It was disconcerting to read in David Blankenhorn’s ten suggestions for thinking about the family (August/ September), no. 4: “Recognize that the American family dilemma is androgynous.” This idea has been one of the strongest causes of the dilemma we’re talking about.
As George Gilder cogently argued in Sexual Suicide, motherhood is a biological reality, fatherhood a social construct. The only way a man can be persuaded to be a part of a family is if he has a role which is more than just a pale carbon-copy of the mother’s. Most men are aware that the most important chores of family life, giving birth and nursing, are not androgynous; they can be performed only by a woman. What job today can be done only by a man?
It is precisely all those “new opportunities for women in the workplace and in public life” that have undermined what used to be the rationale behind “fatherhood.” Is it any wonder that more and more men want no part of it?
Your editorial on “Post-Cold War Newspeak” (June/July) claimed that I “employed deception” in my New York Times op-ed piece, where I proposed a sardonic monument to the American victims of the Cold War. My piece was more specifically concerned with the American side of the secret nuclear war conducted by the United States and the Soviet Union against their own populations in the name of national security. Current estimates strongly suggest that more than 300,000 Americans, mostly children, have died due to the effects of nuclear bomb testing. This exceeds the number of Americans killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. Deliberate deception was employed by our government against the American public and against any scientists courageous enough to release information showing the deadly probabilities.
A flood of materials is being released to show how thousands of American families living near bomb-making factories and reactors, such as those in Fernald, Ohio, and Hanford, Washington, were exposed to appallingly high levels of radiation while the government of the United States officially employed deception by claiming that there was no health hazardeven though it very well knew the dangers. Other materials indicate that the Russians were able to develop the hydrogen bomb by analyzing the fallout of American tests. In other words, physicist-propagandist Edward Teller’s ruthless efforts to test at all costs seriously damaged American national security.
Your editorial had no problems with my application of Shakespeare’s words to Eastern Europe: “Foul deed will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes.” Yet my attempt to transpose Vaclav Havel’s words from their obvious context, the condemnation of the ruthless Communist dictatorship of Czechoslovakia and more generally of Soviet Russia, to a critique of an American society where an arrogant national security military machine far exceeded its limits, could not pass your ideological muster. My analogy should not be taken to mean that I have not detested totalitarianism or that I think the two systems are equivalent. I simply wanted to turn the issue away from the self-satisfied gloating of the kind expressed in your editorial to an honest appraisal of the perversion of democratic ideals in America by those of unlimited secret government.
In the same New Year’s Day speech Havel went on to say that “we,” the Czech people, are not simply victims, but have also participated in the little lies which allowed the “monstrous, smelly machine” of Communism and its “spoiled moral environment” to keep on rolling. In other words, it is not sufficient to point the finger at the other; one must also include the possibility of self-criticism. Clearly the Communist machine was a slave state in contrast to America. Yet the evil Communist machine did not exhaust the evil of machine-like ways of thinking. Must one believe that because Communism was evil we have been totally good?
Havel’s words also carry a universal significance beyond their immediate context, and we ought to use this post-Cold War timeespecially as we are entering into a hot war with a brutal Stalin-style Middle Eastern dictatorto reconsider the proper limited context of what Dwight Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex” in a democratic republic. We cannot any longer allow the irresponsible little Dr. Strangeloves and their minions to dictate public life, immunized from public criticism.
Notre Dame, IN
Christianity and Wealth
The argument in Richard John Neuhaus’ article on Christianity and wealth (“Wealth and Whimsy: On Economic Creativity,” August/September) is too lean to be convincing. Important New Testament verses are missing scrutiny therein. By paring away these troubling texts, Neuhaus is able to summarize too easily Jesus’ teaching on money as “whether one is attached to the present passing order or to the new order that is to come.” He is also able to render as “eschatological lightheartedness, even playfulness,” St. Paul’s “distinctive turn” on wealth which is marked with “almost an ‘easy come easy go’ attitude.”
By so debunking the customary “frightful seriousness” over wealth in Christianity, Neuhaus has warrant to admonish preachers that they should “be in the business of urging people to play fairly, but should not presume to claim any privileged knowledge about rules of economic fairness that are not derived from general virtues for living decently.” Foregoing that, we should instead embrace, unlike Karl Barth, the “wonder” of the “freedom of economic activity” with its inherent “creativity,” as we would with “aesthetic creativity.” When we do, it will become apparent that “opening a new pizza parlor, designing a new widget, or manufacturing a better automobile are all somebody’s Violin Concerto in D Major.”
But could this breathtaking argument stand up when exposed to those troubling New Testament texts that are conspicuously absent? How about those alarming verses in Acts 5 about the death of Ananias and Sapphira for misusing their wealth? Here hoarded wealth ends in death not whimsy. Or how about those thundering verses in Matthew 6 about “not laying up for yourselves” wealth? What does that prohibition do to the wonder and creativity of economic activity? If all such activity inexorably snags our “hearts,” making them “despise” heavenly things, then such economic activity has little commendable wonder left. Or how about those terrifying verses in Matthew 13 about the “pearl of great price” that requires the displacement of all wealth? There is not even a partial approval of wealth there.
Most curious of all, however, is the exclusion of those horrifying verses in Luke 16 about Lazarus and the rich man after they die. There Abraham tells the rich man that he is in the “place of torment” because in his “lifetime he received good things” because of his wealth. Apparently, good things are not to be had both here and there! Now where is the playfulness in that? Frantically the rich man tries to return to the living to warn them, but to no avail. Isn’t there terror in that?
To his credit, Neuhaus recognizes this difficulty. He does say that his thesis is “only thinkable on the far side of the Cross,” where the “intimidating anxieties about ultimate rights and wrongs” are, “by the grace of God, behind” us. But has not Neuhaus put them too far behind us? Listen to Luther: “God does not grant wealth in order to cause you to conclude from it that He is gracious; He has bestowed another greater benefit, and from it you may properly reach this conclusion. He wants to put you to the test, to see whether you are willing to abide in His fear, for very few do this; they become haughty because of their good fortune” (Luther’s Works 3.248). Should not whimsy and playfulness be traded for fear and testing?
More fear of wealth is needed in Neuhaus’ analysis. This is because whatever side of the Cross we are on, it remains a “fearful thing to be in the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Maybe Neuhaus knows how the “proleptic presence” of the “new order” in Christ Jesus can now render wealth whimsical, but until I hold in my hands a revised copy of this provocative article, which scrutinizes the troubling texts I have mentioned, I will not believe.
The Rev. Ronald F. Marshall