanied it: changes in divorce law, for instance, but especially in abortion law. (Many Christians supported and continue to support abortion rights, of course; but abortion is rarely if ever the central, faith-defining issue for them that it often is for those in the pro-life camp.) By the time these changes happened and Christian intellectuals found themselves suddenly outside the circles of power, no longer at the head table of liberalism, Christians had built up sufficient institutional stability and financial resourcefulness to be able to create their own subaltern counterpublics. And this temptation proved irresistible. As Marilynne Robinson has rightly said in reflecting on the agitation she can create by calling herself a Christian, “This is a gauge of the degree to which the right has colonized the word and also of the degree to which the center and left have capitulated, have surrendered the word and also the identity.” 

As they say, read the whole thing.

August 25, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink

Friday, May 20, 2016

Methodists Withdraw from Religious Pro-Abortion-Rights Group

This is quite a striking vote, cutting against the trend in which mainline Protestant denominations over the years became  increasingly allied, if only in their policy offices, with the broadest versions of the right to abort.

     Evangelicals celebrated the United Methodist Church’s decision yesterday to leave a pro-choice advocacy group it co-founded 43 years before. 

     At its general conference, delegates voted 425-268 to withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), an interfaith organization whose broad support extends to late-term and sex-selective abortions—a practice that the church’s social principles “unconditionally reject.”

This is one more data point in the emerging pattern that the ideological middle of the country--which Methodists tend to track--will not accept hard-line pro-abortion-rights positions, even as it increasingly accepts the progressive position on the other major culture war issue of gay rights. The two are very different, and their paths in public opinion charts will increasingly diverge.

May 20, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Another Book Worth Noting: Stark on Anti-Catholic History

John Inazu's Confident Pluralism, noted by Rick, is a book with an important thesis--hope it gets a lot of attention. 

Another book worth checking out, for which I've just seen a notice, is Rodney Stark's Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History. Stark is an interesting and readable sociologist and historian of religion, who always makes important and generally correct points in his books, even if (in my experience) he may oversimplify or overstate things in places.

May 8, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Books, Religion | Permalink

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Partly Acculturated Religious Activity: A Case for Accommodating Religious Non-Profits"

I've posted the above-titled article on SSRN. It's forthcoming in the Notre Dame Law Review, from the excellent symposium that the Review and Rick organized on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration on Religious Freedom. My contribution doesn't mention the Declaration. But it follows in its spirit, since it deals with a crucial question about the ability of religious organizations to have freedom in their public, not just their insular private, activity. The article responds to the claim, growing in strength in the courts and academia, that there should be no legal accommodation for religious organizations in activities where they employ or serve persons outside the faith. (That, of course, was a key premise of the narrow original exception from the HHS contraception mandate.)

I present a defense of a prima facie duty to accommodate what I call "partly acculturated" religious activities, which are "'acculturated in that they reach out to the broader society to provide services of general civic value, but unacculturated in that some of their doctrines and practices clash with dominant secular values [and therefore claim religious freedom protection]." From the abstract:

The law should not force all religious organizations and activities into one of the two polar categories, acculturated or unacculturated. Part II presents several reasons why there is a strong interest in protecting the freedom to engage in partly acculturated religious activity. Among other things, I argue, relying on work in sociology of religion, that refusing accommodation to partly acculturated activity risks losing the distinctive vigor that such organizations offer in providing services to society: their countercultural positions tend to create a sense of identity and commitment, while their acculturation means they apply that identity to serve society rather than withdraw from it.

Accommodating partially acculturated activity does present distinctive challenges because of effects on non-adherents. Part III proposes addressing those, and drawing lines concerning accommodation, by relying on concepts of:(1) notice to employees and clients concerning the organization’s religious identity, and (2) alternative sources of receiving the services or opportunities in question.

And from the article's Conclusion:

Claims for the protection of partly acculturated religious activity present challenges and tensions.  The scope of protection must of course take account of effects that these activities have on non-adherents, whether employees or clients.  But refusing such protection has serious costs.  The opposition to any accommodations for religious activity that affect non-adherents has the effect—and very possibly the aim—of marginalizing organizations that straddle the line between their own members and the broader society.  It will force these organizations to deal only with their own adherents, and play less and less of a role in the broader society, if they want to adhere to their doctrinal beliefs.  For all the reasons above, this would be a bad development: for religious equality, for the vigor of our educational and social service sectors, and for our ability to engage with each other across lines of disagreement.

May 5, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Survey: U.S. Christians Face Intolerance, and Complain Too Much About It

An interesting survey, with implications for how Christians speak in public discourse and in particular how they present claims of religious liberty:

A growing number of Americans believe religious liberty is on the decline and that Christians face growing intolerance in the United States.

They also say American Christians complain too much. In agreement: two out of five evangelicals, both when measured by beliefs and by self-identity.

March 31, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Playing God? Moral Arguments on Patents on Life"

I recently published some reflections on the issue of patenting of genes--human and non-human--from the perspective of religious and secular ethics. It includes reflections on the conference that St. Thomas's Murphy Institute co-sponsored with the Von Hugel Institute at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge (UK), last fall. A sample from my piece:

     The Cambridge conference showed how religious thought can make valuable contributions to debates over patents on life. Catholicism is well suited for these conversations, with its bedrock commitment to the dignity of human life, its history of reflection on the purposes and limits of private property, and its global network of institutions serving the poor and vulnerable....

