Through our willingness to say 'no' or 'enough' we rediscover our true human place

Bartholomew I has become known as “the Green Patriarch” for his environmental leadership. More than a decade ago, Bartholomew first announced on an island in the Aegean Sea that pollution and other attacks on the environment should be considered sins.

In a widely-quoted Venice address in 2002, Bartholomew I urged Christians “to act as priests of creation in order to reverse the descending spiral of ecological degradation.” Towards that end, he did not mince words.

We are to practice a voluntary self-limitation in our consumption of food and natural resources,” Bartholomew said bluntly. “Each of us is called to make the crucial distinction between what we want and what we need. Only through such self-denial, through our willingness sometimes to forgo and to say, ‘no’ or ‘enough,’ will we rediscover our true human place in the universe.”….

Given this growing convergence between pope and patriarch, it’s no surprise that the two men addressed environmental concerns in their Nov. 30 Common Declaration in Istanbul.

“In the face of the great threats to the natural environment, we want to express our concern at the negative consequences for humanity and for the whole of creation which can result from economic and technological progress that does not know its limits,” Benedict and Bartholomew said.

“As religious leaders, we consider it one of our duties to encourage and to support all efforts made to protect God’s creation, and to bequeath to future generations a world in which they will be able to live.”

Of course, neither man arrived at these convictions ex nihilo. They build upon the teachings of their predecessors and traditions with deep roots in their churches, which in turn reflect the clear Biblical mandate to be good stewards of creation.

John Allen

Did you know that Patriarch Bartholomew will be in London at the end of January to present the result of the last series of Orthodox – Anglican discussions? You heard it here first.

Multicultural liberality – or secular fundamentalism?

A very good spiel from the Archbishop. I think the matter needs to be pressed a little harder though.

We have a secular liberal ideology; forms of evangelical Christianity; forms of traditional Christianity (which themselves subdivide into smaller, usually acquiescent groups); and we have forms of Islam. These different groups have co-existed in our de facto multicultural society governed by norms of political liberality (with virtues of tolerance, respect, distance from those who are different such that you don’t invade their own cultural space with your ideas, etc.).

Now, what the incidents with the college Christian Unions represent, I think, is the beginning of the end of this liberal multiculturalism. And the irony is that the problem is not really with the Muslims (who are usually the ones pilloried as being the problem case). The real problem – and the biggest threat to our British ways of life – are the secular liberals.

For the secular liberals (as is reflected in their name) deliberately misrepresent themselves within the framework of multicultural British life. De facto, they remain one ‘community’ (perhaps ‘interest group’ is better) within British society, with their own values and agenda. However, they present themselves as the guardians of political liberality itself, which is to say, as the guardians of the social-legal fabric which constitutes the structure of our multicultural society itself. And what they are doing – whilst pretending to defend our multiculturalism – is in fact forcing the values of their community/interest group onto British society as a whole. Thereby forcing other people and other groups to accept (at least in public), not a standpoint of political multicultural liberality and respect, but instead the values of secular liberalism.

This, it seems to me, is what is at stake in the issue over the CUs. The right to meet in a particular public context as a public group is being denied them by secular liberals who – when they have power – will not allow communities which do not share their values to meet together as a publically recognised body.

Whilst pretending to safeguard multicultural liberality, they in fact impose their own form of secular liberalism. Essentially their argument is: ‘You are being unjustly descriminatory unless you accept our values; since you don’t accept our values, we do not permit you to exist as a public body.’

Now, let’s face it, hard-line Muslims are not going to be writing public policy; nor are they going to be voting on its acceptance in the House of Commons. But already, and over the coming years, secular liberals, with exactly the same attitudes as displayed by the student politicians who have outlawed CUs will be forming and passing public policy in Government. This is the biggest threat to our British ways of life, and its beginnings are seen quite clearly with the controversies over the CUs.

