Monday, August 08, 2005

Boy, the MSM can't get hysterical enough about Catholics in Public Life, Can't they?

The Boston Globe sees "Catholic" and "Protestant" Jurists everywhere in this peculiar essay. Specifically, journalist Drake Bennet presents the thesis of Reasonable constitutional scholar Sanford V. Levinson:
Levinson argues that the tenets of Catholicism need not be seen merely as a competing set of dictates to be reconciled with constitutional law on fiercely contested issues like abortion, capital punishment, and sodomy. Instead, he proposes using Catholic ideas about tradition and scripture as a lens through which to examine American attitudes about the Constitution, a founding document that has been venerated and fought over in much the same way that Catholics and Protestants have fought over the Bible.

Levinson, in other words, has sketched out a Catholic constitutionalism.
It get's better:
The constitutional schism, as he sees it, runs along two different axes. The first is methodological, and concerns the source of doctrine. For ''protestant" jurists--originalists like Scalia and Clarence Thomas (both, ironically, devout Catholics)--that source is the constitutional text alone. For their constitutionally ''catholic" colleagues, however, the text is augmented by ''tradition," even unwritten tradition. These are the ''living constitutionalists" (in the words of former Justice William Brennan), justices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, who are willing to believe the Constitution has something to say about issues like abortion and gay marriage that the Founders never thought to mention in the document itself.

The second axis concerns who has ultimate authority to interpret the Constitution. And here the Catholic position takes on a more conservative tint. As Levinson points out, the Reformation wasn't just a dispute over how much to interpret the Bible, but over who gets to interpret it. For Luther and his followers it was the individual worshipper, not the Church hierarchy, who was best qualified for the task.

The man may know the constitution. He does not know the Church.

The Church's Magisterium safeguards the deposit of Faith. Given by Christ to Peter and the apostles--and to their successors, the Pope and college of bishops, this teaching authority gives the hierarchy of the Church the final authority in matters of interpretation. The Church recognizes that human understanding of Christ's teaching changes over time. Thus, the Magisterium supports the appropriate understanding of the development of doctrine. Doctrine does not change. The form in which doctrine may be conveyed may change. The fullness of understanding that the Church possesses regarding doctrine may change. Keeping these considerations in mind, the Church ensures that the deposit of Faith is secured, while addressing the ways in which humanity lives the Faith in different times.

Professor Levinson analogy of orginalists v. " living constitutionalists" and "Catholics" v. Protestants" fails for precisely this reason. The Church indeed teaches a living Faith, for she offers the fullness of relationship with Christ. However, this doesn't mean that the Faith is whatever the Church says it is. The Faith is what Christ has said it is; the Church simply safeguards and applies this throughout time. If anything, the Catholic approach to Tradition more closely mirrors the constitutional originalists--if, by originalists, one doesn't mean the straw-man that the Boston Globe has constructed, but rather the effort to interprete the intentions of the Founders vis a vis the constitution. In other words, originalists are not necessarily constitutional literalists. They recognize that society faces complexities never dreamed of by the Founders. However, they also recognize that the founders established our Constitutional government on timeless principles: Limited government, federalism, separation of powers, consent of the governed, representative government and the like.

It sounds like Mr. Bennet is looking for a different angle for stirring the "Roberts is too Catholic" controversy. In this case, he's using the "wishful thinking" paradigm of a law professor to show that Catholics could actually be more in tune with Jurist practice.

This whole business about Robert's catholicism is manure. Were he a muslim, a jew or even a Buddhist, no politician would dare even hint that his religious views might make him an inappropriate candidate. However, Catholics interfere with the Agenda, so it's open season on them. The subtext upon which this entire essay rests--that Catholic understanding supports a liberal understanding of Jurisprudence--reveals just what is wrong about our government institutional life at this point. Politics have become the absolute worldview through which all other phenomena must be analyzed. Such thinking has more place in a totalitarian State than a representative republic. That it consumes the discourse in our society shows just how lost our culture has made us.