Tuesday, June 26, 2007
This follows my earlier posts on the questions raised by Joseph Ratzinger's book, Jesus of Nazareth, for the CLT project. As in my earlier posts, the question for me (us?) is what is my (our) response to the text.
p.118 - The "communion of will with God given by Jesus ... frees men and nations to discover what aspects of political and social order accord iwth this communion of will and so to work out their own juridical arrangements. ... The concrete political and social order is released from the directly sacred realm, from theocratic legislation, and is transferred to the freedom of man, whom Jesus has established in God's will and taught thereby to see the right and the good."
On p. 119, he identifies the current social and political problem - "In our day, of course, freedom has been totally wrenched away from any godly perspective or from communion with Jesus. Freedom for universality and so for the legitimate secularity of the state has been transformed into an absolute secularism, for which forgetfulness of God and exclusive concern with success seem to have become guiding principles." In response, he proposes that "for the believing Christian ... the search for God's will in communion with Jesus is above all a signpost for his reason, without which it is always in danger of being dazzled and blinded."
I think most of us would agree that equal access to health care is a pressing social justice issue (e.g., Lisa Sowle Cahill's Theological Bioethics). I had an experience of severe cognitive dissonance this past weekend that raised some questions about the allocation of our nation's health care resources.
I spent four hours Saturday afternoon at my son's State Special Olympics gymnastics meet. I was particularly captivated by many of the young women athletes. Various forms of mental retardation are associated with low muscle tone and various metabolic conditions that can lead to body shapes and sizes that are very different from the images of women athletes we're accustomed to seeing in televized sporting events. Yet the athletes that I watched on Saturday were uniformly graceful, confident, and so evidently proud of themselves as they soared over vaults and performed their floor exercises all afternoon in their gym. They were in their element, performing physical feats that they had practiced for years with their supportive, capable, and loving volunteers, and they KNEW they were truly beautiful, and they truly WERE beautiful.
Later that evening, I went out to dinner with some friends at the outdoor patio of a restaurant on the shores of a lake near where we live. It's a dockside restaurant, where boaters can pull up to the dock, hop on shore, and eat dinner. As we ate, we couldn't help but notice the conspicuous parade of, shall we say, "surgically-enhanced" female bodies in bikinis popping in and out of the boats docking for dinner. The basic tenor of the conversations I overheard in a visit to the ladies' room revealed that, for all the conventional physical beauty on display on that dock, many of these women seemed to be suffering an inordinate amount of insecurity and lack of confidence about their appearance.
Surely, whatever it is that the Special Olympics volunteers do with their athletes every weekend in their practice sessions must cost society a fraction of what is spent on plastic surgery in the U.S. And, based on my observations last Saturday, it's much more effective in promoting self-esteem and self-confidence. Isn't there some sort of CST argument for reallocating some of our nation's health care resources from the plastic surgery business to a Special Olympics-type program for people with too much money?
Monday, June 25, 2007
Today, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Hein case, which presented a question involving "taxpayer standing" to challenge, on Establishment Clause grounds, certain features of the White House's faith-based initiative. Here is a link to the opinion. For my own part (and like Justice Scalia, who -- along with Justice Thomas -- concurred separately), I am inclined to think that the whole Flast enterprise of permitting taxpayer standing in Establishment Clause cases (but only in Establishment Clause cases) is misconceived. That said, I'm pleased that the majority did not extend Flast in today's decision. Yes, the state-of-the-law that results is (to put it mildly) conceptually muddled, but . . . that's life.
As I see it, today's decision is not so much about the place of religion in public life, or the relationship between the institutions of faith and those of government. Instead, it is about the limited role and power of the federal judiciary. As Justice Alito described, in his plurality opinion, the task of federal judges is to resolve certain controversies between parties with a concrete stake in the outcome; it is not to use lawsuits as a vehicle for reviewing or second-guessing policies with which some taxpayers disagree.
UPDATE: Here is a link to a conversation between Prof. Walter Dellinger and me about today's First Amendment cases, on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer.
A new survey has found that nearly 60 percent of infertility patients are willing to donate their frozen embryos for use in stem cell research. This figure is roughly three times the percentage of those who are willing to donate their frozen embryos for adoption. According to the researcher:
This provides additional support for the stem cell legislation and for how to think about the legislation. This will not change the view of people who hold the position that destroying embryos is immoral and never justifiable. That's a coherent position that these data cannot challenge. But for people who believe that there might be some circumstances in which early human life can be ethically destroyed to achieve another human end, this is important data.
Lisa's post has caused me to think that the early Church, in its encounter with the Roman Empire and other non-Christian cultures, proposes a model for us to consider in our encounter with the secular academy and secular society today.
On page 98 of Jesus of Nazareth, in exploring the Beatitudes, Joseph Ratzinger says: "As we witness the abuse of economic power, as we witness the cruelties of a capitalism that degrades man to teh level of merchandise, we have also realized the perils of wealth, and we have gained a new appreciation of what Jesus meant when he warned of riches, of the man-destroying Mammon, which grips larges parts of the world in a cruel stranglehold." He then follows this up with the primacy of God, the centrality of the person of Jesus, and the face of Love. If Ratzinger is correct, and I think he is, what are the implications for CLT?
