The magazine First Things recently published an article I wrote. The piece was prompted by two developments: first, news reports of an impending deal between China and the Vatican on the long-standing dispute over the appointment of bishops (and related issues) and, second, praise by Bishop Sorondo for China’s implementation of Catholic social doctrine. In brief, my point in First Things was to say that we can disagree over the wisdom of the Vatican’s current approach to relations with Beijing (I’m skeptical)–responsibility for those matters is a burden none of us should envy–but we must not overlook the grave offenses of the Chinese regime against human rights and religious freedom. Even if the deal is the best that can be made of a bad situation, the Church must be clear eyed about who is on the other side of the negotiating table.
One hundred and fifty years ago this June, the Edgardo Mortara case shocked the world. Edgardo Mortara, a six-year-old Jewish boy in Italy, was taken from his family by the papal authorities and raised as a Catholic under the supervision of the pope. This was done under the law in Bologna, then part of the Papal States, after it was discovered that, five years earlier, the boy’s Catholic nanny had secretly baptized the one-year-old child when he fell ill and she feared he was going to die. The law required that this “Catholic” boy receive a Catholic education.
This story, a major sensation at the time that had vast repercussions, has garnered added attention lately because of coverage in First Things, long the country’s premier journal of religion and public life, of the recent publication of an English edition of Mortara’s memoirs. The article in First Things on the new translation got so much attention because the article’s author appeared to be justifying the abduction of the boy by the pope and his police. Or, if “justifying” is too strong of a word, let me say “explaining sympathetically.” Needless to say, this brought some heat on First Things’s editor, who was criticized for publishing the piece.
Without getting into the fight over the Mortara case itself or the questionable article inspired by the memoir, let me quote the opening line of the editor’s response to the criticism of his decision to print the article: “The Edgardo Mortara episode is a stain on the Catholic Church. Whatever one thinks about the efficacy of baptism, forcibly separating a child from his parents is a grievous act. And even if one can construct a theoretical rationale for doing so, as Romanus Cessario [the author of the article] does, it was wildly imprudent of Pius IX to take Edgardo from his parents, given the scandal it brought upon the Catholic Church, a scandal that continues to this day.”
In considering these words, setting aside politics and motivations and so forth, what we have before us is a fundamental issue concerning religious freedom. We have before us the underlying question of whether people have the right to choose and live their faith free from interference by the government or whether the limits of religious freedom are determined solely by judgments of prudence, such as whether encroachments on religious freedom will detract from a state’s international standing. In other words, we have the question of whether people have a right to religious freedom in principle or only in practice when it suits the state.
I take the first view, namely that religious freedom is a God-given, inalienable right. To be sure, this does not mean that the right to religious freedom has no limits. Like with other rights, reasonable limits can and do exist, but the nature and scope of those limits is a subject for another time.
But, today, we see emerging on the right some heavy criticism of classical liberalism and individual rights. For these critics, the problem with classical liberalism isn’t that we’re doing the American experiment wrong, that we’ve lost our way or forgotten the vision of Founders, but that the American experiment is fatally flawed and bound to fail. They reject classical liberalism in principle and especially its emphasis on individual rights. I accept that the individualist tendencies of classical liberalism need to be balanced with other values such as community and authority but not because classical liberalism is itself poison. Indeed, I think all conservatives agree that individual rights are not enough, but the question is whether they are actually the problem. Though it would be overstating things to say that these thinkers constitute a group or a school of thought, the net result of their work is a constellation of figures on the right who, in different ways and for different reasons, variously question political liberty, economic liberty, and religious liberty.
What do these critics of classical liberalism envision: Is their goal to build a newer, better, likely-smaller Christendom, or is the goal to create just enough space to rebuild a Christian culture within a classical liberal order? Do they wish to reground individual rights on a true and sound basis, or do they want to instrumentalize, minimize, and relativize individual rights, which they see an inimical to the common good in the long run? Do they believe in political, economic, and religious liberty not just in prudence but in principle? Do they believe it was wrong for the pope to kidnap Edgardo Mortara or just poor judgment about the consequences? In the end, do they see classical liberalism and Christianity as compatible or incompatible?
(For another take on the First Things article, see this piece in the Jewish Review of Books by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.)
[Note: This is excerpted, and slightly edited, from a speech I gave recently.]
I just saw news that the theologian Germain Grisez died today. I am sure that tributes will flow soon from those who worked closely with him. I enjoyed the blessing of meeting him a couple of times and his thought has influenced mine a lot. A couple of years ago, I carefully worked through his The Way of the Lord Jesus, all 900 pages of it, which I would have undertaken and persisted in only were I convinced that I was walking through an intellectual gold mine. Over some six decades, Grisez fashioned a moral theology that was astonishingly creative yet profoundly faithful to the Catholic magisterial tradition. More than all but a few moral theologians, he answered the Second Vatican Council’s call to account for why and how the Church’s moral norms embody well-being, happiness, and fulfillment.
What I admire most about Grisez was his uncompromising integrity and his unwavering commitment to truth. I have known few other scholars less concerned about lining up with a particular camp, faction, committee, or promotional pathway — apart from that of the Church and of the narrow road that leads to life. In the 1960s, he wrote a defining work defending the Catholic Church’s prohibition on contraception and one of the earliest and still most compelling books on the injustice of abortion. Part of the conservative camp? Well, consider his searing critique of nuclear deterrence written with John Finnis and Joseph Boyle in the mid 1980s. I have been reading ethics and international affairs for 30 years and consider this the best book I’ve ever read in the field. Even though it deals with Cold War dilemmas, I still assign it to my students as a model of ethical reasoning (and I’m convinced it still has much to say to us in a day when our president threatens “fire and fury” against North Korea). The final chapter, on how faithfulness in this life connects with eternal life, is alone worth reading and rereading.
Speaking of heaven, one of Grisez’s important theological innovations was a way of imagining heaven. If I understand it — and sorry, this rough, Grisez experts! — the idea is that heaven is more than just the beatific vision of contemplating God but is also a dynamic condition of enjoying the wide range of human goods perfected in a celestial community with many others — an eternal city of knowledge, play, health, and beauty. It is beautiful to think that now he inhabits what he described.
I am delighted that Professor Breidenbach has very kindly shared with us a response to my comment on this blog about his article. Here it is in full:
“I am grateful to my friend Daniel Mark for his analysis of my article, “Conciliarism and the American Founding,” published in the William and Mary Quarterly. In that article, I argued that leading early American Catholics like Charles and John Carroll adopted conciliarist ideas concerning church-state relations. In particular, they denied that the pope was infallible by himself on matters of faith and morals and that he had any power in the temporal affairs of nations. These Catholics thereby represented a Catholic tradition that advocated not only a republican view of temporal independence but also a juridical, nonhierarchical understanding of church and state. Their conciliarist idiom and support of the American republic answered long-held objections to granting Catholics religious liberty. This tradition, I concluded, should be an integral part of the history of American founding as well as a key to understanding American Catholicism.
In his review, Mark asks two perceptive questions concerning the theological and political implications of this historical argument. I am thankful to him and Dan Philpott for the opportunity to address them here.
Daniel Mark’s first question is whether “good Catholics” can be conciliarists. I am tempted to reply as he did—“someone else will have to answer that”—and hand it over to my colleagues in the Department of Theology. But I can venture some remarks.
I would first distinguish between “conciliar” and “conciliarist” traditions. The conciliar tradition holds that the Catholic Church, when confronted with a major dogmatic or doctrinal debate, can convene a general council of all the bishops to discuss a particular theological or moral question and then declare church teaching infallibly. Vatican I and II are the most recent manifestations of this tradition.
But the conciliarist tradition, or conciliarism, maintains (among other things) that only a general council can declare teachings on faith or morals infallibly. It denies that the pope can teach infallibly without a council’s concurrence. Since 1870, when the First Vatican Council affirmed papal infallibility, Catholics can no longer hold conciliarism to be true, at least with respect to the doctrine of infallibility. Ironically, conciliarism was censured through the conciliar process that conciliarists had championed.
These ecclesiological debates continue to have political implications, as Mark rightly notes. But early American Catholics did not think that their religious beliefs led to the dangerous political effects that non-Catholics had feared. By denying papal infallibility, these Catholics could resist the charge of being subjects of a “spiritual tyranny.” By repudiating the pope’s power to intervene in American political affairs, Catholics could likewise challenge the charge that they sought imperium in imperio—a state within a state.