     The conference also showed that the relationship between life patents and human dignity is complex. One cannot simplistically dismiss all patents in the genetic area as “playing God.” Christianity calls for us not to leave nature alone, but to exercise stewardship for the common good...

     But biotechnology, in the Pope’s words, also gives those with knowledge and economic resources “an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity,” and “nothing ensures that [such power] will be used wisely.” Thus patents related to living things still must be subjected to limits based in morality and the equal dignity of all persons. That means first (as all our conference speakers emphasized) that governments must continue to ban patents on natural products and processes, on human beings and on human organs.

     Second, even when biotechnology patents are appropriate, the effects of such technologies must be regulated to ensure they produce benefits, not harms.

UPDATE: Another piece on the issue, referring to our conference, by Simon Ravenscroft, one of our organizers, on the Religion and Ethics page of Australian television.

 

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February 14, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion, Science | Permalink

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Wheaton and Islam: The Next Step, and the Unanswered Question

Wheaton College's provost is recommending that Professor Larycia Hawkins be removed from her tenured position for having stated (as part of an expression of civil solidarity with Muslims) that Muslims and Christians worship "the same God." The matter now goes to a faculty advisory committee for its recommendation, and then to the college president.

Wheaton's website contains a set of responses to FAQs concerning the situation. They don't address what I think is the most serious challenge to Wheaton: Do the asserted reasons for saying Islam worships a different God (i.e. Islam rejects the Trinity and Christ's place in salvation)  also apply to Judaism? Professor Hawkins seems to affirm (according to the Christianity Today link above) that Muslims and Christians understand God very differently. But the Jewish-Christian  differences in understanding of God--many of them similar to the Muslim-Christian differences--do not stop most Christians, I think, from saying that Christians and Jews both worship the God of Abraham.

On the other hand, Wheaton also says (in its FAQ responses) that "[o]n the part of the College, further theological clarification is necessary before [a] reconciliation [with her] can take place, and unfortunately Dr. Hawkins has stated clearly her unwillingness to participate in such further clarifying conversations," which created an "impasse." So perhaps she hasn't allayed concerns that, for example, her "same God" statement might be taken to reflect a more general religious universalism, or a minimizing of the deity and central importance of Jesus, both of which would of course be inconsistent with Wheaton's evangelical commitment.

But that doesn't deal with the more specific claim that "Muslims worship the God of Abraham, albeit with very different understandings than Christians." And I can't help but think that if one is willing to apply that to Judaism but not to Islam, the reason is cultural and political distrust rather than theological distinctiveness. Thus it would be good to know what Wheaton says in this context about Christianity and Judaism.

Thanks very much to Mike for quoting the Catholic Church's position on this from Nostra Aetate. Perhaps the Catholic teaching can give evangelicals some food for thought as they grapple with this issue.

UPDATE: Here is Professor Hawkins's fuller description of her position, in a December 17 letter to Wheaton's administration. HT: Frank Beckwith (he gives his own take on the issue here, and a catalog of others' perspectives here)

January 6, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Prayers After Shootings Now a Partisan Issue?

In The Atlantic, Emma Green reports on Democratic and Republican reactions to the San Bernardino shootings, and how a noticeable number of liberal/progressive commentators are "shaming" people who've expressed the sentiment that "our prayers are with those affected." For example, she quotes a Think Progress editor and pretty aggressive atheist named Zack Ford, who tweeted, "Stop thinking. Stop praying. Look up Einstein's definition of 'insanity.' Start acting on gun violence prevention measures." Green thinks there's a developing pattern here indicative of the changes in religion and politics:

There are many assumptions packed into these attacks on prayer: that all religious people, and specifically Christians, are gun supporters, and vice versa. That people who care about gun control can’t be religious, and if they are, they should keep quiet in the aftermath of yet another heart-wrenching act of violence. At one time in American history, liberals and conservatives shared a language of God, but that’s clearly no longer the case; any invocation of faith is taken as implicit advocacy of right-wing political beliefs.

I certainly hope that the "shamers" are in the minority; I hope that for the sake of the left, which (to say it for the umpteenth time) has no hope of making progress in America if it divorces itself from religious inspiration. I'd hope that many of those who attack prayer alone as insufficient, and want action, are reflecting something of the attitude of the prophet Amos (see 5:21-23, NRSV):

I hate, I despise your festivals,  and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.... 
Take away from me the noise of your songs;  I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,  and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

If you are impatient with unaddressed matters of justice, and you think that religion can throw up pious distractions from those matters, you have the Biblical prophets on your side. As Green points out, praying and acting are far from inconsistent. See the familiar list of social-justice movements the left commends, from abolition to women's suffrage to civil rights, that have been inspired by preaching and prayer. I think that most Americans on the left still recognize that--although unfortunately, Green is likely right that more and more do not.  

December 2, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Thursday, November 26, 2015

E.J. Dionne, Yuval Levin, and Ecclesiastes on Gratitude

Here.  The money quote is Levin's: “Ecclesiastes 9:11 should be stamped on luxury cars and Harvard degrees.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink