The Public Square
Shortly before he died on November 23, 1976, André Malraux said, “The twenty-first century will be religious or it will not be at all.” I’m not sure what Malraux meant by it, but it is one of those oracular pronouncements that have about them the ring of truth. At the threshold of the Third Millennium, it seems that the alternatives to religion have exhausted themselves. That is true of the materialistically cramped rationalisms of the Enlightenment encyclopaedists, which, along with ideological utopianisms, both romantic and allegedly scientific, have been consigned, as Marxists used to say, to the dustbin of history. The perversity of the human mind will no doubt produce other ideological madnesses, but at the moment it seems the historical stage has been swept clean, with only the religious proposition left standing. That is certainly the intuition that informs John Paul II’s repeated exhortation, “Be not afraid!”—an exhortation addressed to the entire human community.
It is an intuition that some condemn as “triumphalistic.” But one can make the case that, as a world force, Christianity offers the only coherent, comprehensive, and compelling vision of the human project. Except for the others. The chief other is Islam. Christianity and Islam are the two religions that are large, growing, and universal in their culture-forming ambitions. Not without reason are thinkers in the West paying increasing attention to Islam. Which brings me to a new book that has already received notice in these pages, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude by Bat Ye’or (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 522 pages,, $45
We recently sponsored a meeting to discuss the book with Bat Ye’or, and it has been much on my mind. She is a very impressive scholar, a Jew born in Egypt who now lives in France, where the book was first published in 1991. She thinks the West has not begun to understand the challenge of Islam, that Europe is afraid to understand it, and that the best hope rests with Americans who still sense that they are part of a Christian—i.e., Judeo-Christian—culture.
On the challenge of Islam, the French legal scholar and Protestant theologian Jacques Ellul strongly agrees. He wrote the foreword to the book, one of the last things he wrote before he died. “It is most important to grasp,” wrote Ellul, “that the jihad is an institution in itself; that is to say, an organic piece of Muslim society. . . . The world, as Bat Ye’or brilliantly shows, is divided into two regions: the dar al-Islam and the dar al-harb, the ‘domain of Islam’ and ‘the domain of war.’ The world is no longer divided into nations, peoples, and tribes. Rather, they are all located en bloc in the world of war, where war is the only possible relationship with the outside world. The earth belongs to Allah and all its inhabitants must acknowledge this reality; to achieve this goal there is but one method: war.” The Koran allows that there are times when war is not advisable, and a momentary pause is called for. “But that,” writes Ellul, “changes nothing: war remains an institution, which means that it must resume as soon as circumstances permit.”
While grateful for Ellul’s endorsement, Bat Ye’or says he puts the matter somewhat more starkly than she would. In France and in Europe more generally, there is a growing anti-immigrant, and specifically anti-Muslim, sentiment, and she wants to carefully distance herself from that, which does her honor. On the substantive questions, however, the book leaves no doubt that she and Ellul are of one mind. In the Islamic view, Jews and Christians are “Peoples of the Book,” which distinguishes them from other infidels. Where Jews or Christians are in control, there is dar al-harb, the domain of war. Where Islam has conquered, Jews and Christians are dhimmi, meaning subject people who live under the dhimma, which is the pact or treaty granted by the Prophet Muhammad to the Peoples of the Book whom he conquered.
What Really Happened
The Decline is a big book, sometimes rambling but always informative. For many readers it will be an eye-opener, not because it is revisionist history but because it tells the story straight, thus countering the Islamophile histories that have dominated Western thought for so long. About half the book is given to a telling of the story, and the second half to a fascinating collection of documentary evidence from the beginning of Islam to the present. Most of the standard texts speak about the “rise” of Islam in the seventh century, and relate its spread as millions “embraced the new faith.” This is usually joined to positive comment on Islam’s “tolerance” of non-Muslims, especially as contrasted with the atrocities of the Christian powers with their crusades and “expulsion” of minorities from Europe. This, Bat Ye’or persuasively demonstrates, is a radical distortion of what happened. Islam’s spectacular spread was brought about by brutal military conquest, rapine, spoliation, and slavery, joined to a regime of “dhimmitude” that was based on deep contempt for the subject infidels, including the Peoples of the Book.
She begins by reminding us of the Christian civilizations of the Middle East (what Europeans call the Near East) and North Africa—the world of, for instance, St. Augustine. “On the eve of the Islamic conquest, a certain degree of homogeneity emerged from the civilization of the Near East and North Africa, despite the bloody religious conflicts. Heir to Hellenistic culture, it had assimilated the spiritual values of Judaism via Christianity. Although Greek and Pahlavi were the official languages of the Byzantine and Persian empires, respectively, the native inhabitants of Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine spoke and wrote Aramaic. Being a vernacular, liturgical, and literary language, Aramaic was used by the Jews to compile juridical works such as the Talmud and by the Christians to write the historical and theological works of the Nestorian and Monophysite Churches in its Syriac version. In Egypt, the native inhabitants used Coptic, their spoken and written national language.” In short, the “rise of Islam” did not happen in a vacuum. Islam violently displaced the vibrant, if internally conflicted, Christian culture of a large part of the then known world.
Nor was Islamic aggression limited to North Africa and the Middle East. “For centuries after its conquest in 712, Spain became the terrain par excellence for the jihad in the West of the dar al-Islam. . . . Breaking out of Arabia and from the conquered regions—Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine—these successive waves of [Muslim] immigrants settled in Spain and terrorized southern France. Reaching as far as Avignon, they plundered the Rhone valley. . . . In 793, the suburbs of Narbonne were burned down and its outskirts raided. Calls to jihad attracted the fanaticized hordes in the ribats (monastery-fortresses) spanning the Islamo-Spanish frontiers. Towns were pillaged and rural areas devastated.”
The Painful Particulars
Of course that was a nasty era. Islam did not invent the massacre or enslavement of vanquished peoples. Burning, pillage, spoliation, and the imposing of tribute were practiced by most of the armies of the time, whether Greek, Latin, or Slav. “Only the excess,” says Bat Ye’or, “the regular repetition and the systematization of the destruction, codified by theology, distinguishes the jihad from other wars of conquest or depredation.” After the first great wave of conquests in the seventh and eighth centuries, Islam gained new force with the accession of the Ottoman Turks. “Possessing an intrepid army and remarkable statesmen, the Ottomans were able to take advantage of the lack of unity and economic rivalries in the Christian camp. The final conquest of the Balkan peninsula was undertaken from 1451 by Mehmid II and his successors. Constantinople was encircled and fell in 1453; Serbia was conquered in 1459; then Bosnia and the Empire of Trebizond in 1463, and Herzegovina in 1483. Turkish expansion continued in Europe with the conquest of Wallachia, Moldavia, and eastern Hungary and was finally checked at Vienna in 1683 and in Poland in 1687.” The particulars are worth mentioning, for they underscore the continuity of the jihad and its impact on the world of today, as we are reminded by, for instance, the presence of U.S. troops in Bosnia.
Much of the book is a detailing of the practices of dhimmitude, correcting the conventional wisdom about Islamic “tolerance” of religious minorities. The dhimmis were treated variously in different times and places, depending upon what the Islamic rulers thought expedient. Bat Ye’or emphasizes how Christian disunity played into the hands of their conquerors. Not only the conflicts between East and West, but also between Monophysites, Nestorians, Chaldeans, and others led to many instances in which Christians collaborated with their Muslim masters against other Christians. The regime of dhimmitude was marked by a trade in hundreds of thousands of slaves, as well as minute regulations requiring Jews and Christians to wear distinctive clothing, and excluding them from any access to the law whereby they might seek redress against Muslim cruelties and injustices. The entire system was pervaded by a teaching of contempt toward the infidels.
She notes the irony that the Koran and other sacred texts of Islam had no specific rules for treating conquered infidels, so Muslim rulers in many cases simply took over the rules that the now-conquered Christians had previously applied to heretics. This is not the only way in which “Islamic civilization” was derived from the vanquished. “The historical role of these hordes drained off from the dar al-harb by the conquering Muslim armies should not be underestimated. The Christians and Jews driven from the Mediterranean countries and Armenia—scholars, doctors, architects, craftsmen, and peasants, country folk and town dwellers, bishops, monks, and rabbis—belonged to more complex civilizations than those of the Arab or Turkish tribes. The military and economic power of the caliphs was built up and the process of Islamization carried out through the exploitation of this slave manpower.”
Bat Ye’or emphasizes how little that is admired in Islamic civilization is original, how much of it is derivative. Even the great Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is a design taken from Byzantine Christianity. The dhimmi peoples made available to the culturally underdeveloped Arabs the knowledge that had once made their own cultures great. “Zoroastrians, Jacobites (Copts and Syrians), Nestorians, Melchites, and Jews translated into Arabic treatises on astronomy, medicine, alchemy, and philosophy, as well as literary narratives and stories. This work necessitated the invention of new words and the forging of the Arabic language and grammar into new conceptual molds, not only philosophic, scientific, and literary, but also administrative, economic, political, and diplomatic. . . . The first known scientific work in Arabic was a treatise on medicine, written in Greek by Ahrun, a Christian priest from Alexandria, and translated from Syriac into Arabic in 683 by Masarjawayh, a Jewish doctor from Basra (Iraq).” And so it was with many other “Islamic” cultural and scientific achievements.
The common view is that, during the so-called dark ages of European Christendom, Islam preserved the philosophical, literary, and scientific wisdom of the classical period. Bat Ye’or offers a somewhat different perspective. “And yet dhimmitude reveals another reality. Here are peoples who, having integrated the Hellenistic heritage and biblical spirituality, spread the Judeo-Christian civilization as far as Europe and Russia. Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, conquered by nomadic bands, taught their oppressors, with the patience of centuries, the subtle skills of governing empires, the need for law and order, the management of finances, . . . the sciences, philosophy, literature and the arts, the organization and transmission of knowledge—in short, the rudiments and foundations of civilization.” Later, some of those whose civilizations had been ravaged by the barbarians went into exile. “The elites who fled to Europe took their cultural baggage with them, their scholarship and their knowledge of the classics of antiquity. Thenceforth, in the Christian lands of refuge—Spain, Provence, Sicily, Italy—cultural centers developed where Christians and Jews from Islamized lands taught to the young Europe the knowledge of the old pre-Islamic Orient, formerly translated into Arabic by their ancestors.” By this account, then, the classical heritage that was presumably preserved by Islam was in fact rescued from Islam by those who fled its oppression.
Bat Ye’or is at pains not to appear anti-Islamic. At one point she goes so far as to say she refuses to make any “value judgments.” But the story she tells speaks for itself. However tortured the historical relationship between Christians and Jews, each community is identified by the same biblical narrative. In addition, common geography and communal interaction make the institutions and values of each inexplicable without reference to the other. Especially from the Christian viewpoint, Judaism and Christianity are in chronological continuity. Not so with Islam.
Islam claims to be anterior to the Peoples of the Book. It is claimed that, through the Koran, the Prophet restored the divine revelation that his Hebrew and Christian predecessors had falsified. The dispute with Christians and Jews is not over the interpretation of a common text; their text is rejected by Islam. Moreover, Islam’s origins in the customs and values of the Arab Bedouins and of nomadic tribes have left it with the jihad as the only way of relating to the non-Islamic world. The spiritual, moral, and sociological commonalities among the three religions should not be underestimated. At the same time, I believe Bat Ye’or and others are right to caution us against delusions; for instance, the delusion that a Muslim-Christian dialogue can be constructed on a basis more or less equivalent to the Jewish-Christian dialogue of recent decades.
Of the two assertive and culture-forming religions in the contemporary world, Christianity has enormous advantages over Islam, quite apart from the question of theological truth. There are approximately twice as many Christians as Muslims (two billion and one billion, respectively). Christianity is growing at least as fast as Islam and has greater evangelizing prospects, notably in Asia, especially if China really opens up. Moreover, today’s world is not hospitable to jihad in the form of conquest, but is increasingly susceptible to the communications technology mastered by the Christian West. Moreover, the Christian movement is on the far side of modernity, having gone through and survived, not without severe damage, its secularizing and explicitly antireligious impulses. Islam, by contrast, has for three centuries been largely left out; it has been the object rather than the subject of world-historical change. As that intrepid scholar Bernard Lewis reminds us, Islam views the dar al-harb of Christendom as the Great Satan, meaning the Great Tempter. Militant Islamism is driven by suspicion and ressentiment. Which can make the world a very dangerous place, as it is already a very dangerous in, for instance, the Middle East.
A great question facing Islam—and for us as we face Islam—is whether there are authentically Islamic sources that can religiously legitimate democracy and religious pluralism. From the beginning, Christianity has had the great asset of what some derisively call its “dualism”—the conceptual resource for distinguishing between spiritual and temporal authority, which has given it enormous flexibility in relating to different political and cultural circumstances from Theodosius to Hildebrand to the religion clause of the U.S. Constitution. Islam is emphatically monistic. That is a great asset when joined to military and political power in the course of conquest, but a disabling weakness under the conditions of postmodernity.
This truth impressed me at a recent conference sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in which we were examining Islam and the democratic prospect in various parts of the world. As I write, the secular Kemalists (after Kemal Ataturk, who established the republic in 1923) have replaced an Islam-friendly government, and have done so in the name of democracy. The Kemalists control the army, and one Turkish participant at the conference observed with a straight face, “Turkey is in the peculiar circumstance that we may need a military dictatorship in order to preserve democracy.” The assumption is that Islam and democracy are incompatible. It is an assumption that is given additional credibility by the Islamist insurgency in many Muslim countries. Of course there are other and very large parts of the Islamic world, such as Indonesia. I expect Bernard Lewis is right, however, in saying that any substantive change in Islamic doctrine must come from the Middle East, the world surrounding Mecca and Islam’s constituting sacred story, a world still steeped in the Arab and Bedouin mindset of the Prophet.
There is yet another important dimension. A while back we held a meeting to discuss Samuel Huntington’s seminal The Clash of Civilizations and the Remarking of World Order. There Wolfhart Pannenberg, the noted German theologian, made a strong argument, contra Huntington, that the Christian West and Christian East should be viewed as one civilization. That they are today viewed as two is largely the fault of European powers, especially Britain, that in the nineteenth century sided with the Ottoman Empire in order to contain Russia. I am impressed by the number of thinkers who, like Pannenberg, hold “perfidious Albion” largely responsible for the dominance of Islamophile and “Arabist” attitudes among foreign policy experts, not least in the U.S. Department of State.
Heightened Christian Consciousness
So we come back to Malraux’s prophecy about the twenty-first century. That it will be religious is not necessarily good news. Religion is as riddled with the possibilities of mischief as any other dimension of the human condition. The biggest problem in sight is Islam. People like Ellul and Bat Ye’or worry about the low-level jihad of Islamic immigration in Europe, which now includes millions of Muslims, and about the establishment of Islam in Bosnia. Unless one dismisses entirely the importance of civilizational clashes, that is something at least worth thinking about very carefully. The situation in the U.S. is very different. There are probably no more than two million Muslims in this country, and half of them are native-born blacks. That could change through massive immigration in the years ahead, but at present Muslims here pose no threat to the Judeo-Christian identity of the culture, or what is left of it.
In the several discussions I have touched on here, one notices a heightening of Christian self-consciousness as we approach the Third Millennium. This is evident in the witness of John Paul II, who carefully cultivates Muslim connections while at the same time repeatedly urging, “Open the door to Christ!” It is evident also in the new stirrings among Christians here in protesting the persecution of Christians elsewhere. Not incidentally, some of the most severe persecution and oppression of Christians is in “elsewheres” dominated by Islam—Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan being prime examples. In all these churnings of religion, culture, and politics, there is also a notable coming together of Christians and Jews. In the forefront of the movement against the persecution of Christians are Jews such as Michael Horowitz and New York Times columnist A. M. Rosenthal. Nobody denies—and some, such as Bat Ye’or make it quite explicit—that a strengthened sense of Judeo-Christian unity in the face of Islam also has obvious implications for our attitude toward the State of Israel. That consideration is not front stage center, but it is there.
I am convinced we must do everything we can to nurture constructive relations with Islam. As an institute and a journal, we have over the years tried to engage Muslims in the conversations of which we are part. It is an embarrassment that in a journal dealing with religion and public life, with a readership far larger than any comparable publication, the Muslim participation is almost nonexistent. I don’t know what to do about it, except to keep trying. We consider articles by Muslim authors, but they are typically so defensive, or so belligerent, or so self-serving—or all three at once—that they would only compound misunderstandings.
As for conferences, it is not hard to get “Muslim spokepersons.” There are teams of them flitting from conference to conference all over the world. They are part of the “Davos people” so brilliantly described by Huntington in his book. I have met them in Davos, Switzerland, where top CEOs and heads of state annually gather with select intellectuals to chatter about the state of the world in the esperanto of an internationalese that is not spoken by real people anywhere. The Muslims in such settings are for the most part westernized, secularized, academic intellectuals who are there to “represent the Muslim viewpoint” but have little more connection with living Islam than many Christians and Jews. The unhappy fact is that Muslim thinkers who can speak out of the heart of authentic Islam, and especially of resurgent Islamism, either do not want to talk with us or are prevented from doing so under the threat of very real injury to themselves or their families.
Meanwhile, the Islamic world stews in its resentments and suspicions, alternating with low-grade jihad in the form of the persecution of Christians, international terrorism, and dreams of driving Israel into the sea. This turbulent stand-off, beginning with the repulsion from Vienna in 1683 and embittered by centuries of Western imperialism, cannot last forever. It seems likely that in the new century of clashing civilizations there will be either heightened conflict or a breakthrough to something like the beginnings of a dialogue. Maybe the second can prevent the first. Or maybe the first will be required to precipitate the second. In any event, we in the Judeo-Christian West should be prepared. A good place to start is to understand the history that has brought us to where we are, and to that end I warmly recommend a careful and critical reading of Bat Ye’or’s The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude.
The Best and the Brightest
Long before the Second Vatican Council, there was a liturgical renewal among Catholics. It was very different from what is called liturgical reform today. In the 1950s, I was attracted to the movement under the auspices of the sainted Monsignor Martin Hellriegel of Holy Cross Church in St. Louis. Father Michael Mathis was another early pioneer, and the Center for Pastoral Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame gives out a Michael Mathis Award, which this year went to Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pennsylvania, the recently retired chairman of the national bishops conference committee for liturgy.
Receiving the award, Bishop Trautman launched a strident attack on critics of the current direction of liturgical reform, such as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Msgr. Klaus Gamber, Fr. Joseph Fessio, and groups called Adoremus and CREDO. The tide is turning, Trautman declares, raising the question, “Is liturgical renewal becoming a dinosaur?” The critics say they want to “reform the reform,” but Trautman does not credit their intentions for a moment. The proposals of the critics are “alarming.” “They are indicative that the liturgical advances of Vatican II are in trouble—advances which the vast majority of Catholics have received positively.” While asserting that the people like the changes, he criticizes liturgists for failing to enlist the support of the people. “We have missed golden opportunities to reach the people in the pews,” says the bishop.
On a college campus he recently saw a tee shirt with the message, “Join the resistance—support Vatican II.” I have seen the same tee shirt. The bishop took it as a message of support for the changes since Vatican II. The young woman wearing the tee shirt I saw explained that she supports the understanding of Vatican II advanced by John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, and urges resistance against those who have wreaked change and confusion in the name of “the spirit of the Council.” Obviously, there are major disagreements about the meaning of Vatican II. But it obviously is not obvious to Bishop Trautman, for whom any criticism of his version of the reform is an attack on the Council.
In his speech, Trautman repeatedly calls for “full, conscious, and active participation” in the liturgy. A bishop of like mind announced a while back that, using a stop watch, he calculated that for fifty-two minutes of a Mass the people were not doing anything. Maybe they were praying or reflecting on the Word of God, which he clearly was not. But Bishop Trautman’s particular passion is for “horizontal inclusive language” in Scripture readings and liturgy. Some readers may not be familiar with the terminology. As best I understand it, vertical language goes up and down, and horizontal language goes sideways. The bishops are now adopting “moderate horizontal inclusive language,” which sounds like a diagonal compromise.
“I say to you,” Trautman said at Notre Dame, “addressing women using male language denies women their own identity.” No doubt some women have told him that, although a recent national survey, reinforced by pastoral experience, suggests that there is little popular support for, and considerable opposition to, what is called “inclusive” language. Here, too, it seems that those who presume to speak for “the people in the pews” have not effectively reached them. The bishop has a point with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which in its excessively literal translation ends up with an overuse of “man” and “men” that is simply bad English. He cites a Catechism passage that says priests should “give themselves entirely to God and to men.” He comments, “Given homosexual behavior in our society, this is not the appropriate language to promote celibacy.” A really keen sensitivity to sexual innuendo, however, might give the bishop pause about his enthusiasm for “horizontal” language regardless of gender.
Panicked at the prospect of his cause becoming a “dinosaur,” the bishop seizes upon any argument at hand. The possibility that people may think the Catechism is promoting homosexuality “is an example of why exclusive language is unacceptable.” He also makes much of the fact that Tyndale publishers recently put out an inclusive translation of the Bible. “If Bible scholars from the fundamentalist tradition . . . employ gender-inclusive language and our revised edition of the lectionary offers only a tokenism, there is a serious loss to God’s people,” says Bishop Trautman. “It is no secret that many Roman Catholics are entering fundamentalist churches today. How can the Roman Catholic tradition fail to keep pace even with the evangelical tradition in offering inclusive language?”
Even with those fundamentalists and evangelicals. How backward can we Catholics be? In his grasping for an argument, however, the bishop gets quite muddled. I do not want to believe for a minute that he believes that Catholics are becoming fundamentalists because they want gender-inclusive language. Fundamentalists are as enthusiastic about gender-inclusive language as Bishop Trautman is about the Tridentine Mass. The Tyndale experiment is a nonevent. The big development on the Bible translation front is that the publishers of the New International Version (NIV)—which is by far the most widely used translation among Protestants—recently announced that they are definitively shelving any plans to dabble, even ever so cautiously, with inclusive language. The earlier suggestion that they might do so met with massive protests. If Catholics are becoming fundamentalists, it is more likely in order to escape the “reforms” promoted by Trautman & Co.
He laments that the “reformers of the reform” now have the upper hand in the Church. “There is a dismantling of the renewal taking place before our very eyes,” he declares. But then he offers the consolation that the reformers of an earlier day were also given a hard time, only to be vindicated later. “Why do we hurt our best and brightest? ” he plaintively asks. Speaking of the best and brightest, he immediately adds, “By God’s providence there are similarities between Father Mathis and myself.” Ah, the lot of the unappreciated. A prophet is not without honor . . .
In fact, there is much to approve in changes made since the Council. Although there are no doubt some who would like to, Catholics cannot and should not simply go back to the way things were. In his undiscriminating defense of the liturgical establishment, however, Bishop Trautman dismisses critics as reactionaries. There is a big difference, however, between antiquarianism and respect for tradition, continuity, and patterns of popular devotion. That earlier liturgical renewal was one of ressourcement, of reappropriating the fullness of the tradition in order to complement and, where necessary, to correct liturgical practice ossified by mistaking mystification for mystery. That was the renewal embraced by Vatican II. Then came the agitations of those who mistook reform for perpetual innovation.
In the 1960s, I was the token Protestant on the board of the National Liturgical Conference. It used to attract ten thousand or more participants to its annual liturgical weeks. By the end of the sixties, the liturgical week (it may have been the last one) attracted a ragtag crowd of hippies manqué under the slogan of e. e. cummings’ “damn everything but the circus.” What passed for the avant garde of liturgical reform had in fact become a disheveled and depressing circus of preening self-indulgence and uncritical celebration of everything in the cultural marketplace that presented itself as liberation from putatively stifling tradition.
Bishop Trautman cites the great liturgical scholar Josef Jungman in his support, but there is a great disjunction between Jungman’s work and the liturgical establishment of today. Many of the pioneers, such as Martin Hellriegel, became vocal critics of the liturgical revolution, and for their troubles were derisively dismissed as old-timers who had lost touch with “the spirit of the Council.” In fact, and although they did not use the phrase, they were the first advocates of the “reform of the reform.” After thirty years of changes big and small, why are some so panicked by the suggestion that it is time to reevaluate what has happened and where we ought to go from here? Of course there are on the margins a few people who think Vatican II was a mistake and would repeal everything, both legitimate and illegitimate, done in its name. But they are just that, on the margins and certain to stay there. They in no way represent what is meant by a reform of the reform.
So many good things have been done since the Council, and so much that is doubtful or wrongheaded. The reform of the reform is nothing more than a proposal that we try to sort them out. Bishop Trautman is right in sensing a widespread and growing uneasiness with the direction of liturgical change. But his strident depiction of those who disagree as enemies of the Council and persecutors of the “best and brightest” can lead only to sterile polarization, and a deepening of the suspicion that the liturgical establishment holds in contempt both the tradition of the Church and the sensibilities of the faithful who, despite all, persist in their faithfulness.
Here’s one dictionary definition of “witch-hunt”: “the searching out and deliberate harassment of those (as political opponents) with unpopular views.” The charge of witch-hunting is often overused, but from time to time one comes across a textbook case. For instance, the Upstate New York Coalition for Democracy. The members of the coalition include the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, American Association of University Women, Anti-Defamation League, Humanist Society, National Education Association, People for the American Way, and Planned Parenthood.
An April 14, 1997 letter accompanies a questionnaire sent to public school administrators and teachers expressing “our concern over the growth of the Radical Right in upstate New York.” The letter means by the Radical Right “activity intended to break down the constitutional separation between church and state.” Then this: “Please be aware that we have no interest in characterizing or labeling groups or individuals.” Of course not. There is no “characterizing or labeling” implicit in the list provided of thirty-four organizations of the Radical Right. The list bundles together, inter alia, American Center for Law and Justice, Aryan Nation, Becket Fund, Christian Coalition, Coalition for Educational Choice, Feminists for Life, Focus on the Family, John Birch Society, Ku Klux Klan, Militia groups, National Rifle Association, Neo-Nazis, and Promise Keepers.
Respondents are asked whether they have come across code words that indicate the infiltration of the Radical Right such as “dumbing down of our schools,” “the moral decline of America,” and “the need to return to family values.” They are also asked about “any attempts to reduce or curtail public funding of the arts,” and about anyone who has opposed school budgets in recent elections. There are other sure evidences of the influence of the antidemocratic Radical Right, such as challenges to “multicultural programs, self-esteem programs, drug awareness education, AIDS curriculum, sex education.” And you know the Radical Right is on your school board if there are members who espouse “back to basics,” “‘abstinence-only’ sex education,” “private school vouchers,” “injecting the ‘free market’ into the school,” or “parental rights.” When there are subversives advocating parental rights, you know it is time to take alarm. The price of the government school monopoly is eternal vigilance.
The questionnaire wants to know if any teachers or administrators have received communications from such radical organizations as the Rutherford Institute, American Catholic Lawyers Association, or Heritage Foundation threatening action “because the religious freedom of a student has been violated.” The defense of religious freedom, we are given to understand, is a hallmark of the Radical Right. Respondents are asked not only about their own experience but also to inquire about the views, letters, and experiences of their colleagues. “The searching out and deliberate harassment of those (as political opponents) with unpopular views.” That pretty well sums up the very illiberal activities of this very impressive coalition of what today passes for liberalism.
Love, No Matter What
It was altogether a remarkable three-day conference, “Homosexuality and American Public Life,” held at Georgetown University this summer and sponsored by the American Public Philosophy Institute, a splendid organization with a particular interest in public life and natural law. Among the thirty-four speakers were Michael Medved, Jeffrey Satinover, Maggie Gallagher, Robert George, and Hadley Arkes. The usual suspects, you might think, and you wouldn’t be far off, but hardly a usual meeting. More than 350 people gathered from all over the country to break the silence on what for many has become a taboo subject, and they did so in an admirably calm and reasonable manner. To their credit, a number of homosexual advocates stayed for the whole conference, including Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic. To be sure, there were also about fifty demonstrators outside decrying the conference’s promotion of “homophobia,” but Robert George remarked that the demonstration was so unimpressive that he suspected it was organized by the Republican Party.
I was asked to address the closing session on “Where Do We Go From Here?” Herewith, for your possible interest, what I had to say.
The question “Where do we go from here?” should not be taken to imply that there is a clear path, or even an unclear path, toward a “solution” of the problems addressed by this conference. The unruly passions of sexuality are a permanent feature of the human condition. Individually and in our several communities, we can try to cope with them better than we have in the past. Toward that end we should leave this meeting with prayer for an increased measure of all four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. These must inform where we go from here.
Prudence is the wisdom to understand the nature of the homosexual impulse and its organized insurgency in our public life. Temperance is the refusal to panic, and the tempering of any illusion that either the impulse or the insurgency will disappear. Fortitude—also known by the name of that fine organization, Courage—means we decline to be intimidated by opponents and brace ourselves for the duration, which will likely be a very long time.
Then there is justice. It must be unmistakably clear that ours is a concern for justice. Justice for people, especially young people, caught in sexual perplexity and assailed from within and without by pressures to consign themselves to a way of life that is marked by compulsion, loneliness, depression, and disease. Justice also for the integrity of our public life, which requires that truth be spoken with candor and disagreements be engaged with civility. Justice, finally, for millions of Americans—mothers, fathers, and children—who need all the support they can get to sustain in the present and transmit to the future the “little platoon” of love and fidelity that the family is meant to be.
Prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. The subject of “Homosexuality and American Public Life” has many dimensions—dimensions of politics, public policy, medicine, and education. But without these virtues all our efforts will end up in frustration, despair, or never-ending polemics. In that event, it is not so important that we would lose. The real losers would be the sexually perplexed whom we would help, the democracy that we cherish, and the families that claim our support.
In preparing for today, I looked again at the statement of the Ramsey Colloquium, “The Homosexual Movement,” published in the March 1994 issue of First Things. It still strikes me as a singularly coherent and persuasive account of the task ahead, and I warmly recommend it to your consideration. Make no mistake about it: the task is daunting, and we must brace ourselves for a work of many years. This long-term view may be discouraging to some. John Maynard Keynes famously said that in the long run we’re all dead. Not so incidentally, he was homosexual, and the remark reflects the history-limiting horizon of a sterile worldview divorced from the promise and peril of successor generations.
It is said that we who challenge the homosexual insurgency are traditionalists clinging to the past. And it is true that we would respect those who came before us, as we hope to be respected by those who come after us. But our cause is for the future; the future of our children and children’s children, and the future of the human project itself. Next only to religious communities of ultimate promise, the ever-fragile community that we call family is the primary bearer of hope for the future.
It is in families that ordinary people participate as procreators in the continuing creation of life. It is in families that ordinary people make history, and do so much more palpably and believably than do the movers and shakers who presumably make the history of this or any other time. Family is a synonym for history, of continuity through time, and for most people family is their most audacious and sacrificial commitment to the communal hope that in the long run we will not all be dead. The history-limiting horizon of a sexual revolution that is captive to the immediacies of desire is in the service of what Pope John Paul II has aptly called “the culture of death.” In the great contest that has now been joined, ours is the party of “the culture of life.”
In reading again the statement “The Homosexual Movement,” I wondered about the course of the contest over these last several years. This meeting testifies to the failure of the homosexual insurgency to silence its critics. Thoughtful people with a moderately healthy backbone are no longer intimidated by the charge of “homophobia.” Along with the epithets of “racism” and “sexism,” the charge has lost its force by promiscuous overuse. Not everywhere, to be sure. In most colleges and universities thirty years ago, a faculty member who publicly announced that he thought homosexuality a good thing would have invited suspicion and censure. In the same schools today, he is likely in deep trouble if he offers less than unqualified approval of the homosexual movement. So there is no doubt that the insurgency has made advances. But we would be making a very big mistake if we measured cultural change by fashions in the academy. The academy today is in large part a reservation for the lost tribes of radicalisms past.
The homosexual movement is usually dated from the “Stonewall Riot” of 1969. That is almost thirty years ago. As with the racialism of an ossified civil rights establishment, and with the splintered leaderships of the several feminisms, the direction of the homosexual movement has become uncertain. The advantage of novelty is wearing thin. In the entertainment politics of contemporary America, thirty years is a long time to play the role of the avant garde. After a while, people come to recognize that everything changes except the avant garde.
I am inclined to the view that 1993, proclaimed as the Year of the Gays, was the high point of the effort to persuade the American people that homosexuality is, all in all, a good thing. President Clinton called for gays in the military. A huge gay pride march on Washington declared definitive cultural victory. In movies, theater, and television, on the cover of almost every popular magazine, the homosexual insurgency was exultantly championed that year. One may wonder whether it made much difference where making a difference really counts, namely, whether parents are any more welcoming of the prospect that their children may be homosexual.
Between gay advocates who present the movement as one of radical cultural change and those who want to “mainstream” homosexuality into existing social patterns, there seems to be something of a stand-off. Groups such as ACT-UP are in disarray, and the Mass at St. Patrick’s has not been disrupted for some time. It is true that there are still the gay pride parades here and there, but they no longer have the shock of novelty and most people, including many homosexuals, decorously avert their eyes in embarrassment for the paraders. The advocates of “mainstreaming,” such as Andrew Sullivan and Bruce Bawer, sometimes seem to be doing no more than endorsing the attitude of the Victorian lady who said they can do what they want so long as they don’t frighten the horses. Of course their modesty of language and demeanor is misleading, as is evident in their demand for same-sex marriage.
My point is that the homosexual movement is not the unstoppable countercultural juggernaut that its champions and many of its opponents once thought it to be. The movement has suffered severe setbacks. It is, for instance, hard to overestimate the significance of the shattering of the myth of Kinsey’s 10 percent. Although those of us who live in places such as New York and Washington may find it hard to believe, we are dealing with a deviancy from the heterosexual norm that probably involves no more than 2 percent of the male population, and it seems that half of them do not want to make a public issue of it.
Consider, too, that after three decades of strenuous effort and high confidence of victory, the demand for the formal approval of homosexuality has been turned back again and again even in the liberal oldline Protestant churches. Only the small and rapidly disappearing United Church of Christ has officially approved the ordination of the homogenitally active.
Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying that the movement has been stopped. Not by a long shot. But it is not in unchallenged ascendancy, as witness the challenge of this very conference. The strategy of the movement was caught most precisely in the lines of Alexander Pope:
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
To endure, that is the goal of tolerance. To pity, that is the goal of compassion. To embrace, that is the goal of affirmation. Those are the three strategic steps. Despite the overwhelming support of what presume to be the major culture-forming institutions of our society, and most particularly the support of the media, the American people have not been induced to take the fateful step of affirming homosexuality as a good thing.
Yes, it may be objected, but what about the first step of tolerance? Well, what about it? I hope it is agreed that we neither could nor should put consenting adults in jail for homosexual acts. In addition, we do well to remember that there has always been—in major cities and in certain lines of work—a substantial homosexual subculture. Sophisticated heterosexual New Yorkers of, say, the 1920s were probably less troubled by the homosexual phenomenon than their counterparts are today. It was not then demanded that they commit themselves to homosexuality as an ideological crusade. Homosexuality was then viewed as a deviance to be socially tolerated, but not morally approved.
It was once called the love that dare not speak its name, and many have observed that it has now become the neurosis that doesn’t know when to shut up. But there is more to it than that. There was and there is a gay world and a straight world, and both the terms and the borders are set mainly by the gay world. Within the subcultural world of its own making, the name of the desire was not only spoken but exuberantly celebrated. In more recent years, the borders were declared abolished, and gays, or at least some gays, set out to remake the world.
Of course, those who oppose the homosexualizing of the world—which means redefining human sexuality as the servicing of desire—will be accused of saying that people should go back into the closet. They may call that world a closet if they choose. What we are saying is that a small minority that is at odds—whether by choice or circumstance or a combination of both—with the constituting institution of society and the right ordering of human sexuality have not the right to remake the world in the image of their dissent. We are saying that, so long as this is an approximately free and democratic society, they cannot push into the closet those who would defend the world we have received and pass it on to coming generations.
1993, I am suggesting, may have been the high point of the insurgency’s effort to win, as it is said, the hearts and minds of the American people. That effort has had only modest success. It is true that there are data indicating a greater “acceptance” of homosexuals and homosexuality. Acceptance is an ambiguous term, and I am sure it applies more to homosexual persons than to homosexuality. Nor is such acceptance necessarily a bad thing. On the part of parents in particular, it is often acceptance with a broken heart—acceptance of a son or daughter with foreboding about what is in store for them, acceptance despite shattered dreams of the grandchildren that will not be. Such acceptance is not untouched by those three other virtues, commonly called the theological virtues, of faith, hope, and charity. Keeping faith with those for whom we care, despite all. Holding on to hope for change, refusing to believe that the youthful announcement of homosexual identity is the final word. And above all charity, which simply means love. Love, no matter what.
If this is what is meant by a popular increase in “acceptance,” then I say we should be thankful for it. What has not happened is a broad public persuasion that homosexuality is a good or even a morally neutral thing. Many have been momentarily intimidated into not expressing their objections and misgivings, but they have not been persuaded, and I do not believe they will be persuaded. On the contrary, they were frontally assaulted by a proposition that most of them had never had occasion to think about, and didn’t want to think about. They had good reason not to think about it. The philosopher Sidney Hook, late in life, asked a friend, “But what do they actually do?” When told, he recoiled in disbelief and declared, “But that’s disgusting!”
Sidney Hook’s response—reinforced by habit, moral teaching, and devotion to marriage and family—is the response of most people. It is a response that is largely intuitive and pre-articulate. People were told, and many came to believe, that they should be ashamed of themselves for their irrational prejudice. Many intellectuals—those who belong to what has aptly been described as the herd of independent minds—readily believed it and eagerly performed the appropriate rituals of self-denigration to expiate their sin of homophobia. But for others, what was intuitive and pre-articulate is increasingly being thought through and articulated. They will no longer be silenced, as witness this conference.
“Can’t we talk about it?” That seemingly innocent question is a mantra of the homosexual movement. The assumption is that, the more people talk and think about it, the more affirmative they will be. The leaders of the movement may come to rue the day that they invited the American people to think long hard thoughts about homosexuality. Examining the way of life that is captive to the immediacies of homoerotic desire—a way of dissolution, deception, despair, and early death—more and more people will find the reasons and the words for a response that was at first intuitive and pre-articulate.
To be sure, the advocates of the movement say that the pathologies of the gay subculture—which at least some readily acknowledge—would be remedied by the general acceptance of homosexuality. The opponents say that such acceptance would only guarantee the spread of the pathologies. I do not think the American people are prepared to gamble on who is right. Certainly there is nothing in historical experience or common sense to suggest that pathologies are remedied by integrating them into society, while there is abundant reason to believe that such pathologies will further debase a society that has lost its capacity to censure. Already in our society it is too often the case that moral judgment is the duty that dare not speak its name.
Having failed in the arena of politics where we democratically deliberate how we ought to order our life together, the homosexual movement has no choice but to vest its hopes in courts, government regulations, professional organizations, and the bureaucracies of the public school system. In these arenas their victories have been substantial, and they aspire to much more. In all these arenas, the movement must be challenged at every step—fearlessly, calmly, reasonably, relentlessly. The good of innumerable individuals, and the common good, depend on it. The outcome of that challenge is uncertain. We cannot know what the future holds. We must do what we can. Eliot said it in “East Coker”: “For us there is only the trying; the rest is not our business.”
Finally, we will not understand what is happening or be able to do much about it unless we recognize the cultural erosion of what can only be called a spiritual sensibility—a sensibility that we are all flawed creatures living in a fragile world that cannot survive without forbearance and forgiveness. A young man to whom I was explaining the Church’s teaching about disordered sexual desire responded with the plaintive cry, “But the Church is still saying there is something wrong with me!” Well, yes—and with me, and with all of us. But we must never define ourselves—not entirely, not most importantly—by what is wrong with us. Who we are, our identity, is more than that, much more than that. We are defined not by the disorder of our desires but by the right ordering of our loves and loyalties, and at the end of the day we must all ask forgiveness for loves and loyalties betrayed. Without forbearance and forgiveness, we are all hopelessly lost.
Perhaps you saw it too, the story about this new organization of physically disabled people who criticize the movie actor Christopher Reeves because he wants to be cured. The group wants to promote what it calls disability pride. “I can’t walk and I’m glad I can’t walk,” declared one young woman. “I don’t want to walk. Disability is good!” We must hope that she does not really believe that. While being sensitive to the poignancy of her defiance, we must refuse her demand that we believe that. Her disability is not good, it is very sad; but she is more than her disability. We support her in her struggle, and help her not at all by pretending that it is not a struggle. Of that truth we must also persuade our homosexual brothers and sisters. We must do so in a way that carefully distinguishes between affirmation of the homosexual person and opposition to the homosexual movement. We must do so humbly, in painful awareness of our different but often more severe disabilities. But we must also do so firmly, knowing that homosexuals are not helped and many lives are ruined by their effort to impose upon others their defiant denial of the troubling truth.
“Can’t we talk about it?” they ask. Well, yes, we are talking about it, and we will continue to talk about it. Although some seem determined to view us as their enemies, we will refuse to view them as our enemies. We will talk about it with them, and with whoever else is willing to talk. We will talk about it, God willing, in a manner that is informed by the classical virtues of prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. And we will talk about it in a manner that is graced by the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Love above all. Love, no matter what.
While We’re At It
• Excuse me for the interruption, but have you thought that others might enjoy reading this stuff as much as you do? If you send us a list of family members, friends, and associates who should be reading FT, we’ll send them a sample issue in your name. The only risk is that they may resent your having kept the secret from them until now. Live dangerously. Do it today.
• That famed British understatement is so often imitated in a manner that ends up seeming much affected, but every once in a while it is done just right. For instance, this by J. Leslie Houlden in the Times Literary Supplement: “From the viewpoint of historical inquiry, it is in the highest degree inconvenient that Jesus of Nazareth left no writings behind. However faithful the record of his words in the Gospels, they have gone through the contextualizing and interpreting minds and pens of others, and so has, in part, the character of responses or reactions to Jesus. From the viewpoint of Christian faith, that same fact points to a divine recklessness and indifference to certain kinds of finity that is breathtaking and often scarcely tolerable.” Houlden, theologian emeritus at King’s College, London, is reviewing three new books on St. Paul: Paul Between Damascus and Antioch by Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, Paul: The Mind of the Apostle by A. N. Wilson, and What Paul Really Said by Tom Wright. Houlden agrees with almost everyone that Hengel and Schwemer are masterful, and A. N. Wilson is a sometimes interesting amateur eccentric. He rather likes Wright, who is writing in direct response to Wilson’s “revolutionary” theories, but thinks he fails to translate successfully Paul’s worldview in a way that is accessible to moderns. On the more general question of who “founded” Christianity, Houden has this to say: “Does it then make sense to see Paul as the real founder of Christianity? The question is in part semantic. If by Christianity you mean what was potentially a world religion, nonethnic in membership, centered on Jesus, then it was Paul’s single-minded and determined vision that got it going on that basis. If you mean a faith that is so centered on Jesus that it sees virtually everything in terms of his spiritual sovereignty, consigning all else to the margins, then Paul has a better claim than anyone else to have established this faith. If you mean a church system based on congregations with leaders, rites, and common life, then again Paul has the best claim to have established it, at least in lands beyond Palestine and Syria, and in certain respects to have done so in ways that turned out to be, in essence, permanent. It was Paul too who bequeathed certain thought—patterns, words, and images that have proved determinative in Christianity (though with endless developments in their sense).”
As for Wilson’s contention that Paul was a radical innovator who incorporated large elements of pagan mystery religions, Houlden is not impressed. “However innovative Paul may have been, and however influential he proved to be, he himself was conscious of his being in line with his Christian predecessors, with the single exception of the terms for the admission of Gentiles to the Church. As far as belief was concerned, he saw himself as the inheritor not the inventor of faith (1 Corinthians 15:3). With regard to Jesus’ ‘lordship’ too, Paul is no originator: he quotes the Aramaic prayer that is framed in those terms (1 Corinthians 16:22).”
Houlden’s conclusion is worthy of John Henry Newman: “There is something of the delighted naivete of Monsieur Jourdain in those who scandalously claim that Paul ‘invented’ Christianity. Perhaps an enterprising publisher could make a coup with a series on ‘the founders of Christianity,’ including all the significant figures in the long story. The claim would be as true—and as misleading—about them all. But at least this debate makes us attend to the pervasiveness of movement in the development of Christianity that so many find it their duty to play down or even deny.”
• The same issue of TLS treats another biography of St. Paul by Roman Catholic scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, OP. The book is Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford University Press), and the author says he is aiming for “vividness and concreteness.” The reviewer, Michael Goulder, thinks he has achieved that, but at the price of sober judgment. After listing a number of instances in which Murphy-O’Connor flies in the face of accepted scholarship, he writes: “This is an example of the author’s desire for ‘vividness and concreteness,’ which many will think has triumphed over sober judgment. Another instance is his claim that Paul was married. There is no suggestion at all in any of Paul’s letters that he had had a wife; and since he does speak of his own personal situation in the passages on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, we might expect him to have done so. But Murphy-O’Connor argues that marriage was virtually universal; Jewish boys were married off by their parents at between the ages of eighteen and twenty; Paul’s wife and children had probably died in an accident or an epidemic. This might then explain his zeal to persecute the Church, arising from his suppressed anger. This certainly makes for vividness, but it is not biography.” Goulder concludes: “I list this selection of options which he has taken, not because they are obviously wrong—he would have some scholarly support for most of them; Murphy-O’Connor is learned, and there is no conclusion for which he does not put a reasoned argument—but because the frequency of colorful and surprising conclusions saps the reader’s confidence. Can he really believe that services at Corinth were presided over by homosexuals? Or that the main part of the Epistle to the Romans was written without any reference to the situation in Rome, because Paul happened to be interested in the question of Law and faith at the time? This Paul may have its use for scholars to explore possible byways; but for the general reader in search of the Steps of St. Paul, less vivid but more dependable Lives are available.”
• A screed in the format of a news story in the Charleston Gazette is titled “Anti-Choice Zealots May Stop at Nothing.” The object of author Stephanie Salter’s wrath is Operation Rescue, whose leaders “never own up to the deceptive manipulation of their propaganda.” For instance: “A reproduced photo of a rare, late-term abortion (or what O.R. says is an aborted fetus) represents all abortion. That most abortions are performed when the ‘baby’ can be seen only beneath a microscope is a fact O.R. refuses to acknowledge.” I imagine they readily acknowledge the fact, but it’s not easy to produce a poster of a baby that can’t be seen. I am always bemused by people who say that a fetus at, say, two weeks “doesn’t look like a baby.” It’s exactly what a two—week-old baby looks like. It’s what I looked like and you looked like when we were two weeks old.
• Just today there were two more, one from a Methodist and another from a member of the Orthodox Church in America. Letters full of praise for the journal but plaintively asking why we don’t have more Methodist and Orthodox (others say Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.) writers. How to respond? We take very seriously our being an ecumenical and interreligious publication, but we have no quota system. We can consider for publication only what is submitted for consideration. Most of our articles are not commissioned but, as it is said, come in over the transom, and they come by the hundreds. All are given attention. The steady fact is that a disproportionate number of publishable manuscripts—measured by subject matter and style—come from Roman Catholics and Jews, with Lutherans in third place (although I haven’t done an actual count). The moral: We cannot consider “more Methodist” (or Orthodox, or whatever) articles in the abstract; we can only consider articles written by Methodists (or Orthodox, or whatever).
• Passion Plays produced around the world have for a long time been a particular, and understandable, concern of the Jewish community. Here is an invitation from the American Jewish Committee to attend a one-day conference on the subject. The letter says, “The issue of Passion Plays is especially critical because of the religious nature of many of the productions.” All of them, I should hope.
