November 1916 is the second big volume of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s historical epic The Red Wheel, recounting in relentless detail the events leading up to the Bolshevik takeover in 1917 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1,014 pages,, $35
). It is a strange and engrossing work, written in a manner that many have compared to Tolstoy: stories within stories, huge chunks of raw material gleaned from the newspapers and agitprop pamphlets of the time, seemingly endless speeches by would-be rulers in the doomed Duma, and all against the background of a weak and ineffectual Tsar dominated by his wife and “our Friend,” Rasputin, with Lenin seething and scheming in Switzerland, waiting for his time to come round at last. One reads November 1916 in the eerie awareness of what is to come, which makes all the more pitiful and ludicrous the liberal posturing of the politicians and the utopian dreams of the revolutionary terrorists, each of whom has a plan for using the bloody war with Germany to realize his ambitions.
There are moments of powerful insight and eloquence. For instance, Sanya, a second lieutenant at the front, challenges a chaplain on how he squares the madness of war with the command to love your neighbor. Father Severyan responds, “For a priest too, life as it is must be our field of action. . . . At no time has the world been without war. Not in seven or ten or twenty thousand years. Neither the wisest of leaders, nor the noblest of kings, nor yet the Church—none of them has been able to stop it. And don’t succumb to the facile belief that wars will be stopped by hotheaded socialists. Or that rational and just wars can be sorted out from the rest. There will always be thousands of thousands to whom even such a war will be senseless and unjustified. Quite simply, no state can live without war, that is one of the state’s essential functions. War is the price we pay for living in a state. . . . In ordinary life thousands of bad impulses, from a thousand foci of evil, move chaotically, randomly, against the vulnerable. The state is called upon to check these impulses—but it generates others of its own, still more powerful, and this time one-directional. At times it throws them all in a single direction—and that is war. So then, the dilemma of peace versus war is a superficial dilemma for superficial minds. ‘We only have to stop making war and we shall have peace.’ No! The Christian prayer says ‘peace on earth and goodwill among men.’ That is when true peace will arrive: when there is goodwill among men. Otherwise even without war men will go on strangling, poisoning, starving, stabbing, and burning each other, trampling each other underfoot and spitting in each other’s faces. . . . War is not the vilest form of evil, not the most evil of evils. An unjust trial, for instance, that scalds the outraged heart, is viler. Or murder for gain, when the solitary murderer fully understands the implications of what he means to do and all that the victim will suffer at the moment of the crime. Or the ordeal at the hands of a torturer. When you can neither cry out nor fight back nor attempt to defend yourself. Or treachery on the part of someone you trusted. Or mistreatment of widows or orphans. All these things are spiritually dirtier and more terrible than war.”
Such passages of spiritual and moral reflection are the exception in November 1916. More typically it is a story of people confusedly crying out, fighting back, and attempting to defend themselves against circumstances they little understand. Most pathetic, and dangerous, are those who think they do understand and possess a remedy for what is going so ghastly wrong. The book includes subplots of love stories and conspiracies, along with interludes of a peasant life marked by a spiritual wisdom and uncomplicated human decency that the sophisticated have discarded with contempt. It is a tale of the brightest and the best hurling themselves and their world headlong toward the abyss of October 1917 in a social and political climate suffused with the suspicion that blind fate is in charge, and blind fate is not kindly disposed toward Russia or the world.
Solzhenitsyn is one of the great figures of the century now coming to an end. His role is aptly described as prophetic. In The Gulag Archipelago and other writings he entrenched a standard by which even the most deluded of the deluded could no longer deny the evil of the evil empire. He sometimes took the West to task for its intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy, and was, in return, much castigated as a tiresome moralist and “Slavophile” by our intellectuals, who would have fit very well in the Duma of 1916. November 1916 is anything but a light read. It is frequently disjointed, forcing one to infer connections that are far from evident. To take it on is a project. The author gathers up all the people, causes, conflicts, confusions, hopes, and delusions of a few weeks of history and dumps them into the reader’s lap. As though to say: “Here. You must think hard about this. This is the way it was just before the last time a great people went to hell.”
The Clinton Era, At Home and Abroad
As of this writing, American soldiers have not been coming back in body bags, and therefore little attention is paid. But day by day one reads the dreary accounts of the continuing dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia. The U.S. is on the side of the Kosovars who want to break away from Serbia and establish an independent state. What are we doing there? The Kosovars are ethnic Albanians and mainly Muslim; the Serbs are Orthodox Christians. In Russia they ask why U.S. force is once again on the side of the Muslims against the Christians. Apparently it is not polite to ask that question here. Kosovo is the symbolic heartland of Serbia, and Serbs are not willing to surrender lands that have been their ancestral homes for many centuries.
At the conference table, Secretary Albright tells the Serb negotiators that they must agree to U.S. terms by two o’clock in the afternoon or we will bomb their homeland. What kind of negotiating ploy is this? Albright’s supporters call for “sustained air strikes against the Serbian military infrastructure.” That sounds neat, but in this kind of civil imbroglio lines between civilian and military are less than clear. Are we going to bomb nonmilitary targets and kill innocent civilians, or is it the case that no Serbs are innocent? If the Serbs are aggressing in Kosovo—which is not clear—the usual thing would be to send in troops to drive them out. But that would put U.S. soldiers at risk, which is unacceptable because it might raise domestic questions about our policy in the Balkans, if there is a policy. As the world’s only superpower, we are beginning to look very much like a high-tech bully imposing our will on the cheap.
The piecemeal statements of the Administration lead some to conclude that the purpose of the exercise is to give NATO something to do, and to justify our massive military presence in Europe. But if the Albanian rebels have a moral right to Kosovo, maybe the large number of ethnic Albanians in neighboring Macedonia also have a right to a separate state. For that matter, a good many Albanians apparently want to overthrow the fragile government of Albania itself. Is it the strategic and moral purpose of the U.S. to assist unhappy ethnic groups to dismember sovereign states? If so, why not take up the cause of the Kurds? Their claims are more persuasive than those of the Kosovars. There are millions of Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. After World War I the great powers promised them an independent state; in our unpleasantness with Iraq we encouraged them to rebel, and then betrayed them. Maybe we should commit ourselves to carving out a country for them, and start some more wars, providing target practice for our smart bombs.
One does not wish to sound cynical, but robust skepticism is in order. From Somalia to Haiti to Rwanda to Bosnia to Kosovo, this Administration has not communicated any believable policy or principle for the use of U.S. power. That is in addition to its apparent collusion in military-related trade with potential enemies such as China. A President who has been impeached and is now credibly accused of being, among other things, a rapist is in no position to engage the nation in a serious reflection about anything. As of this writing, most Americans seem not to be unduly bothered. Let the good times roll. I do not think this will last. The enormity of this President’s corruption and crimes will finally sink in and trigger the long-delayed outrage—the absence of which to date has puzzled so many thoughtful people. But maybe not. Maybe the turning point will come with the arrival of the body bags from another misbegotten foreign venture. Or maybe we will simply muddle through the Clinton era, which our children will look back upon as a low, dishonest, and aberrant period in American life, unless theirs is lower, more dishonest, and no longer aberrant.
(Since the above was written a month ago, the U.S.-NATO forces have been bombing and bombing, with, despite the pleas of John Paul II and others, no surcease for the three most holy days of the Christian year. Remember Iraq and the keen sensitivity to Ramadan? But that’s hardly the most important thing. The effect of the bombing to date is to give Milosevic cover in driving out the Kosovars, which is precisely what the bombing was supposed to prevent. So what is to be done now? Bounce the rubble of Belgrade, with massive civilian casualties? Withdraw under the guise of Milosevic having signed yet another peace agreement? That would be almost as humiliating for the U.S. as its embarking on this wrongheaded policy. Or, although everyone denies it, sending in ground forces? To do what? Bring hundreds of thousands of refugees back to their homes that have been destroyed during the bombing? To rebuild Kosovo and then continue to insist upon its independence? That’s what started the fighting in the first place. It is said by some that the war aim must be the removal of Milosevic, as though that would remove six hundred years of the passionately conflicted history of Serbia and the Balkans. As things stand as of Easter Monday, one must reluctantly conclude that this action of the U.S. and NATO appears not to meet even one of the classical moral criteria for justified warfare except, just possibly, that it was undertaken by legitimate, although grievously misguided, authority.)
The Evangelical Mind, Again
The first thing to be said about the evangelical mind, wrote Mark Noll in his much discussed The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, “is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” In recent years, however, that has changed dramatically, according to James C. Turner, writing in the Catholic magazine Commonweal. He cites evangelical intellectuals such as George Marsden, Nathan Hatch, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Mouw, and, of course, Mark Noll. Turner doesn’t make a point of it, but a good deal of this evangelical ferment is happening at Notre Dame, where Turner is director of the Erasmus Institute. He does lift up the importance of Books and Culture, a fine publication that first appeared in 1995, and aims to be among evangelicals what the New York Review of Books is in the general culture. And he lifts up the singular role of Calvin College in gestating and nurturing an intellectual renascence in an evangelical world that has typically oscillated between cool and hostile toward the life of the mind.
Thinking about what is happening among evangelicals, Turner writes, “Roman Catholics of a certain age will be inclined to draw an analogy to the experience of American Catholic intellectuals in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.” Maybe, although more recent studies tend to counter the stereotype of anti-intellectualism in the “ghetto of pre-Vatican II Catholicism.” In thinking about the public order, notes Turner, Calvin College has drawn heavily on the legacy of the Dutch politician Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), but he agrees with Mark Noll’s observation that recent evangelical political thinkers have also borrowed “from the Anabaptist heritage, from the mainline Protestantism of Reinhold Niebuhr, or from the neoconservative Catholicism of Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and George Weigel.” Turner shares a widespread skepticism about whether the evangelical thinkers will make much of an impact on the large and multifarious worlds of evangelicalism, but of this he is more certain: “That [they have] made, and will continue to make, a substantial mark on American academic life seems indisputable, especially in history, philosophy, and, more recently, sociology. But the overall effect will likely be to fortify other, nonevangelical Christian approaches to scholarship, rather than to generate an original, distinctively evangelical life of the mind.” And perhaps that is the way it should be.
