Thursday, November 29, 2007
Steve's question about the priest as an icon of Christ reminded me of an article in the current Commonweal titled "Mind the Gap: The Return of the Lay-Clerical Divide." Based on a new book titled American Catholics Today, the article is only available online to subscribers, but here's an excerpt:
Laypeople are increasingly committed to an active role in the church while more and more of their priests prefer a limited role for them, coupled with a more cultic model of priesthood. These important cultural differences are the product of generational changes among both the laity and the clergy. Whereas the two groups seemed to converge in the 1960s and '70s, they have diverged since the '80s. As a result, there are sharp differences between young adult laypeople who expect the clergy to welcome their participation, and young priests who believe the responsibility for parish decisions is theirs.
Laypeople in the post-Vatican II and millennial generations are going in one direction while "John Paul II" priests are going in another. The full effect of this division is not yet felt or discernible, but that will change in coming years. In a decade or two, today's older generation of priests and laypeople will be gone, leaving all the decisions to today's younger priests and laity, precisely where the expectation gap is widest.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I forwarded Steve's post to several priest friends of mine asking for their reactions. One of them sent the following:
Or, so says the ABA Journal: "Where Pope Benedict XVI is the most-cited legal authority. Canon law is interpreted, and Catholic law school news is covered in detail." Does this blurb really describe what goes on here? No, probably not. But hey, they spelled our name right.
Sometime back Steve Bainbridge pointed to the Catechism's statement that the priest stands for Christ, is an icon of Christ, during the mass. Yet the priest in the most crucial part of the mass refers to Jesus in the third person. When is the priest supposed to be standing for Jesus and when not? I wonder whether the notion that the priest stands for Christ tends to give a view of the priest that is too exalted. Depending on how the notion of standing for Christ is interpreted, it could simply mean that the priest is supposed to be the most servile in the room, but the vestments tend to point to Christ as King, as does the role of the priest as teacher and his role in the consecration. I doubt that anyone attends mass to worship the priest. It does not help me to think of the priest as Christ, nor do fancy vestments help. Without questioning the role of priest as teacher or his role in the consecration, I prefer the view of priest as servant.
America magazine -- joining First Things and Commonweal -- now has a blog, "In All Things", to which the editors contribute. Here's Fr. James Martin on the latest in cinematic Church-loathing, "The Golden Compass." Also, the publication-formerly-known-as-Crisis -- now "InsideCatholic" -- has a blog, "The Inside Blog." (Obviously, one should check out these blogs only after carefully and regularly immersing oneself in Mirror of Justice.)
Kevin Carlsmith and John Darley have posted a new paper that may be of interest to MoJ readers titled Psychological Aspects of Retributive Justice. (HT: Solum) It has implications for our conversation regarding the death penalty and deterrence, though I'm not sure what those implications are. Here's the abstract:
Retributive justice is a system by which offenders are punished in proportion to the moral magnitude of their intentionally committed harms. This chapter lays out the emerging psychological principles that underlie citizens' intuitions regarding punishment. We rely on experimental methods and conclude that intuitions of justice are broadly consistent with the principles of retributive justice, and therefore systematically deviate from principles of deterrence and other utilitarian based systems of punishing wrongs. We examine the recent contributions of social-neuroscience to the topic and conclude that retributive punishment judgments normally stem from the more general intuitive-based judgment system. Particular circumstances can trigger the reasoning-based system, however, thus indicating that this is a dual process mechanism. Importantly, though, evidence suggests that both the intuitive and reasoning systems adhere to the principles of retribution.
The empirical results of this research have clear policy implications. Converging evidence suggests that the formal U.S. justice system is becoming increasingly utilitarian in nature, but that citizen intuitions about justice continue to track retributive principles. The resulting divide leads people to lose respect for the law, which means that they do not rely on the law's guidance in ambiguous situations where the morally correct behavior is unclear. These are the dangers to society from having justice policies based jointly on the contradictory principles of retribution and utility, and we lay out an argument for enacting public policies more exclusively based on retributive principles of justice.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
One of my favorite conferences of the year is the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture's annual fall conference. The year's conference, The Dialogue of Cultures, will take place on the Notre Dame campus from Thusday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 1.
The theme is taken from Pope Benedict XVI's 2006 Regensburg address: "While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. … Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.
Check out the rich fare in the Conference Schedule.
I'm reading a fascinating book, Joyce Little's The Church and the Culture War (Ignatius Press, 1993) for a class I'm taking, and came across this passage last night:
The fact that self-sacrifice is regarded by less than half of all adults in this country as a positive moral virtue tells us far more about the current state of American religious belief than do all the polls indicating that more than 90 percent of the American public still believes in God. It tells us that the Trinitarian Godhead which is within itself a communion of self-giving love is no longer the God in whom the American public believes. It tells us that Christ, the source of the sacred or sacramental ordering of our lives, who becomes Head of the Church and source of that order by virtue of his sacrifice for the sake of the Church, no longer informs American religous sensibilities.
