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Pope Francis on Religious Liberty & Polyhedrons

PHILADELPHIA—When Pope Francis made a surprise visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor on Wednesday, it was widely viewed as a sign that when it came to their (and their bishops’) opposition to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate the pontiff had their back. Sure, there was no formal address. It didn’t appear on the official schedule. But the message was clear: the pope stands with the Little Sisters. “By embracing this order of nuns,” according to Catholic League President William Donohue, “Pope Francis laid down an unmistakable marker: He rejects efforts by the Obama administration to force Catholic nonprofit organizations to pay for, or even sanction, abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.”

This afternoon, Francis had an opportunity to make that marker even less mistakable—an address on religious freedom at Independence Hall. But rather than highlight the contraception mandate, or really any specific threat to religious freedom, Francis offered a surprise stem-winder. On the page, the address looked like the opposite of his speeches to the UN and Congress: a cloud of abstractions floating high above the ground. But on several occasions, Francis departed from the prepared text—perhaps for the first time during his time in the United States—veering from philosophical discourses about the importance of historical memory to a riff on the merits of the polyhedron over the sphere as an illustration of the right kind of globalization. Really.

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Yes, Pope Francis Is Developing Doctrine

PHILADELPHIA— Two passages in Pope Francis’s kitchen-sinked address to the UN yesterday stuck out as especially intriguing: his assertion of “a right of the environment” (not a right to the environment) and his renewed call to abolish the death penalty (not to hardly ever use it, as the Catechism has it). In the run-up to Laudato si’, some theologians (or at least one) wondered whether Francis would build on traditional calls for environmental stewardship to argue that nature itself has rights. And anyone with ears to hear has known that the pope has been strenuously pushing the church to reject capital punishment, even going so far as calling life sentences a “hidden death penalty.” In his comments on the “right of the environment” and capital punishment, is the pope, as David Gibson put it, developing doctrine right before our eyes?

At last night’s papal-visit presser, Christopher Lamb of the Tablet (of London) put that question to Holy See spokesman Federico Lombardi, SJ. His answer? Basically, yes.

Calling “right of the environment” a “new expression,” Lombardi cautioned against interpreting the phrase as a “technical expression.” It’s true: Francis did not say much about what he means by this right, but he did argue that it exists because “we human beings are part of the environment.” Of course, the philosophy of rights is a complicated subject, and it’s not at all clear what it would mean for a non-volitional part of creation, indeed creation itself, to have rights. Perhaps that’s why in the printed version of the address the phrase is tucked between quotation marks. Or not—because he says there is “a true ‘right of the environment.’” Maybe Francis wants theologians (and the rest of us) to take the ball and run with it. Whatever his intent, as Lombardi acknowledged, the phrase is new—and therefore significant.

Also significant was Lombardi’s answer to Lamb’s question about the death penalty. Is Francis developing that teaching? Yes, Lombardi said. And then he reminded the assembled journalists of another of Francis’s concerns: life sentences, which he has likened to “dying every day.” Perhaps, Lombardi suggested, “he will also deepen this expression in the future.” That future may be near. Francis’s second stop during his very full Sunday in Philadelphia? Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. Theologians, start your engines.

A Constitution for Non-Angels

In the new issue of the Atlantic, Yoni Appelbaum grapples with one particular reason why our political system isn’t working: the Constitution. Or more precisely, our fealty to it. From early in his essay:

The growing dysfunction of the government seems only to have increased reverence for the document; leading figures on both sides of the aisle routinely call for a return to constitutional principles.

What if this gridlock is not the result of abandoning the Constitution, but the product of flaws inherent in its design?

The flaw Appelbaum especially seizes on – and here, he’s following the widely-cited work of political scientist Juan Linz – is that our Constitution established a presidential system with separated powers, which tend to be less stable than parliamentary ones. In the former, “contending parties must eventually strike a deal” to get anything done, which means they are unusually vulnerable to human failure and intransigence, to say nothing of today’s crippling polarization. Ours, Linz points out, is the only presidential system with a substantial history of constitutional continuity.