Appearing about the same time as Turner’s article is a cover story in Christianity Today celebrating “The New Theologians” (Kevin Vanhoozer, N. T. Wright, Richard Hays, Ellen Charry, Miroslav Volf). CT exults in the fact that such figures, who are not ashamed to be called evangelicals, are teaching at universities such as Yale and Duke where the liberals-in antithesis to whom evangelicals define themselves-once held undisputed sway. The CT message is, partly, that we now have some of “our” people planted behind the enemy lines and, partly, that a few members of the C team are playing with the A team. The distinctly defensive tone is perhaps to be expected in the mainline (if one may be permitted the term) publication of evangelicals who are self-consciously outsiders, in contrast to Turner’s appreciation offered from a position of greater cultural confidence.
But, apart from a touch of hyperbole in both articles, they give reason to believe that the time is in sight when it will not be accurate to say that “there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Then comes along evangelical sociologist James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia to rain on the party. The question he has been asking in a number of scholarly books is: “Maybe so. But will they then still be evangelicals?” That’s a subject for another day.
Everything Will Work Out Just Fine
Those were heady days, following the Second Vatican Council. Catholics had lived in a world apart, and suddenly everything was open to them. Prior to the Council, Catholic higher education had inculcated a powerful Catholic identity, steeped in what some called neo-Thomistic indoctrination. “What would fill that need now?” asks Neil Coughlan, who is reviewing in Commonweal James Burtchaell’s The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches (Eerdmans). “We students and liberal faculty had our answers,” Coughlan continues. “The pervasive ‘Catholic atmosphere’ of the colleges, the confidence of our march out of our precincts into American national life, these would foster Catholic faith and intellectualism as effectively as ever did a drilling in apologetics and the Catholic catechism. The world itself, we rather suddenly saw, was not an ungodly other—Christ’s sacrifice had saved it, too. It was instinct with grace. Incarnationalism, we called it. Manicheanism was the philosophy of the ghetto. Everything would work out just fine.”
But of course it didn’t. Many Catholic colleges and universities lost their way, following the pattern so persuasively analyzed by Burtchaell. Coughlan’s is a generally sympathetic review of The Dying of the Light, until he gets to the end, when he suddenly turns and attacks Burtchaell for being “coy” about what ought now to be done. He goes back to a two-part essay by Burtchaell in First Things (April and May 1991) where he set forth a number of positive proposals that Coughlan does not like. Were Burtchaell’s proposals followed, he suggests, Catholic schools would not be “centers of excellence” but “backwaters, curious reminders of a conservative critique of the 1990s American Catholic Church and of some aggressively secularizing forces in American society.” Coughlan proposes present-day Notre Dame as the solution to the problems described by Burtchaell, and wonders what Burtchaell thinks of that institution where, he notes, Burtchaell once taught.
Burtchaell not only taught at Notre Dame, he was the Provost, and was considered by many to be the logical successor as president to Father Theodore Hesburgh. He knows Notre Dame well, and has been decorously silent about what he thinks of it. It is passing strange that anyone should think Burtchaell, who has given so many years in the service of academic excellence, is advocating a return to the “ghetto.” What most particularly alarms Coughlan is Burtchaell’s First Thingsproposal that colleges and universities should be integrated into the life of the Church and share in its apostolic mission. That, of course, is also the proposal of the apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church), which Coughlan does not mention. To suggest that such a change would be a return to the ghetto is to say something not so much about higher education as about the Catholic Church. It at least edges up to the familiar and derisive claim that “Catholic university” is an oxymoron. After acknowledging the force of Burtchaell’s diagnosis of the illness, Coughlan appears to draw back from the remedy, saying again as he reports he said so many years ago, “Everything will work out just fine.”
The Perils of Civility
I’ve spent a lot of energy over the years defending civility as a virtue. Mainly against people who think civility is a synonym for wimpishness. I’m therefore in principled sympathy with an initiative of the Chicago-based Park Ridge Center, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The center brought together twenty-nine participants to discuss religion and public life, Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago presiding. One stated purpose of the meeting was to advance the position that religion should not be excluded from the public square. They’ll get no argument here. But then we come to what is meant by civility. The press release headlines: “Dogmatism or Discussion: Religious Groups Meet to Explore Framework for Civil Coexistence.” Dogmatism or discussion? An alternative way of putting the matter is, Dogma or discussionism? And one might have thought that “coexistence” was put to rest when everybody finally agreed that the evil empire was evil after all.
The convenors should not be held responsible for press releases, but the press release does seem to reflect the event. The convenors are responsible, presumably, for the list of participants. If we measure left and right by support for or opposition to abortion and Bill Clinton, which is a reasonable measure in this case, twelve of the groups represented are very far left indeed—including Catholics for a Free Choice, Human Rights Campaign (a leading gay rights organization), People for the American Way, AIDS National Interfaith Network, and Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Four are identifiably conservative, meaning moderately to strongly right of center—Heritage Foundation, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Christian Coalition, and Family Research Council. The other groups are centrist, as in liberal. Four out of twenty-nine does give the edge to the dogma of discussionism, with liberal dogma redefined as discussion. This is civility as in “Everybody shut up except us!”
Not surprisingly, there was no common statement from the meeting, but Park Ridge has subsequently issued a handsomely printed booklet, “Religion and Public Discourse: Principles and Guidelines for Religious Participants.” Among the principles and guidelines are these: “Welcome the diversity of beliefs and opinions,” “Tell stories,” “Act on the basis of relative and partial agreements,” “Take steps to assure that the conversation moves beyond conflict or stalemate,” “Recognize that religious traditions are multivocal,” and so forth. There is much that is good and wise in the booklet but, all in all, it is the kind of thing that gives civility a bad name among people who care about truth. Professor Marty has correctly said that in our public discourse we should not have to choose between thugs and wimps. A caution is also in order about thugs disguised as wimps.
On some questions, to agree to disagree is to decide the disagreement. To agree to disagree on abortion, for instance, is to agree that people should be permitted to kill their children if they want to. Among the Park Ridge principles is this, “Recognize civil discourse as a process.” Well, yes, but a process in the service of persuasion. Otherwise, civility is but liberal legerdemain for the sly stifling of those with whom you disagree. Chesterton said that the problem with a quarrel is that it interrupts a good—and, I would add, necessary—argument. The same might be said of civility as construed by the Park Ridge Center’s “Religion and Public Discourse.”
Steering But Not Rowing
Back in 1975 when Peter Berger and I wrote To Empower People, the little book that is credited (or blamed) for launching the now widespread interest in the role of “mediating institutions” in civil society, we proposed a “minimal proposition” and a “maximal proposition.” The minimal proposition is that government should get off the backs and out of the way of mediating institutions—family, church, voluntary associations, etc.—and let them do their vital work as they best know how. The maximal proposition is that, in some limited circumstances, government might use mediating institutions to achieve its public purposes. Peter and I were very cautious about the maximal proposition, warning that it could lead to state co-optation and weakening of mediating institutions. This continues to be a legitimate concern, and not only in the U.S.
The mediating institutions gospel has also gained adherents in Canada, and at an Ottawa meeting of the Canadian Centre of Philanthropy there was discussion of an announcement that provincial governments are preparing to “give” hundreds of millions of dollars to not-for-profit groups that address sundry social problems. Sonia Arrison, writing in the remarkable new Canadian paper, National Post, is more than a little skeptical. “It’s at this point the dilemma for charities becomes clear, and in my opinion [one participant] was remarkably diplomatic. He said, ‘the government still wants to steer the programs, but it doesn’t want to row.’ That is, officials want to control the programs, but they want some other group to deal with the messy details of delivering them on a low budget. This leaves charities in a position where governments are asking them to deliver programs the government will both completely finance and direct. Basically, charities are being asked to become government employees—albeit on a contractual basis. The government will come up with the programs, and the charities will do what they are told. Now, you might think this scenario would be revolting to most staff members of Canadian charities, but when I looked around at the faces in the room, it was clear some charitable groups are so desperate for funds they would prefer the problem of government control to the grind of fundraising. One woman even got up and expressed this sentiment.”
Some charities may think the government link a great deal, but Ms. Arrison suggests they think again: “By accepting responsibility for a program dictated by government agencies, charities will slide down a slippery slope with the end result being they will be regarded as civil servants—not as part of a vibrant community that voluntarily strengthens civil society. This, in turn, will lead to a loss of donors and volunteers, the lifeblood of any charity. For who will volunteer to work for the government? And who will make a donation to a government program given we all pay into government programs and have witnessed their dismal results?”
Her conclusion is nothing if not definite: “It means they are no longer charities. If charities allow themselves to be used as ‘extra civil servants’ by governments, they will signal the death of their organizations, resulting in an unfortunate loss for many communities. My advice to charities looking for an easier route to increasing their funds would be to ask the government to reduce taxes so members of the communities in which these charities operate will have the disposable income to support them.”
Ms. Arrison may overstate the case against cooperation between charities and government, but the dangers are real. That is one reason why in education, for instance, vouchers are to be preferred to charter schools and other devices that invite extensive government regulation and co-optation. There is an old maxim that the Queen’s command follows the Queen’s pence. In this country, many religiously connected voluntary organizations are already questionably voluntary, so overwhelmingly dependent are they upon government funds. Catholic Charities USA and some overseas development groups are cases in point. Those who row must also have the main say in steering. Which means that maximal distance must be kept between the government that gives the dollar and the decision about how the dollar is used. Maximal distance is essential in guarding against the dangers of what, in 1975, we called the maximal proposition.
