Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Archbishop Chaput on religion and politics

Here is the text of a very impressive speech, given by Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. There are several powerful passages. Here’s one:

Politics is where the competing moral visions of a society meet and struggle. And since the overwhelming majority of American citizens are religious believers, it’s completely appropriate for people and communities of faith to bring their faith into the public square.

Real pluralism always involves a struggle of ideas. Democracy depends on people of conviction fighting for what they believe in the public square – non-violently, respectfully and ethically, but also vigorously and without embarrassment. People who try to separate their private convictions about human dignity and the common good from their involvement in public issues are not acting with integrity, or with loyalty to their own principles. In fact, they’re stealing from their country.

To be healthy, the political process demands that people conform their actions to their beliefs. For Catholics to be silent in an election year -- or any year -- about critical public issues because of some misguided sense of good manners, would actually be a form of theft from our national conversation.

For religious believers not to advance their convictions about public morality in public debate is not an example of tolerance. It’s a lack of courage.

If we believe that a particular issue is gravely wrong and damaging to society, then we have a duty, not just a religious duty but also a democratic duty, to hold accountable the candidates who want to allow it. Failing to do that is an abuse of responsibility on our part, because that’s where we exercise our power as citizens most directly – in the voting booth.

Here’s another:

What the Founders intended was to prevent the establishment of an official state Church. They never intended, and never wrote into the Constitution, any prohibition against religious believers, religious leaders or religious communities taking an active role in public issues and the political process. The idea of exiling religion from public debate would have made no sense to them.

Jefferson and Franklin were Deists. But most of the Founders were practicing Christians. And all of them were deeply influenced by Christian thought. Our history as a nation is steeped in religious imagery and language.

The idea that we can pull those religious roots out of our political life without hurting our identity as a nation is both imprudent and dangerous. The United States is non-sectarian. That’s good. That’s important. But “non-sectarian” does not mean anti-religious, atheist, agnostic or even fully secular. Our public institutions flow – in large part -- from a religious understanding of human rights, human nature and human dignity.

When the “separation of Church and state” begins to mean separating religious faith from public life, we begin to separate government from morality and citizens from their consciences. And that leads to politics without character, which is now a national epidemic.

By the way, the state doesn’t seem to worry too much about “separation of Church and state” when it wants to force its point of view on Catholic hospitals, and it’s often the same people who clamor about "separation" and "choice" who take the lead in the coercion.

And here’s one final snippet:

Most people at most times in history have drawn their moral guidelines from their religious beliefs. And for most Americans, those beliefs are rooted in their churches and synagogues – communities of faith that exercise direct moral influence in society. Religion is about the meaning of our lives. It’s about purpose and last things and our final destination. If we begin with God’s love and the goal of heaven in mind, then we order our behavior in this life accordingly. We don’t steal, we don’t lie, we don’t commit adultery; we don’t deliberately kill the innocent; we help the poor, we comfort the sick, we shelter the homeless.

In contrast, the secular view of the world, by its nature, can’t deal with questions of larger meaning. And by refusing to engage the questions that really matter in life, secularism robs us of the foundation for our dignity and our moral vocabulary. It robs our politics of the ideals that make us a nation and a people, rather than just a mob of individuals.

Americans are a religious people. A church-going people. We deny that at our peril. The more we try to drive religion out of our public life, the poorer we become and the less we have to offer in our engagement with the world.

We are more than simply “one nation under God.” In the case of the United States -- in the light of our history and the founding ideas and documents that shaped us as a people -- we are one nation because of our belief in God.

What’s remarkable about this speech is that little of it derives from principles that are exclusive to Roman Catholic social teaching; most of it is "mere Christian" common sense. Also remarkable is the response it evoked from the audience, at least as reported in
this article, which refers to "verbal fisticuffs" between the Archbishop and his audience. Here’s a sample:

"Why do (religions) feel they have to impose their views on us?" asked one woman during a spirited question-and-answer session following Chaput’s speech to the City Club of Denver.

"If we don’t - you’ll impose your views on us," Chaput shot back to murmurs from the group of about 120 business and civic leaders.

We need more religious leaders like Archbishop Chaput who will challenge the simple-minded separationism that clearly informs the opinions of a significant portion of elite audiences like this one. And we need reporters who will cover these speeches fairly and honestly.

Hat tip: Touchstone magazine’s "Mere Comments" weblog.

Update: Terry Mattingly discusses the press coverage of this speech over at Get Religion.

Discussions - 9 Comments

"To be healthy, the political process demands that people conform their actions to their beliefs."

This one sentence is absolutely critical...It means in short that people must take what they say seriously. Of course this is a very hard thing to do. If it were easy the everyman would drop 20 lbs, quit smoking, and save half his paycheck.

The problem with america is that we are a nation of wanters... we want to be religious, we want to drop weight, quit smoking, volunteer, invest money wisely...ext...but the portion of people that take the hard steps to make real the words is few... Everyone wants to progress to "improve" themselves...they just don’t want it bad enough or conversely they aren’t really serious about what they say.

What metaphysical framework would be most motivating in terms of having the least disconnect between words and actions?

The honorable Archbishop Chaput suggests an answer: "If we begin with God’s love and the goal of heaven in mind, then we order our behavior in this life accordingly. We don’t steal, we don’t lie, we don’t commit adultery; we don’t deliberately kill the innocent; we help the poor, we comfort the sick, we shelter the homeless."

Yet empirical evidence (nothing extremely solid, just the observation that most americans claim christianity) suggests that despite wishing for heaven and believing in God’s love, most americans fail not only in the above characteristics but also in many which they set for themselves for other reasons. Now some people will claim that this disconnect is a result of original sin i.e. man’s sinful nature, but at this point I suggest we take pause... and return to the problem and not its excuses.

The problem is that a healthy political process demands people conform their actions to their beliefs. I would say that a good life demands the same, in other words the reason for a conformity between beliefs and actions is not because a healthy political process demands it, which it does, but for selfish reasons primarily.

The archbishop claims that secularism can’t deal with questions of a larger meaninng. Secularism isn’t a world view, it isn’t a coherent framework for contextualizing the world around us. But this is not to say that there aren’t secular frameworks that deal precisely with the disjunction between stated beliefs and actions.

The objectivist (Ayn Rand) framework as I understand it is secular, and it does deal clearly with issues raised by the archbishop.

In short the objectivist reply to the archbishop is that it is only when we realize that this is the only life we will ever have...that it can become valuable enough for us to live out our convictions.

Because of christianity’s empirically unstainable belief in higher values, an otherworldly soul, rewards in heaven...it is no wonder that only aesthetics/saints can carry it out...

If we begin with the secular idea that a persons soul is his ego, and that he has the right to value his life, insofar as he does so in a way that allows others to value theirs, then we also find that such people would not lie, steal, cheat, attempt to gain the unearned, they wouldn’t kill the innocent, they might build airlines, cars, boats, invent light bulbs...and in all things seek to diligently improve themselves and their environment. Why? Because this life is precious. Not because there is a heaven in the mix. (I suggest that while most americans claim to believe in heaven, it is a faith that cannot be strong because there are no refferents in experience except in so far as we add concepts: such as Gold and streets...Humeian epistemology comes in to play here I think) I also believe that americans are torn between metaphysical frameworks...and act unreflectively upon them... The american knows howhever vaguely that his pursuit of heaven cannot coexist with his personal material values. In the end, a concept even less cognizable than heaven, is what prevents most americans from living the life advocated by the Archbishop. This concept is that of the soul, and it is here that the everyman cannot from looking at the facts derive an understanding. It is no coincidence that this weak point in cognition is also the area that is most proped up by claims to higher values. But the facts will also show that weak action is a result of weak thinking. What proof is there that something can exist outside of the body? How can maintaining such existance lead one to gain values? If men believed that the body was the tomb of the soul why develop life-saving medicine to prolong the freeing of such a great thing? Thankfully, perhaps most americans bracket their religious convictions, if they believe in something it is only partime...

I believe a general law of human nature is that beliefs lead to actions...and that all human beings are consistent vis a vis the convictions that are operative at any given moment...thus assuming a relatively non-plastic evidence/reality, differences in action can only be the result of integrating/compromising facts to different frameworks or mental states. Of course from a christian perspective: One would say that original sin was precisely the result of action taken in accordance with fitting the facts to a different framework, and that perhaps all action taken from a non-biblical framework is sinfull.

Of course this means that both parties are right in identifying the problem as "forcing views on us." But it isn’t so simple as forcing a particular view, such as abortion is wrong, but rather also giving or forcing a framework from which one could render the judgement.

At issue in this case is the central premise that ideas, beliefs, world views matter. That if people say they are christian it should mean something: they should live it. "To be healthy, the political process demands that people conform their actions to their beliefs."

While I am in total agreement with the sentiment concerning the importance of ideas and frameworks advocated by the Archbishop. It is my view that people do conform their actions to their beliefs. I also believe that the extent to which various competing beliefs triumph is the vivacity with which they are held. I also believe that christianity is a belief system/ framework that cannot be held seriously, i.e. consistently because its component parts do not have refferents in reality. While I do not believe that the vivacity of a belief is a infalible indicator of its merits truthwise, it is so for that individual in that span of time in which the belief is active. Over time it is not our knowledge of the evidence that matters but the real existance and therefore consequence of that evidence known as reality that forces our hand. The subject matter that deals with the consequence of evidence vis a vis belief, is economics not theology. We are all called to be entrepreneurs, to interpret the evidence according to the framework of our choice. Those who are right profit in this world, those who are wrong suffer loses. Supposing this world is not all there is the science of economics would simply become that of theology. In the end regardless, the question will always be: How do we maximize the benefits of reality? How do we maximize our lives?

John,
You refer to a “non-biblical framework”. What is a “non-biblical framework”? Why do you not capitalize America?

G.M.

When I talk about a framework I mean, the thought of a philosopher or religion. A framework is a lens if you will. A strictly biblical framework would mean comming from the bible only. I would probably allow for some Augustine, some Plato, some Aristotle, some Aquinas...in fleshing out this framework. I would leave it to the catholic church to decide what the appropriate "catholic" framework is... A non biblical framework could be derived from any philosopher. Ayer, Hume, Mill, Locke, Aristotle, Ayn Rand...also other religions have their own frameworks, i.e. Islam, Judaism, ext... A framework is basically anything that makes metaphysical, epistemological claims and or passes judgement on these. As a thinking person you probably come up with your own framework in order to make sense of the world around you. Two different people with different frameworks may interpret the same evidence differently... Hopefully, if the mind is free we can discard or at least addapt frameworks to fit evidence, this is provided we don’t have excuses for contradictions built into our frameworks.

My failure to capitalise America represents a failure to pay attention to detail, and should not be taken as disparaging our nation.

John Lewis.

So a framework is "individual or group perspective"?

G.M.

John,

The earth is flat. The sun flies around the earth. If people were meant to fly they would be born with wings. Rags piled in a corner spontaneously produce mice. Rotting meat spontaneously produces maggots. All these things were based on perspective and evidence. And they were wrong. All these things were believed and they were still wrong.

It seems the concept of “truth” is too difficult to understand these days. So let’s forget about truth for a moment. But let’s take a close look at “lies”. A lie is a representation of something that is not real. A lie is false information. We all know what a lie is. We have experience with them. A lie is a transfer of information that does not represent reality. Even though lies exist, the things they represent do not.

The Bible is an ancient book that has been translated into many languages. Ancient interpretations associated with the Bible are handed down with antiquated language, all filtered through a multitude of perspectives for hundreds of years. Any attempt to understand “Christianity” or any religion associated with the Bible, requires serious study of history, culture, science, and language (and the Bible). Understanding Christianity requires a sincere desire to understand a complex and many layered puzzle.

I’ll condense my perspective of the Bible. Now, this is just a generalization (and generally all generalizations are flawed), but after looking at the Bible for a long time I came understand the book as “the history of lies”. Some of the mysterious language used in the Bible can be more easily understood from the "history of lies" perspective. Let’s look at some examples; “Sin”: An action based on a lie. “Born into sin”: living in a world where lies are easily confused with truth. “Spirit”: information. “Holy Spirit”: true information. “Evil sprit”: “lies” or false information. God is the God of truth; Jesus represented truth as a man. Satan is a liar and the father of lies.

Information is spirit. Information is real. DNA uses information to build fantastic creatures. Claude Shannon developed methods of measuring information and theories that are used to transfer these thoughts to you. Information is a real, existing facet of reality. It is not matter, atoms or energy: Information hitchhikes on matter but it is not matter. Information is not matter any more than it the alphabet is a word. Contrary to what many people think there is a portion of reality that fits the definition of spirit perfectly; information.

This long letter was written in hopes you would understand that Christians may have a different perspective, but not as different as many would suppose. First and foremost is a humility that allows them to understand they are fallible. They can make mistakes; they can believe a lie and they can act on lies (sin). Because they understand this about themselves they believe other people are susceptible to the same possibilities. They look for something to guide them away from such failings. The Bible, a brutally honest book, outlines the failings of generations of human beings. Christians try to understand those failings so they do not make the same mistakes. Some of the guidelines to avoid mistakes are called “commandments”. Some of these guidelines are not understood and others are not appealing, but Christians try to follow them because they know important concepts may not be easily understood (science has the same attitude toward time and space; just because they are not understood does not mean they are not important) They also believe that no human is worthless because they fail to avoid lies; people who have made mistakes are “redeemable”. Christians try to maximize their lives by avoiding mistakes. They care enough to want to help maximize the lives of other people; they just have their own way of trying to do that. I believe you wrote such an intense letter because you have the same good intentions.

If we look past the perspectives, or frameworks, upon which people base their reaction to the world we will find common ground for all humanity: We all live in a world polluted by lies and flawed perspectives. Lies, that ancient enemy of humanity, can be vanquished, one evil spirit at a time. And when we eliminate all lies, all false information, there will be a clear understanding of the meaning of truth. When lies are gone understanding each other will be easy, and love will have a power beyond comprehension.

The earth is round and hangs upon nothing (Bible verse). We spin through the universe (with the sun) with the greatest of ease. Life does not come from nonliving matter, (Pasteur, a Christian). Man can fly if he really wants to (Wright). Flies have to come from somewhere, and mice are rather cute, but they nest in the oddest places.


G.M.

Take Descartes Meditations... from this you could flesh out a framework...It makes specific claims about the nature of reality...from which interesting conclusions follow logically. Your view of the bible is a framework. The work of a philosopher is a framework for making sense of evidence. Politically we often times assume(for example) that because people claim to be catholic they oppose abortion... this is because from a catholic framework abortion is wrong. If you meet a catholic who is pro-choice you can assume that his reasons for being pro-choice do not derive from a catholic framework but some other framework. I am trying to examine the importance of ideas in human action. We can take polls that tell us what people believe...but until we see some action, we don’t yet know how this translates... In other words we don’t know how much importance someone places on a single issue. If we took a poll of all americans: would you prefer a Bentley or a Ford Focus? The results would favor the Bentley. But being in favor of something over another is just one portion of context. Once we assign the appropriate price to each we discover that more people actually drive the Ford Focus. The Archbishop is saying that a christian perspective starts from some very powerfull foundations... to me such powerfull metaphysical claims dwarf the Bentley/Focus analogy, yet it seems that experience shows us that a compromise is possible among those who claim to be christian. I was arguing that it isn’t possible that all who claim to be christian could keep in mind those same starting points and yet fail to act accordingly. Therefore, in addition to other evidence, I conclude that a lot of christians are simply luke warm. Still eating baby food if you will.

Why are they eating baby food? They don’t really believe the strong metaphysical claims that christianity makes, therefore they are very susceptible to competing factors. In other words wanting to be a good christian is like wanting to drive a Bentley... it is one thing to want, but it isn’t really worth the work when a Focus will do.

Go ahead and post the ten commandments in court houses... people are not forced to believe that God himself came down and gave them to Moses. I am not even sure when you get down to it that a lot of christians believe this.

Personally if I was christian I might even oppose it. Why? Because biblically God did come down to Moses and give him the ten commandments. Yet the Constitution the Declaration, the Magna carta, and other laws are the humble product of human minds. When the Ten commandments are included we pay homage to its influence, yet what happens? We include Moses as a "law giver" and we engrave him in the Supreme Court. Not God but Moses... which means that we don’t believe that God wrote the ten commandments but that they were created by Moses. The more the works of God are seen as human creation the more difficult it becomes to believe in God in the more serious metaphysical sense.

I enjoy your response Maddox.
But I disagree.

"Even though lies exist, the things they represent do not." Lies do not exist because the things they represent are contradictory with the truth. When people lie they say something that is not true. Lies don’t have an existance without context. Jason ate green beans for lunch. This is logically possible... but if it is clear who the Jason is and what green beans are and what lunch we are talking about, then we can say this is true or false, if it is false then it is a lie, but a lie is just a false statement about reality. By definition it can’t exist in reality. Only the person doing the lying can exist. This isn’t to say that a lie can’t have consequences.

Spirit= Information. hum... Information can be true or false. If Information is false it is Evil spirit. If Information is true it is Holy Spirit...

My problem with your views are that they are false. You assume that information can exist appart from agents. Just as you assume that a lie can exist without a liar, or that information can exist in DNA without the protein from which the DNA is constituted. Just as you assume that a soul can exist appart from its body.

"Claude Shannon developed methods of measuring information and theories that are used to transfer these thoughts to you." I am not sure you can transfer thoughts, but I will bracket this thought until I go look up this clown. I would argue from evidence that any thoughts transfered to me in this discussion occurs via the internet. Without the internet this would not be possible.

"Born into sin”: living in a world where lies are easily confused with truth." If the human mind is so easily confused then why are some people better than others at Poker? Seriously... people believe lies because they are want them to be true or they are afraid that they are.(Wizards first Rule: see Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth Novels)

In all seriousness I believe that lies are most easily passed off as truth only when we do not stick to our guns and evaluate the evidence to the best of our ability. The existence of lies requires someone to buy into them... by taking care to pay attention to all evidence (tells) a good poker player even when he doesn’t know what the other guy has, can make an educated guess. In most cases there is enough evidence to do even more than reach an educated guess, provided we understand that contradictions can’t exist.

Mr. Maddox, Thanks for enlightening me about Claude Shannon, as a result of that refference I am now reading "A Mathmatical theory of Communication".

Unfortunatly despite my desire to progress as an economist my math is lagging. Nevertheless this paper deals with the engineering aspect of the problem. Without Claude Shannon we may not have the internet today. Thus your statement makes more sense to me now.

At the same time I am warry of your appeal to mathmatics, this is one area where distinguishing the truth from lies is difficult. I don’t think it is wise or helpfull to try to spiritualize mathmatics...

In fact at the beginning of his treatise "A mathematical theory of Communication" Claude Shannon says: "The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are corrolated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem."

Claude Shannon is clearly saying that he is not concerned with the meaning of words but the ability to duplicate them, in this case by using zero’s and one’s.

If you want you could say that the zero’s and ones are the means of reproducing something that takes on a whole different and greater meaning to human beings. But this is not to say that the information could exist appart from solving the engineering aspect. Or at least without Claude Shannon’s insight the means used by people to communicate "information" would be reduced. "Information" could not exist on this medium without that which makes this medium possible, just as the "soul" cannot exist in a body without that which makes the body possible. When that which sustains the body leaves it the soul cannot continue to exist. At the very least there is a serious engineering problem with the idea of an immortal soul.


John,

I don’t think I said information could be transferred without matter. I agree that, in our experience, information cannot be transferred apart from matter.

Still, information is not the matter that conveys it. And a lie is not the liar; it is the information passed from the liar to a receiver of information. Neither lie nor liar change reality with false information. Except: One way reality may be changed by a lie is if the receiver’s perception is affected and the receiver acts on that perception. As you said, people base their actions on their framework, any framework based on false information can lead to actions that affect reality. To my knowledge actions based on false information do not have the expected results.

You wrote: “When that which sustains the body leaves it the soul cannot continue to exist. At the very least there is a serious engineering problem with the idea of an immortal soul”.

I’m sure you can think of many instances where an original cause of information is lost but the information “lives” on. A thing can be recreated to perfection if enough information is recorded. In some cases informatin copied into the same medium is indistinguishable from the original.

Remember that the use of the word “spirit” is ancient and it carries a lot of baggage with it. An entity or reality that haunts various arrangements of atoms yet maintains its own separate identity sounds like spirit to me. Define it any way you like, information is a really cool aspect of reality.

I am not an evangelist. I am not a missionary. I am a searcher after reality, rejecting the notion that humanity already has all the important answers. Religion has its share of unquestioning adherents, but science has its share too. If you apply your skepticism to all assertions no matter where they originate, you will be a wise old man some day (some of us just get old). You have a good sharp mind. I hope you do well in school and maximize your life.


G.M.

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