Posts tagged with: public square

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Over at Koinonia, Father Gregory Jensen looks at Frank Schaeffer’s vicious, bigoted attack on Robert George in Huffington Post. And George’s response in “Natural Law” and “far right Reconstructionist extremism!” on the Mirror of Justice blog.

Fr. Gregory:

As George argues in a 2006 essay, (Public Morality, Public Reason) like “devout Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and other believers,” Orthodox Christians find ourselves in a “contest of worldviews . . . against secularist liberals and those who, while remaining within the religious denominations, have adopted essentially secularist liberal ideas about personal and political morality.” And as in these other traditions, so too in in the Orthodox Church this ” contest manifests itself in disputes over abortion, embryo-destructive research, and euthanasia, as well as in issues of sex, marriage, and family life.” Finally, and as Schaeffer’s essay illustrates, “Underlying these specific conflicts are profound differences about the nature of morality and the proper relation of moral judgment to law and public policy.”

I suspect that George is correct when he argues that, at least in the civil realm, “the issues dividing the two camps are of such profound moral significance—on either side’s account—that merely procedural solutions are not good enough. Neither side will be happy to agree on decision procedures for resolving the key differences of opinion at the level of public policy where the procedures do not guarantee victory for the substantive policies they favor.” Whether this is also the case in the Church I can’t say.

What I can say is that if left unchecked, secularism will continue to make inroads and peal away the faithful. Slowly at first but then evermore quickly, much like a rising tide will erode a child’s seaside sandcastle. Central to an effective response to secularism is willingness for the Church, both theologically and canonically, to “maintain that on certain issues, including certain fundamental moral and political issues, there are uniquely correct answers.” In other words, we cannot continue to turn a blind eye toward those who publicly dissent from the Church’s moral witness. This is especially important when this includes public statements include inciting others to dissent as well.

Distributed today on Acton News & Commentary:

Pope Benedict’s Defense of Authentic Equality

By Michael Miller

Once again the mild-mannered but intellectually fierce Pope Benedict XVI has provoked criticism over remarks that challenge the secular establishment’s provincial understanding of the world. In his speech to the bishops of England and Wales in Rome last week, during their ad limina visit, the Pope encouraged them to fight against so-called equality legislation. He argued that such legislation limits “the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs” and in some cases “actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded” and guaranteed.

Critics immediately jumped, claiming that the pope’s critique undermined protection of women and homosexuals in the workplace and promoted discrimination. Yet as usual, the critics not only mischaracterize, they miss the larger point. Benedict’s vision goes beyond provincial English politics. His concern is to preserve real freedom by revitalizing reason and respect for truth—not to pander to current fashions of ideological equality.

One of the more contentious parts of the equality legislation requires that religious adoption organizations end so-called “discrimination” and allow homosexual couples to adopt children. In practice this means that Catholic adoption agencies will be forced either to shut down or to act against their conscience. This is clearly a loss of religious freedom, but Benedict realizes there is a lot more going on.

First, Benedict’s remarks reflect one of the consistent themes of his papacy: to revitalize reason and a respect for truth in the West. In his famous homily before his election to the papacy, when he spoke of a “dictatorship of relativism,” and throughout his writings and speeches, he has challenged the limited and ultimately irrational notion of reason that dominates Western intellectual life.

Second is his defense of authentic equality. The current legislation transforms equality from a question of justice and fairness before the law to an ideological weapon to further secularist social policy and discriminates against religion. This pseudo equality manifests a vitiated concept of reason. The equality laws in Britain reflect less the British tradition than they do Rousseau’s notion of radical equality, which has been the source of much socialist and liberal thought. Radical equality now has become praiseworthy as something good in itself, separated from any question of truth, common sense, or even biological realities. This is what happens when we lose a rich concept of reason: Anything goes—whatever is currently politically fashionable among the elite, or is supported by consensus. Pope Benedict understands that justice based on consensus is capricious and unstable.

Third is Benedict’s awareness of the need to protect the natural right of free association and freedom of religion within a pluralist society. The current equality legislation prevents religious and other peaceful groups within society to live according to their conscience. It also smacks of totalitarianism. The right of association has been a hallmark of free and prosperous societies, a protection for the weak and a guardian of justice. When it is undermined for ideological reasons, society suffers. Not only does it prevent people from living out their beliefs, it also reduces the power of civil society to check the state. Benedict’s critique of the equality law is a defense of people’s right to join together for some project that benefits the common good.

