Saturday, March 31, 2012

Why Did Legal Elites Underestimate the Case Against the Mandate?

That's the title of Jonathan Adler's insightful post over at the Volokh Conspiracy. It begins this way:
Greg Sargent is one of many commentators wondering “How did legal observers and Obamacare backers get it so wrong?” I think he’s asking the wrong question.  A better question to ask is: why did so many expect legal elites to have any particular insight into the current court?  After  all, many of the legal experts who were so dismissive of the arguments against the mandate were equally dismissive of the federalism arguments that prevailed in cases like United States v. Lopez, New York v. United States, and City of Boerne v. Flores.  Many of the legal academics who ridiculed Randy Barnett’s work on the mandate, and who were relied upon by legal journalists and commentators, thought their schools were advancing viable legal claims in Rumsfeld v. FAIR. Oops. Premier appellate litigators may have a good sense of how the Court is likely to assess complex constitutional law claims, but elite legal academics, not so much.

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This, by the way, is also true of the views of legal elites on the matter of religion and the law, as I have noted in several articles of mine:


Friday, March 30, 2012

Catechesis, Conversion, and the Hope That is Within You

That is the title of my latest piece over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:

[caption id="attachment_2347" align="alignright" width="296" caption="Me in 1968, following my First Holy Communion"][/caption]

During Holy Week and Easter Sunday Mass, in Catholic parishes throughout the world, many pilgrims will be received into the Church. Most will have gone through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), a six-month study of the Church’s teachings and practices. This year I have the privilege of being part of the RCIA team at St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center at Baylor University, where as many as a dozen men and women will soon be entering the Church.

Because it was five years ago this week that my wife, Frankie, and I decided to seek full communion with the Catholic Church, I have been reflecting on my own journey and the degree to which my own misunderstanding (and subsequent understanding) of Catholicism and its teachings were instrumental in both my departure to Evangelicalism in my teens and my return to the Church at forty-six.

Although I had attended Catholic schools from first through twelfth grades (1966-1978), my knowledge of Catholic thought was grossly superficial. Everything that I would come to believe substantively about Catholicism during my years of intellectual and spiritual formation as an Evangelical would come from Protestant authors, some of whom were deeply hostile to Catholicism while others were critical though appreciative.

I did earn my Ph.D. in philosophy at Fordham University (1989), a Jesuit institution, where I studied under the great Thomist philosopher, W. Norris Clarke, S. J. It was Fr. Clarke who helped fully convert me from a peeping to a convinced Thomist, though it was St. Thomas’ metaphysics and ethics, rather than his commitment to the Church, to which I gravitated.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Michael Licona on "Flipping the Bird," i.e., giving the finger

My friend, Mike Licona, a New Testament scholar, muses on the historical origins of flipping people off.  Here's the video, as it appears on the Parchment & Pen Blog:



Friday, March 16, 2012

“Potential Persons” in the “After-Birth Abortion” Article

This is my latest over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
As readers of The Catholic Thing are well aware, the Journal of Medical Ethicsa periodical to which I have contributed, recently published the controversial article, “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?”, written by the philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.

Throughout the article, the authors refer to fetuses and newborns as “potential persons,” which, I am sure, sounds like an odd neologism for those uninitiated in contemporary moral philosophy. It is, however, a phrase that has been used in the bioethics literature for over four decades.

According to Giubilini and Minerva, “fetuses and newborns. . .are potential persons because they can develop, thanks to their own biological mechanisms, those properties which will make them ‘persons’ in the sense of ‘subjects of a moral right to life’: that is, the point at which they will be able to make aims and appreciate their own life.”

This is why, argue the authors, it is morally permissible to kill fetuses and newborns. They are only potential persons, not actual persons.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

HBU starting M.A. in philosophy program

Houston Baptist University is starting an M.A. program in philosophy.  Given the quality of its faculty, and the recent hiring of philosopher John Mark Reynolds as the new HBU provost, this is an exciting development.  Here's what the HBU website says:

Program Description

The mission of the Master of Arts in Philosophy (MAPhil) is to develop students who are capable of serving their community and the Church successfully in a variety of vocations, including academic, parachurch, and ecclesiastical professions. The MAPhil degree is intended to offer students training in the critical and philosophical skills that are useful for their further academic study and also for their growth as followers of God. MAPhil graduates may continue their education at the doctoral level.

In addition, the MAPhil program contains a Certificate of Apologetics.  The coursework for the certificate is 18 hours and overlaps with the MAPhil curriculum while also containing electives for those wishing to focus on apologetics.  A student can complete the certificate while in the MAPhil program or just pursue the certificate.
Finally, there is an option to complete a research track as part of the program.  This track is ideal for students who desire to write a thesis and use that as the basis for further graduate work in philosophy.

Advantages and Opportunities

The faculty of in the MAPhil program are excellent teachers and nationally known scholars.  Faculty have achieved terminal degrees from the University of Notre Dame, St. Louis University, University of California-Riverside, Baylor University and Northwestern University.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Parable of the Kosher Deli: Bishop Lori's Statement to the House Committee on Oversight regarding Religious Freedom


I anticipate the bishop's analogy in my October 14, 2011 Catholic Thing essay, "President Obama: Ex-Liberal." Here is the text of Bishop Lori's statement:

Apple Doesn't Like the Tridentine Mass?

I just ordered a new iPod Touch. I took the engraving option, and asked for this to be inscribed on the back:

et cum spiritu tuo

But Apple refused to honor my request. Here's the message I received:

"Inappropriate message text."

So, instead I ordered this to be engraved on the back:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner

It does have the advantage of being a bit more ecumenical than my first choice.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Chuck Colson Schools Rush Limbaugh


You can find the transcript here.

From Left Behind to Right Behind: Denny Burk's review of Mark and Grace Driscoll's "Real Marriage."

Just read Denny Burk's enlightening review of Mark and Grace Discoll's Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life (Thomas Nelson, 2012).  The Rev. Driscoll, a committed Calvinist, is a well-known megachurch pastor in the Seattle area.  If Driscoll's book is Evangelicalism's answer to John Paul II's Theology of the Body, Evangelicalism has no idea what the question is.  Here's an excerpt from Burk's review:  "Although some Christian authors comment on the ethics of a husband sodomizing his wife, I have yet to find any who contemplate the reverse. Yet the Driscolls give explicit instructions to wives about how they might sodomize their husbands in a pleasurable way." God help us.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Journeys of Faith, to be released on Tuesday, March 6

Tomorrow, March 6, Zondervan (a subsidiary of Harper Collins Publishers) officially releases the book  Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism, edited by Robert L. Plummer (with a forward by my fellow Patheos blogger, Scot McKnight). I am one of the four main contributors, presenting in my chapter an account of my return to Catholicism.

My chapter is followed by a response by Gregg R. Allison of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I then in turn reply to Allison in a small chapter. The other three authors each provide accounts of their pilgrimages from one Christian tradition to another: Chris Castaldo (Evangelicaism), Lyle Dorsett (Anglicanism), and Wilbur Ellsworth (Eastern Orthodoxy). And just like my contribution, each of the others is followed by a respondent to which he too replies. The respondents for Castaldo, Dorsett, and Ellsworth are respectively Brad Gregory of the University of Notre Dame, Robert Peterson of Covenant Seminary, and Craig Blaising of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

You can browse inside the book at the Harper Collins website here. And you can read more about the book on the Zondervan website here.

Here is how my contribution begins:
I was baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant, several weeks after I was born on November 3, 1960. In January 1967, our family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where I received First Holy Communion (May 1968) and the Sacrament of Confirmation (May 1973).

It was soon after my confirmation that I became intensely interested in the person and work of Christ. I had come across a copy of the Good News for Modern Man version of the New Testament that a family friend, Frank Strabala, had left on our kitchen table after he talked with my parents one evening about his renewed Catholic faith. Not knowing at first that it was the New Testament, I began reading it. I was drawn to the Jesus of the Gospels. I really did not know what to do. So I called up Mr. Strabala and asked him some questions. He invited me to a weekday service at a local “Jesus people” church, Maranatha House. It was there for the first time that I came in contact with Christians from a variety of Protestant denominations. They, along with the Catholics on hand, were part of the burgeoning “charismatic movement,” a renewal movement that emphasized the baptism of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. There were none of the accoutrements of Catholic liturgy at these worship services. Rather there was Scripture reading, expository preaching, and contemporary and expressive worship. For a young Catholic interested in following Jesus more deeply and authentically, this was profoundly attractive.

Although there were Catholics who worshiped at Maranatha House, the ecclesial ambience was Evangelical Protestant. The authors and speakers whose books and tapes I devoured, and the sermons I heard, were virtually all Protestant. Thus, it seemed to me—in comparison with my experience as a young Catholic—that Protestants, at least the ones I knew, were far more serious about their faith. Although I considered myself Catholic through my high school years, I had assimilated much of Protestant thinking on salvation, Scripture, ecclesial authority, and worship. Nevertheless, it was only after high school that I began to think of myself as an Evangelical Protestant.

Here's is an excerpt from my response to Professor Allison:
The doctrine of justification in the first fifteen hundred years of Christian history poses a peculiar problem for the Protestant view that “Scripture is clear for all Christians, who are also responsible and competent for the task of interpreting it.” “The clarity of Scripture,” according to Allison, “means that it is written in such a way that ordinary human beings who possess the normal acquired ability to understand written and oral communication can read Scripture with understanding or, if they are unable to read, can hear Scripture read and comprehend it.…”

Given this belief—sometimes called the “perspicuity of Scripture”—it seems difficult for Allison to account for why the Protestant view of justification is not front and center in the Church’s first fifteen hundred years. For if that view were the obvious and clear reading of Scripture, one that literate Christians of ordinary wit should find in the Bible with ease, then its absence from deliberations of every church council as well as the Church’s sacramental life and the writings of its leading theologians means that either the Protestant view of justification is right and Scripture’s perspicuity wrong or Scripture’s perspicuity is right and the Protestant view of justification wrong. Thus, it seems to me that the Reformation’s legitimacy depends on two apparently contrary beliefs both being true at the same time.




Friday, March 2, 2012

What Reagan Can Teach Romney and Santorum

That's the title of my latest piece over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
American Conservative politicians are at a rhetorical disadvantage running for national office, not only because the national media are largely liberal. Our cultural vocabulary is infused with liberal assumptions. For this reason, many of us who largely agree with social and economic conservatism cringe when we listen to conservative politicians either struggling to convey a conservative answer without giving offense (as in the case of Mitt Romney) or without bothering with a winsome delivery (as in the case of Rick Santorum).

Americans love a happy warrior, which is why they loved Ronald Reagan. He knew what he believed and why he believed it, and he was willing to offer reasons for his beliefs. But he also knew how to deliver his message with humor, wit, and self-deprecation. He was a serious man who did not take himself all that seriously. And thus, unlike today’s candidates (including the current occupant of the White House), he rarely used the first person singular. This is because Reagan loved America more than he loved himself. And it showed.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

We Are All Imbeciles Now: The HHS Regulations and the Specter of Buck v. Bell

That's the title of a piece I published earlier this week over at Bench Memos on National Review Online. Here's how it begins:
In the 1927 case Buck v. Bell, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Virginia statute that allowed the “superintendent of certain institutions” to order the sterilizations of “feeble-minded” persons who were under the care of these state institutions, if the superintendent“shall be of opinion that it is for the best interests of the patients and of society that an inmate under his care should be sexually sterilized.”

In his majority opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes offered this description of the plaintiff: “Carrie Buck is a feeble minded white woman who was committed to the State Colony. . . . She is the daughter of a feeble minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble minded child.”

Holmes rejected as “the usual last resort of constitutional argument” Buck’s claim that the law violated her equal protection because, as her attorney argued, the forced sterilization policy “is confined to the small number who are in the institutions named and is not applied to the multitudes outside.” For Holmes what animated his opinion was the government’s legitimate interest in imparting to Ms. Buck and her ilk the preventative health care that she and her feeble-minded peers were resisting. In what has to be one of the most chilling passages in American judicial history, Holmes writes:

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