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.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel ...

... is one of the most important American religious figures of the last fifty years.  "[N]o modern Jewish thinker has had as profound an effect on other faiths as Heschel has; the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said he was 'an authoritative voice not only in the Jewish community but in the religious life of America.' Nor has any Jewish theologian since Heschel succeeded in speaking to such a wide range of readers while rigorously attending to the nuances of Judaism."

New York Times
December 24, 2007

A Rabbi of His Time, With a Charisma That Transcends It

In 1965, after walking in the Selma-to-Montgomery civil-rights march with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was at the Montgomery, Ala., airport, trying to find something to eat. A surly woman behind the snack-bar counter glared at Heschel — his yarmulke and white beard making him look like an ancient Hebrew prophet — and mockingly proclaimed: “Well, I’ll be damned. My mother always told me there was a Santa Claus, and I didn’t believe her, until now.” She told Heschel that there was no food to be had.

In response, according to a new biography, “Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972” by Edward K. Kaplan (Yale), Heschel simply smiled. He gently asked, “Is it possible that in the kitchen there might be some water?” Yes, she acknowledged. “Is it possible that in the refrigerator you might find a couple of eggs?” Perhaps, she admitted. Well, then, Heschel said, if you boiled the eggs in the water, “that would be just fine.”

She shot back, “And why should I?”

“Why should you?” Heschel said. “Well, after all, I did you a favor.”

“What favor did you ever do me?”

“I proved,” he said, “there was a Santa Claus.”

And after the woman’s burst of laughter, food was quickly served.

Of course Heschel, with his rabbinic features, could not have looked too much like the jolly gentleman expected to visit homes late Christmas Eve. But the spirit evident in this anecdote must have served him well over the years as he taught aspiring rabbis, met with Pope Paul VI and became a leader in the civil-rights, anti-Vietnam War and interfaith movements. At his death in 1972 he was one of this country’s best-known Jewish figures.

This year’s centennial of Heschel’s birth, commemorated by the new biography and a conference this month at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan, takes place in a very different world. Surely no one today could write, as he did in his landmark 1955 book, “God in Search of Man,” that there is an “eclipse of religion in modern society.” If anything, there is no escape from talk about faith. Nor is the relationship between religious convictions and political activism as simple as it might have once seemed.

[Read the rest ... here.]

December 25, 2007 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Texas hold-em or Texas hang-em?

New York Times
December 26, 2007

Executions Decline Elsewhere, but Texas Holds Steady

This year’s death-penalty bombshells — a federal moratorium, a state abolition and the smallest number of executions in more than a decade — have masked what may be the most significant and lasting development. For the first time in the modern history of the death penalty, more than 60 percent of all American executions took place in Texas.

Over the past three decades, the proportion of executions nationwide performed in Texas has held relatively steady, averaging 37 percent. Only once before, in 1986, has the state accounted for even a slight majority of the executions, and that was in a year with only 18 executions nationwide.

But this year, enthusiasm for executions outside of Texas dropped sharply. Of last year’s 42 executions, 26 were in Texas. The remaining 16 were spread across nine other states, none of which executed more than three people. Many legal experts say that trend is likely to continue.

Indeed, said David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has represented death row inmates, the day is not far off when essentially all executions in the United States will take place in Texas.

“The reason that Texas will end up monopolizing executions,” he said, “is because every other state will eliminate it de jure, as New Jersey did, or de facto, as other states have.”

Charles A. Rosenthal Jr., the district attorney of Harris County, which includes Houston and has accounted for 100 executions since 1976, said the Texas capital justice system is working properly. The pace of executions in Texas, he said, “has to do with how many people are in the pipeline when certain rulings come down.”

Asked why Texas’s share of executions nationwide is rising, he said, “I frankly don’t know.”

The rate at which Texas sentences people to death is not especially high given its murder rate. But once a death sentence is imposed there, said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, prosecutors, state and federal courts, the pardon board and the governor are united in moving the process along. “There’s almost an aggressiveness about carrying out executions,” said Mr. Dieter, whose organization opposes capital punishment.

Outside of Texas, even supporters of the death penalty say they detect a change in public attitudes about executions in light of the time and expense of capital litigation, the possibility of wrongful convictions and the remote chance that someone sent to death row will actually be executed.

[To read the whole article, click here.]

December 25, 2007 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Chesterton for Christmas

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down

December 25, 2007 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

A Biblically Based Critique of Tax Policies

My friend Susan Hamill, professor of law at the University of Alabama, is the subject of an article in this morning's New York Times.  Notice the good news, at the end of the article, for those of you who live in Minnesota!

New York Times
December 25, 2007

Professor Cites Bible in Faulting Tax Policies

At a time when some voters are asking how the religious views of candidates will shape their policies, a professor’s discovery of how little tax the biggest landowners in her state paid to finance the government has prompted some other legal scholars to scour religious texts to explore the moral basis of tax and spending policies.

The professor, Susan Pace Hamill, is an expert at tax avoidance for small businesses and teaches at the University of Alabama Law School. She also holds a degree in divinity from a conservative evangelical seminary, where her master’s thesis explored how Alabama’s tax-and-spend policies comport with the Bible.

Professor Hamill says that since Judeo-Christian ethics “is the moral compass chosen by most Americans” it is vital that these policies be compared with the texts on which they are based. Another professor says she is the first to address this head on, inspiring work by others.

Her findings, embraced by some believers and denounced by others, has also stirred research everywhere from Arizona State to New York University into the connection between religious teachings and government fiscal practices.

Her latest effort is a book, “As Certain as Death” (Carolina Academic Press, 2007), that seeks to document how the 50 states, in contravention of her view of biblical injunctions, do more to burden the poor and relieve the rich than vice versa.

In lectures and papers, Professor Hamill has expanded on her theme, drawing objections from some critics who say that the religious obligation to care for the poor is a matter of personal morality, not public policy.

Professor Hamill asserted that 18 states seriously violate biblical principles in the way they tax and spend. She calls Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas “the sinful six” because they require the poor to pay a much larger share of their income than the rich while doing little to help the poor improve their lot.

The worst violator, in her view, is her own state of Alabama, which taxes its poor more than twice as heavily as its rich, while holding a tight rein on education spending.

The poorest fifth of Alabama families, with incomes under $13,000, pay state and local taxes that take almost 11 cents out of each dollar. The richest 1 percent, who make $229,000 or more, pay less than 4 cents out of each dollar they earn, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, an advocacy group whose numbers are generally considered trustworthy even by many of its opponents.

Professor Hamill said what first drew her to the issue of fiscal policy and biblical principles was learning that Alabama timber companies, which own more than two-thirds of the land in the state, pay an annual property tax of only about 75 cents an acre.

“The Bible commands that the law promote justice because human beings are not good enough to promote justice individually on their own,” she said. “To assume that voluntary charity will raise enough revenues to meet this standard is to deny the sin of greed.”

Richard Teather, who teaches tax at Bournemouth University in Britain and has written on the moral dimensions of tax evasion, said that governments have publicly raised the issue of morals and taxes.

“The tax authorities say you have a moral duty to pay your taxes, but you cannot look at that in isolation,” Mr. Teather said. “Over here in Britain we have a lot of tax breaks for the very wealthy, which are not generally available to most people, and quite high level taxes for the middle and upper-middle classes, so this doesn’t look like a moral system.”

Professor Hamill, by her reading of the New Testament, concludes that at least a mildly progressive tax system is required so that the rich make some sacrifice for the poor. She cites the statement by Jesus that “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required, and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

Some of her critics, however, say that the tithes described in the Old Testament show that a flat tax, in which everyone pays the same share of their income to government, should be seen as the biblical standard.

Gary Palmer, president of the Alabama Policy Institute, agreed that taxes on the poor were much too high in the state, but said that the solution was not to raise taxes on the wealthy, but to lower them on the poor. He characterized Alabama’s sales taxes on food and medicine as immoral.

Some of Professor Hamill’s critics, in letters and e-mail to her and others, argue that she just wants to soak the rich, wrapping what they called her socialistic views in biblical cloth.

Until Professor Hamill focused on fiscal policies in light of Judeo-Christian moral principles, most scholarly work on religion and taxes was largely devoted to the issue of tax evasion. That was prompted, in part, by a 1992 updating of the Catholic catechism that listed tax evasion as a sin and by enforcement actions aimed at pacifists who refused to pay war taxes.

Professor Hamill said her research found that just one state, Minnesota, came within reach of the principles she identified, because its tax system is only slightly regressive and it spends heavily on helping the poor, especially through public education.


December 25, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Benedict XVI Homily at Midnight Mass

"Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God's humility, God's heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen."

This is the end of the Pope's homily tonight.  The rest of the homily can be found at Zenit.

December 24, 2007 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Best book on Sexual Ethics: Farley or Wojtyla

Rather than quote Hollenbach or anyone else on Farley's book "Just Love," why don't we get into it ourselves.  I offered a little of my own thought on the matter the other day, and Fr. Araujo has done the same.  Michael P., why do you find her "dissenting" views compelling?  What has the Church missed that she offers?  In what way does she offer a more convincing view of sexual ethics than Wojtyla?  Why?  In other words lets get into the substance of her arguments and compare them with Wojtyla/JPII as set forth in "Love and Responsibility" and the "Theology of the Body."  In addition to Michael P., I invite others who have read the book - both bloggers and readers - to weigh in.

