Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New journal of Catholic culture

The Center for Cultural and Pastoral Research, a recently founded subsidiary of the American session of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, is launching its new online review Humanum in November 2011.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Future of Catholic Higher Education

Inside Higher Ed has an article today on "The Key Task for Catholic Higher Ed" by Rev. Gregory Kalscheur of Boston College. He worries that while Catholic universities are working hard to maintain a Catholic ethos in their Campus Ministries, Student Activities, and even Residential Life, they are ignoring the most essential aspect of a Catholic education: the Catholic intellectual tradition.

An excerpt:
"Ten years after Ex Corde was formally adopted by U.S. Catholic bishops, Catholic colleges and universities today must meet the challenge to reaffirm and revitalize their engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition. Failure to do so will mean that they are content by default to risk leaving Catholic identity to what happens outside the classroom by abandoning the conviction that, to be authentically Catholic, they must integrate their 2000-year intellectual legacy into the academic life of their campuses."

Read the full article here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Contraception Mandate

Notre Dame Law Professor Rick Garnett has a column in USA Today arguing that the mandate for contraception coverage in all new healthcare plans should be scrapped. The mandate violates the conscience rights of religious institutions who are opposed to contraception, abortion, and sterilization. An excerpt:

"It is true that the administration's proposed mandate includes an exemption for some religious employers, but it is so stingy as to be nearly meaningless. It does nothing for individuals or insurers, and it applies only to employers whose purpose is "the inculcation of religious values" and that hire and serve primarily those of the same religious faith. The vast majority of religious educational, social-welfare and health care organizations — not to mention the ministry of Jesus on earth — do not fit this crabbed definition.

The proposed exemption covers only inward-looking, members-only, religious-instruction organizations while excluding those that respond to the call to feed the hungry, care for the sick, house the homeless and share the good news with strangers. Religiously affiliated hospitals, charities and universities that serve people of other religions would be vulnerable. The exemption assumes that religion is only about belief and values, not service, sacrifice and engagement. It purports to accommodate religious believers, but it actually would confine their belief."

Read the full column here.

Fall Conference news coverage

LifeSiteNews ran an article last week on our annual Fall Conference. Kathleen Gilbert has a lengthy article giving the flavor of the proceedings. Find it here. An excerpt:

"Wandering among crowds of professors, scholars, and students at the University of Notre Dame for the 12th annual conference of the Center for Ethics and Culture (CEC) for the first time, one can get a little overwhelmed.

Sit down with a Baptist scholar with a thick Southern accent, and he may just start talking to you about the richness of Catholic social teaching, and Marian tradition.

Or you might just run into the “Orthodox posse,” a group of Eastern scholars often hovering near ethicist Tristram Engelhardt, who may buy you a scotch and ask just why exactly you haven’t converted to the true faith.
In any event, the first thing that’s clear is that the CEC annual Fall conference is no ordinary scholarly conference. The second, is that this conference forms an intellectual catalyst for advancing the culture of life virtually unparalleled at any other university in America."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fall Conference highlights

Tom Hoopes from the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College shared some of his favorite quotes from the Fall Conference on their blog. Here are his highlights:

  • “We are the diversity at Notre Dame.” — David Solomon, Director, Notre Dame Center for Ethics and culture, opening the conference.
  • “To evangelize is to declare to the various areas of the culture that Jesus Christ is Lord. … Evangelization doesn’t compromise culture, it elevates it.” —Father Robert Barron, Director, Word on Fire Ministries, on his breathtaking series Catholicism.
  • “You can never successfully evangelize a culture you don’t love.” — Father Barron quoting Cardinal Francis George, who launched Father Barron’s apostolate at the instigation of Pope John Paul II.
  • “Christian morals without God are neither Christian nor moral. When God is removed, they lose meaning and purpose.” —Ryan Topping, St. Thomas University, Fredricton, New Brunswick, Canada.
  • “My subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.” — Dan McInerny quoting Flannery O’Connor to explain why he likes No Country for Old Men.
  • “When your premise is an idea you feel you must prove to the world, and you design your story as an undeniable certification of that idea, you set yourself on the road to didacticism. In your zeal to persuade, you will stifle the voice of the other side.” — Dan McInerny quoting Robert McKee to explain why he doesn’t like Fireproof.
  • “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of and the existence of free wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself.” — C.S. Lewis quoted by Benedictine College counselor Jennifer Schmidt on the need for “perinatal hospice” for infants diagnosed before birth with fatal diseases.
  • “The goal of all marketing is the reduction of a big desire to a small desire. In other words, you long for beauty, love, friendship, wisdom, and it is the job of the marketer to convince you that the way you will achieve these desires is to purchase a certain brand of shampoo.” — Kimberly Shankman, Dean of Benedictine College, riffing on Benedictine colleague Salvatore Snaiderbaur.
  • “Shakesepeare was probably a Catholic who kept his views hidden because to reveal them to the public would have been too dangerous.” — Lucy Beckett, author of the great In the Light of Christ: Writings in the Western Tradition which she explains here.
  • “If I had known Carter Snead would be leading the center I would have retired years ago.”— David Solomon at the close of his last conference, introducing his successor, the incomparable Carter Snead.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Carter Snead to speak at St. Thomas, MN

