As a young convert I was very much intrigued by the ongoing discussion between Richard J. Neuhaus, George Weigel, Michael Novak and Fr. Robert Sirico — and their critics, ranging from David Schindler (editor of Communio) to Tracey Rowland and Alisdair MacIntyre. This has sometimes been described as a debate between ‘Catholic neocons’ and ‘Catholic paleocons’; ‘Whig-Thomists’ vs. ‘Augustinian Thomists’ (the latter by Tracey Roland in a famous two-part interview with Zenit).
The discussion was centered on such questions as:
What are the religious and philosophical foundations of the ‘The American Experiment’?
Is the liberal tradition (understood in the sense of democracy, human rights and the free market) a help or a hindrance to the life of the Church and evangelization?
Is capitalism and the free market compatible with Christian morality and the social teachings of the Catholic Church?
What is the proper role of religion in the public life of America today and how ought we to interpret the ‘separation of Church and State’?
What is the proper understanding of freedom, conscience and religious liberty in Catholic tradition?. . . in other words, the kinds of questions that we at American Catholic are largely preoccupied. To aid in my readings and research on this topic I started a website, “The Church and the Liberal Tradition” and a blog, “Religion and Liberty” which was largely active from 2003-2006.
One of my chief sparring partners online was David Jones, founder of the blog la nouvelle theologie. While my time of late has been preoccupied with readings in other subjects (and other pursuits), David has kept up with new developments in this ongoing discussion. Among them, the recent exchanges between Catholic-traditionalist-turned-libertarian Dr. Thomas Woods and his chief critics, Thomas Storck and Christopher Ferrara (of The Remnant)– about which David would like to offer the following remarks in a guest post:
Last week I wrote here about the firing of Dr. Kenneth Howell who had the audacity, in a class about the Catholicism, to actually state Catholic doctrine about homosexuality. There has been enough of a furor since that the University of Illinois is acting, according to this story in the Chicago Tribune:
A faculty group at the University of Illinois’ flagship campus will review the decision to fire an adjunct religion professor for saying he agreed with Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.
Urbana- Champaign campus Chancellor Robert Easter said Monday he hopes to have a decision on the firing of Kenneth Howell from the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure by the time fall classes start. The review is to determine whether Howell’s academic freedom was violated.
“We want to be able to reassure ourselves there was no infringement on academic freedom here,” new university President Michael Hogan told members of the Faculty Senate on Monday. “This is a very, very important, not to mention a touchy and sensitive, issue. Did this cross the line somehow?”
For the past few years I have been taking my Catholic school students over to the nearby Mosque, as part of their World Religions research. It has gone well, everyone is on their best behavior, and it gives the students a chance to hear about Islam from devout Muslims, in their own place of worship. I also have visited the Mosque and Islamic community during the time of my run for public office to speak and dialogue about issues where we would find some common ground. It has all been a very positive experience, but there is one large elephant in the room that must be paid attention to.
Occasionally one runs across a post that’s particularly nicely done. I think Matthew Boudway’s recent reflections on a column by Clifford Longley on the new atheists comes dangerously close to perfect. It’s brief, highlights an interesting article, and adds a thoughtful perspective that provides more depth to the article it cites. Here’s a snippet:
[In response to Richard Dawkins’s claim that it is wrong to “indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them,”]
“There is no such thing as value-free parenting,” Longley writes…Longley proposes this as an argument about parenting, but it is hard to see why it wouldn’t also apply to education. If the argument doesn’t apply to education, why doesn’t it? If it does — and if it is a good argument — then people of faith have a compelling reason not to send their children to schools where the subject of religion qua religion is carefully avoided. One could, I suppose, argue that the tacit message of such schools is that religion is too important to get mixed up with the tedious but necessary stuff of primary education, but of course public schools approach important matters all the time, and cannot avoid doing so.
Several weeks ago there was a rather unpleasant exchange in First Things, between Marci Hamilton of the Cardozo School of Law, and Martin and Melissa Nussbaum of the Diocese of Colorado. Ms. Hamilton supports lifting the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims, while the Nussbaums are decidedly against the idea. There are reasonable arguments on both sides, and, in this particular discussion, unreasonable arguments on both sides. But I think removing the statute of limitations, as Ms. Hamilton proposes, is likely to provide little benefit in terms of deterring abuse, and myriad opportunities for malicious or frivolous litigation. Furthermore, Ms. Hamilton’s professed concern for children has been rather morbidly focused on the Catholic Church rather than, for instance, public schools, where abuse problems are far more rampant.
I thought at the time I read the exchange that Ms. Hamilton’s name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. And then I remembered: Ms. Hamilton was the author of a rather incautiously written book entitled God v. the Gavel, in which she made a case against many traditional religious liberties (noticing a theme in her oeuvre?). I say incautiously because the book contained enough errors and sloppy argumentation to elicit a legendarily harsh book review from Douglas Laycock, one of the field’s most distinguished scholars. The whole review is worth reading if the topic is of interest to you (or if, like me, you enjoy reading rigorous criticism), but here is the conclusion: