May 14th, 2010

Why all those SCOTUS Catholics and Jews?

Orin Kerr notes at that Kagan’s likely confirmation will mean that the Supreme Court will be entirely composed of Catholics and Jews, with no Protestant representation at all. Kerr has no overarching theory about this, except for the obvious one that Jews have been numerous in the legal profession and in liberal circles, and so it is hardly surprising that they would constitute the bulk of the Court’s left, despite their small numbers in the general population.

I agree; plus I would add that the Judaism itself has a long and illustrious legal tradition in general, from Leviticus to the Talmud and beyond.

But what about those Catholics? Kerr advances the following tentative idea, which sounds reasonable to me:

One possible hypothesis is that this is an indirect consequence of Roe. Given the Catholic church’s strong pro-life position, and the fact that Supreme Court nominees are not directly asked their view of such matters, affiliation with the Catholic church may be seen by Republican Administrations and conservative judicial groups as signaling a likelihood of a nominee’s view toward abortion rights while not providing any direct evidence that could itself cause controversy (given the wide range of views on abortion among self-identified Catholics).

So far I haven’t found any figures on whether Catholics are more likely than Protestants to go into law and the judiciary. But I note another statistic, most probably irrelevant but intriguing nonetheless: Jews and Catholics seem to have some sort of special linkage/relationship as compared to Jews and Protestants. It is a strange and little-remarked-on reality that Jews who marry Christians tend to marry Catholics disproportionately. The fictional “Abie’s Irish Rose” and TV’s “Bridget Loves Bernie” were popular demonstrations of this phenomenon. The Supreme Court appears to be no exception, although it’s hardly a love match between the liberal Jews and the mostly-conservative Catholics on its bench.

[NOTE: Here’s a much more serious exploration of the Christian denominations of SCOTUS Justices thoughout our history, containing the following interesting facts:

Throughout the court’s history, some groups—notably Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Unitarians, and Jews—have been significantly overrepresented in comparison to their prevalence in the American population, while other groups have been significantly underrepresented. Though Baptists constitute the country’s largest Protestant group, there have been just three Baptist justices. The second-largest Protestant group, Methodists, have supplied only five. There has never been a Pentecostal justice, despite that movement’s explosive growth since the Azusa Street Revival of 1906…

The mismatch between Supreme Court members and average Americans is in part an example of the generally non-representational nature of elites, even in the supposedly egalitarian United States. From the late eighteenth to the middle of the twentieth century, a white Protestant establishment held sway, as Congregationalists (the heirs of the New England Puritans), Episcopalians, and Presbyterians pretty much ran the country and the rest of America’s Christians pretty much let them. Unitarians, who controlled Harvard, got to participate heavily in governance as well, despite the fact that most Americans considered them heretics. The revivalist traditions that caught fire in the nineteenth century, including Baptists, Methodists, and Disciples of Christ, rapidly outstripped the establishment churches in membership but never overtook them in terms of cultural power. Evangelicals, for the most part descendents of the revivalists, have enjoyed even less access to the country’s most exclusive halls of power, including the Supreme Court, the Senate, and the presidential offices at Ivy League universities.

The makeup of the current Supreme Court also reflects trends peculiar to jurisprudence. Judaism and Catholicism have extremely long and rich legal traditions, while Protestantism generally, and evangelicalism specifically, does not. ]

46 Responses to “Why all those SCOTUS Catholics and Jews?”

  1. Sergey Says:

    Catholicism also has exellent educational institutions of traditional humanitarian education, with curriculum most needed for legal scholarship: Latin, foreign languges, history. This is an obvious advantage and stimulus to chose this kind of career.

  2. expat Says:

    Sergey, there is also philosophy and theology. I had 4 courses in each in my rather average Catholic college way back when. Even in high school we had a logic course because our principal decided we had a little too much free time senior year and we could devote a little of it to learning about the square of opposition. Smart people so trained can get hooked on that type of thinking. You always got points for being able to take down heretical arguments.

  3. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    This is my wheelhouse, but I will try to keep it short.

    The Jewish-Catholic connection is a city, especially New York, connection. In WWII, Jews in the armed services were shocked to find that most of the Christians in America were not Catholic. With its strong ethnic flavors, Catholicism was still dominant in the cities, Protestants in small town and rural areas. (African-Americans were a notable exception to this.) As the suburbs grew, the lines became less distinct, but still remained. Also, WASPy hospitals sometimes resisted taking on Jewish doctors, who found themselves more welcome at Catholic hospitals.

