In 2008 there were some serious pro-life people who actually bought the kind of argument Charles Reid is once again selling. I’m confident that it won’t happen this time. Those were “messianic days” when grown men and women could talk themselves into believing that the election of Barack Obama would stop the rise of the oceans and cause the earth to heal. So why couldn’t such a figure somehow hypostatically unite the apparent opposites of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” in the person of himself? The argument sounded novel and interesting back then. It’s now stale and, increasingly, ridiculous. President Obama is by far the greatest friend the abortion lobby and the movement for legal abortion and its public funding ever had in the White House. If you don’t believe me, just ask them. He’s their man.
Obama fervently believes, and has consistently acted on the belief, that children in utero have no rights that others must respect. He opposes any meaningful legal protections for unborn babies. Under the regime of law he supports, they may be killed at any time for any reason; and he has vowed to make sure things stay that way. He has even opposed the prohibition of sex-selection abortions. For the full litany of the President’s offenses against sanctity of life principles, just visit the websites of major pro-life organizations such as the National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, and the Susan B. Anthony List. Or, if you prefer, you can get the information from the websites of major pro-abortion groups, such as Planned Parenthood or NARAL. It doesn’t matter which side you go to for the info.
Obama and his supporters do not try to hide his abortion extremism. They celebrate and praise him for it. (They just don’t call it extremism. They call it support for “reproductive health.”) So the information is easily available to anyone who wants to have a look. As for Charles Reid’s argument, as I said, I doubt that it will move many votes Obama’s way this time. Serious pro-life people just aren’t buying it. They know an abortion advocate when they have seen one in action as the nation’s chief executive for four years.
What Reid is offering will be relevant on November 6, if at all, only in salving the consciences of folks on the left who will, in any case, vote for Obama despite his pro-abortion record. It gives them a story to tell themselves about how they are actually, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, living by their principles and defending unborn babies. That story is that Obama may be a 100 per cent “abortion rights” guy by the standards of Planned Parenthood and NARAL, but actually he’s “the pro-life candidate.”
Mary Ann Glendon and I will be appearing this coming Monday (October 22) at 7:30 p.m. in DiGiovanni Hall at the Harvard University Catholic Center to discuss “Catholic Faith and Public Life.” All are welcome.
I posted the following comment on my Facebook page. It’s generated an interesting discussion among my friends, including my wonderful former student, and Notre Dame Law School grad, Michael Fragoso (who does not quite see eye to eye with me on this one):
Conservative Friends: I know that both sides in politics take people’s remarks out of context whenever doing so provides a way of making opponents look bad. Liberals do it to conservatives; conservatives do it to liberals. Democrats do it to Republicans and Republicans do it to Democrats. Republicans do it to Republicans, and Democrats do it to Democrats, in primary elections. But that doesn’t make it right. The public good is not served by it, and often it is disserved. At the risk of coming off as prissy and perhaps something of a scold to boot, may I respectfully request that we not seize upon President Obama’s remark about losing four men in Libya being “not optimal”? In context, the remark was not disrespectful, callous, or otherwise untoward. Honestly, it is not fair to use it to depict the President as making light of the killing of our Ambassador and those who were murdered with him. My Facebook friends know I have been very tough on the President for his handling of the Libyan affair (and for many other things). I am working hard, as I know many of you are, to defeat him. I have been extremely critical of what I believe was a grotesque lie told by the President in the most recent debate, suggesting that from the start he had identified the Libyan attack as a premeditated act by terrorists, and not merely a spontaneous attack by a mob that had been enflamed by an offensive anti-Islamic film. I believe he will pay a heavy political price for that lie. And he should. But let’s criticize the President, and our political opponents generally, for what they deserve criticism for. Let’s not criticize them unfairly. Let’s be citizens, not partisans.
Last night I had the joy of getting together with my esteemed friend Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who was at Princeton to give a lecture based on his new book on religion and science. His talk was characteristically brilliant. Religion is ubiquitous in human society, but religious geniuses are rare. Britain, an officially Anglican nation, produced a Catholic religious genius in Queen Victoria’s time: John Henry Newman. (True, he began as an Anglican.) It has produced a Jewish religious genius in ours: Jonathan Sacks. In his exemplary humility, the Chief Rabbi would be embarrassed by the comparison, but it is, in my opinion, fully warranted. He is a teacher of people of every faith, and even those who, for now at least, are without faith. Speakers who come to Princeton often say that they are honored to be speaking at our University. In this case, the speaker truly honored the University by his presence.
Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice has chosen the right word to describe Adam Gopnik’s comments on abortion: confused. What is striking (and mildly amusing) is that those comments are so poorly informed and intellectually unsophisticated. Now, I’m guessing here, but I suspect that Adam Gopnik regards himself as a well-educated and sophisticated person. He would, I have no doubt, view himself as intellectually superior to those people in small towns who allegedly cling to guns and religion and antipathy to people who aren’t like them. But judging from his comments, he isn’t. Perhaps he read Aristotle and John Rawls in college, but evidently he didn’t learn anything from them. Rawls, even in arguing for a quite limited role for religion (and other “comprehensive views”) in public life, knew that the question is complex and difficult. He was aware that there are serious counterarguments that needed to be engaged, and he famously retreated under the pressure of intellectual criticism on the question of abortion and “public reason.” He knew that he could not dismiss or defeat the pro-life argument by hand waving and name calling. He was far too well-informed and sophisticated for such shenanigans. Rawls was a serious man making a serious argument for liberal political morality. Judging from Gopnik’s comments, he by contrast is the journalistic equivalent of Yosemite Sam.
Regular readers know that I’m an advocate and practitioner of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and cooperation. I believe that persons, including leaders, of different traditions of faith should treat each other, and each other’s faiths, with respect and look for opportunities to work together to uphold and advance values they hold in common. This does not require pretending that there are not important differences between faiths. A fruitful ecumenism cannot be founded on religious relativism or indifferentism. Nor need ecumenical and interfaith partners refrain from criticizing teachings of each other’s faiths with which they strongly disagree. There are respectful, civil, and entirely appropriate ways to do this.
I raise these points in light of the goings on in San Francisco regarding the appointment and installation of Salvatore Cordileone as Archbishop. The city’s Episcopalian bishop “welcomed” the new Archbishop with (how shall we describe it?) a rather pointed open letter implicitly, but very clearly, characterizing Catholic teaching on sexual morality and marriage (and, perhaps, on abortion as well, though that is a little less clear) as “repression,” and implicitly characterizing the Archbishop himself, who is a strong defender of marriage, chastity, and the sanctity of human life, as an oppressor.
Well, it is San Francisco.
And we are talking about an Episcopalian bishop. It’s not exactly news that some bishops of the Episcopal Church (remember John Shelby Spong?) long ago traded classical (biblical, natural law) Christian moral ideas for the timeless doctrines of the Summer of Love. In response, many faithful Episcopalians have jumped ship to become Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or Evangelicals, or formed breakaway churches within the Anglican communion, sometimes under the authority of bishops in Africa and other places where traditional Christian moral beliefs remain intact.
Evidently, the San Francisco Episcopalian bishop believes that “turn-about is fair play.” In his open letter, he invites left-wing Catholics who reject the Church’s moral teachings to join the Episcopal Church.
Some Catholics seem to have been offended by this invitation. I’m not one of them. Quite the opposite. I don’t much care for the Bishop’s manners; and I certainly don’t share his moral views; but I think it is entirely natural and reasonable for someone who strongly believes something to invite others to believe it. And it is even more natural and reasonable for someone in religious community A to invite people in religious community B who do not believe the teachings of B but do believe the teachings of A to leave B and join A. That, it seems to me, is precisely what Pope Benedict did in establishing the ordinariate for Anglicans who wish to join the Catholic Church while retaining certain aspects of their Anglican heritage.
Perhaps the San Francisco bishop could create a special community for Catholics in the city who wish to become Episcopalians, but who want to hang on to, I don’t know, folk masses and Teilhard de Chardin reading groups.
U.S. News and World Report is reporting that a group called “Catholics for Obama” has been calling voters, asking such questions as “How can you vote for a Mormon who does not believe in Jesus Christ?” (Evidently, the calls also claim that President Obama does not support abortion and that Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions and lobbyist for the abortion license, “helps children to get healthcare and prenatal care and does not promote abortion.” But lay those misrepresentations aside for present purposes.)
The Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights has condemned the anti-Mormon bigotry of these calls in the strongest possible terms. All Catholics should join in the condemnation. I don’t know who is behind these calls, but the Obama campaign should, in all decency, immediately try to figure it out and shut them down. This is only the most egregious of many nauseating examples of the anti-Mormon bigotry that has crawled out of the swamp in relation to Governor Romney’s nomination as the Republican candidate for president. Most examples are more subtle and “sophisticated”; but they are no less appalling. Of course, bigotry of any kind is appalling. But for those who recognize, as we all should, the extraordinary decency, generosity, and patriotism of the vast majority of our LDS fellow citizens, and their many (mainly unsung) contributions to the common good of our society, the defamation of Mormons and their faith is particularly grotesque. Whether or not we happen to support Governor Romney in this campaign, we Catholics should be united in our friendship with, and high regard for, the Latter-Day Saints.
Yesterday I lost a dear friend and the academic world lost one of its most gifted scholars and teachers: Eugene Genovese, the great historian of slavery and the American South. Although born into a Catholic family, Gene was for most of his adult life a Marxist. Under the influence of his beloved wife Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, an eminent historian in her own right and a late-in-life convert to the Catholic faith, he eventually returned to the Church. But even in his Marxist days, he was driven by a passion for truth—and it was that passion that eventually brought him out of the errors into which he had been led by a passion for justice. I tell a bit of the story in the above video of a tribute to Gene I gave at a conference at Princeton held in his honor a couple of years ago.
I was recently asked to return to my alma mater, Swarthmore College, to participate in a forum on politics and folk music. Although I could not attend in person because of a conflicting obligation, the organizers invited me to submit some comments to be read at the forum. Here are my remarks:
I grew up in West Virginia, the grandson of immigrant miners. My maternal grandfather made his way out of the mines and into the grocery business. My paternal grandfather worked in the mines and on the railroads his entire life, and died of lung disease. He was a strong union man, and a strong anti-communist. The same was true of most of his co-workers. He and most of them were devoutly religious men. Their faith, I believe, gave them a powerful immunity against Marxist ideology and propaganda. Very few of them allowed themselves to be deceived about Stalin or the great Soviet “utopia.”
They were what we would today call social conservatives. They supported the New Deal, and very nearly worshipped Franklin Delano Roosevelt; at the same time, they strongly valued hard work, personal responsibility, self-discipline and self-restraint, and the integrity of the family. The slogan “if it feels good, do it” would have appalled and disgusted them. They were patriotically pro-American, viewing the United States as a great force for good in the world. Many were military veterans. They recognized that America had its faults—some of them very serious—but they saw the American story as a determined struggle by the nation to live up to its great founding principles. Those who, like my grandfathers, were immigrants were especially grateful to the United States for the liberty and opportunity the nation afforded them and their families.
The folk music I grew up with reflected these values. I grew up among coal miners and union men—their songs condemned unfairness and exploitation, and were often, and justly, critical of the coal companies—but it was not until I arrived at Swarthmore that I heard my first communist anthem. Some songs, such as Billy Ed Wheeler’s haunting “Coal Tatoo,” were critical of the union, at least implicitly, as well as the companies. Very many of the songs I heard, and later played, while growing up were hymns. My favorites were those of the Carter Family. “I’m Going to Take a Trip on That Old Gospel Ship,” “Hold Fast to the Right,” and, of course, “Will the Circle be Unbroken?”
The first song I learned to flat pick on the guitar was the great Carter Family classic: “The Wildwood Flower.” I still love to play it. After learning to play guitar, I picked up the five string banjo. The traditional style of playing in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia was what is sometimes called “claw hammer” style, and we called “frailing.” By my time, though, Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, and Don Reno had made “three finger picking,” or what was also called “Scruggs style” or “bluegrass” banjo playing popular. I learned both styles, but found I could earn more money performing with bands at county fairs, church socials, and rod & gun clubs playing Scruggs style, so that became my focus.
I performed with a number of groups, most often with a pair of brothers who were my best school friends, Tom and Bob Smith. They were fine singers and musicians. I also played from time to time with a bluegrass band called the “Currence Brothers.” Jimmy and Lodi were the brothers and Malcolm was a nephew. All three suffered from hemophilia, which made earning a living playing music preferable to working in the mines. Lodi was an excellent guitarist and Malcolm was a good bass player, but Jimmy was the musical stand out. He was an incomparable fiddler, though unless I or another banjo player was around he usually played the banjo, at which he was also a virtuoso. It was an extraordinary blessing to watch and listen and learn from him.