If you live in the Twin Cities, then you will have a chance to hear the Center's newly appointed Director, Carter Snead, speak on embryo rights and stem cell research at the University of St. Thomas, tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 4 p.m. Read the full announcement here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Archbishop Chaput on human dignity

Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia discussed human dignity in an address at the University of Pennsylvania last night.

An excerpt:

"Here’s my first point. We remember Bonhoeffer, Solzhenitsyn, and other men and women like them because of their moral witness. But the whole idea of “moral witness” comes from the assumption that good and evil are real, and that certain basic truths about humanity don’t change. These truths are knowable and worth defending. One of these truths is the notion of man’s special dignity as a creature of reason and will. Man is part of nature, but also distinct from it."


"Working against abortion doesn’t license us to ignore the needs of the homeless or the poor, the elderly or the immigrant. It doesn’t absolve us from supporting women who find themselves pregnant or abandoned. All human life, no matter how wounded, flawed, young or old, is sacred because it comes from God. The dignity of a human life and its right to exist are guaranteed by God. Catholic teaching on abortion and sexuality is part of the same integral vision of the human person that fuels Catholic teaching on economic justice, racism, war, and peace."

Read the full address here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

45th Anniversary of the Observer

To mark the Notre Dame Observer's 45th anniversary, the school newspaper reprinted their very first issue, from Nov. 3, 1966. We are posting here an article we especially enjoyed, detailing the campus politics of the student senate of the time. Read to the end for student Ken Beirne's incisive commentary on student life in 1966 and the direction the University was heading: “It is time for one last look; when it happens there will be no memories for there will be no awareness. The Notre Dame boy can choose relative asceticism and a grasp of life, or he can for the final time reaffirm his weary attempts at alcoholic or sexual prowess and settle for ontological impotence. To have both is impossible.”

Thursday, November 3, 1966

“The Magnificent Reactionary” by Dennis O’Dea

To call Notre Dame a hot bed of seething discontent and potential eruption would be as far from the truth as labeling motherhood a subversive institution. Notre Dame is the home of the “Fighting Irish,” Our Lady, and Knute Rockne – that’s all.

Yet people do live there. And every fall they elect representatives whose task it is to articulate their thought – a very difficult challenge; but one that is met with great courage and energy by the asps and fish on the campus.

Ideas are never very central to Student Government elections – though it is in vogue now to rattle your sword over student rights and freedom. The way to get rights and freedom, of course, is to take University authority, and drown it in the lake, and replace it with student responsibility, honor code, and community spirit. And just about everybody seems to agree that there lies the hope and salvation of Our Lady...almost everybody.
In the senate election in Lyons Hall though, Kenneth Beirne decided to challenge the popular mythology and suggest a new approach. Said Beirne: “We are now unfettered, but we are not free. Freedom demands a purpose. The man is not free who has no chains, unless he has something to do. In the last year we have seen freedom of motion take over in the absence of a significant sense of m oral and academic freedom. Soon the latter may both be gone.”

We are all members of the great “honest” and “sincere” generation. Everyone is being “honest” about sexual morality and ethical values. Students at Notre Dame are honest too – or as Ken Beirne says, “honestly dishonest.” And when they say they want freedom, they are quite clear in how they define it: elimination of all curfews, and restrictions on their physical freedom, women in the halls, cars for everybody – and anything else they think they might have overlooked (i.e. anarchy). The assumption seems to be that the best authority at all – let Christian community take care of it – whatever that means.

Ken Beirne did not take a very positive view of this student action in his campaign: “The Asp (or ASP if you will) seems certain that the administration is afraid of them. I rather think it hopes they’ll stay around, for if that organization and Student Government keep themselves busy on cars and other trivia, they won’t look at themselves and discover that they are the symptoms of a rapidly weakening Christian educational system. Those demanding surfeit cannot at the same time demand an education, and that demand the administration fears, for I don’t think it’s at all sure how to go about it. The administration can only sit in horror, wondering what someone in the past knew that they don’t, and watch Notre Dame be slowly turned into a chicken Berkeley.”

And this is the central accusation Beirne makes against the Notre Dame community. The Administration is not providing its students with an education, is not providing the moral center this generation desperately needs. Instead it is hiding behind its long black skirts and slowly retreating before the hysteria of freedom, student rights and anarchy.

And what has to be done to save Notre Dame from “Chicken” Berkeleyism? Here Ken Beirne fights extremism with extremism with such proposals as: “…reduction of the student body to a tolerable level, at the cost of the non-liberal arts schools” …and… “voluntary reinstatement of curfews and similar restrictions, sponsored by the student body, to preserve leisure on campus and provide any interested advisor with a clue to the most severely disoriented individuals.” Along with these rather unique suggestions, are more common and conservative demands for reevaluation of stay hall, honor code, curriculum faculty salaries, tuition, and the traditional demand for a more interested and involved clergy – yet here Ken breaks out and blazes a new trail. Instead of demanding that the University show its interest by acquiescing to student demands and assist the march toward anarchy, he wants the students to “force” the University to take power: “It is time the Catholic clergy reaffirmed its right to butt in on its own students’ personal lives, or else let it take up knitting.” So there it is – the emergence of the Anti-student, a student who does not want other students “to escape from the realization that it might take four years of relative asceticism to prepare oneself for a meaningful moral existence.”

Whether the newly emergent student rightists or Asp people lose any sleep over Ken Beirne’s six page challenge to their credo is unimportant – the challenge is there. Are students at Notre Dame running away from what they know is the truth? Ken Beirne thinks they are: “It is time for one last look; when it happens there will be no memories for there will be no awareness. The Notre Dame boy can choose relative asceticism and a grasp of life, or he can for the final time reaffirm his weary attempts at alcoholic or sexual prowess and settle for ontological impotence. To have both is impossible.”

Ideas such as these will neither sway the masses nor win elections. The most they can hope to do is provoke a response. And whether or not Notre Dame’s absent-minded student body is able to respond is an open question.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Harvard vindicates Pope

Harvard researcher Edward Green has published a book entitled Broken Promises: How the AIDS Establishment Has Betrayed the Developing World in which he argues that condom distribution has had no clear impact on slowing the spread of AIDS in Africa, and that sexual fidelity has. Read more here.

"At Culture's Edge" Call for Papers

A Conference sponsored by the Keough Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame:

Hybrid Irelands: At Culture¹s Edge (Abstracts due November 15th, 2011)
A Graduate-Student Conference Exploring the Relationship between Hybridity and Irish Literature

Place: University of Notre Dame

Date:  March 29-31, 2012

Keynote Speakers: Terry Eagleton (University of Lancaster, University of

Notre Dame)

  David Lloyd (University of Southern California)

  Clair Wills (Queen Mary, University of London)

Poetry Reading: Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

  Medbh McGuckian (tentative) (Queen¹s University, Belfast)

In recent literary and cultural analyses, Ireland¹s unique relation to various notions of hybridity has been given preliminary consideration. Whether pertaining to genres and styles, discourses and disciplines, or identities and influences, it has become apparent that a defining feature of many Irish works is their resistance to traditional, narrow categorization.

In an attempt to expand upon these earlier approaches, the Keough-Naughton Institute at the University of Notre Dame will be holding a three-day graduate-student conference to address the relationship between hybridity and Irish literature, with a special focus on texts from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Submissions might interrogate past engagements with the concept of hybridity definition are specific to Ireland.

We invite criticism that focuses on conventionally understood literary genres (poetry, fiction, drama, memoir) as well as work from related fields, including but not limited to history, art, theory, folklore, material culture, and film studies. Furthermore, because the nature of hybridity suggests a coming-together of different elements, one of our goals is to cultivate a critical approach that is itself hybrid; in other words, we very much encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the topic. Our hope is to facilitate a critical conversation that envisions a hybrid Ireland

We're also pleased to announce that we will be able to offer a limited number of international scholarships for graduate students attending the conference from abroad. To apply for these scholarships, in addition to the
abstract, please submit a 500 word statement explaining the importance of the conference to you own work.

Suggested topics:
Transnational Poetics
Generic Crossovers
Contemporary Engagements with Folklore
Transatlantic Fictions
Culture and Immigration
Ireland in Translation
Evolving Images in Film and Art
Recontextualizing ³Literary Ireland²
Dialects and Language Change
Dislocated Spaces
Print Culture and Textual Authorship

Abstracts should be no longer than 150 words. The deadline for submissions is November 15, 2011. Please email your abstracts to

For questions or concerns, please contact John Dillon and Nathaniel Myers at> , or look us up on Facebook (search: Hybrid Irelands).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cultivating Catholic Imagination

Dan McInerny, a presenter at our upcoming Fall Conference, discusses how to cultivate a Catholic imagination in this Catholic Exchange article. He has recently started a company called Trojan Tub Entertainment to produce wholesome and humorous children's literature, available through digital media.

