"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
December 21, 2004
RELIGION: The Heart of the Matter
Earlier this week, the Pope provided a welcome reminder about Christmas.
Meanwhile, the usual silly controversies of this holy season are underway, to which Jim Geraghty has a good response. This is probably my last post of the year, so, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
November 30, 2004
RELIGION/POLITICS: Getting Tolerance Wrong
This Nicholas Kristof column in last Wednesday's NY Times, denouncing the "Left Behind" series of novels popular among evangeical Christians, rather perfectly captures a misunderstanding of religious tolerance that is found too often on the Left, and one I've dealt with before. Here's Kristof:
Gosh, what an uplifting scene!
If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hatemongering. We should hold ourselves to the same standard.
. . . [I]f I praise the good work of evangelicals - like their superb relief efforts in Darfur - I'll also condemn what I perceive as bigotry.
See, here's the problem. Kristof isn't just asking the authors of these books to allow for people of other faiths to practice their own faiths in peace; he's demanding that the authors change what they themselves actually believe to be the Word of God. That's not a plea for religious tolerance; it is, in fact, religious intolerance, as Kristof is saying that the beliefs of these Christians are so offensive to him that they must be branded as "bigotry" and driven from public expression.
Let me put this another way to explain why the comparison to radical Muslims is so offensive. I have no problem with people who believe that God is going to send me to Hell for being a Catholic. They believe their thing, and I believe mine. I have a major problem with people who think that they, rather than God Himself, should send me there. It is right and proper and necessary to denounce religious extremists who are unable to accept the peaceable coexistence of people of different religions, who call for earthly violence and political opression against those of different faiths. But to demand that people give up the tenet of their faith - a central one in many faiths - that says that they are following the one and only path to salvation, that's what Stephen Carter has referred to as demanding that people treat "God as a hobby" rather than taking faith seriously. While it may in some circumstances be rude to say it, I wouldn't want to live in a country where people could not feel free to profess that theirs is the only true faith; such a country would be one in which no one really believed in anything at all.
The "Left Behind" guys aren't asking that anyone be harmed in the here and now; they are content to wait for Jesus to take care of that. By failing to distinguish between the two, Kristof shows that he still views religious beliefs as something that can be bent to the needs of human society rather than the other way around. Which is to say, not religion at all.
October 17, 2004
RELIGION/POLITICS: The Candidates and the Church
With the election getting ever closer, I’m uncomfortable with a lot of criticism of President Bush’s or Senator Kerry’s respective religious convictions (or lack thereof). It seems to me to be entirely possible that either man could be far more or far less devout than they outwardly appear or present themselves. Inquiring about the issue seems unduly speculative, presumptuous and even invasive. However, the actions and stated beliefs of each candidate are fair game.
In that vein, you may want to read Rich Lowry’s column from Friday on Kerry’s approach to issues of concern to Catholic voters, such as myself. Here is a key section:
I think there can be little doubt that on issues of abortion, gay marriage, federal funding for stem-cell research and related “family values” issues, Bush’s positions are far closer to the Catholic Church than are those of Kerry. This might explain, why, despite unsavory attempts by surrogates of John McCain to tar Bush as an “anti-Catholic bigot” during the 2000 primary season, Bush appears to have significant support among the Catholic community, even though it his opponent who is Catholic.
Three primary issues strike me as areas of potential divergence between Bush and Catholic voters: the death penalty, policy towards low-income individuals and the Iraq War. It’s worth considering all three.
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1) The Death Penalty
There is little argument here that President Bush is a strong supporter of the death penalty and that the Catholic Church is generally opposed to the practice. I have decidedly mixed feelings on the death penalty, believing that it is often justifiable and is a matter for each state to decide, but that, in practice, its costs outweigh its benefits. Thus, I have no problem with societies deciding to take the high road on this issue, though they should not demonize the differing views of others.
President Bush has previously been known to display an almost Old Testament-style enthusiasm for the death penalty, which seems alien to modern Catholic views. I would say that if you are a single-issue Catholic voter and opposition to the death penalty is that issue, you should not vote for Bush. Still, three caveats come to mind. First, the Church’s position on the death penalty is not as unequivocal as its view on the immorality of abortion. Second, John Kerry, while generally an opponent of the death penalty, has, characteristically, flip-flopped during this campaign on its application to terrorists. Third, presidents, unlike state governors, have limited control over death penalty issues; they appoint federal judges and can block federal executions, but are rarely as intimately involved in the process as governors. (Since the death penalty is, fairly obviously, not prohibited by the Constitution, the impact of federal judges should be minimal, although potential judicial activism can never be ruled out.)
Catholic teaching emphasizes the importance of caring for the poor, the Republican party is frequently caricatured as the uncaring party of the rich. Should that make this issue a slam-dunk for John Kerry? Not exactly.
Most Republicans, though perhaps not all, would agree that the government has an interest in helping the poor. The debate is over how. The conservative approach to poverty is not one of malicious neglect, but one of alternatives to unconditional government handouts. It holds that freely spending other people’s money is not an indicator of virtue. It holds that there are better ways to help low-income individuals than trying to redistribute income to them through the filter of inefficient, historically wasteful, centrally-planned bureaucracies. It favors grass-roots approaches, involving private entities, faith-based initiatives or even state of local governments. It is based on helping others to help themselves and promoting the greater good through encouraging personal industry and responsibility.
Likewise, Catholic teaching emphasizes each individual’s responsibility for helping others. It does not indicate that that responsibility is best accomplished by simply having the federal government take increasingly large chunks out of one’s paycheck without doing anything proactive oneself. In short, I can understand why this issue is often viewed as favoring Kerry, but Bush’s positions in this area are, by no means, inherently antithetical to Catholic values.
Most controversially, the Iraq War, which Kerry voted for, but which Bush has prosecuted, has been denounced by some as unjust. In fact, the Pope himself has expressed that view on occasions. However, like many other Catholics, I believe that the Iraq War met the criteria of Catholic “just war” theory. Review the elements of that theory here and compare it with this. You can draw your own conclusions.
I would add that complete, undiluted pacifism is probably the ideal for Catholics. The hard realities of international relations, national defense and domestic politics, however, make such an approach sadly infeasible. The consequences of complete non-violence in the face of aggression by the likes of Hitler, Tojo, Stalin, Saddam or bin Laden are too terrible to fully contemplate. The best America can hope for is that, in defending our interests, we act in a just manner, protecting the innocent wherever possible against brutal repression, genocide or terrorism and advancing democratic values and the cause of human freedom, while sparing as much as possible collateral damage to those caught in the cross-fire. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we have done just that (aside from isolated incidents of cruelty, such as the Abu Ghraib scandal) and, in the process, freed two nations from among the most repressive regimes in modern history.
The United States, under President Bush, could perhaps do better, but it could also do far worse. (In fact, the foreign affairs track record of the only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, may be more difficult to reconcile with the Church’s teaching. In particular, the Bay of Pigs invasion and America’s involvement in the coup which led to the assassination of South Vietnamese President, and fellow Catholic, Ngo Dinh Diem were quite dubious by these standards.) It is also worth noting that the Catholic Church favors aggressive efforts to reconstruct and provide humanitarian assistance to both Afghanistan and Iraq.
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July 01, 2004
RELIGION: Sorry About the Mess
The Pope apologizes for the 13th century sack of Constantinople. (via the Corner). Really, is this necessary?
May 05, 2004
RELIGION: Kerry and the Cardinal
I may on some other day deal with the issue of whether the Catholic Church should deny Communion to John Kerry. The interesting subtext: the controversy was touched off by statements by Cardinal Francis Arinze, a prominent conservative Nigerian Cardinal. Why is that interesting? Because the Church in Africa is more conservative and faster-growing than most anywhere else in the world, and Cardinal Arinze is sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II. A black African pope, of course, would be a huge cultural moment - for Africa, which for more than 4,000 years has taken a back seat to civilizations on the surrounding continents; for the Church, which has not had a non-European pope in well over a thousand years; in the war on terror, where it would not be unnoticed if the Church is led by a man from a nation where Christians still fear persecution by Muslims in some parts of the country; and here in the United States, where there would be tremendous symbolism to seeing a black man elevated to what may well be the world's second-most-influential job.
April 11, 2004
RELIGION: Easter Sunday
Happy Easter! Regularly scheduled blogging should resume tomorrow.
March 02, 2004
LAW/RELIGION: No Such Thing As The Catholic Church?
The California Supreme Court rules that Catholic Charities can not decline to provide health insurance coverage for birth control to its workers. Of course, only big government run rampant explains why workers get to sue over the precise terms of health insurance coverage in the first place - well, that and the fact that the statute is explicitly targeted at religious employers who have objections of conscience. Tolerance of religion does not go far in California these days. Appalling.
March 01, 2004
POP CULTURE/RELIGION: The Passion of the Audience
Stryker, who is something of an afficionado of Jesus movies, has a decidedly mixed review of The Passion of the Christ. Given how infrequently I get out to the theater, I'll probably wait for this movie to come out on video. But, having read a number of reviews and articles on the movie, I suspect that Stryker has hit the nail on the head with this observation (after comparing the film's violence to that in Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan):
For what purpose, I ask, would someone pay money to watch American servicemen and innocent Jews mocked, beaten, broken, and murdered? And why are those films rightly praised, while The Passion of the Christ seems to be judged by a different standard? For the answer, we have to turn to The Empire Strikes Back. When Yoda instructs Luke to enter the Cave, Skywalker asks, "What's in there?" Yoda replies, "Only what you take with you." What you bring into the theater will largely determine how you view this film.
