Tuesday, November 23, 2010
After posting about the phenomenon of GLBT teen suicide in the face of bullying, I have had a chance to reflect on reader comments, public response to the tragedy (such as the "It Gets Better" movement), Catholic teaching, and our scriptural tradition. Although this problem is admittedly complicated within the context of Catholic teaching, I have come to the personal conclusion that we are in some sense complicit, particularly if we do not actively provide moral leadership as individuals and as an institution to protect human life and dignity. I have been most moved by my reflection on Gospel passages in which Jesus expresses a special love and concern for "sinners" and the marginalized of his society (the adulterer, the sick, the poor, the alien, the tax collector, those holding to doctrinal error, etc.). I pray that we can respond in like manner and serve as witnesses to God's love and the dignity of the human person.
Monday, November 22, 2010
MoJ readers are probably aware of the controversy arising from published comments by Pope Benedict characterizing condom use by male prostitutes as a step toward moral responsibility to the extent that it reduces the risk of disease. (I won't even purport to offer a direct quotation, as there appears to be some dispute over the proper English translation.) To the extent that observers leap to read into this comment an endorsement of condoms in general, I can see why the comment would be construed as controversial. But if Pope Benedict indeed was limiting his statement to male prostitutes, who overwhelmingly serve male clients, what would be the argument against condom use? If there is no contraceptive function to the practice, why would the comment be remotely controversial? A New York Times article quotes experts pointing to the different weight that various Church statements carry, as does George Weigel, who offers this argument, among others, in responding to the controversy:
The second false assumption beneath the condom story is that all papal statements of whatever sort are equal, such that an interview is an exercise of the papal teaching magisterium. That wasn’t true of John Paul II’s international bestseller, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, in which the late pope replied to questions posed by Italian journalist Vittorio Messori. It wasn’t true of the first volume of Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth, in which the pope made clear at the outset that he was speaking personally as a theologian and biblical scholar, not as the authoritative teacher of the Church. And it isn’t true of Light of the World. Reporters who insist on parsing every papal utterance as if each were equally authoritative — and who often do so in pursuit of a gotcha moment — do no good service to their readers.
Why do we even have to go this far? Why can't the Church just say that it is better for a male prostitute to use a condom than for a male prostitute not to use a condom? (For the present inquiry, I'm putting to the side the question whether the doctrine of double effect would justify condom use to prevent the spread of disease in other situations.)
Sixty-five years ago yesterday, Justice Robert Jackson delivered his opening statement at tne Nuremberg trials. It was, according to Prof. John Barrett (St. John's) "one of the most powerful, eloquent, and important speeches in human history." Here are the opening paragraphs:
The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason.
This Tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, is not the product of abstract speculations, nor is it created to vindicate legalistic theories. This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of seventeen more, to utilize international law to meet the greatest menace of our times—aggressive war. The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched. It is a cause of that magnitude that the United Nations will lay before Your Honors.
In the prisoners' dock sit twenty-odd broken men. Reproached by the humiliation of those they have led almost as bitterly as by the desolation of those they have attacked, their personal capacity for evil is forever past. It is hard now to perceive in these men as captives the power by which as Nazi leaders they once dominated much of the world and terrified most of it. Merely as individuals their fate is of little consequence to the world.
What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalisms and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making, which have embroiled Europe generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life. They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived and with the forces they directed that any tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which are attached to their names. Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.
What these men stand for we will patiently and temperately disclose. We will give you undeniable proofs of incredible events. The catalog of crimes will omit nothing that could be conceived by a pathological pride, cruelty, and lust for power. These men created in Germany, under the “Führerprinzip,” a National Socialist despotism equaled only by the dynasties of the ancient East. They took from the German people all those dignities and freedoms that we hold natural and inalienable rights in every human being. The people were compensated by inflaming and gratifying hatreds towards those who were marked as “scapegoats.” Against their opponents, including Jews, Catholics, and free labor, the Nazis directed such a campaign of arrogance, brutality, and annihilation as the world has not witnessed since the pre-Christian ages. They excited the German ambition to be a “master race,” which of course implies serfdom for others. They led their people on a mad gamble for domination. They diverted social energies and resources to the creation of what they thought to be an invincible war machine. They overran their neighbors. To sustain the “master race” in its war-making, they enslaved millions of human beings and brought them into Germany, where these hapless creatures now wander as “displaced persons.” At length bestiality and bad faith reached such excess that they aroused the sleeping strength of imperiled Civilization. Its united efforts have ground the German war machine to fragments. But the struggle has left Europe a liberated yet prostrate land where a demoralized society struggles to survive. These are the fruits of the sinister forces that sit with these defendants in the prisoners' dock.
