Saturday, October 27, 2007

Is Religion the Problem

Dinesh D'Souza debated atheist writer Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great) at King's College the other evening. You can read D'Souza's summary of the proceedings at his blog and you can watch the entire debate here.

The topic of the debate was the question Is Religion the Problem? but in my opinion, that's the wrong topic for a debate between a theist and an atheist. The fundamental question which should be addressed is whether belief in God is reasonable. Contemporary anti-theists like to recite a litany of egregious historical shortcomings and crimes of the various world religions and use that as evidence to justify the conclusion that God does not exist. What often gets overlooked is that there's no logical connection between whatever atrocities of which votaries of some religion may be guilty and the matter of God's existence. The historical record only counts against, or in favor of, the truth of a particular set of religious beliefs about God.

Anyway, watch the video of the debate and decide for yourself who you think won.


Catholic Judges

Antonin Scalia, in a recent speech at Villanova, made the perhaps surprising claim that there's no such thing as a "Catholic judge." Robert Miller at First Things agrees with him, and so do I. In fact, I would argue that there's no such thing as a Christian judge, or at least there shouldn't be.

It is the judge's duty to interpret the law. There is no Catholic or Christian interpretation of the law any more than there is a Christian interpretation of French. The law says what it says regardless of what we'd like it to say, and it is the judge's obligation to rule on what it says. It is the legislator's job to write the law and certainly one can be a Christian legislator, but their's is a duty toward the law much different than the duty of interpreting it.

Miller quotes Rick Garnett toward the end of his essay who:

agrees with Scalia's main point but thinks that he is still a "Catholic judge" whether he likes it or not. Garnett writes: "To be a Catholic judge . . . is to be a judge in the way a Catholic, like everyone else, should be a judge: To take seriously one's obligation to decide impartially, to submit to the rule of law, rather than one's own preferences, and to have an appropriate humility about the task one is charged to perform. Obviously, this is not a distinctively Catholic way of judging, . . . but it is, I think, the way a Catholic should judge. It's also the way Justice Scalia thinks he should judge and, I'm confident, he thinks this way (at least in part) because he is a Catholic."

As Miller points out, however, "a Catholic judge is not merely a Catholic who is a judge but someone who judges in a way different from other judges precisely because he is Catholic - and this is exactly what Scalia denies he does." Scalia, in other words, believes it is emphatically not his duty to make law but to interpret it. Would that all judges believed the same.


Empty Shells

One of my students has responded to our post about the second grader suspended for drawing a water pistol with this anecdote:

At my high school a classmate of mine was suspended for two weeks and expulsion was pending an administrative hearing for having spent shotgun shells in the bed of his pick up truck. He was not expelled but did have to wait for the hearing to determine that. What sense did that make? Spent shot gun shells can't hurt anyone. There was no gun and the only crime he was guilty of was not being neat enough to clean out his truck before going to school.

Perhaps there was more to this than what the student who relates it was aware, perhaps not. But if not, it's hard to think of words to express the utter mindlessness of the school officials who suspended this boy. It is as if their job requires them to be little more than unthinking machines or zombies who have no ability to actually reason their way through particular cases. A zero tolerance policy regarding firearms means to them that anyone who brings to school anything at all associated with a weapon faces suspension.

A spent shotgun shell, though, is no more a threat to someone than is a photograph of a gun in a magazine. I wonder if the school library has purged from its shelves every copy of Outdoor Life or other magazines likely to carry ads for guns. I wonder if students are allowed to wear membership patches for the NRA or Izaak Walton League on their clothing. I wonder if the boy had had a hammer or baseball bat in his truck, far deadlier implements than an empty shotgun shell, whether he would have faced a two week suspension.

These questions, however, would only occur to rational individuals to ask, and that appears to be a cohort in which school administrators are becoming increasingly uncommon.