Writings from the Trento Conference

In December, 2011, Orbis Books published Catholic Theological Ethics, Past, Present, and Future: The Trento Conference.  The volume, edited by James F. Keenan, S.J.—Jesuit priest and professor in theology at Boston College—, collects works arising out of the Trento Conference, convened in Trento, Italy in July, 2010.  (Significantly, Trento was the location of the sixteenth century Council of Trent that launched the Catholic Counter-Reformation.)

The Trento Conference was a massive effort—featuring hundreds of presenters— focused on the encounter between moral theology and issues of contemporary global social policy.  The Conference took a dialogic methodological approach—that is, an approach not drawing strict lines between Catholic orthodoxy and unorthodoxy—to these contemporary social issues, which included “sexuality, authority, . . . gender, sustainability, health, econom[ics], . . . the right to food, [and] family.”  See generally James F. Keenan, S.J., What Happened at Trento 2010?, 72 Theol. Stud. 131, 140, 146 (2011) (interestingly, Theological Studies is a Jesuit journal focused on theological ethics founded in 1940 and edited by the Jesuit scholar and Catholic social thinker, Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J., from 1942 until his death in 1967).

The contributions in Fr. Keenan’s volume aspire to develop a Catholic moral theology for the twenty first century.  They examine Catholic moral theology’s history, review theological ethics as they exist today, and propose directions Catholic theological ethics might—or should—take in the years to come.  Of particular social policy interest are its explorations of inter-religious dialogue and harmonic co-existence; perspectives from socially, economically, and globally marginalized and/or silenced communities; and ethics in politics.

For Orbis Books’ description of the volume, please follow the jump. Read more

Sweden Recognizes File Sharing As a Religion

Earlier this month, Sweden’s Legal, Financial, and Administrative Services Agency, the Kammarkollegiet, recognized a new religious organization, the Missionary Church of Kopimism. Kopimism – the word derives from “copy me” – is, according to the church’s website, a comprehensive philosophy of life “animated by the desire to be copied and copy.” Its spiritual leader is 20-year old philosophy student Isak Gerson. Kopimism is non-theistic, but it has “priests” and axioms of faith, including the belief that file sharing is “sacred” and the internet “holy.” Followers are called to live their lives according to Kopimist values, encapsulated in this basic creed: “From all to one and from one to all – and then back again – exchange without beginning and without end.” (Kopimism is not big on copyright laws). The fact that it is now a registered religion means that Kopimism can apply for government subsidies and permission to conduct marriage ceremonies.

Western legal systems, including the American, have had a notoriously hard time coming up with a workable definition of “religion,” one  comprehensive enough to cover the variety of human religious experience but narrow enough to be meaningful. Judges have used substantive, functional, and analogical tests. I’m not sure which the Kammarkollegiet uses. Frankly, though, it’s hard for me to see how Kopimism would qualify as a religion under any of these approaches. The Kopimists themselves seem to endorse the analogical approach: although many Swedish Christians condemn Kopimism as a joke, they say, Kopimism actually resembles traditional Christianity, whose monks understood the value of copying and disseminating information. No word yet whether Kopimism’s American branch will seek a religious exemption from SOPA, the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act.

Mazzacano on Puritanism and Godliness in the 17th Century

Peter Mazzacano (Osgoode Hall Law School — York University) has posted, “Puritanism, Godliness, and Political Development in Boston and the General Court (1630-1640).”  The abstract follows.

The goal of this article is to examine the degree to which Puritanism influenced early American political culture. That is, how did Puritan values and practices facilitate the development of an exceptional political culture during the formative years of Massachusetts Bay? Utilizing a case-study method of analysis, this article examines the political developments in the General Court and the town of Boston during the decade 1630 to 1640. The research methods used are primarily the writings of leading Puritans, and concomitant town, church, and colonial records. The main finding is that the Puritans paid little heed to notions of democracy, theocracy, oligarchy, or British political traditions; instead, Puritan institutions and practices were based on the primary Puritan ideal of godliness. However, the formative influence of the godly ideal inadvertently reinforced democratic and republican ideals. The conclusion is that the focus on godliness provides a comprehensive and multiple explanations for the course of political developments in early Massachusetts Bay.

Moore, “The War on Heresy”

A fascinating looking book by the medievalist R.I. Moore (Newcastle) will be published in April, The War on Heresy (Harvard 2012).  Religious heresy is in some ways the ancestor (though a still-living ancestor) of religious dissent, and so it may be interesting to reflect on how the history in this volume might shed light on contemporary concerns.  The publisher’s description follows.

Between 1000 and 1250, the Catholic Church confronted the threat of heresy with increasing force. Some of the most portentous events in medieval history—the Cathar crusade, the persecution and mass burnings of heretics, the papal inquisition established to identify and suppress beliefs that departed from the true religion—date from this period. Fear of heresy molded European society for the rest of the Middle Ages and beyond, and violent persecutions of the accused left an indelible mark. Yet, as R. I. Moore suggests, the version of these events that has come down to us may be more propaganda than historical reality.

Popular accounts of heretical events, most notably the Cathar crusade, are derived from thirteenth-century inquisitors who saw organized heretical movements as a threat to society. Skeptical of the reliability of their reports, Moore reaches back to earlier contemporaneous sources, where he learns a startling truth: no coherent opposition to Catholicism, outside the Church itself, existed. The Cathars turn out to be a mythical construction, and religious difference does not explain the origins of battles against heretic practices and beliefs.

A truer explanation lies in conflicts among elites—both secular and religious—who used the specter of heresy to extend their political and cultural authority and silence opposition. By focusing on the motives, anxieties, and interests of those who waged war on heresy, Moore’s narrative reveals that early heretics may have died for their faith, but it was not because of their faith that they were put to death.