Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Very quickly after being sued in federal court (the suit that Rick recently noted), the Iowa Civil Rights Commission revised its brochure on public-accommodations issues under anti-discrimination laws, to say that churches were not places of public accommodations (except in unusual cases). The new language:
Places of worship (e.g. churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) are generally exempt from the Iowa law’s prohibition of discrimination, unless the place of worship engages in non-religious activities which are open to the public. For example, the law may apply to an independent day care or polling place located on the premises of the place of worship.
Since there was a lot of publicity about the earlier language and the lawsuit, it's right, it seems to me, to note the change, and how quick it was.
Jim Gaffigan, the comedian, has been on talk shows recently as the second season of his great TV series has begun. NPR recently replayed and posted an interview he did last September with Teri Gross on "Fresh Air." A bit:
[GAFFIGAN:] You know, I need the concept of mercy for me to have some semblance of self-admiration. So in real life, I'm probably somebody who is more devout. That's not to say that I'm a well-informed Catholic. You know, I'm still in idiot, you know? Like, I know that Colbert could quote Thomas Aquinas and all this, but I'm somebody who - you know, because it's a necessity for me on a personal basis. I need it because I'm a lunatic.
GROSS: When you say you're a horrible person and a lunatic, what do you mean?
GAFFIGAN: I mean that I'm somebody that - you know, I think stand-up comedy is this - it's this kind of indulgence and narcissism. And you're on stage and because stand-up comedy is one of the few meritocracies in the entertainment industry, there's some kind of - at least for me, there's some kind of idea of control. And my faith kind of keeps me in touch with the idea that I'm not in control of things. And when I'm in touch with the idea that there is a higher power and that there is, you know, other factors at work, it - it kind of quells my narcissism. And a lot of the teachings really kind of keep me grounded. But, you know, the reason I say I'm a horrible person is I don't want myself to be presented as somebody who's a great Catholic. You know, it's, you know - the idea of being a practicing Catholic, it's - for me, it's like - I need a lot of practice, you know what I mean?
When he said basically the same thing on Bill Maher's show (this clip, start around 2:00), Bill responded, "Why do you take on yourself more burden than life gives you anyway?" (I.e. "why go around thinking that you sin?"). It was a perfect skirmish between the theistic imagination and what Reinhold Niebuhr called "The Easy Conscience of Modern [Secular] Man." I think Bill Maher is often very funny, but watching his show, it's not clear he thinks he's ever gotten anything really wrong.
The Christian Science Monitor began a seven-part series today on "How the push for gay rights is reshaping religious liberty in America." A central theme of the first article:
In their campaign for equal rights in America, gay men and lesbians have argued persuasively that they are being targeted simply because of who they are – and who they love.
Many religious conservatives are now making a similar appeal. They argue that their faith is an essential part of their being, and that attempts to belittle their faith or confine it to the four walls of a church is to consign them to second-class citizenship.
The piece quotes John Inazu and me among others. One of my quotes continues the theme of seeing parallels between the two sets of claims, gay rights and religious freedom:
“Just as it was unsympathetic to gay and lesbian couples to say, ‘Keep your relationship totally private,’ it is also highly unsympathetic to the religious believer to say, ‘You have a legal right to follow your belief in church but no right in any other realm of life, like charitable organizations or the workplace.’”
The whole series should be worth reading. The Monitor has devoted the resources to examining these issues in detail as the New York Times has done, but the first installment suggests it will present the religious-accommodation side more fairly than the Times did.
Monday, July 11, 2016
I've been carping for more than a decade here at MOJ about what I see as the central importance of Christian moral anthropology to the "Law and Catholic Social Thought" thing. Here's another little gem from Walker Percy (taken from a 1986 interview):
. . .
Could you tell me how you feel about your inspiring beliefs, how faithful you have remained to them?
If you mean, am I still a Catholic, the answer is yes. The main difference after thirty-five years is that my belief is less self-conscious, less ideological, less polemical. My ideal is Thomas More, an English Catholic—a peculiar breed nowadays—who wore his faith with grace, merriment, and a certain wryness. Incidentally, I reincarnated him again in my new novel and I’m sorry to say he has fallen upon hard times; he is a far cry from the saint, drinks too much, and watches reruns ofM*A*S*H on tv.
. . .
Is it possible to define your Catholic existentialism in a few sentences?
I suppose I would prefer to describe it as a certain view of man, an anthropology, if you like; of man as wayfarer, in a rather conscious contrast to prevailing views of man as organism, as encultured creature, as consumer, Marxist, as subject to such and such a scientific or psychological understanding—all of which he is, but not entirely. It is the “not entirely” I’m interested in—like the man Kierkegaard described who read Hegel, understood himself and the universe perfectly by noon, but then had the problem of living out the rest of the day. It, my “anthropology,” has been expressed better in an earlier, more traditional language—e.g., scriptural: man born to trouble as the sparks fly up; Gabriel Marcel’s Homo viator.
From a 1981 letter to the editor of the New York Times from Walker Percy:
. . . I don't know whether the human-life bill is good legislation or not. But as a novelist I can recognize meretricious use of language, disingenuousness, and a con job when I hear it.