With the Currence Brothers, our mix of numbers tended to be love songs (or love-gone-wrong songs), hymns, patriotic songs (including their own composition entitled “To Vietnam Our Son is Going”), and novelty tunes (such as Homer and Jethro’s marvelous “I’m My Own Grandpa”). Of course, there were also mining songs, my favorite of which was “Dark as a Dungeon” by the great Merle Travis. The mining songs were almost always, in some sense, “political,” though not always straightforwardly so, and often enough the political messages were, as I’ve already suggested, complex.
I do not hesitate to criticize President Obama—severely—not only for what I regard as his misbegotten policies, but also for his personal delinquencies (such as saying things that he knows are not true). I must in candor say, however, that I believe he is getting something of a bum rap on the statement that might, in the end, cost him the election if he ends up losing in a squeaker.
Recently I revisited the video of the President’s infamous “you didn’t build that” comment. It has been interpreted as saying to entrepreneurs and small business people that they did not build their businesses, the government did it for them. This, then, buttresses the picture of Obama as holding a fundamentally socialist outlook and having no appreciation of what it takes, and what it means, to build one’s own business.
Now, I think it is true that Obama has a dangerously inflated view of the proper role of government and very little understanding of business and the contributions to the public weal made by those risk-takers and hard workers who build businesses. But examined in context, I don’t think it is correct to interpret the “that” in “you didn’t build that” as referring to businesses.
Here, I believe, the President is telling the truth in saying that by “that” he meant the infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) that makes it possible for businesses to flourish, but which businesses do not themselves provide. Now it is fair enough to say—in fact, I will myself say—that the money used by governmental authorities to build infrastructure comes from tax dollars generated by businesses (taxes on businesses, income taxes paid by business owners and their employees, etc.).
So this comment of mine is not intended as a defense of what Obama said, much less of his economic and regulatory policies generally. It is simply an ackowledgment by a rather severe critic that his comment has been misunderstood and his explanation of what he intended to say seems truthful.
Having said that, I can certainly understand why people interpreted the comment as they did—especially in view of the President’s inflated ideas about the role of government and his insufficient appreciation of entrepreneurship and business. In the video, he seems clearly to be speaking off the cuff and he chose his words poorly. I don’t think his critics are merely taking his words out of context to distort their meaning (which is what Mitt Romney’s critics did during the primaries with his comment about “not being concerned with the poor”).
For what it’s worth, I accept the President’s account of himself on this one as truthful. And I feel obligated to say so, since I am always so forceful in going after him when I believe he is not telling the truth (as, for example, on his position on re-defining marriage, and the grounds of his opposition to the Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act). Fair is fair.
I’ve spent my career so far teaching philosophy of law, constitutional interpretation, civil liberties, and political philosophy to undergraduates and graduate students in the arts and sciences. From time to time, I’ve been offered teaching positions in law schools, and on a few occasions I’ve been approached to be a law school dean. Until three weeks ago, however, I had never actually taught law students. I’m doing that now as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. I’m grateful to Dean Martha Minow for her kind invitation to do so, and to my old friend the Dean of the Faculty at Princeton for granting an exception to Princeton’s rather stringent rule against teaching for other institutions, even when on unpaid leaves of absence.
I wondered if the experience of teaching law students would be a lot different from the experience of teaching graduate students in philosophy, political theory, religion, and related fields. So far, I’m finding that it’s not. Of course, I expected Harvard law students to be bright and hard working. But I guess I didn’t expect that there would be a lot of enthusiasm for the rather “impractical” courses I teach: philosophy of law and philosophy of civil liberties. I had a concern that all but a few students would be narrowly focused on preparing for the practice of law, and that the students who did sign up for my classes might be impatient with my admittedly rather abstract approach. I needn’t have been concerned.
In addition to the courses I’m offering for credit, Mary Ann Glendon and I are running an informal weekly luncheon seminar on social issues. Participants include faculty and students from across the University, from the Divinity School to the Business School. (No jokes, please, about trying to serve both God and Mammon.) Of course, it’s a treat to be working with Mary Ann, with whom I am also serving on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and with whom I previously served on the President’s Council on Bioethics. Our theme song for the year is the Buck Owens classic: “Together Again.”
