Certainly Dean M. Kelley did not know when he wrote, and you did not know when you published, “Waco: A Massacre and its Aftermath,” (May), that the April 19, 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City would occur. The motivation behind the bombing is not yet entirely clear. Those arrested are innocent until proven guilty. Waco may or may not turn out to be the reason, however illogical to most minds, for the taking of more than two hundred lives in Oklahoma City. But certainly the loss of life at Mt. Carmel has been more than avenged, if indeed that was the motive of the bomber. I’m not clear what Mr. Kelley’s point is in his article. I suppose he hopes that congressional hearings into the Waco disaster will “keep the pot boiling,” because “there is much about the disaster at Mt. Carmel that has not yet come out.” He details many apparent blunders by federal authorities who misunderstood Waco in “cult stereotypes” and, in his estimation, denied religious liberty to “those who believe they are touched by the finger of God.” Newsweek magazine has pointed out that to militias and far-right groups and commentators, “Waco is a rallying cry, a harbinger of the day that government troops will kick down their doors and steal their guns and their children.” Arrested suspect Timothy McVeigh made a pilgrimage to Waco and was particularly agitated by the incident. Even sober and logical articles such as Mr. Kelley’s reinforce paranoia for the Timothy McVeighs and Terry Nichols of our land. As far as I’m concerned, if Waco represents religious liberty and the finger of God, if siring more than a dozen children by several women is rightly part of religious liberty, if the possession of an immense stockpile of arms and ammunition is an expression of religious liberty, if firing upon federal agents is the prerogative of Americans exercising their religious liberty, then Mr. Kelley can take such religious liberty right back to the National Council of Churches, where he is Counselor on Religious Liberty. Or he can take it to Oklahoma City and see how well it plays there just now. It is not the kind of liberty I want to claim as a Christian and as an American.
” Jeanne Devine Bonner
” Jay Manifold
” Felecia Barbaro
” Eloise K. Goreau
” Rick Ross
My thanks to those-including the many who wrote to me privately-for their compliments on my article. A number of my critics require individual responses.
Jeanne Devine Bonner. The phrase “finger of God” was used by me as a symbol for the unusual phenomenon of a person obsessed with a vision of the Divine that gives him no rest and that draws others who want to share that vision. In a paragraph that was dropped from the article, I explained that I did not mean that such persons had “got it right (whatever right’ may be in such matters)” but that they were gripped by a compulsion that is rare in human affairs and worthy of respect even though a particular vision may be flawed (most of them are, in one way or another).
In many primitive cultures, which are not normally indulgent of deviant behavior, room is often made for those thought to be touched by God who do not fit the accepted patterns of religious conduct. But in our “modern” culture, so indulgent of all manner of deviations from the norm-if there still is a norm-the situation is reversed. It is innovation in religion for which no room is found. Strictures on nonconforming behavior that have dissolved in other areas are suddenly invoked to suppress religious nonconformity and severe penalties are meted out to such offenders.
Ms. Bonner expresses a common misunderstanding about religious liberty in this country. Theoretically, the law provides room for religious innovation, though the law is not always observed. But it is not unlimited room. There is a very sensible test worked out by the Supreme Court three decades ago (and then abandoned in 1990 but reinstated by Congress in 1993 in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) that balances the religious claim against the public interest. If a sincere religious practice is substantially burdened by governmental action, the government can be required to justify such burden by evidence of a compelling state interest that can be served in no less burdensome way. This test eliminates claims that are not religious, not sincere, or not substantially burdened. Others may lose out because a court finds that a paramount public interest is at stake and that it cannot adequately be served by simply exempting religious claimants, as was the usual solution accepted by the generation that wrote the Constitution.
Beyond that legal test there is a pragmatic one. Is the offense sought to be corrected by governmental action of sufficient priority to justify the expenditure of law enforcement resources for its remediation? There is no shortage of drug-gang wars with slaughter of innocent by-standers on the streets of major cities to which the federal agencies could devote their attention with greater justification.
The initial warrants that were the justification for the raid that precipitated the tragedy were essentially about allegedly illicit gun parts, an offense that rises in Texas to the moral level of jaywalking. (The trotting out by the government long after the fact of numerous plastic-wrapped charred weapons said to be illegal and said to have been found in the ruins of Mt. Carmel does not justify the initial warrants, let alone the ill-conceived “dynamic entry” to serve them, as has been pointed out by many who know more about firearms and about warrants than I.)
