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Author’s Name, “Title of Essay,” Religion and Politics, Edited by Ronald A. Simkins and Zachary Smith, Journal of Religion & Society Supplement 14 (2017), Pages of the essay [URL of this page].
12. Religion and Politics: Educating for Engagement (pp. 181-99)
Kristin Mattson and Jennifer Reed-Bouley, College of Saint Mary
[ Abstract ] [ Chapter 12 ]
Although some form of economic safety net is generally assumed in current political conversations, debate over the nature and extent of the safety net is perhaps the source of the great divide in American politics at the beginning of the twenty-first century. At issue, for any aspect of the safety net, are the questions of who is protected or supported, from what, and to what extent? The agent of the safety net is generally assumed to be the government. The concern expressed through the construct of a safety net – to protect or support the economically disenfranchised when they are most vulnerable – is evident throughout the biblical tradition. Yet, as with today, there is no unanimity. This paper will explore the various visions presented through the legal traditions, asking the questions with regard to those who are vulnerable: who is protected or supported, from what, and by whom?
Unlike other modes of Christianity in late antiquity, monks and nuns in the eastern part of the Roman Empire practiced a careful disengagement from imperial politics. While political figures tried to draw monks into their spheres of influence and use their popular power for political ends, monks practiced political renunciation in almost all instances. The only exceptions occurred when something interfered with their ability to practice asceticism; in those instances, monks viewed politics as a tool to ensure their freedom. This disengagement mirrors monastic reluctance to become involved in ecclesiastical politics, and is part of the impetus to retreat in late antique monasticism. The Roman Empire was the location of ascetic practice, not the proper concern of Christian monks.
This paper examines the development of the Catholic tradition on selective conscientious objection (SCO), the right to refuse to participate in a war judged to be unjust, from Augustine through Aquinas, Vitoria, Suárez, and Grotius to Vatican II, the statements of the U.S. bishops, and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It has been argued that support for what we now call selective conscientious objection has for centuries been a minority position – over against the majority position that argues that soldiers have no responsibility to make judgments about the justice of the war in which they are called to fight. The soldier's only responsibility is to fight justly, obeying legal orders but disobeying illegal ones, such as targeting innocent civilians. But is it possible to fight an unjust war justly? The minority tradition has become official, as represented by support for SCO in the Compendium.
This essay examines the politics of polyvocality in Ayad Akhtar's American Dervish, a novel that shares with many others the aim to showcase the diversity of voices within Islam. While polyvocality is often celebrated as a challenge to representations of Islam as a monolith, American Dervish illustrates that it is neither a neutral concept nor an end unto itself. Written in the bildungsroman form or the story of formation of a Muslim protagonist into a national citizen, the novel orchestrates polyvocality toward specific ideological ends. The bildungsroman's insistence on reconciling Islam with national belonging necessitates a univocal resolution to polyvocality, which requires the novel to draw distinctions between the Islamic approaches, legitimize hierarchies between them, and privilege select voices that reinforce national agendas. American Dervish, specifically, draws on Sufism's embattled and marginalized position within Islam to project it as amenable to national inclusion, and dismisses and discounts other Islamic voices, sanctioning hatred against them.
Analyzing the roots of Catholic libertarian positions on the economy allows one to compare the foundational anthropological assumptions behind different economic perspectives today. Catholics have radically different ways of engaging economics in the public sphere. On the one hand, a Catholic politician like Paul Ryan claims that Ayn Rand was an important influence upon him as he publicly discussed dividing America between "makers" and "takers." Ryan and the thinkers who influence him believe that the common good emerges from vigilant pursuit of one's individual good. On the other side of the understanding of the human person we have a long tradition of Catholic Social doctrine that argues the individual good emerges from the common good, and not vice versa. The social nature of human beings should be formed and managed with the genuine and common good of the human race foremost in mind. A deep concern for the well-being of all is necessary for the goodness and development of the individual. This essay delineates both theological anthropologies, compares them in terms of foundational understandings of freedom, justice, and individualism, and finds them fundamentally irreconcilable.
