Congress went on recess over the Easter holiday. It was the first time many members had been back in their districts since the House of Representatives passed a budget plan that, among other things, changes Medicare from a guaranteed benefit for seniors into a voucher program. Those who voted for the proposal, including its author, Rep. Paul Ryan, got an earful from voters on the subject.
Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett has an op-ed at USAToday about the upcoming Supreme Court case on the ministerial exception for civil rights laws. This is a dicey subject but I mostly agree with Garnett. Too often secular liberals warn that any public pronouncements by religiously motivated leaders risks dismantling the deparation of Church and State, a position that is mostly nonsense. But, this really is a case of separation of Church and State and, as Garnett rightly argues, the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom should be upheld broadly by the Court.
The blogging Cardinal Archbishop of Boston has posted his Chrism Mass homily. (You have to scroll down a bit to get to it.) It is a delight, with a couple of very good jokes and a happy reference to a book by my colleague at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, Father Eugene Hemrick. Hearing this homily, it is easy to see how Cardinal Sean has turned things around in Boston. We need more bishops like him.
Ben Smith and Byron Tau have a great article up at Politico about the origins of birtherism, the obviously false belief that President Obama was not born in the United States and is, therefore, ineligible to be President. The answer may surprise: This particular fantasy began on the left, not the right. The full expose is worth a read.
Let it be said: Conspiracy theories are not the provenance of any particular political ideology. They cater to a cast of mind that is as often found among liberals as conservatives. The difference - and it is an important one - is that prominent liberal politicians tend not to embrace such foolishness while several prominent conservatives continue to wink at the birthers and their ridiculous claims.
Repeating a lie does not wiggle it into a truth. But that doesn't stop some conservatives from endlessly repeating demonstrable falsehoods in their effort to shape public debate. Jonathan Chait at TNR gives the latest example here.
A new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute indicates that Christians in America are more ambivalent about capitalism then is commonly thought. Among other findings, 46% of Christians think capitalism is incompatible with Christian values against only 38% percent who perceive them as compatible. You can find the full report here.
I suspect that these views need some qualification. Modern, spread eagle capitalism, with its biases towards high finance, is rightly viewed as repugnant to Christian values. I do not think most Christians object to a neighborhood man-and-pop store. And, capitalism, like democracy, is probably, to paraphrase Churchill, the worst form of economic governance except every other form. Still, it is good to discern in the results the Christian insight that a selfishness that has become mutual is not the same thing as mutual generosity.
Mark Silk, at Spiritual Politics, offers his always thoughtful take on the findings here.
If Good Friday represented mankind’s verdict on Jesus and his claims, Easter provides us with God’s verdict. It was startling and perplexing then and it is startling and perplexing now: The Crucified Lives. The witnesses to the Resurrection were, perhaps, more startled by the fact of resurrected life while we later Christians are more perplexed, still, by the fact that Jesus was crucified. But, this is the Easter proclamation: The Crucified Lives! Not just anyone triumphed over death, but the one who was crucified. The one whom mankind killed, he has been raised up.
The problem with knowing the end of the story in advance is that it is too easy to critique the actions of the participants who did not know how the story would end. And, for a story that his been around a long time, different parts of the story become linked with elements in the ambient culture. And, finally, if these barriers keep us from inserting ourselves into the story, we can appreciate the narrative, but we can’t really make it our own, the story can’t become decisive for us, only for the protagonists. All three of these issues warrant attention as we consider Good Friday.
The editors of the Tablet (in London, not Brooklyn) have a fine editorial criticizing the French government's appeal to its far right fringe by banning the wearing of the veil by Muslim women. As the editors note, the policy stands in a long line of French anti-religious policies. The laic laws of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were targeted mostly at Catholics. Today, they are targeted as Muslims. They are just as ugly now as they were in the time of the Third Republic.
With all the focus on the need to lower the federal deficit, which focus is understandable, the March jobs' report got a little lost. The unemployment rate dipped again, to 8.8 percent, down one-tenth of a percentage point as the economy again added more than 200,000 jobs. Lord knows, there need to be yet more jobs created, but businesses remain wary of the economic recovery and are slow to hire in an uncertain economy.
But, we should not confuse the long-term uncertainty over the deficit with the immediate concern over the economy, except to note that the best thing we can do to improve the long-term deficit projections is get the economy moving again. It is moving slowly, but it is at long last moving in the right direction.