Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Court of Disbelief: The Constitution's Article VI Religious Test Prohibition and the Judiciary's Religious Motive Analysis.

That is the title of an article I published in 2006 in the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly 33.2 & 3, pp. 337-360. I bring this to your attention because I cited it in a recent exchange I had with a friend on my Facebook wall.  Here's how the article begins:
In several federal cases concerning whether particular statutes or policies violate the First Amendment’s prohibition of religious establishment, both the United States Supreme Court and other federal courts have rejected the constitutionality of these laws and policies on the grounds that they have an exclusively religious purpose. Part of the courts’ analyses in some of these cases rely on the apparent religious motives of the statute’s or policy’s sponsors and/or citizen-supporters as the basis by which the courts infer that the law or policy in question has a religious purpose.

I argue in this paper that this sort of analysis may violate the no Religious Test Clause section of Article VI of the U. S. Constitution as well as the prohibition of punishing or rewarding citizens based on their beliefs. I also argue that the judiciary’s failure to appreciate these possible violations is the result of embracing a mode of analysis, when applied to the origin and purpose of statutes and policies, that is based on a conflation of the terms “motive” and “purpose” as well as a mistake in thinking that the reasons employed to justify laws and policies are the same as the beliefs that motivate the persons who support them. And because of these confusions, the judiciary in effect limits the enumerated powers of legislators and provides a perverse incentive for both citizens and legislators to pretend that their motives are not religious in order to convince a skeptical judiciary that the laws and policies they support have secular purposes. Learning from the judiciary’s example, activists now draw pejorative attention to the apparent religious motives of citizens and legislators in order to shore up popular support against, and influence future cases on, legislation they think violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In order to make my case, I present an analysis of (I) the No Religious Test Clause and the First Amendment, (II) the difference between motive and purpose, and (III) the distinction between belief and action. I then (IV) review two cases in which federal courts employ a religious motive analysis. I conclude that this mode of analysis targets beliefs and thus violates Article VI when applied to lawmakers and is an illegitimate assessment of belief when applied to either legislators or ordinary citizens.

>>>continue reading

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Epistemology of Political Correctness

That's the title of an article I published in the October 1994 issue of Public Affairs Quarterly (8.4, pp. 331-340). It is now available online, and you can find it here. It begins this way:
On university and college campuses today there is a movement popularly known as "political correctness." Although difficult to define precisely, I think it is fair to say that political correctness refers to a web of interconnected, though not mutually dependent, ideological beliefs that have challenged the traditional nature of the university as well as traditional curriculum, standards of excellence, and views about justice, truth, and the objectivity of knowledge; while simultaneously accentuating our cultural, gender, class, and racial differences in the name of campus diversity. On some college campuses it takes on the status of an orthodoxy. Typically, the politically correct (PC) movement is politically leftist, although some of its harshest critics are also on the political left, just as many critics of McCarthyism were on the political right.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The National Day of Reason Doesn't Have A Prayer

That's the title of my latest column over at The Catholic Thing. It begins this way:
May 5, 2011, is the National Day of Prayer. It has been an annual American observance since Congress enacted it in 1952. The law simply states: “The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”

Since 2003, secular groups in the U.S. have called for a “National Day of Reason,” to be held on the same day as the National Day of Prayer, “to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship.” These secular groups also oppose the National Day of Prayer for several reasons, one of which is that: “it makes those who don’t pray feel like second-class citizens. Why set aside a national day that needlessly excludes?”

continue reading>>>

Edith Schaeffer, me, and April 29

Four years ago tomorrow, April 29, 2007, I was publicly received into the Catholic Church at 11:00 am at St. Joseph's Parish in Belmead, Texas. The day before, I participated in the sacrament of confession for the first time in over 30 years. Oddly, 25 years ago, on April 29, 1986, I met Edith Schaeffer, the widow of Francis A. Schaffer. I tell the story of our encounter in my book, Return to Rome: Confession of An Evangelical Catholic (Brazos Press, 2009):
During my second year in New York City I had the opportunity to meet Edith Schaeffer, the widow of the Presbyterian theologian, Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984), whose published works were influential in my decision to pursue graduate work in philosophy. Mrs. Schaeffer was in New York for a book-signing event at the massive Christian Book Distributors retail outlet in Midtown Manhattan. When I arrived there in the mid-afternoon, the crowds had dissipated and Mrs. Schaeffer was sitting alone at a table. I introduced myself to her and told her about her late husband’s influence on me. She seemed sincerely interested in my story. She then kindly asked if I wanted her to sign one of her books. I said “yes,” and handed her a copy of Common Sense Christian Living. She then opened up the book to the first blank page and proceeded to draw a sketch of the Swiss Alps, with birds flying between the mountains and a small flower at the base. (For years, her and her husband lived in Switzerland where they founded the ministry, L’Abri). She then wrote in large letters [photograph of the inscription is below]:

April 29, 1986

To Francis with love, Edith Schaeffer. I’ve written many notes to another Francis—-I do pray your life may be as significant in History.

It was only when I reread Mrs. Schaeffer’s inscription while writing this book that I realized that the day of her written prayer for me is the same day that in 2007 I was publicly received back into the Catholic Church, April 29. This is one of those “coincidences” that really spooks me, but in a good way.

South Park's prophetic depiction of the atheist wars

Here's the low-down on what's happening in real time between factions of contemporary atheists. Thankfully, South Park has given us a vision of what the future would be like if dominated by such atheist conflicts. You can view it here. (Warning: some salty language)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

John Paul II and Evangelicals: An Ecumenism of Reason and Life

That is the title of an essay I just published at, "a service of the Knights of Columbus dedicated to bringing readers the top, daily headlines that Catholics need to know."  My essay is one of several published this week by in celebration of the May 1, 2011 beatification of the late Pope John Paul II. My essay begins:
As we reflect on the life of John Paul II at the eve of his beatification, we should remember the ways in which the late pontiff touched those outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. I am thinking specifically of Evangelical Protestants, our separated brethren with whom we as Catholics share the same concerns about the nature of theology and the sanctity of human life.

Although Evangelicals and Catholics disagree on certain theological questions, they agree that theology is a knowledge tradition. What does that mean? It means that theology, like other disciplines such as physics, history or literature, consists of a body of knowledge that can provide us real insight. To many of our contemporaries, this is a strange way to think, for they believe that theology – because it is the articulation of the content of faith – cannot have anything to do with reason.

Continue reading>>>

Monday, April 25, 2011

C. S. Lewis Would Not Have Been an Intelligent Design Advocate

(HT: Dangerous Idea)

That's the conclusion drawn by Asbury University philosopher Michael L. Peterson. You can read Professor Peterson's essay here. I think Peterson is correct, for many of the same reasons I offer in my analysis of ID. (See my blog post here)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Offensive religious metaphor alert: ESPN does it on Easter Sunday

In discussing the collapse of the New York Knicks and today's upcoming playoff game against the Boston Celtics, Stephen A. Smith, over at ESPN.COM, writes: "No one's in the mood for crucifying the Knicks on Easter Sunday...." Can anyone imagine Smith saying this?: "Hedo Türkoğlu, despite the Magic's loss, is in no mood to raid the buffet at mid-day during Ramadan or burn a Koran with Pastor Terry Jones, his fellow Floridian."  Even the religiously tone deaf folks at ESPN would have heard that!  But for some reason, at ESPN, Christians and their sensibilities don't warrant any respect on their most important Holy Day. You can contact ESPN here.

Bob Dylan: "In the Garden"


Lyrics follow

Keith Green: "The Easter Song"


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Touchstone interview of Hadley Arkes: "Courage and Conversion"

A year ago tomorrow, April 24, my friend Hadley Arkes was received into the Catholic Church. My wife, Frankie, and I were present at the Mass in which Hadley received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and holy communion.

In the recent issue of Touchstone, Marcia Segelstein interviews Hadley about his conversion. You can find it here. Here's an excerpt:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UNLV Philosophy Department prevails

Readers of this blog will recall the letter I sent to UNLV president, Neal Smatresk, in which I make a case for the centrality of philosophy in any university's curriculum, and for that reason UNLV should change its plan to eliminate its philosophy department. (See also the outstanding essay published on April 6 in the Boston Review and authored by my former UNLV colleague, and present chair of UNLV's philosophy department, Todd Jones). I am happy to report that the efforts of many, including Professor Jones, have succeeded. The UNLV philosophy department will not be cut.  (For the record, 14 years ago Professor Jones and I co-edited a book together, Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Reverse Discrimination? [Prometheus, 1997].  Because we hold contrary views on the issue, the book is a fair-minded and balanced collection.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jay Bruce wins teaching award. Congratulations!

From the Baylor philosophy department website:
Jay Bruce, who got his PhD in philosophy at Baylor in 2008, was recently named the Student Choice Award Professor of the Year for 2010-11 at John Brown University, where he has a permanent position. Congratulations, Jay!

I am proud to say that I sat on Jay's dissertation committee, and he also took my "Philosophy of Law" class.

How to Referee a Philosophical Debate

(HT: Joe Carter at First Things)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Reason, Conversion, and Plausibility

That's the title of my most recent entry over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
It is an odd thing to explain to other Christians why one moves from one theological tradition to another, since you know (or will eventually discover) that the reasons that seemed so compelling to you seem less than adequate to others. I believe that the reason for this is that each of us approaches these sorts of questions with a plausibility structure, about which we rarely reflect.

What do I mean by a “plausibility structure”? I mean by this those beliefs that we virtually never question but nevertheless help us to assess other beliefs that we are asked by others to entertain. That is, before we look at any controversial or contested issue – such as in politics, religion, ethics, etc. – we already have in our minds a bunch of other beliefs that we consider “obvious,” and it is those other beliefs that constitute our plausibility structure.

Continue reading>>>

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Synthese Disclaimer Published

I've already mentioned on this blog my Synthese response to the perfectly awful piece by philosopher Barbara Forrest (see here, here and here) in which she "critiques" my entire life. (If that sounds weird, you're right. See my pointed Synthese response to Forrest, "Or We Can Be Philosophers: A Response to Barbara Forrest.")  It turns out that the editors of Synthese have just published a disclaimer in the front matter of the Synthese issue in which Forrest's piece was published. Here it is:
Statement from the Editors-in-Chief of SYNTHESE

This special issue addresses a topic of lively current debate with often strongly expressed views. We have observed that some of the papers in this issue employ a tone that may make it hard to distinguish between dispassionate intellectual discussion of other views and disqualification of a targeted author or group.

We believe that vigorous debate is clearly of the essence in intellectual communities, and that even strong disagreements can be an engine of progress. However, tone and prose should follow the usual academic standards of politeness and respect in phrasing. We recognize that these are not consistently met in this particular issue. These standards, especially toward people we deeply disagree with, are a common benefit to us all. We regret any deviation from our usual standards.

Johan van Benthem
Vincent F. Hendricks
John Symons
Editors-in-Chief / SYNTHESE

I am honored that these editors have chosen to distance their prestigious journal from the less-than-scholarly tactics of Professor Forrest. Once you read my March 8, 2011 blog post, which includes my article's introductory comments, you will see why the disclaimer of the Synthese editors was compelled by nothing less than common decency.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

John O'Callaghan on the Harris-Craig Debate

(HT: Thomas Hibbs and Ronny Fritz).

My friend, John O'Callaghan, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, offers in the Notre Dame Magazine a thoughtful analysis of the question posed to the participants in the Craig-Harris debate: "Is Good From God?" Writes O'Callaghan:
On April 7, a sold-out audience in Notre Dame’s Leighton Concert Hall watched this year’s edition of “The God Debate.”Before a packed house, “New Atheist” Sam Harris and philosopher of religion William Lane Craig argued whether God is the source of morality.

Oddly, whenever I think of Harris in this debate, I think of St. Augustine’s Confessions. Specifically this passage comes to mind: "I was glad, if also ashamed, to discover that I had been barking for years not against the Catholic faith but against mental figments of physical images. My rashness and impiety lay in the fact that what I ought to have verified by investigation I had simply asserted as an accusation.”

Continue reading>>>

William Lane Craig v. Sam Harris - Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?


Here's a video of the entire debate that took place on April 7, 2011 at the University of Notre Dame

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Scandal of Being a Christian, or in the words of the immortal Frank Sinatra....

[Barbara] Forrest spends several pages [in her 2011 Synthese article, pp. 370-373] discussing both my Christian faith as well as my published works critical of other religious traditions such as The Baha’i World Faith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism or LDS).... [Because] I simply cannot respond to every unsupported, uncharitable, and unreasonable assertion she makes about my theological beliefs...[,]I will briefly address some of her claims about religious exclusivism as well as my writings on other faiths.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Faith, Reason, and the Christian University: What John Paul II Can Teach Christian Academics

That's the title of an article I published in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 12.3 (Summer 2009). Here's how it begins (notes omitted):
Baylor University, the world’s largest Baptist university, is a remarkable place with many fine Christian men and women on its faculty and in its student body. It boasts a rich tradition of academic excellence, and it is a privilege for me to be able to make a contribution to that tradition, however modest my contribution may be. However, soon after my arrival at Baylor in 2003 it came as a surprise to me to learn that among the university’s most respected faculty, denominational leaders, and alumni are those who reject creeds as normative for Christian belief. For example, one theologian of this stripe, James Dunn, enthusiastically asserted that the only creed his tradition accepts is “Ain’t nobody but Jesus goin’ to tell me what to believe.” Of course, there are many Baptists, including Baylor faculty, alumni, and regents, who disagree with the point of view held by Dunn and others.

As one would suspect, this anti-creedalism, as its advocates argue, has implications for the life of a Christian university. For they maintain that an academic institution’s embracing of a creed—as a standard of orthodoxy to assist the university in assessing the Christian faith of prospective and current faculty members—is a violation of academic freedom as well as oppressive to the believer’s liberty and spiritual integrity.

I believe this view is mistaken, but not because its advocates do not mean well or that they are not committed to the truth of the Gospel or the primacy of the Christian message. Rather, it is because they have assimilated into their theological understanding, sometimes inadvertently, philosophical beliefs about the nature of liberty and knowledge that are inconsistent with the preservation of their institutions’ theological commitments.

You can read the whole thing here.

"You're an idiot, babe. It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe..."

For those who don't know, that's a line from Bob Dylan's song, "Idiot Wind," and it is perfectly applicable to the ever-clueless, though strangely attractive, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. This morning, Dowd expresses her disappointment that prior to his performances in China, Dylan allowed the government censors to approve his set list. This meant, according to Dowd, no protest songs from the Voice of Her Generation against the oppressive Chinese government. Too bad Dowd does not know Dylan. If she were even remotely conversant with his body of work, she would have seen that the set lists he chose to play in his first several Chinese shows did indeed include "protest songs." But they weren't the sort that Dowd had in mind. They weren't her cup of tea, so to speak. For Dowd's "generation," "protest" is about tea rooms and not tea parties. Thus, Dowd does not understand the nature of the freedom longed for by the Chinese people.  I suspect that Bob Dylan does understand. This is why you find these lyrics in the song with which he opened up his show on April 6 in Beijing, "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking":

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Atheists Don't Have No Songs

(HT: Bill Dembski at Uncommon Descent)


St. Thomas Aquinas and the Inadequacy of Intelligent Design

My friends Edward Feser and Jay Wesley Richards, both fellow Catholics, are engaged in an online dispute about whether contemporary Intelligent Design theory (ID) runs counter to classical Thomistic understandings of nature and final causality. On this matter, I am with Ed. For I believe that ID, as defended by Michael Behe and William A. Dembski, is a view that in the long run serves to undermine rather than advance the cause of Christian theism. Of course, I see why some of my fellow Christians, both Protestants and Catholics, are so attracted to ID. For it promises to beat the apologists of atheism at their own game with the only tools they believe are epistemically appropriate, the methods of the empirical sciences. But this posture, it seems to me, uncritically accepts this first premise, which is inherently hostile to the sort of metaphysical thinking on which large swaths of the Christian worldview depend.  To get an idea of what I mean, what follows is an excerpt from my recent article published in Synthese, "Or We Can Be Philosophers: A Response to Barbara Forrest" (citations omitted):