I love dear old England. I spent five wonderful years in Oxford, first as a graduate student and then as a visiting scholar. Although I am a republican by political philosophy, I have a soft spot in my heart for Queen Elizabeth. She is a patriotic and hard working woman who displays a keen sense of duty.
Her close relatives by blood and marriage have been a seemingly endless source of embarrassment to her, but she has handled the family scandals in as dignified a way as possible. And she has functioned in the way a modern constitutional monarch should function: as an embodiment of the nation’s values and as a symbol of its unity.
Despite my republican sympathies, I’d like to see the monarchy survive. It links modern Britain to a history which, while not unsullied, has its glories. On that score, however, the antics and poor judgment of the Queen’s relatives are a problem. Ordinary people (most of whom are fond of the Queen herself) don’t appreciate bad behavior by the royals.
It would help if the gang would just follow some relatively simple rules. They could begin, for example, with this one: When you leave your home or hotel room, wear clothing and don’t take it off. I mean, honestly, is that asking too much? Members of the Japanese imperial family seem to manage to keep their clothes on. No one is going to manage to snap a picture of a naked Crown Prince Naruhito or a topless Princess Masako. Why should pictures of a naked Prince Harry or a topless Kate Middleton be floating around? It is, as they say, an avoidable problem.
Of course, the Japanese imperials tend to stick to the private sphere, but I am reminded of the small role I and my family played in getting the current Crown Prince out a bit. (more…)
I’m impressed that the Pope refused to cancel his visit to Lebanon. I’m even more impressed by the powerful words he spoke to Christians and Muslims:
He is a quiet, scholarly man. He is not blessed with the charisma or the flair for dramatic gestures that we saw in his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. He does not light up the sky or attract vast throngs. He had no ambition to be Pope. But he does his job. He speaks simple truths—truths that the entire world needs to hear. This is precisely what he did when he met with Christian and Muslim young people in Lebanon. Let them—and all of us—heed his message.
First Things friend Francis Beckwith of Baylor University recently reprimanded a Facebook friend for sending him a secretly made video of a Mormon temple service. Professor Beckwith rightly described this violation of trust and act of disrespect for others as shameful. People of different faiths can, without compromising their own beliefs, treat people of other faiths with respect.
We do this “negatively,” as it were, by, for example, refraining from ridiculing beliefs, customs, or rituals of other faiths. We do it “positively” by, for example, addressing clergy of other faiths in the manner that is customary or prescribed within those faiths. So, for example, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and others address Catholic and Eastern Orthodox clergy as “Father.” Christians and others address Jewish clergy as “Rabbi” and Muslim teachers of certain traditions as “Shaykh” (and Muslim clergy of certain traditions as “Imam”). Another way we do it positively is by facilitating each other’s religious observances when we can. For example, Jewish workers will sometimes offer to substitute for Christian co-workers on Christian holy days, and vice-versa. I myself and many other professors who are not Jewish make special arrangements for our Jewish students to make up classes they have to miss in order to observe the fall holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when they fall on weekdays.
G.K. Chesterton, in chastising a liberal magazine for its criticisms of a Jewish industrialist who in his will had left money to his children conditional upon their maintaining the Jewish faith, put the point this way: “As an old-fashioned radical, I was brought up in the tradition of doing justice to a another man’s religion. But it is only his irreligion you moderns are disposed to respect.” Let’s not be like those whom Chesterton described as “you moderns.” This is one point on which all of us should, I believe, be “old-fashioned radicals.”
Some Catholics are disturbed that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, will be delivering a benediction at a convention at which speaker after speaker will vehemently condemn belief in the right to life of the child in the womb and belief in marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife. Obviously, this is a matter of prudential judgment, and I certainly understand (and share) the concern. The Cardinal’s appearance could be interpreted as implying that the positions on abortion and marriage embraced by the Democratic Party and the Obama administration are acceptable from a Catholic vantange point.
