Friday, March 31, 2006
Greetings from Waco after day one of the "Faith & Justice" Religiously Affiliated Law School Conference at Baylor Law School. During the conversation about Justice and the Criminal Law, I realized how important it is for this bi-annual conference to rotate geographically. In the midst of a presentation by Baylor Professor Brian Serr, it hit me how his framework (and I think it might be somewhat representative of the region) is to pose the question "How can my Christian framework be reconciled with the Constitution?" I realized how starkly this contrasts with a "blue state" framework, which I think tends to ask "why not just work with the framework of dignity and human rights - why add in the Christian overlay at all?" The discussion concluded with some reflection on the importance cultural context, of realizing who your audience is and speaking in a language that they can understand.... which I think then also adds to the case for diversity in various approaches to how religion is integrated into the curriculum - depending on the cultural characteristics of a given region and school.
John Breen, Fr. Greg Kalscheur and I were part of a panel on Justice Within the Law School Curriculum, which took as its starting point John's article on Justice and Jesuit Legal Education, focusing especially on John's proposal that Jesuit law schools require a first year jurisprudence course that seriously engages the Catholic Tradition. Since fellow MOJer expert blogger Rob Vischer is also here, I'll let him give the take on that.
For me one of the highlights of the panel on Lying and Lawyers was Ellen Pryor's description of how she discusses the concepts of integrity, lying and self-deception in her Faith, Law & Morality course at SMU. It seems that she has really found a way to help students both to grapple deeply with the intellectual principles, and reflect personally about what kind of lawyers they would like to become.
The final session began with wonderment for the miracle that the biannual conference has come together every year without any formal structure, but realizing that now might be the time to form for RALS to organize itself into a more institutionalized and formalized structure. To be continued...
Thursday, March 30, 2006
As readers of this blog have learned, I enjoy tracking signs of convergence between evangelicals and Catholics. Today over at the leading evangelical blog, Joe Carter explains his view of the Gospel in terms that will likely sound much more familiar to Catholics than to his fellow evangelicals:
[B]iblical passages such as John 3:16 or Ephesians 2:4-6 are often referred to as “the gospel in a nutshell.” By referring to these verses we can provide a simple summation of the “gospel”, allowing us to “witness” to those with short-attention spans. But as life-altering, world-shatteringly important as those verses are—and I cannot overemphasize just how good that news is for us---the gospel cannot be squeezed into a “nutshell.”
Indeed, the entire universe is not large enough to contain the good news about Jesus! The gospel is more than just news for fallen man. Even if there were no anthropos or no cosmos the seraphim would still proclaim the good news about Christ. The gospel is greater than just the redemption of fallen human nature, greater than the redemption of all creation. The gospel is not about me and it is not about you. The gospel is the news in toto about the Savior, Redeemer, and Sustainer of creation: Jesus Christ.
The most serious threat to the gospel is, therefore, the attempts to limit the gospel about Jesus to a propositional truth, to a narrative, to a story, to a verse, a book, to a Bible, or to a million other “nutshells.” True, the gospel is contained in all of those forms. But any attempt to share the gospel that does not proceed from “the gospel is…” to “but the gospel is also…” is simply inadequate. Even if we were able to proclaim all the news that is contained in those nutshells, though, it would not exhaust the good news about Christ.
"I'm very concerned, obviously, about the fact that frankly every month this debtor goes further and further in the hole in terms of cash," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams said during a hearing this week.
"That's a fact of life that is getting worse every single month and I ask myself periodically, you know, how many churches are we going to have to sell just because we can't get to plan confirmation?" Williams said.
This conference on "Is There a Natural Human Reason?" continues a series of Lumen Christi conferences reflecting upon philosophy and the Catholic intellectual tradition. It brings together leading Catholic philosophers in order to address a perennial philosophical question - the relation between nature and reason - that continues to shape decisively how we understand ourselves, others and the world around us.
The papers and discussion at this conference will pivot around the question whether there is an unconditioned natural reason or whether reason is determined by the context of a faith tradition or particular culture. Each of the main papers will address this fundamental question and bring it to bear on other contested issues in contemporary philosophy. How does our understanding of rationality relate to the possibility of public discourse in a pluralistic culture? Can reason credibly judge encounters between different religious traditions? How did ancient philosophy understand the process of reasoning in accordance with nature? On what grounds can we have any confidence in reason's capacity to arrive at truth?
Among the presenters are MOJ-friends and sometime-contributors John O'Callaghan and Russ Hittinger.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
I posted yesterday on how the San Francisco board of supervisors ignore the other important issues besides homosexuality that the "Battle Cry" evangelical youth movement addresses: violence and casual sex in the media, mindless consumerism, etc. Now this article in Sojourners, the left-wing evangelical magazine, also notes approvingly the range of problems that the Battle Cry attacks, but blames the group for starting the single-minded focus on the homosexuality fight by going to San Francisco in the first place:
If you want to make a symbolic stand, why not go to the town where Desperate Housewives is filmed? Or host the rally in New York City where Sex and the City is set. A gathering outside the studios of MTV also would be rich with symbolism.
