Monday, May 31, 2004

Blog vacations & Fox News

A lot of my favorite bloggers seem to have taken the past week off, but I was happy to note that La Shawn Barber is back from her posting holiday. She has some nice reflections here for Memorial Day.

On that theme, I liked Jonah Goldberg's article from this weekend, Patriotism & the Press:

Fox News offers a lesson here. I know the network's detractors think it's a right-wing propaganda factory. And, I certainly agree that much of Fox's programming is conservative (though liberals' sudden concern with ideologically loaded coverage is ironic). But at least one of the things that has made Fox News successful isn't that it's right-wing, it is that it's populist.

This is an important distinction. From the beginning, Fox anchors weren't ashamed to wear American flags on their lapels. They aren't afraid to refer to American troops as "our brave fighting men and women" or some such. They aren't terrified that they will lose their objectivity merit badges if they sound like they hope America wins.

If Fox goes overboard sometimes, it's only compared to a new standard Ernie Pyle wouldn't recognize.

This seems quite accurate to me. It's not that I think objectivity in journalism as a general idea isn't good, or that I don't acknowledge that Fox News is often conservative - but (shockingly, I know) I can't help but like them most of the time. Watching Tony Snow's coverage leading up to the WWII memorial dedication, as he interviewed a lot of veterans on the scene on Saturday, was great. When he thanked them or asked questions about their service and their memories, you could tell it was sincere. And why shouldn't he have been? I think Jonah is right that that resonates as a populist sentiment more than a particularly conservative one; I think it's a sentiment that (perhaps by definition) people appreciate and like.

Moritz links

Via Chris, I see that we have a new Moritz blogger, Better late than never (welcome!), and Chris also notes that Podraza is back posting. In other notes, I have been remiss in not having Mike Shecket's blog on the Moritz list, and I wanted to say how much I like mls's new blog template. So that's the Moritz roundup from me :)

Sunday, May 30, 2004

'Oppose the ideologies of death'

The Greatest Generation has finally gotten its memorial. There were a few hundred thousand people downtown on the Mall yesterday for the dedication of the World War II memorial, and it's been pretty neat to see. So many stories were shared, and it was hard not to smile or get a little choked up (often at the same time) when listening to them. These men understood, as do many of those serving today, the meaning of sacrifice and bravery and humility, and we owe them a great debt.

The Baltimore Sun relates this nice anecdote:

Among them [the veterans] was Vyron Drake, 81, who was awarded the Purple Heart three times during the war. He was deeply stirred, he said, by the new memorial.

"I don't think anyone can look at the stars in the fountain that represent 400,000 lives and not be impressed," Drake said.

The last time he was wounded in battle, it was at Nuremberg, where Drake was shot in the throat as he carried his bleeding commanding officer to a medic station.

Yesterday, he and his wife, both in wheelchairs, sat in the shade of a rest tent and drank bottled water. "Our kids made us" take the break, Drake said with a roll of his eyes. Later, he said he was glad to get a little rest and soak in the ceremony.

"I got a little water in my eyes," Drake said. "It was fantastic."

The president had some good lines in his speech, but the day belonged to the men and women of the war. Good to see them finally get a little of what they deserved on this Memorial Day weekend :)

Saturday, May 29, 2004

The wages of sin

Well, to everyone's relief I'm sure, the "adult entertainment" industry is back up and running.

Holding a video camera, the 38-year-old director stood behind the naked actor and near-naked actress on the wooden staircase and yelled, “Rolling and action!”

Then “Mr. Pete,” a 20-something with cropped brown hair and lots of tattoos, and “Jada Fire,” sporting a black bra and panties set and spike-heeled platform shoes, began having sex on the staircase.

With scenes like this one, the U.S. pornographic film industry, which until mid-May had been shut down for nearly a month by an HIV scare, was back in business. Said director Axel Braun of the filming, “It was so beautiful, I didn’t want it to stop.”

Yeah, it really brings tears to your eyes. I just found the whole story to be obnoxious. Tailor-made for TV, of course, which could report on the scare with appropriately concerned expressions from reporters, as they did voice-overs to the great visuals. I felt sorry for the people infected, but only to the extent that anyone feels sorry for any person who is faced with a life-threatening illness. But you know, when you engage in risky sexual behavior with hundreds of random people who are also engaging in risky sexual behavior with others, what do you think is going to happen? HIV may not be common in the industry, but it's hardly the only disease to be concerned about; it's not as though if HIV didn't exist, everything would be just peachy.

Flipping channels the other night, I stopped on Diane Sawyer's report on "Young Women, Porn, and Profits." The show followed the story of a 21-year-old girl named Michelle who's become something of a star in the industry for having deviant sex, and a woman who was in the industry only three months before she became one of the unfortunate people infected with HIV; and finally the show took a look at the corporations that rake in millions of dollars from the thousands of videos produced each year. Michelle's story was that of a teenager who, as it came out later in the story, came from a divorced home and had tragically been sexually molested when she was 14. She grinned throughout the story when talking to Sawyer, seemingly happy with her lifestyle choice, but the camera showed her crying after a lot of the sex scenes where she was constantly being physically and sexually abused. Sawyer looked concerned as she asked her, "Are you really happy?" Michelle started crying again through her attempted smiles and admitted, "I'm not happy . . . I don't like myself at all." She's abusing and debasing her body, has at least one STD, and hates what she does even as she stays in the business. The story just goes to expose the farce that everyone in the industry is healthy, safe, just working to get cash to pay for school, or most of all, "consenting." How can we believe that real consent is being exercised here when women are being exploited every day? But what's the biggest debate that this whole industry shutdown has prompted? Answer: whether condoms should be required. Right. Because condoms, as we know, fix everything. Maybe the better debate: whether we should be working help people out of this industry, or recognizing the lifestyle as the bankrupt immorality it is, or working to shrink the market for it.

I'm sure many argue that the ability to have a thriving porn industry is a sign of a free society. And we all know we're not supposed to call anything "immoral" anymore. But surely the ability to do something in a free society does not equate to the proposition that it must be an unmitigated good to exercise that ability. The free market definitely isn't an unmitigated good (to test the proposition, for liberals: the free market leads to sweatshops in Third World countries - that's not always a good thing either). And we make judgments all the time in society that things are wrong or impermissible, or at least worth of societal disapproval. The fact that the porn industry largely still stays underground and isn't generally considered respectable shows that. I'm just saying there's a reason why it's not a respectable lifestyle, and immorality can at least partly be seen by the unhealth that inheres. From Dr. Sharon Mitchell, former porn star and now working to at least keep people tested in the industry: "We deal every day with chlamydia, gonorrhea, gonorrhea of the throat - things you don't find as regular sexually transmitted diseases, we see every day in the industry." That's not an aberration, that's par for the course. Dr. Mitchell advocates better testing and record keeping, and probably condoms. I wonder why she doesn't advocate what might actually stop the problem: get out of the industry and stop having sleazy sex for money.

Of course there's two sides to the coin here: supply and demand. Porn is apparently a billion-dollar industry, which means there are lots of people out there who watch it. In probably one of the few things I agree with Catherine Mackinnon on, I think porn is wrong in large part because of the way it objectifies and thus demeans women, and the cultural attitudes that it engenders. I believe it fosters unhealthy attitudes toward sexuality in its appeal to the "prurient interest," celebrating instant gratification and voyeurism as reasonable goals in sex. When major retailers sell shirts to five-year-olds that read "Baby porn star" you can see how the objectifying sexualization of women, even children, has thoroughly pervaded the culture. The demand for porn should be reduced, and companies that push it and profit from it should be ashamed of it. The Fool is upset in particular with the fact that News Corp., parent company of Fox, is one of the profiteers. He says:

I post this under the rubric of 'hypocrisy'. My headline: “Conservative, Family-Oriented Corps Make Millions from Porn”.

