Author: Jason King

Overcoming Extremes – Four Practices

It is no real surprise that United States’ politics is polarized. (See the recent Pew Study). It is a bit surprising that people have started to reshape their religious beliefs to fit into these political extremes. As Robert Putnam concludes in American Grace, “The ranks of religious conservatives and secular liberals have swelled, leaving a dwindling group of religious moderates in between.” Catholic moral theologians must refuse to rely on these categories, especially the versions of them that have dominated our own discipline for the past forty years. Among the many problems these binary extremes create (think lack of charity for one), they threaten the very heart of our enterprise by compromising our attentiveness, insights, and judgments.  Below are four practices that I hope can overcome these extremes. 1.  Avoid Relying on Liberal and Conservative Categories: Part of the weakness of these categories is that they oversimplify analysis of and solutions to problems. As a practice, avoiding these categories would entail actions like:  Checking our resources to make sure they are diverse, not just drawing on one school of thought Reexamining our conclusions to ensure that they are warranted on their own merits and not just the default conservative or liberal response. Checking our methodology to make sure it is not just an application of a conservative or liberal approach. Refusing to use the terms to define ourselves or...

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We Had to Kill Bin Laden?

Many of the articles, reflections, or posts that I have read on the killing of Osama bin Laden lament the situation, expressing a desire for some other solution and, simultaneously, recognizing that no other way seemed possible.  Let me sketch five narratives that I think have led to the seeming necessity of killing bin Laden. We cannot be isolationists.  In the build up to and early stages of World War I and World War II, the United States privileged an isolationist foreign policy.  As a country, we preferred not to get involved.  The consequences of this approach seemed to lead to all out war.  When we became a superpower in the wake of WWII, we felt not only forced to take a leadership role in international politics but that war would emerge if we did not.  Thus started the assumption that the United States must respond.  First it was communism, and then it was terrorism in the light of 9/11. September 11th was an act of war.   The violence, destruction, and suffering that emerged in 9/11, left a wound in people, society, and the country.  It was and is a wound that cannot be healed by human efforts. After we emerged from our initial shock, we understood these events as acts of war.  Someone had declared war on us and attacked us, successfully, on our own soil.  We...

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Be Attentive Instead of Liberal or Conservative

Bernard Prusak recently reviewed Leaving and Coming Home: New Wineskins for Catholic Sexual Ethics.  While having the book reviewed is itself an honor and while Prusak hailed the book as “courageous” for addressing sexual ethics, he concluded that overall it was a failure (my word, not his) of scholarship and in overcoming the liberal-conservative bifurcation of Catholic moral theology. Prusak stated that the book was insufficiently critical, historically inattentive, and mostly irrelevant to the needs of the Catholic Church.  He noted only one essay was critical of Humanae Vitae, two essays were in agreement with Church teachings, and the rest dealt ineffectively with such “college ethics class” topics like cohabitation, dating, abuse, and pornography.  Driving Prusak’s review seems to be the idea that “it is difficult to imagine, without a change in the Vatican’s teaching, ‘effectively moving beyond the impasse’ occasioned by Humanae Vitae.” As a contributor to the volume, the review stung.  As a scholar though, the review indicated why the categories of liberal and conservative function more like biases than frameworks for intellectual inquiry. Bernard Lonergan, the Canadian Jesuit who is best known for his work on epistemology and theological method, said that bias is “a block or distortion of intellectual development”.  The liberal and conservative frameworks are biases in that they fail to grasp the reality of the situation.  In other words, the perspectives make us...

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Praying and “Framing”

Why is prayer, liturgy, and studying the Bible important?  One reason is that these activities shape the way in which we make decisions.  Some recent work on “framing” from behavioral economics, neuroscience, and psychology shed some light on how they do so.  Psychologist Amos Tversky and economist Daniel Kahneman were the first to establish the concept of “framing”:  people respond to situations differently depending upon how they interpret it.  Connecting this concept with research in neuroscience, Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide, states that [framing] helps explain why people are much more likely to buy meat when it’s labeled 85 percent lean instead of 15 percent fat.  And why twice as many patients opt for surgery when told there’s an 80 percent chance of their surviving instead of a 20 percent chance of their dying.  Dan Arliely, the behavior economist and author of Predictably Irrational, gives the example that high-priced entrées on the menu boost revenue for the restaurant—even if no one buys them.  Why?  Because even though people generally won’t buy the most expensive dish on the menu, they will order the second most expensive dish.  Thus, by creating an expensive dish, a restaurateur can lure customers into ordering the second most expensive choice (which can be cleverly engineered to deliver a higher profit margin). When my daughter flipped through the pages of her children’s picture Bible,...

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