Corporate Culture, Corporate Conscience

The removal of “Brendan Eich, Mozilla co-founder and creator of the JavaScript programming language” should make us all very concerned. He was not pressured to leave for what he did but what he believes. Here’s the central point that Joseph Sunde makes in his post at the Mozilla’s Statement of Faith and the Altars of Conformity:

…amidst all the pooh-poohing of the baker, the florist, and the photographer — whose complaints actually are bound up in the activities at hand – those very same critics casually proceed to make people the central thing. As the statement of faith clearly concludes, it is Eich who is the aggressor, and Eich who must be removed. The peace and tranquility of the interwebs is at stake, and influential proponents of archaic institutions mustn’t be allowed to stand in its way.

This isn’t to reject out of hand the right–even the obligation–of corporation to shape their business around specific moral norms.

Business are culture-makers at the core, and thus, conscience ought to guide such activities, from the bottom to the top and back again.

At the same time, however

…one can’t help but suspect this is less about a distinct corporate conscience than it is about blind cultural conformity. But then one remembers that, in this case, conformity the conscience, and there’s not a whole lot more going on “up there” than a raw fear of that looming Idol of Egalitarianism.

The central “virtue” of conformity is loyalty, to follow orders and to think along with the group. Nothing, it seems to me, can be further from what is necessary for a dynamic and growing business. Much less is it compatible with a free people and the value of the person.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

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Whose Justice?

Several years ago, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre published a book exploring different and competing notions of, among other things, justice (Whose Justice? Which Rationality?). Based on my own experience one approach to resolving the conflict inherent in different models of justice is simply to ignore those models with whom we disagree. Alternatively, we can try and co-opt those other models trying to in someway make them our own.

Of the two approaches, the former is common among those Orthodox Christians who see the Church as in somehow isolated from the surrounding culture. Looking back at some of things I wrote as a graduate student in my mid to late 20’s this is was what I did. Becoming Orthodox meant that, again somehow, I could skip over the challenges of modernity. Of course I did this while obsessed with what I saw as modernity’s shortcomings and errors. In compassion for my younger self let me simply say this is  an understandable if ultimately maladaptive strategy typical of youth. Less charitably it falls somewhere on the continuum between psychological neurosis and spiritual delusion.

The latter approach might seem to be a more mature and sophisticated way of dealing with the conflict. Unfortunately, and like my youthful neurosis, it’s aim is to resolve conflict not through reconciliation but through a leveling of intellectual disagreement. Often this takes the form of arguing that the other side doesn’t actually believe what it says it believes. Rather they actually believe what I believe even if they are confused about this. Happily I’m here to help correct this state of affairs.

Far better I think to acknowledge our differences even while we look for points of commonality however elusive and frail such agreement might be. For those looking for a system neat and tidy this is an unsatisfying response to intellectual or cultural conflict. And yet especially for Christians it is the only way that we can hope to remain faithful to both our own convictions and the inherent dignity of those with whom we find ourselves in disagreement. And, needless to say, if I am willing to sacrifice your dignity can the loss of my own be far behind?
Continue reading

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Nature or Will? A Final Look at the Marriage Debate

Here’s the last of my posts on the same-sex marriage debate. You can read parts one and two here and here.

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Contemporary discussions about marriage (and sexuality more generally) have largely abandoned the conjugal model in favor of one that focuses on consent. We have seen a shift from a conversation rooted in human nature—and the moral norm of conformity or obedience to nature—to a radical emphasis on the will as the sole source of what is humanly meaningful. These are strong words on my part I know. And I don’t mean them to suggest that I would reject out of hand the consensual dimension of marriage. It is however to say that while consent is an element of the traditional, conjugal view of marriage, it is not the whole of it. We must attend not only to the human will but to human nature which is its proximate source.

