Does Justice Demand the Death Penalty?

by David Baer

Michelangelo

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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Are Hungary’s Churches Confronting Their Communist Past?

by Laura Viktoria Jakli and Jason Wittenberg

Source: evangelikus.hu

Source: evangelikus.hu

Háló 2, a collection of original essays and primary source documents spanning the first half of the cold war, is an important study of Hungarian Lutheran church-state relations under socialism. The collection chronicles the dilemmas faced by leaders of the Lutheran church as they struggled to reconcile the church’s spiritual mission with socialist ideology. The editors focus specifically on two church leaders—Bishop Zoltán Káldy (1958-1967) and Bishop Ernő Ottlyk (1967-1982)—whom the state recruited as informants. The essays and documents in Háló 2 reveal how each of these leaders wielded his authority and managed relations with the state. The overall conclusion is that under their leaderships the church became fully subordinate to the regime.

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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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Catalan Independence and the Catholic Church

by Krisztina Nemes     

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Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey

Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey

The Benedictines of Montserrat maintain a publishing house, A Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, dedicated to enhancing awareness and appreciation of Catalan culture. The publishing house boasts more than 3000 books in areas such as history, art, language, literature, religion, and music. In addition to monographs, the Abbey also publishes important periodicals. One of these is Qüestions de Vida Cristiana. Founded in 1958, it was the first periodical granted permission to print, despite a general prohibition on publications in the Catalan language. The journal never limited itself strictly to religious themes, but attempted to address topics of contemporary concern from the perspectives of theology, philosophy, literature, and so on. When, in 2013, supporters of Catalan independence formed a living chain 400 kilometers long along the Catalonian border (Via Catalana), the editors of the journal decided to devote their 247 issue (from 2014) to the question of Catalonian independence. Catalans today believe that the right to determine their destiny should be included among the list of human rights. College professors, theologians, politicians, sociologists, writers, and historians express their opinion on this question in the volume. This review considers contributions especially interesting from the point of view of the church and theology.

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The Nature of Christian Political Action: Lessons from Bishop Ordass

by David Baer

ordass_1

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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Robert Benne on “Illiberal Democracy”

Robert Benne Source:  https://www.luther.edu/

Robert Benne
Source: https://www.luther.edu/

Robert Benne is Jordan Trexler Professor Emeritus and founding Director of the Center for Religion at Roanoke College, USA.  He has spent his scholarly career studying the relationship between religion and politics and is the author of ten books, including, most recently, Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics and Reasonable Ethics: A Christian Approach to Social, Economic, and Political Concerns.  He has spent extensive time in both Germany and Britain and follows European affairs with interest. In light of the heightened attention Hungary has received in the Western media after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő), Principium asked Prof. Benne to share with us his impressions of the speech.

Viktor Orbán’s speech at Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő) has received a lot of attention in the Western media. You’ve read the English translation of the speech available on the Hungarian government webpage. What did you think?

Benne: I can understand some of Mr. Orbán’s grievances:  the danger that nations will lose their independence to a large bureaucratic state, i.e., the EU; the cultural decadence of Western popular culture; powerful foreign forces buffeting a small nation; and domestic political deadlock.  But the solutions Orbán offers are abhorrent because they will lead to authoritarian nationalism.  His list of “models” for Hungary is truly appalling:  Russia, China, and Turkey being the most outlandish.  All three are authoritarian states with few freedoms.  The other two don’t fit:  India is moving toward a more open-market democracy, and Singapore is more like a libertarian city-state that has its own demographic problems.

What do you think of Prime Minister Orbán’s ideal of an “illiberal democracy”?

Benne: I found it truly worrisome. There is a whiff of fascism in the vision–direct knowledge and mystic representation of the people, strong racial nationalism, xenophobia, an impulse to co-opt and coordinate civil society (Gleichschaltung?), and a rejection of human rights.  Truly an illiberal state.  But like strong-men before him, Orbán underestimates the power and resilience of Western democracies, especially the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom.  Although 2008 was damaging for democracies, it was not a historical paradigm-shift.  An American President like the current one, who wants to retreat from foreign affairs, will not be in office forever; and Europe, though weakening, is not exactly dead.

But in Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő) Orbán said he wanted to build a nation on Christian values. Shouldn’t Christians respect him for that?

Benne: One is tempted by his respect for Christianity, but I fear Orbán’s would be a “tamed” Christianity subservient to political power.  Orbán is right that Christianity can provide the wholesome values needed to sustain a good society, but Christians need to be free to speak out and act according to their own vision of the truth.  Religion co-opted by the state soon becomes dishonest, impotent, and, when it abandons its commitment to transcendent truths, even demonic. Co-opted religion quickly becomes compliant or complicit with evil. Co-opted religion isn’t truly free. Orbán should show greater respect for the First Freedom, namely, freedom of religion.

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Illiberal Democracy and the Dignity of the Human Person

by Christianus

Photo by László Beliczay/MTI Source: http://www.kormany.hu/

Photo by László Beliczay/MTI Source: http://www.kormany.hu/

Political crises are nothing new under the sun. They are as old as politics, and when viewed from faith, they represent an occasion not for fear, but to commit ourselves again to the common good and the cause of human dignity. For Christian politicians a “Western crisis” cannot be reason to turn from the West and toward Eastern, non-Christian political arrangements for the solution to political, social, and economic ills. In times of crisis, the Christian politician should look to the teaching of the Church and the wisdom of its tradition to find those moral principles indispensable for a just society. Important among these are respect for human dignity, solidarity with the weak, regard for subsidiarity, and adherence to the rule of law. Since these principles are central to liberal democracies, a plan to replace a liberal democracy with an “illiberal” one cannot be considered a Christian democratic program.

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Good and Bad Ways to Think About Religion and Politics

by Robert Benne

Robert Benne Source: https://www.luther.edu/

Robert Benne
Source: https://www.luther.edu/

Could anyone imagine an American government ordering Martin Luther King, Jr. not to use Christian rhetoric to inspire the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s?  Precisely this is what some militant atheists, secularists, and even a few religious leaders would like to happen today.  These folks are what I call “separationists,” those who believe religiously-based moral values ought not have a place in public discourse or policy-making.  While most of them merely disapprove of the interaction of religion and politics, others are so hostile to religion—especially conservative Christianity—that they would formally prohibit it.

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Martha, Mary, and the Meaning of Work

by David Baer

dresden_hofkirche_silbermann_lg

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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