What gives Appelbaum’s argument a bit more verve than the usual recitation of these ideas is that he links them to Eric Nelson’s recent book, The Royalist Revolution. Nelson scuttles the idea that the American Revolution was about throwing off a tyrannical king; instead, some of the Framers actually wanted George III to intervene on behalf of the colonies against parliament. (It was parliament, after all, who was taxing them.) Those same people helped write the Constitution, and gave us a strong executive office. Or as Appelbaum describes it, our Constitution gave us “a very traditional mixed monarchy,” not a democracy or even a republic. The president is essentially an “uncrowned” king.

It was that very type of power arrangement, however, that it’s claimed led to the English civil wars. For Appelbaum, Nelson’s book gives historical and theoretical reinforcement to Linz’s comparative critique of presidential systems of government: “[W]e should not dismiss the fact that the U.S. Constitution was modeled on a system that collapsed into civil war, and that it is inherently fragile.” More recent history supposedly hasn’t been kind to presidential systems, either. The record of presidential systems in Latin America proves especially discouraging.

What’s striking about Appelbaum’s case is how little it seems to be concerned with the Framers’ intentions, and how he proceeds without ascertaining why certain institutional arrangements were supported. I don’t say this out of a stringent conservatism devoted to the status quo, or because of my fetishistic allegiance to the “Founder Fathers.” Perhaps the Constitution should be scrapped; perhaps constructing a presidential system was a mistake. But that judgment only should be made after considering, and then finding unpersuasive, the reasons given for our institutional arrangements.

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A Francis Effect? Or Liberty Caucus's Scorched Earth?

Speaker John Boehner: "Last night I started thinking about this, and I woke up. I said my prayers as I always do, and I decided, you know, today’s the day I’m going to do this. As simple as that," Boehner said [of stepping down as Speaker of the House and resigning his seat].



Pope Francis to UN: Respect the 'Right of the Environment'

In a sprawling forty-five-minute address to the United Nations this morning, Pope Francis again urged world leaders to take practical measures to protect the environment, avoid armed conflict, and protect the most vulnerable.

After “reaffirming the importance” of the UN in working to promote justice and human rights,” the pope prodded the assembly to pay attention to the “victims of power badly exercised”: the environment and the “ranks of the excluded.” He warned against “false rights” presented by “the world”—and then he asserted a new one: “a true ‘right of the environment’ [derecho del ambiente, in the original Spanish] does exist,” Francis said. That is a very big deal.

Before the publication of Laudato si’, there had been some speculation about whether the encyclical would speak of the environment itself as having rights. After Francis told journalists that human beings had lorded their power over nature Robin Darling Young asked:

Was he really implying that created nature—the environment—has rights of its own? Such a view on the part of the pope would be a significant development in Catholic thinking about the inherent worth of creation apart from the humans who dominate it. We shall soon find out if he meant it.

It sounds like he did.

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The Cheating Kind

Volkswagen’s installation of software for circumventing emissions standards in at least 11 million cars worldwide is just the kind of thing that makes people think of “business ethics” as a contradiction in terms. It doesn’t help that the auto industry as a whole has a long and tarnished history of such behavior. From the hard-to-handle Corvairs that helped launch Ralph Nader to fame, to the exploding Pintos of the 1970s, to more recent examples involving ignition cutoffs, unintended acceleration, and malfunctioning airbags—defects their respective manufacturers often knew about but kept secret—sneaking substandard, potentially dangerous products into showrooms seems as much a part of the deal as offering undercoating. Not every recall notice is compelled by a government agency’s post-sale discovery of a sometimes deadly defect. But enough are to remind us why regulations and regulatory agencies are needed. Is this also the place to bemoan the rarity of severe and enforceable punishment, including damaging fines and criminal penalties?