"The man in a modest dark suit and grey shirt could be mistaken, save for the presence of his wife of 33 years, for an off-duty Benedictine abbot. We’re dining in the elegant ambience of the Cambridge Catholic university chaplaincy; the conversation is animated, but the man, an 81-year-old philosopher, contents himself with a glass of water, leaving the dishes and vintage claret untouched. Self-effacing, a trifle austere, he nevertheless exudes a benign humanity from the top of his monkish haircut to his scuffed toe-caps." So begins this essay, by John Cornwell, called "MacIntyre and Money." The (long) piece concludes with this:
If MacIntyre’s ethics of finance raises more questions than it settles, he still beguiles with his illustrations from history. For example, he entertained his listeners with the story of the founding of a diesel engine factory in which an investor and engineer came together to create an ideal small-scale business for their mutual benefit and that of the local community. Later, demonstrating the ways in which globalised “bad character” can be resisted by “virtuous risk taking,” he cited four narratives: the 18th-century Guaraní Indians (depicted in the film The Mission) who chose a collectivised future under “proto-Leninist” Jesuits rather than slavery; the early founders of the kibbutzim at odds with competing visions of collectivisation; the Kerala leaders of the Marxist Communist party of India in 1957, who placated landowners and government while helping the poor; and the small farmers of Donegal in the 1960s who chose to establish a co-operative that sustained their Gaelic-speaking community rather than emigrate.
Such stories are fascinating, but contribute little to the larger woes he had set out in his lecture, the solutions to which demand, as he acknowledges, “social structures of an economy… very different from those of either a wholly free market economy or the state-and-market economies of present-day Europe.” Other than telling us that “it would be an economy in which… deference to wealth would be recognised as a vice,” he does not enlarge. His micro-models of a proto-Leninist theocracy—a kibbutz, a Marxist Indian state, and an Irish farming co-operative—do not lead one to believe that his ideal replacement for western-style democracy and the global economy would be realistic let alone desirable.
At the end of After Virtue, however, he argues that we have already entered a new age of “darkness and barbarism” similar to the decline of the Roman empire. “This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.” The survival of virtuous civilisation may depend, he implies, not on a world revolution but on the persistence of isolated communities similar to the monasteries that withstood the depredations of the dark ages. “We are waiting not for a Godot,” he concludes in After Virtue, “but for another—doubtless very different—St Benedict.” But who or what would that look like? He does not, as yet, say.
Here's the nutshell, from Amazon, on a new book called "Licensing Families":
In Licensing Parents, Michael McFall argues that political structures, economics, education, racism, and sexism are secondary in importance to the inequality caused by families, and that the family plays the primary role in a child's acquisition of a sense of justice. He demonstrates that examination of the family is necessary in political philosophy and that informal structures (families) and considerations (character formation) must be taken seriously. McFall advocates a threshold that should be accepted by all political philosophers: children should not be severely abused or neglected because child maltreatment often causes deep and irreparable individual and societal harm. The implications of this threshold are revolutionary, but this is not recognized fully because no philosophical book has systematically considered the ethical or political ramifications of child maltreatment. By exposing a tension between the rights of children and adults, McFall reveals pervasive ageism; parental rights usually trump children's rights, and this is often justified because children are not fully autonomous. Yet parental rights should not always trump children's rights. Ethics and political philosophy are not only about rights, but also about duties - especially when considering potential parents who are unable or unwilling to provide minimally decent nurturance. While contemporary political philosophy focuses on adult rights, McFall examines systems whereby the interests and rights of children and parents are better balanced. This entails exploring when parental rights are defeasible and defending the ethics of licensing parents, whereby some people are precluded from rearing children. He argues that, if a sense of justice is largely developed in childhood, parents directly influence the character of future generations of adults in political society. A completely stable and well-ordered society needs stable and psychologically healthy citizens in addition to just laws, and McFall demonstrates how parental love and healthy families can help achieve this.
This sounds like a book that moves from some premises that are clearly correct -- e.g., "parents influence the character of future generations of adults" -- and moves to some conclusions and proposals that might be less attractive. But, of course, I have not read it. Others?
For my own thoughts on some of the matters that (apparently) this book covers, check out this paper.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
It is up to the church to decide how its universities should operate. The secular government should not interfere.
Many — particularly those on the secular left — are so focused on achieving what they believe is the “right” outcome that they have little regard for the constitutional and prudential limitations on the role of government in such situations. They are less solicitous of “sphere sovereignty” or “subsidiarity” than they ought to be. Let us hope that dissenters from Ex corde Ecclesiae are unable to invoke the power of the civil magistrate to achieve their desired results. Genuine religious freedom demands nothing less.
