Wednesday, August 28, 2013
In an interview in Catholic World Report, I offer some reflections on religious persecution in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere.
CWR: What about the view that these Christian communities were better off under people like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and possibly Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and now Bashar al-Assad in Syria?
George: No one should express any sympathy at all for horrible dictators like Assad and Saddam Hussein. Often they were the protectors of Christians and other minorities not because they particularly liked Christians or other minorities but because it was politically expedient for them to do so. Their coalitions, their bases of support were patched together and in many cases included some Christians. It is no salute to Mubarak or certainly to Assad, who is far worse than Mubarak, or Saddam Hussein, who was probably even worse than Assad—it is no tribute to any of them to say that, if it’s true that the Christian communities were oppressed as was everyone in the reign of those dictators, they were to some extent protected, and their plight has gotten worse, and that’s a tragedy. We should not be longing for the return of people like Assad and Saddam Hussein. We should be hoping and praying and working for the establishment in these nations of decent regimes that will respect the basic human rights of all people, including the Christians. . . .
CWR: What do you hope to accomplish as chairman of the USCIRF?
George: I certainly want to build on the achievements of my predecessor as chairman, Katrina Lantos Swett, who served with enormous distinction, and I’m delighted that she remains a member of the commission and, indeed, is vice chairman of the commission. I’ll continue to work closely with her. She and I believe that the plight of Christians throughout the Middle East has got to be given greater priority. That’s one thing I hope will be a mark of my chairmanship.
We’re also very concerned about Jewish communities. There are some small Jewish communities left outside Israel in the Middle East. They’re under even greater pressure these days than they have been in the past in places like Yemen.
I’m very concerned about religious persecution in Europe. Of course, it does not involve the brutality that we find in the Middle East. But I still hate to see liberal democratic regimes engaging in illiberal practices on the religious freedom front. We see this in a variety of areas. One, of course, is the all-too evident revival of anti-Semitism in some European countries.
Some European countries, even those with traditions of respect for civil liberties, are imposing restrictions on religiously-oriented clothing, like the Muslim headscarf on girls in schools, [and] jewelry, such as wearing a Star of David or a cross on a necklace. This extreme laicism or secularism represents an effort to drive religion into the purely private sphere and out of the public square, and that’s incompatible with a robust and proper understanding of religious freedom as extending not merely to what one does in the mosque or church or synagogue or temple or in the home at mealtime or bedtime, but extending to one’s public life. The robust right of religious freedom must include the right of the believer to enter the public square and to express his faith, including by symbols, and also to act on his religiously-inspired moral convictions about justice and the common good, just as Martin Luther King did in our own country, just as the abolitionists and people of other great reform movements did in our own country and continue to do, for example, in the pro-life movement.
So I’m concerned about Europe. It has not been a focus of USCIRF’s concern in the past, but it is commented on at some length in our 2013 report, and we will be continue to monitor that. There was the recent ruling in Cologne, Germany, equating religious circumcision in male infants with child abuse and attempting to ban it. Fortunately, the German government is moving to undo that court decision, but it’s indicative and reflective of an attitude and an ideology that needs to be taken seriously and strongly resisted. I want to applaud the Catholic bishops in Germany for coming out strongly against that ruling, despite the fact that no specifically Catholic interest was engaged here. Catholics don’t require circumcision of male children, though they permit it. This was not the Catholic Church’s fight. The bishops distinguished themselves by speaking out on behalf of the Jewish community and certain Muslim communities, for whom circumcision is a religious requirement.
On that same note, to go back to the Middle East for a moment, I also think we need to applaud and salute those Muslims who have stood up and spoken and tried to protect the Coptic Christians and other Christian minorities in the Middle East. On several occasions, Muslims have protected churches against extremists and mobs, protected the businesses of Christians, and taken other steps. It’s a mistake to paint with too broad a brush and to assume that all Muslims in Egypt or other Middle Eastern countries are persecutors of Christians. There have been more than a few, to their very great credit, who have not only refused to participate in the persecution, but have tried their best to stop it.
Moving now to other nations and regions of the world, we are, of course, deeply concerned about religious persecution in China, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and other states that are on our CPC list. CPC refers to “Countries of Particular Concern,” countries we are recommending to the State Department for listing so they will be subjected to sanctions unless the administration takes the affirmative step of granting them a waiver. And we believe that waivers, if they are granted, should be granted for short periods of time, for terms, and the administration needs to pressure these offending states—these are the grossest offenders, the worst offenders—needs to pressure them and make clear to them that these waivers are only temporary, and unless reforms are made those waivers will be removed and sanctions will be imposed.
The complete interview is available here:
As Rick noted, today is the Feast of Saint Augustine, an occasion for special celebration at Villanova, which is sponsored by the Augustinians. I've been dipping into Miles Hollingworth's splendid new intellectual biography of Augustine. Here's a bit, with profound relevance especially for teachers, parents, and those who reflect on our public life:
Clever university students of the right persuasion can affect a meticulous languor whose sole pleasure is noticing itself in grand poses of disinterest—what Evelyn Waugh called 'the relaxation of yet unwearied sinews, the mind sequestered and self-regarding'. But you can't cheat life like this; your character will continue to hound you. The emerging picture is of Augustine as a young man, with the blood really pounding in his ears. He will make every attempt to repose in the normal and acceptable life of his new city; yet he will feel unable to enjoy it with the same ease that he will observe in those around him. He will feel that he is being permitted to live only a fugitivam libertatem, a 'fugitive's freedom'. It is one of the particular consequences of individuality and the first-person perspective that you will always assume that you are the only one going through these things. And if God has been a part of your upbringing then this is the moment when God usually gets it in the neck—as the spiteful architect of it all. Why should we be obliged to call Him good and make up the shortfall in a disingenuous belief?
Augustine’s contribution to the psychology of adolescence seems to be to suggest that the stock intensities of this time arise within a complex about God; about parents (and particularly the father) as the earthly stand-ins for God; and about how the sensation of betrayal by these deities creates those hair-trigger responses to the world. 'For just as vinegar corrodes a vessel if it remains long in it, so anger corrodes the heart if it is cherished till the morrow.’ Those who newly enter the world as children are permitted a certain measure of goodwill about it all that the enemy of this has only to destroy by cultivating scenarios in which anger must be carried for long distances. For, by the laws of action and reaction, anger develops in complex and elongated ways into sets of rights—which are those negative assurances held so passionately against all-comers. And from the anger of children forced to compromise comes the adult triumph of the rights-based civilization of the Earthly City, holding its sharpest edge to the neck of God.
Miles Hollingworth, Saint Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography (Oxford UP, 2013), 112-13.
The good folks at Pepperdine University School of Law are hosting (yet) another outstanding conference this February. The theme this time is "Love and Law":
In a provocative essay, philosopher Jeffrie Murphy asks: “What would law
be like if we organized it around the value of Christian love [agape]?” Analogous
questions arise within other theological and moral traditions. What would
be the implications for the substance and the practice of law? We invite
presentation and panel proposals for our upcoming conference.
The list of confirmed speakers is fantastic, and already includes (inter alia) MOJ-ers Patrick Brennan, Rob Vischer, Michael Scaperlanda, and Amy Uelmen. For more information on the conference, and on how to submit a proposal, go here. I hope that the MOJ-ers will share their thoughts and papers with us -- and also report back!
The other day, this AP story by Rachel Zoll provided a pretty good overview of the ongoing debate about religious-freedom-related exemptions and SSM laws. As MOJ readers know, Tom Berg and I have participated in the effort, described in the piece, to get such exemptions included in SSM legislation. (Here is an example of the letters we have sent to legislators.) As the article discusses, the effort has been criticized not only by those who regard it as, in effect, special pleading for bigots, but also by those -- like Matthew Franck, of the Witherspoon Institute -- who contend that it constitutes a premature surrender, that it has not yielded any good results, and that it has made it easier for SSM legislation to pass in states where it otherwise would not have.
