Our schools do amazing things with our children. And they are, in a way, teaching moral standards when they ask students to treat one another humanely and to do their schoolwork with academic integrity. But at the same time, the curriculum sets our children up for doublethink. They are told that there are no moral facts in one breath even as the next tells them how they ought to behave.
Adam Ruben talks about his experience of being the only Jewish guy on an evangelical ski retreat (coincidentally, the very retreat I just got back from today). It’s definitely funny to see how some things never change (“Their trip is hot chocolate and board games”), but what I really appreciated was his ending comments – I think they’re quite deep.
We live in a society in which many people feel very strongly about their religious beliefs. In some situations, this means that laws that most of us bear with little pain would cause great pain indeed to some people. In some of those situations, exempting those people would relieve that pain, with minimal cost to third parties.
The Economist’s Democracy in America blog recently posted an article on the Atlanta dispute regarding the debate over the limits of religious freedom. Obliquely, at the end, it mentions concerns regarding the passage of state bills based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). I think it makes one really big mistake, however: it claims that one concern is that "freedom of religious expression is already protected by the US Constitution.“
Here’s the issue: how do we know what constitutes protected religious expression (e.g. worshipping at a church) vs. non-protected religious expression (e.g. smoking peyote)? For a long time, the Supreme Court employed a three-part test known as "strict scrutiny” (the core of this, for many religious expression cases, is the “compelling state interest” test referenced by the article). In 1990, the Court reversed this in Employment Division v. Smith. Congress passed RFRA to re-require the use of strict scrutiny for these types of cases.
So yes, some religious expression is protected by the Constitution, but that still doesn’t tell us how to determine what is protected and what is not. Debates over state RFRAs are really debates over the test for protection, not the protection itself.
This is a journal article (ungated) from a few years ago (2007), but I found it absolutely fascinating. In it, Eric Gregory examines John Rawls’s Princeton senior thesis – there are some really fascinating findings here.
This paper examines a remarkable document that has escaped critical attention within the vast literature on John Rawls, religion, and liberalism: Rawls’s undergraduate thesis, “A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith: An Interpretation Based on the Concept of Community” (1942). The thesis shows the extent to which a once regnant version of Protestant theology has retreated into seminaries and divinity schools where it now also meets resistance. Ironically, the young Rawls rejected social contract liberalism for reasons that anticipate many of the claims later made against him by secular and religious critics. The thesis and Rawls’s late unpublished remarks on religion and World War II offer a new dimension to his intellectual biography. They show the significance of his humanist response to the moral impossibility of political theology. Moreover, they also reveal a kind of Rawlsian piety marginalized by contemporary debates over religion and liberalism
Sadly, the tragedy of the Christians of Iraq — who span a whole range of doctrines and ethnic groups — is being replicated in many other places. Sectarian tensions are deepening around the world, and Christians are often the victims. Syria’s mostly Orthodox Christians are caught in the middle of the civil war between the government of Bashar al-Assad and its Islamist opponents. Egypt’s Copts are still attending charred churches, burned in anti-Christian pogroms and battling persistent anti-Christian sentiment. And now churches are even being targeted for attack by Hindu nationalists in India.
Eric Metaxes makes a strong case for a creator (though not Creationism). I went to a talk a few months ago by Robert Prud’homme, a professor in Princeton’s Chemical & Biological Engineering Department, and he made a similar point: he calculated that the probability creating a minimal set of proteins for a simple parasitic bacteria purely through chance is 1 in 1016250 (there are an estimated 1080 atoms in the universe).
Robert P. George reviews Grant Wacker’s new book on Billy Graham:
We didn’t admit it in those days, but we Appalachian Catholics — like, I suspect, many of our coreligionists throughout the land — envied those Protestants. We figured that Billy Graham made being a Protestant in America something like what it was to be a Catholic in Italy. And while we weren’t quite sure it wasn’t a little bit disloyal to watch, listen to and even like and admire a Protestant preacher, watch and listen many of us did — sometimes against the warnings of our parish priests or the nuns who taught us in parochial schools.
In the case of Pope Francis, though, this ignorance combines with a powerful pre-set narrative that distorts first journalists’ and then their readers’ understanding. Reporters have decided that Francis is the progressive pope, filled with compassion and impatient with custom and doctrine. Ambiguous phrases are interpreted according to that template, and rumors believed if they fit it. It is in that context that the latest story proved irresistible: The pope was literally being nice to children and small animals, and brushing aside theological debate about whether pets have immortal souls.
Theological conservatives often share this misunderstanding and seem to confirm it. Some of them imagine that Pope Francis is systematically plotting to undermine them within the church, and fall for each new media storyline.