The latest from the culture wars


I was going to start this blog by saying that every once in a while news comes out of left field. However, that seems to be an increasingly common place from which news arrives these days.

For instance, did you think last week that Pope Francis was going to opine on libertarianism? If you did, play Powerball tonight. Breitbart reports:

Pope Francis had harsh words to describe libertarians Friday, saying they deny the value of the common good in favor of radical selfishness where only the individual matters.

“I cannot fail to speak of the grave risks associated with the invasion of the positions of libertarian individualism at high strata of culture and in school and university education,” the Pope said in an message sent to members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences meeting in the Vatican and subsequently shared with Breitbart News.

“A common characteristic of this fallacious paradigm is that it minimizes the common good, that is the idea of ‘living well’ or the ‘good life’ in the communitarian framework,” Francis said, while at the same time exalting a “selfish ideal.” …

Francis said that libertarianism, “which is so fashionable today,” is a more radical form of the individualism that asserts that “only the individual gives value to things and to interpersonal relations and therefore only the individual decides what is good and what is evil.”

Libertarianism, he said, preaches that the idea of “self-causation” is necessary to ground freedom and individual responsibility.

“Thus, the libertarian individual denies the value of the common good,” the pontiff stated, “because on the one hand he supposes that the very idea of ‘common’ means the constriction of at least some individuals, and on the other hand that the notion of ‘good’ deprives freedom of its essence.”

Libertarianism, he continued, is an “antisocial” radicalization of individualism, which “leads to the conclusion that everyone has the right to extend himself as far as his abilities allow him even at the cost of the exclusion and marginalization of the more vulnerable majority.”

According to this mentality, all relationships that create ties must be eliminated, the Pope suggested, “since they would limit freedom.” In this way, only by living independently of others, of the common good, and even God himself, can a person be free, he said.

This isn’t the first time that the Pope has taken issue with popular social and political trends.

In March, Pope Francis told leaders of the European Union that the populist movements that are sweeping many parts of Europe and other areas are fueled by “egotism.”Populism, he said, is “the fruit of an egotism that hems people in and prevents them from overcoming and ‘looking beyond’ their own narrow vision.”

That prompted this response from Stephanie Slade:

“Pope Francis had harsh words to describe libertarians Friday,” Breitbartreports. That’s OK. I’m a Catholic libertarian, and I’ve had some harsh words to describe Pope Francis.

My main critique, which I published here at Reason on the eve of his 2015 visit to the United States, was that the pontiff’s ignorance of basic economics has led him to a bad conclusion about which public policies are best able to reduce the crushing yoke of poverty in the world. I went on to encourage him to consider that, as a matter of empirical fact, markets are the single greatest engine for growth and enrichment that humanity has yet stumbled upon.

I don’t doubt for a second that Pope Francis cares deeply about the least of his brothers and sisters. But I deny that his chosen prescriptions would do anything but make the problem worse.

This is not a bad time to be reminded that popes aren’t infallible, according to Catholic doctrine—instead, they are possessed of the ability to deliver infallible teachings on matters of faith and morals. As I pointed out in my piece, “In practice, such ‘definitive acts,’ in which a pope makes clear he’s teaching ‘from the chair’ of Jesus, are almost vanishingly rare.” Arguably, though, the pope’s remarks today to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences do pertain to faith and morals. He seems to be arguing that an outlook that places the individual above “the common good” is morally suspect.

As with his comments about capitalism, then, the problem is not so much that he’s speaking to issues that go beyond the scope of his office; the problem is his speaking to matters on which he is ill-informed. In this case, his statements betray a shallowness in his understanding of the philosophy he’s impugning. If he took the time to really engage with our ideas, he might be surprised by what he learned.

He might, for instance, be taken aback to discover that many libertarians hold beliefs that transcend an Ayn Randian glorification of selfishness (and that Ayn Rand rejected us, too, by the way). Or that what Pope Francis calls an “antisocial” paradigm in which “all relationships that create ties must be eliminated” (Breitbart‘s words) is better known by another name: the liberty movement, a cooperative and sometimes even rathersocial endeavor among people who cherish peaceful, voluntary human interactions. Or that lots of us are deeply concerned with the tangible outcomes that policies have on vulnerable communities, and that libertarians’ support for capitalism is very often rooted in its ability to make the world a better place. Or that some of us are even—hold on to your zucchetto—followers of Christ.

Most of all, he would likely be startled to find that, far from thinking “only the individual decides what is good and what is evil,” few libertarians are moral relativists. (Except the Objectivists, of course. Or am I getting that wrong?) Speaking as a devotee of St. John Paul II, one of the great articulators of the importance of accepting Truth as such, this one is actually personal.

It’s hard not to wonder whether Pope Francis knows any libertarians. In the event he’s interested in discussing the ideas of free minds and free markets with someone who ascribes to them, I’d be happy to make myself available.

Were I Roman Catholic instead of just raised Catholic, I’d be torn about this. I’m more a fan of Pope Francis and what could be reasonably called certain liberal Catholics (including my favorite nuns) than I am of certain conservative Catholics, such as Madison Bishop Robert Morlino. (But you knew that.) But Francis speaks from either ignorance about libertarians or deliberately ignoring our God-given free will. (Which includes our free-will choice to go to church or not, or go to a specific church or not.)

The Catholic Church is not a democracy, of course. A church also gets to decide its own rules, contrary to what “cafeteria Catholics” might like to think. Our choice is to attend and support a church, or not. I didn’t leave the Catholic church for any political reason, but as I’ve written here before, my decision to leave has been validated numerous times since then.

