Monday, January 28, 2019
For this Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, I am reposting a bit from a homily delivered for this occasion at Blackfriars (Oxford) by my late friend Fr. Herbert McCabe, O.P.:
St. Thomas’s life was spent in asking questions (nearly all his major works are divided up explicitly into questions), and this meant seeking to answer them. A man is a saint, though, not by what he does and achieves, but by his acceptance of failure. A saint is one who conforms to Christ, and what Jesus is about was not shown in his successes, his cures and miracles and brilliant parables and preaching, but in his failure, his defeat on the cross when he died deserted by his followers with all his life’s work in ruins.
Now whatever his many other virtues, the central sanctity of St. Thomas was a sanctity of mind, and it is shown not in the many questions he marvelously, excitingly answered, but in the one where he failed, the question he did not and could not answer and refused to pretend to answer. As Jesus saw that to refuse the defeat of the cross would be to betray his whole mission, all that he was sent for, so Thomas knew that to refuse to accept defeat about this one question would be to betray all that he had to do, his mission. And this question was the very one he started with, the one he asked as a child: What is God?
“What is God?” It was the intellectual sanctity of Thomas that he here accepted defeat. Unlike so many theologians before and since, he could in no way answer this most important of questions. Right through his life he accepted this crucifixion of the mind; his whole life was devoted to talking about God, to theology, and yet he was intensely conscious that he knew nothing, that God is the ultimate mystery, that we are peering into the dark. In Christ, he says, we are joined to God as to the utterly unknown. The most we can do is peer in the right direction; and all theology is about doing that. But we can never answer our basic question with any use of language, by any thought. We will understand what is God only when we have been taken even beyond language and thinking, and God brings us to share in his own self-understanding. Thomas was not making a new discovery when, at the end of his life, he said that all his writings seemed like straw. He had lived with this knowledge all the time he was writing.
This, then, is the heritage Thomas has left to his [Dominican] brethren and to the Church: first, that it is our job to ask questions, to immerse ourselves so far as we can in all the human possibilities of both truth and error; then we must be passionately concerned to get the answers right, our theology must be as true as it can be; and finally we must realize that theology is not God, as faith is not God, as hope is not God: God is love. We must recognize that the greatest and most perceptive theology is straw before the unfathomable mystery of God’s love for us which will finally gather us completely by the Holy Spirit into Christ, the Word God speaks of himself to himself. Then, only then, is our first question answered.
God Matters (1987), pp. 236-37.
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
As I suggested a few days ago -- it seems like forever, since it was before this weekend's Twitter-mob-unpleasantness regarding Catholic high school students from Kentucky at the March for Life -- the attacks on the school (and on schools like it) where Mrs. Pence teaches should be seen as part of a well-funded and coordinated effort to (a) pre-emptively back-foot judicial nominees and (b) weaken school-choice programs. A news story here in Indiana provides some confirmation for point (b). Some lawmakers (who oppose Indiana's pathbreaking school-choice program) have seized on a recent discrimination lawsuit in which a teacher at a Catholic high school was fired after it became known that she had legally married her longtime partner of the same sex. As the story notes:
The school and Archdiocese have said in public statements that employees must support the teachings of the Catholic Church, including marriage being “between a man and a woman,” and that the expectation is clearly defined in employee contracts.
Some lawmakers have announced their plan to exclude from participation in the school choice program schools that "discriminate" -- whether or not this discrimination takes the form of enforcing contractual provisions that reflect the schools' understanding of their religious mission. Such exclusion would (as it is intended to do) dramatically reduce the number of high-performing schools that participate in the choice program.
This ("Confusion About Discrimination"), from 7 (!) years ago, appears to continue to be relevant. Stay tuned.
