Notes from Across the Atlantic
Notes from Across the Atlantic

Notes from Across the Atlantic

Richard John Neuhaus FAITH Magazine May-June 2007

Calling for Catholic Identity

It has been more than sixteen years since Pope John Paul II issued Ex Corde Ecclesiae, underscoring that the Catholic university is born from “the heart of the Church” and should faithfully serve the Church’s faith and mission, meaning the faith and mission of those who are the Church. It is not true that nothing has changed in the two-hundred-plus colleges and universities in this country. Many institutions have engaged in an intensive self-examination seeking to strengthen their “Catholic identity”. For most schools, however, it seems that the drift into secular blandness continues, maintaining “Catholic identity” mainly for recruitment and fund-raising purposes. This is strikingly true of Jesuit universities that vaguely, and somewhat nostalgically, describethemselves as being “in the Jesuit tradition” but flee the scandal of particularity that is being Catholic. A man-bites-dog story that gained attention recently has to do with a lawsuit titled Saint Louis University v. The Masonic Temple Association. The Masons claimed SLU is a Catholic institution and SLU denied it. The dispute was over an $8 million tax abatement, with the Masons contending that the state constitution forbids such aid to an institution controlled by a religious body. SLU argued that it is “independent of the Catholic Church”. As it happens, the court ruled on very narrow grounds of governance, noting that, while SLU “maintains a Jesuit heritage”, it is actually “controlled and operated by an independent, lay board of trustees”. (Of the 1,275 faculty and staff of SLU,fewer than 35 are Jesuits.) I expect one would with some difficulty try to explain to Ignatius Loyola how it came about all these years later that the Masons accused one of his universities of being Catholic and the university prevailed in denying it.

Economic Eugenics

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is a very establishmentarian pro-business organization, and it has recently issued a study celebrating the economic benefits of abortion on demand. “Taken together with earlier research results, the authors’ findings suggest that the improved living circumstances experienced by children born after the legalisation of abortion had a lasting impact on their lifelong prospects. Children who were ‘born unwanted’ prior to the legalisation of abortion not only grew up in more disadvantaged households, but also grew up to be more disadvantaged as adults.” The report adds, “This conclusion is in line with a broad literature documenting the intergenerational correlation in income and showing that adverse living circumstances as a childare associated with poor outcomes as an adult.” Thanks to the high-powered research of NBER, it now seems to be established that, in terms of economic outcomes, it is better to be born rich than to be born poor. Who would have thought it? A disproportionate number of the thirty-five million children killed by abortion since 1973 would have been born poor, and it is therefore a net economic gain that they were not born. Of abortion, the report says, “This phenomenon is referred to as ‘selection.’” To which one might add that the claim to know what those dead children might have done with their lives is referred to as soothsaying. And the argument implicitly advanced by NBER is referred to as eugenics. Thought Police on the Prowl The title is unfortunate: “Expelling God from theUniversity”. If by God we mean God, he cannot be expelled from any part of his creation. But the article, by David French of the Alliance Defense Fund, is a useful summary of curious things happening on campus. Appearing in that valuable journal, Academic Questions, published by the National Association of Scholars, the article recounts case after case of students being punished or silenced for expressing religious views that violate academic orthodoxies; and of Christian campus groups, some of which have been around for decades, being put out of business. Not surprisingly, the most common instrument of repression is speech codes forbidding “homophobic discrimination”. Most of what French recounts is drearily familiar by now, but a new twist is the way in which state universities are intheir official statements getting into the business of defining true (gay friendly) and false (gay critical) Christianity. So much for the separation of church and state when state institutions set themselves up as arbiters in theological and moral disputes. In multiple cases, courts have ruled that such discrimination against orthodox persons and organisations is illegal but, as French notes, that doesn’t stop the academic thought patrol from trying again and again.

When the Argument Never Starts

“The argument is over”, announced former Vice President Al Gore. The subject was global warming. The television interviewer then asked, “You mean there is no argument about global warming?” Gore solemnly nodded and said again, very much like a judge pronouncing the final verdict, “The argument is over.” When and where, one might well ask, did the argument take place? Who was invited to take part in the argument? There are many very reputable scientists expressing skepticism or disbelief with respect to global warming. Never mind, they’re too late; the argument is over. As the presumed moderator of public discourse, Mr. Gore declares that the argument is over and that his side won. Writing in the Boston Globe, Ellen Goodman goes further, comparingglobal-warming skeptics with Holocaust deniers. They are not only ignorant, they are culpably ignorant. In fact, they are evil. One detects a growing pattern of refusing to engage in argument by declaring that the argument is over. It is not only global warming. Raise a question about the adequacy of Darwinian theory, whether scientifically or philosophically, and be prepared to be informed that the argument is over. Offer the evidence that many who once coped with same-sex desires have turned out, not without difficulty, to be happily married to persons of the opposite sex and you will be told politely—or, more likely, impolitely— that the argument is over.

