It's difficult for me to compose this post what with the raucous sounds outside of Missoulians celebrating the Griz' dominating 34-7 win over the Montana State Bobcats--but I'll do my best.
Republicans in the House of Representatives have finally filed their lawsuit against President Obama for having temporarily waived certain Obamacare requirements (which Republicans opposed) on some businesses. The lawsuit claims that this executive action flouts the will of Congress—the Congress that passed Obamacare, that is, without a single Republican vote—by tinkering with the law in order to make it more workable. This is a novel and even ingenious claim: a president, having signed a bill into law, must not do a single thing subsequently to smooth over or eliminate problems in the law’s implementation. In essence, President Obama is being sued for governing, an activity that Congressional Republicans don't recognize because it's outside their experience and which infuriates them because it's against their ideology.
Laurence Tribe’s and Joshua Matz’s UNCERTAIN JUSTICE: The Roberts Court and the Constitution can be summarized thusly: “Cases that reach the Supreme Court are very complicated. There are good arguments to be made on both sides of the issues involved. The court, like the general public, is often deeply divided. The nine Supreme Court justices may frequently disagree, but each is sincerely doing his or her best to interpret and enforce the law as they see it. Court rulings are usually more nuanced than the way they are reported, and partisans tend to overreact to them. In some ways, the current Court appears to be taking us in a new direction, but who knows what the future will hold. ”
There: now you don’t have to read the book.
There is a movement afoot to disconnect religious marriage from civil marriage. The “Marriage Pledge” “asks pastors and priests to refrain from signing government provided marriage certificates, but allows and even encourages the newly wed couple to march down to the courthouse to get the government contract.” The primary purpose of this is to protect churches from the onslaught of same-sex marriage; for Catholics such as R.R. Reno (First Things), it also allows the Church to maintain its policies prohibiting divorce and remarriage for its congregants and communicants.
Whatever the motivation, I’m all for this development. The State has its particular reasons for promoting, licensing, and regulating marriage; churches have their reasons as well. The problem is that the various reasons, secular and religious, may not always coincide and may even sometimes conflict. So let’s just accept government marriage (that’s what Mr. Reno wants to call it, echoing the “government schools” locution that’s come into vogue on the Right) with its rules by which people will need to abide if they want tax status and other related benefits; meanwhile, religious-minded folks can also marry according to the rules of their chosen religion, so that they might receive God’s blessings, the support of their faith community, and the grace of the sacraments. And never the twain between Church and State need meet, much less agree on everything.
Finally: John Gray, British philosopher and iconoclast par excellence, has published a brief but provocative essay about evil and modern politics.1 Here’s a taste:
There are some who think the very idea of evil is an obsolete relic of religion. For most secular thinkers, what has been defined as evil in the past is the expression of social ills that can in principle be remedied. But these same thinkers very often invoke evil forces to account for humankind's failure to advance. The secularisation of the modern moral vocabulary that many believed was under way has not occurred: public discourse about good and evil continues to be rooted in religion. Yet the idea of evil that is invoked is not one that features in the central religious traditions of the West. The belief that evil can be finally overcome has more in common with the dualistic heresies of ancient and medieval times than it does with any Western religious orthodoxy.
A radically dualistic view of the world, in which good and evil are separate forces that have coexisted since the beginning of time, was held by the ancient Zoroastrians and Manicheans. These religions did not face the problem with which Christian apologists have struggled so painfully and for so long - how to reconcile the existence of an all-powerful and wholly good God with the fact of evil in the world. The worldview of George W. Bush and Tony Blair is commonly described as Manichean, but this is unfair to the ancient religion. Mani, the third-century prophet who founded the faith, appears to have believed the outcome of the struggle was uncertain, whereas for Bush and Blair there could never be any doubt as to the ultimate triumph of good. In refusing to accept the permanency of evil they are no different from most Western leaders.
You rarely encounter anyone suggesting that something is “unfair” to the ancient Manicheans. In any case, “the permanency of evil” would be a most excellent title for a book; it might, in fact, serve as a fitting title for a collection of Mr. Gray’s writings, as it is a subject upon which he has had much to say.
1Interestingly, given my last post about the Augustinian notion of evil as privatio boni, Mr. Gray mentions Augustine (and Original Sin) at some length but he does not mention priatio boni. In the process of accusing secular modernity of failing to come to terms with evil, Gray dismisses (as have many other commentators) Hannah Arendt’s idea of “the banality of evil”; he calls it “another version of the modern evasion of evil”. Arendt was trying to contextualize and demythologize evil as it actually occurs in the world, whereas privatio boni attempts to do the same thing at the metaphysical level. It seems to me that if “the banality of evil” is an evasion, privatio boni must be equally so.
On a strictly empirical basis, of course, I don’t know that any “theory of evil”—ancient Greek, Hebrew, Christian, secular, or whatever—has done much to prevent or even mitigate the phenomenon it attempts to describe. Humans continue to be capable of the very worst, as well as the very best, sort of behavior. As Charlie Pierce might say, Ees a puzzle...