I'm not sure this is hypocrisy - unless Fox regularly denounces porn, I'm not sure it sells itself as family-oriented. Many conservatives (some libertarians, I would assume) have no problem with porn. And the Fox network certainly has more than its fair share of sleazy shows that are constantly dragging down the minimum standards of decency. So, not hypocrisy: but still, I agree, very objectionable. Marriott, Hilton and Westin; General Motors, AOL Time Warner, Comcast and News Corp. - all of these should either start being up front with the millions of dollars they rake in off porn, or take a stand and refuse to be purveyors of (or dealers in) the "entertainment" that so corrupts those who work in it and those who watch it.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Washington lawyer

Well, I feel like I'm pretending sometimes - you know, dressing professionally, going downtown to work at BigLaw and doing legal research in all those law books in the library (and online, of course). It's almost like, is this real or is everyone just humoring me? But I just put in my first 11-12 hour day in the office, produced a draft section of a brief for an actual case, and dodged tourists on the Metro while proofreading the brief on the way home, so I think I must really be in the Washington law scene. And since my office-mates are all really nice guys, I suppose I won't question things too much :) Apparently they (the firm) thinks I can do law somewhat, so I'm doing my best. The funny thing was that I didn't mind staying later tonight. I had an assignment that needed to get done, and I was in a zone, so I did it. I wouldn't want to make a habit of these days, but I felt good about the work when I finally got it done. I suppose I'll see how it's received in the morning.

I do note that I haven't escaped the curve in coming here - it's a grading curve at school, and it's a steep learning curve at work. I've already learned a few lessons the hard way, such as "ask for all the research the associates have done already" so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel in your research task you've just been handed. Yep.

In any event, I regret that I didn't have much time this week to blog, particularly given the interesting discussion that started over at Crescat between Amanda Butler (follow-ups here and here) and Will Baude (follow-up here), prompted at least in part by a question I posed last weekend: "If under our constitutional regime, nude dancing is speech, how is printing invitations (with words conveying a message, even one as simple as an invitation) not speech by the person who does the printing?" (Anthony Rickey, Feddie at SA, and Mediocrity's Co-Pilot also weighed in on the matter.) At this belated stage in the discussion, I can't add too much except to admit that my original question was posed sardonically, because I don't think that nude dancing really is "speech" within the contemplation of the First Amendment (though I understand the arguments of expressive action). But if we do call it speech, as we do under current jurisprudence, then I think it is correct to also say that printing actual words on a card is speech. The right to engage in speech entails the corresponding right not to speak - this extends even to those who object to generic slogans on license plates, where it is highly unlikely to be the case that anyone would mistake the state's slogan of "Live Free or Die" as speech personally endorsed by a particular driver, since every driver must have a license plate. If the law recognizes such a right, then it must also recognize the right of a printer not to print gay wedding invitations, even if it is unlikely that the speech would be understood by readers of the invitations to belong to or be endorsed or spoken by the printer.

First Amendment class last fall, even though I had a great professor, really frustrated me because so much did seem to be ad hoc - with six opinions in every case, and justices switching back and forth over indistinguishable (to me at least) factual details, I always had a hard time getting a handle on the actual resulting law. Since I accordingly couldn't contribute much to the online discussion this week, I at least wanted to provide links, and express appreciation for Will's excerpting the opinions in the Seventh Circuit's Barnes v. Glen Theatre. The dry writing from Judges Posner and Easterbrook made me laugh out loud - it's all you can do when trying to make sense of the mess that is First Amendment jurisprudence:
[T]his case may be something of a freak; but it is a fascinating freak.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Intro to billables

They haven't been as bad as I feared so far - although it does take some getting used to to account for all of your time during the day with specific codes. It helps keep me more disciplined, though, I concede. Jeremy Blachman gives an example of how "interesting" billable time can really be here.

And now for something completely different

Spain's crown Prince Felipe married this weekend former television presenter (now Princess) Letizia Ortiz. As, in some ways, a hopeless romantic (and someone who likes Spain), I thought the pictures of the wedding were really neat :) I've got no illusions about European monarchy being particularly noble or admirable (and it appears Letizia is a divorcee at 31) but I still couldn't help but think the wedding was cool.

More on libertarianism

Timely passage from First Things, which I've been reading this weekend (out in the sun - I found at least one spot to avoid the cicadas :). The article's not online ("Freedom and Decency," by Eastern Orthodox theologian David B. Hart), but it should be later this summer. It is not intended to be a direct response to what I wrote earlier today (the writer is more of a pessimist than I am), but it did mention libertarianism, so I thought I'd post it:

Which is why it is not only perplexing but deeply disturbing that so many Christians and Jews in the modern world unthinkingly embrace and defend a purely libertarian understanding of freedom, even as they decry the constant gravitation of modern society toward ever more arbitrary, decadent, and extreme expressions of just this kind of freedom. They cannot be acquitted on the grounds that the cultivation of virtue is the work of individual souls and not of society at large, for there is no such things as private virtue, any more than there is such a thing as private language, and fallen creatures vary enormously in their capacity for obedience to the Good. Though to say this might make me seem like an unregenerate Christian Platonist (which is not too dreadful a fate, since that is precisely what I am), a society is just precisely to the degree that it makes true freedom possible; to do this it must leave certain areas of moral existence to govern themselves, but it must also in many cases seek to defeat the most vicious aspects of fallen nature, and to aid as far as possible in the elevation of each soul of right reason over mere appetite and impulse -- which necessarily involves denying certain persons the things they want most. A just social order, that is to say, would be one devoted to what might be called a "pedagogy of the Good," and would recognize that there can be no simple partition between the polity of the soul and the polity of the people, and that there is in fact a reciprocal spiritual relation -- a harmony -- between them. When appetite seizes the reins of the soul or the city, it drives the chariot toward ruin; so it is the very art of sound governance to seek to perfect the intricate and delicate choreography of moral and legal custom that will best promote the sway of reverent reason in city and soul alike.

Democracy is not something intrinsically good, after all. Where the moral formation of a people is deficient, the general will malign, or historical circumstance unpropitious, democracy is quite unambiguously wicked in its results. All of Plato's warnings against "ochlocracy" have been proved right often enough, even within the confines of duly constituted republics, and even he could not have foreseen the magnitude of the evil that can be born from a popular franchise (the Third Reich leaps here rather nimbly to mind). The only sound premise for a people's self-governance is a culture of common virtue directed towards the one Good. And a society that can no longer conceive of freedom as anything more than limitless choice and uninhibited self-expression must of necessity progressively conclude that all things should be permitted, that all values are relative, that desire fashions its own truth, that there is no such thing as "nature," that we are our own creatures. The ultimate consequence of a purely libertarian political ethos, if it could be taken to its logical end, would be a world in which we would no longer even remember that we should want to choose the good, as we would have learned to deem things good solely because they have been chosen. This would in truth be absolute slavery to the momentary, the final eclipse of rational dignity, the triumph within us of the bestial over the spiritual, and so of death over life.

Site matters

A few notes on updates to my site . . . I haven't done much playing around with the new Blogger templates, since I like my basic format and color scheme. However, I have added a Google site search function at the bottom of the page, as well as a "recent posts" list and direct links in my sidebar to some of the more substantive (in my view, at least :) posts I have written here. Also, I don't usually note when I add sites to my blogroll, but a few of the ones I have added over the last month include Amy Welborn (a must-read site of St Blog's), La Shawn Barber (great Christian political and social writing, from a self-described "new black conservative voice"), Justin Katz - Dust in the Light (really strong Catholic and political social commentary), Joshua Claybourn (conservative political commentary), and Blog o' DOB, an often-fun website from a conservative OSU undergrad. I also added Sapere Aude (IU-Indy Law students) and Fool's Blog to the blawg section - I very often disagree with him, but enjoy visiting his site and appreciate the responses to my posts that he gives.

Also, I don't know why it always looks so different, but I've noticed that my site looks different on Netscape and IE. I do all my code and formatting based on how things look in Netscape, which I prefer, but I'll try to smooth out the differences in how the site looks in both browsers.