I think it is important, though, to recognize the considerations on the other side, too. Many people on the left, including many who will be attending the Democratic convention, have been working overtime to establish the proposition that the Catholic Church and other supporters of the pro-life position are “misogynists” who are conducting a “war on women,” and anyone who believes in marriage as a conjugal union is a “bigot.” The Cardinal’s appearance at the convention confounds their efforts. By prominently featuring an outspoken leader of the the right to life cause and the fight against redefining marriage, the Democrats concede that these positions are not mere reflections of “animus” and cannot legitimately be treated as “bigotry.” After all, would the Obama administration and the leaders of the Democratic Party feature a “hater” at their convention? Would they invite a “homophobe” and a “bigot” to invoke divine blessing on their political exertions?
The notary, Claudia do Nascimento Domingues, who serves the city of Tupa, “said the move reflected the fact that the idea of a ‘family’ had changed. ‘We are only recognising what has always existed. We are not inventing anything. For better or worse, it doesn’t matter, but what we considered a family before isn’t necessarily what we would consider a family today’.”
Now, the reason of principle that intimate partnerships of three or more persons cannot truly be marriages, and should not be legally recognized as marriages or the equivalent, is . . . Well, remind me again, what is it?
Of course, the reason is fairly clear for those (I’m one) who understand marriage as a conjugal partnershp, i.e., a multi-level (and in that sense comprehensive) union of husband and wife founded on the biological (“one-flesh”) communion made possible by the sexual-reproductive complementarity of spouses. For an explanation and defense, see here; for a more detailed statement of the case, and response to critics, see the forthcomng book by the same authors under the same title.) But what is the reason for those who propose to ditch the conjugal understanding of marriage and replace it with a conception of marriage as sexual-romantic domestic partnership (what one opponent of the conjugal conception describes as your relationship “with your Number One Person”)?
To be sure, there are those (such as the three hundred plus self-described “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers,” including such notables as Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Kenji Yoshino), who have already signed on (quite literally) to the proposition that there are no reasons of principle (or valid reasons of any kind) for conceiving marriage or the equivalent as a two-person relationship, as opposed to a relationship of three or more individuals (triads, quadrads, etc.) in a polyamorous sexual partnership. (See the manifesto “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage,” expressly demanding legal recognition of, among other things, “committed, loving households in which there ismore than one conjugal partner.”)
But what is the reason of principle that can be given by those who, while rejecting the idea that sexual-reproductive complementarity is an essential element of marriage, do not—or do not yet—wish to give up the idea of marriage as the sexually exclusive union of two, and not more than two, persons? Is there a reason of principle? Or is the belief in “two-ness” mere bigotry?
Do Rawlsian principles of “political liberalism” demand the legal recognition of same-sex romantic partnerhips as marriages? I suspect that many of Rawls’s conservative critics, as well as his liberal supporters, would suppose that the answer must be yes. (For the conservative critics, that would be one more count against Rawls’s general theory of justice and political morality.) But now comes my former student, Matthew O’Brien, who in a brilliant article just out in the British Journal of American Legal Studies argues that the answer is actually no. In fact, he maintains that Rawlsian principles, rigorously and consistently applied, forbid the re-definition of civil marriage to include same-sex partnerships. The article, titled “Why Liberal Neutrality Prohibits Same-Sex Marriage: Rawls, Political Liberalism, and the Family,” is available online here.
Nathan Harden’s new book “Sex and God at Yale” will be of interest to anyone who is concerned about the moral state of campus culture at colleges and universities in the US. Here’s my dust jacket endorsement:
The ideology of sexual liberation that is the lasting legacy of ‘Me generation’ liberalism and its imbecilic doctrine of ‘if it feels good do it,’ has hardened into an orthodoxy on college campuses around the country. Not only is it uncritically embraced by many students, it is supported by a great many faculty members and abetted and even promoted in a variety of ways by academic administrators. In the spirit of the late William F. Buckley, Nathan Harden takes a hard, critical look at the prevalent sexual liberationist dogmas at Yale, exploring their damaging effects on the educational enterprise and their often tragic consequences in the lives of students.
Nathan Harden is a recent Yale graduate. His critique of the practices and policies of that university would apply with equal force to many other institutions, including major Catholic ones. Can anything be done about the situation, or are decency and honor in sexual matters a lost cause for our young people? Keep hope alive! Get to know—and support—the Love and Fidelity Network.
It looks like the Democratic Party’s leadership has decided to make the Party’s fierce commitment to protecting abortion against meaningful legal restrictions of any kind and extending its availability a, if not the, central theme of its national convention.
