Posts tagged with: first things

At Ethika Politika today, I examine the recent critique by David Bentley Hart in the most recent issue of First Things of the use of natural law in public discourse in my article, “Natural Law, Public Policy, and the Uncanny Voice of Conscience.” Ultimately, I offer a measured critique—somewhat agreeing with, but mostly critical of Hart’s position—pointing out Hart’s oversight of the vital role of conscience in classic natural law theory.

What I find so bizarre, and have for some time now, is the relative ambivalence, at best, of many contemporary Orthodox writers when it comes to natural law. Hart, for example, hints that he might approve of natural law reasoning so long as all parties involved hold to a metaphysic that acknowledges “a harmony between cosmic and moral order, sustained by the divine goodness in which both participate.” However, even then he is not clear. Indeed, he begins his article by writing,

There is a long, rich, varied, and subtle tradition of natural law theory, almost none of which I find especially convincing, but most of which I acknowledge to be—according to the presuppositions of the intellectual world in which it was gestated—perfectly coherent. (emphasis mine)

Hart is not alone among Orthodox writers in this regard. With the notable exceptions of Stanley Harakas, Tristram Engelhardt, and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (if there are others I apologize for my ignorance), contemporary Orthodox writers scarcely have employed natural law in their social ethics, if they even endorse it at all. Often it gets thrown under the bus in ill-advised false dichotomizing between all that is Eastern and therefore wonderful and all that is Western and therefore overly rationalistic. (more…)

Today the Acton Institute announced the 2013 Novak Award winner. Full release follows:

Although he has only recently obtained his doctorate, David Paul Deavel’s work is already marking him as one of the leading American scholars researching questions of religion and liberty. In recognition of his early promise, the academic staff at the Acton Institute has named Deavel the recipient of the 2013 Novak Award.

Deavel is an associate editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture and a contributing editor for Gilbert Magazine. He is also currently a Fellow of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas (Minn.), where he teaches courses in the Department of Catholic Studies and the St. Paul Seminary.

Deavel pursued his undergraduate degrees in philosophy and English literature at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and earned a Ph.D. in historical theology from Fordham University in New York.

Much of Deavel’s research and writing has been on topics related to the Catholic intellectual tradition, most often reflecting his acquaintance with John Henry Newman and G.K. Chesterton. His writing has appeared in numerous books and a wide variety of popular and scholarly journals including America, Books & Culture, Catholic World Report, Chesterton Review, First Things, Journal of Markets and Morality, National Review, Nova et Vetera, New Blackfriars, and Touchstone.

He is a native of Bremen, Ind., and a 1992 graduate of Bremen High School. Deavel currently lives in St. Paul, Minn., with his wife, Catherine, a philosopher at the University of St. Thomas, and their five children.

Named after distinguished American theologian and social philosopher Michael Novak, the Novak Award rewards new outstanding research by scholars early in their academic careers who demonstrate outstanding intellectual merit in advancing the understanding of theology’s connection to human dignity, the importance of limited government, religious liberty, and economic freedom. Recipients of the Novak Award make a formal presentation on such questions at an annual public forum known as the Calihan Lecture. The Novak Award comes with a $10,000 prize.

The Novak Award forms part of a range of scholarships, travel grants, and awards available from the Acton Institute that support future religious and intellectual leaders who wish to study the essential relationship between theology, the free market, economic liberty, and the importance of the rule of law. Details of these scholarships may be found here.

Currently, there are forty cases against the Obamacare HHS mandate. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires employers to provide,  as employee health care, “preventative services” such as abortion and sterilization.

John Daniel Davidson, in First Things, says that the president and his administration have grossly misjudged this entire situation. In Davidson’s view, the administration “in their conceit” seemed to think that millions of Americans would simply put aside their deeply held religious and moral convictions and play along with the government. But that’s not all.

…perhaps most shocking was the administration’s hubris in assuming that religious organizations, business owners, and individuals with deeply held beliefs about contraception and abortion would agree to provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs such as the morning-after pill. Were federal officials surprised when the Catholic Church objected to mandated contraceptive coverage? Did they really think Catholic-owned hospitals and universities would accept such a rule? Did they think conservative Christian schools like Wheaton College—which forbids alcohol, tobacco, and even unsanctioned dancing on its campus—would somehow be willing to provide its employees with morning-after pills and other abortifacients?