    As to the Protestant denominations, the list you give shows a strong East Coast vs. Heartland division. The Congregationalists and Episcopalians (plus Quakers, Unitarians, and some Presbyterians) settled the East Coast and remained dominant there. The denominations that grew in the 19th C tended to grow on the frontier and near-frontiers. Those stressed a more portable, Bible rather than liturgical, Christianity which spread more easily west of the Appalachias. So we are seeing yet another example of Ivy-league bias with this.

  4. vanderleun Says:

    Why more Catholics in law? One thing that occurs to me would be — Jesuits and the tradition of the Ratio Studiorum, a very early and rigorous method of teaching that would seem to be particularly suited to the study of law.

    Although not all Catholics are Jesuits, all Jesuits are etc… and the influence of the Society of Jesus permeates all Catholic schools from elementary through graduate studies. Today’s version of the Ratio Studiorum is much more rigorous when it comes to training the intellect than one is likely to find in Baptist educational realm or even in Protestant ones.

    But even though the Catholics and the Jews compose the court the other side of the coin is that these justices come overwhelmingly from Harvard and Yale so, in a sense, the currently degraded form of Protestantism does have a kind of stealth (or not so stealth) influence after all.

    In sum I’d say that Catholics via the Jesuits share a host of traits with Jews when it comes to serious intellectual study and currently simply produce minds more suited to law than the silly Protestants of today.

  5. Artfldgr Says:

    Like small j Jews, there are a lot of small c Catholics

    a small P protestant would be a secular person and not bother to relate to something they don’t practice.

    also small J and small C tend to oppose what they are or claim to be… they tend to be J or C in name only as being an Atheist gets them nowhere…

    they are pragmatically religious so as to play the people better.

  6. LAG Says:

    Has an argument ever been put forward that the Court ought or ought not look like America? It seems pretty clear to me that it looks nothing like the country as a whole, but I can’t tell if that’s necessarily a good thing or not. Congress doesn’t look much like America either, and we can see how that’s worked out. But the Court has a different function. Thoughts?

  7. Curtis Says:

    The Jews and Catholics are two groups with a long enough history where a habit and practice has started to become embedded in their genetic code, ie., the Baldwin effect. Of course this applies to not the whole group but only those family lines and/or people inheriting the particular genetic code.

    Which is to say pretty much the same thing vanderleun said in his last paragraph.

  8. Perfected democrat Says:


    Speaking as one of the (apparently) 22% of Jews who didn’t vote for B.O. (and personally have nothing but contempt for the Dems, generally, these days), I would feel more comfortable with a court that reflects the authentic diversity of America; not that there need be rigid/explicit quotas, etc. But some of my best friends just happen to be, after all, WASPs …. If, following the first NY Trade Center attack, and in view of the general vitriol long emanating from the islamic world; there had been just a little more unapologetic “profiling” going on that particularly important September 10th, we would all be “getting along” a little better these days; and something about an ounce of prevention is probably never being given its due….

  9. Perfected democrat Says:

    Oops, an ounce of prevention is probably never given its due….

  10. Alex Bensky Says:

    Perfected Dem, welcome to the club; I’m also a Jew and a former Democratic activist, who didn’t vote for the One and over a year later feels not a smidgen of guilt.

    I think the entire Supreme Court consists of Harvard and Yale law graduates. So much for diversity; I can see why, perhaps,we don’t have any justices from the law school at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, but no one from, say, Columbia, Chicago, Duke or even myalma mater, Michigan, is qualified?

    Diversity, as usual, is a scam…people who look different from have similar life experiences and backgrounds.

  11. Mike Mc. Says:

    A Catholic has fifty times more feeling of being free than a man caught in the net of the nervous compromises of Anglicanism; just as a man considering all England feels more free than a man obeying the Whips in one particular party. He has a range of more than two thousand years full of twelve-hundred thousand controversies, thrashed out by thinker against thinker, school against school, guild against guild, nation against nation, with no limit except the fundamental logical fact that the things were worth arguing, because they could be ultimately solved and settled. As for Reason, our monopoly is practically admitted in the modern world…nothing except Rome now defends the reliability of Reason. – G.K. Chesterton

    Some comments in no particular order.

    1. This was true then, and even truer now. No faith, or even science, really believes in Reason much anymore.

    Catholics, in the main, still do.

    My theory is that this attribute seems like a natural gift or affinity for Catholics to non-Catholics who have banished Reason and yet subconsciously know it is needed. The Catholic is both in theory, and in fact, the best possible Justice. The Jew is the best too – and I mean that just as I said it. No other faith is even remotely “good” by comparison. (I stress that I mean this to refer to ‘now’ where in the past some residue of Catholicism lingered in Protestants and in culture for centuries.

