Patrick Deneen argued in our January issue that “the very source of the decline of the study of the great books comes not in spite of the lessons of the great books, but is to be found in the very arguments within a number of the great books.”
He also voiced skepticism of the claim that a great books curriculum imparts “not merely a way of thinking but a particular and substantive set of conclusions [about liberty and human dignity, for example] that makes the teaching of these texts essential and necessary.” Not all works categorized as “great” lead to such a desirable worldview; rather, they contradict each other, and some even attack the notion that reading the great books is worthwhile in the first place.
Several readers (whose letters we published in the March issue) objected to Deneen’s characterization. They pointed out that disagreements about the good life have always been with us; the great books are less a storehouse of knowledge than a locus of debate. That they contradict each other is a feature, not a bug. Robert Woods presents the same objection to Deneen at The Imaginative Conservative, arguing that ”the problem of contradictions and opposing worldviews ought not to trouble us.”
As it happens, Deneen has addressed such objections at some length in an earlier criticism of the great books published by Minding the Campus. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for students to encounter “a ferocious and ongoing set of disagreements about the most basic human beliefs,” but the way the great books are typically presented is not neutral and not likely to lead students to the truths that most conservatives seek to impart: (more…)
“For viciousness of rhetoric and physical treatment of other human beings, few ages rival the early modern period,” writes our friend Nathaniel Peters on the Liberty Law blog. “In the midst of that age’s battles, Hugo Grotius, the Dutch humanist whose writings have greatly contributed to international law, sought to determine and argue for the core principles of Christianity on which all parties could agree.”
Reviewing a new edition of Grotius’ book The Truth of the Christian Religion, Peters explores Grotius’ proofs of God’s existence, eternality, omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness, as well as his defense of Christianity as the one true faith. He also gives an overview of Swiss theologian Jean Le Clerc’s supplement to Grotius’ work. Le Clerc argued that the principle of sola Scriptura would put an end to controversy and division among Christians—a prediction both proven and disproven by subsequent events, as Peters explains.
In his view, the book is “more than a marker in the history of Christian thought.” Rather:
It serves as a mirror in which to see our own society in light of the past. Indeed, it reminds us that portions of our society really are the anomaly when it comes to belief in a creator and basic principles of natural law. It tells us how we got to our own polarized age, and helps us see what the way back might be.
One more reason to dislike cats. Thijs Porck on the Medieval Fragments blog explains the scene:
A Deventer scribe, writing around 1420, found his manuscript ruined by a urine stain left there by a cat the night before. He was forced to leave the rest of the page empty, drew a picture of a cat and cursed the creature with the following words:
Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.
Or, in English: “Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.”
David Bentley Hart’s column “Is, Ought, and Nature’s Laws,” which appeared in our March issue, has sparked quite the online conversation over the past couple weeks. I’ve collected some responses and related posts for those interested in following along; if you know of any that I’ve missed, feel free to leave them in the comments.
National Review’s Michael Potemra says he found the article as “something like a drenching with ice-water.”
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry chimes in at the American Scene pointing out that while society’s rejection of the natural law is a problem for religious people, it’s a much larger problem for the secular Enlightenment project.
Finally, in a two part feature on Public Discourse, R. J. Snell argues that Hart and Potemra misunderstand natural law and concludes that natural law is neither useless nor dangerous.
Sociologist Neil Gilbert argues that (in Sandra Tsing Loh’s Atlanticparaphrase) “financial need is not the force behind women’s shift in the past 50 years from work in the home to work in the market-place.” Rather, the driving force is “the desires of those who have made out like bandits in this new order, the tiny minority (3.5 percent in 2003) of women who earn $75,000 or more.” Loh continues:
Members of this occupational elite have created a host of cultural norms by which their far less privileged sisters—who, again, make up the vast majority of working women—feel they must abide. For . . . doctors, lawyers, judges, and professors, work has been terrific, so it’s no wonder they’ve advocated social change, imposing on society between the 1960s and the mid-1990s ‘new expectations about modern life, self-fulfillment, and the joys of work outside the home.’
