May 30, 2006

Conservative Billy

John Miller has added another 50 to his list of conservative pop/rock songs. In the second set, he includes Billy Joel's "Angry Young Man," but if we're going to allow Billy into the mix, a long-time fan would be remiss in not pointing the way to "Vienna" — one of the best and, not coincidentally, most temperamentally conservative songs ever written. The music, of course, complements, but the lyrics speak to the conservative soul.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:21 PM

May 29, 2006

Rauch Should Know Better

Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of contemporary discourse emerges when one gets the feeling that others really aren't interested in coming to an objectively correct conclusion — merely in promoting their own causes. I suppose it may sound naive to lament such a thing, but it's difficult not to shake one's head when somebody seemingly interested in honest consideration and compromise betrays a disinterest in understanding the other side. Consider this from Jon Rauch:

Two questions for anti-gay-marriage, anti-abortion Republicans: If states can be allowed to go their own way in defining human life, why not allow them to go their own way in defining marriage? Where constitutional amendments are concerned, why is preventing gay couples from marrying so much more urgent than preventing unborn children from being killed?

Do you really need these questions answered for you, Jon, or would a five minute delay in your publication deadline provide the time to think it through? Well, for the benefit of passing readers, I'll take the five minutes:

  • Qualitative difference. Respecting question one, the key legal difference between marriage and death ought to be obvious: one creates a continuous legal relationship defining the people involved that must be addressed in many of their public dealings throughout their lives, while the other is a finite act that needn't be addressed, from a public perspective, in the future (until such time, of course, as we decide that there ought to be a punishment for it).
  • Political difference. In some ways, the push for a marriage amendment indicates a lesson learned on the abortion issue. It is the sort of preemptive action that pro-lifers wish had been taken back before so many of the nation's citizens had become complicit in murder. Same-sex marriage would not be tantamount to murder, of course, but it would surely be prohibitively difficult to remedy the situation, even with evidence of social harm, once such marriages exist.
  • Judicial difference. The judiciary has already penned its own constitutional amendment in the case of abortion. It has yet to do the same, in such a sweeping way, in the case of marriage, but it will, we all know it will, and it is difficult not to suspect that such commentators as Rauch seek merely to delay action until it does so.
Posted by Justin Katz at 9:11 AM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

May 27, 2006

The Philosophical Merry-Go-Round

"Merry-go-round" is an interesting term, almost like an advertising slogan: "This go-round will maketh you merry." In a more perfect world (e.g., one in which I could make my living thinking and writing), I'd chase the word's etymology around in its circle. A merry-go-round may also be called a "carousel" — once, a "playful tournament of knights in chariots or on horseback" — which is surely related (via French) to "carousal," or "carouse" — noun: "a drunken revel"; verb: "to drink liquor deeply or freely." It seems to me that much is presumed in calling such a ride a "merry-go-round"; some people might be more inclined to call them "sickening-go-rounds," a difference of opinion that can be carried through the language to the experience of carousing.

I began down this linguistic path because I don't know what Neil Sinhababu is talking about when he writes:

I throw out the beliefs formed by having some emotionally-driven attitude towards a state of affairs, and thus coming to believe that there's some objective goodness or badness out there in that state of affairs. All that's left is the goodness of pleasure and the badness of displeasure, which can be discovered without any emotions standing between us and our pleasure or displeasure. ... So the objective goodness of pleasure and the objective badness of displeasure are all we can know of objective goodness and badness.

How does one separate emotion from sensation in this way? If I find the sensation of a carousel pleasant, it will make me merry; if I find it unpleasant, it will make me unhappy. In the other direction, if I've some emotional reason to dislike carousels — say, for example, a resurgence of the fear that I felt as a child watching "Something Wicked This Way Comes" or of the alienation that comes to an emotional head at the end of "Catcher in the Rye — then I'll find the sensation, or the collection of sensations, to be unpleasant. If the absence of emotion is the determinant of objectivity, therefore, the impossibility of teasing apart one's experience of a merry-go-round into sensation and emotion would foil attempts to determine the objective goodness of the ride. Sinhababu claims that I can know that my "sensations of black are sensations of darkness," but what if black evokes comfort?

If you've similar online reading habits to mine, you'll know that Sinhababu makes these claims in the service of an argument against Matthew Yglesias's moral relativism (expressed here and here), so don't conclude that my disagreement with Sinhababu implies agreement with Yglesias. I agree with Sinhababu 's larger argument that we cannot "throw out the idea that there are objective facts somewhere, just because people keep forming their beliefs in wacky ways, or because there's a lot of disagreement, or because everyone is fighting over stuff." However, the seeds of his argument's defeat are sown into its assumptions, a fact that juts out particularly with his interjection of "sadly" here: "Emotional judgments from gut feelings, sadly, play an outsized role in determining many ordinary people's beliefs on issues where there are objective right and wrong answers."

Sinhababu would agree with me, I'm sure, that the reality of physical truths does not mean that there are no non-physical, or moral, truths. He might even agree with me that the existence of physical truth implies the existence of moral truths, inasmuch as both involve types of knowledge and proof of objectivity for one suggests the possibility of objectivity in the other. However, arguing on behalf of moral truths — "goodness and badness" — by teasing apart sensation and emotion and by invoking pleasure, places him in the position, if not of testifying for hedonism, of ceding the fundamental assumption of relativism: that emotions and preferences — the essentials of "self" — are fundamentally physical phenomena with no deeper significance than the physical circumstances that caused them.

The danger of this concession is evident in the very first comment to Sinhababu's post:

Some argue that a world without objective moral truths is unworkable. This is easy to sell because it conforms to common assumptions, but it doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. As Matt argued, you wouldn't be able to tell a world with objective moral truths apart from a world without.

How does the commenter know that "you wouldn't be able to tell a world with objective moral truths apart from a world without"? Only by believing that moral truths don't act in — or constrain — the world in the same way that physical truths do. I might as well assert that you wouldn't be able to tell a world with the truth of gravity apart from a world without it.

And this brings the conversation back to Yglesias:

The interesting point came, I think, in Jonah's second post wondering, "How are you going to convince others, to pick a nice progressive example, that gay marriage is a moral imperative or that torture is wrong without an appeal to conscience?" To me, this is just the point. Jonah's witnessed me engage in arguments with moral aspects in the past, and, indeed, we've debated various issues from time to time. There's no point in an actual moral conversation where adding "and my views are objectively correct!" adds anything to what's happening. Obviously, appeals to conscience are a part of argument. Equally obviously, conscience exists -- people feel guilty sometimes and have the capacity to empathize and people take advantage of these traits when arguing. I might say to someone, "Well, look, how would you feel if you were being told you couldn't marry your lover, that your relationship was going to be permanently relegated to second-class status, all because, hypothetically, recognizing the legitimacy of your love might lead to a decline in heterosexual marriage rates at some time in the future?"

That sort of thing is a classic of moral discourse, but obviously it doesn't "prove" anything. And that's generally how these things go. When you argue with people, you try to appeal to shared sentiments, point out alleged inconsistencies in the other guy's position, and so on and so forth. What underlies the possibility of discussion isn't objective moral truth but the fact that, say, Jonah and I have a vast stockpile of things we agree about and one tries to resolve controversies with appeals to stuff in that store of previous agreement.

Yglesias skirts the question of what it means for moral principles to be objectively correct, which is that acting in contravention of them will have undesirable consequences. It only adds nothing to claim "objective correctness" if that is where the explanation ends. If we explain how our moral view will objectively lead to a state of affairs from which our shared conscience shrinks, then we can advance the conversation toward moral truth. Turn Yglesias's example back on itself: how would a homosexual feel if our entire society were to collapse because countless children had been deprived of the stable mother-father homes that traditional marriage had previously fortified, all because he or she wanted a government stamp on his or her relationship?

Ultimately, we agree on matters of goodness and badness, on morality. We mainly disagree on the terms through which it is all considered. Even head-sawing Islamists (to use another of Yglesias's examples) would likely claim to be appalled at killing for the sheer pleasure of it, or even killing for no reason whatsoever. What they disagree about are the terms in which their own killings are performed and the consequences that they have for themselves and, indeed, the entire world.

There's a point at which all of these arguments collapse into inexpressibles of faith, of course. One can create imaginary figures to carry the torch of believing in pure selfish evil (e.g., that a private whim is worth global destruction). One can reject without consideration the factual arguments of others or attempt to redefine "good" so as to deny progression toward the worldly decay that is evil's indication. But to push the argument too deeply into abstractions of what people or cultures could conceivably believe is, again, to imagine a world in which belief is purely an illusion.

It is also, as Jonah Goldberg suggests, to leave one's self open to just accusations of inconsistency, or worse. And one of its consequences is the undermining of the moral certainty that is ultimately crucial toward moral — and physical — survival.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:11 PM

May 24, 2006

Another Too-Perfect Letter

Not to troll the Providence Journal letters section for material, but this offering from Vance Morgan — philosophy department chair at the ostensibly Catholic Providence College — is just too perfect to pass up:

Dawn Cousineau, one of the Catholic faithful protesting The Da Vinci Code, was quoted in a May 19 news story ("Da Vinci Code draws small protest") as saying that the movie is "a Christ-bashing film."

