Monday, 5/19/14

    1. White Man’s Burden, Progressive Version
    2. The Truth That Dare Not Speak Its Name
    3. Rousseauian Conservatives
    4. Anthropological Theology?
    5. Touché!
    6. Captive to the other side’s rhetoric
    7. Abolish Civil Marriage?
    8. Worship Wars

I don’t know whether to apologize for an almost complete lack of original thought by me or exult that I’m able to pass on such good stuff.

Yeah, I know. Enjoy some smart people. Sadly, much of this is behind the First Things paywall.


When it comes to culture, America and Western NGOs are global aggressors. For a long time, we’ve been promoting contraception and abortion throughout the world. More recently, we’ve promoted gay rights as well. The U.S. Department of State’s Global Equality Fund, dedicated to advancing LGBT rights, is one among many initiatives, some government sponsored, others carried forward by international organizations. In these and in other ways, progressives in the West are carrying the war on traditional culture to the rest of the world. Reproductive rights, gay rights—they’re the new White Man’s Burden.

This new imperialism, like the old imperialism, is bound to create ill will. …

When it comes to American foreign policy, our cultural imperialism takes precedence over our geopolitical goals. 

Castro is a hero throughout Latin America—welcome in nearly every presidential palace—not because of his communism but because for more than half a century he’s given the finger to the United States, something Argentines and Brazilians and Peruvians and others relish because they resent the ways they’ve been steamrolled by American culture and American power.

(R.R. Reno, Global Culture War, at First Things, emphasis added)


It is a telling, and troubling, sign that people on the side of religious freedom now find themselves appealing for a release from the obligations of Obamacare on the strength of what they claim “sincerely to believe.” For in this way they have backed into the libel of religion that John Courtney Murray warned about many years ago: identifying religion merely with “beliefs,” or opinions, rather than with truths. As the religious in our time invoke their “beliefs,” they deflect themselves from the deep truths that underlie their positions on matters of public policy. Thus it has come about that on the basis merely of “beliefs,” they can claim at most an exemption from the laws imposed on others. That position is quite at odds with the moral dimension of the argument: They should, that is, make a claim to far more than “tolerance”—in other words, to the exercise of a right.

And so it was telling in this respect when Archbishop William Lori spoke for the Conference of Catholic Bishops in resisting those controversial mandates on contraception and abortion under Obamacare. Archbishop Lori made it clear that Catholics were not seeking an exemption from the mandate on contraception and abortion based on beliefs of their own that may not be shared by others. They were pronouncing the mandates to constitute an “unjust law, no law at all,” and therefore rightly binding on no one. This was not, he said, a Catholic or Protestant position, but an American position.

[C]onsider this problem of two owners of businesses: Both of them object on moral grounds to the mandates of Obamacare on abortion and contraception. One is a Catholic, whose understanding has been informed by the Catholic reasoning on these matters. The other claims no religious attachment; he has formed a moral objection to abortion, say, solely on the grounds of that principled reasoning that the Church itself proposes as a teaching in natural law. Would we actually say that the Catholic businessman had a stronger claim to challenge the law on grounds of religious freedom, when his reasoning was in no way different from that of the businessman, who reached his moral conclusion with the same weave of the empirical evidence from embryology, amplified by moral reasoning—the same weave of reasoning that forms the teaching of the Church? Are the claims distinguishable on any grounds that matter? And does one position claim a certain dignity, on the basis of religious conviction or religious freedom, that is not available to the man who opposes the law with the same moral reasoning as the Church?

We might ask, then, with the labels stripped away, is one man being deprived of his religious freedom, and the other deprived of nothing of comparable moral or constitutional standing?

The truth that dare not speak its name is that even many friends of religious freedom have been content to argue for that freedom on terms that accept this reduction of religion to “beliefs” untested by reason. They do so because they don’t wish to put themselves in the position of speaking the uncomfortable truth: that not everything that calls itself religion in this country may be regarded as a legitimate religion.