    2. I also find it interesting and somehow true that Chesterton speaks of the individual Catholic (or Jew, Atheist, Socialist, Secularist, Protestant) as actually having the soul/mind/rationality of the collective group. Thus, “the Catholic” (whomever) has a 2000 year memory and training in things intellectual. Exactly correct, with the exceptions proving the rule.

    3. The above may be offensive to some; or hugely disagreeable to others. I am so much in an anti-PC mood these days that I have to say I don’t care much. I’d rather imitate the great Catholic thinkers of the ages and argue about it, rather than worry about being insensitive. So if this upsets you, I’m not sorry. Rather the opposite. If it upsets you, you were meant to be upset and should engage the topic and that 2000 year old brain. Anyway, I have provocative Chesterton quotes out the whazoo these days. Cheers.

  12. reader Says:

    > an example of the generally non-representational nature of elites

    > Evangelicals, for the most part descendents of the revivalists, have enjoyed even less *access* to the country’s most exclusive halls of power, including the Supreme Court, the Senate, and the presidential offices at Ivy League universities

    Well, perhaps. The revivalist/pentecostal/evangelical tradition cited by the author is *culturally* very different from both the Catholic (especially Jesuit) and Jewish traditions. Both the Catholic and Jewish traditions, as well as the older Puritan-descended traditions (older in the US), placed very high value on education, and higher education. The revivalist Protestant tradition has *chosen* to be largely anti-intellectual for much of its history. If you choose an anti-intellectual path and then complain that intellectual subjects like law are “closed” to you — well, I don’t have a lot of sympathy.

    Are there individual exceptions? Of course. But the issue at hand is statistical patterns, not individual exceptions.

  13. jon baker Says:

    Mike Mc says: “The Catholic is both in theory, and in fact, the best possible Justice. The Jew is the best too – and I mean that just as I said it. No other faith is even remotely “good” by comparison. (I stress that I mean this to refer to ‘now’ where in the past some residue of Catholicism lingered in Protestants and in culture for centuries.”

    Tell that to the victims of the Spanish Inquisition.

  14. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    vanerleun, curtis, and Mike Mc. You have put forth theories of why, if it is true that Catholics are better at this legal stuff, they should be so. But that they are better is not established. Your argument is equivalent to saying that there must be many Catholics in Romania because they speak a Romance language descended from Latin. Without having established that there are many Catholics in Romania – in fact there are not – explanations as to why they would be there are not meaningful.

    I love GKC and just wrote an entire series on him a month ago, but quotes like the above display his great weakness. He asserts things he believes should be true as if they are true. I very often agree with him, and believe he has found a true insight. But in few places does he actually prove his point – he cites evidence that indicates how it might be true. Not the same thing. An extreme of the argument, chosen not to compare but startle with vividness, is the Moslem claim that they do not oppress women because the Koran states that women are equal, just different. That just doesn’t hold with the data.

    I read a great many Catholic writers and some are marvelously reasonable. I do not doubt that there are many excellent Catholic legal scholars, researchers, doctors, whatever. That these writers, researchers, lawyers, and doctors are superior to their secular, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox counterparts I have seen no evidence for.

    Unsurprisingly, I like my above argument better.

    As to the Jews, there is a more economical explanation that covers more of the data. Ashkenazi Jews have IQ’s 1SD above average, and they have excelled in many fields. Sephardic and Oriental Jews do not show that increase and they do not show that enormous excellence. Yet they also have the same tradition of study and lawgiving. If it were the tradition that made the better legal scholars, the Sephardic and Oriental Jews should show it equally. They do not.

    As to being PC about it, I have great sympathy that RC’s are beleaguered on PC issues and must grow weary of the defense. But that is not evidence that they are correct, only evidence that they are unfairly – and often stupidly – accused.

  15. Perfected democrat Says:

    “But the issue at hand is statistical patterns, not individual exceptions.”

    From Outside the Beltway:

    “In fact, six of the nine justices on the current court are Roman Catholic. That’s half of the 12 Catholics who have ever served on the court. Only seven Jews have ever served, and two of them are there now. Depending on the Stevens replacement, there may be no Protestants left on the court at all in a majority Protestant nation where, for decades and generations, all of the justices were Protestant.”

    Something about the thin line between “statistical patterns” versus garden variety stereotyping….

  16. Perfected democrat Says:

    That’s 8 currently (41.1%) of the 19 (17.1%) of 111 total justices in just over 21 decades of the history of the republic…

  17. Beverly Says:

    They’re All Ivy Leaguers, and they’re All Yankees.

