Two new stories now featured on our homepage.
First, the editors on reading the mission statement of Matt Malone, SJ, editor of America, about the challenges facing his magazine and the Catholic media at large. A pressing concern of Malone’s is
what he perceives to be the destructive influence of secular political ideology on Catholic unity. “We view ideology as largely inimical to Christian discipleship,” he writes, arguing that “our secular, civic discourse...is a mortal threat to the ecclesiastical discourse.” In an effort to combat this “factionalism,” America will no longer allow writers to use the terms “liberal,” “conservative,” or “moderate” “when referring to our fellow Catholics in an ecclesiastical context.” That editorial experiment will bear watching.
Factionalism can indeed be a threat to the church (or to the country), but honest disagreement is not always destructive of ecclesial communion; in fact, it is often constitutive of it. As John Courtney Murray, SJ, once wrote, “disagreement is a rare achievement, and most of what is called disagreement is simply confusion.” Paul took on Peter in the most direct way on the question of whether the promises of Christ could be extended to the uncircumcised. The church as we know it would not exist but for that bit of factionalism. The number of such disagreements throughout the church’s history is hard to exaggerate. In fact, church unity is more often threatened when not enough room is made for the airing and resolution of honest disagreement. Nor does it do any good to pretend that the contemporary church is actually a community of harmony and virtue simply because ideally it should be. American Catholics belong to the church, but also to many other communities and organizations. They cannot, and should not, leave those attachments behind at the church door, nor should they regard their political commitments as peripheral to their Christian witness. Quite the contrary. For example, while America’s mission statement confesses a “bias” for the “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable,” it asserts that the poor have no “special parties to speak for them.” Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that all parties speak for the poor equally, or equally well.
Read the whole thing here.
Also featured now, E. J. Dionne Jr. and the position President Obama finds himself in on Syria:
[I]f Obama wanted to shift our foreign policy away from the Middle East, the Middle East had other ideas. Even before the latest reports that Syria’s government had used chemical weapons against its own people, the military’s takeover in Egypt, following abuses by the Muslim Brotherhood government, blew up the administration’s hopes for a gradual movement there toward more democratic rule.
Now, the president’s own unambiguous red line against the regime’s use of chemical weapons and his statements declaring that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad should be ousted leave him little choice but to take military action. This is the conclusion Obama has drawn, however uneasy he has been about intervening in the Syrian civil war. He no longer has the option of standing aside.
The result is an agonizing set of questions and potential contradictions. Can military strikes of any kind be the sort of “narrow” or -- and this has always been a strange word for war -- “surgical” intervention that does not drag the United States deeply into the conflict? Yet if the strikes are limited enough so as not to endanger Assad’s regime, is the Syrian leader then in a position to pronounce his survival a form of victory against the United States and its allies? Does Obama really want to get the U.S. involved, however tangentially, in a new Middle Eastern war without a debate in Congress and some explicit form of congressional approval?
Just posted to the homepage, Joseph Bottum’s essay “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.”
Bottum, former chief editor of First Things, writes: “We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.” He goes on:
For that matter, plenty of practical concerns suggest that the bishops should cease to fight the passage of such laws. Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about. There’s a reasonable case to be made that the struggle against abortion is slowly winning, but the fight against public acceptance of same-sex behavior has been utterly lost.
I find these practical considerations compelling, just as I think most ordinary Catholics do.
Read the whole essay here. And after that, see Mark Oppenheimer’s latest Beliefs column in the New York Times. An excerpt:
In the past couple of years, conservative opposition to same-sex marriage has clearly started to erode. Prominent Republicans like Senators Rob Portman and Lisa Murkowski and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell have come out in support of gay marriage. Even David Blankenhorn, the expert witness in the Proposition 8 trial in California and a Democrat, announced that he had changed his mind.
They are, for the most part, moderate conservatives using secular, democratic arguments. None come from the Christian right. Among religious conservatives, opposition to same-sex marriage has remained essentially unquestioned.
Which is why “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” an essay by Joseph Bottum, published Friday on the Web site of Commonweal magazine, is something new in this debate.
Three stories now featured on our home page.
George Scialabba writes on Leszek Kolakowski and the essays collected in Is God Happy?
[Kolakowski was not] solely or even primarily a political critic; he was a philosopher and a historian of philosophy. He wrote books on seventeenth-century philosophy, Bergson, Husserl, and positivism, among many others, including several on the philosophy of religion, such as The Presence of Myth, God Owes Us Nothing, Religion: If There Is No God…, and the middle section of Is God Happy?