At the heart of the book and the movie is the hypothesis that Jesus fathered a daughter with his wife, Mary Magdalene. The book and movie are entertaining fiction, hardly substantial enough to challenge someone serious about his or her Christian faith.

But I'm wondering which is more offensive to Ms. Cousineau's belief system: marriage or parenthood?

Ah, how clever of Professor Vance! It must take multiple degrees to hone one's ability to leverage a deliberately superficial misunderstanding as an expression of contempt. As if to say: "Nobody's insulting you, you ignorant papist."

One can only hope that the "Da Vinci Code as family-values film" spin dies with this edition of the Journal.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:49 AM | Comments (2)

May 23, 2006

The Facts of Life

An excellent summary by Bernard Lefoley in the Providence Journal:

That a human embryo is a human being is a self-evident and scientific fact. Human beings procreate human beings. A human embryo has the same human DNA for the rest of his or her life on the face of this earth. The only thing the human embryo needs that it does not contain within itself is nutrition and sustenance. The reason the human embryo implants itself in the wall of the uterus is to get those.

The question of whether an embryo or fetus is a "person" who comes under the protection of the law is a legal and constitutional issue. Since the human embryo is a human being, it should automatically be a person protected under the Rhode Island and U.S. constitutions. Any legal system that does not endow all human beings with the inalienable right to life and does not protect that right is evil.

I continue to believe that the greatest impediment to protection of the unborn is the subconscious realization of too many in our society that they have either engaged in or facilitated evil. The heat with which people respond to intellectual arguments against abortion always make me wonder whose culpability they are trying to whitewash.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:56 AM | Comments (2)

May 19, 2006

For Love of Writing

I gotta say that this line from the Washington Post review of The Da Vinci Code is fabulous:

The most controversial thriller of the year turns out to be about as exciting as watching your parents play Sudoku.

It (the line) seems, at first, to be one of those that writers keep in reserve for really SIGNIFICANT pieces. On further analysis, the reference to the pop-culture "logic" puzzle is perfect.

I've been wondering, over the past few weeks, why the film's marketers would sell the controversy so hard but not grant any early review screenings. Now we know.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:26 PM

May 15, 2006

Fighting the "Urge"

Isn't it just too perfect that MTV's product challenger to the iPod would be called the "Urge"? Apparently, the company will offer a pricing structure with increasingly deep discounts as the content approaches pornography.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:56 PM

May 14, 2006

Religious Leaders Fly Right Past Shocking to Chilling

If you've still any doubt that support for same-sex marriage is linked — causally or not — with vast changes to traditional religious beliefs, consider:

  • Episcopalian Bishop Gene V. Robinson: "I'm not sure that we shouldn't stop doing marriages. We ought to do what churches do, which is bless those marriages. Until we start separating that out, I'm not sure that our people are going to separate them in our mind."
  • Atlanta religious publisher Reverend Martha Simmons: "It is the only way this issue is winnable over religious people. That was the only way the issue of slavery was winnable over religious people. History will show you that this country would still be practicing slavery had it been left up to religious people."
  • President of the Interfaith Alliance Reverend C. Welton Gaddy: "At one point people thought that we out [sic] to change the nation by changing one individual at a time. But it takes too long."

One wonders whether these people read from the Gospel of Judas when they pray to the government to guide its people. One also wonders whether they'll conclude that God's route to Armageddon "takes too long," as well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:27 PM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

May 13, 2006

What, Me Censor?

An always-perceptive reader (involved professionally with the visual arts) emails:

Such a topic, censorship. The Church militant lies down like multicultural pussycat toward Islam but stomps its boots over a dumb read like The DaVinci Code.

No, censorship is not atrocity. But it provides cover for atrocity. If giving offense is criminalized [as thoughts have already been criminalized through hate-crime legislation] then Islam and its theological impetus toward violence is protected from examination and public rejection.

As previously stated, I do not support calls for Christians' pursuing "legal means" if read as "means that manipulate the law" (as opposed to "means that are legal"). That said, there's an undertone to free-speech arguments against Christian outrage as if to suggest that we can't let Muslims get away with their pressure because it will unleash the Christians. No doubt, this undertone is generally unintended (although there are surely secularists who fear losing ground in their campaign to push religion from the public square altogether).

