Friday, June 30, 2006
This time from California. Apparently, the California Supreme Court has ruled that two Riverside County girls may sue a Christian high school, under non-discrimination laws, that expelled them because the principal believed they were lesbians.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
I should have been more precise in my earlier post about the flag-burning amendment, and Rick's skepticism underscores my lack of clarity. I can envision a prudent role for the expressive function of the law in articulating, or even facilitating, the society's collective embrace of a certain symbol -- e.g., a law describing the official flag of the United States and recommending a certain course of treatment (disposal, folding, etc.) by citizens. I would separate the expressive component from the coercive component. If the law, understood as representing the coercive power of the state, mandated particular treatment of a class of objects (rather than a specific irreplaceable object, such as a flag sewn by Betsy Ross) solely because of the objects' symbolic value, I would object.
My question to Rick (and others): can you think of an example where state power could prudently be brought to bear to mandate certain treatment of a class of objects that are valuable solely because of their symbolism? When it comes to symbols, shouldn't the state act like the Church: willing to propose, but not to impose?
Thank you Rob for bringing Steve Chapman's (Chicago Tribune) views on rape and pornography to our attention. Chapman seems to suggest that porn equals knowledge and that this knowledge has contributed to a decrease in rape. I'd be tempted to laugh at Chapman's conclusion if the stakes weren't so high. I have no idea whether the growth in the porn market has any correlation, positive or negative, to the incidence of rape.
The destructive effects of the porn industry, however, reach far and wide. Dateline reports, for example, that an estimated 16 million people in the United States suffer from the devastating effects of sexual addiction. The Dateline article recounts the downward spiral of three sex addicts including Mark Lasser, a married minister and counselor, who started down the road to sexual addiction with soft-porn when he was 11 years old. Here in Oklahoma, our newspapers are daily filled with stories of prominent people - ministers, police officers, and ADA's who have lost jobs and/or family because they couldn't resist visiting certain sites on the internet or soliciting a prostitute. An Oklahoma state district judge is currently on trial for what was going on beneath his robe during court sessions. (The judge has denied the allegations). Many sex addicts eventually turn to programs like Sexoholics Anonymous, a twelve step program patterned after AA, for help.
Instead of empowering these 16 million men and woman, America's "changing attitudes about erotica" (Chapman's phrase) helped enslave them by sexual compulsion, leading to a web of lies, deceit, and shame as the addict attempts to lead a double life.
While at a gathering in Dublin this week (with MOJ-friends Gerry Whyte, Chris Eberle, and others), I had occasion to read a book by the Trinity College Dublin professor of theology who organized the gathering, Nigel Biggar. The book is titled Aiming to Kill: The Ethics of Suicide and Euthanasia (2004). I want to call to the attention of MOJ-readers chapter 3 of
the book: "The Morality of Acts of Killing". Chris Eberle, who also
read the book, and I agree that Professor Biggar provides, in chapter
3, an admirably accessible and wonderfully thoughtful discussion of the
doctrine of double effect, dealing with several competing positions.
One of the best discussions of the DDE we've ever read. Click here for a link to the book.
I'm aware of the long-running debate over whether pornography is causally linked to violence against women; I was not familiar with this perspective on what that causal link might be, as set out by Steve Chapman in today's Chicago Tribune:
One theory about the causes of rape . . . has been thoroughly demolished. Among religious conservatives and left-wing feminists, it's an article of faith that pornography leads inexorably to sexual abuse of women and children. But while hard-core raunch has proliferated, sexual assaults have not. Could it be that pornography prevents rape?
In fact, our changing attitudes about erotica are part of a generally more open and honest approach to matters involving sex. And one vital product of that openness has been a willingness to confront questions that were often avoided in the past. Today, kids grow up being taught that "no means no," rapists can't be excused because their victims were dressed provocatively, and adults are never allowed to touch children in certain ways.
Those themes have hardly eradicated this scourge, but they have worked to discourage predators and embolden potential victims. Maybe the main lesson from the decline of sexual assault is an old one: Knowledge is power.
Because I had to make a long car drive this weekend, I had the chance to listen to the whole of Peter Beinart's book The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. It's good on several levels. As readers may know from reviews like this one, the book argues for a revival and adaptation today of the Cold War liberalism practiced by Truman and Kennedy, which took extremely seriously the fight against totalitarianism but also recognized that America could only fight that war effectively if it (1) recognized limits on its own unilateral power and (2), along with military measures when necessary, also promoted economic development (abroad and at home) that would reduce the appeal of Communism. (It's a good question whether there are enough liberals who will go along with Beinart's vision; but it might appeal to a lot of "national greatness" conservatives as well.)
