A Deficient Definition of Liberty (The Catholic Right, a Series)
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 01:51:03 PM EST
The neo-orthodox Catholic Right often define liberty as "what one ought to do." But this narrow definition raises a very troubling question for those of us who value the separation of church and state: By whose standards are we to decide what "one ought to do?"
Catholic Rightists Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus and George Weigel are trying to tell the world it should be an orthodox Catholic standard.  Of course, they could never get away with that religious supremacist claim outright. So, like their Protestant co-belligerents of the religious right, they say that's what the Founders wanted.

They are not the first to arrive at such a view. Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, S.J. (1904-1967) believed that Catholic doctrine is compatible with the thought of America's Founders, particularly based upon their various allusions to natural law-derived self-evident truths. Murray so firmly believed this that fifty years ago he claimed in the second half of the twentieth century Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism would increasingly influence national morality. But there was one catch: Murray desired that they would all do so through the filter of Catholic natural law principles.

Now the neo-orthodox triple entente of Neuhaus-Novak-Weigel are  moving well beyond Murray's belief; they are working to make it a reality. And that is because they are not ordinary Catholics; as Garry Wills points out in Head and Heart, they are evangelical Catholics.

But as evangelical Catholics, they face something of a dilemma: How to make America a "Catholic" nation without aggravating their evangelical Protestant allies.  Obviously, they cannot come right out and proclaim that the separation of church and state should be abolished so that a strident interpretation of Catholic morality becomes the cornerstone of American law. So, with that ultimate goal firmly in mind, they seek to back into that dream.

What exactly is their game plan? This excerpt of a review of Damon Linker's book The Theocons descries it perfectly:

Neuhaus has long believed that Roman Catholicism is in a unique position "to propose the American proposition anew." George Weigel agrees by recalling the words of Archbishop John Ireland who believed that God wants Catholics in the United States "to make America Catholic." Neuhaus and Weigel do not advocate that the American state religion should become Roman Catholicism. They want our political institutions and principles to be spiritualized-catholicized. Evangelicals and fundamentalists rely on quoting biblical texts, which has no appeal to those who do not believe in the Bible. So Weigel argues the superiority of Catholic natural law that serves as "a philosophical foundation on which virtually all men and women of good will could participate in the ongoing argument about the American experiment and its foundational consensus."

And as I noted in Part Thirty-seven of this series:

Novak gives lip service to keeping church and state separate. However, his underlying desire is clearly to make neo-orthodox Catholic morality the standard even for non-Catholics. His views on embryonic stem cell research as well as abortion illustrate this point perfectly well. To do this, he brings inaccurate uses of moral relativism into the mix. He never really explains his view of pluralism while narrowly defining "liberty" as "the freedom to do what one ought to do." Such a definition is common among the neo-orthodox of the Catholic Right.

Pulling off this canard, however, requires a good deal of revisionist history. The cornerstone of their revisionism is Murray's erroneous claim that America was founded on Catholic natural law principles. Garry Wills (as I noted last week) has recently written that such an idea "...would have made Adams and Jefferson snort with derision."

Indeed, there was no direct infusion of St. Thomas Aquinas' view on natural law in Enlightenment thought. Further modifications and revisions by others took place in the interim.  In fact, the Vatican did whatever it could to sabotage its liberal legacy of tolerance.  As an American Catholic I am astounded by the audacity (and intellectual dishonesty) of these men.

But the forgotten monkey wrench in the works of their argument is Anglican theologian Richard Hooker (1554-1600). He is someone that anybody who wants to effectively refute this Neuhaus-Novak-Weigel revisionist contention should get to know.

It is undisputed that Hooker expressed greater concern for religious tolerance than his Catholic contemporaries, openly writing that even those who did not accept his Anglican faith were worthy of salvation. More importantly, there is no doubt that Hooker's pronouncements on tolerance had a direct influence on Enlightenment thinker John Locke.  Locke, in turn, heavily influenced the thinking of the framers of the Constitution.