Benedict has been harangued for claiming that certain parts of the legislation violate the natural law. What does this arcane Medieval concept have to do with modern legislation? Well, everything. The genius of English freedom has been to base its society on law, not on ideology. English legal culture is rooted in the natural law tradition. A Guardian editorial on February 3rd argued that churches have as much to gain from the legislation as they do to lose because it protects Catholics from being discriminated against when they look for jobs—and accuses Benedict of being protected by the laws he is criticizing. But Benedict realizes that if law is not grounded in reason and truth and becomes unhinged from reality, then justice gets reduced to power—Might makes right. As a young man in Nazi Germany, Joseph Ratzinger experienced a society where power was separated from reason and justice. He knows what violations of the natural law mean in practice. Critics miss that Benedict is the one promoting real equality and equal protection against a theory of justice guided by whatever happens to be the fashion at the time.

Andrew Brown—also at the Guardian—writes, “Just when it seemed that Roman Catholicism was a normal and natural part of the English religious scene, Pope Benedict has to come out with a statement that raises every residual Protestant hackle in the country.” Brown conjectures that the pope didn’t expect to be heard. But of course he did. And precisely because the last thing Benedict wants is Catholicism to be a normal part of the current English religious scene. This may be what Mr. Brown wants, but a church that does nothing more than sway with the prevailing winds neither inspires nor draws people—nor does it have the strength to stand up against injustice and abuse.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, June 29, 2009

A reader makes a request:

My purpose for writing is simply to request the Acton Institute make a public statement on its website to repudiate Mr. Sanford’s actions, in large measure because he was prominently featured in Volume 18, Number 3 of Religion & Liberty journal. Of course your organization is not expected to guarantee moral behavior of its featured contributors simply because none of us knows what is really in the hearts and minds of our neighbor. Governor Sanford previously demonstrated he was a man of character and integrity, but even the most upright man is in danger of falling. My request is for the Institute to denounce Mr. Sanford’s actions in the same public manner it praised his approach to politics last summer, in order to assure its viewers that it is not complicit with his actions.

If not exactly a denunciation, here’s an explanation for why we interviewed Gov. Mark Sanford. We opened the pages of R&L to the governor because of his record as a fiscal conservative and his willingness to talk about the way faith guided his public life. Here’s a sample of the interview:

R&L The religious views of candidates and their support among various faith traditions played a big role in the 2008 presidential race. Is this a good thing?

Sanford It is. But I don’t know if it was more window dressing than not. Obama had Rick Warren speak at the inauguration, and then got some guy of another persuasion to give the benediction. I don’t think you want it as an accoutrement. I think that you want it to show up in policy. In other words, conversation is certainly an important starting point. It can’t be the ending point.

Somewhere, that “deeds, not words” philosophy fell by the wayside. Yes, Gov. Sanford fell and fell hard. But he was lying to many people about his public life and private conduct. And we got taken in, too.

Now, we watch the sad spectacle of a politician clinging to power after he has obliterated any moral claim to continuing in office. He is refusing to go, and absurdly compares himself to Biblical figures. (more…)

Blog author: ken.larson
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

[Editor’s Note: We welcome Ken Larson, a businessman and writer in southern California, to the PowerBlog. A graduate of California State University at Northridge with a major in English, his eclectic career includes editing the first reloading manual for Sierra Bullets and authoring a novel about a family’s school choice decisions titled ReEnchantment, which is available on his Web site. For 10 years Ken was the only Protestant on The Consultative School Board for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange near Los Angeles and chaired the inaugural Orange County Business Ethics Conference in support of needy parish schools in the diocese. He enjoys sailing and singing in the choir at the Anglo-Catholic church at which he and his wife worship.]

With Memorial Day and July 4th fast approaching I found myself thinking over the weekend about the recent past.

Several years ago we moved to a tony neighborhood in Orange County, California. At the time it was easily eligible for the term “Reagan Country” but in the last election Obama out polled McCain in our Congressional District. A neighbor had a Hillary fundraiser at her home a few years ago. There’s a lot of soccer on Sunday but our family always opted for church.