Among the book's heroes is Reinhold Niebuhr, whose Christian appreciation of original sin led him to emphasize that even as America combatted the evil of the Soviet system, it must also recognize its own flaws and capacity for evil acts. (Beinart unfortunately says little or nothing about the theological foundation of Niebuhr's views.) Part of Niebuhr's argument was that those who know that neither side in a historical conflict is wholly innocent will be better able to make the real historical distinction between evil and imperfect good, and will not be paralyzed by the shattering of illusions of innocence. We may be forgetting this lesson again; one worrying phenomenon Beinart mentions is that the Bush administration's moral and practical failings in Iraq may have turned off many Americans altogether on the central importance of promoting Middle Eastern democracy and development in order to undercut Islamic totalitarianism in the long run. It's not a Christian book, of course, and "mak[ing] America great" is by no means our ultimate concern. But a lot of the wisdom in the book about how best to preserve an acceptable level of freedom and justice in the world parallels Christian wisdom about human nature, and could easily overlap a lot with just-war principles.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
In Christianity Today, Alan Jacobs worries that the blog is the "friend of information but the enemy of thought." Here's a provocative snippet:
Blogs remain great for news: political, technological, artistic, whatever. And they provide a very rich environment in which news (or rather "news") can be tested and evaluated and revised, as we have seen repeatedly, from cnn's firing of Eason Jordan to the discrediting of Dan Rather's story on President Bush's National Guard service. But as vehicles for the development of ideas they are woefully deficient and will necessarily remain so unless they develop an architecture that is less bound by the demands of urgency—or unless more smart people refuse the dominant architecture. . . .
As I think about these architectural deficiencies, and the deficiencies of my own character, I find myself meditating on a passage from a book by C. S. Lewis. In his great work of literary history, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis devotes a passage to what he describes, with a certain savageness, as "that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation." For Lewis, the issues that divided Catholics and Protestants, that led to bloodshed all over Europe and to a seemingly permanent division of Christians from one another, "could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure." Instead, thanks to the prevalence of that recent invention the printing press, and to the intolerance of many of the combatants, deep and subtle questions found their way into the popular press and were immediately transformed into caricatures and cheap slogans. After that there was no hope of peaceful reconciliation.
On a smaller scale, the same problems afflict the intellectual and moral environments of the blogs. There is no privacy: all conversations are utterly public. The arrogant, the ignorant, and the bullheaded constantly threaten to drown out the saintly, and for that matter the merely knowledgeable, or at least overwhelm them with sheer numbers. And the architecture of the blog (and its associated technologies like rss), with its constant emphasis on novelty, militates against leisurely conversations. It is no insult to the recent, but already cherished, institution of the blogosphere to say that blogs cannot do everything well. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the blogosphere is the friend of information but the enemy of thought.
Rob suggests that the proposed (and now, I gather, yet-again-defeated) flag-burning amendment was a political stunt and a waste of time. I agree, I think. (Not that such stunts and wastes of time are anything new in Congress!) At the same time, I wonder if my reaction owes too much to my (perhaps excessively) libertarian take on free-speech questions? Rob writes:
[S]ymbols are important, in large part, because they are accessible and interpretable in ways that transcend collective edicts. Using the law to express the non-negotiable sanctity of the physical embodiment of national identity strikes me as an understandable, but ultimately absurd, endeavor.
It's not clear to me, actually, that it is "absurd" to think that law's regulatory (and expressive) functions may, and even should, play a part in the construction and maintenance of some symbols, particular symbols of the political community for whom the law speaks. Any thoughts? (Again, I am against a flag-burning amendment, because I am against any restriction on plausibly political expression that I can imagine.)
Responding to my post, the other day, about Catholics, patriotism, and cosmopolitanism, a friend and MOJ reader reminds me of these statements by the Council:
Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity (1965) sec. 15: "The Christian faithful...should live for God and Christ by following the honourable customs of their own nation. As good citizens, they should practice true and effective patriotism [amorem Patriae], should avoid altogether racial prejudice [stirpis contemptum] and rancorous [exacerbatum] nationalism, and should foster a universal love of human beings." sec. 21: "...the lay faithful fully belong at one and the same time both to the People of God and to civil society. They belong to the nation in which they were born. They have begun to share in its cultural treasures by means of their education. They are joined in its life by manifold social ties... They feel its problems as their very own... they must give expression to this [Christian] newness of life in the social and cultural framework of their own homeland [patriae], according to the traditions of their own nation, a culture which they should get to know, heal, preserve, develop in accordance with contemporary conditions, and finally perfect in Christ.
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965) sec. 75: "Citizens should develop a generous and loyal devotion [pietatem] to their own country, without narrow-mindedness but rather in such a way that they always simultaneously look to the good of the whole human family which is tied together by manifold links between races [stirpes], peoples, and nations. May all Christians feel a special and personal vocation in political community..."