Tsitselikis on Aspects of Legal Communitarianism in Greece

Konstantinos Tsitselikis  (U. of Macedonia) has posted Aspects of Legal Communitarianism in Greece: Between Millet and Citizenship. The abstract follows.

Legal and political percepts pertaining to ethnic belonging in Greece are closely linked to the ideological understanding of Greekness, a legacy of the Ottoman Greek-Orthodox millet system. Complementary to this image of the national self, minority protection law on Muslims and Jews was and still is partially formed through millet-like paradigms. Greece’s territorial expansion made all inhabitants of the annexed provinces Greek citizens en masse: in addition to those that were deemed eligible to belong to the Greek nation, Jewish and Muslim communities also acquired Greek citizenship. For these communities the self-autonomy of the Ottoman millet structure in education and religious matters was transformed into minority protection, through special rights (community schools, Moufti’s jurisdiction, Muslim foundations, military conscription) attributable through religion to citizens of the state.

Storrow on Religion, Feminism and Abortion

Richard F. Storrow (City U. of N.Y. School of Law) has posted Religion, Feminism and Abortion: The Regulation of Assisted Reproduction in Two Catholic Countries. The abstract follows.

Perspectives on abortion and religious values have been two primary influences on the development of the various regulatory regimes that govern assisted reproduction around the world. This article examines why two countries with similar histories of allegiance to Roman Catholicism have developed highly divergent legal regimes to regulate assisted reproduction. Italy has enacted one of the most restrictive regimes known, Spain one of the most permissive. The comparative analysis employed here will afford insight into how the development of legislative responses to assisted reproduction correlate with religious commitments, feminist sentiment and the regulation of abortion. This article concludes with a discussion of what implications its analysis might have for the regulation of the infertility industry in the United States.

Douthat, “Bad Religion”

From New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a very worthwhile new book on the state of religion in America, Bad Religion (Free Press 2012). Douthat argues that the consensus “mere Christianity” that until recently provided a common political culture for America has collapsed. It has been replaced, not by the New Atheism of Dawkins and Hitchens, but by a collection of “heresies” that encourage self-absorption and weaken public life. These include, on the Right, the Gospel of Wealth, which teaches middle-class strivers that God will make them rich, and, on the Left, the New Gnosticism of academics like Elaine Pagels, which encourages people to imagine a Jesus they find congenial. Most influential of all, Douthat argues, is the “Spiritual but Not Religious” movement, which rejects organized religion in favor of “the God Within.” It’s not that these “heresies” are altogether bad; insofar as they promote tolerance, they’re beneficial. It’s just that, in Douthat’s view, the collapse of traditional Christianity means that nothing exists to temper their worst impulses. “The result,” he writes, “is a society where pride becomes ‘healthy self-esteem,’ vanity becomes ‘self-improvement,’ adultery becomes ‘following your heart,’ greed and gluttony become ‘living the American dream.’” He is especially good at explaining the social reasons for decline of Christianity since the 1960s and the religious commitments, such as they are, of the Millennials, who, if one credits surveys, somehow combine an ethic of not making other people feel bad with a remarkable lack of empathy. His description of what a recovered Christianity would look like is a little vague, and I suspect that most secularists, notwithstanding his claim that they too have a stake in Christianity’s revival, will remain quite content about the religion’s eclipse. Nonetheless, this book is a must for people who wish to understand religion in American today. What’s more, it offers insights about the essence of Christianity itself – a religion, Douthat insists, that forgoes easy answers in favor of paradox.

Turkish High Court Rules Against Monastery; EU Voices Concern

Another blow for Christian minorities in the Middle East: last week, Turkey’s highest court ruled against the Mor Gabriel Syriac Orthodox monastery (left), the oldest functioning Christian monastery in the world,  in a long-running lawsuit brought by local villagers. The lawsuit accused the monastery of “anti-Turkish activities,” including the illegal occupation of land that allegedly belongs to the government. Most commentators have dismissed the merits of the lawsuit — among other things, the suit claims the monastery occupies the site of a pre-existing mosque, even though the monastery predates Islam by centuries — and the high court’s behavior during the litigation has not reassured people. At one point, for example, the court apparently “lost” the documents the monastery submitted in support of its claim. The monastery will now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled against Turkey in a similar case involving the Greek Orthodox a while ago.  The EU, meanwhile, has expressed “serious concern” about the decision.

How Important is Public Support for Religious Freedom?

In a recent post, Mark observes that “the idea that religious freedom has special importance, and merits special protection, is deeply rooted in America’s self-image. (In recent surveys, large majorities even of secular Americans agree that religion has had a good influence on American life). . . . [T]he commitment to religious freedom is part of our social contract and I don’t think it’s going to fade away. If politicians try to make the ‘religious freedom is an anachronism’ argument, I suspect they will fail.”

I haven’t seen the surveys, but I trust that Mark is right about them, and I hope that his political instincts are right as well.  It may well be true that there is broad public support in this country for religious freedom.  This is a heartening observation, not just for its immediate political implications, but because I think this sort of tradition/ identity factor offers another potentially important rationale for religious freedom (and one not entirely unrelated to the badly named “social contract” rationale I suggested last week). The basic idea, I take it, goes something like this: Whether or not religious freedom reflects some sort of universal truth, it’s been central to our own political tradition, and it’s part of our national identity.  So we should respect religious freedom because that’s important to what makes us what we are.

Still, I would register a couple of related doubts, or qualifications.  First, even if support for religious freedom is widespread in this country, I wonder how deep it runs– in terms either of real commitment or of genuine understanding.  The reported frequent opposition to Muslim cultural centers or mosques (even in places other than “Ground Zero,” where maybe the issues are more complicated) gives some reason for doubt.  And although it’s not certain what the ultimate outcome of the controversy will be, it’s also discouraging that so many academics and Americans generally manage to convince themselves that there’s no serious religious freedom issue with the “contraception mandate” on the basis of what strike me as patently flimsy rationalizations.  (Religious institutions aren’t “burdened” (even though they say and think they are), or most Catholics use contraceptives anyway, or the governmental interest is “compelling.”)  It may be that lots of Americans are happy enough to support religious freedom in the abstract, but whenever a specific issue comes along that they care about, or when the burden falls on some person or institution they don’t sympathize with, this support somehow disappears.

The other, related qualification I would make is that I don’t believe we should think of public support as sufficient in lieu of persuasive justifications, as if it were some independent variable.  Public attitudes are based in part on reasons that have been advanced over the years or centuries, and those attitudes can change pretty quickly when plausible reasons can’t be given for them.

–Steve Smith