I simply cannot understand why so many evangelicals consider same-sex marriage as the prime threat to the virtue of heterosexual families. Honestly, which has ruined more marriages: The extramarital affairs that are so brazenly celebrated on Desperate Housewives or the decision of two men or two women who love each other to make their lifelong commitment public?
Can the point he raises, as far as it goes, really be denied: isn't there insufficient focus among traditionalist Christians today on problems like easy divorce, consumerism, etc., which directly involve or affect so many more people than same-sex marriage would? I think that one can agree with this while still entering several caveats to the argument: (1) To say that same-sex marriage is not as great a threat as other things does not entail that one can't still oppose same-sex marriage. (2) The Battle Cry group apparently does attack the other problems as well; that they stage one of their rallies in San Francisco and focus on criticizing homosexual behavior does not mean that's their only focus overall. (3) If you're choosing hedonistic places in which to protest, San Francisco has had its share of public hedonism to rival New York and LA; it's hardly been all "lifelong committ[ed]," nesting couples.
During this period of Lent, as we reflect upon our sins, repent, and receive the gift of pardon from our Heavenly Father, it is an appropriate time as well to reflect upon the increasingly neglected role of mercy, of forgiveness in our criminal justice system.
Margaret Colgate Love, probably the nation’s leading expert on executive clemency, has published a piece, “Reviving the Benign Prerogative of Pardoning,” in the latest issue of Litigation (Winter 2006), the magazine of the American Bar Association’s Section on Litigation. If you are an ABA member, you can access the article at this link. Otherwise, the Litigation journal should be available in almost any law library.
Ms. Love begins the article in this way:
Pardon is a mysterious, alien presence that hovers outside the legal system. It is capable of undoing years of criminal investigation and prosecution at the stroke of a pen, but it is of questionable present-day relevance even for criminal law practitioners. Pardon is like a lightning strike or a winning lottery ticket, associated with end-of-term scandals and holiday gift giving. It is capricious, unaccountable, inaccessible to ordinary people, easily corrupted, and regarded with deep suspicion by politicians and the public alike. To the extent that scholars think about it, pardon is regarded as a constitutional anomaly, not part of the checks-and-balances package, a remnant of tribal kingship tucked into Article II that has no respectable role in a democracy. One of pardon’s few friends in the academy, Daniel T. Kobil, has called it “a living fossil.”
Unkindest cut of all, pardon is not taken very seriously as an instrument of government. Even President Clinton’s final pardons now are recalled more as an embarrassing lapse of judgment than as a genuine abuse of power. His successor’s pardoning has been meager and meaningless. A lot of state governors don’t use their pardon power at all.
Ms. Love outlines how the exercise of clemency, both at the federal and state levels, has declined sharply since the 1970s. At the federal level, the percentage of pardon petitions acted favorably by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter was about 30 percent, but since has dropped to but a handful. She identifies this decline as being attributable to the theory of just desserts in which the retributivist philosophy was hostile to clemency, the politics of crime which made it politically risky for politicians to offer pardon to criminals, and the hostility of prosecutors who opposed the loss of control over criminal matters that comes with executive consideration of pardon petitions. Yet, Ms. Love concludes that “there is a compelling present need for pardon because the criminal justice system has never been more harsh and unforgiving.”
[In the past, I have written more circumspectly about the pardon power, in the wake of President Clinton’s astonishingly misguided pardons on the eve of his departure from office (available at this link). While my concerns about abuses remain well-taken, I still think, my past writing did not do justice – pun intended – to the importance of mercy, through clemency and otherwise, in the criminal justice system.]
We Catholics are often said, with tongue only partly in cheek, that we know a great deal about guilt. But we also know much about reconciliation and forgiveness. Reviving what Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 74 called the “benign prerogative” by which “the mercy of the government” is extended ought to be a central part of any Catholic jurisprudence.
Today's Times has a story about the announced plans to close 31 parishes and 14 schools in the New York archdiocese. Two really quick thoughts: First, it is interesting to note how big, relatively speaking, the attendance figures are that are presented, in the context of this story, as small. The Church of the Nativity, for instance, is described as having a dwindling attendance -- down to about 400. But, 400 is a lot of people, isn't it? If I remember, doesn't 2,000 make a church a "mega-church"? Also, I was happy to see that the story noted the fact -- sometimes omitted in stories that focus more on closings, dwindling attendance, secularization, and the priest-shortage -- that several new, very large parishes are opening (in this case, in suburbs). I'm enough of an urbanist -- in sensibility, anyway -- to want to think that the old "lots of close-knit parishes in urban walkable communities" model is (somehow) better. But, maybe not . . .
