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.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Beyond Politics III

In his essay “Religious Humanism:  A Manifesto,” Wolfe argues that “religious humanism offers the best antidote to the ravages of the ‘culture wars.’”  He says that “the term ‘religious humanism’” suggests “a tension between two opposed terms – between heaven and earth.  But it is a creative, rather than deconstructive, tension.  Perhaps the best analogy for understanding religious humanism comes from the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, which holds that Jesus was both human and divine.  This paradoxical meeting of these two natures is the pattern by which we can begin to understand the many dualities we experience in life:  flesh and spirit, nature and grace, God and Caesar, faith and reason, justice and mercy.”


When I read “it is a creative, rather than deconstructive, tension,” a light suddenly went on and I realized that Wolfe was what he claimed, a conscientious objector to the culture wars.  My mind went to Gandhi and MLK, Jr.  Both fought vigorously for cultural, legal, and political transformation.  But, they refused the role of combatant, embracing instead the role of creative sufferer.  Creative rather than deconstructive or destructive!


Anticipating the objection that religious humanism, with its ambiguities and paradoxes, is really a masked form of the liberal position, Wolfe reminds the reader that “the majority of religious humanists through the centuries have been deeply orthodox, though that does not mean they don’t struggle with doubt or possess highly skeptical minds.”  Wolfe is not surprised by this orthodoxy.  Religious dogma restates the mysteries of faith.  Wolfe quotes Flannery O’Connor:  “dogma [are] an instrument for penetrating reality.  Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery.”


Wolfe says:  “So we arrive at yet another paradox:  that the religious humanist combines an intense (if occasionally anguished) attachment to orthodoxy with a profound spirit of openness to the world.”

In America, Wolfe sees “imaginative writers” as the leading religious humanists.  “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s insistence on the reality of evil, the inexorable presence of the past, and a tragic sense of life stood in stark contrast to Emerson’s optimism and utopianism.  Throughout his career, Hawthorne struggled to achieve a more sacramental perspective, which placed self in relation to the transcendent, and which encompassed a vision of redemptive suffering.  It is possible to draw a direct line from Hawthorneto such modern American writers as T.S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Richard Rodriguez, and Annie Dillard.”

The next post will more directly draw a link between Wolfe’s ideas and our MOJ project.

See Beyond Politics and Beyond Politics II.


Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Beyond Politics III :