The real social and pastoral problem is not  same-sex marriage (SSM) but  that both popular culture and many Christians have abandoned a morality based in human nature in favor of one based in the human will. Though serious the SSM debate is an adoption and application of a truncated view of marriage to the needs and desires of same-sex couples. The ease, indeed the eagerness, with which some Christians have taken up the cause of SSM would suggest that for a significant number of Christians the classical biblical and natural law understanding of marriage simply doesn’t matter.  For all that they may affirm the Creed in matters of dogma, when it comes to matters of personal morality (and public policy) many otherwise orthodox Christians are estranged from, and even hostile to, their own moral tradition. Continue reading

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The Proposition 8 Case and the Equality Argument

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Robert John Araujo, S.J., the John Courtney Murray, S.J. University Professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law has an interesting essay on the California Proposition 8 case currently before the US Supreme Court (you can read it here). Here are some excerpts:

Yesterday’s oral arguments on the California Proposition 8 case disclosed many interesting thoughts about the meaning of marriage not only in California but everywhere else. Today’s oral arguments which should be underway by now will likely do the same. The scope of my posting today is limited to the very first remarks made by Theodore Olson arguing on behalf of the Respondents (those seeking to legalize same-sex marriage in California, and elsewhere) and the Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. who argued in support of the Respondents’ position. Mr. Olson opened his argument with this:

[Proposition 8] walls-off gays and lesbians from marriage, the most important relation in life, according to this Court, thus stigmatizing a class of Californians based upon their status and labeling their most cherished relationships as second-rate, different, unequal, and not okay.

In his opening words, General Verrilli said this:

Proposition 8 denies gay and lesbian persons the equal protection of the laws.

Both of these opening remarks are important and expected claims; however, both of them are untrue. Proposition 8 does not deny equality to anyone. Rather, it levels the playing field so that any person is treated the same when it comes to marriage. No one is stigmatized. No one is second rate. No one is unequal. All persons—heterosexual, homosexual, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, etc.—are in the same boat under Proposition 8; therefore, all are treated equally. There is no denial of equality; there is no instantiation of inequality by Proposition 8’s operation.

Knowing that I am entering a topic that bears great sensitivity, I want to express clearly that it is not my intention to insult, demean, or marginalize anyone and the dignity that is inherent to everyone. I think that there must be equal access to the claim of dignity which does not imply or require the further conclusion that all persons are equal in all respects nor must their ideas and positions be judged equal in all respects. To disagree with someone with different views on any subject—including same-sex marriage—is precisely that, to disagree—a disagreement that is based on intelligence comprehending and intelligible world. The nature of disagreement is to enter a debate with reasoned analysis and objective commentary supported by factual analyses. To disagree is not to demean; to debate is not to insult; to contradict with objective reasoning is not to marginalize or unjustly discriminate.

By insisting through legislation or adjudication that one thing is equal to something else does not in fact make it so (our human intelligence and our understanding of the intelligible world lead us to this conclusion)—for there must be some foundation based on facts and reason that can justify the equality claim (once again, our human intelligence and our understanding of the intelligible world inexorably lead us to this second conclusion). If this factual-rational foundation is lacking, the equality claim must necessarily fail unless the legal mechanism considering the claim is a purely positivist one. This is patent when the physical differences of male and female and their biological complementarity essential to the continuation of the human race are taken into account. The promotion of “legal argument” that attempts to justify same-sex unions as being the equal of opposite-sex marriage is a contradiction of reason and fact which destabilizes the integrity of a legal system and the substantive law that undergirds it. Reliance on an “equality” argument to advance legal schemes to recognize same sex-marriage does not make relations between two men or two women the same as the complementary relation between a man and a women when reason and fact state that they are equal in certain ways but not in other ways that are crucial to the institution of marriage. While the sexual relations between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples may both generate physical pleasures through sexual intimacy, these two kinds of sexual relations are substantively different in that the latter exemplifies the procreative capacity that is the foundation of the human race based on the ontological reality of the nuclear family (the fundamental unit of society) whereas the former is sterile from its beginning and cannot achieve this objective.

