Author: David Cloutier

Gay Marriage: What’s the Real Issue?

The decision of the New York state legislature to approve gay marriage will be seen by some as a symptom of an underlying disease called “moral relativism.”  But this is a mistake that, I think, blocks our understanding of what is really going on. One need only look at the joy and satisfaction with which the decision was greeted by some to recognize that, far from indicating the disappearance of morality, the legislation is indicative of a strong moral order, and it is this order which is really at issue when we debate gay marriage. Charles Taylor, in his A Secular Age, outlines the contours of what he names the Modern Moral Order (MMO). The MMO replaces pre-modern versions of social hierarchy with an “order of mutual benefit,” organized around the securing of rights for individuals and their ability to exercise these rights in exchanges that conduce to mutual benefit, particularly in securing for all “the needs of ordinary life.” The order does not aim at anything “higher” than this; it does not seek to replicate some transcendent form (Plato), nor conform to any religious command. Its progress consists in the extension of this order of mutual benefit to encompass as many persons as possible – and in theory, everyone. In its more robust forms, the political order is called upon not simply to protect rights, but bring more...

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Too big to Discriminate? Further Thoughts

Dana Dillon has offered some initial comment on the Wal-Mart discrimination case, which seems quite important to anyone who cares about issues of justice. In the New York Times article on the case, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said the women suing Wal-Mart could not show that they would receive “a common answer to the crucial question, why was I disfavored?” He noted that the company, the nation’s largest private employer, operated some 3,400 stores, had an expressed policy forbidding discrimination and granted local managers substantial discretion.“On its face, of course, that is just the opposite of a uniform employment practice that would provide the commonality needed for a class action,” Justice Scalia wrote. “It is a policy against having uniform employment practices.” Such a finding raises really interesting questions about the justice of employer-employee relationships in large corporations. In one sense, Wal-Mart’s approach – a general set of principles, with wide latitude for individual store managers – is exactly the approach to management one would desire on the grounds of subsidiarity. A more rigid, hierarchical system for pay and promotion, run from central offices, could certainly seem detrimental, even from an employee perspective. Further, in theory, the more flexible system leaves open the possibility (as does the court’s ruling) that particular cases of discrimination in the actions of particular managers making particular comments could still be...

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Thinking Theologically about the Pro-Life Label?

Over at the Faith in Public Life blog, recent entries (like this one on Rick Santorum and torture) manifest a new, interesting rhetorical strategy: to take the language of “pro-life” away from the abortion issue, and apply it more broadly to a range of issues, many of which also involve bodily harm and potential death. To say Rick Santorum or John Boehner are “not really pro-life” has become a way to complicate the discourse. “Life” is not just abortion. I think this is all to the good, though I leave it to folks like those at FPL to assess whether such a strategy works or not! My interest as a moral theologian is in the term “life” – a term that may go even further than is currently thought. We heard at last Sunday’s mass the passage from John’s gospel where Jesus promises that He “came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” The reference here is to a “zoe” sort of life, the kind of fullness that Pope Benedict XVI describes in Spe Salvi: Our paradoxical attitude gives rise to a deeper question: what in fact is “life”? And what does “eternity” really mean? There are moments when it suddenly seems clear to us: yes, this is what true “life” is—this is what it should be like. Besides, what we call “life” in our everyday language...

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Ya Can’t Have One Without the Other: Subsidiarity Again

Is it contrary to the principle of subsidiarity for a school principal to ban homemade lunches, my colleague Jana Bennett asks? Should there be a national ban on incandescent lightbulbs? These questions are not earth-shaking. But they are extremely important for establishing a Catholic social teaching that actually “works” – that actually applies to our day-to-day evaluation of systems. I wanted to write a separate post because the problem here begins when subsidiarity is deployed as a principle apart from solidarity. Pope Benedict writes in Caritas in Veritate (#57): The principle of subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need. I argue nearly the same thing in an (earlier!) essay in The Heart of Catholic Social Teaching, on CST and modern politics: that solidarity and subsidiarity together function as the key principles. How might we apply these in the cases above? I think two rules are necessary. First, we should recognize that subsidiarity is not a free-standing principle about “size,” but rather a principle that protects against “demeaning” or “paternalist” laws. Is any “lower” group harmed by these rules? As Jana points out, the law makes exceptions for those who demonstrate particular dietary rules....

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Economically “Recovering” or Falling Behind? More on Wages

In the midst of all the breathless coverage of the economy “recovery” (is it recovering? Isn’t it? Why does this coverage sound like a pennant race in September?), and our myopic focus on the “jobs number,” the New York Times highlights a recent study which shows the structural problems of low-wage work in America. According to the report, a single worker needs an income of $30,012 a year — or just above $14 an hour — to cover basic expenses and save for retirement and emergencies. That is close to three times the 2010 national poverty level of $10,830 for a single person, and nearly twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. A single worker with two young children needs an annual income of $57,756, or just over $27 an hour, to attain economic stability, and a family with two working parents and two young children needs to earn $67,920 a year, or about $16 an hour per worker. The study makes clear its assumptions, and notes that there will be significant regional variations, especially given the range of housing costs in different areas. (Furthermore, the report will undoubtedly fuel some comments about the economic difficulties inherent in single-parenting, but it seems pretty important to note that the traditional Catholic teaching on just wage assumes that only one parent has to work full-time outside the home, so the...

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