February 20, 2004
RELIGION/FOOTBALL: Who 3:16?
One observant viewer of the Super Bowl points out that CBS appears to have blotted out the contents of posters behind the end zone, and speculates that CBS may have been concealing "John 3:16" banners.* (Link via Stuart Buck).
*For the uninitiated, John 3:16 is the one sentence of the Bible that many Christians feel captures the essence of Christianity; I can still recite it from memory, as our sophmore theology teacher in high school made us memorize it for every weekly test: "For God loved the world so much that He gave us His only Son, so that all who believe in Him may not die, but have eternal life."
January 22, 2004
WAR/RELIGION: Serving Two Difficult Masters
The Washington Post carries an inspiring look at Dan Knight, a former Green Beret who's now a military chaplain on the front lines in Iraq:
"Being a noncombatant is not exactly my cup of tea, but if it's what God wants me to do, I'll abide," said Knight, 37, whose duties are to nurture the living, comfort the wounded and honor the dead. "I don't crave combat, but I fight to get on every mission I can. There's nothing more rewarding to me than being on the battlefield, praying with a wounded man."
It's a hard life to follow one of those callings, let alone both. As one soldier puts it, "He's just got an extra chain of command than the rest of us do."
January 13, 2004
POLITICS/RELIGION: "George Bush is not my neighbor"
"Please tone down the garbage, the mean mouthing, the tearing down of your neighbor and being so pompous," Ungerer told the former Vermont governor and Democratic front-runner. "You should help your neighbor and not tear him down."
Leave aside the rudeness to a questioner who was, in fairness, something of a heckler (although we expect our politicians to suffer fools a little more gladly than this). If Dean had a shred of Christianity about him, he'd recognize the absurdity of saying that President Bush "is not my neighbor." The whole point of Jesus' discussion of the concept of "love thy neighbor" in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that your neighbor isn't always who you want it to be.
Dean could have sidestepped this, of course, by pointing out that this isn't personal between him and the other candidates, that as a candidate for public office he has to give first priority to laying the facts before the voters, etc. But he had to go one step further and basically say that Bush is beyond the realm of decent folk to whom one owes even the slightest shred of human compassion. As I've discussed before, Christianity demands more even for Saddam Hussein (although Dean does, at least, feel he owes some measure of fairness to Osama bin Laden). It's one thing to say that that's hard to live up to -- it is. But by declaring that Bush is not his neighbor at all, all Dean is really doing is declaring that he's no Christian of any type.
January 07, 2004
I previously discussed Jason Steffens' advice about taking a Christian attitude towards Saddam and not rejoicing in his humiliation. Stuart Buck weighs in with some thoughts of his own, including a delightful quote from CS Lewis.
December 30, 2003
POLITICS/RELIGION: Random Thought
From a friend, who asks: why is there so much overlap between (a) those Americans who criticize our foreign policy for being too "unilateral" and (b) those Americans who feel that American branches of world religions need to ignore, if necessary, criticisms from their overseas branches when pressing for changes in doctrine (e.g., relating to abortion, ordination of women, homosexuality, etc.)?
But then, "unilateral" means "in opposition to Continental Europe," whereas criticism from Third World Christians generally gets discounted; they apparently are supposed to be seen, not heard.
December 15, 2003
RELIGION: Sympathy for the Tyrant
Jason Steffens reminds us to pray for Saddam rather than exulting in his humilaition, which is a more Christian impulse than I've been able to muster . . . it's very good advice, although I'd point out two things:
1. Saddam's abject humiliation may be a good thing even for Saddam, and is certainly a good thing for the rest of us, because it presents the only practical hope for triggering some remorse on his part. Yes, we believe that the Lord can soften the hearts of the worst sinners, but our faith also tells us not to rely too heavily on miraculous intervention. I've always thought that the most important moment in law enforcement -- and this applies as well to international affairs -- is the point at which either (a) the defendant finally admits that he did what he's accused of, it was wrong and he's rightly punished for it, or failing that (b) the point at which society makes him stand and accept that judgment. Saddam needs to be brought to that point and broken of his defiance, and abject humiliation is a good way to do it.
2. This is a different point, since it relates less to Saddam's humiliation than to the appearance of the same, but of course we need to publicly humble Saddam not only as vindication and relief to his former subjects but as an object lesson to other dictators and tyrants. Taking joy in that lesson is, as well, a positive good.
UPDATE: These guys would agree.
November 17, 2003
RELIGION/WAR: Men of Zeal
Steven den Beste makes an interesting point about al Qaeda's strategy in the war on terror: it can't be explained in rational, secular terms because "bin Laden's strategy was to get God, or Allah, involved in the war against the infidel." Moreover, the absence of a rational plan is an essential element in its success:
bin Laden could not create and follow the kind of plan which we'd think was essential. If bin Laden's plan had been based entirely on temporal power and cogent strategy and real resources, and if such a plan did not rely on miracles, it would have demonstrated lack of faith. If there were no place in the plan for God, it would prove that bin Laden didn't truly believe God would help.
