For my write-up today on The Search for God at Harvard, I'll use as my starting-point something that Ari Goldman says on pages 117-118 about the Catholic thinker John Courtney Murray's stance on church and state:
writing on church-state issues, Murray said that the church should not
try to impose its will on society through legislation that would outlaw
for all citizens those practices forbidden to Catholics, such as
divorce. (Today, Murray followers might add such practices as birth
control and homosexuality, maybe even abortion, all issues unthought of
in the context of church teaching in Murray's day). Rather than try to
impose the Catholic will on others, Murray said, the church should
present its positions on the basis of moral values and reason and
thereby try to influence both its own members and society at large.
Such a position, Murray admitted, did 'not promise to transform society
into the City of God' but only to prescribe 'the minimum of morality
which must be observed by the members of society if a social environment
is to be human and inhabitable."
I've wrestled with the issue of religion and the public square on this blog before: see, for example, here and here.
I suppose that, if I have a position on whether religion should
influence public policy, I'd tentatively say sure, so long as the
religionists make their arguments in the public square, not on the basis
of divine revelation, but rather on the basis of what is good for
society. Does that overlap with Murray's position? I don't
know. As I look at Goldman's characterization of Murray's position, it
does appear to maintain that the church should seek to influence society
through an appeal to moral values and reason, and that is essentially
what I'm saying. On the other hand, Goldman also quotes Murray as
saying that society should prescribe a "minimum of morality" that is
necessary for society to be "human and inhabitable", which (to me)
implies that society should ban things like obvious murder and theft,
but not things like divorce and birth control. I'm just guessing here,
for I have not read Murray.
The thing is, one can argue
that a more expansive role for government----more expansive than John
Locke's view that government should limit itself to protecting people's
life, liberty, and property----is essential for society to be "human and
inhabitable". From a left-wing perspective, one can argue
that having a social safety-net that makes sure that people don't fall
through the cracks when they become poor and sick is essential for
society to be "human and inhabitable". From a right-wing Catholic
perspective, one can argue that society should discourage divorce
because marriage is better for the stable upbringing of children
(whether that's true or not has been debated).
if conservative Catholics can advance secular arguments (if you will)
for why their religious preferences should be made into law, it should
be remembered that there are limits to what the law can accomplish.
Abortion will not vanish just because there's a law against it, for
example, for there are reasons that women have abortion, and in some
cases those reasons are understandable (the costs of raising a child),
even if you don't want to go so far as to say that abortion is
justifiable. A blanket prohibition on divorce will not
necessarily bring about family stability because keeping together two
people who hate each other and constantly bicker will not help the
children or provide them with a stable environment.
or not I agree that accepting the evangelical version of the Gospel
will necessarily change people's hearts and minds, I do believe that
societal change is contingent on people's hearts and minds being
changed----on them becoming more compassionate, or tolerant, or
reflective. I wouldn't say that there should be no laws until people's
hearts and minds are changed, however. While I believe that
laws against divorce and birth control would be unrealistic, I think
that there should be a social safety net because, if the government does
not provide that, nobody else will, at least not on an adequate level.
And, in the case of civil rights, the government was right to step in
and to ban discrimination against African-Americans, for, while white
racists did need for their hearts to be changed in order for
discrimination to come to an end, waiting for that to happen would have
been futile, in my opinion: the government needed to provide that push.
said, I enjoyed Ari Goldman's discussion in his chapter on Catholicism
and his complex relationship with the controversial conservative Catholic
Archbishop of New York (from 1984-2000), John Joseph O'Connor!
The way Goldman narrates, O'Connor liked Goldman and his family and
also respected their Jewish practices when they all ate together. But
O'Connor did not always like how Goldman (a reporter) covered O'Connor's
controversial stances in the public square.