It reminded me of an earlier but quite similar perspective on the same issue in Sigrid Undset’s 1932 novel Ida Elisabeth. The speaker is the lawyer Herr Toksvold:
There will never be more than a small percentage of either men or women who can create for themselves a field of work which they could not exchange for another without feeling it as a sacrifice. But because a few women have succeeded in making themselves a position which it would be a sacrifice for them to give up if they married, perhaps nine times as many are forced to go out and do a full day’s work as breadwinners, and to do the work of a mother and housekeeper the rest of the twenty-four hours, or as many of them as they can stand on their feet without dying for want of sleep. Because a few females of the middle class have discovered that it is a disgrace to be kept by a man.
I am glad I can work, but employment outside the house does not necessarily provide more dignity and fulfillment than “merely” staying at home and raising one’s kids.
Female pundits may find their work fulfilling, and that’s great. But when we’re cheering women’s rise in the workforce, we should stop acting as though every working woman—waitresses, grocery clerks, retail workers, those making minimum wage at unpleasant jobs—feels quite so optimistic. Most workers do not attain from their job the self-esteem boost and psychological satisfaction that (say) a lawyer or a company executive might. Like most human endeavors, work has its downsides, for women as well as for men.
Responding to my earlier post, Greg Forster writes:
The number of people in the world who are capable of doing a good job running Apple or Exxon or Wal-Mart is extremely small; the consequences of those companies being poorly run would be catastrophic for millions of people; therefore the tiny group of people capable of running those companies well is going to command extreme salaries. This would be true regardless of our economic system, law, policy, or what set of moral values predominated in the culture. . . .
Executive salaries were kept in check during [the post-World War II era] mostly because the executives were much less capable. They weren’t worth paying as much.
I don’t deny that society benefits from having capable CEOs, but the rise in executive pay is due to many factors, not merely to an increase in their productivity or abilities. One such factor is peer benchmarking, which (as the Washington Post explains) started as a way for companies to retain talented executives, but now boosts the pay of just about all executives, regardless of their success:
At Amgen and at the vast majority of large U.S. companies, boards aim to pay their executives at levels equal to or above the median for executives at similar companies.
The idea behind setting executive pay this way, known as “peer benchmarking,” is to keep talented bosses from leaving.
But the practice has long been controversial because, as critics have pointed out, if every company tries to keep up with or exceed the median pay for executives, executive compensation will spiral upward, regardless of performance. Few if any corporate boards consider their executive teams to be below average, so the result has become known as the “Lake Wobegon” effect. . . .
Researchers have found that about 90 percent of major U.S. companies expressly set their executive pay targets at or above the median of their peer group. This creates just the kinds of circumstances that drive pay upward.
The reason board members may be unwilling to stop using peer benchmarking is another factor in CEO pay: board members’ personal relationships with executives. From the same Postarticle: (more…)
. . . But not in the usual sense of that term. As reported by The World:
In L’Hospitalet, near Barcelona, a priest let a bunch of graffiti artists go to town on his church. Specifically, on the dome ceiling above the main altar. You know, the space Michelangelo liked to paint.
The Santa Eulalia church is neo-Romanesque in design, with a Catalan twist. Inside it’s austere. The walls are painted nondescript colors, the statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the Saints are simple. To compensate Father Ramon Borr decided to make the main dome a little different.
In the ante-chamber of the church on a recent evening, he recalled how he came upon the idea last year, surfing the web. He said to himself, why not graffiti?
“Even though the press is scandalized by graffiti artists,” he said, “for me graffiti is just another artistic technique.”
The result is a spectacular splash of colors – rich blues, bright reds and greens, on the rounded ceiling dominating the main sanctuary. But don’t think street art. In fact, the style of the painting is faithfully Romanesque, with static, two-dimensional renderings of Saint Eulalia, the Virgin and Baby Jesus and the congregation. Borr says he sent his two young graffiti artists to school before he let them near the place.
