The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rector takes the High Roast

As opposed to my own rather dyspeptic take, Rev. Bill Tully responds in a manner that matters to be both irenic and ironic:
Pope Benedict's invitation to Anglican (including Episcopal Church USA) priests and parishes to become part of the Roman Catholic Church, retaining our liturgy and some customs, is fine with me.
In fact, I think it's wholly fair.
I'm an Episcopal parish priest, so my reaction is less about the cosmic implications, if any, of this initiative.


But fair is fair. For most of my ministry, beginning in 1974, I've been in parishes that are uncharacteristically (for Episcopalians) interested in membership growth. When I work to put out the welcome mat to serious spiritual seekers, the result is usually a heavy preponderance of Roman Catholics, at least 50% in most years.
So, fair is fair. We have a principled approach to Christian practice that takes the Bible, tradition, and human reason with balanced seriousness. On the ground, we like ritual, think and act sacramentally, and for a variety of historical reasons have a euphonious liturgy. Roman Catholics resonate with that.
What most who come to us want to get away from is centralized, exclusively male authority structures and the top-down insistence that some moral and practical questions are settled for all time. When they hear the Pope say the question of the ordination of women as priests cannot even be officially discussed, they are often ready to join a different conversation. Fair enough. We've been doing the inviting for years. We welcome the Pope to the business of welcome.
Well played, sir.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wrong Welsh Wizard

So Rowan Williams gets sucker-punched by the Vatican (a sneak attack from a German? Who'd ever expect that? OK, I mean again. Actually, I give the Pope some credit--this time Belgium isn't involved). What's his response? To make nice in a joint statement, in which he lauds the move as "a response by Pope Benedict XVI to a number of requests over the past few years to the Holy See from groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and are willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church."

Um, did The ABC just sign on to Petrine Primacy?

No; but the statement can easily be misread that way, and worse, depicts the Vatican's move as
further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition. Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this Apostolic Constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
Aye, thankee, Rowan. Ecumenicism with Rome means submission to Rome. Well played. Where's the real Welsh Wizard when we need him?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Scalia, Again?

Yesterday's oral argument in Salazar v. Buono demonstrated that Justice Scalia's onetime sensitivity to First Amendment values (remember Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989) has disappeared into thin air. Rather unbelievably, the choleric Justice chastised a lawyer for advancing the "outrageous" proposition that a cross might not be seen by Jewish veterans as an appropriate memorial for their service:

Mr. Eliasberg said many Jewish war veterans would not wish to be honored by “the predominant symbol of Christianity,” one that “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.”

Justice Scalia disagreed, saying, “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead.”

“What would you have them erect?” Justice Scalia asked. “Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star?”

Mr. Eliasberg said he had visited Jewish cemeteries. “There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew,” he said, to laughter in the courtroom.

Justice Scalia grew visibly angry. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead,” he said. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”

According to Tony Mauro, "[i]n the audience, several people were offended by Scalia’s comment about the cross as 'the most common symbol' for the dead, said lawyer Jeffrey Pasek, who authored a brief against the constitutionality of the cross for the Jewish Social Policy Action Network. 'A lot of people were surprised at the insensitivity of that comment,' Pasek said."

I'm actually just finishing up Martha Nussbaum's fine study of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses, Liberty of Conscience (2008), and one of her major points is that the creation of an "in-group" whose orthodoxy is treated as normative, "even if not coercively imposed, []is a statement that creates an in-group and an out-group. It says that we do not all enter the public square on the same basis: one religion is the American religion and others are not. It means, in effect, that minorities have religious liberty at the sufferance of the majority, and must acknowledge that their views are subordinate, in the public sphere, to majority views." Id., at 2.

In brief, that is exactly why it is Scalia, not Eliasberg, who made an "outrageous" statement in the oral argument. Back in 2006, I posted an entry raising the question of Scalia's increasingly emotional, self-interest referencing jurisprudence. I did not find that an easy post to write, as I had previously respected Scalia for what seemed to me to be a sincere effort to build a jurisprudence of originalism--as exemplified by his concurring in Texas v. Johnson, above. But here, he is turning the Establishment Clause upside down, denigrating not just its text but its intent--and damning as "outrageous" all those who point out that the Cross, the supreme symbol of his own Catholic faith, is not universally emblematic of all faiths, especially the Jewish faith, with which it has, at best, a rocky history.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Duncan Demarche Deux

It's only a trial court ruling, but it's well reasoned and thorough: Robert Duncan and his ersatz Diocese lose the property.

I say it's well-reasoned, because the notion that the departure of a diocese's leadership could extinguish the pre-extant denomination's diocese defined by its membership in the denomination is an extremely weak contention under neutral principles of law. (It's like a franchise holder claiming not just the right to open his own burger joint, but to exclude the corporate parent from which he is defecting from his territory under the original franchise agreement).

I still believe we should look for a better way than litigation, but as a First Amendment scholar, as well as a mmeber of TEC, I am glad to see the majority of decisions actually following the law.

Monday, October 5, 2009

That Old Time Religion...

is just too liberal for today's conservatives, who have decided to re-write the King James Bible, editing out all those squishy "liberal" parts--like, y'know, Jesus Jesus forgiving the woman taken in adultery, which is increasingly cited, the conservatives claim, by liberals. Why? :
The answer lies in its liberal message: do not criticize or punish immoral conduct unless you are perfect yourself. Liberals cite this passage to oppose the death penalty, a misuse that has been criticized. But one need not be perfect before he can recognize wrongdoing in himself. The Mosaic laws clearly state death as a punishment for sin. So the argument that an individual must be perfect is not relevant. The God-ordained government has the responsibility for punishment. Civilized society may not depend on stoning to deter immoral crimes, but it does depend on retribution enforced by people who are themselves sinners.
Also, the Gospels as presently extant are not sufficiently pro-free markets.

If this is a hoax, I'm deeply impressed. If not, I expect them to sue TEC for property.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The "Loyal" Opposition

Conservatives exult at America's defeat in the competition to host the 2012 Olympics.

What a surprise. After all, as long as Obama loses, that's all that counts.

It's a trivial matter, but reflective of where we are as a nation. As I have written elsewhere, the institutional GOP has chosen to try to de-legitimize Obama, and that they are playing with fire. We're not talking about isolated provocateurs here--the Chairman of the Republican Party as I linked on my more political home a plethora of governors and senators have been flirting with birtherism, and feeding the fire that Obama is a raging evil pretender to the throne. It's one thing to disagree with the guy, and to denounce his policies, but the appeal to revolutionary rhetoric is so crazed that even Tom Friedman, who is a centrist with neo-con leanings, and a Bush supporter on many issues, recently published a column worrying that the GOP is fueling an atmosphere like that which led to Rabin's assassination:
Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination


Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word “we” with a straight face. There is no more “we” in American politics at a time when “we” have these huge problems — the deficit, the recession, health care, climate change and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — that “we” can only manage, let alone fix, if there is a collective “we” at work.
Now, please don't get me wrong. I'm not (unlike Friedman in his Op-ed) calling for legal sanctions against those who are on the crazy end of the spectrum. What I am suggesting is that they are becoming mainstreamed in a way that could lead to a breakdown in our ability to govern. Tactics--the "who won the day?" approach--has a place. But strategy--the long term picture is far more important. That's why, to pick a great conservative to make my point, Winston Churchill's many tactical blunders (opposing Normandy, his "soft underbelly" fixation in World War II, to name just two), are dwarfed by his seizing of the truth long before anyone else: that Nazi Germany had to be defeated, not appeased. He kept his eye on the goal, and was willing to work with anyone--even his bete noir, Stalin, to attain that goal.

We need more Churchills, not cynical, vapid Becks and Steeles.