This article offers a comparative analysis of two 2015 Catholic bishops' statements on politics: the Ugandan Episcopal Conference's "Free and Fair Elections" and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' "Faithful Citizenship." Both statements were released in the run-up to presidential elections in Uganda and the United States in 2016. Overall, the U.S. bishops offer a detailed, policy-oriented, magisterially-guided statement that aims to form the political consciences of American Catholic voters. In contrast, the Ugandan bishops provide a broader, process-oriented statement that reflects their self-styled image as "prophets to the nation." Not surprisingly, both national episcopal conferences uncritically embrace the political imagination of the nation-state, limiting both hierarchies' ability to conceive of Catholic identity in more genuinely catholic, transnational terms.
Wendling argues against a religious exemption from participating in gay marriages guaranteed by the civil body. To do so, she recalls the history of the social contract tradition in its pre-revolutionary form, and especially in the texts of Thomas Hobbes. Writing against the backdrop of religious civil wars, Hobbes argued that in environments of religious pluralism, positive religious freedoms must always be subordinate to negative religious freedoms and to the interests of a peace-seeking state. Without this subordination, positive religious freedoms would not even be possible. Wendling considers the import of this dialectic for the Free-Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution, arguing that the clause may be incompatible with this truth of the modern state.
Following the legalization of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court, the next major struggle for equality rights for members of the LGBT community is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops asserts that ENDA threatens religious liberty. Its position on religious liberty has evolved from seeking to protect the inward practice within a religious institution to protecting also the outward practice of a religious institution that serves diverse national populations. It has also been extended to embrace protecting public and private corporations and individual employers who have moral objections to specific types of sexual behavior and to moving beyond an exemption from a just law based on religious freedom to advocating the block or repeal of an unjust nondiscrimination law. We defend ENDA legislation and critique the USCCB position on its misperception of reductive secularism, lack of nuance in its understanding of the relationship between the common good and public order, failure to justify its claim that ENDA is an unjust law, and ignoring the authority of a well-informed conscience. We conclude that the USCCB is advocating unjust discrimination in its attempt to block or repeal ENDA legislation.
Although implicit, the distinction between the actual use of the death penalty and its hypothetical justifiability has played an important role in Roman Catholic ethical thinking on capital punishment. Recent developments in official Church teaching under Popes John Paul II and Francis regarding the death penalty reflect the popes' negative consensus regarding its use under contemporary circumstances. While Evangelium Vitae limits, but does not exclude a priori, the possibility of justification for the hypothetical death penalty, the logic of Pope Francis's statements to date seems inconsistent with such theoretical justification.
This essay places in dialogue St. Augustine and the French philosopher Bruno Latour. Specifically, it makes a typological connection between the failure of the late Roman state in the fourth century and the current realities stressing the state in late modernity. It argues that the eschatological political theology of St. Augustine remains a useful dialogue partner for us as we face a season of rapid and confusing political change.
This paper will reflect upon Catholic universities' mission of pursuing the truth and promoting justice in light of the ecological crisis. First, it will examine how the truth of our ecological situation has been distorted by powerful special interests such that there is a wide gap between what the latest science is revealing about the ecological crisis and the understanding of the public and policy makers. Second, it will introduce the influential planetary boundaries framework, which identifies nine interlinked biophysical processes that modulate the stability of the Earth system, focusing especially on the climate change boundary. This framework allows one to recognize the scale of the problem and to distinguish and prioritize responses to those problems. Third, the planetary boundaries framework will be the yardstick by which the paper analyses the sustainability efforts of Catholic colleges and universities. The framework will also inform the concrete proposals to bring university sustainability efforts more in line with the truth of our situation and the demands of justice espoused in Catholic university mission statements.
Daily headlines confirm that when religion and politics interact, the results can be explosive. Most Catholic universities, however, count religious inquiry and political responsibility among their overall learning goals. In this paper, we explore how Catholic social teaching (CST) can inform political dialogue in ways that unite rather than divide. Specifically, we focus on the background for a collaborative project at a Catholic university to teach students to apply CST to the political dimensions of environmental sustainability. Catholic social teaching can serve three functions that are useful to Catholic universities in preparing graduates for full citizenship: 1) complicating students' habits of moral reasoning, thereby providing the condition for the possibility of moral reasoning about politics; 2) incorporating social analysis to provide a basis for non-polemic analysis of political issues; and 3) providing religious motivation and justification for active involvement in politics.