Thursday, September 23, 2010
In the Washington Post, Damon Linker (author of "Theocons"), proposes a "religious test" for all political candidates:
Instead of attempting the impossible task of abolishing faith from the political conversation, we need a new kind of religious test for our leaders. Unlike the tests proscribed by the Constitution, this one would not threaten to formally bar members of specific traditions from public office. But religious convictions do not always harmonize with the practice of democratic government, and allowing voters to explore the dissonance is legitimate. . . .
This "test's" questions would include the following:
How might the doctrines and practices of your religion conflict with the fulfillment of your official duties?
Now, it seems obvious to me that every candidate may and should be asked questions that go to his or her willingness and ability to fulfill their "official duties." But, I am not sure why a desire to "transform the world in the image of their beliefs" is either (i) particular to religious believers or (ii) particularly remarkable. I assume that everyone in public service wants to "transform the world in the image of [his or her] beliefs," at least to some extent. Certainly, we may and should think and ask about the means by which a candidate proposes to facilitate this transformation, and also about the content of the beliefs at issue, but -- again -- I would not think this question needs to be seen as part of a "religious test."
How would you respond if your church issued an edict that clashed with the duties of your office?
Here, Linker identifies, as an example of such an "edict", the teaching of many Catholic bishops that Catholic leaders should work to outlaw abortion, "even though the Supreme Court has declared it a constitutionally protected right, and even if the candidate's constituents are overwhelmingly pro-choice." But, notwithstanding the Supreme Court's "declar[ation]" and the views of a candidate's constituents, it does not "clash with the duties of . . . office" for a political leader to (i) think that the Court, and her constituents, are mistaken about abortion and so to (ii) work, within the given constraints, to move law and policy in a different direction.
And then there's this:
Do you believe the law should be used to impose and enforce religious views of sexual morality?
Sure, every citizen should want to know about every candidate whether or not that candidate believes the law should be used to coerce citizens to engage in religious practices or comply with religious obligations. And, putting aside the question whether sexual morality is "religious" or not, it seems to me that every candidate should appreciate the limits that privacy, prudence, and human dignity place on governments' efforts to regulate sexual activity. But, as the ongoing debates about same-sex marriage, abortion, embryo-destructive research, etc., (should) make clear, it is rarely obvious that the "morality" being enforced or promoted through law and policy (and some morality almost always is being enforced or promoted through law and policy) is distinctly (and so objectionably) "religious."
Anne Applebaum writes, at Slate, that the "fuss over Pope Benedict's visit to Britain was a blessing for Catholicism." I might characterize the orgy of ignorance, bile, and hate in which many revelled as a bit more than a "fuss", but I see her point. She observes:
All in all, [the Pope's visit] was a huge success. But had he been treated politely from the start, I suspect the pope would have come and gone and left no trace. The vast majority of Britons are not Catholic, and they would have tuned out deferential accounts of his sermons. The press would have relegated the whole thing to the religion section. Perhaps the faithful would still have come to Mass, though maybe not so many. In the end, around 500,000 people probably saw him during his visit, which is quite a lot in a country composed largely of pagans and Protestants.
And thus did Benedict's visit to Britain turn into an advertisement for religious freedom—both the freedom to abhor religion and the freedom to practice it. Much to everyone's surprise, including the Vatican's, raucous discussion of Catholicism turned out to be good for Catholicism—and interesting for atheists, too. The true aging theocrats—in Saudi Arabia, in Iran—should take note.
My friend and colleague at Notre Dame, Dan Philpott, is involved in a new, worthy project:
“The idea of reconciliation has deep roots in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other faiths,” says Philpott, associate professor of political science and peace studies, who is directing a new research program on religion and reconciliation at the Kroc Institute. “To be sure, religious people are not always reconcilers; in some settings they are supporters of violent division. Nor is reconciliation an exclusively religious concept. But reconciliation does have a strong affinity to religion, and many religious people are highly motivated to be peacebuilders.”
The concept of reconciliation offers fertile ground for scholarly research and rich resources for peacebuilding, Philpott says. “A few scholars have done high-quality work on these topics, but many unanswered questions and controversies remain. For example, how does reconciliation differ from the ‘liberal peace,’ the prevailing concept at the United Nations and most western governments? Can religiously based reconciliation be effectively practiced in pluralistic societies? Does forgiveness disempower and disrespect victims, or does it empower victims to heal societies? What empirical evidence exists that religious peacebuilders have made a difference?”
Philpott is currently working with Jennifer Llewellyn of Dalhousie University Law School in Nova Scotia, Canada, to develop the concepts of restorative justice and reconciliation as peacebuilding and to explore their meaning for forgiveness, amnesty, truth telling, and reparations. A team of scholars also has been commissioned to write papers on these concepts, and they will present them at a Kroc Institute workshop in fall 2010.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I would offer a quick response to Rob's hypothetical by offering these two points that should be taken into consideration when searching for the distinctions between religious faith and sexual orientation.
The first consideration is the need to acknowledge that Catholic social thought makes a distinction between just and unjust discrimination.
The second consideration is that the Constitution's text addresses the free exercise of religion, but it is silent on the matter of sexual orientation.
My understanding is that the Catholic Church opposes employment discrimination against gays and lesbians unless there is some specific reason why sexual orientation is relevant to a particular position (e.g., priests, in the Church's view). If I'm mistaken as to this premise, please let me know in the comments. If I'm correct, then I'd welcome feedback on this short hypo:
Suppose that the U.S. military, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had a policy permitting Catholics to serve, but forbidding them from revealing their identity as Catholics. If their identity became known, they were discharged. The rationale for the policy is hard to pin down, but usually it centered on the belief that Catholics' presence would undermine morale and compromise military functions because of non-Catholics' reaction to Catholics, particularly in the close quarters of combat. In other words, the policy was justified based on soldiers' current views of Catholics, even if those views were prejudiced. Catholics would (and should) have opposed such a policy, even if the open admission of Catholics into the military would have caused some soldiers to react negatively. Catholics could have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the effective function of other nations' militaries that were open to Catholics. In time, the inclusion of Catholics would reveal how unnecessary the exclusionary policy was, reducing harmful social prejudice in the process.
Is the current military policy on gays and lesbians different than this hypo? If so, how? Should Catholics react to current military policy differently? If so, why?
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
A beautiful, honest, and very personal reflection on her relationship with the Church.
"I remain within, and love, the Catholic Church because it is a church that has lived and wrestled within the mystery of the shadow lands ever since an innocent man was arrested, sentenced, and crucified, while the keeper of "the keys" denied him, and his first priests ran away. Through 2,000 imperfect -- sometimes glorious, sometimes heinous -- years, the church has contemplated and manifested the truth that dark and light, innocence and guilt, justice and injustice all share a kinship, one that waves back and forth like wind-stirred wheat in a field, churning toward something -- as yet -- unknowable."
Read the rest here.
Monday, September 20, 2010
He writes, in today's NYT:
But in turning out for their beleaguered pope, Britain’s Catholics acknowledged something essential about their faith that many of the Vatican’s critics, secular and religious alike, persistently fail to understand. They weren’t there to voice agreement with Benedict, necessarily. They were there to show their respect — for the pontiff, for his office, and for the role it has played in sustaining Catholicism for 2,000 years.
Conventional wisdom holds that such respect is increasingly misplaced, and that the papacy is increasingly a millstone around Roman Catholicism’s neck. If it weren’t for the reactionaries in the Vatican, the argument runs, priests might have been permitted to marry, forestalling the sex abuse crisis. Birth control, gay relationships, divorce and remarriage might have been blessed, bringing lapsed Catholics back into the fold. Theological dissent would have been allowed to flourish, creating a more welcoming environment for religious seekers.
And yet none of these assumptions have any real evidence to back them up. . . .
On Saturday, Benedict addressed Britain’s politicians in the very hall where Sir Thomas More, the great Catholic martyr, was condemned to death for opposing the reformation of Henry VIII. It was an extraordinary moment, and a reminder of the resilience of Catholicism, across a gulf of years that’s consumed thrones, nations, entire civilizations.
This, above all, is why the crowds cheered for the pope, in Edinburgh and London and Birmingham — because almost five centuries after the Catholic faith was apparently strangled in Britain, their church is still alive.
It seems to me that Douthat is onto something. That is, and whatever one thinks of any particular pope or papal writing, the papacy itself has played, for centuries, a crucial structural role in the project of constituting governments and protecting authentic freedom. It is permanent, institutional, tangible evidence of the existence of, and need for, authority that is not the state's.
I linked, a few days ago, to Archbishop Dolan's wonderful essay in America on the importance of Catholic schools. Today, the NYT is reporting on the Archbishop's plan to "save" Catholic schools by moving away from the parish-school model (in terms of governance and funding):
Each elementary school has until now been financed mainly by members of its local parish. But in the proposed reorganization, the cost of educating roughly 56,000 grade school students would be spread among all the parishes, and all the plate-passing churchgoers among 2.5 million Catholics in the archdiocese. . . .
Some of the implications of this plan?
[P]arishes forced to close schools have long been allowed to keep the money from the sale or rental of those properties, since in most cases the buildings were constructed and maintained with parishioners’ dollars. The windfalls provide a financial cushion that has helped sustain many struggling parishes.
Under Archbishop Dolan’s plan, however, all proceeds would go into a common fund for the education of children throughout the archdiocese.
Parent groups and principals also worry that centralized financing of schools will eliminate justification for a small tuition break now granted to students who live in the parish, a common practice in many parochial schools. With publicly financed charter schools already nibbling at the enrollment and viability of some Catholic schools, many school administrators — as well as parents working multiple jobs to pay tuition — are loath to give up any incentive, no matter how small. . . .
So, creative thinking and action like this is, in many places, essential. That said, the parish model is, in my view, the gold standard. To be sure, this model requires an engaged and energetic pastor, a congregation that appreciates the centrality of the school to the parish's (and the Church's) evangelical mission, and -- ideally -- smart managers who know how to pool resources with other schools to take advantage of economies of scale, etc. In today's world, it probably cannot be the only model. But, the move away from it is a loss.