Poles and Jews
Some years ago, when the question of religious symbols at Auschwitz had flared once again, an Israeli Prime Minister remarked that Poles “imbibed anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.” That was deeply and understandably resented by the people of Poland, yet the resentment was joined to an acknowledgment that the charge was not without some basis in reality. Now a large (365 pages) special issue of the journal Wiez (which means “Bond”) has collected articles that have appeared in its pages over the last several decades. The collection is titled “Under One Heaven: Poles and Jews.” In a 1988 essay, written before the final liberation from communism, Krystyna Kersten and Jerzy Szapiro reflect on some of the complexities of a tortured relationship.
We must remember that the Polish memory after the war was dominated by an awareness of Polish sacrifices and the dramatic history of the resistance movement. These memories were uncomfortably disturbed by recollections of the general role of passive witnesses to the Shoah. These troubled feelings were often vented in the evocation of the myth of the Jews as bearers of evil—a myth that had inhered in the Christian tradition and had later been grafted onto the ideology of nationalist extremism. During the war, this myth fed on all available arguments, true or confabulated, such as reports about the behavior of national minorities, including the Jews, to the east of the Bug in 1939-1941. After the war, the myth was nourished by the distinctly visible presence of Jews among the authorities, and especially in the security apparatus, or even among the people who supported or accepted painlessly the order imposed by the Communists. The social image of the Jews as internal enemies was therefore strengthened. Now, they appeared in the role of Communist persecutors of the Polish nation—all the more dangerous because they wrapped themselves in Polish national costume.
The time would come when the authorities would be so anxious to utilize social sentiments to lubricate the acceptance of a series of political U-turns that they would turn anti-Semitic prejudices against people of Jewish origin, first within the power structure itself, and later, for many years, against the opposition. The problem of anti-Semitism is given a concrete historical dimension when we remember that its dynamics and context after 1945 were determined to a large degree by the conflicts between the authorities and the Polish populace. This reminds us that the so-called Jewish question in Poland is also a Polish question. It was precisely this political context that exacerbated the vicious circle of mutual prejudices from which many Poles and many Polish Jews never managed to free themselves.
(The special issue of Wiez is available for $14 from P.O. Box 209, PL 00-950, Warszawa, Poland.)
Freedom, License, and the Truth
A teacher of religion at a Baptist college was denied tenure and effectively fired. The stated reason was that she denied the inspiration of Scripture and cast doubt on the divinity on Christ. “Of course it violates academic freedom,” she writes to a friend. “Yes, I read the articles you mention in First Things, and the distinction between ‘freedom’ and ‘license’ sounds good, but it finally doesn’t work. It’s fine to say that freedom is not the freedom to do what you want but the freedom to do what you ought, but who is to say what you ought to do? That’s my decision and my decision alone. Academic freedom means saying what you want to say and teaching what you want to teach. I have no objection if you want to call that academic license.” It is a view frequently encountered in all our church-related colleges and universities.
Father Charles Curran writes the long entry on “academic freedom” in Richard McBrien’s Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Curran is a dissident Catholic moral theologian who was effectively checked by Cardinal James Hickey of Washington when he tried to impose his understanding of academic freedom on Catholic University. He now teaches at Southern Methodist University. Of the 1990 apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Curran writes: “The document theoretically limits academic freedom by truth and the common good, sees local bishops not as external to the college or university but as participants in the institution, and includes canonical provisions for those who teach theology in Catholic higher education.” That first formulation is of particular interest: that academic freedom is limited by truth and the common good. What is the alternative: Academic freedom means the freedom to be indifferent to truth and the common good?
Fr. Curran, like our Baptist friend, would likely deny that, claiming that the question is, Who determines what is the truth and the common good? That way of putting the question is very close to Pilate’s “What is truth?” The fact is that Christian schools are established on the premise that the truth is knowable and known—not completely or exhaustively, of course, but insofar as reason is able to discern and God has revealed. Is an institution that says Jesus Christ is the truth less free than an institution that denies, implicitly or explicitly, that any such absolute truth can be known? It depends, it would seem, on whether or not Jesus Christ is the truth. That is the critical distinction between license and freedom. The truth can limit license but it cannot limit freedom. Those who say that the distinction between license and freedom is a distinction without a difference have, in fact, chosen in favor of license.
By their reasoning, the discernment of the truth on which the Christian community established the university in question is trumped by presumably superior criteria of truth, discerned individually. Nobody should deny that the administration of such an institution can be bigoted, narrow-minded, and arrogant in imposing, in the name of Christian truth, truths that are not entailed by Christian truth. Church-related schools, it should be noted, have no monopoly on bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and arrogance. But when this happens in a Christian institution, the argument should be not about “academic freedom” but about the truth. When it is asserted that academic freedom can be limited by the truth, we are no longer talking about freedom but about license.
A teacher may honestly reach a point at which he can no longer subscribe to the truth claims on which the institution is founded. He may even believe he is compelled to oppose those truth claims. Obviously, he is then in an awkward relationship with the institution, and there are a number of ways that can be handled. The one thing he cannot honestly do is to assert that academic freedom requires the institution to abandon its purpose in order to accommodate his loss of faith. That, if they would only listen to themselves more carefully, is what some advocates of academic freedom are asserting in current debates about Christian higher education.
Ex-Friends Among Friends
“He is being not only lionized but loved,” I observed in introducing Norman Podhoretz at the Harvard Club to a packed house gathered to celebrate his book, Ex-Friends. As an old friend who hopes never to be an ex-friend, I reminded him of the warning of a first-century Jewish teacher, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.” It has not quite come to that yet, but the master of hackle-raisers who edited Commentary for thirty-five years and earned the middle name of “Controversial” with books such as Making It, Why We Were in Vietnam, and Breaking Ranks has been receiving rave reviews, also from unlikely sources. As I said at the Harvard lunch, Ex-Friends is the story of intellectual friendship and combat that has indelibly marked the culture of which we are all part, and I warmly recommend it. It is also a great read. In a favorable notice in the New York Times Book Review, Richard Brookhiser of National Review has a couple of caveats about Podhoretz’s version of the Family—the group of New York intellectuals who are Podhoretz’s “ex-friends,” including Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer.
Brookhiser writes: “The general failing of Podhoretz’s ex-friends, and of most of the Family, was pride. Sensibility and brains, they believed, gave them access to a realm of arcane and specialized perceptions, which their fellow citizens were too obtuse to share or appreciate. Because they understood Karl Marx and T. S. Eliot and jazz, they were above the common herd. Podhoretz has his own twinges of pride: He writes as if the neoconservatives, those Family members who reacted to the late ‘60s by moving right rather than left, supplied Ronald Reagan with everything he needed to think about communism, although Reagan often said that the writer who most influenced him was Whittaker Chambers.”
Rick Brookhiser, also a friend, touches upon a delicate nerve. It is not that Podhoretz has twinges of pride, which he would not deny, nor that intellectuals tend to be elitist in the pejorative sense of that term, which nobody can deny. It is, rather, the rivalry between old conservatives, represented by National Review, and neoconservatives represented by, inter alia, Commentary. The rivalry, when it was such, was a remarkably friendly rivalry. Today, when conservative and neoconservative is a distinction without a practical difference, Brookhiser suggests that it should not be forgotten when it comes to telling the history of the conservative ascendancy. “Some of us,” he is saying, “were right from the start.” And he is right about that, too. Whittaker Chambers, whose Witness is one of the great autobiographies of the century, was, in the eyes of the Family, beyond the pale. Yet a case could be made that he, along with James Burnham and others, was among the first neoconservatives—meaning thinkers of the left who were, in Irving Kristol’s happy phrase, mugged by reality. All were given shelter at National Review by Brookhiser’s mentor Bill Buckley long before Podhoretz broke ranks. All that is true enough.
In my left desk drawer is a book of matches distributed by National Review some years ago. It bears a photo of President Reagan reading NR on Air Force One, and underneath the caption, “I got my job through National Review.” That, too, is true. It is hard to imagine the election of Reagan without a conservative movement that is hard to imagine without National Review. I believe it was at the big fortieth anniversary bash that columnist George Will asserted that National Review is, quite simply, the most influential magazine ever published. A case can be made for that. While Reagan got his job through NR, he did his job with the additional and indispensable help of the neocons surrounding publications such as Commentary and the Public Interest. There is enough credit to be generously shared, and, in fact, it generally is shared generously. In any event, Ex-Friends is autobiographical, and it is in the nature of autobiography that you tell the piece of the story that is yours, which need not fit neatly the pieces belonging to others.
I have somewhat less sympathy for Brookhiser’s second caveat. In the book Podhoretz says that his life, and maybe the life of the country, is the poorer for not having such an intense community of intellectual exchange as the Family, “a center around which we can gather and in which, whether through collaboration or competition, agreement or dissension, we can deepen and refine our thinking.” Brookhiser comments: “Is this true? Podhoretz does not make the case. Most of the Family members were critics, not creators; the currents of political and artistic life flowed around them, not through them, and to the extent they made a contribution, Podhoretz often believes (as in the cases of Ginsberg and Mailer) that it was pernicious.” Is that true? While the around-not-through bit is nicely put, it implies a dubious antithesis between the critical and creative. Lionel Trilling’s reflections on “the liberal imagination” told us much about how we live and think about how we live, while Arendt on the origins of totalitarianism made sense of a Cold War that held the world in thrall for almost half a century. They were arguments that resulted in sensibilities and ways of thinking that were not there before the arguments were made, and that, it seems to me, counts as creativity.