The practical effects, therefore, of eminently safe outcries (including quasi-fictionalized revelations about Catholic conspiracies) against supposed Christian overtures toward theocracy, combined with a failure to treat Islam in like manner, combined with continued thrusts against Christians in Western government and society (e.g., adoption in Massachusetts) is the scuttling of internal compromise out of an inability to absorb an encroaching threat. I'd suggest that further strengthening our mechanisms for pluralism — which would mean increasing Christians' say in their own government and their own societies, largely via federalist principles — would be more apt to disperse the rising Islamist tide than further narrowing the public sphere would be.

For one thing, our system is ingenious in its ability to divert hostility into politics. For another — again — the Christians among us will understandably be less inclined to defend a society that deliberately insults and excludes them.

(N.B. — Certainly, Glenn Reynolds, to name one, is not included among those who have failed to treat Islam in like manner.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:16 AM

May 12, 2006

Double Vision, Professor?

It's been awhile since I've been active, so for those who don't know (or recall): for an easier-to-read layout, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the sidebar.

Now, I'm not saying that this square can't be circled, but explanation would seem in order from Professor Reynolds. Statement 1:

OF WINDS AND WHIRLWINDS: Now that the Muhammad-cartoon precedent has been set, we've got Christians calling for censorship of stuff that offends them. No surprise, there.

UPDATE: Chuck Pelto emails: "they won't be as effective as their Islamic counterparts ....until they start sawing off people's heads with dull knives." That'll come, if people keep caving to the Islamists. Fanatics learn by example.

Statement 2:

EUGENE VOLOKH LOOKS AT A TIME "When the idea of self-preservation was as jealously guarded from the young as the facts of sex had been in earlier ages."

I think the view that it's connected with a (somewhat degenerate) notion of holiness is right, too. Call it Christianity's poison pill.

I've expressed offense at the insistence that Christians will surely take the violent path of Islamic radicals once they come to comprehend the efficacy of the latter's methods. Does that mean I've taken a mild dosage of the poison? Or is reticence to forceful self-preservation only a "poison pill" when it means putting the West — as opposed to Christianity — at risk?

Perhaps conservative Christians ought to be clearer with their secular allies that their rhetorical and physical defense of the West focuses on preserving what is Christian about it.

The professor responds:

IT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN atrocity and self-defense, between resolution and fanaticism. That it's being missed even by thoughtful observers goes some distance toward proving my point.

I'm not so sure that Glenn has drawn the lines as starkly as he believes. Statement 1 relates to Nigerian Roman Catholic Cardinal Arinze's suggestion that:

Those who blaspheme Christ and get away with it are exploiting the Christian readiness to forgive and to love even those who insult us. There are some other religions which if you insult their founder they will not be just talking. They will make it painfully clear to you

As I've said, I'd want more context before trusting Reuters' interpretation of the Cardinal's intended prescription, but even so, would censorship be atrocity? What Glenn elides when he places such "legal means" on the same path as "sawing off people's heads with dull knives," it seems to me, is exactly the "poison pill" that he laments in statement 2: namely, "the desire for holiness, the belief in sacrifice, and a willingness to serve as the butchered victim acceptable to God."

In that passage, Rebecca West is referring to England's failure to foster courage for self-preservation even though "every day Germany and Italy were formulating in more definite and vehement terms that they meant to vanquish and annihilate" the nation. Arguably, Muslim activists and secularists are — each in their own way — formulating in more definite and vehement terms social and legal principles meant to vanquish Christianity from the Western public square (with the former doing so by more generally elbowing out Western culture).

Where resolution ends and fanaticism begins is certainly a moral question with which we all must grapple, and for Christians it is, if anything, made more difficult by the belief that self-preservation is not all. At what point is one being fanatical about self-preservation or, conversely, about self-sacrifice? Surely, the line will vary according to context, but it isn't obvious to me that Glenn is considering the material context (war versus censorship) rather than the context of the thing being preserved (the West versus Christianity).

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:59 PM | Comments (30)

May 9, 2006

Truth in Casting

Michelle Malkin, conveying the hard-Leftism of the actress who played the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, asks:

Sort of dampens one's enthusiasm to see the next Narnia movie, doesn't it?

