Jeremy Pierce: June 2010 Archives

In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court has refused constitutional protection for 1st Amendment freedom of religion rights for a religious group on a campus at a state college or university to restrict its membership or leadership to those who hold to a statement of faith. Eugene Volokh defends the decision, but I think it's so wrong I don't know where to begin, but at least it's not as bad as it could have been, since (so far, anyway) the decision only covers a minority of cases. It only applies in cases where an institution bans all groups, religious or not, from requiring particular beliefs for membership or leadership. They took no stance on when there's a particular ban on religious groups, but I got the impression that at least Justice Kennedy would have switched to the other side in such cases.

In effect, the Supreme Court has given blanket allowance to a public institution to ban religious groups on campus. Sure, there might be religious groups who have no statement of faith whatsoever, but I know of none. Even Unitarian Universalists have one item in their statement of faith. You must not be an exclusivist or particularist. Someone who holds that Jesus is the only way to salvation could not subscribe to their statement of faith (although an atheist could). Yet if they were to have a requirement for leaders in their group to subscribe to such a statement, the Supreme Court has declared that a university or college could ban them from campus for it.

To be clear, there is a way to have the pretense of being a religious group under such a policy. You could have a statement of faith that you don't follow. What you couldn't do is require your actual members or even your leaders to hold to your statement of faith, not without being forced off-campus. Most student groups I know of do require members and leaders to accept their statement of faith, but they almost always allow participation from anyone, and the statement of faith is never front and center for actual participation in the group. Membership is usually a behind-the-scenes sort of thing, and the leadership selection process is often handled at special leaders' meetings or meetings that don't involve everyone who attends public meetings. So it's not as if these groups require you to hold to a statement of faith to show up at their public meetings and participate. They just require it of voting members and of those who lead the group, e.g. Bible study leaders, the emcee of a public meeting, or the group's president.

It's hard for me to imagine a religious group having any consistent religious identity without requiring at least its leaders to subscribe to a statement of faith. I could imagine a local chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ being infiltrated by a coalition of Muslims, atheists, and other non-Christian people in an effort to undermine the Christian identity of the group. If they wanted the use of campus rooms so that they could actually be, you know, a campus student group, then this policy would require them to allow this. If the influx of non-Christian members became strong enough, what would prevent them from becoming the group and making Campus Crusade for Christ into a group opposed to Christ? It's crazy to think that there isn't at least an as-applied challenge to this policy as unconstitutional in its requirement for viewpoint-neutral membership and leadership of groups who have viewpoint-specific purposes. I would say the same for political groups, either party-affiliated ones like the College Democrats or issue-specific ones like a gay-rights group or a pro-choice group. Imagine if the local chapter of the Sierra Club became overrun by anti-regulation libertarians or advocates of maximal pollution for the sake of short-term human pleasure.

Only in the case of religious groups does this amount to an unconstitutional burden, but as a policy matter it's grossly immoral. It's not the Supreme Court's job to care about that, but it is their job to recognize that this is an infringement of student groups' rights to have a religious identity while being treated like non-viewpoint-specific groups. This decision effectively tolerates suppression of religion on campus when it occurs in an organized group that implements measures to maintain its religious identity by means of a statement of faith. It's no excuse to say that this applies to non-religious viewpoint-specific groups, because it doesn't apply in any meaningful way to non-viewpoint-specific groups. Groups like fraternities will be able to meet on campus. That means there is an as-applied distinction between how religious groups are treated (and it's something necessitated by their religious identity) and how some non-religious groups are treated. I think that's a significant limitation on religious liberty on campus, and thus I'd have to agree with the minority on this one.

The Christian Legal Society still can argue in the Ninth Circuit that policy hasn't been fairly applied to groups but that they've been targeted while other viewpoint-specific groups have not. I have a hard time thinking the Ninth Circuit will support them, but that means it might return to the Supreme Court on that separate issue, and Justice Kennedy would almost certainly be at least open-minded on that claim (and I think Justice Breyer also would, which might make a 6-3 decision). Kennedy has sided with religious groups on similar issues in the past. He just couldn't bring himself to see a viewpoint-neutral requirement as a burden on religion, even though its effect is to ban all religions with any content. Judging by the questions at the oral argument, I could see Christian Legal Society winning the appeal of the further claim they're making that the Supreme Court refused to hear this time around due to its not being raised properly given that it wasn't an issue in the lower courts.