Women of Courage

In the October issue of First Things, I cited a powerful article by Elizabeth Schiltz on the pressures brought by the medical profession to have women abort less-than-perfect babies. It is included in a collection of essays entitled, Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics, edited by Melinda Tankard Reist. (Although published in Australia, the book is available on Amazon.) This invaluable book will be of very particular interest to mothers and fathers who are expecting. “Fewer and fewer pregnancies,” writes Reist, “are allowed to proceed without screening and related interventions. Rarely are women allowed to move through pregnancy without being subjected to some form of genetic surveillance. Some of the drive to ‘over-screen’ is driven by medicalnegligence claims; doctors, and no less insurers, push for routine screening as a means of ensuring that their risk of liability is minimized.” Reist writes: “Defiant Birth is a book about women who have resisted the present day practice of medical eugenics. It is about women who were told they should not have babies because of perceived disabilities – either in the child or themselves. They have confronted a society deeply fearful of disability and all its stigmas. Facing silent disapproval and even open hostility, they have had their babies anyway, believing their children are just as worthy to partake of life as are others. This is a book about women who have resisted the ideology of quality control and the paradigm of perfection. They have dared to challenge the prevailingmedical and social mindset. This book’s contributors have refused to take part in a system of ‘disability deselection’ which classifies certain people as ‘biologically incapacitated’. These women may be among the last who decide to have babies without the genetic stamp of approval. They are, in a sense, genetic outlaws.” The nineteen women who write about their defiance of what is aptly called medical eugenics are also heroines who gave life a chance and who write movingly of their joy in having resisted the “choice” that others tried to impose upon them and their children. Defiant Birth. Somebody you know should read this book.

Barak Obama

I agree with those who complain that it is not fair to draw attention to the fact that Senator Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein, but I cannot do so without drawing attention to it. Perhaps more pertinent to our politics is the name Barack (sometimes spelled Barak), which presumably refers to the warrior who served under the direction of a strong-willed woman executive named Deborah (see Judges 4). This has led practitioners of a peculiar style of biblical prognostication to conclude that the senator will accept the vice-presidential nomination on a ticket headed by a strong-willed woman of our time. I know nothing about that. But, free-associating as I sometimes do, this was brought to mind by a review of The Judge in Democracy by Aharon Barak, until recentlyhead of the Supreme Court of Israel. The review, in Azure magazine, is by Judge Robert Bork, who is not taken with Barak’s distinction between “formal democracy” and “substantive democracy”. Formal democracy is the rule of the people through elected representatives, while substantive democracy, according to Barak, is the rule of “the enlightened members of society”, mainly through the judiciary. “The question is not what the judge wants,” writes Barak, “but what society needs.” To which Bork responds: “It is incorrect to suppose that a society’s ‘needs’ is a fact that can be determined by an objective balancing of interests. In truth, the most important interests are likely to be conflicting value judgments. How, for instance, does a judge know whether a society ‘needs’ freedom ofabortion, some degree of regulation or a prohibition of abortion altogether? How can a judge determine whether his or her society ‘needs’ a constitutional right to homosexual marriage? How does he decide ‘objectively’ whether religious education in state-supported schools should be required, made optional or prohibited? The answer, of course, is that the judge does not, and cannot, ‘know’ any of these things, though he may have strong feelings about them. Because the judge is, by definition, operating without guidance from positive law, it is almost certain that his personal opinions will turn out to be what society ‘needs’.” It seems that Barak believes the judicial authoritarianism is necessary because judges are intellectually and morally superior to other political actors. Borkwrites: “As he explains, ‘a branch of government should not judge itself. It is therefore appropriate that the final decision about the legality of the activities of the legislative and executive branches should be taken by a mechanism external to those branches, that is, the judiciary’. Yet the judicial branch is properly subject to no such external mechanism, ‘because of their [the judges’] education, profession, and role,’ and because they are ‘trained and accustomed to dealing with conflicts of interest.’ Judges may be trusted, moreover, since they are ‘not fighting for their own power’. Surely anyone familiar with Barak’s record will see the irony in that statement.” By advancing and acting upon his understanding of the power of courts, says Bork, “Barak surely establishes a worldrecord for judicial hubris.” Robert Bork is an acknowledged expert on the stiff competition for that accolade, not least by courts in this country.  

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