An exchange in Boston Review between Richard White and Gavin Jones on wealth during and since the Gilded Age reminded me of a question that arose during the Occupy Wall Street protests: To what extent has the decline of social stigmas contributed to the rise in economic inequality?
Few would disagree that there is now less of a stigma against divorce, unwed motherhood, homosexuality, and other once-controversial practices than there was in the early and mid-twentieth century. (The real argument is over whether stigmas can serve a useful purpose, but we’ll leave that aside for now.) One factor underlying the explosive growth of top executives’ compensation in recent decades could be a similar decline in the stigma against accumulating and enjoying great wealth.
For a generation after World War II, fear of outrage kept executive salaries in check. Now the outrage is gone. That is, the explosion of executive pay represents a social change rather than the purely economic forces of supply and demand. We should think of it not as a market trend like the rising value of waterfront property, but as something more like the sexual revolution of the 1960’s—a relaxation of old strictures, a new permissiveness, but in this case the permissiveness is financial rather than sexual.
Brink Lindsey, writing (PDF) more recently for the libertarian Cato Institute, admits that Krugman “is on to something” but argues that the older attitude toward wealth was closely tied to “the combination of in-group solidarity and out-group hostility” that also contributed to racism and sexism. Racial, sexual, and financial tolerance may be a package deal; one cannot have both individualism and a high degree of social solidarity.
Lindsey’s argument seems plausible, but social stigma has not evaporated entirely: Even as many forms of stigma have declined, new ones have emerged. The former stigma attached to interracial marriage, for example, has been replaced by a stigma against racism. The Occupy Wall Street protests could be read in part as an effort to re-stigmatize wealth by publicly criticizing, ridiculing, and harassing the extremely wealthy.
Whatever the merits of such demonstrations—no one wants reckless CEOs to receive golden parachutes and government bailouts—I don’t think the broader re-stigmatization campaign has much chance of success. It’s hard to attach public disgrace to a desirable state of life, and perhaps harder still to inflict it on society’s most powerful members.
As you may already know thanks to the ad on our homepage, we’re now accepting applications for the First Things junior fellowship program:
Graduating college seniors and recent graduates are invited to apply for the First Things junior fellows program. The junior fellows work closely with the editors to produce the magazine and its website. The one-year, full-time fellowship (which is normally extended to a second year) includes housing and a modest stipend.
Please send a resume, a 250-word description of why you want to be a junior fellow, two (short) writing samples, and three references (one of whom should know your writing or editorial work) to email@example.com. Applications are due by March 15.
Matthew Schmitz gave a basic description of the program on our blog last month; here I’ll add a more personal view from my experiences as a junior fellow this year. (Incidentally, the title of this post is a nod to Larry Norman, who reportedly said “We need worship for our spirit, fellowship for our soul and committed subservience for our body.”)
A junior fellowship is an opportunity to immerse yourself not only in the production of the magazine but also in an enriching and joy-filled community . . . not to mention the religious, intellectual, artistic, musical, and historical worlds of New York City. That means you can hone your dinner-cooking, museum-visiting, restaurant-finding, liturgy-attending, and theology-debating skills along with your writing, editing, and proofreading ones.
More seriously, working here means pondering “the first things” and what they imply about the second things. Far from being abstruse philosophical theories, these reflections bear on today’s most controversial issues: What is the purpose of government? Are religion and science at odds? How should the church and state interact? What is marriage?
As a junior fellow, you can consider and debate such questions with colleagues who are far better-read and more knowledgeable than you, while also making essential contributions to the magazine. A few duties are routine office tasks: answering emails, moderating comments, advertising events. But you’ll spend most of your energy on writing for our website, evaluating submissions, participating in editorial meetings, editing and fact-checking manuscripts, attending our events, and reading any of the hundreds of books that pour into our office. I highly encourage you to apply.
In a newly released pastoral letter to the Diocese of Marquette, Bishop Alexander Sample (now archbishop-designate of Portland) calls for implementation of Church teaching on the use of sacred music in the liturgy.