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The 334th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at RodneyOlsen.netThe Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Fetal Pain

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Pro-choice activists are making a big deal about a new study claiming to show that human beings feel no pain until about 24 weeks into their fetal life. Lots of studies have appeared contradicting each other on this, so this is hardly news. There's been lots of debate on this for several decades now, and this doesn't seem to me to have acquired some special status above all the other studies yet. Science doesn't work that way. As Ken Miller is fond of stating, you need established confirmation by further studies by people with different methodology before you accept something as established science. You need consensus. This is one study among many, and they don't all agree with each other.

I'm still not sure how it's relevant, anyway. I know of no fully pro-life argument claiming that it's the consciousness of the fetus that makes abortion wrong. There are some moderate pro-choice arguments that restrict the period of abortion to early term that use this claim as part of their basis. But those who base their opposition to abortion on the fact that it's a human organism with its own DNA and thus a full human being with full moral status will be unmoved by this, and those who base their opposition to abortion on the fact that abortion robs the fetal human organism of a future life like our lives will also be untouched.

[cross-posted at Evangel]

Update: Several people have raised important points that are independent of mine, in comments both here and at Evangel and via email.

1. We shouldn't assume the physical structures involved in this study are the only ones that can give rise to pain. There is, after all, well-known ultrasound evidence of relatively early fetuses responding with painlike behavior. Those who question early fetal pain explain it as mere stimulus-response without anything internal, but such a claim is mere behaviorism (i.e. relying on an empirically false view) unless there's a strong argument that the painlike behavior can't be a result of actual pain. I've heard from someone who has carefully reviewed the study much more fully than I could, and from a strong medical background, that the argument in the article simply ignores other possible structures for pain.

2. All that can be observed if pain-behavior and neural activity in places in the brain believed to be associated with pain sensations. No one can empirically detect anyone else's pain-sensations. This argument cuts both ways, since it's possible (from my perspective) that no one else but me feels pain, including early fetuses. But it also undermines the argument that, assuming other people do feel pain, all brain activity leading to pain will be alike in all individuals. As a good substance dualist, I have to have some sympathy for this point.

3. I've heard indirectly from a scientist who does work close to this very area who questions the claims about sedation of fetuses. But, as I said (in my lack of understanding of the state of these questions), this article will need to be tested in the arena among others who have alternative claims to make that they also manage to publish to see if it has staying power. It's not a consensus, and it appears the alternative views have several things to differ with in the approach and arguments of this article. So there's no reason to jump the gun here and think this offers much strong evidence for anything, even if it were relevant to abortion (which it's not, at least if the intent is to undermine reasonably strong pro-life views rather than moderate pro-choice views).



The 333rd Christian Carnival is up at Who Am I?.

Shelby Steele is often derided as a black opponent of affirmative action. One particular criticism of him is that he takes views that further white privilege by denying its significance for affirmative action. If affirmative action can be justified in part because of the white privilege that continues even when outright attitudinal racism is absent or enough removed to be less noticeable, then those who resist it because it discriminates against white people are ignoring racial realities. I've seen people make such a criticism of Steele. It occurred to me while reading him again on this for the ethics class I'm teaching this summer that the criticism is entirely inapt.

Steele's view does not ignore white privilege. In fact, he doesn't accept the argument that affirmative action is bad because of its effect on whites. There are black conservatives whose criticism of affirmative action is merely the claim that it's reverse racism. Steele himself counters such a claim. He doesn't think that's sufficient grounds for opposing affirmative action. While his most famous treatment of this (and the only thing I've read by him on the subject, or on any subject for that matter) does not go into much detail on why he sees such arguments as wrongheaded, I think it's got to be that he simply acknowledges the existence of white privilege.

His moral argument against affirmative action ignores (rightly, in my view) how affirmative action affects white people, something it can do only if the negative effect on white people simply counters some of the white privilege that he insists does exist. Before he can offer his moderated view against affirmative action that takes its start only from negative effects on the underrepresented groups affirmative action is supposed to help, he first needs to resist the argument against affirmative action based on its supposed unfairness to white people. His main point is that affirmative action has negative effects on the very people it's supposed to help. As time goes on and the negative effects of racism and white privilege that affirmative action is supposed to counter are getting somewhat less, the negative effects start to increase. At some point (and he thinks we've passed that point), affirmative action becomes no longer worth it.

