Monday, April 11, 2011, 11:35 AM
When then-senator Obama said during the 2008 campaign that he feared his daughters might be “punished with a baby” if not properly schooled in contraceptive practices, he probably thought the statement would be regarded as self-evidently reasonable. Among some it might.
Obama’s public viewpoint on sex falls within what some call “lifestyle liberalism,” treating moral instruction on sex as private and strictly confining public instruction on it to limiting its undesired consequences (or punishments, if you like). As far as the state is concerned, the greatest fallout from a sexual mistake is not a lessening of innocence, self-worth, or ability to be faithful, but the creation of new life–the punishment a baby brings.
It’s not hard to see that this utilitiarian view of sex can lead one to an almost purely economic approach to sexual ethics. What costs me time, money, health, or mental anguish is a negative consequence of sex, and what does the opposite for me is good. Unfortunately, it’s hard to work out this calculus until after the deed is done.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011, 10:48 AM
Joe Carter’s column this week draws attention to recent efforts to stop capital punishment in Arizona on the grounds it “is not in keeping with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The state’s duty to enforce justice for murderers provides insight into the role of modern governments in dispensing authority from higher sources:
The passage by St. Paul is unambiguous: Governing authorities are instituted by God to carry out God’s wrath on the evildoer. Whether citizens of the State—including we Christians—recognize his Lordship over civil government is inconsequential; the Bible makes it clear that nations and rulers are servants of God.
George Weigel’s column brings to light recent disturbing developments in Spain, where it seems that World Youth Day participants will have their work cut out for them, and will have to resist the Stalinisit approach to religion taken in recent months by their government.
Textbooks were being rewritten to enforce the government’s leftist view of modern Spanish history; students aiming for admission to prestigious universities would be required to give the “correct” answers about such traumas as the Spanish Civil War in order to pass their entrance exams. Street names were being changed to eradicate the memory of the politically disfavored from Spain’s past.
Friday, April 1, 2011, 5:28 PM
Readers of our website have no doubt taken notice of the ad for our Junior Fellowship program, which for the two new recruits will begin this August. College students graduating this spring and recent collegians should look closely at this unique internship and be sure to send in their applications before April 15th.
Of the diverse field of internships available to recent college graduates, some offer a glimpse into the political scene of Washington, D.C. or the financial world of New York, while others promise a gateway to stardom as a mover and shaker in the world of ideas. Few can deliver on these promises, and if they do deliver, they do so at the cost of intellectual life.
First Things‘s Junior Fellowship offers a synthesis of what so many other internships promise but cannot deliver: Constant contact with the issues and minds of the day in academic and cultural life; experience in the tradecraft of writing and editing; the lively engagement of New York City; and the most central demand of the job: rigorous wrestling with ideas.
All the while, you’ll accompany the sharp and experienced staff at the magazine as they continue the mission of Richard John Neuhaus. If ideas matter to you, First Things may already be a part of your life. If you’d like it to become an even more integral part, crack open the books, relight your midnight wick, and get to work on that application.
Along with a short description (250 words) of what you seek to learn through the Fellowship, applicants should send three references (at least one should know your writing or editing ability) and a resume, all by April 15th, to email@example.com.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011, 11:53 AM
Wednesday brings two of our On the Square web column’s most anticipated weekly pieces–Joe Carter’s and George Weigel’s. Today, Joe Carter brings to bear “Six Thoughts About Jesus.” Here’s just one of his keen and original insights, on the “What Would Jesus Do” phenomenon:
The question we should keep constantly before us is “What Would Jesus Want Me To Do?” But then WWJWMTD isn’t as easy to embroider on a bracelet or fit on a bumper sticker.
George Weigel examines the danger to Caritas International as it works with its secular counterparts, especially the concern that its Catholicism has grown “anemic.”
“Is there a uniquely Catholic approach to the global HIV pandemic? And if so, what is it?” Her first answer: “I fear that there may be people here in Vienna this week who would answer that it is one characterized by dogma, hypocrisy, moralizing, and condemnation.”
