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I want to live. I want to be. I want to live and you must be in a relationship with me in order for that to be a possibility.

In other words the Christian moral life is lived out in a relational encounter with each other, making claims on each other. But what is the claim that God has made upon us in Jesus Christ? According to Niebuhr, it is to live in a fitting relationship with the God who has acted upon us in all things as a God of grace and mercy.

Grace and mercy define the divine human encounter for both Barth and for Niebuhr. It is therefore a claim of reciprocity by which we ourselves as Christians take up that claim as our own. And now we try to think of all our actions as having this character of being responses, answers to actions upon us. So grace and mercy define the Christian attitude toward the inter-human encounter with each other — but that sounds so hopeful.

Jürgen Habermas

And as humans, there are encounters and experiences we have with each other that drive us to the point that we want to kill each other, literally. We are making all kinds of claims upon us. Among the deep symbols he wants to think about is the symbol of love, really nice in a post-modern, post-Christian age. He wants to think about justice.

How can we renew our interest in justice, education and beauty? Who wants to talk about beauty when I have children to feed? How elite these symbols sound. They poison. They poisoned when they made the ultimate basis on how we organize the inter-human encounter.

Gene Expression

They poisoned the deeply inter-human encounter. They poison our abilities to recognize, to respect each other. They poison even the human subject himself and herself. What we really want is exact retribution. But vengeance has deeply rooted human possibilities in the inter-human exchange.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

It raises its head all the time in all shapes and forms. And, folks, I feel so ambiguous. I can imagine this possibility even for me, professor of Christian ethics, who wants to talk about love, forgiveness and mercy. When I see that picture of what we can do, the possibilities of what we can do to each other, yes, I want the same thing for those men. When I think of Matthew Shepherd, what crime did he commit? What did he do to deserve his death?

All he did was live out a possibility that even Barth denies to him, the possibility of living out a sexual life free to himself, free to express, denied because he was gay, left on a fence to die.

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace

When I think of the World Trade massacre, yes, forgiveness, love and mercy seem to difficult and my Christian conscience when I think of the thousands and thousands who were deprived of life in the disaster, the pain, the irreparable pain, pain to families and the like, my heart cries out for — I want to say justice but I think in a deep moment when I think forget about it, get those bastards. Kenneth Anthony Weary, the young black man minding his own business, picked up by two youths, taken in a station wagon, beaten unconscious.

They left him on the road for dead. They ran over his face or his body and it would not be recognizable. The things we can inflict on each other do arise, give the possibility for vengeance in my Christian soul, but then there is justice. We have a necessity for justice and we have a necessity for committing justice into the hands of those who are responsible for meting justice and punishment in a just and fitting manner. This brings me back to Niebuhr again. There is one other reason that I feared coming back to Barth — Barth still preaches. Now, I wish I made that up because it sounds so good, but it really is, from my point of view, an inference from the God who commands and from a life of Christian responsibility lived in relationship to the gracious acts of God upon us.

He teaches courses on the death penalty at the Notre Dame Law School.

Marriage of Mary To Joseph the Carpenter & More

Let me throw out a caveat to begin: I had a late night last night with two very sick babies, so if I start muttering about veggie tales or singing Old Macdonald to you I hope you understand. Thank you very much, colleagues and Professor Elshtain. A lot of my fellow panelists are people who over the years have taught me a great deal about things like the role of the lawyer and the rule of law and the gift and the content and the challenge of my Christian faith.

I expect to continue to learn from them and from you all today. Let me begin on maybe sort of a personal note. I get to do this in a community of colleagues and students who understand that part of our mission is to inspire and challenge, if we can, young lawyers to carry their faith with them from this community into the public square. Now, on top of all this I represent a young man in Arizona who was sentenced to death 14 years ago now for his involvement in the murder of a police officer.

But enough of that.

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One of the questioners reminded us earlier this morning that the dominant anthropology today is really reeling from the effects of this eclipse of transcendence. Now, those of you who are familiar with the conventions of the academy and particularly with the peculiar habits of law professors were probably not surprised to see that I gave my remarks this cryptic and ponderous title.