So it's hardly true that Shelby Steele has isolated himself from his fellow blacks to the point where he simply no longer sees white privilege. It's part of his argument for his moderated critique of affirmative action, based on its effects on those it's intended to help rather than its reverse racism, that white privilege still operates and that the initial justification for affirmative action is still present. He just thinks the negatives for its beneficiaries are stronger than the positives. There may be other legitimate criticisms of Steele, but I don't think it's fair to him to claim that he's ignoring white privilege and thereby furthering it. He's fully taking it into account. It's part of his reason for not making the reverse racism charge, and it's what makes his argument a weighing of positives vs. negatives rather than an in-principle resistance based on absolute moral claims.

 
 











The 333rd Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Who Am I?The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.


To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Gender-Inclusive

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My post on slaves and sons reminded me of a point I've been thinking that I don't think I've ever discussed with anyone or written anything about. The term "gender-inclusive" has come to be associated with a certain translation philosophy in Bible translation, namely the translation philosophy that considers it accurate to translate terms referring to multiple genders only with terms that in contemporary English can apply to multiple genders. In other words, using "he" to refer to a gender-unknown or gender-unspecified person or using "sons" to refer to a gender-mixed group would not be gender-inclusive.

It strikes me, however, that the term "gender-inclusive" is actually ambiguous, and the translations that use "sons" for a gender-mixed group or "he" to refer to a gender-unspecified or gender-unknown person are actually the gender-inclusive ones in one sense of the term. After all, they're using usually-masculine terms in a gender-inclusive way, right? They're using a sometimes gender-specific term in a gender-inclusive way. So why is it the opposite approach that always gets to be called gender-inclusive?

[cross-posted at Evangel]

Bickering

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Sophia: Ethan, stop arguing.
Ethan: We're not arguing. We're bickering.
Sophia: Ethan, bickering means arguing.
Ethan: Yeah, but we're still not arguing. We're bickering.

Later in the day...

me: So, Ethan, what's the difference between bickering and arguing?
Sophia: They're not the same?
Ethan: Yes, they are!



The 332nd Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Jevlir CaravansaryThe Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Sons and Slaves

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It's rare that I post on something I encounter that I have almost nothing to say about, but I was just catching up on Mark Heath's blog, and this post struck me as brilliant. Mark notices all the slave language and son language in the New Testament for believers and wonders what's going on with followers of Jesus being adopted into God's family but then called slaves of Christ. How can believers be both adopted members of the family and slaves to the master?

Mark wonders which is more fundamental or which is the way we should more strongly think of ourselves. But then he notices something that makes such a question seem completely in the wrong direction. He observes that the primary way God is addressed is as Father, and the primary way Jesus is addressed is as Lord. He thus suggests that we should think of ourselves primarily as sons* with respect to the Father and slaves with respect to the Son.

What's striking to me about this is that I think most Christians think of the Father as sort of a more distant figure to respect and pray more formally to, whereas the Son is more down-to-earth (literally; pun intended) and brotherly. The way the first two persons of the Trinity are addressed in the scriptures, however, is backwards from that. Now of course the very fact that we are told to address the Father as Father is a lot more significant than most of us reflect on. The immense privilege implicit in the first two words of the Lord's Prayer means we've been told outright how we should see God the Father, at least in terms of our praying, and it's not so much as a master as as a parent*. That tells us something about God and his attitude toward us.

OK, so I didn't have nothing to say about this. That's something. But I think Mark's observation is pretty interesting, and I didn't intend to have anything to add myself.

[*Note on inclusive language: I deliberately use the masculine here, because "sons" in NT usage would culturally have included far more in terms of inheritance and status than "daughters" or "children". That this term is applied, in my view, suggests that women who are children of the Father are treated fully as sons would have been expected to be treated, and I think something gets lost if it is translated more inclusively, at least for readers who understand this about the ancient Hebrew and Greco-Roman cultures. So I prefer to keep the gender-inclusive "sons" that is jarring in contemporary English if meant inclusively, since pretty much no one talks that way outside uber-traditionalist hyper-formal-equivalence translation circles.]

[Note on apparent typo: Yes, I know there's an extra "as" there, but it's actually correct with it and incorrect without it. I couldn't resist.]

[cross-posted at Evangel]

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The 331st Christian Carnival is up at Fish and Cans.

On a paper or exam last semester (I don't remember which), a student described someone who might "prepare for death by amending for their sins". My first guess as to the student's intent was that they meant "atoning for their sins". But why choose this word to confuse with "atoning"? I suspected maybe it had to do with making amends, something that seemed to me to be foreign to the idea of atonement, which (according to biblical teaching as I understand it) isn't accomplished by you. You don't atone for your sins. It's something that has to be done on your behalf, whereas making amends is something you do for someone else.

But this was probably a Roman Catholic student, probably raised with a simplistic understanding of what Catholicism teaches (given the bulk of the student body where I teach). Perhaps it's less strange to connect atonement with making amends if you think you earn your own atonement by doing good works, as I think a lot of nominal Catholics think their church teaches (it doesn't quite; at least, it's not as simple as that, because of the strong view of God's grace that stands behind any good work that God brings people to do). If you're thinking of working to repay God for your sins or something crazy like that, then you might think atoning is something like making amends to God for all the bad you've done. Someone of that mindset might easily confuse the two concepts.

But suppose you were to take this at face value. What would it even mean? I would understand grammatically what it would mean to amend your sins. You add something to them. I'm not sure if that would be good or bad, since it might be amending your sins by complicating them with further sins, or it could be amending your sins by removing some of the sinfulness. But amending for your sins? Amending what for your sins? Don't you need a direct object? It's at least grammatical to speak of amending an essay for my sins, but I'm not sure what it would even mean to amend for my sins without a direct object.



The 331st Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Fish and CansThe Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

I've seen several criticisms of Simon Critchley's "What Is A Philosopher?" (e.g. here and here). Several points occurred to me that I haven't seen in any of the criticisms I've read. Critchley presents philosophers as being in the grand tradition of Socrates and Plato, which he construes as consisting of:

(1) being clumsy in worldly affairs and willing to appear silly
(2) taking time to move from topic to topic (as opposed to a lawyer who is assigned a task) or to examine a topic fully (rather than being restricted to the time limit given to a lawyer arguing a case
(3) embracing non-traditionalism by rejecting the norms of the society around them and shunning social groups and structures, by adopting impious and politically suspicious views and practices

Critchley's portrait of Socrates and Plato and his picture of philosophy seem to me to be incredibly one-sided. Plato is certainly not arguing for going against the status quo as if that's some absolute good. In fact, his opponents here, what Critchley calls the pettifoggers (following Seth Benardete's translation) were not lawyers as we understand them but the Sophists, who were famous for their claims to be able to argue for any view, no matter how crazy. Socrates points out that all philosophers could be called crazy for their views, but that's because careful thought and willingness to consider where arguments lead for the sake of good reasoning is going to lead you to unpopular views at times (like his theory of Forms, which sounds crazy to some people). He says the ordinary person will consider the philosopher ignorant and arrogant, when in reality it's the popular critic of philosophy who is more often ignorant and arrogant in that very act.

Socrates and Plato both held views that would seem silly and wrong to many people. But that hardly makes them non-traditionalists of the sort that Critchley seems to be praising, those who are counter-cultural and counter-traditional merely for the sake of being different or contrary. It's not that being odd or against one's culture is the goal. The goal is having the right beliefs and living the best kind of life one can lead. Sometimes that will lead Socrates and Plato to criticize the non-traditional views of the Sophists with heightened vehemence. They rightly considered many Sophists' views dangerous in the same way the popular mindset of Socrates' day wrongly considered his views dangerous. The Sophists' own moral relativism or moral nihilism (depending on the Sophist) is one certainly non-traditional, but Plato was pretty harsh with it in defense of a more traditional moral realism. Socrates and Plato, therefore, must be pettifoggers, according to Critchley's account, for defending traditional views on such matters. That wasn't remotely what Plato was talking about, though. Critchley has got Plato very wrong here.

What Plato is really criticizing here isn't defending traditional views. He isn't even that concerned with how much time you can devote to them, although he does think philosophers will attempt to spend the time it takes to think through something fully. The people he opposes are those who take on a view and defend it no matter what, even if the arguments eventually lead to another conclusion. Philosophers are always open to being convinced otherwise. This is compatible with defending a view, however, and it's compatible with defending a traditional view, as long as you think the arguments lead to that view rather than another view and as long as you're listening to arguments to the contrary and willing to consider them. You might still reject those arguments and maintain the traditional view. Plato is fine with that and often did that himself. Critchley seems to be resisting traditional views merely because it's traditional in his own culture (i.e. contemporary academia) to do so. It's interesting to consider, then, whether he is in fact being the pettifogger, both on Plato's account and on his own.

 
 











The 330th Christian Carnival is up at And She Went Out....

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