Life in two kingdoms

A reader writes in response to my post on whether Catholicism is compatible with libertarianism:

Anyway, it’s important to separate what the Catholic community does among themselves, as a cultural group, and what they should do in their role as Americans. Of course Catholicism is compatible with libertarianism. If I understand your conception of libertarianism, it is that “everything goes” and there are no moral rules. That is rather simplistic. A libertarian believes in his or her own code, and will live their own life according to that creed, as does any person. So as a libertarian Catholic, I can have a traditional (or Americanized, in my case) set of Catholic values. As a libertarian, I also believe that the government should NOT under any circumstances attempt to impose their moral code upon an unwilling populace. So long as the activity of my neighbor does not hurt me or anyone else, they should have the FREEDOM to do as they please. If that differs from my Catholic beliefs, then so be it. Judge not, lest ye be judged, right? That does not mean that I personally have no ethos. And, as a libertarian, I believe that even if the majority of the country opposes someone’s personal choice, that they cannot vote away the minority’s rights. Tyranny by majority is as bad as dictatorship, and less stable.

As a side note, I think that Catholics should separate the personal and the political as much as possible. It plays too much into the stereotype that we have no beliefs except that which the Pope tells us. Remember, Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. John 18:26. We should play by the rules of this world, and democracy is pretty much the best system we have, and individual freedom is the hallmark of a true democracy. If I want to be ruled by dictates handed down in the Bible, or from Rome, then that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean I think it is appropriate or even wise to impose those dictates on others.

There are couple of threads here that are hard to disentangle, but I will try to keep them separate, because I don't want to discuss the merits of libertarianism per se right now, just whether libertarianism as a political philosophy is compatible with Catholicism. I still don't believe that it is. My reader seems to be saying that he can have Catholic views and live by a Catholic moral code for himself, but he can also believe that the government should not impose a moral code on anyone else; whatever people do in deciding what their own moral code is, as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else, is fine. This idea, that whatever moral code people choose to live by is fine, as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else, because everyone 'should have the freedom to do as they please' is indeed a libertarian idea, but I do not think it is a Catholic idea. This is because, according to Christian teaching, all are not free to decide for themselves what is right and wrong.

Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God's commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat "of every tree of the garden". But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfilment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments.

God's law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom. In contrast, however, some present-day cultural tendencies have given rise to several currents of thought in ethics which centre upon an alleged conflict between freedom and law. These doctrines would grant to individuals or social groups the right to determine what is good or evil. Human freedom would thus be able to "create values" and would enjoy a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom. Freedom would thus lay claim to a moral autonomy which would actually amount to an absolute sovereignty. . . .

No one can fail to see that such an interpretation of the autonomy of human reason involves positions incompatible with Catholic teaching. (Veritatis splendor, 35, 37)

True freedom, in the Catholic understanding, does not come from being able to do whatever one pleases, because that "freedom" is ultimately a slavery to one's own desires and wants. Authentic freedom is found instead in discerning and following God's law, which is written on our hearts (Rom 2:15) and should be the goal toward which we strive as individuals and society. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, "You were called to freedom, brothers - only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another" (Gal 5:13). Freedom, in other words, can be misused, can disrespect natural rights, and can be abused to serve tyranny or evil. My reader correctly notes that tyranny of the majority to take away the rights of the minority can be an evil found in democracy, but if a society is founded on the correct ideas of the rights and dignity of the human person, then true freedom is more likely to be found. So how does this play into a Catholic respect for democracy (the right of people to govern themselves and hold leaders accountable) and a Catholic understanding of the role of government? The Church understands that everyone lives in different cultures with different ethos and political options, and that people should be free to form their own consciences in their own lives and not have arbitrary values imposed on them; but the Church believes in accordance with Scripture that there is a transcedent law, God's law, that applies to everyone, and that our consciences must be properly formed and ordered towards the service of God's law. In that way, we find true freedom.

Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person. It requires that the necessary conditions be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the "subjectivity" of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility. Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and sceptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life. Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.

Nor does the Church close her eyes to the danger of fanaticism or fundamentalism among those who, in the name of an ideology which purports to be scientific or religious, claim the right to impose on others their own concept of what is true and good. Christian truth is not of this kind. Since it is not an ideology, the Christian faith does not presume to imprison changing socio-political realities in a rigid schema, and it recognizes that human life is realized in history in conditions that are diverse and imperfect. Furthermore, in constantly reaffirming the transcendent dignity of the person, the Church's method is always that of respect for freedom.

But freedom attains its full development only by accepting the truth. In a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation and man is exposed to the violence of passion and to manipulation, both open and hidden. The Christian upholds freedom and serves it, constantly offering to others the truth which he has known (cf. Jn 8:31-32), in accordance with the missionary nature of his vocation. While paying heed to every fragment of truth which he encounters in the life experience and in the culture of individuals and of nations, he will not fail to affirm in dialogue with others all that his faith and the correct use of reason have enabled him to understand. (Centesimus annus, 47)

It is true that Christ's kingdom is not of this world. And the extent to which Christians should engage our culture in this world is a debate of long standing - probably back to the beginning. But Christ, who is the truth that sets us free (Jn 14:6, 8:32), calls us to do more than let everyone be to determine his or her own concepts of existence. Christ calls us to be lights to the world, to love and serve each other. We have an affirmative duty to love others and be witnesses to the truth. While respecting others' dignity as free individuals and respecting the pluralism that inheres in democracy, I believe it is clear that Catholics cannot leave government to have no norms, no moral principles, no guiding ethos other than letting everyone determine their own concepts of existence. It may otherwise be a respectable and tenable philosophy, but I do not believe it fits in the Catholic tradition.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

America's dad, politically incorrect

One of my favorite entertainer/writers has always been Bill Cosby. I don't know everything (or even much) about him personally, except that it is obvious he has always valued family. I know he's been married for 40 years and had five children, and of course on The Cosby Show he also depicted with great affection a strong marriage and family with five kids. (Being one of five children myself, apparently I think the "five kids" theme is cool.) He's always written with great insight and humor that, unlike so much comedy today it seems, never had need to resort to vulgarity to be funny or resonant. In any event, now there is another reason to confirm why I like the Cos. A reader asked me to note the events of this week's NAACP gala for the anniversary of Brown v. Board, where Cosby (who was being honored) commented that "the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal" of the Civil Rights movement. La Shawn Barber points to the WaPo article reporting some Cosby's remarks:

"They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English," he exclaimed. "I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is' . . . And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. . . . Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. . . . You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"

Well, it's a true statement, and was apparently met with "laughter and applause" by gala attendees - but "stone-faced" reactions from the liberal organization leaders. I say, more power to Cosby, for speaking the truth even if it's impolitic and the NAACP would have it otherwise. Check out the comments at La Shawn's site for more reactions.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

New First Things!

This month's FT has an article up by Professor Steven Smith, currently of the University of San Diego and formerly of Notre Dame. In addition to being a really nice guy, Professor Smith is always worth reading. His article Conciliating Hatred considers the modern theme in Supreme Court jurisprudence of conciliation, and how it relates to the idea (that we pretty much all agree on) that hatred is a bad motive to act upon. There are many divisive and difficult issues that arise in culture and law, and in the absence of specific constitutional provisions to define the boundaries of the law, the Court has slipped into playing the role of arbiter, hoping to settle issues authoritatively by finding compromise solutions (regardless of the constitutional grounding for making these rulings on divisive issues). It's an admirable thing to want to settle disputes by compromising. But what kind of principles guide the fashioning of the Court's compromises? In a relativistic world, there's only one principle that everyone seems to be able to agree on: hate is wrong. Is this really enough to sustain constitutional law jurisprudence? Or does it lead to marginalization of people, anti-democratic provisions, and unfortunate ironies?

As powerfully diagnosed in Alasdair MacIntyre’s classic After Virtue, modern moral reasoning is in disarray. There is no shared moral framework or vocabulary, MacIntyre showed, with which people today can reason together to arrive at cogent conclusions on moral issues. The discord does not reflect any paucity of moral theories. On the contrary, theories and arguments abound. Many of the leading approaches are commonly grouped into competing camps of deontologists and Kantians on the one hand and consequentialists or utilitarians on the other. But there is often wide divergence within these camps; and each camp also makes telling criticisms against the other. In addition, many moral views reflect perspectives—in particular, perspectives grounded in religious beliefs—that do not fit comfortably into either the Kantian or utilitarian camps. As a consequence of this unruly state of affairs, most forms of moral argument will seem to some constituencies wrong from the start—that is, grounded from the outset in unacceptable moral premises.

Even so, there is at least one proposition on which virtually everyone might be expected to converge. Nearly everyone can agree, that is, that it is morally wrong to act on the basis of hatred.

More freedom for everybody? Not quite

Amanda Butler at Crescat links to this Volokh post about a printer who declined to print gay wedding invitations and was subsequently sued by the ACLU. The eventual settlement included the printer making a public apology and "acknowledg[ing] that all persons should be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of sexual orientation . . . [S]he apologized that her actions offended and hurt" the plaintiff. Professor Volokh, no shy supporter of gay rights, is concerned about the coercive nature of the law and action that the printer was sued under. Amanda Butler is not as worried:

But wedding invitations aren't bought, pre-made, off the shelf. They're designed with some degree of creativity. The shop only has the capacity to make a certain number, and some customers schedule further in advance than others. One expect the business to accept customers to maximize its profit while working an undesirable number of hours. All that is reasonable. What other concerns are there? It's printed words, yes, but I remain to be convinced that the print shop's production of cards is speech; they provide the means, just as the telephone company and the postal service helped the couple along in their relationship, with their calls and letters. Speech occurs in the wedding invitations, but the printer is not speaking. Gay couple or church described above, it's a red herring.

I disagree. If under our constitutional regime, nude dancing is speech, how is printing invitations (with words conveying a message, even one as simple as an invitation) not speech by the person who does the printing? But the more apt discussion has to do with contract law, as posters (like Crescat's Will Baude and QD of Southern Appeal) have been saying today in response to Amanda's post (this is the problem with posting after work . . . I'm late to the blogging parties that go on all during the day :), I think that by advertising or running a business, one does not then have to accept every offer made by customers to purchase products or services. Freedom of contract, in other words, goes both ways. And framing the question differently, as QD does, may help: does a Jewish printer have a right not to print flyers for an anti-Semitic rally? Does a pro-life printer have a right not to print flyers for the March for Women's Lives? Does a gay printer have a right not to print flyers for an Evangelical rally for marriage? I think the answer is yes to all of these, and a statute or local ordinance that says otherwise is wrongly coercive - but in the absence of those ordinances, the right should go without question. Printing flyers is not the same as providing lodging. This isn't a Heart of Atlanta Motel kind of case.

Like Professor Volokh, I first learned of the story from Justin Katz, and I think his take on it is best in making a distinction between people and events.

The more fundamental line that's been crossed, however — even accepting as legitimate the argument that business owners don't have a Constitutionally guaranteed right to associate and transact with whomever they wish — is that the discrimination wasn't directed at the customer, but at the project. The business owner didn't refuse to print birthday invitations or some such on the basis of the orientation of the buyer.

This is a very common conflation among identity-activists of all sorts, but particularly among homosexuals. In fact, it constitutes the entire civil rights argument for same-sex marriage, and that's what's so shocking about the way the SSM debate has been phrased.

Similarly, it's the most shocking part of the invitation lawsuit. Of course, the case was settled out of court, but such claims will surely find their way into courthouses in the very near future. And when they do, the basic question that they will ask is whether private businesses and organizations have a right not to endorse the activities and events of homosexuals. Frankly, I'm nervous about the answer. The requirements that the settlement imposed on the business owner smack of a condescending punishment of a grade-school child — entirely fitting, considering that the consequence of the way of thinking that justified the suit is that even business owners are little more than employees of the state.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A question of ideology

A few of my coworkers have posed the interesting question: is it workable for Catholics to also be libertarians? (Who wants to talk about case memos and briefs while at work, after all? :) I don't have the inexhaustible knowledge of libertarian and conservative pure theory that the NRO-niks do (quoting Hayek, Burke, Kirk and everyone else), and I am a bit tired to write too in depth about it at the moment, but my reflexive reaction is: no. This may be partly because my understanding of libertarianism is that it is rather laissez-faire (individually and with regard to government) about social morality, subscribing to the Justice Kennedy individualist philosophy of everyone defining their own concepts of existence. Or, as Jonah Goldberg once wrote (he writes on the subject a lot, in a highly irreverent way):

Cultural libertarianism basically says that whatever ideology, religion, cult, belief, creed, fad, hobby, or personal fantasy you like is just fine so long as you don't impose it on anybody else, especially with the government. You want to be a Klingon? Great! Attend the Church of Satan? Hey man, if that does it for ya, go for it. You want to be a "Buddhist for Jesus"? Sure, mix and match, man; we don't care. Hell, you can even be an observant Jew, a devout Catholic or a faithful Baptist, or a lifelong heroin addict — they're all the same, in the eyes of a cultural libertarian. Just remember: Keep it to yourself if you can. Don't claim that being a Lutheran is any better than being a member of the Hale-Bopp cult, and never use the government to advance your view. If you can do that, then — whatever floats your boat. . . .

But of course, the flip side of this is that cultural libertarianism is essentially a form of arrogant nihilism. There are no universal truths or even group truths (i.e., the authority of tradition, patriotism, etc.) — only personal ones. According to cultural libertarianism, we should all start believing in absolutely nothing, until we find whichever creed or ideology fits us best. We can pick from across the vast menu of human diversity — from all religions and cultures, real and imagined — until we find one that fits our own personal preferences. Virginia Postrel can write triumphantly that the market allows Americans to spend $8 billion on porn and $3 billion at Christian bookstores, because she isn't willing to say that one is any better, or any worse, than the other.

Now, we can agree or disagree with the merits of libertarianism (I disagree, and see it as almost as strong a competing ideology as liberalism to conservatism - I like the idea of smaller government, but I think government does have a role to play in society). But I think it is not too controversial to posit that defining your own concept of existence is incompatible with the idea of absolute, revealed Truth - which is what Catholicism teaches. For Christians, we can't all define the meaning of our own existence to our own individual satisfaction (no matter how divergent these definitions may collectively be) or believe that anything goes - and I don't see how we can believe that government should take the same position. If there is a true right and wrong and if objective morality does exist, which Scripture teaches (those Ten Commandments are fairly unambiguous, for instance, and Christ didn't tell us "do whatever you think is best to get into Heaven, you know - it's all the same to Me"), then Christians can't believe that everyone's own definition of right and wrong is equally valid. More to the point, I don't think Christians can advocate that the government should maintain that, for example, all social arrangements are equally valid or desirable. They demonstrably are not: cohabitation is not the same as marriage, in terms of effects on individuals, children and society. Or to take Jonah Goldberg's example: you don't necessarily have to restrict people's right to view pornography, but you can pretty easily make a reasonable judgment that pornography is worse than Bible study guides. You can make a reasonable case that it's not inappropriate for society to discourage the production of porn, while not simultaneously discouraging the printing of "Lives of the Saints."

This doesn't mean that Catholics shouldn't respect pluralism. Catholicism respects freedom of conscience and personal liberty. But consciences should be well-formed, and personal liberty is not, nor should it be, absolute. This is partly because we live in a society where our actions inevitably involve and impact other people besides ourselves, and thus we have responsibilities to others - and to ourselves. Certainly Christ taught that our first duty is to love God with all our hearts - and our neighbors as ourselves. Both kinds of love (the love which rejoices in the truth, 1 Cor. 13:6) involve an understanding that not every way is equally all right: rather, Christ is the Way. If a Christian truly believes this, then I think he cannot also advocate a political philosophy that is often directly hostile to any idea of right and wrong. I may be mixing up my issues a little bit, with personal and governmental manifestations of libertarianism and religion, but I mean to say that I believe a religion which teaches the idea of truth and social/personal responsibility cannot be held in concert with a political philosophy that advocates relativism and individualism. (I don't think Catholicism dictates any particular philosophy, I just think it's incompatible with libertarianism.) If a Christian believes in objective morality, then he can respect others' rights not to believe or adhere to it - but he can't be wholly indifferent as to whether that morality is reflected in society. Christianity teaches an active duty to engage the culture - in our culture, that is through the means of the democratic process. We may ultimately not succeed in transmuting our values into the public square - but I believe we cannot be indifferent, or believe the government should be indifferent, as to whether they are there at all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Social experimentation

Justin Katz had several strong posts on Massachusetts yesterday. The first considers Sunday's first reading (which, as not infrequently, happened to have some very timely words), and poses a question:

The question of the day: will the sparks be enough to wake America up to what's happening? Or will we just roll over and cover ourselves with a blanket of apathy? One thing we can expect is a surge of commentary declaring, "See! Nothing happened!" As if social corrosion were an instant phenomenon.

It's hard to tell on the first - in spite of everything, many people appear unaware of the significance of what has just happened, or simply can't muster the energy to care despite generally disapproving (as most people disapprove of the idea of gay 'marriage'). Yet 38 states and Congress have, after all, passed statutes or amendments clarifying the definition of marriage and specifically rejecting recognition of homosexual approximations thereof. If politicians can make the calculation that it's all right to stand up for marriage, then I do believe the support is out there to pass a federal marriage amendment. But in the meantime, it's going to be messy, with lawsuits popping up all over the country; and apathy may yet prove to be the general response of the rest of America.

I've certainly run across several comments already (for instance, from Howard Dean, who throws in some theological illiteracy along with trite phrases), as Justin predicted, of "see, nothing happened!" Well: of course it didn't. Society was never going to collapse overnight. Rome didn't fall in a day. Social corrosion is by its nature a more gradual process, the effects of which are not immediately observable. But they are observable over the long term. We're farther along the process today than we were 40 years ago, with the Culture of Death and radical secularism/individualism having won lots of gradual victories along the way (see, e.g., no-fault divorce). Children have felt the effects the hardest. They always do. But who are children to stand in the way of all sexual freedom, all the time? As Mark Shea is fond of repeating: remember, kids are resilient. Adults are fragile. They need to be affirmed and celebrated in everything they do, no matter what the consequences to others, because the Me and My Happiness are paramount. If there are no immediately quantifiable effects of pursuing my happiness selfishly, then there must be no effects at all that can matter to any debate as to the rightness or wrongness of my pursuits. Q.E.D.

On these lines, Justin also writes:

Homosexuals who would like the ability to marry each other ask whom it would hurt. The answer is not emotionally satisfying, but it is no less important for being so. The major policy questions of our day rarely deal with direct benefits that lead to direct detriments. We don't know whom, specifically, same-sex marriage would hurt. However, we do know who is most harmed by fundamental liberalization of family structures: those for whom it is not a choice and those without the resources to absorb the disruption. Children, in the first case. In the second, the poor and struggling.

This gets at the fundamental conflict between reason and emotion. The media are hyping happy couples and weddings, playing on people's emotions and natural compassion; but to influence or make decisions on emotion is not ultimately sustainable if it goes against what reason would dictate. Princeton philosopher Robert P. George has written quite a bit about this conflict, drawing on Platonic and Aristotelian thinking: emotion or passion should always be rightly directed by reason, and reason should be able to control emotion; but when emotion rules, reason becomes a slave to it and can only produce rationalizations for actions that (rightly understood) are wrong. It is not emotionally satisfying, as Justin says, to premise at least part of a rejection of SSM on the consequences that will be felt by society as a whole (as opposed to any one person you could point to directly) - but reason (empiricism) tells us what happens to society when the family structure is liberalized or weakened: it inexorably declines. Thus in this instance we should be able to sublimate emotion (with attendant rationalizations) to reasonable arguments: children do best with their natural, married mother and father. Society must value marriage in order to maximize the possibility of children living in that best situation of living with their natural, married mother and father. SSM precludes by its nature the possibility of a child living there being with his mother and father, and SSM weakens the cultural understanding in the aggregate of what marriage truly is. Thus SSM should not (at the very least) be thrust on the country by these four liberal judges, but it should not be allowed in this country at all. The negative consequences may be unintended. They are not unforseeable.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Ce-le-brate good times, come on!

Watching the media coverage of Massachusetts's judicial legalization of gay "marriage" this weekend (ceremonies to start today), I kept waiting for the anchors to drop their studied looks of seriousness and break out the champagne. After all, it's a story the elite media can love: it's a pet liberal cause, which they are always ready to push; it's got pictures - of weddings and happy people, and who can be against weddings and happy people?; and it can be labeled with the stamp of "landmark," thus describing its eminent newsworthiness without real possibility of serious critique. Reporter Maria Hinojosa combined all of these in her report yesterday, as she interviewed a woman who was holding her own big, fat Greek wedding with another woman. A wedding planner was brought out, happy pictures of the family were shown, and a guy describing how "marriage equality" was becoming more accepted was quoted. "This is Maria Hinojosa, celebrating in Boston!" All right, she didn't sign off that way; but any hint that this might be a momentous social change that could just possibly have negative social effects (not at all like the no-fault divorce revolution ... nah) was entirely absent from her report.

Mark Shea points to this AP article which reports a challenge to Florida's Defense of Marriage Act. The couples can't yet be from Massachusetts since those "marriages" only start today, but expect more to follow.

Andrew Sullivan writes, eloquently as he usually does, for the Massachusetts ruling today. But his language unfortunately shows his continuing willful refusal to recognize the sheer gravity of the change he advocates to the institution of marriage:

It is, second, a civil integration. That is why the term gay marriage is a misnomer. Today is not the day "gay marriage" arrives in America. Today is the first time that civil marriage has stopped excluding homosexual members of our own families. These are not "gay marriages." They are marriages. What these couples are affirming is not something new; it is as old as humanity itself. What has ended — in one state, at least — is separatism. We have taken a step toward making homosexuality a non-issue; toward making gay citizens merely and supremely citizens.

No, these are not marriages. They are "gay marriages". I recognize that very real and sincere emotions and beliefs are involved here, and no one is trying to break up extant relationships or deny that reality, but marriage cannot, by its nature, encompass all sincere and real relationships, but only those of a certain kind. Marriage has a very specific meaning, one which has been known to every civilization around the world throughout history: and it is fundamentally between men and women. Obfuscation of the word to say that gender is irrelevant to the meaning of marriage is fundamentally to alter something that is, as Sullivan acknowledges, "as old as humanity itself." Marriage is something to celebrate and affirm. Gay "marriage," brought to you by one vote of a judiciary in one of the most liberal states in the country (none of this pesky democratic process for us, thank you), is not the blessing the New York Times would have us all believe.

This has been coming for a long time, as marriage has broken down as an institution in the West. It may be too late to fix it, but I pray and remain hopeful that it is not. In the meantime, I leave CNN and the New York Times to their festivities. Salud.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Buggy

Sorry for not posting so much this week - my introduction to work was suitably busy all week. The first project went fine, the second one was a bit rushed today (as I was trying to leave to catch a plane at 6, which turned out, after I rushed to the airport, to be cancelled) but overall I hope the associates think the work is decent. I like the other people I'm working with. And in the meantime, I'm trying to avoid stepping on these slow-moving, ubiquitous red-eyed bugs that are exploding onto the Washington sidewalks. The cicadas have hit my neighborhood now - right now there's few enough that they're all being eaten by birds, but by next week, as per their evolutionary survival mechanism, there'll be way too many for the birds to eat them all. And thus, they will survive. (They may even thrive, and/or steal cars and small children for kicks :)

You thought "Van Helsing" was bad? You thought nothing could be worse than the Olsen twins' movie? Try sitting out in your backyard having a cold one when the cicadas start dropping from trees like World War II paratroopers over Normandy. Reportedly, there will be 1.5 million cicadas per square acre. One-point-five MILLION! We're going to be dripping with cicadas. My friend Tony Reali, "Stat Boy," has calculated that every Washingtonian will have to average 8,000 cicada kills per hour to keep them at bay. I don't know about you, but I can't spend the entire month killing cicadas. At some point I'm going to have to take a few hours to apply for a bank loan to buy gas.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Proportional representation

Roger Clegg on NRO points to this Post article about some Hispanic interest groups' response to an Office of Personnel Management report on minorities in the federal workplace. Hispanics are the nation's largest minority group, at over 13 percent of the population; they make up 7 percent of the federal workforce. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (which includes some three dozen organizations, one of which I have worked for) and other groups decried this fact and called for Bush administration officials to implement some rather aggressive measures, increasing the numbers by at least 100,000 and implementing "several senior-level positions to oversee Hispanic employment issues within the bureaucracy." (It's not a new complaint, but seems to have been occasioned again by this year's release of the report.) NHLA president Manuel Mirabel summarized things this way:

Irrefutable facts tell us there is an escalating crisis in Hispanic federal employment . . . Today, we are calling on President Bush to make fairness and equality for Hispanics in federal employment and contracting a priority in his administration.

Roger Clegg dismisses this by pointing out that Hispanic citizenship is not as high as for other groups, which might affect relative numbers in federal government. He then adds, "The bottom line is that the federal government should just concentrate on hiring the best employees, and tell the bean-counters to get lost."

I think Clegg has a point (partially) in his explanations for the numbers, and I'm not a fan of affirmative action in general so I agree with his last statement. But I also take issue with the particular ways in which NHLA and the other groups are even addressing this issue, such as it is (and it's partly helped by the Post's incomplete coverage). For one thing, what "escalating crisis"? As this more complete AP article notes, the percentage of Hispanics in federal government actually grew between 2002 and 2003, and OPM spokesman Scott Hatch says that 10 percent of all new hires are self-identifying as Hispanic. The Bush administration is actually quite friendly to Hispanics and actively engaged in outreach to the community (disparate as it is) and hiring efforts (even to the extent, apparently, of doing Spanish-language advertising of employment opportunities).

For another thing, I don't like the suggestion that there should be special overseers of "Hispanic employment issues" and I don't like the suggestion of hiring quotas. What makes an employment issue "Hispanic"? Why aren't all employment issues simply that? Quotas are even more objectionable unless one is to value sheer numbers over job quality or substantive representation in government policy. I remember challenging a guest speaker on this issue in one of my Latino politics classes in college: If he wanted people to treat Hispanics as individuals with distinct (not automatically similar) backgrounds and concerns, then didn't that present an inherent conflict or tension with his also-stated desire to increase numerical representation of Hispanics in government (since that would seem to operate on the presumption that Hispanics can be uniformly represented as a distinct group)? I may not be articulating the question very well, but it gets back to the bean-counting point. Hispanics as a group (like many groups) are marvellously diverse internally. It does a disservice to treat Hispanics as merely interchangable or indistinct members of this group which can be used to fill a quota regardless of the quality of work which may be done. It does a disservice to any similar group formed on ethnicity or race - arbitrary, ascriptive characteristics which are irrelevant to job performance and hinder viewing each member of a group as an individual. If the government were seriously to adopt this goal of hiring 100,000 Hispanics, it would encourage them to see people not as individuals but as generic ways to meet the quota. Proportional representation isn't the form of our government, and there's no need for it to be the form of our government workforce, either.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Disorientation

Had a very full first day of work, though it was primarily orientation. Met lots of people, learned some new jargon (wouldn't be Washington if there wasn't acronyms to get comfortable with), filled out paperwork, took the tour, tried to figure out the computer system at training (that's going to take practice ... every software program has its own idiosyncrasies), read the manuals, and realized my feet aren't ready for another summer in the city yet. Not to worry, I'm sure they'll be fine after a week ... Tomorrow we get our first assignments.

But apart from all that. David Frum writes in defense of Donald Rumsfeld, given all the overheated cries for his resignation or summary firing - even (well, maybe not "even") from, for instance, The Economist. Frum offers several reasons why Rumsfeld must stay (besides the fact he gives great press conferences):

He should – must – stay. Here’s why . . . Resignation would be utterly unjustified. The abuses in Abu Ghraib were in no way Donald Rumsfeld’s fault. Nothing he ever said or did could have given anyone in the chain of command beneath him any reason to think that he countenanced or would countenance the humiliation and degradation of prisoners.

I agree with Frum. Rumsfeld is not responsible for what happened in Abu Ghraib; that is, he accepted fault, but he had no knowledge and never implicitly or explicitly ever sanctioned anything like what happened there. As Joe Lieberman said in acknowledging Rumsfeld's apology before Congress as deserved the other day:

I cannot help but say, however, that those responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, never apologized. Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq, working to liberate Iraq and protect our security, have never apologized. And those who murdered and burned and humiliated four Americans in Fallujah a while ago never (apologized)....

The abuses are horrendous and disgusting. But the perpetrators are being (and have been since discovered) prosecuted. Rumsfeld doesn't need to resign.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

If that's what it's all about . . .

I'm moving out - packed up everything for the summer to move to D.C. this morning, where I will start my job on Monday at "BigLaw" (I'll take the pseudonym as I have seen it on the blawgosphere). It's BigLaw with not a few Domers, though (as well as some Ohio transplants) so I am looking forward to being out there :) Will get back to blogging shortly!

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Two worlds, reconciled?

Nathan at Southern Appeal points to this WSJ article taking at look at the difficulties faced by women who, having taken several years off to raise their children, are now attempting to re-enter the workplace.

Like Ms. King, many professional women who quit their jobs to raise children are trying to go back -- and they're finding it harder than they ever imagined. The sluggish economy has made jobs scarce for many well-qualified candidates, let alone those with gaps in their résumés. With advances in technology, women who have taken even a few years off likely have fallen behind or feel out-of-touch. The job-hopping of the past decade has meant many of their old professional contacts, mentors and networks are dispersed. And often their families get used to having mom at home and don't relish a change. . . .

Many women quit work in their 30s, prime career-building years. By the time they think about going back, they're into their 40s, or older. Women like this "are going to have to be a little realistic -- they don't have the perfect package," says Kevin Ryan, CEO of DoubleClick, a New York computer company. "They're going to have to take a step back" from the salaries and positions they left.

As a woman who plans on not working when she has kids, I find this article rather distressing. I don't have many illusions that staying home to raise your children doesn't entail losing all the gains you might make in those "prime career-building years" - I just believe that where it's possible, staying home is one of the best things you can do for your children. I also don't believe the article is necessarily representative of every woman's experience (as indeed there are some counterexamples presented), particularly given the focus on New York (where things move faster in most cases anyway), on the sluggish economy that has been more particular to the last few years, and on careers that may experience rapid change (like the financial industry). There's no doubt that computers have changed everything in the last 15 years, and missing that knowledge in particular might have made things difficult. But I hope that being a lawyer or applying a law degree to another profession (like policy research/writing) might be something that one could come back to after several years out of the field. Ultimately, I suppose I'll make my decision even though it isn't assured that coming back to work 10 years later will be easy.

But it is interesting to see how the conflicting choices between career and family continue to be difficult ones for women. First we encouraged women to leave the house and prioritize their careers (sacrificing family obligations), then we told them they could have it all and perfectly balance the two (implausible for most), and then we found that many professional women were choosing to go home for several years to raise their children after all - but even this last option is not without challenges, since re-entering the workplace will then present difficulties as well. Certainly something to think about.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Corruption and sin in Iraq

Good column from Chuck Colson on the disgusting abuse in Abu Ghraib:

The soldiers excused themselves in part because they didn’t have clear orders. Nonsense. There are things we can’t not know; the truth is written on all of our hearts. Those people had to know that they were doing wrong, orders or no orders. And someone should have had the conscience and the courage to step out of the pack and put a stop to it. I know how the herd mentality works, and people do get sucked in, but this was over the top . . .

Nonetheless, the fact that we’re all sinners, while it keeps us from being self-righteous, does not excuse these men and women. They need to be tried and, if guilty, punished quickly. The world, particularly the Arab world, needs to see that American democracy defends human rights and decency and demands justice, even when we must punish our own.

