Deep chasm

American Law from a Catholic Perspective:
Through a Clearer Lens

Edited by Ronald J. Rychlak
Rowman and Littlefield,
326 pages, $42

In this assemblage of twenty-two essays, Catholic academics and legal scholars apply Catholic social teaching to the poetic and prosaic aspects of the American legal system. The subjects discussed range from labor and employment issues and family law to property law, religious liberty, and the philosophy of law. The authors attempt to show the commonalities between Catholic teaching and American law; they also point out where the two diverge.

In reading these essays, I was struck more by the latter. Over and over again, we see the deep chasm between the Catholic understanding of the human person and the anthropology implied by American liberalism. The difference is stark. The former conceives of each human being as a person—a relational being, in relationship to God and others and dependent on God and others. The latter sees each human being as an individual who can make and fashion his own being and existence autonomously and apart from God and others. God is a valid choice, but he is just that, a choice. The Catholic lawyer cannot help but feel a dissonance between his deepest beliefs and the law he is called to practice each day. American Law from a Catholic Perspective helps to remind readers where their allegiances must lie. The attentive reader can begin to see the ways in which he must work to change American law at its very roots to help it conform to the truth proclaimed by the Church.

—Conor B. Dugan writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

(First Things, January 2018, emphasis added. The paywall crumbles as the month wears on.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Tell me about the God you don’t believe in

[W]hat all the atheists, new and old, have in common is a mistaken notion of God, for to a person they construe God as one being among many, an item within the nexus of conditioned things. The roots of this misconception are deep and tangled, stretching back to antiquity, but I would put a good deal of the blame for the present form of the problem on the transition from an analogical to a univocal conception of being, on display in Duns Scotus and especially William of Occam … [I]f, as Scotus and Occam would have it, being is a univocal term, then God and creatures can be considered under the same ontological rubric, and they do indeed belong to an identical genus. This means, in consequence, that God, though he might be described as infinite, is one being among many, an individual alongside other individuals. Occam would state the principle with admirable economy of expression: Praeter illas partes absolutas nulla res est (“Outside of these absolute parts, there is nothing real”).

I realize that this might seem the very definition of medieval hairsplitting, but a great deal hinges on this point. On the analogical reading, all of finite reality participates in the fullness of the actus essendi of God, and hence God and creation cannot be construed as rivals, since they don’t compete for space, as it were, on the same ontological grid. But on the univocal reading, God and creation are competitive, and a zero-sum game does obtain. The Reformers were massively shaped by the nominalist view that came up from Occam, and they therefore inherited this competitive understanding of God’s relationship to the world, which is evident in so much of their speculation concerning justification, grace, and providence. If God is to get all of the glory, the world has to be emptied of glory; if grace is to be fully honored, nature has to be denigrated; if salvation is all God’s work, cooperation with grace has to be denied. When this notion of God became widespread in Europe after the Reformation, it provoked a powerful counter-reaction, which one can see in almost all of the major philosophical figures of early modernity. The threatening God must be explained away (as in Spinoza), fundamentally identified with human consciousness (as in Hegel), internalized as the ground of the will (as in Kant), or shunted off to the sidelines (as in most forms of Deism). In time, the God of late medieval nominalism is ushered off the stage by an impatient atheism that sees him (quite correctly) as a menace to human flourishing. Thus, Feuerbach can say, “Das Nein zu Gott ist das Ja zum Menschen,” and every atheist since has followed him. Jean-Paul Sartre, in the twentieth century, captured the exasperation with the competitive God in a syllogism: “If God exists, I cannot be free; but I am free; therefore, God does not exist.” And Christopher Hitchens has restated the Feuerbach view, observing that believing in God is like accepting permanent citizenship in a cosmic version of North Korea.

I find in my work of evangelization that the competitive God still haunts the imaginations of most people today, especially the young, and this is certainly one reason why the New Atheists have found such a receptive audience. We who would evangelize simply have to become better theologians, that is to say, articulators of the truth about who God is. I would suggest that the best biblical image for God is the burning bush—on fire, but not consumed—which appeared to Moses. The closer the true God comes to a creature, the more radiant and beautiful that creature becomes. It is not destroyed, nor is it obligated to give way; rather, it becomes the very best version of itself. This is not just fine poetry; it is accurate metaphysics. We can find this truth in the narratives concerning David, Saul, and Samuel, wherein God definitively acts, but not interruptively. Rather, he works precisely through the ordinary dynamics of psychology and politics. Nowhere is the God of the burning bush more fully on display than in the Incarnation, that event by which God becomes a creature without ceasing to be God or undermining the integrity of the creature he becomes … “Fully divine and fully human” is intelligible only within a metaphysical framework of non-competition. Feuerbach felt obligated to say no to the Occamist God, but St. Irenaeus, who had the biblical idea of God in his bones, could say, “Gloria Dei homo vivens.”

(Robert Barron, Evangelizing the Nones, emphasis added)

I had to decide what to emphasize, if anything, and this all seemed too rich not to highlight key points.