Not at all. What a perfect villain; I'm sure Mr. Lewis would approve — not the least because the subtext ads significance to the often questioned presence of Santa Clause in Narnia. One suspects that Tilda Swinton would block him from the public square, as well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:55 PM | Comments (3)

Fear and Lying in Knoxville

"Numbers don't lie," writes Leslie Wylie in the cover story of the latest Metro Pulse, "Abstinence Ed., Are Your Tax Dollars Funding an Agenda of Fear?" To an extent, of course, she's correct; it's usually the words and context around the numbers that introduce falsehoods. Take, for example, some of the particular numbers with which Wylie follows her assertion:

The country's teen pregnancy rate is 84 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15 thru 19, a much higher rate than in any other developed country (twice as high as in England or Canada, and nine times higher than the Netherlands or Japan). Fifty-six percent result of these pregnancies result in birth; 30 percent result in abortion; and 14 percent result in miscarriage.

The error is in the "is": Her U.S. data is from the year 2000. Number-people will note that it is currently 2006. The international comparisons, meanwhile, if the Guttmacher Institute's relevant fact sheet is evidence, are from the "mid-1990s." Undeterred by matters of tense, Wylie allows Corrine Rovetti, director of the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, to run with the stats:

As did the representatives from PPA [Planned Parenthood Association], Rovetti points to studies that have been done that disprove the effectiveness of abstinence-only education. "As a developed country, we still have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease," she says. "That's a travesty. It's frightening. I can't overemphasize enough what a dangerous approach the abstinence-only program is."

And it's the abstinence-only advocates who have "an agenda of fear"? Considering that the article emphasizes the federal funds allocated toward abstinence-until-marriage education by the Title V program — which wasn't implemented until 1997, the first of at least seven years in a row during which the proportion of high school students who had had sex at least once (PDF) was below 50% — it may be a bit premature to panic.

Via Instapundit.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:50 PM

May 7, 2006

Religious War: Courtesy Reuters, or Christian Catch-up?

Perhaps it's merely the juxtaposition of his thoughts with those that had been swimming through my head for my previous post, but I'm inclined to guffaw when Robert Bidinotto, a proclaimed Objectivist, issues such breathlessly italicized statements as this:

In other words, [Cardinal Arinze believes that] the government should bring in its armed officers to FORCE people to "respect" other people's religious beliefs -- specifically, belief in Christianity and Jesus Christ. Leaving aside the practical problems of compelling an emotion like respect -- and also leaving aside the ominous question of exactly what might be viewed as signs of "respect" or "disrespect" -- consider the other Orwellian implication: that government should take sides in matters of religion, and throw its coercive weight behind politically-favored belief systems.

But what else should we have expected? Given the virtually unanimous capitulation of Western media, politicians, publishers, and other "cultural leaders" to militant Islamists who demanded "respect" for Muhammad and Islam, on what grounds can these same "cultural leaders" now resist demands that Christianity be afforded the same "respect"?

More to the ugly point: What will happen to anyone who dares to criticize any of these religions, or their iconic leaders and symbols?

Personally, what I find noteworthy is that the Cardinal would be so bold as to allude to "some other religions which if you insult their founder they will not be just talking." African Christians — as any American churchgoer who has listened to visiting clerics knows — are keenly aware of what "other religions" are capable of. Pending further incidents, therefore, I'd say it remains a bit offensive for Glenn Reynolds to declare that Christians' resorting to "sawing off people's heads with dull knives" is only a matter of time.

Given the necessary Reuters bias filter, it remains a possibility, as far as I can see, that by "legal means" Cardinal Arinze meant "means that are legal," not means that "bring in [the government's] armed officers." But even so, if Bidinotto is correct that the Catholic Church is asking "that Christianity be afforded the same 'respect'" as Islam, how can he simultaneously see it as asking the government to "take sides in matters of religion, and throw its coercive weight behind politically-favored belief systems"?

In a culture in which Christianity cannot be taught in public schools with anymore than passing hints that it might actually be true and in which Church-related organizations are being driven out of such missions as providing adoptive homes, even as Islam receives the full minority-group handling, we must, at some point, cease to pretend that Christians are seeking the special treatment of a favored group.

Writes Eugene Volokh:

I had hoped that the Catholic Church had learned that it's wrong to try to use legal coercion to suppress religious views that one disapproves of -- and that no religion should have a legal right to be free from criticism or disagreement (or for that matter novels it dislikes).

Volokh has been remarkably fair-minded on church-state matters, so I've no doubt that he and I agree more than disagree across the board of such issues, and I do agree that a religious leader's urging "legal coercion" — as opposed to "coercion that is legal" — would be worthy of criticism. Still, while the Catholic Church has enough experience in the West that, as an institution, it ought to know better, we might mitigate matters somewhat by pondering whether recidivism would be a relapse or an acknowledgment that the old errors are now common practice — for secularists as well as other theists.

