Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Methodists Withdraw from Religious Pro-Abortion-Rights Group

This is quite a striking vote, cutting against the trend in which mainline Protestant denominations over the years became  increasingly allied, if only in their policy offices, with the broadest versions of the right to abort.

     Evangelicals celebrated the United Methodist Church’s decision yesterday to leave a pro-choice advocacy group it co-founded 43 years before. 

     At its general conference, delegates voted 425-268 to withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), an interfaith organization whose broad support extends to late-term and sex-selective abortions—a practice that the church’s social principles “unconditionally reject.”

This is one more data point in the emerging pattern that the ideological middle of the country--which Methodists tend to track--will not accept hard-line pro-abortion-rights positions, even as it increasingly accepts the progressive position on the other major culture war issue of gay rights. The two are very different, and their paths in public opinion charts will increasingly diverge.

May 20, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Another Book Worth Noting: Stark on Anti-Catholic History

John Inazu's Confident Pluralism, noted by Rick, is a book with an important thesis--hope it gets a lot of attention. 

Another book worth checking out, for which I've just seen a notice, is Rodney Stark's Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History. Stark is an interesting and readable sociologist and historian of religion, who always makes important and generally correct points in his books, even if (in my experience) he may oversimplify or overstate things in places.

May 8, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Books, Religion | Permalink

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Partly Acculturated Religious Activity: A Case for Accommodating Religious Non-Profits"

I've posted the above-titled article on SSRN. It's forthcoming in the Notre Dame Law Review, from the excellent symposium that the Review and Rick organized on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration on Religious Freedom. My contribution doesn't mention the Declaration. But it follows in its spirit, since it deals with a crucial question about the ability of religious organizations to have freedom in their public, not just their insular private, activity. The article responds to the claim, growing in strength in the courts and academia, that there should be no legal accommodation for religious organizations in activities where they employ or serve persons outside the faith. (That, of course, was a key premise of the narrow original exception from the HHS contraception mandate.)

I present a defense of a prima facie duty to accommodate what I call "partly acculturated" religious activities, which are "'acculturated in that they reach out to the broader society to provide services of general civic value, but unacculturated in that some of their doctrines and practices clash with dominant secular values [and therefore claim religious freedom protection]." From the abstract:

The law should not force all religious organizations and activities into one of the two polar categories, acculturated or unacculturated. Part II presents several reasons why there is a strong interest in protecting the freedom to engage in partly acculturated religious activity. Among other things, I argue, relying on work in sociology of religion, that refusing accommodation to partly acculturated activity risks losing the distinctive vigor that such organizations offer in providing services to society: their countercultural positions tend to create a sense of identity and commitment, while their acculturation means they apply that identity to serve society rather than withdraw from it.

Accommodating partially acculturated activity does present distinctive challenges because of effects on non-adherents. Part III proposes addressing those, and drawing lines concerning accommodation, by relying on concepts of:(1) notice to employees and clients concerning the organization’s religious identity, and (2) alternative sources of receiving the services or opportunities in question.

And from the article's Conclusion:

Claims for the protection of partly acculturated religious activity present challenges and tensions.  The scope of protection must of course take account of effects that these activities have on non-adherents, whether employees or clients.  But refusing such protection has serious costs.  The opposition to any accommodations for religious activity that affect non-adherents has the effect—and very possibly the aim—of marginalizing organizations that straddle the line between their own members and the broader society.  It will force these organizations to deal only with their own adherents, and play less and less of a role in the broader society, if they want to adhere to their doctrinal beliefs.  For all the reasons above, this would be a bad development: for religious equality, for the vigor of our educational and social service sectors, and for our ability to engage with each other across lines of disagreement.

May 5, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Survey: U.S. Christians Face Intolerance, and Complain Too Much About It

An interesting survey, with implications for how Christians speak in public discourse and in particular how they present claims of religious liberty:

A growing number of Americans believe religious liberty is on the decline and that Christians face growing intolerance in the United States.

They also say American Christians complain too much. In agreement: two out of five evangelicals, both when measured by beliefs and by self-identity.

March 31, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Playing God? Moral Arguments on Patents on Life"

I recently published some reflections on the issue of patenting of genes--human and non-human--from the perspective of religious and secular ethics. It includes reflections on the conference that St. Thomas's Murphy Institute co-sponsored with the Von Hugel Institute at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge (UK), last fall. A sample from my piece:

     The Cambridge conference showed how religious thought can make valuable contributions to debates over patents on life. Catholicism is well suited for these conversations, with its bedrock commitment to the dignity of human life, its history of reflection on the purposes and limits of private property, and its global network of institutions serving the poor and vulnerable....