Many currents flow into what is today’s conservatism. One is marked by the signposts of Taft-Buckley-Goldwater-Reagan. Another, called neoconservatism until it merged with the mainstream, had its source in the Old Left of the 1930s, where left and right were defined by what kind of Marxist you were. Some of us who are now called conservatives were not part of either. Living in New York, I was keenly aware of both. When I broke ranks with the left in the early ‘70s, I began to write regularly for both National Review and Commentary. Writing for National Review had the feel of consorting with the right; writing for Commentary had the feel of—if I may be permitted the academic jargon—problematizing the left. But that was a long time ago. In 1989, when I was rudely ejected from my misalliance with another current of conservatism represented by the Rockford Institute, the support of both National Review and Commentary was immediate and unqualified. More recently, in 1996 when this journal pointedly addressed judicial usurpation in a way that raised the question of the legitimacy of the political order as it presently functions, Commentary reacted with alarm to the suggestion that all polities and parties are subject to transcendent moral judgment. “I didn’t become a conservative,” Norman Podhoretz wrote in distancing himself from our heresy, “in order to be a radical.” But we did not become ex-friends.
Factional gyrations and clashes across the ideological spectrum will likely continue to the end of time. Ex-Friends brilliantly, and sometimes poignantly, captures a moment that cannot be again but has importantly influenced this moment and others still to be. It was a very New York moment and a very Jewish moment, and is not of least significance because for the first time a New York Jewish moment played a large part in redefining America’s intellectual culture. America, it has been observed, is so large and so various that almost any generalization made about it is amply supported by the evidence. It is a nation of many currents—political, intellectual, artistic. Some of the currents of greatest interest flowed through, not around, the world described by Norman Podhoretz in Ex-Friends. I think I already mentioned that it is also a great read.
The Death of a Pioneer
Oscar Cullman has died, at age ninety-six at his home in Chamonix, France. That the name is not more widely known today is a pity. A Lutheran, he was one of the great New Testament scholars and ecumenical spirits of the century. He held a number of professorships, chiefly at the University of Basel and University of Paris, and was an ecumenical observer at all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. Long before and after Giovanni Battista Martini became Pope Paul VI, he and Cullman were in intense and sympathetic conversation. I suppose that, were I to name one book that launched me into serious concern about church-state relations, it would be Cullman’s splendid little book of 1956, The State in the New Testament.
In the late 1980s, shortly before I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, Professor Cullman and I had an exchange on his views regarding the future of ecumenism as “communion in diversity.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and others were and are much taken with Cullman’s argument that the confessional divisions of the sixteenth century are the work of God’s “left hand,” and the resulting differences must somehow be given the opportunity to play themselves out rather than being “negotiated away” in ecumenical dialogue. It is a subtle argument, and Cullman was unhappy when I wrote in an article that it reflected a certain ecumenical “disillusionment.” In July 1989, he wrote me: “But of course I am of the opinion that the origin and existence of the various confessions is not only a misfortune, that it is not only ‘division’ and destruction of unity, but that it also signifies a working toward the good in the divine plan for unity and that in diversification the Holy Spirit is aiming at unity in accordance with the New Testament. . . . No! It does not arise out of disillusionment, but rather out of a deep belief and hope in ecumenism which has not let me go for the past sixty years. Disillusionment arises rather from a false ecumenism which I fight against.”
Oscar Cullman was engaged in ecumenical dialogue with Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians decades before the term “ecumenical dialogue” came into fashion, and he was much later to turn away from what he thought that fashion had become. He protested my saying he was disillusioned, but he did begin to speak of the actualization of Christian unity in more eschatological tones. Then and now a problem with his idea that the confessional differences could, in the mysterious workings of God’s left hand, be instrumental to unity is that today’s heirs of the confessions coming out of the sixteenth-century division, notably Lutheranism and Calvinism, are not very confessional or, if confessional, not very interested in unity. In Europe, the United States, and elsewhere, it seems the Protestant confessions have played themselves out, although not in the way that Cullman hoped.
If, however, full communion is Christ’s will for his Church, and it surely is, then Oscar Cullman was certainly right to emphasize that it will be achieved by Him and not by our ecumenical schemes. Christian unity is his work before it is ours, which, of course, is all the more reason to make it ours. Thinking about these and many other questions, I have the sense that the community of reflection is now diminished by the absence of Oscar Cullman. But then I think again and recognize that, in the fuller communion he now enjoys, please God, he is more present to us than ever before. Requiescat in pace.
While We’re At It
• Professor Russell Hittinger of the University of Tulsa, a regular and valued participant in our eminently urbane New York colloquia, keeps telling me that Oklahoma is a very different world—not a lesser world, mind you, but very different. He regularly sends along items to illustrate his point. For instance, a bunch of stories from the Tulsa World showing how great questions of constitutional right and natural law are engaged in the political discourse of Oklahoma. That great state is one of only three that permits cockfighting. A game-fowl breeder opines that it is “probably the cockfighting capital of the world,” a touch of chauvinism that manages to overlook Mexico and points south. In any event, and as you might imagine, even in Oklahoma there are damnliberals (one word) trying to impose their prissy dogmas on others. When they tried to do that back in 1975, Representative John Monks of Muskogee memorably rose to the defense, hailing the great tradition of cockfighting as “the sport of all free countries.” Lifting up an aspect of the evil empire that had escaped general notice, he pointed out that “In every country the Communists have taken over, the first thing they do is outlaw cockfighting.” Well, maybe not the very first thing, but the assertion does remind us how useful communism was for sundry political purposes. The paper reports that supporters in the House chambers punctuated Mr. Monks’ speech by waving American flags and playing recordings of crowing roosters. In the current rematch on the issue, breeder Sharon McFarland said there are about fifty permanent cockpits in Oklahoma, run mainly by rural folk who (and here, perhaps inadvertently, she echoes the great Justice Brandeis) “just want to be left alone.” Joe Berry—that’s the one who, the paper helpfully points out, is the state poultry specialist over at the university—invokes something like natural law. “Most of it is their nature,” he says. “A rooster wants to establish dominance by fighting or intimidating other roosters to the point they go hide.” Darwin is brought in for the defense as it is argued that the natural way of roosters assures that the genes of the strongest are passed on, producing a stronger generation of chickens. My understanding is that in the cockfight the roosters fight to the very bloody death, thus precluding that benign outcome, but perhaps I quibble. Says the McFarland woman, “I like these birds because they have the same attitude as me. Don’t tell me ‘no.’ It makes me madder-‘n-hell. They’re independent. Proud. The bird has one goal in mind, to win or die trying.” Says another breeder in support, “You’re looking for that rooster that will never, never give up.” While I gather he is not taking sides in the current debate, Prof. Hittinger, keen constitutional historian that he is, apparently discerns in the anti-ban rhetoric sentiments reminiscent of the American founding. “Don’t tread on me” and all that. Whatever one thinks of cockfighting, the suggestion is that a spirit is alive and well in Oklahoma that is largely dead in other parts of the country that are inclined to look down on the likes of Representative Martin Odom of Hitchita who says a ban on cockfighting could lead to outlawing “the rifle for hunting, the hook for fishing, the rope for rodeo calves, and the spurs on cowboys.” There’s that discredited slippery slope again.
• There are feminists who would have you believe that the defense of woman and the defense of “reproductive rights” are inseparable. As there are feminists who insist that to defend woman is to defend what makes her most singularly a woman—the ability to give birth to new life. Mary McAleese is pro-woman, a pro-life feminist, and she is also the President of the Republic of Ireland. She is one among many pro-life feminists whom she describes as “strident full-volume voices insisting on their intrinsic moral, human right to speak and be heard without seeking permission.” She anticipates “a day coming when we will hear the voice from within the womb, when its own authentic pain will be undeniable, when we will know with certainty that it is saying, ‘I want to live. I have a right to live. I do not need your permission to live.’“ She and her sisters in the fight are celebrated in the winter issue of the American Feminist, the publication of Feminists for Life of America, whose mission is to advocate a more truthful feminism. To subscribe or for more information, write to FFLA, 733 15th Street, N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20005, or see their website at www.serve.com/fem4life.
• A survey of 2,200 Lutherans sponsored by Lutheran Brotherhood, a fraternal insurance organization, indicates, once again, a tenuous connection between Lutheranism’s constituting doctrine—justification by faith alone—and the reality that is Lutheranism. Forty-eight percent of Lutherans “agree” or “probably agree” that “people can only be justified before God by loving others,” and 60 percent agree that “the main emphasis of the gospel is God’s rules for right living.” Some Lutheran theologians contend that the reason for the Lutheran communion’s continuing separation from Rome is to maintain the teaching of justification by faith, “the doctrine by which the church stands or falls.” One might suggest that the Lutheran communion continues chiefly for the maintenance of theologians who say that—probably a minority of Lutheran theologians today. One might suggest that, but I wouldn’t. I hardly allow myself to even think it.
• The surprising thing about Michael Aeschliman’s The Restitution of Man: C. S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism—now out in a new edition (Eerdmans, $12 paper)—is that it was first published in 1983. Anticipating much of the current controversy over the worship of technological progress that has characterized the end of the twentieth century, sixteen years later this book is still squarely in the middle of the debate. And fear not, it is not just another Lewis panegyric. Aeschliman neatly draws together the anti-scientistic thought of numerous others in the rational theistic tradition to produce a compelling argument for, in Lewis’ terminology, the Tao.
• “I am convinced of the conclusion, but I have the durndest time explaining to others how I get there, except by simply citing religious proscriptions.” The conclusion referred to is that there is something deeply wrong about homosexuality, and the speaker is a very sophisticated intellectual. His problem is hardly unusual. Social convention, religious teaching, and personal repulsion have for centuries made it seem self-evident that homosexuality is deeply wrong. Consider how rapid has been the change. Thirty or more years ago, a professor who publicly announced that he thinks homosexual relations are dandy would have been viewed as a very suspect character. He might even have been brought up on morals charges, and not just in church-related schools. On most campuses today, a professor who announces publicly that he has serious moral problems with homosexuality is likely to be in career-threatening trouble. One measure of a culture’s vitality is the number of moral truths that can be taken for granted, that do not need to be explicitly argued, that are not up for grabs. Not for nothing, therefore, do so many think our culture is on the critical list. To help people make the case for a sound conclusion that has been clouded by passionate obfuscation, I recommend Stanley Grenz’s new book, Welcoming but not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality (Westminster/John Knox, 210 pages,, $18
paper). It is a thoroughly ecumenical and theologically informed account of a question that is throwing many churches and families into turmoil. Controversies surrounding homosexuality will undoubtedly continue, but this book leads the reader through controversy to understanding.