Monday, January 21, 2019
Supreme Court review of Indiana law prohibiting abortion based on race, sex, or diagnosis of disability
In case you missed it in the haze of the New Year celebrations, here's an excellent analysis (by Notre Dame's Carter Snead and Mary O'Callaghan) of the case argued before the Supreme Court on Jan. 2, challenging Indiana's law prohibiting abortions based on a child's "race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, or diagnosis or potential diagnosis of . . . Down syndrome or any other disability." (See 7th Circuit opinion in Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky v. Commissioner, Indiana State Department of Health striking down the law here.) Snead and O'Callaghan point out that the 7th Circuit's denial of the petition for an en banc rehearing of the case includes a strong dissent by Judge Easterbrook, who argues: "Using abortion to promote eugenic goals is morally and prudentially debatable on grounds different from those that underlay the statutes Casey considered."
Snead and O'Callaghan argue:
Thursday, January 17, 2019
Rick's post about the sexual morality rules at the school where Karen Pence teaches brought to mind this TAC piece by Tim Carney in which Nicole Stelle Garnett's co-authored book with Margaret Brinig plays an important role. Read all three together. Here's an excerpt from Carney:
Sure enough, low trust helped to predict Trump support in the early primaries. The core group of Trump voters in the GOP primary ... were by far the mostly likely to say people mostly just look out for themselves.
In elite family-filled suburbs where most people have college degrees, trust actually tends to be high, regardless of stereotypes about gated driveways. Where do we find trusting middle-class or working-class communities? Where most people go to church.
And when the churches start emptying, the trust starts shrinking. Researchers Margaret Brinig and Nicole Stelle Garnett looked into what happened where Catholic schools shut down for reasons that didn’t appear to be low attendance. Maybe the pastor was transferred and not replaced. Maybe the building had to be demolished. These neighborhoods, shortly after the school shut down, saw increases in public drinking, drug dealing, and drug use. Graffiti, litter, and abandoned buildings became more prevalent.
The news cycle being what it is, there is a story going around -- and being much remarked upon by Blue-Check-Twitter types -- the theme of which is surprise/shock/horror that the Christian school at which Mrs. Karen Pence has a policy of requiring staff and students to act in accord with a variety of familiar, traditional Christian norms regarding sexuality. (The story to which I linked, like most stories I've seen, says -- incorrectly -- that the school "bans" gay students and employees.)
Two things (at least) are worth noting about this: First, this story (and others like it) are tactical moves in an effort to "condition the environment" for situations when nominees to federal courts are revealed to have been involved with/sent their children to schools that have policies in place that reflect the abovementioned norms. Second, this story (and others like it) are tactical moves in an effort by opponents of school choice to -- having largely lost the battle over the "statist monopoly or parental choice?" debate -- cripple voucher and other school-choice programs by pushing legislatures (and enlisting business boycotts and pressure to push legislatures) to exclude from voucher programs those schools that "discriminate."
Mark Movsesian and I have this podcast as part of our Legal Spirits series, concerning a prayer practice at school board meetings in Chino Valley, California. The 9th Circuit panel struck down the practice, holding it as outside the ambit of Town of Greece v. Galloway. In connection with the en banc court's refusal to rehear the case, there was a subsequent statement by Judge O'Scannlain (and joined by 7 active judges on the 9th Circuit) severely criticizing the panel's decision and discussing the definition and scope of the tradition of legislative prayer marked out by Town of Greece.
We talk all about it in the podcast.
Saturday, January 12, 2019
I recently posted here at Mirror of Justice remarks offered by Allison Berger in connection with Princeton University's "She Roars!" alumnae reunion. I am now posting remarks at the same event by Elly Brown, another Princeton alumna. Elly was one of the top students of her year, graduating summa cum laude in Politics and earning various other awards and distinctions. As an undergraduate, she was a leader in Princeton Pro-Life and the Anscombe Society (Princeton's student group advocating chastity and sexual integrity). In her remarks, Elly discusses her efforts to promote civil dialogue with supporters of abortion and others with whom she disagrees and makes some valuable points about truth-seeking and conversion--including her own conversion to Catholicism.
Remarks of Elly Brown
I would like to begin with a poll. I’m sure that all of us are aware of online comment sections under articles or posts on social media. I am curious: how many of you think that these comment sections are a reflection of the liberal arts ideal of thought diversity and the free exchange of ideas? Why do we not find this to be the case? After all, comment sections often represent a diverse array of viewpoints. Still, it seems that something is missing, and that mere viewpoint diversity is not enough. I argue that comment sections do not live up to the liberal arts ideal because they do not view persons as truly persons – that is, those having an intellect and a will, who are more than the summation of whatever views they are currently expressing. Comment sections dehumanize, reducing interlocutors to the views of the “enemy,” to someone who must be taken down. I further argue that if a University does not have a fuller picture of the human person in addition to viewpoint diversity, the University is nothing more than a real-life comment section, with the “enemy” mindset that we so often find online.
Thankfully, Princeton in many ways has overcome this comment section, enemy mindset, though there are certainly areas for improvement as well. For the remainder of my talk, then, I would like to lay out some of the specific ways – taken from my own experience as a Princeton student – that Princeton has indeed lived up to the liberal arts ideal, and then draw from these experiences concrete proposals that could lead to more improvement.
First, I have witnessed many successes at Princeton regarding thought diversity on women’s issues. In the larger public sphere, the comment section mentality is often experienced most acutely surrounding women’s issues. Often, women are dehumanized and expected to hold a specific predetermined set of beliefs on social and political issues, with little regard to their underlying humanity and the fact that they have intellects that can guide them to their own conclusions. Furthermore, women who disagree with this predetermined set of beliefs are too often viewed as the enemy to be taken down. The tendency for this mindset is perhaps greatest when it comes to the issue of abortion. As president of Princeton Pro-Life my first through third years at Princeton, I felt the consequences of this mindset to a certain degree. Many expressed confusion about why I would take up such a role, since being a pro-life woman leader seemed to be an inherent contradiction working within the comment section framework, anyway.
One of my main projects as president was overcoming this mindset of viewing others – especially other women – as the enemy for holding differing viewpoints on these hot button issues. To do so, Princeton Pro-Life began collaborating with the Women's Center, which generously accepted multiple offers to host and co-sponsor our events. My first year, the Women's Center co-sponsored a lecture on the ethics of abortion and women’s rights. My sophomore year, the Women*s Center co-hosted a “Pro-Life, Pro-Woman” open house to discuss pro-life feminism with the broader campus community and find points of agreement among students with diverse viewpoints. Later, Princeton Pro-Life and the Women's Center jointly hosted a screening of the documentary “Pro-Life Feminist” featuring Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa – the president of New Wave Feminists, which was kicked out of the Women’s March for being pro-life. After the film screening, the Women's Center held a discussion about the film and how those of differing viewpoints can collaborate to improve women’s lives and uphold human dignity. All of these efforts brought together segments of campus that may have otherwise viewed each other as enemies for having different views. By having these conversations, participants saw each other not as enemies, but as human beings mutually seeking the good.
These successes notwithstanding, there are ways the University could do more to encourage more of these humanizing discussions. Primarily, the University could encourage centers (such as the Women*s Center and Carl A. Fields Center) to intentionally and more often host discussion with the aim of bringing together diverse viewpoints in order to similarly overcome the enemy mentality. Doing so would reduce campus discord surrounding contentious issues and foster fruitful and productive discussion beyond the comment section practice of merely trying to defeat the other side.
Another encouraging feature of Princeton that is a testament to its viewpoint diversity is the ubiquity of conversions – including my own. By conversion, I refer not only to religious conversion, but also philosophical and political conversion, as well as more small-scale changes in perspective. Conversion can be a scary word, but in practice, it really amounts to a receptivity to the truth and whatever destination to which it takes you. I myself converted to Catholicism, as well as changed my mind on a number of contentious political and social issues. At Princeton, though, my convert status made me the norm, not the exception. I witnessed the conversions – big and small – of many if not most of my friends and classmates, which indicates the receptivity on the part of others to hearing arguments and an openness to being persuaded by good ones. The openness to conversion on the part of my peers is the antithesis of the comment section mentality, because it displays a willingness to move beyond the category of enemy when considering views other than one’s own.
To further encourage this culture of conversion, I propose that professors and preceptors should more explicitly teach their students the importance of charity – a willingness to consider an argument in the best light and fully understand it before attacking or critiquing it. I admit, being a charitable student and scholar is not always easy. My own natural scholarly tendency is to locate the enemy and attack. However, explicitly encouraging students to be charitable in the classroom will certainly translate into a greater respect for the diverse viewpoints of others.