Tuesday, March 22, 2011, 12:32 PM
First in line “On the Square” today is Elizabeth Scalia‘s column, where she parses a particularly poisonous form of idolatry in the media:
Our ideological allegiances to these cults of personality have us slip-sliding into the sin of idolatry and everything that comes with it—a comfort level with truthiness that helps us to maintain our world views, a grim joylessness that permits no laughter and justifies tossing aside friends and family members who do not believe, and a bunker mentality that is ever on-guard for perceived heresies.
Second is Christopher Benson‘s essay on inclusivism, and its contention with exclusivist and universalist accounts of salvation theology. It’s sure to generate discussion in Evangelical circles, most notably given its focus on noted pastor Rob Bell’s controversial recent book on the topic.
Exclusivists and universalists are presumptive demographers: The former claims hell is crowded and the latter that hell is empty. By contrast, inclusivists are agnostic about the population in hell, refusing to name and number the individuals who inhabit the place of torment. God alone keeps the statistics. There’s a family resemblance between exclusivists and inclusivists insofar as they both affirm the existence of hell and believe “there is salvation in no one else [Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The feud relates to how this salvation gets worked out.
Friday, March 18, 2011, 11:53 AM
Second in line On the Square today is theologian Francesca Aran Murphy‘s reflection on Lenten fasting. A Lent-long abstinence from meat, she submits, is not an exercise in trendy vegetarianism, but an ancient practice rooted in the desire to reset our spiritual sensibilities.
Here’s the thing: the spiritual writers know that we are carnal creatures, and that we cannot skip that step in the ladder of ascent. When we try that, we’re aiming to leap up a step before we’re ready. We won’t make it. When we can’t make it, we will think of Lent—and possibly other disciplines as well—as a brief but necessarily failed resolution to do something impossible. You might say, rightly, anything is possible with the grace of God. But, why not let the grace of God work with your animal nature? Grace, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, “does not destroy nature, it perfects it.” God’s grace works against our fallenness. But it does not eliminate our created human nature. It makes our natures whole. As carnal, embodied creatures, our desire to eat meat works in us at a more elemental level than desires for cognitive pleasures. Our carnality is at the rock bottom of what forms us as persons. Our fallenness, it goes all the way down too, so why not let God’s grace rebuild you from the bottom up?
Friday, March 18, 2011, 10:47 AM
On the Square today, Meghan Duke draws an intriguing connection between the radical trust required by both the bond of marriage and anticipation of the end-times.
Save the date. On May 21, 2011, my brother is getting married. Or Christ will return to the earth to pronounce final judgment. It depends on whom you ask. According to my brother and his lovely bride-to-be, it will be the former, according to radio evangelist Harold Camping, the latter. On May 21, Camping predicts, God will take up his elect into heaven and the dead will be raised, with those saved being resurrected and those damned, scattered about the face of earth. Then, on October 21, the world will end.
. . .
Hoping for the end of the world is not such a strange desire of the heart and it’s by no means an exclusively religious one. Paul Erlich’s predictions of mass starvation by the 1970s in The Population Bomb were certainly apocalyptic. There was a twinge of the apocalyptic to the Y2Kers who seemed almost gleeful as they stockpiled food and water in preparation for the impending worldwide computer glitch that would return us to pre-computer life. Today, the dire forecasts of some global warming proponents sound almost biblical: pestilence and mourning and famine.
“A sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future,” the Catechism says. In marriage you go one step further, placing not only yourself, but your spouse, your children, and all future generations of your family in the hands of Providence.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011, 12:11 PM
Almost every news report on the Church contains errors, but some journalistic misunderstandings are so risible they make one wonder if the journalism profession is populated primarily by disaffected Catholics. A recent story on a married German priest is a good example, especially given current obsessions about clerical celibacy.
Harm Klueting, 61, was recently ordained for the Diocese of Cologne after entering the Catholic Church. Klueting and his wife both functioned as Lutheran clerics before the move, and as the Associated Press story runs, they will be “allowed to remain married” through the transition. One would think so, since the Church views the dissolution of a valid marriage as impossible, except by the death of a spouse. So far, so good: The Church neither required Fr. Klueting to abandon his wife nor to throw her into a lake to meet the requirements of his ordination.
