Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Religious Freedom

Matthew Schmitz is right that we should focus less on the need for a universal tolerance and more on what sort of vision of the good life ought to be pursued among the tolerated (“Limits of Religious Freedom,” March). But my reason for believing this is near opposite to Schmitz’s: Not religious truth, but modern freedom, is at risk if it is shortchanged amid the private absolutism of parents imposing faith on children and the public tilt of our time toward perverse libertarianism, especially an economic liberty detrimental to freedom and justice alike.

Schmitz doesn’t want Christians to speak up for Black Masses and unpatriotic picketers. Fair enough. But he fails to explain what it would mean to apply his skepticism of neutrality to the state, or why some kind of freedom to err in some ways some of the time is not part of the common good itself—perhaps a big part. Skepticism that religious freedom could or should protect everyone hardly leads to permitting only one preferred belief on the grounds that “error has no rights.” If Jesus preached one true faith, it was for sinners, not the righteous too sure of themselves. And not even the most ardent defenders of religious freedom really disagree that their principle has some limits. A certain amount of sloppy rhetoric aside, the controversy is about what those limits are, and especially about which institutions and practices get protected—and from what public norms. By itself, the observation that invocations of religious freedom are generally connected to some vision of the good life is not of great help in that controversy.

Schmitz is also right to see a convergence between historic Roman Catholic (and generally right-wing) anxieties about the principle and recent reconsiderations of it from (generally left-wing) scholarly critics. But this convergence could just mean that both need to clarify better and convince others what follows from their skepticism. If they did, the strange bedfellowship that Schmitz ­accurately describes would not last very long.

Samuel Moyn
yale law school
new haven, connecticut

Matthew Schmitz responds:

Samuel Moyn, who has made one of the most incisive contributions to the recent literature on the limits of religious freedom, is right to suggest that advancing the common good requires tolerance for human error and frailty. I am less sure about his suggestion that parents who raise their children in their faith are “imposing” religion upon them. The practice of ritual circumcision is perhaps the most eloquent and vivid reminder that each of us is inevitably shaped by his forebears and born into a community. Speaking as if it could be otherwise seems to concede too much to a libertarian rhetoric that Moyn rightly deplores.

Secular Celibacy

Andrew Taggart’s “Secular Monks” (March) provides a revealing glimpse into the celibate lives of men like Jack Dorsey, cofounder and CEO of Twitter, whose drive for self-optimization “leaves no room for marriage and parenthood.”

As a Catholic priest who has written on the topic of celibacy, I find much to admire in Dorsey’s discipline. This should come as no surprise: Christians have long admired the virtues of nonbelievers. Later in that same March issue, in fact, R. R. Reno reminds us that St. Augustine commends the virtues of Rome to his Christian readers. “We may profit from the kindness of the Lord our God,” Augustine writes, “by considering what great things those Romans despised, what they endured, and what lusts they subdued.” Reno observes that the self-sacrifice of pagan Romans was an inspiration to Christians called to something greater than the earthly glory of Rome. “­Augustine does not deride the full measure of sacrifice that the Romans offered for their city,” Reno says, “rather, he holds it up as a mirror for Christians.”

There is something impressive, then, in the self-restraint of “secular monks.” All the same, I confess that I find their celibacy tragic. What saddens me is not their secularity. Many, after all, refrain from marriage for nonreligious reasons: to take care of aging parents, to teach the young, or to defend one’s family and home. What’s tragic about these “secular monks” is not their secularity, but their absence of any intention to serve others.

Dorsey’s morning routine of ice baths and “juice made from Himalayan sea salt” therefore evokes in me rather more pity than praise. Celibacy can be used for the greater glory of Twitter and Square, but it was never meant to be. It is meant for so much more. Celibacy is meant to open us up to others, not to close ourselves off. Catholic priests are not celibate in order to avoid the inconveniences or the responsibilities of family life; we are celibate in order to embrace God in a radical new way and to serve his people with greater fruitfulness and generosity.

