Tuesday, March 28, 2006
A recent issue of America included an editorial, "Measuring Catholic Identity," praising Bishop Vlazny of Portland, Oregon for his sharply critical letter to the "ecclesiastical advisors" of the Cardinal Newman Society. According to the editorial:
The Bishops and Presidents Committee “has regularly monitored the publications and positions of the Cardinal Newman Society,” Archbishop Vlazny notes, “and has found them often aggressive, inaccurate, or lacking in balance.” The archbishop urges the ecclesiastical advisors to look more closely at the methods of the society, which the committee has found to be “often objectionable in substance and in tone,” misrepresenting the Catholic colleges and universities in the United States that it criticizes.
In the view of the editors of America, the Society has made the mistake of reducing Catholic identity to a litmus-test list of things a real Catholic university or college should not do:
The authenticity of an institution’s Catholic identity can be judged, as the Newman Society sees it, merely by what it does not do: no feminist drama, no unapproved speakers, no heterodox honorees, no support for homosexuals and no backing of left-leaning candidates.
The application of such negative litmus tests distorts and diminishes the importance of the Catholic identity and mission of a college or university. The vitality of life on a Catholic campus should be measured far more by the positive initiatives the institution takes than by the narrow boundaries it observes. The Catholic intellectual and religious tradition should be the source of programs and projects on Catholic campuses that other colleges and universities would have neither the interest nor the resources to promote.
Furthermore, a Catholic institution, confident in the strength of its traditions, will not retreat from the challenge of engaging competing ideas in the dialogue that is at the heart of a lively university culture. Many Catholic institutions have established programs and events that promote the dialogue between Catholic tradition and contemporary culture, between faith and science, that Ex Corde Ecclesiae identified as central to the mission of Catholic institutions. Happily the Bishops and Presidents Committee understands the importance of this mission.
Hmm. Putting aside the question whether the criticisms or characterization of the Society's work and activities offered in the editorial or in Bishop Vlazny's letter (which I have not seen) are accurate, I take it we can all agree that Catholic identity at universities is about more than a check-list of no-no's or a program of adherence to conservative views; that "[t]he vitality of life on a Catholic campus should be measured . . . by the positive initiatives the institution takes [as well as] the narrow boundaries it observes"; and that "the Catholic intellectual and religious tradition should be the source of programs and projects on Catholic campuses that other colleges and universities would have neither the interest nor the resources to promote."
Still, surely the "litmus test" items on which the Society is said to focus -- some of them, anyway? -- are relevant and important to the question of Catholic identity? Also, is the point of the editorial to claim that (a) the Cardinal Newman Society's focus is too narrow; (b) the focus should be broader; and therefore, (c) "go away, stop worrying about Catholic identity issues at Catholic (and, especially, Jesuit) institutions because all is well"? But is it enough to establish that Catholic universities are doing well to claim (fairly or not) that a vocal critic of Catholic universities has not always done well? Do the editors of America -- even if they reasonably believe that the question whether things are going well can be reduced to the question whether the Vagina Monologues are being performed -- believe that things are going well?
A few weeks ago, there were several posts here at MOJ about Daniel Dennett's book, "Breaking the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon" (and also about Leon Wieseltier's review of that book). A recent issue of Commonweal features this helpful review of "Breaking the Spell," by philosopher John Haldane.
Joseph Bottum reports on the continuing saga of Baylor's apparently abandoned effort to become a premier research institution with a meaningful Christian identity. An interesting backdrop for this week's conference of religiously affiliated law schools.
It's worth noting, even a bit tardily, the passing in March of Victor Rosenblum, one of that rare (?) breed of "pro-life liberals," who among many other distinctions in his career, argued and won Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297 (1980), the decision allowing denials of funding for abortions.
To many liberals who have fought to keep abortion permissible under the law, Victor G. Rosenblum was something of an enigma. He was an avowed liberal Democrat who skillfully directed court and legislative battles to try to end the legality of abortion.
"Victor had an abiding faith, from the gut, about the sanctity of human life and that it extended into the womb," said Robert Bennett, a legal colleague who opposed his friend in court on the issue [in Harris]. "We never really had a philosophical discussion about it. I simply respected his belief."
See also this tribute at NRO.
Here is the Washington Post's Richard Cohen's take on the Abdul Rahman case:
"The world is too much with us," Wordsworth once wrote. This is certainly the way I feel. To be confronted on an almost daily basis with the horrors of Iraq is profoundly disturbing. The torture and decapitation of huge numbers of people, the casual homicides, the constant suicide bombings -- all of this makes you wonder about your fellow man. It is no longer possible, as it once was, to see the world only from your front porch, being disturbed only by the ringing of the bell on some passing ice cream truck. In Africa, Asia, too much of the world -- it is Joseph Conrad much of the time: "The horror! The horror!"
But you can say that these horrors are usually being inflicted by a minority. You say it is a few crazed terrorists of Iraq who are doing the killing. It is not most Iraqis. You can say the same about suicide bombers and torturers and rogue governments, like the one Saddam Hussein once headed. You can take solace in numbers. Most people are like us.
Then comes the Rahman case and it is not a solitary crazy prosecutor who brings the charge of apostasy but an entire society. It is not a single judge who would condemn the man but a culture. The Taliban are gone at gunpoint, their atrocities supposedly a thing of the past. In our boundless optimism, we consign them to the "too hard" file of horrors we cannot figure out: the Khmer Rouge, the Nazis, the communists of the Stalin period. Now, though, this awful thing returns and it is not just a single country that would kill a man for his beliefs but a huge swath of the world that would not protest. There can be only one conclusion: They were in agreement.