• The splendid recordings of the Bach Collegium Japan occasioned my remarks (November 1998) on the sacramental potency of Bach’s music and how it is that, if you play around with the aesthetics long enough, grace may take hold. The following report comes from Father Vincent Capuano, S.J., of Granada, Spain: “This inspired me to report that a fellow Jesuit who is Japanese told me that the music of Bach was part of his conversion experience. He said that he was a typical atheistic child of a typical atheistic family because most modern Japanese do not practice their ancient religions. Nonetheless he was sent to the Christian Brother’s school because of its academic reputation. He is a pianist, and as a boy took a liking to Bach. When he asked his teacher how he could learn more about the master of the fugue, the teacher told him that one cannot understand Bach without coming to terms with Christianity. So he began to study and read about this odd religion that believes in a crucified God. He read about St. Francis Xavier and the early missionaries. He read too of Paul Miki and the hundreds of Japanese martyrs who witnessed to the Faith. He enrolled in the Jesuit-run Sophia University in Tokyo, and eventually converted to Catholicism. After working for a steel company for several years he entered the Society of Jesus and last year was ordained a priest. His parents have also converted.” As the great Johann Sebastian wrote on every manuscript, Soli Deo Gloria.
• The Kissinger Transcripts, just out from New Press, provide insights on Kissinger’s and Nixon’s secret meetings with, among others, Chairman Mao. At Mao’s residence on February 21, 1972, Kissinger engages in diplomatic flattery, telling Mao that he assigned his writings in his Harvard classes. Mao responds, “Those writings of mine aren’t anything. There is nothing instructive in what I wrote.” Nixon protests, “The Chairman’s writings moved a nation and have changed the world.” No, says Mao, “I haven’t been able to change it. I’ve only been able to change a few places in the vicinity of Beijing.” Mao talks about his impending death. “Anyway, God has sent me an invitation.” In a 1975 meeting, Mao expands on that. “I am going to Heaven soon. And when I see God, I’ll tell him it’s better to have Taiwan under the care of the United States now.” Kissinger says he is astonished to hear him say that. “No,” answers Mao, “because God blesses you, not us. God does not like us because I am a militant warlord, also a Communist. That’s why he doesn’t like me. He likes you.” Kissinger, apparently embarrassed by this turn in the conversation, says, “I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him, so I don’t know.” Astonishment is in order.
• We like it when anyone sticks up for boys, and we like it especially when the sticking up for them is done by Midge Decter. She writes: “Boys must always find some means to measure themselves, and the reason they must do so is that they are by nature pure of heart. By this I do not mean to suggest that they are not dirty, noisy, disruptive, and even violent. . . . But whether they are naughty or nice, troubled or troubling, what seems to be given to them along with their testosterone is an enormous degree of transparency. Anyone who has ever watched little boys at play knows that whatever they are up to, for good or ill, their hearts are always on their sleeves. Little girls acquire wiles practically with their first step. They flirt, they pout, they manipulate. Watch a group of them at play, and what will be going on beneath their games is an instinctive feel for tactics and strategy worthy of the world’s most practiced diplomats. Boys, by contrast, have no wiles. As the years go on, life will teach them not to cry when they want to, and to cover up their fear. But little boys almost never dissemble or manipulate—even their lies are transparent.” As an expert on the subject, having been one myself, I can attest to the truth of Ms. Decter’s description. Although I didn’t know then that my lies were so transparent.
• Some three dozen contributors tell what it was like to be reared as children of Communist parents in Red Diapers: Growing Up in the Communist Left (University of Illinois Press). The stories set in the thirties and forties—long before the McCarthy era that is supposed to justify so much that Communists did—depict lives of secrecy, deception, hatred of America, and adulation of Stalin. Stephen Schwartz, himself a red diaper baby, says the book has “the flavor of a wistful defense of what was, in the end, an atrocity.” “In American Communist families, children were brainwashed, lured away from their natural, native loyalties to serve one of history’s cruelest tyrannies. Such abuse cannot be easily pardoned.” Reviewing the same book, Ronald Radosh writes: “Ignoring much of the evidence they have themselves assembled in Red Diapers, the editors show that they are true to the CP tradition in which they grew up—there is a right line, and even those who have become slightly critical and disillusioned must keep their eye on the real enemy of the people—which is anyone who believes the future is not something called socialism.” Pink diaper babies, on the other hand, are muted in their praise of socialism but sure that the future is not capitalism. Which, in a world where the only real debate is over what kind of capitalism should be favored, leaves them in a position as marginal as that of their red diaper cousins.
• You have seen the ads for Touchstone in these pages. Of course we don’t endorse everything that is advertised here. Last issue there was one for a conference featuring Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal Church who is, I’m afraid, pathetically apostate in a manner that tries but fails to reach the gravity of heresy. But Touchstone is something else. Edited by a bevy of mainly younger Protestants, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics, it advances an ecumenism of orthodoxy defined by the Great Tradition. In January, the magazine sponsored a small gathering on “plausible ecumenism” at the Yale Club of New York, in which I was pleased to participate. I confess there is a part of me that gets impatient with these discussions. For many years as a Lutheran pastor, I made the case for “evangelical catholicity” apart from full communion with the Catholic Church, and all the changes on that theme seem wearily familiar. I do believe that Orthodoxy and Catholicism are the live options for “ecclesial Christians,” by which I mean Christians for whom the act of faith in Christ and the act of faith in his Church is, finally, not two acts of faith but one act of faith. And, of course, becoming Orthodox does not resolve the problem of not being in communion with the Petrine Ministry instituted by Christ and inevitably exercised by the Bishop of Rome. That being said, however, it is a rock-bottom article of Catholic orthodoxy that people must act according to the dictates of conscience, always praying and thinking toward a conscience rightly formed. The Touchstone people are bracingly conscientious and determined to follow where the Spirit leads. The Protestants among them—Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and other—are disposed to think that they are not just walking a well-worn path toward a foregone ecclesial conclusion, and they may well be right. The unity for which we together pray will be the work of the Holy Spirit, and not of our own contrivance. In Catholic teaching, these are brothers and sisters who are already in “true but imperfect communion” with the Catholic Church. For most Christians who are not in full communion, the fulfillment of that communion will happen in ways that will likely surprise us all, and will certainly be attended by unanticipated developments also within the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, there is much work to be done together in bearing witness to the vibrant orthodoxy of the faith we now share. If these are among the concerns that command your attention, I suggest you take a look at Touchstone.
• Most Americans think that there is a “gay community.” There isn’t. Homosexuals are a surprisingly heterogenous group, fractured into manifold warring factions over religion and politics, the uses of science, and the various vagaries of sexual expression, including transgender and other rarefied permutations thereof. One of the more Amazonian speakers for this uncommunal community is Camille Paglia, a maverick scholar and writer best known for her blunt opinions and explosive prose. Not untouched by what seems to be a curious animus for those whom she purports to represent, Paglia has some hard words for fellow gays who rail against the alleged oppressiveness of Christianity. “As a scholar,” she writes, “I am troubled by the provincialism and amorality of the gay male world, when compared to the vastness of philosophical perspective provided by orthodox religion—or even by ancient paganism, which honored nature. And as a lesbian, I’m sick and tired of the gay rights movement being damaged by the cowardly incapacity for self-examination of many gay men. . . . I have been struck, in my brief encounters over the years with a half-dozen prominent gay male activists, by the frightening coldness and deadness of their eyes. Behind their smooth, bland faces I saw the seething hatreds of Dostoevskian anarchists. Gay crusading, I concluded, was their way of handling their own bitter misanthropy, which came from other sources. I found these men more spiritually twisted than anyone I have encountered in my life. The gay movement should not be left in their hands.” While not proposing Paglia as a moral exemplar, and while wondering whether the movement can be separated from the fanaticism she deplores, the reproach of the Christian-bashing endemic to much gay advocacy is welcome.
• Perry Robinson, an alert reader in Fullerton, California, notes that the PBS show Religion and Ethics, which is advertised in these pages, is broadcast there at ten o’clock Sunday morning. That is a time when, he suggests, those most likely to be interested are doing something more important than watching television. He wonders if the station is trying to guarantee the program’s failure. A different, although no more heartening, explanation is that the station sees the program as filler for a television “dead time.” That was the case with the “Sunday morning ghetto” back in the days when the FCC required a quota of uplift broadcasting. Quality programming relative to religion sometimes seems to be a lost cause. One does not want to discourage those who keep trying, but I’m inclined to the view that the best advice is to turn the thing off. I have a grudging respect for those who announce that they don’t even have a set in the house—grudging, because they usually sound so smug about it.
• The retraction, so to speak, is a few inches way down at the bottom of page twenty-two: “Gay Marine in Times Acted in Smut Films.” The story goes this way. Some months ago the New York Times Magazine ran this long advocacy article, “The Shadow Life of a Gay Marine,” profiling the unhappy circumstance of a persecuted Marine officer, identified only by his first initial, R, who had to live a pitifully furtive existence under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule of the U.S. military. A few months later, the Advocate, a gay magazine in New York, reported that his name is Rich Merritt, that he appeared in several homosexual pornographic films while on active duty, and that he had subsequently received an honorable discharge from the Marines. About the disclosure, Adam Moss, editor of the Times Magazine said: “Would we have liked to have known? Of course. But this is a story about the complications of living under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and this revelation doesn’t alter the story’s truths.” Yes, the officer’s life was flagrant rather than furtive, but the story did get some things right. For instance, his first initial is R. As for not knowing that he was acting in pornographic films while on active duty, it appears the Times has a new rule for its reporters: Don’t ask, don’t tell.
