Author: Jason King

New Wine, New Wineskins Symposium

I just finished my ninth New Wine, New Wineskins Symposium this past weekend.  I missed the very first one because I was on my honeymoon and have not missed one since. Over the past several years, we have invited a senior scholar to address the group. These individuals have come from all over the theological map:  Jean Porter, Fr. Paulinus Odozor, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Fr. Robert Barron, Stanley Hauerwas, and Daniel Finn.  This year was Jim Keenan.  Of everything Fr. Keenan said, two things that captured the value of NWNW for me.  He said Catholic moral theologians are by nature critics and do not talk to each other. Moral Theologians are by nature critics. I was a bit taken back by this statement.  I had always thought of our task as constructive, figuring out how to live as disciples.  So, I asked him about this constructive task, but, of course, in doing so, I proved his point.  My first move was a critical one, pointing out something I felt was lacking. Yet, being critical was not the whole picture.  As Fr. Keenan expanded on his statement he clarified that we are critical not out of cynicism but out of a hopefulness to make the world better, out of desire for the coming kingdom of God. I found this to be true of the papers at the conference. Each paper...

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Summer (Sci-Fi) Reading

Once, in my graduate school days, I took Heidegger’s Being and Time on vacation. I was trying to squeeze in a bit of work during my free time.  Needless to say, it was difficult to pay attention.  Heidegger does not have a lot to say about Being-at-the-beach. Since then, when I go to the beach, I take what my wife calls “brain candy”, books that quickly and effectively pull you out of your world and entertain you. These books have become a double-pleasure for me.  They are fun but also do some serious reflection on human relationships and society. Below are five of my favorite summer reads that do both.  They are all sci-fi because I find this genre (when it does not get caught up in the technology) is particularly well suited for understanding our world. Like apocalyptic literature, they explore the long-term consequences of the way we are currently living in order to illuminate the dangers and threats to what is good and true and beautiful. Scott Westerfeld’s Extras.  Extras is the fourth book in the Uglies series, which includes Uglies, Pretties, and Specials.  The set up for these books is that kids are “uglies” until they turn sixteen when they get extensive reconstructive surgery to become “pretties”.  (As someone who is about to turn forty, I want to say that the grown-ups in this world are...

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John Jay Report

The general conclusion of the recent John Jay College report, The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, was No single “cause” of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests is identified as a result of our research. Social and cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s manifested in increased levels of deviant behavior in the general society and also among priests of the Catholic Church in the United States. Some claimed that the report was just what the bishops ordered: it was society’s fault and not the Church’s.  Others claim the report was covering for the gay priest agenda in blaming society, while others noted that the report dispelled many misconceptions, including the one that homosexual priests were to blame.  Still others noted the $1.8 million dollar price tag  while others marveled that the price came with such a paltry conclusion as “well, you know, it’s really, really complicated.” One aspect of the report that seems to be missing from these discussions, however, is that social isolation and a lack of relationships seemed to play a significant role in the abuse.  Priests seemed to abuse “at times of increased job stress, social isolation, and decreased contact with peers.”  The priests who did abused were those “who lacked close social bonds, and those whose family spoke negatively or not at all about sex” and...

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The Use of Torture

In his May 6th Wall Street Journal essay, Mr. Mukasy, the former Attorney General, claims that the much of the information that led to the killing of bin Laden was the result of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Consider how the intelligence that led to bin Laden came to hand. It began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden. Moreover, these approaches were used discriminately. The harsh techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA. Of the thousands of unlawful combatants captured by the U.S., fewer than 100 were detained and questioned in the CIA program. Of those, fewer than one-third were subjected to any of these techniques. Senator McCain disputed Mr. Mukasey claim in a May 11th Washington Post op/ed piece, writing that Mukasey’s account was “false”. The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a...

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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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