There can be little doubt that in both groups can be found people with a penchant for, in Cardinal Arinze's words, "exploiting the Christian readiness to forgive and to love even those who insult us."

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:36 PM | Comments (1)

Rebellion Without Liberty

One thought from gay-rights activist Chai Feldblum in that Maggie Gallagher piece lodged itself in my mind yesterday afternoon and evening:

Sexual liberty should win in most cases. There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner.

The reference to "sexual liberty" feels displaced from modern reality. If the Internet has proven anything, it is that, with the (perhaps temporary) exception of pedophilia, sexual liberty is nearly total. As a matter of law, there are virtually no boundaries on sexual practice, as long as they are consensual and (for the time being) not performed in full view of a non-consenting audience.

For her statement to have any coherency, Feldblum must mean "liberty" from the consequences that come from others' judgment. What she's placing in conflict, therefore, are:

  • Religious people's liberty to go about their religious practices, such as charitably devoting time and resources to placing children with adoptive parents whom the religion holds to be a help, not a danger, to the children's souls
  • Other people's liberty to have their sexual relationships treated as if all sexual relationships are identical in every respect

Relationships are reduced to the type of sex that their members have, all are leveled, and that equivalence becomes enforced by law — even to the point of prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The activists' argument then becomes, in the words of Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese, that discriminatory practice X "has nothing to do whatsoever with faith." There's a type of madness in this logic:

  • Gendered adoptions have nothing to do with a religion that has a long gendered family tradition and an instruction to know God and His intentions through that which He has made, because
  • parenthood has nothing to do with gender, because
  • gender has only to do with the type of sex that couples can have, and

Perhaps even today we stumble on the next bullet:

  • sex has nothing to do with children.

For her part, Feldblum attempts to skirt the issue with a neutral view of essentials:

"It seemed to me the height of disingenuousness, absurdity, and indeed disrespect to tell someone it is okay to 'be' gay, but not necessarily okay to engage in gay sex. What do they think being gay means?" she writes in her Becket paper. "I have the same reaction to courts and legislatures that blithely assume a religious person can easily disengage her religious belief and self-identity from her religious practice and religious behavior. What do they think being religious means?"

But to truly believe in that neutrality would require the conclusion that the sexual orientation category is at best legislatively protected, while religion is constitutionally protected. Even agreeing with Feldman's view — which I do not — would require a focus on constitutional amendment, not on courts and regular legislation. There is an unmistakable haze around Feldblum's analysis of which liberty "should win": Should win as a matter of current law, or should win according to some emoted political principle that the people of, by, and for whom the government exists have not willingly taken as their own?

This thoughtless procession is in keeping with the underlying absurdity of appealing to "sexual liberty" as grounds to change the meaning of marriage. Marriage — especially in the degree to which expectation and validation are involved — is intimately tied to the curbing of sexual appetites. It is therefore not surprising that we find, in the conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, the mechanism whereby unleashing the sexual drive has served to enslave us.

The ever insightful Paul Cella writes:

... in fact prejudice — that is, prejudgment — is a neutral thing, which can indeed issue in oppression, but can also issue in liberation. To cultivate in men a prejudice against some abiding error, or against some recurrent evil, is to free them from oppression, not set the yoke of it upon them.

Just so, the sexual liberationists are bound by the dictates of their driving motivation, which isn't the sex itself, but the rationalization and justification of it and absolution of those who engage in it. Theology, politics, civil philosophy, economics — all — must accommodate the sexual behavior. If that means undermining the Constitution for the formless benefit of affirming "the dignity of gay people," so be it. If it means tripping up and forcing out those people and practices that carry a dwindling torch of authority from our ancestors, so much the better.

The greater evil lies not in the visceral sin, but in the desire to excuse it, for though it may carry simplicity's tone, one cannot help but hear indications that the rationalization, the justification, and the insistence on absolution have much less to do with the "for what" than with the "from whom." In the context of privacy, Cella points to proof of the lifelong adolescence of the modern culture, in the person of those who "really think Larry Flynt is a free speech hero." They are correct only inasmuch as "free speech" translates as "sticking it in the eye of some parent-figure authority. "

Not even an actual authority, but a facile caricature of a representative of a messenger from an authority whom much of Western Society rejected so long ago that it doesn't remember the sincere, warm assurance that the rules are not restraints, but steps toward transcendence. Those who would recast liberty as freedom from the guiding hand of others' judgment would do well to ponder, as they jerk themselves away, whether it is possible to have dignity while tumbling.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:27 PM | Comments (6)