• Mr. Dooley opined that the Supreme Court follows the election returns, an opinion which devotees of our robed masters issuing oracles from the high temple in Washington deem disrespectful, if not blasphemous. In fact, the Court does much more than follow the election returns; it is a thoroughly political institution. And that is exactly what advocates of a “living constitution” to replace the Constitution say that the Court should be, and they do not hesitate to condemn as recklessly radical those who would return the Court (and the courts) to the very limited business of interpreting law. Readers keep sending in snippets that demonstrate the historical ironies in the long-running debate over the role of the judiciary. Today this concern is thought to be conservative, but it was not always so. Sixty years ago, for instance, FDR promoted his “court-packing scheme,” as it is commonly called, and is commonly condemned in textbooks as an act of irreverence against the sanctity of the judiciary. Although Roosevelt’s proposal failed, it had the desired political effect on the judicial politicians of the time. His description of the problem in a radio address of March 9, 1937 quite perfectly addresses our circumstance in 1997: “The Court, in addition to the proper use of its judicial functions, has improperly set itself up as a third house of Congress—a super legislature, as one of the Justices has called it—reading into the Constitution words and implications which are not there, and which were never intended to be there. We have, therefore, reached the point as a nation where we must take action, to save the Constitution from the Court, and the Court from itself. We must find a way to take an appeal from the Supreme Court to the Constitution itself. We want a Supreme Court which will do justice under the Constitution—not over it. In our courts, we want a government of law—not men.”
• The media are often, and in this case rightly, pointing out that Catholic Charities gets millions of dollars in government grants, and spends a good deal of that in lobbying for government grants to organizations such as Catholic Charities. The misimpression, however, is that Catholic Charities is a single national organization based in Washington and with branches throughout the country. The fact is that every diocese and archdiocese has its own program of assistance to the needy, usually called Catholic Charities or something similar, such as Catholic Social Ministries. These independent programs are loosely associated with a dues-collecting organization called Catholic Charities USA (formerly, National Conference of Catholic Charities). Regrettably, Catholic Charities USA does fund-raising throughout the country, leaving many people with the impression that they are contributing to Catholic Charities in their diocese. Some diocesan Catholic Charities make a point of distinguishing themselves from Catholic Charities USA and also refuse any government funds at all, thus giving their people a greater participation in the local church’s works of mercy. The media impression that there is one big nationwide organization called Catholic Charities is not entirely the fault of the media. It would seem to work to the advantage of Catholic Charities USA, which has a big bureaucracy that mainly replicates the United States Catholic Conference in advocating expanded government welfare programs. The present structure may be viewed as a good deal for Catholic Charities USA, but it can undermine the good work of diocesan programs, and does little to instill popular confidence in the Church’s works of corporal mercy.
• At the “American Treasures” exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building, W. Jefferson, the President, praised the library for putting texts such as the Declaration of Independence on the Internet, and Chief Justice Rehnquist elevated the proceedings by reading from a 1940 speech by then-Attorney General Robert Jackson at an occasion marking the 150th anniversary of the first session of the Supreme Court. Said Jackson: “This court is more than an arbiter of cases and controversies. It is the custodian of a culture, and is the protector of a philosophy of equal rights, of civil liberty, of tolerance, and of trusteeship of political and economic power.” Since he chose to read it, and did so without demurrer, one may wonder whether that is Mr. Rehnquist’s view of the Court. Nine unelected and, for the most part, undistinguished lawyers are the custodians of a culture? One stands, or perhaps one should genuflect, in awe before the robed oracles seated in the sacred chamber of the temple on First Street. Theirs is a heavy burden, and great is the debt of the citizenry for their bearing it on our behalf. As the late Alexander Bickel of Yale wrote in The Least Dangerous Branch (1962), “Whatever the Court lays down is right, even if wrong, because the Court and only the Court speaks in the name of the Constitution. Its doctrines are not to be questioned; indeed, they are hardly a fit subject for comment. The Court has spoken. The Court must be obeyed.” Unlike Jackson, Bickel was writing in derision of the inflated pretensions of the Supreme Court.
• The Endless Search for the Mainstream Department. Professor Douglas Jacobsen of Messiah College in Pennsylvania writes in the April issue of Interpretation that Protestantism is in need of a new center. The two-party model (liberal and evangelical) will no longer do. Jacobsen’s new center, it says here, “must be based on inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness. Its net must be spread as widely as possible, to as many people as possible. It should be a meeting place of many varieties of Protestants.” I don’t want to be a spoilsport, but I wonder if the new centrism isn’t what used to be called liberalism.
• “What is actually happening is that the people of Britain and Ireland are paying indirectly for America’s holocaust of abortion, which has now disposed of more unborn babies than there are people in Australia.” How can that be? The Spectator of London explains that in 1992 and again in 1996 Bill Clinton used the Irish issue to appeal to Democrats who were put off by that party’s support for abortion on demand. “Many of these working-class Democrats think of themselves as Irish, a very American quest for some sort of identity in a vast country where the population is in constant motion and real roots are hard to put down,” says the Spectator. In his book, The Greening of the White House, Conor O’Clery, formerly Washington correspondent of the Irish Times, tells how in 1992 Ray Flynn, then mayor of Boston, helped Clinton with Catholic voters by countering the abortion question with support for the independence of Ulster from Britain. Flynn was later appointed ambassador to the Vatican. “Now it is quite likely,” says the Spectator, “that Clinton’s successors, both Democrats and Republicans, will compete for this newly awakened Irish vote for the foreseeable future, at the expense of Ireland and Britain, whose interests have never been seriously considered. One evil has begotten another.”
• Ecumenism does not always mean reciprocity, or so it seems. While Protestant seminaries have a growing number of Catholic students, they have very few faculty who got their degrees in Catholic graduate programs. According to the 1994 Directory of the Council of Societies for the Study of Religion, top-ranked divinity schools such as Chicago, Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt, Emory, and Duke had few, if any, graduates of Catholic theological programs on their faculties. The six Catholic theological faculties studied, on the other hand, are loaded with faculty from non-Catholic programs. Notre Dame, for instance, has forty-three faculty members, twenty-five of whom are from non-Catholic programs. One suggested explanation of this pattern is anti-Catholic prejudice, especially in nondenominational and state schools. As for Catholic schools, they seem to prefer hiring graduates of prestigious nondenominational and state institutions. The study does not measure how Catholic are the Catholic graduate programs, and, given the general dominance of scholarly guild over ecclesial allegiance in academic religion, where people get their doctoral union cards may make very little difference.
• I don’t often have occasion to comment on the Tuscaloosa News, even though it is owned by the New York Times. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever commented on the Tuscaloosa News. But here’s an editorial railing against that Judge Roy Moore of Etowah County, Alabama, who displays the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. The editorial deplores his “rabid supporters” and cheers fifty-two Alabama clergy who, it says here, condemn the “style of Christianity [that] weighs too heavily in favor of a single religious mindset.” “Rabid” seems something less than civil, and one has to wonder about styles of Christianity that do not come down strongly on the side of Christianity. We are told that the fifty-two clergy are from “well established religious backgrounds: Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Jewish, Hindu, and others.” I confess to being curious about the “others” that come after Hindu on the list of religions well established in Alabama.
• This from a welcome editorial in the Christian Century: “Imagine sitting around the editorial offices of the CBS program 48 Hours the morning after the nation learned about the mass suicides at the Heaven’s Gate community and about the group’s curious belief in a spaceship supposedly traveling behind the Hale-Bopp comet. You are feeling lucky, because the program already has on hand material for a story that will make just the right tie-in with Heaven’s Gate. So on Holy Thursday, March 27, you show that familiar footage of the bodies being carried from the mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, and the photo of the leader staring with his crazed look into the camera, and then you bring 48 Hours to a rousing finish with a segment on another disturbing religious group. You are in television heaven. There is just one problem. The religious group you are profiling doesn’t have the remotest connection to the suicide cult of Heaven’s Gate. In the excitement of the moment, the network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite does not stop to ask the ethical questions: Is this treatment fair to all concerned? Does each part accurately relate to the theme of the program? Is it, in short, true?” Recklessly setting aside the truth question, CBS focused on the Bruderhof, an Anabaptist group with 2,500 members in eight communities in this country, including one a little north of here. The Bruderhof was founded more than seventy years ago in Germany by Eberhard and Emmy Arnold, and after being expelled by Hitler was finally reestablished in the U.S. Devoted to nonviolence and the sharing of goods, it has earned the admiration of people beyond numbering. Dan Rather introduced the program this way: “Tonight in a special edition of 48 Hours. Looking at cults, looking at when-if—people going their own way can sometimes go too far. . . . A little piece of heaven outside of New York City. Or is it?” The CBS indictment of the Bruderhof consisted in the evidence of a San Francisco man who divorced his wife, a member of the community, and of a young girl who ran away from the community at age fifteen because she felt stifled by parental discipline. A bitter ex and a teenager insisting on her right to sexual self-expression. Big deal. Rather ended the program with this: “We want to be absolutely clear on this point. There is no suggestion whatsoever of any link between the Bruderhof commune and what took place at the mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, California. What we are trying to do is give you a range of things to think about when you think about cults, communities, and people who remain apart.” This is smarmy dishonesty of a low order. The Century concludes: “The 48 Hours program was, quite simply, a distorted and shameful display of an antireligious bias for which Dan Rather, the show’s producers, and CBS should apologize profusely to the Bruderhof community.” And to its viewers. I’m not sure, though, that “antireligious bias” quite gets it. The key phrase in Rather’s sign-off is “people who remain apart.” It seems that those who stand apart from the decaying culture of the megamedia, whether for religious reasons or the impulses of elementary decency, offend Mr. Rather’s sensibilities and are fair game for slander.