And it would therefore prove that bin Laden didn't deserve any help from God, because it would prove that his faith wasn't really pure. For bin Laden to create such a plan would be a heretical act. . . . [A] rationalist post-Enlightenment Christian . . . faces no crisis of faith in a similar situation. He can make rational plans which don't rely on miracles because his faith acknowledges that God doesn't usually work that way. Such a Christian doesn't pray for victory; he prays for the wisdom to create rational plans and the strength to carry them out.
But for bin Laden and other Islamic zealots bent on jihad, even that would be heresy. The only way to truly prove your faith is to rely on miracles, and that's what I think they're doing. I think that was bin Laden's strategy.
If anything, I think den Beste (who has a fairly firm grip on Christian theology for an aethiest) underestimates the gap between fundamentalist Muslim theology and contemporary Christian theology on this point. It's true that Christians regard it as an extraordinary display of faith in some situations to put your trust completely in God, but to many Christians, such an egregiously audacious venture undertaken with no earthly hope of success isn't just overreaching into a belief in more direct divine intervention than we ordinarily believe in; it also trammels awfully close to the Biblical injunction against putting the Lord your God to the test. I'm not sure exactly where that line is, but if I jump off a bridge and ask God to save me, I've almost certainly done something wrong by trying to compel the Lord to take a specific action in a specific situation.
October 08, 2003
RELIGION/WAR: Idolatry Part II
Last October, I looked at the essential features of sharia courts and asked if the institution was, in strictly Islamic terms, essentially idolatrous/blasphemous by "effectively set[ting] up the sharia court itself as the object of worship, obedience and devotion, under the harshest of penalties, and in substitution for the devotion of invidual conscience directly to divine authority". Christopher Hitchens interviews the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, himself a Shiite cleric, who makes a similar point:
A sentence of death for apostasy cannot really be pronounced, or acted upon, unless there is "an infallible imam," and there is no such thing. The Shiite faithful believe in a "hidden imam" who may one day be restored to them, but they have learned to be wary of impostors or false prophets. In any event, added Khomeini, there was an important distinction between what the Quran said and what an ayatollah as head of state might say. "We cannot nowadays have executions in this form."
September 04, 2003
RELIGION: Cycle of Violence
Mac Thomason has some appropriate words for Paul Hill, who was executed for killing a doctor who performed abortions. I'm ambivalent about the death penalty for ordinary criminals for a variety of religious and other reasons, and of course I'm against abortion, but I'm not about to shed a tear for the Reverend Hill.
But if abortion has killed some 40 million Americans, isn't violent resistance the only moral thing to do? On the surface, that's a tough question. Alan Dershowitz has argued that the answer is yes: Dersh believes a fetus is not a human life, but argues by analogy to the Holocaust that it might be appropriate to use violence against abortion doctors if you believed it was (he makes the point mostly because he thinks it shows hypocrisy on the pro-life side). Bottom line, though: this isn't Nazi Germany. We have democracy and the rule of law, and those things stand as bulwarks against further depradations. We have an obligation, a moral obligation, to work peacefully within that system to end the violence -- not use the sword to overthrow the good with the bad.
August 22, 2003
RELIGION: Churches of God
Passed a "Church of God" on the highway recently -- isn't that redundant, like "Library of Books"? I mean, all your major churchgoing religions purport to be churches of God, don't they?
August 11, 2003
POLITICS/RELIGION: The Catholic Card
Bob Novak has the latest on rising tensions in the Senate over the religious dimension of opposition to Bush judicial nominees.
June 17, 2003
The most important news these days is the news from Iran; the Revolution may be nigh, with unrest growing rapidly and visibly in the run-up to another year of general strikes planned for July 9.
Instapundit notes a statement from Iranian academics that charges that the theocrats aren't just tyrants, they're heretics too:
More than 250 university lecturers and writers in Iran signed a statement calling on supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (search) to abandon the idea that he is God's representative on Earth. . . . Khamenei has the final say on all matters. The ruling clerics regard him as God's representative and say his word cannot be challenged. "Considering individuals to be in the position of a divinity and absolute power ... is open polytheism [in contradiction to] almighty God . . . " the statement said.
I guess this answers the question I raised in October:
"maybe I just don't understand Islam well enough, but to my ears, the whole sharia-courts phenomenon thoughout Islamist societies seems to be blasphemous and idolatrous by its very nature . . . Can somebody who knows more about Islam explain to me how this arrangement doesn't effectively set up the sharia court itself as the object of worship, obedience and devotion, under the harshest of penalties, and in substitution for the devotion of invidual conscience directly to divine authority?"