Drawing on a century’s worth of papal and council documents, he points out that Catholics do not just “take the Mass and simply ‘tack on’ four songs.” Rather, “since sacred music is integral to the Mass, the role of sacred music is to help us sing and pray the texts of the Mass itself [the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Psalm, Alleluia, etc.], not just ornament it.” In short, “we sing the Mass at Mass, rather than sing songs during Mass” (emphasis his).
Bishop Sample also reviews the qualities of sacred music and its traditional forms from Gregorian chant, which the Second Vatican Council gives “pride of place” in the Mass, to polyphony, hymnody, psalmody, and others. About singing hymns at Mass, a subject we’ve debated here before, he writes:
Hymns are a musical form pertaining more properly to the Liturgy of the Hours, rather than the Mass. Hymn-singing at Mass originated in the custom of the people singing vernacular devotional hymns at Low Mass during the celebrant’s silent recitation of the Latin prayers. However, the current Missal as well as official liturgical documents envision a singing of the Mass as outlined above.
The Roman Missal assigns a few hymns to various Masses in the course of the liturgical calendar . . . However, the hymns and songs commonly sung at Mass every week at the Entrance, Preparation of the Gifts and Communion are not identified in the Missal. It is important to recognize that when we sings hymns at these moments during Mass, it is because we are omitting some of the Mass chants.
While the Proper chants in the Missal should be sung if at all possible, he concludes, “singing hymns in place of [some] Proper chants is permissible for pastoral reasons.”
Read the whole pastoral letter here. And let us hope that the Diocese of Marquette is not the only place that will carry out Bishop Sample’s instructions.
Following up on Peter Blair’s post that we linked to yesterday, Sarah Ngu writes at Fare Forward about the shortcomings of the typical Christian arguments against relativism.
“Relativizing the relativizer” only works if the relativist “actually [cares] about having an airtight, logically consistent worldview,” which not all people do, she points out. And some people are relativists not merely “out of a desire to be their own master” but also “out of a sense of injustice, because they associate capital T ‘Truth’ with historical injustice.” Ngu explains:
In the 19th century, it was True that Africans and Asians were somehow less human. In the early 20th century, it was True that women were not to be trusted with voting rights. It is no wonder then that the postmodern tends to suspects an Oz-like wizard behind the flashy projections of “Truth.” The standard apologetics’ explanation for relativism is often traced back to thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche, but the real question is why his argument that the powerful define truth begins to seem more and more plausible.
I hadn’t thought about the attraction of relativism in quite these terms before, but my own limited experience with today’s young relativists—or rather, selective relativists, as most of them believe in at least a few moral and metaphysical absolutes—would fit her explanation. My relativistic friends aren’t just self-seeking hedonists or lazy metaphysicians. Rather, they’re skeptical of truth claims because historically, many people have indeed used them to justify cruelty. Ngu’s conclusion:
The Gospel is a meta-narrative whose truth is not to be denied, but rather substantiated and backed up, not just by sophisticated arguments for truth and morality, but also by standing for the widow, the fatherless and the orphan, or whoever is weak and powerless amongst us. If not, it will simply be dismissed as just another self-serving Truth.
Note her emphasis on a both/and approach rather than an either/or one. Philosophical argument and moral witness are not competing approaches to apologetics; they are complementary. Read her whole post here.
An eighth-century depiction of the arrest of Christ from the Book of Kells.
Church historian Philip Jenkins, who studied the Dark Ages (with his apologies for the term) as an undergraduate, compares the spread of Christianity in that era to its spread in our own:
The central fact of the [Dark Ages] was the conversion of [the British Isles and Scandinavia] to Christianity, which meant thinking about the nature of mission, and the relationship between old and new faiths. When for instance a formerly pagan society accepted Christianity, how much of their old ways should they retain? How many old customs or cultural forms could be brought within the scope of church life? Moreover, Christianity meant literacy: how did that transform the older society, and what scope did that allow for the old spiritual and cultural leaders, whether pagan priests or druids?
