Tuesday, November 25, 2008
My pal Michael P. is on the case, looking out for me, and so has commended to the attention of those of us who opposed Sen. Obama's election this letter -- published on the very fine new-ish website, "Public Discourse", from John Haldane to "America" (!!!). As it happens, I, like Michael, am a regular reader of that site, and had already read, and reflected on, Haldane's letter. Obviously, much of what Haldane says is correct (and little of what he says -- i.e., lots of "conservatives" opposed the current wars, the Republicans are not perfect as vehicles for conservative policies, etc. -- has ever been denied by any MOJ bloggers who opposed Obama's election). Still, I would be assisted greatly, I'm sure, in my reflections if Michael were to share with us, more specifically, what *he* thinks of the letter (that is, besides the fact that it is commendable).
Social conservatives who look to politics should be seeking to work within both parties, and in the case of the Democrats, seeking to return them to a historical position that was once more in line with Christian moral values and Catholic social teaching than was that of the Republicans.
There is also a further reason to be wary of confusing moral concerns with the fortunes of a political party. Those within a chosen party whose primary interest is pursuing electoral victory may prove fiercer enemies of one’s moral position than political opponents in other parties.
Now, in a way, this is not very controversial. I'd be surprised if any "conservatives" on this blog -- or many people who read it -- ever had any doubts that the merits of the Republican Party consist entirely in its ability to deliver policies that, in their / our view, are more consistent with freedom, human dignity, and the common good, properly understood.
Still, the letter is food for thought(s). And so, again, I'd welcome Michael's: Given all the givens (including, for example, the careers and views of those whom Sen. Obama is choosing to be his chief advisors), where, and how, would Michael advise "social conservatives" to "work within" the Democratic Party, in its current form? Politics being what it is -- after all, Democrats, no less than Republicans, have "pursuing electoral victory" as their "primary interest" -- it is not clear (to me, and to many political observers and strategists) that the Democrats really need (very many) "social conservatives" to win. (Haldane notwithstanding, it seems clear that the overwhelming majority of "social conservatives" voted for McCain, which is not to say that no pro-lifers voted for Obama.) Where are the openings? What, specifically, does Michael have in mind? What reasons are there to think -- I would, certainly, like to think -- that the current Democratic Party has any political need to return, or interest in returning, "to a historical position" -- on religious freedom, pro-life issues, etc. -- that "was once more in line with Christian moral values and Catholic social teaching than was that of the Republicans"?
Michael links here to (and, I assume, agrees substantially with?) this Commonweal post, suggesting that the Freedom of Choice Act is just a "phantom" onto which defeated and depressed Republican pro-lifers have latched in the wake of the recent election. In my view, it is true, as the post indicates, that Obama was merely "pandering" when he promised abortion-rights activists that the FOCA would be his "first priority" (which is not to say, of course, that he would not sign it if it were enacted, or that he would not spend capital to get it enacted, were it possible such an investment would pay off, or that a candidate -- of either party -- should not be judged at least in part with reference to those to whom he feels the need to pander). It would be a mistake, though, for anyone to think that, because the Act itself is not likely to pass the current Congress in its current form, there are not serious, and non-phantom-ish, legislative threats to religious freedom and the pro-life cause looming. See this piece, by Melinda Henneberger, on "Obama's threat to Catholic hospitals". And, of course, the odds against FOCA do nothing to change the facts that non-phantom changes are almost certainly coming with respect to public funding of embryo-destroying research and of elective abortions, here and abroad.
The Moral Obligation To Study Election Returns
24 Nov 2008 04:47 pm
George Weigel, on the election and the Catholic vote:
This year, the pro-abortion candidate carried every state in what Maggie Gallagher calls the "Decadent Catholic Corridor" -- the Northeast and the older parts of the Midwest. Too many Catholics there are still voting the way their grandparents did, and because that's what their grandparents did. This tribal voting has been described by some bishops as immoral; it is certainly stupid, and it must be challenged by adult education. That includes effective use of the pulpit to unsettle settled patterns of mindlessness. This year, a gratifying number of bishops began to accept the responsibilities of their teaching office; so, now, must parish pastors.
In 1980, '84 and '88, Republican (and pro-life) Presidential candidates managed to capture nearly all of the Midwest and the Northeast, "settled patterns of mindlessness" notwithstanding. Now here we are twenty years later, with FDR and JFK even further in the rearview mirror - and yet Weigel wants to chalk up the Republican Party's horrible showing in these regions to mindless "tribal voting" among Catholic Democrats? This is self-deception, and it ill-behooves pro-lifers to engage in it. John McCain did not lose this election because the Catholic clergy failed to anathematize Barack Obama loudly enough, or because Pennsylvanians and Michiganders thought they were voting for Roosevelt or Truman. He lost it because his party flat-out misgoverned the country, in foreign and domestic policy alike, and because of late the culture war has mattered less to most Americans than the Iraq War and the economic meltdown. And pro-lifers who see the GOP as the only plausible vehicle for their goals have an obligation to look the party's failures squarely in the face and work to fix them, instead of just doubling down on the case for single-issue pro-life voting.
