Windsor and Religious Pluralism


Yesterday, First Things carried an exchange between HT’s own Dan Kelly and Yale prof Andrew March on the question of whether the Windsor decision, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, strengthens or weakens religious pluralism. Both contributors did an outstanding job – but I’m the editor, so I’m biased, check it out for yourself! As I wrote in my comment on the exchange:

The most interesting aspect of the debate for me is the question of “dignity.” Kelly attacks the court for presuming to confer human dignity upon practitioners of same-sex marriage; the law, he argues, cannot confer dignity upon human beings—and it cannot even effectively compel people to recognize one another’s human dignity. March, for his part, accepts the possibility of “justifiable transfers from one ledger to another in the national economy of dignity,” pointing to civil rights laws. For my own part, I have never gone as far as my friend Dan in discounting the role of public law in constructing our conceptions of meaning and purpose. We are, after all, cultural creatures. But I share his view that we cannot really form a meaningful concept of dignity that would make it subject to redistribution through political action—dignity isn’t dignity unless it’s intrinsic.

Wisdom for Wizards

Tolkien is one of those reliably wise souls.  Even when we are pretty sure we know what we’re doing, we should “not be too eager” in matters of life and death.

Want a hard one?  Apply this to your urge to “rally the troops” to any side of a life-and-death issue.  There are always some among us who are “too eager” to find the very most radical edge:  curb your urge to hurl them against the wall (or the enemy), or you may destroy them–and yourself.  In the middle of all that, the loss of your cause will come to be trivial.  Then you will see, too late, why you ought not to have been “too eager.”


Follow the Evidence

Think you know who this is aimed at? Read carefully, then follow links for more:

It is an ominous sign whenever a political movement dispenses with methods and approaches of gaining knowledge that are anchored to public revelation and, moreover, becomes openly hostile to them. Anti-intellectualism and a corresponding reliance on innate knowledge is one of the hallmarks of a cult or a totalitarian ideology.

(source: Sacred Beliefs)

One of the benefits of adopting a metaphysical realist’s approach to–well, to reality–is the ability to see moments when “reality happens” amid the constant cut-and-thrust of rhetorical and hypothetical claims as just that:  as contact between creatures-as-such and Creation-as-such, that is, as acknowledgement of what they are and the world is prior to their construals (or mine).  We get to stop trying to claim “wins” based on who is able to keep up a consistent defense of a certain claim longest (a worthy exercise, but in isolation productive of a nominalist habit of thought, not a way of living in the real world).  Instead, we can enjoy the moment of shared access to reality, and engage sympathetically with others in the effort to adjust our habits and expectations and commitments to match. Continue reading

OK, I did not see that coming.

Greg often likes to make excellent points about the way businesses can serve as culture-makers. This example is really, really not the sort I am familiar with and understand very well, but it was surprising and seems noteworthy:

(source: Dolce & Gabbana’s beautiful tribute to mothers at Milan Fashion Week – Telegraph)

All the more remarkable are the remarks that accompanied the show, remarks that have predictably proved an incitement to the torches-and-pitchfork crowd. Continue reading


We have a tendency to respond to reduction with more reduction. Religious minimalism fits well with our iconoclastic, puritan American heritage. And too often, we approach the New Evangelization from a technocratic perspective. We are in danger of reducing even our evangelical and catechetical efforts to the mere transmission of information, to technical processes honed by data analysis to produce a particular outcome. Forming personal relationships cannot be reduced to metrics and algorithms. Instead, forming personal relationships depends on love. And love begins with an appreciation of the beloved’s beauty. Nine hundred years ago, Richard of St. Victor wrote “ubi amor, ibi oculos”—where there is love, there the eye is also.
I’d like to suggest three ways in which beauty can bring souls into communion with Jesus Christ. The first is the restoration of the beautiful to the world of art, architecture, and culture. We now suffer from a cult of ugliness and utility. And this is manifestly apparent in much of contemporary architecture. The architectural maxim that “form follows function” is a way of saying that design only exists to facilitate production. Architecture is overwhelmed by technocracy.

(source: Ubi Amor, Ibi Oculus | James D. Conley | First Things)

As the wonderfully witty Tom Wolfe once pointed out, Functionalism in architecture is about anything but function (Flat Roof.  Q.E.D.)–and when we see Functionalism and its multiple layers of reaction applied to ecclesial architecture, some of us begin to wonder about the possibility of consecrating train stations for worship, instead:

Beautiful train stations and ugly churches–it’s not just the thought that counts.