I am not an apologist for everything that David Koresh and the Branch Davidians may have done, but I do not believe that they were given an opportunity to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the situation, as Koresh came unarmed to the front door to do until he saw that the charging commandos were not disposed to dialogue. By “peaceful resolution,” I do not mean abject capitulation and admission of supposed guilt. And whatever the Davidians may have done was hardly deserving of the gassing and cremation of some eighty men, women, and children, which-whoever may have been responsible in whatever degree-would not have happened if the federal agents had not undertaken a major onslaught at a cost of millions of dollars against an obscure little band of believers out on the Texas prairie.
Eloise K. Goreau. The selling of arms is not a fund-raising device that I would use to maintain a Christian sect, but then I don’t live in Texas. Whether it is a “perversion of Christianity itself” is an intriguing question and turns on a definition of “Christianity itself.” Quite a few activities have been carried on by important elements of Christianity that might raise the same normative query: burnings of heretics at the stake by Protestants and Catholics, hangings of witches by Puritan divines at Salem, etc.
David Koresh’s claim to be “another Christ” is not a claim I would accept, but the guarantee of freedom of religion is fortunately not limited to people of whose views I approve. I did not attribute the behavior of government agencies at Waco to a “conspiracy to commit tyranny.” I should like to think “ineptitude and rigid adherence to procedure” offer the simplest explanation. It may have been worse, as some-including the plaintiffs in the civil suits-charge, but I have not (yet) seen evidence that would require a more damning explanation.
Do I stand by my article? Certainly. I can’t answer for First Things , but neither of us is responsible for what “the Michigan militia” or anyone else may misunderstand by the information we sought to present in the most objective and reliable way we could.
Rick Ross. “Kelley no longer speaks for the National Council of Churches.” I never did, except-like other NCC staff-in formal statements (as to congressional committees) based on NCC policy and approved by the General Secretary. I am semi-retired and retained on contract to serve as secretary of the NCC Committee on Religious Liberty (with the title “Counselor on Religious Liberty”), attached to the Washington Office of the NCC, and responsible to the Deputy General Secretary, who is in charge of that office.
I do not necessarily discern a government “conspiracy” to “cover up the truth about Waco,” though there may be one; the evidence is not yet all in. The government has its viewpoint about what happened and why and has expressed it at great length in 1,300 pages of federal reports and some 7,000 pages of prosecution testimony in the criminal trial. It is in the government’s interest to defend this self-exonerating understanding of the situation, though-to judge by the response to my article-a great many people have come to find it less and less persuasive.
Rick Ross also has a personal interest in advancing and reinforcing his view of the situation (though the Justice Department review seeks to distance the FBI from any reliance upon his advice). He finds employment from time to time as a deprogrammer, whose labors depend upon hyping the hysteria over “destructive cults,” as by trying to portray the tragedies of Jonestown, the Brotherhood of the Solar Temple, and Aum Shinrikyo as being all alike, which they are not. I am not prepared to evaluate those distant tragedies in detail without comparable research and analysis of the facts that are largely unknown to anyone in this country at this point.
On the other hand, I do not have an economic or career interest in spending many months researching and writing on the Waco tragedy. I am not paid by the surviving Branch Davidians to try to rehabilitate their cause. At the time the Waco article was launched in the fall of 1994, it was looked upon by First Things and me as a difficult and thankless task, apt to earn more obloquy than praise and more indifference than either. Curiously, it didn’t turn out the way, to the chagrin of those who thought they had put all that behind them.
The dispute over whether “the notion of cult brainwashing has been thoroughly discredited by the academic community” would take a book to pursue. Suffice it to say that a federal judge, Lowell Jensen, examined that subject in great detail in 1990 and concluded that the concept of “brainwashing” was not sufficiently accepted in the fields of psychology or sociology to be admitted as expert testimony at trial in federal court [ U.S. v. Fishman , 743 F. Supages, 713 (N.D. Cal. 1990)].