May 6, 2006

A Pervasive Point

In a piece in which Maggie Gallagher explores experts' opinions on the legal conflict that same-sex marriage will bring about between the church and state, Anthony Picarello eloquently restates a point that many of us have been making for years:

"This is going to affect every aspect of church-state relations." Recent years, he predicts, will be looked back on as a time of relative peace between church and state, one where people had the luxury of litigating cases about things like the Ten Commandments in courthouses. In times of relative peace, says Picarello, people don't even notice that "the church is surrounded on all sides by the state; that church and state butt up against each other. The boundaries are usually peaceful, so it's easy sometimes to forget they are there. But because marriage affects just about every area of the law, gay marriage is going to create a point of conflict at every point around the perimeter."

Whether one believes that the line of compromise will be drawn in bold where direct public funding ends or one worries that it will one day be persmissible to discriminate against a religious individual based on statements of beliefs outside the walls of a darkly lit church, Gallagher's restatement of another point that many of us have long been making rings true:

From there, it was only a short step to the headline "State Putting Church Out of Adoption Business," which ran over an opinion piece in the Boston Globe by John Garvey, dean of Boston College Law School. It's worth underscoring that Catholic Charities' problem with the state didn't hinge on its receipt of public money. Ron Madnick, president of the Massachusetts chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, agreed with Garvey's assessment: "Even if Catholic Charities ceased receiving tax support and gave up its role as a state contractor, it still could not refuse to place children with same-sex couples."

This March, then, unexpectedly, a mere two years after the introduction of gay marriage in America, a number of latent concerns about the impact of this innovation on religious freedom ceased to be theoretical. How could Adam and Steve's marriage possibly hurt anyone else?

Because Adam and Steve's individual marriage is a red herring; the danger lies in the process and reality of making that marriage a legal possibility. Refer back to Picarello. Then refer forward to Chai Feldblum, "a Georgetown law professor who refers to herself as 'part of an inner group of public-intellectual movement leaders committed to advancing LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual] equality in this country'":

... the bottom line for Feldblum is: "Sexual liberty should win in most cases. There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner."

What of the dignity of religious people? Well, obviously, their bigotted views are a perversion. And religion is a choice, after all.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:53 AM
Marriage & Family

May 4, 2006

A New Court, A New Man

Although I'm not sure why, this blurb about France's "offering Zacarias Moussaoui the consular protection he deserves as a French national" gave me a shiver-inducing vision of a future in which some old stubborn folks such as I plan to be are shaking our heads at the news that the International Criminal Court, having just declared jurisdiction over the American judicial system (to no palpable protest from our legislature), sets Moussaoui free.

Echoing Peggy Noonan's closing list of hopes, I wish I could say that such a thing could never happen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:26 PM | Comments (1)
International Affairs

May 3, 2006

Three Out of Three Ain't Bad

Presumably, Andrew Stuttaford had some sort of evidence in mind when he wrote the following odd assertion, but it certainly reads like a statistical datum entirely removed from experienced reality:

As for why people are having fewer children (a trend that you can see in many places across the planet, not just Europe), that is more likely to reflect the fact that, thanks to modern medicine, more children survive into adulthood. There's less need, so to speak, for "spares". To attribute part of the blame for this phenomenon on a supposed European cultural or spiritual deficit is entirely to miss the point.

Each of my parents was one of three siblings, and that was considered normal for families formed in the 1940s. I now have three children, but that's nearly considered to be reckless procreation. Would Mr. Stuttaford have me believe that my grandparents were normal and I'm profligate because they intended to have only one or two children but figured they should have an extra or two just in case, while I have no such excuse?

Yes, I'm sure there are arguments — akin to those I myself have made about social trends — that the need for "spares" is more culturally, than individually, understood. But that doesn't seem to capture the cultural forces at work. When I've been subjected to the presumptuous (and not infrequently offered) observation that I have too many children, the reasoning has had more to do with their cost than with a lack of need for them. And a focus on the cost seems, to me, at least, to have traces in our self-absorbed lifestyles. How can a person afford the latest high-tech gadgets, after all, with so many mouths to feed, and how can all of the content piling up in the DVR be viewed with children pleading for attention?

That Stuttaford makes the following suggestion implies that he intuitively understands that the natural desire for multiple children is being suppressed by cost — in what one might term as a sort of "spiritual deficit" — rather than falling to some natural number based on need:

... if countries really do wish to increase, or at least slow the decrease, in their birth rates, some of the evidence (at least so far as Europe is concerned) appears to show that making it easier for women to go out to work is the way to go.

