I know of no opinions held by my late, sainted father that I’d cringe at having exposed to bright light. Indeed, I’m proud that he declined to join the John Birch Society, though he was quite conservative and JBS was semi-respectable at the time (the 50s), because the Society would not repudiate it’s founder’s slander that Dwight Eisenhower was a possible “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy.” (Robert Welch Jr.’s strangely un-conservative way of thinking lives on in Diana West.)
But I’m still on board with Rod Dreher when he attempts to draw a line between legitimate and illegitimate questions to prominent sons of crack-pots. Mel Gibson drew the line under questioning by Diane Sawyer (though he proved later to harbor anti-semitic impulses himself), and Ted Cruz’s political opponents are harvesting rich stores of crackpottery from his father’s utterances. Don’t go there, Dems. And tell your independent supporters not to go there, either.
The instinct Dreher and I share about the unseemliness of repudiating one’s father is one of the reasons I feel sullied by Frank Schaeffer‘s writings. Francis Schaeffer deserved better than the salacious kiss-and-tell tone of Frank semi-autobiographical fiction, leavened with an outright political lie or two.
The quote is from a concurring opinion in a state Supreme Court. The case is about whether a professional photographer can decline to photograph an event it considers immoral:
“That sense of respect we owe others illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world.” In other words, what sets America apart is our willingness, and now our necessity, to prostitute our religious beliefs for the sake of the market.
Joshua Schulz, Justice Bosson and the Prostitution of Religious Belief. That “in other words” sounds about right.
The specific event, predictably, was a same-sex marriage or commitment service.
Others have already begun to evaluate the Court’s reasoning in the case (e.g., its failure to be persuaded by the photographers’ argument that they objected to photographing an event, and not homosexuals tout court) and its implications for religious freedom. Yet how did Bosson and the other justices conclude that homosexuals have a right to be photographed in the first place?
The answer, I believe, lies in our unreflective use of the language of natural rights while having jettisoned the philosophical grounds for such rights. The traditional and limited Christian duty to secure the welfare of others regardless of their natural “accidents” has become an open-ended duty to secure the satisfaction of others’ desires, regardless of one’s own religious and moral beliefs, even when the desires one is being asked to satisfy are immoral.
Christians and natural lawyers have long held that it would sometimes be wrong for merchants to refuse some goods and services on the basis of morally irrelevant “accidents” of nature, such as race. The classic argument for this conclusion has three stages.
First, in a consumer society, we must trade for what we do not ourselves produce; everyone is a merchant, as economist Adam Smith said. Not many of us grow our own food or make our own clothes or houses, and so we must trade what goods and skills we have for those we need from others …
Second, we not only have a natural desire to survive, but an obligation to do so … We possess our lives as gifts, and therefore have an obligation to preserve them, give thanks for them, and to use them well.
However, we cannot do this if we cannot access the “basic human goods” necessary for a flourishing life …
It was for this reason St. Thomas Aquinas argued that a pauper in extreme need might take the bread of a baker (and gain a debt to repay it when he was able) …
Returning to our own century, we find the Court arguing that homosexual couples have a right to the someone’s camera in the same way the pauper has a right to the baker’s bread …
The Court’s decision is a perfect example of Alasdair MacIntyre’s “disquieting suggestion” in After Virtue that modern moral discourse consists of “fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived,” and no one is the wiser. Put otherwise, the Court’s verdict reads like it was written with a thesaurus but no dictionary.
(Emphasis added) I have actually cut some things, and encourage you to read the original in its entirety. The clash between rights of conscience and demands for “equal” treatment in the marketplace won’t resolve until a critical mass gets their heads straight. And there are some otherwise-respectable legal scholars and editorial boards determined to prevent that from happening.
Douglas Laycock is not among them:
“The sexual revolution that began in earnest in the ’60s carries on with the current front about same-sex marriage and now contraception, which had been a neutral zone for a long time,” he said. “Conservative churches in this country have been consistently on the losing side of that revolution.”
“Like the Catholic Church in France they oppose not just the revolution’s excesses but they oppose its core,” he said.
Laycock said debates over sexual issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, sterilization and emergency contraception all share one thing in common.
“What one side views as a grave evil the other side views as a fundamental human right,” he said. “And for tens of millions of Americans, conservative churches have made themselves the enemies of liberty. And for tens of millions of Americans, what religious liberty now does is empower their enemies, and that, in their view, is a bad thing.”
Rod Dreher quoting religious liberty expert Douglas Laycock. If you want a nice example of “what religious liberty now does is empower their enemies, and that, in their view, is a bad thing,” search no further than this New York Times editorial, which joins the band of legal scholars elevating the sexual revolution above religious freedom – except the Times’ editorial board discards analysis in favor of prejudicial adjectives and ipse dixit.
The risk wouldn’t be so severe if we had more robust and rooted Christianity rather than the civil religion of moralistic therapeutic deism. Beware the ménage à trois of American utilitarianism, individual rights, and a deficient interpretation of Christian love. I suspect the New York Times fancies itself the true interpreter of what Christian love demands.
I like the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and love riding converted railtracks. But surely it would be healthier for society as a whole of more of those trails were still rails.
But we picked rubber tires on state-built concrete over steel-on-privately-funded-steel, giving a huge bonus to trucking by handing them infrastructure (albeit with at least token payments in return through fuel taxes).
Jane Jacobs was routed by Robert Moses. We tore down – no, destroyed in an even deeper sense – neighborhoods to run eight-laners through our big cities.
We spread out over the countryside – and over our extra-wide chairs, needed to accommodate our broadening, sedentary butts.
Life goes on. “The last chapter” to a story like this never really is written, though it’s forever being written, revised, and re-revised.
Will Christie be the candidate in 2016?
Put me down as a skeptic.
Some of us yet recall James “Scotty” Reston of the New York Times writing in 1963 that Nelson Rockefeller had as much chance of losing the Republican nomination as he did of going broke.
Comes the retort: Christie is no Nelson Rockefeller, but a pro-life conservative with five kids and Middle American values.
Why then the skepticism?
Geography, persona, and culture—for openers.
The Republican Party is a Southern, Midwestern, and Western party, suburban and rural. Not since Tom Dewey in 1948 has the GOP nominated a candidate from the urban Northeast.
And Chris Christie is not only from New Jersey; he is indelibly and proudly so.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)