I agree with Stanley Hauerwas in his May article “Preaching As Though We Had Enemies” that as Christians we have enemies, but I do not think our primary enemy is complacency as to the benefits of a free market economy and a limited, constitutional government. Our primary enemy is the counterculture and its elite, which have declared a religious and cultural war against our traditional beliefs in faith, family, and freedom through limited government and personal responsibility . . . . With education leading the way by undermining the young, continued success by the counterculture elite in its all-out religious and cultural war against our traditional beliefs will drive us into an Orwellian dystopia of pandemic godlessness, amorality, immorality, illegitimacy, illiteracy, abortion, family breakdown, dependency, crime, and massive government authoritarianism. Not to worry about complacency over economic and political freedom-there will not be any.
” George Weber
James Stoner’s proposed constitutional amendment (“Amending the School Prayer Amendment,” May) would put government (the state, the school board, etc.) in the business of managing and regulating public devotions, of preferring group prayer over all other modes of religious activity, of taxing citizens for the support of religious institutions, and of diminishing rights of conscience. Contrary to Mr. Stoner’s assertions, church-state separation has been good for religion and religious freedom in America, a fact attested to by all of history.
” Edd Doerr
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, MD
” Michael Buckley
Agreeing that religious liberty is good for religion and for America, I would reply to Mr. Doerr that government is already in the business of managing and regulating public devotions-namely by suppressing them-and that under the regime he apparently favors, not a few citizens find themselves taxed to support institutions that are actively hostile to their faith. As Mr. Buckley surely noticed, I meant to word my draft amendment so as neither to endorse the Supreme Court’s practice of nearly sixty years of applying the Establishment Clause to the states nor to require its abrogation. While I would agree that a healthy moral life is better anchored in a real community than in a realm of abstract rules, states have been known to sin in ways that a little moral pressure has not always been adequate to correct.
I found David Klinghoffer’s article (“Baby Talk,” June/July) both disingenuous and inaccurate. Mr. Klinghoffer says, “They [prolifers] claim it is children’ who die in abortions. Do they, however, really mean children-like the ones you see toddling in the street?” Excuse me? Does he really believe that toddlers are the only children worth saving? What about newborns, seven-month-old fetuses, or five-year-old quadriplegics in wheelchairs? But what impells me to write is Mr. Klinghoffer’s blatant misrepresentation of Scripture. He cites Exodus 21:22 as a passage that demonstrates how the Hebrews handled cases of abortion: a simple fine imposed on the abortionist. No big deal. I was startled. I couldn’t remember ever reading that in my studies. And, of course, I never had. Mr. Klinghoffer forgot to mention the first part of that passage which reads, “When two men strive together . . . “ In other words, when two men are fighting and accidentally cause a woman to miscarry, then a fine is imposed. However, if the woman was harmed in the “striving” (even accidentally), then “you shall give life for life.” And nowhere does this passage discuss the deliberate taking of unborn life, which is abortion. I believe abortion would have been inconceivable to the Hebrews.
” Sharon Gordon
Midland Park, NJ
” T. D. Sullivan
St. Paul, MN
” (Rabbi) Alan J. Yuter
” Peter J. Riga
” Stephen Settle
New Holstein, WI
I don’t seem to have made much progress in convincing the readers of First Things that if abortion really were murder, they would be obligated to do something about it other than vote, or carry signs, or write letters to the editor; and that if they refuse to do anything more strenuous than that, they should rethink their assumption that a fetus can be a human being in every sense in which they themselves are human beings.
As someone who tries to understand moral issues in the light of biblical law and the interpretations of it that have been passed down through traditions dating to its revelation, I can’t see how a reader of the Bible could come away from that book thinking that God views fetuses as human beings. Sharon Gordon charges me with “blatant misrepresentation of Scripture,” yet her own citation of Exodus 21:23-25 supports my citation of verse 22. If two men get into a fist fight and end up striking a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry, a fine is exacted. This is a penalty less severe than for the accidental killing of a human being, thus suggesting that the unborn victim is not a human being. And please note here, T. D. Sullivan, that God (this section of Exodus is spoken by God to Moses) does not instruct us to ask about how far along the fetus is or to what extent it “looks” human.