Davidson specifically mentions the case brought by the owners of Hobby Lobby (read more here and here) as an example of a non-religious organization – a for-profit business – whose owners are not willing to simply set aside their religious beliefs for what they believe to be an unconstitutional law.

Read “Obamacare’s Crisis of Conscience” at First Things.

Need a logical defense of religious freedom? Look no further than First Things‘ “On the Square” web exclusive, where future University of St. Thomas assistant philosophy professor Tomas Bogardus tackles a proposed restriction of an idea long taken for granted in free countries. Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, recently published an article, “The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom,” which proposes to limit “the legitimate defense of religious freedom to rejecting proposals that stop people from practicing their religion.”

Singer’s article addresses some global examples. Recently, the Dutch parliament began reviewing legislation that would mandate the stunning of livestock before slaughter. This of course violates the customs of Judaism and Islam, both of which require practitioners to eat meat only from animals that were conscious when killed. To dissenting Jews and Muslims, Singer’s solution is simple:  Don’t eat meat. He says, “When people are prohibited from practicing their religion—for example, by laws that bar worshiping in certain ways—there can be no doubt that their freedom of religion has been violated. But prohibiting the ritual slaughter of animals does not stop Jews or Muslims from practicing their religion.” Singer then transposes this approach to the HHS mandate: Because no Catholic teaching requires Catholics to establish and run hospitals, the state can order Catholics to provide employees with health care packages that cover birth control medications. If Catholics don’t like that, they can close the doors to their hospitals without damage to their doctrinal standards.

Bogardus’ response is well-reasoned and relevant:

One catches a glimpse of Singer’s utopia, full of vegetarian Muslims and Jews and Christians who employ no one. And all under compulsion of the state. His argument for this utopia has three steps. One: if a policy does not compel religionists to violate a teaching of their religion, then the policy is not an improper infringement on the practice of their religion. Two: if a policy does not unduly infringe upon the practice of a religion, it is not a violation of religious freedom. Three: since e.g. the Obama Administration’s mandate does not require Catholics to violate any Catholic dogma, Singer concludes that the mandate doesn’t violate Catholics’ religious freedom. Q.E.D., as philosophers are said to say.

So much for the argument. What shall we say in response? At least this: Singer’s argument succeeds only if every step is true. Yet the first two steps of Singer’s argument cannot both be true, since together they lead to absurd conclusions. Isn’t it possible, after all, for a policy to violate someone’s religious freedom even without compelling her to transgress any teaching of her religion?

He goes on to address both hypothetical and actual situations that, under the lens of Singer’s microscope, prove problematic. The full column is relevant, insightful and absolutely worth a read as issues of religious freedom become more pressing in our present context.

Over on First Things, Michael W. Hannon, David J. Pederson, and Peter A. Blair write about the injustices of inequality. In many parts of their short article they had me nodding in agreement. But as with much that is written about income and wealth inequality, the article makes assertions that seem to have no basis in economic reality. For instance, the authors seem to claim that income inequality leads to power inequality which “harms civic friendship.”
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Blog author: ehilton
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
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Andreas Widmer, entrepreneur, former Swiss guard, and contributor to PovertyCure, has published an article at First Things, titled “Can Business Save Your Soul?”  It is Widmer’s take on the statement by the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice regarding the role of business (see commentary on this by Acton’s Kishore Jayabalan here).

Widmer states:

…the business community represents a fertile field for the practice of the Gospels and this is, I think, the aim of the Justice and Peace document.

It is, alas, common in our age to separate faith from business and promote a dualism between secular and holy.

The Church represents a counterpoint to that worldview: At the root of Christianity stands the fact that our path to spiritual fulfillment passes through our physical life and actions. Jewish and Christian faith is not only spiritual but also physical. Judaism emphasizes this by focusing on an actual city in this world: Jerusalem and a single historical people, the Jewish people. Christianity emphasizes the incarnate nature of the divine. On the last day, we will be raised in both body and spirit.

The document is a loud and clear call to a strong inner life for business leaders. It is also a call to develop among them a “spirituality of work.” It is even more important to provide a religious “formation” for business leaders and for students in our universities. We have long done the latter. We have barely begun the former.

(The entire statement from Cardinal Peter Turkson is available here in PDF format.)

Read more…

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, April 12, 2012
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The Hunger Games may lack a single reference to religion or God, but as Jordan J. Ballor and Todd Steen point out in an article for First Things, the books and film presents a secularized alternative to the Christian virtue of hope:
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When we launched the PowerBlog in 2005, we had little idea that it would grow into one of the Acton Institute’s most popular and powerful communications channels. Nearly 4,000 posts, and 8,000 comments later, the PowerBlog is still going strong. And for that, we heartily thank our many readers, contributors and commenters.