• Talk about forming “common ground” between pro-life and pro-choice forces usually, and understandably, meets with intense suspicion. “How could we possibly cooperate with them?” is the question raised by both sides. The pro-abortionists claim, hyperbolically, that their opponents are the enemies of women and everything good and progressive. The anti-abortionists note, with the sobriety that attends the undeniable, that their opponents support the killing of children. Yet when New Jersey, and later the federal government, proposed a “cap” on welfare payments that would almost certainly have the effect of encouraging pregnant welfare mothers to abort their children rather than give them birth, an unlikely alliance—including Right to Life, the state Catholic conference, ACLU, and NOW—was formed. James R. Kelley, a sociologist at Fordham University, thinks this is a limited common ground that should be cultivated: “Pro-choice idealists should more explicitly differentiate themselves from their false friends in the population-control establishment. This will not be easy. The first known call for legalized abortion was made in 1915 in a publication of the Malthusian League that held that overpopulation was the chief cause of poverty. The initial argument offered in Congress (June 24, 1976) against the Hyde amendment restricting Medicaid funding of abortion was that these restrictions would cost taxpayers annually between $45
0 million and $565 million for the care of children born because their mothers could not afford an abortion. Finally, movement integrity requires that pro-choice idealists renounce the polemic that grassroots pro-life activists lose interest in both child and mother after birth. Renouncing this fund-raising stereotype might prove to be the hardest of all. Diminishing state support for poor women, rationalized by a moralistic language of self-reliance, constitutes the most severe kind of challenge to the integrity of both movements. On the right to life side, it directly calls into question its tactical political alliance with fiscal conservatives. On the pro-choice side, the data expose the inadequacy of viewing abortion simply as a liberating right and demonstrate the need to align, in a common-ground way, abortion rights with substantive traditions about the common good that traditionally include the dignity of human life at each of its stages. I understand the complications and the difficulties involved in that sentence. There are powerful psychological, moral, and historical impediments internal to both movements that make any common ground difficult to imagine specifically, much less to achieve. But the stakes are high. How New Jersey pro-life and pro-choice activists expand or narrow the common ground they have just barely begun in contesting the New Jersey family cap is an important chapter in an unfinished story. It is a story of how America thinks not only about abortion but about poverty, its causes, and our responsibilities—in other words, about the long-term prospects for our human solidarity.”
• Psychiatrist Paul R. McHugh exposes in “Dying Made Easy” the medical fraud and human cruelty of Dr. Kevorkian’s supposed “assistance” to people in dire straits. He contrasts Kevorkian’s way with that described in the recent best-selling book by Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie, about a patient dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Yet McHugh is also worried about the light, bantering, tone of the book, filled with one-liners and unexamined platitudes. He notes that Albom, a prize-winning sports writer, tellingly misquotes Gehrig’s farewell speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. Gehrig said: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Albom has it: “Today I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the earth” (emphasis added). “This little slip,” says McHugh, “is of the essence of the solipsism that infects Tuesdays with Morrie.” McHugh concludes: “To the proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide, the attitudes expressed in Tuesdays with Morrie offer no prescriptive resistance. They can be no more than a sweet interlude, a brief way station along the path paved by Dr. Kevorkian—and by all the kinder and gentler Kevorkians who are waiting a step or two behind. On that path, the signpost, brief and desolating, reads: You are alone.”
• It’s a pity to see conservatives joining in the conventional liberal misrepresentation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A Lutheran pastor executed on the direct orders of Hitler at the very end of the war, Bonhoeffer is associated by James K. Fitzpatrick, writing in the Wanderer, with the “death of God” theologians who urged a “secular Christianity” completely devoid of transcendent reference. That is gravely misleading. In his letters from prison, Bonhoeffer did urge, in a perfectly orthodox way, making the gospel speak more effectively to the world (the secular) for which the gospel is intended. In fact, in his writing, teaching, and work to overthrow the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer was a vibrant witness to truth and died a martyr to the Christian faith. If Rome ever finds a way to canonize those who were “truly but imperfectly in communion with the Catholic Church” (Vatican Council II), Bonhoeffer should, in my judgment, be high on the list of candidates. His Ethics is still read in university and seminary classrooms, and should be in more.
• Gabriel Austin of New York City is more than assiduous in performing his chosen duty of keeping me honest, or at least accurate, and I suppose I should be grateful. He writes to point out that my assertion (Correspondence, January) that “government employee unions generally have little to do with physical labor” overlooks policemen, firemen, garbagemen, postal workers, bus drivers, nurses, hospital orderlies, and many others. Well, yes, but my reference was to clerks, bureaucrats, and especially teachers who give political and public policy clout to organized labor. Aside from using their union dues for their increasingly leftist political purposes, I doubt that John Sweeney and others count the workers mentioned by Mr. Austin as their ideological allies.
• It’s really true. Some of my best friends, plus one sister, live in Florida. But I confess it’s the one state in the Union that I’ve never been able to warm up to. (All right, so there are two or three I haven’t been to.) A while back I spoke at the annual convention of the American College of Surgeons held in Orlando. I stayed in a hotel with a grotesque swan stuck on the top of it. Across the way was a hotel with a grotesque Something Else. There came a moment when I surveyed the entire scene from the hotel window and could not see one thing that was not ugly, as in vulgar. But now Christianity Today reports that Orlando is becoming the center for evangelical Protestant organizations. Years ago there was Wheaton, Illinois, then Colorado Springs, and now Orlando. What is it with this herd instinct among evangelicals? My friend Bill Bright is building a $42 million headquarters for Campus Crusade near Orlando airport, close to new campuses of Asbury Theological Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, Ligonier Ministries, and a host of others. And of course my very dear friend Chuck Colson lives in Florida, when he doesn’t have to be in Washington, Buenos Aires, or wherever. I don’t get it. But then, I’ve never understood why so many people, including very intelligent people of my acquaintance, choose not to live in New York City. Be assured, however, that the exit to Florida will not get in the way of projects such as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” Christian unity is worth an occasional flight to Orlando. Nobody said this would be easy.
• I get in trouble every time I take a crack at the everything-goes-better-with-Jesus philosophy. “If Jesus is in charge of everything, why shouldn’t everything go better with Jesus?” There is a lot that is wrong with that question, but I will let it go for the moment and respond to another question from an irate reader: “Why are you the only one who is critical of the wonderful reports about the medical benefits of religion?” Well, I’m not the only one, and to prove the point I cite the following from a recent Christian Century editorial: “Perhaps no one is so simple as to start treating church like a nutritional supplement or a leafy green vegetable—something to add to one’s life just to be on the safe side. Nevertheless, with their medically authorized praise of religion, the scientists subtly confirm their own cultural authority. In our society, it’s the scientists, not the tellers of sacred stories, that get to define the ‘value’ of the ‘faith factor.’ Their reports further inject the dangerous notion that faith is validated by its measurable outcomes. As long as one takes this view of faith, one will never get started on the actual journey of faith. So we can be only halfheartedly enthusiastic about the prospect of scientists conducting tests to demonstrate the power of prayer or the clinical uses of forgiveness. As Kierkegaard once said, when we try to suck worldly wisdom from the movements of faith, we tend to swindle God out of the first movement.” That’s not the entire answer to the above questions, but it’s a big part of it. And this is as good an occasion as any to note the retirement of James M. Wall as editor of the Century, a post he has held for twenty-seven years. Over the years, Jim Wall and I have knocked around a bit together and, despite disagreements worthy of the name, I’ve always found him a congenial fellow. His first love is not editing or the battle of ideas but movies. He once told me that when he comes to New York he sees as many as four a day. That is on the list of things I’ve never been able to fathom. He is liberal to the bone, which is to be expected in the editor of the flagship publication of Protestant liberalism, but his is not a fierce or nasty liberalism. It is more a taken-for-granted posture of puzzlement toward people who don’t agree with what everybody knows. John Buchanan of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago succeeds Wall, and executive editor David Heim will continue to do the hands-on editing. The flagship was launched in 1884 as the Christian Oracle and renamed the Christian Century in 1900. Despite such massive evidence to the contrary, I am told there are no plans to re-rename the magazine in the year 2000. (The name First Things, I am glad to say, is time-proof, except maybe with the definitive arrival of Last Things, at which point, as best I can figure, the future of magazine publishing will be somewhat uncertain.)
• After vigorous protest the decision was reversed, but Dartmouth College at first forbade Campus Crusade from distributing to students one thousand copies of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. The Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran campus ministries supported the ban because the book might offend non-Christian students. There continue to be a surprising number of occasions for recommending sociologist John Murray Cuddihy’s devastatingly insightful 1978 book, No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste.
• Contrary to what I was told a year ago (see “The Cuban Revolutions,” May 1998), some Protestants in Cuba are now saying that John Paul II’s 1998 visit was a big help for Catholics but not for them. Apostolic Faith pastor Samuel Seymour observes, “I don’t know of a single Catholic church that’s been closed. They’re repairing, rebuilding, and painting Catholic churches, yet my church was closed.” Oldline denominations belong to the Council of Churches, which has over the years cooperated with the Castro regime in return for favorable treatment. But they’re unhappy as well. “What we need,” says one pastor, “is a Presbyterian pope.” The bishops of the Church that does have the Pope say they are determined that advances in religious freedom be advances for everyone.
• Joseph Collison writes in the New Oxford Review about what’s wrong with sex education that “desensitizes” children with all kinds of salacious detail divorced from affection, love, and the creation of new life. He suggests that the old rhyme chanted by children as they depart for summer vacation might now go like this: “No more pencils, no more looks, no more teacher’s dirty books.”