(Hadley Arkes, Recasting Religious Freedom) If you eagerly agreed, go back and read again, carefully. This is pretty radical stuff, to which I suspect I would agree, if only I could stop my heart from racing, as I’ve admired Hadley Arkes for about three decades now.


… American conservatives are in danger of appearing as though they had no positive idea of government at all, and were in the business simply of opposing all new federal programs, however necessary they may be to the future and security of the nation. Most of all, they seem to be losing sight of the truth that government is not only natural to the human condition, but an expression of those extended loyalties over time, which bind generation to generation in a relation of mutual commitment.

The truth is that government, of one kind or another, is manifest in all our attempts to live in peace with our fellows. We have rights that shield us from those who are appointed to rule us—many of them ancient common-law rights, like that defined by habeas corpus. But those rights are real personal possessions only because government is there to enforce them—and if necessary to enforce them against itself. Government is not what so many conservatives believe it to be, and what people on the left always believe it to be when it is in hands other than their own—namely a system of power and domination. Government is a search for order, and for power only insofar as power is required by order. It is present in the family, in the village, in the free associations of neighbors, and in the “little platoons” extolled by Burke and Tocqueville. It is there in the first movement of affection and good will, from which the bonds of society grow. For it is simply the other side of freedom, and the thing that makes freedom possible.

Rousseau told us that we are “born free,” arguing that we have only to remove the chains imposed by the social order in order to enjoy our full natural potential. Although American conservatives have been skeptical of that idea, and indeed stood against its destructive influence during the time of the ’60s radicals, they nevertheless also have a sneaking tendency to adhere to it. They are heirs to the pioneer culture. They idolize the solitary entrepreneur, who takes the burden of his projects on his own shoulders and makes space for the rest of us as we timidly advance in his wake. This figure, blown up to mythic proportions in the novels of Ayn Rand, has, in less fraught varieties, a rightful place in the American story. But the story misleads people into imagining that the free individual exists in the state of nature, and that we become free by removing the shackles of government. That is the opposite of the truth.

(Roger Scruton, The Good of Government)


“One cannot speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice.” Karl Barth (via Matthew Rose in First Things)


In the event you have not been following important moral developments in New York, our progressive mayor has taken a decisive step to ensure, well, progress. He has endorsed an ordinance banning horse-drawn carriages from Central Park. Some of us see this as an exemplary instance of the supercilious moral vanity of today’s secular liberalism. Not so Amy Rose, who wrote to the Wall Street Journal: “Slavery, public executions, child labor and segregation were all at one point in history deep-rooted traditions and might still be reality if not for the progressive thinkers of the time who were motivated by an empathy that was stronger than the inertia of deep-rooted tradition and long-held public opinion. Clearly there are ways for tourists and New Yorkers to enjoy the rich tradition and history of our city that doesn’t involve the suffering of other living beings.

“Because none of us will ever know for certain what the horses would actually say if asked about their ‘jobs,’ we should err on the side of benevolence and compassion and release them from servitude.”

Why is it that when it comes to babies in the womb “the progressive thinkers” of our time don’t “err on the side of benevolence and ­compassion”?

(R.R. Reno at First Things) Touché!


Last month while penning commentary on the future of gay rights, I spoke of states “banning same-sex marriage.” Frank Beckwith wrote to point out that this formulation is misleading: “That is technically not true. What is true of Utah law, as well as the law in Texas and other states, is that same-sex marriage is not legally recognized. By referring to these laws as ‘gay marriage bans,’ you employ the rhetoric of the other side, and imply a claim that is simply not true. No one is forbidden from being ‘gay married.’ If, for example, two people of the same sex, in Utah, want their minister to ‘marry’ them, and if they want to sign a private contract to distribute their property, etc., there is no law against such an arrangement. It is not banned. Of course, the state does not recognize such arrangements, but neither does it recognize a variety of other friendships and liaisons that are perfectly legal to engage in.” Thanks for the correction, Frank. You’re ­absolutely right. I let myself be taken captive by the rhetoric of the other side.

(R.R. Reno at First Things)


I suggest that faithful Jews, Christians, and Muslims work for the abolition of civil marriage altogether (wherever it has already lost its traditional definition), and for it to be replaced by civil unions. Since these civil unions need not involve any sexual relationship between the parties, there need be no concern about the state sanctioning what are illicit sexual unions by traditional standards, whose origins are admittedly religious. Like any contract, they could be worked out among the parties themselves. Of course, for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, marriage is much more than an ordinary civil contract, but by defining civil marriage down, as it were, we’re more likely to preserve its covenantal meaning in our religious traditions. A covenantal relationship is much deeper than a merely contractual one.

I think this is a realistic direction to take in the public discussion. There is less and less of a secular consensus today as to the definition of what “marriage” actually is. It is only in the religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that “marriage” has a consistent definition (logically and historically) of what it is and what it is not. Only there can the fallacy of generalization (i.e., marriage being any officially sanctioned relationship two or more persons want it to be) be avoided. As such, why not leave the institution of marriage to the adherents of these venerable traditions (as in Israel)? Furthermore, isn’t the inclusion of same-sex unions in civil marriage still discriminatory, hence anti-egalitarian? And isn’t egalitarianism the value that liberals regularly invoke to justify the innovation of same-sex civil marriage? Why are polygamists excluded? Why is polyandry excluded? Why is “polyamory” (which involves more than one man and more than one woman) excluded? And what about people who feel intimate ties but don’t want to have sex with each other?

The clamor for same-sex civil marriage, when civil unions are readily available, seems to be beseeching the secular state for a blessing. (Indeed, several homosexuals have told me that they seek the blessing of the state because they feel they have been “cursed” by their families and their religious communities.) But the secular state is not and ought not be in the blessing business. Blessings have a uniquely religious meaning. So leave blessings to those who have a tradition in both receiving them and dispensing them. And, finally, as for the more liberal clergy (Jewish, Christian, and maybe Muslim, too) who do officiate at same-sex marriages (or even only “bless” them), they must be asked and ask themselves: What warrant do you have from your respective religious traditions (and the divine revelations upon which they are based) for engaging in such nontraditional, radical practices?

(David Novak, J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, in First Things)

I wouldn’t pass this along were I not sympathetic. Marriage has been a term of very equivocal meaning, and the equivocation is starting to hurt religious freedom.


[T]he elements of worship (readings from the Bible, prayers, confession, creedal affirmation, and other parts of the liturgy) are not the primary focus of those who gather for worship but the means by which the worshippers seek to focus upon God. … [E]ven while “parts of the service speak of God, they are mostly declarations of interpersonal relations.”

Consider a service of worship in which a formal liturgy is used. The worshippers are not primarily concerned with the form and content of the liturgy; they use the words of the liturgy to worship God. The liturgy is functionally self-effacing. It exhorts the worshippers to turn to God, and that turning is manifestly embodied in the prayers addressed to God. The liturgy does not invite the worshipper to evaluate the merits of its own form, but to use it in the worship of God. The worshipper looks not at but from the liturgy.

All services of worship have a form, regardless of whether they employ a formal liturgy. It is necessary for a worshipper to gain familiarity with this form in order to fully indwell it, and until this process of familiarization is complete a worshipper’s attention will be distracted from worship to the form of the service. The introduction of a new liturgy invariably causes dissatisfaction among worshippers. This may be, in part, because of theological or aesthetic concerns, but the key issue, whether or not it is recognized as such, is typically one of unfamiliarity. One simply has to learn a new liturgy, and until this process is complete the liturgy will be a distraction from the business of worship. We look from the liturgy to God, but we can do this only when we indwell the liturgy. 

(Tony Clark, Polanyi on Epistemology, Worship and Theology, underlining added, italics in original)

Let him who has ears to hear, hear. Let him who has itching ears, wanting religious novelty all the time, get to a spiritual physician.

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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)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.