Saturday, June 23, 2007
I haven't read Ratzinger's Jesus of Nazareth, but some of the points raised by Michael S's post on it have been on my mind lately. I'm in the extremely fortunate position of being able to spend much of my time over the next year as a student, working on a Master's Degree in Catholic Studies here at St. Thomas. I'm taking two courses this summer, one an introductory survey, "Catholic Thought & Culture I" (covering the first 13 centuries of Christianity in one semester....), the other "The Church and the Biomedical Revolution." In both classes, we started off with some reading and discussion of the beginnings of Christianity. My imagination has been utterly captured by the struggle of the early Christians to define and explain this revolutionary new religion, both for themselves and for the rest of the world, the pagan world they were trying to live in and make peace with.
For the Catholic Thought & Culture class, we read an excerpt from Robert Wilken's The Spirit of Early Christian Thought. The very first chapter talks about the efforts of Justin Martyr and Origen to respond to the pagan philosophers challenging this new religion. Wilken makes the point that, despite the brilliance of the arguments these early Christians formulated to engage the philosophers on their own terms, they never lost their awareness that the truly revolutionary thing about this religion was that it was centered on the life of Jesus. He writes:
What had been handed on in the church's worship and practice, in prayers and catechetical instruction, in the words and images and stories of the Bible was set on a firm intellectual foundation. Yet, and this is the central point, the biblical narrative was not reduced to a set of ideas or a body of principles; no conceptual scheme was allowed to displace the evangelical history. Christianity, wrote Leo the Great, bishop of Rome in the fifth century, is a "religion founded on the mystery of the Cross of Christ." Christian thinking did not spring from an original idea, and it was not nourished by a seminal spiritual insight. It had its beginnings in the history of Israel and the life of a human being named Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of Mary, lived in Judea, suffered and died in Jerusalem, and was raised by God to new life.
It just stuck me, reading that, how easy it would have been for all of these brilliant Church fathers to take the "sayings" of this historical person, Jesus, and take on the pagan world intellectually by reducing the words to a "set of ideas or a body of principles" or a "conceptual scheme." But that's not what happened. It's really a rather extraordinary thing, when you think about it on the human level of very smart people (not unlike, say, law professors) trying to explain themselves and their revolutionary faith to a secular world.
In my other class, "The Church and the Biomedical Revolution", I learned another fascinating thing about the early Christians, perhaps not really related to Michael's point, but something that has similarly seized my imagination. We read a chapter from a book by Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History. In a chapter called "Epidemics, Networks, and Conversion", Stark suggests that contributing to the rapid rise of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire were two epidemics, one in 165 (probably smallpox) and another in 251 (probably measles). One of many interesting points that Stark makes is that far greater numbers of Christians survived those epidemics than pagans, for the simple reason that they were living basic Christian values of love and charity. The simple act of not abandoning the sick -- as their pagan neighbors generally did -- but instead sticking around and providing for their elemental needs for food and water, greatly reduced mortality. (He writes "Modern medical experts believe that conscientious nursing without any medications could cut the mortality rate by two-thirds or even more.") In addition to the higher survival rates of the Christians, the fact that the Christian ethic led them to care for pagans as well, and the power of the seemingly "miraculous" survival of so many Christians, affected the subsequent conversion of surviving pagans. I'm not sure what that has to do with CLT, and I'm not sure why it has so seized my imagination, but isn't it fascinating?
And next week, we get to Augustine, organ transplantation, and the theological foundations of medical research ethics. Am I not just the luckiest girl around?
I have just started Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI's, book "Jesus of Nazareth," which I picked of at Loome's during our meeting of the Conference of Catholic Legal Scholars last week. The first thing I noted is that the author is Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI and not Pope Benedict XVI. He retains his given name, I suspect, because, as he explains in the foreward: "It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search 'for the face of the Lord' (cf. Ps. 27:8)." In other words, Ratzinger is inviting us to consider with him, the face of Jesus as he has encountered Him. And, so far it is a great journey.
Since God's entry into the human condition in the person of Jesus, the Son, affects all aspects of our life, it should not be surprising that the book raises questions for our Catholic Legal Theory project.
On page 29, in the chapter on the temptations, Ratizinger says: "God is the issue: Is he real, reality itself, or isn't he? Is he good, or do we have to invent the good ourselves? The God question is the fundamental question, and it sets us down right at the crossroads of human existence." If Ratzinger is correct, and I think he is, what are the implications for CLT?
On page 33, he quotes the martyred (by the Nazi's) German Jesuit, Alfred Delp: "Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is unbroken fidelity and faithful adoration." Ratzinger presses the point: "When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of the material goods themselves." He continues: "The aid offered by the West to developing countries has been purely technical and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God. And, this aid, proudly claiming to 'know better,' is itself what first turned the 'third world' into what we mean today by that term." He agains returns to the theme: "The issue is the primacy of God. The issue is acknolwedging that he is a reality, that he is the reality without which nothing else can be good. History cannot be detached from God and then run smoothly on purely material lines." If Ratzinger is correct, and I think he is, what are the implications for CLT?
On page 39, he says: "Without heaven, earthly power is always ambiguous and fragile. Only when power submits to the measure and the judgment of heaven - of God, in other words - can it become power fro good. And only when power stands under God's blessing can it be trusted." If Ratzinger is correct, and I think he is, what are the implications for CLT?
And, that is as far as I have read.