In short, based on my experiences as a student, there is much to celebrate at Princeton. In many ways, Princeton successfully fights the comment section mentality and fosters a culture that not only tolerates but respects diverse views. And with a more intentional focus on fostering humanizing campus-wide discussions as well as the virtue of charity, Princeton can do even better.
January 12, 2019 | Permalink
Friday, January 11, 2019
Add to the conversation on liberalism, Catholicism, integralism, etc., this First Things review, by Gladden Pappin, of Helena Rosenblatt's The Lost History of Liberalism. He concludes with this:
The political development of Europe,” Pierre Manent once wrote, “is understandable only as the history of answers to problems posed by the Church.” The Lost History of Liberalism reinforces Manent’s observation even while Helena Rosenblatt colors the goals of early liberalism in golden hues. However noble early liberalism’s project of moral improvement may have been, its self-perception always included the specific aim of overthrowing the Church. As that institution has suffered under liberal advances, so has the morality and liberality that liberals claim they want to secure.
Though this is hardly its intention, The Lost History of Liberalism offers a counterpoint to the hopes of Catholics seeking rapprochement with liberalism. In spite of her best efforts to make liberalism’s interest in public morality stand on its own two feet, Rosenblatt shows that liberal public morality is always in opposition to the accounts of morality and public life offered by the Church. Liberals have never been seriously interested in the ways Catholics have sought to make peace with liberalism. The more liberals return to their roots, the more apparently shared ground will give way. The future lies in anti-ecclesiastical liberal ressourcement on the one hand, and anti-liberal ecclesiastical ressourcement on the other.
As one of those who continues to resist some aspects of the current Catholic (and other) critiques of liberalism (properly understood, which is to say, as I understand it!), I have to say this is bracing stuff. Stay tuned!
I am very glad that Commonweal published this piece by Peter Steinfels ("The PA Grand-Jury Report: Not What It Seems"). The article should be required reading for Catholics and non-Catholics, journalists and citizens. Peter makes, among other things, some of the points I tried to make (but he makes them better) in this post ("Disentangling the Crisis") a few months ago. It's a long read, but -- again -- a must-read nevertheless.
My sense is that many Catholics are reluctant to take issue with reports and news stories about clerical abuse and episcopal cover-ups, for fear of seeming to minimize or excuse the grave wrongs committed by some. This reluctance is understandable. And yet, it is very important that Catholics and others be told the truth and understand what did, and what did not (or, what might not have) happen. Here's a bit, from near the end:
What does the report document? It documents decades of stomach-churning violations of the physical, psychological, and spiritual integrity of children and young people. It documents that many of these atrocities could have been prevented by promptly removing the credibly suspected perpetrators from all priestly roles and ministry. It documents that some, although far from all, of those failures were due to an overriding concern for protecting the reputation of the church and the clergy and a reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of children. It also documents that a good portion of these crimes, perhaps a third or more, only came to the knowledge of church authorities in 2002 or after, when the Dallas Charter mandated automatic removal from ministry. It documents, well before 2002, many conscientious attempts to determine the truth of accusations and prevent any further abuse, often successful though sometimes poorly executed or tragically misinformed. It documents significant differences between dioceses and bishops and time periods in the response to allegation of abuse. It documents major changes in vigilance and response in some dioceses during the 1990s and, as far as the evidence shows, dramatic changes after 2002.
What does the report not document? It does not document the sensational charges contained in its introduction—namely, that over seven decades Catholic authorities, in virtual lockstep, supposedly brushed aside all victims and did absolutely nothing in the face of terrible crimes against boys and girls—except to conceal them. This ugly, indiscriminate, and inflammatory charge, unsubstantiated by the report’s own evidence, to say nothing of the evidence the report ignores, is truly unworthy of a judicial body responsible for impartial justice.
Why the media were so amenable to uncritically echoing this story without investigation, and why Catholics in particular were so eager to seize on it to settle their internal differences, are important topics for further discussion.