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


Censorship Challenge: Texas Pastor Seeks Restrictions On `Dangerous' Library Books
Back in the 1990s, some Religious Right activists in Virginia got the bright idea to begin attacking America's public libraries. The idea was to......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
Suspended St. Louis County Officer Dan Page Made Rounds on Rightwing Radio Shows
St. Louis Police Officer Dan Page drew national attention when he shoved CNN's Don Lemon during a broadcast of the protests in Ferguson, and......
By Rachel Tabachnick (1 comment)
Cop Who Shoved CNN Host Don Lemon Lassoed in Another Conspiracy Rodeo
Rachel Tabachnick broke an important story this evening showing that the rant by Officer Dan Page that got him suspended from the St.Louis County......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Exile Excitement: Some Fundamentalists Seek Escape From Decadent Society
OK, now we've done it. Those of us who advocate things like separation of church and state, secular government, LGBT rights and self-determination when......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
Controversy Over White Nationalist GOP Candidate Still White Hot
The 2004 Constitution Party candidate for president Michael Peroutka's current race for County Council in Maryland -- as a Republican -- it is still......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Race, Republicans and the Religious Right
The Republicans have a race problem, and by this I don't just mean that racial minorities don't much vote for them, particularly in the......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Rev. William Barber on Religious/Political Inclusiveness
A few weeks ago, I posted about the extraordinary oration of Rev. William Barber at Netroots Nation. (A transcript of the speech is now......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Short Takes
Salon.com  Columnist Thomas Frank considers how snark can cut more than one way. What does it mean when being "on the left" is defined......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
David Brat as a "Libertarian Catholic" is an Oxymoron
David Brat, the Tea Party Young Turk who recently shocked the GOP establishment with his primary win over Majority Leader Eric Cantor, is reportedly,......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
Kountze Cheerleaders Take on the Courts
The entire town of Kountze, Texas is in a frenzy with business banners, suv window paintings and legal action supporting their local cheerleaders. The......
By wilkyjr (2 comments)
A Talk to Action Anthology on Neo-Confederacy, Nullification and Secession (Updated)
A number of posts over the past year have addressed the growing Neo-Confederate movement, the advocacy of nullification of federal laws, and even the......
By Frederick Clarkson (5 comments)
Good Incentives Gone Awry: Kentucky Officials Are Adamant About Propping Up The 'Ark Park'
I've lived in the Washington, D.C., suburbs since 1986, so when it comes to museums, I am spoiled. Just a short subway ride away......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
White Hot Controversy for a White Nationalist GOP Candidate
The controversy over Michael Peroutka's theocratic, white nationalist candidacy for county council, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland -- has gotten white hot after he......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Not Just Whistling 'Dixie': Peroutka Stands Up for Southern Secession - UPDATED x2!
Cross-posted from The Huffington Post. Michael Peroutka, the Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County Council, stood up for secession and the white nationalist League......
By jhutson (1 comment)
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 (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.