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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Christianism" and Christian Democracy

In recent months, Andrew Sullivan has been flogging to death his favorite new epithet, "Christianist."  Here is an interesting post, from The American Scene, on "Christianism" and Christian Democracy.  (The latter movement / tradition was discussed on MOJ recently, here and here.)

November 29, 2006 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"Putting Parents First"

In this Weekly Standard essay, "Putting Parents First," Yuval Levin outlines a "new domestic policy approach for conservatives": 

American conservatives have worked politically in recent decades to advance two sets of goods: the family and the market. They have advocated traditional values that sustain cultural vitality, and economic freedom that brings material prosperity. These two sets of ideals are mutually reinforcing to an extent. The market relies on a stable and orderly society made possible by sturdy families and strong social institutions; and freedom from unduly coercive authority is an essential prerequisite for making moral choices.

But markets and families are also in tension with one another. The market values risk-taking and creative destruction that can be very bad for family life, and rewards the lowest common cultural denominator in ways that can undermine traditional morality. Traditional values, on the other hand, discourage the spirit of competition and self-interested ambition essential for free markets to work, and their adherents sometimes seek to enforce codes of conduct that constrain individual freedom. The libertarian and the traditionalist are not natural allies. . .

The tension between family and market is a source of unease for American families, and has often been a source of friction in the conservative movement. But the present moment offers an opportunity to turn that tension into a font of energy for conservatives, and to turn the conservative movement into the long-term home of the parenting class.

In this effort, there is a role for government. The conservative insight that government power is inherently corrosive of the roots of self reliance must not be forgotten, and surely remains true. But it must also not be turned into a case against all uses of public policy for public ends. Some balance must be found, so that limited government can be turned to positive purposes, and there is no better way to seek that balance than keeping in mind the two competing but complementary goals of strong families and free markets, while also keeping in mind the interests of the parenting class. Looking toward the 2008 election and beyond, conservatives confront a tremendous opportunity, if we are ready to seize it.

November 29, 2006 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The distinction between loving and killing

Yesterday on the First Things blog Wesley Smith posted a striking comparison of two ways of looking at the life of a child with Down Syndrome -- that of an actual parent loving such a child (Simon Barnes, chief sports writer for the London Times) and that of Peter Singer.  Smith closes his remarks with the powerful claim that, "The choice we make about these contrasting paths will determine whether we remain a moral society committed to the pursuit of universal human rights."

Because I can't figure out how to link directly to Smith's comments (and because they are so wonderful) I'm pasting them below.  I also encourage you to read Barnes' whole article.

November 28, 2006

Wesley J. Smith writes:

Like Fr. Neuhaus, I too was taken with the article “I’m Not a Saint, Just a Parent” by Simon Barnes in the Times of London. It recalled to my mind a speech I gave several years ago to a medical school in which I urged the students to always look at their patients through the lens of universal moral equality.

After the speech, an earnest young man approached me. “I am a genetic counselor,” he said. “What am I supposed to do when I meet with a woman carrying a baby with Down syndrome? I mean, I have to counsel her.” I suggested that perhaps he could bring in parents who have actually lived the experience of parenting a child with Down to keep the “counseling” from becoming a one-way street.

Barnes’ loving tribute to parenting a Down child is precisely the kind of input that I had hoped the earnest young genetic counselor could provide to his clients. Five-year-old Eddie has Down syndrome, and Barnes reports that he “is not to be pitied” for having to father a disabled child “but to be envied.”

Here are three key paragraphs from Barnes piece:

By the way, I hope you are not too squeamish. This piece is not going to pull any punches. If you find the idea of love uncomfortable or sentimental or best-not-talked-about or existing only in the midst of a passionate love affair, then you will find problems with what I am writing. I am writing of love not as a matter of grand passions, or as high-falutin’ idealism, or as religion. I am writing about love as the stuff that makes the processes of human life happen: the love that moves the sun and other stars, which is also the love that makes the toast and other snacks. Love is the most humdrum thing in life, the only thing that matters, the thing that is forever beyond the reach of human imagination. . . .

What is it like to have Down’s [sic] syndrome? How terrible is it? Is it terrible at all? It depends, I suppose, on how well loved you are. Like most other conditions of life. Would I want Eddie changed? It’s a silly question but it gets to the heart of the matter. Of course you’d want certain physical things changed: the narrow tubes that lead to breathing problems, for example. But that’s not the same as “changed,” is it? If you are a parent, would you like the essential nature of your child changed? If you were told that pressing a button would turn him into an infant Mozart or Einstein or van Gogh, would you press it? Or would you refuse because you love the person who is there and real, not some hypothetical other?

I can’t say I’m glad that Eddie has Down’s syndrome, or that I would wish him to suffer in order to charm me and fill me with giggles. But no, I don’t want his essential nature changed. Good God, what a thought. It would be as much a denial of myself as a denial of my son. What’s the good of him, then? Buggered if I know. The never-disputed terribleness of Down’s syndrome is used as one of the great justifications for abortion: abortion has to exist so that we don’t people the world with monsters. I am not here to talk about abortion—but I am here to tell you that Down’s syndrome is not an insupportable horror for either the sufferer or the parents. I’ll go further: human beings are not better off without Down’s syndrome.

By contrast, let us now consider Peter Singer’s harshly sterile views about the options parents should have if faced with a Down baby. One acceptable answer, Singer asserts in Rethinking Life and Death, is establishing the right of parents to have their unwanted Down child killed if they would prefer not to raise a disabled child:

To have a child with Down syndrome is to have a different experience from having a normal child. It can still be a warm and loving experience, but we must have lowered expectations of our child’s abilities. We cannot expect a child with Down syndrome to play the guitar, to develop an appreciation of science fiction, to learn a foreign language, to chat with us about the latest Woody Allen movie, or to be a respectable athlete, basketballer or tennis player. Even when an adult, a person with Down syndrome may not be able to live independently. . . . For some parents, none of this matters. They find bringing up a child with Down syndrome a rewarding experience in a thousand different ways. But for other parents, it is devastating.

Both for the sake of “our children,” then, and our own sake, we may not want a child to start on life’s uncertain voyage if the prospects are clouded. When this can be known at a very early stage of the voyage we may still have a chance to make a fresh start. This means detaching ourselves from the infant who has been born, cutting ourselves free before the ties that have already begun to bind us to our child have become irresistible. Instead of going forward and putting all our efforts into making the best of the situation, we can still say no, and start again from the beginning.

What a stark difference between the attitudes of these two men toward the weakest and most vulnerable among us, a difference that can be described literally as the distinction between loving and killing. And indeed, for those familiar with Singer’s writing, it is striking how often he writes of satisfying personal desires and how rarely he writes of sacrifice and love. Which, when you think about it, provides vivid clarity about the stakes we face in the ongoing contest for societal dominance between the sanctity/equality of life ethic and Singer’s proposed “quality of life” ethic: The former opens the door to the potential for unconditional love, while the latter presumes the power to coolly dismiss some of us from life based on defective workmanship. The choice we make about these contrasting paths will determine whether we remain a moral society committed to the pursuit of universal human rights.


November 29, 2006 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Finnis on Public Reason

John Finnis has posted his new paper, Religion and State: Some Main Issues and Sources.  Here is the abstract:

Public reason's default position is not atheism or agnosticism about the dependence of everything on a transcendent Creator. On the contrary, there is good reason to judge that there is such a transcendent cause, capable of communicating with intelligent creatures, that one of the world's religions may be essentially true and others substantially truer than atheism, and that there is a human or natural right to immunity from coercion in religious inquiry, belief (or unbelief, precisely as such), and practice so far as is compatible with public order, that is with the rights of others, public peace and public morality. Contrary to the arguments of legal theorists such as Dworkin, Eisgruber and Sager, and the "mystery" passage in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the right to religious freedom should not be regarded as a mere instance of a general right to choose one's lifestyle and ethical beliefs or passionate choices. At the same time, any religious beliefs or practices which deny or overlook that right to religious liberty, and which encourage or license intimidation in relation to religious belief or in the name of religion, are not immune from coercive defensive measures where necessary for the protection of the rights of others or of the other aspects of public order. Such measures discriminate amongst religions justifiably.

November 29, 2006 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Coverage of a Tragic Death: Reporting or Advocacy?

An MoJ reader notes that the story of Carmen Bojorge (which I posted earlier) has appeared in many other news venues.  Given the lack of  clear evidence of a direct connection between the abortion ban and the woman's death, he wonders "if it is more about some pro-abortion groups faxing out press statements and getting the media outlets to bite."  Be sure to check out The Revealer's critique of the Washington Post's article on her death.

November 29, 2006 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


And I thought "Napoleon Dynamite" was about the age-old question: "Do chickens have large talons?"

November 28, 2006 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Anthropological Claims of Napoleon Dynamite


Over at Touchstone, Michael Bailey explores the deeper meaning of the wildly popular movie, Napoleon Dynamite, calling it a "humorous but touching critique of the inevitable loneliness and meaninglessness of individualism when it is stripped of the context of genuine community. Its message is consistent with a Christian moral anthropology, that human beings are not intended to 'fly solo,' but made to live in a community marked by the vulnerability and sacrifice of love."

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

Nicaragua's Abortion Ban

The Boston Globe reports on Nicaragua's no-exceptions abortion ban:

[18 year-old Carmen] Bojorge was awaiting her second child when she and her 5-month-old fetus died this month in a public hospital in Managua. Bojorge's family says they took her to a hospital when she complained of limb pains and weakness. When her condition worsened, doctors say they determined her fetus was dead, but Bojorge went into shock before they could save her.

"Now there is a dead woman, an orphaned son, a destroyed family, and this will not be the only case," prosecutor Débora Grandison told the Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario. Grandison said outlawing therapeutic abortions was "condemning women to death."

The mother of the deceased teen doesn't understand the logic behind the law . If the doctors realized that fetal distress was putting the mother in danger, said Rosa Argentina Rodríguez Bojorge, "They could've at least saved my daughter so she could take care of her other child."

If negligence is proved, the Bojorge case "is a big warning that doctors are going to interpret the wording of the law very literally," said Azahalea Solís Román, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights in Nicaragua. The center will appeal to the Nicaraguan human rights council and the Supreme Court, arguing that the law violates a women's right to life.

Wilfredo Navarro, a national assemblyman who supported the ban, accused abortion activists and doctors of fueling an unwarranted scare as part of a campaign to overturn the law. "There's no going back. If doctors are going to kill babies, they can only do it outside of Nicaragua," he said.

Jean Raber has more thoughts on the case over at Commonweal.

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

No "Nativity" at Chicago Christmas Festival

The Associated Press
Monday, November 27, 2006; 11:24 PM

CHICAGO -- A public Christmas festival is no place for the Christmas story, the city says. Officials have asked organizers of a downtown Christmas festival, the German Christkindlmarket, to reconsider using a movie studio as a sponsor because it is worried ads for its film "The Nativity Story" might offend non-Christians.

New Line Cinema, which said it was dropped, had planned to play a loop of the new film on televisions at the event. The decision had both the studio and a prominent Christian group shaking their heads.

"The last time I checked, the first six letters of Christmas still spell out Christ," said Paul Braoudakis, spokesman for the Barrington, Ill.-based Willow Creek Association, a group of more than 11,000 churches of various denominations. "It's tantamount to celebrating Lincoln's birthday without talking about Abraham Lincoln." ...

November 28, 2006 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Forum 18

MoJ readers might be interested in Forum 18, a Christian website based in Norway and devoted to publicizing breaches of religious freedom around the world.  (The name comes from Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

November 27, 2006 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)