Earthly Kingdoms in the Shadow of the Heavenly: Understanding the Ethics of Immigration

by Peter Meilaender

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Source: NBC News (April 5, 2016)

Immigration presents us with a moral dilemma familiar in other circumstances: the challenge of weighing our particular obligations against our universal obligations to all human beings. We should think of ourselves as having special obligations toward our fellow countrymen and countrywomen, but there is a point at which the demands of universal charity outweigh special relationships. We can justify immigration restrictions and need not accept all comers if the pressures become more than we can bear without doing injustice toward those with a prior claim upon us. Yet the demands of universal charity also keep breaking in upon us, and we must recognize also the claims of those whose need is desperate.

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Repurposing Europe

by Pierre Manent

“The gravity of the crisis in France has long been hidden by what we like to call the construction of Europe. The energies of our political class have been devoted to buttressing the authority of an enterprise that delegitimizes the nation and promises a new way of bringing humans together. But these sweet hopes have become less and less plausible. Neither the institutions of Europe, nor the government of France, nor what is called civil society have enough strength or credibility to claim the attention or fix the hopes of citizens. As rich as we still are in material and intellectual resources, we are politically weak. Nothing seems to have the power to gather us toward the common action we all feel necessary. What to do about our diminished collective capacity is the great political question of Europe. Whether in relation to European unification or to Islam, it is clear that we have nothing pertinent to say if we refrain from making claims about European identity.”

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This article was originally published in First Things (April 2016)

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Toward Truth and Reconciliation in Ukraine

By Cyril Hovorun

Maidan (Photo: Claudia Himmelreich McClatchy)

Maidan Square (Photo by Claudia Himmelreich McClatchy)

Ukraine has been riven by civil strife. These are more than political events. They touch upon the most fundamental experiences of conscience and dignity. They reflect an awakening of civil society—and a reaction that seeks a return to ­­state-dominated public life. The future of the country hangs in the balance. What is needed ­today, not only in Ukraine but in every post-Soviet country, is church leadership that is clear-minded about the perils of an excessively close relationship between Christian witness and state power. The single greatest imperative is to encourage and engage civil society.

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Stumped by Trump: Armageddon and the GOP

by David Baer

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

If these are Trump’s supporters, we can begin to see that the strength of his support draws on something more than hatred and bigotry. Trump’s core constituency may have concluded, reasonably enough, that its fortunes are not likely to improve with either a Republican or Democratic President. Insofar as working class voters have deliberated about the candidates within the horizon of their own self-interest (and which political constituency doesn’t deliberate this way), why wouldn’t they vote for Trump?

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Does Justice Demand the Death Penalty?

by David Baer

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The Last Judgment / Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

The philosopher Immanuel Kant believed justice required the death penalty, and many today, following Kant, have argued that to abolish capital punishment is to undermine principles of justice essential to a healthy body politic. The Christian churches, historically committed to the idea of retributive justice, long supported the death penalty, turning against it only in the twentieth century. Indeed, Pope John Paul II came close to rejecting the death penalty altogether in the encyclical Evangelium vitae. What do these competing evaluations of the death penalty teach us about justice and punishment? Does justice require the death penalty or not?

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The Church in the Bloodlands

Ukrainian Churches Must Encourage and Engage Civil Society

by Cyril Hovorun

Ukrainian Priests and Protestors / Source:

Ukrainian Priests at Maidan / Source: imgkid.com/ukraine-protests-priest.shtml

The “Russian spring” in the east is a revolution of paternalism. Its ideal, often unarticulated, is for a comprehensive, state-directed system of social organization that protects individuals from the risks of freedom. It reflects nostalgia for a time when the state assumed responsibility for all aspects of life, a time when the state was the society. It would be wrong to interpret this nostalgia as simply a desire to restore the old Soviet system. The neo-Soviet ideology is quite different from the old communist ideology that espoused an official atheism. The nostalgia for a safe, stable past borrows also from the now long-gone Russian imperial ideology.

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This article was originally published in First Things (October 2014).

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Read the article in Ukrainian here

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The Nature of Christian Political Action: Lessons from Bishop Ordass

by David Baer

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Bishop Lajos Ordass / source: Lutheran Church in Hungary website

For Christians, to find the right form political action represents an on-going challenge. They must avoid, on the one hand, the danger of absolutizing relative political claims, and, on the other hand, the danger of growing indifferent to politics. No single solution to the dilemma exists; rather Christians must continually search out solutions best suited to their time and place. In doing this, they will certainly attend to the character of the societies in which they live; but they will also look to great confessors from the past, persons who with their lives modeled faithful Christian engagement with politics. In this regard, Hungarians are fortunate to have had such a confessor in their recent past, Bishop Lajos Ordass. Bishop Ordass was guided in his public actions by the ideal of fidelity, and his great fidelity teaches us about the nature of authentic Christian political witness.

