Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Notre Dame President Father Jenkins Responds to Senator Feinstein: "'Dogma Lives Loudly' . . . Is a Condition We Call Faith" (But No, It's Not)

At a hearing last week, Senator Diane Feinstein grilled federal judge nominee (and Notre Dame University law professor) Amy Coney Barrett about a paper she co-authored in 1998 with John Garvey, who is now president of Catholic University of America. Senator Feinstein suggested that the position Barrett took in her 1998 paper is tantamount to proposing that, for someone sitting on a court bench, religious faith should trump law when the two appear to be in conflict. 

In responding to what she hears Barrett proposing about religion and law, Feinstein stated, "The dogma lives loudly within you." Notre Dame's president Father John Jenkins has responded to Feinstein in an open letter in which he states the following: 

I ask you and your colleagues to respect those in whom "dogma lives loudly"—which is a condition we call faith.

1. This is simply not correct: dogma and faith are not the same thing. 

2. Faith is a commitment of one's heart and mind to God, an opening of one's heart and mind to God, setting forth on a journey into the unknown with God.

3. Dogma lives at several removes from that core commitment of faith that is, according to basic Christian belief, salvific.

4. Dogma is an attempt, halting and imperfect, to put into credal statements and words what transcends words.

5. As Karen Armstrong writes in her book Spiral Staircase (NY: Random House, 2004),

The Middle English word beleven originally meant "to love"; and the Latin credo ("I believe") probably derived from the phrase cor do: "I give my heart" (p. 292).

6. Faith, the faith that is, according to core Christian belief, salvific, is first and foremost about a personal relationship, about the opening of one's heart to the divine presence. 

7. Faith, the faith that is, according to core Christian belief, salvific, is not first and foremost about adhering to a credal statement or a dogmatic proposition. It is first and foremost about the disposition of the heart, not the activity of the head.

8. It's surprising to find a Catholic university president who is an ordained Catholic clergyman not knowing all of this, because this distinction has been key to Catholic theology for a long time now.

9. It is fundamental to the theology of Karl Rahner with his hierarchy of truths.

10. It is fundamental to the documents of Vatican II, which rely strongly on Rahner's theology and its hierarchy of truths.

11. The confusion of faith with dogma and the use of dogma as a blunt instrument to attack those who raise necessary critical questions about dogmatic formulations that have always been susceptible to change is one of the primary reasons many Catholics no longer want to have anything to do with the church.

12. It's especially why many educated and thinking Catholics, who know that dogma has always changed, want nothing to do with the church.

13. It's also why many educated and thinking Catholics are appalled at the suggestion of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference that, when Catholic dogma (say, about same-sex marriage) meets law, law should bow to dogma.

14. And that it should do so even for non-Catholics, in a pluralistic, secular democracy that was deliberately not organized as a theocracy when it was set up by the founders . . . . 

15. Whether Senator Feinstein is right or wrong in hearing what she hears in Barrett's work on the relationship between religion and law is a point that can be further discussed. Given the position the Catholic bishops have pushed in current debates about "religious freedom" and abortion, same-sex marriage, contraceptive coverage for women in healthcare plans, and the "right" of businesses to discriminate on the basis of religious belief, Senator Feinstein is absolutely correct to probe Barrett's position on these issues, however.

(Please see this footnote to the preceding posting.)

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