• So why do some people stand by Bill Clinton, no matter what? Walter Shapiro, political columnist for USA Today, has one answer: “In early December, New York intellectuals tried to replicate the full-throated glories of the antiwar movement with an anti-impeachment rally at NYU. What lingers in memory is novelist Mary Gordon gushing over Clinton without a tinge of irony: ‘Toni Morrison said that he may be our first black president. He may also be our first female president.’ That remark and the raucous applause that it inspired speaks volumes about the self-centered values of the American left. As long as Clinton upholds affirmative action and defends abortion rights, then his personal excesses and timid policies are to be defended at all costs. Honesty and integrity are dispensable attributes for a President who cleaves to the correct-thinking positions on gender and race. That is the moral swamp in which liberals have become mired because of their passionate embrace of a political cynic named Bill Clinton.”
• In a column titled “The White Panthers,” Frank Rich thinks he is on to something big in his discovery that the politics of radicalism in the 1990s—“our most contentious decade” since the 1960s—is on the right rather than the left. Populist passions, suspicion of government and institutional elites, concerns about the legitimacy of the regime, etc. are all now mainly conservative phenomena. This is no big discovery, nor is it at all surprising. It is the obvious result of the fact that the radical 1960s “long march through the institutions” has succeeded, and today’s “establishment,” from the White House to the commanding heights of culture, is mainly the left. One notes that Rich himself, who still writes in the strident tones of 1960s leftism, has apparently been demoted at the Times. His column will appear only every other week, although he will have 1,400 rather than 700 words, while he works on “longer pieces” for the Times Magazine. Perhaps Mr. Rich suspects a conservative conspiracy. Not to worry. With Russell Baker retired and the cantankerously great A. M. Rosenthal cut back to once a week, that leaves as columnists the very liberal Tony Lewis, whose mind is marvelously impervious to the threat of ideas, William Safire, the token conservative, albeit of a libertarian bent, and Maureen Dowd, a lively writer who early on showed high promise but for some reason has decided to follow her predecessor, Anna Quindlen, in reinforcing the prejudice that women pundits are chiefly good at trivializing serious questions by offering cute twists from “the woman’s perspective.” Apart from Rosenthal on topics such as religious persecution, nobody at the Times, certainly not the editorial writers, is within hailing distance of civil conversation with the conservatism that is increasingly defined by the cultural conflicts of our public life. It is a partisanship so pervasive and so entrenched that it thinks of itself, probably without guile, as the center. Fortunately, the baneful influence of that delusion is kept in check by the reality of a nation that, with exceptions, lives in a world elsewhere. Most people are not so angry as the angry Mr. Rich would have it, although it is true that activists on the right want to stir them up. In the hope of restoring something like the establishment that the 1960s railed against before its children became the establishment that rails against conservatives who rail against the establishment. The distinguished Italian social theorist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) elegantly explained this as “the circulation of elites.” Which, put somewhat too simply, means: What goes around comes around.
• On the fiftieth anniversary of its premier, a new and much praised production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman has opened on Broadway. Like, I suppose, millions of others, both the play and the movie had a powerful effect on me when I was a young person just trying out as a thinker of big thoughts. Yet there is a smug and nasty edge to the drama, as with almost all of Miller’s writing. As revealed in his memoirs, the model for his pitiful salesman was his uncle, Manny Newman. During the Depression, the well-to-do Miller family went bottom up and had to move from Manhattan to where their relatives, including Uncle Manny, lived in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. Young Arthur hated it, and he despised his boastful uncle as much as his uncle despised his nerdish nephew. Death of a Salesman was Arthur’s way of getting back. Arthur had class; the Midwood relatives, especially Uncle Manny, did not. One of the mourners at the grave says, “For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law, or give you medicine.” To which John Tierney of the New York Times responds: “But why is a salesman doing anything less substantial than what a lawyer does—or, for that matter, what a writer does? They’re all basically trafficking in information who make a living by influencing people with words. Why pick on salesmen? And why imagine, during the postwar boom in white-collar employment, that Willy would be better off as a blue-collar worker building concrete stoops? Mr. Miller’s attitude resembles the old British aristocratic horror at those who work ‘in trade.’ Social and intellectual elites have traditionally tolerated lawyers and other professionals, and they’ve looked with kindly condescension on peasant farmers and artisans, but they’ve disdained money-grubbing merchants. They know how threatening the bourgeoisie’s ambitions can be.”
• A pope cannot very well say No when a president of the U.S. wants to welcome him to the country. On the January meeting of John Paul II and President Clinton in St. Louis, a number of newspaper headlines and columns featured the theme of “sinner welcomes saint.” World, an evangelical magazine, took a different tack with a snippy, not to say sneering, little item about the Pope evoking “weeping, squealing, jumping up and down” young people. World notes that the Pope spoke out against the culture of death, and then adds, “Abortionists, however, did business as usual.” So he was supposed to shut down the abortion clinics? It is mentioned that in his twenty-minute meeting with Clinton abortion only “came up in passing.” The accompanying picture of Pope and President bears the caption “Clasping Hands in St. Louis: JPII with the abortion industry’s best friend.” More thoughtful evangelicals recognize that John Paul II is without doubt the world’s foremost champion of the sanctity of human life, that there would be no pro-life movement in the U.S. or in the world without the Catholic Church, and that most evangelicals were late in joining the pro-life cause, not least because it was viewed as a Catholic issue and they were, not to put too fine a point on it, anti-Catholic. The account in World suggests that problem is by no means a thing of the past.
• In the last several years few words have so suffered from overuse as much as “icon.” People who have never contemplated, never mind devoutly schmutzed, a real icon apparently think it means no more than an image of the superlative or essential character of something or the other. The local cigar store advertises a brand that is “the icon of excellence in smoking.” But of Elie Wiesel it can rightly be said that he is an icon in our popular culture, a living representation through whom people sense their participation in the reality of the Holocaust. It must be a very difficult life for him, being the celebrity teller of the same story over and over again, year after year, decade after decade. The horror, the horror, the horror, and then pointing out that it could happen again, maybe is happening again, as evidenced by sundry political and social developments disfavored by the quintessentially liberal Mr. Wiesel. I have been on panels with him from time to time, and the adulation is something to behold. At one meeting sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, he was introduced by a prominent politician: “There is no doubt that the Jewish community is the conscience of humanity, and likewise there can be no doubt that our next speaker is the conscience of the Jewish community.” I don’t say that Mr. Wiesel agreed with that, but neither did he demur. Possibly because he has heard it so often that he despairs of tempering such effusion. Now Notre Dame Press has brought out a big book, Celebrating Elie Wiesel. The twenty-three essays in this festschrift are not all about Elie Wiesel, but each deals with questions pertinent to his witness. Among the anomalies is the opening item by Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School, “Elie Wiesel: A Biblical Life.” That’s the Mr. Dershowitz of the O. J. Simpson trial who has, among other things, compared the alleged persecution of Bill Clinton to the tactics of the Nazis. A tribute to the icon who is Elie Wiesel deserves better than that.
• Although it received almost no attention in the general press, it is a remarkable challenge. After the five days of the December bombing of Iraq had ended, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of the military vicariate wrote all the chaplains under his authority that the bombing was at least morally questionable, and military personnel should be instructed to question their superiors when ordered to take actions that appeared to be “in violation of the moral law.” Archbishop O’Brien wrote, “I join the bishops of our country as well as the concerned voices of the Holy See . . . in calling on our President and his advisers to initiate no further military action in the Middle East.” Invoking the classic criteria of justified war, he said: “In executing orders that might violate just-war requirements, military personnel face a serious moral challenge. . . . Any individual who judges an action on his or her part to be in violation of the moral law is bound to avoid that action. . . . When clear moral conclusions that a particular act is unjust cannot be reached—because, for example, of lack of sufficient evidence—the individual is justified in following the presumably better informed decision of his or her superiors.”
• In 1996 we discussed the case of Bishop George Lynch and Brother Christopher Moscinski, who violated a court order not to block an abortion clinic in Dobbs Ferry, New York. U.S. District Judge John Sprizzo, in an unusual ruling, acquitted them, saying that their acting in sincere and objectively based religious belief meant that they were not guilty of disrespecting the court order. The prosecutor appealed to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which refused to hear the case, citing the principle of double jeopardy but indicating that Judge Sprizzo had erred in his interpretation of the law.
• One wonders if there has ever been a time with so many juveniles in positions of power. No, I don’t mean him. And I don’t mean younger people. I mean people who seem incapable of growing up. Television mogul Ted Turner, for instance. Receiving an award from the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, Turner, who has five children, said everyone should promise not to have more than two. He said he concluded this years ago after talking with eco-futurist Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb. Turner also opined that the Ten Commandments are “a little out of date.” Perhaps with his wife Jane in mind, he said, “If you’re only going to have ten rules, I don’t know if prohibiting adultery should be one of them.” He was also very funny about the Pope. “Ever see a Polish mine detector?” asked Turner, pointing to his leg. He suggested that the Pope should “get with it.” To the Pope he said, “Welcome to the twentieth century.” Paul Ehrlich, it may be remembered, predicted thirty years ago that pesticide-induced cancers would soon cause life expectancy in the U.S. to plummet to forty-two years. (It is now seventy-six years.) “If I were a gambler,” he said then, “I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.” There may not always be, but there is now, an England. Recall also that Ehrlich did make a much-publicized thousand-dollar wager with the late economist Julian Simon in 1980 about the world running out of allegedly scarce commodities. Simon collected in 1991. Instead of taking potshots at John Paul II, who has devoted the twenty years of his pontificate to preparing the world for the twenty-first century, indeed the third millennium, Mr. Turner would be well advised to expose his prejudices to the fresh air of fact. I expect he would even find that growing up is more fun. (A day later, the Corporate Affairs Department of the Turner Broadcasting System issued a statement: “Mr. Turner regrets any offense his comments may have caused . . .” etc.)
