Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A few mid-week politico-philosophical musings

This morning Deacon Greg posted something very insightful on Virginia's Governor-elect, Robert Francis McDonnell, who is a Roman Catholic. I am most impressed with the fact that he stuck by his guns during the campaign and was honest about the evolution of his views on career women since writing his master's thesis quite a few years ago, something that happened as the result of him raising 3 daughters with his wife. One of his daughters is currently an Army officer leading a platoon in Iraq. McDonnell himself went through ROTC while at Notre Dame. I am so glad that ROTC remains at this flagship Catholic institution, even as our elite schools eliminate ROTC. Military service is service. For Christians who serve conscientiously it rises to diakonia. In fact, many permanent deacons are retired military members and others are policemen and firefighters. There is certainly a reason we call the military "the service." My precocious 4 year-old this morning told me that he wants to be in the Army to defend his country. We have a long way to go, but that would make me proud.

All-in-all, it looks to me like the Commonwealth chose wisely. Corzine is out in New Jersey. Let's hope Governor-elect Christie keeps his focus and cleans up Jersey politics, something he did well as U.S. Attorney.

My friend Lorraine, herself an Army officer, brought the European Court's decision against Italy's display of the crucifix in public school classrooms to my attention this morning. I found Jewish legal scholar, Joseph Weiler's thoughts on the matter, published by Il Sussidiario, very enlightening. It bears noting that the European Union is, at least in my estimation, a very undemocratic bureaucracy of the kind warned about by Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Orwell. The good news, as Kolakowski came to see, write about, and defend is that seeking the transcendent is the very essence of what it means to be human. So, the good news is that faith cannot be abolished by governmental fiat. It is sad that too many remain enamoured of such Soviet-style tactics and continue their efforts to banish faith from the public square and install a nihilistic agnosticism as the de facto state religion, replacing it with legal positivism- the dehumanizing and all-powerful state, which our recent enthusiasm for enacting Animal Farm-like hate crime laws, which enshrine the nonsensical axiom that some people are more equal than others, readily demonstrates.

Finally, Maine voters overrode a law passed by their legislature back in May that granted marital status to same-sex couples by amending their state constitution, as 31 other states have done. I bear no ill-will towards people who are homosexual, nor do most people who affirm marriage. Hence, I whole-heartedly reject the term "homophobia," which, as P.J. O'Rourke noted sometime ago, technically means being fearful of having the same fear. The term homophobia is too often employed as an epithet to stifle legitimate debate on social policy. While I would not go so far as LDS apostle Dalin H. Oaks and equate those who actively oppose and as a result are vilified for their opposition to so-called same-sex marriage with those who fought for civil rights for people of color, I also reject applying this analogy to people on the other side. No matter how you slice them, one is an apple and the other is an orange. Our increasing inabilty to make important distinctions is a big reason why we are unable to engage in discussions on matters of importance in a civil manner.

We have become very confused about what is and what is not a human right, as the existence of the Facebook group Marriage is a Human Right, not a Heterosexual Privilege indicates. I must admit that one could form a very good proposition for debate on the basis of that title. We have to recognize that human rights are not granted by governments. Asserting that they are granted by the state is to de facto acknowledge that the state can take them away as well as to deny natural law. I readily grant that all of this is very complex and worthy of an honest discussion, the kind that is not truncated by emotivist interventions, like hurling the epithet Homophobe.

I am left wondering why the imagined march towards human progress always requires so much negation, so much forgetting. As Archbishop Dolan noted recently, the Christian position on matters of importance, even when we find ourselves in opposition, stems from our fundamental affirmation of the human person, which cannot be divorced from our teleology, our very reason for being. Indeed, this is a very difficult truth to communicate, one that is most effectively communicated by how we live. In the first instance, it requires us to recognize that all things arise from our fundamental Yes. Giussani recognized this with his insistence that we must always start from a positive hypothesis, from an affirmation. To borrow an example Fr. Carrón has used a lot this year, what does it matter if we have the perfect doctrine of marriage if we do not live it? If we do not endeavor to live it, this perfect doctrine remains an abstraction, a nice idea, even if it is of divine origin. I readily grant that there is some substance to the argument for dismantling the institution of marriage that arises from our obvious failure to live what we believe. To that end, I cannot recommend too highly the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, For Your Marriage.

Since I already mentioned P.J. O'Rourke and to end on a lighter note, here is P.J.'s Weekly Standard article from earlier this month: Outsourcing Hate. In his delightful manner and very human way, O'Rourke shows how hard it is to communicate the kind of affirmation on which I am so (too?) earnestly insisting. Enjoy! Hell, even laugh a little. For those who want the executive summary, here is my take away quote: "I know people who are black, gay, Jewish, and Hispanic. But, unfortunately, I like them. When you like a person it's difficult to treat him (or even her) with the kind of vigorous and unrestrained bigotry that Jimmy Carter [and Nancy Pelosi] expects me to engage in."


  1. Good thoughts, as always. I appreciate reading them, and especially on the military service! I've given up on FB (distracting in various ways) but enjoy sharing your musings on Twitter.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful words on what military service means to the nation, Deacon Scott. I have found it to be every bit "diakonia" in my 30 years of service in the Army Reserve. Thanks for all your prayers for our military service men and women around the world, especially LT j.g. John Harrington, Notre Dame Navy ROTC Class of '07, now learning to fly jets.

    Deacon Roy Harrington
    Colonel, USAR, Ret
    Seattle, WA

  3. Deacon Roy, I am a veteran of 25 years of Reserve service myself. I was enlisted for 18 years and have been commissioned for nine years. My diaconal vocation arises very naturally from my military service.

    Sharon- I have missed you. I lamented getting on Facebook and I am currently resisting Twitter, but I'll cave largely due to the fact that this whole digital thing seems to be something I am called to do.

  4. Thank you Deacon Scott. Wonderful reflection. My diaconate class includes a number of veterans. I believe they are a bit ahead of us when it comes to understanding the reality of "service." Maybe that is why thses Vets are in the class - God knew the rest of us would need some extra help.

    I love your posts, though sometimes I have to work hard to understand. You are a very good teacher.

    God bless!

  5. In Italy under Mussolini’s dictatorship Catholicism was official religion of the State, so a law obliged to hang crucifixes in classrooms, Courts, public hospitals and city halls.
    With the Republican Constitution ( 1948)the Catholicism isn’t official religion anymore, but in many old public buildings we still have crucifixes.
    Any public school can already removes crucifixes if the Principal joint to parents' council decide this. In the case decided by the Cout the principal refused.
    I'm a high school teacher in north Italy and in my school we removed all crucifixes longtime ago.

  6. Dear Anonymous:

    Thank you for the clarification. However, I think you missed the gist of my criticism, which is that one unhappy parent appealed to an international court, a court that was bound to agree with her complaint. Consequently, she was awarded for damage and distress. In other words, my comments were only using the case to make a larger point, one that remains even after your clarification.