A few things stand out about the Volkswagen revelation. First, it seems to many a kind of personal betrayal: Why did they do it? Timmons Roberts at the Brookings Institute gets to this, writing about his “long love affair” with VWs dating back to childhood, a love affair now soured. Anyone who grew up in or around families (or had college friends) with VW buses, or learned how to drive stick-shift in an old Beetle, would probably understand.

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PC in Action

A quick follow-up to my two earlier posts on political correctness and speech codes on campus. Several respondents to those posts expressed uncertainty about what, exactly, those who complain about political correctness are complaining about. An article in this morning’s Hartford Courant, my hometown paper, illuminates an exemplary case.

Ten days ago a politically conservative 30-year-old Wesleyan University student (and Iraq war veteran) named Bryan Stascavage contributed an op-ed piece, titled “Why Black Lives Matter Isn’t What You Think,” to the student paper, the Wesleyan Argus. In it he questioned the effectiveness, and to some extent the intentions, of those rallying for justice under the BLM banner, asking: “is the movement itself actually achieving anything positive? Does it have the potential for positive change?”

The op-ed asserted that the protests have impugned the great majority of police who perform their jobs creditably, and argued that BLM may have made their job more difficult and dangerous, citing “a big spike in murders” in Baltimore after the riots; “good officers,” Stascavage wrote, “go to work every day even more worried that they won’t come home.” While he acknowledged that the looters, rioters and police killers he castigates are not Black Lives Matter protestors, he called it “plausible that Black Lives Matter has created the conditions for these individuals to exploit for their own personal gain.”

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Rowan Williams on Pope Francis

Now up on our homepage is an essay by Rowan Williams about Pope Francis's recent encyclical, Laudato si'. Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbuy, draws attention to the sources of Francis's social teaching, including the work of his predecessor. Williams writes:

Perhaps the first thing that needs to be said about Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment is that it is an entirely natural development not only of the theology of Evangelii gaudium but also—as the extensive citations show—of the theology of Pope Benedict, especially as found in Caritas in veritate. Both the pope’s critics and his supporters have often missed the point: Benedict’s Christian humanism, his consistent theology of the dignity of the human person, his concern for a culture in which there is no longer a viable understanding of any given order independent of human will—all this is reiterated with force and clarity by Pope Francis. This encyclical is emphatically not charting a new course in papal theology, and those who speak as if this were the case have not been reading either pope with attention. What is uncomfortable for some is that a number of points clearly but briefly made by the previous pontiff have been drawn out in unmistakable terms. The fact that we live in a culture tone-deaf to any sense of natural law is here starkly illustrated by the persistent tendency of modern human agents to act as though the naked fact of personal desire for unlimited acquisition were the only “given” in the universe, so that ordinary calculations of prudence must be ignored. Measureless acquisition, consumption, or economic growth in a finite environment is a literally nonsensical idea; yet the imperative of growth remains unassailable, as though we did not really inhabit a material world.

Read the rest here.

Pope Francis to Congress: Be Your Best

This morning Pope Francis delivered a stirring address to the U.S. Congress—the first of its kind—in which he carefully, but firmly urged legislators to draw on the rich history of this nation to build up the common good. Largely avoiding the harsh rhetoric he cautioned bishops against yesterday, he prodded America to remember what has made it great: welcoming the stranger, cooperating with those of diverse commitments, working toward the common good. Ensuring the commonweal “is the chief aim of all politics,” according to Francis, who once weighed a career in political life. He acknowledged that defending the dignity of all, working to ensure the well-being of all citizens, especially “the most vulnerable,” is not an easy task. Yet, he continued, that is the responsibility, indeed the vocation, to which every lawmaker is called. This was a speech of fundamental ideas—of political theory, of anthropology, of theology. But it was anything but airy. Francis talked in specifics. He talked immigration, he talked capital punishment, he talked arms control, he talked climate change.

The pope’s audience, however, was not limited to those in the room. He characterized his message as an invitation to enter into a dialogue with all Americans: the elderly who, while retired, “keep working to build up this land”; the young, who strive to “realize their great and noble aspirations” yet face “difficult situations”; and everyday workers, who labor not simply “to pay their taxes,” but “in their own quiet way…generate solidarity.”