Celibacy unmoored from love is an empty husk, a sure path to isolation and self-absorption. Taggart even concludes his article with the provocative assertion that the Book of Genesis has it wrong, that it is “good for a man to be alone.” But we know that is not true. We are made for love, and love is never alone.

“Secular monks” are living proof that human beings are capable of making tremendous sacrifices even for comparatively meager goods, which is a silent challenge to every Christian. If these men are willing to sacrifice so much for so little, how much more ought we be willing to sacrifice for the greatest Good of all?

Fr. Carter Griffin
st. john paul ii seminary
washington, d.c.

Andrew Taggart responds:

I’m grateful to Fr. Carter Griffin for his intelligent and poignant letter. While he admires the discipline of secular monks, he nonetheless finds “their absence of any intention to serve others” tragic. I agree. But how, in the first place, did this ­tragedy—the birth of secular monks—ever occur?

Liberalism and humanism provide us with the first clues to answering this question. As Patrick Deneen has argued in these pages, liberalism binds the fate of possessive i­ndividualism to the hegemony of the nation-state. Meanwhile, humanism, insisting that “man is the measure of all things,” expands with imperial force.

Yet what made possible the emergence of liberalism and humanism? In The Cosmotheandric Experience, the late Raimon Panikkar suggests that the passage to modernity coincides with the loss of a cosmic and a theocentric vision of reality: An ordered, organized, meaningful whole and divinity both wane. Only in this vacuum could liberalism and humanism begin to enter, and soon dominate, the modern scene.

Secular monks, then, are possessive individuals for whom, as Paul Tillich would have said, matters of provisional concern have come to masquerade as matters of ultimate concern. They engage in spiritual practices without adhering to the traditions from which they come. And they take for granted that their task is to work on themselves as they work on the world. Self- and world-amelioration are all we have. All this, indeed, would be idolatry were it not the case that, to them, such mundane concerns have come to seem as though they were the only game in town. And for many others besides.

Griffin concludes, “Celibacy unmoored from love is an empty husk, a sure path to isolation and self-­absorption.” It is indeed: and is this not the endgame of secular monasticism? As St. Benedict urges, “Incline the ear of the heart.” Before there can be love, the ear of the heart, listing and listening, must be opened and inclined to what is beyond itself.


There is much in Michael Hanby’s “For and Against Integralism” (March) that I like, especially his reminder that because “political philosophy is never really first philosophy . . . there is ultimately no ‘non-­integralist’ position.” Integralism, at the three-sentence level of generality, is a doctrine so blinkeringly obvious that it doesn’t even deserve a special name. We call it Christianity.

There are also things in the essay with which I respectfully disagree, like Hanby’s apparent fatalism about modernity, or his suggestion that the Church deals only in “authority,” and not also in “power.” One wonders, on this view, what precisely the Church as a political body does—as well as what to do with the counter­evidence of the New Testament and all of Church history, which seem quite convinced of both the authority and the power of Holy Mother Church in directing man to his final end, immediately in spiritual matters and mediately in temporal ones.

But there is one argument in the essay that appalled me: that Pater ­Edmund Waldstein, of all men, leaves the practical order untouched by the speculative, and this because he reduces the speculative to the merely definitional. This claim is absurd. Pater Edmund is a Cistercian monk who spends his life contemplating the truth, and sharing the fruits of that contemplation with his confreres, parishioners, and students. Nor could Pater be accused of being just another Thomistic manualist. (He just defended a dissertation on ­David Foster Wallace, which is not precisely the modus operandi of a nerdy ­neo-scholastic). In his online writings alone, even leaving aside the pieces on integralism, Pater has done more work to deepen our understanding of the deposit of faith than anyone else his age I know of today.