The report’s second detail is even stranger: Klueting will “remain married to his wife—who has already become a nun.” Aside from the fact the journalist seems to think a nun is simply the female version of a priest, Edeltraut Klueting is, in fact, a third-order Carmelite, living out her calling in academic and family life rather than within monastery walls. While there are a good number of married Catholic priests in the Latin Rite, there are no married nuns. And, we should add, while nuns take vows, diocesan priests do not, so the “vow of celibacy” later mentioned in the article is simply moot.
The next line in the AP story seems at first to be an ironic joke: “The Cologne archdiocese said in a statement that the couple would not have to take the traditional vow of celibacy as long as they remain married.” It’s rather like saying they will be allowed to live as long as they do not die. Celibacy is, after all, the state of being unmarried, while continence—perhaps what the journalist had in mind—pertains to the choice not to lead a conjugal life.
The article later speculates on matters conjugal: “Klueting and his family could not be reached for comment, and it was not clear whether they still lived together as a couple.”
Last in the list of details is a snapshot of Fr. Klueting’s ordination, pictures of which showed Klueting “with short gray hair and a beard, wearing a simple white priest vestment as he received his blessings from Meisner, who was wearing a festive yellow embroidered robe and a golden cardinal’s hat.” A visit to Wikipedia might have helped to clarify the terminology of vestments, and made clear that the “festive” robe and cardinal’s hat are not just for fun.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 12:48 PM
Today’s first “On The Square” item is Joe Carter’s “My Heroes Have Always Been Hebrews,” where he explores evangelicals’ theological commitments to the welfare of Jews and the state of Israel:
Indeed, it is almost impossible to overstate the influence of the Old Testament on the evangelical imagination. In its most basic sense, the evangelical mind is an anomalous type of the Hebraic mind. Modern Jews might sneer at the presumptuous nature of the connection, but it is a truism that evangelicals consider themselves to be the other “People of the Book.”
Later, George Weigel recalls the recently deceased R. Sargent Shriver, the “last of the classic American Catholic liberals.”
Sarge and Eunice fought the good fight, but they never did the most dramatic thing they might have done for the pro-life cause, which was to leave the Democratic Party after the Clintonistas denied pro-life Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey an opportunity to speak at the 1992 Democratic national convention. That was the break-point for many of us who had been lifelong, genetically programmed Democrats.
Monday, February 14, 2011, 10:59 AM
Today’s second “On The Square” essay for Valentine’s Day is Michael Novak’s “The Myth of Romantic Love,” wherein he explores romantic love, and its relation to caritas and agape:
As a result of this invention, we Westerners have come to think that the central fire of human happiness is romantic love, love forever and ever (love “happily ever after”). Imagination ends with the romantic couple walking hand in hand across the fields toward the sunlight. Many people spend their entire lives looking for such love, wanting to feel such love, wondering, when they are first attracted to another, if that’s what they’re now feeling. Above all, most people love being in love, love the feeling of loving, love even the mad passion of being in love.
Thursday, February 10, 2011, 4:01 PM
Today’s first “On the Square” item is Justin Paulette’s essay, “Conceding Good Faith,” in which he recounts instructive encounters with ideological opponents. Their greatest flaw, Paulette argues, was not in their arguments, but their assumptions that disagreement necessarily owed to defect of reasoning, or worse, bad faith:
Political confrontations don’t, by and large, involve clear contests between pure good and pure evil. On the whole, both sides, even in the most heated debates, believe their end is good, and don’t proceed with evil intent or malice. Politics requires rational, moral, and informed decisions, but prejudiced presumptions of concealed malevolence in political adversaries cripples communication and excludes meaningful debate.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011, 11:35 AM
In today’s first “On The Square” article, Joe Carter notes that country music reflects our cultural values but is nonetheless viewed with suspicion by its peer genres of popular music. What’s left in the lyrics is, Carter argues, just as consequential as what’s left out.
An examination of the sixty most popular country songs of 2010 reveals that faith and family are recurring themes within the musical genre: Fathers are mentioned in ten of the songs, mothers in seven, and children in five; six of the songs allude to marriage; mentions of prayer, preachers, church, heaven, and God are heard discussed in three songs; and the Bible is named in one. Altogether, twenty-three of the sixty songs include at least one of these themes.