Francis used the stories of four great Americans to drive home his message of solidarity with the planet and all its people: Abraham Lincoln, who defended liberty; Martin Luther King (who featured in Francis’s address at the White House), who sought to ensure the “full rights for all [our] brothers and sisters”;  Dorothy Day, who devoted her life toward “the cause of the oppressed”; and Thomas Merton, who serves as an example of our “capacity for dialogue and the United States.”

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Two New Stories

Just posted to the website, Robert Mickens's Letter from Rome—from Washington, D.C.. He reports on how the American media has responded so far to the pope's arrival in the capital (something "to be welcomed"), and how Cardinal Timothy Dolan anticipates the pope will respond to the $177 million restorations made to St. Patrick's cathedral when he arrives in New York Thursday:

“He’s going to drive up to it, and I hope he’s going to say, like more and more New Yorkers are saying, ‘Wow,’ when he sees the splendor and the radiance of this magnificent structure,” said the gregarious cardinal.

Mickens also points out an ideological shift in political criticism of Francis: from a fear that the pontiff would be too conservative at the onset of his papacy to the fear now he may be a Marxist. What does the pope think?

On his plane from Havana to Washington on Tuesday, Francis said: “Maybe there’s an impression I’m a little bit more leftie, but I haven’t said a single thing that’s not in the social doctrine of the church.”

Read the entire Letter from Rome here. And catch up on previous dispatches here.

Also on the website, the editors write on why American workers should be relieved to see Scott Walker, who is notorious for his vicious campaign against unions in his home state of Wisconsin, drop out of the GOP presidential race:

Empowering people, in Walker’s view, would mean abolishing the National Labor Relations Board, rewriting federal law to make Right to Work “the default position for all private, state, and public-sector workers,” replacing overtime pay with unpaid time off, and stripping employees of their ability to bargain collectively.

But voters shouldn't be relaxed. Walker's plan didn't die with his candidacy; its spirit is very much alive among many in the GOP. And so it's important to take seriously the findings of Harvard economists Richard B. Freedman and James L. Medoff: organized labor served as a positive force in the American economy in the twentieth century, and “a society genuinely concerned about increasing productivity would encourage, not disparage, a strong labor movement.” In other words:

Productivity and the dignity of workers can and often do go hand in hand. Given what has transpired in the past thirty years, those genuinely concerned about the nation’s economic health would now seem obligated to encourage a strong labor movement. Support for such a position is grounded in Catholic social teaching beginning with Rerum novarum (1891), in which Pope Leo XIII both declared the moral necessity of doing one’s job responsibly with an eye toward the common good, and insisted on the right of workers to form unions to protect their interests.

Read the full editorial here. And see past editorials, as well as other words by the editors, here.

It Is Marxism!

In addition to Peter Steinfels' essay urging us to be careful not to weaponize Pope Francis' message, which Kaitlin Campbell helpfully points us to, Politico also has a piece by Paul Vallely that paints a bit more confrontational picture of Francis' relationship to the American status quo. After recounting some of the more challenging things that Francis has said about the problems with the prevailing predatory capitalism and "throwaway culture" of a "globalization of exclusion and indifference," Vallely sums up the spin put on these prophetic statements by Francis' so-called "supporters":

Francis’ supporters argue that he is not advocating a specific political program; rather than taking political sides, he is trying to open people’s minds to the generosity, openness and inclusiveness of the gospel. “It’s not Marxism,” one cardinal told me. “It’s classic Catholic social teaching, as developed by previous popes.” What, after all, is Francis’ joyful embrace of the poor and the rejected—kissing a man with a terrible skin disease, visiting thousands of African migrants washed up on Europe’s shores in Lampedusa, Italy—but an echo of Jesus of Nazareth?

