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.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

More on Cardinal George's New Book

Like Steve Shiffrin, I just read John Allen's interview about Cardinal George's new book.  The part of that interview that really caught my attention was the last two paragraphs in the excerpt below (but you need to read the preceeding questions & answers for the context).  Raises some of those middle-of-the-night-when-you-can't sleep anxieties.  Are we taking a completely wrong term in trying to come up with Catholic legal theories?  Is lawyering our faith the wrong way to go?  I need to read the book, I guess.

One of your central points is that faith and culture are always in tension, because they are both normative systems. In your view, what’s the defining tension between faith and culture in the United States today?

Fundamentally, I’d go back to what I just said: individualism versus a communitarian ethos, and national parochialism versus a genuinely global or universal communion. Those are cultural realities, so they’re not just events or problems on the surface.

After that, where would I think the tensions lie? Well, I think one is the tendency to capture the church in national terms, and to see everything in terms of our political realities, [meaning] liberal and conservative. Those become the final terms of analysis, so that the church’s voice can’t be heard. The church is strangled by putting its voice into a system of communication that doesn’t understand her, and doesn’t want to understand her.

Are you talking about the press?

The whole thing, with the press as a case in point. But universities, for example, are also culture-forming institutions. The political system is too, especially now, because its terms are becoming constitutive of our experience everywhere. In other words, the courts become the place where tensions are worked out which should be settled in other forums, if there were available, but they’re not. Thus the terms of the political system become determinative for every area of human experience – marriage, the church, the family, sports, and so on.

‘Political’ in the sense that all those areas are seen as a contest among competing interests?

I mean that the forum for working out competing interests is uniquely political. It’s the only forum available, along with the media. That makes us very legalistic, as I say in the book. Today, you need a lawyer to accompany you at every step of your life, practically. Nothing is done without a lawyer, so we have lawyers in courts, lawyers in the legislature, lawyers in private practice, in corporations, and so on. If you’re not a lawyer, you’re hardly part of public life anymore.

On that subject, you write that for modern American culture, everything is tolerated but nothing is forgiven, while for Christianity it’s exactly the reverse – many things aren’t tolerated, but everything can be forgiven. Would you see the explosion of legalism as the index of a culture that doesn’t know how to forgive?

That’s right. Punishment has to be legal, and it has to be permanent.



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