Monday, November 14, 2005

Making Sense of Schindler: Good Diagnosis: What about the Prescription?

NOTE: This is continuation of my earlier posts "On Liberalism: Discussion w. Chris Burgwald" [Pt. 1] and Religious Convictions and Public Discourse [Pt. 2], addressing his post on the proposition 'Liberalism is the Death of God'. Chris' post was itself part of a series elaborating on David Jones' '[Points of] Disagreement with Novak', to which I responded here. The use of religious language in public debates and the problem of pluralism was the focus of an exchange btw/ Chris Burgwald and Santiago in the comments to his post. What follows are some extended reflections on these issues, put down over the course of the past week -- CB

For those who don't have access to Heart of the World, Schindler's article "Religious Freedom, Truth & American Liberalism: Another Look at John Courtney Murray" (Communio Winter 1994) provides his essential disagreement with Fr. John Courtney Murray's understanding of the First Admendment in juridical terms:

The claim of constitutional indifference (that is, neutrality) is tied, in the case of Murray, to his interpretation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment as "articles of peace." And this interpretation is reinforced by his definition of religious freedom first in negative terms, as an immunity (from coercion). But what happens if it can be shown that the religion clauses, whenever they actually mean anything, always imply someone's "articles of faith"; and if it can be shown, further, that a religious freedom defined first in negative terms already presupposes a theory of religion different from one which would define religious freedom first in positive terms, in terms of the person's positive relation toward God?

What I propose to argue is that the constitutional indifference toward religious truth which Murray defends turns out already to imply the beginning of the substantive (i.e., theoretical-societal) indifference which he otherwise decries. Any attempt at a purely formal definition of religious freedom will in fact always-already import a definite content of religion. Failure to recognize this suffices to distinguish one's approach to religious freedom, and indeed to political community, as already unacceptably liberal.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but apart from Neuhaus' responses in "The Public Square" and the expanded argument defending the 'liberalism' of John Paul II there isn't a lot of substantial engagement with Heart of the World to be found online or in print -- The other reviews being those by Michtell Kalpakgian (An Integrated Catholic Worldview, Homiletic & Pastoral Review. March 1998); Chrisophe Potworowski (Review in The Thomist, 1997); and Fr. Joseph Komonchak (Missing Person Commonweal Sept. 12, 1997).

Komonchak does note some weaknesses in Schindler's approach:

Let me offer some methodological and substantive comments. Schindler’s method typically searches for a sentence or two thought to represent his opponent’s starting point, from which, he believes, even if by “unintended logic,” must follow certain untenable conclusions. Thus, to take the instance I know most about, what Murray said about religious freedom being first negative-immunity from coercion-and being based upon the autonomy of the person is thought to imply an abstract notion of human nature which neglects that the first truth about the person is human nature’s positive orientation toward supernatural fulfillment in God. But such a view overlooks the moment of receptivity that must precede, condition, and direct all “autonomous” human activity. From the inadequacies of that starting-point follow, logically, all the consequences that have led to the corruption of the American experiment into “the culture of death.” That Murray’s writings contain many indications that belie Schindler’s description of it passes largely unnoticed. The result is a curious abstraction in the argument, logic replacing genuine dialogue and dialectic.

A second methodological problem is that, unlike those whom he criticizes, Schindler is most often content to remain at the level of first principles, where he thinks the real battle should be waged, and to leave the practical political, economic, or academic implications of his own position hazy. Even when one might agree that perhaps the starting-point should be more christological or Trinitarian, still what follows from this? How does one get at least part of the way from this exalted or primordial vision toward a different polity, economics, or university? And what mediates such necessary moves? Schindler’s remarks on Catholic universities do move a bit toward answering such questions, but when it comes to politics and economics, he is frustratingly vague.

My preference would be to see Weigel and Novak respond (William L. Portier referred to Weigel's Soul of the World as "a preemptive strike at another book that appeared later in 1996 from the same publisher"), and -- given Komonchak's criticisms -- more engagement by those Jesuit scholars who are well-versed in Murray's writings. Perhaps Kenneth Grasso might weigh in at some point (I read Grasso's article "Beyond Liberalism: Human Dignity, the Free Society, and the Second Vatican Council," this past week, with criticisms of liberalism circa. 1995 that were reminiscent of Schindler circa. 1997 -- for example, as when he asserts "it became apparent that the very rejection of teleology entailed by liberalism's nominalism and rationalism was incompatible with the affirmation of the type of objective and universally obligatory moral order whose existence early liberals had taken as axiomatic").

