Cavanaugh: The state parodies the Church

You’ve written that the nation state has become a “parody of the Churchâ€? and that we should treat it like the “phone company.â€? How far do you think the state has overreached itself in this country?

William Cavanaugh: The phone company quote comes from MacIntyre. He says that the nation state is a dangerous and unwieldy organization that presents itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic provider of goods and services which is always about to, but never actually provides, value for money, and on the other hand, as a repository of sacred values which from time to time asks us to lay down our lives on its behalf. He says it’s like being asked to die for the telephone company. I think that really characterizes it very well.

On the one hand, you have this enormous bureaucratic organization which is growing constantly despite all the talk about small government. Even under Reagan and the current president the state continues to grow. People foresaw this as early as the 19th century. When there’s no organic community and your society is a mass of individuals, each with their own goals, goods, and ends, you need a bigger and bigger state to keep them all from interfering with each other.

There’s a spiritual aspect to the state’s claims. That’s why I call it a “parody of the Churchâ€?—it claims to saves us. Currently, it’s saving us from these diabolical terrorists who are out there and want to kill us. The state presents itself as the only protection from this diabolical enemy. The irony is that the state made this enemy for us in the first place.

The amnesia about who terrorists are and where they come from is just amazing. The way the story’s usually told, we were just sitting here minding our own business, and then on September 11, 2001, these crazy people attacked us for no good reason and now we have to defend ourselves. But the truth of the matter is much more complex. It has a lot to do with American foreign policy and American military meddling in the Middle East which we don’t want to talk about. It has a lot to do with the CIA helping to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Iran in 1953 and installing a Shah who ran a brutal dictatorship. These are things we forget, but that other people never forget. The state in a lot of ways is like a protection racket: it defends us against the enemies that it itself creates.

What can or should the Church do if or when the nation state oversteps its boundaries?

The first thing the Church needs to do is stop fighting unjust wars. Take the just war theory seriously. I’m not talking about pacifism. If there’s a war that the Church judges is unjust, then Catholics shouldn’t fight it. That’s the way the just war theory is supposed to work. It’s sometimes supposed to say ‘no’ to acts of violence. What the theory is usually used for, of course, is to justify whatever violence is going on. I can’t think of a single instance where it was used to stop violence. That is the most pressing issue.

Imagine what would have happened if Catholics in the previous war had said in significant numbers, “No, sorry, this is an unjust war; we’re just going to sit this one out.â€? The world would have turned upside down.

Another thing is to stop buying into the idea that all significant questions of money and power need to be funneled through the state, that the only thing we can do about issues like health care is to get the state to do something.

William Cavanaugh in interview with GodSpy

To promote the maturation of the moral conscience

There is no doubt that we are living in a moment of extraordinary development in the human capacity to decipher the rules and structures of matter, and in the consequent dominion of man over nature. We all see the great advantages of this progress and we see more and more clearly the threat of destruction of nature by what we do.

There is another less visible danger, but no less disturbing: the method that permits us to know ever more deeply the rational structures of matter makes us ever less capable of perceiving the source of this rationality, creative Reason. The capacity to see the laws of material being makes us incapable of seeing the ethical message contained in being, a message that tradition calls lex naturalis, natural moral law. This word for many today is almost incomprehensible due to a concept of nature that is no longer metaphysical, but only empirical. The fact that nature, being itself, is no longer a transparent moral message creates a sense of disorientation that renders the choices of daily life precarious and uncertain.

It is precisely in the light of this contestation that all the urgency of the necessity to reflect upon the theme of natural law and to rediscover its truth common to all men appears. The said law, to which the Apostle Paul refers (cf. Rom 2: 14-15), is written on the heart of man and is consequently, even today, accessible. This law has as its first and general principle, “to do good and to avoid evil”. This is a truth which by its very evidence immediately imposes itself on everyone. From it flows the other more particular principles that regulate ethical justice on the rights and duties of everyone. So does the principle of respect for human life from its conception to its natural end, because this good of life is not man’s property but the free gift of God. Besides this is the duty to seek the truth as the necessary presupposition of every authentic personal maturation.

Another fundamental application of the subject is freedom. Yet taking into account the fact that human freedom is always a freedom shared with others, it is clear that the harmony of freedom can be found only in what is common to all: the truth of the human being, the fundamental message of being itself, exactly the lex naturalis. And how can we not mention, on one hand, the demand of justice that manifests itself in giving unicuique suum and, on the other, the expectation of solidarity that nourishes in everyone, especially if they are poor, the hope of the help of the more fortunate?

In these values are expressed unbreakable and contingent norms that do not depend on the will of the legislator and not even on the consensus that the State can and must give. They are, in fact, norms that precede any human law: as such, they are not subject to modification by anyone. The natural law, together with fundamental rights, is the source from which ethical imperatives also flow, which it is only right to honour.

In today’s ethics and philosophy of Law, petitions of juridical positivism are widespread. As a result, legislation often becomes only a compromise between different interests: seeking to transform private interests or wishes into law that conflict with the duties deriving from social responsibility. In this situation it is opportune to recall that every juridical methodology, be it on the local or international level, ultimately draws its legitimacy from its rooting in the natural law, in the ethical message inscribed in the actual human being.

Natural law is, definitively, the only valid bulwark against the arbitrary power or the deception of ideological manipulation. The knowledge of this law inscribed on the heart of man increases with the progress of the moral conscience.

The first duty for all, and particularly for those with public responsibility, must therefore be to promote the maturation of the moral conscience. This is the fundamental progress without which all other progress proves non-authentic.

Pope Benedict to the International Congress on Natural Law

British media

Reporting on religion in the mainstream British press is not only sometimes dreadful, it’s dangerous, and something needs to be done about it.

Making such a statement does not come easy. Journalists are notoriously reluctant to criticize the work of colleagues, and not just because it’s a great way to make enemies. We know the agonies of fact-checking and finding balance, especially facing ever-tighter deadlines. Since I occasionally write for the British press and give interviews in the U.K., I understand that religion reporting is up against a ferociously competitive media market and a highly secular audience, where some over-simplification and even exaggeration is the price of doing business.

This is not merely irritating, but dangerous.

John Allen Irresponsible reporting on religion is dangerous

An opportunity for the Church to retrieve its sense of itself

It is in the law that the deep-seated nature of our ‘culture-muddle’ is beginning to be manifest. The secularization thesis which denied real significance to religion, also suppressed intellectual life. By divesting religious actors and institutions of their social, economic and political influence, it at the same time, permitted anomalies to flourish in many disciplines and a down-grading – or ‘disenvisioning’ – of public life. Only now is it becoming respectable again, for example, to write about the deep interrelation of religion and law. It is only the presence of minorities with different legal systems based in holy texts that has allowed this particular debate to resurface. For such minorities the privatisation of religion is unthinkable. Yet the English legal establishment resolutely maintains the secular fallacy that it is ‘neutral on religion’.

Academics who long ago jettisoned religious categories as a means of understanding anything, will have to go fishing over the side of their boats to retrieve the unthinkable. Religion is once again become a live, as opposed to a merely textual issue – in public life, in law, in social policy, and in the academy – and any political vision for Britain, merely by the exigencies of existing race legislation, will have to take religion seriously.

If religion is once more a vital political issue – thanks in large measure to the presence of Muslims in Europe – it presents an urgent opportunity for the Church both intellectually and practically to retrieve its sense of itself and its role.

Jenny Taylor The Myth of Religious Neutrality

Religious faith always has social consequences

People who take the question of human truth, freedom and meaning seriously will never remain silent about it. They can’t. They’ll always act on what they believe, even at the cost of their reputations and lives. That’s the way it should be. Religious faith is always personal, but it’s never private. It always has social consequences, or it isn’t real. And this is why any definition of “toleranceâ€? that tries to turn religious faith into a private idiosyncrasy, or a set of personal opinions that we can have at home but that we need to be quiet about in public, is doomed to fail.

The mentality of suspicion toward religion is becoming its own form of intolerance. I can see a kind of secular intolerance developing in our own country over the past two decades. The modern secular view of the world assumes that religion is superstitious and false; that it creates division and conflict; and that real freedom can only be ensured by keeping God out of the public square.

But if we remove God from public discourse, we also remove the only authority higher than political authority, and the only authority that guarantees the sanctity of the individual. If the twentieth century taught us anything, it’s that modern states tend to eat their own people, and the only thing stopping this is a resistance based in the human spirit but anchored in a higher authority—which almost always means religious witness.

You know, there’s a reason why “spiritualityâ€? is so popular in the United States today and religion is so criticized. Private spirituality can be quite satisfying. But it can also become a designer experience. In fact, the word spirituality can mean just about anything a person wants it to mean. It’s private, it’s personal, and, ultimately, it doesn’t place any more demands on the individual than what he or she wants.

