Month: December 2012

Weapons of the Spirit

Thanks to my friends at the Catholic Peace Fellowship, I spent my Advent being reminded of many of the great insights of Dorothy Day.  (“Like” their Facebook page for a stream of great classic pieces.) In particular, I’ve been thinking of late about the importance Dorothy placed on using the “weapons of the Spirit.”  This was a concept that she drew from (and encouraged in) Fr. John Hugo.  The “weapons of the Spirit,” broadly speaking, are the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Day and Hugo developed these more specifically to include the Works of Mercy and voluntary poverty.  Day also got very specific sometimes about the sorts of things one ought to fast from, emphasizing fasting from products that were produced in unjust conditions.  Though Day was, of course, what we would call an “activist,” she was also deeply, deeply committed to spiritual practices with no measurable material result (things like Mass attendance, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, personal prayer). For Day, we fight with spiritual weapons not because we believe that they are the most effective (though Day herself certainly believed that they were), but because we are called to follow Christ, who himself wielded non-violent weapons.  Fr. Robert Barron describes this in his 2002 Christmas essay “Comes a Warrior”: There is, of course, another reason for the simplicity and poverty of his arrival: he is to...

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On Nuns, Mandates, and Referenda: The Deeper Conflicts of 2012

Before reviewing the major “events” of 2012 in moral theology, I would hasten to point out that the most important challenges faced may not be any of these. In the long run, the economic and environmental challenges faced by the largest-consuming nation in history are grave and deep. Further, we continue to struggle with a culture of violence – in our cities every day (I am home in Chiacago, which painfully saw its 500th homicide before year’s end), in massacre events, in the ongoing recourse to abortion, in drone strikes, and in many other ways. We should remember that ultimately, we name Him “Prince of Peace.” That said, 3 stories dominated American Catholic moral thought this year. This blog and many others have seen plenty of reflection on these issues, so what lens could be used to consider them anew? I’ve been reading Archbishop Rowan Williams a lot recently, and, in a brilliant essay on “judgment,” he remarks that Christian theological reflection properly is neither outside “the world” judging it freom its own space, nor simply a partisan in the world, pressing an agenda like others. Rather, theology Is more importantly exercised in the discernment of what contemporary conflicts are actually about and in an effort both to clarify this and to decide where the Christian should find his or her identity in a conflict. In considering the major...

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The Kids on the Hill (or How Gerrymandering is the Single Largest Barrier to Citizens’ Right and Responsibility to Participation)

The debate about the fiscal cliff is the latest Federal political crisis which is a product of a deeper problem: a vicious circle of the American public’s failure to meaningfully participate in how we order our common life, which reinforces and is reinforced by the old political practice of gerrymandering. At base, Congress is debating whether there exists a direct corollary between the level of taxes, government regulation, and the dynamism of the economy to produce wealth. The World Economic Forum’s most recent global competitiveness report points to the complicated truth which, unsurprisingly, defies ideology. The list of the world’s most competitive developed economies most hospitable for business generally feature countries with higher taxes and strongly interventionist governments as much as, perhaps more so than those with lower taxes and less government intervention. This is not an ideologically biased statement. Conservative business publications, such as Forbes, report similar findings. This suggests that too many of our members of Congress are asking the wrong questions, using the wrong information or misusing correct information, confusing ideological talking points with political principle, confusing the common good of the nation with the interests of the minority of people who finance their campaigns and work to elect them to the House or Senate. Despite record low poll ratings of Congress as an institution for their inability to do their constitutional duty to help govern the nation (to...

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Our Students in 2012

In 1999, when I began teaching at St. Louis University, my students were a mix of Catholics and Protestants. When asked about their faith, a few would say that they were “raised x but questioning,” but most identified with a Christian denomination. In  the fall of 2012, my students were split down the middle between Christians and “Nones” (those who do not affiliate with any religion), and my whole way of teaching theology has had to change. The rise of the “Nones” has been well-documented by the Pew Forum, which reported this fall that 20% of all Americans and 32% of 18-29 year olds, now call themselves “unaffiliated.” Putnam and Campbell, in their wonderful book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, show how this category, which until very recently claimed only a few percent of Americans, started to gain in popularity in the 1990s following the rise of the religious right in the 1980s.  In their view, young adults turned away from religion because they found it hypocritical, judgmental, and insincere. While fewer than 5% identify as atheist or agnostic, the rest, who are open to the divine, are looking for more tolerance and spiritual depth than they find in mainstream religion. This shift has had a huge effect on my classroom. My “Faith and Politics” class used to be marked by spirited debate between Christian conservatives...

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Family Virtues Not Family Values

Leading sociologist of marriage Andrew Cherlin writes an important piece on a recent large-scale study of couples receiving extensive marital support services. He summarizes the project and its key result: The Administration for Children and Families engaged well-known and dedicated researchers and clinicians to design new “relationship skills” programs to improve communication, avoid conflict and build trust — an approach that had previously seemed to help middle-class couples remain together. With high hopes, it hired a leading research firm, Mathematica Policy Research, to recruit about 5,000 couples in eight sites across the nation. Half of the couples, chosen at random, were offered the program and some additional services, at an average cost of $11,000 a couple. The other half weren’t offered the program and served as a control group. Both sets of couples were followed for three years. The agency released the long-awaited final results on Nov. 30: Relationship-skills education had failed to contain the forces that pull young, unmarried couples apart. Couples who were offered the program were no more likely to have remained together or to have married than were those who weren’t offered it. Nor was there a difference in relationship quality between the two groups. Only the Oklahoma site showed some positive effects. This is an important finding, for one reason Cherlin highlights and for another he doesn’t. Cherlin draws a conclusion that is also...

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