In fact, concern about heterosexual sex by unmarried youth gets equal treatment from the Battle Cry campaign. Its goal is to spread Christianity and to help young people recognize and resist the cultural influences of a "stealthy enemy" that includes "corporations, media conglomerates and purveyors of popular culture." Its Web site (www.battlecry.com) speaks of "casualties of war" that include drinking, drug use, teen sex, pornography, abortion, suicide and violence.
We may disagree with certain aspects of the Battle Cry agenda -- on issues such as abortion rights, religion in schools or acceptance of an individual's sexual orientation -- but the attempt by counterprotesters and some of the city's elected officials to call them "fascist" and "hateful" was totally at odds with the tone of the ballpark event and the approach of the Web site.
Set aside the issue whether calling homosexual acts immoral, as the Battle Cry youth do, is intolerant (a legitimate point of debate) or "fascist" (a stretch). The striking thing to me, and to the Chronicle, is how the city officials' focus on that issue alone obliterates, for them, everything else the evangelical group says -- every criticism the group makes of threats like youth violence, superficial sex in the media, and empty commercialism, things that traditionalists and progressives ought to be able to fight working together.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Very good people have worked and are working on President Bush's "faith-based initiative," but the evidence continues to mount that the administration as a whole views it as a rhetorical ploy to woo religious voters rather than a serious effort to address social needs (see previous post here). Amy Sullivan in The New Republic gives an update:
The real story, however, is not how immense the faith-based initiative is, but how small. The federal government distributed approximately $2 billion in grants to faith-based organizations in fiscal year 2005, a number that seems large but is not actually much different than the funding that groups like Catholic Charities and Habitat for Humanity received before Bush took office. . . . It is increasingly clear that only a handful of people in the administration view the program as anything other than a political tool to attract support from black religious leaders and to mollify the party's evangelical base. And now, even the program's most enthusiastic supporter on the Hill [Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN)] has pronounced it a sham. . . .
[At a recent hearing, Souder] ticked off for his audience the ways in which White House officials had kneecapped the initiative. . . . [Souder also charged] that congressional Republicans are unwilling to increase funds for social services because the recipients of those funds might be organizations in urban, Democratic districts.
UPDATE: Bryan McGraw, fellow at the Erasmus Institute at Notre Dame, writes to agree with my criticisms of much of the Bush administration but adds: "[I] it’s worth noting, I think, that part of the reason for the smallness of the program lies in bureaucratic resistance in places like HUD, HHS, etc." True; and one can also lay blame at the feet of some Democrats and interest groups that have fought the initiative tooth and nail. I also agree with Bryan that some White House staff take the program seriously (like the President's chief wordsmith) -- and I want to emphasize that I mean no criticism of the many people (including friends of mine) who have worked tirelessly on this program to boost the ability of faith-based and community services to help others. But John D'Iulio, David Kuo, Mark Souder: the voices are adding up, among social conservatives, toward the conclusion that the tax-cutting, budget-cutting, business-conscious -- and political -- side of Republicanism is frustrating the ideal of seriously assisting the needy through "compassionate conservatism."
Regarding my recent post on the question whether it is "insane" to "embrace" "martyrdom", Professor Teresa Collett helpfully reminds me of some relevant passages (pars. 90-94) in Veritatis splendor (link). Here is a quote from par. 92:
Martyrdom, accepted as an affirmation of the inviolability of the moral order, bears splendid witness both to the holiness of God's law and to the inviolability of the personal dignity of man, created in God's image and likeness. This dignity may never be disparaged or called into question, even with good intentions, whatever the difficulties involved. Jesus warns us most sternly: "What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? " (Mk 8:36).
Martyrdom rejects as false and illusory whatever "human meaning" one might claim to attribute, even in "exceptional" conditions, to an act morally evil in itself. Indeed, it even more clearly unmasks the true face of such an act: it is a violation of man's "humanity", in the one perpetrating it even before the one enduring it. Hence martyrdom is also the exaltation of a person's perfect "humanity" and of true "life", as is attested by Saint Ignatius of Antioch, addressing the Christians of Rome, the place of his own martyrdom: "Have mercy on me, brethren: do not hold me back from living; do not wish that I die... Let me arrive at the pure light; once there I will be truly a man. Let me imitate the passion of my God".
To be clear: My short post was intended to provoke questions about whether, given the view that is widespread today about the hobby-ness of religion, it is -- again, considered against the backdrop of this view -- "insane" even to accept, let alone seek out, martyrdom. I hope no one assumed or concluded that I was endorsing this view by trying to provoke these questions.