God then goes on to say that if the same pugilists accidentally kill the woman, they are to be punished by paying “life for life.” The ancient rabbis of the Jewish tradition argued about what the formulation means. Obviously, though, the text assumes a difference in moral gravity between the loss of a fetus’ life and the loss of a mother’s. If both mother and fetus were human beings in the full sense of that term, God would not need to make such a distinction.
As to Rabbi Yuter’s statement that it is “dangerous” to “read divine intent” into biblical legislation, perhaps I misunderstand him. What does he do in his sermons and shiurim, what have our rabbis been doing for several thousand years, and what do contemporary readers of Jewish texts do, if not interpret the meaning of the Torah and its commandments? His citation of the Talmud itself requires interpretation. The Jewish tradition does view the fetus as a kind of property, rather than as an ensouled being. But the sense in which a body is “property” is different from the sense in which, say, the chair I’m sitting on is my property. My body is a form of property that I own, so to speak, in a very junior partnership with God. I am free to do what I want with it only up to a very clearly defined point. For instance, the Bible forbids me to tattoo it or shave certain parts of it-in order, among other purposes, to remind me that I “own” this “property” only on the conditions set out by its Creator. One of the conditions is that, if I am a woman with the potential life of a human being in my womb, I am not allowed to halt the development of that life.
At any rate, this is the Jewish view. I am reminded again by the letters of Peter J. Riga and Stephen Settle that some Christians possess a tradition on the problem of abortion at variance with that of our rabbis. Mr. Riga cites Pope John Paul II, whose Evangelium Vitae defines abortion as “murder,” and goes on to call for “a complete dedication to nonviolence after the teachings of Jesus and Martin Luther King.” Mr. Riga would have us foreswear all violence, including “capital punishment” and “war.” This is a position consistent with his approach to abortion. As to whether, in his thoroughgoing pacifism, Mr. Riga is equally consistent with the Catholic tradition, I am not qualified to say, but I suspect he is not.
This brings us to a question that it is, likewise, not my place as a Jew to address in any detail. But what are we to make of a tradition that accepts the use of force in defending innocent human lives, but that, when it comes to defending one particular class of lives which it defines as fully human, feels that the best route is persuasion by words unaccompanied by vigorous actions? This approach to life-saving is being tried right now by the United Nations in Bosnia, and almost everyone has come to see that it doesn’t work very well. Surely, as much as the statesmen at the UN, some Christians need to rethink their opinions either about what they are willing to do to save human lives, or about what constitutes a human life in the first place.
In “Anti-Semitism and our Common Future” (June/July) Father Neuhaus writes that “the argument is that Christianity in America really is different, that it has internalized the imperatives of tolerance as a matter of religious duty, and that, more recently, it has come to see Judaism as an integral part of God’s purposes in history.” I have four questions. First, what percentage of American Christians agrees with these two claims? Second, is the percentage of agreement higher among Catholics and Protestants who are conservatives or among those who are liberals? Third, does the religious duty of tolerance that American Christianity has internalized extend to liberal Jews and Christians? Fourth, is the percentage of those in agreement so low that the claim constitutes wishful thinking anyhow?
” Fisher Humphreys
Not sure. Not sure. Yes. No.
We are disappointed by Richard John Neuhaus’ intemperate and false assertion that anti-Semitism is “kept alive by institutions such as the Anti-Defamation League.” Father Neuhaus apparently be-lieves that, to stay in business, ADL cynically manipulates the fears of Jews. He says, “[ADL’s] fund-raising depends upon sustaining a high level of Jewish anxiety about anti-Semitism.” This notion does more than unfairly impugn ADL: it also diminishes the significance of anti-Semitism. Father Neuhaus notes that anti-Jewish feelings in this country have clearly declined. ADL, in a widely reported 1992 survey, also stated-hardly stoking Jewish anxiety-that “the vast majority of Americans reject most anti-Jewish stereotypes.” However, our survey also indicated that between thirty-five and forty million adult Americans hold views that are unquestionably anti-Semitic. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than America, for instance; 31 percent feel Jews have too much power. We presume Father Neuhaus would agree that these figures are valid causes for concern. And while Father Neuhaus relegates anti-Semitism to “fringe groups such as Aryan Nation and racist skinheads,” the Oklahoma City bombing has taught us that fringe groups, whether anti-Semitic or otherwise, need to be taken seriously. Not that anti-Semitism resides only on the fringe. What of Louis Farrakhan, whose language and views have achieved an alarming legitimacy in the African-American community? What of the prominence of Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, whose career includes a long record of hostility toward Jews? ADL fundraisers did not invent Farrakhan or Buchanan, fringe groups, nor the findings of the 1992 survey. Pogroms may not be imminent, but-especially in a culture that continues to legitimize intolerance-many American Jews have some anxiety about anti-Semitism because anti-Semitism exists. ADL tries to make sense of, analyze, and counter anti-Semitism and extremism. Our credibility rests partly on the fact that, as part of our work, we have frequently decried charges of anti-Semitism we found false or inflated. To suggest that we promote bigotry does us-and First Things readers-a disservice.
