The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me

 

Amy Coney Barrett.

Like Justice Amy Coney Barrett, I’m a believing and practicing Catholic. I’m even one of those “extreme” Catholics who adheres with all her heart and mind to every jot and tittle of the Church’s teaching. Truly, (if weirdly) Diane Feinstein could say of me: “the dogma lives loudly within her.”

I hold (and am prepared to argue the point on philosophical grounds, in case anyone wants to take it up with me) that abortion is absolutely immoral. It’s never okay to directly intend the killing of an innocent human being, even if that being was conceived through an act of violence. (I hold with the Church that an “abortion” to save the life of the mother is sometimes licit, depending on the circumstances of the case.)

I also hold, as a matter of both faith and moral philosophy, that unjust laws are not binding on the individual. If I were a doctor in, say, China, and my supervisor ordered me to carry out an abortion, I wouldn’t do it. I have an unalienable human right not to do what my conscience prohibits. I might have to go to jail, though, since the PTB in China have established unjust laws.

If I were a Quaker on the Underground Railroad in pre-Civil War Maryland and the local authorities ordered me to hand over a runaway slave I’m harboring, I wouldn’t do it (assuming God gives me the grace to live according to my convictions, despite the cost.) If I were a priest in Canada, and the local government ordered me to “marry” two men, I would say, “That’s a line I won’t cross” and also, “You are way out of bounds pretending to have that kind of authority over me and my Church.”

If I were a cop here in the US, I would not imagine that my pro-life convictions, loud as they are within me, give me the right to arrest someone for getting an abortion. I’m perfectly capable of recognizing the distinction between the meanings of “immoral” and “illegal.”

Personally, I’m opposed to the death penalty. I used to favor it, but Pope John Paul II’s great encyclical Evangelium Vitae changed my mind. (It’s not absolutely immoral, like abortion; it’s easy to imagine cases when it’s called for. But it’s generally a bad policy with bad social consequences.) So, as a private citizen, I advocate in the public square for the abolition of the death penalty. If it were the only thing at stake in a given vote, I’d vote against it.

If I were a Supreme Court Justice hearing a case challenging, say, Texas’ death penalty, though, I would be aware that my job is not to decide whether or not the death penalty is a good idea for Texas. That’s for the voters and lawmakers of Texas to decide. It would be for me to decide whether or not the Texas law is prohibited by the Constitution. If I were persuaded by the lawyers and my own reading of that document and relevant case law that it’s not, then I would have no difficulty finding in favor of Texas’s death penalty law.

If Roe v. Wade were before me, I expect I would vote to overturn it, not because I’m against abortion, but because the arguments underlying it are utterly specious. There is nothing whatsoever in the Constitution that prohibits states from making laws against abortion.

If a case like Obergefell were brought before me, I would understand that the question at issue is not whether or not I favor gay marriage, but whether or not a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, or a law allowing a same sex couple to marry, is unconstitutional.

All this seems really clear and basic to me. Religion is one thing; jurisprudence is another.

If anyone can think of a concrete example, either historical or hypothetical, where my deep and loud adherence to Catholic dogma would conflict with my ability to do the job of a Supreme Court Justice, I’d be interested to hear it.

There are 83 comments.

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  1. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    For leftists, the anti-Catholic bigotry is really a projection of their own style of jurisprudence:  legislating progressive results.

    The willingness to sacrifice any constitutional scruple for the achievement of leftist policy results is the real dogma which lives within them.

    Most of my liberal friends and interlocutors simply refuse to believe that federalism or constitutional scruples are anything more than conservative rear guard actions.

    Of course, some conservatives show little hesitation to override federalist principles when they are exercising power, so portraying ourselves as people of perfect constitutional virtue is silly.

    But the left respect no constitutional impediments to their agenda.  None.

    Remember when the New Republic was a consistent advocate for judicial restraint?  Might as well be a century ago.  Not a residue remains.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    katievs: If anyone can think of a concrete example, either historical or hypothetical, where my deep and loud adherence to Catholic dogma would conflict with my ability to do the job of a Supreme Court Justice, I’d be interested to hear it.

    As you said up higher, there is a difference between illegal and immoral. There is also a difference between the law and what you would like the law to be. So long as you (or the nominee) see that distinction clearly, there should be no barrier to appointment. Of course, Justices like Kagan, Sotomayor, and RBG do not necessarily see the distinctions, and yet, there they are.

    • #2
  3. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Of course, Justices like Kagan, Sotomayor, and RBG do not necessarily see the distinctions, and yet, there they are.

    If you were to ask them (and of course they are never asked) what they would do if their progressive principles conflicted with their judicial duties they would be completely flummoxed, maybe even cock their heads like a confused German Shepherd.

    • #3
  4. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    You’re exactly right, QV. There’s a whole lot of projection going on out there.

    • #4
  5. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    katievs: I have an unalienable human right not to do what my conscience prohibits.

    I suppose the interesting question is: how does this principle apply to judges? If a judge concludes that applying the law would result in a ruling that his conscience prohibits, what then?

    • #5
  6. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    katievs: I have an unalienable human right not to do what my conscience prohibits.

    I suppose the interesting question is: how does this principle apply to judges? If a judge concludes that applying the law would result in a ruling that his conscience prohibits, what then?

    Can you be more concrete, Joseph? I’m not sure I get what you mean. 

     

    • #6
  7. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    I mean, I can see how a Catholic would have a problem being a judge in say, Soviet Russia, where he would be required by the PTB to preside over show trials.

    A practicing Catholic couldn’t be a judge in a Sharia court, even if that were allowed by Sharia law, because he would be bound to issue decisions that are immoral.

    No judge should accept to be politically pressured or bribed into issuing a judgement against her conscience. But I can’t see how that’s to the point of your question.

    Give me an example of what you have in mind.

     

    • #7
  8. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    If a judge concludes that applying the law would result in a ruling that his conscience prohibits, what then?

    Isn’t this why, when vetting judges, their historic case load is scrutinized? To examine, not their conscience, but their ability to clearly see what the issues are, and rule on them based on our Constitution and Laws. 

    I don’t have specific examples, but wasn’t the broad respect for Scalia based more on on his willingness to dig and see clearly, than his conscience? even if, in the end, you did not agree with his ruling, you could trace the thought, and law that suggested the ruling. 

    Of course, for any judge, a strong conscience may be the factor that creates their willingness to examine the law, and rule with impartiality. That is the litmus test we need.

     

     

    • #8
  9. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Superb piece of reasoning and writing  @katievs .  I am glad that you are writing posts again

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    JoelB (View Comment):
    I am glad that you are writing posts again

    Ditto.

    • #10
  11. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    katievs: If I were a Quaker on the Underground Railroad in pre-Civil War Maryland and the local authorities ordered me to hand over a runaway slave I’m harboring, I wouldn’t do it (assuming God gives me the grace to live according to my convictions, despite the cost.)

    Ok, this might be a good starting point for a more concrete example.  I think we can all agree that slavery is gravely immoral, but that it was clearly legal under the Constitution prior to the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

    Suppose that the runaway slave in your example files a court case (like Dred Scott) challenging the Constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, and that you are now the judge hearing the case.  Suppose further that after impartially hearing the arguments, you are forced to conclude that the law as it stands requires you to order the slave be returned to a Southern plantation, even though your conscience tells you this is a gravely immoral outcome.  Would you consider defying the law and ordering his release anyway?  Should you?

     

     

    • #11
  12. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    katievs: I hold (and am prepared to argue the point on philosophical grounds, in case anyone wants to take it up with me) that abortion is absolutely immoral. It’s never okay to directly intend the killing of an innocent human being, even if that being was conceived through an act of violence. (I hold with the Church that an “abortion” to save the life of the mother is sometimes licit, depending on the circumstances of the case.)

    Why would one bother to engage on the philosophy when you said:

    katievs: I’m even one of those “extreme” Catholics who adheres with all her heart and mind to every jot and tittle of the Church’s teaching.