The Enlightenment plays the same role in Kolakowski’s philosophical writings as Marxism does in his political writings. It’s where modernity went astray, where virtue took a wrong turn. Marxism distorted the quest for equality and social justice into utopian dogmatism; the Enlightenment distorted the promise of science and the rejection of superstition into relativistic rationalism. And just as Kolakowski’s positive political beliefs were hard to pin down (the closest he came was in an essay called “How To Be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist”), so were his positive religious beliefs. For a long time he styled himself an “inconsistent atheist,” but near the end of his life he resolved the inconsistency by returning to the Catholic Church.
Perhaps the philosophical equivalent of “conservative-liberal-socialist” is “skeptical traditionalist.” At any rate, that’s a good description of Kolakowski’s religious/philosophical stance until his (re-) conversion. He was not (at least in his writing) a God-haunted man so much as a scourge of secularism; not so much avid to penetrate the mysteries as keen to debunk their debunkers. He does not have much comfort for afflicted believers, but he rejoices in afflicting comfortable unbelievers.
Nicholas Clifford looks at the "historical amnesia" of Catholic leaders on religious liberty:
The greater question implicitly raised by [Archbishop William] Lori, but never answered, has to do with the Catholic Church’s recent conversion to a view of religious freedom as a “fundamental right.” When and why did it happen? Here, Lori’s historical account carries us back no farther than Dignitatis humanae forty-eight years ago. Again he’s perfectly accurate when he says that “successive popes have reaffirmed the church’s commitment to this principle,” and though he rather surprisingly ignores John XXIII’s role in planting seeds, he cites John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis I, in support of religious freedom. Yet isn’t this a bit like saying that ever since the Voting Rights Act—also of 1965—successive U.S. presidents have upheld the ideal of racial equality? Case closed, in short; and there’s no longer any need to delve into America’s murky past from 1789 to 1964, and to have to explain the difficult contradictions that crop up.
Or is there? And if, since 1965, “successive” popes have upheld religious freedom, what can we say about “predecessive” popes, those who earlier presided over the governance of the church and its teachings for almost two millennia? Should we simply ignore them?
Finally, E. J. Dionne Jr. writes about Chris Christie, his debate phobia, and how his pragmatic persona plays against his aims to burnish his conservative record (for more on that last part, see this piece about the governor's veto of a sniper-rifle ban that he proposed himself) .
Now on the website, a special package of Commonweal articles from sociologist of religion Robert N. Bellah, who died at the end of July. Bellah was a contributor to the magazine since the early 1980s, writing on such subjects as the changing nature of the relationship between religion and power; American economic competitiveness and the pastoral letter Economic Justice for All; and the implications of "the Bush doctrine." You can find it here.
Some items worth catching up on, before (or over) the weekend.
Sister Simone Campbell testified before the House Budget Committee this week, at a hearing that opened with Paul Ryan declaring that in America, “If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.” When Campbell's turn to speak came, she talked about the effectiveness of federal assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) in improving the lives of America’s most vulnerable (watch the video below), noting that charity goes only so far. “Everyone has a right to eat, and therefore there is a governmental responsibility to ensure everyone’s capacity to eat.Read more
Now on our website, Commonweal's editors on same-sex marriage after recent rulings from the Supreme Court.
Commonweal has expressed skepticism and urged caution regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage, while at the same time defending the rights and dignity of homosexual persons both in society and in the church. In the aftermath of the chaos and destruction, both personal and social, wrought by the so-called sexual revolution, the rush to change the fundamental heterosexual basis of marriage seemed imprudent. With the institution of marriage already in crisis, such an unprecedented social experiment appeared to pose risks—especially to the already precarious place of children within modern marriage—that were all but impossible to measure. ... Advocates cast same-sex marriage as the extension of basic rights to a once excluded group, but it is likely also a reflection of—and a further step toward—an essentially privatized and libertarian moral culture. ...
[I]t is no secret that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been among the most outspoken opponents of same-sex marriage. The conference’s advocacy, which has often cast the debate in hyperbolic terms, has persuaded few and offended many. With typical alarm, the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage issued a statement calling the Court’s decisions “a tragic day for marriage and our nation,” and a “profound injustice to the American people.” The statement went on to use variations on the phrase “the truth of marriage” seven times in two brief paragraphs, as though mere incantation were a substitute for persuasion. ... Surely, whatever its legitimate reservations about the legalization of same-sex marriage, it is time for the church to begin to come to terms with this challenging new cultural and pastoral reality, a reality that calls for far more than overwrought predictions of moral decline and social calamity.
Two new stories on the Commonweal homepage today.
Much here is as familiarly engaging as Benedict’s talks at Wednesday audiences. Clearly Chapters 2 and 3 represent a big chunk of the first draft of the encyclical on faith that Benedict was working on when he resigned. And yet there are traces of that inclusively compassionate voice we have come to know over the past months as that of Pope Francis. It appears in the last paragraphs of the introduction which speak of Pope Benedict in the third person. Along with a quote from Dominus Iesus, resonances of it can also be heard in the second chapter’s last two paragraphs. Here is an example: “The more Christians immerse themselves in the circle of Christ’s light, the more capable they become of understanding and accompanying the path of every man and woman.” And another: “Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by his help, for it is characteristic of the divine light to brighten our eyes whenever we walk toward the fullness of love.” If these are not the ipsissima verba of Francis, they surely represent his ipsissima intentio.
Read the whole thing here.
In “The Painful Paradoxes of Race,” E. J. Dionne Jr. writes of his interview with Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and candidate for the state’s open Senate seat.
My interview with Booker didn’t start with the Zimmerman trial. Instead, the practically-minded mayor spoke enthusiastically about a program he had established in cooperation with the libertarian-conservative Manhattan Institute to help men released from prison become better fathers. “The right intervention,” he said, “can create radically different outcomes.”
Booker knows about crime. He described his experience of holding a young man who had just been shot, trying and failing to keep him from dying in his arms. He returned home disconsolate and washed off the young man’s blood.
His account, and Obama’s later words, put the lie to outrageous claims by right-wing talk jocks and provocateurs that those upset by the outcome in the Zimmerman trial are willfully ignoring the affliction of crime committed by African Americans against each other. On the contrary: African American leaders, particularly mayors such as Booker, were struggling to stem violence in their own communities long before it became a convenient topic for those trying to sweep aside the profound problems raised by the Martin case.
Read the whole thing here.
Just posted on the homepage, Michael J. Perry examines the reasoning of the Supreme Court's majority opinion holding the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional:
In my judgment, the Court made the right decision in Windsor, but the majority was much less clear than it should have been about why DOMA’s exclusion of same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Kennedy’s opinion for the majority should not have put any weight on the alleged “animus” of those opposed to same-sex marriage. “Hate your neighbor or come along with us,” was how Justice Antonin Scalia characterized Kennedy’s reasoning. Scalia’s indignation was understandable. Kennedy’s suggestion that DOMA was based on the view that gays and lesbians are inferior human beings is tendentious in the extreme, and demeaning to all those who for a host of non-bigoted reasons uphold the traditional understanding of marriage as an essentially heterosexual institution. ...
I accept the bishops’ argument regarding the nonreligious nature of their opposition to same-sex marriage. The burden for the bishops, however, is the high bar set by the Constitution’s protection of religious and moral freedom—often called freedom of conscience. ...
Admittedly, it is not always obvious when a particular nonreligious moral belief is a minority moral belief. In answering that question, it is helpful to keep in mind what the celebrated American Jesuit John Courtney Murray wrote to Boston’s Cardinal Richard Cushing in the mid-1960s about laws decriminalizing access to contraception. “T]he practice [contraception], undertaken in the interests of ‘responsible parenthood,’ has received official sanction by many religious groups within the community,” Murray noted. “It is difficult to see how the state can forbid, as contrary to public morality, a practice that numerous religious leaders approve as morally right. The stand taken by these religious groups may be lamentable from the Catholic moral point of view. But it is decisive from the point of view of law and jurisprudence.”
Read the whole thing here.
Somewhat overshadowed by events was the release of a statement from the USCCB on the Supreme Court decision overturning Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity, said:
The recent Supreme Court decision necessitates that Congress act swiftly to assure that the right to vote be protected and afforded to all eligible citizens. We urge policymakers to quickly come together to reaffirm the bipartisan consensus that has long supported the Voting Rights Act and to move forward new legislation that assures modern and effective protections for all voters so that they may exercise their right and moral obligation to participate in political life.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Health Association says today that the current combination of exemptions and accommodations within the HHS’s contraception mandate are sufficient.
