Schindler on Religious Liberty

I confess my bias, but Professor David Schindler, of the John Paul II Institute for the Study of Marriage and the Family, is the best, most incisive, smartest theologian in the United States. There are not many books that have literally changed my life, but his book "Heart of the World; Center of the Church," changed my life, opening avenues of reflection i did not know existed.

In the current issue of Communio, Schindler has an essay that looks at the religious liberty debate. With his typical grasp of the theological implications that tend to remain opaque to the rest of us, Schindler exposes a principal difficulty with the USCCB's embrace of the religious liberty issue: Our nation's negative conception of freedom possesses a hidden metaphysics that simply does not square with Catholic anthropology.

I have hinted at this difficulty, albeit haltingly. I have pointed out, without Schindler's grasp for the theological specifics, that I do not think John Courtney Murray, S.J. achieved what he hoped to achieve, certainly not what his latter day interpreters such as George Weigel and Robbie George and Mary An Glendon think he achieved. I have called attention to the danger of quoting single paragraphs from Dignitatis Humanae, without considering the whole, but Schindler provides line and verse from recent papal statements on the topic.

It will be curious to see how the Catholic neo-cons respond. Schindler is, obviously, no liberal, no Obama-lover, no Democrat. His objections to the mandate are of an entirely different order, but his concerns extend to the danger of embracing the notion of rights contained in the First Amendment too closely. Where will this lead? I have no idea. But, I will say that in their rush to jump on this issue, the bishops have climbed out on to a limb that, as Schindler shows, is not as strudy as they might have thought.


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