Robert George

The Wile E. Coyote of Liberal Catholic Pundits

 

 

Among the born again ultramontanists so much in fashion on the Catholic Left in this country since the advent of Pope Francis, is Michael Winters of the National Catholic Fishwrap Reporter.  Robert George has designated him the Wile E. Coyote of contemporary liberal Catholicism in a root and branch take down at First Things:

For reasons I cannot fathom, Michael Winters of the National Catholic Reporter seems determined to cast himself as the Wile E. Coyote of contemporary liberal Catholicism. His elaborate efforts to capture his prey—his roadrunners are those “culture warrior” bishops (such as Charles Chaput of Philadelphia) and Catholic intellectuals who are too zealous for his taste in defending the Church’s teachings on life, marriage, and sexual morality—inevitably backfire, usually comically and sometimes humiliatingly. But he intrepidly keeps at it, hoping against hope, I suppose, that his next effort will finally bring success.

Earlier this week, I was the roadrunner, as from time to time I am. I had offered four points to bear in mind about the teaching authority of the papal magisterium as we await the encyclical letter Pope Francis is preparing on our moral obligations concerning the natural environment. They were drawn from the teaching of the Church herself (in Lumen Gentium and the Catechism) about magisterial authority. But Wile E. Coyote perceived in my stating them a nefarious purpose:

Professor George . . . set[s] out a nearly pitch-perfect set of talking points for minimizing the impact of whatever it is the Holy Father will say, that is, advancing his own conservative political agenda.

And, he thinks, he can prove it!

He quotes this sentence from my post:

The pope has no special knowledge, insight, or teaching authority pertaining to matters of empirical fact of the sort investigated by, for example, physicists and biologists, nor do popes claim such knowledge, insight, or authority.

Now anyone who knows anything about Catholic teaching on papal authority knows that this proposition is, not to put too fine a point on it, undeniable. If the pope wants to know whether it is going to rain tomorrow, he has no hotline to the Holy Spirit on the subject. Weather patterns are (to hew closer to the Church’s understanding of its authority) no part of the deposit of faith, complete at the death of the last Apostle, which the Pope and the bishops with him are protected from error in formally defining and clarifying over time. When it comes to meteorology, the pope has to do what you and I and everyone else must do: Consult the meteorologists. 

But Wile E. Coyote nevertheless thinks he’s finally got the prey in his grip. So he goes for it.

The sentence, he labors to explain, “suffers from several difficulties. First, the pope does have knowledge that you and I do not have, and that I suspect Professor George does not have: He listens to the bishops throughout the world and knows what concerns they have regarding the environment and other matters of moral concern.”

Let’s hit the pause button for a chuckle. I had pointed out that popes have no special knowledge regarding matters of empirical fact of the sort investigated by natural scientists. Mr. Winters tries to contest the point by saying that popes “listen to the bishops throughout the world and know what concerns they have regarding the environment and other matters of moral concern.” Thus does Wile E. Coyote’s explosive go off in his hand. Continue reading

Lincoln and Under God

As readers of this blog know, History is quite important to me.  Nothing makes my blood boil quicker than the misuse of the historical record in order to fight current political and cultural battles.  The latest issue of the magazine First Things has an article by Robert George entitled God and Gettysburg which explores such a misuse.

George relates how a pamphlet has been issued by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a liberal group, which contains the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address.  Perusing the pamphlet, George noticed that the phrase “under God” was omitted from the Gettysburg Address.

When, from 2000 to 2004, the atheist Michael Newdow was challenging in court the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, he and his supporters pointed out that the words were not in the original pledge created in the 1920s. They were added by Congress in the 1950s in the midst of the Cold War, in response to a campaign led by the Catholic men’s organization the Knights of Columbus. The words were introduced into the pledge to highlight the profound difference between the United States, whose political system is founded on the theistic proposition that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and the atheistic premises of Soviet Marxism.

Newdow has cycled back into the news in recent months with a new case that was appealed to the Supreme Court in March 2010, but what he and his supporters have avoided mentioning is that the pledge’s words under God were not pulled from a sermon by Billy Graham or a papal encyclical. They were taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The pledge, as amended, simply quotes one of our nation’s founding texts.

This fact is more than a little inconvenient for those who hold that government must be neutral not only among competing traditions of religious faith, but between religion and atheism—or, as it is sometimes put, “between religion and irreligion.” The constitutional basis for their claim is the Religion Clause of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Their evidence for the claim that these words were intended to forbid such things as descriptions of America as a nation “under God” in official government documents is that the founders (allegedly) sought this “strict separation” of church and state.

But this puts the American Constitution Society in a sticky position. In assembling their pamphlet, they were eager to include Lincoln as a founder—the author of one of America’s founding documents, the Gettysburg Address. But the Great Emancipator’s characterization of the United States as a nation under God appears to undermine the strict separationism that the American Constitution Society wishes to promote. What to do?

The answer they hit on was simply to make Lincoln’s inconvenient words disappear. Now you are thinking: How did they imagine they could get away with it? The Gettysburg Address is the opposite of an obscure document. Millions of Americans can recite it by heart. Continue reading

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