As touching as the gestures that Vallely mentions are, it is difficult to see how things could get more specific or closer to Marxism than what Francis had to say in July when he spoke at The Second World Meeting of Popular Movements in Boliva. There he did not just talk about extending a hand to particular individuals in need. However important this sort of "charity à la carte," as he called it in Evangelii Gaudium, may be (and no one, I think, would doubt that it is), Francis is urging us to adopt a more comprehensive program of systemic change.

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Why It's Time for a Carbon Price

On the eve of Pope Francis’s visit, there is much speculation about what he will say and to whom. One thing is sure: he will be talking about the importance of protecting the planet. And Francis’s bully pulpit on this issue is valuable. In the most recent New York Review of Books, perhaps the leading climate economist, William Nordhaus at Yale, has an extended piece analyzing the pope’s encyclical Laudato si’. And just today, Senate Democrats have unveiled an aggressive plan to address climate change that they hope will shape the debate of the 2016 election.

But what should be done? Amidst all the hoopla, I stopped yesterday evening to fill up my Honda Civic and paid $2.10 for a gallon of gas. I’m also flying home to Chicago during my fall break for $49. These low prices, even more than the papal visit, indicate that it’s time for a direct discussion of a carbon tax.

Comparing Nordhaus’s analysis of Laudato si’ and the Senate Democrat’s plan, what we see is the extent to which we avoid moving on this obvious solution. Nordhaus’s article is appreciative of the pope’s attention to the issue, but he suggests that the pope “does not recognize the fact that environmental problems are caused by market distortions rather than by markets per se.” The fundamental problem is that we are able to emit carbon into the atmospheric commons for free. If we don’t change this fact, Nordhaus argues, the pope’s “eloquent description of the natural world and its relationship to human socieities” may remain just that: beautiful words on a page. It seems that the pope’s preferred mode of action – individual rejection of an economy based on excessive consumption – simply won’t get us where we need to go.

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Papal Coverage: The Lectionary Beat

Everyone's got a hot take on the Pope this week. The Washington Post's George Will went full Thomas Nast in fearful preparation for Francis's arrival. ("Francis's seeming sympathy for medieval stasis...against modernity, rationality, science.") All he needed was a cartoon with mitres shaped like alligator heads attacking financiers on Wall Street. 

By contrast, the New York Times's David Gelles offered a playful, well-reported piece on the front page of the business section (!) about the sharkskin-suit-wearing concert producer behind the scenes of the big show. ("The bishops," the producer said, "aren't showbiz guys.")

What's a scholar to do? What's my take? 

I scooped them all.

In an article for Yahoo's page about the papal visit, I explain the "breaking news" about the Pope's concluding Mass in Philadelphia. 

Detailed study of an advance, partial script of the worship service shows that the theme of income inequality will be dramatically emphasized.

With rhetorical flourish and prophetic fervor, the Mass will call for the “rich” to “weep and wail” over “impending miseries.” More specifically, the issue of wages will be explicitly addressed: “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers” are “crying aloud.” The plight of migrant “harvesters,” undercompensated by absentee landlords, will feature as an example.

Did I use my Jesuit connections to secure an advance copy of the Pope's remarks?  I wish. No collar, no embargoed remarks. 

Instead, I checked the lectionary. It turns out that some of the strongest language in the Bible against income inequality (James 5:1-6) happens to appear in this Sunday's Mass. Pope Francis's emphasis on systematic exploitation of workers and migrants is, as Bible-readers know, deeply biblical. On Sunday this theme will be on display for all, and I imagine Pope Francis will take the opportunity to preach on it. 

It remains to be seen whether and how he incorporates this reading with the Gospel for the day. But thanks to the lectionary, millions of people will at least hear how central to the scriptures is the cry of the poor. 

(You can read the rest right here.)

Peter Steinfels on Politicizing Pope Francis

Over at Politico magazine, Peter Steinfels has written a frank, thoughtful, and (for liberal Catholics especially) challenging take on the pope's upcoming visit. He cautions against frenzied papal-centrism and the temptation to use the "banner of papal authority" in political arguments.