After Vatican I, the rejection of papal infallibility has no longer been viable for Catholics. But can Catholics legitimately deny papal power in temporal affairs, as presidential candidate John F. Kennedy famously did in 1960? And, if not, then on what grounds, if any, can American Catholics affirm their dual allegiances? I offer some answers in the book that I’m writing, The Pope’s Republic: Liberties and Loyalties in America.
Daniel Mark’s second question concerns motivation: did early American Catholics hold conciliarist beliefs out of principle or convenience? Questions about motives are some of the most vexing for those in the humanities and social sciences. Human motivation and our inner thoughts are often elusive and complex. In the article, I argued that early American Catholics’ conciliarist commitments “were not the postures of mere political convenience,” since the Carrolls had expressed conciliarist beliefs during their education in Europe—well before they were involved in political and religious affairs in America. Nor did the Carrolls adopt a public conciliarist façade: their writings to personal confidants, even to those in the Holy See, revealed conciliarist catchphrases all the same. But it is also fair to say that the anti-papalist milieu in early America presented additional motivation for them to hold conciliarist beliefs. It simply would have been untenable for a Catholic to uphold papalism and sign the Declaration of Independence or become the first Catholic bishop in the United States. I think Mark approaches the truth when he adds “that the pull of conciliarism also benefited from some push.”
As Catholics feel a greater push—to recognize the sovereignty of the state and its laws over and against their religious authorities’ teachings—I wouldn’t be surprised if the conciliarist pull becomes stronger.
Michael D. Breidenbach is Assistant Professor of History at Ave Maria University. His work is available at michaelbreidenbach.com.“
(Arabic translation is below /الترجمة العربية من تحت)
Egypt’s Parliament is considering passing a law criminalizing atheism, which is to say they are considering passing a law criminalizing honesty.
If the government makes it a crime to admit one is an atheist, then they in effect create an incentive to lie about belief in God. Thus the proposed law would punish honesty and reward lying for those who do not believe in God.
Moreover, the proposed law threatens freedom of conscience. If someone in the depths of their soul does not believe in God, through freedom of conscience, it is better to let them speak honestly rather than pressure them into silence or worse yet lying.
And not only would the law be a hindrance to honesty and freedom of conscience, but it would also be a barrier, an outright barrier, to doing what the law’s author claims he seeks to do, namely reduce atheism. A law against atheism is probably the most inefficient way possible to pursue this.
If everyone says in public, “I believe in God,” regardless of whether they have such belief or not, the negative impact is twofold:
First, this cheapens belief in God by creating an association between statements of belief and the assumption the speakers may well be lying.
Second, for those who have compassion on atheists and would like to open ways for atheists to learn about and encounter God, step one is fostering a free and open society in which people may speak honestly about their heart of hearts. If there is no way to know whether a person is an atheist, there is no way to engage in dialogue with such a person about matters of transcendent, ultimate significance.
My opposition to this law is not a defense of atheism. Hardly. I am no fan of atheism. Instead, I oppose this law because I am a fan of honesty and freedom of conscience and because I, as a Christian, want others too to know God.
Egypt’s proposed anti-atheism law would not reduce atheism. Egypt’s proposed anti-atheism law would only increase lying and make it harder to counter atheism.