I finally decided that the most key point was the vehement and colorful push-back against the “competitive god”—the god who, if infinite, makes any shared ontological grid awfully crowded—elicited from atheists who found such a God intolerable … and the contrasting truth about God and humanity.

An apologetics conversation-starter I’ve come to appreciate since becoming Orthodox seems highly relevant: “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in. It’s not unlikely that I don’t believe in him either.”

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Marcionite Christology

Striking insight:

N. T. Wright has argued that most of the Christology of the past two hundred years, Protestant and Catholic, has been largely Marcionite in form—that is to say, developed in almost complete abstraction from the Old Testament. Consider Schleiermacher’s presentation of Jesus as the human being with a constantly potent God-consciousness, or Kant’s account of the archetype of the person perfectly pleasing to God, or Bultmann’s paragon of the existential choice, or Tillich’s appearance of the new being under the conditions of estrangement, or Rahner’s insistence that Christology is fully realized anthropology. All of these approaches are intelligible apart from the dense texture of Old Testament revelation and expectation. When Jesus is presented in this manner, he devolves into a sage, an exemplar of moral virtue, or a teacher of timeless truths. But evangelization—the declaration of good news—has precious little to do with any of this. It has to do with the startling announcement that the story of Israel has come to its climax, or to state it a bit differently, that the promises made to Israel have been fulfilled. Not to understand Israel, therefore, is not to understand why Jesus represents such good news.

(Robert Barron, Evangelizing the Nones)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Wednesday, 12/13/17

    1. Angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house
    2. Evangelical domestic violence?
    3. What’s Wrong with Radicalism
    4. 90 Theses Short of a Full Deck
    5. Self-help Guru limitations



Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise. For we are sick at heart. Our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children and for thinking of that other Child of whom the poet Luke speaks. The infant was taken up in the arms of an old man whose tongue grew resonant and vatic at the touch of that beauty.

Fr. Daniel Berrigan, writing of the destruction of draft records as part of the Catonsville Nine. Quoted by Jim Forest, a friend and now biographer and memoirist of the late Priest. Be it remembered that Fr. Berrigan was a published poet.


Is our morality in any sense superior to that of those ancient peoples who commonly exposed the newborn to death, as unwelcome aspirants to the sweet air of life? Can we help everyone walk into the full spectrum and rainbow of life, from womb to old age, so that no one is expendable? Especially in the religious pacifist community, we who believe no political idolatry can excuse the taking of life, can we help remind and symbolize the splendid range of nonviolence, from before birth to the aged? What is a human vocation anyway? Was not our first political act just getting born?


The good news, from Brad Wilcox‘s perspective, is that “churchgoing evangelical Protestant husbands were the least likely to be engaged in abusive behavior.”

His bad news, congruent with a surmise I published Sunday:

Although the empirical story of religion and domestic violence looks good for practicing believers, it’s much less rosy for others. My research suggests that the most violent husbands in America are nominal evangelical Protestants who attend church infrequently or not at all. The reasons are not entirely clear. It’s possible they believe Christian teaching about male headship gives them a hitting license. Or perhaps their class or culture—many of these men hail from parts of the South and Appalachia populated by working-class Scots-Irish descendants with a greater propensity for violent behavior —explains these results. Religiously mixed couples may also have a greater risk for domestic violence, especially theologically conservative men married to women who do not share their religious views. In these cases, religion is not protective against abuse.


David Brooks reflects on What’s Wrong with Radicalism of both left and right.

Most of our actual social and economic problems are the bad byproducts of fundamentally good trends.

Technological innovation has created wonders but displaced millions of workers. The meritocracy has unleashed talent but widened inequality. Immigration has made America more dynamic but weakened national cohesion. Globalization has lifted billions out of poverty but pummeled the working classes in advanced nations.

What’s needed is reform of our core institutions to address the bad byproducts, not fundamental dismantling.

That sort of renewal means doing the opposite of everything the left/right radicals do. It means believing that life can be more like a conversation than a war if you open by starting a conversation. It means collectively focusing on problems and not divisively destroying people. It means believing that love is a genuine force in human affairs and that you can be effective by appealing to the better angels of human nature.


Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy published Five Theses on Voting and the Alabama Senate Election early on Tuesday, but it’s really intended for political thought in days and years to come, not to influence the Alabama vote.

Meador admits that he’s relatively unfriendly to the American Right—a bias he offsets by publishing friends who don’t share it. That said, here’s some of his indictments of the American Right as instantiated in the GOP:

2. The GOP as a party is not actually interested in governing.

There are any number of examples you could furnish here to make the point . We might begin by the years of cynical obstruction the party engaged in under President Obama, to the point of torpedoing a healthcare agenda whose signature element was an idea taken from the Heritage Foundation! … Since the late 80s or early 90s, the GOP has been hardening and hardening, such that today the party’s agenda is divorced almost entirely from coherent governing policy.

