Friday, March 28, 2008

Abstinence-only sex ed and personal vs. public justification revisited

Upon rereading my original post on abstinence-only sex education and whether or not it is justifiable as public policy, I realized that I may have seemed a bit muddled on a few things - or at least not crystal clear. So, below are a few clarifications. The original post can be found here.

First clarification: I do not deny anywhere that faith represents a form of knowledge and/or justification. In fact, the second half of part two of my original post addresses that form of knowledge. The argument is that such knowledge is inherently personal, not externally verifiable, and not transferable to a third party. The entire idea of listening with the heart, rather than the ears, seems premised on that fact and most mystic documents (including Christian mystics) confirm the indescribability of such experiences.

Second clarification: My point in part 3 is that there is a fundamental conflict between a freedom-promoting state (including religious protections) and forging a policy based on the beliefs of a portion of its members. Consequently, to argue that the Catholic values must drive state policy is to undermine the very justification of the representative state, and to implicitly argue in favor of a theocracy. You may wish to argue for a theocracy, which is a perfectly valid theological and philosophical position, albeit one that I disagree with - as have many Christians throughout history (Dante and Dino Compangi both spring to mind here). Furthermore, I think you would struggle to find a convincing justification of a theocratic state in the scriptures (although some justification is in Catholic tradition, beginning with Augustine).

Final clarification: Nothing that I outlined in the original e-mail is intended to argue that you or the church should curtail your actions in any way. The state is also philosophically prevented from ordering you to promote (or even provide) condoms in a religious institution/education program. The same should hold for Catholic schools, particularly those that do not receive funding from the state (I think, by and large, there are exceptions written into the laws and the courts have created space for this). Nor do I suggest that you stop trying to convert people - although I doubt that the public chastisement of others is the way most effective way to go about it. The state properly has no role in preventing such a discourse and should encourage such discussions to the greatest extent possible. One of the major, founding points of the modern state is to make it so that giving to Caesar does not conflict (or conflicts as little as possible) with giving to God.

Conclusion: In essence, all I am arguing is that the state is definitionally not Catholic (or Muslim, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.). Thus, justification for public, state-run policies requires justification that is objectively verifiable. Faith-experience does not meet this criterion, as many of its own proponents admit. Thus, while it can provide personal justification (i.e. justification for all of my actions), it cannot provide public/state justification (in a non-theocracy). The argument is based on the epistemic sources of justification for both (1) Christian morality and (2) public policy in a pluralist state - and I find an inherent logical conflict/contradiction in merging the two. The consequence of my argument is that for public policy to be based on ANY theology, one must live in a theocracy - either de facto or de jure.