Second is George Weigel‘s weekly column. This week, he reports on some startling recent figures on global Christianity. On the one hand, persecution is as alive as ever:
The provocation in the 2011 report involves martyrdom. For purposes of research, the report defines “martyrs” as “believers in Christ who have lost their lives, prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility.” The report estimates that there were, on average, 270 new Christian martyrs every 24 hours over the past decade, such that “the number of martyrs [in the period 2000-2010] was approximately 1 million.” Compare this to an estimated 34,000 Christian martyrs in 1900.
On the other hand, there’s plenty of good news on the demographic front:
Africa has been the most stunning area of Christian growth over the past century. There were 8.7 million African Christians in 1900 (primarily in Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa); there are 475 million African Christians today and their numbers are projected to reach 670 million by 2025. Another astonishing growth spurt, measured typologically, has been among Pentecostals and charismatics: 981,000 in 1900; 612,472,000 in 2011, with an average of 37,000 new adherents every day—the fastest growth in two millennia of Christian history.
Thursday, February 3, 2011, 10:47 AM
Today’s first “On The Square” essay comes in from Matthew Lee Anderson, who looks into social critic Caitlin Flanagan’s take on Karen Owen, the Duke senior who seduced thirteen Duke athletes as “research” for her undergraduate thesis. Owen’s misspent thesis, Anderson suggests, proves a source of both horror and of hope.
Flanagan seems to fit Owens into her pre-determined template of female desire gone awry. For Flanagan, female sexual desire “is deeply enmeshed in the desire to be seduced, taken, treated….with a measure of aggression,” which explains why Tucker Max is (thank God) inimitable by the female sex, despite their best efforts. Flanagan’s Owens—noting the questionable relationship to the real Karen Owens—is the antithesis of Bella, the heroine of the extraordinarily successful adolescent novel Twilight.
I appreciate Flanagan’s optimism that Owens feels regret for doing what seems so obviously destructive, but interpreting Owens’ behavior through the lens of Twilight is also the easy way out for social conservatives. Treating Owens as motivated by revenge may implicitly reinforce the traditional sexual morality of Twilight, but in doing so also allows us to avoid accounting for the more difficult prospect that Owens is, if not happy, at least not particularly concerned about her choices or motivated by a sense of animus. While an instinctive social conservatism might be okay, we need to ensure the facts fit.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011, 3:56 PM
“On The Square” today, Joe Carter points to the alarming double standard on sexual assault he finds in our culture: A deep disdain for rape, vicious crime that it is, but a cavalier attitude toward the epidemic of prison rape:
In 2004 the corrections industry estimated that t 12,000 rapes occurred per year—more than the annual number of rapes reported in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York combined. Three years later a survey by the U.S. Department of Justice found that more than 60,000 inmates claimed to have been sexually victimized by prison guards or other inmates during the previous twelve months.
Today’s second essay comes in from George Weigel, who draws our attention to one reason we should maintain hope in the ideal university: the phenomenon of “Aggie Catholics.”
Aggie Catholicism is something to behold. Daily Mass attendance averages 175; there were closer to 300 Catholic Aggies at Mass on a weekday afternoon when I visited a few years back. Sunday Masses draw between 4,000 and 5,000 worshippers. There are 10 weekly time-slots for confessions, which are also heard all day long on Mondays. Eucharistic adoration, rosary groups, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the traditional First Friday devotion are staples of Aggie Catholicism’s devotional life.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 11:52 AM
Cold weather and rosary-bead sightings were just about all the secular reporters appeared concerned with at this year’s national March for Life, many of them drawing more attention to the chill in the air than to pro-lifers’ resilient reasons to bear it. And that was when they reported on it at all. But chilling, whatever the journalists say, was the last thing marchers were doing this year, with the event’s overwhelmingly youthful crowd stretching over a mile on Constitution Avenue, voicing slogans that were resolute and bold, but not, as many would prefer to believe, “angry.”
Along with banners representing university pro-life groups and parish committees, something of the contemporary pro-life tone was evident in the protest signs on display. One light-hearted favorite was “Chuck Norris is Pro-Life,” and a more serious one read, “Children’s Rights End at Conception.” But none, however light or serious, were so unbecoming as the pained and agitated slogans so often heard at pro-abortion rallies, on the increasingly rare occasions they occur. There’s no pro-life equivalent to “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.”
