Kim Davis, Heroine?

Grayson Lake State Park, Kentucky
Grayson Lake State Park, Kentucky

I spent a lovely evening not far from where poor Rowan-County Clerk Kim Davis now languishes in jail. That day, the lake had recently flooded. The locals used the big pools of water left behind on the grassy meadows as impromptu swimming holes.

In those halcyon summer days of 2010, I can’t imagine that any of us at the lake that evening could have imagined that a serious person would ever walk into a courthouse and ask for a marriage license without a member of the opposite sex.

But: “Religious Freedom?” Honestly, friends, what does that phrase mean? If Kim Davis belonged to a hateful cult, which had taught her to believe that God insists on injustice, would she therefore have a right to do other people wrong in the name of religious freedom?

Tom BradyShe would not. Mankind must seek justice. And, if Judge Richard M. Berman’s ruling, which has freed Tom Brady from the clutches of Roger Goodell’s arbitrariness for the time being, teaches us anything, it is this: Mankind always will seek justice. Justice is real; written rules and laws cannot fully contain it; fiats rendered without probity cannot squelch our desire for it.

Let’s define “religion” as a matter of justice. We owe our Creator and Lord our worship. The slogan these days calls religious freedom “our first freedom.” But how about: Religion is our first debt in justice.

The controversy that Ms. Davis, God bless her, has somewhat fecklessly blundered into (she has been thrown in jail by a conservative, Catholic judge who doesn’t believe in gay marriage): does it have to do with religious freedom? Doesn’t it actually have to do with the humbler matter of what the word “marriage” means?

The forces arrayed against our heroine insist that all functionaries of every county in every state must participate in a farce that offends not just religion, but the fundamental fiber of family life. But, after all, county courthouses have seen plenty of farces when it comes to couples applying for marriage licenses, going back way before the “gay-marriage” movement began.

“I marry you.” “And I marry you.” Okay! Congratulations. Third, fourth, or fifth time? No problem. Any evident commitment to the duties of parenthood? Oh, yeah. Sorry for asking. It’s a “free” country, after all.

It seems to me that “religious freedom” has to do with matters of belief. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will come again. We hold to these truths with the firmest confidence, not because we have any way of learning these facts on our own, but because they have been revealed by divine authority; the apostolic testimony to Christ’s Passover has reached us by Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, outside the little crazy house on the road of history in which we live at the moment, people have not believed and will not believe that marriage involves a man and a woman, committed for life. They have known it, and they will know it, based on their spontaneous study of human nature.

Judge David Bunning, who threw Ms. Davis in jail, stipulated that he could not accept any appeals to natural law. But, of course, if nature did not have a law that we human beings must have judges to decide disputed points of our written laws, then Judge Bunning himself would have neither robe, nor bench, nor authority.

Let’s not demean the religious freedom which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council so eloquently taught us about in Dignitatis Humanae. The Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision has made the business of handing out marriage licenses in county courthouses even more a farce than it already was. Unfortunately, Kim Davis, God bless her, seems more like a part of the farce than a champion of Christian discipline.

…Dear married couples, committed and generous, struggling through thick and thin to bring to maturity the gift from on high that is the next human generation! We salute you. You deserve better champions than dear Kim Davis.

In fact, you have them: St. Joseph, his spouse, and her Son. Not to mention the countless married saints in heaven who have understood what the word marriage means, and have made a religion out of keeping it real, for the glory of God.

Russell Files #3: The Ravisher Condemned

With our present industrial technique we can, if we choose, provide a tolerable subsistence for everybody. We could also secure that the world’s population should be stationary if we were not prevented by the political influence of the churches which prefer war, pestilence, and famine to contraception.

bertrand russellThe knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilization for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment.

It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion…

…There is reason to suppose that a hundred years hence Catholciism will be the only effective representative of the Christian faith…

–Bertrand Russell, “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?” 1930.

As we can see, Bertrand Russell was a ravisher of altars, intellectually speaking. We should credit him with forthrightness–most of the enemies of the faith clothe themselves in sheep’s garments.

scales_of_justiceThe question is: Should Russell have been prohibited from teaching at the City College of New York by the Supreme Court of the state of New York? This is exactly what happened in 1940.

Judge John E. McGeehan acknowledged that no written law empowered him to grant relief to a concerned mother who sued the New York Board of Higher Education. The judge ruled under “the law of nature and nature’s God.” A miscreant like Russell could not be permitted to teach. His teaching the young–at taxpayer expense–would constitute an injustice to the God-fearing citizens of the state.

Judge McGeehan rightfully pointed out that teachers exercise an influence over the whole of their students’ lives. It was a red herring for Russell’s defenders to claim that as a philosopher of science he could not influence his students’ morals.

We also have to note Judge McGeehan’s empathy with the aggrieved taxpayer. He was on to something here: A judge who refuses to understand written laws by the light of the higher law of truth and justice will fail in his duty to the poor and defenseless.

Russell dismissed Judge McGeehan’s ruling as the ravings of a benighted, prejudiced, parochial Catholic mind.

Nonetheless, the judge was no friend of justice in this case. He did an injustice to Bertrand Russell. I will explain myself next time.

annunciation-altar1

The Russell Files, Episode 2

delpo2Today is the 1,751st anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence the Deacon. Last fall, we highlighted the Holy Father’s visit to St. Lawrence’s tomb

…Delpo managed an over-heated victory yesterday, dealing poor Andy a sweltering defeat…

bertrand russell…We will discuss the court case that led America magazine to call New York Supreme Court Justice John E. McGeehan “an American, a virile and staunch American.” But first, let’s consider one of Bertrand Russell’s reasons for not being a Christian.

Russell regarded the Catholic doctrine of natural law to be irreconcilable with human freedom. He confused natural law with scientific “laws of nature.”

All just law proceeds from the Eternal Law of God for the good of everything that is subject to it. Law liberates its subject to attain fulfillment and goodness.

Creatures that do not possess intelligence are governed by the intelligence of the Creator Himself. Flowers bloom because they follow the law that the Creator inscribed in their flower-ness.

New York Supreme Court
New York Supreme Court

Natural laws of this kind are laws of sublime intelligence, inscribed in unintelligent nature for the good of the governed.

Intelligent creatures, on the other hand, possess the capacity for self-government. This is the natural law for man: that we govern ourselves according to reason.

This does not give us unlimited freedom. We are not, after all, unlimited beings–only God is. Our scope of freedom is determined by our human nature: we are rational animals, destined for the glory of God.

In other words, we possess the degree of freedom which is good for us. We have the freedom to do good and avoid evil. By doing good and avoiding evil, we…

capt ryder1. Obey the natural law.

2. Act freely.

3. Advance toward our ultimate good.

There is no contradiction between the doctrine of natural law and the freedom of man…

…”Then, at the age of 39, I began to be old.” –Captain Charles Ryder, at the beginning of the BBC version of Brideshead Revisited (based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh).

Uh-oh.

Your unworthy servant was born on a hot summer morning in 1970.