Tag Archives: Catholic Church

What Kant Can Teach Us In The Catholic Church vs. HHS Mandate Case

Kant reminds us that we think of law as being universal and objective.  Therefore, we need to think about what happens when we make a law, because that law applies to everyone universally, not just to the case we are thinking about.  

I doubt that Immanuel Kant will be able to convince any of my conservative Catholic friends that the HHS mandate with the Hawaii exception is a workable compromise for an imperfect system.*  (Well, maybe Kant himself could, but my use of Kant probably won’t convince anyone). At the same time, I am teaching Kant this week in my intro Ethics course and so I have the categorical imperative on my mind as the HHS mandate question rages on.  Thus, I thought it might be helpful to apply Kant to this conundrum and see if there was not something to learn from the 18th Century German philosopher.   I am by no means a Kantian, but I do think his emphasis on the universality of moral law is something we need to always keep in mind, and this case is a perfect example.

For those not familiar with Kant’s work, here is a quick and dirty summary:  Kant said that ethics boils down to one’s duty to do uphold what he called the categorical imperative.  That’s just a fancy way of saying a universal duty – a duty that applies to everyone, always.  There is only one categorical imperative for Kant: that we should never do any action that we wouldn’t want everyone else to do.  It’s a modification of the golden rule.   So Kant says that we shouldn’t lie because if we lie when “it is necessary” then we would have to allow everyone to lie when necessary.  If we allow everyone to lie when necessary, the we would never know if someone was telling the truth or lying out of necessity, and the whole institution of trust would break down.  In short, our actions are only morally legitimate if we can say that we would want everyone else to do the same action.

So lets think about Kant in terms of the health care mandate.  What is the maxim that is at stake here?

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Catholics and the Health Care Mandate: A Case Comparison

I will warn you at the outset here that I have no intention of providing any sort of solution to the debate raging in Catholic circles and elsewhere over the health care mandate. What I hope to do here, though, is offer some food for thought on this debate and spur thinking in new directions by comparing the current situation to other situations that we might want to act differently.

To begin, let me outline the contours of the primary debate… The new federal health care regulations require that all employers of a certain size provide their employees health insurance. Included in the regulations is a mandate that this health insurance must cover, among many other things, contraception. Contraception is officially understood as illicit by the Catholic church and so this causes a conflict for Catholic organizations. Now, in the bill, religious institutions such as churches, dioceses, etc. are exempted from having to provide anything that goes against their avowed religious or moral beliefs. Religious schools, universities and hospitals are not considered under this exception. Thus, the mandate for contraception still applies to them.

Now, consider the following questions and parallel cases. Are these the same? Should We follow the same logic?

  1.  If a religious university or hospital should be able to claim religious exemptions to government mandates, then why shouldn’t Catholic owned ‘mom and pop’ business owners be able to claim the same right? Is there a fundamental difference between an institution that claims religious beliefs as part of their mission (like a university) and an individual shop owner whose business may not have anything to do with Catholicism, but which is owned by a Catholic? And if an individual shop owner can make such a decision, then what of  corporations – can a Catholic majority on the board of directors of an organization make the same claim? What about an organization with a Catholic majority of shareholders?
    • [Update] One of the outcomes of the recent supreme court case Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission was that corporations were to be understood as persons before the law, and therefore corporations held the same rights (namely, in the Citizens United case, the right to free speech) as an individual would have.  Consider this in light of the health care mandate.   If corporations are people, then  shouldn’t individual people  be protected just as corporations are under this mandate?  So if the rule is expanded to include religious hospitals schools (corporations in their own right), should it also not include religious individuals (including Mom and Pop shopowners)? Continue reading

Brian’s Links 8 Feb 2011

What is the worth of a church?  It is interesting that churches bring monetary benefits to communities, but can we only measure things by money now?  As we so mentally impoverished that only economics can be used to justify things?

Dilbert creator Scott Adams discusses some humorous ideas for how to tax the rich.

The Long Now Foundation, which specializes in long-term thinking and is rapidly becoming one of the most interesting projects around, asked a few people “How far ahead should politicians think?”  The ethically relevant aspect is that people don’t look very far ahead, and with the world the way it is now, that is a very bad thing.  If you are in the Bay Area, Long Now has a small museum in Fort Mason (and it’s next to Greens, a good restaurant!) I hope to get back there some day.

Here’s a fun interactive ethics test with Kant, Bentham, and Aristotle.  I don’t agree with how they handle some of the answers, but it’s still interesting and worth a look.

What are the most lethal three words on earth?  “It’s a girl.”

Francis Ford Coppola asks “Should art be free?”

A natural law argument (basically…) against 3D movies!  I love it.

I like this guy.  He irks both “conservative” and “liberal” Catholics, and has fun doing it.  Here he takes on some bad moral theology: unless the pope infallibly condemns a specific act, it’s okay, right?  Wrong.

Distributism.  What, you don’ t know about the economic system called distributism?  Well, now you do.  Check out the website, and this fun article about starting up your own local currency!

The ruins of Detroit: decay as spectacle.  I have always found ruins to have a moral quality, in that they have a mortal quality.  Everything is temporary, all is destroyed.  Do well with what life you have, because someday you’ll be done.  Memento Mori.

One way trip to Mars?  Yes, ONE WAY.  No plan to retrieve you, you die on Mars.  Is it moral?  Sure; you can die on Earth or on Mars, so why not Mars?  Is it a good idea?  I think so.  I hope they get the mission going soon.

Singularitarians (the believers in the technological singularity) as spiritists trying to contact the dead.  Very interesting.

Memento Mori: Life, Death, and Time


Too sacred–for you anyway

A Minnesota Public Radio Headline from Oct. 6, 2010 read:

“Archdiocese: Communion too sacred to be used as protest”

The article goes on to describe how Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Twin Cities denied communion to over 20 individuals including students, nuns, and a priest who wore rainbow buttons or ribbons to Mass in support of LGBTQIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Questioning) church members.  The Archbishop and the Diocese made a two-fold argument for denying the group a central sacrament in the Catholic Church.

Part 1: Church is no place for politics.

Part 2: (as the article title suggests) The sacrament of communion is too sacred to be used as a site of protest.

What the archdiocese seemed to leave out of their argument is the implicit Part 3 of their argument: Parts 1 and 2 hold true only when those initiating the action are a subordinated group in the Church. In order to see the dependency of Parts 1 & 2 on part 3, let’s look a bit closer at these two arguments. Continue reading