Alan Brown

Lessons in Democracy

Tocqueville viewed democracy not only as a political regime, but, above all, as an intellectual regime that shapes a societyâ??s customs in general, thereby giving it a sociological and psychological dimension. Democratic regimes, Tocqueville argued, determine our thoughts, desires, and passions. Just as there was Renaissance man and, in the twentieth century, homo sovieticus, â??democratic manâ?? is a form of human being.

For Tocqueville, democracyâ??s systemic effects could lead citizens to deprive themselves of reasoned thought. They could only pretend to judge events and values on their own; in reality, they would merely copy the rough and simplified opinions of the masses. Indeed, what Tocqueville called the hold of â??social powerâ?? on opinion is probably strongest in democratic regimes â?? a view that foretells the growth of modern-day demagogy and media manipulation.

Tocqueville believed that there are no effective long-term constraints on this tendency. Neither local democracy nor small societies, neither governmental checks and balances nor civil rights, can prevent the decline of critical thought that democracy seems to cause. Schools have the power to be little more than enclaves from the corrosive strength of social influences on how the mind works. Similarly, while Tocqueville thought that pursuing virtue as the ancients did, or having a religious faith, could sometimes elevate the soul, both conflict with the democratic ideal if they become officially prescribed in public life.

In this sense, Tocquevilleâ??s intellectual heirs include the neo-Marxist theorists of the Frankfurt School, as well as Hannah Arendt, all of whom feared above all the disintegration of reason in modern societies. Indeed, the French philosopher Marcel Gauchet entitled a recent book Democracy Against Itself. The democratic way of life, these writers argue, tends to destroy original thought and to suppress â??highâ?? culture, yielding a mediocrity that leaves citizens vulnerable to democracyâ??s enemies.

But, while history is replete with murderous regimes applauded by cowed and deceived masses, the greater risk for democratic nations is that their citizens withdraw into apathy and short-term thinking for immediate gratification. The past â?? despite rituals that seek to commemorate historic moments â?? is obliterated by an addiction to the now and the new. Even the supposedly well-educated ruling class is subject to this bewitchment. The essential problem of the democratic mind is its lack of historical consciousness.

Do the defects of democracy really mean, as Tocqueville claimed, that resigned pessimism is the only â?? realistic but unsustainable â?? path open to us? I donâ??t think so. There are means to fight against what might be called todayâ??s growing â??democratic stupidity.â??

The first defense is to push for an educational system that really forms critical minds, namely through the (nowadays) largely neglected subjects of literature, history, and philosophy. If the informed and critical citizenry that democracy requires is to be formed, our schools must stop pandering to the latest popular fads and begin to sharpen the analytical capacities of students.

The biggest impediment to such an education are the mass media, with its tendency to cultivate superficiality and amusement. Many people nowadays spend more of their lives watching television than they do in classrooms. The passivity that mass media encourages is the polar opposite of the active engagement that democratic citizens need. But it is hard to imagine that the mass media (other than quality newspapers) would, of their own volition, become instruments of an education that enhances citizensâ?? critical capacities.

This concern about mass media is no mere elitist scorn for popular culture. The question is not one of popularity alone â?? after all, Mozart was popular in his day, and Shakespeareâ??s plays attracted the poor as well as the rich â?? but of mass cultureâ??s refusal to challenge and provoke. The result of the failure is a generalized indifference and passivity in audiences.

Indeed, for a long time a globalized media culture, one unable to inspire the capacity for critical thought or create elevated feelings, has been on the rise. It is a culture that, through its carelessness, threatens democratic freedom because it fails to create any sense of obligation â?? to society, to history, to community.

Is it too late to do anything about a culture that so deadens the spirit? Tocqueville despised the elites of his time for their complacency in the face of the deracinating force of mass democracy. Will the myopia of our leaders also serve as an agent of his disquieting prophecy?

Nicolas Tenzer Tocquevilleâ??s Lessons in Democracy

So now, you Christians, you may understand why you have been taught a different lesson, and have to teach it.

