Author - Daniel Philpott

1
The Abortion Paradox
2
Democrats Need to Get Religion
3
Apology for Rwandan Genocide Comes from Catholic Church
4
Good News for Religious Freedom Act
5
Atrocity in China
6
Religious Freedom: For Me, For Thee, For a Divided America
7
Hope for a Catholic Political Party: Never Bleaker, Never Brighter
8
New Documentary Film on How Christians Respond to Persecution
9
A Liberalism Safe for Catholicism? A New Book
10
Meeting With Trump and Clinton on Religious Freedom

The Abortion Paradox

This year, when I and most likely hundreds of thousands of other people walk in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., we will be doing so with greater optimism than we have had in many years. We have a president in the White House who promises strong measures to protect the unborn.

This is ironic. I did not vote for Trump in good part because of his many statements that augured exclusions of entire classes of people from our national life as well as the compromise of human rights. Yet he is quite likely to take serious measures towards including the unborn in our national community. Meanwhile, the other candidate promised inclusion and tolerance but would exclude the unborn from the human family right up to the moment of birth. Her party brashly celebrated its extreme abortion rights stance and made no room for pro-life voices in its 2016 national convention, just as in 2012.

This is what may be called the abortion paradox: Powerful organizations and sectors that profess themselves devoted to human rights and the protection of the weak are indifferent to or even support the largest human rights violation in the world. Major mainstream human rights organizations, much of the development community, and the preponderance of voices for justice in academia practice this paradox.

The largest human rights violation in the world? Yes, these are strong words. Readers of this post may not agree that unborn persons are fully human and so may demur. Suffice it to say that at the moment of conception, the fertilized ovum is an entirely unified individual human being, wholly distinct from (albeit highly dependent upon) his or her mother, and begins a process of development that, unless halted by nature or human hands, will last the entire career of his or her life. Embryo textbooks make it clear: Conception is when you started being you.

When a person starts being a person, he or she has human rights. It follows that the right of unborn persons to life is violated on a scale of around one million annually in the U.S. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that some 40-50 million abortions take place every year, though other estimates place it around 12 million. Either way, the numbers are orders of magnitude beyond other classes of human rights violations, including those committed in the largest civil wars and massacres of the past generation.

Yet, in 2007, Amnesty International, the world’s most venerable human rights organization, declared its support for abortion rights – the human right to carry out a major human rights violation. Human Rights Watch supports abortion rights, too, as do major development organizations like Oxfam, as have top United Nations officials in human rights and development. Often they cite their goal as providing clean, safe abortions for women but almost never do they mention the rights of the other person affected by abortions.

The Democratic Party included leaders who professed pro-life stances around the time of Roe V. Wade, including Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. It was not at all inevitable that the Democrats — the party of the little guy — would be the party of abortion rights. Once the abortion lobby gained control of the issue in the early 1980s, though, it became impossible to become a national leader in the party and still be in favor of the right to life for unborn persons. Politicians like Albert Gore and Richard Gephardt abandoned their previous pro-life stances. Now legendary is the denial of a speaking spot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention to Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey, who watched the proceedings from the rafters of the arena.

The upshot of the abortion paradox is that advocates of the right to life for the unborn receive no help from and are in fact opposed by some of the most powerful organizations that advocate for human rights and for the welfare of the world’s most vulnerable people. Compromised is the credibility of the human rights movement, which comes to look more like an ideology. The same paradox stands in the way of a unified coalition for human rights and of the possibility of a political platform that would support the right to life as well as provide substantial material help to women giving birth and to children at the youngest age. Instead, we are left with Trump for Life. In this endeavor, may he prosper.

Democrats Need to Get Religion

At least two friends forwarded me this interview conducted in The Atlantic Monthly by religion writer Emma Green, a journalist whom I always find insightful. Here, she interviews a former Obama White House staffer, Michael Wear, on the failure of the Democratic Party to understand and appeal to religion — arguably a major reason for Hillary Clinton’s defeat. The whole interview is worth reading, but here were some of the most salient moments for me:

Green: I’ve written before about the rare breed that is the pro-life Democrat. Some portion of voters would likely identify as both pro-life and Democrat, but from a party point of view, it’s basically impossible to be a pro-life Democrat. Why do you think it is that the party has moved in that direction, and what, if anything, do you think it should do differently?