Campaign-ish notes: Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor of Texas (I didn’t know either), won’t run for that office again, but is reflecting and, yes, praying, about his plans for the future.Read more
Three new stories on the homepage today, including a piece by the editors on the actions of Eric Snowden and their implications for privacy and national security:
It is axiomatic that fighting clandestine terrorist groups requires clandestine methods. Sources and allies must be protected; in preemptive actions the element of surprise must be preserved. Secrets about ongoing investigations cannot be compromised without jeopardizing counterterrorism efforts. It is harder to justify keeping such details secret after the fact. Judgments about the trade-offs between privacy and safety cannot be made unless the American people know what the government has done in our name. Even if everything the government does to combat terrorism is technically legal, not everything legal is prudent, wise, or morally justified.
As a nation, we rely on a system of checks and balances to prevent an excessive concentration of state power. Those checks and balances are strained to the breaking point during times of war, and especially during a war as ill-defined and open-ended as the fight against terrorism. Congress is notoriously pusillanimous when it comes to national-security issues. The courts, meanwhile, are loath to intervene, preferring to leave the conduct of “war” to the other two branches. The executive rarely passes up an opportunity to expand its war-making powers. The result is the steady accumulation of influence by the nation’s security agencies. As political philosopher and former Clinton administration official William A. Galston recently observed, “It may be true that as currently staffed and administered, the new institutions of surveillance do not threaten our liberties. It is also true that in the wrong hands, they would make it much easier to do so.”
Also, E. J. Dionne Jr. comments on the political activism of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing in light of this week’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act:
Whenever conservatives on the court have had the opportunity to tilt the playing field toward their own side, they have done so. And in other recent cases, the court has weakened the capacity of Americans to take on corporate power. The conservative majority seems determined to bring us back to the Gilded Age of the 1890s.
The voting rights decision should be seen as following a pattern set by the rulings in Bush v. Gore in 2000 and Citizens United in 2010.
Bush v. Gore had the effect of installing the conservatives’ choice in the White House and allowed him to influence the court’s subsequent direction with his appointments of Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
Citizens United swept aside a tradition going back to the Progressive Era -- and to the Founders’ deep concern over political corruption -- by vastly increasing the power of corporate and monied interests in the electoral sphere.
Tuesday’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling will make it far more difficult for African-Americans to challenge unfair electoral and districting practices. For many states, it will be a Magna Carta to make voting more difficult if they wish to.
The Constitution, through the 14th and 15th Amendments, gives Congress a strong mandate to offer federal redress against discriminatory and regressive actions by state and local governments. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her scalding but very precise dissent, “a governing political coalition has an incentive to prevent changes in the existing balance of voting power.”
Finally, Eve Tushnet writes on the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of Frances Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites:
This is an opera of questions. The questions are spiritual and psychological rather than historical. Dialogues isn’t especially interested in the French Revolution as such…. [F]or the most part you could set Dialogues in the Roman Empire under Diocletian and its central concerns would be the same. What does it mean to die well? Are there bad ways to be a martyr for Christ? If you die for God, does that cancel out all your prior weakness and irresolution? And conversely, if you die in fear and anguish, is that the final verdict on your life despite all the courage you showed in better days?
What’s to be made of the news that the IRS didn’t limit its screening of organizations applying for not-for-profit status to right-wing groups? For one thing, it may take some of the starch out of contentions by Peggy Noonan and others that the Obama administration specifically targeted political opponents or is now blighted by something worse than a mere “cancer on the presidency.” That the IRS also had on its list of watchwords such terms as “progressive” and “occupy”—and that pro-Obamacare advocacy groups were also swept up in the net—doesn’t quite hint at the vast left-wing conspiracy some seemed to be longing for.
On the other hand, that the IRS’s screening effort was apparently much broader than originally thought only adds fuel to the furor over government intrusiveness. Will tea party patriots now find common ground with ACA advocates? Or open-source software groups and proponents of electronic healthcare data exchange with those whose applications included the words “occupied territory advocacy” and "medical marijuana"? They were also singled out for secondary evaluation.
Congressional Democrats want to know why initial reports suggested that only right-wing groups were targeted, which (falsely, it would appear) imputed political motives to the IRS’s activities. Other groups want to know why there was a screening protocol at all—no matter how narrow, broad, prejudicial, nonpartisan, or as focused on software developers it was. Yes, “was”: On Monday, acting IRS commissioner Daniel I. Werfel formally ordered an immediate end to the screening effort.
Antonin Scalia, just a few days ago:
In a speech to lawyers gathered June 21 in Asheville, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia decried judicial activism.