I'd worry that such an approach would merely reinforce the social habits that make it so difficult to live on a single income in the first place (owing to an economy with an inflated workforce). On the other hand, sticking to the cold economic calculations that seem to drive libertarian thinking even on such warm and cushy matters as children, and making the gigantic assumption that a more fertile foreign culture won't overwhelm the West, perhaps the best thing countries can do is to reinforce the trends of decline. After all, at some point, parents will realize that it is in their own best interest to increase the odds of having offspring who won't vote to put them to sleep in their old age and at least one who will step in to help when the social welfare regime finally collapses.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:18 PM
Marriage & Family

May 2, 2006

Marriage in Other Terms

Fr. Peter,

As a parishioner who has been thinking and writing about the issue of same-sex marriage for the past five years, I found cause for concern in your recent bulletin missive on the topic. It is fine for a pastor to struggle with such matters; indeed, I'd argue that we all have a responsibility to engage them. For my part, I began contemplation of same-sex marriage thinking that there mightn't be a problem, and might be justice in, equalizing marriage as a matter of the law. Inasmuch as you affirm the Church's handling of marriage for itself, it would appear that your thinking is similar to mine back then. However, having opened this particular can of worms, as you say, in your own public forum as a spiritual leader, it seems to me that you've a responsibility to follow your thinking to its end and resolve the ambiguities in your letter.

Toward beginning to reconcile modern gut response with tradition, I would stress that general principles of separation of church and state do not dictate government relativism in all areas in which religion supplies concrete answers. That the Church has accurately identified a spiritual imperative does not mean that the social manifestation of the same imperative is not a proper matter for legislation. Different assumptions direct the logic of religion and of government, to be sure, but if it is a fact that God has revealed truth through our particular Church, it follows that similar principles are at least likely to carry over into the secular sphere.

You find it important, I was relieved to read, to repeat and affirm the Church's internal teachings on marriage, based on the premise that "the joining and benefit of each partner is... understood as being inseparable from the bearing of children." The question that must next be answered is the reason for our government to acknowledge and promote marriage. Is it just for affirmation, for recognition? Is civil marriage to be understood as a golden sticker borne for all to see that we legitimately have, in your words, "dignity as human persons"? Woe to our society if we need to be thus regulated as individuals; more's the woe if each of us must seek it through prior declaration of our value by another person.

If civil marriage is meant to allay our insecurities as social beings, then why must it be limited to sexual relationships with non-relatives? Why must it be limited to two people? Why — I ask again — have government-acknowledged marriages at all? If it is to encourage mutual care (one possible answer), the presence of "a healthy and mature sexual orientation" would seem to be moot. What, in terms distinct from those religious ones on which we agree, is marriage for? Beyond passive bestowment of status to relationships that citizens insist are "marriages," what does our government hope that marriage will actively do to benefit our society?

The conclusion to which I've come is that the government's critical reason for recognizing and encouraging marriage is to form the culture's vision of the institution as one uniting parents together and with their children. We do not invest in the culture of marriage in order to affirm adults in their private decisions or even as an expression of belief in their dignity; we vest marriage with meaning primarily with an eye toward those adults who are least likely to choose its restrictions. We want marriage to be strong, in short, in order to bind adults together when they might be drawn to different lives, and we do so not as an instrument of oppression, but for the benefit of those with no say, but high stakes, in the matter: children. And the sexual male-female relationship is the only one in which children can appear without an explicit choice to form a family.

I, along with many other married people with intentional children and willful fidelity, do not need government recognition, especially in addition to Church recognition, for my marriage to be meaningful and permanent. The public's interest in such marriages is as instances of investment, of definition (further obligating the spouses to live up to the example that their choices have put them in a position to represent.) Public investment in same-sex relationships as a form of marriage would serve to redefine the institution, changing its meaning beyond the straightforward statement of responsibility to begotten life. Rationalize as we may, if marriage is not understood as "inseparable from the bearing of children," then bearing children must be separable from marriage.

You ask how "we [can] foster a greater dignity for all persons." I submit that we do so by leading people toward maturity — not a "mature sexual orientation," but a mature understanding of their place in the scheme of life. "A sense of identity" does not come with a paper from the city hall, but with an acknowledgment of the ways in which identities define what we can, can't, and should do. And dignity cannot coincide with — much less be built upon — a false equivalence.

Conversation continues in the comment section of Mark Shea's post noting my letter.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:52 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family