Dr. Schindler objects to a feigned moral/religious "neutrality" put forth by a certain kind of liberalism. Granted, any nation-state will inevitably have to make hard decisions concerning the public regulation of morality (the definition of marriage; sexuality, biological/medical ethics, etc.), and such cannot help but be made by appeal to a moral, if not religious, tradition. Even the Declaration of Independence was grounded in a conception of natural law with appeal to "the laws of nature and natur's God." On this note, even Irving Kristol -- that nefarious grand wizard of the Neocon Cabal -- criticizes the notion of a purely "managerial" democracy, pointing out that the affirmation of democracy itself presupposes a discussion -- Fr. Murray might say consensus -- of 'the good life' and a life worth pursuing.

I think that Fr. Neuhaus and Dr. Schindler (the AT's and WT's) are roughly on the same page regarding the pernicious effects of secular liberalism and it's "value-free" facade (Neuhaus takes umbrage at the notion that he has "uncritically baptized American democracy," pointing out his book The Naked Public Square which anticipates Schindler's criticism). As Santiago pointed out, the question persists as to whether the Church can align itself with liberal institutions while repudiating a liberal ideology which now engulfs Europe, and much of America.

For conservatives (Russell Kirk) this is a matter of "reappropriating and revitalizing the liberal tradition." For Neuhaus, Weigel, Novak and others, there is the added necessity of bringing the liberal tradition into engagement with the "internal criticism" of John Paul II, calling recognition to a proper understanding and grounding of the individual. Again, Fr. Neuhaus' reflection on the liberal critique of Centesimus Annus:

There is no more common criticism of the liberal tradition than that it is premised upon unbridled "individualism." [Centesiumus Annus] speaks of the "individual" and even of the "autonomous subject" (13), but most typically refers to the "person." Citing the earlier encyclical Redemptor Hominis, John Paul writes that "this human person is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission . . . the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption." He then adds the remarkable statement, "This, and this alone, is the principle which inspires the Church's social doctrine." (53)

This, and this alone. He writes, "The Church has gradually developed that doctrine in a systematic way," above all in the past century. Very gradually, we might add without disrespect. In the later encyclical Veritatis Splendor, John Paul pays fulsome tribute to modernity and its development of the understanding of the dignity of the individual and of individual freedom. Individualism is one of the signal achievements of modernity or, if you will, of the liberal tradition. Nor should we deny that this achievement was effected in frequent tension with, and even conflict with, the Catholic Church. One important reason for such conflict, of course, was that the cause of freedom was perceived as marching under the radically anticlerical and anti-Christian banners of 1789. It is a signal achievement of this pontificate that it has so clearly replanted the idea of the individual and of freedom in the rich soil of Christian truth from which, in its convoluted and conflicted development, it had been uprooted. Only as it is deeply rooted in the truth about the human person will the flower of freedom flourish in the future.

It is a mistake to pit, as some do pit, modern individualism against a more organic Catholic understanding of community. Rather should we enter into a sympathetic liaison with the modern achievement of the idea of the individual, grounding it more firmly and richly in the understanding of the person destined from eternity to eternity for communion with God. The danger of rejecting individualism is that the real-world alternative is not a Catholic understanding of communio but a falling back into the collectivisms that are the great enemy of the freedom to which we are called. As CA reminds us, "We are not dealing here with humanity in the abstract, but with the real, concrete, historical person." The problem with the contemporary distortion of the individual as the autonomous, unencumbered, sovereign Self is not that it is wrong about the awesome dignity of the individual, but that it cuts the self off from the source of that dignity.

