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New deal for the Old Mass?

A comment by Cardinal Hoyos in a recent interview has led to renewed speculation that the Vatican may do something decisive to make the Traditional Latin Mass more freely available. According to His Eminence:


Terrorist and moderate fatwas

Good question: if “true Islam” is a religion for pussycats, where are the moderate fatwas? A fatwa, after all, is simply a legal ruling issued on request by a qualified scholar of Islamic law.


The crusade that dare not speak its name

There’s an article by a couple of social scientists in the May First Things on the aggressive secularist dominance of the Democratic Party that’s worth reading. It doesn’t say anything new or surprising (we’ve discussed this before) but when obvious issues are routinely ignored or denied a statement of the obvious helps us maintain our grip on things.



Every society and all human action depends on some understanding of the world and man’s place in it. That understanding is inevitably religious.


God and the state in Europe and America

So why are the Americans more religious than the Europeans? There have been a variety of explanations:


And yet more dialogue …

The exchange keeps rolling (previous parts here, here, here and here). Here’s an edited version of the most recent installment:

Liberal Lawyer: On what basis do you claim that representational democracy with divided powers and charters guaranteeing individual rights were inventions of Catholicism?


A dialogue continues

My liberal lawyer correspondent continues the discussion (previous exchanges here, here and here). Here’s an edited version of the most recent part of the exchange:

Liberal Lawyer: I strongly believe that the comprehensive liberals about which Hitchcock complains are pursuing things that fundamentally conflict with basic political liberalism as proposed by John Stuart Mill: The state is to remove itself from declaring certain answers to ultimate questions established.


Liberalism, Tradition and the Church III

Faith and the Church

Tradition always points to something other than itself, so acceptance of one’s own tradition — and therefore knowledge — involves faith. Just as institutions and even reason depend on the complex of memories, understandings and habits that constitutes tradition, tradition depends on its connection to a larger order of which it is part and to which it responds. Man does not make himself, and is only a small part of the world in which he lives, so that order cannot be reduced to human things.

Man is not the measure collectively any more than individually. To say that man is not the measure is to say that the things with which he is concerned are not fully captured by logic and human experience. By themselves, the latter cannot tell us that the experience of other people is qualitatively like our own, or even that anything exists independently of us and our thoughts. To understand basic features of the world we have to trust things that go beyond what we can perceive or demonstrate. None of us can abandon that trust without abandoning thought and life. In the end there are no sceptics.


Sex, money and religion!

Tom Woods has a piece at on Catholic social teaching discussing the relation between (resolutely free-market) Austrian economics and various papal pronouncements of the past century, and why orthodox Catholics who also like Austrian economics should follow what their economic theories say alleviates poverty or whatever rather than take the Pope’s advice when the two conflict.

It’s an important issue. Those who speak for the Church ought to be intelligent about things, but when it comes to economics they usually aren’t. Also, being stupid about economics helps the project of turning religion into a collection of this-worldly social goals, which is a bad thing. Tom’s discussion raises a couple of questions, though:

  • Why is ignoring the literal meaning of repeated papal teachings on social justice because of what an economist says wholly different from ignoring the literal meaning of repeated papal teachings on sexual morality because of what a psychologist says?
  • What makes the terms of agreement between the parties the sole legitimate legal criterion in employment but not in other important personal relationships?

His argument is that moral dogma should respect the autonomy of the sciences and accommodate what they tell us about how the world works. Economics studies human conduct of a certain type as a system that operates in accordance with principles that can be uncovered by objective and (he says) value-free investigation. Moral doctrine should accept that the system works as it does. Its task is then to make recommendations as to outcomes to be promoted (e.g., greater well-being for the poor) and conduct within the system (e.g., no stealing or cheating, because they interfere with the system’s beneficial functioning and so are bad).

The effect is that if the Pope says “Yay for minimum wage laws” the doctrinal part of what he’s saying is “Yay for measures that reduce involuntary poverty,” and the rest is his (contestable and indeed false) theory about how to bring that about. Austrian economics tells us that the real practical application of the doctrine in question is “Yay for getting rid of minimum wage laws,” because that will maximize economic well-being not only generally but even for the poor. Catholic scholars have the right to point that out, and Catholic voters and lawmakers have the right to believe and act on that interpretation of the real import of Catholic moral doctrine.

It’s an impressive argument, but the autonomy of the social sciences could also be applied to other sciences or alleged sciences like psychology. Morality includes very general principles (the Golden Rule) and more particular applications (no usury, no sexual relations outside a particular sort of relationship). If you say modern social science should connect the former with the latter you have to deal with the consequences. A psychologist might claim that the function of sex in human life is such that institutional and public acceptance of “gay marriage” would the best way to promote the psychological flourishing of those who are sexually attracted to persons of the same sex. He might claim that if you improve on traditional misconceptions of psychological and social functioning then it turns out that “sex is for marriage,” the traditional statement of Church doctrine, should really be understood to mean “sex is for committed long-term loving relationships that have a right to be socially sanctioned.”

