Oh, what outrage some of our grievance-collecting friends managed to work up over the story of the Florida Atlantic professor who had asked students to write the name “Jesus” on a slip of paper and step on it. John Hawkins at Right Wing News declared that Prof. Deandra Poole had gotten his “just deserts” in being suspended by the university following days of talk show execration. Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit flatly described Prof. Poole as “far left,” on what evidence is not clear from his post. Fox News Insider informed readers that Poole was “also the vice chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party” — feeding their presumed expectation that a Democratic party official, even an African-American one in a southern city, will turn out when examined closely to be a devotee of Black-Mass-like sacrilege. The Catholic League’s insufferable Bill Donohue suggested that Poole would never have offered students a chance to write the name “Obama” on a slip of paper and step on it.
If you suspected the actual story would prove more complicated than the first reports made it out to be, you’re right. On Monday Poole told his story in an interview with Inside Higher Ed (also summarized at the Moral Compass blog). Sample:
Much of the critical commentary about Poole has suggested that he is anti-Christian. In fact, he said, he has been connected to churches all of his life, has served as a Sunday school teacher, and understands the power of the word “Jesus” on a piece of paper because he cares deeply about Jesus.
“I am very religious,” he said. “I see how the name Jesus is symbolic. For people like myself, Jesus is my lord and savior. It’s how I identify myself as a Christian.”
A few of the sites that had run coverage implicitly or explicitly blasting Poole as a crazy liberal atheist have noted these new details, and sometimes even walked the story back a bit. Others, however, haven’t bothered. Why should they, when they can instead move on to the next outrage to whip their readers up about?
Did you know opponents of Bork’s confirmation waged a whispering campaign against the conservative nominee in the South on the grounds that he wasn’t a religious believer? I explain in a New York Post op-ed out this morning. According to this article at Catholic World Report, Bork considered himself an atheist at the time of the Senate confirmation fight; later, he was to convert to Catholicism.
There are enough ironies here to satisfy anyone. Had Bork joined the Court — assuming the trajectory of his attraction toward religious belief would not itself have been altered by that fact — he might well have outflanked Scalia in bringing a jurisprudence infused by orthodox Catholicism to the Court. For both supporters and opponents, believers and non-, there are lessons here in humility about how far off base we can fall if we treat adversaries’ (or friends’) intellectual positions as fixed and immutable. More from Nick Gillespie at Reason.
Last week at the Federalist Society annual lawyers’ convention, Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz made the following remarks (beginning at 23:05 on the video):
The President, every Democrat, went throughout this campaign, saying, “Republicans want to take away contraceptives.” What utter and complete nonsense. I don’t know a single Republican on the face of the globe who wants to take away anybody’s contraceptives. Look, my wife and I have two little girls. I’m thrilled we don’t have seventeen.
This got a deserved laugh from the audience. But can it really be the case that Sen.-elect Cruz doesn’t “know a single Republican on the face of the globe who wants to take away anybody’s contraceptives”?
Perhaps the editors of National Review could introduce him to some. Less than two weeks ago NR published an article by Robert P. George, probably the most ubiquitous Catholic intellectual on the Right these days, and David L. Tubbs, denouncing on its 40th anniversary Eisenstadt v. Baird, the decision by which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as a violation of the right to personal privacy a Massachusetts law against the sale of contraceptives to unmarried persons. With unmistakable distaste, George and Tubbs blast the Court for embracing “a right of unmarried persons to have their lifestyle choices facilitated by the legal availability of contraceptives.” They complain that until Eisenstadt, such laws had been in force “since the 1870s as a straightforward exercise of the ‘police power’ — a state legislature’s broad constitutional authority to promote public health, safety, and morals.”
Now, it would be possible — it happens regularly in arguments about constitutional law — to criticize the logic and derivation of a decision like Eisenstadt without actually defending the wisdom of the law being struck down. Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, dissenting from the Lawrence v. Texas decision, famously described laws against consensual private sodomy as “uncommonly silly” even while agreeing with Justice Antonin Scalia that the U.S. Constitution does not bar such laws.
