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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Manhattan Declaration

I thank Bob Hockett for his gracious comments about the Manhattan Declaration.  It does not speak well for those of us on the conservative side of the spectrum that a good and fairminded man like Bob "expected to find anger and hardness of heart in the document."  We need to take that to heart.  Bob self-critically attributes his expectation to "a bit of unconscious bigotry" on his own part, but I''m sure that isn't true.  In any event, it is deeply gratifying to hear him say, "instead what I found was great dignity, manifest compassion, and humane adherence to principle."

In engaging the ideas in the Declaration, Bob mentions his belief that all life, and not merely human life, is sacred, and his inclining towards the view that marriage is an "inherently sacramental" category and that "the state is accordingly not the apt institution to define its countours."  I myself would not use terms like "sacred" and "sanctity" in relation to the lives of creatures that do not possess a rational nature, and therefore cannot properly be said to be made in the divine image and likeness. Non-human creatures (as far as we are aware -- of course, we don't know whether there are rational creatures elsewhere in the cosmos) should be treated with a certain respect (not reverence), but they may, in my opinion, legitimately be used for our benefit and need not be treated "as ends and never as means only," to recall Kant's famous formulation of our most fundamental obligation to each other. Having said that, in Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, Pat Lee and I give some reasons for believing that the wanton killing even of non-human animals is wrong.  On the marriage question, my view is that marriage, considered not as a mere legal convention but as a one-flesh union of husband and wife, is a natural, pre-political, and pre-ecclesial form of relationship and basic (i.e., intrinsic) human good.  The duty of Church and state is not to define its contours, which are given, but to recognize its necessary and inherent character and the norms that both shape and protect it, and to play their respective (and distinctive) roles in supporting and fostering it. Of course, as the Church herself teaches, Christ elevates the marriage of Christians to the status of a sacrament.  But even non-sacramental marriages are recognized, esteemed, and honored by the Church as true marriages possessing profound human worth and dignity.  They are true marriages because marriage is, as I say, a natural (pre-political, pre-ecclesial) form of human relationship and basic human good.

Obviously, there is much more to be said on both of the important matters Bob has introduced into the discussion.  I thank him for raising the issues, and, again, for his very gracious comments on the Manhattan Declaration.


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