Also, the proposal seems to be that for a broad range of human relationships—those classified as economic—arm’s-length contract should be the exclusive legal standard. Other consensual relationships like marriage can and indeed should be legally regulated on other principles. What makes the bright line between the two types of relationships plausible? Economic conduct can be bad for non-economic reasons. Even if making divorce lawyers part of an employee legal plan makes economic sense because people want the coverage and it helps minimize disruptions due to sticky personal situations, it would be bad from a Catholic standpoint because it wouldn’t respect a particularly important human relationship, and human relationships often matter more than immediate efficiency. Could the same be said about making it too easy to fire people, or terms and conditions of employment that make it very difficult to understand employer and employee as joint participants in a common enterprise with a consequent personal connection? The employer/employee relationship is obviously much weaker and more variable than the husband/wife relationship, but it’s still a human relationship people rely on that can become part of their idea of who they are. Is a standard based purely on economic efficiency the one people will always be best off living with, so that legal intervention based on other considerations can be seen to be wrong without further argument? If so, why do people hate that kind of standard so much?

I don’t think the objections are crushing, but they have to be dealt with so the argument will make sense to people and fit in with other things they understand and believe. A problem with arguments from free-market economics is that they seem altogether too clever, so people don’t trust them, and it’s sometimes not clear how they relate to other kinds of reasoning that also seem legitimate and necessary. Questions like these touch on very basic things—sex, family life, economics, making a living, the relation among doctrine, practice and various types of knowledge and theorizing—and I don’t think they have snappy demonstrative answers. You need Pascal’s intuitive mind and Newman’s illative sense to deal with them. I think the accumulation of distinctions does show that a very different approach makes sense when you’re dealing with sex and family on the one hand and employment and markets on the other. You get into questions like:

  • How have Church teachings been presented—as generally applicable and definitive or as judgments regarding particular circumstances?
  • What do they relate to—something general and innate to human life like sex or something that depends on particular and shifting circumstances and institutions like industrial organization?
  • How stable, and how long and widely accepted, have they been?
  • What is the status of the purported “science”—are there good reasons other than the proponents’ claim of expertise for thinking it’s reliable and adequate to the issues? Has it been found to work?
  • And if it seems there’s something misconceived about a traditional teaching—the prohibition against usury for example—what were they getting at? Was it really just a matter of misapplying the principle that we should all be nice to each other, or is something actually wrong with the disaggregation of the various elements of economic activity that the practice of loaning money at interest creates?

Considerations like that are individually matters of degree, though, and that makes things messy. It means if someone wants to object he can find ways of objecting forever. Such is life.


Liberalism and how to decide

My liberal lawyer correspondent (previous exchanges here and here) has asked how to compare and decide between a liberal and a more traditionalist and Catholic approach to politics and society. Here’s an edited version of the exchange:

Liberal Lawyer: Is it possible to come up with an objective standard by which one could compare liberal and traditional Catholic understandings of how a state and a society should be organized?


Fundamental questions

The word “fundamentalism” is confusing because the real point of interest is not a particular religious movement but a basic philosophical issue, whether God is symbol or reality. Is religious language just a way of talking about human ideals and concerns, or does it sometimes mean what it says? Since the former view is presupposed by both the academic study of religion and by “pluralism”, the latter is considered ignorant and dangerous by definition. Still, it seems that liberal tolerance and modern scholarship prejudge too many things.


Good Sense, Conservatism and Faith

[The following discussion appeared in the Winter, 2002 issue of Modern Age.]

Is religious faith necessary for conservatism? A more basic question is whether it is necessary for good sense, since it is for the sake of good sense that we are conservative. If it were otherwise, conservatism would be a hobby or ideology, and it is neither; it is simply the appearance good sense takes on in an overly-rationalistic world.

Conservatism begins with acceptance of limits. It tells us that not everything can be said, let alone proved, that we did not make the world and cannot remake it, that we are creatures of habit, and that loyalty to the ways and understandings that order a particular social world is necessary for our lives to be coherent and reasonable. As de Maistre points out, we are not simply men; we are Frenchmen or Italians, Europeans or Americans, Yankees or Southerners, Protestants, Catholics or Jews.


Fulminations and Contempts

James Kalb
Yale Law School
Independent Study—Charles Gray, supervisor
May 1, 1978

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and indeed until the break with Rome under Henry VIII, king and church agreed that each had a sphere of exclusive jurisdiction that the other could not infringe upon without usurpation. Naturally, problems arose in defining the precise extent of each sphere. Some of these problems were substantive: which disputes were cognizable by which jurisdiction. Others were procedural: how the substantive problems were to be decided, who was to decide them, and how the decisions were to be enforced.


Establishment and liberalism

A lawyer with mainstream liberal views on the Establishment Clause sent me a note taking issue with some of my comments on my page on the Establishment of Religion and I responded. Here’s an edited version of the exchange:


Fish on Friday?