An excerpt:

"his is the Catholic moment in the arts. In other words now, more than ever, our culture demands the fruit of a truly Catholic imagination, to save it from the Scylla of hyper-rationalization and the Charybdis of an exaltation of the imagination rooted more in the passions than in reality.

There are many Catholics, as well as other Christians, doing exciting things in the arts. And yet so much more is needed, especially in the arenas of popular culture. Recently I decided to make my own contribution to this effort, to lend my small trowel to the cultural cause. I started a company, Trojan Tub Entertainment, devoted to my Patria series of humorous adventure stories for middle grade readers. With Trojan Tub I hope to share with children and families my passion for wholesome, but always funny, children’s literature."

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Archbishop Gomez on religious freedom

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has an article in First Things today entitled "Defending our First Freedom" in which he raises concern that the US government is attempting to coerce Catholic relief organizations, such as the Migration and Refugees Services Agency and Catholic hospitals, into providing sterilizations and abortions, in contradiction to their mission.

An excerpt: "America’s founders understood that our democracy depends on Americans being moral and virtuous. They knew the best guarantee for this is a civil society in which individuals and religious institutions were free to live, act, and vote according to their values and principles. We need to help our leaders today rediscover the wisdom of America’s founding. And we need to help believers once more understand the vital importance of this “first freedom.” At stake are not just our liberties but also the future character of our democracy."

Read the full article here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Breast Cancer: Awareness of ALL the risk factors

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month (and the month of the Rosary, and Respect Life month....) and campaigns to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer are everywhere. This MercatorNet article raises the question: why doesn't breast cancer awareness month raise awareness about all the risk factors for breast cancer...specifically the highly elevated risk for women who have used the contraceptive pill or had an abortion?

An excerpt:
"The pink awareness campaign is packaged, quite profitably, as an expression of genuine concern about women’s health. So surely it is reasonable to expect that such concern be matched by an accurate presentation of all the known risk factors, and by an insistence upon the very best corresponding prevention recommendations, right? After all, early detection measures such as screening are not nearly the same thing as solid prevention. Indefensibly, however, most awareness efforts fail to feature some factors known to reduce breast cancer risk: having children, avoiding induced abortions, and refraining from oral contraceptives (OC). True, there is no guaranteed way for anyone to dodge or develop breast cancer, but that does not mean there are not risk factors. Women today are delaying childbirth as never before, and having fewer children. Younger women are using OC for longer periods of time. And well over a fifth of all pregnancies in America end in abortion – hardly the rarity its “safe, legal and rare” advocates say it should be. If you suspect that these reproductive risk factors might have something to do with the 40 percent increase in the incidence of breast cancer over the last 30 years, you have spotted the elephant in the room."

Breast cancer has been one of the most prominent issues in women's health for years now; it is time to raise awareness of how abortions and oral contraceptives seriously harm women's health by elevating the risk for breast cancer. Read the full article here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

ND offers first major in Irish lang outside of Ireland

Notre Dame's Department of Irish Language & Literature has just announced that it will now offer a major in Irish Language & Literature for undergraduates studying at Notre Dame. Up to this point at Notre Dame it has only been possible to minor in Irish. This is the first major program of study in Irish Language outside of the country of Ireland, making Notre Dame a world leader in Irish scholarship. Maith siad!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Inconsistancies in California parental consent laws

A new law in California allows for minors over the age of 12 to be vaccinated for STDs without parental consent.  This is the same state that just banned the use of tanning beds for anyone under the age of 18 for health reasons, and where the governor vetoed a law mandating the use of bike helmets claiming that 'I believe parents have the ability and responsibility to make good choices for their children.'  Also in California, minors must have parental consent to get anything other than their ears pierced, but can have an abortion without parental consent. Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez warns against a "serious erosion of parental rights in California." Read the full Catholic News Agency report here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

CUA President speaks out about conscience clauses

John Garvey, Notre Dame graduate and President of Catholic University of America, joins Father Jenkins in objecting to the HHS Rules requiring Catholic universities to provide contraceptive services that violate Catholic teaching. Read his Washington Post article here.

An excerpt:
"The regulations that HHS unveiled in August will require Catholic University to offer its students sterilization procedures and prescription contraceptives, including pills that act after fertilization to induce abortions. If we comply, as the law requires, we will be helping our students do things that we teach them, in our classes and in our sacraments, are sinful — sometimes gravely so. It seems to us that a proper respect for religious liberty would warrant an exemption for our university and other institutions like it."