I wonder what Catholics think about this news, from the Kansas City Star:

Saying that Girl Scouts is “no longer a compatible partner in helping us form young women with the virtues and values of the Gospel,” the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is severing ties with the organization and switching its support to a Christian-based scouting program.

“I have asked the pastors of the Archdiocese to begin the process of transitioning away from the hosting of parish Girl Scout troops and toward the chartering of American Heritage Girls troops,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann said in a statement released Monday.

“Pastors were given the choice of making this transition quickly, or to, over the next several years, ‘graduate’ the scouts currently in the program. Regardless of whether they chose the immediate or phased transition, parishes should be in the process of forming American Heritage Girl troops, at least for their kindergartners, this fall.”

American Heritage Girls, founded in 1995, has become an option for those who say Girl Scouts has become too liberal and has relationships with organizations that support abortion rights and do not share traditional family values — allegations the Girl Scouts deny.

Naumann also called for an end to Girl Scout cookie sales in the archdiocese.

“No Girl Scout cookie sales should occur in Catholic Schools or on parish property after the 2016-2017 school year,” he said in a letter to priests in January.

The action has angered some Girl Scout leaders and parents in the archdiocese, who say Girl Scouts is a respected program that helps raise strong girls who become good stewards. They call the move punitive and unfair and say it treats girls in their troops like second-class citizens.

“This is frustrating; parents are very irritated,” said Maria Walters, a former Girl Scout leader in the archdiocese and mother of two Girl Scouts. “I feel we should all be together as one in the community. This does nothing but divide us.

“I don’t know why you would take an organization out of a school when it provides an option for girls to feel like they’re part of a group.”

Walters said her parish has had a Girl Scout troop for at least 25 years.

“They’ve done a father-daughter dance that has been a huge success,” she said. “And they do service projects at Children’s Mercy, animal shelters, battered women’s shelters, the Ronald McDonald House and projects around the parish.”

Walters said the troop used to have about 100 members but now has around 75.

“We have lost some to American Heritage Girls,” she said. “We are still allowed to meet here, but I don’t know for how long. It’s frustrating when you have American Heritage Girls and Boys Scouts in the school newsletter, but no Girl Scouts. We are not allowed to recruit on campus, so we’re going to have to use Facebook and other technology to reach out to people.”

Deacon Dana Nearmyer, the archdiocese’s director of evangelization, told The Star that careful thought went into the decision.

“Several years ago, a number of Catholic school moms called us up and said, ‘We’d like to have a Christian program for our after-school girls’ program,’ ” he said. “So we did a bunch of research and tried to find the best mission fit for us, and American Heritage Girls seemed like that was going to be the best fit.” …

American Heritage Girls, based in Cincinnati, is described as “a Christ-centered character development program for girls ages 5 to 18.”

“We use the methods of scouting to achieve our mission of building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country,” said Patti Garibay, national executive director and founder. ,,,

The organization also was attractive to the archdiocese because of its opposition to abortion. Some of the troops have participated in protests and prayer vigils outside clinics that perform abortions. …

Some Girl Scout leaders disagreed, saying they were never consulted about the decision and that some of their girls had been bullied because they were involved in Scouts. …

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has studied the issue in recent years and said it held a lengthy dialogue with the Girl Scouts. It developed a resource guide for Catholics and concluded that the question of whether the church should sever its ties to Girl Scouts must be answered at the local level.

“Diocesan bishops have the final authority over what is appropriate for Catholic scouting in their dioceses,” the bishops’ conference said.

Last year, Archbishop Robert Carlson of the Archdiocese of St. Louis urged priests to drop Girl Scouts, saying the organization was “exhibiting a troubling pattern of behavior” and was “becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values.” …

Naumann said Girl Scouts contributes more than a million dollars each year to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which he called “an organization tied to International Planned Parenthood and its advocacy for legislation that includes both contraception and abortion as preventive health care for women.”

He also said that many of those who have been cited as role models by Girl Scouts “not only do not reflect our Catholic worldview but stand in stark opposition to what we believe.”

The Girl Scouts, which has 1.9 million girl members and 800,000 adult members nationwide, does not take a position or develop materials on human sexuality, birth control or abortion, according to its website. And despite what critics say, the organization says, it does not have a relationship with Planned Parenthood.

“Parents or guardians make all decisions regarding program participation that may be of a sensitive nature,” it says.

Girl Scouts officials say that each member organization of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts creates its own programs that are based on the needs and issues affecting girls in its individual country. Girl Scouts does not always take the same positions or endorse the same programs as the world organization, they say.

Some parents in the archdiocese have nothing but praise for Girl Scouts. …

Some are wondering why the Catholic dioceses haven’t taken similar actions regarding Boy Scouts.

“I feel like we’re being discriminated against,” Walters said. “We’ve been wiped from the archdiocese website, and we have no leadership role in the church at all. There’s nothing like this going on with the Boy Scouts.”

The discrimination in the last paragraph isn’t because of sex; it’s because of viewpoint. As far as I know the Boy Scouts haven’t been supporting Planned Parenthood. (As you know, the Boy Scouts has taken considerable heat over its policy to not allow atheist Scouts or homosexual leaders to the point where United Way chapters pulled their funding of the Boy Scouts.)

This could be seen as an argument about centralized or decentralized organizational leadership analogous to arguments about federalism. Apparently dioceses are free to create their own policy about the Girl Scouts, and Girl Scout leaders are free to make their own decisions about “program participation that may be of a sensitive nature.”

The church has the right to create and enforce its own rules. It seems only logical that a church’s members have the choice to either follow those rules, or leave. (And if more Catholics did leave, some of those rules might change.) Not being Catholic, I have free will to agree or disagree with the pope or a bishop and feel free to not follow their instructions.




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