Fairly unbalanced*

Above the fold of this morning's Columbus Dispatch (not online), came this neutral, objective phrasing: "Methodist vote keeps anti-gay rule intact," subhead: "Language that affirms diversity also rejected." Ouch! Two pet liberal causes (gay rights and the ever-euphemistic diversity) voted down, all at the same time? By a Christian denomination? That must have stung. Good thing the Dispatch has the voice of a major newspaper to express its disapproval by its choice of language.

Now, I don't have the Dispatch right in front of me at the moment (so maybe the rest of the article was more fair), but according to the Post, the "anti-gay" language which the Methodist conference voted to keep said that the Church considers the practice of homosexuality (homosexual activity) "incompatible with Christian teaching," as it in fact is. The "diversity" measure, I believe, was a statement which read in part "Christians disagree on the compatibility of homosexuality with Christian teaching." Which they do, but the fact of disagreement doesn't mean both sides are or could be equally correct - and recognizing the fact of disagreement after the previous resolution in this case would have been merely to add a hasty, "But we could be wrong." They're not. God's grace is indeed available to all who ask - no matter what feelings we have - to all who accept Christ's sacrifice and try to follow in His example by always striving to reject sin. But rejecting sin means rejecting actions which are incompatible with Christian teachings - which actions include all sex outside of marriage, which is the only context for right sexual expression in the Christian understanding (where the man and the woman truly become one flesh, in a sacramental union like that of Christ and the Church). That's not an "anti-gay" teaching - it's not directed to demean anyone as an individual - it simply is a Christian teaching. God loves all of us for who we are, but He does not accept all of our actions, which when done by our free will can act to separate us from Him.

In any event, had to share the headlines this morning.

*This blog post brought to you from sunny Orlando, Florida. Why did I go to law school up north, again? :)

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Los Estevez

Someone found me yesterday by searching for "martin sheen latino," and I realized that in my posts about Martin Sheen and abortion, and how abortion disproportionately affects minorities, I did not mention that Sheen himself is half-Hispanic. Maybe everyone knows that already, but for that searcher and anyone else who ever wondered without knowing why in the world Martin Sheen has a son called Emilio Estevez, it's because that's his real name. Sheen's real name is Ramon Estevez, as he was born to a Spanish father and Irish mother in Ohio. He took his stage name partly from the famous Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. His kids are Carlos (Charlie Sheen), Emilio, Ramon, and Renee. So there's a celebrity fun fact of the day for y'all (and no, this is not a regular feature, since I'm often otherwise clueless about pop culture :)

Monday, May 03, 2004

Fair questions, or: Christian love and judgment

I have been taken to task by mediocre law student for, apparently, telling people how and what to think. "Ah well," s/he sighs, "I guess religious types forget about this one," and then quotes Matthew 7:1-5 ("judge not, lest you be judged"). Now, in the first place, the comment about John Kerry, Vatican II, and abortion that mls quotes from me actually comes from a post entitled "Lest ye be judged," so I'm not sure how I could have forgotten about that passage or its injunctions. Nevertheless, the question is appropriate to address again. As it happens, the parallel gospel reading came up a few months ago (in the Catholic liturgical cycle) from Luke 6:37-42, so I had been reflecting on it.

1 "Do not judge so that you will not be judged.
2 "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
3 "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
4 "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye?
5 "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

What does Christ mean when he tells us here, in the Sermon on the Mount, not to judge? It could be an absolute proscription on passing judgment in any circumstance; certainly those who bring this passage up, intending only to silence Christians from making any statement that could be construed as a judgment on another person's actions, read the passage to be understood in this way. But Christ's injunction is not, even by its plain meaning, and certainly not in context or common sense, intended to be an absolute proscription against judgment in all circumstances. For one thing, Jesus himself judges people frequently in the gospels; if he really means us never to judge at all, why would he violate his own stricture? Rather, Jesus here is condemning, in particular, hypocritical judgment, that is, judgment of minor offenses by people who are obstinately blind to their own large transgressions. Only Christ is perfect, so only he is perfectly justified in judging; nevertheless, he still says that if we first attend to correcting our own actions, only then we will see clearly to help correct others - with the ready implication that correcting others is appropriate at such time. By this teaching, Christ rebukes us in order to remind us that we should always be very reluctant to judge, because we are often guilty ourselves; so we should take care to live our own lives justly before addressing ourselves to others. (We should also be always ready to forgive, in the humble hope that we ourselves will be forgiven (cf. Mt 6:14, Mk 11:25)).

Only Christ can pass judgment on our souls, of course, and so it is not for any man to pass judgment on any other and, for instance, pronounce him condemned to hell; but our actions are often reflections of our inward dispositions, and so it is our actions and dispositions that we are allowed to judge (with appropriate reservation). In fact, we are told that this is what we must do:

"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." - John 7:24

"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment." - 1 Cor. 2:14-15

Righteous judgment, the judgment of the spiritual man, is judgment according to the standard of God's Word. It is appropriate to evaluate moral claims or actions for their accordance with what we know to be Truth (the Word). Especially with fellow Christians, Paul says that we must hold each other to account. "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.'" 1 Cor. 5:12-13. In other words, he was saying not to be overly concerned with actions of those outside the church, but allowed for the church to judge its own. And also with regard to other Christians, Paul tells us to, "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." 2 Tim. 4:2-4.

In its proper understanding, judging is thus done by Christians only with reluctance and taking care to be as good in our own lives as possible, and done in a spirit of love to encourage each other to right understanding of the Truth - that is, the Word of God. Again, this is so because love rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), and true love means encouraging each other away from sin or error. In Christianity, not everything goes; some doctrines or actions will be in error and take us away from God, even though He has the power to forgive everything; but if we maintain a spirit of Christian love, we will help each other to recognize our errors now. To come to a concrete example, if John Kerry professes to be a Catholic, he cannot believe in abortion (or, if he believes in abortion, he cannot be a full Catholic) - because abortion is a grave moral evil, as revealed in Scripture and throughout history in the Church. I would hope that someday he comes to realize this truth, and changes his heart. But it is not wrong of me, nor hypocritical though I am far from perfect, to point out this inconsistency in his professed and manifested faith.

None of us is perfect, and none of us can perfectly embody Christian love, for only Christ is perfect and perfect love. But we as Christians are all called to be perfect nonetheless, though we will often fall short, and we are also called to model Christ's love to others. His warning in the Sermon on the Mount reminds us not to judge rashly - indeed to be very slow to judge. But we also know that true Christian love involves encouraging each other always to better ourselves in our understandings and imitation of Christ, and also involves holding each other to account in the church.

Monk's tenure ends

A friend from college points me to the news that Father Edward (Monk) Malloy is stepping down as president of Notre Dame at the end of his term next year. Fr. John Jenkins, a vice-president and associate provost as well as a philosophy professor (with degrees from ND and Oxford), has been elected by the board to become president a year from July. I think Fr. Malloy has been a good president for the university overall, being very committed to the school's mission and improving her reputation as a top-ranked academic institution (although the football hasn't been so good for a while . . .) He was certainly involved in students' lives, being a professor and living in one of the residence halls (Sorin) with students. Yet while he is a good man and did some impressive things to help the university grow, I never believed he was an especially inspiring leader, and I think it is time for some new leadership to come and really affirm the school's role as the nation's leading Catholic university. I hope Fr. Jenkins is the right man for the job.

I had occasion to meet Fr. Jenkins only once, when I was interviewing him for a story on Notre Dame's institutional balance of teaching and research. (The school has long been known as a strong teaching university, but has made serious pushes to improve its standing as a research university over the last 10-15 years in particular.) Not that I claim to have any special insight, but Fr. Jenkins struck me as very personable, knowledgeable and focused. He valued the teaching quality and reputation of our faculty, but emphasized that students should not only want but really expect their professors to be active researchers. "If you take a chemistry class or a business class, you want to learn from the guy who wrote the book, literally," he told me. I think his vision of Notre Dame involves bringing those people who write the books to ND - but I hope he also values making sure those professors know how to communicate their knowledge to students. I will look forward to seeing what his tenure brings, and how he represents the school's priorities.

In other ND news, Father Ned Joyce, a huge figure in Notre Dame history along with Fr. Hesburgh, passed away Sunday. R.I.P.

Your regularly scheduled programming (a round-up)

Having stirred up something of a hornet's nest with my posts last week on D.C.'s abortion march (at Law Dork, mediocre law student, Ichiblog, Fool's Blog, and Three Years of Hell - with a mix of viewpoints somewhat supporting or rejecting my positions), I can't, of course, help but return to the topic. Columnist Diana West reflects some (not all) of the thoughts I have posted elsewhere with her closing to this commentary on one Style piece from the WaPo:

Maybe it is one thing to wrangle over the moral and spiritual price of abortion; it is very much another to elevate abortion into a cause for righteous glee as the March for Women's Lives did. "Carole King came on just as the wind picked up, and reminded the crowd, a capella, what it feels like when the earth moves under your feet," the Post wrote in closing, waxing dangerously lyrical. "Such an old chestnut, this endless abortion debate, yet it all sounded somehow renewed."

Whether this triggers a blue-state tingle, or a red-state chill, is there anyone who thinks the ultimate image of abortion is renewal?

Indeed, that "glee" of the marchers is mostly what I took exception to at this rally. I oppose all abortion, but can have more respect for those who sincerely struggle with the issue, or recognize its gravity. Matto Ichiban pointed to one such woman here, who while she remains politically pro-choice, realized after her own miscarriage that she had in fact been carrying a child, and not some amorphous blob of tissue: "I had confused being pro-choice with being hostile toward pregnancy," she writes. She believes that there can be a religious approach to abortion that allows for abortion, but also celebrates children who are born. I disagree that such an approach can be taken, in Jewish or Christian theology, but credit her at least for moving beyond her hostile-towards-children stance with regard to abortion, and feel sorrow that it took experiencing her own miscarriage to change her beliefs; that is always a tragedy no matter what the circumstances.

Anthony Rickey is also pro-choice but agrees that abortion is "a horror not to be celebrated":

I'm pro-choice, and I'm willing to accept that fact. I have no respect for those who picket abortion clinics or harass frail and nervous women after they've made or are making their choices. But there is also a cost to this policy--that something in the bucket--and I don't ever want to forget that fact.

I respect this position, and believe Tony has not arrived at it lightly, but I also believe that the fact that the "something in the bucket" is indisputably a human being should be enough to reject abortion in any circumstance, even hard ones. London Times writer India Knight writes, in response to the British Channel 4's airing of a graphic program called "My Foetus," about her own experience as the mother of a potentially handicapped child; she had not known about the child's handicap or genetic defects before birth but wonders now if and how that could have impacted her decision.

Some of these children have severe learning difficulties, some have serious physical anomalies; one or two are so ill that it hurts your heart to look at them.

But they all have one thing in common: they are alive, and enjoying their lives and, above all, they are all loved. Who are we to say what does or does not constitute a life “worth living”? Should all these children have been sucked out and ended up in some hospital bin? And what do you do if your perfect child is horribly burnt or is involved in a hideous car crash when she is 10 years old? Do you quietly dig a hole in the garden because, suddenly, her life is no longer “worth living” either? When I was in my late teens and early twenties and militantly pro-choice about a woman’s “right to choose”, having an abortion was in some quarters seen as a badge of, if not quite honour, then a commendable, almost sexy kind of feminist bad girlhood.

As a reasonably bad girl myself, I remember feeling left out — how puerile that seems now — because I managed to have sex and not get pregnant. My friends referred to their terminations as “abos”, thought of themselves as rather rock’n’roll, and liked airing the old chestnut that terminating their baby’s life was as easy as having a tooth out.

But having belonged to the feminist movement and been "militantly pro-choice" for years, Knight finally realized that even if she had acknowledged the humanity of the "something" before (as many people, including Tony, certainly do), she now knows that humanity means that abortion should never be a viable option. I would phrase it thus: the "something" that is sacrificed has a right to live that supercedes political pragmatism.

You might take the view that the thing in the bowl is merely a collection of cells — but surely every intelligent person knows in their heart that this is ethical flimflam. Do what you will with your pregnancy — I am not calling for the criminalisation of abortion — but have the moral courage to clearly understand what it is that you are doing.

I have spent my life listening to women voicing their right to choose, and I’ve supported them often in that choice. But I want to call for another right: the right to name the thing lying in the bowl. It is the same thing as the one lying downstairs in a cot. It is a baby.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Some sins are worse . . .

Interesting discussion at Letters from Babylon about the nature of sin, and whether it is always wrong, for instance, to deceive. Joshua Davey also looks at the question of whether "no sin is worse than another" is really a part of the Christian understanding. Is there really a "moral hierarchy" in this regard? Having recently had occasion to consider the matter myself, I appreciated his post.

While we might be somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that there exists a moral hierarchy on which sins can be ranked, I would like to suggest that we should not be, that a belief in such a hierarchy has been nearly universal among Christians throughout the history of the church, and that such a hierarchy is a necessary component of the moral structure of the world in which we find ourselves. . . .

Thus, Plantinga points to several reasons for believing there is a moral hierarchy of sin: the fact that Scripture treats some sins differently than others (Jesus, for example, condemned hypocrisy more often and with more force than he did adultery or dishonest tax collection), and the fact that different sins warrant different penalties (both under the Levitical law and under most other legal systems). To clarify the former of these reasons, that Scripture treats some sins differently than others: this does not change the fact that any sin is still sin and enough to separate us from God, but it does reflect the fact that the notion of a moral hierarchy is an appropriate and thoroughly Christian idea.

As Joshua points out in his post, a certain hierarchy of wrongs does exist both in Scripture and in our everyday common experience. Motive matters in crime or sin, and effects may also differ. The Catholic Church recognizes a distinction between mortal sin, which is done with full knowledge of and complete consent to the sinfulness of an act and its opposition to God's law, and which cuts off charity; and venial sin, which may concern less serious matters, or grave matters not done with full knowledge, and which do not wholly destroy charity. Or, as it is written, even though all wrongdoing is sin, there are sins that lead to death, and there are sins that do not lead to death (1 John 5:16-17). Thomas Aquinas reasoned (in somewhat denser language, but it works if you stick with it :) that sins were not all equal, in the same way that all disease is not equal - it all hurts you, but it doesn't all necessarily kill you:

Yet, if we consider the matter carefully, we shall see that there are two kinds of privation. For there is a simple and pure privation, which consists, so to speak, in "being" corrupted; thus death is privation of life, and darkness is privation of light. Such like privations do not admit of more or less, because nothing remains of the opposite habit; hence a man is not less dead on the first day after his death, or on the third or fourth days, than after a year, when his corpse is already dissolved; and, in like manner, a house is no darker if the light be covered with several shades, than if it were covered by a single shade shutting out all the light. There is, however, another privation which is not simple, but retains something of the opposite habit; it consists in "becoming" corrupted rather than in "being" corrupted, like sickness which is a privation of the due commensuration of the humors, yet so that something remains of that commensuration, else the animal would cease to live: and the same applies to deformity and the like. Such privations admit of more or less on the part of what remains or the contrary habit. For it matters much in sickness or deformity, whether one departs more or less from the due commensuration of humors or members.

All sin goes against God, and God can forgive all sins. But this is not to say that some sins do not do more damage to our relationship with Him than others; and it is very much in keeping with the Christian tradition to so acknowledge.

Even more hopeless

Not only can I not refrain from wanting to proofread every paper that I come across (thanks, Journal), I can't shut off my brain even after seven hours of exams in two days. Joshua Davey over at LFB assures that I'm not alone in addiction to Law&Order - but mine's so severe, I was watching last night after exams. I couldn't help it. And in the particular episode being shown, as Claire and Jack were poring through a suspect's records to find evidence for enterprise corruption, Claire remarked, "Look at these receipts - this guy has never has never met a meal deduction he couldn't take." Jack agreed, looking at his own papers, "All the entertainment around trade shows, too - this guy is writing off everything." And my brain immediately filled in, "Section 274, deduction should be limited only to where business was discussed during or just prior to or after the events, and the total should be limited to 50%."

Somebody stop me!