The risk-free society versus taking responsibility

Abortion is not simply about abortion, however; it is the foundation stone of the risk-free societyâ??from bedroom to boardroomâ??that these once-youthful liberals believe America owes them and the world.

The fact is, responsible people will be responsible, and the socially responsible thing is to allow the rest to take responsibility for their own messes. Adolescents were once trained in that way to become successful adults. As bright, liberal Boomers came of age in the seventies, however, they threw overboard all the habits by which they themselves became successful and, indeed, by which our forefathers passed on social capital to the next generation. Moving through the media, the law, and the courts, they institutionalized the practices of their youth, namely, â??do your own thing,â?? starting with abortion. Every single liberal program that has been instituted is predicated on a basic adolescent fantasy: You shouldnâ??t have to suffer, much less pay, for your mistakes. In the process, self-reliance, self-control, indeed responsibility, have been rechristened as repressive if not racist. As American society has become increasingly affluent, avoidance has infected a large portion of the population, Republicans included. It was hardly to be expected that they would lead us from the wilderness of fiscal irresponsibility and personal insolvency. In the meantime, abortion continues to be the ultimate safety net for avoiding responsibility while having fun, even, or especially, among the most educated, so that adolescence now extends to late middle age.

The Boomer generation inherited a thriving economic system created by the labor of our fathers, but it has grown to adulthood and beyond while overlooking the most basic obligation of adults: to train the next generation in the habits and standards that will renew the nationâ??s material and intellectual resources. Republicans have made their case badly, but the insouciance of liberals and Democrats concerning generational continuity is evident in the amount of energy they continue to devote to abortion, which is also the major reason why contemporary liberalism is doomed to extinction: Liberal Boomers and the Democrats among them are simply aging out and have not produced enough children to replicate their values.

Elizabeth Powers at First Things

'Tradition' threatens modern liberalism's fixation on individual autonomy

I have added a link to Mirror of Justice – the development of Catholic legal theory blog, where Rob Vischer is talking about MacInytre and David Mills on ‘engaging modernity’. He quotes Mills:

By “imagination,” I mean the faculty that controls what we, and especially children, think the world is like. It give us the map by which we plot our course. It gives us our vision of the world about which our mind thinks and on which our will works. It tells us what feels normal, average, to be expected, what feelings should go with what actions.

To the extent a child has learned it in childhood, it changes his whole life, even when he thinks he has left his childhood behind. Even if he insists on losing his faith, it limits the sort of faith he will adopt instead. If he insists on sinning, it limits the sorts of sins he can commit with (so to speak) a clear conscience. It will determine how he rationalizes his sins.

. . . . Revulsion is a much better protection from the force of the passions than an intellectual understanding by itself. To feel “This is yucky” is not a final protection from sin, but it is better than thinking “This is wrong” but feeling “This is okay.” Lust offers the paradigmatic case (examples come quickly to mind), but this is true of pride, gluttony, envy, and all the rest, even sloth.

[We have an obligation to] try and form [children’s] imaginations, to give them an alternative to the worldly lessons even the sheltered child absorbs as if from the air, by immersing them in books that express the Christian understanding of the world. . . . A good story will not make him good, but it should help him understand goodness a little better and make doing good a little easier by making it feel more normal. It will teach him that the world is this kind of place and not that kind.

This is why traditions – as championed by MacIntyre and by David Mills – can be so threatening to modern liberalism’s fixation on individual autonomy. Christianity is not reducible to a set of propositions to be introduced to a person at an age when they are capable of critical reflection. Charting a course between fundamentalism and secularism requires, at a minimum, a recognition that Christianity shapes our minds, but not just our minds, and that while Christianity stands in tension with modern culture, it is not closed off to it. In the words of Gaudium et spes, “nothing genuinely human does not raise an echo in [our] hearts.”

The public space must be broad and permeable

I take heart from a remarkable 24-hour meeting last week when Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from England and Wales came together to spend time in shared prayer, reflection, study and recreation. Our encounter, characterised by a warm sense of fraternity, was hugely beneficial not only to the bishops, but also to the development of a shared vision about the public space our Churches occupy nationally. We were united in resolving to defend that space, for the sake of the common good. Standing firmly on that ground, we seek to pursue dialogue with everyone of good will.