مشروع القانون المصري ضد الإلحاد قد يكون مشروع قانون ضد النزاهة
من جنفر برايسون
يعتزم البرلمان المصري تمرير قانون يُجرّم الإلحاد، ممّا يجعلنا نعتبره تمريرََا لقانون يجرّم النزاهة
فإذا اعتبرت الحكومة أن يكون الشخص ملحدََا هو جريمة فهي تؤثر على خلق حافز للكذب بخصوص الإيمان بالله و لذلك فإن هذا القانون المُقترح يعاقب النزاهة ويكافئ اللذين يكذبون بشأن إيمانهم بالله
إضافة إلى ذلك، فالقانون المقترح يهدد حرية الضمير. فالشخص الذي لا يؤمن بالله في أعماق نفسه، من خلال حرية الضمير من الأحسن إعطائهم المجال حتى يعبروا عن ذلك بدل إبقاء ذلك مكتوماًغصبا عنهم و الأسوء أن يظطرّوا للكذب بشأن ذلك
وليس فقط أن يكون القانون عائقا أمام الصدق وحرية الضمير، ولكنه سيكون أيضا حاجزا، حاجزا صريحا، للقيام بما يدعي صاحب المشروع أنه يسعى إلى القيام به، وهو الحد من الإلحاد. وربما يكون قانون مكافحة الإلحاد هو أقل الطرق نجاعة في تحقيق ذلك
إذا كان الجميع يقولون علنا، “أؤمن بالله”، بغض النظر عما إذا كان لديهم مثل هذا الاعتقاد أم لا، فإن الأثر السلبي ذو شقين
أولا، هذا الإيمان الرخيص بالله من خلال خلق علاقة بين التصريح بالاعتقاد بالله والافتراض أن المصرحين به قد يكذبون
ثانيا، بالنسبة لأولئك الذين يتعاطفون مع الملحدين ويودّون فتح طرق لهم للتعرف على واللقاء مع الله، الخطوة الأولى هي تعزيز مجتمع حر ومفتوح حيث الناس قد يتحدثون بصراحة عن مكنون قلوبهم.إذا لم تكن هناك طريقة لمعرفة ما إذا كان الشخص ملحدا، فليس من الممكن الدخول في حوار مع هذا الشخص حول مسائل فائقة الأهمية
إن معارضتي لهذا القانون ليست دفاعا عن الإلحاد. فأنا لست معجبا به. بدلا من ذلك، أنا أعارض هذا القانون لأنني من محبي الصدق وحرية الضمير ولأنني، كمسيحية، أريد أن يكون هناك مجال للآخرين أيضا لمعرفة الله
إن قانون مصر المقترح لمكافحة الإلحاد لن يقلل الإلحاد بل سيؤدي إلا إلى زيادة الكذب ويجعل من الصعب مواجهة هاته الظاهرة
مهدي الماجري قام بترجمته من الإنجليزية إلي العربية
I delivered the following remarks at a panel launching philosopher Colleen Murphy’s outstanding new book, The Conceptual Foundations of Transitional Justice at the University of Illinois-Urbana on Monday, October 23rd, 2017.
It is such an honor to comment on Colleen Murphy’s new book on transitional justice, which I believe is an outstanding success and deserves to be regarded as one of the leading accounts of transitional justice. Colleen succeeds both in showing that transitional justice is a distinct circumstance, or context, of justice, and how transitional justice can be a compelling substantive concept of justice. It is out of deep sympathy and admiration for the aims and achievements of Colleen’s book that I would like to pay it the tribute of engaged critique, focusing on her second task, the substantive content of transitional justice.
What I would like to argue is that Colleen’s substantive concept of transitional justice is one and the same as the concept widely known as restorative justice. Were Colleen to accept this argument, it would in no way negate her intricate and well-defended claims, but it would serve the cause of unity and conceptual progress in the global conversation about transitional justice and would fortify a widely recognized school of thought.
Restorative justice is a concept of justice that has arisen within stable western democracies to address crime within communities, especially that involving juveniles. Several theorists, though, have sought to expand restorative justice to entire societies addressing past injustices. Restorative justice articulates all of the major core features of Colleen’s concept of transitional justice, indeed the very features that, in my view, make it so compelling: a central stress on relationship; a holistic and interdependent approach to harms and restorative practices; the participation of relevant stakeholders; the retributivist insight that justice must address wrong and guilt; and a conception of crime and its redress that is broadened to the wide web of victims, harms, and perpetrators. Restorative justice, in my view, is virtually synonymous with another concept familiar to political transitions, reconciliation, which is the holistic restoration of right relationship. Reconciliation was the central concept that Colleen defended in her last book, A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation, and on p. 120 of the present book she notes the close link between reconciliation and her rendering of transitional justice. If reconciliation and restorative justice are also one and the same, then Colleen herself points to the resonance of her thinking with restorative justice.
Now, early in the present book, Colleen explicitly considers restorative justice but declines its invitation. Her reason? Restorative justice centers upon forgiveness, which she explains does not properly belong in the justice of societal transitions. In fact, though, the restorative justice literature itself does not center forgiveness as she believes it does. True, some theorists of political restorative justice include forgiveness. I am one of them, as is, far more prominently, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, whose book, No Future Without Forgiveness, weaves forgiveness tightly into the fabric of restorative justice. But the broad literature on restorative justice, including some of its most distinguished theorists like John Braithwaite and Howard Zehr, does not integrate forgiveness into restorative justice. So, Colleen could well render her theory restorative justice while maintaining her skepticism of forgiveness.
I wish to argue further, however, that forgiveness ought to be included in restorative justice and reconciliation in collective, political, transitional contexts and to enter a dialogue with Colleen about her reasons for rejecting it, which she spells out on pages 23 and 24, echoing her previous book’s position. She makes clear that she has no objection to forgiveness in interpersonal contexts where basic background conditions like reciprocity and respect are in place. But, she argues, when these background conditions are not in place, as is the case with war and dictatorship, forgiveness is a no-go. It is a passive, submissive response that can serve to maintain conditions of oppression or injustice and fails to recognize the value of anger or resentment, which can be critical to the self-worth and self-respect of victims, she maintains.
I want to argue for a different way of thinking about forgiveness, though, and to show, if briefly, how it can help construct right relationships in transitional political orders. I draw not only upon arguments about what forgiveness is but also upon an empirical investigation of forgiveness in the wake of armed conflict that I conducted in Uganda, a country whose experience Colleen reflects upon towards the end of her book. Through a nationwide survey of 640 inhabitants of five regions where armed violence took place, ten focus groups, and twenty-seven in-depth interviews, I investigated the frequency and character of forgiveness in fraught political contexts.
Forgiveness is not foreign to countries facing gargantuan violent pasts. A discourse of forgiveness could be found in South Africa, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Guatemala, Chile, Northern Ireland, Germany, Timor Leste, and numerous other transitional countries of the past generation. Global leaders, most notably Tutu and Pope John Paul II, advocated it as well. Discourse does not mean just practice, of course, but it does establish that forgiveness is not merely the brainchild of scholars sitting in offices in western universities.
Defense begins with definition. Colleen says that forgiveness is a matter of overcoming anger and resentment, which it is in part, but I hold that forgiveness involves another dimension, a will to construct right relationship. The forgiver wills to construe a perpetrator as one against whom he no longer holds an offense and to treat the perpetrator accordingly. This critical component of forgiveness helps to reframe forgiveness as something other than a passive acquiescence to injustice, which it might be were it merely a matter of relinquishment. Now, the forgiver is an active, constructive agent who seeks to build peace, both with respect to the perpetrator but also, in contexts of political injustice, in the society that badly needs to address its past injustices. In becoming an active constructor, the forgiver arguably regains agency rather than reinforces her passive position.
Importantly, forgiveness does not condone, but rather presupposes, a full identification and condemnation of injustices. It shares this construal with resentment and, like resentment, seeks to overcome or defeat this injustice, albeit in a different manner. Indeed, in contributing to restoring relationship, forgivers arguably enact the transitional justice of restored relationships.
Consider Angelina Atyam, a Ugandan mother of a girl whom the Lord’s Resistance Army abducted from a girls school along with 130 other girls in 1996. Meeting with other parents of abducted daughters in a local church, Atyam sensed a call to forgive, which she followed. She even sought out the mother of the LRA soldier who held her daughter in captivity and, through her, forgave the soldier along with his entire clan. When the soldier later died in the conflict, Atyam sought her out and wept with her. Atyam became a public advocate for forgiveness, which she believed could contribute greatly to peace.
Other prominent cases of forgivers who actively constructed better social worlds might be mentioned, too –Nelson Mandela, for instance. Both Mandela and Atyam also illustrate that forgiveness is compatible with other kinds of efforts to build justice. Mandela actively sought the demise of apartheid and spent 26 years in prison for it. Atyam and the other parents formed an association to advocate for the girls’ release. When Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, felt threatened by the international exposure that these efforts elicited, he approached Atyam and offered to release her daughter if she and the other parents would cease their efforts. Atyam refused: She would only cease if all the girls were released. No passive acquiescence to injustice can be found here.
I have argued in my book, Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation, that there are theoretical reasons why forgiveness is compatible with judicial punishment, reparations, the telling of truth, and public apologies on the part of perpetrators, all of which provide compensation or vindication to victims. Ugandans agree. The survey showed victims being widely sympathetic towards all of these measures but also, interestingly, willing to practice forgiveness even when these measures were absent, as they by and large were in Uganda.
Are Atyam and Mandela rare saints? Here is where the survey is telling. It revealed that 68% of Ugandans who suffered violence in contexts of war exercised forgiveness. 86% agreed with the statement that it is good to forgive in the aftermath of armed violence. These startlingly high numbers were corroborated in the focus groups, where participants offered thoughtful reflections on forgiveness, including some of its liabilities, but in no case argued that forgiveness was beyond the pale or the preserve of the rare saint. Broadly, Ugandans living in the aftermath of violence agree that forgiveness is in principle an appropriate action and have undertaken it frequently.
One of the standard charges against forgiveness, reflecting the worry about victims becoming more victimized, is that it is, but should not be, pressured upon victims. The criticism is right. Forgiveness, which depends uniquely upon the inward will of victims, ought not to be pressured. The problem, though, is the pressure, and not the forgiveness. 94% of the Ugandans who forgave reported that they were not pressured to forgive, showing that pressure is not endemic to the practice of forgiveness in political settings.
Contributing to the plausibility of forgiveness in Uganda is a dimension that it is critical to its performance: religion. Ugandans are predominantly Christian and rank high in measures of religiosity. 82% of those who forgave reported having done so on account of their religious beliefs. Forgiveness was equally religiously motivated in one region that was predominantly Muslim. This reflects a trend that applies to transitional justice globally, which has taken place predominantly, though not exclusively, among majority Christian populations in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and East Asia. It should not be surprising that religious leaders have been major voices in transitional justice debates and are often advocates of reconciliation and forgiveness. Such was true in Uganda, where 70% of victims who forgave reported that a religious leader encouraged them to do so.
The place of religious warrants in transitional justice, of course is a debate all of its own. A case could be made that religion reframes the concepts of burden, agency, resentment, construction, and right relationship that are at stake in debates about forgiveness. This would require a foray into theology. What is important here is that forgiveness can be understood to be a practice that constructs right relationship and thus arguably has a place in Colleen’s formidable theory of transitional justice.
The best thing I’ve read lately is an article in First Things by Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput, penned in anticipation of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the papal encyclical Veritatis Splendor. Both the article and the encyclical are worth a read.
There, Archbishop Chaput discusses the right and wrong ways of viewing the Law (God’s law, that is) and the moral guidance it provides. I am entirely persuaded, inspired even, by the archbishop’s account–and am, in any case, hardly in a position to judge it. So I would like to apply his concerns to Judaism as well. I often think (and sometimes speak) about the relationship between Judaism and natural law, a school of thought more often associated with Catholicism. The worry that the article provokes for me is that too many observant Jews see their own Law in precisely the wrong way Archbishop Chaput cites: as a “morality of obligation” that “can only move us negatively.” Ancient stereotypes notwithstanding, I believe Judaism teaches a positive, liberating message–that the Law points us to our true happiness and flourishing–but I wonder where to look for the leaders who are developing, articulating, and popularizing that kind of theology. With so many Jews failing to appreciate the value of observance, I hope that we can, indeed, affirm for Judaism what the archbishop says about his own faith: “In the end, the reason for God’s commandments is very simple. He loves us and wants us to be happy.”
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which I chair, released a report this summer called “Women and Religious Freedom: Synergies and Opportunities,” written by Oxford professor Nazila Ghanea. Although the commission focuses exclusively on religious freedom issues outside the US, the report is all too timely given the debate in the US over female genital mutilation, a deplorable practice found in many places around the world and increasingly in the West.
The new report on women and religious freedom begins with a critical problem: Religious freedom and the rights of women and girls sometimes appear to be in conflict due to the abuse of women in the name of religion in some places. The report aims to change this perception, and, in this way, implicitly carries both philosophical and political aims. On the philosophical side, the challenge is to explain how religion freedom and women’s rights do indeed complement one another despite the manifold examples of oppression in the name of religion. Politically, the report can be a catalyst for cooperation between advocates for religious freedom and advocates for women’s rights, two groups that do collaborate much nowadays. In showing significant overlap between the two families of rights, the report points to the fertile ground that exists for working together. Religious freedom and women’s rights both stand to benefit from such work.
Just over a week, ago, a remarkable op-ed appeared in The New York Times written by Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish writer with a regular column in The Times. This column was different. Only a few days earlier, he describes, he was in jail in Malaysia for speaking out for religious freedom and for the rationalist tradition in Islam. In the column, he decried the government’s actions and called for religious freedom in Malaysia: there shall be no compulsion in religion, it says in the Quran.
Akyol’s courage should not be lost on any reader. He is one of Islam’s leading voices for religious freedom and freedom in general and has suffered at the hands not only of Malaysia but of several governments for his dissidence and his witness.
My friend Michael Breidenbach, a professor of history at Ave Maria University, had a great article about a year back in the William and Mary Quarterly called “Conciliarism and the American Founding.” The very learned article covers the early, complicated reception of Catholicism in America with special focus on the Carrolls, prominent leaders of American Catholicism around the time of the Founding. Setting the stage, Breidenbach writes, “What made Catholicism so odious to early American Protestants . . . was the pope’s claim (and Catholics’ apparent acceptance of it) that he held temporal power over all civil rulers, including the right to depose a secular authority” (468). Such an idea, and related Catholic beliefs, were seen as contrary to American republicanism and therefore led some Protestants to see Catholics as unfit for full membership in a republic. The solution for American Catholicism lay in the distinction between two schools of Catholic thought on papal authority: papalism and conciliarism. According to Breidenbach, “papalists maintained that the pope’s universal declarations on faith and morals were infallible, with or without the assent of the Catholic Church’s general councils” and “that the pope held ‘indirect’ temporal power over the state’s rulers” (471). Conciliarists, by contrast, rejected these views, denying “that the pope was infallible by himself on matters of faith and morals and that he had any power in the temporal affairs of nations” (472). The problem for good republicans, therefore, would not be with Catholics in general but only with papalists in particular. Fortunately, American Catholics, including the leading Carrolls, were conciliarists. Thus, it was important for Catholics to believe that good Catholics could be conciliarists and for Protestants to believe that they were.
In this, two friendly questions present themselves: First, can good Catholics be conciliarists? Second, were American Catholics conciliarists in good faith (as it were), or did they adopt conciliarism out of convenience?
On the first question, well, someone else will have to answer that. It is interesting, though, that Breidenbach cites (among the many fascinating and varied sources that he brings) some of the more radical conciliarist writings, which do seem to stray from orthodoxy. In one case, Breidenbach informs us that the author of a claim that “all papal power—including in the spiritual realm—came from the consent of the people” himself admitted that the extreme phrasing was only for polemical purposes (485). Apparently, some conciliarism is in bounds, and some is not. Another provocative line is in Breidenbach’s statement: “By reframing Catholicism as merely religious opinion, rather than upholding its political implications, the [conciliarist] Carrolls concluded that the denial of civil and religious rights was unjust” (496). Is Catholicism merely religious opinion? Can one rightly jettison its political implications?
On the second question, Breidenbach does assert that the relevant American Catholics did not adopt conciliarism because it “proved to be an acceptable ecclesiology” and because those who held it were “more likely to be tolerated” (474, 473). Rather, they just happened to be conciliarists. To wit: “Their conciliarist and republican commitments were not the postures of mere political convenience” (476). To be fair, it is entirely reasonable that conciliarists, as opposed to papalists, would have been disproportionately attracted to the American project. But I think there is room to say more. When we hear that British Catholics had to “renounce foreign ‘interference’” by the pope in order to “gain equal rights,” we could be forgiven for wondering the pressure did not induce some to accept conciliarism who might not have otherwise (483-4). In several places in the article, Breidenbach returns to the language of utility, such as in affirming that “conciliarists ideas were especially useful for American Catholics” (471). Of course, conciliarism could be both sincerely held and useful—nothing wrong with that. But given the strong incentive to render Catholicism acceptable to the American republic, it is arguable that the pull of conciliarism also benefited from some push.
So, back to the historians to sort it out.