That was to the North Carolina Bar Association on Friday. But today, Scalia and his colleagues struck down a law enacted by a 98-0 vote in the usually fractious Senate. Commonweal's editors predicted this "clear judicial activism" in their March 5 editorial. Now perhaps Commonweal's own legal experts can weigh in: Is Shelby County v. Holder the most "activist" Supreme Court decision of all time?
Let's see what the Senate's leader was saying about the Voting Rights Act all the way back in 2006:
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called the vote a major success. "The Voting Rights Act has worked," he said. "We need to build upon that progress by extending expiring provisions."
Indeed, the Voting Rights Act has, on the whole, worked -- a fact demonstrated clearly by the ruling itself. Has it worked so well that it is no longer needed? This is unthinkable, as demonstrated by the long litany of abuses in Ginsburg's dissent, many of them from the 2000's. This is not even to mention more recent attempts to suppress voter turnout, as discussed in this 2012 Commonweal editorial.
Recall that during oral arguments, Scalia referred to the Voting Rights Act as the "perpetuation of racial entitlement." That inaccurate and offensive remark was likely to be forgotten over time, but with today's ruling, it will probably become the most memorable and quoted line of Scalia's career.
In the previous words of Commonweal's editors:
Scalia’s offhand reference to the “perpetuation of racial entitlement” was another startling reminder of why the VRA is necessary. The federal government goes to great lengths to ensure equal representation not as a generous gift to racial minorities, but because the right of all to vote and be counted is fundamental to our political system.
A right, not a gift.
It looks like we’ll hear from SCOTUS on Thursday regarding two important gay rights cases, one concerning DOMA and the other regarding California’s Prop. 8, which bars same-sex marriage in the state. Possible and likely decisions have been amply covered.
As we wait, let’s take a minute to look backward and forward.
Today is the anniversary of the UpStairs Lounge fire in New Orleans, the biggest mass killing of LGBT people in US history. TIME magazine’s Elisabeth Dias and Jim Downs tell the story. This wasn’t (exactly) a hate crime--the likely culprit was a sometime patron of the bar. What’s sad is the community’s response.Read more
[Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg] A few days ago, AP had a story about a gay couple in Colorado who, in the course of shopping for a wedding cake, had been turned away by a baker who did not approve of the use of his products in a gay marriage ceremony. The ACLU has filed a complaint against the baker on the couple's behalf. The baker is, of course, claiming that, as a matter of religious freedom, he is entitled to discriminate against gay couples. Colorado law prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation. So the question, legally, is whether the state's antidiscrimination law violates the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. The argument that it does will run into Employment Division v. Smith, which says that the Free Exercise Clause does not require exemptions from laws of general applicability. The baker is going to have a hard time making that case.
We can expect to see more of these sorts of disputes as gay marriage proliferates across the country. In fact, the Colorado case resembles a case that has been rising through the New Mexico state courts and is currently pending before the New Mexico Supreme Court. The New Mexico case involves a wedding photographer who refused to provide her services at a gay comitment ceremony because, in her words, she only handled "traditional weddings." In that case, lower state courts found the photographer's actions to have violated the New Mexico laws prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation and rejected First Amendment challenges to the application of those laws to the photographer. The wrinkle in the New Mexico case is that the photographer is arguing that the law burdens freedom of expression, rather than simply the exercise of religion.
The two cases raise an interesting question about the degree to which restrictions on the right to pick and choose among customers inappropriately burden a business owner's legitimate autonomy, whether conceived as religious or expressive freedom. Implicit in both the baker and the photographer's argument is that requiring a business owner to provide a good or service to someone of whom he disapproves (either because of that person's conduct or identity) improperly forces him to identify with or endorse the customer in question. In assessing that argument, I think it is helpful to consider how the law has traditionally defined the rights of owners to select among their customers. As it turns out, for most of the history of the common law, owners of businesses who have held themselves out as open to the public have had quite limited rights to arbitrarily refuse service to customers who have presented themselves as willing patrons. This is a valuable and important principle to affirm. I'll explain why below the jump.Read more
We've been running some good web-exclusive content on the homepage. Just posted: "Catholics Are Different," a special package highlighting the writing of Andrew M. Greeley in Commonweal, where over the course of six decades his work appeared. And, if you haven't already, check out Nicholas P. Cafardi's piece on the apparent unwillingness of some bishops to follow their own sexual-abuse reforms. Finally, E. J. Dionne Jr. examines a potentially unbreachable gap between libertarian theory and libertarian practice.