For many years now, my main area of research has been in Global or World Christianity, namely the historic shift of the faith’s center of gravity to the Global South, to Africa Asia and Latin America. In many instances, the issues at stake in this growth are very similar indeed to those of the Early Middle Ages. In Africa, for instance, Christianity boomed when it broke free from the constraints of the European missions, and developed a mass following among independent churches with native leadership. Often though, Western Christians were (and are) alarmed at what seemed to be concessions to old pagan ways, in matters like healing, exorcism and spiritual warfare. The debates resonate immediately with anyone familiar with Europe’s own conversion era.
Jenkins goes on to quote a letter Pope Gregory the Great wrote to Abbot Mellitus as the abbot set off to evangelize England in the year 601, a letter that shaped missionaries’ attitudes for centuries. Read the whole post at The Anxious Bench. And if you’ve never read his 2006 Erasmus lecture on Christianity in the Global South, then read that, too.
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver speaking last May.
When the Colorado Independentreported late last month that a Catholic hospital in Colorado was arguing in a malpractice case that fetuses aren’t people, the incident was immediately (and rightly) denounced as hypocrisy. The next day, local bishops promised to investigate the litigation and the policies of Catholic Health Initiatives (the non-profit organization that runs the hospital) in order “to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church.” The bishops then met with CHI executives.
As a result, the group yesterday released a statement (PDF) acknowledging that it was morally wrong for hospital lawyers to argue that fetuses are not persons, stating it will no longer use that argument in court, and affirming its adherence to the Church’s position on when life begins. The bishops, too, released a statement describing the case and reiterating Catholic beliefs.
So the matter seems to be resolved, even if it took public embarrassment for that to happen. There may have been hypocrites among the hospital’s executives, or they may have just neglected to supervise their lawyers as closely as they should have, but Church teaching has, thanks to the bishops’ efforts, seemingly won out.
A small victory, perhaps, but the damage has been done. (more…)
As an English major I cringed at some of the recommended rhymes, but this advice is definitely right: “One thing in your song should always be on fire, be it our heart, our souls, this generation . . . Something needs to be in flames.” (h/t Colin Gormley)
We were reminded of this recent church service parody:
One of the many contentious questions in the debate over gay marriage is whether, and how, same-sex marriage would affect the flourishing of families and especially of children. Alana Newman, who has written for us before on gay marriage and assisted reproductive technologies, took up that topic yesterday at the Family Scholars blog.
At a luncheon, she says, she once heard “a woman speak of her and her lesbian partner and their deep, passionate desire to get married.” She continues:
In defending why they should have the right to do so they first and most forcefully reveal that they have a son they’re raising, born using one woman’s eggs, the other woman’s womb, and someone else’s sperm—a man that has been excluded and banished from the family. I notify her that I am against gay marriage and cite being donor-conceived as the essential experience that informs and shapes my opinion on this subject. She responds “but marriage and donor-conception have nothing to do with each other.” Even though she just propped up her son as the main reason why she and her partner should receive marriage privileges.
Recounting a lecture she attended by Robert George on What Is Marriage?, Newman writes that the philosophy underlying the left’s views on marriage, abortion, third-party reproduction is a dehumanizing form of mind-body dualism:
If “we”, our true selves, are our mind, and our body is just a vessel—then what harm are drugs, promiscuity, abortion, and 3PR? . . . If my body is separate from “me” than it is totally ridiculous and pointless that I am spending so much time talking about and pining for my biological father. . . .
But the body is the person. I am a woman. I am an amalgam of my father and mother. And they are of their mother and father. Intending parents that choose to dismember the human body and separate parenting into services rendered, particularly through surrogacy and egg donation, are dehumanizing their child. . . .
They are separating the person from a precious and sacred element of what it means to be human—having a mother and father. And it all stems from the mistake of philosophically separating the mind from the body. For parents via 3PR [third-party reproduction], I am not the enemy to their children finding happiness. Neither is the Catholic church. The enemy to their children’s happiness is humanity itself.