I’ll leave to the pundits the question whether this is good politics. (I suppose it’s one way to avoid focusing on the state of the economy.) It is, however, a great sadness from the point of view of faithful Catholics and others who believe in the inherent and equal dignity and right to life of every member of the human family–from the child in the womb, to the mentally or physically handicapped individual, to the frail elderly person nearing death. The Democratic Party could once boast that it was the party that “looked out for the little guy.” No more. That will be clear when speaker after speaker at the podium proclaims abortion as a sacred right and virulently condemns those of us who stand up and speak out in defense of abortion’s tiny victims. I have pity for the dwindling band of pro-life Democrats who will sit in front of their television sets, or in the conventional hall itself, listening to the roars of approval as the presidents of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, among many others, deliver their carefully crafted applause lines.
The spectacle will, of course, reflect the position and strategy of the Obama-Biden ticket, and reinforce for those of us who are pro-life the points I made in 2008 in “Obama’s Abortion Extremism” and (with Yuval Levin) “Obama and Infanticide.”
The entire Catholic community—in Germany and throughout the world—must stand with Rabbi Goldberg and speak out against his prosecution for performing circumcisions of male infants in compliance with their parents’ wishes and Jewish law. The threats to religious liberties and to religious people whose beliefs and practices are regarded as intolerable by those who preach the supreme importance of tolerance know no borders.
It is only with reluctance that I even comment on this stomach-turning video. But it seems to me that it must not be passed over in silence or ignored by Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the United States.
It is important for us not to avert our gaze from the fact that the vile and, it seems, ineradicable evil of hatred of Jews and Judaism continues to fester and is treated in some places as a respectable position or point of view. In the video, a Saudi cleric, one who evidently commands a significant following, slanders the Jewish people viciously, even to the point of reasserting the unspeakable lie that Jews use human blood in their religious ceremonies. The entire world should stand up and condemn this. Especially at a time of rising anti-Semitism even in Europe, where memories of the Holocaust among non-Jews seem to be fading.
The cleric in the video does not speak for Islam; and Christians, Jews, and others in the United States must not suppose that he does. His disgusting beliefs are not drawn from Islamic sources. He no doubt gets them from the same sewer Hitler drew them from. The vast majority of American Muslims are as appalled by his hatred and bigotry as the rest of us are. What we need is a united Christian-Jewish-Muslim witness against it. Ignoring it will not make it go away. It must be condemned by men and women of goodwill of every tradition of faith who share a sincere desire to honor God and observe his commandments.
Some conservatives, I’m one, recognize that there are people on the right whose conduct and rhetoric contribute to the poisoning of our political discourse, but believe that people on the left are much worse. Some liberals acknowledge that there are people on the left who contribute to the poisoning, but believe that folks on the right are much worse. I suppose it’s natural to have an exaggerated sense of the faults of one’s political opponents and a diminished sense of the faults of one’s allies.
We see a bit of this in a column by liberal writer Dana Milbank published by the Washington Post in the wake of the shooting of a Family Research Council employee by someone angry at the organization for its stand on marriage and sexual morality. But to his very great credit, Milbank pulls no punches in directly and sharply criticizing people and institutions on the liberal side for smearing as “bigots” and “haters” those who disagree with them.
In fact, Milbank goes so far as to say that “the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage, is right to say that the attack is the clearest sign we’ve seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as ‘hateful’ must end.” The entire piece is worth reading. Milbank’s central claim is sound. But beyond that, his making it displays impressive integrity. He surely knows that it will earn him a hefty share of the abusive rhetoric he rightly deplores.
Katrina Lantos Swett and I have published an op-ed piece in the Moscow Times on issues of religious freedom in Russia. Katrina is President of the Lantos Foundation (named for her late father, Congressman Tom Lantos) and chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, of which I am a member. I had the pleasure of nominating Katrina for the chairmanship. Friend of First Things Mary Ann Glendon is one of our two vice chairmen. Under Katrina’s leadership, the Commission is flourishing. The quality of cooperation across party lines (four of us are Republican-appointees, four are Democrats) is exemplary. We are also blessed with a superb professional staff, led by former Ambassador Jackie Wolcott. We have no jurisdiction to examine domestic religious freedom issues, but the Commission is working hard to ensure that U.S. foreign policy will give priority to supporting religious freedom and fighting religious oppression across the globe.