Yes, Hooker, like Aquinas, drew heavily from natural law principles.  But he went further than Aquinas on another key issue: church hierarchies. Unlike Vatican dogmatists, Hooker believed that God is more concerned with the individual person and is ultimately indifferent to Church governance--a very radical thought back in the sixteenth century and still so today in the minds of the current Vatican and her neo-orthodox supporters. More importantly, Hooker's thought on this point helped to erode the power of authoritarian royalty in the march towards to liberal democracy.

But beyond the ridiculous claim that the Founders were crypto-Catholics, the neo-orthodox definition of liberty remains deficient.  The legacy of freedom is much different than what the likes of Neuhaus, Novak and Weigel think we ought to do: especially when, in turn, "ought" is defined by the subjective beliefs of a particularly strict interpretation of one religion. Liberty is the ability to pursue happiness as long as the actions of one person does not result in harm to others.

Liberty is also the ability to question the validity of long-held dogmas. And of course, here in America, not even my fellow Catholics should be forced to do what a small number of neo-orthodox natural law adherents believe we "ought to do." That wouldn't be liberty, but its very antithesis.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli




Display:
I got pounded by a nasty head cold this week. It had the unfortunate effect of putting me out of commission for a day or two. So, in the place of the piece I was working on (to be posted next weekend) I am reposting one of my recent favorites. After that, however I'll be posting irregularly through March (about every other weekend). This will allow me to work on two book projects I'm involved in.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 01:52:51 PM EST

Many of the churches want people to follow THEIR standards, and often it isn't in the person's best interests to do so.    You know- "Give 'till it HURTS!"

It really irritates me when they say "Ought to do"- obviously it's by their definition, and I would argue that most of the time it only serves THEIR interests.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 03:04:11 PM EST

It's amazing when they say "the truth" so many fail to ask, Whose truth?

It our task to make that observation more vocally.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 09:09:17 PM EST
Parent



The squabbling will start with whose truth should apply. We Catholics don't need to get involved with this, or to marry religion and politics. No doubt Weigel, Novak, and Neuhaus would find something negative or dismissive to say about Richard Hooker's  theology.

I hope you are feeling better, and a Happy New Year to you and your family. Good luck on the book projects.

Kathy

by khughes1963 on Tue Jan 01, 2008 at 11:04:31 AM EST

And a very Happy New Year to you and your friends and family!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Jan 01, 2008 at 07:55:25 PM EST
Parent


Thank you for this informative piece.... the threesome you describe are indeed very dangerous.  I have begun to try to outline why Christian (or Catholic) doctrine is incompatible with the American values of our founders.  (See my diary entry on the right hand column of this page titled, "Is Christian Doctrine Compatible With American Values?")  I would appreciate any feedback, whether critical or not.  Thanks and keep your articles coming.  