There is an urgent need for respectful dialogue and co-operation between all interested parties, whether Christians or members of other faiths, agnostics or secularists. The dialogue needs to be well-informed: the easiest but not the most honest way to dismiss an idea one does not agree with is to misrepresent it, as Professor Dawkins does.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his well-publicised address in Regensburg, spoke of the crucial link between faith, reason and culture. He was stating that the only honest basis for dialogue is reason rooted in goodness and love. This applies not only to dialogue with religious believers whose understanding and spiritual traditions are different from Christians, but also to secular Europe.

Shallow multiculturalism that fails to appreciate the basis of culture in faith, leads us away from social cohesion. In its deeper meaning, multiculturalism is about mutual respect and understanding for those of different beliefs. It is not about fulfilling the secularist dream of banishing faith from the public square, but about admitting new varieties of faith and inviting them to join the public conversation and valuing what they have to say.

I am becoming tired of the mockery of those who seem to regard faith communities, especially Christian ones, as intrusive and contrary to the common good. I label them Christophobic. They wish to close off every voice and contribution other than their own. Their inability to see the Christian seed in what is noble and good in Western culture chills the possibility of a true pluralism. Sometimes it spills over into the kind of anti-Christian bigotry that has appeared on some university campuses.

The great majority of people in our country do not want the erosion of a culture that is ultimately rooted in Christianity and its values. The presence in Britain of Muslims and other faith communities is leading to a renewed interest in Christian identity, boiled down if you like to the simple proposition that if a Muslim woman may wear a headscarf, a Christian woman should be able to wear a cross.

What is lacking in the new secular aggressiveness is the very Christian virtue of doubt. Only secularists such as Professor Dawkins seem to have no doubt when it comes to faith. We cannot build a truly human society on such narrow and rigid foundations.

Religion is not safe or easy. The new presence in Britain of an angry expression of Islam is a challenge; but the right response is not an angry dismissal of faith. We will not bring about a society at greater ease with itself by attempting to declare faith-free zones. British society is not a secular fortress needing to repel boarders, but a society permeated by belief as well as non-belief. The public space must be broad and permeable if it is to be truly public.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-Connor, Archbishop of Westminster Time to stand up for our beliefs

* * *

It is high time we heard from the Roman Catholics in the UK. So this muted and belated roar is better than nothing. There was a much more convincing roar from Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, but I have found only quotes from it, the speech itself has not made it to the web.

Here are excerpts:

Archbishop Nichols declared that ministers were “engaged in an intense and at times aggressive reshaping of our moral framework…. those who are elected to fashion our laws are not elected to be our moral tutors. They have no mandate or competence to be so.”

“The Government must realise that it is not possible to seek co-operation with us while at the same time trying to impose upon us conditions which contradict our moral values.”

“It is simply unacceptable to suggest that the resources of faith communities, whether in schools, adoption agencies, welfare programmes, halls and shelters can work in co-operation with public authorities only if the faith communities accept not simply a legal framework but also the moral standards at present being touted by the Government.”

Don’t impose your morality

Fewer Christian voices than there should be

On the Orthodox side, where theological differences are relatively small, the prospect of common witness is elusive. The two principal centers of Orthodoxy are Constantinople, by precedence, and Moscow, by numbers. In both cases the patriarchs are under intense pressure from their respective states, and their freedom to act on the global stage is circumscribed. The visit of the pope to the patriarch of Constantinople is, in part, an act of solidarity with a beleaguered brother under the thumb of the secularist Turkish state.

It is remarkable that the visit of the pope to Turkey would be considered a critical test of Christian-Muslim relations. Given that the patriarch of Constantinople lives in Turkey, it might be thought that there is no need to await the arrival of Rome for that interreligious encounter. Constantinople used to be Christendom’s second city; after all Bartholomew’s official title is Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome. Yes, much has happened since 1453, but the fact that Turkey is no longer considered a place of Christian-Muslim encounter is evidence of how far Orthodoxy has been pushed to the margins.