But let us assume for the moment that I am in error on other pertinent issues regarding same-sex unions and that the relationship between two persons of the same sex is the equal of the marriage between a man and a woman. What conclusions do we then reach as further considerations surrounding the marital context are pursued? These considerations include: equality claims made for other relationships in which proponents argue that these relationships can also be marriages if the relationship of same-sex couples can become a marriage; moreover, by denying the marital status to the partners of these other relationships is there also a violation of equality? A list of such affiliations might include these: a collective of men or women—or a mixture of both sexes—who claim the right to be equal and therefore married in a polygamous context; a sexual affiliation of someone in age-minority and someone in age-majority who claim the right to be equal and therefore married in spite of current prohibitions on age limitations; a sexual relationship of closely related persons who, in spite of legal prohibitions due to degrees of consanguinity, claim the equal right to marriage; or any combinations of human beings who wish to associate with other biological entities who (at least the humans) insist that their relation is or should be considered the equal of a marriage between a man and a woman.

The equality argument supporting same-sex marriage runs into difficulty when one considers that the heterosexual marriage partners, because of their biological nature, are typically capable of reproducing with one another but the homosexual partners are not. It is absolutely essential to take stock of the indisputable about the physical nature of the human being and its bearing on marriage. A homosexual man and a heterosexual man are presumed equally capable of inseminating any woman, and a lesbian and a heterosexual woman are presumed equally capable of being inseminated by any man. Why? Because intelligence and the intelligible world demonstrate this conclusion to be true. But no man, heterosexual or homosexual, can inseminate any other man. Nor can any woman, heterosexual or homosexual, inseminate another woman without the assistance of artificial means. Neither judicial nor legislative fiat can alter this biological reality of human nature. Any man can deposit his semen and sperm in another man, but this does not lead to fertilization of human eggs and procreation. No woman can produce sperm-bearing semen and inject it into another woman thereby leading to the fertilization of the second woman’s egg. The procreation argument against same-sex unions works not because of legal fiction or artifice but because of biological reality that is inextricably a part of human nature that has been a part of the traditional definition of marriage that the majority in Goodridge could not dispute. Again, human intelligence and the intelligible world are working in tandem when these conclusions are reached. Put simply, the Goodridge majority and others making similar claims ignore these crucial points about reality, and ignoring reality does not make for wise and sound law except for the steadfast positivist whose will typically overcomes the intellect. The only way to overcome this obstacle to the same-sex marriage campaign is to put aside the natural and historical definition of marriage and manufacture a new one that suits the needs of same-sex marriage advocates.

The final point I’ll offer today is this: heterosexual, homosexual, bi-sexual, transgendered, and sexually questioning persons share the same position under Proposition 8 which treats all alike. No heterosexual man can marry another man regardless of his orientation. No homosexual man can marry another man regardless of his orientation. No heterosexual woman can marry another woman regardless of her orientation. No homosexual woman can marry another woman regardless of her orientation.

This is not inequality; rather it is equality pure and simple. This is another reason why Mr. Olson’s and General Verrilli’s assertions are without merit.

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What the Orthodox Church Owe to the Catholic Church

We Orthodox owe something to the Catholics. Catholic leaders have been the clearest and strongest voice in the defense of the dignity of the human person in our increasingly secularized culture. We benefit from their witness. They draw from the moral tradition in ways that that hold our own leaders to account — and correctly so since we hold that part of the moral tradition in common. All Christians, not just Catholics, benefit from their faith and courage.

They also give the American Orthodox Church some breathing room as it finds its way in American society and learns how to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the American ethos. Learning this takes time just as it did in the early centuries of the Church. Orthodox Christianity has much to give secularized America especially to the young who, as I said at the outset, are searching for authenticity and communion.

Fr Hans Jacobse, read the rest here

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Natural Law, Public Policy, and the Uncanny Voice of Conscience

Dylan Pahman,a research associate at the Acton Institute, has an interesting contribution to the contemporary understanding and application of natural law over at Ethika Politika where he is a contributing editor. What makes the essay (Natural Law, Public Policy, and the Uncanny Voice of Conscience: An Orthodox Response to David Bentley Hart) even more interesting is that Pahman, like Hart, is an Orthodox Christian and so it is from within that tradition that he engages the debate.

