Wednesday, December 31, 2008
A reader responds to my post "A Christian Nation?"
"First, I have no problem if X president wants to have Y prayer at the Inauguration. I agree with your earlier point: if Lieberman wants to have a rabbi, so be it.
For those who have a problem with a Christian prayer (non-believers; believers of a different stripe), I don't think your Leviticus sentiment mollifies.
Don't get me wrong; it's a nice sentiment. The problem comes from who is calling who an alien, and who gets to decide that.
The non-believer/person-who-is-upset would say, I imagine, the following: "Who the hell are you calling me an alien? This is MY country. This is MY country's celebration of the installation of its new leader. I'm not an alien here; quit praying on me, over me, about me and making me feel like I'm an alien, like I'm somehow different. Quit saying I am somehow less than fully American b/c I do not grow out of your western/Chritian tradition you claim undergirds the whole gov't/enterprise."
The public invocation of God -- it just doesn't do much for me. I'm Catholic, attend Mass nearly daily. I see the public invocation sometimes just as lip-service, it seems. I could do without any prayer, any "God Bless America", at our public events. That's just me.
But if folks want to have it, that's no big deal to me, either.
But to those who are upset, they are going to stay upset -- just their perspective. And calling them an alien in our midst at their own country's celebration -- well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions."
. . . check out this NYT article, discussing an upcoming report in the Psychological Bulletin of research finding that "religious belief and piety promote self-control." According to one of the researchers, Dr. Michael McCullough: “Brain-scan studies have shown that when people pray or meditate, there’s a lot of activity in two parts of brain that are important for self-regulation and control of attention and emotion . . . . The rituals that religions have been encouraging for thousands of years seem to be a kind of anaerobic workout for self-control.”
And just being "spiritual" instead of "religious" doesn't seem to have the same effect:
In one personality study, strongly religious people were compared with people who subscribed to more general spiritual notions, like the idea that their lives were “directed by a spiritual force greater than any human being” or that they felt “a spiritual connection to other people.” The religious people scored relatively high in conscientiousness and self-control, whereas the spiritual people tended to score relatively low.
“Thinking about the oneness of humanity and the unity of nature doesn’t seem to be related to self-control,” Dr. McCullough said. “The self-control effect seems to come from being engaged in religious institutions and behaviors.”
So, the NYT reporter ponders, "So what’s a heathen to do in 2009? Dr. McCullough’s advice is to try replicating some of the religious mechanisms that seem to improve self-control, like private meditation or public involvement with an organization that has strong ideals."
I suppose actually engaging in the most significant "religous mechanism" -- prayer -- rather than trying to replicate it, is not an option for the heathen of 2009. Oh, well, at least the rest of us MOJ bloggers and readers can take some comfort in this research as we draw up our resolutions tonight!
Happy New Year!
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I must begin this posting by thanking Rob, Steve, and Michael S. for their contributions to the issue of inauguration events that will include, most assuredly, prayers.
If we consider the history of this country which quickly accepted an interestingly and obscurely worded amendment that speaks of the non-establishment of religion, we must take stock of how religion has played a role in the Republic’s history. Most presidents have at one time or another relied on an invocation to God for blessings, for victory, for meeting challenges, etc. This might be considered civic religion—rather non-descript, non-sectarian. Then there is also the need to consider the invocation of Justice Brewer about this being a Christian nation found in the Supreme Court’s decision in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States. While we are at it, we must never forget the post-election letter sent by the recently elected Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in which he sought to comfort the Connecticut Baptists from their concerns and fears about their Congregational neighbors. And, we must never forget so many presidential addresses made in times of difficulty or crisis when the Chief Executive, be he Republican or Democrat, has concluded his address with the invocation of God’s blessing on the United States, etc. Generic Christianity and religion in many manifestations have played a prominent role in American politics just as the dictum regarding the wall of separation between church and state has played.
I am reasonably confident that the political events surrounding January 20 in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere in the Republic will offer much fodder regarding the perceived propriety or impropriety of invoking God’s name regardless of any denominational or confessional context. Regarding the inaugural ceremony itself, I think that it represents a multiplicity of celebrations for the newly installed president (which is personal), for the government or state (which is supposedly indifferent to religion), and for the nation or people (which tends to be religious in a rather broad sense). Each of these contexts provides different considerations regarding friendliness, neutrality, or animosity to a particular creed. But, if we are concentrating our discussion on the taking of an oath or affirmation, then I see more of the personal associated with the new or re-elected president coming into play. Should this person choose a Bible (think of the possibilities: King James, Douay-Rheims, Revised Standard Edition, New Revised Standard Edition, etc.—each of which could, I suppose, generate some mild controversy); the Tanak; the Koran (Arabic or vernacular translation, either of which could generate controversy on other fronts); the so-called Jefferson bible; or some other text that is viewed as sacred or something like that, largely depends on the belief tradition of the person taking the oath. And, I think most Americans would agree with this personal decision about the religious or spiritual texts used and the prayers offered by the office holder who is about to assume office even though the celebration goes beyond the personal achievement of his or her becoming the Chief Executive of the United States.
I see the real question for those of us involved in the project of developing a Catholic legal theory resting somewhere else. And where might that somewhere else be? Here I offer two points of reference: the first more general, the second more particular and of interest to Catholic (legal) academics. First, the more general: I think those of us who make the claim of being Catholic should recall that the Christian nation of which Justice Brewer spoke was certainly more Protestant than it was Catholic; but given this probability, which Protestantism? I doubt that either Justice Brewer or anyone from his time or prior to his time would have thought that the Christian nation was Catholic. After all, the sentiment against papists and popery was rather noticeable on the religious Richter scale of those times. But if some form of Protestantism were the common belief, there was certainly division amongst those Christians from the “reformed” tradition of Christianity as reflected in the historical development of New England and the mid-Atlantic colonies that would divide this “common” belief. Otherwise, there never would have been a need for a response to the Danbury Baptist Association. Religious toleration was not something that was well practiced if practiced at all in the early years of our country’s history. One notable exception was Maryland’s Act of Religious Toleration enacted in 1649 but repealed a few years later that afforded protection to all Christians, i.e., Catholics and all Protestants, during its brief life. Perhaps the Act was a savvy move on the part of the then Catholic establishment in political society to attract Puritans and other Protestants to Maryland, but it was more the exception than the rule in its day and for many generations to come. It did not reflect the standard European practice of the time which was still largely conditioned by the Peace of Westphalia—cuius regio, eius religio. But then Maryland was not Europe, it was a part of the beginning of a new country and a new nation. With a strong measure of humility, it can be said that the one temporary Catholic stronghold in the New World at that time was more tolerant of other religious perspectives than were the Protestant-dominated regions.
The second point I would like to offer for reflection is something that is the charge of the Catholic disciple (including the legal academic) who may find himself or herself engaged in some aspect of participation in public life. I do not think that it is wise for the Catholic citizen to forget that he or she holds multiple citizenships simultaneously. Because of this, the Catholic should not forget one’s personal responsibility to avoid cooperation with efforts designed to exclude religion, including the Catholic faith, from public life. In this context, I would like to offer for consideration these words of Fr. John LaFarge, S.J. (pastor, educator, author, and editor) penned in 1954 that provide much insight on this second point:
When things are definitely past, they seem like dreams. The troubling thought drifted into my mind: will our Catholic churches in the United States some day seem like a dream? Will our thousands of parochial schools, our glorious college and university campuses, our hospitals and institutions and national organizations seem to us, even in a few years distant, as remote as do today the Knights Templars of the Middle Ages? This could happen, if we relax an eternal vigilance for the Faith, or if we betray the Faith by lives that contradict its fundamental teachings. The Church of the future lies in the hands of the Church of the present… The Church is never secure in a too complacent society.
I am not too troubled by what prayers are or are not said at the inauguration on January 20, 2009. I am, however, very concerned about how Catholics in the United States and, for that matter the rest of the world, view their role in public life and their responsibility to shape the country and the world as the well-formed conscience (that necessarily reflects the wisdom of the Church’s teachings) ordains. If change is the order of the day, I, as one Catholic citizen, would like to have a say in the matter not simply because I am a citizen but because I am a citizen who is at the same time a Catholic.
Point of clarification: I do not believe that a President’s personal expressions of faith are necessarily inappropriate or inherently discriminatory (even if presented at an inauguration). As to the prayers of ministers at the inauguration, I agree with Rob.
Our dialogue over prayer at the inauguration (here, here, and here) has been subconsciously playing in my mind. Is a prayer in the name of Christ at the inauguration a sign of the President’s faith, the nation’s faith, or both? And, what difference does it make? To fellow believers? To those outside the faith?
In an earlier post, I said that a prayer in the name of Christ expressed the President’s faith. Rob responded: “[A] lot of Americans cherish the Christian prayer and oath-taking at the Inauguration not as an expression of the President's personal faith, but as a collective expression of our nation's faith.” Steve Shiffrin concludes that in either event such prayers are “inherently discriminatory.”
My thinking on the subject has developed over the last week. I now agree with Rob that in addition to expressing the President’s personal faith a Christian prayer also expresses (and possibly is meant to express) the nation’s faith. I do not, however, find this expression of faith in and of itself problematic or “inherently discriminatory.” Here are some preliminary thoughts.