But perhaps there’s the rub: At one point, Hanby seems even to denigrate the deposit of faith itself, giving the impression that such a conception of revelation is antiquated and insufficient, when he complains that “the traditionalist right falsely exalts eternity by taking refuge in an atemporal system of thought.” If I am reading him correctly, Hanby seems to imagine that revelation were rather a kind of dynamic process that could never be completed at all. On such a modernist view, we would speculate theologically not by studying and expounding what God has revealed perfectly and completely in the Incarnation of his Son, and in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the apostles at the foundation of the Church. Speculation, instead, would be some sort of personal participation in the ­continuation of revelation as a progressive and interminable process.

If that is what Hanby means by the speculative, then I guess Waldstein is guilty as charged for neglecting it. But it is not what the Catholic tradition means either by speculation or by revelation (cf. Dei Verbum and the Catechism of the Catholic Church), so that is no problem for Pater Edmund or his brand of integralism. I hope I am misreading Hanby, and that it is no problem for him either.

Urban Hannon
washington, d.c.

Michael Hanby introduces the debate between the integralists and the anti-integralists with a tender concern that both sides turn their eyes to Christ. His main thesis—that these two camps lack a theological, metaphysical, and natural philosophical argument for their positions—is convincing.

Adrian Vermeule, who is himself a thoughtful and patient man (let those who only read his Twitter punditry take note), said to me a few years ago that Islam has the right model but the wrong religion. In other words, the Islamic integration of powerful mosque and powerful state is what is needed for Christianity. This is the basic idea that those at Josias explicate.

But then how would Christianity be different from Islam, metaphysically speaking? The form of an institution bespeaks its end. A chair is designed in such a way as to enable one to sit—but what about an integral state, as conceived of as above? Islam was the first major empire to design a codified legal system that incorporated specific religious requirements. The ubiquity of the state was unique. But whereas adherence to the divine law is a Muslim’s theological end, participation with the Divine is a Christian’s; one is merely rigid obedience while the other is free and endless self-giving. A difference in supernatural ends necessitates a difference in the structure of those societies, which would subordinate the temporal order to them.

What is lacking on both sides of the integralist debate is a critique of the form of liberalism, which conceives of the good polity as a sovereign’s rule over a people subject to his will. By and large, integralists would simply substitute Christian players for the non-Christian players at the top of the liberal social order. Their protest amounts to a Christian coup d’état. As Hanby puts it, in this vision, “The Church’s magisterium assumes power but does not transform it.”

Hanby has great sympathy for the errant. Who could claim to easily see beyond liberalism’s frame, which renders the Church one more political player in a violent competition for sovereignty? But Christianity makes a difference. As Andrew Willard Jones puts it, this difference is the end of sovereignty. The Christian order Jones describes is a world in which sovereignty belongs to God alone, and political authority, derived from him, is distributed according to reason and custom, without ever seeking to usurp the divine attribute for itself. Beyond American throne-and-altar fantasies, Christians have the ability to reimagine the world without this presumption of a battle for sovereignty: Businesses that do not take competition as their code; neighborhoods that enforce their own customary behavior without reference to the State; a refusal to rely on civil courts and police forces to keep the peace between Christians; friendships ordered toward maintaining the faith.

The form must meet the function, and a Christian politique must be docile to the mystique that Hanby addresses. Greater distinctions certainly do need to be made by both parties and the proper end—the beatific ­vision—must always be kept in mind while making them.

Jacob Imam
oxford, united kingdom

While Michael Hanby rightly points out that integralism is merely a “city in speech,” I believe his “city within the soul” will fail to properly integrate the speculative and the practical unless supplemented by a third “city”—the city of God, manifest in the practices of the Church.

Hanby ably shows that integralist theorists share modernity’s lack of “mystical vision,” offering potestas without auctoritas, statecraft without soulcraft, the practical without the speculative. Yet his concluding paragraphs risk an opposite error: Rather than praxis insufficiently normed by speculative truth, he offers speculative soulcraft floating free of community and praxis, a “mystical vision” in search of a politics.

Hanby insists on the necessity of “living, public, and institutional” limitation on political power via recognition of the Church’s authority, but he ultimately deems “a truly integral Catholic order” impossible today, a mere “city in speech.” With this ideal gone beyond recall, Hanby does not offer an alternative politics, but turns his focus to the realm of speculative truth transcending politics, the construction of the “city within the soul.”

Hanby claims that his paradigm, the Republic’s philosopher-king, is a “political figure,” through the mediation of truth. Yet the “philosopher-king” performed this role at the head of the polis described in the “city in speech.” Without a city to rule, such an individual is just a philosopher or solitary contemplative. Hanby’s “mystical vision” lacks political embodiment, but no metaphysic can resist modernity without being sustained by a community with alternative social practices.

Augustine provides a means of linking speculation to practice that does not require state recognition or the quixotic integralist takeover of the secular city—a third city not “in speech” or merely “within the soul,” but incarnate in the political practices of a countercultural community. He proposes not a temporary Benedict Option, withdrawn from the world, but the City of God permanently on pilgrimage in the world. The distinctive sacramental, social, and economic practices the Church receives from Christ—Eucharist, forgiveness, preference for the poor—create a new form of solidarity, making her the primary locus of Catholic political existence. Only thus do Catholics learn to “see” what modernity cannot.

The speculative and the practical cannot be separated. The “mystical vision” Hanby astutely identifies as ­lacking in both modernity and integralist theory cannot be found “within the soul” unless practiced by a Body. The response to modernity cannot be something that transcends politics, but must be another sort of politics.

Elsewhere, Hanby has written clearly about this countercultural witness and “genuine Augustinian imagination,” noting that Christians “identify themselves as citizens of that other city.” Concretely, in the context of American imperium, he calls the Church to resist “the urge to bless each new war as just” and uncouple its liturgy from that of the military. This witness, this “mystical vision” that sees empire for what it is, presupposes that Church leaders and parishioners are well-formed in an alternate politics, so habituated by distinctive ecclesial practices that they can avoid being co-opted by the institutions of modernity.

Only then, with “the political” ecclesially redefined by the Church’s very existence, can we be freed from obsessive focus on the establishment of “a truly integral Catholic order” at the level of the nation-state. For, gloomy genealogies aside, ­modernity does not present a qualitatively ­different political challenge than the Church has always faced: not the subordination of the temporal to the spiritual, but the witness that is the life of an alternate city in the midst of an order that is passing away.

Timothy Troutner
south bend, indiana

I fully agree with Michael Hanby’s “For and Against Integralism” insofar as it is for integralism: that is, so long as it is for the primacy of Truth speaking himself in creation, the primacy of Goodness drawing all to himself, and therefore the primacy of the speculative—the contemplation of God. This is the “primacy of the spiritual” upheld by integralism.

Hanby’s essay is, however, also against integralism, because he thinks that contemporary integralists do not fully understand the primacy of truth, goodness, and the speculative. Here Hanby errs because of an incomplete understanding of the nature of authority.

Hanby makes much of St. Gelasius’s distinction between authority (auctoritas) and power (potestas). He sees authority as compelling only intrinsically by evoking recognition of the true and love of the good, whereas power compels extrinsically by physical force. But Hanby does not grasp in its entirety the way in which the Gelasian teaching relates authority and power.

Authority is a source or principle by causality (natural authority), by leading the mind to the truth (intellectual authority), or by leading through commands (moral authority). Only persons can be subjects of authority, because only persons can recognize the source of their being and be led to the recognition of the true and the voluntary love of the good. Authority appeals to the interior of the person.

Nevertheless, the tradition teaches that external force is necessary for fallen man as an instrument to bring the person’s attention to the internal evidence of authority. Hence a teacher leads his students to the truth through the internal evidence of the true, yet he also imposes external sanctions so that the students will do the reading and actually confront that evidence. An abbot leads his monks to love by the intrinsic attraction of the good; nevertheless, he also has the power of punishment to correct bad habits that impede the desire for the good.