The "Augustinian-Thomist" response, inasmuch as I understand it -- and I'm somewhat at a loss here, as I have yet to read Kraynak or Rowland -- is varying degrees of skepticism and pessimism regarding the "salvagability" of constitutional democracy, given that the very seeds of corruption were planted at America's founding (some would say by virtue of their involvement in Freemasonry). Some approaches go so far as to advocate a kind of anarchism (the "Christian anarchism" of Ammon Hennacy, for example -- I confess in more radical years I was captivated by the religiously-inspired anarchism of Leo Tolstoy and Jacques Ellul). Others, like Alexander MacIntyrem are resigned to sit out the presidential elections, convinced that "when offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives [Bush's conservatism, Kerry's liberalism], it is important to choose neither."

In Heart of the World, Schindler affirms Vatican II's unequivocal rejection of integralism (the absorption of the world into the Church). He also maintains that "de Lubac's organic-paradoxical theory of nature and grace does not imply any dynamic for uniting the Church juridically with the state, at least not in the present world." At the same time, however, he maintains that

"[T]he fuller burden of communio ecclesiology, in its "worldly" implications . . . is destined for the transfiguring espousal with Jesus Christ: the espousal is meant to include human beings, not only in their individual but in their social nature as well: in their nature as extended into culture and hence into academic, political, economic structures and institutions. This espousal is meant also to include cosmic entities" [p. 20]

But Schindler qualifies this only a few pages later by adding that

"The transfiguration of creatures entailed by their espousal will of course be complete in the next life, and will be realized in this life (by human beings) only by undergoing the patient suffering, crucifixion, and death that is the way of Christ's own eucharistic offering. Transfiguration, in other words, is not a simple process of ever-increasing integration in Christ that occurs without radical discontinuity . . . a communio ecclesiology simply insists that we recognize the invitation to such transfiguration has nonetheless been extended to all creatures (proportionately, analogously) from the beginning of their existence and in a way that affects every aspect of their existence.

For an author who takes such great care in articulating his diagnosis of liberalism's ills, like Fr. Komonchak, I as a reader was personally hoping for -- but left wanting -- some genuine political or economic prescriptions.

* * *

Pope Benedict XVI: 'American Model' Worth Salvaging?

Lastly, as Santiago recently brought to my attention, Cardinal Ratzinger in November 2004 expressed his personal preference for the 'American model' over the European in terms of approaching religious pluralism:

. . . In comparing U.S. and European attitudes to diverse religions, Cardinal Ratzinger added: "I think that from many points of view the American model is the better one," while "Europe has remained bogged down in caesaropapism."

"People who did not want to belong to a state church, went to the United States and intentionally constituted a state that does not impose a church and which simply is not perceived as religiously neutral, but as a space within which religions can move and also enjoy organizational freedom without being simply relegated to the private sphere," he explained.

On this point, "one can undoubtedly learn from the United States," as it is a "process by which the state makes room for religion, which is not imposed, but which, thanks to the state, lives, exists and has a public creative force," the cardinal said. "It certainly is a positive way."

-- Cardinal Ratzinger Commends U.S. Model of Laicism Zenit News Service. Nov. 25, 2004.

Likewise, on October 17, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his support of a "positive secularity" in government:

In a letter to the president of the Italian Senate, Benedict XVI called for a "positive secularity" that omits any kind of hostility between religion and the state.

The "positive secularity" of which the Pope speaks guarantees "to each citizen the right to live his own religious faith with genuine freedom, including in the public realm." [. . .]

The Holy Father clarified that secularity must become "a commitment to guarantee to all, individuals and groups, respect for the exigencies of the common good, [and] the possibility to live and to express one own religious convictions."

According to the Bishop of Rome, the fundamental rights of the human being "are not created by the lawmakers, but are inscribed in the very nature of the human person, and refer back, in the last analysis to the Creator."

"Therefore," he added, "a healthy secularity of the state seems legitimate and advantageous, in virtue of which the temporal realities are governed according to norms that are proper to them, to which those ethical instances also belong that have their foundation in the very existence of man."

* * *

I've been sitting on these comments for the better part of the week and could probably revise them a third time over. However, time's a-wastin' and given Chris Burgwald's intention to expound on the additional criticisms of David Jones, we'll definitely have more opportunities for blogging on these subjects.

Monstrous mess that it is, I turn it over to my readers for their consideration.