Davidyan on Liberalism and Religion

This past July, the Center co-hosted a conference with LUMSA University in Rome, “Liberalism’s Limits: Religious Exemptions and Hate Speech.” The conference, which addressed the challenges that religious exemptions and hate-speech regulations pose for liberalism, was divided into three workshops, for which participants submitted short reflection papers. Professor Gayane Davidyan (Lomonosov) submitted the following paper for Workshop 2, on religious exemptions, which we are delighted to publish here:

Slightly expanding the problem of our discussion, I will go beyond the borders of the United States and Western Europe, and pose a general question: arising on a certain soil under favorable historical conditions, is liberalism a national phenomenon, inherent only in a particular type of society or state? People with liberal views and values ​​live at all times and across the globe. Even in dark times, in conditions of slavery and serfdom, thinkers wrote about the values ​​of freedom and law; historical figures like Spartak, Emelyan Pugachev fought for this freedom.

As you know, the foundations of modern European liberalism begin to take shape in the 16th-17th centuries. John Locke, in “Two Treatises on Government,” formulates the most important principles that formed the basis of the future political and social liberalism: economic freedom as the possession and use of property, and intellectual freedom, including freedom of conscience. The second principle, in his opinion, is the right to life, personal freedom, and private property. People fought for a long time to obtain and assert these rights and values and are still fighting every day. The most advanced ideas of liberalism had a great influence on Russian reality at the end of the 18th century. Empress Catherine the Great, studying the ideas of Montesquieu, Cesare Beccaria, and Voltaire, wrote an order to the deputies of a special legislative commission in order to change the concept of royal power in Russia. Liberal ideas developed further and led to fairly liberal reforms in the second half of the 19th century. However, the reception of Western European liberal ideas in Russia did not take place. And against the background of a strong absolute monarch, all these reforms seem to be “quasi-reforms.” Does this mean that liberalism as a system of organizing social and state life can form the basis only for some states that have a special specific path of development, a special culture, and other features? I would not agree with this, since the desire for freedom, dignity, and the preservation of life are the basic needs of a person with any worldview, and one can hardly speak here about the advantage of one civilization over another.

But liberalism is not only ideas; it is also necessary that a sufficient social environment exist for their perception. In Russia, it was clearly insufficient. And here, the problem was rooted. The limited social environment made it impossible to realize the liberal concept. This was the reason why ideas remained ideas.

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Legal Spirits Episode 038: Law & Religion in “The Merchant of Venice”

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, one of his “problem plays,” has long fascinated lawyers. Yet the legal arguments in the case are preposterous. In this episode, we discuss how Shakespeare uses an absurd legal dispute to illustrate deeper religious and political conflicts and speculate about the implications of the play for America today. Perhaps the reason Merchant so fascinates lawyers is that it demonstrates uncomfortable truths about the limits of law. Listen in!

Webinar: “Churches: An Existence of their Own or Creatures of the Sovereign?”

Tomorrow, the James Wilson Institute and First Liberty Institute’s Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy will host a webinar analyzing the practical applications of moral reasoning in our legal system.

The event will be moderated by Hadley Arkes, Founder and Director of the James Wilson Institute and Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus at Amherst College. The event will feature Adam MacLeod, Professor of Law at Faulkner University, Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and Research Fellow at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy and Robert Miller, Professor of Law at the University of Iowa, Affiliated Scholar of the James Wilson Institute, and a Fellow and Program Affiliated Scholar at the Classical Liberal Institute at New York University Law School.

The webinar will take place on October 14, 2021, from 2:00-4:00 pm EST. To register visit this link.

Legal Spirits Episode 033: Augustine and Our Common Loves

In this episode, we discuss Augustine’s City of God and its meaning for American politics today. What does Augustine’s famous metaphor of the two cities–the City of God and the City of Man–suggest about Christians’ place in 21st Century America? And what about his definition of a people as a group united by common loves? Is it correct, as President Biden argued in his inaugural address, that Americans fit this definition of a people? What common loves unite Americans today? Listen in!

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Center Hosts Conversation on Church and State at SCOTUS

L-R: Marc DeGirolami, Kyle Duncan, Richard Sullivan, Mark Movsesian

Last week, the Center hosted a conversation on church-and-state issues before the US Supreme Court with federal appeals court judges Kyle Duncan (5th Circuit) and Richard Sullivan (2nd Circuit). The two newly-appointed judges discussed legislative prayer; public religious displays; the conflict between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom; and state aid to religious schools. Here’s a write-up of the event from the Law School webpage.

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An Orthodox Reading of Romans

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” These words open the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, one of the earliest Christian reflections on the proper relation of church and state. Last fall, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press released a new commentary on Romans, Romans: An Orthodox Commentary, by Patrick Henry Reardon, senior editor at Touchstone Magazine and an Orthodox priest. Here’s the publisher’s description:

God seems to have chosen the Apostle Paul to demonstrate—arguably more than in any other person in Christian history—how the life “in Christ” arrives at insight through experience. If this is the case of Paul more than any other person in Christian history, the reason may be simply that Paul’s words are the Word of God. His epistles stand forever as the divinely chosen model of how the Christian arrives at truth through experience. Unlike so many theologians of later times, Paul did not inherit a Christian worldview. His vocation, rather, was to create such a thing from his own experience. For this reason, Paul’s thought ever remains the Church’s cutting blade, the biting edge of her apologetics and evangelism.

To affirm, as everyone does, that Romans is unique in the Pauline corpus should serve to indicate the necessity of caution in using it as a guide to the other epistles. But in recent centuries the Christological and ecclesiological core of Paul’s thought has been displaced by a preoccupation with religious and moral psychology; all the epistles were interpreted through a Romans lens. This is a false turn, which runs the risk of reducing salvation itself to a sub-division of religious anthropology. To misinterpret Paul is to misunderstand the Gospel itself. Fr Patrick Henry Reardon guards against this error and offers a fuller and more balanced picture of the Letter to the Romans, reading it in the context of the entire Pauline corpus and relying upon the best ancient sources, the Apostle’s earliest disciples and defenders, those Christians in the churches that Paul had a hand in founding. These churches, closely associated with the composition and copying of the epistles rightly enjoyed a recognized authority in the determination of early Christian doctrine.

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.

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