This, from Front Porch Republic:
. . .Small is beautiful not because it purposefully stunts its growth, sterilizes itself, or controls itself with an obsessive and dominating rigor that would impose a little circle of stasis on nature and in defiance of it. The small community is desirable, not because it gives the fleece-vested among us an opportunity to savor a mochachino before heading up to Mount Rainier for the afternoon. The small household is beautiful, not because of its unpeopled quiet, but because the crush of kids playing and squabbling, raising and getting along together is the earliest and the latest fulfillment of our political natures. With and as children, we learn to be human; with and as the parents of children, we learn to be adults. Those who truly see the essential value of home production, the bonds of community, the propinquity of growing and eating, of making and using in a settled place, see also that these exquisite attributes of the small and local are made possible by big families and that big families are a large part of what makes them valuable in the first place. . . .
With the caveat that no snark ought to be directed at those who know the value of good outerwear on Mt. Rainier . . . read the whole thing.
I sometimes enjoy the writing of Jon Meacham. Last year for Christmas, someone gave me a copy of his book on Andrew Jackson, and I thought it a fun read about an important figure. On occasion, I've read magazine pieces of his on religion in America which I've thought interesting.
But this piece in the weekend's NY Times book review struck me as off pitch. In the process of reviewing what seems like a strong new translation of the Books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, Meacham tries to draw direct parallels between the trials of Job and President Obama's recent political fortunes. "Like Obama," Meacham says, "Job was once the highly favored one." But boils and other Republican afflictions have come to beset "a man seemingly rich in the gifts life has to offer, happy and blessed." Job and President Obama cannot understand why just men such as they have been consigned to suffer. Like Job, Meacham continues, the President has been forced to "humble himself" (God's pestilence is even compared to "Dick Cheney's vision of unfettered executive power" -- difficult to know how seriously to take this, or how it actually cuts). "And yet, and yet," concludes Meacham. "All is not lost, which should give the president some hope amid the shadows, and should keep the Republicans from thinking that their own course will be unimpeded." (From this, I gather that Republicans are actually not meant to represent the pestilence or the cold fury of God.). The political allegory of Job stands for the notion that for those who "endure in tribulation . . . perhaps all may be well."
I recognize that in the wake of electoral losses, the losing party looks for explanations for its defeat. This is as it should be, and analysis has been in no short supply. But my own view is that political defeats should be approached politically, not by the path of religious allegory. Putting aside the silly comparison between the devastations of Job and the political discomfort that the President has recently experienced (perhaps not quite comparable tragedies), there's a difference in kind that makes this sort of comparison inappropriate.
A large part of the meaning of Job's plight, I've always thought, is the inscrutability of God's will. God's plans and judgments are beyond the understanding of men, and -- difficult as it may be (and very often is) -- these are not matters for men to control. To apply that kind of lesson to politics is to miss the core point at a number of levels. The motions of politics are well within the sphere of the humanly knowable, the realm of human control. To use the book of Job as political allegory lends an air of (divine?) inevitability to political forces and judgments that is entirely misplaced.
And if the President is Job, who exactly represents the divine in this allegory? Is it the blind and impersonally deterministic forces of politics, something like the political Fates? Or is it something even worse -- "the people" themselves divinized, and allegorized as the wrathful godhead?
I don't agree substantively with a good bit in this piece by Mark Lilla (it begins after the comment by Ronald Dworkin), but it seems to me to be at least the sort of medicine that is directed at the right variety of illness -- political prescriptions for political failings. At a time when politics and religion seem to be more and more intertwined, the temptation to ascribe religious significance and meaning to ordinary politics -- and to find grand Biblical explanations for all too human events -- seems to me a category mistake.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Seen at a Starbuck's this morning: a brand-new "Christmas Blend" right alongside a "Holiday Blend." The Christmas Blend bag was decorated with the right sort of colors and symbols, while the Holiday Blend had a pleasantly neutral white background accented by some nice pagan naturalistic [alteration in the interests of modest critical unity] themes -- très 'winter solstice.'
Differences in ingredients? I did not stop to look, but if you enjoy essence of Holy Ghost, I might avoid the atheist bag.
Friday, November 19, 2010
I would like to follow up on Rob’s earlier post of today (Worst op-ed of the year) regarding anti-Catholic opinion publishing. It strikes me that one can find a type of anti-Catholicism or anti-Church attitude among some members of the Church, too. How can that be?
