1
Hope for a Catholic Political Party: Never Bleaker, Never Brighter
2
New Documentary Film on How Christians Respond to Persecution
3
A Liberalism Safe for Catholicism? A New Book
4
Meeting With Trump and Clinton on Religious Freedom
5
Contra Modern Wisdom, Christianity Incubated Freedom
6
Where Religion is Trusted for Politics
7
Forcing Folks to be Free
8
Learning from a great humanitarian…
9
The Mission of Mother Theresa
10
Religious Freedom: Why Now? Audio

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.

Contra Modern Wisdom, Christianity Incubated Freedom

A reigning view in modern liberal philosophy — and Western elite culture at large — is that the rise of freedom in the modern world required the decline of Christianity, or at least its marginalization from public life.  John Rawls and Mark Lilla make the argument and laud this marginalization; philosophers like Pierre Manent make the argument and lament it.

A new pair of volumes from Cambridge University Press assembles a host of blue-chip scholars to argue that the thesis is wrong.  (I am the author of one of the chapters but it is not I but the likes of Robert Wilken, John Rist, and Remi Brague who are the blue-chippers.) Historically, and around the world today, Christianity has been an incubator and driver of freedom.  Not always, of course: Christianity has inflicted its share of unfreedom.  But if the collective claim of the volume is right, then many of our present free institutions have Christianity to thank for their origins. And in authoritarian settings around the world, Christians are fighting for freedom.

An excellent entree to these works is this review by Samuel Gregg.  To see the volumes, go to Christianity and Freedom: Historical Perspectives.

 

 

 

Where Religion is Trusted for Politics

Recently, Elizabeth Sperber, a political scientist starting her career at the University of Denver and a talented scholar of religion and politics, along with her colleague Matt Herman, published a piece on the Washington Post‘s “Monkey Cage” on the fraught elections taking place in Zambia and the challenge of finding impartial observers.  The country turned to . . . its Christian churches.  It’s a fascinating case where religion is making a positive difference in politics.  Still, unresolved questions remain concerning the fairness of the elections.

Forcing Folks to be Free

Here in Toronto, a minor news storm has been made of a father lobbying the public school board to exempt his son from music lessons, on the grounds of religious freedom and the parental right to education. Doug Saunders, our Globe and Mail foreign affairs columnist, and a somewhat ardent secularist, had harsh words in the weekends edition. I responded on the Cardus blog, but I think it’s fair to say that while Saunders tone leaves a lot to be desired, his message is not falling on deaf ears.

Hardly the sun sets in the West these days without some new attempt at what Jean Jacques Rousseau might have mistily called “forcing folks to be free.”

Doug Saunders in the weekend’s Globe and Mail calls for public prejudice for the greater good, but the idea isn’t new with him, and we’ll see a lot more of it in the days ahead.

The reasons aren’t new. “Reasonable accommodation” has a long history even in a young Canada (see Fighting over God), but the fuel of public fury is building: Brexits, Trumpers, all in a pyre of anxiety over just how much diversity our Western societies can handle.

Saunders’ incredulity over Mohammad Nouman Dasu, lobbying to exempt his children from music classes, has the smell of that fire. When spirituality, he writes, “infringes on the working of the legal, educational or medical systems, we have a problem—even if we don’t notice at first.” It is yet another “incursion of religious practice”, and with justifiable “public prejudice” we must fight back. In case precious few of us can be roused to the defense of Bach’s Magnificat, he raises the issue to one of literal life and death: spiritualist anti-vaxxer types infecting our children; your children. Something must be done.

The argument borders on alarmism, its logic sometimes a little too slippery on why, for example, parents might choose (as is their right) an alternative education system. He lumps legal, pedagogical, and medicinal fields together as systems which must be protected from religious incursion—which is a bit rich, considering these professions in the West were established out of, hardly in spite of, religious communities. Saunders’own brand of religious freedom can often run a bit indulgent on curious, personal affectations (you don’t eat pork? whatever) but zero tolerance on public manifestation (marriage between husband and wife? Keep it to yourself). That’s a kind of religious freedom, certainly, but not quite approaching what even Taylor and Bouchard called reasonable accommodation.

What Saunders calls public prejudice—a phrase one presumes is just enough on the nose to drive some clicks—others have simply called strong public principles. Saunders is importantly right in this respect: the deep diversity of Canadian society is straining our cultural and legal systems, plus we’ve more or less lost the shared moral vocabulary to talk about it. Can we renew, in the words of Yuval Levin, our social contract in the age of individualism? We feel trapped in the crumbling house of liberalism, but Burke’s little platoons are in trouble, too. No help is coming.

I used to find Saunders’ brand of secularity distasteful. I’m certain I still disagree, but I am starting to gain appreciation for his dilemma. In a world where other-regarding institutions are increasingly religious (especially globally), yet where religion is always a public bad, there is a hard, dark reality that the coercive arm of the state may not be enough to save secular-liberalism. If I was that kind of secularist, I would find Mr. Dasu not just alarming, I would find him a threat to civilization. And if I thought there were a lot more Mr. Dasu’s out there, I’d start overclocking public power to enforce conformity. I would tell people that if they won’t choose to be free, we’ll need to force them. I’d celebrate public prejudice.

I can’t think of a better picture of our social, existential anxiety. It’s not going away. I’m not convinced stronger public prejudice is the answer (though it may be part of it), but from ‘muscular liberalism’ to a ‘Charter of Quebec Values’ I would say Rousseau is yet to have his day.

Learning from a great humanitarian…

Mother Teresa, canonized today, will always be remembered for her untiring service of the destitute, marginalized and abandoned. Becky Samuel Shah (in her article mentioned below) highlights Mother Teresa’s profound understanding of the spiritual and material aspects of human poverty and human need. In the words of Pope Francis, Mother Teresa “bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity”. In doing so, she taught us the essence of dignity, charity and justice and offered precious insights into the nature of integral human development.

The other aspect of Mother Teresa’s life that was celebrated today was her prophetic courage in speaking truth to power. As further noted today by Pope Francis, Mother Teresa “made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created.” Her fight against poverty was coupled to her fight for peace. In an account shared this week via the Under Caesar’s Sword facebook page, a priest friend of Mother Teresa recalls her concern over the long term suffering and destabilizing impact of war:

“Working at her side as the West prepared for war with Saddam Hussein, I saw her dread as she glimpsed the future of Middle Eastern Christianity… She understood the immediate urgency of the present situation, but she also had a dreadful fear, and a premonition about how the Middle East was to unravel over the next 25 years and fall into chaos.”

Mother Teresa’s concern led her to undertake concrete actions and advocacy on behalf of the most vulnerable. Today is a good day to examine our consciences and ask ourselves what we have learned over the past quarter of a century. Have those who advocated for invading Iraq – ignoring the pleas of Mother Teresa on the eve of the Gulf War and those of John Paul II in 2003 – ever admitted and taken responsibility for the direct and indirect consequences of those decisions? What about their successors in positions of influence? Do we do enough to assist persecuted Christian and other minorities? In our own communities, have we considered seriously Mother Teresa’s message about the biggest threat to world peace? In the face of so much injustice, persecution and innocent suffering, what “small things with great love” would Mother Teresa be doing if she were still alive today?

The Mission of Mother Theresa

My dear friend Becky Samuel Shah reflects on the mission of Mother Theresa, in which material and spiritual needs were inseparable.  Christianity Today features it on its homepage today.  Shah considers Mother Theresa, who is set to be canonized by the Catholic Church this coming Sunday, September 4, 2016, in light of Shah’s own research on the essential role of spiritual resources for escaping poverty.  Here is a passage:

On the surface, it might seem that Mother Teresa was solely preoccupied with the physical and material needs of the marginalized. She spent most of her life caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and rescuing the homeless. Yet even as she set up institutions to resolve world hunger, she talked of people’s hunger for God and their inalienable value as creatures made in his image. Material needs, she insisted, can be easily satisfied, but caring for a person’s spiritual needs is more important. In fact, she regarded it as her primary calling.

Inspired by Mother Teresa’s example, I have worked in India for the last 10 years with Dalits, also known as “outcasts” or “untouchables.” As I’ve studied and served among them, I’ve come to realize the simple truth of her vision. The poor on the streets of “Kolkata” and places all over the world are deprived of basic human necessities like food, clothing, housing, and healthcare. (Most standard poverty measures assess wellbeing solely in terms of “neutral” social indicators, like calorific intake or years of schooling, and many development practitioners and scholars assume these are the only real aspects of poverty.) However, as Mother Teresa understood, poverty is not always reducible to material factors, and it often involves deprivation of dignity and self-worth.

 

 

 

Religious Freedom: Why Now? Audio

 

Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right is available now in audio. Stream or download for free at Soundcloud.

Audiobook promoShaykh Hamza Yusuf of Zaytuna College implores,

Religious persecution, like slavery, is not a thing of the past. It is very present and must be addressed. This essay is a call to take the problem seriously. To continue to ignore this problem is to become part of it.

Regarding Religious Freedom: Why Now? Noah Feldman, Harvard University Bemis Professor of Law, explains:

Rich in theory and practical wisdom, this collaborative, landmark work deepens the traditional arguments for religious freedom and articulates a strategy for pursuing religious freedom internationally. Its central claim – that religious freedom is a good in itself, but will also reduce violence and terror – is especially timely in the current political situation in the Middle East, when Western policymakers might be tempted to support repressive regimes in the name of stability. It will be valuable to policymakers, scholars, religious leaders, and anyone interested in the relation between religion and public life.

Resulting from the collaboration of “experts from the fields of psychology, sociology, law, philosophy, theology, political science, and international relations,” Religious Freedom: Why Now? “offers a robust consideration of religious freedom’s present condition and the prospects for its future.” The lead author is Dr. Timothy Shah, Senior Advisor at the Religious Freedom Institute.

In addition to listening to this new audio version, you can read the original text version of Religious Freedom: Why Now? at Scribd.

© 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.