Religion is a very different creature. The word religion comes from the Latin word religare—to bind. Religious believers bind themselves to a set of beliefs. They submit themselves to a community of faith with shared convictions and hopes. A community of believers has a common history. It also has a shared purpose and future that are much bigger than any political authority. And that has implications. Individuals pose no threat to any state. They can be lied to, bullied, arrested, or killed. But communities of faith do pose a threat. Religious witness does have power, and communities of faith are much harder to silence or kill.

Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver Religious Tolerance and the Common Good

Worship lecture

St Paul’s Theological Centre Annual Lecture

Professor Jeremy Begbie The Emotional Power of Music in Worship: Have We Anything to Fear?

14th June 2007, 7.30pm at Holy Trinity Brompton, London

Jeremy Begbie is Honorary Professor of Theology at the University of St Andrews and Associate Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge. Jeremy is a professionally trained musician and one of his passions is the renewal of music in worship. He is the author of many books including ‘Voicing Creation’s Praise: Towards a Theology of the Arts’ (T & T Clark). The lecture will include a performance at the piano, recorded music and worship. Entry is free.

From the heart of the Church – the University

In his 1990 apostolic constitution on Christian education, John Paul II insisted that the university is ex corde ecclesiae—from the heart of the Church. He spoke of the Catholic university, of course, but the vision challenges every Christian university. In Ex Corde Ecclesiae, John Paul wrote: “With every other university [the Christian university] shares that gaudium de veritate, so precious to Saint Augustine, which is the joy of searching for, discovering and communicating truth in every field of knowledge. [Such] a university’s privileged task is to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth.â€?

There are—or there should be—different kinds of universities. At least that is the case if there is no such thing as a university pure and simple. A decision must be made, and constantly remade, to be a particular kind of university. It is sometimes said that a Christian university has a “dual identity,â€? one by virtue of being a university and another by virtue of being Christian. I suggest that is seriously mistaken, since it assumes that the term university is neutral or self-explanatory. Every university is, whether by careful deliberation or by accident, a university of a particular kind.

The Christian university requires a structured form of conversation, both affirmative and critical, with a particular community of Christian faith. In the absence of such accountability—an accountability that is not imposed but freely sought—the Christian university will most likely succumb to the institutional and ideological dynamics of other kinds of universities. It is not enough that there be a department of theology or a vibrant student chaplaincy. Indeed, as James Burtchaell’s demonstrates in The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches, the schools that ended up in repudiating their Christian founding began by assigning the responsibility to be Christian to theology departments and the chapel. The result was that they lost their connection with “the Church’s heart for learningâ€? and, along with it, the responsibility of inviting students to enter on the high adventure of the Christian intellectual tradition—a tradition ever so much richer than the reductionist Enlightenment embraced by schools that claim to be universities pure and simple.

Richard John Neuhaus A University of a Particular Kind

Williams: multiculturalism? homogenisation!

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will tonight give an address at Toynbee Hall, in which he will call for a widening of the debate on multiculturalism beyond narrow considerations of ethnicity or nationality, and to take in arguments about globalisation and commerce.

Delivering the lecture, Dr Williams will address the question of the homogenisation of human beings, with the increasing dominance of the global market:

“We live in probably the least multicultural human environment there has ever been. The global market has canonised once and for all certain ways of making: industrialisation is everywhere, the network of global communication is everywhere, the effects of market forces are felt by everyone on the face of the globe….It may be benevolent to some aspects of local cultures; it may learn to speak in local accents for certain purposes, advertising or decoration but it works in one mode of production, employment and marketing, and assumes that everyone is a potential customer. It is as universal as ever Christianity or Islam aspired to be, but the substance of its universality is a set of human functions (producing, selling, consuming) rather than any sense of innate human capacity and of the unsettling mysteriousness that goes with that.”

Dr Williams will also argue in his lecture that those who wish to debate multiculturalism should first look critcally at what they mean by the term. He will suggest that the growth of cultural relativism in the twentieth century has led many to feel unable or reluctant to question the values of their own communities or those of others and that this risks the development of a secular state, which is unable and unwilling to exercise moral judgement.

Dr Williams will stress that it is not wrong to expect schools in shared cultures to teach the history or traditions of the majority. This, he will say, is necessary not because it is arbitrarily right to do so, but because children need to be able to understand how cultures evolve – and what forces, for good or ill, have come together to explain the values and traditions society currently holds.