Pillar: The Human Person

The Human Person

The first pillar of a decent society is respect for the human person, which recognizes that all individual human beings have dignity simply because of the kind of being they are: animals whose rational faculties allow them to know, love, reason, and communicate. It also recognizes that human beings are persons, members of the human family who flourish in a community that respects their fundamental rights and who long to discover transcendent truths about the nature of reality.

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Quiet Hope: A New Year’s Resolution

Despair is the unforgivable sin, for the despairing conclude that God will not or cannot act, that the universe is fundamentally unfriendly and inhospitable to the true, good, and beautiful, and that humanity has lost the imago Dei. To judge in this way is to deny the goodness of the world and its Creator and sustainer, and that is the sin of all sins.

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A Decade of Debates

The team at Public Discourse doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but we do think we’re asking the right questions, and getting the right thinkers to propose some of the answers. That’s one thing that we hope will always be our hallmark: thoughtful, reasoned discourse, which is rigorous yet still accessible to the educated layman.

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Surprised by Christ

The small surprises and sacrifices of Christmas—the time, resources, and care our loved ones expend in order to place under glowing trees those bright bundles upon which our own names are written—recall the marvel of Christ’s entry into the world in order to sacrifice himself for those he calls by name. This is the unexpected gift that we ought to be surprised by, over and over, every Christmas—indeed, every morning.

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The Real Failure of Liberal Theory

Conservative critics of “liberalism” are right to identify major flaws in liberal theory. But a deeper appreciation of those flaws should prevent us from blaming the American political tradition for them. Liberal theory is so erroneous that neither the Founders nor any other Americans could ever really put it into practice.

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Catholicism, Modernity, and Ground-Up Politics

Pope Francis’s theology of the people gives us a new ecclesial lens and paradigm through which to understand earthly politics. And the clerical abuse scandal, like the Church’s loss of temporal power, may well do Catholics a service in the long run, freeing us up to a better, more “ground-up” conception of how societies and their economies work.

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Speech and Conscience in Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life

How does one film the work of the conscience, hidden as it is? How does one capture the internal struggle to speak when confronted by the demand for conformity? Terrence Malick successfully recreates this struggle for us in his latest film, A Hidden Life; and while his story focuses primarily on the struggle of one historical individual, the experiences Malick captures on film deepen our understanding of and sympathy for the precarious condition we all share.

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Gratitude in an Angry Time

We must resist the sense that gratitude has no place in this era of frequently justified outrage. In fact, gratitude may be exactly what can help us distinguish justified from unjustified outrage. And, in any case, gratitude is the proper disposition toward all the good we have been given that we have done so little to earn.

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Faith and Reason in the Thought of John Henry Newman

Faith and Reason, Saint John Henry Newman argues, are not opposed mental actions, but a similar intellectual act operating on different grounds. Faith reasons not from direct empirical evidence placed before us, nor from principles that the intellect has grasped on its own, but from grounds of trust or probability based on inclinations and dispositions of the heart.

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Giving One’s Life for One’s Friends: A Secular or Religious Value?

The self-sacrificing love of friends has a religious origin, even if it has secular expressions. Precisely by putting us in touch with the sacred, with a perception of reality that transcends our day-to-day existence, such values give human life its meaning and make our “secular” civilization possible. Attempts to censor expressions of these values show how difficult it can be to disentangle their religious and secular uses.

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The Deadly Dance of Perfectionism: How the Rhetoric of Family Planning Hurts Children

Growing up in the culture of sociology taught me—and others of my generation—to engage in a set of behaviors to ensure that we would “always be wanted.” Although the term “wantedness” was a quality originally assigned to births, the concept began to touch all aspects of children’s lives, teaching us to engage in a dangerous—sometimes deadly—dance of perfectionism.

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Reproductive Technologies and Human Dignity

Given the risks of assisted reproductive technologies and gene-editing technologies for both individuals and society as a whole, a hands-off, libertarian approach to these issues is ethically irresponsible. Because these technologies imply a radical transformation in our understanding of the meaning of parenthood and our approach to the next generation, we must ask ourselves what sort of world these technologies are creating, and whether it is the sort of world that we want for our children and grandchildren.

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Saint John Henry Newman and Freedom of Conscience: Countering a Modern Apostasy

In the 130 years since John Henry Newman’s death, few concepts have been more misunderstood and distorted than “conscience.” The danger is greater today than when the great saint wrote. The distorted view of conscience that Newman described as oriented to self and not to God has penetrated Western culture and religion. For many, the obligation to follow one’s conscience has been embraced, but fidelity to truth has been set aside. This untethered and counterfeit “freedom of conscience” has led to a widespread subjectivism that Newman saw emerging within modern European society, even in his own day.

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The Age of Miracles and Misery Machines

We have more material comforts than kings and merchant princes of old, and technological progress has wrought what would once be considered miracles. Yet our culture makes every effort to promote dissatisfaction, for there is money to be made when people are unhappy or bored with what they have. In an age of miracles, our phones are becoming misery machines.

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Coherence, Calvinball, and the Consistent Ethic of Life

A consistent life ethic (CLE) should consider the totality of an act: not simply the consequences, but also the intention, the object chosen, and the circumstances of the act. Charles Camosy deserves our respect for boldly declaring the case for CLE, but the devil remains in the details. Without agreement on those details, the consistent life ethic remains as unpredictable and random as Calvinball.

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Forgiving the Unforgivable: A Lesson in Love

I initially tried to explain forgiveness in terms of the psychological benefits to oneself, or even in terms of social harmony. But narratives of forgiveness as an outpouring of love correspond more to a different explanation of forgiveness: the desires of a heart that wants to expand. This is not a sentimental love; it is a love that seeks charity in truth, in justice, and in regarding our neighbor who has harmed us as a person deserving of the same merciful love that we ourselves have already been shown.

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