    If you’ve never disagreed with what the church dogma is (unless it’s just a coincidence that you agree with everything now.) What would be the point in arguing with someone that stated they could not be moved?

    It would seem more productive to try to change church dogma.

    Keep in mind, I’m open to being convinced of this, but I’m less than interested in engaging with someone who doesn’t feel similarly.

    • #12
  13. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    katievs: I also hold, as a matter of both faith and moral philosophy, that unjust laws are not binding on the individual.

    Now this I can get behind. What’s morally wrong in these cases are the people enforcing unjust laws, whether it’s their job or not.

    • #13
  14. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H (View Comment):
    What would be the point in arguing with someone that stated they could not be moved?

    To discover the truth, perhaps?  Unless you are certain that you are always right, and your only reason for arguing with anyone else is to prove them wrong.

     

    • #14
  15. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    katievs: If I were a Quaker on the Underground Railroad in pre-Civil War Maryland and the local authorities ordered me to hand over a runaway slave I’m harboring, I wouldn’t do it (assuming God gives me the grace to live according to my convictions, despite the cost.)

    Ok, this might be a good starting point for a more concrete example. I think we can all agree that slavery is gravely immoral, but that it was clearly legal under the Constitution prior to the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

    Suppose that the runaway slave in your example files a court case (like Dred Scott) challenging the Constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, and that you are now the judge hearing the case. Suppose further that after impartially hearing the arguments, you are forced to conclude that the law as it stands requires you to order the slave be returned to a Southern plantation, even though your conscience tells you this is a gravely immoral outcome. Would you consider defying the law and ordering his release anyway? Should you?

    Does your conclution have a chance to make the situation better? Meaning, would it be carried out? Then you definitely should.

     

    • #15
  16. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Mike H (View Comment):

    Why would one bother to engage on the philosophy when you said:

    katievs: I’m even one of those “extreme” Catholics who adheres with all her heart and mind to every jot and tittle of the Church’s teaching.

    Well, someone might be interested in the philosophical case for its own sake. Not you, clearly, but someone else.  Or someone else might want to try to persuade me that a stance against abortion is irrational on philosophical grounds.

    One reason I adhere to Church teaching is because, insofar as it’s accessible to reason, I find with my own intelligence that it’s true.  A key difference between Christianity and, say, Islam, is that its moral law is grounded in the nature and dignity of persons, and therefore can be reasoned about with all persons of good will, not just believers who accept it on faith.

    • #16
  17. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):
    What would be the point in arguing with someone that stated they could not be moved?

    To discover the truth, perhaps? Unless you are certain that you are always right, and your only reason for arguing with anyone else is to prove them wrong.

    Someone who professes belief in dogma seems to be certain they are definitely right about that particular thing. That’s off-putting. It implies they would be at high risk of betraying truth seeking in order to protect their dogma, and thus engagement is more likely to be fruitless.

    • #17
  18. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    katievs (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):

    Why would one bother to engage on the philosophy when you said:

    katievs: I’m even one of those “extreme” Catholics who adheres with all her heart and mind to every jot and tittle of the Church’s teaching.

    Well, someone might be interested in the philosophical case for its own sake. Not you, clearly, but someone else.

    This is really insulting and I hope you take it back. I pride myself on being something of a casual moral philosopher and would be deeply interested in the philosophical case, just less interested when someone declares off the bat they are almost certainly unmovable.

     

     

     

    • #18
  19. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    I think we can all agree that slavery is gravely immoral, but that it was clearly legal under the Constitution prior to the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

    Suppose that the runaway slave in your example files a court case (like Dred Scott) challenging the Constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, and that you are now the judge hearing the case. Suppose further that after impartially hearing the arguments, you are forced to conclude that the law as it stands requires you to order the slave be returned to a Southern plantation, even though your conscience tells you this is a gravely immoral outcome. Would you consider defying the law and ordering his release anyway? Should you?

    That’s a great and challenging example.

    I wonder if you don’t load it unfairly, though, by saying that after hearing the arguments, I’m forced to conclude that the law requires me to order him returned. 

    Might I not find rather that the law is actually unconstitutional, since that entire document, like the Declaration of Independence, is explicitly framed “to secure the blessings of liberty” for the people?

    But I’ll assume for the sake of argument that I’ve concluded that the law compels a judge to order the return of the slave. I can see that causing a serious ethical dilemma for someone like me. I might not be able to serve as a judge under those circumstances.

     

     

    • #19
  20. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Mike H (View Comment):

    katievs (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):

    Why would one bother to engage on the philosophy when you said:

    katievs: I’m even one of those “extreme” Catholics who adheres with all her heart and mind to every jot and tittle of the Church’s teaching.

    Well, someone might be interested in the philosophical case for its own sake. Not you, clearly, but someone else.

    This is really insulting and I hope you take it back. I pride myself on being something of a casual moral philosopher and would be deeply interested in the philosophical case, just less interested when someone declares off the bat they are almost certainly unmovable.

    To me, “casual moral philosopher” is practically an oxymoron. And just as you wouldn’t be interested in arguing a philosophical case with a religious believer, I wouldn’t really be interested in arguing a moral case with some one whose interest in it is only casual.

    I didn’t mean to insult you. I thought I was just taking you at your word. You didn’t only say you weren’t interested, you wondered why anyone else would be.

    • #20
  21. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    katievs (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):

    katievs (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):

    Why would one bother to engage on the philosophy when you said:

    katievs: I’m even one of those “extreme” Catholics who adheres with all her heart and mind to every jot and tittle of the Church’s teaching.

    Well, someone might be interested in the philosophical case for its own sake. Not you, clearly, but someone else.

    This is really insulting and I hope you take it back. I pride myself on being something of a casual moral philosopher and would be deeply interested in the philosophical case, just less interested when someone declares off the bat they are almost certainly unmovable.

    To me, “casual moral philosopher” is practical an oxymoron. And just as you wouldn’t be interested in arguing a philosophical case with a religious believer, I wouldn’t really be interested in arguing a moral case with some one whose interest in it is only casual.

    I didn’t mean to insult you. I thought I was just taking you at your word. You didn’t only say you weren’t interested, you wondered why anyone else would be.

    “Casual” as in, not a philosopher by trade. An attempt at humility. That doesn’t mean I’m not deeply interested in it, or that I’m not pretty darn good at it in my opinion. You could have taken it as the literal question that it was intended instead of reading into it some type of dismissal.

    It was an invitation of engagement, to convince me that belief in dogma shouldn’t be taken as a signal of reverse causation in beliefs.

    • #21
  22. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    By the way, I thought your post was quite good, and I would hope we could actually engage on some moral philosophy, if we can get past this misunderstanding.

    • #22
  23. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    I think from Diane Frankenstein’s point of view, the dogma lives loudly, in anyone who isnt manically smashing the mute button on it.

    • #23
  24. Suspira Member
    Suspira
    @Suspira

    Mike H (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    katievs: If I were a Quaker on the Underground Railroad in pre-Civil War Maryland and the local authorities ordered me to hand over a runaway slave I’m harboring, I wouldn’t do it (assuming God gives me the grace to live according to my convictions, despite the cost.)

    Ok, this might be a good starting point for a more concrete example. I think we can all agree that slavery is gravely immoral, but that it was clearly legal under the Constitution prior to the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

    Suppose that the runaway slave in your example files a court case (like Dred Scott) challenging the Constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, and that you are now the judge hearing the case. Suppose further that after impartially hearing the arguments, you are forced to conclude that the law as it stands requires you to order the slave be returned to a Southern plantation, even though your conscience tells you this is a gravely immoral outcome. Would you consider defying the law and ordering his release anyway? Should you?

    Does your conclution have a chance to make the situation better? Meaning, would it be carried out? Then you definitely should.

     

    Wouldn’t that put her right where Progressives are, applying, not the law, but what she thinks the law should be? 

