Addenda

12 Jul

God is more than a choice

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/12/16

Kenneth R. Craycraft, Jr. (and Michael Sandel) on why religious freedom is poorly understood (and vulnerable)

“Michael Sandel has recently argued that current American liberalism cannot protect religious belief, because liberalism cannot understand the difference between ‘choosing’ and being compelled by evidence, grace, or providence, mediated through family, tradition, and other forms of moral authority, to embrace a religious faith.

“Sandel's concern is a ‘vision of pluralism . . . defined by the claims that the right is prior to the good, and in two senses’: 

first, individual rights cannot be sacrificed for the sake of the general good; and second, the principles of justice that specify these rights cannot be premised on any particular vision of the good life. What justifies the rights is not that they maximize the general welfare or otherwise promote the good, but rather that they comprise a fair framework within which individuals can choose their own values and ends.

“Sandel believes that the priority of right over good proceeds from a view of the person that posits ‘the self as free and independent, unencumbered by aims and attachments it does not choose for itself.’ This self is radically autonomous, forming associations freely rather than by being formed by any natural community. Choice precedes right and good; the self is ‘given prior to its purposes and ends.’ If any choice is made with reference to (or determined by) anything outside the choosing self, then the choice is not authentically free, and neither is the person. 

“Thus, the self is free from any natural obligations. ‘Freed from the sanctions of custom and tradition and inherited status, unbound by moral ties antecedent to choice, the liberal self is installed as sovereign, cast as the author of the only obligations that constrain.’ No obligation transcends or guides the choice except the obligation not to deny the freedom of another person to choose. ‘We must respect the dignity of all persons, but beyond this, we owe only what we agree to owe.’ Even the rule not to coerce another is bound by nothing but mutual agreement. 

“This theory has produced a confused legal tradition in which ‘encumbered’ selves are not afforded the protection of unencumbered selves. Recent U. S. Supreme Court rulings assume that religion is chosen without reference to any influencing tradition, community of truth, or conviction of truth. Thus, the Court is not neutral regarding religion; it must prefer nonreligion (or secularism) to religion, especially orthodox religion. The theory at work in these cases is that, since no one is ever compelled to adhere to a religious tradition, neutrality offends neither the religious nor nonreligious person. The Court sees religion as something chosen from an autonomous position, and the state has nothing to do with private choice. This position is epitomized by Justice John Paul Stevens in the Alabama school prayer case:

The individual’s freedom to choose his own creed is the counterpart of his right to refrain from accepting the creed established by the majority. The Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all. This conclusion derives support not only from the interest in respecting the individual’s freedom of conscience, but also from the conviction that religious beliefs worthy of respect are the product of free and voluntary choice by the faithful.

“Sandel thinks that such a view ‘does not serve religious liberty well’ since ‘it confuses the pursuit of preference with the exercise of duties.’ He says that ‘the respect that this neutrality commands is not, strictly speaking, respect for religion, but respect for the self whose religion it is.’ For the Court, ‘choosing’ a religion is not qualitatively distinct from choosing a college or even a brand of toothpaste. In ruling as it has, ‘the Court gives constitutional expression to the version of liberalism that conceives the right as prior to the good and the self as prior to its ends.’ This view of the person ‘ill equips the Court to secure religious liberty for those who regard themselves to be claimed by religious commitments they have not chosen.’”

—from Kenneth R. Craycraft, Jr., The Seductive Liberal Myth of Religious Freedom” (The World and I, December 1993)

 

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9 Jul

Skepticism and totalitarian drift

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/09/16

John Paul II on democracy’s need for truth

“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.”

—from John Paul II, Centesimus Annus (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1991)

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23 Jun

A liturgically ordered (and Christ-formed) cosmos

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/23/16

David L. Schindler on how the renewing of our minds requires the recognition of love in the order of Creation

“Jesus’ expression of ‘Abba’ is revelatory of his being. As Son, he receives all that he is from the Father. Prayer and obedience . . . thus express what is deepest in Jesus. These are not so much moral acts as the very form of his being. Hence we see the coincidence in Jesus of the Way and the Truth (‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ [Jn. 14:6]): the prayer and obedience of Jesus are not only his (subjective) way to the Father; they are the very (objective) truth or content of his relation to the Father. In sum, what Jesus, as the incarnate Word (hence from the Father, as the logos of his love), literally is, is the relation of love that is expressed exactly in prayer and obedience — in a word, service — to the Father.

“This relation of love which Jesus shares with the Father is not exclusive but opens onto the cosmos the Father has created in and with and through Jesus (‘That they all may be one, Father, even as you and I are one' [Jn. 17:21]). That is, all of creation is dynamically ordered from and toward the love revealed by God in Jesus Christ; and this means toward the prayer, obedience, and service to the Father which are incarnate in Jesus. This dynamic ordering is greatly weakened but not essentially destroyed by the sin of Adam. All created entities are thus understood most truly when and insofar as they are brought into this relation of prayer, obedience, and service to God in Christ: when and insofar as they are thereby taken up into a cosmic liturgy.