” Abraham H. Foxman
New York, NY
Yes, as the article in question repeatedly said, anti-Semitism is a legitimate and urgent cause of concern, for both Christians and Jews. For a somewhat different interpretation of the 1992 survey, see “Counting Anti-Semites” (The Public Square, March 1993). While Pat Buchanan has criticized, wrongheadedly in my view, the influence of Jewish lobbyists on U.S. foreign policy, it is false to say his “career includes a long record of hostility toward Jews.” A record of hostility to positions favored by many Jews is a different matter. Regarding the “credibility” of ADL, it was not aided by the publication of a strident book attacking “the religious right” this past year, a book that was vigorously protested by many prominent American Jews. It should be noted that, after meeting with the Christian Coalition and others, ADL has been more temperate in its public statements about politically conservative Christians. While it is good to know that ADL has “frequently decried charges of anti-Semitism we found false or inflated,” it is most regrettable that, although it was asked, it did not do so in the case of Human Life International (HLI), an instance discussed in my comment. At its April convention in Montreal, hundreds of screaming protestors accused HLI of being anti-Semitic, as did B’nai B’rith of Canada in a media campaign leading up to the convention. Far from decrying this false charge, ADL issued a press release commending criticism of HLI. I do not say that ADL is cynical. I do say that, by not making false and inflated charges and by publicly challenging those who do, ADL can help all of us, Jews and Christians alike, to oppose the evil of anti-Semitism.
Twice recently in The Public Square Richard John Neuhaus has employed a politically correct “their” in place of the grammatically correct “his.” In your March issue, he wrote, “Anyone can, for instance, publish a novel titled Moby Dick , so long as they put their name (pseudonym) on it.” In the June/July issue, he says, “Everybody worth their salt in sociology has had . . . ” The use of the plural forms they and their for the singular anyone or everybody constitutes what, when I learned grammar, was termed a barbarism. Nowadays, of course, radical feminists teach that the generic use of he and his forms a barbaric assault upon the female half of the race. It is no longer surprising that the mainstream press, popular and academic, has embraced this teaching, but it is jarring to see Richard John Neuhaus follow the party line. Michael Levin has noted, “We may dismiss the idea that masculine pronouns are misleading . . . . It is not possible to produce a woman who believed (until feminists cleared things up) that He who hesitates is lost’ did not apply to her. It is universally understood that he’ is used with intention of referring to both men and women, and that this intention has settled into a convention.” The crux of the matter is that the radical feminists’ assault on language conventions is part of a campaign to stigmatize traditional thought and traditional thinkers (i.e., benighted white male homophobes). And I believe the words crux and stigmatize are the mots justes, for the most reviled target of the revisionists is the Bible. Already, “He who has ears to hear-let him hear” has been replaced in many churches by “They who have ears to hear-let them hear”-a perversion of Jesus’ appeal to the individual (of whichever sex) into an appeal to the group. And once we’ve swallowed the abolition of the generic he, how can we object to the substitution of “God the Parent” and “God the Child” for what were once accepted as revealed names of the Trinity? . . .
” Daniel Love Glazer
I would like to update and supplement the February 1995 article discussing a recent court case involving the Church of Christ Scientist (“The Penalty for Wrong Ideas” by Paul T. McCain). The update: in April 1995, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned a lower court order that the church pay $9 million in punitive damages and $150,000 in compensatory damages to the father of Ian Lundman, an 11-year-old diabetic who died while under the care of his Christian Science mother. The court upheld $1.5 million in compensatory damages against Ian’s mother, his stepfather, and two others. The supplement: McCain’s article focused on the punitive damages award against the church; I would like to add a short discussion of the legal rights and responsibilities of Christian Science parents with respect to the care of their children. In Canada and Great Britain, Christian Scientists, like everyone else, are required to provide medical care for their children. In contrast, American Christian Scientists have historically enjoyed legal protection from such requirements. But these protections have diminished over the past several years, most notably with the 1983 amendments to the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1978. Prior to 1983, the act did not explicitly include failure to provide adequate medical care in its definition of negligent treatment. Moreover, the act required, as a condition for receiving certain federal grants, that states include in their child welfare statutes a provision for religious exception, ensuring that parents not be judged negligent solely on the basis that they do not provide medical treatment for a child because of their religious beliefs. In 1983, three major changes relevant to Christian Science parents occurred. First, the wording of the federal definition of negligent treatment was amended to include the failure to provide adequate medical care. Second, federal regulations were amended to require states to make failure to provide adequate medical treatment a reportable condition, meaning that all such cases must be reported to child protection authorities, regardless of the religious motivations of the parents. Third, restrictions of federal funds were lifted so that states were no longer required to have religious exception provisions. The 1983 amendments did not result in immediate or dramatic change. Specifically, the fact that failure to provide medical treatment had not been specifically included in the federal definition of negligent treatment did not mean that it had been excluded. Parents who failed to provide adequate medical care could have been considered negligent under the old definition-the change simply made that possibility explicit. Also, by 1983, most states had already included failure to provide medical care in their definitions of negligent treatment, meaning that such cases were reportable. And even today, only a handful of states have rescinded their religious exception provisions, including Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and South Dakota. The primary effect of the federal amendments was to allow states much greater latitude in developing their own laws governing the care of children whose parents object to medical treatment, including Christian Scientists. Both supporters and critics of Christian Science as appropriate care for children have been and continue to be very active advocates for their respective causes. Since 1983, Christian Science parents have been prosecuted in seven criminal cases around the country with varied outcomes; Lundman v. McKown represents an escalation in the conflict-it was the first civil case to go to trial. The McKowns were originally indicted for second-degree man-slaughter, but the charges were dismissed, in part because of the religious exception clause of Minnesota’s child neglect statute. Supported by critics of Christian Science care for children, Lundman then filed a civil suit against the Mc-Kowns, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, and four other defendants . . . . Similar civil suits between parents are likely to follow. Cases involving the deaths of children under Christian Science care raise complex ethical and legal issues that reach to the heart of the First Amendment. Thus far, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review any of the four state supreme court decisions in criminal cases. The expansion of the conflict to include civil suits should compel the Court to speak on his contentious issue.
” Deborah Harris-Abbott
The Park Ridge Center
Perhaps I would be less puzzled by Robert W. Jenson’s criticism of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology: Volume 2 (May) if Mr. Jenson had explained what he means by the “Western mainstream’s understanding of time and eternity” and how Christian theology should challenge it. Pannenberg believes, as I do, that the church has made much of the Western tradition what it is, and therefore theologians can stand within the tradition and challenge it by reminding it from whence it came. Jenson seems to exclude this possibility. In his Metaphysics and the Idea of God and volume one of Systematic Theology , Pannenberg appeals to Plotinus’ conception of time in criticizing thinkers as diverse as Augustine and Heidegger. But he also finds Plotinus inadequate because his system lacks any trinitarian mediation, which shapes the Christian doctrines of creation and eschatology. Thus, Pannenberg properly insists on a trinitarian interpretation of time. Whether one includes Plotinus in the Western mainstream or not, it is clear Pannenberg isn’t swallowing the tradition’s time-consciousness whole. Further, what Pannenberg says about the Trinity, time, and truth are interdependent and must be viewed accordingly. On Pannenberg’s terms, the anticipated verification or falsification of truth-claims is possible only if the part-whole relationship of time and eternity is granted. This, in turn, is only possible if a trinitarian interpretation of time is offered. This is not to say that Pannenberg should be immune from criticism on any component; it is simply an observation that Pannenberg would have to reconstruct his entire system if he were to reevaluate the question of time . . . .
