Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Summer Book Report #3

We've previously discussed the excerpted findings of Ron Sider's book, The Scandal of The Evangelical Conscience.  Evangelicals (as well as mainline Protestants and Catholics, to varying degrees) do not fare discernibly better than their non-Christian neighbors in terms of divorce, materialism, sexual morality, domestic abuse, and racism.  I read the book recently, and Sider (who previously wrote the landmark Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger), pins much of the blame on the "cheap grace" mentality that evangelicals bring to faith.  For example, he writes:

There is simply no biblical justification for saying that the glorious truth of justification by faith alone is more important than the astonishing reality that the Risen Lord now lives in his disciples, transforming them day by day into his very likeness.  Justification and sanctification are both central parts of the biblical teaching on the gospel and salvation.  To overstate the importance of the one is to run the danger of neglecting the other.  And that is certainly what popular evangelicalism has done.  Whether emphasizing simplistic slogans such as "once-in-grace-always-in-grace" or focusing on seeker-friendly strategies that neglect costly discipleship, we have propagated the heretical notion that people can receive forgiveness without sanctification, heaven without holiness.  Notions of cheap grace are at the core of today's scandalous evangelical disobedience.

  Another problem is the lack of communal accountability:

The notion -- and practice -- of an independent congregation with no structures of accountability to the larger body of Christ is simply heretical.  How can an independent "Bible church" claim to be biblical when its very refusal to submit to a larger church structure of accountability defies the essence of a biblical understanding of being the church?

Obviously, Sider's prescription for evangelicals' problems sounds curiously Catholic.  This raises a new set of questions, though.  If evangelicals mirror society's sinfulness due to their lack of communal accountability and theology of cheap grace, what excuse do Catholics have?  If there is blame to be pinned somewhere, my first guess would be the tendency to emphasize rules over personal transformation in the faith formation process.  Or maybe it's the difficulty of fostering personal accountability through faith-centered relationships in parishes where folks hurry out as soon as the mass ends (and where small-group bible studies remain rare).  Or maybe it's the music.


August 28, 2006 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sobering Economic News

This should be of concern to anyone who affirms Catholic Social Thought:

New York Times
August 28, 2006

Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity

With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers.

That situation is adding to fears among Republicans that the economy will hurt vulnerable incumbents in this year’s midterm elections even though overall growth has been healthy for much of the last five years.

The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”

Until the last year, stagnating wages were somewhat offset by the rising value of benefits, especially health insurance, which caused overall compensation for most Americans to continue increasing. Since last summer, however, the value of workers’ benefits has also failed to keep pace with inflation, according to government data.

At the very top of the income spectrum, many workers have continued to receive raises that outpace inflation, and the gains have been large enough to keep average income and consumer spending rising.

In a speech on Friday, Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, did not specifically discuss wages, but he warned that the unequal distribution of the economy’s spoils could derail the trade liberalization of recent decades. Because recent economic changes “threaten the livelihoods of some workers and the profits of some firms,” Mr. Bernanke said, policy makers must try “to ensure that the benefits of global economic integration are sufficiently widely shared.”

[The entire article is well worth a read.  Click here.]

August 28, 2006 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Bob Casey v. Rick Santorum

Mark your calendars.  Next Sunday, September 3, on NBC's MEET THE PRESS:

MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week as we kick off the return of our MEET THE PRESS Senate Debate series. One of the most closely watched Senate races of the year, Pennsylvania; incumbent Republican Senator Rick Santorum vs. State Treasurer Bob Casey. Santorum vs. Casey.  The debate, right here, next Sunday. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

August 27, 2006 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Executive clemency

This editorial, from today's Washington Post, caught my attention.  Here is the first paragraph:

WE HAVE our differences with Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). But his record on clemency, the dispensing of mercy to those convicted of crimes, is truly exemplary. Where many governors, and President Bush, wield their power to forgive with great timidity -- seeing virtually any substantial use of it as a potential political liability with no upside -- Mr. Ehrlich has been bold. In less than one term in office, his 190 pardons and commutations eclipse by far the sum of those issued in two terms each by his immediate predecessors, William Donald Schaefer and Parris N. Glendening. Other chief executives should take note.

I tend to agree that our practices today with respect to crime-and-punishment are such that executive clemency is an important means of correcting or preventing injustices and should be used freely for this purpose.  At the same time, there is always the danger that clemency, if granted haphazardly, casually, or arbitrarily, can undermine the very ends it is supposed to promote.  So, what's the solution?

Here and here are some earlier MOJ posts on the subject.

August 27, 2006 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Then, Slavery and Scripture; Now, Homosexuality and Scripture

I thought of the similarity between *their* debate and *our* debate when I read this short piece on Mark Noll's new book.  (Not that we're about to have another civil war.)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
August 26, 2006

Slavery, Scripture: An explosive mix
John Blake - Staff

Before the Civil War was fought on the battlefield, it was fought in America's pulpits.