• Before 1963, Pope Pius XII was widely viewed, by Jews as well as Christians, as heroic in his opposition to Nazism. Then came the play The Deputy, which purported to reveal, without any reference to historical fact, the inner mind of a coward who acquiesced in the Holocaust. That libel is ratcheted up by former priest James Carroll, who, in a vicious and rambling essay, “The Silence,” in the April 7 New Yorker, enlists the help of dissident theologian Father Hans Küng in making the case that the Catholic Church, along with Hitler, bears “co-responsibility” for the Holocaust. The reasoning, such as it is, is tortuously confused. The argument would seem to be that Pius XII’s alleged collusion with Hitler is connected with the dogma of papal infallibility. That claim aside, Carroll’s essay is riddled with errors of fact. On October 16, 1943, when the Nazis appeared to be starting a roundup of Rome’s eight thousand Jews, Carroll says the Pope made no protest. In fact, that very morning he had the Holy See’s secretary of state deliver a strong protest to the German ambassador, and he sent two German bishops to intercede with the German generals in charge. More than a thousand Jews were caught in the first raid, but the roundup promptly came to an end and the Jews of Rome disappeared into Rome’s monasteries and convents, where they were kept safe until the war was over. Despite the German occupation, 85 percent of the Jews of Italy survived. All this is documented in many studies, most recently in Margherita Marchione’s Yours Is a Precious Witness: Memoirs of Jews and Catholics in Wartime Italy(Paulist, 1997). In a similar vein, Carroll claims that a Polish cardinal, Augustyn Hlond, delivered an “anti-Semitic diatribe” in support of a 1936 boycott of Jewish businesses. In fact, on that occasion Cardinal Hlond spoke of “the very many Jews who are believers, honest, just, kind, and philanthropic . . . who are ethically outstanding, noble, and upright.” “I am against that moral stance, imported from abroad, that is basically and ruthlessly anti-Jewish,” the Cardinal declared. “It is contrary to Catholic ethics. One may not hate anyone. It is forbidden to assault, beat up, maim, or slander Jews. One should honor Jews as human beings and neighbors. . . . Beware of those who are inciting anti-Jewish violence. They serve an evil cause.” This is an anti-Semitic diatribe? In the commentary in which he cites Hlond’s actual text, Monsignor George Higgins remarks, “I could not escape the feeling reading Carroll’s essay that he was, unwittingly, using the example of the Holocaust to bolster his own theological theories about ecclesiology and infallibility.” Msgr. Higgins is perhaps being too kind. In any event, the editors of the New Yorker and myriad others who have for more than three decades joined in the slandering of Pius XII and the Catholic Church more generally for complicity in the Holocaust do not have James Carroll’s excuse, if excuse it is. One notes, incidentally, that Mr. Carroll is the author of a book-length indictment of his father, who as a senior military officer played a large role in the war in Vietnam. His father. The Holy Father. A commentator of a Freudian disposition would find it near irresistible.
• One’s bemusement about the antismoking campaign is constantly renewed. A reader in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is not sure I’m right in thinking that the campaign, however riddled by confusions, says something hopeful about the power of moral suasion even in a culture so depraved as ours. He and his wife belong to a church that meets in a public school, and he was struck by a classroom plastered with antismoking propaganda. “Smokers are dumb.” “Smoking is gross.” There was also a glossy poster with rows of photographs of animal posteriors and one cigarette butt. Butts, of course, are disgusting. Next to the poster was a banner, “HIV is a disease, not a moral issue.” Clearly, the anti-smoking agitation was not a matter of moral suasion but of aesthetic bullying and insult. While HIV—which is arguably related to behaviors (e.g., sodomy and intravenous drug use) of questionable morality—is proclaimed to be something that just happens. So maybe I was being too hopeful about the survival of moral suasion. I am sometimes accused of that. Being too hopeful, that is. Often, in fact.
• Ex Corde Ecclesiae means “from the heart of the Church” and is the title of an apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990. It has been the subject of considerable controversy in this country. After prolonged negotiation between bishops and the administrators of Catholic universities and colleges (of which there are more than two hundred), there appeared in 1996 a document on the constitution’s “application to the United States,” which was submitted to Rome for approval. Now Cardinal Pio Laghi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, has informed the U.S. bishops that their “application” is less than satisfactory. Many academic administrators have protested that the constitution’s requirement that bishops have a definite role in determining whether an institution is in fact Catholic interferes with American understandings of academic freedom. There is a more believable reason for administrators to be nervous. For most schools there would be disastrous consequences for recruitment and alumni support were they to be decertified, so to speak, as Catholic. There is most particular resistance in some quarters to what is known as Canon 812, which reads, “It is necessary that those who teach theological disciplines in any institute of higher studies have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority.” The Church’s concern, of course, is for what in other enterprises might be called truth in advertising: those who are presented as teaching Catholic theology should teach Catholic theology. To be sure, that puts it somewhat too simply. There are legitimate concerns about academic freedom, rightly understood as scholarly inquiry that presses the envelope of received formulae. Ex Corde Ecclesiae and other directives from the Holy See, I believe, make ample allowance for, and indeed encourage, such inquiry. The problem with many schools in the U.S., however, is that they are still following a course of independence and “secularization” that was set almost thirty years ago, and they now find themselves in the unsustainable position of wanting the benefits of calling themselves Catholic while having no real accountability to the community of faith that is the Catholic Church. The dynamics put in play by Ex Corde Ecclesiae seven years ago have created not a crisis but a calibrated redirection of Catholic higher education. It is possible that some schools—experts estimate as many as a third—may stop calling themselves Catholic or go out of business, or both. But many other schools are, for the first time since Vatican Council II, moving toward a clearer assertion of what is called “Catholic identity,” and that is a change, or at least the beginnings of a change, that is most welcome.
• “This money comes from outside Alabama. It’s a bunch of carpet—bagging money coming into Alabama. We don’t need to have Alabama made an example of some portion of the radical left that wants to mislead our state.” George Wallace of thirty years ago, right? Not at all. Read “Colorado” for “Alabama” and “radical right” for “radical left,” and you have Governor Roy Romer complaining about support for a referendum aimed at assuring parental rights in education. Romer’s statement is favorably reported by John M. Swomley in the Humanist, who also has some harsh words for “the far right’s international mentor, Pope John Paul II.” Swomley, a retired Methodist professor of social ethics, is an old left reliable who serves on the boards of both the ACLU and the American Humanist Association. In the latter organization’s magazine he writes “Watch on the Right,” in which he ties together John Paul II, the CIA, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and Promise Keepers in order to advance claims of a conspiracy so vast as to make the ghost of Joe McCarthy blush. Prof. Swomley no doubt calls it keeping the faith.
• The American premiere of Peter Greenaway’s The Baby of Macon was held at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York. Mainstream reviewers have referred to it as a “snuff film,” a “corrupt movie,” and “one of the most gratuitously unpleasant and indefensibly nasty films in recent years.” William Donohue of the Catholic League describes it this way: “The movie, set during the Renaissance in France, concerns the ‘miraculous’ birth of a baby boy. The child’s older sister pretends that she is the virgin mother and dresses as the Virgin Mary. She attempts to seduce a bishop’s son, wishing to make him Joseph to Mary and chooses a stable for her seduction; it is complete with animals and a manger. The bishop’s son is graphically disemboweled after the birth of the son. The Church takes the child from the mother, holding her to be unfit to have a miracle child, and then sentences her to gang rape: in a scene that lasts for ten minutes, she is raped by 113 soldiers a total of 217 times. The child is then dismembered after his bodily fluids—spittle, urine, phlegm, and blood—are sold by the Church at an auction.” The Catholic League is upset that the film’s premiere is funded by federal, state, and city taxpayers. Those Christians just can’t take a joke.
• A friend whose judgment in such matters I trust—perhaps I should say trusted—told me I would be pleasantly surprised by American Visions, a lavishly ballyhooed and lavishly funded PBS series in which Australian expatriate and Time editor Robert Hughes explained the American experience through the prism of the country’s art. I watched the first hour. Then I watched the second to see if it was really as bad as it seemed to be. It was. Hilton Kramer, editor of the New Criterion, had a similar response: “It is about the earlier history of our country . . . that American Visions is most unforgiving—and, alas, most unforgivable—in its relentless determination to debunk, deflate, deconstruct, and otherwise discredit virtually every claim ever made for the virtues of our democratic system. Part of Mr. Hughes’ animus, in this regard, seems to derive from his profound aversion to religion—especially to the varieties of Christian faith that were so important a part of our early history. I gather from his own accounts that Mr. Hughes is himself a lapsed Catholic, and he seems to have projected upon the entire history of this country the passions of a convert to the anticlerical cause. He thus never misses an opportunity to remind us that ‘These men of God were killers on a biblical scale,’ and so on.” The antireligious bias is bad enough, but one comes to expect that. What is really galling is the utter banality of Hughes’ art commentary and the air of casual superiority with which he delivers what, in an introduction to the series, he calls a testimonial of love for the American experience. PBS stations run this little promo that asks, If PBS didn’t do it, who would? In many instances, the answer is nobody. Which is just as well.
• Although it occasioned an enormous upheaval in the organization, the International Bible Society (IBS) has canceled all plans for a more “inclusive” version of the New International Version (NIV). According to IBS, the NIV, first published in 1984, is the most widely distributed Bible in the English language and represents 45 percent of all the Bibles circulated in North America. “The NIV doesn’t belong to IBS or our licensed publishers, it belongs to the people,” said board chairman Victor Oliver. “Virtually all other contemporary Bible translations already reflect gender treatments consistent with the language of today. However, the NIV has essentially become the Bible of the evangelical church, which has come to trust and depend upon the NIV’s current accuracy, clarity, and readability.” The NIV is a fine translation, faithful to the text and approximating the English style of the Revised Standard Version that, regrettably, has been replaced by the gender-jiggered New Revised Standard Version. The decision of the IBS is most welcome. I would note only that it is not a question of being “consistent with the language of today.” The NIV is the language of today. The minority that agitates for “gender-inclusive” revision aims at imposing what they prefer to believe is the language of tomorrow. As has been frequently remarked here, one of the great misfortunes of our time is the loss of a common biblical vocabulary. The stability of NIV may help remedy that. (While I’m at it, and since the question is frequently asked, the RSV is available in fine hardcover and paperback editions from Ignatius Press.)
