Notes from Across the Atlantic
Notes from Across the Atlantic

Notes from Across the Atlantic

Richard John Neuhaus FAITH Magazine November-December 2008s


Genuine Dialogue

Here’s an interesting exercise in political science. It’s by Jon Shields of the University of Colorado, writing in the academic journal Critical Review. The article is “Christian Citizens: The Promise and Limits of Deliberation”. The usual media presentation of pro-life activists as religiously inspired fanatics is simply contrary to fact, writes Shields. It gives rise to books such as Laurence Tribe’s Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes. A clash of absolutes makes rational place. This is called neutrality in the face of an irresolvable confect. In fact, Shields points out, pro-life activists are concerned to engage their pro-choice opponents in discussion that is based on public and rational arguments that invoke no specifically religious warrants. He cites two evangelicalgroups, Stand to Reason and Justice for All, that assiduously train activists for such engagement. In sum, says Shields, pro-life activists are more open and eager for genuine dialogue than are their pro-choice counterparts. So you can put the refusal of pro-lifers to engage in democratic deliberation on that long list of things that everybody knows that aren’t so. But you probably had it there already.

Common Conundrums

Michael Novak has a new book out from Doubleday, No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers. He addresses many of the questions agitated by the “new atheists”, but with the twist that believers, too, don’t have a neat and satisfying answer to the intellectual problems that atheists exploit. For instance, the perennial question: If God is God and God is good, how can there be evil? Atheists and Christians can agree on the conundrums that drive them to opposite conclusions. Along the way, he cites a response offered by physicist Stephen Barr, a frequent FIRST THINGS contributor, to the question of chance. Barr writes: “To be responsible agents means being able to impose our own ordering upon events. This requires that some apparent ‘disorder’ be present in thesituations that confront us as the raw material upon which we can act. A world without disorder, without ‘chance’ and ‘random’ events, would be a world in which everything unfolded according to a single, simple, and predictable pattern. But a world in which many wills are acting cannot have a single, simple pattern. It must of necessity be a multifarious world, a world with many patterns, and plots and chains of causation existing side-by-side, occasionally impinging on each other and intersecting each other and throwing each other off course. That is precisely what ‘chance’ amounts to. A world without chance would be a world with a single overarching and controlling pattern, one plot without sub-plots, one storyline rather than a tangled web of storylines. Everything marching inlockstep. Such a world would have no scope for freedom. It would also have no scope for courage, or hope, or vigilance, or daring or human providence.” As I say in my blurb for No One Sees God, “The word dialogical might have been invented to describe Michael Novak.” At some points I would make the argument differently, but Michael is generous to a fault and indefatigably patient in engaging those who disagree.

Feeling the Pinch

It’s no news that newspaper circulation is declining. In the second quarter of this year the profits of the New York Times fell by 82 percent. I was, however, somewhat surprised by the reason given. According to this story in the Washington Post, “Chief Executive Janet Robinson says business was hurt by the ‘U.S. economic slowdown and secular forces playing out across the media industry.’” Perhaps Ms. Robinson should have a word with the editorial-page editor.

Planned Parenthood Flourishes

With all the news about economic woes, you will not be glad to learn that Planned Parenthood is doing just fine. The organisation is “flush with cash”, reports the Wall Street Journal, having topped one billion dollars in 2007 revenues, including $336 million in taxpayer funding. Its Action Fund is putting $10 million into electing pro-abortion candidates, which ensures continuing government handouts, and it is doing a makeover of its 882 clinics with a “contemporary, fun and lively look”. Said a Planned Parenthood official, the change makes their work “so much more mainstream”. Planned Parenthood perpetrates one out of every four abortions committed in the United States.

On the Catholic Vote

The title is strangely defensive. “Yes You Can: Why Catholics Don’t Have to Vote Republican.” It’s written by Gerald J. Beyer, a professor of theology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and published in Commonweal. Beyer allows that Senator Obama’s position fatly contradicts Catholic teaching on the protection of unborn human beings. Yes, but then there are those other “grave moral reasons” Catholics should take into account. On the Iraq war, Obama is right and McCain wrong. Ditto on the relations between military power and diplomacy and between race and a just economic system. In sum, Obama is a liberal, and McCain is a conservative, and Catholics should be liberals. Prof. Beyer doesn’t do nuance. But then we come to the clincher: “Perhaps the most important commonalitybetween Catholic teaching and Obama’s proposals is one of philosophical orientation. Both stress the necessity of nurturing the virtue of hope.” Well, there you have it. As a matter of fact, Obama has also said some fine things about faith and charity, and it is well known that McCain is opposed to all three.

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