Vocal proponents of gun control probably won’t find much to satisfy them in David Cole’s current New York Review of Books piece, “Facing the Real Gun Problem.” It’s not just that there’s little in the way of red meat; it’s that the sensible, healthy fare comes with dubious explanations of why it’s necessary to eat this way, never mind that other folks don’t have to.
Cole doesn’t downplay the degree of carnage in this country (nearly one and a half million people killed by guns since 1960), or the folly of the Senate stopping the background-check legislation favored by nine out of ten Americans from even getting to a floor vote. He casts reduction of gun violence as a moral imperative, and he calls rightful attention to Joe Nocera’s The Gun Report blog, which daily collects and posts local news reports on firearm violence: “It may well be the single most effective example of pro–gun control advocacy being produced today.… Every citizen should read [it].” He advocates focusing on efforts that have a realistic chance of succeeding (reviving background-check legislation and pushing for safe-storage laws), and abandoning those that don’t (banning assault weapons and limiting magazine capacity).
All very reasonable, which is fine. What’s frustrating is that Cole makes it seem only one side in the debate should be expected to exhibit such decorum. There’s been hyperbole from both camps, Cole writes, but now
if any meaningful reform is to be achieved, it must be done in league with, not in opposition to, many of those who own guns and feel strongly about their right to do so. The way forward requires identifying reforms that would be both effective and respectful of gun owners’ legitimate concerns.
As a proposed way forward, it’s better than, say, calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment. But what those legitimate concerns are is hard to say. That 230 million individually owned weapons are about to be confiscated? That the federal government is hoarding ammunition both to deprive gun owners and use it to impose tyranny? Or simply that the eponymous “gun guys” of Dan Baum’s recent book are feeling “disrespected”? As Cole notes, the “NRA has for years warned that any regulation is a step on the slippery slope to a wholesale ban—even after the Supreme Court announced in 2008 that the Constitution precludes outright bans on handguns and ordinary rifles.” Yet the NRA and other paid representatives of gun owners and gun manufacturers have since succeeded in blocking or dismantling purchase, wait-time, background-check, and licensing requirements throughout the country; in getting states (now numbering forty-two, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence) to enact pre-emption laws that prohibit cities and municipalities from regulating the use and carry of weapons in their parks, swimming pools, and other public spaces; in helping propagate “stand-your-ground” statutes that greatly expand the permissibility of use of deadly force by one person upon another; and in making it easier for gun manufacturers to market lethal weapons directly to children as young as eight years old.
These are also legitimate concerns, to many of those who do not own guns, and they have the advantage of being rooted in fact. Further, the watering down or blocking of licensing and tracking measures helps maintain the flow of illegal handguns into the places where Cole acknowledges the greatest damage is being done: cities like Chicago and Baltimore and Los Angeles. His prescription for this:
The problem in the inner city will not be solved by gun laws alone, but by efforts to respond to systemic poverty, unemployment, gangs, broken families, failed public education, and drugs. Dealing effectively with these causes would reduce gun violence without in any way affecting gun rights, and so should trigger no objections from the NRA. Indeed, if the NRA and gun owners want to preserve their rights and reduce gun violence, they should affirmatively support such initiatives.
Again, fair and reasonable enough. Or maybe too reasonable? Cole himself cites findings by Baum and Nate Silver that suggest gun ownership correlates highly with libertarian conservatism. How likely are the NRA and its members to “affirmatively” support measures on inner-city poverty and unemployment? Don’t forget that some of the same interests helped shut down Centers for Disease Control research into the causes and effects of gun violence, doing lasting damage to the field by getting Congress to cut off funding for some seventeen years.
Empathy, reasoned appeal based on sound evidence, meeting the opposition on its terms—all are necessary in making progress on emotionally charged issues. But why is it necessary that only one side should be called on to adhere to such sensible conventions?
Now featured on the home page, stories from our new issue.
In “Beyond the Stalemate” (subscription), Peter Steinfels looks at where we are forty years after Roe:
That Americans and American Catholics remain divided over abortion is, in important ways, to our credit. But some divisions are more necessary, compelling, or expedient than others. Some are well considered and executed, others are not. Some are paralyzing and self-destructive, others point toward fruitful resolution. Forty years after Roe, it is incumbent on Catholics to reexamine their stance toward abortion and its legalization.