    The Northeast still runs the corridors of power. And Protestants (I’m an Episcopalian myself) are thin on the ground up here. The local news thinks that all Christians are Catholic, apparently.

    In the Southeast, 95% of the Christians are Protestant. In New York, it’s practically the reverse.

  18. Sergey Says:

    The main tool of judical reasoning is logic, and this discipline was historically perfected by scholastic studies within Catholic church. It culminated in the works of greatest theologican in history, Thomas Aquinat. In modern world logic is absent from cirruculum of the most educational institutions, except Jesuit colleges. The only two types of specialists study it seriously: mathematicians and lawers. No wonder that well-educated Catholics so disproportionally represented in law schools.
    There is a very strong anti-scholastic, anti-rationalist and even anti-intellectualistic impulse in the heart of Protestantism. The ultimate theological argument of Luther: “On this I stand, and can’t do otherwise” is not exactly an example of logical argumentation.

  19. expat Says:

    Avi, I wouldn’t argue that Catholics are better at legal thinking. What I would say is that classic Catholic education in the US exposed many people to philosophical thinking at a time when it was being replaced by modern sociology in most schools. That a certain percentage of Catholic students were able to apply this type of thinking to the study of law doesn’t surprise me.

    Take the case of liberation theology: The Vatican’s stand against this movement within its own flock gave Catholics something they had to think about–sort of a you are with us or you are with the enemy situation. I doubt that many did so at a very high level, but the thinkers had something serious to chew on. It was one way of training the mind, but certainly not the only one. Serious engagement with the Founders’ beliefs is pretty mind stretching.

    What we are now seeing may be a temporary effect of the Catholic educational system’s conservative stance in the postwar era. Then you went to Catholic schools because you were Catholic. Today, Catholics study where they want and non-Catholics may go to Catholic schools because they still teach phonics. Ethnic and religious differences in outcome may diminish as our focus moves to educational philosophy. I would love to see a very big tent resisting the social justice self esteem dominance we have today.

  20. expat Says:

    One more thing: In Germany, religious education takes place primarily in the public schools, with the teachers and curriculum determined by the churches (Muslims are trying to get into this system, and nonreligious in some places have the option of a generic ethics course). My impression is that the theological and philosophical bars are set pretty low and that social justice themes are big. I see far fewer Germans than Americans who can recognize philosophical principles underlying local government/world government debates.

    For instance, just this week President Koehler spoke at the ceremony for a new judge taking a seat on the high court. He admonished the public to take responsibility for solving problems in the political arena and not to push this responsibilty onto the courts. In America, very many people would understand his warning, but I doubt that most Germans did. There is a tendency to see courts and international bodies as infallible. I think this is connected to a least common denominator approach to differences within the educational system. A little more argument over Acquinas vs Luther would do the country good.

  21. Artfldgr Says:

    Tea party: Dark side of conservatism

    Can someone explain why making rampant false connections and outright lies not actionable in some way?
    and perhaps point out that the professor ideas and social programming is closer to anti semite Nazi (nationalizer) Coughlins social justice, than the tea party is close to the John Birchers. Nazi heidegger would concur to the professor. so smartly stupid to separate what cant be separated, to think one can make a one sided coin just because one can speak it.

  22. Oblio Says:

    Lots of good ideas here. Allow me to chip in another couple of thoughts of a sociological and economic nature.

    1. There is a process of social pressure and selection at work. A tremendous amount of effort goes into steering bright young Jews and Catholics into the Professions as an appropriate career for people who are long on brains but short on capital.

    2. The legal profession is attractive for talkers and arguers. The reasoning required and prized is semantic/symbolic in nature. Thus the law as a profession is attractive for highly intelligent students who are more verbal than mathematic.

    3. The intricacies of the law are most developed and most important in urban settings where there is a high likelihood of transactions and conflicts with strangers. these conflicts are both commercial and political. In the absence of other means of mediating conflicts, there is a lot of value in being extremely adept in the intricacies of the law, and a lot of demand for such service. It requires a lot of law in the city to prevent conflicts from spilling over into violence, which would make the city ungovernable.

    If we combine these factors, we find a distinctive large supply of highly talented and motivated verbal reasoners in an environment full of conflict where there is a high value placed on being the most adept at using the law for practical advantage. Under these circumstances, we would expect competitive pressures to produce a large and disproportionate number of extremely able legal minds.

    Paul Mirengoff’s quip (I think it was Mirengoff) that Kagan would give us a lot more diversity on the Court (“We would have a liberal justice from Brooklyn, from the Bronx, and from Manhattan”) goes to the heart of the matter.