Speaking for myself, and not for the Commission or in my official capacity as a member, I would point out that domestic failures to respect religious liberty make it more difficult for us to promote religious liberty abroad. The first and most important way for the U.S. government to support religious freedom internationally is by honoring it at home.
This morning on Public Discourse, R.J. Snell of Eastern University offers a lovely and moving tribute to the late Sargent Shriver, who was, together with the late Robert P. Casey, among the last of the great pro-life liberal statesmen. Casey’s pro-life convictions and witness are widely known; Shriver’s less so. But, as R.J. shows, Shriver was a forceful and unabashed defender of the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions. And he deserves to be remembered and praised for that.
In the course of his tribute, R.J. gives some attention to a statement of pro-life conviction published at the behest of Casey and Shriver in the New York Times during the Democratic National Convention in July of1992 under the title “A New American Compact.”
Among the other signers were Eunice Kennedy Shriver, former Treasury Department Secretary William E. Simon, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Sidney Callahan, Mary Ann Glendon, Michael McConnell (who was then at the University of Chicago Law School), Jon Levenson (of Harvard Divinity School), James Kurth (of Swarthmore College), Rabbis David Novak and Marc Gellman, former New York Governor Hugh Carey, Leon Kass, Nat Hentoff, George Weigel, and Ron Sider—altogether, quite a collection of prominent liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats.
I know a bit of the background here because, together with my friend William C. Porth, I composed the original draft of the statement at Governor Casey’s request, and discussed it at length with the Governor and the Shrivers at two meetings at the Governor’s Mansion in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Their hope was to build a strong and enduring bipartisan pro-life coalition. They viewed the protection of innocent human life as a principle that should transcend the liberal-conservative divide and unite people of goodwill across party lines. They feared that respect for the sanctity of human life was becoming a partisan issue, and that pro-life liberals and Democrats would soon find themselves politically homeless. Of course, what they feared is what has in fact happened. There are no figures in the Democratic Party or the liberal movement today who fill the shoes of Governor Casey and Sargent Shriver. It is difficult to see how any such figure could rise to a position of leadership in the party or movement. And all of us are the poorer for it.
Kudos to those Democratic members of the House of Representatives who broke ranks with their party leadership to join the vast majority of Republican members in voting against late-term abortions. As for the seven or eight Republicans who joined Nancy Pelosi et al. in an effort to protect late-term abortions, the quicker they are defeated by pro-life Republicans in a primary or by pro-life Democrats in a general election, the happier I will be. (I know, I know, there are unusual circumstances in which support for a pro-abortion candidate even over a pro-life candidate is indicated in order to prevent control of the chamber from shifting from pro-life hands into pro-choice hands, but you get my point.)
It is, to me, a scandal that Republicans (fortunately, not many, and the number has diminished over the years) who would never dream of voting for a tax increase will support and protect the legal freedom to kill unborn children. Within bounds, questions of the proper level of taxation are essentially prudential in nature. That is not to say that they are unimportant. Nor is it to claim that questions of basic liberty and justice are never implicated in tax policy. But there is no more central or critical moral-political principle than the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family, and, corresponding to that principle, the right of every human being—irrespective of age, size, location, stage of development or condition of dependency—to the basic protection of the laws. That is a principle and a right that Republicans and Democrats alike should honor, however much they may (reasonably and responsibly) disagree on questions of taxation, economic and environmental policy, how best to fight poverty and promote upward social mobility, and prudential questions of every description. (Again, this is not to suggest that prudential questions are unimportant or do not often implicate issues of basic liberty and justice.)
Now, someone might ask: “Why condemn a few Republicans when the vast majority of Democrats have thoroughly embraced the abortion license and will defend it politically at almost any cost?” Well, yes. As an ex-Democrat, I’m appalled that the party to which I once gave my allegiance has thrown itself into the abortion abyss. When I was growing up in West Virginia, for me and my family, the Democratic Party was the “protector of the little guy.” Alas, that was a long time ago, and a very different Democratic Party. But now that I’m a member of the other party, I’ll leave it to my pro-life friends who’ve stayed in the Democratic Party to fight to turn around that enormous ocean liner. I wish them the very best. For my part, I want to make sure that the Republican Party beomes ever more fully and firmly the protector of (what the late Henry Hyde called) “the littlest guy of all.”