” Keith A. Snider
New Haven, CT
I am concerned about the kind of polemical writing manifest in the pages of your journal. The Shorter Oxford defines polemics as “aggressive theological controversy,” and it isn’t too great a stretch from there to the notion of “culture wars.” But like all just wars, culture wars must be prosecuted with a well-defined and edifying objective. As I understand it, the objective of Christian polemics is not defeat or humiliation of an enemy, but conviction and new life for all-too-human others. The rules of engagement for this sort of “war” are rather unusual. Kierkegaard, an abrasively polemical warrior against secularism and liberalism, commented that “if real success is to attend the effort to bring a man to a definite position, one must first of all take pains to find him where he is and begin there.” Preaching and prating don’t work. He took his own advice, and his polemics still bite 150 years later. First Things has something to learn from Kierkegaard. Many of your authors look down from a great moral height on serious people who don’t absolutely follow the party line. From this perspective we others apparently look rather as the citizens of Sarajevo do to snipers in the mountains: clear enough to be easy targets, and sufficiently dehumanized to be fired on impersonally. There isn’t much engagement, nor hope of new life, in this sort of “polemics.” Such arbitrary sniping would be entirely appropriate, of course, if you were merely preaching to the choir-if your objective were to garner dittos by demonizing your enemies. But that I can’t believe . . . .
” Charles Creegan
Rocky Mount, NC
My essay on Dionysus in the May issue, originally entitled “Further Reflections . . . ,” grew out of David W. Murray’s earlier comment (“Fleeing Nature: The Wild God on Campus,” FT, December 1994), “Dionysus, who will not be mocked, represents our wild nature.” I did not intend to advance insights into the god’s meaning, but to muse upon and explore the implications of our “mocking” him by not attending to what he is commonly understood to represent. This not attending, I wished to suggest, has something to do with the modern world’s predictable shock whenever the Dionysian erupts-be it the casual drive-by killing, the gang rape, the My Lai massacre, the Oklahoma bombing, the Holocaust. Because our responses to these horrors are so consistently secular (better education, expanded social programs, intensified policing) we ignore the Dionysian which, in its disconcerting obscurity, suggests that the problem lies beyond our secular calculus. As Murray notes, it is dangerous to ignore this god. This much I believe my article made clear. It escapes, I hope, David Kovacs’ charge of “obnubilation” (Correspondence, August/September). I was less clear, however, on certain corollaries of the Dionysian-that, for example, despite his identification with violence and anarchy, our coming to terms with this god is also coming to terms with sexual and political responsibility (passion and power), and with that dimension of our identities contingent upon gender and genetics. I had hoped, obliquely, to show that we cannot be pro-choice about nature without violating nature. This much my musing and desultory presentation makes less clear and may indeed merit Kovacs’ censure for attacking the obscure with the more obscure. For my indefensible misspelling of Dionysus-a word I have read countless times obviously without “seeing” it-my sincere apologies to all concerned, not least of all, my old classics instructors. No apology, however, for my insistence upon attending to all that the Dionysian implies. Though he would be right to want better, David Kovacs is wrong to request “no more on Dionysus.” While we need not sup with this devil, we ought to keep a close eye on him.
” John J. Savant
San Rafael, CA
Dennis Teti’s “John Brown Redux,” (April) was most enjoyable and right on the mark in its comparison of abortion and slavery. As a student of Civil War music, however, I would like to correct his statement about the song, “John Brown’s Body.” “To the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic,’“ Mr. Teti says, “Union soldiers apotheosized Brown whose body lies a-mould’ring in the grave,’ but whose soul goes marching on.’“ Two points. First of all, “John Brown’s Body” predates the “Battle Hymn” by several months. In fact, it was written to the tune of a Methodist hymn called “On Canaan’s Happy Shore.” Secondly, contrary to common belief, the song was not written about the abolitionist John Brown but about Sgt. John Brown of the 12th Massachusetts infantry. Sgt. Brown died in camp before the unit went to war. He had been a member of the regimental glee club and was memorialized by his comrades in the song. When people first heard “John Brown’s Body” they naturally assumed that it had been written about “Old Ossawatomie” Brown, an assumption that is now firmly, but wrongly, established in our historical and musical lore. I have always thought that the men of the 12th must have gotten a kick out of that bit of mistaken identity that helped popularize the song they wrote for their friend.
” James A. Morgan III