  23. Artfldgr Says:

    maybe its that protestants dont think the way that the other two do… after all, its hard to find smart people this stupid

    Woody Allen: “It Would Be Good If Obama Could Be a Dictator for a Few Years”

  24. Scott Says:

    While it’s true most of the Catholic Supreme Court justices are on the conservative wing of the court, but not, not all of them have been. Sotomayer, for example, is a Catholic who is likely going to side with the liberal wing of the court on most of the issues that come before her during her tenure.

    However, none of the Jews who have ever been confirmed to the SCOTUS have been conservative. Cardozo was nominated by a Republican, President Hoover, but he almost always sided with the liberal wing of the court.

  25. Little Miss Attila / Joy McCann Says:

    The Protestant tradition of solo scriptura* has cut down on extra-Biblical scholarship in non-Catholic Christian circles. Contrast this with the fact that the Roman Church is so chock-full of laws that it actually has “Canon lawyers.”

    Likewise, Jewish religious tradition is full of rules that go far beyond the Old Testament.

    I know a lot of Protestant intellectuals/scholars, but Judaism and Catholicism are still, on the whole, better training for the legal profession.

    * will someone spot me on the Latin? I grew up Protestant.

  26. Curtis Says:

    Assistant Village Idiot: Will you provide a source on two on the Ashkenazi v. Sephardic/Oriental IQ separation?

  27. jon baker Says:

    The comment award here should go to “perfected democrat” (ref 1:23 am and 1:58 am comments) for reminding us that Catholic dominance of the high Court is a rather recent thing with a short history, irregardless of what previous catholic supremist commenters seemed to be led to believe.

    We forget our own history here in the US so quickly. There was a long distrust of the Catholic Churches centralized hierachy in this Republic. JFK was the first President to overcome this to a certain degree, and that was not until the Republic was well over a century and a half old.

    Many of the early Settlers of this country remembered “justice” at the hands of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England back in their home countries.

    To get a clearer picture of our own past consider this:

    Of the 56 signers of the US Declaration of Independence, only 1 was Catholic, the rest were Protestant with a couple of Deist.

    Of the 55 Signers of the US Constitution, only 2 were Catholic, with the rest Protestant with one Deist.

    The link I include below breaks it down by name. You will find the Deist by name listed as both “Deist” and a denomination they were associated with at some point in their life. In the totals they are listed with that denomination. (I think I would have separated them into separate columns of “Deist” had I made the list- but as you know, people often change beliefs at various points in their life)

  28. Sergey Says:

    Curtis, the source you asked is here:
    More details are in “Bell Curve” of the same author.

  29. Curtis Says:

    Thank yoiu Sergey.

  30. Beverly Says:

    Thank you, Jon Baker! It’s a little, just a tad, irritating to have the founding and sustaining role of Protestant Christians in this Republic swept aside by the Johnny-come-latelies. And that we’re expected to bite our tongues and be so polite while we’re essentially rubbished by our would-be successors in the seat of power.

    After all, we threw the party that everyone else was so eager to crash.

    Good manners would indicate that a “Thanks! Well done,” at least, is in order.

  31. jon baker Says:

    I cannot help but wonder if the term “WASP” was really a early, underdeveloped version of ” bitterly clinging to theirs guns and their religion”.

  32. jon baker Says:

    lol-that would be “their” not “theirs”.

    And just for the record, of the big names in Conservative Talk radio-Rush, Beck, Hannity, Levin, and Savage – I personaly like the Catholic Hannity (though he is by no means my favorite) and the Mormon Beck (actually my favorite) and the possible Jew(?) Levin- even though I dont agree with their Theology.

  33. Mike Mc. Says:


    You assert that the assertion is a mere assertion. Therefore I shall assert that your assertion that it is a mere assertion is a mere assertion. If you win your argument; then you just lost your argument.

    What you actually just did was not engage in the argument at all; but tried to make it look as if you did.

    Of course we can’t cover the full 2000 years and the full case in this comments section. GKC could never do it in a book. The full case takes the collective reflection and experience of the 2000 years and for that we have….history.

    But the basic points are clear.

    1. The Catholic does believe in Reason. The rest of the Universe, effectively, these days does not. Save for Judaism. All the rest who believe in Reason actually believe in that Reason Catholics mean, or they don’t really believe in it. The book by Somebody Hicks on Postmodernism is a good quick reference guide to that argument.

    2. The good Justice can only really be the one who also believes in Justice, and knows what it is. This is also only the Catholic anymore. The rest of the Universe does not really believe that there is Justice in the Universe or anywhere else except…the court of law or the business end of a tank or nuclear device or bank transfer. Therefore, these people either subscribe to the Catholic view or they are playing at something else and getting praised for being good at it.

