Posts tagged with: natural law

topicAleteia’s Mirko Testa recently interviewed Samuel Gregg about the state’s role in defending religious liberty, the appropriate response of the Church to the growing welfare state, cronyism, and the upcoming conference hosted by the Istituto Acton: ‘Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East and West.’

What’s John Paul II’s legacy on the connection between limited government, religious liberty, and economic liberty?

[Gregg:] When you live much of your life under Communism, it is bound to accentuate your appreciation of freedom. And religious freedom and economic freedom are essential to limiting the scope and size of the state. Because if the state can take away your religious liberty, it can do anything. Moreover, a government that over-regulates the economy – or even seeks to impose a command economy – effectively undermines people’s freedom in numerous ways. (more…)

naturallawA few weeks ago I asked why natural law arguments more persuasive. Natural law advocates intend for such argument to persuade both believers and non-believers, so how do they account for the relative ineffectualness of such arguments? Why don’t more people find them to be persuasive?

In response to my question (as well as questions and criticisms from others), Sherif Girgis proffered a defense and explanation:

Yes. Over the last few years, my coauthors and I have heard from many saying we had convinced them to join the marriage debate by showing them its value (and giving them the moral vocabulary and syntax to discuss it); from others who decided to retire this or that contrary argument; and from still others who switched to our side of the issue. These have included non-Catholics, non-Christians, agnostics, even a prominent former Marxist thinker. We have often remarked, channeling Chesterton, that the argument for marriage has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found (we’d say feared) difficult and left untried.

Then where are the mass conversions? We freely admit that moral philosophy can’t produce them. It doesn’t convert en masse, because evaluating its arguments takes sustained attention. It requires holding several pieces together; discerning subtle patterns; and generating and testing alternatives by turns, in an always-unfinished process. Philosophy is famously better at knocking down than building up; even the strongest of its affirmative conclusions do not overpower but invite, suggest, recommend. And by itself, philosophy tugs so softly at the imagination and senses that it can pull the head before the heart, leaving readers not so much moved as divided.

Girgis adds that while natural law arguments may not sway the masses, it may change the thinking of the influential elites:

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justice is blindIn a rather snarky piece in The Atlantic, author Anthony Murray questions whether or not a Supreme Court justice who believes in “natural law” (quotations marks are Murray’s) can make sound rulings. Murray is especially worried about cases involving the HHS mandate such as Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Secretary, etc. and Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. v. Sibelius.

Murray misunderstand natural law. He believes it to be religious, and frantically scrambles through the words of Thomas Jefferson in order to prove his point. Rather, he says, the framers of the Constitution rely on “positive law:”

If natural law were regarded as simply a religious creed, it would not conflict with the positive laws embedded in our Constitution and laws. The threat lies in the use of natural law by courts in judicial decisions. Invoking it in construing the Constitution and statutes raises an obvious question: If natural law exists, what is in it? Is it a blank slate on which anyone may write subjective beliefs? Does it include religious dogmas? If so, of what religions? (more…)

persuasion-postAs an evangelical who is extremely sympathetic to natural law theorizing, I’ve struggled with a question that I’ve never found anyone address: Why aren’t natural law arguments more persuasive?

We evangelicals are nothing if not pragmatic. If we were able to recognize the utility and effectiveness of such arguments, we’d likely to be much more open to natural law theory. But conclusions based on natural law don’t seem to be all that useful in compelling those who are unconvinced. Indeed, not only do they not seem to change the minds of non-believers, they often fail to sway believers. For instance, nominal Catholics, a group that should (at least theoretically) give them a fair hearing, don’t seem to take such arguments all that seriously. Why is that?

We evangelicals, of course, have our own explanation for such arguments are inefficacious. As Al Mohler said after an interview with Robert George:

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In the most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (16.1), I review The Mystical as Political by Aristotle Papanikolaou. I write,

In The Mystical as Political, Aristotle Papanikolaou seeks to construct a political theology rooted in the Orthodox Christian conviction that all of creation, and humanity in particular, was created for communion with God. He begins by offering a helpful survey of political theory in the Orthodox tradition, focusing especially on Eusebius of Caesarea, Saint John Chrysostom, the Emperor Justinian, Vladimir Soloviev, and Sergius Bulgakov, inter alia (chapter 1). In the following chapters, he addresses the relationship between church and state (chapter 2); personhood and human rights (chapter 3); divine-human communion and the common good (chapter 4); and honesty, forgiveness, and free speech (chapter 5). In the process, and refreshingly for an Orthodox writer, he also engages Western theologians and philosophers — including William Cavanaugh, Jacques Maritain, Stanley Hauerwas, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, to highlight only some of the more prominently featured — acknowledging their genuine insights while, nevertheless, criticizing what he sees to be various shortcomings. The Mystical as Political represents a careful and irenic, though not uncritical, Orthodox Christian approach to political theology, ultimately offering a positive appraisal of liberal democracy and human rights. Although essential reading on the subject with much to commend it, it has several shortcomings of its own.

In particular, I hone in on “an overemphasis on the particular over against the general, the dynamic and the uniqueness of persons over against the static and the common nature of humanity.” As this is a continuing interest of mine and a subject I have explored in the past here on the PowerBlog, as well as elsewhere, my review is offered as open access to anyone who may be interested in the subject here.

I previously explored the subject of Orthodoxy and natural law here.

And Fr. Michael Butler lectured on the subject of “Orthodoxy and Natural Law” and “Orthodoxy, Church, and State” at Acton University this summer, my summaries of which can be found here and here.

St. Ignatius of Antioch was martyred at the jaws of wild beasts in the Roman colosseum sometime around 110 AD.

In her historical study of wealth and poverty in the early Church, Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich, Helen Rhee offers the following interesting historical tidbit with regards to how early Christians were able to minister to their imprisoned brothers and sisters who awaited martyrdom:

Bribing the prison guards, which must have cost a certain amount, features frequently enough in the Christian texts. The impressive visiting privileges and hospitality Ignatius [d. 110] enjoyed at Philadelphia and Smyrna with the local Christians and the delegations from three other churches were likely gained by bribery as well…. It apparently did not raise any moral qualms among Christians; rather, it constituted a necessary part of supporting the prisoners since it enabled the churches to maintain contact with them (and thus to tend to their needs) and allowed the guards to be more favorably disposed to the Christians. Thus the Didascalia (19) … ordered the community members to spare no efforts to procure both nourishment for the condemned Christian prisoner and bribes for the guards so that everything possible might be done for his or her relief.

For those who are curious, the text from the Didascalia, a third century Christian community manual, reads as follows:

You shall not turn away your eyes from a Christian who for the name of God and for His faith and love is condemned to the games, or to the beasts, or to the mines; but of your labour and of the sweat of your face do you send to him for nourishment, and for a payment to the soldiers that guard him, that he may have relief and that care may be taken of him, so that your blessed brother be not utterly afflicted. [italics mine]

While Rhee notes that bribery “apparently did not raise any moral qualms among Christians” in the early Church, no doubt readers today may not so easily approve of the above direction to make provision for bribing guards. How might we better understand this anomaly? What measure of prudence guided this practice? (more…)

In an ambitious essay at Intercollegiate Review, James Kalb attempts to dissect the driving political forces in Western culture today. He says that while we live in a world that touts diversity, the reality is extraordinary uniformity and a distinct christ-of-the-abyssdistaste for anything outside the new norm. We have narrowed our political choices, our educational choices, our recreational and consumer choices. We say we want religious freedom, but only in a very narrow manner.

Our current public order claims to separate politics from religion, but that understates its ambition. It aspires to free public life—and eventually, since man is social, human life in general—not only from religion but also from nature and history. The intended result is an increase in freedom as man becomes his own creator. The effect, though, is that human life becomes what those in power say it is. Western political authorities now claim the right to remake the most basic arrangements. If you want to know the nature of man and the significance of life and death, you look to the political order and its authorized interpreters. That is the meaning of the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions and the transformation of abortion into a human right. Man has, in effect, become God, and politics is the authoritative expression of his mind, spirit, and will.

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Last night I attended an engaging lecture at Calvin College by Dr. William Abraham of the Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology. Abraham, whose religious background is Irish Methodist and who is now a minister in the United Methodist Church and the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins, gave a presentation titled, “The Treasures and Trials of Eastern Orthodoxy.” As someone who was once an outsider to the Orthodox Church and is now an insider (as much as a former outsider can be, I suppose), I can say that Dr. Abraham’s lecture highlighted many things that I see in the Orthodox Church myself as well as bringing others into focus, in particular five treasures the Orthodox bring and four trials that they face in our current, global context. (more…)

Today at Acton University, Fr. Michael Butler gave an engaging lecture on the subject of Orthodoxy and natural law. Despite the contemporary ambivalence among many Orthodox (if not hostility) toward natural law, Fr. Michael argues that it is present in the Eastern Tradition from the ancient to the medieval and modern periods, focusing especially on the thought of the seventh century Byzantine Saint Maximus the Confessor.

A few months ago, I observed,

While it may be that there are important differences between a Thomist understanding of natural law and an Orthodox understanding of natural law, the historic difference is most assuredly not that Thomists accept it while the Orthodox do not.

Fr. Michael’s research further strengthens this statement and helpfully highlighted some of the similarities and differences between natural law in St. Maximus and that in Aquinas. The audio of his lecture will be available on Ancient Faith Radio in the coming weeks, but in the meantime I will briefly share some of Fr. Michael’s insights here. It’s a little heady, but worth consideration. (more…)

This morning at Acton University I attended a fascinating lecture by Dr. Edd Noell, “Origins of Economics: The Scriptures and Early Church Fathers.” I have briefly examined one ancient Christian perspective on wealth in the past (here), but Dr. Noell’s survey today was far more expansive. For the benefit of PowerBlog readers, I would like to reflect on some of the major themes of his talk here as a sort of preview of what one could expect once the audio is available for sale. (more…)