May 03, 2003
POLITICS/RELIGION: Fr. McFarland's Continuing Missteps at Holy Cross
As the Crank, I'm an alum of Holy Cross and feel some obligation to comment on the Chris Matthews controversy. I don't think there is much to say other than the obvious: Fr. McFarland has done a disservice to a great institution by his treatment of a strong supporter of the school. I actually agree with McFarland about the decision to honor Chris Matthews -- if the school limited candidates for honorary degrees to only those individuals who agree with the Catholic Church's teachings on every topic, graduation ceremonies would be very short (which wouldn't be a bad thing!). However, certainly someone who has done as much for the school as Mr. Millard (sending 8 kids to the school, previously serving as chairman of the board of trustees, etc.) deserves better treatment. Add this to the growing list of complaints many alums have with McFarland; it seems as if not a year can pass without him handling a matter poorly. It will be interesting to see the impact this has on fundraising, esp. on the individual large dollar donations.
May 02, 2003
Doc Weevil has another one of those tests that are so hard to resist; I guess I should find this worrisome, especially since I wound up in an even lower level than the good doctor:
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The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Fifth Level of Hell!
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May 01, 2003
POLITICS/RELIGION: Cross To Bear
I'm not sure I have a lot to add to this one right now, but I can't very well let pass this story about the controversy at my alma mater, Holy Cross, involving the decision to give an honorary degree to pro-choice alum Chris Matthews. The main lesson here: the president, Father MacFarlane, has not covered himself in glory with his ham-fisted treatment of dedicated alumni and his repeated decisions to side with the PC crowd (including an incident, not mentioned here, where he was slow to come to the defense of a secretary who was forced, shortly after September 11, to take down a flag near her desk by a professor who objected to the flag).
April 26, 2003
WAR/RELIGION: The Holy Father Gets His Backbone Back
Sadly, precious little good has come from the Vatican in the past 2-3 years or so; while Pope John Paul II has been admirably steadfast in some of his longstanding convictions, there's been every sign in recent years -- with the Vatican's failure to meaningfully address the sex abuse scandals and its shameful failure to recognize the moral realities in Iraq and Palestine as prominent examples -- that the Holy Father has lost the ability to absorb new information or take a fresh look at problems whose moral outlines have become starkly clearer in recent times. But this report carries a little of the Pope that many Catholics still know and love: a rebuke to Fidel Castro's latest brutal crackdown. Here's the letter in Spanish; I'll post the English translation if I can find one.
April 24, 2003
POLITICS/RELIGION: Santorum, Sodomy, and the (Back)Lash
WELL, there's certainly been plenty of commentary on Rick Santorum's controversial comments on the Texas sodomy case presently before the Supreme Court. Predictably, critics like the New York Times disapproved, without bothering to explain why Santorum was wrong. Let's go through this in some detail.
What did he actually say?
The San Francisco Chronicle helpfully reprints the whole interview, and before you jump to criticize Santorum -- or to defend him -- I'd suggest you read it all.
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We start after Santorum broaches the subject in answering a question about the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandals and why they can be tied to an 'anything-goes' culture:
SANTORUM: In this case, what we're talking about, basically, is priests who were having sexual relations with post-pubescent men. We're not talking about priests with 3-year-olds, or 5-year-olds. We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship. Which, again, according to the world view sense is a a perfectly fine relationship as long as it's consensual between people. If you view the world that way, and you say that's fine, you would assume that you would see more of it.
AP: Well, what would you do . . . should we outlaw homosexuality?
SANTORUM: I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts. As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual. I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. If that's their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it's not the person, it's the person's actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions.
Up to this point, Santorum is making a moral distinction between orientation and acts, a distinction that is entirely consistent with the Catholic Church's teachings. Does that matter? Well, one link I found states that:
A devout Catholic, Senator Santorum regularly attends Mass. He is also a weekly participant in the Senate Prayer Breakfast and Senate Chaplain's Bible Study. In 1997, the Catholic Campaign for America presented Senator Santorum with the Catholic American of the Year Award.
So far, he's basically taking a moral position that is consistent with his faith, albeit one that's hugely controversial in society as a whole. (More on that later).
AP: OK . . . so if somebody is homosexual, you would argue that they should not have sex?
SANTORUM: We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family.
Here's where things get dicier: a lot of conservative Catholics, myself included, would basically agree with the moral argument (personally, I believe that any sex outside marriage is wrong, but I well recognize that I am very much in the minority in hewing to that traditional position, and if you take that view, you learn early that you will have to accept people who don't live by it or you're not gonna have any friends). Of course, as Andrew Sullivan frequently points out, this view leaves gays with no realistic option but celibacy, and I'm not unsympathetic to the bind that leaves them in. It's not an easy question.