     The conference also showed that the relationship between life patents and human dignity is complex. One cannot simplistically dismiss all patents in the genetic area as “playing God.” Christianity calls for us not to leave nature alone, but to exercise stewardship for the common good...

     But biotechnology, in the Pope’s words, also gives those with knowledge and economic resources “an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity,” and “nothing ensures that [such power] will be used wisely.” Thus patents related to living things still must be subjected to limits based in morality and the equal dignity of all persons. That means first (as all our conference speakers emphasized) that governments must continue to ban patents on natural products and processes, on human beings and on human organs.

     Second, even when biotechnology patents are appropriate, the effects of such technologies must be regulated to ensure they produce benefits, not harms.

UPDATE: Another piece on the issue, referring to our conference, by Simon Ravenscroft, one of our organizers, on the Religion and Ethics page of Australian television.



February 14, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion, Science | Permalink

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Wheaton and Islam: The Next Step, and the Unanswered Question

Wheaton College's provost is recommending that Professor Larycia Hawkins be removed from her tenured position for having stated (as part of an expression of civil solidarity with Muslims) that Muslims and Christians worship "the same God." The matter now goes to a faculty advisory committee for its recommendation, and then to the college president.

Wheaton's website contains a set of responses to FAQs concerning the situation. They don't address what I think is the most serious challenge to Wheaton: Do the asserted reasons for saying Islam worships a different God (i.e. Islam rejects the Trinity and Christ's place in salvation)  also apply to Judaism? Professor Hawkins seems to affirm (according to the Christianity Today link above) that Muslims and Christians understand God very differently. But the Jewish-Christian  differences in understanding of God--many of them similar to the Muslim-Christian differences--do not stop most Christians, I think, from saying that Christians and Jews both worship the God of Abraham.

On the other hand, Wheaton also says (in its FAQ responses) that "[o]n the part of the College, further theological clarification is necessary before [a] reconciliation [with her] can take place, and unfortunately Dr. Hawkins has stated clearly her unwillingness to participate in such further clarifying conversations," which created an "impasse." So perhaps she hasn't allayed concerns that, for example, her "same God" statement might be taken to reflect a more general religious universalism, or a minimizing of the deity and central importance of Jesus, both of which would of course be inconsistent with Wheaton's evangelical commitment.

But that doesn't deal with the more specific claim that "Muslims worship the God of Abraham, albeit with very different understandings than Christians." And I can't help but think that if one is willing to apply that to Judaism but not to Islam, the reason is cultural and political distrust rather than theological distinctiveness. Thus it would be good to know what Wheaton says in this context about Christianity and Judaism.

Thanks very much to Mike for quoting the Catholic Church's position on this from Nostra Aetate. Perhaps the Catholic teaching can give evangelicals some food for thought as they grapple with this issue.

UPDATE: Here is Professor Hawkins's fuller description of her position, in a December 17 letter to Wheaton's administration. HT: Frank Beckwith (he gives his own take on the issue here, and a catalog of others' perspectives here)

January 6, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Prayers After Shootings Now a Partisan Issue?

In The Atlantic, Emma Green reports on Democratic and Republican reactions to the San Bernardino shootings, and how a noticeable number of liberal/progressive commentators are "shaming" people who've expressed the sentiment that "our prayers are with those affected." For example, she quotes a Think Progress editor and pretty aggressive atheist named Zack Ford, who tweeted, "Stop thinking. Stop praying. Look up Einstein's definition of 'insanity.' Start acting on gun violence prevention measures." Green thinks there's a developing pattern here indicative of the changes in religion and politics:

There are many assumptions packed into these attacks on prayer: that all religious people, and specifically Christians, are gun supporters, and vice versa. That people who care about gun control can’t be religious, and if they are, they should keep quiet in the aftermath of yet another heart-wrenching act of violence. At one time in American history, liberals and conservatives shared a language of God, but that’s clearly no longer the case; any invocation of faith is taken as implicit advocacy of right-wing political beliefs.