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Martha, Mary, and the Meaning of Work

by David Baer

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Silbermann organ, Hofkirche, Dresden

That leisure is better than work is not an idea with many supporters today.  To work diligently in one’s vocation, say Luther and Calvin, is an important way to love and serve the neighbor.  Yet Jesus tells Martha, who works, that Mary, who does not work, has chosen a good portion.  David Baer reflects on the puzzle of worship and work, Mary and Martha, and the lives of Johann Sebastian Bach and Albert Schweitzer.

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Gilbert Meilaender on Infant Euthanasia in Europe

Belgium parliament

Belgian Parliament legalizing euthanasia / Reuters

In February of 2014 the Parliament of Belgium acted to permit euthanasia for children experiencing “chronic and unbearable suffering,” if those children were able to and did request euthanasia (and if parental consent was also given). This represents a somewhat more restrictive practice of pediatric euthanasia than that in the Netherlands, where infants with a “hopeless prognosis” may be euthanized even if the child is too young to request or assent to such action.

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Gilbert Meilaender is Senior Research Professor at Valparaiso University, USA. He served as a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics from 2002-2008, and is a Fellow of the Hastings Center. He is the author, among others, of Bioethics: A Primer for Christians; Should We Live Forever? The Ethical Ambiguities of Aging; and Neither Beast nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person. In this article for Principium, he addresses the problem of infant euthanasia in Europe.

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Why Principium?

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Christ Pantocrator, Hagia Sophia 12th c.

In principio erat verbum – In the beginning was the Word.  We are in great difficulty, no less than was Augustine, to explain what has here been quoted from the Gospel. But shall we then be silent for the cause? “Why then is it read, if we are to be silent regarding it? Or why is it heard, if it be not explained? And why is it explained, if it be not understood?” (Tractate on the Gospel of John). We seek to speak a word of truth on matters of public life. Not that the truth is our possession, for “to speak of the matter as it is, who is able?” But beholden to the truth, we intend to speak the truth as we are able. We, therefore, establish a journal named Principium, and set before ourselves the following goals:

First, that Principium be an international forum for Christian discussion on issues of public import. The challenges Christians confront around the world today are largely common (e.g., secularization, encroachment on religious liberty, indifference to the dignity of human life and the family), yet Christians themselves are often separated by nations, divided by differences of language rooted in the pride of Babel. Even so, as John Calvin has said, “the admirable goodness of God is rendered conspicuous, because the nations hold mutual communication among themselves, though in different languages.” Greater still, God endowed his apostles with the gift of tongues; “Whence it has come to pass, that they who before were miserably divided, have coalesced in the unity of faith” (Commentary on Genesis). In this spirit, Principium is to be bilingual, published in English and Hungarian, in service to the unity of faith.

Second, we establish Principium as a journal free and independent. “The Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none” (Luther, Treatise on Christian Liberty). Exercising our Christian freedom, we will not be bound by partial interests, whether those of political power or populist movements. Moreover, we believe that through the exercise of Christian freedom we serve the common good. As John Paul II reminded us in Centesimus annus, “The Christian upholds freedom and serves it, constantly offering to others the truth which he has known.” Together with John Paul II we affirm that “total recognition must be given to the rights of human conscience, which is bound only to truth, both natural and revealed;” and that, “the recognition of these rights represents the primary foundation of every authentically free political order.”

Third, we establish Principium as a journal both ecumenical and orthodox. Mindful that Christ desires his disciples to be one, so that through them the world might know the Father (Jn 17:23), we are committed to open and ecumenical dialogue. “A command is given us in Sacred Scripture to preserve the bond of unity and peace,” Athanasius once wrote; “it is agreeable therefore that we should write and signify to one another whatever is done by each of us individually; so that whether one member suffer or rejoice, we may suffer or rejoice with one another” (Deposition of Arius). Only together, in the unity of faith and with awareness of our common purpose, may Christians hope to meet successfully the challenge our present age poses to authentic forms of life. Since the unity we seek is in truth, we intend to impose no burden on the debate in these pages beyond agreement in necessary things (Acts 15:28). Thus, in the confidence of faith and with hope for the future, but never setting ourselves against the patience of God, we launch Principium.

— The editors

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