Indeed, the last week has highlighted how it now falls to the pope to speak for global Christianity in a way that was not anticipated 40 years ago. While it was thought then that Rome would always have a certain primacy, the hope was that ecumenism would produce a stronger Christian voice, a joint voice of powerful evangelical witness. The contrary is happened; over the course of four decades Rome has declared itself irrevocably committed to the ecumenical path, and has found itself increasingly the only voice on the global stage. Who else can speak for Christianity? Call it the man in white’s burden, if you will.

Archbishop Williams confirmed the increasingly marginal role of Anglicanism in world Christianity on his October trip to China. He was permitted to visit China on the condition that he only met with people approved by the government. That the Chinese government, still a ferocious persecutor of religion, would consider Canterbury harmless enough for a visit speaks volumes. In their judgment, there was no danger of a troublesome Christian witness from Dr. Williams. He has a voice, but little to say. As for Patriarch Bartholomew, the Turkish government does not even recognize his international status as the primus inter pares of all Orthodoxy. He has something to say, but he is not permitted to have a voice.

The net result is that there are fewer Christian voices than there should be — the exact opposite of what the ecumenical project would have foreseen. This is a troublesome situation — to say the least —in a world where religious forces are growing more influential, and the challenge of religious violence is more pressing. Benedict’s trip to Turkey highlights one of the incongruities of the current situation; almost anyone can speak for Islam, but who speaks for Christians? It is usually put the other way around, observing that Islam has no central doctrinal authority. True enough, but on matters Islamic, it is customary for any Islamic head of government to speak for Islam in a way Christian heads of government do not. This reached absurd proportions in Turkey, where Benedict consented to meet with the president of the state religious-affairs bureaucracy, Ali Burdakoglu, in his own offices. No doubt a gracious olive branch after the unpleasantness of post-Regensburg, it was odd to see the pope of Rome speaking to Islam in the person of a state bureaucrat. That this was selected as the primary Christian-Muslim encounter of the trip only underscored the strangeness at which we have arrived: Only the pope is seen to speak for Christians, but anyone can speak for Islam.

This is not a good situation; the world needs more Christian voices in conversation with Islam, not fewer. But Benedict’s ecumenical week has demonstrated that those other voices are faint indeed.

Father Raymond J. de Souza The Man in White’s Burden: Who else but the pope can speak for Christianity?

For much more comment on Benedict and Bartholomew’s meeting see the wonderful Amy Welborn

Marriage is not the creation of the state

Marriage isnâ??t the creation of the state or even of â??religionâ?? (as construed as a syncretistic sectarian entity). Rather, marriage is a pre-political institution with its own nature and contours; people are free to enter into a marital relationship, but people are not free to redefine and reconfigure marriage (for that is simply impossible). That religions have norms protecting marriage or elevating its status doesnâ??t undermine but further demonstrates its natural, primary status. The task of the state, then, isnâ??t to create marriage but to enshrine its nature in law accurately, and to support and promote it in policy. Attempts to redefine the contours of marriage inevitably preclude any principled argument against polygamy, polyamory, and other diverse expressions. If marriage can be between two people of the same sex, why not among three or four people? In fact, a group of prominent scholars have made just these claims, in a document titled â??Beyond Gay Marriage.â??

But there is a deeper, cultural problem. Marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as a husband and a wife to become a father and a mother for any children their union may yield. The legal imposition of same-sex â??marriageâ?? intentionally deprives children of a mother or a father. It sends a cultural message that mothers and fathers are interchangeable or unnecessary. And just as â??no-fault divorceâ?? and widespread premarital and extramarital sex removed the cultural norms and expectations for adult sexual and reproductive lives, so too same-sex â??marriageâ?? continues this retreat from the marital ideal.

Ryan T. Anderson First Things