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2007 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Doubt and Christianity

I’ve been reflecting on Rob’s statement of December 20 that he experiences anguish from “uncertainty about whether the Christian story to which I have committed myself is actually true.” It reminded me of Hans Kung’s wonderful book “Why I Am Still a Christian,” which argues that those in doubt have a choice to make about the existence of God: would you rather believe that there is no meaning in the universe or that there is a meaning and that you have a role to play in it? William James made a similar argument and Charles Taylor does so as well. Kung makes a similar argument with respect to Christ. It was a major factor in my return to the church. Nonetheless, it must be said that the idea to which we commit (except to the extent we stray) that God became man is a truly fantastic (but beautiful and surprisingly well founded) story. The existence of doubt even by saints should not be surprising.

I must admit though, I find the salvation story to be problematic to the extent it depends upon the notion of a permanent hell (which strikes me without divine vision as utterly disproportionate for almost anything one might do on earth). If hell is merely eternal death, however, (a view held by some theologians) and heaven is closeness to God in the hereafter, then a permanent hell strikes me as not unfair. If hell is permanent punishment (not just death) and a realistic possibility for many human beings, I can imagine someone in doubt preferring to believe that the universe has no meaning.

In the end, I believe that living a life in order to get to heaven or to avoid hell is not living a life for the right reasons. Living a life according to the two great commandments (with an effort to play a small role in bringing about the kingdom of God) because it is in our nature to do so and because God has instructed us to do so seems far better than living a good life for selfish instrumental reasons.

December 24, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

More on Margaret Farley's "Just Love"

RJA sj suggests (here) that Margaret Farley is beyond the (Catholic) pale because she disagrees with the magisterium on issues of human sexuality.  Well, that's one view.  Here's another ... that of RJA's fellow Jesuit, David Hollenbach, who holds a chair in theology at Boston College.

Hollenbach writes, in a passage that appears on the cover of Farley's Just Love:

Just Love is a true breakthrough--the best book on sexual ethics in many decades.  Farley shows how justice can guide sexual love along liberating paths that lead to genuine fulfillment, while also paying attention to the brokenness that touches all lives.  She makes an indispensable contribution to the life of the Christian community and to ethical theory in our pluralist cultural setting.  This is must reading.

For MOJ readers who aren't familiar with David Hollenbach--whom I've never heard anyone accuse of being beyond the Catholic pale, much less of being a "throwback to the 1960s"--here's some info:

Before coming to Boston College, Hollenbach taught at Georgetown University and at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, MA. He has been Visiting Professor of Social Ethics at Hekima College of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, and at the Jesuit Philosophy Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. In 1990, he conducted the annual Winter School of Theology in six cities in Southern Africa, sponsored by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Southern Africa.

His research interests are in the foundation of Christian social ethics, particularly in the areas of the human rights, theory of justice, the common good, and the role of the religion in social and political life.

Hollenbach served as President of the Society of Christian Ethics (1995-1996) and on the Board of Directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America (1982-1984). He is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Religious Ethics and the steering committee of the Consultation of Religion and Human Rights of the American Academy of Religion. He assisted the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in drafting their 1986 pastoral letter Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy. In 1979 he received a Walsh-Price Fellowship for travel in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt to do research on religion and human rights in the Middle East. In 1996 he received a Fulbright Fellowship for research and teaching in Kenya. In June, 1998, Hollenbach received the John Courtney Murray Award for outstanding contributions to theology from the Catholic Theological Society of America.

His publications include The Common Good and Christian Ethics (2002); Catholicism and Liberalism: Contributions to American Public Philosophy, edited with R. Bruce Douglass (1994); Justice, Peace, and Human Rights: American Catholic Social Ethics in a Pluralistic World (1988); Nuclear Ethics: A Christian Moral Argument (1983); Claims in Conflict: Retrieving and Renewing the Catholic Human Rights Tradition (1979). A new book, Faith, Politics, and Society: Essays on Christian Ethics, will be published by Georgetown University Press in 2003.

December 24, 2007 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

A blessed Christmas to all

May I put aside debate about developing Catholic Legal Theory for a moment to wish all contributors and readers of MOJ a blessed and happy Christmas. Come, let us adore him, the who came to save us all...     RJA sj

December 24, 2007 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Margaret Farley’s Ethical Views

Both Michaels, Perry and Scaperlanda, have commented on Sister Margaret Farley’s work in the context of her recent award from the University of Louisville. Dr. Farley is the Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics, emerita at Yale. Like both Michaels, I, too, have read her recent book “Just Love.” I have also read recent articles she has authored on bioethics and medical ethics. Michael P. correctly identifies her work as “dissenting” from the Magisterium. However, I do not share his view that her perspective is compelling. I think that Michael S. is right on target in his critique. One of the announcements about Dr. Farley’s award mentions that she is a Catholic ethicist who grounds her work in “Christian theology and tradition.” It would be more accurate to say that she has abandoned this deposit; moreover, it is a misstatement to identify her as a Catholic ethicist. It is unfortunate that she has abandoned her fidelity to the Church, but this is a choice she has made and which she can, if she is so disposed, correct. But let us be clear, her work does not reflect Catholic thinking, it stands in Stark contrast to it.    RJA sj

December 24, 2007 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)