    3. The Catholic is, finally, the only really logical person left in the Universe (at this moment in history – not saying logic will not make a comeback at some point). This is because they Catholic is fundamentally defined by belief in the Logos, and that there is one. If there is a Logos in the Universe because there is a Logos behind the Universe, then there can be logic, and reason, and justice, and so on. Anything else is power, and PC – which is another word for fad and fashion, oppressive as it may be.

  34. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    expat, your argument holds except for one crucial point: Liberation theology was a Roman Catholic phenomenon to begin with. You can’t give the prize for both the foolishness of the heresy and the reasonableness of the refutation to the same student. I agree with the claim that Catholic schools are often superior to their public counterparts and teach more Western Civ. It’s a long leap from their to a claim that such a system produces a disproportionate number of RC legal scholars. If any of the commenters know of some data that Catholics are disproportionate in legal scholarship, we can then explore why that might be so. Absent that knowledge, we should not be searching for explanations of a phenomenon we are not sure exists.

    One can work backwards and make similar claims about many other groups. The Reformed tradition (and especially Calvin) is very doctrinal and precise, which means that they have disproportional representation. Lutherans (and especially Luther) were very precise in their creedal interpretation, so they must be dominant. Mohammed was a lawgiver and Islam very strict in its codes, so they must have developed a superiority. The Chinese have had an extensive system of civil law much longer than the west. The English – generally Anglican – were the undisputed leaders in legal development from 1500-1800. Founding Americans – generally Protestant or Deist – have brought the greatest legal improvements of the last 200 years.

    They can’t all be disproportionately represented, even though we could make up a theory why just about any group is over-represented. Data first. What group, if any, (other than Ashkenazi Jews) is over-represented according to the data? Then we try and figure out why.

  35. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Mike McC, just missed your post by writing mine. I will go off the top of my head.

    You wrote: “1. The Catholic does believe in Reason. The rest of the Universe, effectively, these days does not. ”

    Absolutely untrue. I believe in Reason, and I’m not Catholic. I am hardly an exception. The likely first nominees for reason within the church in the 20th C would be C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been startlingly illogical at times.

    “2. The good Justice can only really be the one who also believes in Justice, and knows what it is. This is also only the Catholic anymore. The rest of the Universe does not really believe that there is Justice in the Universe”

    Absurd. What is your evidence? That you can find various Protestants hedging on justice – I could likely find them faster – and some Catholics who don’t does not mean that any greater proportion of RC’s believe in Justice than Protestants. I am not denying a claim that some Catholics are reasonable and all should be. I am denying your Elijah-claim that there are none left but you.

    (3.) “This is because they Catholic is fundamentally defined by belief in the Logos, and that there is one.”

    So is every Christian. I see no evidence that Roman Catholics exemplify this more, nor that Catholic theology makes this more likely. You seem to be cherry-picking the best you can find among Catholics and contrasting it to the worst you can find among others. You seem to have a strong feeling or impression that Catholics adhere more strongly to reason. I submit that you have had the impression first, then gone looking for the comforting proofs of your pre-loaded opinion.

    I repeat again that I am not claiming that Roman Catholics are generally unreasonable. I am challenging the assertion that they are any more reasonable.

  36. jon baker Says:

    Assistant Village Idiot says ” I am denying your Elijah-claim that there are none left but you.”

    That cracked me up!

    One among seven thousand and he thinks they are alone.


  37. Mike Mc. Says:


    I noted that anyone who believes in Reason either believes in the Catholic view of it, or does not really believe in Reason.

    I accept that many non-Catholics believe in Reason; but there is no more a Lutheran, to pick one example at random, belief in Reason than there is a Darwinian view of Reason. For both, there is no such thing that is Real. For the Catholic, it is not only real but very close to the ultimate reality.

    I was not saying that the individual Catholic or more reasonable than some individual non-Catholic (of any faith or none). I am saying that insofar as anyone believes in Reason, it is Catholic Reason because the Catholic is is only creature left who even has a reasonable theory about Reason.

    The Lutheran has no reasonable theory about Reason. He finally says ‘sola fides’. His theory is ‘sola scriptura’ – in other words, he’s the same as the Islamist only his scriptura is in a different language.

    The Darwinian has no reasonable theory about Reason. His is a total contradiction – that he reasons that reason is only a survival mechanism for the continued living of living things for no reason at all except that molecules have energy. Even the observation that there is energy cannot be made from this theory. The Darwinian view of reason is that it does not exist, and so how can the Darwinian say that he is arguing about anything reasonably?

    Darwin was right about one thing – that the fit survive. In this case, the only survivor in the Reason sweepstakes is the Catholic since there are no other contestants, unless you want to say you are something like a pagan Aristotelian but not Catholic in any way. That’s possible I guess, but it’s close to saying you believe in the religion of ancient Egypt but not any religion since then. It’s more like an oddity and not something you’d expect to see these days.

  38. Mike Mc. Says:


    I forgot to add earlier that the word “Catholic” really has a double or triple sense. It really only has one sense, but three different ways in which it is sometimes used or taken. They rightly all belong together.

    1. The first and primary sense is what it means in Greek: Universal. The Catholic view = the Universal view of reality held and maintained by the Church around the whole world.

    2. The secondary sense is of the Church of Rome headed by the Pope (Bishop of Rome; Peter; Head of the ‘Universal’ Church).

    3. The third sense is that broad view of things held by reasonable people about themselves and the word they inhabit and all of its parts and all of its relations.

    The Catholic view is all of those all-inclusively and yet sharply defined and delineated from any other competing views which are not Catholic (ex Darwinian, Lutheran, Muslim, Agnostic, etc.). The Catholic accepts everything good and true, and rejects everything else.

    Who gets to say what is true and good? For the Catholic, Catholicism does; the shorthand of that being that Rome gets to say it. But Rome is the collective experience of 2000 years. That mind is smarter than even Obama and pelosi and Reid. They are welcome to ransack its riches any time. The doors are wide open.

    But people like that know better than Rome.


    Anyway, this whole discussion started with the question about SC Justices. My theory from the start was that the irrational world of craziness incarnated in postmodern liberalism and tyrants like Obama and all Dems really needs reasonable people and reason and sound justice. Even they know, deep down, that their way is chaos and mayhem. But they don’t know how to be reasonable so they hire out the Catholics and Jews do do that for them.

    Of course, once people discover this they will demand affirmative action for the unreasonable to be hired out as reasonable. That is the corner we are just about to turn, and it is really a re-turn – to paganism and barbarism and we are very nearly there already.

    At this point people like Alito, Thomas and Scalia are the only things between civilization and Hell.

    (Okay, maybe some hyperbole but even exaggeration is reasonable if it is used to make the point.)

  39. expat Says:

    Avi, I don’t assert that there are more excellent legal thinkers who are Catholic. I was speculating on why so many Catholics have made it to SCOTUS at this time, and I do think it may just be a convergence of events.

    Sure, liberation theology came from Catholics, but the Vatican answered with theological and philosophical arguments. There were lots of young people who had to deal with these arguments to maintain or give up their identity as Catholics. (And of course, birth control, abortion and similar issues did the same thing.) So you had a generation of people educated in traditional Catholic theology and philosophy who were forced to stand up to conventional wisdom to remain Catholic. That a certain number of these percolated to the top in a field where a grasp of principles is crucial doesn’t surprise me, nor does it say that Catholics are destined to be better legal minds.

    I don’t think the situation is the same today. Many people of other faiths are now saying that while they don’t agree with all the Catholic positions, there was something in the arguments. Catholics don’t have to be so defensive. There are plenty of examples for them of people who have left the faith. But in the 60s and 70s, being a Catholic was a bit like being a Tea Party supporter today. If you wanted to survive, you had to hone your thinking skills. You had to convince yourself and others that there was more to Catholicism than just dunking your fingers in the holy water font. Today, young people are in a similar situation, but the identity they need to defend is their American one. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  40. Sergey Says:

    The most wonderfull thing about logic is its universality. These rules of disciplined reasoning are just the same in realms of law, mathematics, Talmudic or scholastic scholarship. Axiomatic basis can be different: Euclidean geometry, arithmetics, one or another religeous credo, Roman civil law or English common law, but thinking skills involved are just the same. I found it quite natural why persons successful in any of these fields can be just as successful in any of them.
    And here comes one basic sociological fact: modern world is very deficient in these skills. Education system does not anymore train many people in development of them. Most young people find mathematics too boring and hard to learn. In popular conscience “scholastic” is a derrogatory word. This is the reason why some minority cultures, still cultivating it, are represented disproportionally in high-achievement end of all these fields: mathematics, theoretical physics, law. And there are wery few field of knowledge where a huge body of classical texts, needed to memorize, understand and use as a basis of further conclusions applied to new cases, exist. Again: it is Canonical law for Catholics, Talmud for rabbinic law, and mathematics and civil law for everybody who need it.

  41. stu Says:

    Just a few corrections to an otherwise great discussion:
    1. Georgia (the birthplace of Justice Thomas) is not considered Yankee country,
    2. A Jewish justice who was definitely not a liberal in the judicial context was Felix Frankfurter. The dissents written by him and Harlan in the 50’s and 60’s had a significant effect on my views of constitutional law and representative government in general.
    3. Finally I had the privilege of having the greatest Catholic justice of them all as a law professor, “Nino” Scalia”.

  42. neo-neocon Says:

    stu: and New York City, although the home of the Yankees of baseball fame (and probably considered Yankee country in the general sense when viewed from the South), is not considered real Yankee territory by New Englanders, who are the true Yankees (although not in the baseball sense). What’s more, New Englanders consider New Yorkers to be almost Southerners, the city is so far to the South of New England.

    If you look at the derivation of the word “Yankee,” it originally meant New Englanders of English origin.

    Hmmm—I may write a post about this some time.

  43. stu Says:

    Neo:^ Growing up in the South, I was not privy to those fine geographical distinctions concerning Yankees. I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan, so naturally I was not too fond of the Yankees.

  44. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    expat, I essentially agree, and sorry if I misunderstood you.

    I now see that Mike Mc is trying the gambit of claiming that all real reason is essentially Catholic reason, so whatever anyone else does right, the Catholics get credit for it. That can only be asserted by defining all terms conveniently.

    As to the inadequacy of logical foundation by the other Christian groups, except insofar as they have borrowed from Catholics, I will note that you don’t seem to understand the foundations of these lines of thought very well, relying on scraps of information about them and assuming you’ve got them pegged.

    For example, Luther quotes: “I read in this way I evaluate what they say, not on the basis that they themselves believe that a thing is true, but only insofar as they are able to convince me by the authority of the canonical books or by clear reason.” Or “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the Word of God. ”

    I would say that “reason” figures rather prominently in his thought. You may disagree with him about popes and councils, but his reliance on reason as part of the picture doesn’t seem deniable.

  45. Sergey Says:

    The fallacy in this Luther quote is that he relied completely on HIS OWN reason, not on collective reason (and wisdom) of the Church. That is, the whole body of knowledge accrued by centuries of efforts of the best theologicans, from Augustine to Acquinat, is simply discarded. Everybody is encouraged to do the same, from Scripture alone, as if nobody disputed the same problems before, and to dispute them from a narrow perspective of one’s own congregation and generation. (Which has common secular bias and fallacies, and so can not by any debate in a closed circle of like-minded people get rid of them.)
    English common law, just opposite, is based on precedents and legal reasoning of previous scholars and previous generations. This is what Willam Buckley called “democracy of the dead”. Reason is much richer than logic alone, it includes historically accumulated body of truth.

  46. Mike Mc. Says:


    I know the history. Very well. I know the philosophical history and the denominational history. Why would you say I don’t appear to know something?

    You said, “I now see that Mike Mc is trying the gambit of claiming that all real reason is essentially Catholic reason, so whatever anyone else does right, the Catholics get credit for it. That can only be asserted by defining all terms conveniently.”

    1. I don’t do gambits. This is not a gambit.

    2. I said that all real Reason (today) is Catholic, but because the Catholic is the only believer in Reason and defender of Reason, and subscriber to reason. I made it clear in my first reply that I took Chesterton’s view that the collective view was probably the best way to look at it. There is, without doubt, a collective Catholic view of a defense of and argument for Reason that goes back 2000 years, and which the two most recent Popes and most Popes for the last 300 years at least, and more than even them, have made explicitly, consciously, conscientiously, wholeheartedly and with full vigor.

    There is, practically speaking, no other player on that field today. Everyone else has abandoned the field. When you or some other individual says that you believe in Reason, it is therefore the Catholic view you hold to, whether you are Catholic or not, since there is no other view.

    If there is, why don’t you name it?

    There is no Lutheran view. No Calivinist view. No secularist view. No Darwininan view. There is neither Muslim nor Maoist not Mugabean view of Reason. There is no “scientific” or even “mathematical” view of it. Or perhaps the better terms would be belief in it, or justification of it.


    Actually, there is one vocal exception. Sort of. Chuck Colson has been saying for years now from the evangelical side that Christians need to get back to the use of and defense of Reason. And the model and source he uses for this? Catholicism. He says loudly words to the effect of, ‘We must do what the Catholics are doing and have always been doing!’ Check it out.

    If there is some other player in the game, I’d like to hear what you’d say they are.

    This is a huge problem, an enormous issue. Bit like many things, Rome is way ahead of its time. Because it is not subject to fad and fashion like the others; it will appear to be a new and novel thing, like a miracle, when the fads show themselves to be destructive rather than constructive.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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