Monday, October 3, 2011

2012 Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal Announced

The Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life has just announced that it will honor Helen Alvare, associate professor of law at George Mason University, with its annual Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal. Read more here and find the press release here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

President Jenkins' open letter to Secretary Sebelius

University of Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins, CSC, has written an important letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding the federal requirement for private insurance to cover all contraceptive (and some abortifacient) prescriptions, including sterilization procedures.  The "Interim Final Rules on Preventive Services" puts Catholic institutions like Notre Dame between a rock and a hard place, requiring us to cover something to which we are morally opposed, leaving us the choice between eliminating health insurance for students and employees or covering contraceptive and abortifacient drugs. Notre Dame would not be exempted under the conscience clause, because the conscience clause is the narrowest on record, excluding organizations like Notre Dame that serve and employ many non-Catholics.

An excerpt from Fr. Jenkins' compelling letter:

"Surely you know that we welcome the Administration's decision to require health plans to cover women's preventive services, such as critical screenings that will make preventive care more widely available and affordable. However, I'm sure you also understand that the inclusion in that mandate of contraceptive services that the Catholic Church finds morally objectionable makes it imperative that the Final Rule include broader conscience protections. In their current form, these regulations would require us to offer our students sterilization procedures and prescription contraceptives, including pills that act after fertilization to induce abortions, and to offer such services in our employee health plans. This would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the Church's moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the Church's social teaching. It is an impossible position."

We urge you to read the full text of the President's letter here and we commend the President for speaking out for Catholic institutions across the country who refuse to pit the Church's moral teaching against the Church's social teaching. His is a voice which needs to be heard in this debate, and we hope other university presidents and directors of Catholic hospitals will follow his lead in proclaiming the truth.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pope Benedict addresses the German Legislature

Last week Pope Benedict XVI delivered the following speech to the German legislature:

Mr President of the Federal Republic,
Mr President of the Bundestag,
Madam Chancellor,
Mr President of the Bundesrat,
Ladies and Gentlemen Members of the House,

It is an honour and a joy for me to speak before this distinguished house, before the Parliament of my native Germany, that meets here as a democratically elected representation of the people, in order to work for the good of the Federal Republic of Germany. I should like to thank the President of the Bundestag both for his invitation to deliver this address and for the kind words of greeting and appreciation with which he has welcomed me. At this moment I turn to you, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, not least as your fellow-countryman who for all his life has been conscious of close links to his origins, and has followed the affairs of his native Germany with keen interest.

But the invitation to give this address was extended to me as Pope, as the Bishop of Rome, who bears the highest responsibility for Catholic Christianity. In issuing this invitation you are acknowledging the role that the Holy See plays as a partner within the community of peoples and states. Setting out from this international responsibility that I hold, I should like to propose to you some thoughts on the foundations of a free state of law.

Allow me to begin my reflections on the foundations of law [Recht] with a brief story from sacred Scripture. In the First Book of the Kings, it is recounted that God invited the young King Solomon, on his accession to the throne, to make a request. What will the young ruler ask for at this important moment? Success – wealth – long life – destruction of his enemies? He chooses none of these things. Instead, he asks for a listening heart so that he may govern God’s people, and discern between good and evil (cf. 1 Kg 3:9).

Through this story, the Bible wants to tell us what should ultimately matter for a politician. His fundamental criterion and the motivation for his work as a politician must not be success, and certainly not material gain. Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace. Naturally a politician will seek success, as this is what opens up for him the possibility of effective political action. Yet success is subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right. Success can also be seductive and thus can open up the path towards the falsification of what is right, towards the destruction of justice.

"Without justice – what else is the State but a great band of robbers?", as Saint Augustine once said (1). We Germans know from our own experience that these words are no empty spectre. We have seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the State became an instrument for destroying right – a highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss.

To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician. At a moment in history when man has acquired previously inconceivable power, this task takes on a particular urgency. Man can destroy the world. He can manipulate himself. He can, so to speak, make human beings and he can deny them their humanity. How do we recognize what is right? How can we discern between good and evil, between what is truly right and what may appear right? Even now, Solomon’s request remains the decisive issue facing politicians and politics today.

For most of the matters that need to be regulated by law, the support of the majority can serve as a sufficient criterion. Yet it is evident that for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough: everyone in a position of responsibility must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws. In the third century, the great theologian Origen provided the following explanation for the resistance of Christians to certain legal systems: "Suppose that a man were living among the Scythians, whose laws are contrary to the divine law, and was compelled to live among them ... such a man for the sake of the true law, though illegal among the Scythians, would rightly form associations with like-minded people contrary to the laws of the Scythians" (2).