Around 1996 I was asked to chair the neighborhood’s July 4th parade. It was one of those tasks that occur in small communities where many folks pitch in to help from time to time and I was flattered at the invitation. But as is the case with lots of things we have the opportunity to participate in, I noticed this parade and the accompanying festivities — a barbecue and day at the beach with food and drinks available — were missing what I knew they needed. They were missing an invocation.

I ran the idea of having a local pastor from the church at the edge of the community where our family worshiped deliver that invocation and the denizen who had tabbed me as chairmen thought it a splendid contribution. Plans went forward with the same old “same old stuff” and I extended an invitation to the cleric. He was available. (more…)

For those concerned with a vigorous intellectual engagement of the religious idea with the secular culture, these past 12 months have been a difficult period.

On February 28, 2008, William F. Buckley, Jr. the intellectual godfather of the conservative movement in America, died. Only last month, Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, passed away at 90 years old. Cardinal Dulles was one of the Catholic Church’s most prominent theologians, a thinker of great subtlety, and a descendent from a veritable American Brahmin dynasty.

Father Richard John Neuhaus

The third in this towering intellectual triumvirate is Father Richard John Neuhaus, who died in New York after an on and off again battle with cancer, about which he had written in his now mini-classic, As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning.

This book is unlike any written in our time in that it is a profoundly serious reflection on questions everyone has, issues everyone thinks about in private, but hardly anyone is willing to speak about or perhaps capable of writing about. Fr. Neuhaus confronts it to the point in which we feel discomfort – and he did this on nearly every issue he wrote about in his long writing career.

How will we be held accountable at death for what we did in life? What does mortality mean? What does it mean to face judgment? How should we live with the questions we have about eternity, and what is the impact on culture and responsibility?

In times past we had a greater clarity about these questions than we do today. Today, if we think about death at all, it is only to keep it as far away as possible, to forestall it, to deny it, and pretend that it doesn’t happen to others and will not happen to us.

Fr. Neuhaus wrote the following:

We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well. Most of us are at ease in discussing what makes for a good life, but we typically become tongue-tied and nervous when the discussion turns to a good death. As children of a culture radically, even religiously, devoted to youth and health, many find it incomprehensible, indeed offensive, that the word ‘good’ should in any way be associated with death. Death, it is thought, is an unmitigated evil, the very antithesis of all that is good. Death is to be warded off by exercise, by healthy habits, by medical advances. What cannot be halted can be delayed, and what cannot forever be delayed can be denied. But all our progress and all our protest notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent.

Fascinating, provocative, fearless, counter-cultural, and absolutely impossible to ignore. It puts matters of faith at the center, making them impossible to deny. That is the power of Fr. Neuhaus’s mind at work, and it worked for many decades producing an incredible literary legacy. (more…)

Acton has been called upon from several different outlets to provide commentary and analysis on Mitt Romney’s December 6 “Faith in America” speech. Following is a quick list of links to our various responses (which we’ll keep updated):




A new blog has been added to our blogroll sidebar (along with a much-needed round of housecleaning on old and out-of-date links). Announcement below:

The Social Science Research Council is pleased to announce the launch of The Immanent Frame, a new SSRC blog on secularism, religion, and the public sphere.

The blog is opening with a series of posts on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, including recent contributions from Robert Bellah, Wendy Brown, Jose Casanova, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, and Colin Jager. Robert Bellah has called A Secular Age “one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime,” and there will be more to come on Taylor’s major work in the weeks ahead, with posts by Rajeev Bhargava, Akeel Bilgrami, Hent de Vries, Amy Hollywood, Tomoko Masuzawa, Joan Scott, and others. Meanwhile, Charles Taylor himself has just made his own contribution to the already ongoing conversations.

But The Immanent Frame won’t be limited to discussions of A Secular Age. Later this fall we’ll also host a series of posts responding to Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. And there will be posts on a variety of other topics too-from pluralism and the “post-secular” to international relations theory, religious freedom, and the future of shari’a.

This new SSRC blog will draw on, and is closely linked to, the Council’s expanding work on religion and the public sphere. We invite readers to email us with comments or questions at