Monday, August 31, 2009

Doug Kmiec Speaks Again- Religious Morals and the Law

Over at Mirrors of Justice they have a link to transcript to a panel discussion Kmiec was on. The topic of the panel was Matters of Conscience: When Moral Precepts Collide with Public Policy. Now that sounds kinda of dry but trust me it is not.. This panel has some pretty heavy hitters. There is a very good discussion on Conscience clause protections which is really the meat of the discussion. That merits a whole seperate post.

I am going to reserve extended comment on most of Kmiec's remarks later on. Just too tired now to cut and past his remarks and interact with them.

However it is typical Kmiec. A few observations I will give. I think that Kmiec is contradicting himself all over the place here. I will perhaps get into more detail on that later.

But we seen a line of argument that he has been advancing for some time and is not being called on.

First that basically the "modern Church" seems to just be some political animal instead of the good ole days where the Church instead of interacting in the public square tried to just change hearts and minds. Now I am not sure the date this "modern American Catholic Church" Kmiec is referencing started in his mind.

Did it start in 2008? Post Vatican II? I have to say at least in the United States the Catholic Church has been in the thick of it since the Civil War days. The Church was not sitting on the political sidelines from late the 1800's as to the American Labor movement for example. Is Kmiec saying that the Church should have stayed out of the Civil Rights struggle? Just racially integrate your own Parishes and live racial justice by personal example?

In effect Kmiec is setting up a straw man and in a sense seems to be saying the Hierarchy needs to stay out and I guess the lay Catholic just shut up as too some issues. As he puts it show it through your example and good works etc etc. Well he does not tell us why this has to be "either/or".

The second line of argument that he needs to start being called on references the famous St Thomas Aquinas teaching that we ought not to be trying to enact every virtue or prohibit every vice. I am not sure we can equate, and neither would Thomas Aquinas, abortion to the allowing of regulated controlled red light districts. Is Stem Cell research using unborn human life similar to allowing a few strip clubs? How do we jump from lets say laws tolerate of Homosexual behavior to the first time in history making homosexual marraige a Fundamental right?

He later says:

This notion of creating an ideal world through law is a
forfeiture of the faith and the power of the faith. It is directly contrary,
it seems to me, to Thomas’s teaching, to the Thomastic teaching about
not seeing to enact every virtue or prohibit every vice. The human
condition is just simply not capable of that and it is more variegated
than that.

But it doesn’t mean you give up on the transformation of
the culture. It just means you don’t expect the Supreme Court of the
United States to be the chief catechist. You expect yourself to in fact
embrace the Scripture and the Catechism, and through homiletics and
through good works and your own personal witness and what happens in
that parish community. That’s where the ideal world gets constructed.

Here we see the two themes combined. Again I think a straw man is being done here. I think Kmeic realizes the Church and other faith based communities do not think a perfect world is going to be enacted through law alone. But does Kmiec though think the LAW does not teach a moral lesson? Laws do that all the time.

Does he think in the famous civil rights Ollie barbecue case the Supreme Court was really concerned by the Interstate Commerce clause?. That Congress could effect a legal and indeed cultural and moral change through the Civil Rights act that forbid in part discrimination on the part of small businesses. I don't think the the Court's main concern was that less silverware and beef would be sold if blacks could not eat in some Restaurants. If we look at polls we see a huge swing in public opinion as to what Ollie's was doing. Before the Civil Rights Act large numbers of people thought this discrimination was ok. But within a few short years after the passage of these laws public opinion had switched- even in the South

Does he oppose the Court in that instance being as he puts it the "chief catechist"? I am sure Kmiec realizes that the major goal of the gay marriage debate is to give a moral anchor which the law provides that will effect all sort of different things.

Kmiec himself in his advocacy of Obama seems to want the law to enact a more ideal world that is aligned with his view of Catholic Social Justice.

Anyway more later


Thomas More said...

If it isn't the laws job to teach morality then why did he base his arguments in favor of Obama's candidacy in terms of "Catholic morality."

What is a "fair tax rate," who is "rich," who should provide himself and others with health care? These are moral issues on which Kmiec based his support of Obama, but when challenged on the true moral good of the Obama platform, Kmiec then states that morality is off the table and cannot be considered in the passage of laws.

When the Supreme Court case Heller came out Kmiec wrote a piece in The Tidings (LA Archiocese Newspaper) citing to a statement by the USCCB advocating a prohibition on handguns to support his position that Heller (written by Catholic Justice Scalia) was wrongly decided.

In other words, if it is a liberal political position, you will see Kmiec gladly participating in the activities of the "modern Church." But if you mention the politically neutral, non-negotiable issue of the right to life of every human being, then he decides that mentioning Church teaching is an impermissible participation in political life.

Bottom line: Kmiec can speak for the Church but She cannot speak for Herself.

James H said...

Thomas More I so agree. Again he is being tow faced on this which drives me to distaction