Notes from Across the Atlantic
Joseph Bottum FAITH Magazine May-June 2010
LOSS OF IDENTITY
In 1998 James Burtchaell published The Dying of the Light, his detailed study of how a number of once Christian colleges and universities had gradually lost (or, sadly, eagerly relinquished) their distinctively Christian identity. Valparaiso University was not among the three Lutheran colleges examined by Burtchaell but, clearly, Valpo is making an effort to qualify for an updated revision. Case in point: a recent report from a task force charged to recommend changes in the university's opening convocation. "To reinforce the VU spirit and to be more inclusive for the increasingly diverse student body, the community should sing the Valparaiso Alma Mater in lieu of the Valparaiso Hymn." Themes of "welcoming" and "hospitality" should be central to the convocation. (In passing, doesn't the word hospitality win the prize for most overused word in recent years?) The convocation should avoid Scripture readings linked to the historic lectionary and should use instead "a reading in keeping with the spirit of the convocation or in harmony with academic or campus wide themes". We're not quite sure what this means, but we're pretty sure they won't be reading Galatians 1:6-9. In general, care is required to "avoid the kind of overt religiosity that can be misperceived as exclusionary." Reading between the lines, one discerns a hidden agenda: Please don't think we're evangelicals. Nevertheless, "VU can continue to robustly celebrate its rich Lutheran/ Christian tradition while remaining sensitive to the feelings of those who belong to different faith communities." Of course, as is always the case when liberal Protestantism appears on the scene, it'll be a little hard to say what those others are being "welcomed" into. Nothing very distinctive, to be sure. But no matter. One can keep on repeating the university's motto from Psalm 36:9: "In thy light we see light." Another notch on Burtchaell's belt.
In Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly, University of Colorado philosopher Scott Wisor takes up the question, "Is There a Moral Obligation to Limit Family Size?" Wisor's main conclusion seems unexceptionable -though some may take exception: "Although parents certainly do have obligations to consider the environmental impact of their families as producers, consumers and citizens, it is not true that individuals ought to have smaller families for strictly environmental reasons." The arguments for that are strong. Malthusian doomsday scenarios have repeatedly turned out false, and the concrete evidence "suggests that in some cases, increased population sizes have actually led to increases in environmental stewardship". And then there's the curious fact that "acceptance of the argument for limiting family size might actually weaken the environmental movement". If the most environmentally concerned families end up being the smallest, the ratio of the environmentally concerned to the general population will shrink, weakening their political impact. Wisor's most satisfying argument, however, represents a sounder moral vision: "Our love for our existing family members, our love for our future children and the desire to have a large, fun, supportive family are more morally appropriate ways to think about our future children." Wisor sets forth reasons to think so, but he shouldn't have to. That he has to at all is attributable to the same liberal orthodoxy in academia signified by other articles in the Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly.
PRINCIPLES WITH LIMITS
"I suppose I should add that you are a very strong pro-life Democrat," Greta Van Susteren said to Senator Bob Casey Jr. in an interview about his support for the senate's healthcare bill. Casey, naturally, replied, "No question. But I also believe . . ." One does, of course, have to balance conflicting goals and desires in the real life of politics, weighing each against each. Still, there's something about that phrase "but I also believe". In the mouth of a politician, that always signals the setting aside of a principle. And, man, did Senator Casey fling aside principle. It's not just that he voted for the health-care bill, which aimed at funding abortions. He actively worked to seduce others from their pro-life stands, and President Obama brought Casey to the White House to help him find a way for Senator Ben Nelson to allow abortion funding to pass. In the end, they succeeded -which means that there is not a single pro-life Democrat in the US Senate. Given the divided views of the American public, that's a dangerous situation for the republic, as the issue becomes the property of parties, rather than the property of principles that appear in both parties.