I just hope you noticed though that there was a colon in there. That is essential to the success of any law publication effort. In other words, if, as I believe, we are called as religious believers to bear witness to the truth and to this thing called the dignity of the human person, then what exactly is it that we should be saying in the context of the capital punishment debate? The talk has three parts and I hope they tie together. First, I want to talk briefly about what I take to be the premise of the conference and indeed of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life itself, namely the proposition that arguments and expressions of religious believers and communities have a place and should be welcome in the public square of civil society.

These arguments are, in my view, misplaced but they require a response. Next, having convinced you I hope that we have something to say, that religion has a contribution to make, I want to offer for your consideration my thoughts about what that contribution might be.

My sense is that such an account is too often missing from the capital punishment debate and that the debate suffers from its absence. Finally, and although I have to admit this part of the talk has been preempted in a sense by some of the wonderful talks that have gone before, I want to try to connect these admittedly somewhat general observations about religious freedom and anthropology to the question of the death penalty and particularly this notion of retribution. The front burner debate and one of the areas in which I teach and write, this law and religion, for lack of a better term, concerns the extent to which the contemporary liberal state can, should or must allow religiously grounded arguments into the public square, and this is a debate obviously in which many of my fellow conference speakers are prominent participants.

Now, thankfully the constitutional law dealing with religious freedom and expression has, in my view anyway, come a long way in the ten years since Carter wrote this book. There is in the courts — and maybe even in the culture — a greater appreciation for the fact that the separation of church and state does not entail, does not require the banishment of faith from civil society. I use it anyway.

AD Harris/Murray/Peterson Discussion: London

Still, even a cursory survey of the law reviews and the latest academic press releases confirms that there remain those who insist in the tradition of Rawls and Bruce Ackerman and others that a tolerant and liberal democracy requires a naked public square. People who insist that one of the demands of good citizenship is that we check faith at the door of public debate, that believers translate their arguments into more accessible terms, into the jargon of public reason, that all policy proposals and enactments have a strictly secular rationale and are not justified with respect to any comprehensive world view, and that religious conviction is kept in the purely private arena.

Indeed, there are those who argue that these kinds of exclusionary decrees are not just a matter of taste, good taste but a matter of constitutional law.

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Dean Kathleen Sullivan of Stanford has argued quite forcibly that — this is an intriguing interpretation — the Establishment Clause not only got the government out of the business of running churches, it got the government into the business of affirmatively maintaining the secular character of our public debate. The Establishment Clause in a way is sort of a rule of discussion rather than a structural rule of government.

In her view, it sets the ground rules and one of those rules is that faith is a matter for home and hearth alone. It seems, not wanting to be uncharitable, that for him religion is a divisive and dangerous thing, a force that while I suppose it has to be tolerated, should certainly be feared and restrained. If we push too far the notion that in order to be acceptable public fare every religious claim must be secularized, we simply wind up depluralizing our polity. We end up eradicating the pluralism that we in other contexts celebrate.

So these illiberal demands that religious believers retreat from civil society are thankfully increasingly rejected in the courts as well. I remain cautiously optimistic that this course will continue with the Cleveland School Voucher case, which is before the Court next month. My hope is that that case will give the Court and the justices a chance to bury for good this idea that religious schools and religious communities are somehow unworthy participants in the public enterprise of education.

Well, my claim is that the misguided assertion that religion and faith-based argument have no place in public deliberation reflects not only a misunderstanding about liberal democracy and it reflects not only a misunderstanding about religion itself, but it also reflects at the most basic level an anthropological mistake, a mistake about human freedom and the human person and about what it means to be a person. This misguided view depends on a particular picture of the person in which the person is this kind of autonomous, self-governing, decontextualized monad kind of bouncing around in the universe.

This richer account is grounded not on the lonely sovereignty of the individual as autonomous self but on the dignity and the transcendent destiny of the person as child and creature of God. There seems to be an increased recognition that, as John Paul II the put it, a society or culture that wishes to survive cannot declare the spiritual dimension of the human person to be irrelevant to public life. My hope is that we can make a similar contribution as religious believers in communities and with similar effect when it comes to capital punishment.

I asked earlier about the distinctive contribution that we could make. I happen to think it should be much higher.

Is that something I can speak to as a religious believer? When does the Constitution require an instruction that the alternative to a death sentence is life without parole? I love teaching that stuff. I think our goal should be to fill it. You might be wondering, what is this notion of moral anthropology? It sounds like a buzzword that this guy keeps talking about. And why does he think it matters?