I certainly hope that the "shamers" are in the minority; I hope that for the sake of the left, which (to say it for the umpteenth time) has no hope of making progress in America if it divorces itself from religious inspiration. I'd hope that many of those who attack prayer alone as insufficient, and want action, are reflecting something of the attitude of the prophet Amos (see 5:21-23, NRSV):

I hate, I despise your festivals,  and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.... 
Take away from me the noise of your songs;  I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,  and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

If you are impatient with unaddressed matters of justice, and you think that religion can throw up pious distractions from those matters, you have the Biblical prophets on your side. As Green points out, praying and acting are far from inconsistent. See the familiar list of social-justice movements the left commends, from abolition to women's suffrage to civil rights, that have been inspired by preaching and prayer. I think that most Americans on the left still recognize that--although unfortunately, Green is likely right that more and more do not.  

December 2, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Thursday, November 26, 2015

E.J. Dionne, Yuval Levin, and Ecclesiastes on Gratitude

Here.  The money quote is Levin's: “Ecclesiastes 9:11 should be stamped on luxury cars and Harvard degrees.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink

Friday, January 1, 2010

Mary, Table of Intellectual Faith

Happy New Year everyone! 

Fr. Araujo rightly observes the tension between the types of rationality that dominate contemporary legal reasoning and the types of reasoning that Catholics see as harmonious with faith.  His question for us points deeper into the nature and structure of legal reasoning and the values that it advances. 

John Paul II was particularly aware of the tensions between scientific rationality and the faithful Catholic life. In Fides et Ratio, he wrote that Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, is the “sure haven for all who devote their lives to the pursuit of wisdom.” (108) The encyclical interprets her “unqualified yes to Gabriel’s message as a leap of faith that made possible the salvation of all persons.”  It is this parable of Mary that illustrates the proper relation of faith and reason that Catholic philosophers should seek to emulate. Just as she put aside her worldly concerns so that “the Word might take on flesh and become one of us,” so too should the faithful Catholic philosopher offer natural reason in the service of the divine. The encyclical notes that the “ancients” saw Mary as the “table of intellectual faith. In her they saw a suitable image of true philosophy and realized that they must be philosophizing with Mary.” Taken in this light, Catholic thought is engaged in the pursuit of true wisdom when it thinks like Mary thought.

Imagine the full human range of reason and emotion that Mary would have experienced. The feelings of joy, fear, confidence, self-doubt, pride, humility, triumph, wonder, awe, and mystery. What were Mary’s self-understandings? Surely, her heart and mind were united in her affirmation of her role in God’s plan. Mary knew what the modern world has only recently begun to re-discover, that rationality and affectivity are inseparable (see for example, Antonio Damasio’s Descartes' Error).

The reduction of the fullness of human reason to the dispassionate discursive rationality of scientific inquiry is particularly troublesome for lawyers. In her interesting book, The Language of Law School, the linguistic anthropologist, Elizabeth Mertz, suggests that legal education, particularly in the first year, promotes objective, dispassionate modes of legal analyses, which denude the student of moral intuitions and empathetic emotion. What’s more, this sort of disengagement from moral feeling may be necessary for the professional formation of the contemporary America lawyer. Nonetheless, when legal education and legal reasoning obscure the fullness of human wisdom in favor of instrumentalism, consumerism, and fanciful conceptions of autonomy, we should rightly be aghast, because as St. Augustine taught, the emotional detachment of the Stoic is fundamentally incompatible with a faithful Christian life. 

January 1, 2010 in Araujo, Robert, Religion, Science | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thanks for Having Me, and an Idea I'd Like to Float: 'The Franciscan Sensibility'

Hello All,

I've finally figured out how to add comments here, so here goes the maiden voyage.  And thanks many millions to Rick both for the invitation and for making the actual posting possible!

I thought I'd start off by floating an idea to which I'm eager to get your reactions.  It has to do with what might be called one's 'moral-theological sensibility' -- the theologico-ethical orientation that I presume prompts and suffuses any person of faith's life and work, be it theoretical or practical in character.  Since we are most of us academics, there will of course be an academic flavor here, but I imagine that some of what follows will be of more general applicability too.

Now, I think that my own such sensibility was what I'll call 'Augustinian' during my youth.  I tended to think that, because our ultimate destiny is not of this world, worldly things were distractions.  I felt a sirenic sort of longing for a life apart from the world, either in prayerfully hermitic isolation or in some form of religious community.  (I was fascinated by the Orthodox tradition of the Poustinia -- the isolated monk's cell out on a barren steppe.)  The world often struck me as irretrievably fallen, and the best thing we could do for it, I often thought, was simply to pray for it as ardently as possible, while living a life that was simple and tightly liturgical.