This conviction was what motivated resistance movements to act against the Nazi regime and other totalitarian regimes, thereby doing a great service to justice and to humanity as a whole. For these people, it was indisputably evident that the law in force was actually unlawful. Yet when it comes to the decisions of a democratic politician, the question of what now corresponds to the law of truth, what is actually right and may be enacted as law, is less obvious. In terms of the underlying anthropological issues, what is right and may be given the force of law is in no way simply self-evident today. The question of how to recognize what is truly right and thus to serve justice when framing laws has never been simple, and today in view of the vast extent of our knowledge and our capacity, it has become still harder.

How do we recognize what is right? In history, systems of law have almost always been based on religion: decisions regarding what was to be lawful among men were taken with reference to the divinity. Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed body of law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law – and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God.

Christian theologians thereby aligned themselves with a philosophical and juridical movement that began to take shape in the second century B.C. In the first half of that century, the social natural law developed by the Stoic philosophers came into contact with leading teachers of Roman Law (3). Through this encounter, the juridical culture of the West was born, which was and is of key significance for the juridical culture of mankind. This pre-Christian marriage between law and philosophy opened up the path that led via the Christian Middle Ages and the juridical developments of the Age of Enlightenment all the way to the Declaration of Human Rights and to our German Basic Law of 1949, with which our nation committed itself to "inviolable and inalienable human rights as the foundation of every human community, and of peace and justice in the world".

For the development of law and for the development of humanity, it was highly significant that Christian theologians aligned themselves against the religious law associated with polytheism and on the side of philosophy, and that they acknowledged reason and nature in their interrelation as the universally valid source of law. This step had already been taken by Saint Paul in the Letter to the Romans, when he said: "When Gentiles who have not the Law [the Torah of Israel] do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves... they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness ..." (Rom 2:14f.). Here we see the two fundamental concepts of nature and conscience, where conscience is nothing other than Solomon’s listening heart, reason that is open to the language of being.

If this seemed to offer a clear explanation of the foundations of legislation up to the time of the Enlightenment, up to the time of the Declaration on Human Rights after the Second World War and the framing of our Basic Law, there has been a dramatic shift in the situation in the last half-century. The idea of natural law is today viewed as a specifically Catholic doctrine, not worth bringing into the discussion in a non-Catholic environment, so that one feels almost ashamed even to mention the term. Let me outline briefly how this situation arose.

Fundamentally it is because of the idea that an unbridgeable gulf exists between "is" and "ought". An "ought" can never follow from an "is", because the two are situated on completely different planes. The reason for this is that in the meantime, the positivist understanding of nature and reason has come to be almost universally accepted. If nature – in the words of Hans Kelsen – is viewed as "an aggregate of objective data linked together in terms of cause and effect", then indeed no ethical indication of any kind can be derived from it (4).

A positivist conception of nature as purely functional, in the way that the natural sciences explain it, is incapable of producing any bridge to ethics and law, but once again yields only functional answers. The same also applies to reason, according to the positivist understanding that is widely held to be the only genuinely scientific one. Anything that is not verifiable or falsifiable, according to this understanding, does not belong to the realm of reason strictly understood. Hence ethics and religion must be assigned to the subjective field, and they remain extraneous to the realm of reason in the strict sense of the word. Where positivist reason dominates the field to the exclusion of all else – and that is broadly the case in our public mindset – then the classical sources of knowledge for ethics and law are excluded. This is a dramatic situation which affects everyone, and on which a public debate is necessary. Indeed, an essential goal of this address is to issue an urgent invitation to launch one.

The positivist approach to nature and reason, the positivist world view in general, is a most important dimension of human knowledge and capacity that we may in no way dispense with. But in and of itself it is not a sufficient culture corresponding to the full breadth of the human condition. Where positivist reason considers itself the only sufficient culture and banishes all other cultural realities to the status of subcultures, it diminishes man, indeed it threatens his humanity.

I say this with Europe specifically in mind, where there are concerted efforts to recognize only positivism as a common culture and a common basis for law-making, so that all the other insights and values of our culture are reduced to the level of subculture, with the result that Europe vis-à-vis other world cultures is left in a state of culturelessness and at the same time extremist and radical movements emerge to fill the vacuum. In its self-proclaimed exclusivity, the positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world. And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God’s raw materials, which we refashion into our own products. The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this.

But how are we to do this? How do we find our way out into the wide world, into the big picture? How can reason rediscover its true greatness, without being sidetracked into irrationality? How can nature reassert itself in its true depth, with all its demands, with all its directives?