We can hardly be blamed for giving this a simple explanation. Any coherent social movement must say yes to some ideas and no to others, and pro-lifers say yes to human life and no to the validity of abortion as a choice to end it. But there’s a certain cult of niceness in our public square today, one that says yes to yes and no to no, with the path of least resistance being the primary moral impulse of a “nice” person.
But through common sense, we can see that, for instance, while a toddler’s mother will gain kudos as a “nice” parent for always saying yes to her child, one can hardly blame the child for growing to disrespect figures of moral authority altogether, especially those who say “no.” While pro-lifers remain firm in their “no” to the horror of abortion, the youthful and energetic movement seems impenetrable to slanders of curmudgeonhood and naysaying, and remains cheerful in the fight, preoccupied with the “yes” and not indulgent with their “no.”
Wednesday, January 12, 2011, 1:56 PM
Featured “On The Square Today” is, first, Joe Carter’s weekly column; today’s is a reflection on emergent evidence about the origins of atheism—in particular, origins of the non-philosophical variety:
A new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that atheists and agnostics report anger toward God either in the past or anger focused on a hypothetical image of what they imagine God must be like. Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and the lead author of this recent study, has examined other data on this subject with identical results. Exline explains that her interest was first piqued when an early study of anger toward God revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward him than believers.
And in “The Reagan Centenary,” George Weigel draws our attention to remarkable parallels between John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, as discerned through Weigel’s personal experience of them both:
They were both orphaned young: the future pope, literally; the future president, virtually, given the alcoholism of his father.
They were both men of the theater, whose extensive acting experience gave them both crucial skills and a conviction: that the word of truth, spoken clearly and forcefully enough, could cut through the static of evil’s lies, rally hearts and souls, and create possibilities where only obstacles were apparent.
Their understanding of, and loathing for, communism came to both of them early: Reagan, through his battles with Hollywood communists for control of the Screen Actors Guild; John Paul II, through his experience of the brutalitarian period of Polish communism after World War II. Both knew that the crucial battle with communism was in the realm of the human spirit, for communism proposed a false, yet seductive, view of the human future that could best be matched by a nobler vision of human freedom.
They were both dismissed as “conservatives” by pundits for whom “conservative” was a polite placeholder for “reactionary.” Yet the truth of the matter was that both were radicals: Reagan, in his convictions about ridding the world of nuclear weapons; John Paul, in the depth of his Christian discipleship.
Thursday, January 6, 2011, 1:42 PM
Our “On The Square” article today is R.R. Reno’s much-anticipated weekly column. In today’s essay, Reno explores one response to an acclaimed paper arguing for traditional marriage, and analyzes how liberal critiques of traditional marriage unveils liberalism’s vision of itself:
Of course the practice of marriage has varied a great deal throughout human history. But the union of men and women for the purposes of forming a family unit—which is to say the traditional institution of marriage in all its variety—stands alongside religious forms of solidarity as the most fundamental and primeval mode of social organization available to the human species. If, as Koppleman and other liberal legal theorists forthrightly affirm, the modern liberal state can do with this fundamental institution as it wishes, then it seems to me that there is nothing the modern liberal state cannot redefine, reshape, or reinvent.
Creating and never recognizing—it’s a vision of political life that fills me with foreboding. After all, the human person, like the institution of marriage, is (thank God) pre-political, to be respected not remolded, recognized rather than subjected to redefinition.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011, 1:24 PM
George Weigel’s Wednesday column is our second “On The Square” essay today; in it, Weigel continues to examine the “tectonic shifts” in Catholic episcopal leadership in America, including recent measures by Bishop Thomas Olmsted:
Bishop Olmsted inherited a terrible situation in Phoenix: The previous bishop had been disgraced; the local legal authorities had stated publicly that they could not trust the Church to police its own house in matters of sexual abuse, and proposed to take over that function themselves. Bishop Olmsted didn’t squawk, nor did he deny that serious problems existed. Rather, he quietly and decisively set about fixing what needed fixing, so that the public authorities were soon content to revert to a more normal Church/state relationship.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011, 11:43 AM
In today’s second “On the Square” essay, Fr. Thomas Guarino (a past contributor to First Things and a member of Evangelicals and Catholics Together) writes on concerns about draconian juridical policies within Catholic dioceses, and the effect they hold on the theology of priesthood, especially for faithful priests:
Various actions taken against accused priests suggest that current policies are straining the theology of the priesthood. This may have the short-term advantage of preventing litigants from storming the Church door. It may keep the media at bay for the moment—a media that, in any case, will always find the Church a stumbling block because of her insistence on the incomparable truth she bears. But such actions are also having the disastrous effect of eroding Catholic doctrine, the only treasure that the Church really has to offer.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011, 10:57 AM
“What Is Marriage?” Robert P. George, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis’ recent article on marriage in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, has generated something of a discourse among scholars of opposing views, even being called a “succinct and clear exposition” by one prominent same-sex marriage advocate.
That advocate, Northwestern Law Professor Andrew Koppelman, offered a measured critique of George, Anderson, and Girgis, but most importantly, as the trio wrote, embraced the “less politically palatable implications of rejecting our position,” discarding the marital norms of monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence. Barry Deutsch of FamilyScholars also responded, somewhat less seriously, but seemed not to grasp the central thesis of “What Is Marriage?”, even taking the sadly usual (but decidedly unscholarly) tack of questioning the good faith of the article’s authors.
George, Anderson, and Girgis’ most recent response is to NYU Law Professor Kenji Yoshino, the first prominent voice to respond to “What Is Marriage?”, but also the least forthright. Twice now, in Slate, Yoshino has reframed and simplified the George-Anderson-Girgis argument to suppose a reductio ad absurdum. In their response, the three colleagues point out, among other concerns, Yoshino’s insistence that they get marriage wrong, despite his persistent refusal to identify what marriage is:
Our first reply challenged Yoshino to explain his own view of marriage, such that two men or two women could form what is truly a marital relationship. Yoshino: “I thought the answer would be intuitive: I want . . . marriage to widen to permit same-sex couples to enter it.”
Translation: Yoshino wants marriage to be whatever it must be such that two men or two women could truly marry.
Monday, January 3, 2011, 11:42 AM
In today’s second “On The Square” column, Gerald Hiestand, an evangelical pastor, describes a uniquely modern Christian dilemma: the unsettling schism between pastors and theologians. While the history of Christianity encourages the view that pastor and theologian are part of the same vocation, modern times have seen unprecedented division:
Historically, the church’s most influential theologians were churchmen—pastors, priests, and bishops. Clerics such as Athanasius, Augustine (indeed, nearly all the church Fathers), Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Edwards, and Wesley functioned as the wider theologians of their day—shaping not only the theological vision of their own parishes, but that of the wider church. In their day, the pastoral community represented the most influential, most insightful, and most articulate body of theologians.
But since the nineteenth-century (in North America, at least) the center of theological reflection has shifted from the parish to the university. The pastoral community is no longer called upon—as a matter of vocation—to construct theology for those beyond their congregations. Instead, our present context views the academy as the proper home for those with theological gifts. Those with shepherding gifts are directed toward the pastorate. And those who are gifted in both areas? Well, they’ll have to choose. But can this be right? Do we really mean to suggest that the proper home of a theologian is in the academy, disconnected from the pastoral vocation?
Wednesday, December 22, 2010, 1:58 PM
For readers of George Weigel’s “On The Square” column on the First Things homepage: While we will not feature one such column this week, we will run our next installment early in the new year.
Friday, December 17, 2010, 2:36 PM
When contending with philosophic heavyweights, one can either refuse to argue or argue to win, but the worst thing one can do is to debate without actually arguing. Something like that was in play when NYU Law professor Kenji Yoshino penned a brief response in Slate to “What is Marriage?”, a paper released last week making the case for traditional marriage. In his rejoinder, Yoshino suggests that the conjugal view of marriage is untenable because its existence would be unfair to those who cannot (or choose not) to achieve it. Although he might have been the right kind of scholar to respond to this momentous piece of scholarship on marriage, Yoshino clearly chose not to address arguments he takes for granted as settled.
Robert P. George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan Anderson—the article’s authors—defended their arguments today at Public Discourse, reasoning that their piece both addressed Yoshino’s concerns and made what is thus far an unrefuted case for the conjugal view of marriage.
Indeed, Yoshino’s posting brings to mind points developed in a recent paper by Yoshino’s colleague at NYU, Professor Jeremy Waldron—one of the world’s most eminent legal philosophers. Waldron observes that it “infuriat[es]” many of his fellow liberals that some intellectuals remain determined, in Waldron’s words, “to actually argue on matters that many secular liberals think should be beyond argument, matters that we think should be determined by shared sentiment or conviction.” In particular, Waldron laments, “many who are convinced by the gay rights position are upset” that others “refuse to take the liberal position for granted.”
The central argument of our article is that equality and justice are indeed crucial to the debate over civil marriage law, but that to settle it—to determine what equality and justice demand—one must answer the question: what is marriage? So this is what the debate is ultimately about. In making our case for conjugal marriage, we consider the nature of human embodiedness; how this makes comprehensive interpersonal union sealed in conjugal acts possible; and how such union and its intrinsic connection to children give marriage its distinctive norms of monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence.
We also show that those who would redefine civil marriage, to eliminate sexual complementarity as an essential element, can give no principled account of why marriage should be (1) a sexual partnership as opposed to a partnership distinguished by exclusivity with respect to other activities (including non-sexual relationships, as between cohabiting adult brothers); or (2) an exclusive union of only two persons (rather than three or more in a polyamorous arrangement). Nor can they give robust reasons for making marriage (3) a legally recognized and regulated relationship in the first place (since, after all, we don’t legally recognize or closely regulate most other forms of friendships).We were explicit in framing these as challenges to proponents of gay civil marriage. And if anyone is capable of meeting them, surely it is Professor Yoshino. So his decision to pass over those challenges in perfect silence confirms and reinforces our belief (also amply defended in our article) that only the conjugal view can answer them.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010, 3:36 PM
It is one thing, and isn’t another—and that’s not mere subjective opinion. Or so we read in What is Marriage, a new and momentous paper authored by First Things board member Robert P. George, along with former First Things assistant editor Ryan Anderson and Rhodes Scholar Sherif Girgis. Found in the upcoming issue of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, the paper treats the trickiest arguments in the same-sex marriage debate the with the precision and rigor for which these three scholars are known. Questions, for example, of whether marriage is primarily a legally-sanctioned romantic partnership, or if its essential purpose resides in something else.
George, Anderson, and Girgis also address questions such as whether natural marriage discriminates against persons with same-sex attractions, how marriage differs from friendship, and whether its link to fertility and child-rearing is essential or merely incidental. They examine allegations of harm done by same-sex marriage, and explore the ways that re-imagining marriage will (and in some cases, already has) rework the state’s endorsement of the human family, as well as certain religious and moral freedoms. And then they take on the same-sex marriage arguments that most reflect the moral spirit of the age— “constructivist” arguments, as George, Anderson, and Girgis dub them. As for these kinds of claims, the authors write:
They deny that there is any reality to marriage independent of custom—any set of objective conditions that a relationship must meet to ground the moral privileges and obligations distinctive of that natural kind of union which we have called real marriage. For constructivists, rather, marriage is whatever social and legal conventions say that it is, there being no separate moral reality for these conventions to track. Hence it is impossible for the states policy to be wrong about marriage: different proposals are only more or less feasible or preferable.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010, 9:46 AM
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Today’s first “On The Square” item is Joe Carter’s column; today it’s a whimsical creation story narrative. But it’s not your run-of-the-mill creation story; rather, it addresses a certain inequality of myth Carter finds between the children of Judeo-Christian tradition and the children of atheist materialists. As the latter children have recourse only to the turgid prose of cosmologists, Carter proposes a more humanistic myth for them, revealing the amount of faith one needs to believe it:
In the beginning was Nothing, and Nothing created Everything. When Nothing decided to create Everything, she filled a tiny dot with Time, Chance, and Everything and had it expand. The expansion spread Everything into Everywhere carrying Time and Chance with it to keep it company. The three stretched out together leaving bits of themselves wherever they went. One of those places was the planet Earth.
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