    • #24
  25. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Suspira (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    katievs: If I were a Quaker on the Underground Railroad in pre-Civil War Maryland and the local authorities ordered me to hand over a runaway slave I’m harboring, I wouldn’t do it (assuming God gives me the grace to live according to my convictions, despite the cost.)

    Ok, this might be a good starting point for a more concrete example. I think we can all agree that slavery is gravely immoral, but that it was clearly legal under the Constitution prior to the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

    Suppose that the runaway slave in your example files a court case (like Dred Scott) challenging the Constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, and that you are now the judge hearing the case. Suppose further that after impartially hearing the arguments, you are forced to conclude that the law as it stands requires you to order the slave be returned to a Southern plantation, even though your conscience tells you this is a gravely immoral outcome. Would you consider defying the law and ordering his release anyway? Should you?

    Does your conclution have a chance to make the situation better? Meaning, would it be carried out? Then you definitely should.

    Wouldn’t that put her right where Progressives are, applying, not the law, but what she thinks the law should be?

    To some extent, yes. But no one should be compelled completely by the law. Just because some people attempt to go against just law does not mean people who are morally correct should be bound by unjust law. That is, the fact that many people are incorrect should not bind correct people from acting solely because it can be construed as giving license to unjust people, not that this can’t be taken into consideration. But, the only reason they should be bound is if their acts would end up creating much more harm than good.

    • #25
  26. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H (View Comment):
    Someone who professes belief in dogma seems to be certain they are definitely right about that particular thing. That’s off-putting. It implies they would be at high risk of betraying truth seeking in order to protect their dogma, and thus engagement is more likely to be fruitless.

    Do you find all claims of certainty off-putting, or only claims about religion?  If I assert that I’m highly certain that I exist, that the Earth is round, that 2+2=4, and that murder is wrong, would that make you suspect that further engagement with me is likely to be fruitless?

     

    • #26
  27. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Mike H (View Comment):
    Someone who professes belief in dogma seems to be certain they are definitely right about that particular thing. That’s off-putting. It implies they would be at high risk of betraying truth seeking in order to protect their dogma, and thus engagement is more likely to be fruitless.

    Do you find all claims of certainty off-putting, or only claims about religion? If I assert that I’m highly certain that I exist, that the Earth is round, that 2+2=4, and that murder is wrong, would that make you suspect that further engagement with me is likely to be fruitless?

    It’s not certainty that I find off putting, but stating you are in 100% agreement with some claimed authority? Yes, I find that off putting.

    • #27
  28. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    katievs (View Comment):

    Might I not find rather that the law is actually unconstitutional, since that entire document, like the Declaration of Independence, is explicitly framed “to secure the blessings of liberty” for the people?

    That’s highly implausible under anything like an originalist reading of the text.  Slavery had been a contentious topic at the Constitutional convention, and a number of compromises were worked into the final text, including the infamous “Three-Fifths Compromise” and a clause prohibiting Congress from banning the slave trade prior to 1808.  Clearly, none of the slave states would have ratified the Constitution if they thought it prohibited slavery.

     

    • #28
  29. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H (View Comment):
    It’s not certainty that I find off putting, but stating you are in 100% agreement with some claimed authority? Yes, I find that off putting.

    Even when the authority is God himself?

    • #29
  30. CarolJoy Coolidge
    CarolJoy
    @CarolJoy

    Mike H (View Comment):

    katievs: I also hold, as a matter of both faith and moral philosophy, that unjust laws are not binding on the individual.

    Now this I can get behind. What’s morally wrong in these cases are the people enforcing unjust laws, whether it’s their job or not.

    So tomorrow someone that Individual X loves is in a very bad auto accident. The nearest health clinic could save the injured person’s life by administering a blood transfusion, but all workers at the clinic are Jehovah Witnesses and don’t feel or believe that blood transfusions are morally alright. Should Individual X simply accept that no one with a religious belief can ever be compelled to act against their beliefs? Or is there a situation where an immoral act can be transgressed?

    • #30

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