Now we have for the first time a dedicated editor to help sustain and grow the blog for the advancement of the “free and virtuous society.” Veteran journalist Joe Carter is joining Acton as Senior Editor beginning today.

Joe Carter

Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, online editor for First Things, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College.  A 15-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously worked as the managing editor for The East Texas Tribune and the online magazine Culture11. He has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign, as a director of communications for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, and as director of online communications for Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

Please join me in welcoming Joe to the PowerBlog.

R.R. Reno at First Things has written a moving meditation on the preferential option for the poor:

“In the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus warning us about how our lives will be judged. His words are pointed. We are to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. For what we do to the poor and the destitute—“the least of these my brethren,” says Jesus—we do to the Lord himself.

It’s a sobering warning, and I fear that I’m typical. For the most part I think about myself: my needs, my interests, my desires. And when I break out of my cocoon of self-interest, it’s usually because I’m thinking about my family or my friends, which is still a kind of self-interest. The poor? Sure, I feel a sense of responsibility, but they’re remote and more hypothetical than real: objects of a thin, distant moral concern that tends to be overwhelmed by the immediate demands of my life. As I said, I’m afraid I’m typical.”

Reno points out something very interesting about the language used to describe our relationship to the poor:

“In Octogesima Adveniens (1971), an encyclical marking the eightieth anniversary of Leo XIII’s seminal treatment of modern social issues, Rerum Novarum, Paul VI evoked the fundamental importance of a transformative spirit of self-sacrificial love. “In teaching us charity,” he wrote, “the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods generously at the service of others.”

“Preferential respect” became the handier slogan “preferential option,” a formulation that first emerged from liberation theologies in South America but has percolated into a great deal of Catholic pronouncement on social ethics in recent decades. It captures a fundamental Christian imperative. When we think about politics and culture, our first question should be: “What are the needs of the poor?””

The late Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase, ‘preferential option for the poor’ a few years prior to Pope Paul VI’s use of ‘preferential respect’ in his encyclical and both phrases bring out a different dimension of what the Christian’s relationship with the poor should be.

The language of Arrupe follows the Ignatian tradition in its emphasis on choice. It is a preferential option, a decision to be made, and a commitment to be lived. The language of Pope Paul VI is more ontological, a respect to be given to the poor as poor, possessing a dignity that also demands ones own renunciation of rights and claims before them.

When meditating on the preferential option, a relationship of action and choice, Reno is right to recall the words of Jesus when he speaks of the judgment, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

When I think of Pope Paul VI’s language of respect my thoughts go to these words of Christ, “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.”

The poor must never be reduced to a project or duty and they must never be ignored while simultaneously held in our esteem. They are our neighbors and all that that entails.

 

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
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Yesterday I noted some items related to the question of punishment and restorative justice in the American criminal justice system. And in the past we’ve looked here at the PowerBlog of the issues surrounding political and social activism on prison rape.

Now today Joe Carter, web editor at First Things, considers the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the broader cultural attitudes toward prison rape:

While such laws are a useful beginning, what is needed more than any legislation is a change in attitude by the American public. While jokes about conventional rape are always considered in bad taste, humor about prison rape is common and broadly accepted.

Joe makes an important case, and it is worth serious consideration. Given his position on water boarding and torture more generally, I’m sure that Joe agrees with what I’ve written previously on this issue: “Inmates are still people, and therefore need to be treated as such, with all the challenges and potential that face all human persons.” One of the things it means to treat someone with the dignity they deserve as a human being is to not subject them to conditions where the threat of rape is rampant.

With regard to the relationship between humor and prison rape, Joe is right to point to the double standard. One commenter on one of my previous posts contended, however, that “I don’t think the vast majority of people who joke or threaten about prison rape are seriously indifferent to it when it comes to making real decisions about the penal system. Instead, I think they are simply pointing out one of the ugly realities of any penal system.” You can judge for yourself the accuracy of that claim.



But I wonder too whether one aspect of why prison rape humor is so relatively prevalent in our culture is that, as Joe has noted in his always worthwhile 33 Things, comedy has something to do with “making immoral behavior seem harmless.” In this sense, then, the danger isn’t that humor about making prison rape seem moral, but rather that it makes prison rape seem inconsequential or “benign.”