Archived Posts July 2005 » Page 3 of 9 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A week ago Stanley Fish, a law professor at Florida International University, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times about the principles of constitutional interpretation, especially as represented by Justice Antonin Scalia.

Fish takes issue especially with the notion that the text can have meaning “as it exists apart from anyone’s intention.” Fish essentially denies that texts are things that can have meanings in themselves, and it amounts to a philosophical denial of realism.

Part of Fish’s problem is that he sets up a false dichotomy: either you must believe only in meaning as intended by the author of a document, or you must believe in the meaning of the document apart from “anyone’s intention.” In reality the dynamics of interpretation involve a relationship between the two.

Fish’s intentions, I think, are clearly to protect and clarify what the Constitution means, founded on authorial intent. He states, “Without that constraint handed down by the past, law and predictability disappear and are replaced by irresponsibility and the exercise of power. If you can just make it up when interpreting the Constitution, you can also make it up when deciding whether or not to honor your contractual obligations, and so can everyone around you.”

Today’s BreakPoint commentary by Mark Earley addresses some of the problems with Fish’s analysis. Earley writes of Fish’s piece, ‘However well this kind of argument does in the academy, it doesn’t fly in the courthouse. As law professor Ann Althouse puts it, Fish’s analogy to a rock formation is “ridiculous, because no one ratified the rock formation.’ No one agreed to be bound by what they thought the rock formation said.”

And this is a key point in the hermeneutics of public or corporate documents, like the US Constitution or a Protestant confession like the Lutheran Augsburg Confession. Meaning is not solely conferred upon the text by the authors. What might be the decisive factor in understanding the meaning of such documents is the view held by those who ratified or affirmed these documents.

Merely because Philip Melanchthon wrote the Augsburg Confession didn’t mean that he could rewrite or amend it later on his own. It’s status as a corporate document meant that he no longer had a monopoly on determining the text’s meaning. The same is true, for example, of the Barmen declaration written by Karl Barth. These are not individual, personal, or private documents. They are public and corporate, and therefore have a meaning that is in some sense independent of the author’s original intent.

There are so many things wrong with this news item from Canada, I hardly know where to begin.

But I’ll make perhaps the most obvious point of contradiction. This guy is “worried that the separation between church and state is under threat,” so he wants to initiate state control over religion, especially “given the inertia of the Catholic Church.”

I’m not at all familiar with Canadian law. Is there something in Canada similar to the American Establishment Clause?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 25, 2005

The New York Times reports this morning that “leaders of four of the country’s largest labor unions announced on Sunday that they would boycott this week’s A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention, and officials from two of those unions, the service employees and the Teamsters, said the action was a prelude to their full withdrawal from the federation on Monday.”

The withdrawal is the culmination of a period of dissatisfaction with the direction of big labor in the US. The leaders of the dissedent unions feel that “the federation under the leadership of its president, John J. Sweeney, has been ineffective in halting the decades-long slide of organized labor.” The disagreement is in part over the amount of AFL-CIO money that should go back to the local unions for recruitment.

Some of the dissenters feel that more money should be used for recruiting the next generation of union members, while the AFL-CIO leadership fears the diversion of funds would weaken the national political influence of labor unions.

This schism is occuring despite the efforts of the labor leadership to utilize religious leaders to push union membership. The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the interfaith outreach of the AFL-CIO, which “has hired more than three dozen aspiring ministers, imams, priests and rabbis to spread the gospel of union organizing across the nation this summer.”

This attempt to revitalize a form of the social gospel “seeks to recreate the historic partnership between faith and labor, an alliance that for nearly a century gave union leaders an aura of moral authority — and their cause the stamp of divine righteousness.”

There is some cause for doubt as to the authenticity of the effort, however. After signing up an interested worker, rabbinical student Margie Klein:

was pinning on a yarmulke — “to look more like a rabbi,” she explained — and preparing to march on AlliedBarton.

She read through a letter she had drafted to the firm: “Our traditions tell us that when one of us is poor, we are all impoverished…. When we work hard, we must be given the resources not only to get by, but to live, pray, and dream.”

“It’s a little spiritually cheesy,” she said doubtfully.

Two other interns came by to help; they added a quote from the Book of Micah to make the letter more authoritative. When Klein made her pitch to the exasperated manager at AlliedBarton, the other interns sang the line from Micah in the background: “We’ve got to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.”

The Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment, a Washington-based amalgam of left-liberal religious activists, has asked the U.S. Congress to reject ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Here’s a representative statement: “Religious leaders boldly stood with impoverished people and called today for sustainable development in Central America and respect for the integrity of Creation.” Some of our best friends are impoverished?

In this group’s statements, there’s scarcely an intelligible economic thought to be found or, for that matter, a practical understanding of what makes business part a functioning society that creates wealth not only for owners, but for workers, too.

Let’s turn the tables. How would these religious leaders respond to theological platitudes tossed at them from people who make their living in finance and industry? Imagine an economist trying to pass a graduate seminary exam with statements such as, “God loves us, that’s why” or, “We should all be nice to people.”

So, imagine a business person sitting in the pews on Sunday and the pastor hauls out the Interfaith Trade Group’s Statement on International Trade and Investment in lieu of a real sermon. This business person learns that the free economy has brought about “mounting global inequities” and “growing disparities and injustices” and we should be working for “distributive justice.” And so on.

A better way to prepare a sermon on the justice of trade would be to first absorb some real understanding. Maybe start by reading this analysis from the Dallas Fed which informs us that:

Entering into regional trade agreements has well-documented positive effects on participating nations, rich or poor, even though the impact on the United States would be lessened by the small market sizes of the DR-CAFTA countries. From the DR-CAFTA countries’ perspective, the agreement’s impact would be large. Even the most populous of these nations, Guatemala, has less than half as many people as the state of Texas. Moreover, despite what the habitual detractors of trade liberalization claim, there is much evidence that trade openings typically have positive effects on income per capita — generally including that of the poorest fifth of the population, even in developing countries.

Increasing the opportunities for trade is precisely what people of faith should be demanding for the impoverished. Unless we want the impoverished to stay that way.

Read Rev. Robert Sirico’s analysis of the Religious Left’s drive to derail CAFTA in “Unholy Opposition: A Moral Case for CAFTA” on National Review Online.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 22, 2005

The last of many gems here:

“Here’s Williams’ roadmap out of poverty: Complete high school; get a job, any kind of a job; get married before having children; and be a law-abiding citizen. Among both black and white Americans so described, the poverty rate is in the single digits.” — Walter Williams

HT: The Anchoress

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 22, 2005

Gregor Mendel, a monk and Abbot of Brünn, was born on this date in 1822. Mendel’s work opened up the promising and troubling field of genetics. He is often called “the father of genetics” for his study of the inheritance of traits in pea plants.

For information about what might be identified as the contemporary offspring of Mendel’s work, see the Acton Environmental Newsletter on Genetically Modified Foods, including Rev. Michael Oluwatuyi’s “How Will We Feed Africa?” and my article, “A Theological Framework for Evaluating Genetically Modified Food.”

Image taken from Genoma del genere Gallus.

Thomas Cloyd, 47, of Peoria, Ariz., and co-pilot Christopher Hughes, 44, of Leander, Texas, have been sentenced after a June 8 conviction for being drunk when they settled into the cockpit of a Phoenix-bound America West jetliner in 2002. The two were arrested before the plane took off just after it had pushed away from the gate. Circuit Judge David Young said he had no sympathy for Cloyd, and asked the pilots, "What were you thinking of?" Cloyd was sentenced to five years in prison. Hughes was ordered to serve 2 1/2 years.

The need for moral formation in the marketplace can have dire consequences if not pursued with diligence. This is the church’s work in society.

Hard as it is for me to believe, we are quickly approaching the first anniversary of my father’s death. He had struggled with kidney cancer for a number of years, and had in fact lived a relatively healthy and active life well beyond medical expectations. But as time went on, the disease gradually took its toll, and in September of 2004, my father passed away.

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

I remember very clearly the day of his final trip home from the hospital, after it had been determined that the pursuit of additional lifesaving measures would be futile. Throughout that first night, my wife and I sat with my father as he lay on a hospital bed in the family room of the home that he and my mother had built when their family was young. He had lived the majority of his adult life and raised his children in that home, and now he would live out his final days there as well. Every few hours, I would inject a dose of pain medication into a port that had been placed in his abdomen. Though at that point he was still occasionally lucid, I did have to convince him to stay in bed a few times, as he had somehow made himself believe that it was time for him to get up and go to work.

I remember even more clearly his last words to me, on the morning of September 10th. At the end of a visit with my wife and three month old son, I turned to him and said “I love you, dad.” He squeezed my hand and responded – “I love you too, Marc.” If there is a better phrase that a son could hear as his father’s last words to him, I don’t know what it is.

10 days later, he was gone.

We hear a lot in our society about the importance of “death with dignity.” Often this phrase is used in the promotion of physician-assisted suicide by people who argue that those with terminal illnesses should have the right to “hasten their death” in the face of suffering. In so arguing, however, advocates of assisted suicide reinforce the idea that those who suffer have no intrinsic value as human beings that would cause society to favor sustaining their life; and as a result they strip those who suffer of any dignity at all. They seem to say that the terminally sick and aged have no inherent dignity – but it can be earned by choosing suicide.

The assisted suicide movement – like so many well-meaning “compassionate” efforts – fails because it does not recognize the inherent worth of every man, woman, and child. Dignity and value are not commodities that rise and fall on some moral market in response to the fluctuations of human frailty. They are intrinsic to what we are as humans. They are a part of our very nature, as real a part of us as the blood that flows in our veins.

These thoughts come to mind as I read of the passing of Dame Cecily Saunders, the founder of the modern Hospice movement. Her life’s work has allowed countless individuals to face the end of their life with some amount of physical comfort, often in their own home surrounded by their loved ones. There is a profound truth at the core of the movement that she founded: that dignity in death comes not through the act of dying, but through the act of living one’s life to the fullest until death.

My family’s experience with Hospice is just one of many stories that could be told. In fact, the genesis of this post came as I read this remembrance, which touched me deeply because it is so familiar to me:

Dad fought the good fight against colon cancer for about two years until the day he was sitting on a hospital bed contemplating a bile drainage bag doctors inserted to prevent jaundice caused by tumor blocking his bile duct. Dad looked at the bag taped to his inner thigh. He sighed deeply and his shoulders sagged and he looked up at me with an expression I had never seen before. That was it, I knew. Dad had made a momentous decision: his fight to stay alive was over.

As a society, we too often make dying a shameful thing, something unnatural to be hidden away in a dark corner. Mom and I were determined that wouldn’t happen to Dad, that just because he was dying that did not mean his life was over. We shifted emphasis from cure and life prolongation, to comfort, dignity, and peace. That meant hospice, which then was still a relatively novel concept.

Dad benefited tremendously from hospice care. His last several months were peaceful, pain-free, and nurtured. He was cared for deeply by my mother and by dedicated hospice professionals. He would spend hours sitting on a bench in his back yard overlooking his beloved cactus garden, contemplating his life and the ultimate issues raised by human mortality. As an only child, I carried a heavy burden, not only in caring for my father, but also my mother, who was devastated by the depth of her pending loss. Hospice provided me with grief counseling–before Dad died–an invaluable aid in helping me help my folks. Dad died in a veteran’s hospital hospice unit in Los Angeles, and with his passing he gave me an invaluable gift: my father taught me how to die with dignity, courage, and fortitude.

St. Francis said that “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” We should all be thankful for the work of Dame Cecily, who – taking his words to heart – did so much to comfort and console not only the dying, but those of us who are left behind.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Thursday, July 21, 2005
Move over, sir. The Bishop is in town.

Have you noticed the most recent television ad against CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement? In it, detractors very wittily capitalize on the rhyme with NAFTA and present it as another ‘sucking sound’ of jobs leaving America. It seems to me a little sad these folks cannot think of actual arguments against this policy and must resort to 13-year-old Ross Perot witticisms to make their point.
Or do they? To bring in a moral perspective, Democrats in Congress asked Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini of San Marcos, Guatemala to testify on CAFTA. Read here for Fr. Robert Sirico’s answer to the Bishop’s questionable advice.

“The Debt of the Dictators” is a product of INSIGHT, a Norwegian production company. This documentary is aimed at examining the current debt burden of developing countries. Journalist Erling Borgen directs the INSIGHT team, and the 46 minute DVD examines the situation in Argentina, South Africa, and the Philippines, with a brief reference to the DR Congo.

The documentary focuses on the issue of what it calls illegitimate debt. These are debts undertaken by dictatorial regimes, but there is some difficulty in defining what makes debt “illegitimate.” A report from the Norwegian Church Aid group, which sponsored the video, states that the term illegitimate debt “has no existing definition in law, and the term seems never to have been used in legislation or court judgements.”

So, in some sense, the video is a defense and exploration of what this “illegitimate debt” is. The movie begins with a statement from Alvin Anthony, leader of Jubilee South Africa, a debt relief movement. Anthony says that illegitimate debt is the barrier to the eradication of poverty, and that with debt forgiveness, “We’ve got a better chance for world peace.” But, again, we are left looking for a real definition. (more…)