I would like to recall one of the developments in recent political history, hoping that I will neither be misunderstood, nor provoke too many one-sided polemics. I would say that the emergence of the ecological movement in German politics since the 1970s, while it has not exactly flung open the windows, nevertheless was and continues to be a cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside, just because too much of it is seen to be irrational. Young people had come to realize that something is wrong in our relationship with nature, that matter is not just raw material for us to shape at will, but that the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives. In saying this, I am clearly not promoting any particular political party – nothing could be further from my mind. If something is wrong in our relationship with reality, then we must all reflect seriously on the whole situation and we are all prompted to question the very foundations of our culture.

Allow me to dwell a little longer on this point. The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a further point that is still largely disregarded, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he listens to his nature, respects it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.

Let us come back to the fundamental concepts of nature and reason, from which we set out. The great proponent of legal positivism, Kelsen, at the age of 84 – in 1965 – abandoned the dualism of "is" and "ought". (I find it comforting that rational thought is evidently still possible at the age of 84!) He had said that norms can only come from the will. Nature therefore could only contain norms if a will had put them there. But this would presuppose a Creator God, whose will had entered into nature. "Any attempt to discuss the truth of this belief is utterly futile", he observed (5). Is it really? – I find myself asking. Is it really pointless to wonder whether the objective reason that manifests itself in nature does not presuppose a creative reason, a "Creator Spiritus"?

At this point Europe’s cultural heritage ought to come to our assistance. The conviction that there is a Creator God is what gave rise to the idea of human rights, the idea of the equality of all people before the law, the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions. Our cultural memory is shaped by these rational insights. To ignore it or dismiss it as a thing of the past would be to dismember our culture totally and to rob it of its completeness.

The culture of Europe arose from the encounter between Jerusalem, Athens and Rome – from the encounter between Israel’s monotheism, the philosophical reason of the Greeks and Roman law. This three-way encounter has shaped the inner identity of Europe. In the awareness of man’s responsibility before God and in the acknowledgment of the inviolable dignity of every single human person, it has established criteria of law: it is these criteria that we are called to defend at this moment in our history.

As he assumed the mantle of office, the young King Solomon was invited to make a request. How would it be if we, the law-makers of today, were invited to make a request? What would we ask for? I think that, even today, there is ultimately nothing else we could wish for but a listening heart – the capacity to discern between good and evil, and thus to establish true law, to serve justice and peace. Thank you for your attention!

Berlin, September 22, 2011

UN pressuring Ireland to allow abortion

The UN committee against torture has accused Ireland of not conforming with the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment and Punishment in its most recent report, at the closing of its 46th session. The Irish constitution protects equally the life of the unborn and the lives of mothers, but the UN is pressuring Ireland to offer abortion services in the country. Currently women seeking abortions typically travel to the UK to take advantage of their liberal abortion laws. reports on the UN committee's stance against Ireland here.

An excerpt:
"The recommendations issued by the treaty body seek the establishment of guidelines specifying the circumstances when women can procure abortion and the establishment of  “services” for abortions. The Committee states that Ireland must establish “adequate services for carrying out abortions in the State party, so that its law and practice is in conformity with the Convention,” despite the fact that the Convention against Torture does not reference or mention abortion. The argument by the Committee that access to abortion is necessary to “conform” to the treaty is an example of the pro-abortion strategy to create a “right to abortion” by stating falsehoods about international law and treaties over and over again until they begin to be treated as truth."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Summer 2011 Newsletter

Our most recent edition of Ethics & Culture, our semiannual newsletter, was recently mailed out. You can view a pdf of it here. It features articles on all of our spring and summer 2011 events, and a look ahead at the fall semester.

Sectarian Conflict V. Liberal Whateverism

Notre Dame Sociology Professor Christian Smith recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post in which he discusses some of the findings of his research in the sociology of religion among American youth. He contrasts the age of 'sectarian conflict' in the United States, in which differences between religious commitments led to bigotry, with the current age of 'liberal whateverism' in which religion is relegated to a personal and private sphere with no influence on public or communal life.

An excerpt:
"I think we need to reject both sectarian conflict and liberal whateverism and commit ourselves instead to an authentic pluralism. Genuine pluralism fosters a culture that honors rather than isolates and disparages religious difference. It affirms the right of others to believe and practice their faith, not only in their private lives but also in the public square -- while expecting them to allow still others to do the same. Authentic pluralism does not minimize religious differences by saying that "all religions are ultimately the same." That is false and insipid. Pluralism encourages good conversations and arguments across differences, taking them seriously precisely because they are understood to be about important truths, not merely private "opinions." It is possible, authentic pluralism insists, to profoundly disagree with others while at the same time respecting, honoring, and perhaps even loving them. Genuine pluralism suspects the multi-cultural regime's too-easy blanket affirmations of "tolerance" of being patronizing and dismissive. Pluralism, however, also counts atheist Americans as deserving equal public respect, since their beliefs are based as much on a considered faith as are religious views and so should not be automatically denigrated."

