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Justice Scalia at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast

In his remarks this morning at the 6th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Justice Antonin Scalia contrasted the Jefferson who abridged the gospels to produce a humanist (and thoroughly uninteresting) Jesus with Thomas More, who defied Henry VIII and was eventually beheaded. But the comparison of one of Jefferson's silly moments with St. Thomas Morefs martyrdom is inapt. And unfortunately it feeds a prejudice many religious Americans have, that their faith is at odds with their patriotism, that they must ultimately live as aliens in America. Of course, the prevailing political and social trends bolster this feeling.

But denigrating, even implicitly, Jeffersonfs highest achievements (especially by contrast with a Saint) would further undermine Catholic self-understanding as well as patriotism. Preeminent among those achievements was the Declaration of Independence, with its radical statement of human equality, an assessment of the human condition that transformed the relationship of man to his government and the understanding of the relationship between man and the cosmos. Catholics, as well as those of other faiths and religious skeptics and scoffers, need the natural theology of the Declaration to ground our political and social conduct. They need the founding documentfs reason or natural law to establish their political principles. Philosophic reason paves the way for theology.

Justice Scaliafs remarks are not available, but Archbishop Burkefs powerful keynote address is here. Go, Notre Dame was not a leading theme.

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Archbishop Caput in Denver, in his outstanding book "Render Unto Caesar," has an excellent understanding of Catholicism and patriotism.

Philosophic reason paves the way for theology.



Somewhere, Kierkegaard is softly crying.

When someone lacks arguments on this blog, they dismiss what they disagree with as 'uninteresting'. Jefferson's editing the gospels ought to be a lesson to you, not dismissed as something silly. The whole point of the 'founding documents' is to diffuse power, political and religious. Yet here you claim that the religious 'need' the natural theology of those documents to ground their conduct. I think more the point is that those hungry for religious-political power 'need' those documents to ground their political power. They need to get those miracles back in there, so they can appeal to them as mystical authority for their power. The Jeffersonian idea must now be understood along post-modern lines and in functional terms. State structures must now be kept separate from whatever corrupt metaphysical conceit that strolls down the lane masquerading as religious profundity, or power groups cloaked in secrecy, such as the Council for National Policy types, fanatical ultra-cons with a right wing Christian agenda (such as Hagee's Jerusalem Countdown).

The Declaration of Independence was not a "radical statement of human equality and an assessment of the human condition"- it was a conservative statement of human freedom and an assessment of the tyranny of the British government. Read it- you might learn something.

The current historiography on the founders is saying they were deists and not really christians. I had a discussion in a grad school class about this and my old and wise professor made the point that what else do you call someone who followed the teachings of Jesus? In a way it is a great way to divide and conquer by revising their position to be anti-christian. i really think there has to be seperation from having reservations about the church, and having reservations about Jesus.

Preeminent among those achievements was the Declaration of Independence, with its radical statement of human equality, an assessment of the human condition that transformed the relationship of man to his government and the understanding of the relationship between man and the cosmos.

Boy, that's pretentious. TJ transformed mans relationship with the cosmos? Really? They must teach a course on hyperbole at Ashbrook.

Jefferson's editing the gospels ought to be a lesson to you, not dismissed as something silly.

Given Jeffersons hostility towards religion, why should his editing of the gospels be "interesting"?

The whole point of the 'founding documents' is to diffuse power, political and religious.

I'm tickled pink that you are aware that political power is supposed to be diffused in America. Maybe you can forward that information to the Democratic party. However, our founding documents say nothing much about religion one way or the other, other than a provision guaranteeing religious freedom. The Founders seem to have expected that the American people would be religious. In fact they seem have to considered that to be a cornerstone of what they were creating.

And unfortunately it feeds a prejudice many religious Americans have, that their faith is at odds with their patriotism, that they must ultimately live as aliens in America.

The faithful are stuck with the circumstances with which they are stuck, and you have to set priorities. If your faith and civic obligations imposed by the authorities are not in conflict, that's gravy, but you got no guarantees

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but denigrating, even implicitly, Jeffersonfs highest achievements (especially by contrast with a Saint) would further undermine Catholic self-understanding as well as patriotism. Preeminent among those achievements was the Declaration of Independence, with its radical statement of human equality, an assessment of the human condition that transformed the relationship of man to his government and the understanding of the relationship between man and the cosmos. Catholics, as well as those of other faiths and religious skeptics and scoffers, need the natural theology of the Declaration to ground our political and social conduct

Elective deliberative institutions, which require some degree of free public contention to function, were not innovations devised by "Mr. Jefferson" but had been an operative reality in the colonies for 150 years. Antedating that were the municipal councils and representative assemblies common in Europe from the late middle ages, not to mention the convocations of open field villages to manage their common affairs. These institutions were constructed in a society of orders, not a modern society of undifferentiated citizens.

Jefferson taking the time and effort to edit the gospels according to his sense of what is reasonable about God argues an intense interest in the nature of God. Maybe he was not a Christian, but he was not an atheist, either.

Jefferson taking the time and effort to edit the gospels according to his sense of what is reasonable about God argues an intense interest in the nature of God.

Well, that is one interpetation. It does not neccessarily argue for a benign interest in God though.

Just to really upset people, these thoughts on reason:


Christians in fact describe God, among other ways, as creative Reason, which orders and guides the world. And God endows us with the capacity to participate in his reason and thus to act in accordance with what is good. Muslims worship God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has spoken to humanity. And as believers in the one God we know that human reason is itself God’s gift and that it soars to its highest plane when suffused with the light of God’s truth. In fact, when human reason humbly allows itself to be purified by faith, it is far from weakened; rather, it is strengthened to resist presumption and to reach beyond its own limitations. In this way, human reason is emboldened to pursue its noble purpose of serving mankind, giving expression to our deepest common aspirations and extending, rather than manipulating or confining, public debate. Thus, genuine adherence to religion Efar from narrowing our minds Ewidens the horizon of human understanding. It protects civil society from the excesses of the unbridled ego which tend to absolutize the finite and eclipse the infinite; it ensures that freedom is exercised hand in hand with truth, and it adorns culture with insights concerning all that is true, good and beautiful.

This understanding of reason, which continually draws the human mind beyond itself in the quest for the Absolute, poses a challenge; it contains a sense of both hope and caution. Together, Christians and Muslims are impelled to seek all that is just and right. We are bound to step beyond our particular interests and to encourage others, civil servants and leaders in particular, to do likewise in order to embrace the profound satisfaction of serving the common good, even at personal cost. And we are reminded that because it is our common human dignity which gives rise to universal human rights, they hold equally for every man and woman, irrespective of his or her religious, social or ethnic group. In this regard, we must note that the right of religious freedom extends beyond the question of worship and includes the right Eespecially of minorities Eto fair access to the employment market and other spheres of civic life.

From Pope Benedict XVI's message">message">http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2009/may/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20090509_capi-musulmani_en.html">message to Muslim clergy, diplomats, and university rectors, May 9. This is Jeffersonianism at its best. At a time the Church may have been the repository of "monkish ignorance" that Jefferson decried. Today it is the only major public institution that defends reason.

Spurred by the comments, I restate Jefferson on theology. This analogy may be useful: Jefferson was consistent in defending natural rights in the Declaration and in the Virginia Resolutions. Against Tocquevillean skepticism he based American politics on the principle of natural right. In theology, Jefferson tried to defend reason (and Christianity) by removing divinity from Christ. Pope Benedict XVI defends reason by showing how reason without divinity makes no sense at all. In assessing his comments, it is important to note his Muslim audience of today. A question, not at all rhetorical: Who is more amenable to reason, the audience of Muslim clerics, academics, and diplomats he was addressing, or a typical university faculty, the readership of the New York Times, or the staff of a Democratic legislator? That's the problem of reason in our time.

Jefferson tried to defend reason (and Christianity) by removing divinity from Christ.

It would take a non-Christian to not see the problem in that sentence.

Against Tocquevillean skepticism he based American politics on the principle of natural right.

I doubt that very much, mostly because Tocqueville did not write until long after. Hume-ian skepticism, perhaps.

In an case America politics were not based on Lockean principles, but on those of Montesquieu. Locke led to the French Revolution, Montesquieu to the American.

In an case America politics were not based on Lockean principles, but on those of Montesquieu. Locke led to the French Revolution, Montesquieu to the American.

I guess the stuff about public finance and the prerogatives of local conciliar bodies was just a pretext.

Jefferson was a smart feller, but Jefferson's attempt to "humanize" a fully human Jesus is how our carnal minds work. We see Him called a Democrat, Republican, gay, enviromentalist, Palestinian, pacifist, war-monger, swinger, etc. At Notre Dame, they even think he's an abortionist. Late-term? No problem!

This Hallmark Jesus says "Eat your organic vegetables and play well with others". Problem is, that's not who He says He is.

We don't need any more good advice. We need a Savior like a child needs love.

I guess the stuff about public finance and the prerogatives of local conciliar bodies was just a pretext.

A pretext for .. ? Sorry, you're being too cryptic for me.

John M, you consistently post some of the most obtuse comments on this website. Congratulations. "Jefferson tried to defend reason (and Christianity) by removing divinity from Christ." "It would take a non-Christian to not see the problem in that sentence." How does that not make sense? One can follow the general parameters of Christianity without believing in the divinity of Christ: it's essentially the Golden Rule. I'm not saying I agree or think it's necessarily a good thing, but it's not a mysterious concept.

Brutus, I like comment #5. Matt's too.

Ken Thomas, thank you for comment #11 and the link. One of the things I've always loved about Christianity (and why, it seems, the religion is so conducive to civilization) is the "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God" verse ("Word" being translated from "Logos", or, "Reason").

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