But Santorum argues, taking a position I wouldn't touch and nor would most conservatives these days, that the sodomy laws are actually a good thing: that even allowing homosexual sex to be legal is bad because it undermines the family to permit people to have sex outside it.
This is too far; while I'm somewhat ambivalent about some of the related legal issues (there are too many questions about how conservatives should approach gay rights issues to address in one post), sodomy laws are mostly stupid and pointless, and any uses they might have can easily be remedied by more specific laws directed at particular problems. In a free society, a free conscience should be given the room to commit sin, not least because in a free society people can reach different conclusions about what is and isn't sinful.
On the other hand, the wisdom of sodomy laws are a state-level concern; Santorum's opinions on them don't amount to a hill of beans. Let's pick him up where he left off:
And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold [v. Connecticut] -- Griswold was the contraceptive case -- and abortion.
Strangely, this has become the most controversial excerpt, but what Santorum is saying here is, as Eugene Volokh notes, a perfectly legitimate "slippery slope" argument: that if we start saying the constitution protects homosexual sodomy, we may wind up at the bottom of the slope having no principled way to ban incest and bestiality (or, as Ramesh Ponuru notes, prostitution). I think there's more than a few counters to that, but there's a lot of wisdom in noticing that once the question of what is "constitutional" no longer has any relationship to the actual Constitution, you can wind up in a heap of trouble. Griswold is the perfect example of this: hardly anybody cared much that Connecticut couldn't outlaw contraceptives anymore, but the Court had broken free of the Constitution's text, and it would use that freedom 8 years later to enact a revolutionary ban on laws against abortion. And for conservative Catholic politicians, the folly of the abortion decisions is always the starting point of constitutional analysis.
And now we're just extending it out. And the further you extend it out . . . You say, well, it's my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that's antithetical to strong, healthy families. Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.
Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality _
Back to the 'threat to the family' stuff, which Glenn Reynolds mocks. Personally, I think the threat is more indirect - what Pat Moynihan referred to as "defining deviancy down," in the sense that at some point, failing to say "no" to so many things leaves us paralyzed in the face of genuine and direct threats.
At this point, the reporter - this has to be a rookie reporter here, not somebody who smells a front-page story - gets cold feet:
AP: I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about "man on dog" with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out.
(Tim Russert would've been thinking, "Senator talks about 'man on dog' - I'm leading the news cycle with this one")
SANTORUM: And that's sort of where we are in today's world, unfortunately. The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we're seeing it in our society.
AP: Sorry, I just never expected to talk about that when I came over here to interview you. Would a President Santorum eliminate a right to privacy -- you don't agree with it?
SANTORUM: I've been very clear about that. The right to privacy is a right that was created in a law that set forth a (ban on) rights to limit individual passions. And I don't agree with that. So I would make the argument that with President, or Senator or Congressman or whoever Santorum, I would put it back to where it is, the democratic process. If New York doesn't want sodomy laws, if the people of New York want abortion, fine. I mean, I wouldn't agree with it, but that's their right. But I don't agree with the Supreme Court coming in. (emphasis added)
I'd be interested to know if Santorum has supported the Human Life Amendment, which would contradict what he says above about leaving abortion to the states, but that's neither here nor there.
Anyway, there's been plenty of commentary. James Taranto was dismissive of the controversy. Lileks argued that this was dumb politics, and Calpundit called for Democrats to make hay from it, although the answer may be that most Americans don't live in Minnesota or California. Jacob Levy disagreed with co-blogger Volokh on whether the moral and constitutional arguments were legitimate points or beyond the pale of discussion.
I have to disagree with people who think that even discussing the morality of homosexuality is beyond the pale; they tend to be the same people who generally refuse to provide justifications for their own opinions.
And if they do take this view, then they damn well better never take issue with anyone's religious beliefs, which is similarly on the line between 'immutable characteristics' and 'chosen beliefs/conduct'. Basically, if you find Santorum's opinions wrong and dangerous, criticize him; if you think his stance on this is that important, don't vote for him. But don't tell me that no civilized person may be permitted to speak such opinions. That way lies France, where serious dissent on major issues is all but nonexistent and nothing ever changes, or worse, the Netherlands, where the speaking of uncomfortable truths is justification for shooting politicians. Even gay politicians.
The 'this is bigotry and hate speech' position really underestimates the American public, if you ask me. Santorum stuck doggedly to the Catholic Church's "love the sinner/hate the sin" dichotomy, and he laid out a reasoned argument. You can disagree with that, but this is just not the stuff of hate and violence; it's the very essence of people trying to have a civil disagreement over fundamentally differing worldviews.
Turning to a related issue . . . speaking of immutable characteristics, by the way, I think on some level that everyone from gay rights advocates to fundamentalists is deeply afraid to definitively resolve whether homosexuality is genetically determined or not. Both tend to want it both ways (so to speak). For example, if somebody like a Jerry Falwell says being gay is a sickness, he gets attacked. But if the orientation is genetic, then on some level it is like a "sickness" or "disorder", except for the normative weight of those terms; it's certainly the same in the sense that any genetic deviation from the norm is a sickness or disorder. (The fallacy that some conservative Christians fall into on this point is in assuming that what is 'natural' or 'unnatural' determines what is good. If our morals were nothing but the sum of our natural impulses, we wouldn't be human. The irony is that this kind of moral reasoning is essentially Darwinian, which you don't expect to hear coming from creationists).
And, of course, if it's genetic, we can test for it, and anti-gay abortions can follow. Nobody can think this is good.
But if the preacher says it's a sinful choice, they get mocked. But if it's not genetic, then on some level it is a choice. Either that, or the orientation is the product of environment. Nobody wants to go there either, since 'environment' ties into the question of gay parents.
Like I said, it's not just the Left that seems to fear answering that question; I think the implications of either position are frightening to people who have strong feelings on all sides of these issues. They stare into the abyss, and they turn away. And we end up having fights over whether politicians can even skim the surface of the issue.
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April 23, 2003
Before you can have the courage of your convictions, you need the intellectual clarity to recognize them. I wasn't initially too sure what I thought about Tom Daschle being warned by his local bishop not to keep identifying himself as a Catholic, but Jane Galt (who's not even Catholic, but is instead from Manhattan) puts Catholics like me to shame with a stirring defense of the Church's ability to do this.
January 14, 2003
POP CULTURE/RELIGION: MY DREAMS, THEY AREN'T AS EMPTY AS MY CONSCIENCE SEEMS TO BE
Much as I'd like to ignore the story, the Pete Townsend thing is hard to avoid, when the man has been such a foundational figure in modern rock. It ain't exactly a secret that Townsend's lyrics are full of stuff that's hardly G-rated. He sang about homosexuality in "Rough Boys," to say nothing of the lyrics to "5:15" Heck, his most prominent work thirty years ago was about a boy who withdraws from the world after being sexually abused by an older male relative. At the time, people thought of this as a metaphor.
Nonetheless, even if it turns out - as it appears - that Townsend has been consuming child porn, regardless of the purpose, we can still enjoy his music. In fact, one of the benefits, for political conservatives, of the idiot leftism of so many actors, musicians, etc. is that we learn early to distinguish between the artist and the art.
Thus, when Robert George on NRO comments that "Pete Townshend['s] arrest on child-porn charges must cause CBS and the producers of CSI a little discomfort (Its theme song is, "Who Are You")," I say: No, it shouldn't. Say what you will about the man, the song "Who Are You" is not just great rock & roll, it is, in fact, a song about man's search for God - an angry expression of that search ("tell me who the f__k are you?"), to be sure, but the lyrics include a description of Jesus' love for sinners that most Christian rockers would give their right arm to write:
I know there's a place you walked
I spit out like a sewer hole
January 08, 2003
If you missed it, the Wall Street Journal had a great piece on Kwanzaa over the holidays, and unlike, say, Ann Coulter, the Journal took the holiday and its guiding principles seriously and refrained from just piling scorn on it as a novel or artificial holiday. But the critique of Kwanzaa's separatist appeals and Tanzanian economics is all the more devastating for being a sober and respectful analysis.
RELIGION: The Grail
The Brothers Judd noted a story on a search now underway for the Holy Grail. I kid you not.
December 04, 2002
RELIGION: The Good News
I caught a little of Falwell on Donahue last night - now, there's two guys who deserve each other. I half expected them to be arguing about whether Reagan had a chance to beat Jimmy Carter. Donahue was saying that Falwell was intolerant for saying only Christians go to heaven. Now, as a theological matter, the Catholic Church, at least, has softened considerably on this point despite some passages in the Gospel of John that pretty strongly hint at this. The sensible answer for serious Christians is probably, "well, we can't know what God wants, but why take the chance?" But Falwell, for his own perfectly valid reasons, believes that this is the Will of God. He's not shy of saying so, and indeed his faith compels him to bear witness to this aspect of the Good News. Donahue would never in a million years argue that it was intolerant for Muslims to make the similar claim for their faith. Falwell's said some things that were intemperate and insensitive and some that were just wrong, but he's not calling for anybody to be stoned to death; just saying that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through Him . . . that's intolerant only in the sense that declaring the earth is round is intolerant of the views of flat-earthers because it confronts them with an opposing viewpoint.
October 31, 2002
RELIGION/WAR: Are The Islamists Idolators?