First, we must keep separate the concepts of “state” and “nation.” We have a “secular state,” but that state must govern with values developed elsewhere. Where the government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” these values will or ought to come from the people. Second, are we a “nation”? Do we have some semblance of a common culture? Common values? If the answer to that is “yes,” I suspect that the commonality is rooted in western and Christian values. It is in this sense that we are a Christian nation. Third, if we are in some sense a Christian nation, what is our responsibility as such? Should we pretend that Christ teaches nothing of relevance in how to govern or live communally together? Or, should we privately and publicly acknowledge this relationship with Christ and embrace fully His light and love as we humbly discern what this means for the nation? Fourth, and this gets to the crux of Rob and Steve’s posts, how do we treat those who are “outsiders” in the sense that even if citizens they do not share a common foundation with the majority? Do we gloss over the differences pretending that they are unimportant? Do we acknowledge openly and honestly the differences? For me, the answer might come from Leviticus where God instructs the Israelites: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” I have referenced this passage many times in my immigration work, but this morning it dawned on me that this passage could also apply to those who live among us with alien beliefs and values.
What do you think?
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Here's a nice prayer, on the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Family. Today's Feast also seems an occasion for reflecting on the centrality of the family -- "the first and vital cell of society" -- to the Church's Social Teaching (and, in particular, to the structure and content of the Compendium).
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Here's an interesting and provocative op-ed, by "Spengler" (Asia Times), about Pope Benedict's expressed views, over the last 25 years, on morality and economics:
Here is what then Cardinal Ratzinger said about it more than 20 years ago:
It is becoming an increasingly obvious fact of economic history that the development of economic systems which concentrate on the common good depends on a determinate ethical system, which in turn can be born and sustained only by strong religious convictions. Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse. An economic policy that is ordered not only to the good of the group - indeed, not only to the common good of a determinate state - but to the common good of the family of man demands a maximum of ethical discipline and thus a maximum of religious strength.
What caused the laws of the market to collapse in 2008? In another location (see The monster and the sausages, Asia Times Online, May 20, 2008), I argued that the bulge of workers in the US and Europe approaching retirement age is the ultimate cause of the financial crisis. Too much capital chased too few investment opportunities, and the financial industry met the demand by selling sow's ears with the credit rating of silk purposes.
Underlying the crisis is the Western world's repudiation of life, through a hedonism that puts consumption or "self-realization" ahead of child-rearing. The developed world is shifting from a demographic profile in which the very young (children four years and under) outnumbered the elderly (65 and older), to a profile with 10 times as many retirees as children aged four or younger. Economics simply never has had to confront a situation in which the next generation simply failed turn up. . . .
The future pope made two parallel points: first, that morality cannot be effective without competent economics, and secondly, that economics cannot dispense with morality by trusting to the supposedly automatic workings of the marketplace:
A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralizing. As such it is the antithesis of morality. A scientific approach that believes itself capable of managing without an ethos misunderstands the reality of man. Therefore it is not scientific. Today we need a maximum of specialized economic understanding, but also a maximum of ethos so that specialized economic understanding may enter the service of the right goals. Only in this way will its knowledge be both politically practicable and socially tolerable.
A clearer way to make these distinctions, perhaps, is to observe that the market mechanism has a negative but not a positive function. The market cannot decide what innovations or practices are beneficial to society. It can only punish incompetence and inefficiency. "Creative destruction", in the famous phrase of the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, refers to Goethe's Mephistopheles, who tries to do evil but ends up doing good instead. Without the devilish work of destruction that kills off incompetence, established monopolies would choke off innovation.
Nothing in the market mechanism, however, can distinguish between pornography and art, medicine and recreational drugs, development and suburban sprawl, or, for that matter, family formation and addictive consumption.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Here is Pope Benedict XVI's "urbi et orbi" Christmas address. A bit:
. . . In the millennium just past, and especially in the last centuries, immense progress was made in the areas of technology and science. Today we can dispose of vast material resources. But the men and women in our technological age risk becoming victims of their own intellectual and technical achievements, ending up in spiritual barrenness and emptiness of heart. That is why it is so important for us to open our minds and hearts to the Birth of Christ, this event of salvation which can give new hope to the life of each human being.
Wake up, O man! For your sake God became man" (St. Augustine, "Sermo," 185). Wake up, O men and women of the third millennium! At Christmas, the Almighty becomes a child and asks for our help and protection. His way of showing that he is God challenges our way of being human. By knocking at our door, he challenges us and our freedom; he calls us to examine how we understand and live our lives.
The modern age is often seen as an awakening of reason from its slumbers, humanity's enlightenment after an age of darkness. Yet without the light of Christ, the light of reason is not sufficient to enlighten humanity and the world. For this reason, the words of the Christmas Gospel: "the true Light that enlightens every man was coming into this world" (John 1:9) resound now more than ever as a proclamation of salvation. "It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear" ("Gaudium et Spes," No. 22).
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:1 & 14).
On this night of nights, we re-member this fact, this event - the pivotal point in all of history. What difference does (and should) this fact make in the formation of our communal life together as a nation, especially since not everyone recognizes or sees this reality? Isn't this question at the heart of our MOJ project?
Merry Christmas! May you and your families experience the peace that passes all understanding during the comming year.