Read the full article here, and attend our Annual Fall Conference, where Christian Smith will be one of our invited speakers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

David Brooks highlights Christian Smith's research

New York Times columnist David Brooks' most recent opinion piece highlighted the research of Dr. Christian Smith, a Notre Dame professor of social science who will be speaking at our annual Fall Conference, "Radical Emancipation: Confronting the Challenge of Secularism," Nov. 10-12. Christian Smith's research focuses on the religious experience of teenagers and young adults in the United States, and on what guides their moral reasoning.

An excerpt:
"Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Again, this doesn’t mean that America’s young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading. In this way, the study says more about adult America than youthful America."

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dominicans beat Marians in annual Labor Day game

Br. Innocent Smith (ND '08) gives a blow-by-blow account of the annual softball game between the Dominicans and Marians at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., which featured three Notre Dame graduates, all playing for the Dominicans.

An excerpt:
"The MIC time-out gave Br. Raymund the opportunity to confer with fellow Notre Dame alum and long-time Dominican softball veteran, Br. Justin Brophy. Drawing largely on an analogy from Latin grammar, Br. Justin exhorted Br. Raymund to keep his eye on the ball all the way through the point of contact (the idea being that in Latin translation, identification of the proper case endings is necessary for success - or something to that effect). Anyway, Br. Justin's counsel appeared to have the desired effect as Br. Raymund drilled a line drive single deep to left, bringing home two runs and enabling the Friars to take a 9-8 lead over the Marians."

Read more here.

Lack of Sperm Donor Regulation Poses Problems for Offspring

The United State's largely unregulated sperm donation industry poses serious risks for children born through IVF using donated sperm, reports the New York Times. Not only do children often lack half of their medical histories, but there is also a real risk of accidental incest between genetic half-siblings and also an increased risk of spreading genes for rare diseases through the population at an artificially high rate. For these reasons, other countries such as Britain, France, and Sweden limit the number of conceptions permitted for the sperm of any one donor, but the U.S. has no such restrictions.

An excerpt: “We have more rules that go into place when you buy a used car than when you buy sperm,” said Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College and author of “The Baby Business: How Money, Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception.” “It’s very clear that the dealer can’t sell you a lemon, and there’s information about the history of the car. There are no such rules in the fertility industry right now.”

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Schmitt Lecturer Yuval Levin on the Health Care Debate

Our fall semester Schmitt lecturer, Yuval Levin, today had a piece published on the Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse web journal. He addresses the moral and practical issues of the health care debate, the subject of his lecture here coming up on December 7 at 4 p.m. in McKenna Hall, highlighting the social justice principle of subsidiarity. An excerpt:

"Of course, any system of health insurance has to involve decisions about what to cover and pay for—and, in that sense, what to ration. But an underappreciated virtue of the market is that it puts such decisions far closer to the ground, and so to the people involved. Allowing for a wide variety of insurance options means giving people more choices and more power, and therefore also allowing families far greater freedom to choose among treatment options with their doctors. Hard choices will still need to be made, but having more of them made by families and physicians with some power to choose is vastly better than having all of them made by distant bureaucrats with the power to impose.

Believing in equality does not mean pursuing one-size-fits-all public policies. On the contrary, central planning and command-and-control administration too often require a betrayal of equality. Public rationing is not private rationing writ large; it requires an explicit rejection of our most fundamental national premise. Enabling a private market—backed with subsidies to allow those with lesser means to choose among options for themselves—would not only avoid the economic inefficiencies of central planning; it would also reduce the moral enormities of public rationing."

Read the full article here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

World Youth Day begins

Notre Dame class of 2007 valedictorian Michael Rossmann, SJ, reports from Madrid where he is chaperoning a group of young people for World Youth Day. Stuck in a back alley during an enormous celebration of Mass that spanned several city blocks, when it came time for Communion, his student's attitude was:

"Can we receive Jesus? Let's go!"

Read Mike's full report here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New 'Catholicism' Documentary enthusiastically reviewed

Our Fall Conference this year features Rev. Robert Barron of Word on Fire Ministries for our Thursday night (Nov. 10) keynote address. Fr. Barron has recently produced a book and DVD documentary, "Catholicism," which is being reviewed extraordinarily positively by the Catholic press. It is designed to present a comprehensive introduction to the Catholic faith through a multimedia approach, and by all reports the finished product is masterful. In the first review to be published, by The Catholic Thing, the reviewer says:  

"I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a Catholic film or TV program and commented, “Surely we can do better than this!” Well, Catholicism is better than I ever imagined such a film could be – a feast for eye and ear and soul."

Read more here, and learn more about the Catholicism Project.