The most recent example is the tax reform bill. First, they took steps with the tax reform bill that will, according to almost all third party organizations, increase the deficit …

That said, almost immediately after they passed this bill, … Paul Ryan turned around and said that the House agenda in 2018 is going to be cutting Medicaid and Medicare, specifically citing fear about the deficit as a reason for that agenda. … You either care about the deficit… or you don’t.

The GOP, as others have noted, has become a drunken caricatured version of Zombie Reaganism. And whatever else we might say about it, it does not have a coherent approach to governing.

3. We should not glide easily over the substantive problems with the GOP’s policies.

One of the unfortunate side effects of the Democratic support for abortion has been that many evangelicals essentially give the GOP a pass on policy issues. For many evangelicals in the past 30 years, voting Republican is a kind of natural default that is often done without taking the time to soberly reckon with the consequences of Republican policy. But because the GOP is, increasingly, unconcerned with character and unconcerned with actually governing, it is more important than ever that we learn again to understand and care about policy and factor it into our political choices.

I cannot find anything to disagree with in that because I excised what I didn’t necessarily believe.

The widely expected passage of the tax reform bill will almost undoubtedly cause significant harm to Medicare. And provocative statements by President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan declaring that “entitlement reform” will be next threatens Medicaid. Put these two together and, I think, one thing is clear: big Medicare and Medicaid cuts are coming.

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit, Ryan said in a radio interview last week. And, he said, “I think the president is understanding choice and competition works everywhere, especially in Medicare.” Last month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said: “We have to do two things. We have to generate economic growth which generates revenue, while reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future.”

(Bob Blancato, Why Big Medicare and Medicaid Cuts Are Likely)

But for an orthodox Evangelical like Meador, that’s not the whole story:

4. We should not pass over the abortion question as “a policy issue.”

That said, the larger moral emergency amongst the Democrats is their increasingly strident support for abortion. The Jones candidacy is, in fact, the perfect symbol of that emergency: According to Pew, 58% of Alabamians think that abortion should be illegal in all or most situations. Mississippi and Arkansas are the only states that top them on that metric. If there is any state where the Democrats would be incentivized to tolerate a pro-life candidate, it’d be Alabama. Yet even there, the Democrats have nominated an unapologetically pro-choice candidate of the sort that you simply did not see regularly in the mainstream Democratic party until Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy in 2008. Now this view is normal in the party, even in a state as staunchly pro-life as Alabama.

Abortion in America is a national plague and one that, alone, would be sufficient to merit severe divine judgment. Indeed, for Christians it should not seem intuitively crazy to suggest that the decline we are experiencing now may well be a product of God’s judgment on our country for the death of nearly 60 million people since 1973. To support abortion as dogmatically as the contemporary Democratic party has is not simply taking a stand on “a policy issue.”

Again, no dissent from me.

I’ve said that I think a epochal political shakeup is in the works. Beyond the possibility of the GOP becoming dominated by populist bomb-throwers and Democrats becoming a bit tent for everyone who benefits somewhat from the status quo, the I cannot imagine its contours. But my car now sports a bumper sticker for the American Solidarity Party, with some of whose policies I’m not thrilled but which avoids the abortion extremism of the Democrats and the Zombie Reaganism of the Republicans.


If you are one of those people in a big city who is feeling lonely or disconnected, I’ve got a nearly sure-fire way to change things. Go look for someone who is even lonelier and more hurting than you, and go be that person’s friend.

I’m always astonished that there could be so many lonely people in the city. This would seem to be an easy problem to solve; just go be each other’s friends. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. I think in part that’s because we’re always looking for relationships that are going to deliver value to us, instead of us looking for how we’re going to deliver value to others. We always want to network up. We seldom want to network down. (Though we often stay in our lanes on social media, as I noted above).

This is an area where I part ways with a lot of the secular self-help gurus. Most of those guys tend to recommend pruning the deadweight relationships out of your life, and purging the losers, energy drainers, etc. There’s a place for that if you’re in unhealthy relationships. But Christians simply can’t apply that as a rule for life. We are called to be there for those who have nothing to offer us (or at least that we think don’t have anything to offer).

(Aaron Renn in The Masculinist #16) I greatly admire Renn’s work as the Urbanophile and now on urban issues with the Manhattan Institute. I’m taking his The Masculinist newsletter with several grains of salt, but that third paragraph is right on (first two are there mostly for context).

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As I schedule this for publication, the Alabama vote outcome is unknown, but there’s a margin that I, sitting many states to the north, have trouble imagining Jones closing. Let the festivities begin as the Senate GOP says “the 2016 vote is the verdict on Trump but the Alabama vote is not the verdict on Moore.”

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Monday, 12/4/17


Okay, I suppose. If you insist:


Caveat: David French is a skillful lawyer and an excellent pundit. So far as I know, his opinions on football rank right up there with some random guy sitting next to you at a bar.







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I would a thousand times rather have dinner with secular liberals of a certain temperament than with a group of religious conservatives who agreed with me about most things, but who have no sense of humor or irony.

(Rod Dreher)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.