Please take a moment to go over to Ethika Politika and read the essay and maybe even join the discussion. For those who might be interested, here’s my response to Dylan’s essay.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

First of all, well said Dylan! As do you, I admire Hart’s writing, the elegance of his language and the intricacy of his thought are breath taking. Above all, however, is his command of the sources, Christian and non-Christian, ancient, medieval, modern and post-modern. This makes the absence of any treatment of conscience in his critique of natural law all the more glaring. That individuals, and even whole communities, are often wrong about the Good, the True, the Just  and the Beautiful (see Philippians 4:8) doesn’t mean these aren’t “really real” as my intro to philosophy professor would often remind us. In its own way, error testifies to the existence of the truth, even as evil does to good, injustice to justice and the ugly to the beautiful.

A careful attention to my own experience reveals that I am often mistaken about what is morally good through simple, and even innocent, ignorance. But on only slightly closer inspection I also realize that there are times when I am not so much mistaken about the good as I am indifferent and even hostile to it. While divine grace makes clear to me that I am forgiven, I need only minimal self-knowledge to know that I fall short of what it means to be fully and distinctively human. While Freud and the other advocates of a hermeneutic of suspicion have helped us fill in the details of our myriad moral failures, they didn’t discover that the human heart can be stone hard or that we often fail to be our best selves.

This brings me to Fr. David’s observation. Like him, I worry we have “reached that point where conscience has become so coarsened that rational discourse in the public square is becoming more and more difficult.” This is certainly the case in the larger culture—of greater concern to me, however, is that this seems also to be the case within the Christian community. For all his eloquence and command of the sources, Hart is arguing not simply against natural law but (as you imply) against human reason’s ability to know, however incompletely, moral truth.

In my own ministry as an Orthodox priest I have found that this denigration of reason’s ability to know what is, and isn’t, morally good common not only among the laity but even among the clergy. For this reason I find myself in fundamental agreement with Fr David when he says that the “very understanding of conscience has been so distorted that I think it perhaps has gone beyond a nearsightedness or color-blindedness.” Like their Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ, many Orthodox Christians hold views on matters such as abortion or same-sex marriage that are at odds with the Tradition.

Given the rather thin cultural understanding of reason, I think an re-evangelization of Christians—to say nothing of the culture—will likely not “take place as people imagine … primarily through realm of ideas and arguments or education programs,” though these will have their place, “but rather through witnessing to the cross through word and deed – the ascetical life and self sacrifice.” To Father’s observation I would add the witness of liturgy and the philanthropic ministry of the Church (which I think is probably implied by “self-sacrifice”).

Again, well done!

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Presuppositions matter

Reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States

Presuppositions matter, especially presuppositions about what it does—and doesn’t—mean to be human.

The genius of the American Experiment, whatever its flaws, is the acknowledgment that human beings are not simply social animals but that we are foundationally communal creatures. Like many mammals and fish, human beings are social beings. Like animals we live and thrive in social groups but unlike animals our social nature is intentional—we can choose to live with other human with whom we don’t share a genetic bond. And we do this not only in the here and now but historically through the traditions that tie us as much to those who went before, and will come after us, as with those who live with us today.

Because we are more than social animals, because we are communal creatures, we will always outside ourselves for assistance and for meaning. One place that we will, reasonably, look is to government. The problem isn’t that we turn to government but when we only turn to government. Worse still is when government crowds out, or co-opts, competing groups such as religion and the family as source of communal support.

Unfortunately it seems that more and more are assuming that “you’re “alone” unless you’re being directed by the government.” Such an anthropology is “dehumanizing and almost abusive” as one blogger has argued, and we must “resist this scare tactic of presenting the government as the alternative to being ‘alone’” (read the post by John Althouse Cohen here).

The American Experiment presupposes not simply that we are social but, as I said above, that we are communal creatures and so fundamentally religious beings. The first, that we are creatures, emphasizes the ontological poverty of the human person and human society. We didn’t create ourselves, we were created by God. Human life, and so human society, is first and foremost the gift of Nature but Nature’s God. Whatever might be our philosophical disagreements with the author of the Declaration of Independence, as Orthodox Christians we can recognize in its opening paragraph at least an echo of St Paul’s understanding of the Church, and human society more generally, as a community ordered not primarily by human will but by obedience to the will of God. This then brings me to the second point. Continue reading

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