“Today’s integralist thought risks degenerating into a conservative Catholic form of Hobbesian power politics,” Hanby warns. But as ­Thomas Pink has shown, Hobbes’s understanding of coercive power as brute force is the very opposite of the integralist understanding of power as an instrument of authority. For Hobbes, there is no spiritual truth or objective goodness. Hence there can be no evidence of the true or attraction of the good to which coercion could direct one. Therefore, the use of external force in the service of ­spiritual ends is useless. But for the integralists, the very opposite is the case: Precisely because of the glory that shines from the truth and goodness of God, a moderate use of power is an aid to authority. “For whom the Lord loves he disciplines, and he whips every son whom he acknowledges” (Heb. 12:6).

Fr. Edmund Waldstein, O. Cist.
gaaden, austria

Michael Hanby responds:

I am grateful to all those who took the time to respond thoughtfully to my article. In a world where cleverness is rapidly replacing thought and Twitter routinely gives great numbers of people permission not to think, this is refreshing. I regret that I cannot here reply with the length and detail their efforts deserve.

I appreciate the generous words of Jacob Imam and the supplement by Timothy Troutner. Nothing of the distinctive sacramental, social, and economic practices Imam insists upon are excluded by my article. All are taking place now, and yet the fact that we find ourselves in an age of increasingly “irreligious” Christianity indicates that there is something “qualitatively different” about modernity. That he only sees this “difference” as a “political challenge” suggests that I failed to explain what I meant in calling modernity a “mystical disaster,” which might have prevented a second misunderstanding. My claim is not that the “city within the soul” adequately integrates the “speculative and the practical.” It is rather that this is what “integralism” must be in an age that systematically conspires in every sphere of life to make this integration impossible.

Urban Hannon will be relieved to know that I hold nothing like the progressive doctrine of revelation he hypothetically attributes to me. But the all-at-once revelation of God in the mystery of the Incarnation surely does not relieve us of the burden of real thinking, and thinking is not merely intellectual archaeology or the repetition of traditional formulations “once more, with feeling.” It is not a denigration of Pater Waldstein’s vocation and thought, both of which I greatly admire and respect, to suggest areas where his thinking seems to be lacking in the face of the enormous intellectual challenge confronting the Church in the modern world.

Indeed, I take the response of Waldstein and other integralists as confirmation of my thesis. When I wrote, “Authority possesses no extrinsic force; it can compel only intrinsically, by evoking recognition and love, by eliciting the willing surrender to its evidence,” I was not speaking of auctoritas, a category that transcends its political or ecclesial meaning, principally as office or in terms of its “operations.” Rather I was referring to that which differentiates it essentially from potestas, and especially the modern reduction of power to force that entails no intrinsic reference to goodness or truth for its nature or efficacy. Waldstein, thinking he’s correcting me, gives some indication of my meaning in his letter, which I take to be identical to Dignitatis Humanae 1: “Truth cannot impose itself on the mind of man only in virtue of its own truth, which wins over the mind with both gentleness and power.” Being made to do what is true and good is not the same thing as recognizing them as such, however necessary the former might sometimes be. But wherever authority is in any way recognized, even in the potestas that acts on its behalf, this willing self-surrender to its intrinsic evidence will be found already to have taken place.

This distinction between authority and power does not necessitate their absolute separation at the level of operations, and nowhere do I exclude in principle the use of temporal power for the spiritual good of individual persons or the political community, as the integralists all seem to think. One needn’t cite Aquinas or other authorities to explain this teaching. Every father already knows it. But it would be strange and indeed perverse if I defined the essence of fatherhood by my power to coerce my children and dangerous if my exercise of this power were not informed top to bottom by my love for my children and their flourishing. This is partly what I meant in saying that today’s integralism risks becoming a form of Catholic Hobbesian power politics that doesn’t recognize itself. That integralists seem much more concerned with securing the Church’s right to the use of force than with how the truth of God might temper, qualify, inform, or transform the meaning of the force they seem so eager to use, suggests that this is a danger from which they are not immune.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift