Flying Bishops

9780520300378Being a bishop has not always been a safe job. In late antiquity, in fact, it could be positively dangerous–as it remains in some parts of the world today. Not surprisingly, bishops sometimes survived Roman persecution by fleeing (or worse–see the Donatist Controversy), which occasioned considerable consternation among the members of the flock who stayed behind. A book out today from the University of California Press, Bishops in Flight: Exile and Displacement in Late Antiquity, addresses the sad history. The author is religion scholar Jennifer Barry (University of Mary Washington) Here’s the publisher’s description:

Flight during times of persecution has a long and fraught history in early Christianity. In the third century, bishops who fled were considered cowards or, worse yet, heretics. On the face, flight meant denial of Christ and thus betrayal of faith and community. But by the fourth century, the terms of persecution changed as Christianity became the favored cult of the Roman Empire. Prominent Christians who fled and survived became founders and influencers of Christianity over time.

Bishops in Flight examines the various ways these episcopal leaders both appealed to and altered the discourse of Christian flight to defend their status as purveyors of Christian truth, even when their exiles appeared to condemn them. Their stories illuminate how profoundly Christian authors deployed theological discourse and the rhetoric of heresy to respond to the phenomenal political instability of the fourth and fifth centuries.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Jefferson the Lawyer

9780691187891Many readers of this blog will know of the famous disagreement between Thomas Jefferson and Joseph Story on whether Christianity formed part of the common law. Jefferson, unsurprisingly, thought the answer was “no.” How he came to that conclusion is perhaps revealed in a new edition of his legal notes, Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book, published by Princeton and edited by David Konig (Washington University-St. Louis) and Michael Zuckert (Notre Dame). The publisher’s description follows:

As a law student and young lawyer in the 1760s, Thomas Jefferson began writing abstracts of English common law reports. Even after abandoning his law practice, he continued to rely on his legal commonplace book to document the legal, historical, and philosophical reading that helped shape his new role as a statesman. Indeed, he made entries in the notebook in preparation for his mission to France, as president of the United States, and near the end of his life. This authoritative volume is the first to contain the complete text of Jefferson’s notebook. With more than 900 entries on such thinkers as Beccaria, Montesquieu, and Lord Kames, Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book is a fascinating chronicle of the evolution of Jefferson’s searching mind.

Jefferson’s abstracts of common law reports, most published here for the first time, indicate his deepening commitment to whig principles and his incisive understanding of the political underpinnings of the law. As his intellectual interests and political aspirations evolved, so too did the content and composition of his notetaking.

Unlike the only previous edition of Jefferson’s notebook, published in 1926, this edition features a verified text of Jefferson’s entries and full annotation, including essential information on the authors and books he documents. In addition, the volume includes a substantial introduction that places Jefferson’s text in legal, historical, and biographical context.

Justice Scalia “On Faith”

Seven years ago, we were deeply honored to host Justice Antonin Scalia at our inaugural Colloquium in Law and Religion. We prepared all of the Justice’s cases in the field and then listened, in a small setting, as the Justice discussed them and answered our questions. I had the chance to co-teach a constitutional law class with the Justice. I won’t ever forget it.

It therefore brings me special pleasure to note this new book, published posthumously, collecting Justice Scalia’s occasional essays, lectures, and reflections on religious faith. The book is On Faith: Lessons from an American Believer (Penguin Random House) (with a foreword by Justice Clarence Thomas).

“Antonin Scalia reflected deeply on matters of religion and shared his insights with many audiences over the course of his remarkable career. As a Supreme Court justice for three decades, he vigorously defended the American constitutional tradition of allowing religion a prominent place in the public square. As a man of faith, he recognized the special challenges of living a distinctively religious life in modern America, and he inspired other believers to meet those challenges.

This volume contains Justice Scalia’s incisive thoughts on these matters, laced with his characteristic wit. It includes outstanding speeches featured in Scalia Speaks and also draws from his Supreme Court opinions and his articles. In addition to the introduction by Fr. Scalia, other highlights include Fr. Scalia’s beautiful homily at his father’s funeral Mass and reminiscences from various friends and law clerks whose lives were influenced by Antonin Scalia’s faith.”

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

The Conformity of Diversity

Very few ideas have come to dominate higher education more completely in the past decade or so than “diversity and inclusion.” No university I know of doubts the value of “diversity and inclusion” in any of its several meanings, and all have undertaken extensive administrative, personnel-oriented, and programmatic initiatives on its behalf. It is widely thought to be one of the unquestioned, and unquestionable, intrinsic goods of higher education–perhaps even one of its preeminent goods to rival the pursuit of knowledge itself. Conformity with the orthodoxy of “diversity and inclusion” is today expected and, in many cases, enforced through various accrediting and other administrative mechanisms.

A new book of essays puts the intrinsic worth of “diversity” into question and debate: Diversity, Conformity, and Conscience in Contemporary America (Rowman & Littlefield), edited by Bradley C.S. Watson, and with contributions by some of our Center friends including Matt Franck and Phillip Muñoz.

“America is a nation that celebrates diversity and freedom of conscience. Yet, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed, democratic times often demand conformity. Nowadays, conformity might be enforced in the name of diversity itself, and go so far as to infringe on the rights of conscience, expression, association, and religious freedom. Americans have recently been confronted by this paradox in various ways, from federal health care mandates, to campus speech codes, to consumer boycotts, to public intimidation, to vexatious litigation, to private corporations dismissing employees for expressing certain political views. In this book, Bradley C. S. Watson brings together leading thinkers from a variety of disciplines to examine the manner and extent to which conformity is demanded by contemporary American law and social practice. Contributors also consider the long-term results of such demands for conformity for the health—and even survival—of a constitutional republic.”

The Central Symbol of American Conflict?

In recently thinking about the disagreements–many of them extremely acrimonious and deeply felt–about the presence of the large cross in Maryland to honor fallen soldiers in World War I (which the Supreme Court will pronounce on, but not resolve, shortly), I’ve wondered whether those disagreements reflect a deeper set of conflicts, or whether they instead sit on the surface of relative concord and agreement about American political and social life.

A new book seems to suggest something like the former possibility, that religion very often has been the key or central symbol of our deepest national political conflicts (though I would think race has at least an equal claim). The book is America’s Religious Wars: The Embattled Heart of Our Public Life (Yale University Press), by Kathleen M. Sands. Indeed, even the way that the blurb puts the constitutional status of the wall-of-separation metaphor is a hotly contested matter in American public life.

“When Americans fight about “religion,” we are also fighting about our conflicting identities, interests, and commitments. Religion-talk has been a ready vehicle for these conflicts because it is built on enduring contradictions within our core political values. The Constitution treats religion as something to be confined behind a wall, but in public communications, the Framers treated religion as the foundation of the American republic. Ever since, Americans have translated disagreements on many other issues into an endless debate about the role of religion in our public life.

Built around a set of compelling narratives—George Washington’s battle with Quaker pacifists; the fight of Mormons and Catholics for equality with Protestants; Teddy Roosevelt’s concept of land versus the Lakota’s concept; the creation-evolution controversy; and the struggle over sexuality—this book shows how religion, throughout American history, has symbolized, but never resolved, our deepest political questions.”

Another One for #SpeechConstriction

I’ve got a running list of new books by academics arguing for theories of speech constriction, in public and private contexts, on the basis of some competing value or set of values. A very popular value in these sorts of proposals is “equality,” but there are many others, as I discuss here.

These typical (indeed, altogether conventional at this point) characteristics of the new speech constriction come together nicely in this new book, What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus (Oxford University Press), by NYU literature and new media professor Ulrich Baer. It is telling that the author “pits” “students’ welfare” as an educational interest opposed to “free inquiry and open debate.” That suggests that free inquiry and open debate in the ongoing pursuit of knowledge, one of the features of the university believed, as a historical matter, to be absolutely fundamental, has new and incompatible rivals in the minds of at least some prominent academicians.