No, social conservatives aren't the problem for the GOP. But they haven't been the solution, either: Too often, on matters ranging from the Iraq War to domestic policy, they've served as enablers of Republican folly, rather than as constructive critics. And calling Catholics who voted for Obama "mindless" and "stupid" is a poor substitute for building the sort of Republican Party that can attract the votes of those millions of Americans, Catholic and otherwise, who voted for the Democrats because they thought, not without reason, that George W. Bush was a disastrous president whose party should not be rewarded with a third term in the White House
Some MOJ readers will be familiar with Scottish philosopher John Haldane, but for those who are not:
John Haldane is Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, Visiting Professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Virginia, and Vice-President of the Catholic Union of Great Britain. He is a Senior Fellow of the Witherspoon Institute and sits on the Editorial Board of Public Discourse.
I commend to all MOJ readers Haldane's thoughtful, insightful "letter" on Obama's election. I commend the letter *especially* to MOJ readers--and bloggers--who opposed Obama's election.
(Notice Haldane's comments, in the letter, about Elizabeth Anscombe and the Iraq War. Does anyone know whether the Anscombe Institute, at Princeton, has addressed the issue of the (im)morality of the war?)
Here, Professor Haldane's letter.
In a recent issue of First Things magazine, Gilbert Meilaender has a review of Stanley Fish's new and much-remarked book, "Save the World on Your Own Time." As has been widely observed, Fish's book is, among other things, an argument that the task of university teachers is instruction, not formation. "I haven't the slightest idea," Fish says, "of how to help students become creative individuals. And it is decidedly not my job to produce citizens for a pluralistic society or for any other. . . . To be sure, some of what happens in the classroom may play a part in the fashioning of a citizen, but that is neither something you can count on . . . nor something you should aim for."
I know that, when I reflect on what I see as my "vocation" as a law teacher, I *do* emphasize my aspirations to contribute helpfully to the formation of my students and to the integration of their lives. Am I wrong? (For my own "take" on the connection between education and "soulcraft," take a look at this essay.)
In reference to my previous post on the future of interreligious dialogue, here is the link to an english translation of the Pope Benedict's letter to Senator Marcello Pera, as posted by John Allen on the National Catholic Reporter's website.
The Church clearly (and justifiably) opposes human cloning. What about the cloning of animals if such cloning could lead to medical breakthroughs for humans? And what about using DNA to recreate species that were the bridges between animals and humans, such as Neanderthals? Apparently, this is not a far-fetched question.
A few thoughts in response to the 11/24/08 New York Times article, “Pope Questions Interreligious Dialogue,” discussing Pope Benedict’s letter to Marcello Pera about his forthcoming book, “Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian,” including Pope Benedict’s comments that “interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible,” and then later, comparing interreligious dialogue with intercultural dialogue, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parenthesis.”
I have the full text in italian from the Corriere della Sera, but will wait to see how the official translations of the full texts spin out rather than venture into the tricky waters of parsing this. In the meantime, three thoughts that might tie into our Catholic social thought project.
First, it seems that however this is parsed, it will have to be reconciled with Pope Benedict’s very official and very public statements over the last few years, and especially when he was here in the US in April: in effect, at least as I read them, that interreligious dialogue is an important expression of the Church’s life, and is here to stay. For good summary of those statements, take a look at Francis Clooney’s 4/25/08 entry on the America Magazine blog. Perhaps the question becomes whether while he was here whether he was talking about interreligious dialogue in the “strict sense” of the word, or something else; and if not, for me the question becomes whether interreligious dialogue in the “strict sense” is all that interesting or helpful, especially for our project here in the US. Maybe not.
Second, a somewhat technical question about authority. What is the authoritative weight of a letter from the Pope to an individual commenting on that individual’s book, and published in an Italian newspaper? And how would that weight compare to public statements that were probably vetted and re-vetted by more than one Vatican entity? Considering the future of interreligious dialogue, my instinct would be to give much more weight to the more public and more official, but I’d welcome other’s insights on this question.
Finally, a silver lining: following up on my previous work to reconcile evangelization and dialogue, this latest controversy is the perfect introduction for my current writing project, which is actually a term paper to conclude my last course in the Theology Masters program here at Fordham (“Mary in the Christian Tradition” with Brian Daley, a wonderful Jesuit visiting here from Notre Dame). The working title is “Mary, Model of Dialogue.”
I’m right in the midst of parsing a text from Chiara Lubich on how Mary at the foot of the cross, precisely in her capacity to let go of her Son, and of her identity as his mother (“Woman, behold your son”), becomes the Mother of all humanity. How might this model of faith—which includes the capacity to let go—inform the question of “putting one’s faith in parenthesis”? Similarly, might the cry of Jesus himself on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” be itself a “parenthesis” which paradoxically generates identity in the most profound sense—redemption and resurrection?
A little taste from one of Lubich’s texts (published originally in Italian, Saper Perdere [Knowing How to Lose], and this specific text is also included in Lubich, Heaven on Earth: Mediatations and Reflections):
“Mary Desolate! One can have lost everything, one can not be attached to anything, but there can still remain something that we believe we can possess, that we must show and take pleasure in: the gifts of God! If the Desolate sacrificed God for God, we have to know how to lose the gifts of God for God. Therefore, we should not stop to consider them, or fill our soul with spiritual pride as we admire them, but empty ourselves to as to be filled with the Spirit of God. If one has gifts, these are talents to be placed in the sun of charity that must always envelope everything. But it is best then to forget, to let go, in order to be only love in front of souls and the works of the Church. Love thinks of the beloved, not itself.”