As I wrote in Commonweal a few weeks ago ("Worth Worrying About?", here):
In recent years, a group of law professors (including me) with differing views on the policy merits of changing the legal definition of marriage has presented to legislators in various states a detailed analysis of these and other live and potential conflicts, and urged them to include in any new legislation not merely superfluous affirmations of churches’ authority over their own sacraments but also “meaningful religious freedom protections,” for both individuals and institutions, in both the private sphere of worship and belief and the public square of civil society. The group’s letters, in other words, take seriously the acknowledgment by President Obama and other prominent same-sex-marriage supporters that there are fair-minded and decent people on both sides of the argument and remind lawmakers that both prudence and principle counsel protection and respect for the consciences of religious believers and the distinctiveness of religious institutions.
These interventions have had nontrivial but admittedly modest effect. They have been criticized by some same-sex marriage advocates for privileging the irrational and atavistic objections of some over the full equality of others and, at the same time, they have been given low marks by some proponents of traditional marriage for offering naïve and premature concessions to an aggressive and uncompromising political and cultural campaign. Nevertheless, I continue to believe that it is important and worthwhile for those who see and embrace the connection between human dignity and the human right to religious freedom to do what they can—even if it does not seem like very much—to protect that right in and through law. Such work is not inconsistent with, and need not be counter-productive to, equally important efforts to, charitably and prudently, align the positive law with the truth about the person and enlist it in the service of the common good - See more at: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/worth-worrying-about#sthash.wIKhlR38.dpuf
Today is the feast of St. Augustine (the patron saint, by the way, of brewers). For thought:
“Ask the loveliness of the earth, ask the loveliness of the sea, ask the loveliness of
the wide airy spaces, ask the loveliness of the sky, ask the order of the
stars, ask the sun making the day light with its beams, ask the moon tempering
the darkness of the night that follows, ask the living things which move in the
waters, which tarry on the land, which fly in the air; ask the souls that are
hidden, the bodies that are perceptive; the visible things which must be
governed, the invisible things which govern – ask all these things, and they
will all answer thee, Lo, see we are lovely. Their loveliness is their
confession. And these lovely but mutable things, who has made them, save
(Augustine, Sermon 241)
And, from the breviary:
Those who teach others sound and sacred doctrine
Shine, say the Scriptures, as the stars of heaven.
Such is Augustine, shedding light unfailing
Down through the ages.
City of Zion in the joys of heaven,
Praise the almighty Lord of true salvation,
Who led Augustine through such restless seeking
Safe to your heaven.
Earnest defender of the faith he treasured,
Dauntlessly checking all attacks of error,
Morals and virtue grew in strength and luster
From his clear teaching.
Vigilant pastor of your flock as bishop,
Light and example for both monks and clerics,
Pray for us always, so that God our Father
Ever may bless us.
Praise to the Godhead, Trinity most holy,
Whose divine Essence formed your chosen study
Even while earth-bound, what must be your rapture
Now in high heaven! Amen.
Josef Pieper was a German philosopher of the post-war period who worked in the Thomistic philosophical tradition. Perhaps his best known and most widely read essay (Pieper often wrote relatively short and accessible essays rather than longer-form books) is Leisure, The Basis of Culture (1948), in which Pieper argued that the disposition toward leisure allows us more fully to take part in and enjoy the world. Leisure in Pieper’s account did not mean any cessation of work or “down-time” in which one could be idle for the instrumental purpose of doing more effective work later. Instead, leisure was a condition of the mind that allowed a person a certain silence in which he could perceive and then celebrate the splendors of creation.
I am now reading Pieper’s essay, Tradition: Concept and Claim (originally published in 1970, but developed from a lecture given in 1957). In it, Pieper discusses the idea of tradition in a distinctively sacred key. For Pieper, by far the most important variety of tradition is “sacred” tradition, because the reasons to value tradition have not so much to do with a tradition’s being handed down as with the source of the tradition. Those that handed down the tradition as an initial matter were closest to the divine source of the tradition, and it is for that reason that the tradition has value.
Pieper’s is a bracing account of tradition because it differs so completely from the ways in which tradition generally is conceived and discussed today, in law and elsewhere, including by supporters of the influence and importance of tradition in these spheres. He allows that there are “secular” traditions but these are not really at all the traditions in which he is interested; secular traditions are instrumentally valuable (they enable life to “run along with less friction”) but not intrinsically valuable.
