... in truth and justice. Yesterday, I wrote, "All this talk about conscience, however, means nothing if there is no recognition and admission that we as humans are not only capable of knowing truth, but have an obligation to pursue and uphold truth." There is nothing unique or original in the remark, but there is a danger to appealing constantly to "rights" and "religious freedom" without reference to truth.
E. Christian Brugger, the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, takes up this point in this helpful essay for ZENIT:
Opponents of the mandate are crying foul: "Obama has waged a war on religious liberty!" "Conscience rights are being trampled!," and so on. Because I hold the Obama administration in such disdain, I feel sympathy for these battle cries. But I fear the problem is deeper; and that if we don't take a harder look at what's going on around us, we'll all end up like Dr. Seuss' North-going Zax and South-going Zax, puffing out our chests, standing nose to nose with our enemy, barking out disagreements devoid of understanding of the deeper problem. Easy as it is to blame the liberals for this appalling state of affairs, I think the problem to a certain degree is that none of us any longer believe in truth.
This wasn't always so. Once upon a time, "reasonable laws" were the aims of lawmakers. "Reasonable" in the eminent tradition of English common law -- the seedbed for our Anglo-American legal tradition -- meant "in accord with right reason," which meant "true." So reasonable standards were true standards. And true standards were something that stood over and above the standard-bearer. They corresponded in some primordial way with reality, to which republicans and monarchists, conservatives and liberals alike were subordinate. Everyone knew, of course, that error was possible and no one was brash enough to hold that every policy proposed or adopted was timelessly true. But the standard toward which political discourse aimed was a standard of truth.
We are now embarrassed by the term "truth." As an artifact of language ("We hold these 'truths' to be … "), the term is still occasionally heard in the public sphere. But as a normative term affirming the correspondence of some proposition with reality, the term in the public sphere has been dead and buried for decades. It connotes being inflexible and uncompromising, a genuine threat to pluralism, an offense against dialogue, and an insult against inclusivity -- American virtues all. Down deep in our democratic soul, we suspect -- yes, even conservatives -- that those who assert "truth" in the public sphere are dangerously slouching toward tyranny. After all, we rejected in 1776 Britain's Erastian politico-religious system of the "divine" right of kings.
So we talk rather about opinion, consensus and party platforms. We reduce moral judgment and religious belief to sectarian "rights," with the full implication that no moral judgment or religious doctrine is timelessly true.
Read the entire piece, posted yesterday. Also, it's worth going back and re-reading Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (2005), which reflects at length on the proper relationship of Church and State, as well as politics, faith, and justice:
a) The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves: “Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?”. Fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God (cf. Mt 22:21), in other words, the distinction between Church and State, or, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, the autonomy of the temporal sphere. The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated.
Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now. But this presupposes an even more radical question: what is justice? The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.
Here politics and faith meet. Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God—an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God's standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly. This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.
The Church's social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being. It recognizes that it is not the Church's responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life. Rather, the Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest. Building a just social and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due, is an essential task which every generation must take up anew. As a political task, this cannot be the Church's immediate responsibility. Yet, since it is also a most important human responsibility, the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically.
The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply. (par 28)
And that precedes one of the "money quotes" from that great encyclical:
The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live “by bread alone” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.
• Liberal Catholic stalwart angrily admits, "President Barack Obama lost my vote..." (January 24, 2012)