Your teenage “kids” are probably a lot more competent than they seem, according to psychologist Robert Epstein. But a raft of laws and regulations (compulsory education, labor restrictions, a separate juvenile justice system) and an ever-growing consumer sector have needlessly delayed their entry into the adult world. Historically, he points out in an interview about his recent book The Case Against Adolescence, this is not the norm:
We have completely isolated young people from adults and created a peer culture. We stick them in school and keep them from working in any meaningful way, and if they do something wrong we put them in a pen with other “children.” In most nonindustrialized societies, young people are integrated into adult society as soon as they are capable, and there is no sign of teen turmoil. Many cultures do not even have a term for adolescence. But we not only created this stage of life: We declared it inevitable. In 1904, American psychologist G. Stanley Hall said it was programmed by evolution. He was wrong.
Rejecting the stereotype of the teenager as immature and incompetent, Epstein argues that adolescents are fully capable of cognitive and moral reasoning, maintaining long-term relationships, and being responsible for themselves. While teens “have too much freedom” in certain senses, they’re nevertheless “not free to join the adult world, and that’s what needs to change”:
I believe that young people should have more options—the option to work, marry, own property, sign contracts, start businesses, make decisions about health care and abortions, live on their own—every right, privilege, or responsibility that an adult has. . . .
When we dangle significant rewards in front of our young people—including the right to be treated like an adult—many will set aside the trivia of teen culture and work hard to join the adult world.
Naturally I disagree with him about abortion, and I’m not convinced that we should roll back child labor laws or institute the competency tests that he favors. Broadly, however, I think he’s right that the myth of the shallow, irresponsible teenager is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Parents may not be able to give their teenage sons and daughters all the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, but they can at least encourage teens to find a job and give them enough freedom to learn from their mistakes, just like adults do. Don’t assume they’re incapable of making good decisions unless they’ve proven by their behavior that they’re incapable. Stop treating them like kids, and they may stop acting like them.
It may have been penicillin, not the Pill, that triggered the sexual revolution, a new study indicates. Hypothesizing that “a decrease in the cost of syphilis due to penicillin [which, in 1943, was found to treat syphilis effectively] spurred an increase in risky non-traditional sex,” the Emory University economist Andrew Francis discovered evidence that “the era of modern sexuality originated in the mid to late 1950s,” prior to the debut of oral contraceptive pills in 1960. (Full PDF here.)
Francis is not the first to suggest this; Megan McArdle, for one, floated the idea last year when writing about the advent of seemingly untreatable STDs. Untreatable STDs sound like the stuff of a nightmarish sexual education class (like the scene in Mean Girls: “if you touch each other, you will get chlamydia, and die”), but the CDC seems to consider their development fairly likely. If penicillin sparked the sexual revolution, antibiotic-resistant STDs could lead to something of a sexual un-revolution.
But it’s impossible to know what such an “un-revolution” would look like. It would certainly disrupt the hook-up scene (not to mention today’s “open relationships”) and may make serial monogamy a bit less serial. Nevertheless, given the contraception-related transformation of the sex and marriage markets—which Timothy Reichert has described in our pages—a return to premarital abstinence and lifelong monogamy seems highly unlikely. Let’s hope, for the sake of people who could contract incurable and fatal STDs in this scenario, that we don’t find out.
Quick: Define nugatory, macerate, and ferrous, and use each in a sentence. A bit rusty on your vocabulary? You may want to brush up—and make sure your kids do, too. As E. D. Hirsch Jr. writes in City Journal:
There’s no better index to accumulated knowledge and general competence than the size of a person’s vocabulary. Simply put: knowing more words makes you smarter. And between 1962 and the present, a big segment of the American population began knowing fewer words, getting less smart, and becoming demonstrably less able to earn a high income.
