Friday, June 9, 2017
I recently had occasion to revisit God For Us: The Trinity & Christian Life, by Catherine Mowry LaCugna. I thought I'd share a brief excerpt in anticipation of the upcoming Trinity Sunday:
Christian theism has been severely criticized of late because it is said to be projective (Feuerbach, Freud); sexist, patriarchal, and clerical (feminism); bankrupt (atheism; death of God); static (process thought); ideological (liberation theology); nonreferential (analytic philosophy). In effect, these critiques testify to the deleterious outomce of the Christian doctrine of God that is in many respects secular, constructed out of philosophy, not out of the self-revelation of God in Christ. The root of the nonsoteriological doctrine of God is its metaphysics of substance: the pursuit of what God is "in se," not what God is 'in Godself' or 'by Godself.' All of the critiques of classical theism cry out for soteriology: Can we believe in God after Auschwitz? Can a male savior save women? Does God's justice prefer the rich and powerful? Can God respond to petitionary prayer? Does belief in God inhibit the full development of human persons? Does God predetermine the fate of individuals, and is freedom illusory? All these questions are at base questions about the character, the 'who' of God. Theology ought to be able to answer them. Theology cannot answer them by taking refuge in the classical metaphysical properties of God, such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, impassibility, incorporeality, and simplicity, since these are the very attributes that seem dubious. The only option is for Christian theology to start afresh from its original basis in the experience of being saved by God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The only option for Christian theology, in other words, is to be trinitarian.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
In trying to understand Steve Bannon's outlook recently, I found myself wondering how it cohered with Catholic teaching about nations and peoples. That teaching, I think, is easier to understand than Bannon's outlook, if only because one must rely on reporting about Bannon. In any event, an important Catholic perspective on nationalism can be found in John Paul II's October 5, 1995 Address to the United Nations.
I was a sophomore in college that fall, and I remember one of my college chaplains remarking that Pope John Paul II's observations about the rights of nations were important. So I went and looked it up this evening. It's worth reading.
Extended excerpt after the jump:
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
The typical law student has a tendency to think he or she has performed worse on exams perceived as harder and better on exams perceived as easier. But often the opposite is the case. Thinking that one may have done poorly because the examination seemed so hard is sometimes a sign that one has performed well.
One of my law school professors (I think it was Dan Meltzer, but I'm not sure) gave an explanation of this phenomenon that made sense to me. Exams seem hard when the exam-taker has perceived the hard issues raised by the exam. Exams that seem easy may only seem that way because the exam-taker has missed the hard issues entirely.
I'm reminded of this phenomenon in reading the Fourth Circuit's en banc immigration decision. The decision seems legally wrong for reasons set forth in Judge Niemeyer's dissenting opinion, the government's briefs, and online writings by Josh Blackman, Ilya Shapiro, Marc DeGirolami, and others. Go find and read those if you are interested in the technical legal analysis. But don't forget that good legal analysis often is technical.
Most troubling to me, though, is the seeming confidence of the majority opinion that comes through in the language it uses as it deploys modern Establishment Clause doctrine. The reason that is troubling is traceable to one of the best law review articles I've read.
In *A Political History of the Establishment Clause,* 100 Mich. L. Rev. 279 (2001), John Jeffries and Jim Ryan offer precisely what their title suggests. Go ahead and read it. It will probably make you miserable if you really care about the law part of constitutional law. But it will also make you wiser.
If you're an anti-anti-Catholic, you might also--and appropriately--be more worried about judicial decisions finding Establishment Clause violations.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Another book you may wish to consider for your summer reading list is All Falling Faiths: Reflections on the Promise and Failure of the 1960s, by J. Harvie Wilkinson III.
An exchange that stood out to me in David Lat's ATL interview with Judge Wilkinson about the book was the one that elicited Judge Wilkinson's statement that "the audience is anyone who loves America":
DL: I think the book will interest a wide range of readers for a wide range of reasons — but did you have a particular reader or group of readers in mind when you were writing it?
JHW: The audience is anyone who loves America. All of us can still help to repair the damage that long-ago decade did to the spirit of tolerance in education, to the stability of family bonds and units, to the rule of law, to our sense of America as our home, to our capacity for national unity even in times of crisis, and to the sustenance we derive from the practice of religious faith. It’s also important to recognize, however, that the 1960s did great good and helped to broaden America’s embrace of all its citizens, not just some. I hope that by the end of the book, each reader will come at least to appreciate the other side of the enduring ‘60s argument.
I believe the generation of the Sixties has been given one last chance to get it right. We can help upcoming generations learn from our experience. And we can devote our later years to bringing together the nation we did so much in our youth to drive apart. We owe our beloved country at least this much, before we leave Shakespeare’s stage and life itself for good.
Marc DeGirolami and I wrote an article a few years ago that explored the relationship between constitutional adjudication and constitutional theory through a study of some judicial and extrajudicial writings by Judge Wilkinson and Judge Posner. We contended that their anti-theory stance, together with their advocacy for judicial restraint and judicial pragmatism, respectively--which functioned in some important ways similar to the theories that they criticized--were best understood as accounts of judicial dispositions in constitutional adjudication. Judge Wilkinson's new book, together with his and Judge Posner's judicial and extra-judicial writings since Marc and I wrote, provide some evidence for the comparative attractiveness of the dispositions advocated by Wilkinson over those advocated by Posner.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
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 6, 2017
Notice anything odd about this screenshot from a few minutes ago?
Hint: Does MOJ believe you should donate to Planned Parenthood to "Save Roe"? (I guess "Save Casey" or "Save Whole Woman's Health" doesn't have the same cachet?)
I wonder what it was in my browsing history or whatever else Google has learned about me that makes me on MOJ a good target for the "Save Roe" ad. They got the supermarket ad right, after all. Kroger is our supermarket of choice in these parts of suburban Richmond.
We'll have to figure out if there's a way for MOJ to avoid being a billboard for Planned Parenthood. In the meantime, here's a podcast that explains why it might not be so good for you to let the "attention media" services use your Facebook and Twitter and other of your feeds that are really theirs as mobile billboards either. This episode of the Federalist Radio Hour features Cal Newport, author of Deep Work.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
I've written a brief take for First Things on the Gorsuch nomination, "Gorsuch After Scalia."
Here's the opener:
The president’s introduction of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the nation as his nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death gave us a lift we sorely needed. Finally, something to be at peace about in our public life.
And a bit from the middle:
In my (pre-election) Supreme Court round-up for this journal last year, “The Court After Scalia,” I suggested that “no new justices for a spell might be better than adding anyone who could make it through our rotten confirmation process.” I was wrong. Judge Gorsuch can and will make it through, and the Court will be better with him on it. The biggest reason why someone of his caliber and judicial character can get confirmed now, though, is that the balance of the Court will not be altered by his confirmation but simply reset to where it was before Justice Scalia’s death. If the next opening comes from a vacancy left by Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the wheels may yet come off the wagon.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
The federal government's RLUIPA suit against Culpeper County (Va.) for denying permit to Islamic group
The United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit yesterday against Culpeper County, Virginia. The suit alleges that the County's denial of a "pump-and-haul" permit, which had the effect of preventing the Islamic Center of Culpeper from constructing a small mosque on land it purchased in the county, violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). The facts alleged in the complaint add up to what look to be winning claims. If anything, I'm wondering why there hasn't also been a private suit as well (as far as I'm aware anyway).
Also, as a matter of litigation strategy, is there a good reason that the DOJ didn't also include a Free Exercise claim, something like an as-applied version of the Hialeah case? I understand that the RLUIPA claim would be much easier to prevail upon. But including a Free Exercise claim in which intent to discriminate could be in issue would open the door to more extensive discovery, which in turn could have the effect of prompting a quicker resolution. Any thoughts?
Monday, December 12, 2016
Two very different people on my mind when thinking about this passage from Legutko's The Demon in Democracy this morning were Rod Dreher (whose online endorsements led me to read the book) and Ted Olson (whose comfort with judicialized social restructuring in the name of constitutional liberty is characteristic of one prominent strain in today's ruling class):
Today's mainstream, like the erstwhile communist ruling class, takes over the mechanisms for creating laws and regards it as its exclusive property to be used for its own goals. The modern state openly, even proudly carries out the policy of social engineering, intervening deeply in the lives of communities while enjoying total impunity, which is guaranteed by its control of lawmaking and law enforcement procedures. A markedly important function of the law, to act as a barrier to political hubris, was lost or significantly weakened. Instead, the law has become a sword against the unresponsiveness and sometimes resistance of society to the policy of aggressive social restructuring that is euphemistically called modernization. The law in liberal democracy--as under communism--is no longer blind. No longer can one envision it as a blindfolded goddess holding the scales to determine guilt and punishment. It is now, as it was under communism, one of the engines that transforms the present into the future and the backward into the progressive. The law is expected to be endowed with an accurate picture of what is going to happen in the future so that it can adjudicate today what will certainly happen tomorrow.
Source: Rysszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies 96-97 (Encounter Books 2016, translated by Teresa Adelson) (emphases added).
Monday, November 28, 2016
Last week, Quinta Jurecic suggested at LawFare that an essay/book by moral philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt would be "a good place to start" learning about Donald Trump's relationship to truth. If Jurecic is right, and in many respects she seems to be, then we are in rough shape already. But the Jurecic/Frankfurt take is just a good place to start.
Jacob Levy's tweet-say from this morning provides an even more unsettling, but essential for that reason, line of thought on this topic.
Levy's core claim is that Trump's promulgation of "easily fact-checked nonsense" is useful in providing "sheer shows of power and dominance" that occur when "subordinates" repeat and support Trump's obvious untruths:
The power to make someone who *knows [that] you speak untruths* repeat your untruths is profound, and big obvious lies ("2+2=5") are best for it. Trump repeatedly did this kind of thing to his subordinates over the course of his campaign, testing who was the most faithful kicked dog.
If Levy is right, and it's hard to disagree however unpleasant it is to have to acknowledge, Trump deliberately uses falsehood to compromise people within his orbit. This is a common "group initiation tactic," Levy writes, "from childhood bullies to gangs to the mafia: make the new member one of us, don't let them think they're any better."
I could be wrong about Levy being right. Judge for yourself. Regardless, we can still have some hope that separation of powers and federalism can bear the load placed on them by a Trump presidency. And perhaps reflection on the awfulness of moral and political manipulation through deliberate falsehood can help us all appreciate anew the splendor of truth.