Christian faith has political implications. But you can’t go directly from breaking bread with the homeless to a public housing program anymore than you can go from affirming the humanity of the unborn to particular laws restricting abortion. If in our enthusiasm for Francis’ emphasis on poverty, immigrants and climate change, liberal Catholics fail to acknowledge this, if, for example, we dismiss reasonable questions about the pope’s economics, we will be undermining our own political consistency as well as Francis’ attempt to assure room for disagreement within the Church.

Steinfels reminds us that the Catholic Church is not a "kind of religious Marine Corps that barks orders from the top for its well-drilled troops to follow blindly"—a common misunderstanding in the United States, where

the image of the church as an unquestioning, dutiful force bending to the pope’s will is deeply engrained. The “Catholic vote” is still discussed as a monolithic whole. [And] Polls detecting disagreement among Catholics over church teaching are treated like the discovery of new planets.

And, Pope Francis himself has long been opposed to the "over-centralization of church decision-making in Rome." When Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires he referred to his trips to Rome there as “penances,” and as pope, he has

acted to renew the periodic synods of bishops from around the world as occasions for genuinely free discussion. Vatican officials have previously controlled them with a heavy-hand. Francis recently delegated oversight of marriage annulments to local bishops rather than a Vatican office. He has put lay people in key positions in the Vatican. Francis, too, doesn’t want the church to be all about him.

So, how can we re-organize the story of Catholicism so that it isn't centered on the pope? That's a good question, and now is a good time to mull it over.

Another Brief Respite from the Francis Frenzy

There is nothing like a good obituary; great ones are hard to come by.

Today (Tuesday), we have one. Daniel Thompson died at aged 94 in Rancho Mirage, California. Mr. Thompson invented the bagel machine allowing its mass production. As the obit makes clear this loss for the Jewish community of a smallish, dense, chewy, delicious, round of dough with a circle in the middle (signifying the circle of life) has been a boon for the rest of us. The obit celebrates both the loss of the real thing and the blessing of the not-so-great replacement. (Now available in our neighborhood at Thai Bagels.)

In a bagel hole summary: "Mr. Thompson’s machine proved to be a mirror of midcentury American history. For bound up in the story of its introduction is the story of Jewish assimilation, gastronomic homogenization, the decline of trade unionism, the rise of franchise retailing and the perennial tension between tradition and innovation."

Mr. Thompson's father was a bagel maker emigrated from England to Canada to the U.S. Mr. Thompson's machine was an improvment on one his father had devised that was unsuccessful (more 20th century history). Young Mr. Thompson also invented the wheeled, collapsible ping pong table said to have graced the basements of mid-century homes. What a guy.

Unfortunately no mention of bialys. But read Margalit Fox's brilliant obit.

On Fact-Free Flamboyance: George Will vs. Pope Francis

George Will really needs to look in a mirror. In a screed worthy of Fox News, he denigrates Pope Francis for proposing policy prescriptions that would “devastate the poor on whose behalf he purports to speak”. Yet while Will accuses the pope of being “fact free”, Will is the one who gets his facts wrong. Will is the one who seems completely out of touch with recent trends in the global economy.

For a piece centered on Pope Francis’s policy prescriptions, Will really doesn’t discuss them. So let me help him out. If we want to lay out the broad economic prescriptions associated with Pope Francis, we might point to: a fairer distribution of the earth’s resources and the fruits of human labor, the inclusion of everyone in development, the prioritization of employment, investment in sustainability and ceasing to harm the planet, and a financial sector that serves rather than rules the real economy.

It might surprise Will to learn that these prescriptions are not exactly controversial, and actually improve human welfare and the resilience of the global economy. They do good, not harm—especially for the poor and the excluded. In each of these cases, the moral choice is also the economically viable choice. Let’s explore this.

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Welcome, Vietnam

Part of what I love about Catholicism is that it’s a world church.

In a recent post at Pray Tell, guest blogger Frank Klose noted the number and kind of choirs that will sing at the papal Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. One of the choirs is Vietnamese.

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Link Roundup: Pope Francis in the U.S.

Once he arrives in Washington D.C. tomorrow, Pope Francis’s itinerary includes the canonization Mass for Junípero Serra, a White House visit, and his address to Congress. What else is on his schedule? What Twitter hashtag you should use for the visit? Find out here.

In Washington, Francis will step into the political fray. How will his message be received by Republicans and Democrats? From the New York Times:

Even the pope is not immune to America’s divisions. While he has not changed fundamental Catholic doctrines, Francis has stressed the parts focusing on serving the poor and de-emphasized those reproaching abortion and homosexuality — what his biographer John L. Allen calls “his insistence on the primacy of compassion over judgment.”


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Why Americans Love the Pope

Don't worry, I won't be parsing the latest opinion polls, or riffing on the recent outpouring of Francis-related commentary. (For those who might have missed them, see Grant Gallicho's round-up of examples of Francis Derangement Sydrome; you also should read Paul Baumann's thankfully sober-minded preview of the pope's visit.) Though I couldn't resist checking in on Pope Francis's arrival in Cuba, I found myself avoiding the news as much as possible and turning to a previous Catholic visitor to our land, the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville.

Readers of Tocqueville's Democracy in America will know that text is divided into two volumes. The first resembles travel writing in some ways; while much more than that, you get a feel for some of what Tocqueville saw here. He and his travel partner Gustave de Beaumont spent nine months in America in 1831, and in the first part of Democracy Tocqueville proceeds as an amateur sociologist of sorts. Tocqueville observes townhall meetings, talks to leading citizens, muses on our system of government, and praises our instinct for associations. He also seems fascinated by how Roman Catholics were faring here. 

Among many other things, he notices that there were more than a million Roman Catholics in the United States when he arrived (about fifty years before his visit, he writes, the Irish "began to pour a Catholic population" into this country) and that, contrary to expectations, they formed "the most republican and democratic of all classes in the United States." At least in this country, Tocqueville observed, Catholics were a poor minority – but that turned them into believers in equality. Catholics understood that if rights started to be enforced selectively, they would be on the losing end of any such arrangement. Tocqueville tactfully notes that the experience of arriving here as vulnerable immigrants meant that Catholics were "led, perhaps in spite of themselves, toward political doctrines which, maybe, they would adopt with less zeal were they rich and predominant."

In other words, Tocqueville asked, why was a religion so identified with the Old World succeeding in the New? Why was the equality-loving United States a place where a "hierarchical" religion flourished? Weren't we, to borrow Jefferson's biting phrase, a place consciously founded on the rejection of "monkish superstition"?

Here's one reason Tocqueville saw Catholicism as a friend to democracy, and why it was thriving in America:

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Wasn't that Whatsits Name? UPDATE

A few weeks ago, James Blake, a retired tennis star was tackled and hand cuffed by NYPD officers in the course of investigating credit card fraud at a local hotel. The officers claimed he looked like one of the fraudsters they were after. Mr. Blake vigorously objected—rightly so—and the officer who arrested him has been suspended. The police officer is white, Blake biracial. This has been treated by the media—and almost everyone else—as a racist incident.

But was it? "Scientists, pointing to decades of research, believe something else was at work. They call it the “other-race effect,” a cognitive phenomenon that makes it harder for people of one race to readily recognize or identify individuals of another." A phenomenon called by researchers, "They all look alike to me."

Here is a fascinating article by Rachel Swarms NYTimes reporter interviewing "they all look alike" mistakes and researchers who have studied it. The explanation can seem obvious and the remedies as well. What is your experience? Either as mistaker or mistakee.

P.S. This post is for those who want a moment's respite from the Francis Fracas.

UPDATE: James Blake had a meeting with Mayor de Blasio and Chief Bratton on Monday urging them to institute greater accountability in the police department. In a press conference after, Blake praised the mayor's efforts and denied that his case was one of racial profiling. The story also reported that the officer had been previously accused of assault.