The groupthink of the Muslim world is frightening. I know there are exceptions -- many exceptions. But still it seems that a man could be killed for his religious beliefs and no one would say anything in protest. It is also frightening to confront how differently we in the West think about such matters and why the word "culture" is not always a mask for bigotry, but an honest statement of how things are. It is sometimes a bridge too far -- the leap that cannot be made. I can embrace an Afghan for his children, his work, even his piety -- all he shares with much of humanity. But when he insists that a convert must die, I am stunned into disbelief: Is this my fellow man?
The Tablet has an interesting article (registration req'd) on an early unpublished work by Karol Wojtyla criticizing, but not completely dismissing, Marxism. Over at dotCommonweal, John McGreevy asserts that the article:
points us to one answer to Mark Sargent’s query about Catholic liberalism and its future: Catholic liberalism as on display in Commonweal remains committed to engagement with the various political and intellectual traditions that swirl around us, not merely the preservation of Catholic thought from alien invaders. Engagement does not mean capitulation, although this is always one risk. Instead it means approaching the world a bit like the young Karol Wojtyla, ready to listen as well as to proclaim.
Monday, March 27, 2006
From the website of Senator Durbin:
The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved an amendment authored by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) that would help ensure that charitable organizations and local churches would not be prosecuted for providing humanitarian assistance to an undocumented immigrant. Durbin's amendment was approved in a bipartisan vote of 10 to 7. . . .
Durbin said that while the original bill included an exception for humanitarian assistance, the exception only protected individuals, not organizations, like churches, hospitals, or schools. Furthermore, the exception only applied to aid provided in emergency situations and aid given without compensation.
Durbin’s amendment expands the humanitarian exception to cover organizations. It makes it clear that humanitarian assistance would include housing, counseling, and victim services. And it strikes the provisions that limit the humanitarian assistance exception to emergency situations and to assistance that is rendered without compensation. . . .
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to every member of this Committee in support of the Durbin amendment.
HT: Howard Friedman (though it's not on his blog yet)
If Catholic Legal Studies should succeed in becoming a distinct and meaningful movement within American jurisprudence in the coming decades, the symposium on “The Jurisprudential Legacy of John Paul II” at St. John’s University this past weekend will be remembered as a watershed event. Not only were each of the presentations wonderful contributions toward a jurisprudence grounded in Catholic social thought and the Catholic intellectual tradition, but the spirit of fellowship generated among all the participants was tangible and powerful. In this respect, the reception, dinner, luncheon, and closing Eucharist proved to be a vitally important opportunities to build community and strengthen personal and spiritual, as well as scholarly, ties among people of faith. While we experienced the great diversity of thought among Catholic intellectuals and legal scholars in this country, we were even more likely to see points of commonality emerging and to experience a palpable sense of common purpose.
At the end of his keynote address at the Friday luncheon, John Allen (the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter) offered these closing words, which were a perfect summation of what we were about at the St. John’s symposium:
Those of you in this room have a vital role to play in bringing the best of Catholic moral and social reflection together with the highest standards of Western legal thought. As you move forward, I would like to leave you with a personal fervorino. I would urge you to wrestle with these questions in a spirit of genuine ecclesial communion, which in practical terms means, don’t just round up the usual suspects among the ideologically like-minded. The Church in the United States has been badly hobbled in attempts to respond to questions such as these, or anything else, by our deep ideological and tribal divisions. Catholic jurists and political theorists can set an example by fostering a conversation which is inclusive and respectful, but which also has teeth in insisting upon identifiably “Catholic” answers to our challenges. Looking over the speakers and topics for this conference, it’s obvious that you are already animated by that spirit. I would encourage you to be as imaginative as possible about how that model might be more widely diffused. If you can do that, you impact, like that of John Paul II, will transcend the boundaries of law and politics, and become a point of light for all of us.
As we rose to applaud these enlightening remarks, those of us who are participants on this blog (to a great or lesser degree of regularity) found ourselves looking around at each other and agreeing that John Allen’s charge — to “foster a conversation which is inclusive and respectful, but which also has teeth in insisting upon identifiably ‘Catholic’ answers to our challenges” — stated the mission as well of the Mirror of Justice.
Together with our Catholic “fellow-travelers” at a growing number of law schools and elsewhere in the academy, we who make up the larger Mirror of Justice community do have a unique opportunity in the coming years. We should strive to become something of a contradiction to society, which tends to group everyone on one or the other side of an ideological divide. What we heard and felt at the St. John’s symposium makes me greatly optimistic that we can have an impact on the legal and political culture and do so in unity while retaining our diversity of approach.
Ann Althouse has an interesting post (check out the comments, too) on the Abdul Rahman case, and on what appears to have been the Afghan court's solution, i.e., dismissing the case on the ground that Rahman is mentally unfit. At the end of her post, Professor Althouse identifies as a "useful idea" the idea that "anyone who embraces martyrdom for religion is insane." Is this idea "useful"? I suppose a lot depends on whether "embrac[ing] martyrdom" includes "refusing to abandon one's religion, even if one knows that the refusal will result in death." Or, do we think that this is, actually, "insane"?
A city official tells an organization planning to hold a rally to "get out" of the city. The city's board of supervisors issues an official condemnation of the group, calling the rally an "act of provocation" that aims to "negatively influence" the city's politics.
Another public sighting of the Nazis? The KKK? Nope, an evangelical youth organization in San Francisco.