Symposium: God, Freedom, and Public Life (October 6)

The Lumen Christi Institute and the Committee on Social Thought will host a symposium, “God, Freedom, and Public Life,” at the University of Chicago on Thursday, October 6.  The symposium will discuss Francis Cardinal George’s new book, God in Action: How Faith in God can Address the Challenges of the World, and will feature contributions from Amitai Etzioni (George Washington University), Hans Joas (University of Chicago), Martin Marty (University of Chicago), and Francis Cardinal George, OMI (Archbishop of Chicago).  A description is here.  — MLM

Excluding Religion from NYC’s 9/11 Commemoration, cont.

A follow-up to last week’s post about excluding clergy from NYC’s official 9/11 commemoration.   The city explained that it was excluding clergy because the event was for victims’ families and there were limits to how many people the city could accommodate.  Some observers, though, believed that the city was in fact trying to avoid the “divisiveness” that clergy-led prayers would create.  Others argued the city’s decision reflected a basic hostility to religion; Mayor Bloomberg lent some credibility to that argument on Friday, when he remarked that a memorial service with prayers and religious leaders would be like the government forcing religion “down people’s throats.”

The commemoration took place yesterday.  Clergy were not present, but prayer and scripture readings were part of the program after all.  In fact, the religious references were even more sectarian than many clergy, who are accustomed to presiding at interfaith services like this, might have provided.  President Obama read Psalm 46, a hymn to “the God of Jacob,” in its entirety.  Former Mayor Giuliani read from Ecclesiastes, explaining that “we need” the perspective that comes from “the words of God” expressed in that book.  (Actually, they’re the words of “the Preacher,” but even so).  Were the President and the former mayor forcing faith on anyone?  The religious references, so much a part of the American tradition at events like these, appeared to cause no disturbance at all.   – MLM

Atkinson on The Future of Philanthropy: Questioning Today’s Orthodoxies, Re-affirming Yesterday’s Foundations

Rob Atkinson Jr. (Florida State University College of Law) has posted The Future of Philanthropy: Questioning Today’s Orthodoxies, Re-Affirming Yesterday’s Foundations. The abstract follows. – ARH

Philanthropy today has reached an impasse, in both theory and practice. This article maps a way beyond that impasse by taking us back to philanthropy’s core function and traditional values. The standard academic model sees philanthropy as subordinate and supplemental to our society’s other public sectors, the market and the state, and uses their metrics to measure its performance. Current law, best reflected in the federal income tax code, closely parallels that perspective. This article proposes to reverse the dominant theoretical perspective and reveal a radically different relationship among society’s three public sectors, the market, the state, and the philanthropic. Following both classical western philosophy and the West’s three Abrahamist faiths, this perspective places philanthropy first and measures everything, including our current economic and political systems, by a neo-classical philanthropic standard: the highest good of all humankind.

Podeh’s “The Politics of National Celebrations in the Arab Middle East”

And speaking of public religion, The Politics of National Celebrations in the Arab Middle East (CUP 2011) by Elie Podeh (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) looks like an excellent book for understanding how Middle Eastern governments use religion for various official civic and legal purposes, something which is certainly not unique to those regimes and which is a common feature of strong polities.  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

Why do countries celebrate defining religious moments or significant events in their history, and how and why do their leaders select certain events for commemoration and not others? This book is the first systematic study of the role of celebrations and public holidays in the Arab Middle East from the fall of the Ottoman Empire to the present. By tracing the history of the modern nation-state through successive generations, the book shows how Arab rulers have used public holidays as a means of establishing their legitimacy and, more broadly, a sense of national identity. Most recently, some states have attempted to nationalize religious festivals in the face of the Islamic revival. With its many illustrations and copious examples from across the region, the book offers an alternative perspective on the history and politics of the Middle East.

Religious Music and Public Religion

Both sociologist Grace Davie and law professor Angela Carmella have described the ways in which cultural artifacts rooted in religious traditions can take on a public aspect.  That is what seems to be described in this piece by James Oestreich about a series of concerts featuring Bach’s music at Trinity Church with the unfortunately saccharine name, “Remember to Love.”

I say “seems” because Oestreich is obviously conflicted about describing either Bach or his music as religious.  And in the process I think that he misses what is special about Bach’s music — and the reason that its religious quality was perhaps a particularly apt choice as, to use Davie’s term, a “public utility” on the ten-year anniversary of September 11.

Bach’s interpretation of religious themes in his Masses, cantatas, and so much else moves from ineffably serpentine complication to clean, satisfying resolution.  When a piece of Bach’s concludes, there is the distinct sense that a very difficult affair has been worked on, labored through, and that one emerges into a place of light where all is, at long last, right with the world.  Bach is, for me, the greatest composer of all time, and it is because he perfected this suite of emotions in his music — the human struggle from spiritual darkness to the peace of illumination — that his music resonates so deeply across time.

But this is exactly a religious theme, interpreted by Bach in religious texts, and which inspired in him this music.  The source of his creation, just like the site in which it was experienced yesterday, is ineradicably religious.  This is difficult for some to acknowledge, because of the sense that the civic polity stands apart from religious experience, or that it does not need its ministrations, or even that to indulge in them somehow violates the Constitution.  But to deny the ways in which religious music can contribute to the public or civic landscape is to misdescribe profoundly the nature of the relationship between religion and the state.  — MOD

Einhorn on Jewish Divorce in the International Arena

Talia Einhorn (Tel Aviv University – Faculty of Management) has posted Jewish Divorce in the International Arena. The abstract follows. – ARH

Jewish law, like other religious laws, commands universal application to all Jews. Had all states chosen religious law to apply to marriage and divorce, limping marriages and divorces would have been restricted to persons who are regarded as belonging to several religions (decided from the point of view of that religion), or to none. This would have also been the case had all persons, regardless of the civil law applicable to such matters, adhered to religious laws. However, as long as some states, e.g., Israel, apply religious law to personal status, whereas others apply civil law, limping personal status poses a very real problem. Such conflicts befall also Jews who regard themselves bound not only by the civil laws of their state of habitual residence, but also, by autonomous choice, by Jewish law precepts.

The modern, relatively free movement of persons in the international arena has Read more