But flashcards aren’t the way to go. Rather, “the fastest way to gain a large vocabulary . . . is to follow a systematic curriculum that presents new words in familiar contexts, thereby enabling the student to make correct meaning-guesses unconsciously.” “A large vocabulary,” Hirsch concludes, “results not from memorizing word lists but from acquiring knowledge about the social and natural worlds.”
New words in familiar contexts, acquiring knowledge about the world—sounds like a subscription to First Things! Just one David Bentley Hart column offers you multiple opportunities to expand your vocabulary. Whether he’s talking about lachrymose Republicans, unctuous euphemisms, effervescent seasons of celebrity, or “a kind of Aufhebung (in the Hegelian sense),” you’re unlikely to escape “The Back Page” without needing a dictionary. If you needed just one more reason to subscribe, let this be it.
The March for Life, which is now underway in Washington, D.C., tends to be a festive affair—which is unsurprising, given that it’s dominated by young people (with up to 80 percent of attendees under the age of twenty, according to event director Jeanne Monahan). High schoolers and college students outnumber older adults by a huge margin, and you’re less likely to hear doomsday preaching than upbeat chants and hymns.
But my heart is heavy today as I think of all who should be alive, but are not—the 55 million Americans who, thanks to the legacy of Roe v. Wade, were killed before their birth over the past forty years. National Review‘s Katrina Trinko wrote movingly on this subject earlier in the week:
It’s hard to mourn [the victims of abortion] because we know virtually nothing about them, except they once existed. So much of them remained potential. We don’t know how many of them would have been eager and well-behaved, and how many would been hellions, and how many would have been, like most of us as children, a mixture of earnest affection and efforts and tantrums. . . .
So it’s tough to mourn, because when we mourn, we talk specifics. We talk about how the departed one loved certain things, whether it be cult movies or fashion or basketball. We talk about the memories we have of him or her, of the specific things done in the past. We talk about his personality, his approach to life—whether that be glass half full or half empty—and so much more.
But for these kids, we have none of that. . . . .
And we don’t know how having them around would have changed us. Could they have been friends, spouses, relatives, colleagues who we would have connected with, who would have awakened or encouraged an aspect of our personalities that may now remain dormant? Perhaps.
It’s curious to notice who isn’t there. But it’s even stranger that we spend so little time wondering who they—and we—would have been if they were still with us.
Kelby Carlson, writing at Alastair’s Adversaria, proposes a richer theological model of disability as he brings his experience as a disabled person “into dialogue with two important concepts: the evangelical doctrines of vocation and the theology of the cross.”
In doing so he aims to avoid two flawed religious interpretations of disability: first “a kind of non-redemptive liberation theology” that defines God as some marginalized category and believes him hostile to the non-marginalized, and the opposite tendency to “collapse disability into a grand narrative of sin in such a way that redemption of disability becomes redemption from disability” (emphasis mine).
“There are few things more potentially useful to the disabled experience than the idea of vocation,” Carlson argues:
Vocation places disability in a wider spectrum of the sacred calling. It implies that disabled people and their able-bodied counterparts are on equal spiritual footing. More than that, it suggests that disabled people can be seen as conduits for God’s grace and service rather than it only images of a broken creation in need of “fixing.”
This doctrine of vocation restores the image of God to the disabled. In response to the worry that disability is evidence of sin, one can reply precisely to the contrary. While brokenness itself is evidenced of a creation longing for release from bondage, an individual’s disability is, subversively, a venue for Christ to display his glory.
Turning to the theology of the cross, he writes: (more…)
The pro-life movement has always been accused of opposing the progress of women, trying to expel them from the workplace and entrap them in the home to do nothing but prepare food and bear children.
Now that women lead the pro-life movement (a development that not even the Washington Post and the New York Times could fail to note), that claim has lost some plausibility, but pro-choice activists haven’t stopped making it. Witness the vitriol Ross Douthat attracted when he wrote about the nation’s declining birthrate, the claim that conservatives are making “a bid to roll back the gains and freedoms that feminism has managed to earn for women,” or the invocation of The Handmaid’s Tale in discussions of pro-life politicians and arguments.