The current con, perpetrated by some jurists, some editorial writers, and some doctors is that since there is no agreement about the beginning of human life, it is therefore a private religious or philosophical decision and therefore the state and the courts can do nothing about it. This is a con. I will not presume to speculate who is conning whom and for what purpose. But I do submit that religion, philosophy, and private opinion have nothing to do with this issue. I further submit that it is a commonplace of modern biology, known to every high school student and no doubt to you the reader as well, that the life of every individual organism, human or not, begins when the chromosomes of the sperm fuse with the chromosomes of the ovum to form a new DNA complex that thenceforth directs the ontogenesis of the organism.
Such vexed subjects as the soul, God, and the nature of man are not at issue. What we are talking about and what nobody I know would deny is the clear continuum that exists in the life of every individual from the moment of fertilization of a single cell. . . .
My Notre Dame colleague, Francesca Murphy (Theology) says "no," in this very worthwhile First Things piece. She concludes:
Liberalism is no heresy, and the market exchange from which it emerges does not sin against the light. It is a healthy byproduct of Christianity, and the only means by which Christians can fight Marxist-capitalism, the stage-managed freedom in which the benevolent will of the powerful consults reason, discerns what people “truly” need and want, and then superintends over and administers the always vulnerable freedom of ordinary people. If one were searching for Gnostic heresies, surely this technocratic political economy, which is very much with us today, is a good candidate for anathema.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
I viewed last week's horrific violence through the lens of John Inazu's important new book, Confident Pluralism, in which he affirms the importance of certain constitutional commitments (focusing on the right of association and the public forum and funding requirements) and encourages the "civic aspirations" of tolerance, humility and patience. He explains:
Tolerance is the recognition that people are for the most part free to pursue their beliefs and practices, even those beliefs and practices we find morally objectionable. Humility takes the further step of recognizing that others will sometimes find our beliefs and practices morally objectionable, and that we can't always "prove" that we are right and they are wrong. Patience points toward restraint, persistence, and endurance in our interactions across difference.
Judging from my social media feeds and a few face-to-face conversations, the divergence in our perspectives on last week's events is nearly overwhelming. Even among those who are on the front lines protesting police actions, for example, there can be a substantial disconnect. In the Twin Cities, our local #BlackLivesMatter leaders -- already viewed as radical and counterproductive by many whites -- are under pressure for not being radical enough, accused of having embraced "white neoliberal" principles of activism (namely pacifism). That pressure was on display last night, as protests here turned violent. I imagine that many participants on both sides of the debate about police conduct toward blacks would not only place less importance on tolerance, humility and patience than John does, but they might deem those aspirations as unrecognizable given the stakes and nature of the debate.
John has been closer to the post-Ferguson conversations than I have, so I know that his analysis incorporates the current reality of race in our country. From my limited engagement with his framework, three questions present themselves:
1) Under what circumstances does the harm principle serve as a boundary on the aspiration to tolerance? E.g., #BLM protestors may recognize that many of their fellow citizens do not share their belief that blacks are often treated unfairly and with unjustified violence by police, but that recognition is hardly a first step toward tolerance of that disbelief. (A similar point could be made regarding disagreement re abortion.)
2) To what extent is a mutual willingness to learn relevant facts a precondition to humility as a worthy aspiration? When certain beliefs are subject to empirical verification, does that create any sort of burden of inquiry before humility is relevant? Do I need to exercise humility toward my fellow citizen who contends that the Earth is flat?
3) Are there historical conditions under which "patience" is better viewed as a civic vice than as a civic virtue?
California is on the road to passing legislation, aimed at religious colleges' sexual-conduct policies for students, that would create serious conflicts for many of the state's Catholic and evangelical Protestant colleges. I've done an "explainer" article for Christianity Today that describes the bill (it's had a number of permutations) and its likely impact (students at these colleges would face a serious danger of losing their "Cal Grants," which are state educational grants, up to $9,000 yearly, for students from modest-income families). The article is in descriptive rather than normative format, but it aims to make the bill's likely consequences clear.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
From "Diagnosing the Modern Malaise" (1985):
[W]hat are we to make of a man who is committed . . . to the proposition that truth is attainable by science and that emotional gratification is attainable by interacting with one's environment and at the highest level by the enjoyment of art? It seems that everything is settled for him. But something is wrong. He has settled everything except what it is to live as an individual. He still has to get through an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. Such a man is something like the young man Kierkegaard described who was given the task of keeping busy all day and finished the task at noon. What does this man do with the rest of the day? the rest of his life?
Thursday, July 7, 2016
In the painful shadow of the Philando Castile and Alton Sterling shootings, I offer an essay over at America on why Catholic universities should be deeply engaged in today's racial justice struggle. Here's an excerpt:
Today’s university jeopardizes its ability to speak to today’s protestors when it departs from its mission of forming the person. Rising student debt and questionable employment outcomes have caused many families to approach college through a strictly economic lens. In addition there is increasing concern that the identification and cultivation of particular virtues represents a kind of moral paternalism. As a result more aspirational educational goals are pushed to the margins. The hollowing out of the university mission makes it difficult to engage meaningfully with today’s campus protesters. After all, they are not demanding better job training; they are demanding a more inclusive community. This is a deeply moral demand.
The Catholic vision of education has always been about formation—a relational endeavor that is best undertaken in communities marked by dialogue, interpersonal modeling and opportunities for reflection and growth. Knowledge has more than instrumental value, and the student experience aims at moral growth, not just professional preparation. This foundational orientation does not make answers to deep and difficult questions about diversity and inclusion easy, but it means that the deep and difficult questions are not distractions from the educational mission; they are why the church operates universities in the first place.