Southern ministers claimed Scripture sanctioned slavery. Abolitionists said it condemned the practice. The colossal political issue of mid-19th century America might have been the preservation of the Union, but it turned on a deeper question: What does the Bible say about slavery?

Those positions form the basis for author Mark Noll's "The Civil War as a Theological Crisis" (University of North Carolina Press, $29.95).

The "book that made the nation was destroying the nation," because the Bible could not provide a moral consensus on slavery, said Noll, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois.

"The political standoff that led to war was matched by an interpretive standoff," Noll writes. "No common meaning could be discovered in the Bible, which almost everyone in the United States professed to honor and which was, without a rival, the most widely read text of any kind in the whole country."

Noll, speaking by phone from his Wheaton office, said he was drawn to the subject because few writers had explored the theological conflict that preceded the Civil War. Deeply felt Christian beliefs drove participants and leaders on both sides.

"This was far and away the most religiously engaged conflict in American history," Noll said. "There's a strong religious dimension in the American Revolution ... but nothing like that of the armies and populace in the Civil War."

It may be difficult for people today to understand how Christians could use the Bible to support an institution as brutal as slavery, but Noll said the power of the pro-slavery position was its theological simplicity. The Old Testament and New Testament were filled with passages that sanctioned slavery. In a nation where most people believed in the infallibility of Scripture, those passages settled the debate.

"You had very serious people who said the Bible certainly supports slavery, and any attack on the slave system was therefore an attack on the Bible," Noll said.

The difficulty in the abolitionists' position was its nuance. They had to reject an inerrant approach to the Bible and appeal to the broad sweep of Scripture, which opposed the oppression of a group of people. Those arguments, however, never gained traction among ordinary people who were accustomed to treating the Bible as infallible, Noll said.

Noll said he grew depressed while writing the book because unprecedented reverence for the Bible led not to peace but to the bloodiest war in history.

"Once positions hardened," he said, "the Bible became a bullet rather than a book."

August 26, 2006 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (1)

Glass ceiling for women pastors

The NYT today chronicles a substantial glass ceiling for women pastors, even among the denominations that do ordain women.


August 26, 2006 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Marian Evangelicals?

There was an interesting article in our local paper today about a film coming out later this year, "The Nativity Story," telling the story of the birth of Jesus from Mary's perspective. The Protestant screenwriter, Mike Rich, says, "Not much anymore in our lives is black and white.  But this is a young woman who made a black-and-white decision:  She was willing to have the faith to follow the most remarkable of directives."

The article discusses the resurgence of interest in both the historical and the spiritual significance of Mary, not only in the Catholic Church, but also in Protestant churches.

. . . Mary, already revered in Islam as the mother of the prophet Jesus, has been finding her way into Protestant churches, too.  In recent years, many non-Catholic Christians have reclaimed parts of her tradition that once seemed too Catholic to consider.  They remember her as a witness of Jesus' crucifixion, perhaps as one of the women who found the tomb empty on Easter morning.  Many who saw the film "The Passion of the Chirst" were touched by scense of Mary remembering her son as a child."

More support for continued exploration of the Marian dimension of CLT?


August 26, 2006 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 25, 2006

More on Stem Cells

Over at First Things, Ryan Anderson offers some additional thoughts on the premature embrace of the new method of obtaining stem cells, including discussion of two alternatives that merit further exploration.


August 25, 2006 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Jesus is Not My Home-Boy

This might speak more powerfully to those of us who emerged from the evangelical subculture, but here is a useful dissection of the exploding marketing phenomenon known as Christian kitsch.  (HT: Evangelical Outpost)  And yes, pictured below is the latest in evangelistic beach wear.



August 25, 2006 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

USCCB statement on stem cells

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement to clarify the media coverage of the new method of obtaining embryonic stem cells for research:

Initial news reports have misrepresented a study published August 23 in the online version of the journal Nature. The study, conducted by researchers at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, has been described as showing that a single cell can be obtained from an 8- to 10-celled embryo, and used to create an embryonic stem cell line without harming the original embryo. Some even speak of each child receiving his or her own “repair kit” of stem cells upon birth.

“The reality is very different. Researchers did not safely remove single cells from early embryos, but destroyed 16 embryos in a desperate effort to obtain an average of six cells from each one. This experiment left no embryos alive, and solves no ethical problem. From the resulting 91 cells, they still only managed to make two cell lines. Their study shows nothing about the safety of removing only one cell, which in fact is something they never did – partly because their own earlier experiment in mice indicated that “co-culturing” several cells together might be needed to develop a cell line.


August 25, 2006 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)