Terri

by TMurray on Sat Jan 05, 2008 at 06:30:54 AM EST



WWW Talk To Action


Short Takes
Pando Daily:  Journalist Mark Ames has published a must-read story about how Reason,the flagship magazine of libertarianism, published a special issue in 1976 promoting......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
GOP Leader Questions Candidate About Hate Group That Advocates Death Squads - Updated
Cross-posted from The Huffington Post. The head of Maryland's Republican Party, Joe Cluster, has called local candidate Michael Peroutka to the woodshed for a......
By jhutson (3 comments)
Short Takes
Bilgrimage:  Bill Lindsey discusses "an outstanding series of articles" by Frank Cocozzelli here at Talk to Action, originally posted in 2007, about the close......
By Frederick Clarkson (3 comments)
An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? (Part 1)
In light of the recent US Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby -- which exempts, closely held corporations that invoke "sincerely held......
By Frank Cocozzelli (4 comments)
An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? (Part 2)
The following is the second installment of a three part sub-series regarding the influence of non-mainstream, ultra-traditional Catholics now sitting on the US Supreme......
By Frank Cocozzelli (4 comments)
An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? (Part 3)
"The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it,......
By Frank Cocozzelli (8 comments)
Access Denied: The Religious Right Opens Up A New Front On Its War Against Birth Control
Some commentators continue to insist that the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was no big deal. It's a......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
William Barber Takes Us to Church at Netroots Nation
Rev. Dr. William Barber II, the leader of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina gave a rousing, perhaps historic keynote speech at Netroots......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Hobby Lobby Case Linked To Secretive National Prayer Breakfast Group, "The Family"
As I introduce my new Center Against Religious Extremism report Hobby Lobby Case Linked To Secretive National Prayer Breakfast Group, "The Family"), In 2010......
By Bruce Wilson (2 comments)
Lessons in Taking the Long View in the Long Form
Historian Leo P. Ribuffo recently published a wise and erudite essay at History News Network. In it he discusses trends among historians regarding how......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Missing Pieces of the Story of Sun Myung Moon
The recent coverage of the life and death of Richard Mellon Scaife, a transformational figure in recent American history, was pretty underwhelming. (Fortunately, our......
By Frederick Clarkson (5 comments)
When I Won One Over My Old (Former) Friend Jerry Falwell
July 13th was the anniversary of our friend Jerry Sloan's confrontation on live television with Moral Majority founder, the late Reverend Jerry Falwell. This......
By JerrySloan (1 comment)
Vatican Defrocks A Bishop Over Sexual Abuse - But Not Finn.
Pope Francis recently indicated he is serious about ending child sex abuse and cover-ups by Catholic prelates by defrocking a former apostolic nuncio (a......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
Bob Jones University and the Real Roots of the Religious Right
Historian Randall Balmer notes writing in Christian Ethics Today, that the real beginnings of the Religious Right lies not in 1973 Roe v. Wade,......
By wilkyjr (2 comments)
Becket Or Wreck It?: Little-Known Religious Right Group At Heart Of Hobby Lobby Case
The Supreme Court's recent (and horrendous) ruling in the Hobby Lobby case dealing with workers' access to contraceptives has turned the spotlight on the......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)

Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (1 comment)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (3 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Yes, that's right. We have totally lost our religious freedom in Mississippi and it must be restored by our legislators. ......
COinMS (1 comment)
Bill Gothard accused of harassing women and failing to report child abuse
Surprised no one's mentioned this, but one of the longest-standing leaders of the religious right is in a world of trouble.  Bill Gothard has been active in the fundie movement for over half......
Christian Dem in NC (1 comment)
Eugene Delgaudio may lose his day job as Virginia county supervisor
Surprised no one's noticed this, but one of the nation's most virulent homophobes is in a fight to keep his day job.  Eugene Delgaudio is best known as the head of Public Advocate......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents
This caught me by surprise. I guess times are a changin in Dixieland. ------------------------------------- Cross posted from the HRC blog. Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents January 21,......
COinMS (0 comments)
Robert Knight: Running against evolution could potentially be a winner for the GOP
In one of the starkest instances yet of how far gone the religious right is, one of its leading activists thinks that he's found another potential wedge issue that could drive more people into......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
First Catholic official convicted in child sex abuse scandal has conviction overturned
Last year, Monsignor William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secretary for clergy, was convicted of reassigning a priest whom he knew had molested a young boy to a parish that had a school attached......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Quotes From Sarah Palin 'War on Christmas" Book v. Quotes From 1920s Anti-Jewish Propaganda
The point of this comparison is not to cast Sarah Palin as a Nazi. Rather, my intent is to underline uncomfortable similarities between contemporary "war on Christmas" talking points propagated by elements of the......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Francis sets up commission on how to deal with pedophile priests
Late yesterday Pope Francis announced--apparently after some prodding--that he will set up a panel to advise him on how to deal with child abuse by priests. The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
John Hagee: Jews will make deal with Antichrist before End Times
When John Hagee opens his mouth, you expect to hear lunacy.  An appearance earlier this month on TBN was no different.  On Friday, People for the American Way stumbled on a special prophecy-focused edition......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Doug Phillips Resigns From Vision Forum over "Inappropriate Relationship"
Doug Phillips resigned as president of Vision Forum earlier this week, citing an "inappropriate relationship."   Phillips posted an announcement on the Vision Forum website, stating, There has been serious sin in my life......
Rachel Tabachnick (2 comments)
A Wiccan Witch In Salem
Since it's only two weeks from Halloween, I made my usual foray into Christian Right Country to find out what their plans are for this Halloween. I don't know where to be sad or......
irishwitch (0 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.