• Through reviews, review essays, briefly noteds, and comments here in The Public Square, we pay attention to an awful lot of books in the course of a year. On average, somewhere around three hundred. We know by the response of subscribers that they are voracious readers of books and appreciate the wide coverage. At the same time, three hundred is a very small part of the more than sixty thousand trade books published each year, never mind thousands of scholarly monographs. It is even a small part of the books that fit the category of “religion and public life” (and what that is of real interest doesn’t fit that category?). It happens from time to time that an important book that is an obvious candidate for notice in FT goes unmentioned, frequently because a reviewer assigned the book doesn’t come through. One such book is George M. Marsden’s The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, first published in 1997. Its appearance now in paperback (Oxford University Press, 142 pages,, $11.95) is a welcome occasion to bring it to your attention. Marsden’s earlier book, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief—also from Oxford, and part of which appeared in these pages—established him as an astute student of today’s academic culture. In The Outrageous Idea, Marsden expands his former inquiry into basic ideas about scholarship that create a climate that is pervasively hostile to religion. Young academics quickly pick up on the cue that explicit reference to religion is not welcome and they become adept at self-censorship. Marsden writes: “Younger scholars who are Christian quickly learn that influential professors hold negative attitudes toward open religious expression and that to be accepted they should keep quiet about their faith. So rather than attempting to reflect on the relationship between religious faith and their other beliefs, they learn to hide their religious beliefs in professional settings. Such self-censorship by its very nature proceeds quietly, but the attitudes it fosters are pervasive.” The book is not an instance of special pleading for Christians. The gravamen of Marsden’s case is that the academy’s hostility to religion undermines the very idea of the university as an institution dedicated to honest intellectual engagement. Academics both junior and senior should want to check out Marsden’s diagnosis and explore what they together might do about it, even at the risk of appearing outrageous.
• Unto the third and fourth generation journalist Gary MacEoin has favored readers with his dogged hewing of a relentless progressive line on all things Catholic. He covered the Synod for America for National Catholic Reporter and he does not like at all my book occasioned by that event, Appointment in Rome: The Church in America Awakening. The beginning of the first line of his review—“Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a former Episcopal minister who is now a Catholic priest”—does not instill confidence. He is unhappy that I say that liberation theology had an “ideological attachment to Marxist class struggle,” although he and most liberation theologians said precisely that over the years. They usually did not, of course, call it an ideological attachment. He is especially upset that I say liberation theology is largely a thing of the past. As counterevidence, he notes that a book called The Future of Liberation Theology has just been published by Orbis Books. QED. (So often has Orbis Books put out almost identical books pushing the liberationist line that one wag in the publishing business calls it Orbis Book.) MacEoin notes that I am critical of some Latin American and Canadian bishops, and then adds, “Even the U.S. bishops, although generally treated more positively, are less than perfect.” I know the suggestion that the U.S. bishops are less than perfect must shock him and the readers of NCR. He is all for the developed nations forgiving international debts—a subject much discussed at the Synod and about which I am somewhat skeptical—and notes that, compared with the selfish U.S., Russia forgave $3.14 billion and Mexico over $1 billion. He does not mention that, with economies like that of Russia or Mexico, you could forgive trillions without donor or debtor noticing the difference. I don’t understand these authors who say they don’t read their reviews. They don’t know what they’re missing.
• According to the editors of National Review, “The Pope has been inveighing against the death penalty in developed nations, and his strongest argument has been that it precludes repentance (and salvation).” They go on to disagree, citing Dr. Johnson on the concentrating of the mind occasioned by the prospect of execution. There are a number of things wrong here. The development of Catholic doctrine in opposition to capital punishment applies everywhere, although in some countries the prison system is so undeveloped that there is no alternative punishment. The “strongest argument” against capital punishment is the taking of human life when it is not justified by absolute necessity. Moreover, the Johnson formula does not allow for extension in the event of non-repentance. The editors go on to criticize Governor Mel Carnahan of Missouri for commuting, at the Pope’s request, the death sentence of Darrell Mease, who killed three people. “Governor Carnahan,” the editors complain, “who says he still supports capital punishment, violated a fundamental postulate of republican government: that it is a rule of laws and not men.” Nonsense. This republican government provides for commutation, pardon, and other instruments of discretion in order that men might temper their administration of law with prudence and mercy. Finally, I note that it is my friend Bill Buckley who describes himself as “inveighing,” and he does it marvelously well. It doesn’t seem quite the word for the Pope’s exercise of his teaching office.
• A few years back, just before the Summit of the Americas, the novelist William Styron invited President Clinton to a soirée at his summer house on Martha’s Vineyard. Carlos Fuentes was there, and so was Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who recently recounted their dinner conversation in a predictably fawning article entitled “The Mysteries of Bill Clinton.” After almost four hours talking with his “literary round table” about such topics as their favorite movies (Clinton: High Noon) and their favorite books (Clinton: Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations), Fuentes, suddenly inspired, asked the question, Who did the President think of as his enemies? The President’s reply was, it is reported, “immediate and abrupt”: “My only enemy is right-wing religious fundamentalism.” Surely he is too modest.
• The pain of being snubbed. An organization called “ExCatholics for Christ” has been rallying people against the project known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), and they have written the Protestant participants in ECT, calling upon them to repent and announce their repentance at a forthcoming conference in Dallas that will, they say, be “highly critical” of ECT. No such letters were sent to Catholic participants. I suppose that, ex-Catholics though they say they are, they still subscribe to the notion of invincible ignorance.
• Scientists have discovered the most elderly exploding star so far—a supernova said to be ten billion years old and eighteen billion light years away. The American Science Academy calls it the biggest discovery of the year that some strange force appears to be pushing the universe ever farther apart. “It’s likely never to stop, never to collapse, never to come to an end,” says astronomer Saul Perlmutter. “That was a real surprise. That was a real shock.” He does not say whether it is a pleasant surprise and, truth to tell, I’m not sure either.
• Bats in the belfrey are a venerable phenomenon, but in the thirteenth-century All Saints Church in the village of Mattersey, England, 150 miles north of London, bats are pretty much wherever they want to be. The same is true all over the country. Britain has sixteen species of bats and seven prefer to reside in churches. Bat-protection laws prevent their being removed, or even disturbed. Bats are terribly messy creatures, but the conservation group English Nature reminds worshipers of the “significance of the church for bats,” and suggests that works of art and other valued objects be moved to areas that receive what it terms “a low rate of deposition.” Parishioners are cautioned not to remove bat droppings just because they want to sit there. Rather, they should “count the number of spots of urine or droppings” in order to provide better “baseline data on the disposition of bat excreta.” Politics frequently requires hard choices, and at some point Parliament may have to consider which is the more endangered species, bats or people who go to church. If forced to choose between the two species of churchgoers, observers are not sure that people would win. With old barns and other farm buildings dwindling in the English countryside, bats need new roosts, and cold, drafty churches suit them best. They need the churches. For people, church is optional. It makes sense, in an eccentrically English way.
• The Pope doesn’t take time to watch many films, so when he does and then offers words of high praise, it is worth noting. If you have the chance, go see Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, an Italian film with English subtitles, which dares a comedy (in the classic sense of the term) situated in the improbable circumstance of a Nazi concentration camp. The film keeps coming back to mind, generating thoughts about how narrative (in this case a narrative that turns suffering into a “game”) sustains the human in the face of unspeakable adversity. It is profound and also very funny. I could go on, but enough. Go see it. (I am pleased to note that after this was written, and just before our deadline, the film won three Oscars.)
• We will be happy to send a sample issue of this journal to people you think are likely subscribers. Please send names and addresses to First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, NY 10010 (or e-mail to Ravaughan@aol.com). On the other hand, if they’re ready to subscribe, call toll-free 1-800-783-4903.
James Turner on the evangelical mind, Commonweal, January 15, 1999 and Christianity Today on “The New Theologians,” February 8, 1999. The Dying of the Light reviewed in Commonweal, January 15, 1999. Sonia Arrison on governmental use of charities, National Post, December 30, 1998. Ex-Friends reviewed by Richard Brookhiser, New York Times Book Review, February 21, 1999.
While We’re At It: On Oklahoma, Tulsa World, November 29, 1998. On survey by Lutheran Brotherhood, Religion Watch, December 1998. On Kissinger tapes, New York Times, January 10, 1999. Midge Decter on “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” in Commentary, December 1998. Ronald Radosh on “Red Diaper Rash” in Heterodoxy, November 1998 and Stephen Schwartz on Red Diapers, Wall Street Journal, February 10, 1999. Camille Paglia on gay culture, Salon Magazine, June 23, 1998. On gay Marine who acted in porno films, New York Times, February 4, 1999. On New Jersey welfare cap, America, January 16-23, 1999. Paul R. McHugh on “Dying Made Easy,” Commentary, February 1999. James K. Fitzpatrick on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wanderer, January 21, 1999. On Orlando and evangelicals, Christianity Today, February 8, 1999. On “Faith’s Benefits,” Christian Century, January 27, 1999. On ban of C. S. Lewis book at Dartmouth, Christianity Today, February 8, 1999. On churches in Cuba, Christianity Today, February 8, 1999. Joseph Collison on sex education, New Oxford Review, January 1999. Walter Shapiro on Bill Clinton’s popularity, New Republic, February 1, 1999. Frank Rich on “The White Panthers,” New York Times, February 6, 1999. Death of a Salesman reviewed in New York Times, February 8, 1999. On Pope John Paul II’s visit to America, World, February 6, 1999. Archbishop Edwin O’Brien on bombing Iraq, Catholic World Report, February 1999. On Bishop George Lynch and Brother Christopher Moscinski, Catholic World Report, February 1999. On Ted Turner and Paul Ehrlich, Catholic League press release, February 17 & 18, 1999. Appointment in Rome, reviewed by Gary MacEoin, National Catholic Reporter, February 26, 1999. On the Pope and the death penalty, National Review, February 22, 1999. Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Clinton’s only enemy, Salon, February 1, 1999. On the ten billion-year-old supernova, Wall Street Journal, December 24, 1998. On bats in Britain, Wall Street Journal, December 28, 1998.