There is natural resistance to any such reexamination. This is a topic associated with too much pain—and often hidden pain—along with too much hypocrisy, illusion, and male betrayal. Many Catholics who are angry at church leaders or prolife activists for their harsh rhetoric, political absolutism, moral righteousness, or general attitudes toward women and sexuality simply refuse to think about the topic further. Prolife leaders, on the other hand, boost morale by seizing on any uptick in public opinion, any success in a state legislature, and every fresh summons from religious authorities as confirmation that their present course, no matter how inadequate or counterproductive, is unassailable. …
My own reexamination of the Catholic stance on abortion begins with two simple statements and then attempts to determine what conclusions and practical proposals might flow from them.
First statement: From the very earliest stages of its life, the unborn offspring of human beings constitutes an individual member of the human species deserving the same protections from harm and destruction owed to born humans.
Second statement: This conviction, taught by the Catholic Church and shared by many people, religious and non-religious, is nowhere near as obvious as many of us who hold it suppose.
David Rieff sees trouble in the calls for “humanitarian war” in Syria:
If the conditions on the ground in Syria today, after two years of unbridled civil war, were more akin to those in Libya at the time French president Nicolas Sarkozy persuaded his NATO partners to act, or to those in Mali at the time of the recent French military intervention than they are to the conditions in Iraq or Afghanistan, then the ardor of the liberal hawks and the neoconservatives for intervention there would not seem so reckless. After all, the interventions in Libya and Mali both seemed to recapitulate the so-called humanitarian interventions of the 1990s, where the core of the debate was never whether a U.S. or NATO intervention would be successful—this, probably rightly, was taken for granted—but only whether there was really a will in Washington, Brussels, London, or Paris to intervene in a Bosnia, Rwanda, or Kosovo. But even most of those who think the United States must act in Syria concede that not only is an effective military intervention there likely to prove far more difficult than in Iraq, let alone in Mali or Kosovo; it is also by no means sure that any political result that is now imaginable will be much of an improvement over a continuation of the Assad dictatorship.
Over the past few days, several limbs of conservative media have been vibrating with the fear that the Department of Defense was about to hatch a dark plot to persecute military personnel -- including chaplains -- for "sharing their faith." Some critics found those claims unpersuasive. But yesterday, news outlets began reporting a new Pentagon statement allegedly banning "proselytizing," under threat of court martial. And those who predicted the military was about to bar Christians from obeying Jesus' command to "preach the gospel" declared that they were right all along. Today, however, in response to my queries about the earlier statement, the Department of Defense has clarified that there is no ban on faith-sharing in the military.
Early last month, conservatives began circulating the meme that the Pentagon had begun classifying Catholics and evangelicals as "extremists." That claim was made on the basis of one PowerPoint slide that appeared during a U.S. Army Reserve presentation, given by an outside contractor. When the Army removed the slide from its website, rather than take that as a sign of embarrassment, some believed it confirmed their suspicions about burgeoning anti-Christianity in the military.
This dovetailed nicely with reports this week that an "anti-Christian activist" had been hired by the Pentagon to help them shape policy on religious tolerance. The "Jewish activist" in question? Mikey Weinstein, who runs the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which lobbies to protect members of the armed forces from aggressive, potentially unconstitutional proselytizing. Weinstein, it turns out, is given to outrageous overstatement and sloppy thinking on the questions his foundation purports to engage. To wit: "Today, we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation's armed forces." Of course, that didn't go over very well. Seeing red, some spread the falsehood that Weinstein was an "official consultant," suggesting he was being paid by the Pentagon to share his impressive insights on the Christian mind. Never mind that the original source for this story mentioned nothing of the sort. This guy called Christians monsters. The Pentagon invited him to a meeting. Bad things are coming. (Following these specious reports, Weinstein naturally received a slew of ugly e-mails, and one from an Army sergeant who promised to "have my troops pray for you" -- Q.E.D.)
No surprise, then, that these same conservatives were convinced that yesterday's reports of a new Pentagon statement "banning proselytizing" really meant that good Christian servicemen and -women would no longer be able to share their faith with others. But look at yesterday's Pentagon statement:
The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs. The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.Court martials and non-judicial punishment are decided on case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in future. However, religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.
Leaving aside the fact that courts martial are always a possibility for any member of the military who breaks its rules -- not a special punishment for "proselytizing" -- the statement does not define "proselytizing." That's why I contacted the Department of Defense today. And here's the important part of the statement they sent in reply:
The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution. The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.
Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one's beliefs (proselytization).
If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case by case basis.[Emphasis mine.]
Sure, you can quibble with those definitions of "evangelize" and "proselytize," but no, members of the armed forces will not be court-martialled for sharing their faith with one another. How such an outlandish claim spread throughout the conservative media so quickly, and even leaked into the mainstream press, may hold lessons for those of us who practice journalism professionally -- and those who like to dabble in it.
Yesterday morning, I logged on to Facebook just like every other day. The first update in my newsfeed was from a friend who had changed her profile picture to a pink equal sign with a bright red background. I read the description: "Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution." Universal Declaration of Human Rights- Article 16:1 (1948). Well, I agree with that. I thought, so I liked her photo, closed my browser and went on with my day. At lunch, I checked Facebook again and about one out of four of my friends had changed their profile pictures to some variation of the same image. By the end of the day, it was nearly half.
Of course, my Facebook friends may not be the most representative cross-section of my generation. Many of my closest friends are openly gay. I live in New York City. I went to a fairly liberal (Catholic) university for my undergraduate degree, and for graduate school I attended NYU-recognized for its advancement of gay rights. Still, my peers support for marriage equality comes as no surprise. While 51 percent of all Americans support same-sex marriage, the number of those aged eighteen to twenty-nine who support it is 81 percent. My generation, regardless of religious or political affiliation, does not see gay marriage as a big deal. I am a practicing Catholic, I was raised in a conservative Catholic family, and I went to Catholic school until I graduated from college. Like many of my peers, I appreciate the church's teaching on marriage, but respectfully hold a different viewpoint. Over the course of my high school and college career, I, like many others my age, watched friend after friend-many of them also practicing Catholics-struggle with their homosexuality, their decision to come out, and the response from friends and family after they made that decision. More often than not, nothing changed, except their comfort level and happiness. For the most part, their peers accepted their admission without hesitation. It usually took their parents longest to come around to the idea, but they ultimately accepted it too.
Because it has become so much more socially acceptable for men and women of my generation to publically declare their sexual orientation and openly date members of the same sex, because we have become so accustomed to seeing and supporting it, members of my generation find it difficult to draw the line at dating. If my friend can date who she wants, why shouldn't she marry who she wants? And moreover, if I can marry who I want, why shouldn't my best friend be able to do the same thing? It may be a long road to true marriage equality, but, as the Supreme Court hears cases for and against Proposition 8 and DOMA, I have no doubt it will happen eventually. The time will come when all those people who changed their profile pictures to equal signs are in a position of much more authority and influence. Of course there are many people of all ages who disagree with me, but it seems clear that the shift in thinking is well underway.
Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton, has published another missive on Mirror of Justice, in which he, holder of a Harvard JD, a Harvard Divinity MTS, and an Oxford DPhil, writes, "some of our friends at Commonweal seem to have figured out that I mean to express contempt for the claim made by signers of 'On All of Our Shoulders.'" He continues:
If those responsible for the statement want serious intellectual engagement from those of us who do not share their views, they can put out a serious statement, free of tendentious claims and characterizations and laughable pretensions to non-partisanship. There are people among the signers of "On All of Our Shoulders" who are capable of writing such a statement. Let them do it. Then we'll have a serious discussion, if they like.
It was late when George, adviser to the campaign of Mitt Romney, posted, so perhaps he confused his friends at Commonweal with his friends a tAmerica, where Vincent Miller, one of the authors of "On All of Our Shoulders," yesterday posted a series of substantive questions for George. Yet, given George's ground rules, it seems unlikely that Miller will receive an answer. Unless he's prepared to sign a statement parroting the Romney campaign's Catholic talking points, as did George in his critique of "On All of Our Shoulders." Interesting ground rules for discussion.
RESOURCES: Robert P. George, "We're Only Concerned for the Integrity of the Teachings of the Catholic Church," Mirror of Justice. Robert P. George, "Exposed!" Mirror of Justice. Robert P. George, "The Catholic Left's Unfair Attack on Paul Ryan," First Things. Vincent Miller, "Unfair to Ryan? Questions for Robert George," In All Things. Grant Gallicho, "Tendentious Tendencies," dotCommonweal. "On All of Our Shoulders," 150-plus Catholic scholars and ministers." Catholics for Romney Coalition," Romney for President, Inc. Mitt Romney, "On the Issues for Catholics," Romney for President, Inc. [.pdf]