Thursday, December 17, 2015

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

That's the title of my most recent entry over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
On December 15, Wheaton College, an Evangelical school in suburban Chicago, placed one of its tenured political science faculty members on administrative leave. 
The school’s official press release states that the college placed Dr. Larcyia Hawkins on leave “in response to significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements that… [she] has made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam.” What were those statements?
According to a report in Christianity Today, Dr. Hawkins drew international attention after she publicly announced on her Facebook wall that she would don the Muslim hijab as part of her Advent worship in order to “stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like [her], a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” 
You can continue reading here.  However, if you want a spoiler, here's my answer to the question: yes. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Anti-School Choice Religious Bigotry

That's the title of a December 10 piece in The Wall Street Journal. Authored by attorney Michael Bindas, its subtitle is "Using a law with ugly anti-Catholic roots to deny education options for children." Here's how it begins:

Anti-Catholicism has been called America’s last acceptable prejudice. Acceptable or not, it is enshrined in the constitutions of more than half the U.S. states. Inspired by the original 1875 congressional supporter, James Blaine, state “Blaine” amendments barred funding for “sectarian” schools, which in Protestant America at the time meant Catholic schools. 

But the worm has turned. The judges charged with interpreting those constitutions today are interpreting sectarian to mean all religions. Consider recent decisions from Colorado and Missouri, which the U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to review.

The Colorado case, Doyle v. Taxpayers for Public Education, concerns a scholarship program that the Douglas County School District adopted to provide greater educational opportunities. The school district provides modest scholarships to students, who can use them to attend private schools—religious or nonreligious—of their parents’ choosing.
You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The God-Haunted Atheism of Christopher Hitchens

Four years ago today, on December 15, 2011, the writer and well-known atheist, Christopher Hitchens, died. The week following his death, I published a piece over at The Catholic Thing, entitled, "The God-Haunted Atheism of Christopher Hitchens." Here's how it begins:

On December 15, contemporary unbelief lost one of its most gifted apologists, Christopher Hitchens. He, along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, are often referred to as the four horsemen of the New Atheism. It is called the “New” Atheism because of its evangelistic zeal, an enthusiasm largely absent from the more urbane and engaging infidelities of “the Old Atheists” like Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, or Antony Flew.
Image result for Christopher Hitchens
But like all undisciplined enthusiasts who confuse wisecracking proselytes with wisdom-seeking pilgrims, the New Atheists seem incapable of completely ridding themselves and their disciples of the metaphysical infrastructure of the creeds from which they claim to have decisively fled. Hitchens, for example, in his book God Is Not Great, argues that “religion poisons everything,” blaming religious believers and their beliefs for many of the atrocities of history.

Setting aside the question of Hitchens’ historical accuracy and philosophical acumen, his thesis correctly affirms that human beings have had their rights violated by other human beings who committed their wicked deeds in the name of God and for bad reasons.

Some of the cases that Hitchens cites involve legitimate governments perpetuating and protecting wicked acts that these states had the legal power to perpetuate and protect. And yet, this fact would have not moved Hitchens to say that the acts he thinks are wrong are now right. Why? Because human beings are beings of a certain sort and thus by nature possess certain rights that their governments are morally obligated to recognize and protect.

You can read the rest here.

Two Nice Endorsements for Taking Rites Seriously from Robert P. George and Lenn E. Goodman

I am pleased to report that on the back cover of Taking Rites Seriously are two nice endorsements. One is from Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Lenn E. Goodman, Professor of Philosophy, and Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities,  Vanderbilt University. Here they are:

"In Taking Rites Seriously Francis Beckwith clears away many of the misunderstandings of religion that have marred discussions of faith and public life and corrupted the constitutional law of church and state. Of course, there are some academics and activists who are so deeply in the grip of secularist ideology that they have no desire to learn. Most Americans, however, whether they are believers or secularists, would like to be better informed about religion. For them, this book is a gift." - Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University.

"Sophisticated, learned, and committed, Francis Beckwith argues coolly for a reasoned faith even as he smites the philistines hip and thigh on behalf of human dignity and life." - Lenn E. Goodman, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Vanderbilt University

I am truly humbled that this book has elicited such comments from these accomplished scholars and teachers.

My new book, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith

Just in time for the Holidays, Cambridge University Press has released my latest book, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith. To learn more about the book, you can go to its website, . On that site, you can read the book's introduction, peruse its table of contents, and read the publisher's summary, which states:

Taking Rites Seriously is about how religious beliefs and religious believers are assessed by judges and legal scholars and are sometimes mischaracterized and misunderstood by those who are critical of the influence of religion in politics or in the formation of law. Covering three general topics – reason and motive, dignity and personhood, nature and sex – philosopher and legal theorist Francis J. Beckwith carefully addresses several contentious legal and cultural questions over which religious and non-religious citizens often disagree: the rationality of religious belief, religiously motivated legislation, human dignity in bioethics, abortion and embryonic stem cell research, reproductive rights and religious liberty, evolutionary theory, and the nature of marriage. In the process, he responds to some well-known critics of public faith – including Brian Leiter, Steven Pinker, Suzanna Sherry, Ronald Dworkin, John Rawls, and Richard Dawkins – as well as to some religiously conservative critics of secularism such as the advocates for intelligent design.
Given the ongoing and increasing disputes in our culture about religious liberty, religious beliefs, and their attendant notions (such as metaphysical and moral beliefs),  the release of this book has turned out to be quite timely, even though I had been working on it since late 2008.

You can purchase it at

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trailer for Independence Day: Resurgence

I am a big fan of the 1996 film, Independence Day.  In Summer 2016, the sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, will be released. Here's the first trailer:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

John Cleese's version of Alvin Plantinga's "Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism."

Okay, it's not quite that. But Cleese, of Monty Python fame, does a nice, and humorous, job of explaining what happens when one offers a materialist account of everything including a materialist account of how your mind acquired the belief that materialism is the correct view. (To read an outline of Plantinga's argument, go here)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Donald Trump, Muslim Immigration, and the Catholic Analogy.

I published the following entry on the blog, What's Wrong With the World, on May 26, 2009, over six and half years ago, long before Donald Trump became a presidential contender. Nevertheless, it serves as a nice counter to the reasoning behind the Trump campaign's recently published press release: "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."


Let me start by saying that I have enormous respect for my WWWtW colleague Lydia McGrew, and I am usually in agreement with her on a variety of subjects. However, I have been thinking about her recent post on Muslim Immigration, and I have come to the conclusion that her approach is mistaken.

Although there are several issues I could raise, there is one in particular that has been gnawing at me. And that is the way that Catholic immigrants, including my maternal great grandmother, Vincenza Domino (d. 1979), were treated and thought of by Protestant America when they began arriving on these shores in the mid-19th century through the early 20th century.

( Anti-Catholic cartoon in Harper's Weekly, 30 September 1871)

In the 19th-century a form of strong church-state separationism surged to prominence in the U.S., largely as a Protestant reaction against the influx of immigrants from predominantly Roman Catholic countries. Some of these immigrant groups, which included Irish and Italians, set up their own private religious schools. Many non-Catholic Americans believed well into the 20th-century that Catholic schools indoctrinated their students with superstitions that were inconsistent with the principles of American democracy. Take, for example, these comments by the great Baptist church-state separationist, the Reverend Joseph Martin Dawson (whose entry I authored for the Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties(Routledge, Taylor & Francis, 2007)):

The Catholics, who are now [in 1948] claiming a near majority over all Protestants in the United States, would abolish our public school system which is our greatest single factor in national unity and would substitute their old-world, medieval parochial schools, with their alien culture. Or else they make it plain that they wish to install facilities for teach-ing their religion in the public schools…. Perhaps the burning issue has arisen soon enough to enable the friends of the native American culture to arrest the progress of the long-range plan of those who would supplant it. There can be no doubt about the Catholic plan. Having lost enormous prestige in Europe, the Church now looks to the United States as a suitable stage for the recovery of its lost influence. Here it would seek new ground, consolidate and expand, as compensation for its weakened position in bankrupt Europe, with the hope of transforming this continent, a Protestant country, into a Catholic citadel from which to exert a powerful rule. If this seems exaggerated and fanciful, the reader has only to open his eyes to what the Catholics are doing to achieve this end. (J. M. Dawson, Separate Church & State Now [New York: R. R. Smith, 1948], 96. ) 
Quite definitely we shall have to except Catholicism from the religious groups which contribute to democratic freedom, and so list it with secularism as a threat to national unity. (Ibid.)
The Roman hierarchy is poisoning the Government of our Nation…. The common belief of candidates is that to be elected President; or, except in the South, that to become Governor, Senator, or Representative, one must make a deal with the Roman Catholics. For a candidate to remain true to American principles in Catholic sections of the United States is to commit political suicide, at least in the belief of candidates. (J. M. Dawson, The Battle for America, p .11, as quoted in James M. Dunn, The Ethical Thought of Joseph Martin Dawson (Th.D. Dissertation, Southwester Baptist Theological Seminary, 1966), 235-36)

Will Herberg's 1949 Commentary review of Paul Blanshard's notorious American Freedom and Catholic Power

There is much that those of us in 2010 can learn from Will Herberg's important 1949 review of Paul Blanshard's famous (or infamous) tome, American Freedom and Catholic Power (1949).  Long before Christian conservatives were called "American Taliban" by secular progressives, and long before the United States had to wrestle with controversies surrounding its Muslim citizenry, American Catholic Christians were confronted by a truly vile form of bigotry and suspicion that was embraced by both elite and popular culture. Catholics were labeled by those like Blanshard, who called themselves the "true Americans," as enemies of the very idea of America and the rights, liberties, and alliegences that this nation requires of itself and for its citizens to uphold.  Appearing in the August 1949 issue of Commentary, I reproduce Herberg's scathing review in its entirety.
The Church and American Politics [by Will Herberg]
American Freedom And Catholic Power.
by Paul Blanshard.
The Beacon Press. $3.50.
“Catholic power” is certainly a problem for American democracy. It constitutes a problem in the sense in which every potent special-interest group makes the workings of democratic government more complex. But beyond that, it raises a difficulty because the political and social aims pursued by the Catholic Church in some ways run counter to what most Americans have held to be the very foundation of their democratic way of life. The claims and pretensions of the Church to legal primacy, if not monopoly, in religion, education, and family relations, are felt to be definitely incompatible with the liberal, pluralistic foundations of American democracy. These claims have not been and are not being pushed in this country, but they have not been abandoned and they may become a matter of practical concern at any time. Equally disturbing is the Church's tendency to confuse, or rather to equate, the spiritual interests of Christianity with the political and social, even economic, interests of the Vatican, the hierarchy, and the Church establishment. A careful study of the Catholic Church as a social power, or an analysis of its doctrines that would scrupulously avoid bias and distortion, could serve a very useful purpose. Unfortunately, Mr. Blanshard's book, which is a much-expanded revision of the famous Nation articles, does not meet this requirement.