Upholding the myth of pro-life gender-traditionalism-bordering-on-misogyny in the academic world is a study now almost thirty years old: Kristin Luker’s Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. As Jon Shields (whose article “Roe‘s Pro-Life Legacy” appeared in our January issue) wrote in the journal Contemporary Sociology last year, “no other work on abortion politics has approached [Luker's book's] influence.” Her thesis in a nutshell: “While on the surface it is the embryo’s fate that seems to be at stake, the abortion debate is actually about the meaning of women’s lives.” This may have been true in the early 1980s when Luker did her fieldwork, but it’s no longer the case.
Using data from the National Election Survey, which asks respondents about their views on gender roles and abortion (among other topics), Shields demonstrates in his paper (PDF) that a clear majority of today’s pro-life Americans are gender egalitarians, with only a handful of believing that women’s place is in the home. Or to slice the data another way, “the average moderately pro-life citizen [now] is a stronger supporter of gender equality than even the typical strongly pro-choice citizen was in the early 1980s.” Furthermore, “the divide over women’s roles nearly disappears entirely among young pro-life and pro-choice citizens.”
The battle over abortion, Shields concludes, “will be fought increasingly by gender egalitarians.” Just don’t expect the pro-choice movement to admit it.
A new report from the Institute for American Values explores the complicated ways in which a child’s family structure, particularly the experience of parents’ divorce, can affect his or her religious practices as an adult. Coauthors Elizabeth Marquardt, Amy Ziettlow, and Charles E. Stokes emphasize the significance of their findings and recommendations on the Washington Post‘s ”Guest Voices” blog:
Numerous studies are now revealing that children of divorce overall are less religious when they grow up, with clear implications for the vitality of the churches. In one study, two-thirds of young adults who grew up in married parent families, compared to just over half who grew up in divorced families, say they are very or fairly religious. And, more than a third of people from married parent families currently attend religious services almost every week, compared to just a quarter of people from divorced families. Given that about one in four of today’s young adults are grown children of divorce, and that more than 40 percent of American children are now born outside of marriage, how these younger generations approach questions of spiritual meaning and religious involvement will influence broader trends in the churches for years to come.
The FamilyScholars blog is hosting a symposium (including a contribution from Helen Alvaré, whose writing we’ve mentioned before) on the report, the entirety of which is available online (PDF) but too long to summarize. Here are a few interesting excerpts, however, with page numbers referring to the PDF of the report. (more…)
New York City–area readers may wish to attend this lecture on health care ethics by Brother Ignatius Perkins, O.P., Ph.D., R.N. on Saturday, February 2. “The Dehumanization of the Clinician and the Demise of the Healing Relationship” is the inaugural lecture of the Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry’s St. Catherine of Siena Chair in Catholic Health Care Ethics.
The event, which will take place at St. Catherine of Siena Church (411 E. 68th St., New York, NY), is free and open to the public; however, registration is required. The webpage provides this more detailed description of the lecture’s focus:
Professional literature in health care ethics today frequently reports discussions on the multiple variables that threaten the human dignity and vulnerability of the sick person. Unfortunately, little attention is given to understanding how human dignity of the clinician is threatened and violated in the current health care environment.
Today’s technologically and economically-driven health care environment is influenced by moral relativism, reductionism, and a clinical focus on specialization, technology and disease rather than on the human person who is sick and in need of healing. The influence of these principles has led to the systemic violation of the dignity of the clinician (and ultimately that of persons who are sick), created moral distress among clinicians, and the collapse of the healing relationship. Guided by the Church’s teaching these violations can be addressed and corrected by applying the Church’s moral tradition in health care, by re-affirming the principle of human dignity as the moral center of the healing relationship between clinician and patients. [Brother Ignatius’s] presentation will propose three strategies directed toward reclaiming the dignity of the human person and the re-humanization of the clinician, namely, formation of the clinician, creation of moral communities for clinicians, and implementation of the Pellegrino healing relationship model in clinical practice.
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