Disturbing article in the latest National Review about the appointment, as supreme court justice for Afghanistan, of a believer in sharia law who pronounces his intention to impose Islamic law including outlawing other faiths. I'm reading it, and it hits me: maybe I just don't understand Islam well enough, but to my ears, the whole sharia-courts phenomenon thoughout Islamist societies seems to be blasphemous and idolatrous by its very nature. Consider:
+The sharia courts purport to speak with the Voice of God, and to pronounce, not fallible human interpretations of God's will, but God's judgments themselves. Nor is this a carefully circumscribed authority, like the rare occasions when the Pope speaks ex cathedra; they do this stuff every day.
+More importantly, the sharia courts arrogate to themselves the sole and unchecked authority to carry out God's judgments. Death or multilation can be and often is the penalty if a sharia court judges that an individual has transgressed the court's view of God's laws.
+Individuals can be charged with, and beheaded for, blasphemy just for questioning the sharia court's authority.
Can somebody who knows more about Islam explain to me how this arrangement doesn't effectively set up the sharia court itself as the object of worship, obedience and devotion, under the harshest of penalties, and in substitution for the devotion of invidual conscience directly to divine authority?
October 22, 2002
RELIGION: Historical Jesus
Fox News on archeological evidence of the historical Jesus. Debate over whether the man was also God, that's what a free conscience is for, but I don't understand the theory that Jesus the man didn't even exist. Given the scope and power of the phenomenon of Christianity and its rapid spread in the Roman Empire, what's the opposite explanation - mass hysteria?
This passage, however, is interesting on a couple of levels: "The ossuary's owner required Lemaire to shield his identity, so the box's location was not revealed. . . Shanks said the owner bought the box about 15 years ago from an Arab antiquities dealer in Jerusalem who said it was unearthed south of the Mount of Olives." I can understand why you would be skeptical of the antiquities dealer, who has an interest in playing up the Biblical connection and probably little reason to know where the thing has been the past 2000 years. I can also understand why someone living in Israel would be hesitant to be identified publicly as owner of a Christian relic, given the way the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was treated.
September 23, 2002
WAR/RELIGION: Hide and Go Mosque
Anyone who thinks that the abuse of mosques to hide terrorists is new should read Murder at the Harlem Mosque, an account of how Black Muslims in the early 1970s used a mosque to shield the murder of a New York City cop. It's a terrible thing when the government starts zeroing in on houses of worship; we are all less free for the precedent. But separation of church and crime is at least as important as separation of church and state. People of faith do themselves and their devotions no favors by granting sanctuary to those who spread violence, nor by inciting the hatred that feuls such violence. The best way, after all, to stop people from killing in the name of God is for leaders of the faith to make clear that He will grant no favor to those who do so.
September 21, 2002
BASEBALL/RELIGION: Muslims in Major League
Muslims in Major League Baseball? There have been many in the NFL and NBA, but I'm not so sure about baseball. The one guy I remember is former Pirates shortstop (from the mid-1980s) Sammy Khalifa, who this popup-infested tribute website describes grandiosely as "the Arab Jackie Robinson." Khalifa may actually be both the only MLB player of Arab descent and of Muslim faith; if he's not, I'd love to hear who else fills the bill. I seem to recall that his father was an imam, although I could be wrong on that.
(I remember having this baseball card too).
September 20, 2002
RELIGION: Jesus the Carnivore
Yesterday's Best of the Web included this link to an item in which PETA claims that Jesus was an "ethical vegetarian." Now, if you aren't into red meat, pork or chicken, maybe there's room for speculation, since as far as I recall Jesus isn't mentioned one way or another with those foods -- as a Jew, it's unlikely He ate pork, regardless of His other assertions about the need to move on to the New Covenant. I don't think they mention what was served at Cana or the Last Supper other than bread and wine (yes, alcohol - He even made some for the wedding feast). But I'm certain that PETA's definition of a vegetarian includes not eating fish, and there are clearly several instances in the Gospels of Jesus eating fish and sharing it with others. And besides, I doubt that many of the PETA folks are big Christians - they're more likely atheists or pantheists trying to score debating points with people who undoubtedly know their New Testament far better than PETA.
September 17, 2002
Interesting theological debate between Mike Potemra at NRO's Corner and Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe over whether Christians can or should forgive the unrepentant. Ignore Jacoby's rhetorical flourish about the heinous nature of terrorism; Christians are all on common ground that no matter how bad the sin, it can be forgiven by the grace of God. Ignore Jacoby's references to Dennis Prager, who argues persuasively that forgiveness comes only after repentance. Prager is on solid secular ethical ground, and I'm not in position to judge his references to Jewish law, but Prager is not a Christian and not speaking as one. The core question is a fascinating one; Potemra is probably right, but every instinct of our human nature fights against this conclusion. At the minimum, even if we try to forgive, we must contiune to pray that sinners see and abandon the error of their ways.
September 13, 2002
RELIGION: St. Ned
FoxNews says serious Christians are so desperate for TV role models that they've adopted Ned Flanders.