Douglas Farrow. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Farrow’s thoughts won’t make for a better country

By  Fr. Paul Hansen, Catholic Register Special
  • September 5, 2015

Desiring a Better Country: Forays in Political Theology by Douglas Farrow (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 192 pages, softcover, $29.95)

As Douglas Farrow’s Desiring a Better Country: Forays in Political Theology arrived on my desk, I was in a conversation about whether we still live in a nation state or a corporate state. If in a corporate state, what does this say about democracy and the role left to us, the citizens of international free trade agreements? Are we just spectators to the drama being played out between Greece and the European Union?

Farrow maintains Christianity is a very political religion “whose builder and maker is God.” There is a hope in his thinking that the “city of God will come within the city of man.”

Desiring a Better Country “is a collection of individual essays rather than a single treatise,” writes Farrow. He adds, as an appendix, his expert witness report on the recently concluded Loyola High School v. Quebec Supreme Court case.

This conservative professor’s first essay asks “Can We Have Human Rights Without God?” If God is dead or irrelevant what are human rights based on? The Declaration of Human Rights as defined by the United Nations in Paris in 1948 did not reference God in order to bring the communists on side. If human rights do not reflect God’s rights or natural law, then whose definition of the human applies?

The author attacks same-sex marriage in chapter two. He quotes British common law in defining marriage — “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.” He maintains that with a change in the definition of marriage we have changed the definition of the human. “We have created a new anthropology,” he writes. The definition now operative in Canada does away with elements of the Christian definition, i.e. procreation. Farrow sees homosexuality as a problem that undermines the nature of human sexuality.

He maintains we are living in a world of pluralism. “The very suggestion that incompatible beliefs can be equally valuable and equally true is an absurdity,” he claims. And so we have a society where competing visions of human dignity are evident. He suggests that “we have tried to make plurality itself the very basis of unity, which cannot be done.” He asks, “What is the role of natural law in a deep pluralism?” He wonders whether pluralism can be given “a Christian baptism.”

Farrow goes on to ask, “Does it still make sense to speak of religious freedom?” He argues that freedom of conscience or freedom of religion has no place in a society that defines itself as secular. This chapter brought my memory back to the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York. In solidarity with the United States, more than a quarter of a million people gathered in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. When asked why no religious presence was highlighted, Sheila Copps, then Minister of Culture and Deputy Prime Minister, is reported to have said: “We no longer live in a Christian country.”

Farrow further ponders “Catholics and the neutral state.” Basic to Christianity has been the “doctrine of the two.”

“Two there are, insisted the Pope to the Emperor by which this world is chiefly ruled — the sacred authority of the priest and the royal power. Of the two that of the priest is more important, for a judgment must be made to the divine.” Catholics have a word to speak to the state. “Only God is great. God alone is the beginning and the end. God alone is the source of your authority and the foundation of your laws.”

Without God, Farrow asks, “What is justice? What is liberty? What kind of equality are we talking about?”

It seems to me that the reflections of Farrow are only possible if we believe in God. While God is one, this begs the question, as of the human, whose definition of God do we use? He is suggesting, I think, that desiring a better country is possible only if the city of man is open and models itself after the city of God. He asks, “How do we craft positive law to reflect natural law?”

In a secular pluralistic society such as Canada, the task and thesis of Desiring a Better Country may be a very high mountain to climb.

Reading this book brought me back to my early years in philosophical and theological academia. The world of his language and concepts does not exist any more, especially in the West. He is trying to speak to a world that has changed. He is not relating to human research and experience.

What does Farrow mean by natural law? He gives no definition. His reflection on homosexuality and same-sex marriage is foreign to recent science and psycho-sociological discoveries. To argue it is not possible to have human rights without a belief in God does not pass muster. What does he mean by the city of God? Or freedom and conscience?

It is fair to say we all wish for a better country, but Farrow’s arguments do not help us in this endeavour. I believe in God and the Beatitudes of Jesus the Christ. Farrow’s text is not helpful in our pursuit.

(Hansen is a Redemptorist priest and founder of the Biblical Justice Consultancy.)

Comments (2)

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Natural law in Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si: "Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more...

Natural law in Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si: "Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment." (155)

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Maureen
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Douglas Farrow is no doubt speaking of the natural law that the Catholic Church speaks of in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. See here for a definition: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a1.htm
Every Catholic...

Douglas Farrow is no doubt speaking of the natural law that the Catholic Church speaks of in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. See here for a definition: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a1.htm
Every Catholic should know this.

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Maureen
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