Incidentally, the ancient university such as Paris and Bologna, and even the early American Christian college (see e.g., George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief), had a much more communitarian orientation–one very much attuned to questions of “truth,” as Baer has it. In the case of the American colleges, this was all before the German research model of the university was imported to the US and radically transformed colleges like Harvard and Yale. Of course, the substantive communal commitments of these earlier models were distinctive and bear little resemblance to the equality-dominant approach being pressed in books like Baer’s, whose description is below.

“Angry debates about polarizing speakers have roiled college campuses. Conservatives accuse universities of muzzling unpopular opinions, betraying their values of open inquiry; students sympathetic to the left openly advocate against completely unregulated speech, asking for “safe spaces” and protection against visiting speakers and even curricula they feel disrespects them. Some even call these students “snowflakes”-too fragile to be exposed to opinions and ideas that challenge their worldviews. How might universities resolve these debates about free speech, which pit their students’ welfare against the university’s commitment to free inquiry and open debate?

Ulrich Baer here provides a new way of looking at this dilemma. He explains how the current dichotomy is false and is not really about the feelings of offended students, or protecting an open marketplace of ideas. Rather, what is really at stake is our democracy’s commitment to equality, and the university’s critical role as an arbiter of truth. He shows how and why free speech has become the rallying cry that forges an otherwise uneasy alliance of liberals and ultra-conservatives, and why this First Amendment absolutism is untenable in law and society in general. He draws on law, philosophy, and his extensive experience as a university administrator to show that the lens of equality can resolve this impasse, and can allow the university to serve as a model for democracy that upholds both truth and equality as its founding principles.”

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

On Institutional Collapse and Social Alienation

Only a generation ago, theorists like Christopher Lasch were talking about two American cultural groups–a lower-middle-class culture that valued continuity, place, and institutional loyalty, and an upper-class, elite culture that valued mobility, rootlessness, and individuality. But since the time that Lasch and others like him wrote, the first group has been decimated, and one of the primary reasons for its fall has been the destruction of its communal institutions, including its religious ones.

A new and interesting book by Timothy P. Carney discusses and elaborates on this view–and in particular the effect that the collapse of churches as social institutions has had on the lower-middle class: Alienated America: While Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse (HarperCollins).

“Respected conservative journalist and commentator Timothy P. Carney continues the conversation begun with Hillbilly Elegyand the classic Bowling Alone in this hard-hitting analysis that identifies the true factor behind the decline of the American dream: it is not purely the result of economics as the left claims, but the collapse of the institutions that made us successful, including marriage, church, and civic life.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump proclaimed, “the American dream is dead,” and this message resonated across the country.

Why do so many people believe that the American dream is no longer within reach? Growing inequality, stubborn pockets of immobility, rising rates of deadly addiction, the increasing and troubling fact that where you start determines where you end up, heightening political strife—these are the disturbing realities threatening ordinary American lives today.

The standard accounts pointed to economic problems among the working class, but the root was a cultural collapse: While the educated and wealthy elites still enjoy strong communities, most blue-collar Americans lack strong communities and institutions that bind them to their neighbors. And outside of the elites, the central American institution has been religion

That is, it’s not the factory closings that have torn us apart; it’s the church closings. The dissolution of our most cherished institutions—nuclear families, places of worship, civic organizations—has not only divided us, but eroded our sense of worth, belief in opportunity, and connection to one another.

In Alienated America, Carney visits all corners of America, from the dim country bars of Southwestern Pennsylvania., to the bustling Mormon wards of Salt Lake City, and explains the most important data and research to demonstrate how the social connection is the great divide in America. He shows that Trump’s surprising victory was the most visible symptom of this deep-seated problem. In addition to his detailed exploration of how a range of societal changes have, in tandem, damaged us, Carney provides a framework that will lead us back out of a lonely, modern wilderness.”

%d bloggers like this: