The Catholic Thing
Strengthen the Things that Remain Print E-mail
By Francis J. Beckwith   
Friday, 03 August 2012
Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts

Karl Marx has got ya by the throat, Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up in knots
When you gonna wake up, when you gonna wake up

When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?
                         - Bob  Dylan  (“When You Gonna Wake Up?,” 1979)

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee dubbed Wednesday August 1, “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” encouraging his fellow citizens to patronize the establishment in order to show support for the ownership, which had recently come under fire by several local governments. It seems to have been a rousing success.

What precipitated this unusual event were threats by government officials in several major American cities in response to comments by Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy. In an interview with Baptist Press, he said, “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

And more provocatively on a radio program, he asserted, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ and I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is about.”

It’s clear that Chick-fil-A, as a corporation, supports a view of marriage tightly tethered to its ownership’s theological beliefs, anchored as they are in Evangelical Christianity. They are, of course, beliefs shared by a wide diversity of believers outside that tradition including Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews. It should go without saying that under the U.S. Constitution a citizen (or a collection of citizens – e.g., church, mosque, synagogue, eatery), who harbors these sorts of beliefs cannot be punished by the government for holding them.

In the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Nevertheless, this did not deter officials of several major American cities (including Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York) from issuing a series of secular fatwas, announcing that they would in effect include a religious test for holding business licenses.

       Chain gang: Chick-fil-A has a record day

Boston mayor Thomas Menino, for instance, said, “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.” Well, in that case, the mayor’s office should be shut down, since while doing the business of city government it seems intent on discriminating against devout Christians and their businesses based on the degree to which their devotion offends secular sensibilities.

What I believe is happening here is something of a revolution in thinking. As I have noted elsewhere in this space, what many of us have come to know as liberalism was contrived for the very purpose of adjudicating these sorts of disputes. One citizen, for example, may believe that homosexual conduct is morally benign, and thus he comes to the conclusion that same-sex “marriage” should be recognized by the government. Another citizen, however, may believe that homosexual conduct is deeply immoral, since it is inconsistent with not only what Scripture teaches but also with the deliverances of natural law. He, therefore, concludes that same-sex “marriage” makes about as much sense as “square-circle.” 

In either case, the citizen cannot simply “unbelieve” his beliefs by an act of will, since they are organically connected to what he believes about human nature, morality, and the common good. These beliefs are, in a sense, fundamental to the citizen’s identity as a person. He can no more pretend his beliefs are false than he can deny that the sky is blue.

Liberalism, as traditionally understood, recognized and respected this reality. It did so because its advocates believed that in a free society people of good will, equally rational and well informed, are bound to come to radically different conclusions on a variety of issues. For this reason, it allowed for a public space in which citizens and the institutions they form, with their differing and sometimes contrary points of view, can co-exist, without fear of government punishments or reprisals. Things, however, seem to have changed.

Perhaps it is because on the issue at hand – same-sex marriage” – liberalism is conceptually incapable of doing the work it once did. It is one thing to allow and celebrate moral and religious diversity when there is a broadly shared understanding on what sorts of institutions are vital to the common good and civil society. It is quite another when that shared understanding breaks down – when the very question of what is essential to civil society is itself in dispute.

Consequently, in such a milieu, as I believe we find ourselves, appeals to “civility” – as both sides are apt to advance – cannot have a referent, and thus appear to one’s adversaries as nothing more than a self-serving platitude.

Liberalism has been all but defeated in certain enclaves. What has arisen is a secular hegemony, one whose sincere devotees, like their pre-Enlightenment theocratic predecessors, will not tolerate dissent. Thus, we do well to heed what St. John wrote to the angel of the Church of Sardis, “Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain.”  (Rev. 3:3)

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University. He is co-editor (with Robert P. George and Susan McWilliams) of the forthcoming A Second Look at First Things: A Case for Conservative Politics, a festschrift in honor of Hadley Arkes.
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Comments (22)Add Comment
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, August 03, 2012
As Carl Schmitt points out, every realm of human endeavour is structured by an irreducible duality. Morality is concerned with good and evil, aesthetics with the beautiful and the ugly, and economics with the profitable and the unprofitable. In politics, the core distinction is between friend and enemy. That is what makes politics different from everything else. “Every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms itself into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friends and enemies.”

Liberals believe in the possibility of neutral rules that can mediate between conflicting positions, but this is nonsense. There is no such neutrality, since any rule – even an ostensibly fair one – merely represents the victory of one political faction over another and the political order is simply the stabilised result of past conflict. Its rules are only as strong as the political will to enforce them.

Liberals love discussion, but no amount of discussion, compromise or exhortation can settle issues between enemies. There can be no genuine agreement, because in the end there is nothing about which to agree. Dominated as it is by the friend-enemy alternative, the political requires not discussion but decision.

Liberals believe in a neutral sphere of “civil society, but mass politics, with competing interests demanding action; means that everything is potentially political, characterised by the friend-enemy relationship.
written by Frank, August 03, 2012
Wednesday (Aug 1) was the first time I'd ever eaten at a Chick-fil-A. My wife, daughter and i enjoyed an excellent dinner. The place was packed. Inside, the lines were eight to ten people deep and I counted thirty cars stacked up in the drive through. Extra employees were outside taking orders from the cars and expediting their orders into the queue. At the end of the drive thru line was a condiments rack so the cars could get their napkins, salt, pepper etc. This Chick-fil-A had as they say "their stuff together." The manager made his rounds thanking everyone for showing up. We had a twenty minute wait for our order. The manager made his rounds humbly thanking everyone for coming. He told us that the lunch crowd was huge resulting in a 40 minute wait but everyone was happy with little if any complaint. So, this Chick-fil-A was a pretty good example of what the rest of the stores across the country experienced. And don't think the liberals, progressives, the "enlightened elite" did no take notice. If this is a legitimate indicator to the political temperament of the unwashed masses, a political tsunami is in the making come Nov 6, 2012 and the Left just may rue the day they decided to force this "stuff" upon us.
written by Jon S., August 03, 2012
And the logical conclusion of the secular hegemony that tolerates no dissent is the Reign of Terror. How many students in our "Catholic" schools, that have long abetted the secular hegemony, know about the Reign of Terror?
written by Mark, August 03, 2012
Are there really any more traditional liberals left alive? Other than Nat Hentoff, it seems the answer is probably, "No." Instead, those who are called liberals are really Leftists who advocate a collectivist state.
written by Rob Schultz, August 03, 2012
Thanks for a very well-written piece.The Natural Law argument is a simple one, I use it often but sadly, in public conversation it is not used nearly enough.
The truth is America has become a cultural and moral sewer.
Shame has left America. Our country is in grave peril and I applaud, Mr. Cathy, like I applaud Archbishop Chaput, Cardinal Dolan and others for confronting the evil among us.
When I say Carpe Diem, I really do ask that you not sit on your hands, too much is at risk.
written by Grump, August 03, 2012
Nicely written, Francis.

It's comforting to know there's a fast-food restaurant one can go to without running into the likes of Obama or Rahm Emanuel, whose "Chicago values" result in more than 500 homicides a year and "flash mobs" stealing merchandise with impunity.

Today, Friday, is supposed to be "kiss-in" day at CFA, where, we are told, homosexuals intend to gather in protest and openly display their affections.

As a private enterprise, CFA would do well to post a sign in large letters: "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."
written by DS, August 03, 2012
Professor Beckwith, it deserves mention that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg firmly rejected such "fatwas", though other New York officials embraced them. Referring to his fellow mayors on the issue: "I disagree with them really strongly on this one." Stating his own view: "It’s just not government’s job, and no matter how much you dislike somebody else’s views, think about what would happen in the cities where the views are on the other side."

This is the philosophical framework that TCT columnists have been looking for.
written by Jon S., August 03, 2012
There are very few liberals left. Tom Wolfe explained some years ago that liberalism has been succeeded by "Rococo Marxism" in which women, people of color, and non-heterosexuals join the proletariat as victims of white, heterosexual males holding the Perennial Philosophy. The solution, as you say, is a collectivist state. How many bishops and priests over the last 50 years have been "Rococo Marxists"?
written by Nellie, August 03, 2012
If you are a traditional Catholic, just don't eat at Chick Fil A today. It's Friday!
written by Jacob R, August 03, 2012
Great article.

Secular fatwa. I love it! (You might get the fatwas of any number of cities confused these days, whether it's Boston, San Francisco, Damascus, New York City, Mecca or Tehran: Last month a fatwa outlawing an important Jewish sacred rite, this month all Christian businesses.)
written by Manfred, August 03, 2012
What percentage of the customers at Chick-fil-A do you think were Catholic vis-a-vis, say, Baptist or Evangelical? Catholics write and other Catholics read what was written, whether by an author or the USCCB. Baptists and Evangelicals take action. Can you imagine Pat Robertson or Billy Graham inviting Pres. Obama to an Al Smith-type dinner? They would be bankrupt as their congregations would abandon them. Americans love heroes. Catholics prefer martyrs, even if they die of natural causes.
written by G.K. Thursday, August 03, 2012
What needs to happen to reverse such events as the Mayors' illegal proclamations against traditional Christian-Muslim-Jewish viewpoints is simple: recall them.

A politician is responsible to the electorate, so to bring them to a sense of respect for the large numbers of voters in their cities that hold these traditional views, a recall is the most appropriate and effective tool.

So why have there been no moves to recall Messrs Emmanuel, Menino, etc., for impugning the rights not just of a private company, but of all the citizens who agree with the traditional view of marriage?
written by Gary, August 03, 2012
Nellie---you can still eat at Chick-fil-A on Friday---just order a biscuit, fries, or dessert!
written by Brian, August 03, 2012
Though Professor Beckwith sees liberalism as having been usurped by intolerant secularism, the tendency toward tyranny has always been an inherent consequence of classical liberal thought.

The movement from benign neutrality to hostile absolutism has been an organic development within liberalism because liberal politics are by their nature progressive. As James Kalb noted, liberalism's tolerance of competing systems like monarchy and traditionalism has historically been a necessary and temporary accommodation lasting only until society could be stabilized in their absence. That is why today's conservatives look like yesterday's liberals.

The breakdown in popular agreement regarding the importance of public values and institutions is itself a direct result of liberalism.
written by David, August 03, 2012
Advocates of gay marriage argue that we should "level the playing field" between homosexual and heterosexual couples in the field of family law. This 'leveling of the playing field' is presented as a matter of civil rights, comparable to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, or even to the emancipation of the slaves. Here's why I think the cases are radically different.

At stake are two conceptions of rights:

1)Rights as arising spontaneously from the nature of the human person, discoverable by reason, and which should be recognized by the state
2)Rights as esentially privileges ceded by an omnicompetent legislative authority.

The civil rights movement in America (like the Declaration of Independence) was grounded thoroughly in the first conception of natural rights. MLKs "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" argues explicitly from the concept of natural law. Appealing to classical philosophy, King argues "An unjust law is no law at all."

The second conception of rights is what we find in modernist philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, who conceived of government not so much as protecting natural rights (like the right to liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), but as an omnipotent authority to which we cede the right to adjudicate disputes and to legislate in order to protect ourselves against the unbridled and rapacious aggression of our neighbor.

Ironically, the second conception of rights is one also held (unconsciously) by many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. The fundamentalist shares the premise that law is simply something dictated by an omnicompetent legislative authority. (In this case - God, through the Holy Scriptures.)

Classical Pagan and Christian philosophy have never shared this positivist conception of law. As long ago as Plato's Euthyphro, philosophers have recognized the threat to freedom, dignity, and reason inherent in the idea that "a thing is good because God (or the government) says so."

My concern in the "Gay marraige" debate is that we are unwittingly abandoning this classical conception of rights in favor of the modernist conception of rights. The long-term results of such a move, I believe, are potentially disastrous.

The Civil Rights Movement:

What was at stake in the Civil Rights movement and in Emancipation? In both cases, proponents advanced arguments for freedom on the basis of the integretity of the human person. In the classical conception, freedom, as a natural right, is something that proceeds immediately from man's rational nature. Indeed, freedom just is the ability to form rational judgments and to act on them.

In classical philosophy, justice is commensurate with the nature of a thing. This why Catholic philosphers like Thomas Aquinas could argue centuries before modern slavery that slavery was not a natural condition, and why the Popes began to condemn the modern slave trade from its inception. Slavery is not commensurate with the nature of the human person as rational (i.e., free). This is also why MLK could argue for civil rights on the basis of the integrity of human nature.

The "Gay Marriage" Debate:

Freedom, as such, is not at stake in the Gay marriage debate. No one is arguing about the rights of people to form judgments or to pursue "life, liberty and happiness" as they see fit. Rather we are asking about whether the state should privilege and especially protect those domestic relations that arise spontaneously from the nature of human sexuality (between parents and children particularly), or whether the state should seek to create those relations through legislation, without regard to the natural process of human generation?

What is not at stake? No rational opponent of gay marriage is arguing for Homo-pogroms, or even for enforcement of strict anti-sodomy laws. Nor is this particularly a debate about inheritance or hospital visitation rights. The substantive issue is the legal definition of family and of parent/child relationships. It involves the nature of the right that parents have to beget and raise offspring.

Gay marriage proponents suggest a radical and dangerous conception of freedom and right. In their view, freedom requires that the state define human relations in whatever way suits a constituency. It is not a matter of discovering, through reason, those relations that arise from human nature and of protecting their inherent integrity and dignity. Thus, I have a right to someone else's children (which is what is at stake in a debate about adoption) because I want them and the state cedes them to me.

If the state can redefine marriage and family to create "a right" (namely, the right to adopt another man's children), then the "right" to marraige and children is not something that proceeds from the natural process of human generation and sexuality, but one that proceeds from the state.

There is also a whole different discussion that we can have about the sociological data on homosexual relations and child rearing, which is not irrelevant to the discussion. But I think the philosphical implications are primary. Opponents of gay marriage initiatives believe that the gay marriage movement will ultimately threaten the protection of all natural rights by radically reconfiguring our legal philosophy in an even more positivist direction. (A movement that has been underway for some time, but which we should nevertheless oppose.)
written by Francis J. Beckwith, August 03, 2012
Brian, I don't disagree with you. I am a fan of Kalb's book and believe that he is spot on. My point in this essay is to note the decline of liberalism's initial claims. But it seems that the initial claims retained some level of plausibility precisely because of the shared non-liberal cultural institutions in which society's background beliefs were sustained and nurtured. But, as Kalb points out, liberalism is a jealous god, and that inevitably it must confiscate all cultural real estate that it does not control.
written by Jane, August 03, 2012
DS: Bloomberg may have avoided this fatwa but he's invoked others: bans on trans fat and baby formula are two examples that, though they do not deal with religious thought, still stifle opinion and choice in the name of the state's preference.
written by Carmen, August 03, 2012
David, I hope you don't mind, but your comment was so well-written, and it gets to the heart of the entire argument, that I shared it on my Facebook page. If you want me to remove it, I will, as I should've asked you first. And of course, I gave you full credit and directed the readers back to this site.
written by Sue, August 03, 2012
"If the state can redefine marriage and family to create "a right" (namely, the right to adopt another man's children), then the "right" to marraige and children is not something that proceeds from the natural process of human generation and sexuality, but one that proceeds from the state. "

We should wear this on our forehead it is so fundamentally important and true. The covert aim of the globalists is to use homosexual adoption (and IVF as well) to give the State rights to control the generation and raising of children, a la Brave New World. Marx wanted state control of the means of production. Kissinger wants (the more valuable) state control of the means of re-production.

The Protestants, lacking a Catholic understanding of marriage and procreation, think it's all about man-woman relationships, but (thinking) Catholics know it's about the man-woman-child relationship. Unfortunately the Church is knee-deep in scandal and public relations fiascos, but it's all there in the encyclicals, which should be taken out and read.

When State gains control over re-production, we Catholics may not be able to brag about out-procreating the liberals...we may find ourselves having to apply to the State for a license to procreate, as those in China do now. This is why it's so important for us to assert the positive right of every child to have a father *and* a mother.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, August 04, 2012

A student once asked the great French jurist, Le doyen Carbonnier, why the Civil Code contained no definition of marriage.

"It does," replied Carbonnier, "in Article 312"

Article 312 reads, “The child conceived or born during the marriage has the husband for father”

That was why he could write, "The heart of marriage is not the couple, but the presumption of paternity."
written by Mack Hall, August 04, 2012 everyone here registered to vote?
written by Chris in Maryland, August 06, 2012
In Christ, fecundity is a duty. Therefor marriage is first and foremost a duty, not a right. It is a way of fulfilling the duty of fecundity. The supreme right connected with marriage, the right that trumps all others, is the right of a child to be protected and educated by the man and woman who acted to conceive the child.

But our society's failure to uphold that right is part of abortion rights.

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