“Clearly prayer, obedience, and service assume their truest meaning when they are exercised by Christians. They are activities in any case that are ascribed most properly and directly to human beings, with their spiritual capacities of intelligence and freedom. Nevertheless — because everything, and not just man, is created in the Word (Jn. 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-17) — there is a truly analogous sense in which even nonhuman beings exercise these activities: that is, exhibit in the depths of their being the relational activities of obedience to and glorification of God.

“In a word, prayer and obedience are most properly Christian-anthropological activities, but they are activities that in some analogous sense have an ontological and cosmological meaning as well: when and insofar as we — correctly — understand being as gift, as created and renewed in and through the trinitarian love of God in Jesus Christ.

“Thus . . . giving glory to God is a comprehensive task for Christians, occupying not only all of their time but also all of their faculties, their mind as well as their will. Giving glory to God is a matter that pertains not only to time in the chapel or in private prayer, or to the good will necessary for using creatures properly. It is a matter also pertaining to ‘logos’ and thus to the inherent ‘logic’ of things. Only insofar as we recognize this can we begin to undertake with full seriousness the task of ‘finding God in all things.’”

—from David L. Schindler, “Sanctity and the Intellectual Life,” in Heart of the World, Center of the Church (Eerdmans, 1996)

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2 Jun

What is beyond our choosing?

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/02/16

D. C. Schindler on our nihilistic quest for freedom

“Our current conception of freedom is deeply problematic. . . . On the one hand, there is a general recognition — regardless of where one falls in the political spectrum — of freedom as a great human good, something worth promoting and protecting even at the cost of sacrificing other goods; on the other hand, there has been an impoverishment of our understanding of the notion, so that freedom has come to represent little more in the popular imagination than the power to choose. What is problematic about this understanding is not simply that it fails to do justice to the reality that originally warranted recognition as a great human good. What we wish to suggest is that this reduction actively undermines the good-character of freedom. In other words, our claim is that there is something essentially self-destructive in the contemporary relationship to freedom; the nature of what we pursue erodes the very thing we wish to affirm and cultivate. The problem, in a nutshell, is that we think of freedom as an end but define it as a means, and so we treat a bonum utile [i.e., a useful good] as if it were a bonum honestum [i.e., an intrinsic good]. But this is not a mere problem of logic or classification. Instead, this confusion has far-reaching philosophical and cultural implications. To put the problem in its starkest terms, instrumental goods can only ever be good in a derivative sense; a means can be, not just an instrument, but an instrumental good, only through a relationship to an end to which it is subordinate. If we make a means an end in itself, we do two things at once: we both eliminate its goodness and we elevate its status; we transform the absence of goodness into a purpose. Inside of this confusion of ends and means is therefore what we could justifiably call a kind of nihilism. To the extent that we exclude those features of freedom that would qualify it as an and, and at the same time continue to promote it as such even in this reduced form, our notion of freedom becomes a source of nihilism.”

D. C. Shindler, The Perfection of Freedom: Schiller, Schelling, and Hegel between the Ancients and the Moderns (Cascade Books, 2012)

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2 Jun

How radical is our individualism?

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/02/16

Michael Martin on the late medieval origins of our current confusion

“Indebted to Plato and his Christian Neoplatonist interpreters, realism affirms the existence of universals: abstract, general concepts possessing objective reality anterior to particulars. For realism, universals, that is, are real things (res). The ideas of ‘woman’ and ‘man,’ for instance, precede and inform the actualities of particular women and men. Medieval nominalism, on the other hand, held that only particular things are real and that what the realists called ‘universals’ are only names (nomina), possibly useful for categorization (conceptualism), but devoid of any kind of reality in themselves. In a famous example, Roscelin (1050-1125) held that the idea of the Trinity is, in fact, only a concept that only the Divine Persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — can claim reality. . . .

“Two centuries after Roscelin, the nominalist William of Occam (c. 1287-1347) divided reality into two categories: 1) that which we can know through intentionality (observation and experience); and 2) that which we can know by faith. Nominalism, that is, separated knowledge from wisdom and effectively divorced philosophy from theology. It placed most of what had been traditional metaphysics under the sphere of faith and claimed logic and analysis as the tools of the philosopher. Thus, at least at a conceptual level, the microcosm of the mind (or the soul) had been cut off from an integral, cosmological, and spiritual reality, at least as far as medieval epistemology was concerned. . . .

“Our current, postmodern moment — materialistic, technological, technocratic, atheistic — exemplifies a nominalism writ large. Here there are no universals. There are no ideas, no archetypes. Only names. ‘Marriage,’ for instance, no longer embeds universal cultural archetypes of ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’ . . . Marriage, previously assumed as the union of a man and woman into organic whole, has been relativized beyond the point of recognition. A collateral ontological shift has also occurred in the postmodern understanding of the word ‘family.’ Perhaps most emblematic of this shift is the new conceptualization of the term ‘gender,’ which, tellingly, has proved the most plastic of all. Does not the notion of elective gender reassignment surgery, like nominalism, assert in the clearest terms that universals do not exist?”

—from Michael Martin, The Submerged Reality: Sophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics (Angelico Press, 2015)

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