Monday, January 30, 2012

Francis Schaeffer at 100, and Edith Schaeffer's wonderful note to me

Today, January 30, 2012, is the 100th birthday of Francis A. Schaeffer. He was an important influence on my intellectual formation while I was in college. Although given my return to the Catholic Church I would now part ways with Schaeffer on several philosophical and theological questions, I still retain a healthy appreciation of the role he played in making American Evangelicals aware that the Christian faith is a rational knowledge tradition that simply cannot be relegated to the realm of "mere belief" without diminishing its epistemic status.

On April 29, 1986, I met Francis Schaeffer's widow, Edith. I tell the story of our encounter in my book, Return to Rome: Confession of An Evangelical Catholic (Brazos Press, 2009):

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Too Many Ironies in the Fire

Newt claims that Mitt has character issues, and now Herman Cain is endorsing Newt. Looks like Newt has too many ironies in the fire.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas - January 28

The following was issued by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas (28 January):

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today the liturgical calendar commemorates St Thomas Aquinas, the great Doctor of the Church. With his charism as a philosopher and theologian, he offered an effective model of harmony between reason and faith, dimensions of the human spirit that are completely fulfilled in the encounter and dialogue with one another.

According to St Thomas' thought, human reason, as it were, "breathes": it moves within a vast open horizon in which it can express the best of itself. When, instead, man reduces himself to thinking only of material objects or those that can be proven, he closes himself to the great questions about life, himself and God and is impoverished.

The relationship between faith and reason is a serious challenge to the currently dominant culture in the Western world, and for this very reason our beloved John Paul II decided to dedicate an Encyclical to it, entitled, precisely, Fides et Ratio - Faith and Reason. Recently, I too returned to this topic in my Discourse to the University of Regensburg.

In fact, the modern development of the sciences brings innumerable positive effects, as we all see, that should always be recognized. At the same time, however, it is necessary to admit that the tendency to consider true only what can be experienced constitutes a limitation of human reason and produces a terrible schizophrenia now acclaimed, which has led to the coexistence of rationalism and materialism, hyper-technology and unbridled instinct.

It is urgent, therefore, to rediscover anew human rationality open to the light of the divine Logos and his perfect revelation which is Jesus Christ, Son of God made man.

When Christian faith is authentic, it does not diminish freedom and human reason; so, why should faith and reason fear one another if the best way for them to express themselves is by meeting and entering into dialogue? Faith presupposes reason and perfects it, and reason, enlightened by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing by opening itself to the content of faith, which, indeed, requires its free and conscious adherence.

St Thomas Aquinas, with farsighted wisdom, succeeded in establishing a fruitful confrontation with the Arab and Hebrew thought of his time, to the point that he was considered an ever up-to-date teacher of dialogue with other cultures and religions. He knew how to present that wonderful Christian synthesis of reason and faith which today too, for the Western civilization, is a precious patrimony to draw from for an effective dialogue with the great cultural and religious traditions of the East and South of the world.

Let us pray that Christians, especially those who work in an academic and cultural context, are able to express the reasonableness of their faith and witness to it in a dialogue inspired by love. Let us ask the Lord for this gift through the intercession of St Thomas Aquinas and above all, through Mary, Seat of Wisdom.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Honoring my mother-in-law, Peggy Dickerson

My mother-in-law, Peggy Dickerson, died two years ago today, on January 27, 2010. My wife misses her so much. What follows is the text of the eulogy I delivered at her memorial service. Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them her.
I would like to now say a few words about my mother-in-law, Peggy Dickerson. She was born August 31, 1924 in Los Angeles, California. She was one of three children of Frankie Bernice and Andrew Buchanan Gardenhire.

But it was in the great American southwest, close to Yuma, Arizona, in which her family would plant its roots and she would meet her future husband. Peggy played the flute and piccolo, and was drum majorette at Yuma High School, graduating in 1942. She then attended University of Arizona in Tucson for 1½ years, leaving to marry 1st Lt. Joseph A. Dickerson, Jr. in 1944.  She and Joe remained wedded for 62 years until his death in May 2006. In school she had been a track sprinter and basketball player, and she continued playing basketball in officers’ wives leagues. Her occupations included clerical and bookkeeping work, and she was self‑employed as a tax preparer for many years. She also enjoyed bridge throughout her life, a custom she brought with her to Atria Seville and did not cease practicing until early January of this year.

After Joe’s tour of duty in the Second World War, Peggy moved with her pilot husband to New York, Maryland, Germany, Japan, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Texas. After Joe retired from the Air Force in 1962, they settled in Arizona, and from there moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1965, where Joe was employed as an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service.

Between 1947 and 1956 Peggy and Joe became parents to four beautiful daughters: Coween Ann, Tamara Jo, Frankie Rozelle, and Jo Alexis.

Monday, January 23, 2012

An Uncomfortable and Awkward Question for Conservative Christian Gingrich Supporters

Are you prepared for America to have a First Lady who was a home wrecker and was once the President's mistress (if Gingrich were to become President)?  Many Christian conservatives--smitten by Newt's rhetorical flourishes, as they are of any "good preaching"--seem not to have the imagination to entertain this question. It crossed my mind weeks ago, but I thought it churlish to raise it online, until I witnessed Gingrich's retort to John King when the CNN correspondent brought up the ABC interview with Gingrich's ex-wife. Here's the  portion of the exchange I'd like to isolate:

"Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine."

The Speaker is, of course, correct that "every person in here knows personal pain." No one doubts that. But, in this case, the personal pain suffered by his ex-wife was inflicted by Gingrich. For this reason, the appropriate response for the Speaker should have been something like this, "Every person in here knows personal pain, just like the pain suffered by my ex-wife. And, I am ashamed to admit that I am the one who caused this pain. So, I don't at all disparage her for what she has said about me. That's the man I was: self-absorbed, uncaring, thinking myself as someone above the moral law. My conversion to Catholicism, and the absolution I received for my sins, was the first step on my way to becoming the man I ought to be."

But what we heard from Gingrich was a complaint about his pain, as if he were the victim! But not in relation to his personal virtue and his formation as a Christian, as if King's question was a stumbling block to his internal sanctification. Rather, Gingrich was upset that the question about his ex-wife was asked in a debate, in his words, "two days before the primary [as] a significant question for a presidential campaign." This is what he judged "as close to despicable as anything I can imagine." Either the Speaker lacks imagination or he is so self-absorbed that he instinctively converts his ex-wife's pain into a question about his personal ambition to become President of the United States. Now, that's despicable.

So, let me ask it again in a more extended fashion: Are conservative Christians, who believe in the morality of the natural law and all that it entails about marriage, family and civil society, prepared for America to have a First Lady who was a home wrecker and was once the President's mistress, with her husband as the national standard bearer for the causes of life, conjugal love, and the common good?

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Gingrich, Romney, and Evangelicals Follow-Up

A post of mine from yesterday--Better to be an adulterer than a Mormon?: Evangelicals, Gingrich, and Romney--garnered the most hits in the history of this blog. In response to this entry, my dear friend Michael Bauman writes in the combox:
All other things being equal, it’s better to be a forgiven Catholic — Gingrich, than a forgiven Mormon — Romney, especially when the Catholic is better informed, more experienced, more articulate, and has a better record of legislative achievement (not to mention that Catholicism is truer than Mormonism and therefore yields more benefits and advantages of many sorts.)

God forgives and God regenerates repentant sinners. Unless we are prepared to say, and to substantiate, either that conversion is not real or that Gingrich is not converted, then I will continue to assert the authenticity of his change. I’ve seen nothing that makes me think it is not true. If anyone else has seen such contrary evidence, I’d be quite willing to listen and possibly to change my assessment. Gingrich seems to me a new and different man morally and spiritually from what he was. Given the truth of Christianity and the power of God in the gospel, it’s exactly what I’d expect. He has confessed, repented, and been absolved. I, therefore, will not continue to throw his errors in his face. He has acknowledged them repeatedly and publicly. Those allegations that are false he has denied.

Good on him, and God bless him.

I do not disagree with Mike that Newt Gingrich has undergone a true conversion. That was not the issue I was addressing in my entry. What I was addressing was the wisdom and political judgment of those Evangelical leaders who seemed to have not even considered Mitt Romney, even though Romney's life story does not suggest a person whose character  lacks the fortitude to withstand the sorts of temptations that seem to have bedeviled Gingrich throughout his career. Adultery, of course, is one temptation. And I highly doubt that Gingrich would succumb to that temptation ever again. But the cluster of character traits that gave rise to these infidelities is a different story all together. As I said in a December 3, 2011 Catholic Thing essay on Gingrich:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Honoring My Father and Mother on their 52nd Anniversary

That is the title of my latest entry over at The Catholic Thing. Here is how it begins:
Although we celebrate anniversaries on wedding dates, I am not writing to celebrate a wedding. That would be like ending the baseball season right after President Obama throws out the first pitch on opening day.

No, I am writing to celebrate a marriage, one that, if they make it to next Monday, will have lasted fifty-two years. To give you an idea how long that is, it’s about 27,349,336 minutes, or 455,822 hours, or the amount of time you have to wait in line for a kidney in Canada.

My parents were married, January 23, 1960. Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States; a gallon of gasoline was 25 cents; the average house cost $12,700; the average annual income was $5,200; RawhidePerry Mason, and the Twilight Zone were hit television shows. And the birthplace of our current president, Hawaii, had only been a state for five months.

There were, of course, no Internet, email, cell phones, lap top computers, or even cable television. Most U.S. adults in 1960 had known, or knew of, someone in their family or a friend’s family who had served in the Civil War. Many people alive in 1960 had made it through the Great Depression, the First and Second World Wars, and had personal experience of a world without electricity, telephones, airplanes, or teleprompters.

I mention all these things – not to make anyone feel old – but in order to remind you of something that we all know though rarely articulate: our identities as individuals cannot be isolated from our patrimony, which runs deeper than the discoveries, inventions, entertainments, and political events by which so many of us today mistakenly define ourselves.

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My critique of Roe v. Wade and its progeny

Sunday, January 22, is the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973). Even though many citizens reject the opinion, not many know why it is so flawed. In chapter 2 of my 2007 book, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press), I offer a detailed analysis of Roe and some subsequent Supreme Court opinions. An earlier version of that chapter was published in 2006 (1.1, pp. 37-72) in the inaugural issue of the Liberty University Law Review under the title "The Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade, and Abortion Law." Here's how it begins:
It is no exaggeration to say that no U.S. Supreme Court opinion has been more misunderstood and has had its arguments more misrepresented in the public square than Roe v. Wade (1973).1 There seems to be a widespread perception that Roe was a moderate opinion that does not support abortion on demand, i.e., unrestricted abortion for all nine months for virtually any reason. Even a philosopher of such erudity as Mortimer Adler did not seem to fully understand the legal implications of Roe: “Mr. Justice Blackmun’s decision in the case of Roe v. Wade invokes the right of privacy, which is nothing but the freedom of an adult woman to do as she pleases with her own body in the first trimester of pregnancy.”

In order to fully grasp the reasoning of Roe, its paucity as a piece of constitutional jurisprudence, and the current state of abortion law, this article looks at three different but interrelated topics: (1) what the Court actually concluded in Roe; (2) the Court’s reasoning in Roe; and (3) how subsequent Court opinions, including Casey v. Planned Parenthood, have shaped the jurisprudence of abortion law.

You can read, and download, the whole thing here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Better to be an adulterer than a Mormon?: Evangelicals, Gingrich, and Romney

(Update: You may be interested in the January 20, 2012 follow-up post--Gingrich, Romney, and Evangelicals Follow-Up--in which I respond to a critique of the entry below)

On October 12-15, I had an amazing visit to Utah. I conducted a faculty workshop at Brigham Young University on abortion and personhood, and then gave a talk on my return to the Catholic Church. Both events were attended by faculty members from both the School of Law and the School of Religion. I also conducted a workshop in Salt Lake City for the LDS Public Affairs Office on the topic of Catholic Social Thought.  It was the first time I had visited BYU since 1992. My hosts--at both BYU and Salt Lake--were delightful. I had a wonderful time.

During the drive from Salt Lake to Provo after I had conducted my workshop on Catholic Social Thought, my friend and host, Robert Millet (an LDS Professor at BYU), shared with me a story that I will not easily forget. He told me of a Mormon friend who in conversation with an Evangelical Protestant had asked him whether a Christian who committed adultery would lose his salvation.  The Evangelical answered, "No." The Mormon followed up with this query, "What if the Christian had murdered someone? Would he then lose his salvation?" The answer, again, was "no." Then the Mormon asked, "Well, what if he had become a Mormon?" The Evangelical answered, "That's a good question. I don't know." I joked with Bob, "Perhaps your friend should have asked what would be the state of the person's salvation if he had murdered, or committed adultery with, a Mormon?"

Having spent over two decades of my professional life in the Evangelical world, the answers to this Mormon gentleman's queries do not surprise me, though they, of course, shocked Bob, as it did the friend who had told Bob of the encounter. For the implication for this Mormon gentleman was clear: Evangelicals believe it is better to be a murderer or an adulterer than to be a Mormon.  I am, of course, not suggesting that Evangelicals are thoughtless bigots, or even that most Evangelicals share this gentleman's lack of theological nuance and judgment. Far from it. If anything, I am convinced that his answers are borne of a deep commitment to theological truth, something that one rarely finds in a culture in which theological claims are treated as no epistemically higher than matters of taste. In this sense, his willingness to stand against the spirit of the age is admirable. But in another sense--tying a believer's eternal fate to overt cognitive assent to a set of doctrines without regard to whether in fact the believer's life reflects Christian virtue--seems not very Christian at all. It, ironically, reflects an acquiescence to the flip side of the spirit of the age: it treats the human person as a bifurcated being consisting of an all-important mind that consents to doctrine and an unimportant body that is alien to the "true" self.

This is why I am not at all surprised--as my fellow Patheos blogger, David French, reports--that a group of Evangelical leaders who met privately to discuss which presidential candidate to endorse did not even consider Mitt Romney. Apparently it was a contest exclusively between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, with the former Pennsylvania Senator receiving the nod with an 85-29 vote. Amazingly, Gingrich was in the running, despite the former Speaker's propensity to engage in questionable conduct when in the pursuit of political power. It seems, then, that a Mormon Newt without the history of moral foibles occasioned by political ambition would have received the same lack of consideration these Evangelical leaders gave Governor Romney.  Consequently, the message that our Mormon friends will hear from this is the same one heard by Bob Millet's friend: better to be an adulterer than a Mormon.

In light of this, Evangelicals--indeed, all Christians, including Catholics, that connect their theological paternity to the Council of Nicea--have to reassess how their public actions and official statements communicate what they believe about statecraft and the moral qualifications for political leadership to a world already skeptical of their motives and their judgment.

(Update: You may be interested in the January 20, 2012 follow-up post--Gingrich, Romney, and Evangelicals Follow-Up--in which I respond to a critique of this entry)

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

My wife's stained glass online gallery

Here's a link to my wife Frankie's outstanding stained-glass work

Journeys of Faith excerpts on HarperCollins website

I just learned that you can now browse portions of Journeys of Faith, a book for which I am one of the four main contributors. It is accessible on the HarperCollins website. The book is edited by Robert L. Plummer (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), and the forward is written by fellow Patheos blogger, Scot McKnight (North Park University).  To browse the book, go here, or just click the picture of the cover. My contribution to the book--"A Journey to Catholicism"--begins as chapter 4. Gregg Allison's response to me ("A Response to Catholicism") is in chapter 5. And my reply to Gregg ("Catholicism Rejoinder") is chapter 6.  Journeys of Faith will be released in the second week in February.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ken Starr: Can I Vote For a Mormon?

Judge Ken Starr, the President of Baylor University (where I am a tenured faculty member in the philosophy department), published a thoughtful essay in yesterday's Washington Post, "Can I Vote For a Mormon?" It begins this way:
Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary looms large on the political horizon. In the midst of lively public debates over taxes, jobs, the national debt and similarly important questions related to the future vitality of our nation, a different kind of question continues to privately occupy the minds of some prospective voters: Can I vote for a Mormon?

This is an important question in our constitutional democracy. Without endorsing or even praising (much less criticizing) any candidate, I strongly encourage Americans who would ask this question of themselves to consider and weigh thoughtfully our nation’s constitutional traditions. At their best, those are traditions of welcoming religious forbearance.

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Note: I have addressed this and similar questions in several posts and essays over the years:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taking Rites Seriously: Political Liberalism and the Problem of Marriage

That's the title of my latest column over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
Political Liberalism, as we know it today, is not even three decades old. It began to develop in the early 1980s in the writings of several well-known philosophers that included Thomas Nagel, Ronald Dworkin, and John Rawls. The purpose of their project was to offer the political culture an intellectually respectable way to sequester the policy goals of the fledgling movement of religious conservatives while at the same time claiming that their project is consistent with an older liberalism that allows for full political participation by all citizens.

The Political Liberal correctly observes that the differences between citizens on the culture-owar issues – e.g., abortion, marriage, euthanasia – stem from their contrary, though reasonable, worldviews or comprehensive doctrines (as Rawls would put it). Rawls concedes that his understanding of “reasonable” is “deliberately loose.”

“We avoid excluding doctrines as unreasonable,” writes Rawls, “without strong grounds based on clear aspects of the reasonable itself. Otherwise our account runs the danger of being arbitrary and exclusive. Political liberalism counts many familiar and traditional doctrines – religious, philosophical, and moral – as reasonable, even though we could not seriously entertain them for ourselves. . . .” (Emphasis added)

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