Here’s an article relevant to recent comments on liturgy: Eamon Duffy on the abolition of fasts post-Vatican II. The basic point is that man is not wholly determined by thoughts divorced from externals. Specific practices help constitute religion even when the connection to doctrine is fairly loose. Some notable points in the article:

  • Duffy suggests that part of the reason for the post-Vatican II collapse is that in the Western Church there had been too little attachment to tradition and too much emphasis on formal authority. That seems right to me. It meant that the authorities simply couldn’t understand the value of what they were destroying. After all, all those traditions, the old mass or whatever, got in the way of clear presentation and implementation of what they had decided was correct. So why not do away with them?
  • The amazing cluelessness of the English bishops on the subject of set fasts supports that point—“they’re awkward, they make us look a bit odd, and they don’t do anything very definite, so let’s get rid of them.”
  • Fasting makes us aware of our dependence and our attachment to petty comforts, and so makes us less self-centered and more ready to notice the genuine needs of others. That should have good consequences that are complex in the way life is complex. Talking about fasting as an act of “prophetic solidarity with the poor”—which Duffy does—tends to simplify things radically in the interests of an implicit secular Leftism. It strikes me as cant. “The poor” in the more developed parts of the world aren’t usually short of food, no thanks to “prophetic solidarity,” and the minor inconvenience of fasting doesn’t have any real connection to the horrible suffering of people starving in North Korea. If the technocratic standard of direct immediate effectiveness is correct, the bishops were right that fasting is an empty gesture. If it’s not correct, then “prophetic” in a directly political and economic sense, and “solidarity,” with its suggestion that we should feel part of a universal undifferentiated mass, point in the wrong direction, as does the modern view that “the poor” are an aspect of class society that must be abolished through politics.
  • Duffy calls for “re-education and rediscovery” of the “richness” and “deeper resources” of our tradition and decries “scary” projects of restoration. That’s all very well, but to get anywhere you have to settle on something in particular and people today find that scary. So it seems that in the Church as elsewhere a certain balance is needed between the richness of what’s possible and the scariness of actual existence.

City of God and city of man, take II

In comments on a recent entry, David Sucher was quite skeptical that either modernist urban design or its contrary has anything to do with religion or general political divides like liberalism and conservatism. He also wanted to know just what I meant by “modernist urban design.” Since the issues are interesting, my views need developing, and this is my blog I’ll go into the matter a little more:


Passions over The Passion

Judging by what people who aren’t Abe Foxman have taken away from Mel Gibson’s new movie, it seems to me it would better serve peace and understanding if Foxman would drop his campaign against The Passion of the Christ. The events surrounding the death of Christ are central to Christianity. To the extent the Gospels show the Jewish authorities and the people of Jerusalem in a bad light they’re no different from any number of passages in the Old Testament. To the extent they stand for a basic opposition between Christianity and post-Resurrection Judaism that’s accurate too, and it’s just something we have to recognize and live with. If non-Christians want to cultivate good relations they shouldn’t complain when someone presents the Gospel events in a straightforward way, letting the heros and villains be the heros and villains, as long as the evident intent is to say what Christianity is rather than what something else is.

It’s comforting to fight the last war or the war before that. It makes the characters and plot line obvious, and it becomes very easy to cast yourself as the hero. Nonethless, if I were a Jew worried about Jewish survival and well-being, I wouldn’t be concerned about Passion Plays. There are much more troubling things afoot today, radical Islam and advanced liberalism for example. How would Foxman respond if European Muslims demanded a veto over Passover celebrations? Such a demand might actually get some traction in the years to come. After all, all the stuff about oppression shows the Egyptians in a bad light, and it’s hardly PC to commemorate the death of thousands upon thousands of Egyptian children or the beginning of a movement ultimately directed toward occupation of Palestine through the extermination of its inhabitants. So why, in a PC and multicultural environment, should Passover be allowed?

When men differ, tolerance is the best hope for peace. Tolerance that is not stealth totalitarianism does not dissolve fundamental conflicts because it has no right to change fundamental views. It looks for practical ways in which men, with the fundamental beliefs they have, can live together. It appears that Abe Foxman is not doing that, and is thereby showing himself an enemy of tolerance.


Doper priest, dopey friends

A slice of life from never-never land: Trusting priest was betrayed. A Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Cleveland, “known as a gentle man—a vegan, yogi and massage therapist,” was arrested for growing marijuana in the rectory. His friends blame the misfortune on betrayal by a drifter the priest had taken in and allowed to live with him. As one said, “He sticks his neck out and that is exactly the kind of people we need in the ministry. But sometimes you pay a price.” It’s all about moral courage, you see.

I have no idea whether Fr. Arko is mostly a good man with some obvious weaknessess or mostly a corrupt man who puts on New Agey “virtue” as a front. Somehow his purchase and renovation of a private house for himself and his three dogs suggests to me that vegan or not he’s no Saint Francis. What seems clear though is that at least in Cleveland the idea of what a Catholic priest is and does has become extraordinarily confused. As the recent scandals show, that’s a very bad thing for a body of men put in a position of spiritual authority and left to operate mostly on their own.


The City of God and the New Urbanism

Another priority for paleo (or traditionalist) conservatives should be making connection with other tendencies of thought that are based on some of the same concerns and understandings. If trads and paleos are on to something real about modern life, they won’t be the only ones to notice it.



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