• Father Robert Drinan, a Jesuit and professor of law at Georgetown University, was while in Congress a firm supporter of the abortion license and provided Catholic politicians with a specious rationale for adopting the position of “personally opposed but . . .” Last year he supported President Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban and thus crossed a line that prompted church authorities to demand a retraction. On May 12 he issued the following statement: “Articles that I wrote in the New York Times on June 4, 1996, and in the National Catholic Reporter on May 31, 1996, were used in ways I did not intend. I withdraw those statements and any statement that could be understood to cast doubt on the Church’s firm condemnation of abortion—a doctrine that I totally support. Moreover, new information about the true nature and widespread use of partial-birth abortion renders my statements on that issue in 1996 factually incorrect. I do not believe that every moral evil should be outlawed. I do, however, see abortion—particularly partial-birth abortion—as a grave evil and can understand why Church leaders are urging lawmakers to ban it. I do not want anything to impede that effort. On the contrary, I join in that effort and stand ready to promote laws and public policies that aim to protect vulnerable human life from conception until natural death. I support the Catholic bishops in their efforts to exercise moral leadership in the fight against abortion.” One is puzzled by the reference to his statements being used in ways he did not intend, since his stated intention was to oppose the bishops and support Clinton. Nonetheless, his retraction is most welcome, as is the episcopal initiative that elicited it.
• Feminists are divided over pornography. While such as Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin claim it exploits women, others contend that porn is a subversive instrument undermining the oppressive conventions of the bourgeois establishment. According to an item in Civilization, however, the establishment is doing very nicely by pornography. “In fact, last year Americans spent more on pornography and its satellite businesses (peep shows, strippers, computer porn, etc.) than they did on Hollywood movies, and vastly more than they did on rock and country music recordings combined. Pornography is popular, and profitable, entertainment. So what is it subverting?” Then there is pornography for the toddlers in public school sex education. Writing in lingua franca, M. G. Lord wonders how feminists can “convince you that pornography is dangerous or subversive once it’s assigned as homework?”
• The folks up in Albany, New York, have quite a little dispute going. It started with an article in the Evangelist, the diocesan paper, on “Jesus’ Understanding of Himself,” in the course of which Scripture scholar and Evangelist columnist Father Roger Karban opined that in Mark’s Gospel, “Jesus doesn’t become God until his baptism.” Now it’s true that the Mark passage, along with others, was invoked to support the heresy of adoptionism, but one really must wonder what it means that one could “become” God. When it comes to God, it would seem, one either is or isn’t. In response to protesting letters, the editor of the Evangelist issued a pronunciamento in magisterial tones, “Far from being ‘false doctrine,’ Father Karban’s remark was a statement of fact.” So that’s that. Then the Wanderer weighed in with a letter claiming, if we understand it correctly, that the hypostatic union means that Jesus never changed and had, from the moment of conception, a perfect knowledge of all things. Press in that direction and you end up in docetism, the teaching that Jesus was not, not really, a human being. The reader who sent these clippings wants me to take Father Karban to task, and maybe he should be. But I confess that I am struck that those people in Albany are at least arguing about things that really matter.
• The usual suspects, including the ACLU, have rallied to remove offending language from the mission statement of the Michigan State Board of Education. The language adopted in 1995 was taken almost verbatim from the preamble to the state constitution: “We, the Michigan State Board of Education, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of freedom, do earnestly desire to secure these blessings undiminished for our children.” Critics also complain about the statement’s exhortation to “seek truth.” The Wall Street Journal comments in an editorial titled “Michigan Expelling God”: “It’s hardly a coincidence that the decline in the quality of the public schools occurred at the same time that every vestige of religion was being eradicated from them. Our schools need all the help they can get—including God’s.” The editors are no doubt right about the non-coincidence, but by definition nobody can “expel” God from anything or anywhere, and God’s help is hardly an add-on to other efforts, all of which are totally dependent upon God’s help. Am I quibbling? Maybe, but preschool theology gives a bad name to religion in public, especially when promulgated by the friends of religion in public. While I’m on less than ultimate disputes about ultimate things, I note that the Rutherford Institute has worked out a deal between the Rev. Guy Aubrey and the Cincinnati Reds. Rev. Aubrey is the fellow who, during the 1990 World Series with Oakland, displayed a banner emblazoned with “John 3:16.” The Reds said it was against the club’s rules and ushered him out, but a U.S. District Court said the Reds’ policy was vague and overbroad. So in 1993 the Reds said that only “baseball related” signs could be displayed, and Rev. Aubrey showed up with a sign reading “Go Reds—John 3:16,” and was again thrown out. The court again said the policy didn’t pass constitutional muster; the Reds responded by banning all noncommercial signs and banners, but then, under pressure from Rutherford, finally caved and now permit fan signs without discrimination. A mighty blow struck against the naked public square, I suppose.
• Since the city of St. Paul got the cathedral, Minneapolis must do with a basilica. Started last year, the “Basilica Block Party” is a big money-raiser featuring diverse rock bands. It is advertised in the local newspaper with a large picture of the Last Supper. The legend says, “A Party of a Higher Order.” Gross is one word for it. Blasphemy also comes to mind. But perhaps everyone but its sponsors can agree that it is pandering of a very low order.
• We recently commended a book of John Paul II’s encyclicals for “avoiding the sometimes misleading ‘inclusive’ language that is indulged in other editions (even by the otherwise careful Daughters of St. Paul).” Sister Mary Mark Wickenhiser, editorial director of the Daughters, is very upset with us. She points out that only two documents published by them (Redemptoris Missio and Centesimus Annus) were slightly edited for inclusive language. “This was done in error and when realized, steps were taken to correct the mistake.” She assures us it has not been and will not be done again. We are glad to hear it, and warmly recommend the many excellent materials provided by the Daughters of St. Paul.
• “There is no peace with Israel and no democracy in Palestine. I don’t know why we should stay in this cage.” Such are the sentiments of a Christian woman living on the West Bank, sentiments increasingly shared by other Christians in the Holy Land, according to the Jerusalem Report, a Jewish publication. There are now 170,000 Christians, mainly Arabs, in the Holy Land, with 130,000 of them within Israel (10,000 in Jerusalem itself) and 40,000 under the rule of the Palestinian Authority. The article details the mounting hostility of Muslims to Christians, while Christians in Israel look back wistfully to the days of former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. The current Israeli government, it is said, manifests an attitude that ranges from indifference to animus, pressured by hyper-Orthodox Jews who do little to disguise their hatred of the goyim. Bernard Resnikoff, former director of the American Jewish Committee’s Israel office and a veteran of programs in Jewish-Christian relations, tells of an Orthodox deputy minister who frankly asked, “Why do we need these goyim here?” The sympathy of many Arab Christians for the Palestinian cause is no doubt both a source and a product of such Jewish hostility. Relations have also worsened with the Holy See. When Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the Pope in February, he had no answer to questions about why Israel had not fulfilled its promises to regularize the legal status of church personnel and property. Some said it was simply incompetence, that he had not been briefed properly, while others in the Vatican suspect bad faith. Exacerbating tensions further is an anti-conversion bill in the Knesset that would prohibit the possession of materials that might be used to evangelize Jews. Assurances have been given that there would probably be an exemption for the possession of a New Testament.
• Pio Cardinal Laghi is head of the Vatican’s congregation for education and was for some years papal nuncio in Argentina during the time of the bloody dictatorship and widespread “disappearances” of those deemed politically dangerous. Rabbi Leon Klenicki of the Anti-Defamation League is also from Argentina. In recent months some in Argentina have charged Cardinal Laghi with having collaborated with the dictators. The charge has been picked up in the North American media and is echoed also by Catholic dissidents in their campaign against all things associated with Rome. On June 19, Rabbi Klenicki wrote the following to Cardinal Laghi: “I have read with astonishment and pain recent statements by a group of the Plaza de Mayo Mothers concerning your work and testimony during the days of the Junta dictatorship in Argentina. I was shocked by what I read. I know personally of your help to prisoners and their families. I know how much you cooperated with the Anti-Defamation League and local Argentinean organizations in our efforts for human rights and liberation of political prisoners. Your help in the case of Jacobo Timerman made possible his release from jail to home arrest and later on to Israel. I still remember your constant denunciation of torture and discrimination to the community at large and especially to Catholic leaders making known the existence of concentration camps in Argentina. Few listened to you. It is ironic and painful that the officials of those dark days, and torturers, are forgiven and given freedom—and those who defended freedom and human dignity, like yourself, are accused by certain groups. History plays a real cynical twist in present Argentina. I sincerely believe that there still is the need for a national reckoning of the soul, rather than accusing innocent people.”
• Conversations With God, books one and two, has turned into a publishing sensation, with spin-offs of tapes, videos, and a veritable industry of promotion. Neale Donald Walsch’s nom de mike as a talk-show host was Bob White until God decided to take him into His confidence. God typically wakes him up at 4:20 a.m. and Walsch grabs his yellow legal pad and furiously writes down the words from on high. This is revelation-lite. In response to the age-old problem of theodicy, for instance, God is most reassuring: “In truth, there is nothing evil.” “I do not love ‘good’ more than I love ‘bad.’“ In addition, God tells us to “stop making value judgments.” Asked why he was chosen to receive these massages, Walsch responded: “I think it’s just a few who allow themselves to feel worthy of being chosen and therefore experience the fact that they’ve been chosen. I was inspired to write these things, and now over a million people have said by their purchasing and their thunderous response to these books that they have found value in that material. So I’m deeply grateful and, I have to say, very humbled.” When P. T. Barnum estimated one per minute, the American population was much smaller.
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