For example, Professor Lisa Fullam posted yesterday at dotCommonweal [HERE] a contribution entitled “Marriage Becoming Obsolete” which served as her commentary on the recent Pew Research Center survey report suggesting that 39% of Americans consider that the institution of marriage—be it civil or sacramental or both—is becoming obsolete. I will not offer my thoughts on the Pew conclusions today, but I do address the personal points made by Professor Fullam. She has previously been the subject of discussions by other members of the Mirror of Justice company. [HERE and HERE] For those who do not know her or unfamiliar with her, she is an associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley (JSTSCUB). Amongst the courses she teaches are fundamental moral theology and sexual ethics.
In her commentary on the Pew Research Center report to which I have referred, she makes some startling assertions that, if they were not made by someone who is a ranked faculty member at an institution that prepares candidates for ministry in the Roman Catholic Church, could readily be classified as uniformed, perhaps even anti-Catholic. Although the JSTSCUB states that it “discharges its apostolic commitments by means of its critical fidelity to the Roman Catholic tradition,” it seems that Professor Fullam’s commitments which might be critical of Roman Catholic teachings stray from being faithful to them. Perhaps I am mistaken in this claim, but then I recall what she says in her recent posting.
She begins by relying on a statement by one of the Pew researchers that “there are several ways to have a successful family life, and more people accept them.” Well, the fact that some noticeable group accepts alternatives to norms that are made by intelligent persons taking stock of the intelligible reality does not make these “ways... [which] more people accept” normative or moral or consistent with the Church’s teachings.
Professor Fullam gets on board of a project to rethink “the Church’s pastoral strategy on matters including same-sex marriage and cohabitation.” As she states, the Church’s views on these two topics are, in her estimation, “sub-optimal”, but she does not explain why this is the case. She does acknowledge that the Church teaches that marriage is ordained to two objectives: the loving union of the couple—presumably constituted by one man and one woman—and the procreation of children. She further contends, however, that only the first objective is necessary. Moreover, she believes that the union of the couple is “prioritize[d].” While she believes that children are a great good, she further opines that they are “not necessary to the sacramentality of the bond.”
She attempts to justify these positions by making reference to Pope Pius XI. While she does not specify any particular written source authored by this pope, it is likely that she has in mind his 1930 encyclical letter Casti Connubii. But her reading of Pius XI regarding the priority of the loving union of the couple does not accord with what he actually said in this encyclical. As Pope Pius XI stated,
This sacredness of marriage which is intimately connected with religion and all that is holy, arises from the divine origin we have just mentioned, from its purpose which is the begetting and education of children for God, and the binding of man and wife to God through Christian love and mutual support; and finally it arises from the very nature of wedlock, whose institution is to be sought for in the farseeing Providence of God, whereby it is the means of transmitting life, thus making the parents the ministers, as it were, of the Divine Omnipotence.
In the end, her posting is not really intended as an exercise in “critical fidelity to the Roman Catholic tradition.” Rather, her intention is to provide for the coming of an ecclesiastical embracing of same-sex marriage. As she says, “So where people see same-sex couples loving each other deeply, raising children lovingly, and the USCCB describing even civil recognition of those unions as a ‘multifaceted threat to the very fabric of society,’ what are people to think we believe about marriage?” She contends that such relationships “should be supported and encouraged.” By whom? Well, by the Church! But she believes that the Church’s leadership does not understand how same-sex relationships are the equivalent of heterosexual unions. In her estimation, the bishops replace her understanding of the righteousness of same-sex unions with “gross and untrue insults.”
But she offers a kind and gentle response to these “insults.” Her rejoinder is for “a new, pastorally sensitive theology of marriage, one that recognizes the importance and the beauty of the institution, that takes sexual orientation seriously, and that strives to support fallible and striving human beings in our attempts to become more loving.” Well, that is quite a proposal! But it is not a Catholic one.
Rather, it is tragic, misinformed, and anti-Catholic. It is tragic and misinformed because Professor Fullam assumes that any disagreement with her support of the normativity and righteousness of same-sex relations must necessarily be “gross and untrue insults.” But, they are not. To disagree with someone with different views on any subject—including same-sex marriage—is precisely that, to disagree—a disagreement that is based on intelligence comprehending and intelligible world. The nature of disagreement is to enter a debate with reasoned analysis and objective commentary supported by factual analyses. She fails to take stock of the inexorable, ontological differences between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships; moreover, she passes over the incapacity of same-sex couples to procreate without artificial reproductive technologies being utilized. So, to disagree is not to demean; to debate is not to insult; to contradict with objective reasoning is not to marginalize or unjustly discriminate.
In addition, her proposal is anti-Catholic because she does not explicate why the Church’s teachings about marriage versus same-sex unions are wrong. She only states that they are wrong by labeling the Church’s teachings as “gross and untrue insults” because they do not accord with her view—a view that would substitute sound and intelligible argument with subjectivism, relativism, and exaggerated autonomy.