But that doesn’t appear to be George-and-Tubbs’s game at all. Far from including any “to be sure, we don’t favor such a law as policy” disclaimers, they praise laws like the one struck down as ways for legislators “to discourage people from engaging in sexual relations outside the matrimonial bond” and “reinforce cultural norms about the undesirability of having sex and children outside of marriage.” Robert George, who teaches at Princeton and is visiting at Harvard Law this year, has written an entire book revealingly titled Making Men Moral, praising and defending “morals laws” applying criminal sanctions to what was once called victimless crime, such as consensual private homosexual activity and the sale of contraceptives.
We know that the two must be acquainted, since in a NYT profile Prof. Robert George is described as “Mr. Cruz’s adviser at Princeton in the early 1990s.” Perhaps we should read the relevant sentence in a slightly amended way, to say that the Senator-elect doesn’t know a single elected Republican on the face of the globe who favors (or at least publicly favors) taking away anyone’s contraceptives. Prof. Robert George can afford to promote misplaced nostalgia about 1950s morals legislation, but GOP candidates who hope to be elected these days cannot. [Corrected to remove a sentence that left a misleading implication about Cruz's own religious affiliation, which is Southern Baptist.]
Tim Carney, the influential columnist at the D.C. Examiner, writes as if libertarians have been AWOL or worse when it comes to defending religious liberty from the incursions of the modern liberal-bureaucratic state. I try to set him straight in a new post at Cato at Liberty. More: Carney responds; Jordan Bloom, The American Conservative, Rick Esenberg. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]
Of course religious liberty should be a two-way (multi-way?) street. Just as unbelievers should be committed to upholding the religious liberty of the Catholic Church, so, as Andrew Stuttaford reminds us, it would be nice to feel confident that the Catholic Church was equally committed to upholding ours.
- News that former Trent Lott aide Edwina Rogers named as top atheist lobbyist ruffles commenters at Daily Caller [TheDC]
- Indian skeptic charged with blasphemy for revealing secret behind “miracle” of weeping cross [Doctorow] Denmark Supreme Court, 7-0, strikes down conviction of Lars Hedegaard for criticizing Islam in own home [Mark Steyn]
- N. C. preacher says he was just joking when he advised dads to smack around offspring. Oh? [Ann Althouse]
- Failure to accommodate religious beliefs forbidding hair-cutting result in $27K payout by NC Taco Bell operator [EEOC]
- Law to legalize necrophilia? Egyptian Bonk of the Dead story turns out to be too good to check [Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor]
- Ryan Radia on Twitter, attending American Enterprise Institute banquet: “At #aeigala Leon Kass asks whether freedom and prosperity are meaningful without love for God and country. Answer: yes, absolutely.”
- And speaking of Twitter, you can follow Secular Right on it here.
As many readers know, there’s a legal and P.R. battle going on for control of the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank in Washington where I’m a fellow. The key issues in the dispute, both philosophical and personality-oriented, have been widely aired already. But one sidelight of the controversy, I think, may open a little window into the rapidly changing nature of the policy-oriented think tank world, a topic written about by Tevi Troy and others. In particular, I think it’s notable that the founder/donors who’ve filed the lawsuit aren’t just asking a court to decide who gets to vote in board elections; they’re also claiming that Cato as it stands now is not well managed.
This took me aback. I thought I’d heard every possible charge against Cato – that it’s the “intellectual lobby of capitalism-in-the-raw” (James Wolcott); that it’s a “neo-con riddled haven” (someone at Daily Paul); and so on. But “not well run” was something new. Cato’s reputation as one of the most strongly managed think tanks was an attraction when I joined two years ago, and nothing I’ve seen since joining inclines me to think otherwise. In the practical functions of a think tank – events, travel, press relations, publications, and so forth – Cato hums with efficiency. Fund-raising? The place is finishing up a $50 million capital campaign. Substance? Cato connects with a broad policy audience in dozens of subject areas. It even manages to cultivate among its scholars a recognizable Cato “style.”
The specifics, when I had a chance to examine them, seemed awfully thin. In a public statement, one of the eminent businessman/ philanthropists pursuing the legal complaint charged that Cato lacks “a system to ensure that all programs are effective and continuously improved.” He added that in its efforts to sway the public policy debate, the institute “could become much more effective in translating esoteric concepts into concrete deliverables.”
I’m sorry, but … concrete deliverables?
- More from Bradlaugh on his health issues [NRO, earlier]
- Saudi Arabia: “Defense Lawyer Objects to Testimony of Genie Expert” [Lowering the Bar]
- Monkeys taught by scientists to use money; gambling and prostitution soon appear [ZME Science]
- Adam Smith prefigures Charles Murray on class and morality [Tyler Cowen]
- “There was even an Inquisition trial in Los Angeles in 1820″ [Chris Caldwell book review in Literary Review] And in the 1950s, not 1550s: “Dutch Roman Catholic Church ‘castrated at least 10 boys’” [Telegraph]
[cross-posted from Overlawyered]
Age of accommodation, cont’d: “in Reedy v. Schneider National, Inc. (E.D. Pa. filed Oct. 15, 2010). Vasant Reddy says that he has ‘a sincerely held religious belief that he cannot consume, possess, or transport alcohol or tobacco,’ and that he informed Schneider National of this. …Nonetheless, he says, he was ordered to transport a load with alcohol, and was fired because he refused to transport it.” [Eugene Volokh]
P.S. In the original post, I purposely did not mention the complainant’s religion (Muslim, per the report.) One may surmise that some other devout persons might also sincerely object to transporting alcohol, and the law’s response should be consistent regardless of which system of religious belief undergirds the objection. Right?
- Following objections from Roman Catholic and other churches, official panel backtracks from assertion that New Zealand is “secular state” [NZ Herald]
- “Preachers who are not believers,” paper by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola [Evolutionary Psychology, PDF, via Alex Tabarrok]
- Australia: “Followers sue religious group after doomsday fails to occur as promised” [Overlawyered]
- A WorldNetDaily writer named Chrissy Satterfield applauds vandalizing atheist billboards, and boy, does Ken at Popehat ever have her number.
- Tyler Cowen outlines his “portfolio model of dogmatism“:
most people have an internal psychological need to fulfill a “quota of dogmatism.” If you’re very dogmatic in one area, you may be less dogmatic in others. I’ve also met people — I won’t name names — who are extremely dogmatic on ethical issues but quite open-minded on empirics. The ethical dogmatism frees them up to follow the evidence on the empirics, as they don’t feel their overall beliefs are threatened by the empirical results.
Some people, if they feel they must always follow the evidence, respond by skewing their interpretation of that evidence.
There’s a lesson here. If you wish to be a more open-minded thinker, adhere to some extreme and perhaps unreasonable fandoms, the more firmly believed the better and the more obscure the area the better. This will help fulfill your dogmatism quota, yet without much skewing your more important beliefs.
- “Do not swallow your moral code in tablet form”: Chris Hitchens on the Ten Commandments [Vanity Fair]
The great thing about being in New York City is that if you wait long enough, every celebrity will come visit, even in this case one who’s been dead for 1,603 years. From the website of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia:
With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, on February 6, 2010, the honorable head of the great teacher and hierarch St John Chrysostom, which is kept at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, will be brought to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign in New York. Here the holy relic will be displayed for veneration by the faithful until February 11, when it will be taken to St Nicholas Cathedral in New York. The delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate accompanying the relic will depart for Moscow on February 12.
Chrysostom’s Wikipedia page hints at some of the highlights of his career as Church Father: his role leading a mob in the destruction of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, his railing against the theater and other worldly entertainments, his frank advocacy of the subjection of women, and his comprehensively ghastly views on the topic of Christian relations with the Jews. Gibbon treats him relatively gently in this passage from volume 2 of Decline and Fall. Wikipedia on his relics:
John’s relics were looted from Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 and taken to Rome, but were returned to the Orthodox on 27 November 2004 by Pope John Paul II. His silver and jewel-encrusted skull is now kept in the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in northern Greece, and is credited by Christians with miraculous healings. His right hand is preserved on Mount Athos, and numerous smaller relics are scattered throughout the world.
H.L. Mencken’s words come to mind: “We must respect the other fellow’s religion but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”