In the intellectual life, this sensibility manifested itself in a leaning toward strictly theological subjects, leavened a bit with theoretical reading of an abstract, even Platonic nature.  Augustine and Kierkegaard and Cantor were my favorite authors.  To be both a theologian and a mathematician, prayerful in both capacities, I thought would be utterly cool.  The Biblical story that perhaps best captured my sensibility in this time was that of Moses and the burning bush. 

In earlyish adulthood, my sensibility began to evolve in what I now recognize to have been a 'Thomistic' direction.  My commitments and inclinations did not become any less centered on holiness and beauty, but I did find myself increasingly attentive to the holiness and beauty that seem to me truly to fill all the world -- especially its human inhabitants.  I really found myself just about actually *seeing* Christ in 'the hungry and the naked,' not simply looking for Him there.  A strange sort of love of all people began often almost to overwhelm me as I passed through my twenties, and it continued to grow as I entered my thirties.  I often found myself actually weeping each night for people I knew who were going through difficult times, and felt as though I 'knew what He meant' when He shed those tears for the multitude on the lakeshore.  And this Biblical story now came to supplement, if not indeed to supplant, that of the burning bush as best capturer of my sensibility.

In the intellectual life, this evolution of sensibility manifest itself in a growing interest in somewhat more 'practical' subjects, though I suppose still with strongly abstract tendencies.  So now I turned to more overtly moral theology rather than theology simpliter, as well as to ethical theory, normative economic theory, and of course legal theory.  From folk like Augustine and Kierkegaard and Cantor, I turned more to Aristotle and Aquinas and Kant, along with lots of mathematically oriented justice theorists like Serge-Christoph Kolm, Marc Fleurbaey, and one of my all time heros and mentors, John Roemer.  I also began thinking of means by which actually to realize, to instantiate, the good and the just, so there was and remains plenty in the way of institutional design work in what I nowadays do.  (Here I found another of my heroes and mentors, Jerry Mashaw, especially congenial.)  But the core interest always was justice, primarily if not solely as an interpersonal concern, prompted by an ultimate concern with the inherent dignity that our ultimate destiny confers upon us or coheres with.  And in large part I still think of every piece of writing that I do, and every class session that I teach, as being ultimately about realizing justice among persons on God's earth.  

Lately, however, I seem to be being drawn to yet one more expansion of the 'circle of sensibility,' if I might put it that way.  There remains the same preoccupation with holiness, and there remains the tendency to see God in all persons.  (It's a little embarrassing to say this, but I even still sometimes have to go off and tear up a bit over somebody I see on the bus who seems to be troubled or struggling in some way.)  Yet somehow now I find that I'm sort of seeing Him in other creatures too, and even in insects and *plants,* of all things!  This summer, I even found myself taking Martin Buber's advice a few times, by experimenting with saying 'Thou' to some very beautiful deer, and (please pardon me for this), even a tree! 

Now, I'm quite sure that this was not pagan in any objectionable sense, for I didn't think of the tree, say, as a 'person,' or as possessed of a soul in anything other than the Aristotelian, 'anima' sense.  But there was definitely an intense strain of 'this is sacred, this is a sacred thing' in it.  And in seeking a word for this tendency, which I still feel growing quite strongly right now, I find myself tempted to call it 'Franciscan.'  So the trajectory thus far seems to have been:  From Augustinian, to Thomist, to Franciscan -- with each move incorporating not repudiating its predecessor.  And this is finding reflection in my reading of late.  In particular, I'm quite taken with the 'deep green' theorizing of a fellow I used to know only as a logician -- Richard Routley.

Now when I consider where this might *ultimately* take the Catholic lawyer as a matter of her intellectual, moral, and practical life, I suppose that it would include a growing interest in designing institutions and crafting law with a view to what might be called 'giving stewardship its due.'  Suddenly 'God's green earth' too, and our fellow creatures as well, seem to be striking me more often as bearing both a share of holiness and an intrinsic moral worth to which we are Meant to be responsive in our attitudes, orientations, and ultimately our works and lives.  But I admit that I'm still groping about and fumbling with all of this, and am not sure how easy it will be to integrate it with the nicely contained, limited (distributive) justice orientation of the work I have done up to now.

In any event, what do you all think of this?  How should we be regarding other creatures and the earth as a whole in our capacities as self-conscious, self-critical Catholic lawyers and academics? Am I right in thinking that the trajectory from Augustinian, to Thomist, to Franscian can plausibly be interpreted as cumulative, in the manner I'm trying to do?  Or am I lurching into a dangerous paganism?  

Thanks again for inviting me onto this site, and speak with you again soon,



October 31, 2009 in Religion | Permalink | TrackBack (0)