The characterization, the worth, the value, even the social role of acts of sacrifice is clearly one of the sharpest divisions between religiously-oriented and secularly-oriented feminist theorists. Little's quote made me wonder about a couple of things. One is whether these differing perspectives on self-sacrifice -- as a "moral virtue" versus a surrender of one's right to "define one's own concept of existence" -- might help explain some of the subtext of the arguments in many of our other great ongoing social debates. Another is what kind of a God people believe in if they reject the notion of self-giving love or sacrifice as a virtue.
Patrick Deneen has a wonderful post exploring the ideas of Fr. James Schall, Yves Simon, and what he sees as the most difficult lesson to teach to our current culture:
We have come to understand our "selves" to be what we truly are, and the effort to satiate the appetites of our selves as the only legitimate pursuit against which no obstacle - neither self-mastery, nor familial or cultural norms, or even law - can stand against. At the deepest level, all the various aspects of the contemporary culture that we decry - on the Right, the loss of family values, on the Left, the environmental crisis - come back to our inability to understand and accept this truth to which Fr. Schall points us: the truth that human freedom consists in a form of self-mastery, aided by the customs and laws of our families and communities. The ways that we currently degrade both the culture and the natural world is directly attributable to our inability to govern ourselves, to see our "selves" as a source of our problems rather than some kind of external phenomenon or cause. To use a wonderful example from Jason Peters, we are prone constantly to complain how bad traffic is without considering for a moment that we were part of what constituted the gridlock.
Deneen explains further:
My constant attention to the problems we face is not intended as a wake up call for innovation and invention: it's rather to insinuate the possibility that we are destroying ourselves by degree because we refuse to govern our appetites or even see these appetites as problematic. I'm highly dubious that we will "invent" our way out of the need to govern ourselves, and am dead certain that nature and the order of the world will not indefinitely brook our misbehavior. We should be mindful that our near-automatic response to the fact of depletions that surround us - that we MUST find other means to continue running our current way of life - is directly the result of our unwillingness to understand that "the disorder of the world originates in disorder of soul". The problem is not intrinsically the various depletions we face (but, boy, are they problems): the problem lies in the more fundamental motivation of our thoughtless response that avoids considering whether our behavior has anything to do with the problems we face, and might in fact further exacerbate those problems, as well as create greater ones, the longer we refuse to face this possibility.
Rod Dreher comments that "the most important political task for Americans is not whether we will choose to be governed by Republicans or Democrats. Rather, it's whether or not we will govern ourselves and our insatiable appetites."
"Cities are humanity's greatest creation," Kotkin writes. And, "[t]o be successful today, urban areas must resonate with the ancient fundamentals -- they must be sacred, safe, and busy." Kotkin suggests that one of the new "urban renewal" strategies -- i.e., fading cities re-inventing themselves as hip, edgy congregating points for so-called "young creatives" -- is not likely to succeed because it departs so markedly from these "ancient fundamentals" in failing to appreciate the role that the sacred, and the religious, long played in the developing and sustaining of cities: "Almost everywhere, the great classical city was suffused with religion and instructed by it. 'Cities did not ask if the institutions which they adopted were useful . . . . These institutions were adopted because religion had wished it thus.' In contemporary discussions of the urban condition [including, I'm afraid, many "new urbanist" discussions], this sacred role has too often been ignored."
And, here is an essay by Kotkin on the importance of religion, and of the "sacred", to the city.
Kotkin has become known for, among other things, deflating the recently-big-buzz idea that the way for cities to thrive is to attract young "creative class" types to hip, coffee-shop-populated urban fun-zones. (See, e.g., Richard Florida's "Rise of the Creative Class." In today's essay, Kotkin returns to this theme:
For much of the past decade, business recruiters, cities and urban developers have focused on the "young and restless," the "creative class," and the so-called "yuspie"--the young urban single professional. Cities, they've said, should capture this so-called "dream demographic" if they wish to inhabit the top tiers of the economic food chain and enjoy the fastest and most sustained growth. . . .
There is a basic truth about the geography of young, educated people. They may first migrate to cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston or San Francisco. But they tend to flee when they enter their child-rearing years. Family-friendly metropolitan regions have seen the biggest net gains of professionals, largely because they not only attract workers, but they also retain them through their 30s and 40s. . . .
The evidence thus suggests that the obsession with luring singles to cities is misplaced. Instead, suggests Paul Levy, president of Philadelphia's Center City district association, the emphasis should be on retaining young people as they grow up, marry, start families and continue to raise them. . . .
Only 14% of Center City residents have children, Mr. Levy says, and roughly half its young people depart once they enter their mid-30s. "If you want to sustain the revival you have to deal with the fact that people with six year olds keep moving to the suburbs," Mr. Levy suggests. "Empty nesters and singles are not enough."
. . . Boosters such as Mr. Levy look increasing towards reviving the traditional family neighborhoods which surround Center City. His organization has worked closely with local public and private schools, church and civic organizations to build up the support structures that might convince today's youthful inner city urbanites to remain as they start families. "Our agenda," Mr. Levy says, "has to change. We have to look at the parks, the playgrounds and the schools."
Such a shift in emphasis could mark a new beginning for many long-neglected urban neighborhoods across the country. It's time to recognize that today, as has been the case for millennia, families provide the most reliable foundation for successful economies.