An interesting problem arises for Pieper when there is an admixture of sacred and secular traditions–or, more precisely, when people employ a variety of secular traditions in order better to preserve, uphold, and transmit the sacred tradition. In responding to the problem, Pieper offers an allegory–the allegory of the black bread:
In my grandparents’ day, it was a settled custom in peasant households that the father had to slice the bread for suppertime. If he was beginning to cut a new loaf, he made the sign of the cross over it with the knife. It was done, as I saw many times as a child, almost casually, even furtively, but it was never omitted. Things have changed since then. We no longer bake those enormous loaves of black bread, which really needed a grown man to master them. Now we have machines to slice the bread, and most of the time the bread comes from the store or factory already sliced. In a word, this beautiful tradition too has passed away. It does not take much imagination to see how many themes are present here for a truly pessimistic cultural critique (“machines replacing humans,” “urbanization,” “the collapse of the family,” and so forth).
Nevertheless, we can ask whether this kind of change is simply deplorable. Is it legitimate to speak in a more or less precise sense of a “loss of tradition” here? The answer to this question is made more complicated by the fact that here the purely technical process was clearly linked with elements of the sacred tradition. It seems to me that we could really talk about a “loss of tradition” and a “break with tradition” if the change affected the family’s order, and most of all what was meant by the holy sign of the cross; that is, such language is appropriate when that which is lost stands in more or less direct connection with the traditum, which alone must be unconditionally preserved. It is common for the essence of what must be preserved to become overgrown by and entangled with the concrete forms of historical life, and a change in the outer may very well threaten the pure preservation of the essence, so that anyone who carelessly discards or makes light of the “outer” traditions commits a dangerous act. A student of ethnology once told me that in a group that was driven out of its homeland, religious commitment might possibly grow looser to the same degree that the group moves away from baking its rolls in a certain way. Of course, the question remains open what is the cause here and what the effect, and whether we are not dealing with an extremely complex total process.
Tradition: Concept and Claim, 40.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
St. Augustine describes evil as the deprivation of good. Although I am usually on firmer footing when discussing matters of law rather than theology (caveat lector!), I believe that Augustine's understanding of evil can help us comprehend the White House's statement that there was "an extra measure of evil" in Christopher Lane's killing.There are two senses in which evil as deprivation of good can help us understand this idea of "an extra measure of evil." The first sense is on the surface of the White House's statement: "[T]here is an extra measure of evil in an act of violence that cuts a young life short." The extra measure of evil is the further deprivation of the good of Christopher Lane's life, because he was young. The second sense appears from consideration of the killers' (lack of) motivation. They killed because they were "bored"; our perception of the evil of this senseless killing is heightened by the sense of wasted goodness of young life that led to it.
Monday, August 26, 2013
The concluding lines of this interesting post, by Ian Pollock ("Is Secularism Unprincipled?"), are both bracing and refreshing (if a bit troubling, too):
Seen in this light, it is obvious why secularism cannot really be principled. It is an attempt to consign certain groups of sincere but deluded religious believers to a rhetorical sandbox.
Sometimes a matter of great practical import must override a matter of principle, however. The philosophically correct picture, as far as I can see, is a public policy debate in which any argument (religious or not) is permitted, and there is no false distinction between religious and secular questions. The sanity of the majority prevails, epistemically bad views lose to epistemically good ones in the marketplace of public opinion, and we all ride our unicorns into the sunset.
We should probably just stick with the old, unprincipled hack. But let us at least be honest with ourselves about what it is.
Or . . . we could join Pope Benedict XVI and others in endorsing "healthy secularism", or secularism, properly understood!
A really nice piece, here, by Cardinal Wuerl, on the occasion of the anniversary of King's March on Washington. (How sad that this wonderful anniversary was exploited for abortion-rights purposes by some!). A bit:
Our faith can never be relegated to just an hour inside church on Sunday. As Pope Francis has urged us, we need to "go out" and bring Christ's love and hope to our communities and our world. That is why Catholic Charities programs and Catholic hospitals continue to bring Christ's love and hope to those who need it regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality or sexual orientation. That is why we must continue to stand for the dignity of human life, for religious freedom and for justice for immigrants. Our pope's new encyclical, Lumen Fidei, reminds us that faith is the light that should guide our lives. It certainly did so for King