Wear: The spending that women’s groups have done is profound. 2012 was a year of historic investment from Planned Parenthood, and the campaign in 2016 topped it.

Number two, we’re seeing party disaffiliation as a way of signaling moral discomfort. A lot of pro-life Democrats were formerly saying, “My presence here doesn’t mean I agree with everything—I’m going to be an internal force that acts as a constraint or a voice of opposition on abortion.” Those people have mostly left the party.

Third, I think Democrats felt like their outreach wouldn’t be rewarded. For example: The president went to Notre Dame in May of 2009 and gave a speech about reducing the number of women seeking abortions. It was literally met by protests from the pro-life community. Now, there are reasons for this—I don’t mean to say that Obama gave a great speech and the pro-life community should have [acknowledged that]. But I think there was an expectation by Obama and the White House team that there would be more eagerness to find common ground.

And this:

Green: One could argue that among most Democratic leaders, there’s a lack of willingness to engage with the question of abortion on moral terms. Even Tim Kaine, for example—a guy who, by all accounts, deeply cares about his Catholic faith, and has talked about his personal discomfort with abortion—fell into line.

How would you characterize Democrats’ willingness to engage with the moral question of abortion, and why is it that way?

Wear: There were a lot of things that were surprising about Hillary’s answer [to a question about abortion] in the third debate. She didn’t advance moral reservations she had in the past about abortion. She also made the exact kind of positive moral argument for abortion that women’s groups—who have been calling on people to tell their abortion stories—had been demanding.

The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party. We are now so far from that, it’s insane. This debate, for both sides, is not just about the abortion rate; it’s not just about the legality of it. It’s a symbolic debate. It’s symbolic on the pro-choice side about the autonomy of women and their freedom to do what they want with their bodies. On the pro-life side, they care not just about the regulations around abortion, but whether there’s a cultural affirmation of life.

Even the symbolic olive branches have become less acceptable.

 

Apology for Rwandan Genocide Comes from Catholic Church

This past November 20th, the Catholic bishops of Rwanda issued an apology for the Church’s complicity in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The apology and reactions to it are covered in this nice piece in the online Catholic journal, Millennial.

A Church apologizing?  The phenomenon joins a global trend of the last quarter century, namely a sharp historical spike in apologies issued by heads of corporate entities – sovereign states, churches, business corporations – for misdeeds committed in the name of their organization. In the Catholic Church, it was John Paul II who practiced apology most famously, offering over 100 apologies concerning some 21 different historical episodes and people groups.  This excellent book by journalist Luigi Accattoli covers it well.

As the Millennial piece suggests, political apologies are complex and not always well received.  The Rwandan Church’s apology met with sharp criticism from the Rwandan government. One might suspect, though, that this government has narrow political reasons for its stance. Rwanda’s President Kagame can be credited for keeping the peace and promoting development in Rwanda since the genocide but has done so through favoring an elite of the Tutsi minority, repressing political opposition, promoting and enforcing a narrative that blames the genocide exclusively on the majority Hutus and almost entirely avoids acknowledgment of Tutsi crimes, and links the Catholic Church to a narrative of complicity in this genocide. There is much truth to this complicity, of course, as the apology attests and the article explains. Far from the heroic role that the Catholic Church played in standing up to dictatorship and violence in countries like Poland, the Philippines, Chile, and Malawi, the Rwandan Church, including priests and members of the hierarchy, associated themselves closely with leaders who carried out the genocide and in some cases participated in carrying it out. It is also probable, though, that Kagame wishes to maintain the Catholic Church in a position of weakness so that it will not become an alternative center of authority that can challenge the government (as the Church has become in many African countries). By continually insisting on the Church’s guilt and its constant need to atone, Kagame keeps the Church on the defensive and thus crippled in its moral authority.

Political apologies can be strong or weak. Do those articulating them take responsibility for the full range of deeds done? Do they acknowledge the role of powerful members of their hierarchies in the misdeeds and speak for their institutions? Prior to the apology, did those voicing it make efforts to listen to members of the victims’ community and to discover what was desired? How well was the apology received by victims?  Was it answered with forgiveness and reconciliation?

By the first set of criteria – governing performance – the Rwandan Church’s apology seems like a good one. Whether it meets the latter criteria – being well received – is still an open question. The Rwandan government has criticized the apology, but this does not mean that others will not welcome it. We can pray that they do and that it will bring healing, which is ever critical even over 22 years after the genocide.

Good News for Religious Freedom Act

Six days ago Congress passed a bill strengthening the International Religious Freedom Act, which it passed in 1998.  Three days ago, President Obama signed the bill into law.

Here is a piece detailing the good news.

From the piece, here are three features of the law that enhance the religious freedom capacities of the U.S. government:

  • Requiring the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom to report directly to the secretary of State;
  • Establishing an “entities of particular concern” category—a companion to the “countries of particular concern” classification used for nearly 20 years by the State Department—for non-government actors, such as the Islamic State (IS) and the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram.
  • Instituting a “designated persons list” for individuals who violate religious freedom and authorizing the president to issue sanctions against those who participate in persecution.

Let us now urge President-Elect Trump to appoint a strong Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom — though it would be hard to improve upon the present one, Rabbi David Saperstein.

Atrocity in China

A piece in the Boston Globe today by Jeff Jacoby floored me.   He reports an atrocity in China — the government is killing more than ten thousand  prisoners every year by harvesting their organs while they are alive and then selling the organs.  The story, Jacoby reports, is being aired through two new films.

Here is how he describes that is happening:

The evidence, assembled by human-rights researchers and investigative journalists, added up to something unimaginable: China was killing enormous numbers of imprisoned men and women by strapping them down to operating tables, still conscious, and forcibly extracting their organs — and then delivering those organs to the hospital transplant centers that have become a major source of revenue.

To boot, those being killed are people being persecuted for their religious beliefs:

Chinese officials claim that organs come from violent criminals on death row. But “Human Harvest” makes it clear that most of those killed are peaceful citizens persecuted for their beliefs: Tibetans, Uighurs, Christians — and, above all, practitioners of Falun Gong, a Buddhist-style spiritual movement of peaceful meditation and ethical commitment.

Here is what he says about the two new films:

This week, two extraordinary Canadian films — one a chilling documentary, the other a riveting drama based on its findings — were released for sale on iTunes. Directed by Leon Lee, the films illuminate what may be the most depraved of all systematic human-rights atrocities in the world today: China’s industrial-scale harvesting of vital organs from prisoners of conscience, to be transplanted into patients paying exorbitant fees for a heart, kidney, or liver made available on demand.

The documentary, “Human Harvest,” won the coveted Peabody Award for its exposé of an unspeakable crime against humanity.

And more on the drama:

Hence Lee’s newest movie: a feature-length thriller, “The Bleeding Edge.”

The film stars Anastasia Lin, a gifted Chinese-Canadian actress who also happens to be the reigning Miss World Canada. She plays Chen Jing, a young Falun Gong practitioner who is jailed and brutally tortured for her refusal to “transform.” A simultaneous plot line follows James Branton (played by Jay Clift), a hard-charging tech entrepreneur whose heart collapses while on a business trip to China to close a major deal with the government. Branton receives an emergency transplant that saves his life — and motivates him to find out how a suitable organ could have been located so quickly.

Lin drew international headlines last year when she was forbidden to enter China, where the 2015 Miss World pageant was being held. For Lin, who was born and lived in China until she was 13, beauty pageants are a means of calling attention to human-rights abuses in her native land, and Beijing was intent on denying her a Chinese platform from which to speak.

This deserves attention!

Religious Freedom: For Me, For Thee, For a Divided America

This essay first appeared in the Irish Rover at the University of Notre Dame, December 1, 2016.

Donald Trump’s victory on November 8th has elicited deeper divisions than perhaps any U.S. election result since 1860, when the Civil War loomed.  Furious demonstrations, calls for violence from both sides, and a surge of assaults on minorities ignited by Trump’s campaign rhetoric make clear that if the Republic is going to function civilly as a democracy for the next four years, Americans who are bitterly divided must find a basis on which to live and deliberate together.  No mere truce will do.  We are divided by principles, so only a principle that we can all endorse can help us contest our positions peacefully.

One principle, kneaded into the American founding, long regarded as part of our collective heritage, yet called into question as of late, can help us a great deal: religious freedom.  Religion is far from the only source of our divisions.  Class, race, and the status of immigrants obviously featured prominently in the election.  Religion, however, persisted as a fault line, much to the surprise of analysts who thought its relevance had faded.  At stake in the election were not only religious concerns but the very freedom of Americans to express and practice their religion.

Both left and right rued compromises of this freedom.  Among the minority groups against whom Trump stoked resentment through his skillful demagoguery, Muslims stood out.  Shunning the United States’ heritage, exemplary among Western countries, of integrating Muslims into our common life as citizens and economic actors, an achievement enabled in no small part by our tradition of religious freedom, Trump promised to bar Muslims from entry into the United States and thus expanded Americans’ legitimate worries about terrorism into a fear of all Muslims.  His proposal was a form of discrimination that violated the spirit, if not the strict letter, of religious freedom and instigated acts that violated religious freedom directly.  An FBI report of mid-November showed that hate crimes in the U.S. have surged as of late and most acutely against Muslims.  Among people who did not vote for Trump – like myself – his incitement of such animus was chief among our objections.

Religion and religious freedom, though, were also on the minds of those – like myself – who did not pull the lever for Clinton.  Trump received a record 81% of white evangelical votes and won 56% – 40% among weekly churchgoers.  In Clinton, these voters perceived a commitment to continue the Obama administration’s aggressive secularism.  This perception offers an explanation for why Clinton lost the commanding lead that she enjoyed among Catholics in summer 2016, only to lose to Trump among Catholics, 52-45%, on Election Day.  In the interim, e-mails hacked from the Democratic campaign revealed cynical and condescending plans to divide and conquer Catholics voters, while Trump wrote a letter to Catholics speaking to their concerns about life and freedom that played well in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the other Rust Belt states critical to his victory.

At the core of the Obama Administration’s aggressive secularism have been its sharp curtailments of the religious liberty of Americans in the realms of life, marriage, and sexuality.  Through administrative decrees, judicial appointments, and the pedagogical power of the presidential podium, the administration imposed and inculcated restrictions of the sort that Pope Francis has termed “polite persecution,” implying that they are similar in kind, if not in degree, to far more serious persecution.  Motivated by a secular ideology, they involve the imposition of serious material costs on Christian believers on account of their commitment to traditional Christian teachings. The costs have been borne by merchants, universities, schools, hospitals, charities, campus fellowships, students, public officials, employees, and citizens, who have been variously fired, fined, denied accreditation, evicted from campuses, seen their businesses ruined, and otherwise barred from living out their convictions.

While the mandate of the Health and Human Services Department, challenged by the Little Sisters of the Poor in the U.S. Supreme Court, stands as the most famous of these impositions, many others have been applied at other levels of government and by a wide range of institutions.  Combined, the restrictions amount to the largest curtailment of religious freedom in the history of the Republic, a judgment derived from factoring together the number of these restrictions, their frequency, the number of people to whom they apply, and the scope of affairs that they restrict, including norms of marriage and sexuality held by every society, every religion, until 11:59 pm on the clock of history.

Americans who disregard the religious freedom of other Americans, or of citizens of other countries, are afflicted with amnesia.  They have forgotten that religious freedom is in the First Amendment to our Constitution, and in our heritage.  Religious freedom has enabled religious people who were persecuted elsewhere to find not only refuge but also equality of citizenship in the United States: Mennonites, Amish, Mormons, Muslims, Methodists, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses.  In other times and places, too, the principle of religious freedom has been instrumental in ending strife and establishing peace among people divided by religious convictions.  The Emperor Constantine, influenced by the great Christian philosopher, Lactantius, declared religious freedom in the Roman Empire just following the colossal Diocletian Persecution.  Theologians and philosophers in Europe and colonial America in the 17th and 18th centuries articulated religious freedom as a principle by which Catholics and various and fractious Protestants could live together in peace.

A principle that establishes peace among people who differ over what they believe to be most important is one that Americans would do well not to forget at this moment.  Citizens wanting to make America great again should remember that welcoming religious (and other) minorities is what made America great in the first place.  Citizens wanting to advance new norms of marriage and sexuality should affirm that those who believe traditional norms to be the contours of God’s love must not be fired or fined for conducting their lives accordingly.  If religious freedom is for anyone, it must be for everyone.

Hope for a Catholic Political Party: Never Bleaker, Never Brighter

I’ve long yearned for a Catholic political party.  It would be one that passes the test that Hubert Humphrey once posed for a moral nation, namely that it stands for people “in the dawn, in the twilight, and in the shadows of life.”  It would be the Democratic Party of the New Deal, the early labor movement, and the civil rights movement but without the lifestyle libertarianism.  It would be the Republican Party that was founded in the struggle against slavery, protects the unborn, and upholds marriage, but not the one that cheers the death penalty and hardens its heart towards the immigrant.  It would resurrect the pro-life Democrats and the legacy of the late Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey.  It would be pro-life, pro-family, pro-environment, pro-immigrant, pro-religious freedom, pro-human rights, anti-death penalty, humane and law-abiding in its foreign policy, and against the radical division of classes that is now besetting America.  Such a party, I believe, would attract wide support among African-Americans, Latinos, Catholics, many evangelicals, and a wide swath of middle class Americans.

This election season, my hopes for such a party have never been bleaker and never been brighter.  Bleaker, because we’ve never had two candidates further from this position.  I will vote for neither.  I don’t decide this lightly because I think that one should strive to vote for one of the viable candidates if one’s conscience at all allows it.  Mine does not.

I follow the U.S. Catholic Bishops in the teaching that voting is not simply a matter of weighing up alternative futures in utilitarian fashion but also a matter of what kinds of policies one intentionally supports.  One cannot support policies that are intrinsically wrong or support candidates because they stand for these policies – that is, policies that are wrong whatever the circumstances or outcomes.  Both candidates support such wrongs beyond the threshold where I can consciously vote for one of them.  Others will place the threshold differently and we can disagree charitably.  But here is why I think both candidates are beyond it.

Secretary Clinton supports continuing and even expanding laws that have sanctioned the snuffing out of over 60 million unborn persons; perpetuating and expanding laws that deny the reality of something so fundamental as marriage and sexual natures; and likely the further restriction of religious freedom on behalf of laws that promote these causes.  She will bring a far steadier hand to executive leadership than Trump and more humane policies towards immigrants.  But her problems are deal-breakers.

Trump’s problems are well known and hardly worth repeating but are, briefly: support for torture; support for killing civilians in the war on terror; cavorting with racist allies; abusing women in word and deed; mocking the mentally handicapped; showing reckless disdain for the rule of law; and dismissing entire classes of human beings like Muslims and immigrants.

Both take me beyond the point where I can say, Which candidate is the better future?, and to the point where I must ask, Can I be complicit?

In Christian history, crisis and darkness form opportunities hope and renewal, and so I was delighted when, for the first time in my life, a real Catholic party appeared on the scene, the American Solidarity Party.  Built explicitly on Catholic social teachings – the wisdom of the encyclicals – the party adopts a wide ranging platform that channels these teachings into American politics.

It is inspired by Christian Democratic parties in Europe and Latin America, which – admittedly yesterday more than today – are also rooted in Catholic teachings.  Like Christian Democratic parties, the ASP is not exclusively Catholic and can appeal, I believe, to a wide range of constituencies, religious and otherwise.  The word Solidarity evokes the Polish Solidarity movement, which connected Catholic moral roots with political action and shook the world in the 1980s.

Third parties are difficult to sustain in the United States, though if there takes place such a shock to the system that one or both of the existing parties break apart – not entirely out of the question after November 8th – such a party might seize upon the opportunity to form a new electoral coalition.

To succeed and not end up a flash in the pan, I believe that ASP should form itself as a movement with deep intellectual and spiritual roots, one that reflectively connects religious and deep moral teachings to political positions – again, Christian Democratic Parties of yesteryear and Solidarity are examples.

It would also be nice were the ASP on the ballot in Indiana, which it unfortunately is not, even as an eligible write-in possibility.  After the election, though, there will be much work to do.

Added November 5, 2016: See also this excellent piece on ASP by my friend Malloy Owen.

New Documentary Film on How Christians Respond to Persecution

A new documentary film has emerged from the project, Under Caesar’s Sword: Christians in Response to Persecution.   It looks at how Christians around the world respond to violence and persecution and features first hand interviews and footage.  It is produced by Jason Cohen Productions.  I am pleased to announce it and invite all to view it.
Here is the web page for the film​​​, from which you can view the 26 minute film, a teaser, and a seven minute version.​
Also here is a press release for the film.

A Liberalism Safe for Catholicism? A New Book

A new book edited by Ryan Anderson and myself is now available.  It’s A Liberalism Safe for Catholicism? and is a collection of essays from the journal, The Review of Politics, founded here at Notre Dame in 1939.   Together, the articles tell the story of the conversation between liberalism and Catholicism — sometimes one of rapprochement, sometimes one of tension — in 20th and 21st century America. In the journal’s early years, it featured articles by European emigrés like Jacques Maritain, who admired the American experiment in liberal democracy and sought to ground a defense of it in Catholic principles.  Do not miss the 1950 piece by Heinrich Rommen, which is one of the strongest Catholic defenses of religious liberty prior to the Church’s declaration, Dignitatis Humanae, in 1965.  Later essays in the 1990s and 2000s by David Schindler, Michael Baxter, and William Cavanaugh raise skeptical arguments against American liberalism.

The volume features an essay by philosopher John Finnis that Anderson and I commissioned for this occasion in which Finnis responds to Ernest Fortin’s 1982 critique of Finnis’ 1980 classic, Natural Law and Natural Rights.

Anderson and I have an introductory essay that explores the conversation between Catholicism and American liberalism through the pieces.

These are only a few samples from this new collection.

Here is the book description from University of Notre Dame Press:

This volume is the third in the “Perspectives from The Review of Politics” series, following The Crisis of Modern Times, edited by A. James McAdams (2007), and War, Peace, and International Political Realism, edited by Keir Lieber (2009). In A Liberalism Safe for Catholicism?, editors Daniel Philpott and Ryan Anderson c1hronicle the relationship between the Catholic Church and American liberalism as told through twenty-seven essays selected from the history of the Review of Politics, dating back to the journal’s founding in 1939. The primary subject addressed in these essays is the development of a Catholic political liberalism in response to the democratic environment of nineteenth- and twentieth-century America. Works by Jacques Maritain, Heinrich Rommen, and Yves R. Simon forge the case for the compatibility of Catholicism and American liberal institutions, including the civic right of religious freedom. The conversation continues through recent decades, when a number of Catholic philosophers called into question the partnership between Christianity and American liberalism and were debated by others who rejoined with a strenuous defense of the partnership. The book also covers a wide range of other topics, including democracy, free market economics, the common good, human rights, international politics, and the thought of John Henry Newman, John Courtney Murray, and Alasdair MacIntyre, as well as some of the most prominent Catholic thinkers of the last century, among them John Finnis, Michael Novak, and William T. Cavanaugh. This book will be of special interest to students and scholars of political science, journalists and policymakers, church leaders, and everyday Catholics trying to make sense of Christianity in modern society.

“The pages of the Review of Politics since its founding in 1939 can be read as a chronicle of this partnership between the Catholic Church and liberal institutions—its development, its heyday, its encounter of travails, its ongoing virtues, and its persistent flaws. Indeed, the partnership has been fraught with controversy over its true extent, its robustness, and its desirability.” — from the introduction, A Liberalism Safe for Catholicism?

 

 

Meeting With Trump and Clinton on Religious Freedom

I am happy to have signed on to a statement on religious freedom (mostly in the global sense) that was presented yesterday in person to the Trump and Clinton campaigns.  Here is the press release, in which is embedded the group’s recommendations.  One of its implications is that religious freedom is something that everyone, religious or not, can get behind.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.